Blank Pages: The Once And Future
Sam had seen a lot inside of Gabriel’s memories, things he’d never thought he’d one day bear witness to in a thousand years. But all of them had had some sort of reference, whether it was biblical, a background Sam couldn’t deny since the moment Castiel had walked in on his and Dean’s life, and sometimes it was historical, with as much evidence of it’s existence as Gabriel had feathers. But this, this was new.
It was new, and stunning, and breathtaking, and completely illogical because Sam knew it should have been legend alone, whispered words for all of eternity in so many variations that historians couldn’t even count it as history at all. It was myth. And it was real.
“They couldn’t conceive a child on their own,” Gabriel whispered to him, voice almost inaudible as though he dared not break the deathly silence that had filled the castle room as Queen Ygraine’s screams died away and the world held it’s breath, “So they made a deal with a witch.” The Hunter shivered at the words that sounded all too familiar, a life for a life.
“They didn’t know,” Gabriel murmured, the words lost as the child wailed it’s first breaths of life. “They never even comprehended what you know now. There is no life without a price behind it.
The king, in the midst of shouting, “A son! A son!” in utter joy turned to look at his wife, cold and still on the bed, and he froze. Gabriel frowned as the man howled in rage, handing his newborn to one of the midwives to launch himself at a woman standing on the outskirts of the room, shrieking, “Treachery! Sorceress! Treachery!” at the top of his lungs, but the woman simply vanished before his hands could grab at her dress.
“He didn’t hold his own son again for over a year,” Gabriel hissed, not sparing the king a glance as he strode across the room, picking up the crying infant that had been laid at his deceased mother’s side while the midwives scuttled about the chambers, trying to calm their king and running to get the guards. “Uther purged the kingdom of magic before he so much as named the boy,” the archangel said through gritted teeth. He swaddled the sobbing baby in a soft cloth that had been set out on a chair, cradling him close to his chest. “Whatever stories you have been told of this child, Sam, they are wrong. The tale of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin Emrys is not gallant, or bold, or happy in any way.”
With that he set the baby down where he had taken it from, leaving it to be ignored amongst the grief for the queen that quickly enveloped the castle, “Come, let’s step forward a few months and save some time.”
Sam didn’t know what he expected of Merlin’s birth. Really he was still reeling from Gabriel telling him, blatantly, that this memory was of a legend Sam had had little time for in his childhood, nor in his career as a Hunter. Thus, his first words when he found himself sitting next to Gabriel outside a dingy hut in a even dingier village with another infant in the archangel’s arms was, “Merlin is younger than Arthur?”
Gabriel gave him a patient look, placing the squirming baby on his knees. It’s mother was asleep inside the house, near a small fire the Trickster had whipped up, and the child was quiet and well behaved for one just a few hours old, gurgling up at them in the silence of the cool night so much different from the eerie silence of Arthur’s birth. “Yes,” Gabriel confirmed, “By almost a year. Any more stupid questions?”
“Why is this,” Sam gestured to the infant, and then to the land around them. Gabriel had called it Albion. “Why is any of this important to the angels?”
The Trickster snorted, “Just one of the many great destinies we're supposed to control,” he heaved out a sigh, grinning suddenly when Merlin grabbed at his fingers. “This wasn’t the first job like this I’d had, or the last. The Messenger carries the messages, makes sure prophecies get fulfilled, yada-yada-yada.”
“What others were there, before this?” Sam asked, curious.
“Oedipus,” Gabriel made a retching sound and Sam gaped, stunned. “That one I let some lower angel handle though. Guy wasn’t of our faith, but it was written and god forbid someone didn’t make sure it happened that way. Though the Greek gods did a fine job of that themselves.” He shrugged and turned to smile at the horrified look on the Hunter’s face, “Don’t look so shocked, Sammy! You’ve experienced the rigid rules of prophecy before for yourself, remember?” The angel waggled a finger at him, “And broken them. That takes guts.”
Sam rolled his eyes, not appreciating being reminded of that incident, “Gee, thanks. But you encouraged Oedipus?” he asked incredulously, getting back on topic.
