?

Log in

No account? Create an account

the island of conclusions

Sleepers Awake: an epilogue for the end of days (Merlin/SPN fic)

the island of conclusions

bright star

Sleepers Awake: an epilogue for the end of days (Merlin/SPN fic)

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
bright star
Title: Sleepers Awake: an epilogue for the end of days.
Rating: gen, pg-13.
Word count: ~6K
Spoilers: for ALL aired episodes of Merlin and Supernatural. And Arthurian legend.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.
Summary: When Arthur left the cave, alive again after so many centuries, the first thing he saw was an angel..

a/n: a sequel to or time-stamp for Two Boys from Kansas in King Uther’s Court. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read that one to understand this one: just know that the S1 Winchester spent some time in Camelot with the S1 boys from Merlin, and encountered some demons while they were there. There are no plot spoilers for TBfK in this fic.
a/n: I had a lot of help with this one. Much love and gratitude for the generous and astute readings the fic received from callistosh65, calamitycrow and debbiel66--it is infinitely better for them! All remaining mistakes my own.

a/n: for anniehow, for winning a guessing game, and for giving me the much needed encouragement to finally finish this.

Legend tells us that Arthur did not die after the last battle. Instead, he cast his sword into the lake, and gave his body into the care of its Lady, who graced him with a profound sleep. Legend differs as to the location of his resting place: some say he slumbers still in Avalon; some that he sleeps under a hill in Wales. But wherever it is, there he lies: the once and future king.



Sleepers Awake: an epilogue for the end of days


Arthur, like summer, waits,
For Wit and Will are gates,
Like those the summers pass
To green earth's grass.

“On the Coming of Arthur,” John Masefield


When Arthur left the cave, alive again after so many centuries, the first thing he saw was an angel.

He knew what it was. Of course he knew what it was. Christianity had sluiced over Camelot like a dark wave during his reign, bringing with it both the servants and the enemies of the One God.

But Arthur had long ago decided which side he was on in the battle between the New and the Old Religions. What had the worship of the crucified god ever brought him, except good knights lost questing after the so-called Grail, and Lancelot and Gwen immured behind silence and stone?

But to the Old Religion he owed his very birth—painful as that fact might be—and it was the Old Religion that had preserved him from the final treason of death.

Not to mention the fact that it had given him the only true friend and ally he had ever known.

He glanced over his right shoulder, and there was Merlin, just as he’d been when Arthur had first awakened—blue eyes bright in his gaunt face, still-dark brows beetling under his shock of white hair. He wondered whether Merlin had been asleep too, whether the Lady had given him her shelter—he hadn’t had time to ask. Merlin certainly looked fully awake now, no trace of fear or reluctance clouding his gaze. His sureness bolstered Arthur’s resolve.

The king turned his attention to the situation at hand, and started down the hill.

“What have you wrought, angel?” he called to the figure waiting for them on the green sward beyond the cave’s mouth. “You know I have no truck with your kind.” He used the voice that had, on many occasions, sent foreign emissaries stumbling to their knees.

The angel did not flinch.

He didn’t look much like the angels Arthur was used to. No flowing robes or shining tresses. He was in the body of a slight man with dark spiky hair, wearing some kind of light brown coat and dark trousers, a black sash, perhaps a badge of office, knotted around his neck. He looked tired and worried, but entirely un-intimidated by the figures from legend now standing a hand’s breadth away from him.

“It is the end of days,” the angel said, in a voice like the gravel beds of drought-parched streams, “The spell has ended and your country has need of you. But first, you must come to the aid of your friends.”

Arthur was pleased to find his reflexes unslowed by his long sleep. He caught the angel’s fingers long before they reached his face.

“Not so fast,” Arthur cautioned, “all my friends are either long dead or here with me now.”

The angel cocked his head to the side, and a face bloomed behind Arthur’s eyes. It was older, more shadowed than the one Arthur remembered—no longer the firm mask of youth. But it was wrenchingly familiar. Green eyes set in pale skin; short, dark hair. Like the angel, Dean Winchester looked tired and worried.

The face, the memories it roused, pulled at him with surprising power. He risked a glance at Merlin, knew that he must have seen and felt the same thing. Arthur nodded his assent. “Of course we will help them, if we can,” he said. But he wondered what unlikely ties the angel had to the Winchesters.

“What year is it?” Merlin asked, voice keen with curiosity.

“2010,” the angel replied. Arthur struggled not to show his astonishment and dismay.

“And to whom do we owe this pleasure…?” he asked, irked that an angel, of all creatures, should have broken his sleep.

“I am Castiel,” the angel said, and reached out to touch them.

