Shadow of the Templar: Cuckoo's Egg

On timeline: early 1990s, ten to fifteen years before the events of the books
Spoilers for: Jeremy's backstory as laid out originally in Double Down
Warnings: awkward attempts at varied accents; mild language; also, Bran is a jerk

We've heard this story before.



     The boy's face and hands were somewhere near clean—probably easy enough to wash those in a public lavatory—but when Ethan peeled the unconscious boy out of that filthy denim jacket Bran was struck by the ancient grime that stained the back of his neck and his knobbly wrists a nasty grey. "Euch," Bran said, nearly dropping the boy's legs in disgust.

     "Steady," Ethan said, distracted. Bran obediently stilled, although now he was far too aware of the grease-shiny patches and the dirt ground into the seams of the boy's tattered jeans. His trainers were a size too big for him, too, and one of the soles was already coming loose.

     Ethan dropped the jacket straight into the bathtub, rubbing his fingers together afterwards. It made Bran feel a little better—even Ethan knew this little sneak was filthy—but not much better. "Get his shoes, would you, Bran," Ethan said, tugging the sweat-stained once-white now-yellowy-grey t-shirt free of the boy's jeans.

     Hooking one arm under the boy's knees Bran yanked off one clown-sized shoe, then the other. One of the knotted laces broke again. "Won't touch those socks," Bran said, pitching the trainers into the tub. "I'd catch some sort of disease, I would—euuugh!"

     "Bran, that's enough," Ethan said, painstakingly working the t-shirt up and over the boy's head.

     Bran's lip curled in horrified disgust. The boy's bare torso was ribby-thin and filthy, spotted over with bruises in all stages of healing, a spray of little round red sores mottling one side of his lower belly. "What if what he's got's contagious?" he said, hearing the whine in his own voice, unable to control it, hating it.

     Ethan sighed, pitching the t-shirt into the tub. "Go down to my room and get a pair of my pyjamas, would you, Bran," he said. "I'll take care of the rest."

     "He's disgusting, he is," Bran said in horror, but—seizing any opportunity to escape—he ran down to Ethan's room and pawed through Ethan's drawers, selecting the oldest pair of pyjamas that he could find.



     Ethan's faded pyjamas were far too large for the boy (and far too nice, in Bran's opinion) but they hid a multitude of sins. The unconscious boy in the spare bed looked almost normal, as long as Bran didn't look at his stringy, overlong hair or at the grey shadow of grime on the back of his neck. "There we are," Ethan said, pulling up the covers in a businesslike manner.

     "Now what, then?" Bran asked, regarding the apparition in the bed with apprehension.

     "Now we leave him to wake, and see what he does," Ethan said. "I'll run those things down to the wash, I think."

     "Leave him?" Bran said, his voice cracking into a squeak. He flushed red and rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. "Aw, but he'll just steal something else!"

     Ethan nodded, absently scrubbing his palms against his trousers. "Possibly," he said. "What I'm really interested in is what happens after that."

     "Well... he'll fuck off, is what'll happen," Bran said.

     Ethan sighed. "Language, Bran."

     "He will," Bran insisted. "See if he doesn't."

     "With the security systems on?" Ethan asked, raising both eyebrows.

     It startled Bran into silence for a tick. "Oh," he said. Glancing at the unconscious boy, he couldn't help but snicker. "That'll teach him, aye!"

     "Mm," Ethan said neutrally. "Go on and get back to your studies, Bran. Full systems on, I think, so do take all precautions, and I'll let you know if anything happens."

     "Teach you to try and steal from us," Bran told the unconscious figure.



     The yowl of shock and the attendant thudding jerked Bran's bored attention away from his maths text not twenty minutes later. Something that sounded like a bag full of shoes had just gone arse over teakettle down the back stairs, and Bran was already snickering as he leapt from his chair and rounded the corner of his desk, heading for the door.

     In his haste to see the aftermath for himself he forgot all about the house's security systems, despite having just heard some of them go off; he ran right past the all-seeing eye of one of the house's motion detectors, recalling it just a heartbeat too late. The door to the servant's stair in front of him slammed itself shut, its bolts shunting home with an ominous finality. Behind him, in Ethan's rooms, he could hear the low squeal of an alarm. "Aaw, piss on it!" Bran cried, embarrassed. "Ethan!"

