A/N: Wow. Two years and twenty-seven chapter later, I've finally run out of stories to tell. Thank you so much, everyone who stuck with me all this time, who reviewed and made me art. These things are what makes writing fun.
Note for this chapter: It's not what I wanted it to be and in writing it, I came up with a dozen more ideas for Buffy and Methos. But enough is enough. This is as good a place as any to stop and I'm pretty sure it'd only go downhill from here, so... Enjoy this. It's the final bit.
Guinevere stands next to her king and watches the endless procession of well wishers and war mongers march past, all with kind words and bland smiles. She greets every one of them, none by name, and smiles back just as blandly, as is her duty.
To serve her king in all things.
And she does, willingly, but she wishes, sometimes, to be able to look at any one thing and know that it is true. Camelot is golden and its dreams reach the sky, but it’s riddled with lies and politics.
She believes in this, this city, this dream, oh she does, but she remembers simpler times and misses them like a lost limb.
Beside her, Arthur laughs, his head thrown back, golden hair catching the candle light, his eyes like gems. Oh, how she loves this man. She would love him more if he dreamed less. He reaches blindly for her hand and she gives it to him, lets herself be pulled into conversation, smiling, smiling.
The wide doors open again and cool night air floods the hall, streams in, curling Merlin’s loose robes like a lover. The bang of the doors against the wall draws attention and the chatter quiets for a single, brief moment. Then Merlin bows, showman, magician, artist, and smiles winningly.
As soon as the attention of the room leaves him, he hurries towards her and Arthur, his eyes crinkled with worry. Her husband, seeing his mentor approach, sends the people surrounding them away and draws her backwards a few steps, into a corner, where voices don’t carry. The wizard sketches another bow, meaning this one no more than the last and then crowds them both.
“You have guests, my King,” he hisses, sharply. There is excitement gleaming in his eyes, along with the worry.
Arthur laughs. “I have many guests, old friend.”
Merlin shakes his head. “None like these. They invite themselves and they do not bow to mortal men.”
A frown. Her king tolerates much and from many, but he is king
. “Who are they?”
The older man’s smile changes and grows, from false to real. Guinevere has always been scared of him, but he terrifies her now. Nothing ever excites this man, nothing surprises him and now, he is both. She fears.
Merlin tilts his head, spreads his arms. His robes flow about him like crows’ wings. “Death and his bride, my lord, the Sun and her knight. None you wish to trifle with.”
“Old friend,” Arthur laughs, slapping the wizard’s shoulder, “I am king.”
“And they are gods,” Merlin answers shortly and Guinevere discovers something else, under the excitement. She discovers fear. Merlin, man of the wild lands, Lord of Magic, the king’s personal advisor, the wizard of legend, without age or history, is afraid.
Arthur frowns and the doors open again. Merlin bows one last time, removes himself to his rightful place behind the royal couple and says no more. The queen watches, her heart beating wildly, as a tall, dark haired man enters the hall, a golden woman at his side.
They are Arthur and Guinevere in reverse, one golden, one dark. Only, the queen thinks, she is quite sure she lacks the dark allure that hangs about the knight. They look around as the doors are closed behind them and then make straight for the king, without stopping.
They walk next to each other, their arms linked, no telling who leads, who rules among them. They arrive and he bows, while she curtsies. Both keep their eyes forward, bold and bright. Blue and green without hesitation.
“King Arthur,” the man speaks and there is no possessive pronoun in his address. Arthur’s smile turns into a frown for a split second before steadying. “And his Queen,” the man continues and she just remembers to nod and smile.
The woman, meanwhile, turns to Merlin without care. “Wizard,” she greets and there is a cool amusement in her voice.
Merlin inclines his head and lowers his eyes to the floor. “Lady Sun.”
She laughs and half the hall freezes at the sound, like bells. “Call me Summer,” she tells him. “Forget the old name.”
Merlin nods and turns to the man. “And you, my Lord, what shall you be called in this age?”
He uses, she thinks, that particular phrasing only to impress upon Arthur the power of those standing before them. As if a blind man couldn’t see. They do not even bow before kings. Gods, Merlin calls them, and she is inclined to believe.
Never before has she seen creatures so sure of themselves, so fearless.
“Median,” the man supplies and his voice is the rumble of thunder before the storm. Beautiful. Dangerous.
The queen finds her husband’s hand and squeezes.
Summer and Median stay. They receive no invitation to, but Merlin tells Arthur to let them be, and the king listens to the man who raised him.
She corners him one night, the wizard, demands to know who they are and why he respects – fears – them so. He smiles at her, the benevolent smile of an old man and turns her so she faces the hall in which the guests dine with the king.
“Watch them,” he whispers into her ear and she does.
They sit next to each other, sharing their plates and goblets without notice, speaking to the people on either side of them, ignoring each other. But when he reaches for the bread out of his reach, she hands him the basket without hesitation or even a glance. When she gets agitated because of her conversation, he touches her blindly and she subsides.
And then they turn to each other and whisper, words that carry in the dome-like room, far enough for the queen to hear that they speak no language she has ever heard.