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

Arthur wished they’d been able to pause for longer on the hillside; wished he’d had time to get used to the blurred horizons and acrid scents of this new time. It seemed only the blink of an eye since he’d been carried by litter to the Lady’s shrine, his body broken in ways he knew would never mend, numbness already stealing through his limbs. He’d accepted her offer without choice, without hope.

And yet here he was, renewed in vigor, hand steady on his sword. She seemed to have mended other things as well. The agony of loss and betrayal, a torment worse than any wound, had dulled. He could remember everything that had happened, the details sharp and unfaded, but they were like leaves and bugs trapped in amber, walled off behind an opaque substance, harmless to him now. For this, as much as for the physical healing, he was grateful.

But not entirely untroubled. Something whispered on the edges of his perception, scrabbling at his awareness like pleading fingers. Arthur tried to focus on the sounds, piece together what they meant. With a sudden chill, he recognized them.

The Lady had promised that he would wake when Albion’s need was greatest. She had neglected to mention that the call would assail him like a chorus of ghostly grief. Albion’s trouble, her distress, flooded his mind, threatened to engulf him. The angel had spoken truly: his people had need of him.

But before he could decide what to do about it, the green sunlit hillside was gone, and they found themselves on the edge of a dark tumult of bodies.

The angel had dropped them in the middle of a battle.

They stood in a field, a hulking building visible in the background, its lights illuminating the situation in front of them: two embattled figures, encircled by a horde of foes. To his sorrow, Arthur could recognize demons as easily as he could angels, and these were making no effort to conceal their nature, their all-black eyes flat and unreflecting in the dim light. The Winchesters were outnumbered and beleaguered. The angel had been right about that too.

The old battle-readiness surged up in him, finely-honed instincts springing easily to life. He spun his sword, testing its weight, and shouted, drawing the demons’ attention to himself. Beside him, Merlin raised his arm, murmured familiar words, and sent a tight, fast ball of fire, a warning shot, into the melee.

And then, in unison, they charged, Castiel following. As always, Arthur felt the relief of action, his vision narrowing to the next move, then the next. It wasn’t as effortless as it had been in his youth, he could feel the pull of an old wound in his shoulder as he slashed his way through the demons, the ache of his left hip. But training and experience made up for what he lacked in speed, and his blows landed true.

They quickly managed to break up the circle around Sam and Dean, put their disorganized foes on the defensive. Merlin fought beside him with magic and flame, his eyes glowing gold, and Arthur saw the angel flatten at least one demon with a hand to his face.

Every once and a while Arthur caught a glimpse of the Winchesters through the fray. Dean moved with the same deadly grace Arthur remembered, wielding a knife of some sort that allowed him to gut demon after demon with smooth efficiency. The younger Winchester, however, was hardly recognizable as the gangly, thoughtful youth Arthur had known. Sam had grown a hand-span or more, and put on at least two stone of pure muscle. But it wasn’t only his physical demeanor that was different: he faced down the enemy with a grim fury that was terrifying to behold. Arthur tried to imagine what had happened to wreak such change.

He killed as many as he could, the sword forged in dragon’s breath as deadly as ever, saw others ignite under Merlin’s fiery assault. A few of the possessed souls faded quietly into the shadows, however, disappearing before he could see where they went.

Finally, he and Merlin and the angel were left facing the Winchesters across a disconcerting number of bodies. Dean and Sam looked wary, uncomprehending.

Arthur hoped they would recognize Merlin, whose inimitable features remained unchanged under his prematurely white hair. He himself, he knew, looked nothing like the callow princeling they had known: bright hair subdued by gray; lines worry-carved into his brow and around his mouth; a chipped tooth and a silver scar down one cheek; the plush muscle of youth transformed to hard, ropy sinew by too many hard campaigns, too many impossible tasks.

But there must have been something familiar about them after all, because Dean’s face suddenly split into a grin, and Sam gave a shout of joyous greeting.

“Cas,” Dean said, speaking to the angel, but keeping his eyes fixed on Arthur and Merlin, “What’d you do? Another back to the future thing? Or did you--did you wake them up for us?” He sounded incredulous.

The angel cocked his head. “No,” he said, “The spell was ending on its own. I just happened to be there when they awoke.” Castiel did not smile, but his face lightened in a way that was similar. “I thought you could use some allies who were aligned with neither Heaven nor Hell.”

“Well, you were right about that,” Dean said, and his welcoming smile only partly hid the grimness in his tone.

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

After that it all dissolved into a blur of hail-fellow-well-met. Dean pumped Arthur’s hand and Sam clapped him hard on the shoulder: Merlin, irrepressible, embraced them both. They all muttered inarticulate expressions of pleasure at being together again, congratulations on a fight well fought.

