Dalton : Briar Rose
Hi guys, long time no seeee. I don’t completely know where this came from, and I’ve been sitting on it for about a month but I’m really not sure what else to do with it so here you gooo.
“Did you hear? About the sleeping prince in the castle overwrought by thorns?”
Julian blinked, glancing up from his (rather ostentatious, he readily admits) golden goblet to the boy, who’s brown hair was falling into clear blue eyes, a careless style that fit his large smile and sparkling gaze. He was watching Julian expectantly, but for the life of him, Julian couldn’t -
“What are you talking about, Lord Whittaker?” Julian drawled, the name suddenly coming readily to the front of his mind. It was strange, though - he was almost positive he’d known the boy his entire life, but at the same time, he felt like he’d never seen him before. Let alone spent their childhoods together.
A strange expression flickered over the other’s face at the title, almost like he was confused about the address. He glanced wonderingly around the crowded and noisy dining hall before his face brightened in realization and he turned back to Julian with amusement. But as Julian opened his mouth to question the other teen’s strange actions, he said, “Such a formal address, Julian. You haven’t called me that since your last tantrum.”
With a roll of his eyes, Julian replied, “Sorry, Jude. I’m feeling a bit strange today.”
Jude’s expression turned sympathetic, smile shrinking to a soft curl of lip. “Did you not sleep well?”
“Quite the opposite - I fear I may have slept too deeply, almost…” He trailed off, eyes staring unseeing across the vast hall. He pulled out the shell necklace dangling about his neck and fiddled with it, a small habit he’d picked up recently. “Almost as if my body was trying to keep me unconscious; like I couldn’t -”
(“Julian, please, I’m begging, you, come on…”)
“- wake up.”
(“This isn’t fair—this isn’t fair, you can’t do this—you can’t! Please… Open your eyes…”)
“What?” He asked absently, concentrating on the voice, trying to keep it with him even as the words started to slip from his mind.
“You just went white. Are you sure you’re well?” Jude asked, leaning close to put a hand on Julian’s forehead.
“I’m fine,” Julian groused, releasing the necklace to bat Jude away. Whatever just happened had passed, leaving nothing behind but a vaguely unsettled feeling, as if there was something he should remember, something important that he was missing. “It just seemed like…” When Jude tilted his head in interest, Julian shook his head, dismissing the strange feeling. “It’s nothing. Nevermind.”
Oddly, Jude looked disappointed. The blue eyes gazed intently at the shell against his chest, and, assuming he just wanted to know what had caught Julian’s attention, Julian changed the subject with, “What were you saying, earlier - about the prince in the tower?”
“Oh!” Jude said, once again brightening. “There’s been tales of a prince, cursed to sleep in the tower of a castle covered in briars until someone can fight their way through to save him.”
Julian snorted with amusement. “So, Sleeping Beauty, then.”
There was a flash of amusement in Jude’s eyes, but then his brows furrowed in confusion and he asked, “What?”
“Nevermind,” Julian said with a wave of his hand. He paused, thinking over the fairy tale, of a drawn girl with golden hair singing with birds in the forest, and tentatively asked, “Do you know what he looks like?”
Jude glanced to the side for a moment, biting nervously at his bottom lip. “… Not exactly,” he said eventually, still avoiding Julian’s gaze. “But I’ve heard he’s very beautiful, and has the voice of an angel.”
Voice of an angel. His necklace warmed against his skin as with a blink of his eyes, there was suddenly an image of a beautiful blond man in Julian’s head, vibrant green eyes sparkling with mirth as he danced gracefully around a sun-lit room in a white shirt and black dress slacks, white teeth flashing against naturally tanned skin as he smiled and sang.
(“- These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate…”)
With hands shaking, Julian took a slow sip of his wine, holding the flavorful liquid in his mouth and letting it calm him. Logan, his brain told him was the blond man’s name, and that he needed to find him. He was important to Julian, and Julian shouldn’t - couldn’t let him go.
“Where is this thorn-covered castle, then?” he asked.
Then he blinked, a bit taken aback by the enormous grin that spread over Jude’s face. “You’re going to try to find him?” Jude asked, practically vibrating with excitement.
“You seem eager to be rid of me, Jude,” drawled Julian, raising an eyebrow. When Jude blushed, abashed at his behavior, Julian smirked. “Something you want to tell me?”
“No,” Jude pouted, looked at Julian through his lashes with a wry smile. “I just think it’d be good for you to get out of this castle.”
“And your great idea is to thrust me into a highly dangerous quest that could result in my death?”
Jude rolled his eyes, smile turning amused. “Don’t be so dramatic, Julian. If it turns out to be that dangerous, you can always come back. I’m sure the prince will survive until someone else comes along.”
A frown formed on Julian’s face. The thought of someone else finding and saving the prince made his stomach twist unhappily. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t, but you just seem awfully excited about it. Anyway, you never answered my question: Where is the castle?”
With a soft smile, Jude leaned forward to kiss the corner of Julian’s mouth. “I want you to be happy, Julian, and I have a feeling that this will help.” Then he stood, pulling Julian up by his arm and linking their fingers as he pulled Julian from the dining hall. “Now, let’s go find a map so I can show you where your sleeping prince awaits.”
Julian turned towards the jubilant shout, and was nearly bowled over by a slender boy with black hair and, despite his many hours Julian knew he’d spent outside training, rather pale skin. Dark brown eyes were crinkled with the force of the boy’s grin, and his arms snaked around Julian’s waist as he chirped, “So, I heard we’re going on an adventure.”
Raising an eyebrow, Julian ruffled the boys hair. “Aren’t you a bit young to be coming with me on dangerous quests to save someone who may turn out to be the love of my life? I thought it was something you could only do when you entered teenagehood.”
In front of - or rather, behind, now - Julian, Jude laughed. “I think you should take him with you. He’s better than some of your best hunters at tracking, and he’s been training to fight since he could walk.”
“Well then, Alan,” Julian said, kneeling down in front of the small boy, and asking somberly “Will you help me find the sleeping prince?”
“Of course,” Alan said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “My brother taught me to always help those who needed it.”
“Did he now?” Julian asked. There was something nagging at the back of his head, something about another boy with pale skin and dark eyes. “He sounds very brave.”
“He is!” Alan said, eyes brightening, as they always did, as he thought of his brother. “The very bravest.”
Julian gasped in mock-hurt. “Even more brave than I?”
Eyes piercing, Alan tilted his head to regard Julian with a somber gaze, one that Julian felt saw too much. “Different brave. He’s brave enough to fight for what he believes, even though others make fun of him, while you’re brave enough to let go, and want to make other people happy even if you’re sad.”
(“I wanna go to beautiful, beautiful, beautiful…”)
Swallowing, Julian looked down at the ground, the necklace around his neck suddenly heavy. “I don’t think I’m as brave as that, but -” he smiled and ruffled Alan’s hair again, “Thank you, Alan.”
Alan smiled. He then took Julian’s hand and led him quickly to the stables, chattering the whole way about how they were going to save the sleeping prince, and he and Julian would fall in love and live happily ever after. When he began detailing the wedding, Jude glanced at Julian and snickered at the bemused expression Julian was sure he was sporting, wondering at the child’s rather detailed imagination.
