Author: jenn (email@example.com)
Fandom: Brothers Grimm
Summary: Will's world has beds and sausage and baths and women who fall into the bed of the Professors Grimm with gratifying speed.
Author Notes: Well. For devildoll, musesfool, chicklet_girl, and the marvelous girlinthetrilby, though I'm not sure they'll want to claim it. cjandre, girlinthetrilby, and chopchica preread and said, sure, why not? cjandre for the title, since frankly, I'm title-disabled.
There's a real comfort writing in a fandom I don't think *anyone* else reads in.
Jacob collects toadstools in tiny bags on his belt; hand of glory is wrapped in paper in the pack; belladonna hidden in jars on the horses. He mutters to himself, sharp and guttural, sitting at the feet of old grannies in obscure villages on the hindend of eastern Bavaria for weeks at a time. Education is never wasted, even when it comes from women who smell of the privy and speak in hexameter riddles.
Will will never understand witches, no matter how many he has to meet.
They go everywhere, *everywhere*, and Will wakes him up long after the sun has risen, sharply bright as Jacob stumbles from their bedding to the river, coming back as the clouds settle over their heads and the wide brown eyes clear of the glaze of sleep behind smeared glasses. His hair's a mess, wet and tangled over his forehead. He's never worried about appearances like Will does.
"Morning." Jacob runs a hand through his hair, managing a measure of almost-respectability that the ride will wreck in minutes.
Will squints upward. "It was, yes." He'd packed the horses while waiting. Jacob climbs on, as daintily as a girl, and Will watches his lips move, the last of the sunlight cut into moody grey streaks, matching the unhappy frown. "Wake up on the wrong side of the bed, did we?"
God, beds. Will thinks longingly of the inn last night, before they had to leave so precipitously.
"It's not a bed," Jacob answers, as if he had nothing to do with their departure. Will misses inns and burgher's houses, bed and sheets and pretty wenches who look at them in awe. He misses food he doesn't have to shoot himself, messy and unpleasant way to live, how *do* the peasants do it? Jacob's head turns, dilated eyes staring down at Will. "What are you waiting for?"
For more sleep, really. Glancing around the forest, Will sighs and pulls himself up, sliding into the saddle like the horseman he's not. His thighs still feel the strain of eighteen hours across the swamp, following voices only Jacob can hear.
This is his world, not Will's. Will's world has beds and sausage and baths and women who fall into the bed of the Professors Grimm with gratifying speed. Will's world is cities and walls and the marvels of modern science.
Jacob's--isn't. So Will picks up the slack. It's the brotherly thing to do.
Will makes sure Jacob eats and doesn't fall off his horse by accident. Checks their money and makes their excuses, deals with their colleagues and their publisher and their sister. Sometimes stretches careful fingers over Jacob's skin while he sleeps, feeling the hum of *somethingthere*. Mumbled sounds bring Will awake some nights, arms around his knees, watching the hidden people emerge from beneath rocks and high from trees, coming close enough to feel like the bite of insects on his skin, humming that could drive a man mad if he listens too long. Reaching with grubby, stumpy hands to touch Jacob, come away shaking from whatever burns now beneath his skin. Telling Jacob everything he wants to hear in languages that Will shouldn't understand.
Good thing Will believes in none of this, or he just might be worried about sanity.
Jacob's still staring at the forest, head cocked, a peculiar expression creasing his forehead, like he's listening for the sound of rivers that aren't there, voices that don't exist.
"Jacob?" The clouds are darkening steadily. If there's to be rain, Will would prefer a roof.
If he listens, Will might accidentally hear the miles-distant sound of angry hooves, angry villagers, a woman's grief-stricken wail. He doesn’t.
"We'd best go, then."
He doesn't believe in this, after all.
Will has the sense to avoid the inns this time around, though.
They ride the length of Germany, the obscure villages at the backass of Saxony and up into Hesse, where their sister welcomes them home with wide, warm arms and terrified eyes after six long months away. She hears stories. She might even believe them.