When Arthur emerged from the welter of greetings, however, the angel was gone. A chill went through him. He had no idea where they were; only knew that they were far from Camelot. Without Castiel’s help, what hope had they of returning to where they were needed? Had this been the his plan all along? To bring them to the Winchesters’ aid and strand them there?

“Castiel?” he said to Dean, “Where is he?”

“Cas?” Dean said, looking around, then “Oh,” without much concern, “Don’t worry—he’ll be back.”

“Angels,” Arthur said, disgustedly.

Dean laughed in what sounded like recognition, “I know, right?” he said, “they’re dicks. But Cas is okay. He’s good. He’ll be back to pick you up, don’t worry.”

Arthur was worried. But he didn’t say anything more.

Dean led them off the battlefield to the adjacent road, where a metal conveyance of some sort was waiting. Hulking and black, it glimmered a bit under the tall lamps along the side of the road. It looked a little sinister to Arthur—like the closed wagons used for carrying corpses.

“Here she is,” Dean beamed, running a caressing hand down the metal, as if he were introducing them to the finest Arabian charger in the kingdom. He looked at them expectantly, clearly waiting for an admiring response.

Arthur and Merlin exchanged a surreptitious glance. “She’s lovely,” Arthur ventured, in the tone that had always worked on the homely wives of minor lords. He mustered up a smile, and elbowed Merlin, who thus prodded chimed in with “yeah, gorgeous.” Dean seemed satisfied.

“Right,” he said, “I’m starving. Let’s hit that all-night diner down the road.”

“Dean--” Sam said, disagreeing.

“Yes, Sam?” Dean sounded instantly ready for an argument—equal parts patient and irked. Arthur’s skin prickled: something tense and uneasy stretched between the Winchesters that had not been there when he’d last seen them.

“Don’t you think we should follow the ones who got away—see if we can figure out what they’re doing?” A sharpness lurked underneath Sam’s words, as if he were accusing Dean of something he wasn’t quite willing to say.

Dean gave him a long, measuring look. “No. No, Sam, I don’t. We’re tired and hungry, and they’re long gone by now. It’d be pouring good energy after bad. C’mon—get in.”

Sam didn’t move right away. The Winchesters stared at each other, as if they were both considering whether the issue merited a real fight. Finally, Sam relented, ducked his head, pulled open one of the doors of the metal wagon.

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

“Willya look at that, Sammy?” Dean said when they were all settled, transparently attempting to ease the tension, “a king and a wizard in the back seat. Maybe now we’ve really seen it all.”

But Sam only muttered, “Don’t tempt fate, Dean,” and turned his gaze out the window.

The metal wagon roared to life, and although it stayed firmly on the ground, it felt to Arthur a little like trying to ride a dragon. The seat thrummed under him, a faint vibration that got immediately into his bones. And it went fast—too fast—so fast he couldn’t look at the lights flashing past through the dark windows without getting dizzy. The windows were closed, and the trapped air inside was thick with the smell of bodies and leather and other things he had no words for. When some kind of pulsing noise started emanating from the front, each hard beat reverberating at the base of his skull, it was the last straw: his stomach twisted, and he had to quickly press his hand to his mouth.

“Arthur?” Merlin said, catching the movement, and then, to Dean, “Can you stop this thing?”

“What?” Dean looked at them through the mirror above his head. “Shit,” he said, and pulled over hard to the side of the road.

Miraculously, Arthur managed to get the door handle to work. Out in the blessedly fresh, night air, he dropped to his knees and gave in to the nausea. There wasn’t much left to come up after twelve hundred years, but the spasms went on for a bit nevertheless.

Almost immediately, he felt a steadying hand on his shoulder— unmistakably Merlin’s; he leaned into it a bit, let it take some of his weight. When he was able to lift his eyes from the ground, Dean was crouching in front of him, looking chagrined.

“Hey,” he said, grimacing in sympathy, “why didn’t you tell me you got carsick?”

Arthur spat more bile into the dirt, feeling vulnerable and undignified, not much of a king.

“How’s he gonna tell you that, Dean” Sam said, coming up next to his brother, and pressing a slick, oddly pliable bottle, into Arthur’s hand, “when he’s never seen a car before?”

“Yeah, yeah, no need for a the lecture on the space-time continuum, geek-boy,” Dean said, “just give him a hand up.”

They sounded more like the Sam and Dean he’d known now, their bickering oddly comforting. Dean must have thought so too, because he almost visibly relaxed. “Okay,” he said, when it was clear Arthur had recovered somewhat, “Show’s over, folks. Sam, switch places. His royal highness is riding shotgun.”

