Genre: humor, romance, angst
Pairings: USUK, side France/Seychelles, Belarus/Russia, Austria/Hungary, brief one-sided America/Taiwan
Warnings: adaptation, poor attempts at humor, rampant character deaths (no one to fret over)
Summary: This is a story about many things. But mostly, it's about a boy and a star. Stardust AU.
Note: This is something I've been working on. It's an adaptation of the movie and novel entitled Stardust
by Neil Gaiman. It is one of my favorite stories and it is scary how well it fits into Hetalia-verse. I hope you all enjoy this and please remember, reviews are love 3
Chapter 10: Shine
We come now to the end and the only words I have for you are to remember that things are not always as they seem. And to ask you to remember what stars do best.
Alfred's head was still spinning from everything that had happened. Only a few short hours ago he'd woken up happy, no longer a virgin, and next to Arthur, who had looked so peaceful and beautiful that Alfred's heart had ached just looking at him. And he didn't give a rat's ass how sappy that made him because he was in love with an amazing person, a star, who loved him back. Now though, now he was in an epic showdown with a crazy witch-lady next to a guy who looked like he stole his face and Arthur strapped to a table so his heart could be cut out to bring some other guy back to life. Matthew had been lucky that Alfred had good instincts and had thought to use a little bolt of lightning to blast him out of the witch's way, given everything that was going on. God knows he was having trouble just stringing two thoughts together, much less keeping his wits about him to save other people.
He stared at the witch, who was down on the ground and groaning after he'd hit her with a powerful blast of lightning, half surprised he had hit her and half exhilarated he had fucking hit her. Matthew was smoking a bit from where the lightning had hit his side, and he was unconscious with shiny burns peeking through his burnt clothes, but he was still alive. He found it ironic that he had saved him though, considering the guy had basically just confessed to murdering his brothers—still, he seemed like a decent enough guy. He was helping them all out at any rate. Alfred shook his head and turned back to the witch, eyes widening as she began to climb back to her feet; he hit her with another blast of lightning without really thinking about it and winced when she flew through the air and hit the opposite wall with a thunk.
"Alfred!" He looked up and smiled as he saw Arthur standing free of the restraints, eyes wide and full of too many emotions to pick out one in specific; the young woman who'd been caught as well was standing beside him, a knife in her hands. Alfred sprinted up the staircase and pulled Arthur to him in a fierce hug, his sword clattering to the ground when Arthur returned it, shaking a little and burying his face in Alfred's neck. "You—why the fucking hell did you leave? That innkeeper—he just said—that you left and—you are such a bloody idiot!"
Alfred felt a swoop of guilt settle in his stomach and he clutched Arthur tighter, probably too tight, as it finally occurred to him how much of a colossally bad idea it had been to have left that morning without waking him up to let him know where he was going. He pulled back a little and kissed Arthur, his hands clutching at the back of the star's neck tighter when he felt Arthur kiss him back just as hard. It was brief and over before either of them really realized it and Alfred exhaled against Arthur's lips. "I'm so, so sorry. You're right, I was stupid I shouldn't have—Christ Arthur, I could've killed you by making you cross the wall! I didn't know—and when I saw your feather—and then Old Rome told me how you'd been captured—"
Arthur kissed him again, a small hiccup that was half a laugh and half a relieved breath, and Alfred could feel the smile pressed against his lips even after Arthur pulled away. "You didn't know. For fuck's sake, I didn't know. But I'm all right, Alfred, I'm all right. You came back and—and this is probably not the best place to have this discussion. We need to leave."
Alfred met green eyes and nodded; the witch was still on the ground from the last lightning strike, but Alfred had a good feeling she wasn't dead—if there was anything he learned in all his heroic stories it was that the bad guys were never 'just dead.' He wrapped Arthur's hand in his own after picking his sword back up; he looked over at the girl for the first time and frowned in slight confusion; she was looking at him with tears in her eyes. "Hey, you okay, lady? We'll get you outta here, don't worry, you don't need to cry!"
"Alfred, it's not that," Arthur said softly.
