Title: The Bright Side of the Road
Movie Prompt: Willow
Word Count: 7700
Summary: Armed only with his sword and two irritating creatures named the Chads, Jared Padalecki must rescue a very special baby from King Mark's evil plotting. If only he didn't have to go through Jensen Ackles to do it.
Notes: Tile from the Van Morrison song of the same name. Written for spn_cinema. Special thanks to lightthesparks for her INFINITE patience and amazing art; I was so thrilled to get to collab with her. Also to my girls, dugindeep for helping keep me pointed in the right direction and tebtosca for the last-minute beta!
Jared Padalecki sat on the cold stone floor of the castle’s dungeon, his long, lean legs sprawled carelessly in front of him. He’d long ago stopped noticing the pained groans of the other cells’ occupants; they were not his concern. Polishing his white, slightly crooked teeth with the edge of his tattered cloak, he hummed a bawdy tune under his breath.
“On your feet in the presence of the Queen!” bellowed the thickly-built guard from outside Jared’s cell. Jared looked up to see a tall, regal redhead bedecked in forest green silk. Queen Danneel. Jared debated staying on the ground, but he’d always harbored a great deal of respect for the Queen, even if the same didn’t hold true for her army.
Rising slowly to his feet, Jared stood quietly while Queen Danneel sighed, clucking a little at his dishevelled state.
“Oh, Jared, what on earth are you doing in here this time?” she sighed.
“Beats me, Your Highness,” Jared replied. “Personally, I think Lug here just missed my sparkling personality.” He grinned, the dimples in his cheeks making him look like a mischievous little boy.
“He was found brawling in the square, Your Majesty,” interjected the guard with a sneer.
“Brawling? With whom?”
“With a camel, Your Majesty.”
“In my defense,” Jared drawled, “I was very drunk, and that camel was an asshole.” Queen Danneel’s lip quirked for a second before she brought her expression back under control.
“Jared, you were a Commander in the Queen’s Army. How have you ended up like this?” she asked, and the disappointment in her voice brought a twinge of unwanted guilt that Jared ruthlessly squashed.
“Suffice to say, the army life is not for me,” was all he would say. He could have said he hated taking orders, or that his garrison was full of humorless, ignorant assholes, but he restrained himself. Barely.
“I know you’re an honorable man, despite all...this,” Queen Danneel waved vaguely. “And that’s why I’m here.”
Jared just looked at her. She hesitated before continuing on.
“As you are no doubt aware, the Queen’s Army has been occupied in the North, quelling the invasion by King Mark’s soldiers. But in the South, a small group of King Mark’s men have stolen something very precious. Something we - all of us - cannot afford to have end up in his hands.”
“And you are talking to me because…?”
“I want you to rescue her.”
”Her?” Jared said incredulously. “Oh, hell, no! I’m not going haring off after some pampered damsel in distress.”
“Well, she’s definitely in distress, but she’s not pampered. Or even a proper damsel, yet.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I need you to rescue a baby.”
“Uh-uh. No way.” Jared walked back over to the wall and sat down where he’d been before the Queen’s arrival. “I’d rather stay in here with Lug.”
“Jared, if you let this baby fall into King Mark’s hands, his power will grow and he will be unstoppable. The lives of our people, of this entire kingdom, are at stake.”
There was a glint of tears in Queen Danneel’s soft brown eyes. Jared sobered, cursing himself even as he asked.
“Where is this damn baby?”
He’d regretted his easy capitulation instantly, of course. No more so than when Queen Danneel presented his “guides” for the journey.
“Uh, uh. No way. Not the Chads!” he bellowed. Ankle high on a Man, the Chads were a species of Fae similar to Brownies, but far more annoying. They’d been rumored to drive Men to madness just by talking to them.
The two blue-eyed, blond-haired creatures made ugly faces at Jared from behind the Queen’s skirts, crossing their eyes, sticking out their tongues, and generally being pains in the ass.
“Jared, I’m sure Murray and Lindberg will be on their best behavior,” Queen Danneel soothed, sending a pointed look down at them. “They are the only ones who know the shortcut through the forest to intercept King Mark’s men and the baby. You must rescue Alysia before King Mark gets to her. The fate of all Mankind depends on it.”
“You keep saying that. What is so damn special about this baby girl?”
“Ancient prophecy tells us that the child born with a mark in the shape of the sacred rowan tree shall unite the Kingdoms of Man and bring peace to the land. Her powers are a gift from the last of the Elven race, and she is very special.” The Queen’s voice was reverent, her words more formal as she spoke of the ancient prophecy.
“So this baby - Alysia - has the mark? And King Mark wants to do what, kill her? She’s just a kid!” Jared couldn’t keep the disgust out of his voice. He might not be a fan of children himself, but the thought of someone harming a defenseless babe filled him with rage.