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

The front seat was a little better, and Dean cracked the windows and got rid of the strange noises without being asked. Arthur was pretty sure he was going to hate these things—these cars--but at least he didn’t feel like he was going to throw up anymore.

“Guess the cat’s out of the bag,” Dean said after a while, pitching his voice so that it wouldn’t carry to the back seat. Arthur looked at him, puzzled. “About Merlin, and his, y’know, his magic…” Dean trailed off, awkwardly.

It took Arthur a moment to realize what he was talking about. He’d forgotten that there had been a time when he hadn’t known—years of objects moving mysteriously, and narrow escapes he’d had to make sure not to think too hard about. He remembered Merlin coming to him after Uther’s death, tentatively entering his chambers as Arthur waited out the pre-dawn hours before his coronation.

“The king is dead,” Merlin had said, uncharacteristically formal, “long live the king.” He had dropped to one knee, resisting when Arthur tried to pull him back up. “Sire,” he had said, eyes downcast, “there is something I must tell you.”

Arthur hadn’t thought about that in a long time.

“Mmmm,” he said to Dean, a little ashamed, even now, that he had been duped for so long. “And you?” he said, eager to turn the conversation in another direction, “how did you come to have an angel as your boon companion?”

“That’s a long story,” Dean muttered, “and I’m going to need a beer—or three—before I tell it.”

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

Dean pulled the car into the brightly lit space in front of some kind of inn. Inside, the place was deserted, but the four of them squeezed themselves around a shiny table bracketed by benches, and Dean ordered food for everybody.

While they waited for it, Sam and Dean, fraternal amity restored, filled them in on the past four years of their lives: “just hitting the high points,” Dean said, “we’ll spare you the stupid stuff.”

Arthur tried to take it all in, between bites of the overly salty meat and greasy fried potatoes, he really did. But there was so much of it, each twist and turn in the story further beggaring belief. He pitied the Winchesters—so many impossible things seemed to have been demanded of them—but he could only really focus on one aspect of the impending end of days: its impact on Camelot—whatever shape Camelot had taken now.

“I’m glad we could come to your aid tonight,” he said, when they were finished. He meant it. His affection for the Winchesters seemed only increased by their long separation. “But your apocalypse, along with all its other misdeeds, seems to have woken us up. That can only mean that Albion’s need for us—for me—is great. And I,” his voice was less steady than he would have liked, but he plunged on, “I can feel—hear—sense my people’s need.” It was hard to explain the sensation, when he didn’t quite understand it himself. He glanced at Merlin for support. The wizard nodded, and Arthur went on with more authority, “We will need to leave. That is, ss soon as we can figure out how to do so,” he added.

Dean and Sam looked at him, more compassion than he’d expected in their eyes. “We know,” Sam said, “come back with us tonight, and we’ll get you where you need to go in the morning.”

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

“Merlin,” Arthur said, from the lumpy bed in the ramshackle lodging in which Sam and Dean had installed them, “will you make that thing stop?”

“A twelve-century nap and you’re still a prat,” Merlin said, grinning over his shoulder good-naturedly, and hit some more buttons on the flat oblong device he was holding. On the screen, tiny pictures of people cooking replaced tiny pictures of people hitting balls with sticks.

Unable to stand their squeaky voices a second longer, Arthur reached behind him for one of the bed’s pillows. He hurled it at Merlin’s head with untarnished accuracy.

“Oi,” said Merlin, ducking away from the pillow, but he gave the device another poke and the pictures disappeared. “Stop brooding,” he told Arthur, heading off to explore the bathroom for the third time. Age had never put any weight on Merlin—quite the contrary, in fact—and he looked as gaunt as a scarecrow now, as gawky as a colt. But there was a lightness in his step Arthur envied.

He listened to the water pouring out of various spigots. Sam had painstakingly explained how everything worked earlier, as Merlin had nodded, gobsmacked by the wonder of it all, and Arthur had hid his embarrassment behind annoyance. Dean had lounged against the doorframe, clearly working hard not to laugh.

Arthur flopped back on the pathetic mattress, unfamiliar food heavy in his stomach. The whispery wordless pleas of Albion, which had stayed just below the level of consciousness most of the evening, were growing louder, clawing their way towards full articulation. The pressure to go to them, to comfort and protect them, was so strong it almost hurt.

But for now, they were stuck. Dean had attempted to summon the angel, to no avail. “Phone’s off,” he’d said cryptically, “but don’t worry, he’s never out of touch for long.”

Arthur worried. He squeezed his eyes shut against the harsh lights of the room.

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

“What do you think this is?”