     "A moment, Bran," Ethan called from the bottom of the back stairs. A few seconds later the alarm shut itself off and the bolts withdrew; Bran pushed open the door and bounded down the stairs, remembering to skip over the fourth step down. It wasn't hard to remember, since the riser already slanted alarmingly downwards, its trap tripped.

     Ethan knelt at the bottom of the stairs, patiently disentangling a small pyjama-clad figure from the stair railing. The boy was limp and unmoving, unsurprisingly after such a fall. "Is he dead?" Bran demanded to know, coming to a halt a few steps up.

     "No, no," Ethan said. "Nor has he got any broken bones, near as I can tell, although I imagine after a spill like that he might have an concussion. Go and reset the stair riser, would you, please?"

     "Aye, sure," said Bran, retreating. The step clicked neatly back into place once Bran pushed it up, and held under his weight when he tested it. He trotted back down the stairs. "Awright, it's set."

     Ethan rose to his feet, the newly-unconscious boy hanging limp from his arms. "Thank you, Bran," he said. He mounted the first step, carrying the boy; Bran fell back a step, then spun around and preceded Ethan back up the stairs.

     "So now what'll you do with him?" Bran asked.

     "Put him back to bed," said Ethan, as if that should have been obvious. "I'd appreciate it if you'd sit with him until he wakes, this time."

     "What? But..." Bran flapped his hands, his wrists crackling. "I've got my maths..."

     Ethan nudged open the door to the guest suite and carried the boy in. "There's a desk in here," he said, sanguine. "I expect you could use a bit of a break in any case, couldn't you."

     Bran scowled, then thumped into the guest suite's desk chair and folded his arms. "Fine, then."

     Ethan, unaffected, carried the boy back to the rumpled bed and put him down, pulling the covers back up. "Call for me when he wakes, please, Bran," he said, pausing for half a tick to brush a bit of the boy's lank hair out of his eyes. Bran redoubled his sulk in answer. Ethan let himself out.



     This time the boy was out for barely five minutes before blinking his eyes open. Immediately he cringed into a little ball in the bed, clutching at his head. "Aaaaow," he said, his voice an odd smoky rasp.

     Bran froze, for a long moment uncertain of what to do, and in that moment the boy in the bed spotted him. They stared at each other in mutual fright and dislike for a few seconds before the boy's eyes winced shut again. "Well, what d'you want?" he demanded to know, grinding the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.

     Refusing to dignify that with an answer, Bran stood up and yanked open the door. "Ethan!" he yelled. "He's awake!"

     "There in a flash," Ethan called back, his voice muffled by distance and closed doors. Bran slammed the door again and threw himself back into his chair, waiting. The boy on the bed paddled his bare feet, gingerly kicking his way free of the covers.

     Ethan let himself in a few seconds later. "Thank you, Bran," he said, fetching a second chair from the corner and sitting down by the side of the bed, his hands on his knees.

     The boy glared truculently at him, still drawn up into that tight protective huddle. Ethan's answering smile was small and vague and patient. The silence stretched for a few painful seconds. "I'm nicked, then," the boy finally said.

     Ethan pressed his lips together, then gave up and started laughing. Bran jumped a little, startled; the other boy only contracted into an even tighter ball, radiating sullen embarrassment. "No, no," Ethan said, waving one hand, still chuckling. "I don't believe the police will be necessary."

     Oddly, this bit of information didn't seem to reassure the boy on the bed. He edged back a few inches and sat up, the expression on his face now wary. "Quit laughin' at me," he said uncertainly.

     "I'm sorry, it's just—" Ethan waved one hand "—well, you were doing so well!"

     "What?" said Bran.

     "What?" said the boy.

     "Let me see," Ethan said, ticking points off on his fingers. "You noticed and disarmed the downstairs window—quite neatly, by the way, bravo—you managed not to make any discernible noise until you actually touched the doorknob, and, might I add, you have excellent taste in bibelots." Ethan shook his head, almost admiringly. "And then when it came time for you to take your leave, you avoided the front stairs despite the front door being openly visible—"

     "—path's too long," the boy muttered. "Too much garden, like."

     "—and you spotted both the alarm wire and the motion detector on your way to the back stairs," Ethan concluded. He paused, still smiling. "In a way, I'm sorry. Had you set off the motion detector, you wouldn't have got far enough to take a fall down the stairs."

     The boy grunted. His cheeks were red with embarrassment. Remembering the motion detector Bran looked away, scrubbing one hand over his own burning cheeks.

     "Now, then," Ethan said. "Tell me. When did you notice the wire across the windowsill?"

