Morgaine le Fey was...discontent. Yes, the new world they had created was free of its cursed Trinity, free for their plundering. But it was all so...modern, so bright and fast and noisy. Morgaine missed the otherworldly silence of Castle Branek, the familiar sound of stone and water.
It would be easy, she thought, and her compatriots would never know. So easy to twist the fabric of the world they had created, to cast its shadows into the past and reform them in the patterns of the world she knew best. And with the Trinity gone, with the heart cut out...she would reign supreme.
Her mind made up, Morgaine bent to the task at hand, summoning her will and her craft to shape the fabric of the universe, warping it to her will.
: : :
At the same moment, in a small, well-shielded room, a ring of people sat. Before them stood the Phantom Stranger, his eternally unlined face grave. "...even the highest of Powers I have access to do not fully comprehend what is missing. We are working blindly here, struggling to understand what never was."
Giovanni Zatara sat between his daughter and his nephew, frowning. "And yet we have all felt it. The disturbances, the echoes."
Dr. Fate's golden helmet inclined slightly. "Echoes of events and people who have never existed."
Captain Marvel's usually-cheerful face was solemn. "The keystones of this world have been overturned. The Rock of Eternity is...unstable. Something must be done."
The Phantom Stranger bowed his head, seemingly reluctant to advocate a specific action.
"We must call them back, of course," said Jason Blood.
Zachary Zatanna rolled his eyes despite his cousin's quick frown in his direction. "How do you call back something that never was?"
The magician's eyebrows arched. "If the powers gathered in this room cannot achieve that, it is truly an unachievable goal. We have little to lose by trying."
There was further discussion, but in the end the other magic-users of the universe agreed with Blood.
And so the most powerful seers and sorcerers of the world clasped hands and focused their wills on the gap in the heart of the world, the flaw in the soul of creation. Focused on it and willed it healed.
The ripple of power spreading out from their linked spirits met the wave of might from Morgaine.
The world turned inside-out.
: : :
Lancelot was on his way back to Camelot. His body was aching and weary from the latest round of jousts and duels he had fought in the name of the King, but his heart felt oddly light as his mount cantered along.
It was good to be going home.
A voice broke into song to his right, and Lancelot glanced over with an indulgent smile at Galahad. His son had taken off his helmet to let his dark hair tumble free and was singing a ballad. Galahad was bright and blithe, graceful and cheerful, everything his dark and brooding father was not. Sometimes Lancelot wondered what good thing he had done in his life to be a part of creating such a soul. Indeed, Lancelot mused as Galahad launched into the second verse ("Downe in yonder greene field, There lies a knight slain under his shield.") his son had every gift and grace known to man, except one, which was the ability to carry a tune.
Glancing to his left, Lancelot shared a slight smile with Percival. Smaller and slighter than Galahad, his friend Percival was more serious, more given to thoughtful moods. And yet he was as stout a fighter and as noble a knight as the older boy. Percival had been raised far from the world of chivalry by his mother, but when he had seen Lancelot and Galahad ride by their cottage one day he had insisted on following them to Camelot and becoming a knight himself, and no truer friend or squire could Lancelot imagine.
The air was cold, with the taste of snow to it. Lancelot frowned slightly to himself as they rounded another bend in the road. He knew this route so well, every turn and twist that led him to the shining city, to his King and Queen.
So why did he feel that this was the first time he had ever been here?
He shrugged and laughed slightly to himself, trying to set aside his unease. Tonight he would sup with Arthur and Guenevere, and he would rather not be in a pensive mood for such a cherished time.
He paused a moment before the last turn, the slight rise in the road. Just a few more yards and he'd be able to see it again. He slowed his horse down, savoring the anticipation as Galahad and Percival spurred their mounts ahead of him.
There it was. He felt the old familiar thrill as the stone walls of Camelot came into view, the red and gold banners snapping in the autumn wind, touches of gilt catching the sun. Camelot.
Ahead of him, the two younger knights were racing to see who could get to dinner and the warmth of the hearth faster. Lancelot let his horse break into a gallop that matched his spirits.
: : :
He stabled his horse, bathed briefly and changed into clean clothes, then hurried to the royal quarters. At his knock, he heard an abstracted "Enter."
