Coming True

by Kass


Written for the Fairy Tales challenge at sga_flashfic.

Deep thanks to Lamardeuse for making this as awesome as it is!

John didn't have many memories of his mother. He was pretty sure she'd been kind. She'd had braids, maybe? She had loved him. He thought she might have whispered to him, rocking him to sleep, about soaring above the clouds.

But she had died, and his father had married a woman with straight hair that was almost white. She had cruel eyes. She also had cruel daughters: Cilla and Rina, two and four years older than he was. He and they disliked each other on sight.

What John yearned for, more than anything, was to fly. He dreamed of zooming out over the white caps of the sea. He dreamed of flying away from the village, away from his father—who wasn't a bad man, just distant—and his step-mother who was mean enough for both of them, and his step-sisters who he honestly couldn't stand (and the feeling was clearly mutual.) He dreamed about flying so far away he'd never have to see anyone he'd known ever again.

He mentioned it once to his father and step-mother, just after supper on a long summer evening.

"Where would you go to learn to fly, you moron?" Rina asked.

"The nearest flying ships are in the city by the sea," Cilla added, sticking her tongue out at him for good measure.

"I could go to the sea," John offered. He certainly wouldn't have minded leaving home.

But his step-mother was shaking her head. "Flight school costs money," she said, "and we need to save every penny we have for your step-sisters' dowries."

"Oh," John said, and looked down at his empty bowl.

"Besides, they wouldn't want you; you're a sullen lump of a boy, hardly bright enough to tie your own shoes, much less learn to plot the complicated trajectories required for flight," his step-mother added meanly, and rose from the table.

"Wouldn't you say so, dear?" she added, her voice sweetening, to John's father who was staring out the window and clearly hadn't been listening at all.

"Eh? Of course, dear," he said absently.

And that was the end of that.

So John got a job working at the local inn. He came home late at night, feet aching from waiting on patrons and hands sore from scrubbing pots, and slept on a pallet by the ashes of the fire. When he woke from dreams of flight, if there were tears in his eyes, he blamed them on irritation from the fireplace and its dust.

"It's going to be the grandest ball the county has ever seen," Cilla said primly.

"And I get to wear your finest dress—right, Mama?" Rina's voice was shrill. She was the older sister, so she was more panicked about still being single. Tradition dictated she had to marry first, but that didn't stop Cilla from flirting with the boys Rina was interested in. They were almost as mean to each other as they were to John.

"Nobody's wearing my hand-me-downs for this. You'll both have the finest gowns money can buy," their mother promised. "Every eligible girl in town will be there, and you'll need to make a good showing. The Lord and Lady are so wealthy they won't even mind your paltry dowry..."

John could practically hear her calculating what else she might spend a daughter's dowry on, were the daughter to marry someone as wealthy as the son of the lord of the manor.

"Perhaps John should go too," their father said, not looking up from his book.

"Mama, no," Rina said, peremptory. "I don't want my ball ruined by having that oaf there."

"It isn't your ball," John muttered to himself, but fortunately no one heard him.

Cilla joined her voice with her sister's—which pretty much only ever happened when they were ganging up on John. "What would he even do there? He's never had dance lessons," she pointed out haughtily.

"One of these days he'll be ready to find a girl," his father said mildly, still not looking up from his book.

John couldn't really imagine what it would feel like to be interested in a girl; their small house felt too full of women as it was. And it was true that he had no idea how to dance.

"I'm certainly not paying for breeches and a frock coat," his step-mother sniffed, "and we'll need his wages toward the girls' ballgowns."

"That's okay," John said. "I didn't really want to go." No one paid him any mind. It didn't matter; it was time for him to go to work.

But even at the tavern, everyone was talking about the ball. Lord and Lady McKay were hosting it, and rumor had it that the ball was intended as a way of seeking out a suitable match for their son. They were people of leisure, of course. John had heard that young master McKay was some kind of scientist.

As he collected empty pint glasses at the bar and carried them back to the kitchen, all he overheard was patrons talking about the ball. What foods were likely to be served. What music was likely to be played. The band was coming from miles away! It would eclipse even the ball hosted by Lord and Lady Tagan in the village on the far side of the hills, which had been the talk of the county for months.

Even back in the kitchen the McKay ball was the subject of every conversation. The scullery-maids made wistful noises. The cooks talked about the manor chefs and what they might prepare.

John didn't much care, until he overheard a stranger at the bar say that the McKays had some kind of flying machine stabled in a hangar behind their house.

