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Fic: Before the Awakening

Title: Before the Awakening
Author: [personal profile] dragonbat2006
Fandom: The Dark is Rising
Characters: Will Stanton, Bran Davies, Jane Drew, Original Characters
Pairings: Bran Davies/Jane Drew
Rating: K+
Genre(s): General, Drama, Friendship, Future Fic
Spoilers: All five books
Warnings: Minor character death
Word Count: 4690
Story Summary: A chance announcement in a Welsh Daily tells Will that a new danger is imminent. Reconnecting with friends he hasn't seen in decades is the first step toward engaging it.
Written for: Aishuu for Yuletide 2015


Thanks to Xenith and Kathy for the beta!

A/N: The Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire is quite real, though according to their website, there is no Keeper of Medieval Collections. I’ve taken the liberty of inventing that post for Will, so as not to ‘depose’ the real-life existing Keeper of Archeology Collections. And while, according to Wikipedia, in the UK, the terms ‘curator’ and ‘keeper’ may be used interchangeably in a museum setting, Bucks does use the ‘keeper’ designation.

Timeline: I’m using the publication year of Over Sea, Under Stone as “Ground Zero”. The Grail is found in 1965; Will celebrates his eleventh birthday that December—making him 60 for most of 2015; Will and the Drews meet in Trewissick during the Easter holidays of 1966; Will meets Bran in Wales that fall; and the final battle between the Light and the Dark takes place in the summer of 1967. I’ll admit that making it plausible for Bran and Jane to have a grandson who was the ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ was a factor in going with the earlier dating.

Before the Awakening

Will Stanton knows he doesn’t have much time left in this place. It’s one of the downsides to being immortal—while the passing years have paid him no attention unless he wished them to, he in turn has paid scant attention to the passing years. It’s only within the last eighteen months, as he’s approached and passed his sixtieth birthday, that he’s remembered to go a bit gray. He’s allowed his face to show a few new lines, too. He thinks of them as seams, rather than wrinkles; he’s not quite ready for wrinkles, yet. He’ll need to add them at some point—probably in a decade or so, though he might choose to stave them off a bit longer, even. Will isn’t vain about his looks, but he still feels a good deal younger than he actually is and he’s in no hurry to have people perceive him to be otherwise.

He’s kept his vigor thus far, though he goes through the motions and pretends to be wary of sudden falls. “I’m an older man, now,” he tells his nieces and nephews. “It’d be silly for anyone to think my body was as strong as it used to be.” The ordinary side of him, the part that’s become more and more of a façade over the decades, is privately amused that he’s managed to pull off this subterfuge without having to resort to an outright falsehood. It would, in fact, be silly for anyone to think that his body was still as strong and resilient as it was when he was in his teens and twenties. Immortality has its upsides, too.

He’s been fortunate in being able to stay in one place for this long. While he enjoys traveling on business or for holiday, he’s always happy to return to his native Buckinghamshire. He’s got a good position as a museum keeper—Keeper of Medieval Collections at Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury, to use the official title. (“Oh, a curator!” his American-born cousin Frank had laughed, when Will had described his work. American museums don’t have keepers, it seems. “Although…” Frank had continued, “Given the way some kids behave these days, maybe getting them a keeper wouldn’t be a terrible thing.”)

Will’s colleagues are frequently amazed at the calibre of pieces he’s able to track down. Usually, he finds them through conventional means; tracking down collectors, negotiating with other museums, and the like. There’s been an occasion or two when he’s given into temptation and traveled across time, rather than distance. He’s done that less and less frequently as he’s grown older, though.

He tells himself that it’s time to start planning his departure. Twenty years, perhaps thirty before people start to marvel at his good health. In fifty, they’ll begin to wonder just how old he is. And while fifty years may seem an eternity to a mortal, for one destined to live as long as he will, they’ll pass as weeks—days, perhaps. He worries that he’ll forget about time and continue on as he has, until it’s too late and people start looking at him sideways. It’s probably best to start over somewhere else while he’s thinking of it—perhaps in America. Hollywood. People there are reputed to be so obsessed with youth that there are eighty-year-olds undergoing surgeries so they can pass for forty. His apparent agelessness will arouse less comment there.