Jacob's not in the room as much as his body might suggest, so Will takes over the stilted, frightened conversation, wondering if there's any chance of sausage for dinner. Jacob barely eats, still lost in the forest, and Will walks him to the room they'll share with careful steps, nieces and nephews moving from their path with superstitious gestures that almost make Will want to sit down Lottie to find out what she's been *teaching* her children. Those don't work.
Or so Jacob says.
The University sent them letters, neatly stacked on the desk Will reads through them while Jacob fumbles with his coat for long minutes, blinking his way into the world as night fully falls, clouds clearing from the sky, the moon spilling into their room. Marburg wants them back, and is offering their hope in the form of gold.
Will likes gold. A lot.
Dropping the letter, Will stands up, crossing to the bed, where Jacob plucks at his coat with bewildered hands, pushing aside ineffective fingers to teach him buttons and laces and buckles all over again, gentle on the winter-pale skin. The vulnerable line of his throat and chest is streaked with the ash-remains of symbols drawn into his skin in Austria that have yet to wash away, no matter how many cold rivers Will holds him in, how many inns and how much hot water and lye-soap Will scrubs at him with. Tracing with the tip of a finger, Will closes his eyes at the rush--*somethingherenowtherewhatisthis*-
"Right then." Dropping coat and vest to the floor, Will steps back. His hands don't shake at all. "Finish up now."
More confident hands unbutton trousers and kick off shoes and socks, shaking slightly in exhaustion. Will had led his horse back to the city, Jacob lost somewhere between unconsciousness and really fucking annoying.
The sounds of voices downstairs bring Jacob upright, listening. It's nothing new.
"…my brothers, what do you *expect*--"
"I won't have them here--"
"You will and you'll say nothing else. It's but a few days--"
"…things *follow* them--"
"You don't believe such nonsense." Lottie's voice is terrified and sharp as a banshee. Will wishes that Jacob hadn't made him read about those. "It's all nonsense. All of it. They're *scholars*."
Lottie's husband is a very, very practical man. He doesn't read their stories and doesn't hear the voices, and Will likes him for his disbelief and wishes it extended to night time.
The problem with night is, you can believe anything.
"They don't want us here." Somehow, Jacob can sound as despondent as the child who brought home magic beans that didn't even cook well, shriveling to black husks in the boiling water, inedible.
"Of course they do," like Jacob couldn't hear their voices, rising at fever pitch in the kitchen below. Sitting on the bed beside him, Will pulls off his own shoes, giving up any hope of reading any other interesting offers from random universities wishing for their assistance. "You didn't eat anything at dinner."
Will studies the clear outline of ribs, thin, dangerously fragile skin over fine, bare bones, grey streaks of almost words and almost-thoughts stretched over them, chained at an upward slope from hip to waist. Another line across his collar, almost readable, almost understandable, before Will's eyes skip away.
"I'm not hungry." His eyes blank into distance. "I'm cold."
Will nods agreeably and stretches out beside him, taking Jacob's glasses before pulling at his own cravat and pushing off his shoes. It seems an insane amount of effort to undress when he'll just have to dress again in the morning. Reaching for the blankets, Will covers them both, closing his eyes. God, a*bed*. "Go to sleep."
He's more careful this time, leaving long after Jacob's lost himself in dusty books and dusty people at the university library, surrounded by admiring scholars and awe-struck students.
Will still finds it funny as hell. Boring as all fuck, too. The field work may be interesting, and perhaps teaching has its advantages, but Will's been trapped in one room cottages and sleeping by rivers for far too long.
It's a disreputable part of the city, loud and bright, and he likes how they recognize his name and pretend they don't, how pretty serving girls bend over too far and fill his cup too full and promise him things with too-bright eyes and too-wide smiles.
He likes when they ask him to tell them stories, because stories he can handle. And everyone knows this story.
There was a witch, he tells them, in the forest. We fought our way inside and saved the lives of eight fair maidens. We broke her mirror and then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a piece, silvery in the golden glow of the candles and torches. He shows it to them, grinning when they mock-shriek and peer into it with squinted eyes, like they fear what they might see.
Will never sees anything when he looks. He's careful like that.
He doesn't tell them this.