That did it: suddenly, like everyone else in town, he burned to go. Just to catch sight of it. To be able to imagine, for one shining moment, what it would feel like to take a real flying machine into the sky.

The night of the ball was crisp and cold. John polished the wheels and fittings of his father's buggy, trying to make it—and them—look more prosperous than they really were. Their cramped house was a chaotic disaster: Cilla and Rina fighting for the mirror, his step-mother fussing as they twisted her hair up into high ringlets, his father reading quietly by the fire until at last they all bustled out to the carriage and John drove them away.

The McKay manor was on the other side of town, where houses were prosperous and estates were vast. A long line of carriages crept past the portico where passengers exited, in twos and threes and fours, and then the pebbled driveway led to the stables and the makeshift tent where the other buggy drivers were loitering, smoking, occasionally sneaking drinks from hidden flasks.

John tied up the horses and quietly walked around the back side of the barn, meaning to sit on a rock and enjoy the rare sensation of not having anything he strictly needed to do for a while. But a small shed caught his attention, and he wandered over to it.

That was when the woman appeared out of nowhere. "Fancy running into you here," she said, and he practically jumped out of his skin.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bother you," he said, in a rush, but she didn't respond. She was pale and insubstantial, almost like a ghost, and she smiled right past him. She wasn't real, he realized. Some kind of projection. Had he triggered her appearance by walking by?

"The spare set of clothes is in the trunk in the corner," she said. "Don't forget to put them back, or they won't be there next time you need them!" And then she vanished.

Feeling faintly ridiculous, John went to the trunk in the corner, which opened as soon as he approached. Sure enough, there was a fine set of clothing inside: breeches, stockings, shoes with a buckle on them, a vest and frock coat in deep blue. They looked slightly too big—cut for a man with a broader chest than he—but they would do. Glancing around to make sure no one saw, he stripped out of his own clothes and tugged on the ones from the chest.

And then, heart pounding, he made his way up to the manor house to catch a glimpse of what was inside.

The ballroom swirled with people in peacock finery, dancing and talking. It was beautiful, but intimidating; John walked right past, nodding to everyone who nodded to him, trying to look like he belonged there.

He walked through a drawing room, an ornate parlor, a salon, a bar, all filled with loud chatter and the clink of glasses and the rustle of women's full skirts brushing against each other as they moved.

At last he came to a room that was quiet, at the end of a long hall. It was a library, lined with tall shelves of books and furnished with rich leather couches, and John stepped inside and exhaled, relieved. No one had spotted him as an impostor yet, but being at the party was making him nervous in a way he'd never been before. So many people, so much commotion—it was nice to be someplace quiet. Alone.

Except he wasn't alone, he realized; there was a man there, curled into a window seat reading. He looked up when John entered, and his mouth curved slightly downwards in half a frown. He had the bluest eyes John had ever seen.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," John said. "It's just a little...much for me out there."

To his surprise, the man smiled at him. "That makes two of us. God, I've never been so stultifyingly bored in all my life."

John considered that. He wasn't bored in the least, just overwhelmed, but it seemed like it would be rude to say so, so he just gave a little half-shrug. "What're you reading?"

"Ars Aeronautica," the man said, holding up the leather-bound volume, and John's mouth gaped open in awe.

"You're a pilot?"

"I'm interested in trajectories," the stranger said. He held out a hand. "I'm Rodney."

"John," John said. Rodney's hand was warm and his grip was firm and he held on slightly longer than John expected him to. But maybe that was the way the nobility did things?

"Though my family does have a few flying ships," Rodney said, waving a hand carelessly.

John felt his heart speed up. "I'd love to have the chance to fly! Do you fly them?"

"I can," Rodney said, "but—" He shrugged. "I find the theory frankly more compelling than the practice. When it comes to theory, my skills are the finest in the land."

"Huh," John said. "Wow."

"The physics of flight are spectacular," Rodney said, a little bit dreamily. "Have you studied physics?"

"I haven't had much chance," John said truthfully. "Though I do math in my head when I'm bored."

Rodney's eyes lit up. "Two thousand, nine hundred, and sixty-three: prime, or not prime?"

"Prime," John said easily. "Ninety-one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-three?"

"Not prime," Rodney said. He was grinning. John grinned back.

"Hey," Rodney said, gesturing to a chess set on the low inlaid table. "Do you play chess?"