Will smiles a bit as he considers it. He’s half-serious, much like a child confidently proclaiming, “When I grow up, I shall be prime minister.” He glories in the dreaming, picturing it vividly, but in his heart of hearts, he can’t see himself leaving Buckinghamshire for any extended period of time.

He’ll need to one day, though. And the planning ought not to be postponed. In this modern age, where records are housed in electronic databases, rather than dusty filing cabinets, it’s no longer so simple a thing to create a new identity. Yes, he should start setting things in motion now, so that when he does need to move on, his new persona will not seem to have appeared from out of thin air. He shakes his head. It would almost be worthwhile to travel back in time a century or so and simply remain there. Almost. But one hundred years later, he would still be facing the same problem and the past was for learning from, not living in. He makes a mental note to look into courses at the nearby college; the computing skills he’s learned in order to keep up with the times certainly haven’t covered such areas as infiltrating government databases or falsifying records. The college won’t teach those things, of course; but with a stronger grounding in computing and IT, Will suspects that he’ll be in a better position to sort it out himself. And Barbara has been after him to go back to school for a while, now—ever since she took that Introduction to Classical Thought course for a lark. He smiles to himself and resolves that if—when—he enrols, she’ll be the first person he’ll tell.

He long ago made his peace with the notion that he will outlive everyone he has ever known and most of those he ever will. It hasn’t exactly made him reclusive—growing up with eight brothers and sisters, he’s never been truly alone and he doubts he’d know what to do with himself if he were. Still, his siblings have all married, at least once, by now. (Mary is on her second husband and while Robin swore off marriage after a rather messy divorce, he’s been living with Susanne for over twenty-eight years and the two are the proud parents of twin daughters, now twenty-five years old.)

Will’s never dated anyone seriously. Instead, he revels in playing the doting uncle to his numerous nieces and nephews—and now, grand-nephews as well. He’s able to babysit at a moment’s notice and can attend school recitals when neither parent is available. His Fairford Leys home is open to any members of his siblings’ broods who care to spend the holidays—and some always do. No, Will is scarcely a hermit. And yet, he projects a certain reserve, a clear contentment with living on his own that makes it clear he has no interest in letting a significant other into his life.

To an extent, his brothers and sisters accept this, owning that Will always has been ‘not quite like other people’. The comments about ‘fixing him up with a lovely girl’ (“…or a lovely boy, if that’s your fancy, Will,” Gwen has added on more than one occasion) have slowly petered out. And yet, every now and again, when he’s at a family get-together, someone will take him aside to ask wearily, dolefully, even a trifle disbelievingly, “Is there no one yet, then, Will? Truly? Don’t you worry about growing old alone?”

He does and he doesn’t. It’s not as though he relishes the idea. The prospect of finding someone, of growing to love them, and then watching as they age and die, while he will have no choice but to live on without them, horrifies him far more than the thought of living a solitary life—one that isn’t anywhere near as solitary as his family seems to think.

He imagines that Merriman must have reached much the same conclusion a long time ago, the perpetual great uncle who wasn’t truly anyone’s great uncle, but had been close to the family for so very long that nobody thought to ask how he was related in the first place. At least, Will isn’t quite in that position, yet. It will come, though. Of that, he has no doubt.