"I'm—I'm your mother. I'm your mother, Alfred." Alfred blinked. The woman looked barely older than himself and she was his mother? He was finding his mom on top of everything else? He felt his jaw drop open a little before Arthur's hand closed it for him. There was a beat of utter stillness when Alfred just stared at the woman, at his mom, before he shook himself and she seemed to realize that there could've been a better time to drop such a large revelation. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have just—Arthur's right, this isn't the place for this, we need to leave. We can talk after we get the nine hells out of here!"
"But, you're like young looking…shouldn't you be older if you're my mom?" Alfred ignored the elbow jab Arthur gave him and followed his mom down the stairs. She headed to where Matthew was still knocked out on the floor. "I mean, not to say you should look old or anything, it's just—it's weird, you look like a few years older than me."
"Our family ages well, Alfred. Listen, we can discuss all the finer details once we're outside this cursed place—I don't know why I even said anything, this is hardly how I envisioned our reunion!" She crack a small smile and wrapped one of Matthew's arms around her shoulder, lifting him up and carrying all his body weight without breaking a sweat. Alfred blinked and realized with a wild feeling of happiness where he got his strength from.
"Elizaveta, what about the curse? She said she transferred it to her control." Alfred looked over at Arthur and puzzled what the heck he was talking about, but his mom, Elizaveta, seemed to know what he was referring to.
"Oh that—it's broken now, see?" She lifted a slim ankle and displayed it awkwardly, still balancing Matthew against her side. Alfred looked at it and wondered what he was supposed to be seeing. There was nothing there, but maybe that was what was important because Arthur smiled at the sight of the bare ankle. "The curse stated I was bound to be a slave until either my master died or one of the Moon's children fell of their own will—you may not have fallen of your free will at first, Arthur, but when he came through these doors and your doubts for your shared feelings vanished, you did have a choice, and you made it. So, I suppose I should be thanking you for my freedom, as well as my son's happiness!"
Alfred could feel his own ears burn at his mom's words, and poor Arthur looked redder than a tomato, his hand within Alfred's tightening just a bit. "Well that's—brilliant then, good to know."
"It is, isn't it? Now, enough jibber-jabber, time to get out of here! Matthew could use a healer—I'm sure the lightning was better for him then the magic, but he could still do with a look to make sure nothing's been permanently damaged." Alfred watched his mom hitch Matthew's lax body up and shuffle towards the large doors, which were still open, and hung back for a moment. He grabbed Arthur's hand and met the questioning gaze head on as his mom headed out the doors.
He looked dirty and had smudges on his arms and shirt that was the color of rust, likely old blood stains from that table, and his eyes were still too bright and too wide to be completely normal. He had a bruise on one cheek but other than that he appeared mostly unharmed—and he was still wearing that dumb necklace around his neck. Alfred felt his limbs shaking, though he wasn't sure why since it hadn't been him who'd nearly gotten his heart cut out a second time, and he pulled Arthur close again, wrapping him in another hug as he tried to express how very sorry he was for everything. Even if Arthur didn't blame him, even if it was all 'understandable' or a 'simple error in judgment,' he was shaken to the core. It could have been his stupid promise that would have gotten Arthur killed, and it was his wordless departure that left Arthur alone and confused enough to leave the safety of the inn.
Arthur seemed to understand though, understood just how sorry Alfred was even without words, and returned the hug tightly; one hand drifted up to dig through Alfred's hair and massaged the base of his skull. "It's fine, love—"
"It is not fine! You could've died and it would've been because of me! How is that, or any of this, fine?" Alfred didn't shout the words, but their effect was the same, hissed into Arthur's shoulder with enough self-loathing and disappointment to make even the stoutest of hearts cringe in sympathy. What kind of hero acted like Alfred had the entire time he'd been in Stormhold? What kind of hero bought into false feelings because he was so desperate to fit in with anyone, or ignored the one person who accepted him without question for so long? What kind of hero repeatedly, time and time again, let down that one person, the one he should've been able to protect above anyone else? A shitty one that's what. He couldn't even figure out why Arthur wasn't angrier—Alfred would've been pissed if their situations were reversed, he was sure. Well, not at Artie, but if some other guy had, you know, made the same mistakes that Alfred had. Yeah, yeah then he'd be pissed.