John didn't notice the hour growing late. After he won the first chess game Rodney challenged him to the best two out of three, and poured them each a sizeable glass of port. Rodney won game number two.

By the time they began the third game, they were taking long pauses between moves. They were talking about physics and alchemy and distillation, about the constellations and their stories.

When Rodney was plotting a move he fell silent, staring at the board with intense focus. Which was good, because John kept catching himself staring at Rodney. Watching how he held his pieces, blunt fingers on polished ivory and wood. Watching him swallow, and then looking away fast, uncomfortably aroused.

Maybe it was the fortified wine, to which he was unaccustomed. Or maybe the unusual surroundings? Because he'd seen plenty of men at the tavern—even, occasionally, men who stared at other men the way he was staring at Rodney now—and he'd never felt this kind of attraction.

Or maybe it was just Rodney. He was brilliant, like a star. And once John let himself recognize it, he ached to touch him. Which was ridiculous; what nobleman would deign to tryst with someone like him?

They were approaching their third endgame when the small clock in the library chimed, and John realized it was nearly midnight.

"I have to go—my family will kill me," he said, pulling back from the couch where they had ensconced themselves and setting down his empty glass. They really would, too; if he weren't there with the carriage to fetch his parents and his step-sisters, they'd find a million tiny ways to take it out on him in the days to come. "Listen, it's been great—"

"Wait," Rodney said, but John was backing toward the library door. The drink had slightly tangled his feet, and he stumbled toward one wall of books—where a small opaque sphere, like a smoky paperweight, suddenly illuminated itself and rose about an inch into the air, like it was vibrating from his proximity.

"Oh my God," Rodney said. "Do you have any idea what you just—"

But John was gone, running at top speed toward the stable, to change into his own clothing again.

The tavern was closed the next day, so John should have been in fine spirits, but instead he felt melancholy. His mother and sisters couldn't stop talking about the ball, and at least three times he had to resist the urge to contradict them; their stories grew ever more fanciful, until it came to sound like all three of them had danced with the elusive young master McKay and both girls had practically been promised to him in marriage.

Who cares about master McKay, John wanted to say. I had a real conversation! In a library! With a genius! But he stayed quiet, even though doing so left a bitter taste in his mouth.

It wasn't that John envied the McKays their wealth. Okay, sure, the wealth looked nice—but mostly it was their elusive flying ships that he coveted. And the library of books. And, okay, the man with the intensely blue eyes and the crooked smile... who was even more out of his reach than the rest of the nobles' finery, so he might as well put those thoughts right out of his head.

Maybe going to the ball had been a mistake.

John busied himself with housework, but while he did the laundry and washed the dishes and swept the hearth he was thinking about flying ships and libraries and Rodney, whose surname he didn't even know. Not that it mattered who the unattainable man was; he was unattainable, after all.

John would permit himself to feel miserable for one day, he told himself, and then he'd put these thoughts out of his mind and return to his ordinary life. But after lunch a knocking came at the door, which startled him out of his malaise.

The unexpected caller proved to be a herald from the McKay household. Cilla and Rina both shrieked with glee, running around the living room like demented chickens, and their mother had to hush them both and banish them to the bedroom because it would be inappropriate for either of them to be present when the herald entered.

"It's such a pleasure to have you here," his step-mother simpered. "Can I get you a cup of tea?" She fluttered her eyelashes at the man, who stood staid just inside the door.

"No thank you, madam," he said, politely, and withdrew something from his coat pocket. "Who here in this house attended the ball last night?"

"Oh, we did," she said. "And our two daughters!"

He held the sphere out to her. "Have you seen this before?"

"Er -- no," she said, puzzled.

"Kindly call your daughters forth," the herald said, and before she could say a word they both burst forth from the bedroom, practically tripping over each other in their haste to see what was going on.

The herald handed them each the sphere in turn, but nothing happened.

"Very well; thank you," he said, and turned on his heel as if to go.

"John, get the door for this nice man," his step-mother said bitterly, her disappointment clear.

But when John brushed past the herald to open the door for him, the sphere began to glow again, levitating out of the man's pocket and floating just in front of John. It seemed to be winking at him.

"Oh my God!" his step-mother shrieked. "John, what did you do?"

"Sir," the herald said to him, "Have you seen this object before?"

"Impossible, he wasn't even at—" Cilla said hotly, but John answered over her.

"I saw it last night, just before I left the library."

The room fell silent.

"It was you in the library?" the herald asked.

