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the island of conclusions

Two Boys from Kansas...7/7 (Merlin/SPN crossover fic--now COMPLETE)

the island of conclusions

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Two Boys from Kansas...7/7 (Merlin/SPN crossover fic--now COMPLETE)

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nimueh
Title: Two Boys from Kansas in King Uther's Court, 7/7
Rating: pg-13, gen
Word Count: ~6.6K this part, ~36K total (eep!)
Warnings: here with part one. Takes place S1 Merlin, S1 SPN. Also, some hurt!Dean in this section....
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit.

a/n: a huge thank you to [personal profile] calamitycrow for beta'ing the whole thing, along with sustained hand-holding, firm nudges to get the thing written, and assorted consults on things like Medieval wound care. You rock, bb!
a/n: a huge thank you also to anyone who's read part of this, or even *gulp* the whole thing. I never thought I'd actually write something this long, and while I wish it were better, it's been a blast, and an amazing learning experience, so, yeah, thank you!
ETA: beautiful banner by ala_tariel

Summary: The title pretty much says it all. And this:

“Thought we were doubling the watch tonight?” Dean said, after a minute.

“He nodded off.” Arthur gestured towards Merlin, who was indeed fast asleep, propped against his saddle, head canted back and mouth open. “Not used to hard marches. I’ll wake him in a bit.”

The darkness, or the isolation, or maybe what they’d seen together in the smallpox hut, seemed to have released Arthur from the shell of brusque arrogance he usually wore, and Dean could hear the warmth in his voice when he spoke of Merlin—a rough, protective affection that rang a chord in his own chest.





Picture Credit by: ala_tariel


part one * part two * part three * part four * part five * part six *

Part Seven

It was a long day.

Sam had cleaned the gash on Dean’s forearm with water and the last of the wine, then sewn it up with Merlin’s silk thread and bandaged it with strips from the cleanest shirt they had between them. Stitches without painkillers hurt like hell, but it wasn’t anything Dean hadn’t lived through before, so he’d dug his nails into the palm of his other hand, and quietly swore a blue streak in Sam’s general direction. Merlin had hovered over them, wincing sympathetically every time the needle went through Dean’s skin, until Arthur cuffed him on the back of the head and shooed him away.

They spent most of the day climbing the last of the three hills that made up the Northern Fells, the horses taking tiny steps on the steep grade. The sun beat down on them out of a cloudless sky as they made their way up through the barren landscape. Every once in a while a flock of sheep or cows blocked their way for a few minutes until a shepherd and his dogs came to herd them off, bobbing his head politely. Other than that, the Fells were deserted—except for flies. Seemed like every few seconds a one decided to settle on Dean’s nose or hand, and his horse twitched her ears and tail continuously—and didn’t that just make him want to cry for the enclosed safety of Impala?

Sam and Arthur hadn’t thawed out much towards each other since the morning, but they had somehow come to a silent agreement that Sam would take up the rear while Arthur continued to ride point, keeping Dean and Merlin between them. Dean would have protested, except he knew they were right—there was no way he could draw a bow with his arm like this if robbers—or worse—were to come at them again.

He gritted his teeth against the hot, uncomfortable boredom of the day. For the first time, the adrenaline wave he’d been riding since they’d arrived in Camelot started to drain away, and homesickness for 2005 washed over him. He missed his guns and his tape collection. He missed the ratty motel rooms where he’d spent most of his life; they’d been shabby and dirty, sure, but they’d had indoor plumbing, and hot showers, and automatic coffee machines. They’d had fucking air-conditioning, for chrissakes, he thought, feeling drops of sweat slide down his back. The sensation triggered a visceral memory of driving the Impala with the windows down, cool air rushing over his face and the engine purring beneath him. He blinked away the sweat stinging his eyes.

“Hey,” Sam had ridden up close to him without his noticing, and handed him a waterskin. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Dean answered, pulling himself together and taking a long drink of water, “nothing a cold beer wouldn’t cure.”

Sam snorted, and swiped a fly off of Dean’s forehead.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Between the relentless sun and the nagging pain of his arm, Dean was exhausted by the time they made camp that night. Sam had bound his arm close to his body with a makeshift sling, but the horse’s gait on the packed earth path kept jarring the wound, the ache gradually spreading up his arm to his shoulder, then from to neck to jaw, until his head pounded in time with his pulse.

The long delay that morning and the steep climb meant that they had only just crested the third peak when the slow mid-summer dusk started to close in around them. They set up camp near another one of those stone cairns, this one with even more small piles of stones around it. They had a nice view into the fertile valley at the base of the hill, a gleaming river running through it, but preparing to sleep on an open hillside, after what had happened that morning, left Dean feeling exposed, vulnerable.

They made a fire only long enough to cook dinner, and then banked it, wary of drawing unwanted attention. The meal was mostly silent; they only exchanged enough words to decide that keeping watch in pairs was probably a good idea. Arthur and Merlin took the first stint, and Dean set up extra thick salt lines before rolling himself in his cloak next to Sam, using his saddle as a pillow. The night was warm, but the ground, under its sparse covering of grass, felt cold, untouched by the heat of the day.

He dozed off immediately, too tired to think, but an unlucky shift dragged his arm over a pebble or something and the resulting jolt of pain woke him up. After that, try as he might, he couldn’t find a comfortable position for getting back to sleep. He gave up, finally, and pulled himself to his feet.

