Sometimes, Dean Winchester needs a break.
And by his definition, a "break" usually means a hot blonde bartender serving him copious amounts of alcohol. Which is exactly what's happening on this particular chilly autumn night.
He's left his brother Sam asleep back at Briggs Motel, and hopes he doesn't receive a worried text message from him within the hour. Dean needs this time, between solving odd cases and listening to cryptic messages from heaven and hell and averting apocalypses. He needs this time to think, and, well . . . drink.
He sighs, asks the busty bar girl to pour him another. He thinks of his brother. Of Hell. Of demons and angels and the fine line between them. And he thinks of fate.
Then he hears a low groan beside him as it interrupts the dark musings of his mind, and tilts his head to see a man, maybe Dean's own age or a bit younger, hunched over a shot glass. His eyes are closed and he looks like he'll either vomit or start crying. Possibly both.
Poor bastard, Dean thinks, taking a swig of whiskey. For some reason, though, he can't take his eyes off the guy. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly special about him, per se. He looks about Dean's height, blonde, was probably a jock in high school. And he's miserable, like everyone else in the world seems to be.
But there's something different about him. Dean quickly looks away, though, because he's about to cross the line between looking relatively concerned and looking genuinely creepy.
And then it becomes an awkward staring contest, for Dean, out of the corner of his eye, sees a pair of blue peering at him. Finally, he looks over and meets them, saying, "Uh. 'Sup?"
"Sorry, erm." Dean's eyebrows lift a bit, for he hears, what is it---an English accent, on the guy? "Just caught you looking, is all. Is there something you . . . " He trails off, narrowing his eyes, looking a bit annoyed.
"Oh, whoa. Heh. Don't take it the wrong way, man. I was just, uh." Dean sniffs, staring down at the polished wooden table, studying its creases. "You look all . . . troubled."
"Well, so do you." The man sighs, and Dean figures, what the hell. It's not as if he has much else to do tonight. And the guy looks like he could use someone to talk to.
So he says, "So. What's your horror story?" Translation: What the hell is some prim-and-proper guy like you doing at a sketchy bar in the Middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts?
The guy laughs a little, without humor. "I wish I could tell you. That's just it. I've no idea." He runs a hand through his hair, meeting Dean's eyes again. "Have you ever . . . been told something that changes your idea of who you are, completely? Like, you've suddenly got this great big . . . I don't know, destiny ahead of you, and all this responsibility that you always sort of knew was there all along, but you didn't want to acknowledge?"
For a moment, Dean just smiles bitterly. "Man," he says, "You have no idea."
The man looks a bit skeptical at Dean's knowing look, and says, "What's your name, mate?"
"Dean." The hunter extends his hand. "Dean Winchester." He adds, out of politeness, "You?"
The man shakes his hand firmly, and Dean pulls away to take another sip of his drink. "Arthur Pendragon."
Dean nearly chokes on the liquid running down his throat, sputtering. With a half chuckle, he clears his throat and says, "You're kidding."
" . . . No." Arthur's expression tells Dean he doesn't find any of this very funny, and the hunter falls quiet. Maybe it's just a coincidence, he thinks. Or maybe this guy has had a few too many.
But then curiosity gets the best of him, and he says, "Destiny really is a bitch, innit?"
"Yeah." Arthur rubs his eyes tiredly. "I mean, I've spent the last 20 years of my life just . . . y'know, living it. And suddenly I've been told I'm meant to be someone else entirely. Have to 'prepare myself to be a leader' and 'awaken my power within'." His tone is mocking, and he rolls his eyes.
Dean is starting to think Arthur is just very drunk with a magical thinking complex, when the latter man's phone starts buzzing. "Dammit," he says, staring at the tiny device as it rings, "That's Merlin. Still wondering where I am."
"M-Merlin?" Dean likes to think not much surprises him these days. But suddenly he's thinking of Sam's geeky knowledge about folklore, about ancient British tales of magic and knights in shining armor saving hot chicks in medieval dresses, King Arthur leading their way. And then he starts thinking of reincarnation, and his brain starts to hurt and he tries to keep from twisting his face up in confusion.
Arthur, meanwhile, is nodding like 'Merlin' is the most typical name in the world, not the name of a famous mythical wizard or anything. "Yeah. He's my best friend. He's been . . . guiding me through all this. But when I realized what was ahead of me, I needed to get away from it all for a little while, you know?"
"Yeah. I know," says Dean, and he really, really does, because it's what he's doing right now.
"I mean." Arthur tips the shot glass back til he's finished the last drop. "I'm not running away. I just need to clear my head. I don't know how to be a leader, but according to Merlin, people expect me to be like . . . like . . . "
"A king?" Dean finishes, unable to help himself.
Arthur chuckles. "I guess so. It's a long, complicated story, mate. Anyway . . . a part of me sometimes wants to just forget all of it."
"And say 'screw you' to destiny? I hear you," Dean mutters, rubbing a thumb along the glass in his hand, "But that's the thing, man. You can't escape destiny. That's not how it works. And no matter how hard you try to make things simpler, you can't. Fate's got it all planned out for you, and you got no choice but to follow it through."
Arthur leans forward, blue eyes studying the hunter carefully. "You sound like you know a lot about these things."
"That's 'cause I do," is Dean's simple reply.
"So." Arthur takes a deep breath. "Any advice, then?"
He looks so young, and ordinary, Dean thinks--certainly not like the stories he's heard about the supposed King awaking from his eternal slumber when he's most needed. And yet there is that same feeling Dean had when he first saw the guy--there is promise. So he decides to be honest: "You're gonna have a lot on your plate, man. And people are going to expect a lot from you. Don't expect anything back. Keep your head up, stay true to yourself, because in the long run . . . " He pauses, and shrugs. " . . . In the long run, no matter how hard it gets, destiny's put you here to make your mark. A good one, I guess. So it's kinda worth it."
Arthur nods. "Thanks," he says sincerely.
"Yeah. Sure," says Dean, a bit awkwardly. He's never been one to give the best advice, and he wonders if what he said helped the kid at all.
Sure enough, he watches as Arthur fumbles to throw some money on the table. "I think . . . I think I'm gonna go back. I have to."
"Good. You, uh, do that," Dean says with a small smile.
In a bold gesture, Arthur puts a hand on Dean's shoulder as he starts to head off. "I hope everything works out with your big destiny, whatever it is," he says.
"Yeah, um." Dean chuckles. "Thanks."
Arthur starts to jog off, and Dean, in spite of himself, calls out: "Hey, man?"
"Round tables." Dean nods very seriously. "They, uh. They're a cool shape. Keep a look out for 'em."
Arthur gives him a strange look before heading out the door and away from an admittedly very amused Dean. And the hunter realizes as King Arthur went to face his destiny, that maybe it's time that he should, too. So he pays for his drinks, heads out into the brisk air, and drives back to his brother.
Because maybe the advice he'd given Arthur rang truer than he'd thought, he thinks as he quietly unlocks the motel room door.
"Dean?" Sam pipes up in the darkness, voice covered in sleep as he sits up abruptly in his creaky bed, "Where've you been?"
Dean shrugs, heading past what he knows is Sam's confused expression toward the bathroom. He stares at his reflection in the dusty mirror, a half smile just managing to tug at the corner of his mouth. Maybe it would all be worth it in the end. It's his job to find out, isn't it?
"Oh, you know," he replies, "The usual. Had drinks with King Arthur."