He asked about it once they were in the stables, Alan zipping around to ready his horse. The boy laughed, sending Julian a smile as he brushed out the large stallion, and explained, “My brother and I used to play-hunt. Imagining a wedding is nothing compared to fighting off imaginary vampires.”
“I see.” Julian said slowly, dual memories overlapping each other - of him and Jude fighting with sticks while their nursemaid tutted and followed them around, and of him with his father in a large room filled with strange - yet familiar - equipment, bright lights shining and making him hot while he waited for his father to call out so he could begin to play pretend. He shook his head, brushing aside the memories. “Did your brother teach you how to do this?” Julian asked instead, watching Alan tack his horse, the boy’s movements sure and precise.
“Nope,” came the reply as Alan fed the horse an apple. “I came here when I was young, so he never got the chance to teach me. Besides,” Alan continued, eyebrows coming together in thought, “I don’t know if he knows how, himself.”
“You must have been young, then, when you came here. Hasn’t your brother visited since then?”
“He’s tried.” The smile that crossed Alan’s face was sad, and much older than the rest of his small frame. “But I can’t see him. ‘cause if I do, he’ll try to stay, and he’s still needed where he lives. I send him messages sometimes, though. When he’s in trouble.”
Julian raised an eyebrow at that. “He get in trouble a lot?”
Alan giggled. “Yeah, he does. But usually not enough to need my help.”
Humming absently, Julian stood and walked over to his horse, taking the reins from Alan as he rubbed the large brown horse’s cheek. “Hey, Harv,” he said softly, sliding his hand over the short fur between the horse’s eyes and down to the soft nose. “How’s it going, boy?”
Harvey snorted in greeting, then, oddly enough, turned to share a suspiciously amused glance with Jude. Eyeing his friend warily, Julian asked, “Have you been using your talents to commune with my horse again?”
Jude’s eyes widened and he blinked innocently, but Julian didn’t believe him for a second when he said, “I’ve done no such thing.”
“Whatever he’s told you is completely untrue,” Julian told his horse seriously. “He’s trying to conspire against me to steal my crown.”
Snorting, Jude said, “I’m not, you diva.”
(“- such a diva, Jules -”)
“It’s not being dramatic if it’s true, you conniving warlock.” Julian snapped, rubbing his neck and pointing an accusing finger at Jude, eyes narrowed. Alan giggled at his side. “I’m on to you. You’re trying to be rid of me.”
“I’d only want to be rid of you if it was for your own good, Julian,” Jude replied with a soft smile, and the playful mood vanished.
He was telling the truth, Julian knew well enough. Jude had done nothing but care for Julian, and he knew that whatever plot the shorter teen had, it was for Julian’s own good. “You know I’ve always trusted you, Jude, and it’s not going to stop now. I just wish you’d tell me what’s going on in that brain of yours.” Julian frowned. “And why you’re using my horse. Seriously, Jude, there are limits.”
Jude laughed and walked over to Julian’s side, scratching Harvey’s forehead gently. “This horse is smarter than you think, Julian. You’d be wise to pay attention to him.”
“If you say so,” Julian said, sending Jude a look that said exactly what he thought about the sorcerer’s mental wellness right then. Ignoring Jude’s laugh, he swung himself up onto Harvey’s back to settle on the soft leather saddle. He accepted the reins from Alan, glancing at the boy while he scampered off to get the pack horse. When he turned back to Jude, the brunet had come to stand close, hand warm against Julian’s thigh.
“Here,” he said, pressing something into Julian’s hand. It was a small, round mirror ringed with dark wood. “If you ever need my help, just say my name into the mirror, and I’ll respond.”
“Beauty and the Beast,” Julian muttered with a small smile. He glanced away from the mirror when Jude reached out and pulled him down, the sorcerer standing on his toes to kiss Julian softly.
“I’ll miss you, Julian. You’re a better person then you give yourself credit for.”
With a smile, Julian put the small mirror away to card his fingers through Jude’s soft hair, then cupped his face and brushed his thumb gently over Jude’s cheek. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Jude snorted and shook his head. “I hope not.”
Julian drew back, confused and a bit stung, but before he could ask what Jude meant by that, Alan was back, the horse he was riding on fully packed with provisions for the journey. The hand on his leg squeezed, and Jude gave him a gentle smile, eyes apologetic, before a steward swooped in to lead Julian through the streets, packed with people waiting to see their prince off.
When they stopped for the night, miles away from the city, Julian asked, “What did Jude mean when he said he hoped I didn’t come back?”
Looking up from the newly-started fire, the bright flames casting strange shadows over Alan’s young face as he watched Julian for a few minutes, lips pursed in thought. “Well,” he said finally, eyes narrowed in concentration as he thought of what to say, “I think that he knows that what you’ll find in the tower will end up keeping you away and that it’ll be bad if you don’t.”
“Will it?” Julian wondered, watching the dancing flames. “I’m happy here. Why would it be better if I leave? Besides, my people -”
“- need me here. I can’t abandon them for one man.”
(“Please Jules, I need you back -”)
Alan tilted his head in thought. “Well, if they really love you, they’ll want you to do what makes you happy, right?” He shrugged. “And if not, then they don’t love you, and you shouldn’t care about them.”
Julian sighed and looked out into the night, dropping the necklace in his hand. He hadn’t even realized he’d been playing with it. “If only it were that easy.”
Alan wrinkled his nose. “I don’t see why it isn’t,” he said, petulant.
“Well, it’s my job to make them happy. And if I’m selfish, I don’t get to keep my job.”
Frowning, Alan asked, “Well, would you rather have your job or be happy? And are you sure that no-one will like you if you go with him?”
“But do I know I’ll be happy with him? Or will I throw away everything just to be unhappy anyway?” The words were automatic, like they were excuses he’d given himself over and over again. They were true, of course - but at the same time, he knew he would be miserable if he didn’t try.
The problem was that he wasn’t sure if he was brave enough to take that plunge. Not yet.
Alan must have known exactly what he was thinking, because he just smiled and handed Julian some bread and cheese from the packs before starting on his own. When they were done, Alan yawned widely. Julian ended up waving him away from setting up his stuff, letting the boy stumble over to his own bedroll and curl beneath the blankets, quickly asleep. Watching the small form fondly, Julian wondered if the young squire’s brother was like that, able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.
He wondered if the brother knew how much Alan still loved him.
A few nights later, Julian was woken by Harvey’s nose pressing incessantly against his head, breath loud and warm against Julian’s ear.
“The fuck, Harv?” He asked, voice scratchy with sleep. He was then reminded why he never swore around the horse when it lipped roughly at his ear and glared with clear disapproval. Grumbling under his breath at the strange horse, Julian glanced around their camp, wondering why he had been woken.
He was answered a few moments later when a cloaked figure stepped out of the surrounding trees and into the light of the bright fire. The figure was hunched over and walking slowly across the clearing, gait uneven.
“Hello,” Julian said pleasantly, thumbing the knife he had hidden beneath the blanket. “How can I help you?”