The moon shone brightly—even the grains of salt reflected its light, and Arthur’s sword glinted like a beacon. The prince sat on a small boulder, weapon across his knees, watching the darkness. Dean padded over to crouch beside him.

“Everything alright?” Arthur asked.

“Can’t sleep,” Dean shrugged.

“Your wound aches?” A hint of sympathy crept into the prince’s voice.

“It’s fucking killing me.”

Arthur had apparently picked up enough of Dean’s native idiom to give a low bark of laughter at this. He got up and rummaged through the nearby saddlebags, finally pulling out a leather flask, smaller than the waterskins.

“Brandy,” he said, holding it out, “for emergencies. Might take the edge off.”

“Thanks.” Dean took a long swallow. It was like rough apple schnapps, harsh and acidic; it burned its way down his throat. “Hits the spot,” he half gasped. Arthur smiled.

“Thought we were doubling the watch tonight?” Dean said, after a minute.

“He nodded off.” Arthur gestured towards Merlin, who was indeed fast asleep, propped against his saddle, head canted back and mouth open. “Not used to hard marches. I’ll wake him in a bit.”

The darkness, or the isolation, or maybe what they’d seen together in the smallpox hut seemed to have released Arthur from the shell of brusque arrogance he usually wore, and Dean could hear the warmth in his voice when he spoke of Merlin—a rough, protective affection that rang a chord in his own chest.

“And you are? Used to hard marches, I mean.” Dean asked, pretty sure that kind of thing wasn’t a typical part of the Crown Prince job description.

“As it happens, yes. My father thought I should train to be a warrior, not just a king.” Dean cocked his head, hearing some half-remembered echo in Arthur’s words, “So it wasn’t just weapons training and horsemanship,” the prince went on, “he made me do forced marches and survival training under adverse conditions, and so on and so forth.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, “sounds familiar.”

“Does it?” Arthur said, too immersed in his own memories to really be curious, “He started taking me on campaigns with him when I was twelve. Made me fight with the foot soldiers sometimes, instead of the mounted knights. Camp with them too, afterwards. Thought it would make me a better leader if I could understand their experience of war.”

“He was probably right.”

“Oh, I think he was. Even if he wasn’t, I enjoyed it. Any time I could get away from the hothouse politics of the court was fine with me. I’ve always been happier doing things than talking about them.”

“Amen to that,” Dean said, and took another pull of brandy. “Bet your mother wasn’t too pleased about it, though.”

“She was in no position to object. She died giving birth to me.”

“Oh.” Dean was silent for a moment—he hadn’t known that. “I’m sorry, man. My mom died when I was four—when Sam was a baby. Growing up with just a dad—it’s—I mean, our dad did right by us, don’t get me wrong—whatever Sam has to say about it—but there’re things you miss—“

“You have a brother, though.” The loneliness and yearning in Arthur’s voice shocked through Dean, “someone who’s ready to come to blows over your well-being, and damn the consequences.” Oh. That explained why Arthur had backed down earlier, let Sam have his way.

“Well,” Dean admitted, “it is good to know that someone has your back.”

“No, it’s more than that,” Arthur went on, voice unguarded in a way Dean suspected few people ever heard. “It’s having someone who doesn’t mostly view you as the key to a stable political future. Someone who’s seen you at your worst and doesn’t care. Someone who knows you better than your friends—“

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, realizing as he spoke that the dark or the pain or the alcohol must be getting to him too. “We’ve had our differences, me and Sam, and we’ve been apart. But, yeah, I think I would have died a bunch of times, except I knew I had to stay alive for him.”

He paused, then plunged on, suddenly wanting to reassure Arthur, remembering that for all his usual self-assurance, the prince was still younger than Sam. “But—look—that kind of thing—it’s not only family. You know that, right?”

Dean’s eyes strayed back to Merlin, his face slack with sleep, oblivious. But he couldn’t bring himself to say more—not without sounding stupider than he already did, so he left it. He’d have to hope that Arthur knew what he meant.

They sat without speaking for a few minutes—staring into the buzzing night. After a while, Arthur put a firm hand between Dean’s shoulder blades, urging him up.

“Try to rest now,” he said, the sure commander again, not the lonely child of a widowed father, “We have a long road in the morning.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Dean slept heavily the rest of the night and woke slowly. Even before he opened his eyes, he could tell that the weather had changed. The air, which had been dry and fresh last night, now clung to him like a blanket, heavy with humidity. It wasn’t cold, but he could feel the damp getting into his joints and muscles, making them ache.

Biting back a groan, Dean rolled himself to his feet, feeling like he’d been sleeping on a pile of rocks instead of next to one. His wounded forearm throbbed, felt swollen under the bandages.

The light was dim and gloomy, but it was certainly morning, and Dean could see that he was the last one up. Which meant—

“Hey,” Dean called to Sam, who was puttering around next to a small fire “How come you didn’t wake me to watch with you?”

“Good morning to you too, Sunshine,” Sam replied.

“Sam—“ Dean said warningly.

“Thought you needed the sleep,” Sam answered, “Arthur said you were up in the night, looking a little worse for wear, and we decided—“

“We? We? Who’s ‘we’ when he’s at home?” Dean prodded, annoyed, because he hated even to think about that conversation. If Sam and Arthur at each other’s throats was bad, the thought of Sam and Arthur ganging up to motherhen him was infinitely worse.