"But you came back, you bloody moron! You came back and I haven't died and I didn't believe you'd really left me anyway—Alfred, please, we can talk about this later. Now's not really the time. I'm not mad at you and you certainly don't need to blame yourself for whatever's happened, all right?" Arthur's eyes were wide and boring into Alfred's gaze with an intensity that was likely half out of adrenaline and half from what he felt for him. Arthur didn't need all of Alfred's doubts and guilt spilled out to him to realize why Alfred was so upset; he just seemed to know. He felt another swell of rightness as he met Arthur's stare. Why had it taken him so long to figure out how perfect they were together? He wanted to kiss him again, but Arthur did have a point—now really wasn't the time.
"Yeah—yeah you're totally right, sorry. We can talk about all this later."
"Good to finally hear some sense out of you." Arthur sniffed the words disdainfully, but his words were softened by the smile across his face. Alfred tugged him towards the door again, meeting his mother's gaze and Matthew's bleary but conscious stare for a moment—and then the doors slammed shut. Alfred stared and he heard Arthur curse from beside him, the hand gripping his tightening with enough force to make Alfred wince. His mom was banging on the doors from the opposite side but they didn't budge; Alfred swallowed and met Arthur's eyes again before turning back towards the spiral staircase on the opposite end of the grand hall.
The witch, Natalia, was standing up, her hair singed and her face contorted in cold rage; the black knife was gripped hard in one hand and she was staring at them with eyes that he could tell were glowing, even from where they were. "Shit—shit, shit shit shit shit!"
"This is why I didn't want to have a heart-to-bloody heart in the middle of a witch's manor!" Arthur's words were tight with fear rather than anger—Alfred felt a fresh wave of guilt from them anyway.
Natalia stared at them before she cocked her head to the side, unnaturally so, and then lifted her arms and made inward motions toward herself. The mirrors that lined the entirety of the hall started to explode around them, forcing them to move to avoid being hit by the flying glass. They were going the wrong way, running away from the glass towards the witch and not towards the closed door, but they didn't have a choice—the glass was cutting backwards, forcing them to move towards her to avoid being cut and sliced to death. She was herding them closer; Alfred felt a cold pit of fear settle in his stomach as the last mirror exploded, leaving them back near the foot of the staircase. Arthur yelped and Alfred glanced back to see that a piece of glass had sliced through his leg; he leaned heavily against Alfred's back and balanced nearly all his weight on the opposite leg. Alfred pulled out his knife again and focused his eyes on the witch, who was aiming her hand straight at him, magic springing forward before he could even twitch.
But—it curved around him and Arthur, not touching or burning either of them, as if there was a bubble surrounding them and keeping the magic out. Natalia stared and fired off more magic before she dropped her hand in confusion and anger; Alfred glanced down at the snowdrop glass flower still tucked into his lapel before he flashed a dark, confident grin at the witch. She couldn't hit him with her magic, not while he had the flower—he could beat her if she couldn't use her magic, he was positive of it! "Don't think your fancy magic tricks are gonna work, lady!"
Natalia sneered at him and started to walk down the stairs, the black knife still in her hand, eyes narrowed and full of menace; Alfred felt a stab of doubt shoot through his confidence, but he tried to push it aside and not think on it. "I suppose I should thank you as well, boy. In your bumbling attempt at a rescue, you've actually restored the Light to the star's heart, making it much more useful to me. What use would the broken heart of a star be in reviving my beloved?"
Alfred just about growled at her words and widened his stance more protectively in front of Arthur; he didn't pay any attention to the sharp, comprehending gasp that echoed in his hair. "You can't have him. I won't let you take his heart!"
"Because you love him? Because that gives you some sort of claim? What about my love? Is yours that much more important than mine, boy?" Natalia lowered her voice from the booming scream and shook her head, stepping off the last stair and onto the marbled floor. "I think not. I will have my beloved returned to me and together we will hold dominion over Stormhold, heralding a glorious age of magic and progress, intertwined and under the Dark Mother's guidance!"