Merlin’s question broke through Arthur’s fretting. He was holding a black device, shaped like a small hand-held cannon. A black cord dangled from it, and Merlin started to fit its metal prongs into the holes in the wall: Sam had told them about those, too. Merlin fiddled about with the object a bit, and it suddenly whirred to life, a stream of wind rushing out of it like an extremely focused miniature maelstrom. A delighted laugh escaped the wizard’s lips, and he aimed the gale directly at Arthur’s face. “Think it’s a weapon?” he shouted over the noise.

“How should I know, Merlin?” Arthur said, trying to shield his face with his hands, “I. Just. Just turn it off, would you.”

Hearing something in his voice, Merlin did, and peered at the king, suddenly serious.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, “you’re not going to throw up again, are you?”

“No,” Arthur said halfheartedly, “Idiot.”

Merlin nudged Arthur’s legs out of the way, and sat on the bed facing him. His boyishness fell away abruptly, and he was the King’s Counsel again, hoary-headed and wise. He put a firm hand on Arthur’s knee, and cut to the root of the problem, as he always did.

“If we’re awake,” he said, “that means the spell worked as it was meant to. We are supposed to be here. We’ll find a way to help.”

“But this time-- This place-- these cars,” Arthur blew out an unsteady breath, part exasperation, part uncertainty. “I don’t know—I don’t know the first thing—“

“You will, my liege” Merlin said, with the same faith that had been there, inexplicably, from the beginning, “you will.”

They were interrupted by a knocking. Merlin opened the door to the younger Winchester. Arthur was off the bed in a flash.

“Sam?” he asked, “is everything alright?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, hunching a little and smiling awkwardly, looking as diffident as his giant frame allowed, “yeah.” He had something in his hands and he held it out to them. It was a faded, red bundle of cloth. “I, uh, well, I wasn’t sure we still had this, so I just checked in the trunk. But here it is. Figured you might want it back.” He thrust it at Arthur, who took it automatically.

He would have recognized it from touch alone. One of his old riding cloaks—thick oiled wool dyed Pendragon crimson. He’d had a dozen just like it once. His fingers smoothed over the still-soft cloth, and it struck him that all those other cloaks had long ago moldered away, long ago turned to dust. This one was the last of its kind. A ridiculous thought, he told himself, sentimental. But a vast sadness still welled up in him for all that had been lost.

Seeming to sense Arthur’s frozen grief, Merlin tugged the cloak out of his hands, and unfurled it. It was slightly battered: there was a tear in the hem, and some kind of brownish stain on the left shoulder. But it was remarkably intact—it would keep its wearer warm, keep out the rain.

“No,” Arthur roused himself to answer Sam, “no. Thank you for thinking of it—but you keep it—it was a gift.”

::::::

Merlin was fast asleep, curled up under a pile of strangely-textured blankets, once again looking younger than a twelve-hundred year old wizard had any right to look. One of his feet stuck out from under the covers, bare and oddly vulnerable.

Stretched out on the other bed, Arthur stared at him, slightly disturbed that he could see him: apparently it never got entirely dark in this place and time. Finally, he gave up trying to sleep, and eased himself out the door of their room into the pre-dawn chill, absentmindedly flipping the blankets back over Merlin’s foot as he passed

There was a narrow raised strip of some hard surface between the rooms and the place where people left their cars, illuminated by the cold glow of thin, white cylinders set into the building’s wall. To his surprise, Dean was sitting on the edge of the strip, knees bent, head bowed, a long-necked glass bottle in his hands.

He raised his head at the sound of Arthur’s approach, his face catching the flat glare of the white lamps. He looked tired—worse than tired—drained of life. The light threw the angles of his face into relief, accentuated the hollowness around his eyes. He looked old. Arthur knew that only four years had passed for the Winchesters since he’d seen them last, but Dean looked like he’d lived through forty.

Ah well, he was old now too, Arthur reminded himself, impossibly old.

“You’re not sleeping,” he said to Dean.

“Nah,” Dean answered, “Don’t do much of that these days. You’re not either.”

“Don’t think I’m ever going to sleep again,” said Arthur, sitting heavily next to Dean, aching muscles protesting, “twelve centuries seems to have been enough.”

Dean laughed mirthlessly. There was an empty bottle next to him, along with the half-full one in his hand. Four more nestled in a box by his feet. He fished one out, and Arthur watched, fascinated, as he used his ring to open it before passing it over.

“You. Me. The middle of the night,” Dean said, “it’s déjà vu all over again, huh?”

Arthur smiled a little. He remembered that night: the barren Fells, their silence broken only by buzzing insects. So different than the noisy, light-shattered night around them now. He took a drink from the bottle. It was beer, that much he could tell. But it had a strange, sour aftertaste and fizzed unpleasantly in his mouth. He must have made a face, because Dean snorted, and gestured for him to give back the bottle, handing him a small, silver flask in exchange. A pull from that proved more satisfying, the liquor burning a fiery trail down his throat, warming his belly.