“Yes, he will perform a spell to take her power and send her soul to another realm where she can never be reborn to this plane. His evil will spread throughout the world of Man, and all good people, Man and Fae alike, will be crushed under his rule.”
“No pressure, though!” one of the Chads chirped brightly. Jared glared and the Chad stepped quickly behind Queen Danneel’s skirts.
“You must find the child, and take her to the Sorceress of the Lake.” Queen Danneel instructed. “She will put a spell of protection on Alysia and ensure that King Mark can never harm her. Do this, Jared, and I will grant you a full pardon and more gold than you can carry.”
“I can carry a lot,” Jared warned. He’d deserve it, too, if he got out of this alive. “What else do I need to know?”
“The men who stole the child, their leader is Jensen Ackles.”
“Jensen Ackles. Why’d it have to be Jensen Ackles?” Jared muttered into his tankard of beer. They’d travelled quickly that day - as annoying as the Chads were (and they were really annoying), they truly did know the forest better than anyone - and had reached the old inn just after nightfall.
The Chads lounged on the table in front of him. They’d mellowed a little since Jared had first met them that morning, his ability to ignore them seemingly stronger than their desire to torment him, so they contented themselves with the occasional insult thrown his way.
“Who is this guy, anyway?” the Chad with the squinty eyes asked. Murray, Jared thought. “You say his name like he’s a Demon.”
“Pretty close,” Jared snorted. “King Mark adopted him when he was a boy, and he’s sworn an oath to protect him. I’ve come across him on the battlefield a couple times. He’s the best warrior I’ve ever seen - except for me, of course.” He added the last with a cocky smirk that made the Chads roll their eyes in unison. It was a little creepy to watch.
“He gave me this scar, actually,” Jared pointed to a thick, white scar over his collarbone. “I still owe him for that, the bastard.”
“Well, looks like you’re gonna get your chance to get even,” Lindberg said blurrily; the thimble-full of beer Jared had poured him had obviously gone to his head already. He was idly playing with a leather amulet around his neck.
“Chad…” hissed Murray.
“He’s only got like twenty Men with them, but they looked pretty damn scary to me,” Lindberg continued, ignoring his companion’s pointed glances. He fingered the amulet again.
“Chad, you know what happened last time you spilled that amulet,” Murray finally snapped.
“Why, what is that?” Jared asked, peering closely at the amulet he’d neglected to notice before.
“It’s Heartbreaker Dust,” the Chads said in resigned unison. The red creeping up Lindberg’s face had Jared snapping his fingers impatiently until they spoke again.
“When someone breathes Heartbreaker Dust, they fall in love with the first being they see.”
“Last time Chad got whammied, he fell in love with Queen Danneel’s dog, Muffy,” Murray started giggling so hard the table was shaking.
“Dammit, Chad, we agreed never to speak of that again!” Lindberg said indignantly, but a far-away smile of reminiscence crossed his face briefly before he focused on Jared again, clearing his throat.
“You know what,” Jared sighed rubbing his forehead. “I’m sorry I asked.”
Jared crouched behind a bale of hay, the cover of night keeping him hidden from the Men standing around the campfire. The Chads sat on top of the hay, too small to be noticed. They’d ridden hard to catch up to the small band of Men, and Jared just wanted to grab the baby and get the job over with so he could go back to...well, he had nothing of note to go back to but it was sure the hell better than this.
“This is never gonna work,” Murray said disgustedly.
“Sure it will,” Jared said. “They’re half drunk already, we’ll just wait until they fall asleep and then I’ll sneak over and grab the baby.” He pointed to the edge of the clearing to where the small bundle of the baby’s blankets lay as if forgotten beside Jensen Ackles who gazed with half-lidded eyes into the darkness of the forest beyond him. No warrior worth his salt ever ruined his night vision by staring into the campfire. “We’ll be off before they realize she’s gone, and you guys know the quickest way back through the forest.”
“There are twenty Men there, not including Ackles. You’ll never make it!” Lindberg hissed.
“Ah, where’s your sense of adventure, boys?” Jared grinned cockily. He ignored the little sliver of doubt that tried to creep into his brain. He’d succeed because he always did.
Two hours later the camp was quiet; the fire had burned down to embers and no one was moving. Jared figured it was now or never. Nudging the Chads, who had fallen asleep on top of the hay bale, he straightened from his crouch, wincing at the cramps in his legs from sitting in one position for so long.
Jared crept quietly around the edge of the clearing until he was closest to Ackles and the baby. He approached silently, keeping a watchful eye on the sleeping Men, and crouched down to grasp Alysia. Only to stop short when the chill edge of a blade put warning pressure on his throat.
“Looking for something?” asked a low, amused voice. Fucking Ackles. He hadn’t even moved from where he lay on the ground, only the long blade of his sword arcing up to stop Jared in his tracks.