Alfred stared as the corpse he had been battling early, the huge hulking figure of a man with pale hair and green-tinged skin, came shambling over and dropped to his knees before her—Alfred realized with a sick feeling that the corpse was actually Ivan, the prince Matthew had kept referring to. He lifted his knife in front of him, trying to calm the shake of his hand as he saw something dark float past his shoulder settle over the corpse; he nearly jumped when he felt Arthur's hand, warm and strong, rest on his shoulder and turn his body slightly towards him. Natalia was staring at both intently, her black knife raised and ready to slice through Alfred to reach Arthur, and Alfred tried to shake the hand off, tried to get back into his fighting stance even if it was pointless—the witch was probably just as dangerous without her magic as she was with it and Alfred had been kidding himself before. She wouldn't still be alive and kicking if she wasn't.
"Alfred! Alfred, I need you to drop the blade and hold me tight." Arthur's whispered the words into his neck, but he could still hear them. Alfred could feel his head shake in instinct; if he dropped the sword, the witch was going to launch herself at them and then Alfred would be dead and Arthur not far behind him.
"Are you crazy? I'm not gonna drop the knife when she's like two seconds from attacking! If I can keep her busy, there's a chance you can get out and—"
"Listen to me, Alfred! I need you to trust me and do as I say. Now, drop your blade, hold me tight, and bloody well remember what it is that stars do!"
Alfred stared at him for a moment, but dropped the long knife and did as Arthur told him. He felt Arthur's wings unfurl and spread out as he wrapped his arms around his back and tried not to think about how any second the witch was going to rush forward and kill them both. One of Arthur's hands wrapped around the base of his neck while the other clutched at the back of his tunic and Alfred could feel the sharp edges of the stupid necklace digging into his chest they were pressed so close together. Arthur felt unusually warm—and then he started to glow again. But it was more than just glowing; he was growing more and more luminous, radiant even, until 'glowing' seemed like an incomplete way to describe him. The last thing he heard before his sight and touch overwhelmed him was a happy, almost breathy whisper in his ear from Arthur; one, clear word that fit perfectly.
Alfred watched as Arthur's wings curled around them halfway, shining brighter and brighter until all the beautiful details of Arthur's feathers faded into a solid white that was near blinding. The light kept building until it erupted into fire along the edge of his vision, burning and crawling over the broken glass, floor, and ceiling, wrapping around the motionless corpse and the witch, who could only howl wordlessly as light consumed everything. He felt Arthur's hands, unnaturally hot but somehow not burning his skin, tilt his head until it has buried in the juncture of his neck and shoulder; Alfred closed his eyes against the skin there and marveled how everything was still so bright, even with his eyes shut. He felt laughter bubble out of him and he pressed it into Arthur's shoulder as the light continued to grow and wash over him in warm, comforting waves that felt like every kind of embrace imaginable. He thought, just for a second, he could here Arthur whispering something to him, something about his heart and Alfred, but he couldn't quite make it out.
Not that it mattered, Alfred knew what Arthur was trying to say—it was what he'd been trying to say for days. His heart, in exchange for Alfred's. Alfred nodded against Arthur's skin as the light grew impossible bright and everything seemed to fade and compress together all at once. He wondered idly if this was kind of what exploding felt like, just without the mess or pain. Because that would've been bad and nothing about what he was feeling was bad.
The light faded away slowly until everything snapped back into place; Alfred blinked his eyes against Arthur's neck for a second before he lifted his head and met Arthur's open eyes and self-satisfied smile. All around them, the marble was pure white and there were still some scorching corners where the fire hadn't completely died out yet; the glass had melted into the ground to form a new, mirrored floor and sunlight was streaming inside from the blown out windows. He blinked and settled his eyes on a pile of what looked like dust and glitter scattered across the stairs, where Natalia had been standing and screaming only moments (or hours? It was hard to tell) before. There was no sign of the corpse. He focused his eyes back on Arthur, whose wings were still spread out, his feathers ruffling a little at the bottom. He was still bright and shining and so fucking beautiful, it was almost painful to just look at him.
"You—what the hell was that?"
Arthur put a little space between them, but didn't unwind his arms from around Alfred. "I told you. What do stars do best? They shine—you remember that crater you found me in. The one that looked like a meteor had crashed and burned all the surrounding area? That was from my Light."
Alfred blinked. "So that—but why didn't you do that before? That totally kicked ass!"
