[Part 5 of 6]
The fabric fell away.
The world was burning.
Or so it seemed to Rohan’s unused eyes. A wash of orange and blue and black. As Rohan blinked seven years of haze away, he began to see the lines of trees, the orange sky filtering through every gap in the forest. He caught his breath. The world flooded in, brighter than it had ever been before, more beautiful. And for a moment Rohan was just a child, sitting on his family’s fence, trying to stretch himself wide enough to hold it all.
“Isn’t it worth it?” came Tye’s voice behind him. “Isn’t it better this way?”
He turned, half-expecting to see the black-lipped faery, smirking and victorious. But all he saw was a girl. The edges of her dark hair glowed in the sunset, and her eyes were a dozen different colors, but human, hazel, not alive with tiny fires like the fairies.
“It is,” he whispered, half-expecting to die right there. But he didn’t. He turned back to the sunset, and took several long breaths before Tye’s hands wrapped around his shoulders. She kissed the slope of his neck, letting her chin rest there as she watched the world burn with him. When the last light had bled away, the music started. Faint and far-off, the strands of it gathered, tangled, and the forest around him began to shift and change, glowing with moonlight and magic. Tye tipped her head in the direction of the dance.
“Do you want to?”
At first Rohan thought to pull away, to run to the farthest edge of the forest and close his eyes. But then, he nodded.
“I want to live. As much as I can, before it’s over,” he said. “I want to take it all in.”
And then Tye smiled, and her smile was as many shades as her eyes, sadness and contentment and something like fear but not quite. She wove her fingers through his, and led him toward the fairy dance.
Seven years had passed, but the fairy ring looked just the same.
The same wicked fey all spun and twirled and cracked and hissed and glowed like fireflies. The sounds changed when Rohan stepped in to the ring, a hundred pairs of faery eyes all finding him. Smiles grew longer.
“Young Rohan Black,” came a voice from a rock, and Rohan turned to find the black-lipped faery. Her voice echoed in his head. Tye’s fingers tightened on his, and the faery’s eyes found the girl. Her smile sharpened.
“Come dance, come dance,” she cooed, and leaned back against the stone.
And Tye and Rohan did. At one point Tye pulled him close, and said, “Let it in.”
And then she tipped her head back and they spun and the music seemed to fill him, all bread and honey and water and warm blankets. And Tye, like a cool salve in a burning room, soothing him. Her touch, her voice, it coated him against the world on fire. She laughed and it was a perfect sound, so unlike the fairies, so human. And Rohan ached for losing seven years, he ached because he’d missed the world so much, and now he had it back. Something filled him and it wasn’t anger, and it wasn’t fear. And he didn’t bother planting any hate against it. He just danced.
When dawn came near, the music faded and the faeries broke apart like dandelions, dancing into the waning dark. The black-lipped one was the last to go, and she only smiled and tipped her head, and vanished.
Tye and Rohan let their feet slow. Rohan felt fatigue brush over him, and he welcomed it. It was a wonderful, full kind of tired, earned by living. He felt his legs give way, and sank to the forest floor. It was the best kind of tired in the whole world.
And whether it was Tye, or the tiredness, or the fire touching the edges of the world, it was at that moment that Rohan’s feet began to sink into the soil. The tiredness spread as the roots did, slowing his blood, hardening his skin. Little by little the bark overtook him. Little by little, so slow and calm it felt like sleep.
Rohan’s eyes found Tye’s, and he managed to blink and smile before the light in his eyes went out.
Tye sat beside the tree for a very long time, running her fingers over the roots, tracing them up over the bark. She hummed to herself, a soft, slow song that no one knew but her, one she did not even have a name for. It was a song sung to her from her child’s bed, before the faeries stole her into the forest. It was a song that made her ache inside, the way Rohan’s stillness made her ache. It was the only thing she knew to do, since she couldn’t bring herself to leave him, despite his company of trees.
She sat beside him as the sun crossed the sky beyond the forest, and the shadows grew short and then long again.
Finally the night came, and Tye pushed herself to her feet, stiff and tired. She pulled Rohan’s blindfold from her pocket (she’d kept it as a token), and wrapped it around one of the lowest branches, so she wouldn’t lose him. And then she went to find the fairy circle.
[will post the final part tomorrow]