“Cat got your tongue, Padalecki?” Jensen said, rising to his knees smoothly without ever removing the blade from Jared’s throat.
“Should I be flattered that you know who I am?” Jared asked, his customary cocky grin falling over his face like a liquid mask.
“I like to know my enemy,” Jensen said. His eyes dropped meaningfully to Jared’s collarbone. “Besides, I believe we’ve already met.”
“Yeah, thanks for that, by the way,” Jared said with a scowl. “Almost killed me. The army left me for dead.” Assholes.
“If I’d wanted you dead, you’d be dead.” Jensen shrugged. Jared wanted to punch him in his arrogant face. But he wasn’t here for that.
“I came for the baby.” Jared said. Might as well put it right out there.
“No shit.” Jensen laughed quietly. “And here I thought you were here to get your revenge.”
Maybe a little of that, too, Jared conceded silently to himself, but he held his tongue and contented himself with a glare at Jensen.
“So now what?” he asked when the silence had gone on too long. “You gonna kill me, or what?”
“I’m thinking about it,” Jensen mused. The baby cooed beside him, almost like a giggle, and Jensen’s gaze was drawn over to her, his face softening minutely. When he looked back, Jared had his own sword tip pressed right against Jensen’s vulnerable crotch. Jensen froze.
“I think this is what’s called an impasse,” Jared said, his lips quirking up in a half-smile.
“I can’t let you take her,” Jensen said, his voice serious. “I serve King Mark.”
“It’s really too bad,” Jared mused. “You’re far too pretty to be this loyal to a monster.” Jensen’s eyes flared in surprise, but his sword didn’t move. Jared knew defeat when he saw it.
“I’ll make you a deal. You give me your word you won’t call your men, let me get out of here unharmed. I’ll go - no harm, no foul. Or we can stand here all night till one of us gets bored. Or slips.” He pushed his sword tighter against Jensen’s balls and watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallowed.
“Why should I trust you?” Jensen asked.
“Well, I don’t want to die, so I’m highly motivated here,” Jared said. “And I know you won’t break your oath.” It was known throughout all the Kingdoms that Jensen Ackles’ word was his bond. The man was loyal to a fault. Literally.
“So what do you say, do we have a deal?” Jared pressed. If Jensen didn’t agree to this, he was screwed.
“Fine. And don’t come back.” Jensen’s voice hardened. “If I see you again, I will kill you.”
“You’ll try!” Jared winked. They both lowered their swords slowly. Jared looked at Jensen, then at the baby. A tiny thing, she had bright orange hair and pale, delicate features, with wise blue eyes taking up what seemed like half her face. Jared’s heart clenched at the thought of this tiny creature falling into the hands of someone as twisted as King Mark. At the very least she seemed to be safe and comfortable with Jensen - for the moment. I’ll be back for you soon, Little Bit, Jared thought with determination, and somehow wasn’t surprised at all when Alysia smiled.
Jared turned and fled quickly into the dark of the forest. The Chads would never let him hear the end of this.
Three days later, and the Chads still hadn’t shut up. Jared gritted his teeth and rode silently, taking his punishment like a man. He figured he’d earned it. He’d failed at retrieving the baby, putting her life and all of Mankind in danger. Next time he wouldn’t - couldn’t fail. They’d returned to the tavern, needing to stock up on provisions now that they realized they weren’t going to be able to get the baby as quickly and easily as Jared had originally thought. Then they’d set back out on Ackles and his army’s trail.
“Enough,” he said finally, and the Chads looked at him in surprise. Jared figured they’d forgotten he was actually there listening to them insult him. Seemed the Chads’ knowledge of the forest was only surpassed by their impressive repertoire of insults - everything from Jared’s ancestors to his horse to his grooming habits were fodder for their invectives - after a while Jared had actually been too impressed to take offense.
“In case you guys were too busy hurling abuse at me to notice, we’re here.” He pointed at a lone cabin at the top of the rise some distance away, its chimney spewing light grey smoke into the chill air.
“Of course we’re here, stupid,” Lindberg said with a scowl. “We knew that. We just wanted to see if you knew it.”
“You must be getting tired,” said Jared “that was a pretty lame insult.”
“You’re lame!” said Murray, and Jared just rolled his eyes. This journey couldn’t be over soon enough for him.
“Focus, shrimps,” Jared said, patience gone. He ignored the aghast looks the Chads gave each other. “We know from the Faeries that Jensen is holed up in that cabin with the baby, waiting for King Mark to arrive and perform the ritual. We have to take her tonight, or she’s lost to us.”
The Chads sobered.
“This time you listen to us,” Murray said. “You go when we tell you. You kill Ackles; we’ll grab the baby.”
Jared hid a wince. For some reason the thought of killing Jensen didn’t bring him the joy it should have. He rubbed at the scar on his collarbone absently, before dropping his hand and nodding. He couldn’t fail at this.