Arthur's grin lost a bit of its smugness and a tint of red colored his cheeks. "Well, I was rather upset before you came in and—the saying goes 'no star can shine with a broken heart' but that's really a misnomer. Any sort of heightened emotional stress that makes a star unhappy enough can create that issue and then I didn't think about it before because when I shine as bright as I did, I could kill people and I didn't want to kill your mother and—"
Alfred kissed Arthur soundly on the lips, effectively cutting off the rest of his babble and cradled his face in his hands when they separated. "It was awesome—you are awesome."
Arthur's smile softened and he ducked his head, resting his forehead against Alfred's cheek, his wings slowly folding back into a relaxed state against his back. Alfred chuckled, not because anything was funny really, but more because they were both alive and had just went through something incredible; he ran one of his hands down Arthur's exposed back, smiling at the downy-soft feathers that formed at the base of his wings. "So, if your Light kills people and stuff, why didn't it hurt me? I mean, it felt really warm, but it was a good warm, not like face-melting or anything."
Arthur hummed against his cheek before he pulled away; he looked exhausted and sleepy, and not all that different than what he had looked like after they had—you know, had sex. Alfred swallowed and shook the thought away—sex in the middle of a witch's destroyed manor with his mom and a prince outside was not something he should be considering. At all. "The Light didn't harm you because it recognized what you are to me—you know what they say about stars and those who possess their hearts. The Light will never harm you—it might have made you go blind, staring up at it as you had been so foolishly doing, but that would be the worst of it."
"You know, stars are pretty cheesy."
"Shut up, wanker." Alfred did so gladly, meeting Arthur in another kiss before a voice behind them cleared her throat pointedly. He turned and looked back at his mom, giving Arthur a bright smile before he let him go and rushed over to the woman he'd been dreaming about meeting for years. She laughed and met his hug, her head at just the right height to bury against his shoulder; he'd never hugged her before, and the only thing he knew about her was what he had seen today and the letter she had sent, but holding her in his arms, he felt like maybe that was enough. She gave a watery laugh and pressed a loving kiss to his cheek before stepping back to look up at him.
"You were wonderful, Alfred, and so brave! I'm so very proud of you—I was terrified when I saw those doors close and I—" she seemed to lose herself for a moment before she shook her head and turned towards Arthur. "And that was brilliant, Arthur! Matthew thought so too, he woke up just in time to see you get started, but he's not quite up to moving at the moment."
Alfred grinned as his mother hurried over to wrap Arthur in a great hug, surprise and awkwardness radiating off of Arthur as he tried to return the hug with his arms pinned down tight to his sides. He walked to the side and peeked out at Matthew, who was resting on the ground against a large boulder; he waved at the man, who returned his wave and then pointed to the ground. Alfred cocked his head to the side but followed where Matthew was pointing, his eyes coming to rest on the large, clear stone that Arthur had been wearing around his neck for the past week. The necklace must have broken when Arthur let out his Light, but the stone still looked whole and unblemished—he shrugged and picked it up off the ground. The moment it was resting in his palm, a deep, dark red bloomed up from the center of the stone and spread out until it looked like a ruby. He blinked, looked back at Matthew, who appeared to be sleeping again, and jogged over to his mom and Arthur.
"Hey! This stone thing, did it change colors on you before? It just turned red all of a sudden." Alfred held it out for both Arthur and his mom to look at it; Arthur looked puzzled while his mom just smirked and nodded her head.
"Good, then everything's finally settled!"
"Um, what do you mean? Is it supposed to change colors?"
"Only if the next king of Stormhold touched it, as decreed by my father on his deathbed if he still had surviving sons at his passing. Papa used to whisper all his clever back up plans to me when I was younger and not yet enslaved—and that's you, Alfred."
He stared at his mom and then glanced over at Arthur, who looked equally shocked, before he looked back down at the stone. "So—so I'm a king now?"
"And Matthew…he's my uncle?"
"And any kids I have are going to have to kill each other to get the crown?"
His mom laughed and rested her hand on his arm lovingly. "Well, that's the beauty about being king, especially a king who was raised outside of Stormhold for his own protection, which is the story we will of course tell all the dukes, lords, and council members. You can make your own traditions, all in the name of cultural ignorance. Lovely, isn't it?"
Alfred shrugged his shoulders and watched his mom flounce back towards the doors of the manor, a slight skip to her step and a song echoing from her lips. He slipped the ruby inside his coat and looked at Arthur again. "She telling the truth?"
