Secrets and Truths
Series: The Anchor's ChainSummary: Nicholas finds his future, more questions are answered, and some characters you may or may not know make an appearance. Y'all know I set up the next story at the end of final chapters, right? Unfortunately, the next story is not going to make an appearance until at least next year, so no holding of breaths though you are welcome to guess what story is next. Many thanks, as always, to my darling beta _profiterole_ for all the patience and feedback she provides. You guys have no idea; you'd never have seen so much of this 'verse if it wasn't for her.
Warnings: The End at the end --near the demand for thoughts, comments and feedback.
When Nicholas woke up, he reached out to feel for his sister and couldn't find her –she'd guided him here when exhaustion had finally hit, had held him as he fell asleep. He tried to open his eyes only to realise that he still had that scarf tied on so he pulled it off. The room was dark, the windows shadowed and the curtains drawn.
"Nix?" he called, not really expecting much of a reply.
"She's gone to shower and change," answered a soft voice from the wingback chair next to the bed.
Nicholas shot up and turned, and couldn't help the flare of his temper when he saw who was there. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Our aunties think I might be your Anchor," Stephen said quietly, blunt and straight to the point –comfortable once more in authority.
When only silence followed that simple sentence, Nicholas snapped, "So that's why you're here, to see if maybe you can be my crutch? Maybe you can get to play the hero in shining ice skates and kiss the dude in distress?" Nicholas tried not to shake even as he worked himself into a frothing temper, "I don't need your fucking pity, you asshole, I— What the—?" He broke off his yelling when Stephen suddenly jumped up, leaned forward and pinned him down –to smother his mouth with a kiss.
"Mmph!" Nicholas protested. Except, when that kiss landed, the headache he'd been carrying around since puberty did that traitorous habit of it whenever Stephen touched him --contracting then faded slowly away, the distant whispering finally shut the hell up, and the kiss …well, that was pretty damn good…
When he next came back to himself, Nicholas thought that maybe having an asshole for an Anchor might not be so bad after all, especially if he got to get pinned to the bed and kissed into submission like—
"That's cheating," he growled, glaring daggers up at Stephen's flushed face and shining eyes. "I'm still upset with you for being a coward."
Stephen sobered a bit and nodded, slowly leaning further down to lay himself right over Nicholas, his head on Nicholas' shoulder, face tucking in against Nicholas' neck. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I really am. I just… I care too much to watch you die. No one can watch that of anyone they give a damn for. When I thought about losing you, knowing that anything we had would probably be pretty fucking amazing and that would all just end, I couldn't even stomach the thought."
Silence descended for a long minute and Nicholas wondered if it would be silly of him to… Well. Might as well. On a timid little murmur, he asked, "Pretty effing amazing?"
"I think so, anyway," muttered Stephen and began pressing kisses to Nicholas' neck.
Nicholas shivered at the softly flitting caresses, loved the feel of Stephen's weight on him, wanted to… well, what the hell? He released his grip on Stephen's upper arms and lifted them slowly to enfold Stephen into his embrace, eyes slipping shut. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with Stephen's scent. He decided, "You were still an idiot."
"I know," Stephen whispered back, holding him just as tightly in return, "I'm sorry I— I can't believe what an utter bastard I was to even think what I did, much less what I said." He snorted, "And I don't pity you." His tone softened again, "I just… I hated that you seemed to be heading toward this one end that no one could change. I just thought that if you could find your Anchor, just maybe if I wasn't in the way…" He sighed, "Stupid thought. I'm sorry."
Nicholas wanted to be angry, maybe on a kind of principle about the thing, but really that would be a waste of time and with his practiced practicality, he tossed those feelings out the window. Instead, he latched on to the one thing he really wasn't going to live without knowing for sure, "Is that the only reason you didn't want to—"
"Yes," Stephen interrupted to say very firmly. He leaned up to look Nicholas in the eye, "Yes, that was the only reason. I've always thought… well, I think you know what I've thought. I've looked at you, watched you look at me. I've flirted with you on some occasions when I thought to hell with it, then regretted it the next day—"
"I remember those," Nicholas said darkly, glaring a bit. "I didn't like the mixed messages."