"Yes," John said. He straightened his spine and tried to look like he wasn't afraid.

"Kindly come with me, sir," the man said.

"Whatever he's done, is not our responsibility," his step-mother hissed. She looked furious.

"I daresay he's not your concern any longer, madam," the herald said, and opened the door for John.

"Wait! Where are you taking him?"

"To the manor," the herald said. "Master McKay demands it."

The herald bustled him into the fancy carriage, climbed up beside the driver, and with a clatter they were away, retracing the journey to the McKay manor. John's heart pounded like the wheels of the carriage on the uneven streets. What, exactly, had he done?

The manor seemed strangely quiet without the crowds and the music. A servant led John to a room with high glass windows and a four-poster bed and a pitcher and bowl for washing; there were clean clothes there (again, slightly too large for him, but fashionable and sturdy) and fluffy towels unlike anything he'd ever seen.

John could take a hint; he washed up and changed clothes. His own garments looked thin and pitiful in comparison with the ones he'd been given, but he folded them neatly and placed them beside the washstand.

And then the servant reappeared, and led John to dinner.

Dinner with Lord and Lady McKay was the weirdest experience of John's life. They sat at a polished rosewood table, and servants brought them grouse and greens and soup—"a simple supper," Lady McKay said, smiling graciously, and Lord McKay grumbled without actually saying anything substantive at all.

"So," Lady McKay said finally. "You're interested in flying?"

"It's all I've ever wanted to do," John said. He wasn't sure how she knew that; perhaps he'd been observed in the library? Was it possible that Rodney had been in their employ, reporting to them somehow?

"We have several small ships," she said. "I can operate them, though not easily."

A woman who piloted ships? "I've never heard of a lady pilot," he said, without thinking, and then shut his mouth hastily.

She looked amused, rather than angry, but he still felt foolish, and changed the subject. "And you, sir?"

"I don't have the gift," Lord McKay said, curt.

John felt at-sea. "Excuse me?"

"The ships require a genetic gift to operate," Lady McKay said. "The same gift which enables you to make our paperweight levitate."

"Oh," John said, understanding firing through him like lightning.

For the first time since the herald had escorted him to the McKay carriage, John's nervousness vanished. He hadn't broken the glass sphere, and he wasn't in trouble. He was here because he had a genetic gift, and the McKays were going to let him fly!

"I must tell you," Lady McKay said, "we were beginning to doubt that our son would ever find companionship."

John blinked. He'd just been starting to feel like the conversation was making sense, and now he was confused again. "That was the reason behind the ball," he hazarded.

"I think you'll find his arrogance is not unwarranted," she continued.

"Okay," John said. What was she talking about?

"I admit that—this—was somewhat unexpected, but we're glad that a solution has presented itself," Lady McKay said.

"That's...good," John said. What exactly was going on here? The herald had said he wasn't his parents' concern any longer; what exactly did that mean?

Lady McKay's words echoed in his mind. Companionship. Solution.

Were they planning to marry him off to their son? It seemed absurd, but once the thought had occurred to John, it was the only thing that made sense. Rodney must have told them about his genetic gift and his desire to fly, and now they were using their fleet of flying ships as bait to catch a husband for their apparently unmarriageable son.

And the crazy thing was, he was going to say yes. He knew he would. He'd do anything to be able to fly. Surely he could make himself pretend to be interested in the younger lord McKay. It was a small price to pay, in return for finding his dreams suddenly within reach. And if it placed Rodney forever outside the realm of possibility, well: it wasn't as though anything had been possible between them before, when John was a scullery boy in disguise.

"I'll do my best," John said. "Really."

"Well," Lady McKay said. "I thank you for your consideration, John."

"My pleasure," John said, pulling himself together and giving her the most winning smile he could muster.

"Hendricks will show you to your room," she said, and rose. John followed suit, and after the Lord and Lady left the room, the valet—Hendricks—led him back to his room. Hendricks closed the door when he left, and John stood there for a while, looking out over the moonlit fields. Wondering about the younger lord McKay. Arrogant, the Lady had said, though not without justification. It made him think of Rodney, wistfully; he could imagine someone applying that description to Rodney, too. Would young lord McKay be anything like Rodney at all?

Was he really going to be able to feign interest in a stranger when he burned so ardently for someone else?

The sound of the door opening made him turn around. To his astonishment, Rodney stood there in front of him. He wore no coat now, and the top button of his shirt was open. His eyes were even bluer than John remembered, and his chest more broad. John's heart caught in his throat.