"Seems that way—I do remember that I was watching the last king of Stormhold do something with this necklace before it knocked me out of the sky." Arthur slipped his hand inside Alfred's own and started tugging him out of the manor after his mom. "And she is a princess, so you would have a claim to the throne anyway—I must say, I wonder how much of all this she planned out. It seemed to work out all rather well."
Alfred nodded jerkily and tightened his hand around Arthur's. "You're gonna stay with me right? I mean—I don't think I can be a king on my own and—I mean, I am a hero and all but I mess up a lot and if I'm the guy in charge, my mess-ups can cause wars, right? Or other bad stuff—shit, we need to get my dad! He'll think I'm dead or something."
Arthur laughed and kissed the corner of Alfred's mouth as they walked out of the manor hand in hand, shoulders squared together to face whatever the future had in store for the pair of them. It was nice to think about them in those terms, as a pair—Alfred grinned despite his worries and mind-numbing fear about being a king of all things and leaned his head close. "That's another thing about stars, love. Once you've caught us, we never leave you alone. We're a bother like that."
Bother, true love, whichever really.
"As you can imagine, quite a lot happened between Alfred discovering he was a king and actually getting crowned as king. They fetched his father first, and by they, I obviously mean Alfred and Elizaveta since a star can't cross into the mortal realm, and after a shortened version of the extraordinary story that Alfred had lived, he packed his bags and left his home in Wall behind. None of them looked back even once as they left and crossed over through the gap in the wall—"
"Papa, do you have to keep calling Grandpa and yourself by your names? We know you're talking about you! Momma and Da told us last night that your story was about how you two met and Grandpa became king!" Arthur blinked down and smiled softly at the scowling face Peter had screwed up at him, his younger sister Wynona* beside him but not looking nearly as cross. He mocked a scowl back and tapped Peter on the nose, his wings folded neatly against his back, no longer white after so many years earthbound, but a soft golden color. His wings were the only thing that looked different about him, even after nearly fifty years—but he was a star so it wasn't all that unusual to him. It was to others.
A lot had happened between Alfred picking up that gemstone and where they were now; Alfred was off somewhere, talking with his heirs and Arthur was obviously here, entertaining the youngest of their grandchildren. Alfred's father had passed, and his mother, dear Elizaveta, wasn't too far behind. She was showing her full age now, all one hundred and twenty years of it, and Arthur knew most of that was because she missed her husband. Matthew had passed only a few short year before, and it had likely been the most peaceful a death for a Stormhold prince in generations; his sleep had taken him after a rather nasty bout of pneumonia. Arthur knew Alfred still mourned for him, and truth be told so did Arthur, though he was much better at adjusting to how swift earthbound lives were than Alfred was. Matthew and Alfred had grown very close over the years, both working towards changing the kingdom and the royal family customs for the better—Matthew really had been a kind-hearted young man underneath the murderous persona he had adopted in his youth while trying to change the kingdom the only way he and his sister had known how.
Alfred and Arthur had ruled Stormhold for years, after a quick journey through Stormhold, this one purely for pleasure and without the fear of being hunted by witches every step of the way. Alfred's mother had ruled the capital in his stead and had done it well—she had been beloved by the people and they had been ecstatic to have her back among them after so long, especially when they learned how she'd been enslaved to an evil witch. They had spent a great deal of time traveling with Francis and his crew, who had been happy they had worked everything out between them and welcomed them on their different adventures. And once they had exhausted their need to find themselves and each other away from court and politics, they had returned and Alfred's mother had stepped aside with that encouraging, sly smile of hers. Alfred had been nervous of course, because what near twenty-one year old wouldn't be nervous in assuming control over an entire kingdom? But the people had welcomed him and his unique view. And he had done so well, despite any doubts or challenges that he had faced along the way.
