[identity profile] goe-mod.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] go_exchange
Title: The Ghosts of Tadfield
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] hsavinien
Rating: PG
Pairing: Pepper/Adam Young
Word Count: 3,380
Prompt: Pepper/anyone not a Horseperson or a demon - Pepper grew up and started remembering. - any rating.
Disclaimer: All copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. This work is not created for profit and constitutes fair use.
Author’s Note:Written for [livejournal.com profile] go_exchange 2016. Enjoy!

domingo, 30 de noviembre

It wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have a nightmare after visiting a gallery of mediaeval torture implements, Pepper thought, as she sipped a café con leche that was really more like a leche con café. It would be even more understandable to have such a nightmare while sleeping on an unfamiliar mattress at a cheap hostel she'd booked at the last minute. Yes, that would be perfectly reasonable.

Except that the hostel had proved to be a perfectly decent one. She could have done far worse for comfort, and her dorm-mates had been quieter than she'd had any right to expect. More important, her nightmare hadn't featured anything she'd seen at the Galería de la Inquisición and dutifully scribbled about in her notebook, and she wasn't even sure it qualified as a nightmare. It certainly hadn't started off as one. It was a beautiful, warm summer day, and she was eleven years old, Head Torturer of the British Inquisition, dunking her sister in the pond with Adam, Wensleydale and Brian. That was a real memory, and a fond one at that, if slightly embarrassing now that she had a better idea of the realities of the actual Inquisition.

But then the scene had changed. The sky had gone darker, and Adam had gone darker...in fact, it was as though the sky had followed Adam's lead. She, Brian and Wensleydale had stared at their leader in genuine terror as he announced grandiose plans to make the world better in terms that sounded remarkably like mass erasure of all humanity, sparing his friends only. She would have Russia, and Wensleydale would have America, and Brian Africa and Europe, and they could play real war games...

It had been a nightmare. It was certainly, what was that phrase, the stuff of nightmares. Pepper shivered involuntarily as she took another sip of her coffee and checked her watch. Forty minutes until the next train. The station was just across the street, so she had time, but she knew she shouldn't wait much longer before heading over. Still, she felt strangely reluctant to leave, rooted to her barstool just as she remembered feeling helplessly rooted to Adam's side.

That, right there, was the trouble. She really did remember it, not in the foggy, incoherent way she usually remembered dreams, but just as sharply and clearly as she remembered playing the British Inquisition. But that had happened, and this...hadn't. Adam might, sometimes, be a bit intense, but never frightening. She'd remember that.

And she did. As of this Sunday morning towards the end of her term abroad, three months into the three and a half that would be the longest the Them had gone without seeing each other since they'd first met as under-fives.

But she couldn't possibly really remember it, because it was nine years ago, and she didn't have nine years' worth of remembering it. It wasn't the kind of thing you forgot. It might be the kind of thing you forced out of your mind and resolved not to bring up again, but it wasn't the kind of thing that just casually slipped your mind. There should have been consequences, even they were just the small consequences of eleven-year-old Pepper, Brian and Wensleydale knowing of the existence of a darker side to Adam. Something like that couldn't have simply happened and been quietly forgotten.

Meaning it wasn't a real memory, and Pepper was doing a fine job of driving herself mad with circular anxieties when she really needed to be thinking about her term paper. That was, after all, how she'd justified the expensive train fare to herself, when there were much cheaper buses available. She'd told herself that she would start writing on the train, while the gallery was fresh in her mind, and that when she got back to Madrid two hours earlier than the buses would have allowed, she would also definitely use that time to work on her paper.

The AVE train dutifully wasted no time in turning first Córdoba, then Puertollano and Ciudad Real, then finally Toledo into dots in its rearview, but Pepper's laptop remained unopened.

domingo, 3 de diciembre

One week later, Pepper's term paper had become such a secondary concern that she had to continually remind herself, as she stared at a blank computer screen in the university library, that it was the reason why she had come. That she would much rather be enjoying cañas and tinto de verano with her classmates, who had either made considerably more impressive progress on their work or simply didn't care about it, but failing a study abroad class due to excessive partying was a cliché too painful to contemplate. She could drink the Spanish Inquisition out of her mind only after she had finished writing about it.

But no amount of alcohol would erase a week's worth of dreams that couldn't be just dreams but also couldn't be real memories, and she was starting to think no amount of academic pressure could, either.

She needed to talk to Adam. And Brian and Wensleydale, but especially Adam. But she was in Spain, and Adam was in Japan, and Wensleydale was in Kenya, and Brian was in America.