But Sam refused to be baited. He just rolled his eyes and steered Dean over to a rock by the fire, saying, “Lemme take a look at that cut.”

There was no good in protesting, Dean could tell that, so he held out his arm and let Sam unwrap the bandages. The wound looked pretty much like he expected it would—nasty. The skin had puffed up bright red around the edges, and it was draining some kind of watery fluid.

Neither of them said anything. They could both see infection was probably setting in. Sam just reached out and pushed his fingers into the short, damp hair at Dean’s temple, resting the heel of his hand on his forehead.

Sam’s skin was cool and dry against his own, and Dean couldn’t bring himself to bat it away. It felt like the only still point in a tilting world.

“You’re a little warm,” Sam said after a moment, brow pinching with worry, and Dean finally shrugged off the contact.

“Yeah?” he grumbled, “what’re you going to do about it? Got some Tylenol squirreled away in one the saddlebags? Some Penicillin?”

“Wiseass,” Sam returned, but without heat, “those stitches are gonna have to come out.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The sight of Sam sterilizing his knife in the open flame was enough to make Dean wish aloud for some more of the prince’s brandy. Sam, of course, was all over that.

“Arthur has brandy? Why didn’t I know that?” he demanded.

“I didn’t know myself ‘til last night,” Dean said defensively.

“And of course you were drinking it instead of using it on the wound,” Sam said accusingly. Dean shrugged. “Dumbass,” Sam said, and stalked off in Arthur’s general direction.

He came back momentarily with the brandy flask and a smaller, more finely made knife. After that, things descended into a blur of pain. Sam used the flame-heated knife to cut the stitches, drained the watery pus and blood from the cut, and irrigated the wound liberally with royal brandy that must have cost a fortune and burned like a sonofabitch. Dean mostly kept his eyes shut, wordlessly humming Metallica songs to distract himself.

“Well, it’s not too bad. Yet.” Sam muttered, like the voice of fucking doom.

Dean risked opening his eyes, and saw, to his annoyance, that Merlin was there too, watching the whole operation wide-eyed.

“Pity we don’t have any maggots,” the boy said sympathetically.

“What?” Sam and Dean said in unison.

“Maggots,” Merlin repeated, like it was something everyone knew, “that’s what Gaius uses—to clean out wounds that have started to go bad. They eat the infected flesh—“ he made some helpful, if overly graphic, hand gestures.

“Okay, okay,” Dean said quickly, feeling a little sick at the thought of putting live bugs into an open wound. “Thanks for that—we’ll try to remember to bring some along next time.”

Sam, he noticed, was looking intrigued, probably storing the information away for future Winchester Emergency Wound Care. Dean sincerely hoped they wouldn’t run across any rotting animal carcasses before they made it back to the Age of Good Drugs—or he knew Sam was going to take the opportunity to experiment on him.

Merlin just pursed his lips and held out a steaming tin cup filled with something funky-smelling.

“What’s that?” Dean asked suspiciously, “not bugs, right?”

“Willowbark tea,” Merlin said earnestly, “Gaius gives it to people for pain and fever. Snagged some before we left—thought it might come in handy. Here.” He pushed the cup at Dean.

“Look, no offense, but I don’t think…” Dean started.

“Dean,” Sam interrupted, “try it—willow contains—“

“Sam—“ Dean was about to ask him how the hell he knew—whatever it was he knew---but decided that in this case it wasn’t even worth the effort. He took the cup with his good hand, took a sip. And had to restrain himself from spitting it out again.

“Dude,” he said, “that tastes like tree. Dead tree,” he clarified, “Dead ass tree.”

But two pairs of eyes were boring into him—blue and hazel—and it was like trying to stare down a whole fucking basket of puppies. So he knocked back the drink and gave them a toothy, mirthless grin.

“Good boy,” Sam said, condescending bastard. Dean flipped him off.

As Sam was re-bandaging Dean’s arm, Arthur came over. He looked at Sam over Dean’s shoulder—since when had the two of them started exchanging looks?—and said, “Can he ride?”

“Yes, he can,” Dean said, irritated, “I’m fine.” And he pretty much was—wrung out from the bad night and the messed up arm, but he’d hunted in worse shape plenty of times.

“He’ll be alright,” Sam confirmed, “he’s tougher than the pretty-boy exterior would lead you to believe.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::;

The bark stuff was actually kind of effective. It numbed the wound, and eased his other aches and pains a bit. The only downside was that it made him a little woozy. He had to concentrate pretty hard on keeping a firm one-handed grip on the reins—and on keeping his eyes open.

They picked their way down the steep slope of last hill—patches of loose scree making the footing treacherous for the horses every once in a while—with the promise that once they reached the bottom, and crossed the river they could see looping its way through the flat fields below, they would be very near to the place Nimueh had told them about.

The day never really brightened much, the air so thick with moisture it might as well have been raining. Dean watched with dopey fascination as droplets of condensation formed on the reins and bridle straps.

Behind him, Sam and Merlin were engaged in a long, meandering discussion about life in the future. Bits of it floated past Dean, but he kept losing the thread. They seemed to have covered TV and the internal combustion engine, and were now onto Laundromats, Merlin bizarrely fascinated by tiny domestic details.