He gets into the museum early the next day, a black coffee in hand and the Bucks Herald under his arm. In his office, he reads while he drinks. When he’s done with that and he’s checked his email, he pauses for a moment, wondering whether it really is as easy to find a person online as he believes. He searches for the proper website and types a name from his past into the search box. The results are near instantaneous—and numerous; it’s a common surname, particularly in Wales. He calls up the advanced search function. This time, it takes a few seconds longer—and there are only three pages of results. When he reads the description of the first link, a shadow passes over his face and he closes his eyes, remembering… A pleasant, ordinary face… medium-brown hair in a medium quantity… a slightly pointed nose… thin lips…

…Owen is survived by his son Bran, his daughter-in-law Jane, grandchildren Emmet, Meghan, Catrin… six more names follow, before the obituary moves on to the great-grandchildren. All at once, Will frowns. He goes back over the names, counting them now, even though he’s sure he’s right. Bran and Jane have been blessed with nine children: seven sons and two daughters. He opens another window on his computer and begins another search—on an Oliver Davies residing in or around Tywyn in southern Gwynedd. There is no doubt. Owen, Jasper, David, Rhys, Tomos, Lewis… Dylan. And then, at long last, Lowri, Lili, and Bronwen. Three daughters after seven sons. He reads the last boy’s name again. Dylan: the seventh son of a seventh son, scion of one from the Circle and one from the Track. A shudder runs through him. There were things that Merriman once told him he would need to watch for once and this is one of them. There is no cause for alarm, though. At least, not yet. This is only the first harbinger of what is to occur over the course of the next quarter-century. The Book of Gramarye had had a name for it: The Awakening of the Wild. Will knows that he need not be apprehensive—at least, not yet. It is still a time for observation, rather than action. There is nothing that he need do at this point, but note the existence of the future Circle-Forger. And yet…

Long ago memories of Wales’ Dysynni Valley and his time at Clwyd farm bubble to the surface. Will shakes his head sadly. Although he didn’t know Owen Davies well, he’s sorry that a good man is gone. Will can’t help but wonder that he’s chosen today to plug Bran’s name into a search engine and retrieve this result. He reads the rest of the obituary hurriedly. The funeral is five days from now. It might be a mistake to attend, but somehow, Will doesn’t believe it will be. He knows that, at times, coincidences are far too… coincidental. Mary would scoff at him for that statement, he knows. He can almost hear her voice exclaim, “That’s why they’re called ‘coincidences’, silly!” True, of course, but even so, Will has learned to trust his feelings—and he has a feeling that he’ll be making the four-hour drive from Aylesbury to Tywyn five days from now. And perhaps, he might even meet young Dylan Davies of Bryn-Crug…

There’s a good-sized crowd gathered, which is no surprise to Will—at least, not at first. Not when one considers the number of offspring come to pay their respects. It’s only when he draws closer that he realizes that there are plenty of others here, as well. Will thinks he recognizes more than a few faces from his last visit to Wales, nearly forty years ago: farmers, storekeepers, and the like. Clearly, Owen was well-known and well-respected in these parts, for all his modest and unassuming ways.

Will remains on the periphery of the crowd, not wanting to attract too much attention, until a gentle voice at his shoulder asks softly, “Is it Will?”

He turns at once. Her hair has grayed and she wears it clipped short in a pixie bob now, but her blue eyes are still bright in her weathered face. “Jane,” he replies.

She smiles. “It’s mostly Jenny now,” she says, her voice gentle and clear like a crystal bell. There’s more than a little Welsh in her accent now—something to be expected after living in Gwynedd for round about forty years. “It has been for years and years for everyone but Sy and Barney.” She rests one hand on the crook of his elbow. “Thank you for coming. It means so much… to me and to Bran.”

“I chanced on the obituary,” Will says truthfully. “I had to come. How are you keeping up?”

Jane—he cannot think of her as Jenny after all these years—shakes her head. “Well, ninety-seven is a grand old age, and I can’t call it sudden,” she admits. “He suffered a stroke twelve years ago and his health was never quite the same after. Then, six months ago,” she shakes her head, “he had a second one. They warned us that he didn’t have long, but it’s still a shock. We’d visited him the day before in Machynlleth; he’s been living in a care home.” She looks down. “Was living,” she corrects and pushes her lips in and out quickly. “Sorry.”

“No,” Will says, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Nothing to be sorry for.”