“No,” Gabriel made an offended gasp, hand to his heart, “But if it’s writ, then so it shall be. Not my rule. Anywho . . .” He drew off, lifting the infant on his lap up to eye level and cooing softly at him unintelligible things Sam couldn’t hear, and had no right to.
The world curled in on itself, and Sam looked away.
When he turned back they were standing on the edge of a vast wheat field and Sam watched as the wind swept over the golden plain, rippling it like waves on the ocean. Gabriel was off to the right a bit, closer to the tall blades of wheat that went high over his head, and a young man stood in front of him, hands on his hips as he talked to the archangel, blue eyes blazing beneath dark bangs. “An angel?” He asked, his exasperated tone suggesting he’d repeated it a thousand times over and still didn’t believe it.
“Yes,” Gabriel confirmed, crossing his arms. “Would you like it better if I was something else?”
“No,” the young man replied hotly, “I just need to know what you are so I can look up a viable way to kill you next time I see you.”
Gabriel pretended to look appalled, though really Sam knew he wasn’t surprised by the outburst in the slightest, “But all I’ve done is warn you about your destiny!” he gasped.
“And I don’t need it. I already have a bloody dragon breathing down my neck about it all day and night. ‘Do this, Merlin,’ and ‘Protect Arthur, Merlin,’ because god forbid the royal prat should die and not become a great king or whatever it is he’s supposed to do. I don’t need an angel screaming the same things in my ear. I get it.”
At this, Gabriel laughed, tilting his head back towards the sky, “I’m sure the dragon is doing a magnificent job of that, really. I just came to warn you, as I said.”
“Warn me,” Merlin repeated. He looked decidedly unamused at the idea.
“Warn you,” Gabriel said, making a round of it, “To listen to aforementioned dragon if you know what’s good for you.”
Merlin’s lip curled, “That dragon is only saying those things for his own benefits, not mine and certainly not Arthur’s.”
“All the same, he’s not wrong in saying them,” Gabriel said lowly. A darker tone crept into his voice as he spoke Sam had only heard a few times before. “You’ve already screwed up, Merlin. It is against the rules to defy your destiny.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow, “I’ve done everything the dragon asked of me, and then some.”
“But you let Mordred escape.”
Sam shuddered, realization dawning on him like a fast spreading poison. This was why Gabriel had been so dead set on destiny when they met in TV Land. He’d seen what happened to those who meddled with it, and Sam already knew how this tale ended before it had hardly begun. He couldn’t help but wonder what the real prophecy had been then, if Mordred was never meant to live.
“He’s only a child,” Merlin snapped, “And it was not my decision alone to make.”
Gabriel let out a long suffering sigh, “Then don’t let me stop you, I’m quite curious to see what would happen to one who defies. It’s not been done before you see.”
Sam’s heart sank to his stomach and he swayed on his feet, suddenly feeling sick. Gabriel had encouraged it, this rebellion of fate. As he thought this the archangel was suddenly at his side again, leaving Merlin to glare at the spot he had been, letting out a disgusted huff. “This is why you wanted me to say yes,” Sam said, frowning, “You were scared of what would happen to me if I didn’t.”
“And if you did,” Gabriel added in a soft murmur, staring at the ground. “I made two mistakes in my lifetime of watching over the souls of the world as they carried out what we had written down on our father’s word. The first was Merlin. The second . . .” He paused, letting the name go unspoken, leaving it up to Sam’s imagination until that particular memory came into play. “With Merlin I let him run amok, curiosity getting the better of me. What would happen if he tried to change things? Would they stay the same or would they end in a happiness that hadn’t been foretold? Or great anguish.” The Trickster glanced at the Hunter, eyes glazed, “You know how the story ends, Sam.”
Looking away again, he went on, “With the other, I made sure she did her part to the book, not a hair out of place. That was a mistake as well, maybe even a worse one. Merlin knew what he was doing, was aware of what he caused every step of the way. Joan . . .” He stopped, stiffening as the name escaped his lips, “Never mind, you’ll see soon enough.”
Sam blinked as the archangel grabbed his hand, pulling him close and tapping his forehead with his first two fingers of his other hand, and the human’s vision whited out for a moment, coming back into focus a heartbeat later.