“There’s really a device—a—a--machine--that will clean socks for you?” Merlin was saying, “roll them up and everything?”

“No,” Sam replied, patiently, “no, you have to ball them up yourself—plus the dryer always loses a couple…”

“Oh,” Merlin sounded disappointed, “Well, how about your shoes? Can you put your boots in there too?”

Dean lost track again. In fact, he must have come pretty close to falling asleep at the figurative wheel, because the next thing he knew Sam had his hand on his shoulder.

“Hey,” he was saying, “You okay? You wanna take a break?”

“No,” Dean shook his head to clear it, ignoring the wave of dizziness the movement produced, “sooner we get back to the land of coffee and antibiotics the better.”

Sam held the waterskin to Dean’s mouth so that he could drink without taking his hand off the reins. Then he palmed Dean’s forehead again, frowning. “Okay,” he said reluctantly, “I guess you’ll make it a while longer.”

They stopped to eat something once they reached the bottom, but didn’t bother getting off the horses. Merlin offered to make Dean some more of the willowbark tea, but he declined. Something told him he was going to need all his wits about him before the end of the day, and a little pain, a little fever, seemed a small price to pay for shedding that wrapped-in-cotton-wool feeling, pleasant as it was.

Of course, as soon as they set off again towards the river fording the sorceress had told them to use, the rain began in earnest. In no time at all, everything Dean was wearing was soaked, sticking wetly to his skin. The air was still relatively warm, but he could feel himself getting chilled, tiny shivers starting to creep across his skin. He hunched in on himself, trying to preserve what body heat he could.

Focused on that, he didn’t notice Arthur’s approach until something warm and heavy settled around his shoulders. Arthur’s riding cloak—the rich folds of fabric treated somehow to keep the rain out. He lifted his head to protest, met the prince’s implacable gaze.

“Keep it,” Arthur said tersely, “it’s well oiled and you need the warmth.”

Dean started to thank him, but Arthur was no longer looking at him. He was focused on something on the far side of the river. Dean squinted through the rain—and saw Nimueh, as impervious to the elements as ever, watching them.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

At least the fording was easy, the horses splashing stolidly through clear, shallow water. But Nimueh’s face, when they reached her, was stony.

She looked them over with her usual disdain, then pointed through the rain and said, “The gateway is near.” And sure enough, just at the edge of visibility, Dean could see a few grey smudges that might have been standing stones—only a mile or so off. “But using it may be more difficult than I feared.”

“Care to enlighten us as to why?” Sam asked.

“Your enemies—those creatures who feed off the pain and shame of others--demons--“ her voice thinned out in disgust, “they have reached it ahead of you.”

“You mean--?” Arthur said.

“Yes,” the sorceress replied, “They are already there, waiting. You will have to fight your way in.” Her eyes raked over them again, betraying no confidence whatsoever in their ability to achieve this goal.

“You said you’d help us—“ Merlin broke in accusingly.

“And I will,” Nimueh assured him coldly, “this weather will be to our advantage—those hell-spawn have no respect for the powers of the earth. I should be able to hold them off long enough for you to get inside the circle. But—“ she hesitated uncharacteristically.

“Just spit it out,” Dean growled, exasperated by the big build-up.

She shot him a chilling look, but continued. “If I am preoccupied with fighting, I may not be able to perform the spell that will open the portal. One of you will have to do it.” She looked at Merlin as she said it, and Dean tensed, remembering what an enormous risk it would be for Merlin to work magic in Arthur’s presence.

Sam, thank goodness, noticed the direction of her gaze before Arthur did. “This spell,” he asked, “do you have to be a sorcerer for it to work? Do you have to be magic?”

“No,” she said, slightly puzzled, “the power lies in the words themselves, not in the speaker.”

“Well then I can do it, I’ve had plenty of practice with things like that. Teach me the words.” Sam looked at Arthur, “I’m not from here—so I won’t be violating Camelot’s laws by doing magic,” he grinned ingratiatingly, “and with any luck, we’ll be able to leave—so you won’t have to worry about whether to punish me or not.”

Arthur looked uneasy, but he nodded, and Sam turned back to Nimueh expectantly.

“Very well,” she agreed, “I will teach you.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Sam, as Dean had had many occasions to be grateful for over the years, was a hellava quick study. He memorized the strange words Nimueh recited for him in record time, as their little group huddled under the scant shelter of a spreading poplar.

When the sorceress was satisfied, they tried to arrange themselves into some kind of battle formation. Dean gave Sam his bow, and the salt-tipped arrows—reluctantly admitting he wouldn’t be able to wield them effectively in his present condition.

“You remember how to use these, right?” he asked worriedly.

“Yes,” Sam rolled his eyes, “I was there too, y’know, for Dad’s crazy archaic weapons drills.”

“Well, they’re coming in handy now, aren’t they?” Dean told him sternly, “So quit snarking.”

Arthur held his bow, sword ready at his hip, while Dean had to content himself with his familiar iron knife. It wouldn’t be any use until they were basically hand-to-hand with the enemy party, which made him anxious, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And Merlin--

Arthur had at first tried to convince him to stay behind. “You’re useless in a fight,” he’d said, bluntly. But Merlin had somehow convinced him that he’d be as vulnerable alone by the river as traveling with them. Finally, Arthur, obviously torn between concern and annoyance, had pressed a knife hilt into his hands. “Careful,” he warned, “that thing’s sharp.”