Jane nods, takes in several gulping breaths, and thanks him. When she speaks again, she has herself under control. “Right. Where was I? Oh, yes; Machynlleth.” Jane pronounces the Welsh name perfectly, without even a trace of her native North-London accent. “When we saw him last week, everything seemed fine. His mind was wandering some, but he actually seemed a bit more lucid. We watched the game on the telly—well, he and Bran watched. I was knitting a jumper for my granddaughter-in-law. Her baby, I mean.” She looks out at the crowd for a moment and gestures toward an obviously-pregnant woman who appears to be in her early twenties, standing a short distance away. Jane smiles wistfully as she continues, saying, “It was a good day.” She sighs then and her smile drops. “And then, the next morning, we got the call. Another stroke. It was fast, they tell me.” Her voice breaks at the end and she fishes a pack of tissues out of her pocket and dabs at her eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

“Well, you’ve nothing to be sorry for,” Jane says, her smile returning amid the tears. “Except perhaps for staying away so long. Did that silly crack Simon made truly upset you so?”

Will stares at her in shock. “Good heavens, no!” he exclaims, trying to recall the incident to which Jane is referring and coming up empty. He notices that some of the other mourners are gathered close by, waiting patiently to speak to Jane. She follows his gaze.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” she murmurs. “But please, come back to the house with us. I know Bran will be glad you’ve come and you really should meet the family.”

Will nods. “Thank you. By ‘house,’ I take it, you mean…?”

Jane nods. “Yes, Da’s—Owen’s cottage. It’s been built up a good deal; you’ll scarcely recognize it now. Really, your cousins were wonderful about that. I hope the new owners will be as well-disposed—you know the farm’s been on the market for over a year, now.” She breaks off with an embarrassed smile. “But enough of that talk. Do you know the way from here?”

“I’ve an idea,” Will replies. “And a GPS in my car.”

This time when she smiles, Will has no trouble seeing again the pony-tailed girl who once stood with him on a chalk hill in the Chiltern Hundred of Buckinghamshire.

It’s a quiet and sober crowd back at the cottage at Clwyd, as befits the reason for the gathering. Funerals and their aftermaths are meant to be sad and serious, and Will quickly realizes that he’s far from the only old friend who has reappeared after a long absence to honor Owen Davies and comfort his family. He spies two familiar faces in the crowd of mostly strangers. Simon now sports a neatly-trimmed beard that makes him look rather like Richard Attenborough. Barney’s white-blond hair had darkened to golden-brown when Will last saw him. Now, there’s a good deal of gray in it. The cowlick hasn’t changed, though. And it’s still long enough that he keeps pushing it back out of his eyes. And Bran…

“Hallo,” Will greets him softly.

Bran looks up and, for a moment, there is only polite acknowledgment in his tawny eyes. Then pale eyebrows shoot up and Bran’s mouth hangs slightly open. “Will,” he says, his own voice barely above a whisper as he clasps Will’s outstretched hand between both of his own. “Will. I can scarcely believe you’ve come.”

“I wish I hadn’t waited until now,” Will admits, wondering—and not for the first time in the last five days—why he has. Merriman only took the memories of his friends’ role in the final confrontations with the Dark; not the memories of their meetings and their friendship. He’d told himself that he worried about letting slip some of the things that they were made to forget—he’s being careful of that even now. Especially now, when they’re catching up. And while he hasn’t made slips like that since he was new-awake and just coming into his power, the risk remains. And perhaps, even forty years ago, he was starting to wall himself away, protect himself from having too many people to mourn the loss of. He perceives that having the wisdom of the Book of Gramarye may not have kept him from being a fool in certain matters.

“So, why did you?” Bran asks, not belligerently, but with a kind of weary curiosity.

Will shakes his head and smiles sadly. “I don’t know. Truly. Whatever reason I might have had, it couldn’t have been a particularly good one.” He's always thought that, as the last of the Old Ones, it would be his destiny to hold himself aloof and alone. It's only taken a few moments with these old friends to make him realize it's been choice and not fate that has dictated these past decades. He has indeed been a fool. And he can't even blame the Dark for deluding him.

Bran thinks for a moment and then nods. “You’re here now,” he says firmly. “That’s what’s important. How long can you stay?”