For a second Sam thought Gabriel had merely zapped them to Merlin’s side as the nineteen year old pushed into the wheat, the call of, “Merlin! Come on! The farmer said a goblin was in these crops of his and we’re supposed to be back by nightfall!” ringing through the air. But Merlin didn’t even look up as the appeared beside him, or behind him or wherever they were. No, Sam thought, they were neither. It was like they were the air, hovering all around the young sorcerer as he trudged through the wheat, smacking himself in the face with a particularly stubborn stalk when he tried to push it aside. Sam felt disconnected, from his body, from the world, and he wondered briefly if this was how angels saw things when they watched over their charges from heaven.
Merlin grumbled as he tripped over a blade of wheat, nearly falling flat on his face into the area of flattened crop at the center of the field. While Sam thought crop circle, Merlin muttered something about mischievous goblins, staying where he was on the smashed crop as a blond emerged from the only a few feet away amidst the wheat. The other, garbed in light fitting chain mail over a red and gold tunic, laughed as he caught sight of Merlin sitting on the ground, holding out a hand, “Whatever are you doing, Merlin? If I needed goblin bait I wouldn’t use someone as gamey as you.”
The dark haired teen made a face at him, but took the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet, “Glad to know you think I’m gamey,” he said shortly, “And you do know the goblin has most likely moved on ages ago, don’t you? They never stay in one area for more than a week.”
The blond rolled his eyes, “Yes, but my father, as you know, insisted we do something about it. I’m leaning towards make up a story about how we chased it off, but it was simply much to fast to catch on foot and that we’ll definitely bring horses next time.”
“And the evidence of that will be . . .” Merlin prompted, his eyes narrowing at this new level of idiocy. “The farmer will know if we were just lazing about out here.”
“Which is why we will chase the goblin.”
“Arthur,” Merlin sighed, “there is no-” he stopped as he noticed the way the blonde’s hand was inching towards the hilt of his sword, a wry grin on his face, “Oh no. I am not-” the younger yelled as Arthur took a step towards him, making a mad dash for the wheat, the prince hot on his heals. “This is not the way to make it look like we’re chasing a goblin through the field!” he shrieked over his shoulder, running faster so that Arthur would have no time to draw his sword if he wanted to have any hope of catching up in the near future.
“It’ll make enough noise and squash enough wheat!” Arthur called, laughing like a maniac. “Now come back here you troll!”
“Goblin!” Merlin corrected over his shoulder with a whoop. He stumbled then, breath escaping him as he toppled over into the wheat, Arthur reaching out to catch his arm too late. They went barreling down a slight incline in the field and landed in a heap just inside a second goblin circle. Merlin’s mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water as he gasped for air, shoving at the prince who had fallen on top of him, “Get off you ruddy lump! You weigh more than a horse!”
“I do not!” Arthur said indignantly as he pushed himself up on his elbows but remained where he was. “What do you think,” he asked then, digging his knuckles into Merlin’s scalp as he spoke, “Are we sweaty and filthy enough to pass for two blokes who chased goblins for a bit?”
Merlin grimaced and wiggled until he managed to get his knees under Arthur and shoving him off in one smooth motion, before leaping to his feet. “Hardly. And besides, if I had a proper start I could beat you any day with all that god awful mail you wear.” And with that, he’d dived back into the wheat, leaving Arthur to stare dumbly after him before he laughed and got to his feet in pursuit.
Sam watched, existing as air for a moment longer for a heartbeat. Gabriel pulled him back into himself and the archangel watched him carefully for a reaction of some kind. “They. . .” The Hunter started faltering for the right words, “What did the dragon say about them, exactly?”
The pair’s laughter and shouts as they chased each other through the field could still be heard on the wind when Gabriel spoke, “That they are two sides of a single whole. Merlin knows this, Arthur does not.”
“And that makes a difference?” Sam asked, “Whether one knows and the other is left in the dark?”
“It doesn’t help,” Gabriel said darkly. “You know what happens next, Arthur marries Guinevere. And after that . . .”
“Guinevere goes to Lancelot,” Sam finished. “But that’s in only a few of the tales, they’re all mixed up and . . .” He swallowed, a soft, “oh” escaping him. “Merlin . . .”