"I knew it had to be you," Rodney said, and John gaped at him.

"I—you—what?" His head was spinning.

"Look," Rodney said. "I don't know whether—I mean—this probably isn't what you were expecting --"

John could see a tantalizing glimpse of skin, just at the very base of his neck. It set John's heart to racing.

"It's certainly not what my father was expecting, though I suspect my mother isn't entirely surprised by this turn of events, but—I'm babbling; what I mean to say is, I don't want to—I mean, I'm aware that the power differential between your family and mine is substantial, to say the least, and I don't want you to feel forced into anything, least of all—"

Understanding slammed into him: Rodney was the young lord McKay. The man whose memory had consumed him for a night and a day was the lord of the manor. The purpose of the ball had been to find Rodney a suitable mate.

As, apparently, it had done—only neither of them had realized it at the time. John opened his mouth, but Rodney talked right over him, his hands flying as though he were sketching aeronautical concepts again.

"—least of all into something like this. I mean, coercing someone into sleeping with me really isn't my cup of tea. If there's no sincerity, no mutual interest, honestly—it would leave me feeling even more alone." Rodney took a deep breath. "Not that I've actually had that experience, I'm just extrapolating. So I wanted to be clear that you don't owe me anything. Physically. Or in any other way. It's nice enough just having someone to talk to—"

"Rodney," John said quietly, and that shut him up; Rodney stared at him, his eyes wide, his mouth tilting crookedly in the way John was already learning meant he was nervous. "You have to know I'm grateful."

"Yes, yes, gratitude, all good and well, and—look, it's not that I'd say no to anything, exactly, I've never had that kind of willpower, but I really don't want you to feel like you have to—"

John crossed the room until he was right in Rodney's space. He almost imagined he could feel the heat from Rodney's body through his garments; it was tantalizing, made John's mouth water. "This isn't about gratitude," he said, his voice scratchy, and moved to kiss Rodney on the lips.

Rodney's arms wound around him immediately, and he kissed like he was hungry for it. His body was solid against John's, and when John took his head in both hands he sighed into John's mouth.

When they broke, breathing hard, Rodney gasped "oh, thank God," and pressed his lips to John's neck.

He hadn't known his neck was so sensitive, but Rodney's mouth made pleasure ripple down his spine. "Oh," he choked out, and he felt Rodney smile against his skin.

"I didn't want to presume," Rodney said, the vibration from his voice tickling John's neck.

"Presume all you want," John said.

And then, a little while later, "oh—yes, please, that—"

And then they weren't using words anymore at all.

Rodney took him out to see the flying ships first thing after breakfast. They were beautiful: grey cylinders floating just above the floor in their hangar. As John approached one, a door whooshed open and a gangplank lowered for them.

"They're not especially intuitive," Rodney said. "It'll take you a while to—"

But John had seated himself on the left-hand side and all around him displays and read-outs sprang to life, gleaming and illuminated.

"How'd you do that?" Rodney sounded perturbed. John guessed it had taken him a while longer to get the displays to respond to him.

"I just—thought about what I wanted to see," John said distantly, his heart soaring as he scanned what was in front of him. Slowly they rose a bit higher off the ground and then glided out the hangar door. "I think it likes me."

"It's not a horse, you know," Rodney said, a little petulant.

"I know," John said. "Horses are nowhere near this cool."

Rodney laughed, and then threw John a sly look out of the corner of his eye. "You do have for turning things on by touch," he said.

John had to swallow hard, remembering Rodney spread beneath him, arching upwards, moaning. His cock heavy in John's mouth.

"Trying to fly, here," he managed, his voice slightly strangled.

"Where are we going, anyway?" Rodney had high color in his cheeks. Maybe the memory was getting to him, too.

Maybe they'd do it again tonight. A man could hope, thought John.

"The ship tells me there's water out this way," John said, gesturing. "I thought we could go and see."

"Ocean, sure. Hey, there's supposed to be a ring of the Ancestors somewhere above the ocean," Rodney said, as though he'd only just remembered.

"I thought those were just in fairy tales," John protested. But the ship was responding to Rodney's thoughts too; he could see the ring on the map now, hovering tantalizing above the sea. A portal to other worlds, the stories said. More worlds than a body could imagine counting, spread across space, stretching forever.

"Fairy tales can come true," Rodney said, and they flew on.

The End