     Drawing his knees up to his chest the boy fell utterly, sulkily silent, glaring at Ethan out of the corners of his eyes. Ethan waited a few moments, then repeated himself: "When did you notice?"

     The silence stretched out until Bran thought he might scream. The longer the silence got, the more the boy on the bed squirmed; finally, just before Bran could crack, the boy muttered, "I was in the bushes by th' back wall."



     "Ah. My apologies." Ethan coughed. "Hiding and watching? Looking at things?"

     "Yeah, I guess." Confused, the boy added, "You've got to, right? Sit for a few and see what you can see? Sometimes people come home or summat."

     Ethan nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "And I expect you stuck to the outer perimeter of the room once you were in."

     "Well—" the boy floundered "—that's where all the little things were, like. On th' shelves."

     "True. However, for future reference, floors and stairs alike tend to creak less often if you stick close to the edges, where they're supported by the walls." Ethan's little smile was as vague as ever.

     "Why're you tellin' me that?" the boy burst out, after a confused moment. "What d' you care?"

     Ethan held up a hand. "Hush," he said, kindly. "Consider it critique. Has it occurred to you yet that if you'd only left after filling your pockets, you most likely would have got away clean?" The boy ducked his head, his face flooding with colour. Ethan nodded as if that were an answer. "You were curious, I expect. Looking for more to steal, yes, but curious as well."

     "What's it t' you anyway?" the boy grumbled under his breath.

     "What it is to me," said Ethan, and there, finally, was the steel under his amusement, "is that I hate to see a job done poorly, even a job at my expense. You pushed your luck, and you paid for it. Never push your luck unless you're more than prepared to see it through. A thief's job is dependent enough on circumstance as it is." Bran huffed in agreement, his folded arms tight over his chest; Ethan darted a glance in his direction and almost smiled.

     "Aaw, fuck's sake, just go on and kick my arse or whatever it is you plan," the boy wailed. "Didn't run away from home just t' get lectured by someone else, now, did I?"

     That only set Ethan off laughing again. Unsettled, Bran bit the inside of his lip. "That's a shame," Ethan said, settling. "Consider it your punishment for wasting such an excellent effort. Now, then, as to your attempt to leave: did you actually see the wire across the threshold, or did you only avoid it through luck?"

     Too rattled to do otherwise, the boy admitted, "It flashed a bit when I opened the door, like."

     "Did it?" Ethan twisted around in his chair, contemplating the closed door. "Tch. I'll have to see to that, then. And the motion detector?"

     "What, that little black camera?" The boy twisted his knobbly fingers together. "It's just... well, it's right there, innit? I put my back to the wall and went under it."

     "So you saw it behind the vase, then."

     "Well. Not behind, like. Sort of beside."

     "Mm." Ethan considered for a moment. "And then you went down the stairs."

     "Too right I went down the stairs!" the boy said, wincing again. "Nearly broke my bloody neck!"

     "And yet you managed to go all the way down without actually breaking anything at all," Ethan said. "Well done, that."

     "You're havin' me on."

     Ethan smiled. "No, no," he said. "Speaks well of your reflexes." He paused and glanced over his shoulder at Bran before looking back at the boy. "What's your name, then?"

     Whatever lessening of the boy's attitude the conversation had wrought, the question destroyed it. "I don't have t' tell you that," the boy snapped, hunching his shoulders.

     "No, you're absolutely correct, you don't." Ethan paused, considering the boy for such a period of time that Bran shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "My name is Ethan," he finally said.

     "So? What, you want a medal or summat?"

     Bran spat a disgusted little 'tch' out through his teeth. The boy's eyes snapped to him, then returned, inevitably, to Ethan. Ethan waited until they were both once again still before adding, "I'm a thief."

     And that made Bran yowl out a wordless sound of dismay, but Ethan never looked away from the boy. "A much better thief than you are, to be sure, because I've had both proper training and practise," Ethan went on. "There. Now we're on proper equal footing. Will you tell me your name now?"

     The boy's eyes went narrow. He studied Ethan for a long moment, then switched over to staring at Bran. Bran stared truculently back, unwilling to look away—"Jeremiah," the boy said, still staring at Bran. "Don't much like it, but it's what I've got." It came out quick and pat, as if he were accustomed to introducing himself that way.

     "It is rather Biblical, isn't it," Ethan murmured sympathetically. "Is there something you prefer to be called?"