Her dreams had managed to revisit nearly everything from what she had come to realise had indeed been a fateful week in their eleven-year-old lives, even if her subconscious was truly off its nut and making half of it up. For one thing it had ended with a Saturday that even back then Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian had all conceded they couldn't quite remember but somehow, uncharacteristically, had decided was unimportant. And then the Sunday that followed that foggy Saturday had marked a subtle but monumental change in Adam. Overnight he had become—not necessarily mature, that would be overstating it to the point of giving offence, but...self-aware. Yes, that was it. The leader of the Them had become ever so slightly wiser, and ever so slightly kinder, in one tiny instant in time that his friends had never consciously noticed or acknowledged.

From that day on, it was as though he had always been this way, but he hadn't. Pepper's real memories proved that. Adam during that week, before the change, was brasher and more full of himself than he had ever been in the nine years since. His boasts then lacked the winking, self-effacing quality they had taken on afterwards. Virtually everything Adam had ever said before the change had been designed to draw people into his orbit and focus their attention on him. Afterwards, well, Adam still craved attention, but he was far more committed to legitimately earning it. From that day on, Adam began to listen as much as he talked, and to design games that were truly for his friends, rather than simply using them as pieces to fill the board.

And before that day, if you'd asked Pepper whether she was Adam's girlfriend, she'd have decked you. She'd have said that was a stupid, sexist question. You weren't going around asking Brian or Wensleydale if they were Adam's boyfriend just because they happened to be in his gang, after all. And she'd have meant it.

But Adam from that Sunday onwards was a different person, and loath though she was to admit it, she really didn't hate the idea of being his girlfriend, and she hadn't hated it in a long time. In fact, she had thought for some time that her brilliant, hilarious, gorgeous and never, ever boring best friend might actually be exactly what she wanted in a boyfriend, or maybe not, but either way she missed him terribly at university, and that was just when she was at UCL and he was at Oxford.

And then, the night before they'd all scattered across the globe, after the two of them had seen first Brian and then Wensleydale home, somehow the concept of personal space had gone out the window as they'd approached her house, as had the concept of moving faster than the average snail. As had the concept of a normal heart rate. And the concept of not standing on the front step and staring at each other when you've already said good night and, best friends or not, that really should have been that, because you were being ridiculous.

They hadn't kissed. Pepper's sister had let out a girlish squeal from behind the door, and Adam had hastily muttered, 'See you at Christmas, Pep,' and beat a quick retreat, his human speed fully restored.

But Pepper would be lying if she said she hadn't thought about it, and that was already confusing enough before she'd started having nightmares about an absolutely terrifying Adam who'd been ready wipe out life on Earth in a childish temper tantrum and reduce her, Wensleydale and Brian into little more than living, breathing human toys to play with. An Adam who'd then seemingly come back to reality and had her fashion a makeshift wooden sword to wield against a woman who really didn't look human at all, and who'd similarly pitted Wensleydale and Brian, armed with similar handmade tools, against two other barely humanoid figures...and there were others there, too. Anathema and Newt from Jasmine Cottage, and that older couple who came to visit them sometimes, and two men Pepper was certain she'd never met before.

For a moment she wondered if Anathema would be the right one to ask. If she remembered any of it, that would at least mean Pepper wasn't crazy, and either way she might well know something about these kinds of dreams that had to be memories but just couldn't be, or if not she might at least know somebody else Pepper could consult about it. Anathema knew the oddest things, and even odder people.

But even if she carefully rehearsed what she wanted to say, Pepper could no sooner phone Anathema about this without using up her sueldo before she'd got even halfway to the heart of the matter than she could phone Adam or Brian or Wensleydale without running into the same problem, and somehow this just didn't seem the sort of thing you brought up over email.

Her only real option at this point was to finish her bloody paper and then get drunk enough to think that climbing the Puerta del Sol Christmas tree might be a good idea.

diumenge, 10 de desembre

Another week later, Pepper felt certain of only one thing, and that was effortlessly defeating a personification of war with a couple of sticks aside, she herself had no particular supernatural ability other than that shared by all serial procrastinators, i.e. to write four times as much in the final four hours before deadline than she had managed in the entire preceding week, at a consistent standard of, if not exactly brilliance, at least sufficient competence to obtain her minimum desired grade.