Nimueh conjured an elegant white horse out of thin air, and placed herself in front, weaponless except for her magic. She was flanked by Dean and Sam on one side, Arthur and Merlin on the other.

“One more thing,” Nimueh said, “there is an ancient magic on the circle, which should prevent the demons and their followers from entering it. Focus your energy on getting inside and beginning the spell, before they can find a way to reverse that magic.”

Just before they set off, Merlin leaned in close to Dean, on the pretext of adjusting his sling, and whispered, “I’ll use what magic I can, but I’d rather Arthur not see—can you--?”

“No worries, kiddo,” Dean assured him, “I’ll run interference for you.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Dean didn’t know whether it was Nimueh’s doing or not, but the wind picked up as soon as they started riding. Still, excitement at the prospect of a fight built up inside him, regardless of the rain lashing his face. It chased away the exhaustion that had been dogging him all day, pushed the pain of his throbbing arm to the edges of his consciousness. He felt surprisingly alert and ready. He pushed back the heavy riding cloak, and wrestled off the sling—he was going to need both hands free to deal with whatever was waiting for them.

They rode fast, and as they rode a heavy white mist rose out of the ground to meet them, spiraling around them in unnatural patterns. Its obviously magical origins freaked Dean out a little, but he was grateful for the cover.

The only bad thing was that the mist obscured who—or what—ever was waiting for them at the stone circle as surely as it cloaked the riders. So when the rough gray stones—each double the height of a man—broke into view, they were only about thirty yards away.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Eight or ten figures milled around the base of the stones, obviously awaiting their arrival. Human? Demon? No way of knowing at this distance. But they were clearly outnumbered, negating any advantage that the horses might have given them.

Without warning, Nimueh spurred her mount into a gallop, driving straight for the stone circle--the rest of them had no choice but to follow suit. The waiting figures peered through the mist, fumbling for their weapons. They seemed startled by the sound of hoof beats, and it occurred to Dean that Nimueh might have been using the mist to mask the noise of their approach as well.

Arthur, holding his seat with his knees, sent an arrow flying into the array of figures, catching one in the chest. Sam, to Dean’s astonishment, did the same—he’d been telling the truth about remembering Dad’s lessons, after all. Sam’s arrow, too, met it mark. Thunder boomed overhead, and then a strangely accurate bolt of lightning took out two more of their opponents—Nimueh’s contribution, Dean suspected.

A few spears arced through the air towards them, but clattered uselessly to the ground several yards away. Dean glanced around, but couldn’t tell whether Nimueh or Merlin had stopped them.

Then, almost too quickly, they crashed into their opponents in a brutal tangle of arms and legs and weapons.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Dean brought his knife down sharply on the hands grabbing for his horse’s reins and bridle, pulling him towards the ground. Get inside the circle, Nimueh had said, and so he concentrated on plowing through his opponents, rather than on definitively taking them out. Sam and Arthur were doing the same thing, Merlin lagging a little ways behind.

The sorceress seemed to have identified one of the demons, and was using her fireball mojo on it, unleashing a battery of tiny missiles, their flames hissing under the downpour. The demon deflected the assault easily, however—the two opposing forms of magic fighting their way to a standstill, just as they had done in Camelot.

There must have more of the enemy party than Dean had first estimated, because it seemed like every time he slashed one away, another set of grasping hands appeared, and he made no headway towards the stones. Finally, a lucky tug on his bad arm unseated him, and he had to fling both hands up to protect his head as he hit the ground and tried to dodge his horse’s panicked hooves.

He held onto his weapon, though, and came up swinging, almost glad to back on his own two feet, relying on just his body and his knife.

Sam was on foot now, voluntarily or not, Dean couldn’t tell. He did, however, see a powerfully built figure detaching itself from the throng and heading towards his brother.

Here we go again, Dean thought, and hurled himself in Sam’s direction. This time, however, an entirely human force smashed into him from the right, knocking him over. The thug landed two sharp kicks in Dean’s ribs, and then brought his foot down hard on Dean’s bandaged left forearm.

For a moment—maybe two—everything disappeared into a red-tinged haze of pain. When his sight cleared, the first thing he noticed was the reason why the guy hadn’t finished the job: he was lying a few feet away with one of Arthur’s arrows in his throat, spouting blood. The prince himself, still mounted, was leaning over Dean, arm extended.

Sam, Dean thought wildly, even as he grunted his thanks for the rescue. He looked around anxiously. Amazingly, the field had hardly thinned at all—there were still so many fighters coming at them that he wondered for a dazed moment whether they were some kind of magical illusion put on by the demons. Arthur was keeping them at bay for the moment, sword in one hand while he hauled Dean to his feet with the other.

Through the press of bodies, Dean could see Nimueh still locked in stalemate with her demon, and then, over Arthur’s shoulder, Sam and Merlin facing off against another—Merlin’s hand outstretched, and his eyes piercing the fog like amber searchlights.

Dean stared, struggling to pluck a rational thought out of the whirlpool of pain and worry threatening to engulf him. Every instinct screamed at him to go to Sam--protect your brother--but he had promised Merlin he would try to distract Arthur if the boy had to use magic. And Merlin was using his magic to help Sam—drawing attention to what he was doing would deprive Sam of that aid. With an effort that felt almost physical, Dean decided that the wizard would be able to do more good for his brother than he could right now.