The door swung open to reveal Guenevere, firelight gilding her white gown, her scarlet cloack trimmed with ermine and her dark hair down around her shoulders. She was studying a map on the table, making little notes with a quill pen. There were ink blotches on her fingers, and one on her lower lip where she'd nibbled the pen. The Queen looked up as he entered. "Lance," she said warmly. Then she frowned suddenly. "No."
He stopped and looked at her. "What?"
"No," she repeated, looking thoughtful. "There's something wrong. I was going to call you...something else."
Lancelot pulled up a chair. "You too?"
Her eyes darkened with worry. "You've felt it as well?"
He nodded. "Something is...amiss. Galahad and Percival didn't seem to notice it. But...do you know the French phrase deja vu?" She nodded. "I've felt...the opposite. Like everything familiar is something I've never seen before this moment." He gestured around the room. "You are my Queen, my friend, and have been for years. I know this room well." He brought his hand down gently on the worn wood of the table. "And yet I feel I've never sat here before in my life."
Her ice-blue eyes snapped recognition. "Yes. I have been Queen of this Realm for nearly two decades now. I helped design this very castle, I know every rampart and turret like my own hands. And this afternoon I wandered it like a stranger, as if I had never touched these stones. I talked to people I had known all my life and found them strangers--yet they were strangers I knew." She shook her head, bemused. "I cannot explain it. I cannot even express it."
"Have you talked to Arthur about it?"
The Queen shook her head again, tapping the parchment with the feathered end of her pen. "He's been out overseeing the building of a new granary all day."
"He works too hard."
Pale blue eyes laughed at him. "You're one to speak, Lance. Oh, don't try to hide it," she said as he raised his hands in protest, "I can tell from the way you walk you're a mass of bruises. Must you go to these silly tournaments?"
"It's for the honor of Camelot," he said stiffly, and she smiled a little.
"I would rather acquit myself on a field of true battle--God forfend the day," she added quickly.
Lancelot stretched and allowed himself the luxury of wincing in front of his old friend. "With the Saxons defeated, may we see peace for the rest of our lives."
Her smile was slightly wistful. "May it be so, Lance."
The sound of heavy boots on the stone stairs roused them from their reverie. Lancelot saw a quick smile light the Queen's face and knew that his own expression had turned eager.
It had been long since he had seen his King and his closest friend.
"Gawain nearly got himself killed scrambling around on the roof," grumbled Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britons, as he came through the door. With his scarlet cloak streaked with dirt and his boots leaving muddy marks behind him, he didn't cut the most regal figure. "I swear the man's incapable of feeling fear." He looked up and realized Lancelot was there as well; his mouth fell open, then curved in a merry smile. "Br--Lance!" The King stepped forward and dragged his knight into a bear hug; Lancelot allowed his friend to re-muddy him, feeling Guenevere's smile from behind them.
"What did you almost call me?" Lancelot asked after some of the pounding on his back stopped.
Arthur pulled back and frowned at him. "I...don't know. When I first saw you, I thought...but it's nothing."
Lancelot heard the Queen rise and move closer to them. "No, I felt it too, there's something--" She reached out and rested one hand on Arthur's shoulder and one on Lancelot's, completing the connection between the three of them.
It was like a floodgate of blinding light for just a moment; when it ended he was blinking at the two of them, the whole world making more sense, less sense, a different kind of sense. He was Lancelot--and Bruce Wayne. He remembered his lonely childhood at the castle he had renamed Joyous Gard--and the night in Crime Alley that had changed his life. Two lives, overlapping and contradicting and complementing.
"Bruce?" whispered the King, and Bruce looked at him, seeing both Arthur and Clark.
"Yes, my liege."
Clark winced and laughed together. "Don't." His hand tightened on Bruce's arm. "Your friend, always."
The Queen tossed her head, both Diana and Guenevere's fire in her motions. "What's important is we figure out what happened and how to set things right."
"I don't--" Clark put his hand to his forehead. "The last thing I remember is fighting at Castle Branek--Morgaine laughing..."
"And now we're trapped in the Arthurian legend." Diana looked from Clark to Bruce. "With some differences."
"Differences?" said Clark.
"Well," Diana said, turning to eye the map on the table again, "If I remember correctly, Guenevere is supposed to be carrying on an affair with Lancelot, but I have no memory of such a thing."