As such she was no longer obliged to ignore her dreams, which had now transcended even her own impossible-and-yet memories to include things she couldn't have witnessed, because they did not concern her. She had watched the older couple ride a flying scooter to Lower Tadfield Airbase and a man in sunglasses drive a car on fire, to the for-once-understandable confusion of R.P. Tyler. She had dreamed of a bookshop in Soho catching fire, only to reappear unburnt. And on the same night she'd turned in her paper, she'd dreamt of things that had to have happened in the distant past: an accused witch blowing up a village mob that had tried to burn her at the stake, and the same man in sunglasses drinking constantly in an attempt to forget about the Spanish Inquisition.

Pepper couldn't help feeling slightly gratified by that last one, even if he did make something of a pitiable sight.

She was more confused than ever, but at this point she was as much annoyed as she was confused. She'd been planning this celebratory term-ending holiday since before the term had even started, back when she'd had every expectation of being able to enjoy it. She wished that her thoughts would just leave her alone and let her take in Barcelona, but everywhere she turned, no matter how hard she tried to block them out, she was chased by the ghosts of Tadfield. Without her photographs of the Park Güell, the Sagrada Família and the Museu Picasso, she'd hardly believe she'd been to them at all.

But if she had to think, then so be it. Pepper was nothing if not practical, and that was why she'd impulsively bought a ticket to Montserrat. She could do all the exhaustive thinking she needed on the train journey and during the long climb up, and then when she got to the top, perhaps her mind would be spent and just let her take in the mountain view. She might even create space in her brain to actually retain a fact or two about the monastery.

So much for that. As she stared out at the vast expanse of the mountain range, all she could think was how much fun Adam's imagination would have had with it. We could have run around like all the worst kinds of British tourists, she thought, if we'd come here together as kids. And it would have been awful, but it would have been incredible.

'It could still be incredible,' said a beautifully familiar voice behind her.

But that was impossible.

Slowly, and with far greater trepidation than she wanted to admit, Pepper turned around.

And Adam was indeed standing there, grinning.

But he couldn't be. Adam was in Japan, and she had officially lost whatever was left of her mind.

'How...how...?' she managed to ask. Gradually, through her confusion, she became aware that she was staring, and decided she didn't care.

'I think you know,' said Adam quietly. He wasn't grinning anymore. 'We needed to talk. I couldn't wait until Christmas.'

Pepper bit her lip. 'So you flew here all the way from Japan? And you found me here, when I didn't even know I was coming here until this morning?'

'Not exactly,' said Adam, still looking uncharacteristically solemn. 'I just kind of...needed to be where you were. So I am. Is this even Spain? I don't see any bulls around.'

In spite of herself, Pepper smiled a little. 'It's Catalonia, so that's kind of a matter of opinion. Or is it a matter of your opinion?'

Adam shook his head firmly. 'No. You...you know I decided against all that.'

Pepper shook her head. 'I really don't know anything anymore. What are you, Adam? And how could you not tell us?'

It was Adam's turn to bite his lip. 'Well, in my defence, I didn't know 'til just then,' he said softly. 'That was the whole problem. Or the whole solution, I guess. You can't just tell somebody hey, by the way, you're the Antichrist, you're supposed to end the world, when they've already spent eleven years living in it. Not if they've got friends like you and Brian and Wensley, at least.'

Pepper shook her head again. 'Flattery will get you nowhere. This is serious, Adam. You've been lying to us for years. Are Wensleydale and Brian having the dreams too? What made you decide to tell us now? And how come you didn't have the guts to do it in person?'

Pepper could feel her face reddening. The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. It was all true, and Adam had had no right—

'Some of them, yeah,' said Adam, interrupting her train of thought. 'But not like you are. And I didn't mean for it to happen this way. I just...' he started, then trailed off, momentarily staring at the ground. Then, defiantly, he raised his eyes to hers. 'You were the one I missed most,' he said simply.

And she was not going to let that melt her heart. She was not going to be that girl from those awful romantic comedies who takes the bloke back after he lies to her throughout the whole dumb movie, just because of some stupid, shallow nice words at the end. She was not.

No matter how much she really wanted to forgive him. He wasn't just any dumb bloke. He was her best friend, and she loved him.

But this was serious.

'Again, I really didn't mean to,' Adam continued. 'But...listen, Tokyo's brilliant. You've got to go there sometime. I've had a really good term and I'm glad I did it, but the whole time, I missed you. I missed you and Wensley and Brian, but especially you. Everything I saw, I wished I could share with you. I was really lonely, sometimes. And I started losing control.'

Pepper blinked. 'You can just wish yourself across the globe to wherever I happen to be, you can wipe away all traces of Armageddon starting everywhere in the world, but you can't keep control of what we remember? Even though you did it effortlessly for nine years?'