They waited for over an hour, watching the cabin. Jensen’s horse was tethered in the small lean-to that abutted the cabin, and none of the other soldiers were present. Off hunting for game to prepare a feast for King Mark’s arrival, according to the Fae creatures who were willing to pass on word of the Men’s movements.
If it was anyone else, Jared would have felt confident in his ability to overpower the single man inside and take the baby, but this was Jensen Ackles, who’d bested Jared more than once. They’d have to be cautious.
They crept up to the cabin on foot - well, on Jared’s feet; the Chads were tucked firmly into the belt of his cloak. Climbing on top of the lean-to without making any noise was a bit of a challenge, from there to the small loft window at the top of the cabin even more so, but Jared had a fair bit of practice avoiding the husbands - or wives - of some of his dalliances, so he made it in through the window without alerting Jensen to his presence, creeping forward on the floor of the loft until he could look down into the main room of the cabin below. What he saw was...surprising.
Jensen sat in front of the fire, legs crossed in front of him, with the orange-haired baby cradled in his arms. He was singing, his voice a soft tenor that seemed at odds with his less than charming personality. The baby was staring raptly at his face, her hands grabbing at the bristles on his chin.
Jared refused to be charmed. He needed to kill the man and save the child. Jensen may not be harming her, but King Mark certainly would.
He waited in the loft until Jensen stepped outside to tend to his horse, then crept downstairs and hid behind the door. Feeling a nudge in his side, he pulled the Chads out of his belt and set them silently on the ground, where they waited for their chance.
The door opened and Jensen stepped inside. Jared shoved the door closed and had his sword at Jensen’s throat before the other man could even react.
“I had a feeling you’d be back,” Jensen said calmly.
“And yet you still let all your men go off hunting, leaving you alone. You think that little of my abilities?” Jared asked. The thought rankled.
“No,”Jensen said slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “I’m just that confident in mine.” His foot flashed out, sweeping Jared’s legs out from under him till he fell heavily on the floor, almost crushing the Chads who were knocked down behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Murray pulling on Lindberg’s cloak, trying to free him from where Jared was lying on it, keeping him trapped.
Jensen lunged away to grab his sword. Jared rolled over to push himself up.
“Watch it!” he heard one of the Chads hiss as the edge of his hand landed on a tiny bundle of soft leather and a puff of glittery dust billowed into his face.
“What the -” he exclaimed, trying to brush the dust off but really just smearing it all over his face. He sneezed once, twice, as he scrambled to his feet, sword in hand, narrowly avoiding stepping on the Chads as Murray finally pulled Lindberg to safety.
“Aw, shit, son, this is gonna be good,” Lindberg crowed. He was nudged into giggling silence by Murray.
“Dude, so not the time. Uh, Jared, buddy, just remember later - if you’re still alive - that it was his fault!” Murray pleaded.
Jared ignored the Chads, pushing himself to his feet and pursuing Jensen with determined steps, sword at the ready.
“Okay, asshole, are you -” Jensen whirled around to face him and Jared looked into his bottle-green eyes and everything...just...stopped. “Beautiful…” he murmured, as if in a dream.
“Shut up! Fight me.” Jensen said gruffly, sword held firmly in one hand. Jared shook his head, trying to gather his wits about him.
“No, you are, Jensen. So beautiful.” Jared couldn’t even remember why he’d been mad at Jensen before. How could anyone be angry with such a perfect creature?
“Shut up, Jared!” Jensen should have sounded irate but there was something in his voice - if Jared didn’t know better he’d think Jensen actually sounded...vulnerable? His sword was still held at the ready, but there was a fine tremor in his hand.
Jared stepped forward until he was crowding Jensen against the wall of the cabin. Jensen scoffed but didn’t shove Jared back, though he turned his face to the side, closing his eyes. His sword arm fell, the tip of his blade hitting the wood floor with a thud.
“Always thought you were beautiful, you know,” Jared murmured, running the pointed tip of his nose down the ginger stubble of Jensen’s cheek, smiling at how it prickled. “Even when you’re trying to kill me - you do that a lot, you know, but that’s okay - your eyes sparkle, and those adorable little freckles…” he reached out with the tip of his tongue, playfully poking at the freckles dotting Jensen’s nose.
“Stop talking, Jared,” Jensen said, and his voice shook a little. Jared’s head was swimming and he breathed deep, as if trying to absorb Jensen deep into his lungs.