And then children had come. Not through normal means, obviously, as they were both men and stars were barren with earthbound beings anyway, but Elizaveta had learned quite a bit about magic during her indenture under Bridget Oakbark and Birth Spells was among that. A little of Alfred and Arthur, mixed together with Alfred's seed and a surrogate's egg and womb, and the next thing they knew, they had four children of their own, who then went on to have children of their own. Peter and Wynona were the youngest children of their oldest daughter, named Erin for Arthur's fallen sister who had been killed so many years ago. Arthur knew he wasn't meant to have favorites among his grandchildren, but his youngest were especially hard to resist, even if Peter reminded him too much of himself to be comfortable. Right down to the eyebrows—he had been a little regretful that particular trait had passed on to so many of his children and grandchildren.
The tradition of heirs killing each other off for the throne had been the first thing done away with, right after Alfred had held their oldest son, named Roderich for his father, for the first time. Alfred had wondered that night, aloud to Arthur in the quiet of their bed after all the drama of having your first child had relaxed, how his grandfather or any other members of his family could ever have let such a terrible tradition go on. How any of them could have been all right with watching their children kill one another—Arthur hadn't had an answer for him. Instead, he'd kissed him and told Alfred the fact that he could not fathom having his children assassinate one another for the crown made him a better king, a better man, than any of his ancestors. It hadn't been easy to do away with, many of the ducal lords and councilmen were too set in their ways to endorse so radical a change, but Alfred had been resolute and with Matthew supporting him, it had happened. Much to Arthur's relief—if those old men had refused to budge, Arthur had told himself he was going to have to show them just how terrifying a wrathful star could be.
Yes, many things had happened, but Arthur knew, as did Alfred, that their time earthbound was ending. Their children were grown and Erin had unanimously been chosen by her siblings and the council as the next ruler of Stormhold, the first queen the kingdom had ever seen—they weren't needed here anymore. Peter scrunched his nose and swatted away Arthur's hand, glaring up at him with green eyes just a shade off Arthur's own. Wynona giggled when Arthur made a face her way, mimicking her brother's pout before he smiled and brushed back some of her hair from her face. "Well, if your mum and da told you this was our story, you certainly don't need me to tell you the end then."
"No! We want to hear! Tell 'im Peter, we still want to hear it!" Wynona's eyes were wide and she was practically bouncing in her seat in their playroom. She elbowed her brother but gave Arthur a sheepish grin when he fixed her with a look.
"We don't elbow your brother, darling."
Peter nodded and then turned back to Arthur, scowl gone and his own apologetic expression on his face. "I do want to hear the end, Papa. I bet your version is more fun than what Momma told us. She didn't tell us all the parts where people died, said we were too little."
"She did not!" Arthur held back his grin behind his mask of shock and outrage as his grandchildren nodded emphatically back at him. "Well, I will surely be having words with your mother about that!"
They giggled a little, but then Wynona turned her big eyes upwards and Arthur knew that they knew. "But Momma said you and Grandpa are going away—that you're going back home. Are you? You're leaving us?"
Arthur smiled sadly and wrapped an arm around his granddaughter, pulling her close; Peter stared at him, moody again with his arms crossed and out of reach. Arthur had been dreading this moment for the past week and now it had arrived; he felt powerful tugs of sadness and regret rush through him as he studied the young faces of two people he loved so much. Two people he would likely never see again. He took a deep breath and pushed aside the unpleasant feeling; they needed him to be strong, to assure them that even though he was leaving, they would still hold a piece of him with them. "I could never leave you, not really. Want to know why?"
They both nodded. "Because when you love someone deeply, they can never leave you, even if you don't see them every day, or even ever again. You remember your Uncle Mattie, don't you? He may have gone, but he's still with you, in the curl of your hair, Wynona, or the sharpness of your words, Peter. It will be the same as your grandpa and I—you may not see us, but we will still be here with you, through every step and choice you make in your lives, and we will always love you."
"And watch over us? Momma says that's what stars really do best!"
Arthur grinned at Wynona. "We do watch very well, among other things as you've just heard! And yes, loves, we will watch over you every day of your lives and every time you look to the sky, you will see us shining and know that we love you so, so much. And, you'll have these."
Arthur reached over into a small box he'd brought with him before visiting his youngest grandchildren—it was much lighter than it had been when he first said his goodbyes to his children and older grandchildren, and pulled out the last pair of feathers tied together and handed them both to Peter and Wynona. One gold, and one such a pale blue it nearly looked white. Peter smiled, despite himself, as he took the feathers and Wynona squealed as she brushed them against the side of her face. She loved doing that; Mother moon, he would miss her; he would miss all of the family and friends he had collected while earthbound. "Any time you want to talk to us, or keep us close, just hold onto the feather and you'll feel us there with you."