The form stepped closer to reveal an old woman with a large nose adorned by a mole right in the center. The woman gave a ghastly smile, and creaking voice said, “Such a lovely young man. You must be traveling far, indeed, if these bags are telling me right. I was just picking apples - they’re the ripest out in the wild - when I saw the fire. Might I warm these old bones? I’ll give you a freshly-picked apple for the trouble.”
“Of course.” A soft rustling informed him that Alan was awake, and a glance showed the small boy watching the old woman with narrowed eyes. Julian caught his eye and winked. In response, Alan smiled impishly, then relaxed back into the pillow to watch.
The old woman let out a pleased noise, catching Julian’s attention once again. He watched, amused, as she took out a single, bright red apple - the only of its color in the basket. “There you go, my boy,” she croaked, handing it to Julian, her beady eyes fixed on his face. “Only the best of what I picked for such a kind young man.”
With a smile, Julian took the apple from the woman and rolled it between his hands, watching the firelight dance across its smooth surface. “It is you who is too kind. Are you sure you don’t want a piece?” he asked, ever so sweet as he drew the knife from beneath the blanket, letting it flash in the light.
The old crone’s eyes narrowed, but her smile never wavered. “No thank you, my boy. I’ve had a few too many apples today; a regrettable hazard of the job.”
“I see,” he said, continuing to fiddle with the bright apple. The shell about his neck warmed against the skin of his sternum as he thought of a young girl with short, black hair, making a wish on poisoned fruit. “I’ve never seen an apple this red before,” he mused, holding the apple up to turn it in the light. “Where did you find it?”
He almost laughed when the crone’s eyes lit up, but he kept his expression politely intrigued. “Well,” the woman said, leaning closer toward Julian, “Since you noticed, I’ll tell you. That, my boy, is a magical apple. If you make a wish and take a bite, that wish is sure to come true.”
“Really?” Julian asked in mock-surprise, returning to rolling the red fruit between his hands as he watched the crone with a playful gaze. “So you’re saying that if I wished for a prince to come and sweep me off my feet, ride me off to his castle to live happily ever after, then took a single bite of this apple, it would come true?”
“That’s amazing,” Julian said breathlessly, then rolled his eyes. “God, do people actually fall for that?”
The beady eyes narrowed again as the hag sweetly asked, “What do you mean, my boy?”
“I mean that you’re pushing too hard for me to eat this apple,” Julian said, sifting so he was sitting with his legs bent and crossed in front of him. He leaned forward with one elbow braced against his knee, the other holding the apple level with his head. “I’m in quite the hurry to find a wake a sleeping prince, and falling into a deep sleep myself via poisoned apple isn’t in my plans.” He smiled wryly at the crone’s shocked and furious expression. “And I don’t think Alan or Harvey will be able to wake me with ‘true love’s kiss’.”
Alan giggled and Harvey nickered in amusement. It quickly turned to alarm, however, when the crone screeched and stood, throwing back her hood. A flash of lightning lit the sky, and when it passed, in the crone’s place was a beautiful woman with blood red lips and slender, perfectly manicured eyebrows. “I will be fairest in the land!” She howled at Julian, then raised her hand above her head, golden light beginning to spark at her fingertips. But before she could strike - or Alan and Julian could move to stop her - Harvey let out an angry scream, rearing onto his hind legs in front of the witch and pawing at the air.
Fine features twisted into an angry snarl, the woman retreated from the dangerous hooves. With a shocked cry, she stumbled over a log Alan had collected earlier and fell to the ground, head cracking sharply against a large rock. Julian started to get up from his bed, but Alan was already over the witch’s body, sword in hand as he checked for a pulse.
“She’s dead,” he said decisively and sheathed his sword.
“Right,” Julian said, narrowing his eyes at the two vultures circling the camp. “We may as well get going; there’s no way either of us are going back to sleep.” Not to mention he didn’t want to sleep with a dead body so near.
With a nod, Alan started puttering around the camp, cleaning up and putting things back into the saddle bags. He paused before Julian, warily eyeing the apple Julian was contemplating. “Do you want me to destroy that?” he asked, shifting uncomfortably from one leg to the other, still glaring at the apple.
Julian tilted his head, thinking. He probably should get rid of the apple, but something in his gut told him otherwise. “No,” he sighed eventually, standing and turning the apple slowly in his hand. “Get me some cloth to wrap it in. It could come in handy, later.”
Frowning, Alan did as he said, but when he came back with some spare cloth, he protested, “But it’s evil.”
“It’s a tool,” Julian said gently, taking the cloth and carefully wrapping the apple. “It’s how it is used that determines its worth.”
Alan nodded grudgingly. “Do you want me to put it in the packs as well?”
“No,” Julian said with a laugh, reaching out to ruffle Alan’s hair. “I’m sure something would ‘accidentally’ happen to it if it were left in your care.”
Alan shrugged, not even pretending he would have done otherwise. It made Julian smile. Alan had such a developed sense of what was right and wrong, and would do anything to keep people safe from harm. Even go behind their backs or disobey orders if necessary. Julian was constantly amazed by the boy, and wondered if it was his parents that instilled that sense of duty within him, or if it was the brother he so revered.
“Have you talked to Jude recently?” Alan asked, apropos of nothing.
“Not since we left the city. Why?”
Alan shrugged. “Maybe you should.”
“I will,” Julian said with a sigh. “I just don’t know what to say to him just yet.”
“You could always ask if you should get rid of the apple,” Alan suggested innocently. At Julian’s unamused look, he scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t like it.”
“You’ve made that obvious,” Julian snapped as he swung up on Harvey. “But something tells me that it will be useful in the future, so drop it.”
The answer must have appeased Alan a bit, for he subsided with a minimal amount of grumbling. Julian did a bit of grumbling himself, but was cut off by Harvey’s ears flicking back, the large horse pulling at the reins in what Julian had learned was disapproval.
“You’re not my nanny, you know,” he told the horse. Harvey just side-stepped in response and shook his head, nickering. Behind him, Julian heard Alan snicker, and just decided to do what the damn horse said.
Shortly after the incident in the woods, they found a large town with a gleaming castle looming overhead. They rode into the marketplace, wanting to replenish their supplies before they resumed the journey, and when Julian was paying for their supplies he noticed the shopkeeper staring at him. At his eyes, in particular.
“Is something wrong?” Julian asked. The man jolted, as if he had realized he was staring, and gave Julian a hesitant smile.
“Not at all, sir,” came the reply, though Julian noticed the man’s eyes dart from side to side nervously, and the man was quick to end their transaction.
Julian shared a bemused look with Alan. A sudden feeling of urgency was forming in his stomach, and Julian quickly re-mounted, eager to escape the town. They were about to leave the market when a man in rich clothes stopped them, peering up at Julian through his monocle.
“I say sir, might you be Prince Larson?”
“Yes,” Julian answered warily, highly aware of Harvey’s agitated shifting beneath him.