Stephen winced, "I'm—"
"—sorry. Yeah, I know." Nicholas sighed. A long while later, when Stephen had relaxed back down into him again and Nicholas realised he was still feeling rather comfortable despite having a larger person laying right on top of him, he tentatively asked, "So what do we do now?"
Stephen lifted his head again and smiled down at him, "I guess I Anchor and you See." He stroked his fingers through Nicholas' hair, "I could feel it this time," he whispered, "When this one hit. I'd been feeling them before; Nix and I managed to figure out it I got my headaches at the same time you had your Visions. All this time I thought they were mini-migraines, can you believe it?"
Startled, it took Nicholas a moment to take that in. Slowly, he asked, "What do you mean you could feel it?" His eyes widened, "This time?"
"I could feel this pin-hole headache—"
"—behind your left eye?" Nicholas broke in to ask.
"…my right, actually." Stephen gave him a puzzled look, eyes going to Nicholas' left eye. "I'd feel it start maybe a day before, just a background bit of pain, nothing much. But it would always mean it'd get bad the next day." He sighed, "It always felt like the small pain would just snap open. Hurt like I thought—" His expression went shameful.
"Hurt like you thought?" Nicholas prodded.
Stephen answered very quietly, eyes down, "It never hurt the way you screamed, I can tell you that." He shuddered. "That was… that was awful. I wanted to be deaf when I heard you scream. I never want to hear you make a sound like that ever again." He raised moist eyes to Nicholas' and whispered, "I'm going to have nightmares of that sound, Nicky. I will never forget it."
Nicholas' heart tore at the regret and fear in Stephen's eyes, feeling almost sorry he'd screamed. "I'd kind of like never to make a sound like that again, either. If just so maybe you will one day forget." He sighed, "I don't know what it sounds like. I'm not even trying, it just rips out."
"The pain?" Stephen bravely asked on a voice that only slightly wobbled.
That was a very hard question to answer. Nicholas' gaze fixed beyond Stephen's shoulder, unfocused as he stared at the ceiling. "I wanted to… I wished I would just…"
"Shhh," Stephen soothed, bending to press a soft kiss to Nicholas' lips. "Look at me." He did. "It's going to stop. If everything they say is true, and we find out how to make this work –because we will make it work, damn it—then it will never happen again." His tone hardened along with his eyes, "I won't let it."
Nicholas believed him. "We'll figure it out," he said, reaching to thread a hand through Stephen's hair.
"We'll figure it out," Stephen agreed solemnly. A moment later, he offered a hopeful smile, and tentatively asked, "So… we date, skate and everything in between on the side?"
Nicholas paused, letting himself believe that what he had was really happening. Maybe… maybe… maybe. A bit intimidated by the future and its possibilities suddenly looming ahead, he found reassurance in the embrace, smiled back and admitted, "That sounds… pretty amazing."
Eyes shining, Stephen grinned, then bent and kissed him silly.
"I am One and I am Half," murmured Nicholas, eyes wide as he read the words from the ancient book, his voice low, "I am Mine and I am Yours. I am a Whole Half and I pledge to thee, I am your half."
"I am One and I am Half," Stephen said quietly, eyes intense as they bounced back and forth from the book to Nicholas' face, his voice firm, "I am Mine and I am Yours. I am a Whole Half and I pledge to thee, I am your half."
Nicholas paused, eyes wide and a little frightened. He stared only at the book. Understanding the hesitation had little to do with their current situation, Stephen clucked his tongue softly, drawing Nicholas' attention, then spoke quickly, saying his vows before Nicholas could voice his own;
"I am your Anchor and your Guide." His tone turned stern, "I will keep the voices low, keep you safe from the Beyond, and I will weather all storms by your side." Voice gentling, he murmured, "Keep me safe through all the Calms, and in thee I will place my faith, my trust, my life."