He’s taken two days leave from the museum, though he can extend that if he has to—tell them that he’s off to track down a lead to a twelfth-century diptych depicting a scene from the life of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. He’ll return with it, too—even if he’ll need to visit William Marshall, first Earl of Pembroke and last known owner of the item in question, to obtain the thing. “I’m at a bed-and-breakfast in Tywyn tonight,” he says. “I’d thought to head back sometime tomorrow…”

Bran hesitates, pride and reserve battling with loneliness now as they did once before. “Must you go back so soon?” he asks at last. “Today is not a day for catching up. But tomorrow…” he hesitates. “Tomorrow, most everyone else will be gone. Oh, most of our brood live close by, but they’ve their own lives, now; their own families. And because they live so near,” he adds, without the bitter mocking edge he had as a boy, “they’ll be headed home shortly, being quick to remind us that they’re only a telephone call away, should we need them, to be sure.” He looks around the large, crowded room. For a moment, they both lose themselves in the murmur and hum of voices, not just in this sitting room, but in the adjoining kitchen beyond. “We built onto this home over the years,” Bran says. “Had to, with a family our size—you know after we were married, with Emmett only a few months away, Father insisted we live here and then, with Meghan coming on so soon afterwards, we just… stayed on. It’s going to feel emptier than it has in a long time once it’s back to just Jenny and me.”

Will nods. When Bran and Jane had screwed up the courage to tell their parents that she was already four months along, Owen had made certain that Bran upheld his obligations. And when the two sixteen-year-olds had said that they meant to marry, while Jane’s parents had voiced doubts about the wisdom of their choice—and its timing, Owen had welcomed it—and Jane into his home. He’d accepted her as a daughter, showing none of the dour disapproval or rigidity that Will might once have expected. Now, nearly a half a century later, the bond between these two seems stronger than ever.

“Sy and Barney are staying to tea and taking the train back tonight,” Jane speaks up. “Won’t you join us? It might be good, just the five of us again. And afterwards…” her voice trails off and she nods toward her husband. “Bran’s right. Even though it’s not as though Da’s lived here for years, the house has felt… different since we got that call. Bigger. Emptier. We’ve been just… doing what needed done for a week, but after this evening,” she sighs, “I think it’s really going to sink in and, well, I know I’d be grateful if a friend were here for a few days longer.”

Will marvels that despite the years apart, there’s almost no awkwardness now. They seem to be picking up again as though it’s only been weeks or months and not decades since they’ve last seen one another. He smiles. “I imagine I might be able to stay on another few days,” he allows. The diptych was recorded as among the Earl of Pembroke’s possessions as late as 1215, but after the earl’s death, four years later, the item appears to have gone missing. That leaves him a four-year window in which to retrieve it, with no worries about its disappearance disrupting the timeline. “That is, if you’re certain it won’t be an imposition…?”

This time, when Bran clasps his hand, the answering smile is wider.

By four o’clock, the large cottage is nearly empty. Most of the neighbors have gone home to their own farms and, as Bran had predicted, most of the family has, too. Will once had relatives in the area, but his cousins moved to Cardiff after their parents’ passing and he hasn’t seen them here today.

“Do you need anything more, Da? Mam?” A man in his late thirties with Bran’s chin, Jane’s eyes, and a worried face approaches his parents.

Bran shakes his head. “No, boy, bach; I think we’ll manage.” He nods to Will. “This is our youngest, Oliver. Oliver, a friend from long ago: Will.”

Will nods in turn and smiles at the newcomer. “How’d’ye do?”

“Is Isla still here?” Jane asks. “I saw her hovering before.” She glances at Will. “His wife,” she clarifies.

Oliver sighs. “Our Bronwen was getting a mite peevish; she’s cutting another tooth. And Lili and Lowri couldn’t settle down for their afternoon rest with all the people here, so she took them back home. She tried to tell you she was going, but with the crowd…”

“Of course,” Jane replies. “I remember well what it’s like, three children under five and two yet in nappies. Don’t give it another thought. And tell her she needn’t either,” she adds hastily.

