THE QUIET MEN
Ok, guys, here is the next spooky chapter...LOL! Ran
Chapter 15: Brian's POV
It's ten-thirty. Still kind of light, outside. Ireland is very jealous about letting go of the gloaming, like an old maid guarding her virginity from penetration by the night. I stand at the window of our suite, overlooking the park where it all started. I'm wearing a robe, and the pixie charm. Brian Kinney doesn't wear jewelry. A watch, now, in the old days, that shell bracelet, but nothing more. I always believed jewelry looks cheesy on men. And necklaces are cheesiest of all. A pixie on a chain with a diamond, for chrissakes? And yet...I'm scared. I'm really scared. What happened to me today, and what Ariel told me about Gus, left me terrified. Bits and pieces of that incident return to me in flashes of memory. Walking across Library Square, a little ahead of Justin, who's pissed at me. The sudden feel of a chill breath on my neck, and the whispered words, "Go home." And then someone clocked me on the back, and that was all I remember until I woke up in the infirmary. I never saw the source of the voice, just felt his breath on my neck. Cold breath. Cold, cold, cold. Inhuman.
I jump as Justin presses his hand between my shoulder blades. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. Are you okay?"
I shrug. I don't want to worry him, so I deliberately don't turn around to meet his eyes. He'll be able to read my fear. His arm encircles my waist and he presses his head to my shoulder. "Let's just stay in," he suggests.
"Better idea. You stay in. I'll go alone. I feel like I have to go, Justin. I have to play this out. But I'd feel better knowing you were safe."
"As if!" he nudges me with his hip. "You go, I go."
I reach up and take off the fairy charm, looping it over his head and pressing the charm to his chest. "Then you wear this."
"No, Brian. Ariel said you should wear it."
"Fuck Ariel. If it's to protect someone, I want you to be protected. I'll be fine."
I grab him by the arms and stare down into his eyes. "Please. Please do this for me."
We both notice the red stain suddenly spreading on the white terry sleeve of his robe. My hand is bleeding. We look at the source and see that the image of that Tinkerbell figure they stamped onto the back of my hand at Sidhe has returned, only this time it's bleeding, as if carved in the flesh. And yet, there's no pain. I grimace and go into the bathroom, letting the water run over it until it's clear. The image is still there, the outline blurred by the inconsistency of flesh. I wrap it in gauze from the small medical kit I travel with, and he tapes it for me.
"I want to go home, Brian."
"You heard what he said about Gus. I have to be sure Gus is alright before we go. I need assurances."
He walks into my embrace and I hold him tightly as he says, "This is all my fault. I made you come here!"
"Do you believe that, Justin? I don't. I believe coming here was destiny."
He meets my eyes. "Then that means I was used like a tool."
A knock at the door draws us in that direction. Ronan is on the other side, standing there with a small, rumpled-looking man wearing mismatched tweeds and Einstein hair. "Chaps, this is Professor Quinn. He teaches Irish Folklore and Mythologies of the Celts at Trinity."
"Just Quinn," the man says, looking at my bandaged hand. Fresh blood has soaked through the bandages and he wrinkles his nose with displeasure. He reminds me of a character in a kid's book that I used to read to Gus. The character was a little badger who dressed in a suit and vest. This guy is a human badger. He actually says, "Tsk,tsk, tsk." Do people really say that? He did. Glancing at Justin, he spies the charm, and holds out his hand like a teacher asking for a naughty student to hand over his slingshot. Justin slips off the necklace and hands it to him. The badger dangles it before me. "Put it on," he demands and I glare at him.
"If you don't mind, I prefer to protect my partner."
"Has no effect on your partner, silly man. It was intended for you, it works only for you. There's no fair trade among the sidhe."
"Do it," Justin insists and I sigh and slip it on. The badger unwraps my bloody bandage and we all see that the bleeding Tinkerbell is now gone. Nada. As if it was never there.
"Powerful doings here," the badger slams a heavy leather bound book onto the table by the window. I swear a puff of ancient dust clouds up around it as he does so. "Well, come over here. Can't see from there, can you now?"
Justin slips his hand in mine, and we walk over, followed closely by Ronan. The badger opens the old book to a marked page. It has that musky smell of mildewed attics and time long past. But the text is beautiful, if impossible for Justin and me, since it's written in Irish Gaelic. The illustrated plates are on heavier paper, and appear to be rendered by hand. I want to see every picture, and Justin wants the same, perhaps even more than I, since it incites his artist's eye. But the badger is flipping quickly past the plates until he finally stops and taps a page with his pudgy index finger. I realize he smells like the book, mildewed and ancient. Time is cruel. "Is he the one, then?" He turns the book so the illustration faces us and we find ourselves staring at a rendering of Ariel. He is wearing a diaphanous silver robe and his body beneath it is perfect, as if sculpted from marble. His long blond hair falls in waves to the middle of his back and that handsome face is captured, even to the silvery glint in his eyes.
"What does it say?" Justin asks, and the badger narrows his eyes at him.
"Is he the one?" he persists and I nod.
"He's the one who gave me the charm, yes."