     That made the boy—made Jeremiah—finally look away from Bran, confused, like he didn't quite understand the words. He chewed on the question for a few moments. "No."

     "Ah, well." Once again Ethan glanced at Bran (to Bran's continuing bafflement) before looking away. "Well! In any case, your things are downstairs being laundered, so I'm afraid I can't let you go just yet, Jeremiah. I'm sure the household can spare you at least a bath and a good meal before you go."

     The gracious offer—which Bran thought that Jeremiah ought to jump on with both feet and be properly grateful for—only prompted another suspicious narrowing of Jeremiah's eyes. "Oh, yeah," he said sarcastically. "And I expect you'll want t' be repaid for it somehow, then."

     "Well, perhaps," said Ethan. Jeremiah sneered in answer. If Ethan noticed the sneer—or understood it—he gave no sign. "In return, I'd like to make you an offer."

     "Course you would," Jeremiah said in disgust. "Figures, bloody old ponces, all alike."

     "Mm? Oh. No, no, nothing like that," said Ethan. He only frowned, rubbing one finger over his lower lip as he thought. "I'd like you to come and live here," he finally said.

     He got no further than that before both boys erupted. "What?" Bran squawked, nearly strangling on it, just as Jeremiah barked out a cynical laugh and said, "Oh yeah, nothing like that—"

     "Boys," Ethan said patiently.

     "—nothing like that at all, save for the fact that it's exactly that—"

     Ethan sighed. "Jeremiah."

     Jeremiah subsided, lip still curled. It was Bran who picked up the complaint where Jeremiah had left off: "Him? Live here? You can't fuckin' trust him, he'll bring the law down on our heads or just be off down the road with everything he can damn' well carry the second you take your eyes off him—"

     "Bran, language," Ethan said, but Bran was far too exercised to stop now. "—filthying up the place, right enough, you saw those bloody sores he's got—"

     "Bran," Ethan said, his voice severe. Bran choked on the next word. Ethan turned back to Jeremiah. "The reason I ask is that I'd like to try and teach you my trade," said Ethan. He hesitated, then went on. "You've amply demonstrated that you have some raw talent for it, and, frankly, the challenge appeals. I can just as easily teach two as one. If it turns out you haven't the knack, I'm certain I can put you onto some other trade. Whatever you decide, I can promise you'll be taken care of."

     Bran spluttered. Jeremiah's mouth was still stretched into that half-disgusted sneer, but above it his eyes were narrowed and calculating, somehow ancient. "Yeah? And what else?" he said.

     "Nothing else," Ethan said.

     "This is bloody mad," Bran groaned, flapping his hands in negation. "He'll only take advantage, Ethan, you know that!"

     "Bran, please, that's enough," Ethan said, still mildly. "If he takes advantage it's only because I've let him."

     "But you are letting him!" Bran wailed. His voice cracked again. "That's what you're doing right this minute, letting him take advantage!"

     This time Ethan's sigh was a long, drawn-out affair. "Well," he said, once that was done, "perhaps that's so, but in a way I'll be taking advantage of him in return."

     "Hah," said Jeremiah, almost smug now. "Bloody well knew it."

     "But—it—he—augh! You could have at least told me what you were plannin'!" Bran was whining again, he knew it, but he was too exercised to care. "You never gave me so much as a chance t' say yea or nay, it's only my bloody life too, fuck's sake—"


     "—oh, do as you please!" Bran cried, hurt, baffled, and angry. "You damn' well will anyway!" It was almost a sob. Jabbing two fingers in an upraised 'v' at the boy in the bed—Bran didn't quite dare flip off Ethan—Bran threw open the door and stormed out, only narrowly avoiding the flat metal wire stretched a hair's width above the threshold. He slammed the door behind himself, for emphasis, and shut himself up in his own room, putting a CD in his stereo to drown out even the slightest incidental noise.



     Two changes of CD later Bran wasn't precisely calmer, but his thwarted, helpless rage had turned into a baleful sulk. He'd gone so far as to finish his maths (for some reason he thought that might show Ethan, although what, exactly, it would show Ethan he wasn't entirely clear on) and to read about twenty pages of Shakespeare without really seeing the words.

     The brat would have to be mad to turn Ethan down, was the problem. Even with the music on Bran had heard the water go on in the other suite and go off again a while later, and there had been a bit of thumping; here for only a few hours and already taking advantage of Ethan's generosity, and if Ethan had his mad way the brat would hang off that bloody teat forever. And for what? Wasn't Ethan already teaching Bran—what did he need another student for? And, for that matter, how did Ethan expect to teach a teenager anything, when Bran had been at it since he was six bloody years old and still wasn't anywhere near done? Bran hunched his shoulders and glared unseeing at his copy of Julius Caesar, his mind harrowing itself around in that same track, over and over.

