A/N Proving once and for all that I am incapable of writing a one-shot...
There is a place that is no place. It exists without form; it is a form without existence. It is everywhere and nowhere; it is an answer without a question, a question that has never been voiced. It hides from sight; its entrance seen only by those with the right power or the right need. It is a place of wonder, a place of terror, a place of ordinary miracles. A land beyond the Veil.
It is a land of contrasts: a place of immortality, and a place of death. It is ruled by nine healing women who guard the selflessness of the world and protected by the vicious Sidhe who guard nothing but their own selfish existence.
It is Avalon.
Beside an apple orchard always in full bloom, beyond the lake that provides entrance to the island, lies a translucent tomb. Contained within is the body of a man not yet at middle age with hair the colour of sunflowers in bloom and a close-cropped beard of straw upon his chin. His eyes are closed and underneath his still white hands rests a sword inscribed with the words 'take me up' and 'cast me away'.
Here the once and future King of Albion sleeps the sleep of death.
"How are you today, my Arthur?" says a soft voice and a white hand glides across the top of his crystal cage.
She is one of the nine, come here to tend him. The others see his presence as a fact; something that is. But she needs to be with him sometimes; her work in maintaining the world's balance paused now and then so she can commune with the man she has tended the past forty years.
Sometimes when she allows herself to see the time that has passed, she looks in surprise at her unlined hands: youth and immortality are the gifts for her service.
"Who would have thought I would be given such a prize after all my mistakes," she whispers to him.
"We all make mistakes," says a voice behind her. It is Argante, her sister, who guides all those who live in Avalon.
"What matters is whether we learn from them."
She smiles, ironically, once again the stubborn maid she had been. It was the kind of sentiment she used to dismiss as clichéd. Still, if she had learnt more quickly from her mistakes, maybe the body of this man would not be lying here now.
"He comes again," remarks Argante, "he walks once more upon the shore."
"I know," she says, softly, her eyes focused on the tomb. She can not meet Argante's eyes when they talk about this, "I can feel him. It is every night now."
"His age weighs upon him. He feels guilt. It tugs on us. It is a warping of the balance. Perhaps..."
"Yes," she interrupts, "I've decided to see him, to travel over and talk to him. We cannot all spend our lives with doubt and blame. They are poor companions in immortality."
"And your children?"
At this, she did meet Argante's eyes and smiled.
"Are children no more. Our son and daughter near forty now and although they have some gifts they do not have their parents' power. They have children of their own. I hear their laughter through the Veil. One has the potential to be a Dragonlord should his Grandfather pass and so will probably never know the power that lies within him. There are no Dragons left anyway. Sometimes I think magic is leaving this world."
"Maybe, but we will always be here," Argante nods toward the man caught in death, "and so will he." She looks at her sister; appraising but not judging.
"Do you regret...?"
"No, I have no regrets. He has raised our children well and cares for them still. All I have wanted was to try to make the world a better place. So many mistakes. I thought I could force the world to be better and look at what I wrought. Healing is a better balm for the world's ill than violence and I have finally found my way.
"But I will see him tonight. I will be with him one last time. And then I will stay in Avalon forever more."
There is a place that is no place. It exists without form; it is a form without existence. It is everywhere and nowhere; it is an answer without a question, a question that has never been voiced. It lies beyond the Veil.
Beside an apple orchard always in full bloom, beyond the lake that provides entrance to the island, lies a translucent tomb containing the body of the once and future King who will now never need to wake. He is tended by one of nine sisters; the healers who maintain the balance of the world.
Through the orchard walk three of the nine, led by Argante who guides their path in all things.
Night is falling in the world outside and there is one who wishes to travel over to speak to the great man who prowls their borders after dark.
At the shore that is no shore, Argante and Elaine farewell their sister as she says the words of power to force her tiny boat through the rift in the world.
It sails through into the lake, the awakened faeries flitting viciously around her head as the boat steers itself through waters that are preternaturally calm.
The boat moors where the waters lap the shore and she walks across the top of the last expanse of water before coming to rest on the grass, her long white dress appearing as ghostly as her brilliant white skin; her black hair barely visible in the darkness of a moonless night.
He walks down to the waters as he so often does, his glamour shifting off him, the white hair and beard sliding away to reveal features as youthful as those he had when they first met. It is only by his eyes that she sees his age; the deep well of sadness and guilt that plagues him still. The secret will to die that drives his disguise; the facade of age.
She smiles sadly and he walks up to her, raising his hand and placing it against her already-upraised palm. Their fingers intertwine and a ghost of a smile appears on his face as well.
"I was hoping you'd come," he says, "it is getting late. I think that where our family is concerned I will have to 'die' soon."
"Walk with me," she asks, "pretend that we are young again, in Camelot. Pretend it is a time before it all came unwound."
He laughs and for one small moment she sees the happy, carefree young man she once knew.
"Will we pretend to throw me in the stocks as well? Because that's what would have happened if I was caught holding hands with the King's ward."
She laughs with him, easy in his company now all the errors of the past have been forgiven, and they move along the Lake's shore; together one last time.