“And the roses bloom on your cheeks, and I want to know if this is what you’d look like if I had you-”
“Oh, for fuck sake, will you just shut up!” Jensen finally snapped, and reached out to grab Jared by the back of his head, pulling him down and mashing Jared’s lips to his. And Jared was lost. Deciding he could go back to composing odes to Jensen’s face later, he shut up and returned Jensen’s kiss with interest, parting Jensen’s lips with his own and tracing his perfect white teeth with his tongue before plunging deep into the wet cavern of his mouth. Jensen sucked on his tongue until Jared began to feel like it was connected directly to his cock, which was throbbing in perfect synchronicity with the pull of Jensen’s mouth. They went on for long minutes, mapping the contours of each others’ mouths, breathing heavily, teeth scraping together in their bid to get closer, closer.
After several minutes of kissing Jared’s head was starting to feel clearer; in the back of his mind he was beginning to question why the hell he was kissing a man who up till this point had done nothing but piss him off - a man who minutes before Jared had wanted to punch in the face. But at the same time it still felt strangely...right. Jared had never been one for excessive introspection, however, so with a mental shrug he redoubled his efforts to make Jensen come apart in his arms.
Jensen had shifted his grip so that he was clutching Jared’s hair so hard it was just bordering on painful, and as Jared’s head cleared of...whatever weirdness had been clouding it he remembered how fucking aggravating the man could be. The nature of the kiss changed, becoming less tender, more combative. And yet still hot, gods, Jared had never kissed a man like Jensen before; one he wanted to thrash one minute and fuck into submission the next. He plunged his tongue deeper into Jensen’s mouth, laughing when Jensen closed his teeth warningly over the thick muscle for a brief moment.
He leaned his full weight against Jensen, pressing him against the cabin wall and letting him feel the burning weight of his cock through the stiff leather of his trousers. Jensen was equally hard, and Jared wanted nothing more than to shove his hand between them and touch him, learn the ridges and valleys of that body that Jared had been thinking about for days. So of course that’s when they were interrupted.
“Psst...Jared, we have to go!”
“Chads! You fucking asshole!” Jensen reared back and punched Jared in the jaw so hard it was all Jared could do to stay on his feet. It took a second before the pain really registered, and then it exploded in his face in a fiery wave. “Where’s the baby?”
Jared looked over to the corner where Alysia had been sleeping and was relieved to see she was gone. The Chads had smuggled her out while Jared was...occupied.
“Jensen, do you really want King Mark to kill an innocent little baby?” Jared pleaded, holding Jensen’s arm to keep him from going after the Chads. “I know you’re an asshole, but you’re not a murderer, are you?”
“He’s not going to kill the baby,”Jensen insisted, but there was a little glimmer of doubt in his green eyes. “He’s just going to -”
“Jensen, I know you have this whole ‘loyalty unto death’ thing going here, but King Mark is fucking evil. He’ll kill Alysia, cast her soul to another plane and then he’s going to take over all the Kingdoms of Man. Do you really want to help him do it?”
“I swore an oath,” Jensen said stubbornly. Jared wanted to shake him. And kiss him again. And then shake him some more.
“Jensen, is your oath more important than the life of an innocent baby? Of all the Men in the Kingdoms? Of the Fae? You need to let it go.”
“Jared!” one of the Chads hissed. “The King’s Men are on their way, we have to go now!”
Jared knew his time to convince Jensen had run out. If they didn’t leave now Alysia would be lost. He grabbed Jensen by the back of the head and jerked his face closer, expecting at any moment to receive another punch in the face. It never came, and he marvelled at little at that even as he crushed his lips over Jensen’s a final time, trying to gather one last taste before they had to try to kill each other again. He marvelled even more when Jensen kissed him back, with such desperation it took his breath away before Jensen was shoving him back.
“Go, before I change my mind.” he ordered.
“Is this a joke?” Jared asked suspiciously. Jensen had tried to kill him before, after all. Repeatedly.
“Go!” Jensen roared.
Jared wasn’t going to question his luck any further. He ran through the door outside to where the Chads stood with the baby beside a horse - Jensen’s horse, Jared realized with a wince. He plucked the Chads up with one, hand, shoving them into his cloak’s pocket and ignoring their indignant shouts. Then with the other he scooped up Alysia, holding her in the crook of his arm as he quickly swung himself one-handed up onto Jensen’s great black stallion, kicking the beast in the side to speed him to a full gallop as they fled ahead of the King’s men.
It was a tricky thing, riding hell-bent through the forest bareback while holding a baby in one arm, but Jared was desperate enough that it beat the alternative. Somehow he managed to stay ahead of the men and they fell farther and farther behind, outrun by Jensen’s great beast. Seemed swordplay wasn’t all Jensen was good at: he also picked some mighty fine horseflesh.
They ran for miles without stopping, the forest passing by in a blur. The horse was fast, though, and the distance between Jared and the King's men grew, little by little. Eventually the men turned back from their pursuit and Jared was able to slow to a less suicidal pace, before finally pulling to a stop in a little clearing to let Jensen’s horse rest. He looked down at the baby held in the crook of his arm and was astonished to see she was looking up at him peacefully, a little smile on her face. He felt a little shiver run down his spine at the wise expression in her eyes.