Many emotions flashed over the man’s face, before it settled on relief. The sorrow and pity he saw, though, were enough to set Julian’s nerves on edge. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the man said politely. “If you would come with me -”
“I’m afraid I must decline,” Julian interrupted, not caring if he was rude. Something wasn’t right. “My companion and I have a long journey ahead of us, and we must depart at once.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” the man said, shaking his head sadly. At the same time, there was a chorus of swords being drawn, loud hisses of metal scraping from scabbards. A muffled yelp sounded behind him, Julian’s head snapping around to see a sword held at Alan’s throat.
“I suggest you do as we say, Julian.” The shell necklace was burning against his skin and felt like a weight about his neck. “If you even try to run away…”
(“If you even try to come near that door…”)
“We’re going to kill him -”
(“- right now!”)
Julian gasped, clinging to the saddle as his vision swam, ears ringing. He could hear the sound of armored feet moving over cobblestones, but it was overlaid by the sound of an explosion. When he wavered, nearly falling off the horse, he heard a young boy scream, but he could also hear two other voices screaming in fear as the world shook around them. He remembered being held against a wall, though he knew there was nothing holding him up now, and could barely hear the concerned murmurs of the townsfolk over the voices screaming in his head. And suddenly he knew it was -
(“You’ve ruined everything. Everything!”)
- all his fault.
(“You have no idea how much pain you’ve given everyone!”)
Because he didn’t -
(“Tell him why I hate him!”)
- tell -
(“Tell him or I’ll kill him, Julian—I will!”)
“You wouldn’t want him to get hurt, right?”
There was a single burst of white-hot agony arching through his body, centered against his sternum. He might have screamed, but sound was lost in the cracking of fire before everything went black.
(“Wha- … -ng on?”
“I don’t - … -ne then his heartbe- …”
“…-ming. He’ll be - …”
“Jules? Hey, it’s me…”)
When Julian came to, he was in a large room with gleaming white floors and walls, gilded ornaments accenting the large, golden chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was filled with people, faces stony and pale despite the gorgeous ballroom clothes they were wearing. To his surprise, Julian found himself dressed much the same, in a silver-blue tunic and paler silver pants. Around his throat was a slender black necklace that was tight as a collar. Luckily, the nautical shell necklace that he’d had his whole life was still there, hidden under the foreign clothes.
By far the strangest thing, however, was his lack of shoes.
“What in the world…” Julian shook his head, trying to clear it of the cobwebs clouding his mind. Loud trumpeting sounded across the hall, and the horrendously large doors opened to let a single figure through.
Through his blurry vision, Julian almost thought the person was a rose. But as he blinked, clearing the mist from his eyes, he saw that it was, in fact, a man. The dark red shirt and forest green pants he was wearing had been the reason for Julian’s initial confusion. His hair was black, his skin pale, and as he came closer, Julian could see that his eyes were the same dark green as his slacks.
So very different from the green in his dreams.
“Prince Julian,” he greeted warmly, raising Julian’s hand to press a kiss against its back. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Julian racked his brain, trying to remember who the other man was. He seemed so familiar, and had flashes of remembered conversations with the man. In fact, he was almost positive he’d danced with the dark haired prince. But his name -
“Prince Vardan,” Julian acknowledged cooly, not bothering to hide his displeasure. “I would say the same, but it’s not really my wish to be here.”
The crowd around him shifted uncomfortably, the people’s eyes darting with worry towards their dark prince. Those dark green eyes narrowed dangerously for just a moment, then cleared with realization. A smile formed on the Prince’s face.
“You’ll understand in just a moment.” Turning, he waved at a slender man in the corner, a blood-red pillow cradled carefully in his arms. The man winced, but walked steadily forward, kneeling beside the prince to offer the object on the satin pillow.
“You were wearing these when we first met,” the prince said, voice dreamy and eyes looking into the distance, lost in memories. “We danced, and I could feel the connection between us. Do you remember?”
Julian remembered. He remembered the extravagant ball, the shoes Jude had turned to glass after Julian had spent hours complaining about how they bit into his feet. He’d said they were more uncomfortable than anything, and Jude had thought otherwise, changing Julian’s shoes to prove his point.
Jude had been right.
“I knew from that moment that we were meant for each other,” The prince continued softly, taking the glass shoe from the pillow and carefully slipping it onto Julian’s foot.
It was a perfect fit. But then again, they both knew it would be.
Vardan smiled brightly. “I’m so glad you’ve come, Julian. We’ll be married -”
“No. I don’t…” Julian shook his head, fighting the strong sense of deja-vu and focussing on the warmth against his chest to ground him. “I don’t even know you…”
A split second later, Vardan was hovering angrily over him. “Yes you do,” he hissed, practically spitting out the words. “You know me. You -”
(“- looked at me! You let me look after you, you know the one meant to protect you and look after you!”)
“This isn’t protecting me,” Julian said dazedly, words slurring together. His vision was swimming again, the bright colors of the crowd swirling across his sight into a strange mosaic of vivid hues. It hurt his head, a steady pounding that was accompanied by the ache in his arm, the bite of steel digging into his throat.
(“You see what I’d go through for you, Julian? Don’t you see?”)
But… Vardan didn’t have a knife. And Julian’s arm wasn’t hurt.
A loud crash brought him out of his haze. Looking up, Julian saw two figures on horseback crashing through the main door. One was tall, and covered completely with white armor, -only a small splash of color in an emerald green stripe across the visor, and four bright red shapes, creating the illusion of a badge crossed vertically and horizontally with white. The other, however, was -
“Alan!” Vardan’s large hand on Julian’s shoulder kept him from rising. He winced as they dug bruises into his skin, but Julian’s eyes were only for the two figures rushing across the hall. There was a hiss of steel as the guards around the room drew their swords and rushed to surround the two princes.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Vardan growled at the white knight. He drew his sword as well, crossing it over Julian’s body.
The Knight said nothing, but reached over his shoulder to draw a large battle axe, the handle made of gold. The metal blade was red, matching the symbol on his breastplate, and the sharp edge was pure white.
“Why can’t you just let things go the way I planned?” Vardan screamed. With another scream of rage he rushed forward, his black armored guards following with their swords drawn to remove the interruption.
Julian cried out in horror as they converged on the two forms, but he saw Alan quickly slip out of the fight, the majority of Vardan’s fury focused on the white knight.
“Come on,” Alan shouted, holding out a hand to help Julian swing up on Harvey. Cursing, Julian scrambled up onto the saddle, wincing as the glass shoe pinched his foot. There wasn’t any time to remove it, as just then Vardan and his knights realized Alan’s plan.
“Stop them!” Julian heard Vardan shout as Harvey jolted forward, rushing across the hall and just slipping out of the closing doors.
“The knight!” Julian gasped, twisting around to watch the doors slam shut.
“He’ll be fine,” Alan shouted over the loud clack of Harvey’s hooves against cobblestone as they rushed through the empty streets. “He has friends that will help him out.”
Throat tight, Julian nodded and turned back around. He didn’t know why he was so worried, but he couldn’t get the thought of the knight out of his head. Swallowing thickly against the knot in his throat, he wrapped his arms around Alan’s small frame and hunched over, silent as they escaped from the city.
Julian had barely glimpsed the thorn-covered castle, just coming out of the thick trees when they were caught. The creatures swarmed around them, shouting words interspersed with strange clicking sounds. They watched Julian and Alan with singular large, round black eyes situated in the middle of their heads. Atop their strange heads were thick antennas that flashed in the light obnoxiously, nearly blinding the travelers.