Dean watched him drink, seemed to want to ask him something. “After we got back,” he said, cautiously, “I googled a lot of stuff about you.” Arthur raised his eyebrows, and Dean amended his words, “Uh—I read a bunch of stuff.” He paused, embarrassed, picked a little at the paper wrapping on his bottle. “Is it true? Did you marry Gwen?”

Arthur nodded, pleased that the name produced only the slightest pang; his memories were still thankfully muffled, trapped under amber. He was only vaguely nonplussed that his life was something you could read about these days—he’d always lived in the public eye, after all.

Dean pressed on, though, more direct than Arthur remembered him being. “And did she…? With your best friend?”

Arthur nodded again. A hairline fissure snaked through the barrier shielding him from his past; a dull ache started to build.

“That’s harsh, man,” Dean said, “I’m sorry. I liked her a lot.” He was silent for a moment, took a swallow of beer, but then continued, some other intensity coloring his voice. “Would you have forgiven her, if you’d had the chance? If you could’ve done it over?”

And just like that, the fragile shell protecting Arthur from his memories cracked. He saw, with horrifying clarity, Gwen—not palely composed as she’d been at the public trial, but in their bed, late at night, shivering, pleading, her beautiful voice wrecked by tears, hands reaching desperately toward him. An iron band drew noose-tight around his chest, and he had to school his voice to evenness before he answered.

“Yes,” he said finally, “Yes.” He remembered the wariness between the Winchester brothers, thought there was probably more to Dean’s question than he was willing to say. He tried to answer more fully; he owed Dean that much. “I loved her. Never stopped loving her. Couldn’t. But she had broken our trust. Betrayed me,” the word was ash on his tongue, but it seemed important that he make Dean understand. “At the time, I thought that trust was more important than love. For Camelot, if not for me. That she was the sacrifice I needed to make to keep my kingdom whole. Now, I’m not so sure,” he took another swallow from the flask. “It may be that if love remains, then trust can be reborn—remade. I don’t know. At the time,” he repeated the phrase like a talisman, “I couldn’t—wouldn’t—take the chance.”

“How did you handle it,” Dean asked, voice strained, “having all those people depending on you, all the time, to keep them safe?” his hands gripped his bottle so hard Arthur thought it might break. “Or worse,” he went on, “people sacrificing themselves to keep you safe—because they think you’re the one who can solve this mess.” There was some real event behind his question, Arthur could tell—some recent, unbearable loss.

“I don’t know,” Arthur wanted to shout back at him, wanted to throw the flask through the window behind them, break something loudly. “I don’t know how I did it for so long, and I have no idea how I’ll do it again in this devil-ridden place and time.”

But he didn’t. Dean’s need was too palpable, too raw. And besides, it wasn’t true, he realized that now: he could do it again. He had been born to lead, bred to it. He had never thought of himself in any other way, nor had he any false modesty about his ability to do it well. For many years, he had led his people with the force of his example, the power of his beliefs, his love for them and his compassion for their ills. Even now, these things formed the very core of his being, and whatever betrayals he had suffered, however long he had tarried in a dark cave, they remained unalterable.

He looked at Dean, seeing now not how much he had aged, but how young he still was. Younger than Arthur by a score of years or more—young enough to be his son. The vagaries of magic had reversed their positions, and where once Dean had given Arthur sage advice, now Arthur was the one tempered by experience, Dean the one teetering on the brink of new maturity, new authority. Arthur’s heart ached for him, entering such trials without the training of a king.

“It’s always hard,” he said, gentling his voice, “losing those you love never gets easier. But you need to understand that they trust you because they see a strength in you, a wisdom-- even if you do not see those things yourself. The best you can do—the thing you must do—is to honor that trust by not hiding from yourself: to acknowledge that strength, that wisdom, use them honestly and without compromise. Use them for the good of your people.”

Arthur had thought himself cobbling together a speech to shore up Dean’s courage—but as he said the words he found them true: as true for himself as for the younger man.

Dean stared at him—face wide-open and yearning—as if no one had ever spoken to him of these things before. As Arthur held his gaze, though, something changed in Dean’s eyes: not the dawning of hope, or the relaxation of vigilance, but perhaps the tentative acceptance of a burden shared. Suddenly, Arthur wondered whether the angel had brought him here not for his strong sword arm after all—but for this aid, this kindness.

Dean looked away first. “Sun’s almost up,” he said, getting to his feet and stretching. Arthur stood with him.

Without thinking, the king reached out the short distance to Dean’s face, drawing him into a kiss. It was a chaste gesture—the same benediction and pledge of confidence he had always offered his knights before they set out on a perilous quest. Dean’s mouth was cold under his, his skin rough with stubble.