"Ah, powerful indeed. Ariel, the wind spinner. The sylph. Very important figure in the hierarchy of the Seelie Court of the Tuatha de Danaan."
"Tell us what it says," Justin persists. The badger sighs.
"First, why don't you tell me what you foreigners know about our fey society?"
We exchange a glance. Too easy. The faggot reference is just too easy here and would go straight over his frizzy, sloping head. "I know you have to clap if you believe in Tinkerbell and if you catch a Leprechaun, you get a pot of gold. Other than that, pretty much nothing. He knows even less about it than I do."
"Dear me, dear me," the badger frets as he wipes his glasses on his garish tie. "Where to start? Perhaps a bit o' the whiskey to prepare the throat for oration, hum?"
Justin rolls his eyes and retrieves a bottle of single malt from the bar along with a clean glass. The badger pours himself a long one. "Want water with that? Soda? Ice?" Justin offers and the badger shoots him a baleful glare.
"And bruise nature's own? Be quiet, you silly boy," he takes a deep draw from his glass as I smirk at my lover. The man finally addresses us, and I can just imagine how he drives his students nuts with his scattered approach to a lecture. He's probably half-drunk at work most of the time. He has the look of a heavy Irish drinker. I know that look well. I grew up with a heavy drinking Irishman.
"The myths tell us that at the beginning of time, Ireland was inhabited by beings who lived within the realm of the Tuatha de Danaan..."
A knock intrudes. I go to answer it as the badger tales a reinforcing sip from the whiskey. Standing on the other side is Ariel, dressed all in black. Black suit, black shirt, black coat, black boots. His hair is clipped back with a silver clasp decorated by a series of small skulls. He walks past me and straight to the badger, who drops his glass as he stares in wonder at the wind spinner. Ariel sees his picture in the book and his expression grows tense. "Unflattering. This whole tome is pure rubbish!" He sends the book flying into the wall, the ancient binding breaking and the brittle pages scattering in a mini-whirlwind that Ariel conjures up. He turns his silver eyes on me. "Why listen to an old mortal fool who knows nothing but the stories mortals tell their children to frighten them into Christian piety? If you want to know the fey, you learn about it from me."
I notice the badger is cowering behind raised arms, as if expecting a beating, and I cut a glance to Ariel and say something I picked up from my son, "You're not the boss of me."
Justin chuckles at that and I glance at him and smile. The whole thing is so ridiculous to begin with, why even bother pretending things are normal? Ariel is not amused. "Dress yourself. Wear dark clothes. I've come to escort you to Sidhe, for it's not safe to wander on your own among the Unseelie Court."
"No! You can't!" The badger suddenly comes alive. "You can't go out among the Unseelie Court, you haven't a chance!"
"I'm telling you this now, old man. You anger me even a bit more and I shall send you a bolt of flame to broil you from the inside out, and then drown you in water from your own cup."
The badger cringes into silent retreat and I sigh. "What about Justin?"
"What about him?"
"Is he safe? He has no charm."
"You do. He's with you. He can share your protection."
"No, I want him to have his own protection."
"Then leave him here, Brian. He's safe enough here."
"I am going," Justin says firmly and I know that tone of voice.
"He's going," I concede. "So give him something."
Ariel seems annoyed by that request, but after some concentration, he removes one of his crescent moon-shaped earrings and Justin shrinks back from him.
"My ears aren't pierced."
Ariel opens Justin's robe and stabs the hangar through the metal post in his nipple. How he stabbed it through the metal, I have no idea, but Justin winces and complains it feels hot. Ariel presses a fingertip over the charm and Justin's pain ceases. I have to admit that little crescent dangling off his little nipple is sexy and he meets my eyes and smirks at my expression. The badger has crept over to his dissected book and is gathering the strewn contents together.
"Now dress," Ariel insists, casting a glare at the badger. "You, leave."
Ronan helps her colleague towards the door and then pauses. "I haven't talked to my brother since the morning after we went to that club," she says to Ariel. "He said he felt like he needed to get away, clear his head. He was going to drive to the West Country, but he hasn't even called. That's not like Jimmy. Do you know anything about it?"
Ariel glares at her. "I have no interest in mortal troopings."
"Call me tomorrow, Brian. We need to talk," she says as she leaves and I nod and kiss her cheek in farewell. I notice a page of the book didn't make it out with the badger, and I pick it up, staring at the illustration. The elf in the rendering is me. That is, an elfin version of me. The name beneath the illustration is "Fiachna". I can't translate his title, but he wears golden armor, and carries a spray of apple blossoms. I tuck it in my pocket and go to dress, followed closely by Justin. Ariel is by the window, and he appears to be communicating with someone. I see a flicker of movement, darkness, not light, and then it's gone.
"I have a bad feeling about this," I whisper to Justin, who smiles.
"It can't be any worse than bear night at Babylon."
I laugh and lean down to kiss him. Even now, he can make me smile and feel happy. I whisper our mantra and he calls it back to me as we kiss again, only vaguely aware of Ariel's intense watching.
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July 25, 2004