Adam shook his head again. 'Not exactly. It was more like I didn't want you to forget anymore. But I didn't know that. You have to understand, I don't consciously use my powers except for really trivial stuff. Like if we're out of food and I don't feel like going round the shops. Or if it's nearly closing time at the pub and I wish they'd stay open another hour. Coming here to find you is the most consequential thing I've ever consciously done.'

Pepper nodded in spite of herself. 'Because you don't believe in messing about.'

'Right. It's my subconscious that does most stuff. I know now that I've influenced things in Tadfield like the weather and suchlike, but I didn't know I was doing it then. And I guess I could stop doing it if I wanted, but it's gone on so long that I think people are used to it. Like it's probably because of me that we always have snow at Christmas. I could change it so that this year we don't, but I think people would be disappointed, don't you?'

Pepper nodded. 'Yeah. It's nice that we always have snow.'

'So,' said Adam, brightening slightly, 'it was my subconscious that changed its mind. Before, I thought it was just best if everyone didn't know. But now...now that I've been away from you lot, I guess...maybe it made me appreciate you more. I didn't know I was doing it until I started having dreams about you. Dreams I knew were real. And I knew I had to say something.'

Pepper laughed, but without amusement. 'And you couldn't have said something right away? Do you realise I just spent two weeks thinking I was insane? I almost didn't finish my end-of-term paper because the dreams were driving me mad!'

She felt a twinge of guilt as Adam's face promptly lost what little colour it had regained. 'I'm sorry,' he said, once again addressing the ground. 'I'm really sorry. And I'm gonna tell Brian and Wensleydale I'm sorry, too, when I see them. But I couldn't wait to see you. I mean...you must know where this is going, Pep. That last night before we both left Tadfield...I mean, was it just me?'

And when he raised his eyes to hers, Pepper was astonished to find genuine uncertainty there. The Antichrist was standing in front of her, honestly worried that his best friend might not return his feelings.

'No,' said Pepper resignedly. 'It wasn't just you.'

Relief spread instantly across Adam's face. 'Well...that's good,' he said. 'I mean, I get why you're angry. I'm not gonna...push, or anything. But as I'm here...could you maybe show me around...Catalonia, was it?'

Pepper laughed. 'Catalonia's the name of the region, Adam. Or autonomous community, as they call it. Like the states in America. This place is called Montserrat.'

Adam smiled. He had the decency to look embarrassed. 'OK, Montserrat, then.'

'Well, a big part of it's the climb up. You always did find a way to skip the tough bits.' Then she smiled genuinely. 'Let's go see the monastery.'

And so they did.


Happy Holidays, hsavinien, from your Secret Writer!

Date: 2017-01-01 04:24 am (UTC)
ext_85481: (Alice - Frabjous day)
From: [identity profile] hsavinien.livejournal.com
Oh man, this is great! I love the way you framed it - the distance and missing each other being what sets off the memories leaking back in/Adam's control loosening. The study abroad idea was excellent and it was cool that you contextualized with the museum of the Inquisition and gave that part of their childhood games more weight. Pepper's characterization is nice and solid too.

Thanks so much! It's always great to have more Pepper and more stories set in different places.

Date: 2017-01-02 12:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lunasong365.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed reading this. You structured it beautifully, right down to the detail of using Catalan instead of Spanish for the last date stamp. I agree with everything hsavinien said.

I noticed that Brian and Wensleydale ended up in opposite destinations of what Adam had chosen for them in canon (no meddling!).

Date: 2017-01-03 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bravinto (from livejournal.com)
it's a very pleasant fic to read - the feeling of nostalgia and missing someone is strong! And I love the bits about Inquisiton!

Date: 2017-01-09 03:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] irisbleufic.livejournal.com
Gorgeous use of Spain, the Inquisition, nostalgic longing, everything. I truly enjoyed reading this, secret author; Happy New Year!

Date: 2017-01-10 12:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] notaspacealien.livejournal.com
Wow!!!! This was really good! I always like seeing the Them as adults even though it pains me to see them split up, as it makes sense for them to be. Your tone throughout this piece was very good. It really does emphasize exactly how freaking scary Adam could be if he weren't such a...responsible? Moral? person. Adam really doesn't get enough appreciation in fic. Nice job, dear!

Date: 2017-01-12 12:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sous-le-saule.livejournal.com
What a great idea to set your story in Spain and use the spanish inquisition! And the relationship between Pepper and Adam is lovely.

Date: 2017-01-14 07:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbobness.livejournal.com
OH god, the travelogue feel of it, the sense of journey and space and the internal landscape spreading out, it's just really lovely. I love how brilliant Pepper is!


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