"Thank you, Papa Artie!"
"Yeah, thanks Papa!"
"Do you still have time to tell us the end of the story?"
"Please? Pretty please?"
Arthur laughed and held out his other arm, letting Peter huddle into his side and squeezed them both close. "You want the end, you say?"
"But you already know the end. Alfred, Grandpa, became king and he ruled Stormhold for many, many years, changing the kingdom for the better and beloved by his people. And his star stayed with him, by his side, giving him advice when needed and love always. And we lived as happily ever after as can be reasonably expected."
"And is that why Grandpa looks young still?"
"Uncle Roderich said so!"
"And your uncle would be right. You know the legend—'he who possesses the heart of a star will live forever.' I gave mine to your grandpa completely, for his in exchange. It's why he can come up to the sky with me and watch over you and your children, and your children's children forever." Arthur pressed a soft kiss into both of their foreheads before he loosened his hold; they took the hint and got up, each giving him a hug, a slight shine to their skin as their own small Light shone through. "Now, I think it's quite late for the pair of you and if I keep you much longer, I'll have to face my own scolding from your mum, so off you get."
They both looked sad but gave him one last hug and did as he said, the pair of feathers clutched tightly in their hands—Arthur watched them go and stared into the empty space they had left behind with a forlorn expression until he felt a coarse, warm hand settle against his shoulder. He smiled wanly and turned to look up into Alfred's eyes, turning into Alfred's hold and wrapping his hand around the one on his shoulder. Alfred's blue eyes were unnaturally deep and bright and smiling at him from behind his glasses; his own wings, the wings that had grown and come into existence the longer Arthur stayed by his side, we furled out behind him, their pale blue a tad darker in the soft light of the room. He looked as he had for the past fifty years, no older than twenty with strong shoulders and an unbent spine, despite being nearly seventy; and in his hand, he held a black Babylon candle, a gift from his mother when Alfred's father had died.
"We don't need to go now, Artie. We can wait a bit longer, if you want. Erin will be fine assuming control and we could just hang out, maybe go on a few more adventures with the grandkids."
Arthur shook his head. "No—if we wait any longer, we'll never be able to leave them. They don't need us here any longer and we—you can feel her calling, can't you? Mother moon is singing for us to return to the sky. We should go, they're ready for us to leave; and so are we, no matter how much we'll miss them."
Alfred nodded and held up the black candle between them. They had been planning this for years, but now that the moment was upon them, it seemed too big, too unknown, and Arthur felt a strong resistance to leaving the earth he had once cursed to be sent to. The sky didn't seem like home anymore—but perhaps that was just part of life. One chapter had ended, a chapter Arthur had never imagined for himself but was so, so happy he had been blessed to have, and now the next was beginning. They were funny, beginnings that is, he thought to himself as Alfred leaned in close and kissed him softly, one hand cupping the back of his head while Arthur's arms wrapped around his back. Everything was a beginning really, when you really thought about it; endings especially, if you were a star. And they both were.
"You're not scared? Of going to the sky?"
"Scared? Naw, I'm a hero, remember? We don't get scared when we've got our special someone by our side!"
"And the long life? I thought you once said you had no interest in it."
"Unless I had someone to share it with—so unless you're planning on leaving me for some younger, hotter star, which you would never find because I am awesome, then—"
"Oh shut it, you." Arthur smiled and pressed another kiss to Alfred's lips, placing his other hand around Alfred's on the candle. "Are you ready?"
Alfred grinned and they both let their Light shine around the candle. "Absolutely."
And then, with a spark of a wick and their combined Light shining all around, they were gone in a flash, speeding towards the sky and the welcoming embrace of all their brothers and sisters. Towards their new beginning, together.
Thanks so much to everyone for all your support and reviews for this story! I really enjoyed writing this story and I'm so happy you all joined me for this ride! As this is the final chapter, I would love to know what you all thought of this story as a whole! Whether you commented every chapter, or lurked and liked from afar, I would love to hear what you thought! See you round the bend, lovelies!