“Is that Dylan I spy by the beech tree in the garden?” Bran asks.

Oliver nods, a sadder expression stealing onto his face. “So it is,” he says. “Poor thing; this is hitting him hard. He was close to his hen daid.” He glances at Will. “Sorry. Great-grandfather.”

“I gathered,” Will replies easily.

Two of the remaining neighbors come up to make their goodbyes now, and Will murmurs something about going outside to stretch his legs for a moment. He’s curious about this boy, who will have a far greater role to play one day than any but he can now imagine.

The slumped-over figure by the beech tree with a mop of white-blond hair that reminds Will of Barney as a boy doesn’t move at his approach, until he calls softly, “Dylan?”

The shoulders lift once, slightly, in acknowledgement, and a light ragged voice asks, “Who are you?”

Will draws nearer. “I knew your great-grand-da once,” he says. “And your father, before you were born. My name’s Will Stanton.”

Dylan rises to his feet and turns then and Will can see Bran’s golden eyes set large in a pale face. At this distance, the boy appears to have no eyebrows at all, though Will knows that they must be there, just hard to spot against that nearly-white skin.

Will gestures behind him toward the house. “Your da and grandparents can see us through the window,” he says easily. “Just thought I’d come out and see how you were doing.”

The boy’s face hardens and he snaps, “How do you think I’m doing?”

Will nods soberly. “You’re right. I apologize.”

Dylan regards Will for a long moment, his tawny eyes searching for some hint of mockery or condescension. When he doesn’t find it, he shrugs. When he speaks again, though, his voice is softer. “How did you know my great-grand-da?” he asks.

Will takes a cautious step forward, approaching the boy as one would a fawn or a stray cat. “Well,” he says, “my cousins used to own Clwyd Farm. I visited them to recover after I’d been ill with hepatitis and met your grandfather then—and his father, too. Your grand-da and I became fast friends and I came back for a number of years. And then…” he sighs and admits to a failing that most Old Ones fall prey to by their very nature. “Time got away from me. Or caught me up. I’m not certain which. And then, one day, I looked back and...” Merriman would have probably given some vague answer that was no answer, Will realizes. But he’s never enjoyed acting mysterious, nor having others act mysterious toward him. “I suppose I wasn’t sure how to explain why I’d been out of touch for so long when I didn’t know myself, so I put off trying, and the time stretched out and it just got harder, until…”

Dylan nods understanding. There’s nothing mysterious about procrastination—not even to a six-year-old. “So, why’ve you come around now?” he asks with less bitterness and more curiosity.

Will smiles sadly. Then he explains about Googling Bran on a lark and finding out about Owen’s death. “Your great-grand-da was a good man,” he concludes. “And your grand-da is. And once I knew what had happened, well, I suppose I finally admitted that I’d stayed away for too long, and for poor reasons. And I thought that I owed it to both your grandparents—I’d actually met your grandma on holiday in Cornwall some six months before I met your grand-da, believe it or not—and to your great-grand-da to come now and pray your grand-da wouldn’t throw me off of his land.”

Dylan smiles a bit at that. “Grand-da wouldn’t do that,” he says with easy assurance. Then he hesitates. “Well, he’s never done it to me, anyway.”

Will grins. “Shouldn’t think you’d done much to warrant it.” He’s not going to trouble the boy now with the destiny that awaits him. He’s far too young and Will is far too new to him. No, there’ll be plenty of time for that in the future. For now, Will’s main intentions are to reconnect with old friends, get acquainted with the first of the young people who will one day stand firm against the Awakening, and watch for further signs.

And perhaps, a call to Cousin Rhys Evans in Cardiff is in order—to see what the asking price is on Clwyd Farm. That should allay Bran and Jane’s fears about the place coming under new ownership, and it will be good to know he’ll have a place to stay on his next visit…

This entry was originally posted at http://dragonbat2006.dreamwidth.org/52102.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


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