That he and Jacob went back, the forest like any other, as uncomplicated as it should be, and the tower was moss-covered stone, as if they hadn't seen it only days before, tall and whole. The found the mirror pieces, and Jacob had set them one by one on a blanket they spread on the ground, the patient work of more hours than Will can count.
She looked out, flashing beautiful and ugly in turn, mouth locked in an eternal scream behind every sharp silver edge. She made promises and offered temptations, but nothing Will couldn't live without.
Jacob, however, had one request, eyes filled with sharp edges, like broken glass, bright and curious and brilliant, too.
"Tell me how you did it."
Will thinks now that maybe, that should have warned him.
She's soft and brunette and so easy he can push up her skirts against the wall of the room he rented for the night, opening for him as easily as ripened fruit falling freely from a tree at harvest.
It feels good to be this simple, just a slow, leisurely rut against the wall, though his back will be killing him in the morning if he keeps this up too long. She makes all the right noises and moves in all the right ways, and maybe he should have brought up her sister, too, even if he's tired as hell and hasn't slept well since they left Berlin last month.
It's quiet here, and peaceful here, no small strange people or strange-smelling old women or unaccountably too-bright candles and too-sharp sounds, words that he pretends he doesn't know and things he pretends he doesn't see. No Jacob to light up the room like a bonfire and make Will *not think* and *believe* and sometimes even *understand*.
When they're done, Will stumbles to the bed, wrestling with his shirt before giving up and collapsing into the blankets, feeling her warm and solid against his chest, breath against his neck.
There's a reason he shouldn't do this, but for the life of him, he can't remember what it is.
The queen told Jacob of the fairy people of the forest and the spirits of the trees and how they taught her over the hundreds of years she half-lived, half-died in that tower. She tells stories of old women who have learned the universe has no straight lines and geometrically correct corners, that things swell out from between the pages of books and the edges of vision, things that aren't quite here and yet are.
She tells him she'll give him anything to set her free, tell him anything he wants to know, how to find the small people and the old women and the things that can't quite be seen.
Will didn't listen, nonsense, all of it, but as it turns out, Jacob did.
When Will wakes up, her body's cooling, limp meat, and he thinks, just maybe, that this might be the time he starts to break.
But he doesn't, rolling out of bed and finding his shoes on a rational wood floor, his jacket pulled over a sweat-stained, blood-flecked shirt, going to the window and glancing out. It's full night, the moon a bloody blister in the sky, not quite full but close enough. The streets are empty of all save the night trades.
He's too old to keep doing this. Too old by far.
Pushing open the shutters, Will fixes a foot and climbs out. It's good that he's the most athletic of all the brothers Grimm, or this might have been a problem.
He leaves his horse in the stable--stable boys are notorious for being where they shouldn't be and hearing what they shouldn't hear. It's not a long walk to Lottie's, and he probably needs the exercise.
It begins as he touches cobblestone streets, small, grubby feet and the smells of earth and forest, a woman's sickly-sweet perfume like rotten fruit. Will clutches his coat determinedly closer and keep walking.
He doesn't turn around to look back. There's always the chance he'll see something.
Jacob's not asleep when Will comes in through the window, obediently unlocking it at Will's first irritated tap.
"Well, that's a fine mess we're in," Will says, climbing inside, like they're still kids and out after dark. Mess he leaves undefined, hanging between them, as he strips off coat and shirt, wondering where on earth he's going to hide them.
Jacob looks almost apologetic from beside the window, eyes wide and vulnerable behind his glasses. "Sorry."
It's hard to stay angry, even though Will *is*, God, such a night he had planned, and the cold has seeped into his bones so deeply that he thinks he'll never stop shivering. Stripping off the rest of his clothes, he leaves them in a pile on the floor, barely caring if Lottie or her brats come to check them in the morning. Climbing into his bed, he feels slivers of memory surface--her face, her hair, the terror that twisted her pretty mouth, the flecks of blood that covered her like some obscure plague come home to roost.
In the cities, they always look for logic, thank God.
Jacob stays at the window, hat twisted between his hands. He's long stripped to shirt and trousers, fingers stained with--ink, Will thinks, and doesn't wonder further. Another story to be added, and another, and another to their many. Perhaps they'll know every story in the world one day. "You were gone a long time."