He threw himself back into the fight, maneuvering around Arthur’s horse so that he was facing the spot where Sam and Merlin were battling the demon. This left the prince fending off the fighters coming at them from the other direction—and hopefully ensured that he would remain oblivious to the magical duel raging nearby.

Even Dean didn’t have much attention to spare for them, as the demon-followers furiously attacked. He wrapped the cloak around this left arm as a kind of makeshift shield, and thrust and parried with his knife on sheer reflex. But those reflexes, ingrained through years of practice and study, held true, and he beat back all comers. Finally, finally, the endless stream of fighters seemed to let up. And almost simultaneously, he heard a strange, inhuman cry of pain, looked up to see a familiar, horrifying column of black smoke, stark against the white mist.

“Come on,” he shouted at Arthur, pointing to Sam and Merlin, “Let’s regroup and make a break for it.”

Arthur nodded, reached down a hand, and pulled Dean onto the horse behind him. The prince jerked the reins so that the horse reared up, scattering the remaining fighters. Dean clung on for dear life as they made their way over to the others.

Sam’s jacket was ripped, and there was a thin line of blood on Merlin’s forehead, but they seemed otherwise unharmed.

“Merlin,” Arthur barked—furious with relief, “I told you to stay out of the way—you have no business on a battlefield--you could have been hurt—hurt worse—“ he gestured at Merlin’s face.

But the boy just gave him a giddy smile and said, “I’m fine, Arthur.”

Glancing back over the field, Dean saw that Nimueh was still trying to hold off her demon, the air around her crackling with static electricity. They should probably go back for her, he thought, having apparently been in the Middle Ages long enough to feel chivalrous, even to sorceresses.

But when she saw them, she only narrowed her eyes. “The circle, you clods,” she hissed, “Go.”

Arthur pointed his horse towards the nearest gap between the stones and barreled towards it, Sam and Merlin following in the path he cleared.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

And then they were through.

After the clamor of battle, the silence inside the circle of standing stones was almost palpable. Heavy and ancient, like the air in the eerie forest where they’d fought the manticore—only charged with something else too, an overlay of power.

Dean shivered, feeling the rain and wind again. The pain of his wounded arm flared back into life, along with a new ache in his ribs, and exhaustion washed over him. He unwound the cloak from his arm and shrugged it back over his shoulders.

Sam turned slowly, surveying the stones. He stopped in front of a particular configuration of rock that looked no different than the others to Dean’s eyes

“This is it,” he said, and with a here goes nothing face, he started to intone the words Nimueh had taught him.

Nothing happened for a moment. They stood, motionless, listening to Sam, unwilling to disturb whatever magic he was channeling with those strange phrases.

Then, the air between the stones seemed to thicken, curdle almost—pulling inward like the skin forming on heated milk. Under the force of the incantation, the thick patch of air darkened, until it seemed as if they were looking through a window into a strange, faraway night.

Sam let out a breath. “There,” he said, sounding a little surprised that he had opened the portal, “it should hold like that for a few minutes.” Merlin made a little noise of wonderment just as Arthur hurummpfed uneasily.

The four of them shifted awkwardly, not sure of the proper etiquette for saying good-bye in such situations.

“I know you must got back to your own time,” Arthur finally began, a little stiffly, “But if you were ever to return, I—well, I would be honored to have both of you in my service.”

It was on the tip of Dean’s tongue to tell the prince that Winchesters didn’t do service. But then he realized that there was a part of him that believed it would be a fine thing, a noble thing, to be one of Arthur’s men in the glory that was—that would be—Camelot.

His head was swimming too much to be able to articulate all that, though, so he just ducked his chin and muttered his thanks.

Sam, always more surefooted about this kind of thing, took up the slack, “The honor is ours,” he told Arthur, “We are very grateful for your help in getting us get home—we, uh, couldn’t have made it without you. Sorry about the magic,” he added.

Arthur inclined his head royally, but genuine warmth shone from his eyes.

Merlin just lunged at them, one arm around each of their necks, and hung on fiercely for a moment.

Then they walked through the window between the stones into blackness.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Dean was lying on something very hard, very cold, and weirdly sticky. His head, his ribs, his arm hurt like hell, and to make matters worse, someone was prodding him, none-too-gently, patting his chest and face.

“Shit,” a voice said, “you’re burning up. Wake up, man, okay? Talk to me.”

He pried his eyes open. It was almost completely dark, but he could see Sam—of course it was Sam—leaning over him, face way too close and far too serious. “Ow,” Dean managed, though it was an effort to get his tongue and lips to cooperate. Sam’s expression lightened a little.

Then Dean noticed bars of pink and blue light bisecting the gloom behind his brother’s head. He squinted, and the lines resolved themselves into neon letters: Cocktails, he read.

“It--it worked?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah, it worked. We’re back.” Sam suddenly broke into a huge, silly grin. “Right back in front of that skuzzy bar in Bridgeport. Middle of November again, too, by the feel of it. Just tell me where the keys are, and I’ll get us the fuck out of here.”

“Jacket pocket, right side,” Dean said weakly, and felt Sam reach in and snag them.