The younger man drew back sharply almost as soon as their lips touched, startled and on guard. But then a ripple of sympathy passed over his face and he seemed to understand that there was no lust behind the act. Returning as swiftly as he had withdrawn, Dean gripped Arthur’s shoulders, pulled him hard into his arms.

It felt odd. It had been a long time since anyone, even Merlin, had embraced him in good fellowship like that, and Arthur held himself stiffly for a moment before he allowed himself to take, with gratitude, the comfort offered. Dean was warm against him, solid and alive. For the first time during that long night, the king thought, I am awake.

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

It was over too soon. Dean turned his head, moved away from Arthur, except for a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “What’s that?” he asked, listening. Arthur heard it too: a kind of sputtering roar. He saw, beyond the farthest cars, Merlin, riding some unfamiliar vehicle.

The thing was the size of a very small pony, and Merlin seemed to be clinging desperately to its back, the whole contraption wobbling precariously as it approached. It made the same kind of noise as Dean’s car, but had two wheels, instead of four, handles instead of a steering wheel. Arthur had no idea how Merlin had left the room without him seeing, or where he had gotten the thing, but the wizard looked inordinately pleased with himself.

Merlin steered it over to where Arthur and Dean were standing and just managed to jump clear of the thing before it toppled over with a resounding thump.

He grinned into their dumbstruck faces. “Your steed, my lord,” he said, gesturing towards the machine with an elaborate flourish.

“Merlin,” Dean said, admiringly, “did you jack a Harley?” Merlin stared, and Dean tried again, more slowly, “Merlin. Did you magically summon a motorcycle?”

Merlin nodded, the tiny lines next to his eyes crinkling with pleasure. “Saw one on TV,” he said, “thought it might help with the puking.”

Dean laughed, the happiest, most unburdened sound Arthur had heard from him since they arrived. He clapped Arthur hard on the back. “Well, what are you waiting for?” he asked, “saddle up.”

The three of them got the motorcycle upright again, and Arthur, with only a little more urging, swung a cautious leg over it, settling himself onto its leather seat. Dean, with the confident precision Arthur remembered, explained how to work its various knobs and levers.

“Go on,” he said when he was done, “take her for a spin.”

Screwing up his courage, Arthur started the engine as Dean had showed him, and bit back a gasp when the thing started to move forward, seemingly of its own accord. He rode it slowly around the space in front of the lodging, trying to get used to having cold metal beneath him instead of the warm, breathing body of a horse. But Merlin was right—the motion didn’t bother him while he could feel the air on his face, direct the thing with his hands and body. He sped up a little.

When he passed Dean and Merlin again, he saw that Sam was standing next to his brother, body angled slightly towards him, looking sleepy but amused. All three of them were enjoying the spectacle, and Dean let out an enthusiastic “yeehaw” as he went by.

Arthur started to get the hang of controlling the machine. He allowed himself to go even faster, figuring out how to match his body’s movements to the bike’s. With a whoop of pleasure of his own, he urged the machine forward, leaning into the curve as he drew it around.

On his third pass, the angel was waiting with the other three. The wind from the motorcycle fluttered the edges of his coat, his wayward hair. As before, he did not smile, but the same slight brightening of demeanor was there as he caught Arthur’s eyes and held them.

The king brought the motorcycle to a halt and dismounted. The sun had fully risen now, and its yellow light chased the shadows from his friends’ faces, flushing them with health, with youth.

“Sire,” said Castiel, bowing his head infinitesimally, “I believe you have somewhere to be.”

Arthur nodded. The angel reached out his hand.

fin

  • ...every single bit of this piece is just amazing. ♥
  • Words cannot convey how much I *love* that hug Dean gives Arthur. Just a beautiful, perfect scene. And exquisitely written.
    You had so much fun with this - the Imapala and Arthur's car sickness, TV, the motorbike, yet you also did so well with the weightier themes - I love how you were able to show but glance off all the tragedies and hurts the Winchester boys have been through by keeping it all in Arthur's POV.

    A great read, and just the epilogue we were all looking for.
    • just the epilogue we were all looking for.
      Well, TBfK was so resolutely un-angsty, I felt a little bad about the angst level in this...but I did want to tackle S5 SPN....