"Really?" Clark sounded relieved. "But...maybe it will happen in the future?"
Diana cast a rather wry glance at Bruce. "Oh, I rather doubt that."
Bruce swung into a pace around the room to dodge both that knowing glance and Clark's puzzled look. "So certain things might be changeable. I suppose the first thing to do is try and convince any of the others of what's going on. Dick is Galahad," he said, feeling a sudden warmth at realizing that in this world, Dick was truly his son. "And Tim is Percival. Perhaps I can get through to them."
Clark looked thoughtful, casting his mind back through the day. "Gawain is Hal, and--" he broke off, "Gaheris. Gaheris is Bart Allen. He's alive here." He looked puzzled for a moment, then broke into a laugh. "And I wonder if anyone knows that Gareth is a girl? Arthur didn't realize it, but Clark knows a certain redheaded lady who would have refused to play the court miss..."
"Barbara?" At Clark's nod, Bruce found himself smiling. "Good for her."
Diana was staring into the fire. "Merlin," she whispered. "I was talking with Merlin the magician today. He can take on different forms, and it's said he can read minds."
"J'onn," Clark said fiercely. "Bart, and J'onn--alive. Who else, I wonder?"
Diana smiled. "Let's go find out. And see if we can convince anyone else of the truth."
: : :
Clark was sitting with his head in his hands as he heard Lancelot's--Bruce's footsteps on the stairs. He didn't look up as he heard the other man enter the room. "No one would believe you," he said. "And when you persisted, they began to speak of your being ensorcelled."
A sigh. "You too," said Bruce.
Clark looked up into his friend's face, so familiar and yet subtly different. Lancelot's face was keener, with an undercurrent of fierce joy just under the surface that was--not nonexistant, but more hidden in Bruce. "Sir Ector," Clark said.
Bruce winced slightly. "Jonathan Kent?"
"Of course." Clark felt very tired, and not very royal at all. "He's alive here too. They all are, they're all out there somewhere. All the ones we've lost," He scrubbed at his face with his hands. "All the ones we've failed."
There was a stirring of air, and Clark opened his eyes to see Bruce kneeling in front of him. Bruce reached out and started to tug off Clark's heavy boots. "Don't--" Clark started, but Bruce just looked up at him, smiling slightly.
"As your First Knight, it is my right and privilege to serve my King." Deftly, surely, he pulled off one boot, and Clark couldn't help a sigh of relief as the constricting leather fell away. "You don't have powers here," Bruce murmured as he went to work on the other boot.
"No," Clark admitted.
"Then you mustn't push yourself." The other boot came off, and Bruce's hands briefly massaged the arch of his foot, then slid up to ease some of the stiffness from his calves. "My liege lord," Bruce said.
Clark sighed. "Bruce, don't play games with me. I'm tired and--"
"--I remember the day Lancelot swore fealty to you," Bruce went on as if Clark hadn't spoken. "I remember how he--how I--felt when I looked at you. When I knelt to you and vowed my service and my life to you." He was still holding Clark's foot in his hands, his thumbs tracing patterns across the arch.
"What...what did you feel?" Clark seemed unable to keep from asking.
Bruce looked up at him, dark eyes burning with a fervor that was entirely unlike Bruce. And yet, somehow... "I felt hope," Bruce said.
Footsteps on the stair heralded Diana's entrance; Bruce rose unhurriedly as she came in. "It's no good," she said, her voice edged with frustration as she swept into the room. "I can't get through to anyone. Not even Merlin. It's like they're entirely blocked--we're the only ones with access to that other world." She clenched her hands. "If only I had my lasso!"
"Perhaps if we tried all at once, the three of us together," Bruce suggested. "Maybe at dinner tonight, with everyone gathered in one place. Maybe we could break through."
Clark felt his weariness fall away, replaced by resolve. "It's worth a try. All three of us together, our wills focused--there's been little we can't achieve." He rested his hands on the shoulders of each of his friends, feeling their strength and power buoying him up, supporting him. "We can do it."
: : :
Clark looked around the great hall, seeing the faces turned to him, familiar and yet strange. The people he loved, the people he had lost. The court jester and his wife were joking together, his motley raiment a match for the Elongated Man's colors. And yet one face was missing.