Nicholas swallowed, eyes filled with thanks then embarrassment, gaze falling down to where their hands were clasped together, their wrists bound over together with the golden chain, "I am your Seer and Follower," he softly intoned, "I will keep your power strong, keep you safe from the Within, and I will weather all storms by your side." Nicholas raised his eyes once more, expression half demanding and half frightened, "Keep me safe through all the Tempests and in thee I will place my faith, my trust, my life."
"It is done," murmured Sir Starr, eyes glowing as they reflected the light from the shining array in the book he held between the boys. He touched the array, his fingertips lighting up, then tapped the chain binding their hands together. Instantly, the chain lit up, glowing brighter and brighter until the chain split and wove like snakes of light into two rings –one on each of their thumbs. Behind him, his grandson Quinn watched the proceedings with narrowed, watchful eyes. Eyes which sharpened in a distinctly unfriendly manner toward Nicole and a junior clerk from the Council office –witnesses to the ceremony in stead of a Council member.
No Council member would ever be welcome at the Four Towers estate ever again.
"Finally," Aunt Beth murmured, stepping forward, eyes on the rings. She looked up at them and gave a small smile.
Nicholas noticed distantly that something in her expression had softened completely and he'd never noticed it had ever even hardened. Her face, now relaxed in this way he'd never seen, made him wonder a moment what had brought her such anxiety… but in the next moment, he was swept up into hugs and carried away by the cheers and laughter.
It was a long while later, after all the questions and congratulations, that Stephen managed to snag his arm and pull him suddenly into a secluded little alcove, with a completely unexpected gift to push into Nicholas' hands.
Nicholas stared at the golden necklace for a long moment then stupidly blinked at it.
Stephen shifted restlessly, "If you don't like it—"
"No." Nicholas tore his eyes away from the lovely little necklace and smiled, "Don't be silly, it's gorgeous. I love it." He hesitated before holding it out to Stephen, who happily took it, unclasped it then latched it around Nicholas' neck, leaning in close enough that when he started to move away, it was too easy for Nicholas to grab and kiss him.
"Hmmm," he hummed, "I should have charms made for you more often."
"Shut up," Nicholas chuckled, "But I love this. Thank you." The gold necklace and Anchor pendant hung at just the right length on his neck, long enough to tuck under his neckline, short enough to stay out of the way.
Then, absently, he fingered the ring around his thumb at pretty much the same time Stephen did. They smiled shyly a moment, the rings being the focus of their connection ceremony only an hour earlier. Being inexperienced at linking and establishing a balance between their abilities, the rings provided a kind of conduit until they could learn to let their powers flow between them, as a kind of aide.
Nicholas' headache was gone. No whispers, no awareness, no voices, no nothing. Instead, he could feel only a funnel –a point in the back of his head that felt purposely closed off, and the sense that this funnel connected him to Stephen like a lifeline. If he focused, he could feel the tight grip Stephen had on the Channel, keeping it steady so that instead of the previous turmoil of overlapping sounds and sights, he now felt like he stood on a calm ship which Stephen steered, leaving him free to look out over the sea of possibilities when he wanted.
He didn't want; not right now. And that he had the choice at all made him dizzy with happy relief, his head thankfully and blissfully silent.
Not so preoccupied with his Sight, his mind rang with the powerful words of the spell's pledge he'd made to Stephen; he couldn't help the hot rush to his cheeks at the promise Stephen had made in return…
"If you keep turning red like that," Stephen teased, "They'll wonder what we did in here when we come back out."
"Shut up," Nicholas muttered, turning slightly away because he could feel even his ears were turning red. He shook his head and remembered something he'd wanted to ask, "What does it feel like?"
"I mean," Nicholas fidgeted with the necklace. "You felt it right? What does it feel like?"
"We talked about this already," Stephen said quietly, guiltily. "It's not as bad as how you—"
"Not that." Taking a deep breath then letting it out slowly in a soft sigh, he explained, "Your magic. What does it feel like?"