“What are you thinking, there, Little Bit?” he murmured. Her smile only widened, her eyes fixed firmly on his. He found himself unable to look away, until he gradually became aware at the muffled curses coming from the general vicinity of his pocket. The Chads were not happy.
Jared sighed and reached into his pocket, plucking both of the Chads up by their shirts and holding them dangling in front of his face. He endured a fair bit of the profanity they spewed at him, figuring they probably deserved a chance to blow off some steam after bouncing around in his dark and likely smelly pocket. Finally he whistled sharply through his teeth, grateful for the blessed silence that resulted.
“Look, guys, it worked, okay? We lost the Men, we have the baby, and we’re all alive. I even got a pretty damn good horse out of the deal!” he ignored the small fact that Jensen would probably kill him for that alone. “So how about you stop your bitching and tell me where this Ruth woman is, so I can get my reward and forget we ever met each other?”
Murray made an obscene hand gesture. Lindberg looked around him, trying to get his bearings. Jared helpfully held them up higher, dangling them each by a finger hooked into the neck of their shirts. Lindberg kicked a little to orient himself properly and finally said, simply, “There.”
“There, what?” Jared snapped. “That direction? For how many miles?”
“There” Lindberg hissed. Jared looked over to where Lindberg was pointing and there at the edge of the clearing, almost blending into the trees with the dark green of her cloak, stood a tiny red-headed woman.
“That’s Ruth?” he whispered incredulously.
“Well, what were you expecting, dear boy?” came a melodious voice and a tinkle of laughter. “An old crone? A sorceress with my powers isn’t going to let something like two centuries of age make her look haggard.” The woman - Ruth - ran her hands down her slim body to show off her curves.
Alysia cooed a little and Ruth’s attention sharpened. She walked toward them, a look of wonder on her face.
“And this must be the One,” she said reverently. To Jared’s surprise, the baby reached out toward Ruth with both hands, as if demanding to be held. “She’s led you here.” Jared couldn’t deny it; what were the odds of ending up at exactly the place they needed to be, after all?
“Och, wee child, I’ve been waiting for you,” Ruth murmured, reaching up to take her. Jared ignored the small pang in his chest when the light bundle was taken from him.
“Can you help her?” he asked gruffly. “Can you make it so King Mark can’t hurt her?”
“Of course, I can, young man. I am the Sorceress of the Lake.” Her wink removed a little of the arrogance from her statement. Jared couldn’t help but find the tiny woman charming. He swung down off his - Jensen’s - horse, still holding the Chads up by their shirt collars.
“What do we do?” he asked.
“Nothing, for now,” Ruth said with a smile. “We must wait till darkness settles, and the moon appears. Come, tend to your poor horse and I’ll serve up a bit of the stew I made this afternoon. Yes, you, too, lads,” she motioned to the Chads, who had been gawking raptly at her the entire time, for once blessedly silent. Jared set them down on the ground and they ran off after Ruth, leaving Jared alone with the horse.
“This better work,” Jared muttered to the horse. The horse snorted in response.
Night fell slowly, the pale, full moon ascending in the eastern sky, so bright the trees cast long shadows in the clearing where Ruth prepared to perform the spell of protection on Alysia. She’d long ago grown weary of Jared pestering her for reassurance that the ritual wouldn’t hurt the baby and had sent him to gather firewood and other menial tasks that Jared suspected were invented just to keep him out of her hair.
Finally everything was in place and Ruth signalled that it was time to begin. Jared stood protectively at the edge of the clearing, watching as Ruth raised her arms to the sky, her dark cloak falling back so that her pale skin practically glowed in the moonlight. Alysia lay on a stone altar in the middle of the clearing, her face calm and unafraid as her eyes tracked the movements of Ruth’s hands.
Ruth began to speak, a chant in a language unknown to Jared. It sounded ancient and powerful to his untrained ears, and a shiver snaked down his spine.
“Ruth, darling, you always did have a way with words,” came a mild voice. Ruth’s words halted in surprise. Jared couldn’t tell quite where the voice came from until a man strolled out from the shadows. He was of medium height, a scruff of beard on his face and luxurious robes draping him from shoulder to heel. Jared couldn’t make out the color in the washed-out palette of the moonlight, but he was certain it was royal blue. This had to be King Mark.
It was amazing to Jared how a man capable of such evil could look so mild-mannered and pleasant. But looks could be deceiving, he knew, and he drew his sword swiftly, determined that the King would have to go through him if he wanted to get to Alysia. He stepped toward King Mark, only to whirl around at the sound of men rushing into the clearing toward him. Of course King Mark wouldn’t have come alone; he had his personal army with him.