“Was Arthur’s true soul mate,” Gabriel said sharply, staring out over the field. “No matter which legend, this remains this same. They die together, and will be reborn together. Not Guinevere and Arthur, and not Freya and Merlin. Arthur and Merlin.” He growled, shaking his head, “Come on, time to go to the next memory.”
Sam blinked, “You can control it now?”
“No, I just know there’s nothing else to see here.”
The colors of the world blended together, and Sam let himself be taken over by the merging and shifting of the archangel’s memories once again.
Merlin had a basket tucked under one arm as he pulled up roots and shoots of small budding plants and tossed them into it. He muttered to himself and hardly looked up as they appeared just a few feet away. Though he frowned as an acknowledgement of the archangel’s presence his eyes remained on his work as he ground out, “What now, angel?”
Apparently this wasn’t the first time Gabriel had made a visit to the young sorcerer since the wheat field, and Merlin spoke with the same tone Dean used when strange angels he didn’t particularly like (AKA, anyone but Castiel) popped into existence. “Nothing,” Gabriel said evenly, watching him with curious golden eyes, “Just came to talk, kid, is there something wrong with that?”
Glancing warily at him, Merlin ground out a, “Yes,” and went back to his work. He was a bit older than when Sam had last seen him, in what had seemed like only seconds before, but that wasn’t unusual with the way the spell skipped about Gabriel’s memories, he appeared to be about twenty-eight or so now. His hair was a little longer, tied back in short ponytail, and the crinkles around his eyes a little deeper, a little more weary. Gabriel merely watched for awhile, not saying anything, until Merlin looked up at him again, eyes narrowed. “What’s the point of telling you anyways? As if you don’t already know.”
“Arthur doesn’t know,” Gabriel reminded, and Sam was left to stare, utterly confused.
“What more does Arthur need to know!?” Merlin snapped, “I’ve already told him about my magic, about all the times I saved his idiot ass, about his great and magical destiny . . .” He sighed, “The King has enough on his shoulders without me dumping this on him as well. What would he say if I told him that Gwen and Lancelot have been traipsing around behind his back since we went across the channel last year?”
Sam inhaled, keeping his distance as Gabriel shook his head and Merlin glanced away, brow furrowing. “I can’t . . .” He started, “I can’t tell if this was all my fault or not. Sometimes I wonder if things would be different if I hadn’t tried to poison Morgana, or if I had killed Mordred. Maybe things would have changed if I had refused to go along with Arthur’s ruse in the jousting tournament all those years ago. He would not have loved her then, would he.” His voice broke for a moment before he inhaled sharply, almost as though banishing away the thought and the pain that came with it.
“No,” Gabriel murmured in return. “But it’s far too late to change those things. Arthur is still fulfilling his destiny as he should, even if there are flaws.”
Merlin snarled, shoving a handful of flowers into his basket of herbs, “What’s the point if he can’t even smile anymore!? He has no time to himself, no time to relax! What’s the point of destiny if it doesn’t make the bearer of it happy?”
“Prophecies are not meant to do that,” Gabriel explained coldly. “They are meant to better the world. Not the bearer. The bearer goes through more hardships than most can imagine in order to fulfill such destiny.” He turned his gaze away, “They bear the cross of the world, if you will.”
“And I am supposed to just stand by and watch it all go down?” Merlin hissed, anger in his eyes, “what is the purpose of that?”
“I’m sure we’ll all know, in time.” But Gabriel looked uncertain as he said it, and Merlin narrowed his eyes in icy disbelief.
Sam recognized the ruins of Camlann when they alighted in the next memory, he saw them once in a documentary. Gabriel was beside him, head bowed as they gazed down the slope at the place, far from being ruins now. The bricks and mortar were stained with the blood of both sides, the gold and red of Pendragon clear against the dark washes of blacks and grays of Mordred’s faithful. “Lancelot and Guinevere eloped, and Arthur left Mordred in charge when he went after them, though Merlin warned him not to. Irony at it’s best, eh?” Gabriel said this lightly but when Sam looked at him he saw the tautness of his jaw, the way his eyes narrowed as if he was stealing himself up for something, holding back the pain. “I’ve been trying to skip over some of the worse parts of this series of memories,” the archangel went on, feeling Sam’s eyes on him, “But I couldn’t get rid of the ending.”