He was still scanning the crowd when the heavy walnut doors burst open and a young man entered the room, striding into the center. Beneath a mop of unruly black hair, blue eyes met his with a mix of sullenness and something close to entreaty. A gold hoop glittered in one ear, and he wore black leathers.
The boy stopped and sketched a bow to the King. "Your majesty," he said shortly. "My mother, the Lady Morgaine, has sent me to become a member of your court."
"You must be Mordred," Clark said to the doppelganger of Kon-El, his throat tight.
The boy nodded shortly, his face guarded and wary as if he expected to be struck down for his impudence.
"Be seated by my side," Clark said, gesturing to the chair at his left. Lancelot had been sitting there, but Bruce had quietly vacated the spot. "Sit and tell me of your journey."
There was a long, tense moment, and then Kon-El's face lit up in a hesitant, surprised smile. "Thank you, your majesty," he said.
As Clark talked with his son about the trip to Camelot, he couldn't help but wonder how Morgaine had felt when she discovered that her beloved, spoiled son Mordred had somehow morphed into Superman's young clone. It made him smile slightly, considering it. He watched Kon-El turn and say something to Percival and laugh, saw Tim's cool eyes warm slightly as they talked. His father and his son, his friends--alive. All he had to do was find some way to awaken them, and--
Perhaps it was Morgaine's doing, a vision sent by her in fury as her plans foundered. Perhaps it was something else. Something more. But there was a dazzling light in the center of the room, a burst of music past mortal ken, and a golden chalice floated in the air, held by a lovely maiden. "The Grail!" cried Gawain, Hal Jordan's voice filled with awe.
The maiden's eyes were closed, but her lips moved and all could hear her voice over the rush of celestial music. Seek the holy cup, knights. Pledge yourself to its obtainment. Glory will be yours.
"No!" cried Clark, leaping to his feet, but Gawain and Galahad and Percival had gone to their knees before the vision, pledging themselves to the quest. Clark saw Sir Ector kneeling carefully on arthritic legs and nearly jumped to keep his foster father from this vow, but the light fixed him in place. "No," he whispered, staring around the room. "Don't leave me."
There was a hand on his elbow, and Lancelot stood beside him, eyes shielded against the light, holding him up. When the vision faded away, only Lancelot, Guenevere, and Arthur were still standing as an excited babble broke out. Knights dashed around making plans, organizing groups. Galahad and Percival were drawing maps, their faces transfigured. Even Mordred looked excited.
"It can't be changed," Clark said through the hubbub as the room emptied around them, unheeding. "It will all go as it did, to the bitter end." His throat was tight as he watched Gawain clap Mordred on the back. He met Lancelot's eyes. "We can't change it."
"Maybe not," said Bruce. "Maybe not in the big ways. But we'll try to change the small things. Our own actions."
"Don't leave me," whispered Clark.
A small smile touched Bruce's mouth. "Never, my liege lord."
: : :
"You should go search for him," Clark said.
Bruce looked up from the fire. "Who?"
"Don't," Clark said. "You're worried about Dick. You know how this story goes."
Bruce sighed. "Galahad is with Percival and Bors--Tim and Jason. It's altogether likely that they'll get fighting amongst themselves so much they'll never find the Grail at all." He smiled, but it was strained.
Diana looked up from the diagram of battlements she was working on. "What happens to Galahad?"
Clark bit his lip. "Galahad, Percival and Bors find the Grail together after many adventures. Usually Lancelot is with them. Galahad is the only one of the knights deemed perfect enough to actually drink from the Grail."
"That's wonderful," Diana said warmly.
"It kills him," Bruce added, and Diana winced and looked down at her diagrams again.
"Bruce. Go find him," Clark said.
"I promised I'd help you here. We're working on a skeleton staff, just barely keeping things going--"
"--Am I going to have to pull rank and command you?" said the King. Bruce looked at him, torn. "You've been a great help, Bruce. It's made a difference. Now go."
What Bruce would have responded was lost forever as the door burst open and a knight with a distinct resemblance to Ted Kord fell into the room. "My lords, my lady," he gasped. "There is an army massing to the south. It's led by Sir Mordred. It marches on Camelot."