Jared sized up the odds in an instant: there were ten soldiers to his one. Not so hot, then. But no matter; he wasn’t going to surrender and let King Mark hurt Ruth and the baby. With a bellow he charged toward the soldiers, taking advantage of their surprise to cut down the two nearest to him with quick slashes of his sword. The benefit of surprise didn’t last long though, and the remaining men stalked toward him with intent. Jared knew he was good but eight to one was going to be a challenge.
From behind him he heard more of that ancient language being chanted, but this time it was a cacophony as Ruth and Mark shouted over each other, light sparking between them as they worked magic in a battle that Jared had no hope of understanding or assisting with. The soldiers were beginning to surround him, and Jared realized with a mix of bitterness and disappointment that one of them was Jensen. Of course. King Mark’s perfect loyal soldier. So be it.
Jared and Jensen faced each other, swords held high, as the other soldiers crept closer. Suddenly Jensen lunged, slashing out with his sword. Jared prepared to parry the thrust but Jensen’s sword swung past him with several inches to spare, lodging itself into the chest of the soldier next to him. The man died with an expression that mirrored the surprise Jared felt. Jensen was helping him? Jared didn’t have time to contemplate what that meant, as the other soldiers closed in and the fighting began in earnest. Jared and Jensen stood back to back, protecting each other’s flank from the six remaining men surrounding them. They worked well together, and dimly Jared knew part of it came from having studied each other’s movements on the battlefield.
Swords flashed in the moonlight, a deadly dance punctuated by the shouts of soldiers as Jared and Jensen hit their targets, blood arcing black into the moonlight. Twice Jared felt the cold slice of steel on his arms, producing shallow cuts that welled blood but did no serious damage. He heard a grunt close behind him and knew Jensen had taken a hit as well, but there was no halt in his movements so Jared was reassured that Jensen wasn’t badly harmed.
He felt a rush of cold satisfaction when his sword found a weak spot and he dispatched one of the soldiers, the man falling to the ground with no sound. It made the fight seem a little more fair, even more so when Jensen got a solid hit in on another and they were down to four men against the two of them. Practically even odds, Jared smirked to himself. The smirk seemed to enrage one of the soldiers he faced, and the man charged directly at Jared with a bellow, sword held high, and it was almost disappointingly easy for Jared to simply raise his sword to the man’s belly and let his forward momentum impale him on the tip of Jared’s sword.
“What’s left?” he muttered to Jensen, hearing a short “One” in response. Satisfied that Jensen would be able to handle a single combatant on his own, he made quick work of the last man, dispatching him with a few flicks of his sword. Thanks to Jensen’s help he still had a chance to help Ruth.
The sorceress was locked in a battle of her own, her voice still chanting in the ancient language, a counterpoint to King Mark’s as a vortex of flame spun eerily around them. Between them was the stone altar, and Alysia lay atop it in her bundle of blankets. For the first time since Jared had found her, she was crying, and her thin wails of fear enraged Jared. He stepped forward to help her but was pulled back by Jensen, who gripped his arm tightly until Jared turned to face him.
“That fire will kill you,” Jensen shouted over the chanting of King Mark and Ruth, eyes intense as he willed Jared to listen. “None can pass.” Jared knew he was right, and never had he felt so helpless as he watched Ruth and King Mark’s battle. Ruth’s voice was getting weak with fatigue, and suddenly the flame whirling about them vanished as she fell to her knees in front of King Mark, breathing heavily.
“You disappoint me, Ruth,” King Mark said, his voice raspy but still annoyingly mild as he moved to stand beside her. “Too long tucked away in these woods to stay in practice, I imagine.”
“You would know,” she spat. “You’re the one who banished me here.”
“Because you were disloyal,” he snapped, his calm facade finally beginning to show some cracks. “Just like this one.” he looked directly at Jensen. Jared put his hand on Jensen’s arm, in reassurance or warning, he didn’t know.
“You broke your oath to me,” Mark said to Jensen, lip curling. “How very disappointing after everything I’ve done for you.”
Jensen’s eyes showed shame and pain, but still he stood firm. “You will not hurt this baby. You will not hurt anyone ever again.”
“And who is going to stop me, dear boy?” King Mark laughed. “This washed up old hag?” He prodded at Ruth with the toe of his boot, ignoring Ruth’s outraged exclamation. “You? You’re good with a sword, I saw to that, but you can’t win against my magic.” Jensen stepped forward as if to stop King Mark and the man put up a hand and spoke a short phrase in the ancient language. Instantly Jensen was stopped in his tracks, as if frozen. Fucking magicJared thought to himself. He tried to move forward himself, with the same result.
“This is getting tedious,” King Mark said, looking down at Alysia. “All this effort for one tiresome little baby. Now let’s get on with it, shall we?”
He pushed up the sleeves of his robe and began to speak the ancient verses. He had only got a sentence or two in, however, when a tiny voice broke his concentration.