Alan tensed behind Julian, his hand automatically going to his sword. On the other hand, Julian smiled reflexively at the flashes.
At least, until he registered the words.
“He doesn’t really love you,” they told him, “You would have known if he had. And you know it’ll ruin you if you’re together - no one can find out. Will he be content to hide what you have because of your fear? That is, of course, if he goes with you. You’ve hidden something so large from him for so long, he probably hates you now. Like we will, if you turn out to be gay.”
“Bisexual, actually,” Julian said blandly, though his grip on the reins was white-knuckled. “Not that it has anything to do with you.”
“Of course it does,” they shouted. “Without us, you’d be nothing. Nothing.” They swarmed closer, the chattering growing ever louder as they neared the two humans, greedy hands reaching out to hover just over their victim’s skin, but never touching.
“What are they?” Alan asked in horror, clutching the handle of his sword.
“They’re like vultures,” Julian answered, outwardly calm. Inside, he was shaking, trying not to let the words get to him, though he wasn’t completely sure what they meant. The words seemed to go past his brain and right into his heart, causing it to ache. “Swarming around for the next shiny thing, waiting for a moment of weakness to rip it apart.”
“Oh,” said Alan. The boy twisted to rummage quickly through the saddlebag. “It’s a good thing I kept this, then.”
Thin arms looped around Julian’s waist and put something smooth into his hand. When Julian looked down, he nearly dropped the glass shoe.
“I thought I told you to get rid of this!”
He felt Alan shrug. “You kept the apple, I kept the shoe. It seemed fair.”
Julian was about to snap at the cheeky boy when he noticed the creature’s intent focus on the shoe, the excited clicking they made as their antennas flashed wildly.
“What’s that?” one asked breathlessly.
“Isn’t that -”
“The one that Prince Verdan -”
“Yes, didn’t he -”
“Isn’t he -”
“Give it to us.” They hissed in unison, and they began climbing over each other to get closer to Julian, pulling those in front back in an effort to take their place, drawing blood as they clawed to get closer. A fissure of fear thrummed through Julian as the clicking reached nearly unbearable levels and he glanced wildly around, the only thing keeping him from outright panic was the warmth of Alan’s body behind him.
“You want it?” He asked through clenched teeth. Not waiting for an answer he twisted around and threw the shoe with all his strength, grinning feraly as it flashed in the sunlight. “Go get it.”
The creatures let out a unified scream of dismay, then swarmed past Julian and into the forest, screeching and chattering loudly as they rushed in the direction the shoe fell.
Julian didn’t wait to see if they found it. He dug his heels into Harvey’s sides and the horse lurched forward, feet clomping against the dirt path as they raced away from the strange creatures and to the looming castle.
“Thank you,” Julian said to Alan, reaching down to squeeze one of the arms wrapped tight about him.
“My brother taught me always to be ready,” came the response, muffled by Julian’s shirt. “You can thank him.”
“When he said it was covered in thorns, I didn’t think it was this bad.”
Alan hummed and cut off a large branch, watching curiously as it grew swiftly back.
“And are they leaking?” Julian asked, disgusted. He gingerly touched the liquid dripping out of the roses and down the thorned vines. Once he realized what the liquid was, he paled and stepped back.
But the damage was done. The unnatural blood stained his finger, and he could hear the roses in his head. They whispered sweetly to him, cooing their love to him and telling him they’d keep him safe, keep everyone else from hurting him.
‘We’re here to protect you,’ they said, voices thick like honey as they wound through his mind, ‘Keep out all those who would try to take you away.’
“Can you hear them?” Julian asked Alan. His voice was shaking, and he wasn’t able to force his gaze from the roses until Alan pulled urgently at his arm and pointed to his left.
It was Vardan. Unlike the previous time they’d seen him, he looked a wreck. His hair was messy with rose petals stuck in the thick locks. His fine tunic and pants were dirty and ripped, and he was walking with a limp.
His eyes, too, looked crazed.
“Why did you run?” he snarled, voice deeper than before and almost rumbling from him like a growl. “You weren’t supposed to run.”
“We’re supposed to be happy!” he screamed. To Julian’s horror, he started to change, his nose and mouth elongating into a snout and spines sprouting from his head. His hands grew long talons and his bare feet morphed into those of another creature. “None of them would do this for you,” he gestured to himself, to the forest of bleeding roses. “No one.”
“You’re mad,” Julian whispered, horrified as the man in front of him continued to shift, growing scales and fangs, becoming larger and larger until he was no longer human.
“I’m saving you from yourself,” the dragon growled, and leaped.
Julian could hear Alan scream, could feel the vines tearing and snapping against his back as the dragon threw him into the thorns. He heard the rush of flames as the dragon lit the forest with fire around him, felt the heat as the flames licked by his skin, and he was barely able to raise his sword when the weight of the dragon’s body crashed over him with an angry snarl, pinning him to the ground. A warm gush of thick liquid spilling over him, seeming to come from hear his hands, and the dragon screamed in pain above him. There was sharp bite of something slicing into the skin of his neck and after that, there was nothing.
“..-lining, get the padd-…”
“…- two, three, fou-…”
“… -d’s sake get him out!”
Eyes snapping open and back arching sharply from the ground, Julian gasped in a harsh breath as the painful shock of electricity left his system. His nerves were buzzing and his blood rushed loudly through his ears, nearly drowning out the high pitched ringing. Blinking rapidly helped clear his vision enough that when he turned his head, he could see Jude’s pale face and worried eyes. One of the sorcerer’s hands was moving from Julian, sparks still dancing between the slender fingers.
“‘d you shock me?” Julian asked, the slur in his voice masking any annoyance he was trying to project. When he blinked again, he could feel water spill over from the corner of his eye and trail across his skin to drop on the dirt.
“Your heart stopped,” Jude explained. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and when he opened them again, he looked much calmer.
“Oh.” Julian blinked again, turning to look up at the sky. He tracked the clouds passing quickly through the sky until another face loomed into his vision, blocking the light blue. “Hey, Alan,” Julian said with a small smile. He wanted to reach up and ruffle the boys hair, but his arms wouldn’t obey.
“Hello,” Alan answered somberly. He was pale as well, even more than usual. After watching Julian for a few moments, he leaned down to rest his head on Julian’s chest, right above his heart.
“‘m okay, Al,” Julian murmured, mustering his strength to lift his hand and place it on the boy’s head.
“You died,” came the unhappy reply. “You’re not supposed to die.”
Julian closed his eyes. “I don’t want to die, Alan, but if it happens, then I don’t really have any control over it.”
It obviously wasn’t what Alan wanted to hear, for he had a large frown on his face when he straightened again and pulled at Julian’s arms to help him sit up. With a groan, Julian allowed the help, blinking rapidly against his darkening vision when he was mostly upright, leaning his elbows on his bent knees and dropping his head low between them to alleviate the dizzyness.
A warm hand stroked down his spine as Jude asked, softly, “How do you feel?”