     The knock on the door startled him out of it, eventually, making Bran jump. He eyed the door with suspicion, weighing the possibility of just not answering, or of telling the person on the other side to piss off—Ethan opened the door before Bran could decide on a course of action, negating all of Bran's dim plans. "It'll be time for dinner soon," Ethan said, his voice carefully neutral. "I'd appreciate it if you'd join us."

     "Aye, whatever," Bran muttered, staring down at his book.

     "For the time being, Jeremiah is only our guest," Ethan went on. "He hasn't yet decided if he intends to take me up on my offer. So I expect you to treat him with the courtesy due a guest, please, Bran."

     Bran scowled down at his book. "Changed my mind," he said. "I'm not hungry."

     The pause from the doorway was short, but telling. "That's a shame," Ethan said. "Very well, you needn't eat if you aren't hungry, but I still expect you to come down and sit at table with us."

     "Fuck," Bran spat, hurling his book against the wall. It hit with a thud and landed upright on the floor, a few pages detaching from the spine and fluttering down after. Bran grabbed two handfuls of his own short hair. "Can't believe what you've done," he groaned.

     "Yes. Well. I've done it," Ethan said. "And I hope that you'll find a way to learn to live with it, in time."

     "You could at least say you're sorry!" Bran cried, his voice cracking in desperation.

     Ethan closed his eyes. "I am sorry that I've apparently hurt you so," he said. "But so far I've been given no cause to regret making the offer. Quite the opposite, in fact."

     "Oh, well, that's fuckin' brilliant," Bran said, subsiding.

     "Do you know, I think it might be?" Ethan said. He glanced away from Bran, looking down the hall—"Ah, there you are," he said.

     Bran went still. A scrawny shape nearly lost in a different pair of Ethan's pyjamas bobbed uncertainly up in the doorway. The difference was startling: Jeremiah's once-overlong hair had been shorn off close to his scalp, so that only a thin fuzz of brown remained. His face, thus revealed, was narrow, almost skeletal, pink from prolonged scrubbing and nearly free of grime; his cheekbones were high and far too prominent, his chin sharp, his ears like jug-handles. His brown eyes were enormous, set deep in bruised-looking sockets. His new image was both vulnerable and oddly hard, like a Roman centurion turned Christian monk or like someone in the terminal stages of a nasty wasting disease, and it made Bran's chest hurt in a weird, constricted way.

     Jeremiah looked around Bran's rooms with frank curiosity and ill-concealed envy—probably only cataloguing what he'd steal when he left—then looked uncertainly up at Ethan. Ethan put a hand on Jeremiah's shoulder. "Jeremiah, this is my son, Bran," he said.

     "Hullo," Jeremiah said diffidently. The smoky rasp from earlier was muted, almost gone; for all that he looked older, he sounded younger. "You've a wicked room, here."

     "Don't get any ideas," Bran said. "I'm not nearly so soft-hearted as Ethan—you filch any of my things and I'll whip your arse."

     "Bran," Ethan said tiredly, but Jeremiah interrupted him with a snigger. "Like you could," he said, dropping the diffidence once and for all. "Better'n you have tried."

     "Bloody well could—" Bran started to say, but Ethan overrode them both: "Boys," he said, and they both automatically hushed. "Time enough for that later," Ethan added. "Come along, then. Let's have dinner. You must both be hungry."

     "Bloody starving," Jeremiah agreed, his eyes widening greedily, and after a moment Bran sighed and hopped down off his bed.



     The next morning found Bran lurking in the front hallway, waiting for his ride to Sunday mass and still sulking. The night before had been like a sideshow, Jeremiah trying to shovel in half again his own weight in food while Ethan chivvied him into holding his knife and fork properly and sitting up straight—fourteen or so and he didn't even know his table manners, oh, aye, such a proper gentleman he was going to make—and then crashing into the guest bed, sound asleep in seconds. For all Bran knew, he was asleep yet.

     "Good morning, Bran," Ethan said pleasantly from behind him.

     Bran jumped. "Don't do that, I hate that," he squeaked, thumping his chest.