“Eat dust, asshole!” King Mark whirled to see where the voice had come from and was hit squarely in the forehead by a small leather amulet, glittery dust settling around his face like a cloud. Jared winced in reluctant sympathy as the King sneezed, cursing viciously.
“Och, you’ve got quite a throw there, my boy, ” Ruth tittered malevolently, and King Mark’s gaze swung over to her. Instantly his face softened, his eyes roving lovingly over her face as she stood up to face him.
“Ruth, my darling…” he began.
“Do shut up, dear,” she said sweetly, and quickly spoke words of ancient power, King Mark listening raptly to every word, right up until the point where he burst into a dark cloud of smoke and disappeared. Jared and Jensen both fell to their knees, the sudden release of their invisible bonds throwing them off balance. The clearing was silent for one shocked moment.
“Holy shit, did you see that?” Lindberg crowed, turning to Murray and who punched him in the arm in celebration.
Jared almost laughed, but then he realized the enormity of what had just happened. He pulled himself to his feet and stumbled forward to the altar, frantically lifting Alycia up and examining her for any injuries. Her cries had quieted as soon as King Mark had disappeared, and now she’d returned to that almost eerie state of calm that was her norm. All well then, Jared thought with a sigh of relief, kissing her gently on the forehead.
“Is she alright?” Jensen asked quietly from behind him. Jared looked for a moment at the torment and guilt in Jensen’s eyes before slowly nodding and motioning him over, handing the baby over to Jensen’s suddenly awkward-seeming hands. Jensen looked down at Alysia for a long minute, his eyes staring directly into hers, before a peaceful calm settled over him and he smiled. Jared wasn’t going to ask but he felt like Alysia had given Jensen a great gift.
“Ruth,” Jared said quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace but needing this to be over for Alysia’s sake. “Can you complete the spell of protection?”
She nodded, motioning Jared to set the baby back down on the altar.
“Aye, boy, let’s get this done.”
They arrived at the castle to great fanfare. Queen Danneel herself was standing on the steps of the castle when they approached, looking serene and proud. Jared and Jensen dismounted their horses and bowed respectfully, Alysia cradled safely in the crook of Jared’s arm.
“The Kingdoms of Man owe you a debt of gratitude,” she said, raising her voice loud enough to be heard by the crowd, made up of Men and Fae creatures alike. “You have helped defeat King Mark, and his evil has been stricken from the world.” The crowd cheered. The Chads, still standing on the pommel of Jared's saddle, puffed out their chests, elbowing each other and grinning widely.
“May I take her?” she asked, looking to Jared for permission. Jared looked down at the baby in his arms, feeling his heart clench at the serene smile she was giving him. He bent his head and placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
“I’m gonna miss you, Little Bit,” he whispered, receiving a soft gurgle in response. It was true. Jared had grown impossibly attached to the tiny orange-haired creature in the short time he’d known her. Jensen put his hand on Jared’s back to steady him, bending down to place his own kiss on the Alysia’s cheek before stepping back.
“You’re welcome to come visit her anytime. Both of you.” Queen Danneel said softly as she took the baby, looking from Jared to Jensen. “I can see she likes having you around. It’d be a shame if her honorary uncles didn’t come back often to see her.”
Jared looked at Jensen, whose frozen face relaxed a little at Queen Danneel’s obvious sincerity and gratitude. He nodded, a small smile quirking his lips. “I’d like that, Your Majesty,” he said.
“You have both earned pardons, and the reward I promised,” Queen Danneel said. “Do you know where you’ll go from here? I can always use good men to lead my army.”
Jared tried to hide the shudder that went through him at the thought.
“We thank you for your generous offer, Your Majesty,” Jensen said smoothly. “But we’ve decided to make our own way.”
She inclined her head in understanding, then motioned to her waiting men, who brought forward several large sacks which they draped over the back ends of Jared and Jensen's horses.
"That's what I'm talking about," Jared murmured out of the side of his mouth to Jensen, who smothered a smile by rubbing at his jaw.
“See you, shrimps.” Jared said to the Chads, lifting them carelessly off the horse and setting them on the ground.
“Son of a motherless goat!” Lindberg said, as Murray made an obscene gesture with his hand.
“Can’t believe you survived a week traveling with those things,” Jensen muttered under his breath at Jared.
“Yeah. I’m kind of going to miss them, though,” Jared grinned. Jensen laughed and leaned over to press a hard kiss to Jared’s mouth. The change that had come over him now that he was free of King Mark was remarkable. Jared was going to enjoy getting to know this man a whole lot better.
“Where to, Sir Ackles?” Jared asked when they parted and each had climbed up on top of their laden horses.
“We’ll figure it out.” Jensen winked, and with a sharp command to his horse he took off at a gallop, Jared following closely behind as they began their next adventure. Together.