Arthur was below, the last man standing so that Sam’s gaze found him easily as the blond tugged his helmet off, throwing it aside as he dug the blade of his sword into Mordred’s heart. But it was far too late, as the Hunter noticed the gaping wound that pierced right through the front of the king’s chain mail, and all the way to his back. It dripped crimson across the already stained ground as Arthur sunk to his knees, supported only by his sword.
An anguished cry echoed across the plain, and Sam looked up the slope to see Merlin just a ways higher up, held back by a woman with long dark hair and fiery golden eyes alight with magic. Merlin wrenched his arm away from her then, tearing down the hill towards his fallen king so fast Sam barely caught a glimpse of him. It couldn’t have been more than five years since the last piece of memory, and as Merlin collapsed beside Arthur, pleading with him to lie down so he could stop the bleeding, the Hunter realized that they were far too young. The legend spoke of great deeds done over countless years, not all squashed into a handful. Merlin had been right, Arthur had born far too much on his shoulders for such a young king.
Merlin pressed his hands over the gaping hole in Arthur’s stomach as Gabriel led Sam down the slope, looking on regretfully but not lifting a finger to aide the sorcerer. Sam couldn’t help but wonder if he had done the same the first time around. “Arthur! Arthur, look at me! You have to stay conscious here or I can’t do anything to help you! Arthur!”
But Arthur’s eyelids were already flickering closed, fighting feebly to stay open as if he didn’t really care anymore whether he lived or died. “Arthur! This is not your destiny!” Merlin pleaded, abandoning his useless attempts at quenching the flow of blood, “This is not our destiny! Please! Forget Gwen and Lancelot, they’re not a part of it! You are, I am, not them!”
“It’s too late,” Gabriel murmured, almost too soft to be heard, but Merlin’s head whipped around to him anyways.
“You!” Merlin gasped, somewhere between rage and relief, “You can heal him!”
“I can not fix what has already been done,” the angel snapped, “I allowed you to steer off the course of your fate, and this end has been brought about because of it. There is no alternative.”
“There is if you do something!”
Gabriel’s lip drew back, teeth baring in a way that was almost feral. Sam flinched, and Merlin looked on unblinking, “Don’t you understand! I already ‘did something’ by allowing you to ‘do something.’ I’m done trying to change what’s already written, you little fool. It only causes more pain!” Again, the words rang in Sam’s ears, echoing of things that had yet to be said.
“Suck it up, accept your responsibilities, and play the roles that destiny has chosen for you!”
Merlin looked away, placing his hands on either side of Arthur’s face as the king’s chest stuttered with broken, fading breaths. He touched his forehead to the blonde’s, ignoring the streaks of blood that spread under his fingertips, his back to the archangel, “Then I’ll do something,” he whispered, more to himself than the Trickster.
“Arthur, please, I know you probably can’t hear me but . . . Do you remember when I said that you should get another servant in the next life? It was ages ago, but anyways, I didn’t mean it. They say you’re the Once and Future king, Arthur. And no matter how long it takes, no matter how many lives I have to live to do it, I will find you again.” His hands shook and his voice rose, wavering with grief, “Do you hear me, Arthur?! I will find you again!” Merlin’s back arched then, and he inhaled sharply, making a pained noise in the back of his throat.
“Then so it shall be,” Gabriel said softly, placing a hand against the mans’ spine, “You shall die with him, and live with him again. That is all I can do for you. Do you accept?”
“Yes,” Merlin breathed, squeezing his eyes shut, “Because this was not our destiny.” He sobbed, body convulsing with a spasm of pain, and Sam could practically hear his heart shudder as it fought to beat with the archangel slowly sapping the life from it. Merlin lowered his head and pressed his face to Arthur’s shoulder, whispering “I will find you,” Over and over, until Sam had to look away and wipe the streaks of tears from his eyes, not even realizing he had shed them.
Because Gabriel hadn’t. He’d stood by and watched and allowed two destinies to get screwed up so badly people had died because of it. His reasoning was flawed, but his intentions had been good, both then with Arthur and Merlin, and with Sam and Dean centuries later. Play your part or people get hurt.