     "I'm sorry," said Ethan, drifting into the foyer like smoke. Bran crossed his arms over his chest and settled back against the wall, eyeing Ethan warily. If Ethan noticed, he gave no sign. "I hope yesterday's excitement didn't prevent you from sleeping well."

     "Aye, well, no," Bran admitted, still wary. "Slept well enough for all that, once the door was locked up proper." A vague stab of hurt made him add, "So, is he still asleep or did he fuck off in the middle of the night?"

     "Still asleep," Ethan said.

     Nothing else seemed to be forthcoming, so Bran looked down at the floor, wishing with all his heart that Liam and his wife would hurry up and arrive. Even an hour with his arse going dead in a pew wouldn't be so bad in comparison to this awful business.

     "His situation is desperate, you know," Ethan said softly. Bran's head jerked up. Ethan was staring away somewhere over Bran's shoulder, his eyes faraway. "You and I, we have so much, but he's lived on the streets for years, had to scrape and steal trifles and do terrible things just to survive—I'll be taking him to see Phyllis while you're gone, I think, because he needs a doctor's care in the worst way. I worry that he might already have something incurable."

     Bran cringed back against the wall, embarrassed on everybody's behalf, but mostly on his own. "Aye, well, so what?" he said, and then stopped, unsure what to say next.

     "I know you don't like it, and I'll admit that you're not wrong to think the things that you do," Ethan went on. "Nine out of ten boys like him, in his position, they would filch the silver and run off. And if he does, well, then we'll know that you were right and I was wrong." Ethan paused, his jaw working. "But I don't think he will, Bran. I think there's some hope for him yet."

     "Ethan," Bran whined, clapping his hands over his ears. "Can we not? It's done, isn't it, and I'm sick of getting talked at about it!"

     Ethan breathed out just the faintest laugh. "Yes, I imagine you are," he said.

     "I don't like it, and I don't like him, and you didn't give me the least little bit of say about it," Bran said stubbornly. He let his hands drop again. "You can't bloody well talk me into liking it no matter how much you try. So leave off already."

     "You're right," Ethan said, sighing. "Fair enough. I'll make you a deal, then: I'll leave off with the reasonable talk if you promise to extend him a little courtesy. I don't mind if you squabble—God knows I can't stop you—but at least try to be kind. It won't cost you a thing and I expect it would mean the world to him."

     "Fine," Bran said, mostly to get Ethan to stop being so embarrassing. "All right? I will."

     "Good lad," said Ethan. "You've your keys, I trust. He and I may still be gone when you come back."

     Bran patted his front pocket. "Aye, I've got 'em."

     Ethan chewed something over for a few moments. "You know I love you like you were always my own son," he finally said, making Bran nearly fold in on himself in horrified humiliation. "I didn't do it to hurt you, no matter what you think."

     "That isn't what I think at all!" Bran squeaked. "I just think you should have asked me first—" The approaching rumble of a car caught his attention, and Bran nearly threw himself out the front door in relief.

     "Give my love to Liam and Paula," Ethan called, and that, apparently, was that.



     Bran had never been much for mass, not even when he was small and still in Catholic school. He'd have skipped it if he'd been able. His real parents had been Catholic, and they'd meant for him to be Catholic, and after they'd died Liam had stepped in to make sure that Bran went on as he'd begun, but it didn't mean much to Bran; he wasn't sure he believed in anything, let alone in God, and even if he'd been a believer, mass would have been a terrible slog.

     Still, that Sunday when the priest invited the congregation to pray, Bran rested his clasped hands on the back of the pew in front of him and screwed his eyes shut, determined to give it one last try. Make him go away, he thought, give me my life back, and, in a bravura effort of defiance, added, and I'll believe, then, really believe, I'll light candles and all.



I'd originally planned for Cuckoo's Egg to be much longer than this: it would cover most (if not all) of Jeremy's time growing up with Ethan and Bran, all the way from his dramatic entrance to Bran's equally-dramatic exit five years later.

The problem is that I actually tried to write that.

The resulting story... well, it exists. It's not completely irredeemable—it was a valuable writing exercise and parts of it are pretty decent—but it's awkward and slow. It doesn't really go anywhere. Not all that much happens. The most important thing I learned from completing Cuckoo's Egg is that some things are just not worth completing.

However, since the full version exists, there's no reason to pretend it doesn't. The web-exclusive extended version of Cuckoo's Egg can be read here, should you care to do so:

Please note that it's long—about as long as Double Down—and needs more editing than it actually got.