And then Sam was levering him to his feet, murmuring, “Okay, then, here we go—easy now,” and he tried to help, but his legs were like jelly, he was shaking with cold, and his eyes kept slipping shut.

But somehow Sam got them moving—five steps, ten, and then the door of the Impala creaked open. It was the most beautiful sound in the world. Sam lowered him onto the passenger seat, settled one of the old, smelly blankets from the trunk over him, and swung the door shut. He heard the click of the keys in the ignition, felt the thrum of the engine coming to life beneath them, its vibrations settling into his skin, soothing away some tension he hadn’t even known was there.

He let himself slide out of consciousness.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

He surfaced again under harsh fluorescent lights.

He was lying on a gurney, groggy, but blissfully pain free. His left arm sported a new, clean, twenty-first century dressing, his right hand was connected to an IV tube. A hospital, then, though he had no real memory of how he’d gotten there. And he didn’t seem to be in a room….He craned his head further, and found Sam sitting on the brown linoleum floor opposite him, knees bent, arms folded over something he was holding to his chest, apparently dozing.

“Hey,” he rasped, and Sam started awake instantly, “how come I’m out in the hall?” he asked, as Sam uncoiled himself from the floor, produced a bottle of water from somewhere, and helped Dean up on one elbow to drink it.

“ER’s jammed,” his brother answered, “Rest of the hospital’s full too. American health system’s a mess--whaddaya gonna do?” Sam shrugged. “But you’re good. They said they’d probably release you once you’d woken up, and finished the fluids and antibiotics.” He gestured to the IV bag.

Okay, Dean was grateful for antibiotics, hallway or no hallway.

“What did you tell them, about the, uh, you know..?” he asked, knowing from long experience how difficult knife wounds were to explain.

Sam laughed. “That you go a little carried away with the jousting at the Renaissance Faire—refused to break character until the cut was positively festering.”

“Well, I guess that’s one way to put it,” Dean huffed ruefully, but then a weird little surge of uncertainty coursed through him, and he said tentatively, “But that’s not what really happened, right? I wasn't—you know—hallucinating?”

“Nah.” Sam shook his head, and reached down for the thing he’d been holding when Dean woke up.

The rich folds of Arthur’s riding cloak unfurled as he shook it out, its deep red color undimmed by the sterile light. Sam smiled at him over the top of it, face softening until he looked a lot like the small boy Dean used to read stories to in the backseat of the Impala.

“I’m glad we met them,” Sam said quietly, “they weren’t anything like they are in books. But then again, they kinda were, y’know?”

And Dean couldn’t even give Sam shit for being a nerd, because this time, he was right.

the end

ETA: there's now a sequel, of sorts, set during SPN S5: Sleepers Awake

  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • OMG, I can't believe it! *dances around wildly with you*

      never, ever would have happened without you! thank you!!

      *passes out*
  • Lovely job with this Climax + Resolution chapter. I like the small conversation between Dean and Arthur. That was sweet with Arthur sounding jealous for Dean's relationship with Sam. (But two pairs of eyes were boring into him—blue-green and chocolate brown—and it was like trying to stare down a whole fucking basket of puppies.) Too hilarious.

    Lovely job with this story.
    • Thanks so much for the nice comment--I'm glad you liked the conversation b/w Arthur and Dean--it was one of my favorite parts to write. And glad the other bit made you laugh!
      thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Oh no, no, you gotta have an EPILOGUE. Y'know, the one where, since it's the apocolypse and everything, Arthur's been reincarnated and reunited with Merlin, who's of course immortal and junk, and they come to kick demon ass and take demon names.
  • (no subject) - alias_chick
    • Aww! thanks so much--and thanks so much for sticking with it and for your encouraging comments--they made a world of difference!
  • SO lovely~!

    Thanks for this fic.
  • (no subject) - chihuahuasrcute
  • I'm totally unfamiliar with SPN fandom, but this was a fun read and I enjoyed it. I felt like I got to know Sam and Dean almost as OCs, and time travel has always been a plot kink of mine. I liked how this story captured the essence of an episode of Merlin with the adventure and the risk of Merlin performing magic, as well as fun appearances by Gwen and Gaius. Thanks for sharing!
    • Oh wow! It makes me so happy that you enjoyed it even without being familiar with SPN! I really wanted it to have as much sword-fighting as your typical Merlin episode--glad it caught the flavor!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Yeah, absolutely loved this. The action, the dialogue, and the bits of comedic relief you added in were perfect. Then the end scene. Amazing job, thanks for writing and sharing!
    • Oh wow, you made it to the end! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! (glad the ending worked for you--I have to admit I wrote it before I wrote most of the middle...middles are hard...)

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Absolutely lovely conclusion. Loved the fight scenes and the conversations. Thanks for a great crossover :)
    • You are very welcome! Thank YOU for reading and commenting--I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and thought the ending worked okay--
  • Great conclusion to the story! I like how Dean still had Arthur's riding cloak to remind him of his and Sam's time in Camelot. Nice touch. :)

    I liked how Merlin was able to help with not just his magic, but his knowledge about medicine (from being Gaius' assistant - some info did rub off of on him, it looks like ;)) to help with Dean's injury.

    “But—look—that kind of thing—it’s not only family. You know that, right?”