Clark felt ice settle in the pit of his stomach, feeling events whirling out of control around him. "Send for Merlin. We must summon the Knights home."
The knight nodded and bolted. "Why?" Clark whispered. "Why would Kon turn on me?"
Diana looked grim. "You can ask him when you meet him on the battlefield."
"Arthur's last battle," said Clark. "Against his own son. They kill each other." He took a long breath. "You and Lancelot need to go, get to safety. Guenevere ends up in a nunnery, far from the battle, safe--"
The chair crashed to the floor as Diana leapt to her feet. "You dare?" she hissed. "I am a warrior and I shall be on the field of battle by the side of my friends, and you will not gainsay me."
"I--" Clark felt at a loss for words. Behind him, Bruce chuckled and Diana glared at him as well.
"Clark, I think the phrase you're looking for is 'I'm sorry and I was wrong,'" said Bruce. "Because neither of us are leaving your side."
"I don't want to fail you too," Clark said.
"You never could," they both said in unison, then laughed as if they were sharing a joke that Clark wasn't in on.
: : :
The day of Arthur's final battle wasn't supposed to be sunny, Clark thought with an odd sense of anticlimax as he walked across the field to the parley point, Lancelot and Guenevere flanking him in their full royal armor. It should be thunderous and gloomy, ill-fated. There shouldn't be birds singing as if it were any other day.
Behind him the Knights of Camelot stood, rank on rank, eerily silent. The sound of banners snapping and the incongruous meadowlark were the only sounds.
Ahead of him the Saxon army massed, dark on the hills of Camlann. And before him stood his son, Mordred--Kon--his stance swaggering and arrogant. "Father," he called as Clark drew nearer. "I'm surprised you came."
Clark nodded to Kon. "I was hoping to talk to you," he answered, raising his voice so it echoed across the silent fields. "We don't have to do this. We don't have to be enemies, my son."
Kon's set glare flickered for a moment, and Clark could see the misery and yearning behind it. "You never called me that. Never acknowledged me. She told me I'd have to rip that recognition from you."
"She lied," Clark said, his heart aching. "I didn't...I didn't know you were my son for so long, and then it felt too late to make amends, to reach out."
"It's never too late," Diana said quietly beside him, her presence as solid as the earth.
"I...I can't believe you," Kon wavered, the sneering surety falling away to reveal a lost boy.
"You can believe him. You can believe all of us. Come home, Kon," said Bruce, his voice low but carrying.
The armored shoulders slumped as if letting go of a great weight. Kon took one step forward, then another. There was no sound but the meadowlark's liquid music.
He should have known it was going to happen, that his hopes were going to be thwarted yet again, the old legend's grip too strong to break. There was a movement in the grass--an asp, some bit of vermin--and one of the Saxon knights panicked, his sword slithering from its sheath, catching the sunlight in a flash of silver.
"'Ware treachery!" cried Hal Jordan's voice, and from behind him Clark heard the sound of a thousand blades readied, the avid rasp of metal on leather.
"No!" Diana and Bruce cried in unison, but this time Clark was silent, watching his son staring, backing away as the two armies came together in a clash of blood and chaos. Too late. Always too late.
"Draw your sword, my Lord!" cried Lancelot's voice, and he felt Diana and Bruce's back pressed against his in a defensive posture. A Saxon warrior loomed above him, axe flashing, and Clark stared at it numbly.
Two swords pierced the enemy warrior simultaneously and he fell; Diana and Bruce wrenched their blades free and fell back into a defensive stance. Diana was grinning a fierce, exultant smile, devoid of joy, and Bruce looked sickened but grim, resolute. "My Lord," he said again, his voice clear under the tumult around them.
The King nodded and drew Excalibur.
The battle broke around them like a great wave and all his hope was lost within it.
: : :
The sun was setting, bloody strips against the sky. The ground beneath Clark's feet was churned and muddy now, the grass trampled and destroyed. No birdsong now but the croaking of the crows.
His arms burned with exhaustion, his legs with weariness as he stumbled over the corpse-strewn field. Sometimes he would stop to try and arrange a friend's body in some semblance of repose, if the limbs hadn't stiffened too much already. He knelt at the sight of a familiar banner, trampled into the mud, and tried to close Kyle Rayner's eyes, staring sightlessly at the sky. They stayed stubbornly open, glaring at him accusingly. "I'm sorry," he said.