“Like I jumped out of a window and hit every branch on the way down,” Julian groaned, glancing up just in time to see both Jude and Alan wince.
“You don’t say,” Jude said dryly. “And does it feel like a body landed on top of you?”
“Actually, yes,” Julian replied, rubbing his chest with a frown. “But I assumed that was the electric shock or the fact that Vardan tackled me.” He glared briefly at Jude - who rolled his eyes - then glanced around himself, wondering, “What happened to him, anyway?”
“The roses ate him,” Alan answered with disgust. “They wrapped all around his body and sucked him dry, and the fire suddenly stopped and the burned roses came back like nothing happened. They tried to do the same to you, but we got you out in time.”
Shuddering a bit at the visual, Julian glanced over at the forest of thorns to see that Alan was right - they looked exactly like they had before Vardan’s arrival. “Thank you,” Julian said quietly, disturbed at the thought of feeding the strange plants. Then he realized - “Jude, what are you doing here, anyway?”
“Oh!” Jude blinked with a small quirk of his mouth. “When Vardan attacked, Alan got the mirror and called me. Then I transported here.”
“Transpor - Right. I forgot you could do that.” Julian frowned, brows scrunching together. “Why didn’t we do that in the first place?”
With a smile, Jude patiently reminded him that: “I can’t transport somewhere I haven’t seen.”
Julian scrubbed his hands over his face, frustrated. “So what do we do about the forest of man-eating flowers?”
“I have an idea about that. Where’s that apple?”
Not bothering to question how the warlock knew about the strange apple, Julian answered, “In one of the packs. Unless Alan got rid of it when I wasn’t looking.”
“I wouldn’t!” Alan protested, pouting and crossing his arms over his chest.
“You wanted to, though.”
“Well, yes,” Alan admitted easily, completely unrepentant. “But I said I wouldn’t.”
“You also said you wouldn’t put salt in Count Maren’s wine -”
“I had to make sure he wasn’t a vampire!”
“We knew he was a vampire!”
“And he was going to seduce you, so I had to stop him -”
“Is this the apple?” Jude interrupted, thrusting the bright red fruit between Julian and Alan, raising an amused eyebrow at the two other brunets.
“Yes, it is” Julian ground out between his teeth, glaring at Alan. “And I promise I wouldn’t have minded -”
“Um.” Alan scrunched up his nose. “Ew. Jude’s better.”
“Thank you, Alan,” Jude said, blushing. “Now, if you could both stop arguing for a second, I’m trying to help you continue this rescue mission.”
Julian made an annoyed sound in his throat mimed strangling Alan with his hands, baring his teeth at the young boy when Alan stuck his tongue out in response. But he then turned his attention to Jude and said, “Right. What’re you doing?”
“Well, basically this.” Jude shrugged and tossed the apple right into the forest.
For a few moments, nothing happened. Then Julian blinked, disturbed, as the vines curled down around the apple, just enough space between for him to see the sharp thorns push in. The fruit slowly started to wither, becoming smaller and more wrinkled as the plants sucked out the moisture, until the vines pressed close together, obscuring the red husk. Eventually, they pulled away, a stream of dust falling to the ground from where the apple was thrown.
“Brilliant,” Julian said with fake awe. “I couldn’t have come up with a better plan myself. Sacrifice the apple to the forest. Wonderful.”
“Be patient, you idiot,” Jude said with a roll of his eyes.
As soon as the words left Jude’s mouth, the forest seemed to shudder. One by one, the roses began to lose their petals, the soft pieces of red fluttering slowly to the ground, landing in the red blood leaking from the thorns. Each of the vines began to wither, turning brown and brittle as they began to bow towards the ground until the entire forest was still, and the voices still whispering softly in Julian’s mind were silenced.
All that remained of the forest were the husks of the once-bright vines, and dirt damp with red blood and littered with rose petals.
His first step onto the soiled ground made him wince, the soft squelching of blooded dirt beneath his boot almost too much to handle. But he took another step, then another, only pausing when he realized the other two weren’t following. Julian turned around to see Alan and Jude watching him sadly, their hands clasped tight together.
“Aren’t you coming?” Julian asked in confusion.
Jude shook his head. “We can’t go any farther. We’ve been here too long, and it won’t let us pass.”
Eyebrows furrowed, Julian asked, “What won’t let you pass?”
The two brunets glanced at each other, then Alan carefully pressed the tip of his boot against the wet ground. Immediately smoke started to rise, the smell of burning leather filling the air, and Julian cursed, started to rush back and stop Alan from doing anything more. But Alan just stepped back again and removed his shoes, standing barefoot on the dry ground. He smiled up at Julian, reassuring him he was safe.
“It’s you and Harvey from here on out,” Jude said, a soft, fond smile curling his lips. “We’ll miss you, Julian.”
“What are you talking about?” There was a lump in Julian’s throat that he couldn’t explain, a strange feeling that this was it. “I’ll go rescue the prince and come back. Happily ever after and all that jazz.”
Alan giggled and Jude laughed, shaking his head. “If you say so.”
“I do,” Julian said, but rushed over to hug them both tightly, trying to memorize the feeling and smell of them both just in case what he was feeling was right. “We’ll go off on more crazy adventures, and Jude can tell us when Alan and I are being idiots, and Alan will come up with brilliant plans that will save us just in the nick of time, things that his brother taught him that Jude and I haven’t even heard of. And we’ll come back and tell stories and laugh at how stupid we were, how obvious it was that it was a trap, but we got away anyhow.”
Jude tugged him close and kissed him gently, ignoring Alan’s annoyed groan. “I hope you’re happy, Julian. Be safe.”
The castle was eerily silent. At first, Julian had assumed that when Jude had said there was a sleeping prince, it was only the prince that was asleep. But in the first corridor of the large castle there was a number of guards and servants slumped against the floor, breathing deeply and regularly in sleep. The trend continued throughout the castle, and Julian had to carefully lead Harvey throughout the hallways to keep him from accidentally stepping on someone, until they reached the large banquet hall, covered in festive colors and banners, large amounts of somehow-preserved food spread across the many tables. It looked as if the entire castle had fallen asleep in the midst of some party, without any visible cause.
Unnerved, Julian stared for a few minutes, trying to wrap his mind around the situation. It was only when Harvey snorted and started to walk again that he snapped out of his musings and followed the horse through the castle, shuddering and glancing away each time they saw another slumped body. They came to a rounded wall, a large oak door in the center and Harvey abruptly stopped, waiting until Julian had walked just in front of him then prodding him forward with his nose.
“Okay, okay. Jeez,” Julian muttered. He was hesitant to open the door, his friend’s strange farewells still in the back of his mind, but at another, rougher prod from Harvey he opened the door and stepped through, glaring back at the horse. “I guess you’re abandoning me here, too?”
The horse snorted and shook his head, nudging Julian forward and following him into the circular stairwell.
“No, hey, I was kidding,” Julian said turning to try and push the horse back. “You’re going to get hurt if you come up. Harvey.”
Harvey, however, was undeterred and had a few hundred pounds on Julian, so Julian was eventually forced forward with one last glare at his disobedient horse and a muttered, “Pack animal my ass.”