    I love that hint Dean gives to Arthur that what he had with Merlin was similar to what he had with Sam... that just because Merlin isn't blood family, it still counts. Hopefully Arthur got the message. :)

    The fight scenes were very well-written. :)

    All in all, this was an enjoyable read. ♥ ♥
    • his knowledge about medicine (from being Gaius' assistant - some info did rub off of on him, it looks like ;)) to help with Dean's injury.
      I was thinking of the episode (can't remember the #), when Merlin tries to help injured Mordred, and totally botches it--so I thought Sam should probably do the heavy lifting there--But Merlin must have picked up something, right?

      I love that hint Dean gives to Arthur that what he had with Merlin was similar to what he had with Sam... that just because Merlin isn't blood family, it still counts. Hopefully Arthur got the message. :)
      I'm really glad you liked this bit--it was one of my favorite parts to write, and I wrote it before I wrote most of the middle of the story...I would have had Dean use Bobby's line from SPN 2.22 ("family doesn't end with blood, boy"), but it hadn't happened yet...but it's still such an SPN sentiment....I hope Arthur was cheered up by it...

      And I'm glad the fight scenes worked for you--they were so hard to write, but I figured there should be a lot of mayhem while the Winchesters were in town *g*

      But I'm so glad you enjoyed the story--thanks for sticking with it, and leaving so many thoughtful comments--I really appreciate it!
  • Wonderful wrap-up! I have so enjoyed reading this story - what a treat to have my two favorite shows (and four boys!) together!

    Lots of fun. Thanks for a terrific story.
    • Hee! It was pretty fun to think about all four of those boys together! I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • All's well that ends well. That was one h.. of a story. Thank you for mixing these two fandoms into one fic, it was pure gold. When I first came across it, I thought: "Naa.. not gonna happen" But damn you DID make it happen. I bow before you my lady..:)

    And YES I would also like to see an epiloge, where Arthur and Merlin joins the Winchester boys in the future. Would be one hell of a moment, when Dean shows Arthur to shoot with a sawed-off LOL.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It is a kind of wacky xover, but once you get over the tiiiny problem of time travel, I think the boys would get along well...

      Would be one hell of a moment, when Dean shows Arthur to shoot with a sawed-off LOL.
      *passes out from the awesomeness of that image* Y'know, the thought of the broken, battle-weary Winchesters of S5 running into the Merlin boys again makes me oddly sad--but I promise to think about an epilogue, after I get through writing a couple of other things.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • That was great. Loved that they got back and all was well. Well done.
  • Absolutely loved this. They were all IC.
    :D
    Great story!
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It means a lot to me that you thought they were IC. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • i think that story was absolutely brilliant and you combined two of my most favorite fandoms perfectly. plus mark twain. two thumbs up.
  • Absolutely amazing story! Loved it. I wouldn't have thought a crossover of these shows worked so well, but it did!
    Great job!

    But two pairs of eyes were boring into him—blue-green and chocolate brown—and it was like trying to stare down a whole fucking basket of puppies.

    This one just cracked me up! *lol*
    • Glad you liked that line--how could I resist, really?? ;)

      And glad you enjoyed the story and though the xover worked--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I enjoyed that a lot - nice story arc and interesting combination of characters and worlds.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this fic. Great characterizations all around. Thank you!
  • Oh, your end was perfect! I really like this fic, you mixed both shows in a way that feels so natural. And the boys, all four of them were absolutely IC. Thank you!
    (And one more vote for the epilogue idea... any scene with Merlin and Castiel would be awesome!)
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It means a lot to me that you thought everyone was in character!

      Merlin and Castiel *boggles* it's very sweet that people want to see more of these guys together, so I'm gonna ponder this...though, like I said upthread, S5 Winchesters are so sad.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • :D

    Yippeee!! You've finished it! Wonderful!
    This has been a smashing ride. Thanks!
    • Re: :D

      Phew, right? I can't quite believe I finished it!

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This was a wonderful crossover!

    I liked the bond that Arthur. Merlin, Dean and Sam developed with each other, and that as usual, it's Sam and Merlin who are actually able to act on their emotions.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It was really fun to think of the different ways the four of them would interact with each other.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Okay, so I have to admit, I've been reading this as you've posted it, I just suck at feedback.

    But this is fabulous. Actiony and dramay without being in any way over the top, amusing in the same way. I can't say much about characterization about, like, most of the characters, since I don't know much about Merlin, but Sam and Dean were both spot on, and not knowing much about one of the canons? Totally did not detract (which is a damn good trick on a crossover, yo).

    Lovely, all around!
    • Thanks so much! Your comment totally made my day--it makes me really happy that you could enjoy it without knowing too much about Merlin--that it worked for you as an SPN fic.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • (no subject) - the_little_owl
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I feel bad for Merlin too *sends him a washing machine in the wayback machine*

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • ♥ ♥ ♥ Sad to see it end, but overall, it's a nice experience of read.
    • y'know, I'm a little sad I don't get to spend more time with those four boys together too....

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it though--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Here from a rec by bellatemple. I've absolutely been craving Merlin/SPN fic just because I see a lot of similarities between the characters especially Arthur and Dean. Plus hot boys. :D

    Anyway this was a really well-written romp, all the characters were done justice and I loved your Dean voice. So thanks for a lovely read.

    Also would love to see a sequel of some sort. Maybe Castiel could take the boys back to Camelot for some reason. Hint, hint.
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