      I'm so glad you enjoyed this--thanks again for all your help, it made a huge difference!
  • Well, am I glad I encouraged you! this was lovely! That scene between Dean and Arthur, and then the both of them offering a gesture of friendship as they understand it even if it's unfamiliar to the other, was my favourite part :D
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I've had ~1.5K of it on my hard drive since December, and was so happy to have a reason to finish it! The scene b/w Dean and Arthur was always the heart of it, though it took a few tries to get it right *g*

      Thanks so much, again, for the motivation!
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • I'm so, so happy you liked it! And thanks so much again for all your help and encouragement of the whole TBfK endeavor! This one was kind of a labor of love, for whatever reason--

      I think that's my wish fulfillment moment--giving Dean some help and compassion for the new role he's expected to play--so I'm glad it worked!

      *hugs*
  • Eek~ That was breath taking. I am in love with this fic! ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
  • This was just lovely. If only there was someone like Arthur to give Dean that advice on the show. But goodness, the detail here. Arthur and Merlin trying to adapt to the present day. Arthur's POV of Sam and Dean. Merlin and Arthur on a motorcycle. I loved every bit of it.
    • If only there was someone like Arthur to give Dean that advice on the show.
      IKR? I've had a bee in my bonnet about how Dean can learn to be a leader when he's only ever been taught to be a soldier--and this was my extremely convoluted way of dealing with it! *g*

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This is just awesome. The comparison between Arthur and Dean just worked so well, and I loved Arthur on a motorcycle.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! The Dean-Arthur connection has always been the heart of it for me--so I'm really glad it worked for you! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • What a fantastic story!
  • (no subject) - alias_chick
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I've been worried all season about how Dean can learn to be a leader when he's only ever been taught to be a soldier, and this was my extremely convoluted way of dealing with it! *g* Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • You know, when I saw this I even danced a little. You wrote an epilogue, wee! And it fits perfectly with the dark, sad, oppressing mood of SPN season 5, but with a hope I wish we could see more clearly on the series. The parallel between Arthur and Dean's huge responsibilities was brilliant. And Merlin riding a Harley! And your description of Castiel's not-quite-smile, genius! Love it all.
    • Thanks so much for the lovely feedback! The Dean-Arthur connection was always the heart of it for me, so I'm really glad that worked for you. Though Merlin on a Harley was pretty fun to contemplate, too. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This was simply wonderful and if possible, I loved it even more than your original story. But perhaps it's because I'm aching to see someone show Dean some understanding and help. Poor boys been left twisting in the tornado for far too long. I love they way you brought the connection back between Dean and Arthur and were able to use it to give Dean what he needed and Arthur too in the sense that despite being completely out of his element, he was able to use his wisdom and experience to help his friend. Awesome. Just awesome.
    • I'm aching to see someone show Dean some understanding and help.
      Oh, gosh, me too! And this was my incredibly convoluted way of getting it for him *g*. Because really, how can he learn to be a leader when he's only ever been taught to be a soldier?

      But I'm so glad you enjoyed it--and liked the Dean-Arthur connection! thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I'm so glad that you added an epilogue to the story. I love what you did with this - with Arthur offering Dean advice and Merlin's fascination with modern things (I definitely see him being like that). Poor Arthur though with his car sickness. :( At least Merlin found a way to help resolve that with the motorcycle -- how sweet of him. :) I can just imagine Merlin and Arthur riding motorcycles...what a sight. ;)

    I love the details here and just all the emotions involved...how you highlighted some of the ordeals both the Winchesters and Arthur had gone through - just as much as was necessary and not overdoing it.

    Thank you for writing this epilogue. I appreciate it. :) ♥ ♥
    • You are very welcome! It turned out to be a kind of labor of love for me, for some reason, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it! (and yes, I see Merlin and Arthur riding around England on a motorcycle now, righting wrongs!)

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Oh. You made me cry with this. I didn't quite know what to expect at first, this sequel, but then as the story unravelled, oh my ...

    Arthur noticing the change in the brothers' relationship, Gwen's betrayal, and Sam's, a burden shared, that was absolutely brilliant, heart-wrenching to be sure, but brilliant. And Castiel bringing Arthur to Dean for that very purpose, and the kiss omg, and the hug *whimpers*

    Love the light-hearted moments as well, Merlin and the Harley and Arthur getting carsick.

    Thank you so very much for this sequel. Arthur and Merlin couldn't have come at a better time *LOVES*
    • You are very welcome! And thank you for this comment--you really hit on all the things I wanted to get across--the question of what you do when someone you love betrays you--the relative value of trust and love...

      This turned out to be kind of a labor of love for me--I have a thing for older-but-wiser!Arthur--so I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • WOW... cool inversion of the tale, really, sinc eI liked the way the Winchester boys fitted intot he life in the sixth century, this is how Arthur and MErlin are supposed to be like in the twenty-first. Ehehehe, very cute and charming and apocalyptic. I wanna see Arthur become Prime Minister.
    Cat
  • Lovely!
Powered by LiveJournal.com