"What a surprise, second night in the city." Jacob's face falls. "Come now. Even I can't live on scholarly debate alone, brilliant though I may be." He shivers again. He thinks he might never be warm again. "Christ, I'm cold."
Jacob cocks his head, hat falling, and Will trains his eyes from the dusty red stains. "It's a cold night. I like the country better."
Will rolls his eyes. Jacob would. Will shifts enough for Jacob to climb beneath the covers, hands drawn to the heat of his brother's skin beneath the thin cotton. Jacob's breath is warm against his throat, arms going around his waist, like a portable furnace, warm skin and warm breath and warm *everything*.
Sleep is so close that Will can see it like a hazy-edged hallucination, hovering close above the bed. It's been so long since he rested. So long since--
A burning-cold hand brushes his cheek, wet fingers trickling across the bone, whispers, *four now, are you counting, Will, four now, only four to go, four to go* and the room smells of rotting fruit and flowers.
"Not funny," Jacob says, not even lifting his head. Will feels his heart speed up, a rush like falling from a tower, or a knife to the heart. Raising his hand, he touches his chest, memory so strong he can taste his own fear. "Not funny, no, go away go away go *away*."
The phantom fingers slide off, and Will catches his breath as Jacob sits up, looking around with glazed eyes, but it's a dark room in a quiet city at night, nothing more. Shaking his head, he looks down, and Will looked into eyes like the sky at night, bottomless, and like things could be seen there if only he looks hard enough.
Jacob takes off his glasses, frowning at them absently, like he wonders where they came from, then leans over Will to toss them on the bedside table. His mouth is as warm as his body, and Will shuts his eyes and relaxes into warm linen and wool, the straw tick shifting as Jacob settles over him. "I don't like it when you go."
This is not new.
Soft mouth, bitter from coffee, and Will can trace bones like eggshells beneath Jacob's skin, the writing warmer still; he can read with his fingertips over the length of Jacob's back, the silky skin of his sides. All the stories they've told, all the stories they know, inscribed on Jacob's skin with room for more.
It's night, when you can believe anything, anything at all.
"Will," Jacob whispers, pushing a knee between his legs, fine woven cotton against bare skin. "Will, I want--"
He'll believe what Jacob tells him, stories of trees that speak and queens that whisper and eight girls 'round a tower. He'll hear stories of children lost in the woods and women that never find their way out. And then--
"What did she promise you, Jacob?" Will whispers, pushing up against Jacob's knee--it's like he never lay with a woman this night, forgetting the color of her eyes and the smell of her skin, the feel of her warmth compared to the heat of Jacob, restless and bright and terrifying at once. He's as hot for this as a virgin boy. Jacob kisses him, soft mouthed and careful, hard fingers twisting in his hair. "Tell me, Jacob. What did she promise? When she wakes up?"
Jacob's hands close on his face, slick and wet, and this close, Will can see smell the blood on his skin. Thin, hard thumbs stroke his cheeks, pressing fingerprints into Will's flesh like brands. He's so close, they're *both* so close, on this night, in this dark, edging toward everything Will can never quite admit in daylight.
Will shuts his eyes at the hand that slides beneath the sheets, closing over him, wet and sticky, jacking him with knowing strokes, eyes glazing dark and pulling Will in. Will thinks he can see someone else reflected there, like a woman trapped in broken glass.
Will comes with Jacob's tongue in his mouth, wrapped close in thin arms that smell of forest journeys and fields beneath the moon. Jacob grins, a child with a hand of magical beans, pulling Will's hand beneath his trousers, rubbing off against his thigh, as happy as he's ever been. "Every story in the world."
They'll leave at dawn, before Lottie's stirred from her bed, long before the alarm sounds for a body found in an inn in the worst part of town. They'll stop for a new horse and supplies from the kitchen before riding out of the city. Jacob will listen to voices Will can't hear, and he'll follow a path only he can see.
Will sees nothing, of course, riding in the rational light of day beneath an endless blue sky.
He doesn't believe in such things.