Stephen's expression cleared. "Like hands. Great hands that can wrap all the way around that hurricane-like river. It feels like you're pulling it through me. I didn't know what it was, I kept trying to cut it off, block it out. But because I kept trying to hold it back and didn't know what I was doing, where it was going, I distorted it." His tone went even quieter so that Nicholas had to strain to hear him, "I made it worse, Nicholas. It's my fault it hurt so bad."
"You didn't know," Nicholas said firmly, hands coming up instinctively to wrap around Stephen's shoulders and pull him close. "You could never have known."
"But I know now what to do," came the stronger-voiced admission, breath blowing into Nicholas' hair. "I know how to hold it, how to funnel it so you can receive it in a stream instead of a storm." He shrugged, "Being so near you when that big one hit was like getting thrown off the deep end on hands-on learning, you know?"
Nicholas nodded against Stephen's shoulder. "Quinn's lessons? They helped?"
"A lot." Stephen frowned, "He sounds like he's done it before, the way he was teaching me."
Nodding because Quinn did sound like he knew more than he was letting on, Nicholas pulled away and opened his mouth to ask another question --and blinked when he felt a tightening behind his right eye.
"I can feel that," Stephen piped up sharply. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Nicholas touched his forehead before glancing up at Stephen, "Want to try?"
Stephen chewed his lip a moment, hesitation settling over his features before he nodded and held out his hand. Nicholas took it, thumb ring folding over Stephen's and making a little clink sound. The sound seemed to him to ring and ring and ring, echoing louder and louder until the sound reverberated in his head and washed all other things out, even his sight—
Books and tomes, dusty and used, ancient and powerful—he could smell the musty scent of old pages, the dry air the books were stored in—a flash of light in the shape of a large circle, the light flashing before sliding from the initial rim to snake in swooping and scribbling patterns toward the centre, the taste of a magical current cutting through the air like an ice cold wind—falling tears like liquid crystal, painful and heartfelt—someone mourning a promise made… and broken…
Nicholas swayed on his feet, breathing hard, hands clenched. He blinked the fading colours from his eyes, the world seeming dark and drab and quiet now by comparison to the world in his head where he Saw so much more.
"Nicholas," Stephen whispered, voice distant and echoing.
Colour and sound flooded back into Nicholas suddenly, the world sharpened into focus and it was only then that the Seeing world seemed colourless and distant. "I'm okay." He said the words with a touch of wonder. That was, so far, the easiest Vision he'd ever had. "I got the message."
Stephen grinned, relief in his expression, "Easy ride?"
With a nod, Nicholas' attention diverted to awareness that neither of them had surrendered their grip on the other. Not really wanting to let go anyway, he explained, "There's a path the Fates want set. We're pretty close to one of the people involved. It's a big one; long term. Don't know why they want it but hey," he shrugged and smiled, "I'm just the messenger."
"And no one shoots this messenger," Stephen teased, "You're too cute to shoot."
"Shut up," Nicholas whined, and that was not a blush on his cheeks, it was not.
"Yo! Keating!" Nicholas called loudly, running as quickly as the crowd could jerk out of his way, snaking around people not paying attention, an arm over his bag but still managing to give a mad wave with the other arm and nearly knocked someone over the head.
"Watch it!" the person snapped.
"I watch many things, you have no idea," Nicholas said, carefree, and to no one in particular. He raised his voice again when Matthew glanced back, "Keating! Hold up!"
"Hey, Nicholas," Matthew smiled, Nicholas skidding to a halt beside him. "Missed you all this week. What happened to you?"
"Family emergency," he said, waving dismissively. He indicated to a nearby exit, "You have a minute to talk?"
"Sure," smiled Matthew, following him down one narrow hallway toward the east gardens, "For you, anytime."
Nicholas tried not to be nervous about this, "You been okay?"
"Sure," Matthew shrugged, "Pierson's got something in his head about adding on practice days, have you heard? Better for the team and might be easier for people to get practice in, but not easier for folks who have combos paired up, I think." He nodded, eyes focused a little further away than the here and now, "But gives opportunity for better teamwork, I guess. Less limitations if you can do the same combos with other people –throws the other teams who know our tricks off the trail…"
"Helloooo," Nicholas chuckled as he waved a hand in Matthew's face.