Harvey lipped at the back of his head in retaliation.
A few hundred stairs later - most of which Julian didn’t even remember walking - they came to another door. This one was inordinately large, almost like it shouldn’t have even fit into the narrow passageway, with a groove carved into the center and nothing else. Nothing to open the door with.
Julian tried pushing, but the door didn’t budge. There was no way to pull it, so Julian figured - hoped - that it didn’t open that way. So he examined the groove closer, ignoring Harvey’s amused nickering behind him, trying to understand what it meant. He understood Harvey’s evident amusement a second later when he suddenly realized that the groove was the exact shape and size of the nautical shell necklace about his neck.
“Not a word out of you,” Julian told Harvey, and pulled the necklace out. A faint string of music played through his head and he closed his eyes, concentrating on the beautiful voice singing.
(“Not ready to let go, ‘cause then I’d never know what I could be missing… But I’m missing way too much; So when do I give up what I’ve been wishing for…?”)
Letting out a shaky breath, Julian released the tight grip he had around the necklace, ignoring the nearly burning heat of the delicate shell as he pressed it into the matching groove. There were a few, soft clicks, and something like a key turning into a lock, then the door opened on its own and -
(“Are you planning on coming back to Dalton anytime soon, brat? Or are you finally running away from us?” -
- “Welcome back, Julian.” -
- “And I do want you to know, I’ll hold you up above everyone…” -
- “You’ve done it before, what’s the big deal? Just do it, will you? What’s so groundbreaking about what you’re doing anyway?” -
- “I don’t care what you do, if you’re not going to be useful, get out of here and go somewhere else.” -
- “I just don’t need this right now, Jules—I really don’t! I’ve got enough on my mind without you having to make it harder for me!” -
- “You don’t think I notice that you only ever allow Derek near you? That you’re losing weight and haven’t been sleeping?” -
- “Sing to me.” -
- “No—no, that’s not true! There’s no way you could’ve—there’s—I would’ve at least—” -
- “Julian!” -
- “I’m not leaving here without you!” -
- “This isn’t fair—this isn’t fair, you can’t do this—you can’t! Please… Open your eyes…” -
- “…wake up, Julian… please wake up.” )
Inside the door was not what Julian had been expecting - but looking back, he’s not quite sure if he’s completely surprised. Instead of a large, medieval chamber with a four-poster bed and a handsome, sleeping Logan for him to wake, he’s in a hospital room.
His hospital room.
Julian’s not even sure if it’s real, or just another fantasy his unconscious mind has made up, but either way it’s rather… unsettling to see himself asleep in a hospital bed, various tubes hooked into various machines and an IV trailing into his arm. He saw that he still had bandages and wondered how long he’d been there.
But most important, in his eyes, were the two people in the room with him, the two people whose presences he couldn’t believe he hadn’t missed. They were both holding his body’s hands, Logan’s mop of blond hair resting on the bed beside their clasped hands, while Derek was leaning back in his chair, face lax in sleep.
“They’ve barely left your side since your mom let them in.”
Julian blinked and turned a bit to the side, a bit surprised to see Harvey there, before he realized -
“Oh my god,” Julian said, turning bright red. “You were my horse!”
“Yes” Harvey said, looking amused. “It was a very… unique experience. I thank you for it.”
Julian stared at him, incredulous. “You’re thanking me for my subconscious turning you into a horse?”
That brought a laugh from Harvey. “Well, yes. It’s not everyday one gets to experience being a different species. Not even here.”
“Speaking of, where is here?” Julian asked, glancing around. “What’s going on?”
With a gentle smile, Harvey explained, “In-between. Limbo, I guess is the most common name for it. You’re straddling the line between living and dead, Julian, and you need to choose which side to be on, and soon.”
“Oh,” Julian said, looking at the floor to avoid the sight of his two friends, knowing that if he watched them for too long his decision would be made. “And what are you doing here? Another projection of my mind?”
“The only projection was Vardan, as Adam survived the fire. Jude and Alan are real.”
“But then why -” He broke off in realization at Harvey’s patient smile, the same one he gave Logan.
Used to give Logan.
“Oh, god,” Julian said, his throat closing and hot tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. “Oh, god, Harvey, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t, Julian,” Harvey said softly. He stepped forward and pulled Julian into a tight hug, cradling the back of Julian’s head and rubbing his back with the other. “It’s not your fault. It was never your fault.”
“I - god, Harvey, of course it was -”
“No,” Harvey said firmly, holding Julian’s head still and ducking a bit to meet and hold Julian’s gaze. “Julian, it was out of your control.”
“I should have told someone, or left or, or -”
“Julian, Julian, stop.” The hands moved down to Julian’s shoulders and Harvey shook him gently. “Stop. You were trying to protect Logan, and no-one can fault you for that.”
“Your wife can,” Julian said bitterly. “The warblers, hell even Logan himself can. They loved you.”
“Oh, Julian. No one can blame you because it was my choice, and I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”
“You would die because I’m an idiot?”
“No,” Harvey said and cupped Julian’s face in his hands. “I would protect my boys. I would protect them from a mentally unbalanced boy’s mistake, one that he, himself didn’t mean to make. I’m just glad that you’re all safe.”
“Are they? Are they all safe?” Julian asked, desperate to know that no-one else had died because he couldn’t swallow his pride enough to ask for help.
“They’re all safe,” Harvey assured him. “You’re the only one still in the hospital, though Dwight and Danny will both have to check in regularly. Everyone else’s injuries were relatively light.”
The words loosened something in Julian’s stomach, and he suddenly found it easier to breath. “Good. Thank god.” He wiped his eyes, embarrassed despite himself to be caught crying. Though he allowed that maybe, for once, it would be okay for someone else to see him a little broken. “So then, who were Alan and Jude?” he asked, wanting to talk about anything other than his guilt.
“I’m sure you already know the answer to that.”
“I don’t –“ But Julian thought for a moment of what he knew of the boys, mostly the Windsors, and the two who came to the school with a blanket of sadness. “Houston. Alan Houston. But Jude…”
“Was one of Blaine’s friends from before Dalton.”
“Oh. Oh,” Julian said, suddenly realizing, “That’s why they couldn’t come into the castle. They’ve been dead for too long. Wow.” Julian rubbed his eyes. “I’ve been hanging out with dead people.”
Harvey laughed. “They wanted to watch out for you and help you come back. I think they’ve become even more fond of you than they’d thought.”
“Yes, well,” Julian said, flashing his patented grin, “I’m very likeable.”
With no small amount of amusement, Harvey raised his eyebrows. “Funny, that’s not the impression I’d been getting from everyone.”
This time it was Julian that laughed, despite the sharp pain that he felt in his heart at the thought that Harvey wouldn’t be able to watch over them anymore. “Well, the Windsor’s are rather judgmental when it comes to us Stuarts, and quick to rush into battle.” With a frown, Julian asked, “Speaking of battle, the White knight. Who -”
“Ah,” Harvey said with a smile. “I thought that would come up. Who do you think it was?”
“I was thinking it would be Dwight, as the White Knight’s his nickname, but the colors, the crest on his shoulder were all Logan.”