He found Bruce and Diana kneeling over Gareth's body. The helmet had been pulled off to reveal the spill of red hair tumbling over the muddy ground. Bruce was holding her cooling body close, his eyes dry and distant. "I can't find Dick," he said absently.
"Maybe he's safe," Clark said.
"Yes. Maybe." Bruce bent his head over Barbara's body again briefly, then rose. The three of them stood together and kept walking, looking for other living souls in a desolate charnel wasteland.
From a distance they saw another figure kneeling over a body with a vicious Saxon spear jutting from it; Clark recognized Kon's unruly shock of hair. He put out a hand to Bruce and Diana. "Let me deal with this. Don't interfere."
Concern pierced Bruce's disconnected gaze. "But--"
"Trust me, Bruce." He felt the smile he tried to give his friend crack his dry lips, tasted blood. "Trust me."
Kon lifted his head as Clark drew closer, tears cutting channels in the soot and blood on his face. He rose and yanked the jagged spear from Tim's body to brandish, still dripping with blood. "No closer!" he yelled, his voice breaking. "I'll kill you!"
Clark felt the truth of it in his bones and felt something else, something deep and primal, in his blood. He stepped closer, Excalibur still bare in his hand.
Kon's eyes were flat chips of pain, flint and stone. As Clark drew near he lunged forward with the spear, lashing out.
Clark didn't try to dodge.
He felt the ice-cold pain as the spear cracked through his armor, his skin, his body, heard the spear emerge from his body at the back, piercing him through. Behind him, Diana gasped and Bruce made a terrible sound. Clark wanted to call back at them not to interfere, but his mouth was full of blood now and he had to focus on Kon anyway, Kon with his eyes shocked and stunned, still holding the spear.
Clark took a step forward, feeling the spear pushing further into him, ripping. Another step closer to Kon, whose eyes were blank with panic, frozen with disbelief. Almost close enough now. He was losing blood fast, shock graying the world around him. He didn't have much time. He didn't have much strength left. To put things right. Another step. Close enough.
Excalibur clattered to the ground and Clark put his arms around his son and held him tight.
As the world faded out around him he reached out for Diana's flame of passion, Bruce's will as cold as steel, held on to them and to compassion and in that moment used them, tools to reshape the world.
Never too late.
: : :
Superman heard their footsteps behind him and turned from the Watchtower's view of Earth. "You remember too?" he asked.
Wonder Woman cast a quick look at Batman, then nodded.
"I remember you dying," Bruce ground out.
"I seem to be making a habit of it," Clark said with a small grin. Batman didn't smile. "I went to Smallville," Clark said, turning back to the window, watching the blue orb sleeping beneath them. "Pa was there. He was plowing the fields. Kon was helping him." He swallowed. "He said he had to hurry back to Titans Tower, just stopped by to help out. He said...he said he was glad to see me."
"Ralph and Sue are busy with their new detective agency. J'onn is slated for monitor duty tonight," said Batman's quiet voice behind him. "I called Atlantis. King Orin was...displeased at the interruption."
Clark laughed. "Arthur too? I wonder where he was in...all that?"
"The Lady of the Lake?" Diana suggested, her voice mischievous.
"It doesn't matter," said Bruce. "That's gone now. We're back where we belong. We all are."
A beat of silence. "I'm going to check on some other people," Diana said quietly. Her hand clasped Clark's shoulder briefly. "Welcome home," she said.
He reached up and clasped it. "You too, Diana."
In the quiet she left behind, Batman moved forward to stand next to Clark, looking down at Earth. He had drawn his cowl off, and Clark risked a quick look at his profile: more shuttered than Lancelot's, more closed, the joy subdued and controlled.
And then Bruce looked at him and Clark knew some things were the same in any world.
"Thank you," he said, and Bruce arched a quizzical brow.
"I couldn't have done it without you. Either of you."
"Mh," Bruce said. "Don't go getting yourself killed again. I'm getting tired of having to watch it."
Clark looked away from his slate-blue eyes. "I'll try to avoid boring you with my death agonies again."
Bruce's smile was enigmatic. "See that you do...my liege." His bow was slight and possibly mocking.
His eyes were not.