She averts her eyes, steps away from the wizard’s hands on her shoulders and flees. She has seen enough. They do not do magic like Merlin, do not kill people where they stand, do not commit impossible feats. But they move through the world like they know every cranny of it, walk on stone floors as well as in high grass, without faltering, without stumbling.
They seem sure, absolutely sure, that, should they need it, the world will bend to their will, will change to accommodate them. Guinevere does not know if they are gods for she has never met any.
But she knows that Merlin is not human and he fears them as much as he admires them. She knows that when they need it, she
at least will bend to their will.
That is enough reason for her to fear them and be unashamed of that fear.
She throws one last look over her shoulder, back at her husband, her lover, her king and dreamer. He is laughing with Summer, his hands open and wide in a gesture of zeal. Talking about his golden kingdom. Summer nods and Median agrees verbally. Arthur brightens and Guinevere hopes that these two will not make his dreams bigger still.
She thinks she fears that the most.
They go riding as soon as spring blooms enough to allow it. The men ride ahead, Merlin acting much younger than his body would suggest, moving like a man of twenty instead of the fifty he looks. She will, one day, ask for his real age and she promises herself not to shy away if he tells her because, she can admit to herself, poor Merlin sometimes falls victim to her daydreams. She imagines him in times past, a century ago, a millennium, in worlds she will never see, will never walk.
She dreams of all the lives the ageless wizard could have lived.
Lately, Summer and Median show up in these lives more often than not.
She and the Lady Summer fall behind, not interested in the games of the men, conversing lightly. Sometimes during the winter, Guinevere has had to abandon the bone deep terror the other woman inspired in her and they have since become something like friends. She still feels like a child of five on her grandmother’s lap, most of the time, but not because of anything Summer does. The terror lies in what she is, not what she says or does.
Up ahead, Arthur shouts something and Median answers, both laughing. Summer shakes her head. “Boys will be boys,” she says and Guinevere laughs, too, and nods.
“But I am glad,” she admits, “To see Arthur so free. He spends too much time planning his kingdom.”
Summer smiles and halts her horse, dismounting. She and her knight have not, as the queen feared, made Arthurs dreams bigger still, have not, in fact, concerned themselves with his plans at all. They listened, all through the winter, their smiles indulgent and sometimes tinged with something more (Bitterness? Cruelty? Sadness?), but never said a word. She makes her way to a patch of juicy spring grass and sits in it, drawing her knees to her chest. After a moment, she pats the ground beside her and the other woman follows her lead.
“And what a kingdom it is,” Summer finally says, after they have been sitting for a while.
“He says it will last for all time,” Guinevere agrees, smiling full of love for her crazy, wonderful dreamer of a husband. “He says he will build Camelot into the sky, the Golden City, and all the world will see it, will love it for the peace it brings. A golden age.”
Summer smiles, too, and reaches out to brush a strand of dark hair from the queen’s face. “It won’t, you know?”
Guinevere startles and frowns. “Why do you say that?”
Summer looks away, out into the fields, where the men are just visible, colour in a colourful spring. “You and Arthur will fade into mist, and with you all you believe in and all you built. Camelot will fall to dust. In a few generations, there will be no images anymore of it, no records. All that will remain is the name. Camelot. Camelot. And the idea. A thousand years from now, the dream of a free city and free men, of a world of equals, will still exist. The city will fall, but what it means
...,” she looks up suddenly, meeting Guinevere’s gaze with a fierce sadness. “What it means will live forever, long after you and Arthur have become nothing but legend.”
Prophecy or curse, warning or promise, Guinevere does not understand what Summer intends her words to be, but she knows truth when she hears it and she feels warm tears run down her face.
This, everything, everyone. Lost? For nothing? All the dreams, all the nights she spent alone to let her love chase his hopes? All the work, the sacrifices? All for nothing. Camelot will become dust and dirt. There will be no city. No kingdom. No...
“You misunderstand, my Queen,” Summer says and it’s the first time she calls the other woman that. “This is the way of all things. Everything mortal dies. But what you build here, what Arthur creates, is more than mortal. An idea lives forever and yours... it will never die, Guinevere. I am telling you this to make you happy, not sad.”
“How can you be so sure?”
A smile, softer this time and the queen is surprised to find the men have arrived. Arthur rushes to her, hugs her close, asking if she is alright. Median and Merlin hang back behind Summer, watchful and knowing. Neither woman pays the men any attention. Summer reaches out and Guinevere meets her hand halfway, clutching it tightly. The blonde closes her eyes. “I have seen it. And I will see it again.”
A squeeze. “I am the past,” Summer whispers. “I am the future.”
Median comes to kneel next to her, his hand on her shoulder, silent and strong. She places her free hand on top of his, holds on tight. Behind them, Merlin sinks to his knees, a look of wonder on his face.
“I am the present,” she finishes, her face ageless and old.
Guinevere understands then, what Summer and her Knight are. Understands why Merlin worships them, fears them and loves them as much as Arthur loves his Camelot. They are not gods as Merlin thinks, nothing so pure and good. Nothing so sure. They are something different altogether, more flawed, more brilliant than that.
They are ideas.
And ideas never die.