Harvey looked pleased, much like he had when Logan landed his first solo. “You’re correct both ways. I guess you could say he was a mix of both your and Alan’s memories; Alan of rushing in to save things with his brother, while you remember Logan finding you when you needed it.”
“Right,” Julian said, trying not to wince at the memories. He paused for a moment, both he and Harvey looking back to the two sleeping boys, and asked, tentatively, “If I go back, will I remember this?”
“It will be vague, like a strange dream. But you’ll remember.”
Julian nodded. When he glanced at Harvey again, it was to see the former teacher watching Logan with a smile, the expression so tender and loving that Julian had to ask, “He’s important to you, isn’t he?”
“They all are,” Harvey answered. “But Logan… Logan’s so much like a son to me that it has been difficult to see him go through all he has. I just wish I could have helped him more.”
“I think you helped him more than you know. Logan,” Julian glanced away and swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat, “Lo had me and Derek, but before the Warblers that was it. I think that you saved him a lot from what he could have been.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Harvey said, smiling and reaching over to clasp Julian’s shoulder. “And I hope that you two figure out this thing between you. He loves you more than I think you let yourself believe.”
Julian groaned. “Dear god, how long have you known?”
With a laugh, Harvey said, “Long enough. You’re not as discreet as you think.”
“Evidently not,” Julian grumbled.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Harvey chided, giving Julian a warm look. “It’s good for people to know he’s capable of being loved. Just,” he paused, his expression turning somber, “Please don’t give up on him, don’t push him away now that he knows. I think you two need each other more than anything else right now.”
“That’s if I go back,” Julian said, glancing away from Harvey’s face to avoid what the teacher thought. “I didn’t get my nickname for my tendency to stick things out.”
“You’ve stuck with Logan for three years.”
“Yeah, well,” Julian sighed and ran a hand through his hair, fisting his hand against the crown of his head, “I wasn’t there for a lot of it.”
“You were there when it counted,” said Harvey. “That’s what matters.”
“It’s not enough.”
Harvey smiled. “It’s more than enough. And now that he knows, I think he understands the running. Though you know he never believed that you would really leave him.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Sometimes.” Harvey smiled again, and stepped forward to loop his long fingers around Julian’s wrist. “Come now, it’s time.”
Julian’s chest tightened, and he took a half-step backward. “But I don’t –“
“You do,” Harvey said firmly, though his eyes never changed from warm patience. “You’re just scared.”
Harvey stilled, bringing Julian’s hands up to clasp them between his own. “You’ll be okay, Julian. Just let them help you.”
“I’ve never been good at accepting help.”
“You’ll learn,” Harvey said, as if he knew that Julian would. Then he turned Julian and walked him towards the bed, hand warm and firm against Julian’s back. “Go on then, give wake yourself up.”
“I,” Julian floundered, glancing at his sleeping face then up at Harvey. “How?”
Harvey looked so, so very amused. “You’re Sleeping Beauty aren’t you?”
“I’m not -” Julian stuttered, going bright red because was he serious? “I have to kiss myself?”
“It’s taking self-acceptance a bit far, I’ll agree,” Harvey said dryly, though his eyes were still dancing with laughter, “But it’s what needs to be done.”
“This is messed up on so many levels,” Julian muttered, bending over his sleeping form. He paused for a moment to look over at Logan, wanting more than anything to reach out and brush the hair from his face, to trace the soft lips with his fingers and chase away the worried crease of his brow. Even like this he was so beautiful, with his hair mussed and dark bags under his eyes, swollen from tears and sleeplessness. It was horribly unfair for Harvey to bring Julian back when Logan was here because he was right – he’d never be able to leave Logan for long.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Julian reached back to clasp Harvey’s hand tightly and whisper, “Thank you,” before he leaned in just that bit more and pressed a soft kiss to his own, sleeping lips.
The world went white.
Julian’s head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and he whimpered softly, shifting restlessly.
“Julian, come on, wake up, please…”
Groggy, and not really sure why, exactly, he felt compelled to listen to that voice, Julian shifted once again and forced his eyes open, nearly giving up before he began at the swollen, scratchy feeling of his eyelids.
It was so worth it, though, when the first things he saw are his two best friends, hair limp and messy, eyes bloodshot and their faces torn between worry and utter joy.
Julian smiled, faint but the best he could do at that moment, and his voice was raspy and rough when he whispered, “Hey.”
Weeks later, the grass had started to grow back over Harvey’s grave. The day was warm and bright, lighting the trees and flowers scattered around the cemetery. The faintest of winds was blowing just enough to rustle the leaves, but not enough to break the soft tranquility of the day. Julian’s hands were steady when he put two flowers – a purple hyacinth and hydrangea – onto the white granite grave marker, then he crouched before the grave and smiled at the inscription, absently wondering if the twins had tried to put something more humorous in its place.
“I still remember,” he said softly, shifting a bit and straightening his back, sighing when the healing bruises stopped hurting. “And I still can’t believe that you were my horse. It explains just how strange of a horse you were, and how effective the disapproving glares were.” He shifted again then gave up and sat back on the newly-growing grass, leaning his forearms on his bent knees. “I’m…” He trailed off to glance up at the sky, tracing his gaze around one of the large clouds. “It’s getting better, but nothing’s been easy. I’ve stuck around with Logan, like you asked, and I really can’t say that I always wish I had. It’s so very awkward, and it feels like we just can’t seem to fit ourselves back together again, but…”
A small smile twisted Julian’s lips as he glanced to the side, at the lone figure waiting at the cemetery gates. “He’s here, you know. Won’t let me out of his sight now-a-days. He misses you,” he whispered, leaning forward to trail his fingers over the smooth headstone “You told me he was like a son to you; I think that you’re the father he always needed.”
Julian looked away again, closing his eyes and just listening to the wind. After a few minutes of silence, he said, “I talked to Dwight. It was the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had, especially when he started crying after I told him how Alan helped.” He continued to stroke the granite absently, tracing Harvey’s name with a single finger. “He… he offered to let me come the next time he visits. And I think…” Swallowing, Julian blinked back the tears beginning to burn his eyes. “I think I may go with him. I haven’t had the time to talk to Blaine about Jude, yet; I don’t think he’ll be as receptive as Dwight was. But I - I want to visit them both. Thank them for their help. I don’t know if I could have come back if they hadn’t helped me like that.”
Biting his lip, Julian nearly cursed at the tears gathering in the corner of his eyes. But then he remembered the annoyed flicking of Harvey’s ears, Alan’s laughter at his conversations with the horse and he couldn’t do anything to stop the tears from falling. His shoulders were shaking and his bottom lip was still caught firmly between his teeth to muffle his sobs, and he nearly jumped out of his skin when strong arms pulled him back against a warm chest.
“Ssh, Jules,” Logan’s voice whispered, and Julian turned his head into Logan’s neck, for once unashamed to take the offered comfort.
(PARTS FROM DALTON IN AT THE DOOR)
1) Side Story: New Years Greetings from East to West
2) Chapter 17
3) Chapter 18
4) Side Story: Always Perfect
5&6) Chapter 23
7&8) Chapter 26
9-11) Chapter 27
12) Chapter 28
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