Smiling sheepishly, Matthew rubbed a hand over his neck, "Got distracted."
"I can see that!" Nicholas said with a laugh. "Yeah, I heard from Stephen, actually. He mentioned he'd talk to Pierson about that but I didn't know that old grouch had agreed."
Something in Matthew's eyes changed at that but his smile stayed in place. "Stephen told you?"
"Well, he is the team captain." With a shrug, Nicholas waved that away, too, "Well, actually, that's part of what I wanted to tell you—"
"You guys finally hooked up?" Matthew's smile wilted. Nicholas stared. "Kind of not hard to guess," came the soft admission, "What with the way you two keep staring the clothes off each other."
Heat suffused Nicholas' cheeks.
"And that." Matthew laughed, "He always could prod a reaction out of you better than anyone else ever could." He waved a hand, grinning, "But if you still plan to explain and apologise, I'll take the apology."
"You…!" Nicholas swatted him, embarrassed. Laughing, Matthew pretended to wince in pain –ineffectually, of course. He smiled when Matthew, rubbing a shoulder, smiled too. "I'm sorry," he said genuinely, "I actually kind of thought… well, I thought we would've rocked."
"I thought so, too," admitted Matthew, eyes off to one side. But then he grinned and prodded, "But hey, we're cool, right?"
"Yeah, I guess we are." Nicholas felt a bit startled at that. But not startled enough that he didn't catch the flicker of annoyance that crossed Matthew's face. "Uh oh."
"It's no big deal," Matthew said, looking away. "I knew. I shouldn't have forgotten—"
Nicholas impulsively hugged him, cutting off the words. "You have every right. I'd have been pissed off if you backed out, even after what's happened to me." He held on tighter when Matthew reached up and hugged him back, "I get it. I do, I promise. It's okay."
"Well, shit," Matthew muttered, sounding irritable but not with Nicholas. "I'm not upset with you, I'm really not. I'm just… upset. And I'm upset that I'm upset."
Nicholas let him go and Matthew seemed like that hug had been just what he'd needed, "I kind of know the feeling," he smiled gently, remembering when he used to hate that he'd liked Stephen so much. Or hate that he loved a life that, at the time, held no future for him.
"Okay, we're good," Matthew said with finality, looking sheepish again.
"Excellent." Nicholas grinned, "I'll let you take me down the next tackle you pin on me, how's that?"
Matthew gave him a mock affronted look, "I'd be insulted!"
"Good!" he laughed. "Drink?"
"I'll take you up on that, I really will," Matthew smiled, nodding just as the bell rang.
"Deal." Nicholas tapped a fist to Matthew's own, and grinned widely as he headed to his next class. When he turned the last corner, his right eye gave a gentle throb as it guided his physical sight, "Hey, Quinn!"
Quinn Starr blinked owlishly from behind his glasses, his ponytail in its usual absent-minded binding and, also as usual, lightly coated in dust.
Nicholas grinned as he skidded to a stop next to his friend, "How's it going?" Quinn ventured out only very rarely into the Normal world; this would have been a surprise to anyone else –but not to him.
"I am well," came the quiet, somewhat startled reply.
"Nice to see you." Nicholas held out an expectant hand, palm turned up and obviously not waiting for a handshake.
Quinn blinked again before a small smile tugged at his mouth. "Been practicing, I see." He rummaged in his messenger bag a bit before pulling out a familiar red leather bound book.
"A bit." Nicholas accepted the book and quickly put it away. "I know what this is about and I know what to do."
"Good," Quinn murmured, relief plain on his face, "Then I don't have to explain why I had to deliver this to you here and now, nor the importance or sensitivity of this matter." He gave Nicholas a little nod, "Be safe, Seer. You've got a hell of a lot ahead of you now." With a somewhat formal half-bow, he melted into the crowd and headed for the nearest exit.
Nicholas, watching Quinn's back and thinking of all the things the Fates had in store for Quinn himself, grinned and murmured to no one in particular, "You have no idea."
Thoughts? Comments? Feedback? …anything??