Title: Tân (Fire)
Fandom: The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Rating: 12/PG (for subject matter and the vaguest of vague hints at potential noncanonical m/m relationship)
Originally posted: 14 October 2004
Summary: Bran Davies liked to play with matches.
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: Originally, this was planned as a 100-word response to the [livejournal.com profile] darkisrising100 challenge about 'bad habits'. Somehow it became 750 words and turned into something very different altogether, and eventually became the first story in the Eirias Triad.


Bran liked to play with matches.

Oh, he knew it was a bad thing to do. Not a Bad Thing (with the capital letters), not like masturbation was a Bad Thing (and certainly not as Bad as what he thought about and who he thought about when he did it). No, those were Bad Things, whereas playing with matches was more dangerous than truly bad.

Sometimes he would go up to the shack in the hills with a box of long kitchen matches in his jacket pocket. He would sit at the grimy table and take out a match, strike it with a long, deft and rather graceful turn of his wrist, and stare at the flame as it hissed and sparked to life. He would stare at it until it burned out, sometimes willing the little golden-red flame to lengthen and turn blue-white in a flash of searing heat (it never did), sometimes pretending that he could extinguish it with just the power of his mind (he couldn't, of course).

Owen once asked Bran if he'd taken up smoking. (The sulfuric stench of burnt match that lingered on his clothing might have had something to do with it.) Bran said no, apparently with enough sincerity and conviction that Owen believed him, or at least seemed to, because he never asked that question again.

Box after box of matches he went through, methodically striking them and watching them as they burnt out, occasionally lighting one match from the charred but still-glowing tip of another.

One two three four five six matches, one two three four five six years.

Eighteen, then, and tomorrow morning he leaves for university, his place guaranteed by a scholarship. A quiet, nondescript dinner with quiet, nondescript Owen (when had he stopped thinking of Owen as 'Da'?), and then out for a walk with the dogs before making an early night of it.

The dogs wait outside the shack, curled in on themselves, tails covering noses. For some reason they don't like the shack, and Bran has long ago stopped trying to make them come inside with him.

Out comes the box then, a small box, only three matches left. Bran strikes the first one, and cups his hand around the tiny flame. For such a small light, it produces a great deal of warmth -- the trick is to hold your hand close enough to let the heat deaden the nerve endings in your palm, but not so close that you actually burn your skin. He watches the flame consume the match, the light wood growing darker and darker as the flame slides down the matchstick, and he quickly blows out the flame before it can reach the tips of his fingers.

The second match doesn't want to light, and Bran has to try several times before it splutters sullenly to life. Almost as if in retribution, the little light on the match-head flares up and then, seconds later, is gone. Only a twisting, wreathing column of wispy smoke remains.

Bran makes an irritated noise, and takes out the third match -- but pauses before he can strike it on the box. He looks down at the old table, then up to the filthy window that faces out over the fields.

The hand holding the match trembles faintly.

Suddenly he stands, and shoves the table to one side. The table obligingly gives way, so obligingly that one of its legs snaps and sends it crashing lopsidedly to the floor.

The dogs seem very pleased when he opens the door -- they bound toward him, tails waving, and caper around him as he steps outside and shuts the door behind him.

He walks down the hillside with the dogs trotting at his heels, and he doesn't look back.

He doesn't need to look back to know that the flickering light inside the shack is growing brighter. He doesn't need to look back to know the moment when the dry timbers of the roof go up. He doesn't need to look back to see the shack entirely consumed by the flames, the great roaring blaze like a bonfire or a wildfire or a funeral pyre, its terrible brightness illuminating the desolate hillside.

He doesn't need to look back, because he knows exactly what it looks like. He has seen it in the glowing black heart of every single match he has struck over the years.

He doesn't need to look back, and now he doesn't have to anymore.

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