Sunday, May 16th 1204
For Jared, the coronation day begins in the morning twilight and not under the best of auspices: he dreams of Brown Haired Girl – both the most frequent and the worst of his ghosts.
He opens his eyes to nothing but complete darkness and for a long, horrible moment he can’t tell where he is, if he still dreams or is awake.
Little by litte, as his heart slow down from its mad race and his eyes get used to a light that is more shades than brightness, his mind begins to clear.
It should be pleasant sensation – it used to be pleasant, back when his nightmares where only the products of his imagination and his brother’s stories, back when morning would actually make everything better instead of reminding him that it was real, it was his doing and there is nothing in the world that will ever make it better.
And today is the culmination of all their actions and he will have to be there.
Jared knows he has no right to complain. He knows it could be worse – Count Baldwin is a good, honourable man, he will be a just king. The thought of the coronation still makes his stomach clench.
And in a few hours, he will be in that wretched tournament and do his part in the celebrations like a conscientious trained dog.
Jared has stopped fooling himself. While Lord Kripke had made an announcement more than a request, he could have refused the honour – but not without unpleasant consequences. And deep down, he’s still a trained dog.
It’s a bleak realization, but no less true: he simply does not know what to do with his life.
Giving up any hope for sleep with a sigh, the knight sits up and carefully moves to leave his bedding.
There’s a rustling of cloth in the dark, then a voice. “Jared?” Jensen is only a shadow among shadows, but he’s right in front of him. “It’s still early. You should rest.”
“I just...can’t sleep anymore.”
“Oh.” A slight pause. “Is there anything you want?”
Jared can’t help but smile at the young man’s question and be glad that all the sadness his smile holds will remain hidden. “Nothing. I am just going to drink a...no, don’t get up.”
Too late: Jensen is already moving across the tent with the ease of a cat. Before Jared can protest again, he is offered a half-full tumbler: at this point, he can only accept it. Jensen’s warm fingers brush lightly against his own, sending a small shiver down his spine. “Thank you.”
A companionable silence falls as Jared sips his wine and studies the shape of Jensen’s profile.
“Be careful,” the younger man suddenly says. “I couldn’t water it down.”
“It’s fine. I think I will need more unwatered drinks before today is over.” He narrows his eyes, still studying him. “Don’t you need one, too?”
Jensen shrugs. “What for?”
“You know. Today. I...it can’t be easy for you.”
“I wouldn’t know. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a crowning before.” There’s something in his voice, no matter how casual he tries to sound.
Jared swallows hard. “Jensen...” It’s been a while since he used his name outside the comfort of his own mind, but it still rolls easily off his tongue. “You don’t have to come. So many people will be there, nobody will notice.”
Jensen doesn’t answer.
“I am perfectly serious, you know. I will think of something. Some errand..:”
The younger man shakes his head. “Everyone will be there and so, I must be there too. The boys would certainly notice – and you can be sure anything they see goes back to their masters. Besides, I can’t let you be the only knight without a squire.” His last sentence is somewhat lighter, an attempt at teasing.
Jared finds himsel grinning and teasing right back. “It seems that my own squire is wiser than me. No, you certainly cannot leave me to go alone.”
“Oh, I really couldn’t. They’d eat you alive, you know,” he nods with mock seriousness, then laughs softly.
If Jared could stop time and make a single moment stretch forever, he’d do it right now, with the two of them laughing like the carefree boys they have never been.
Unfortunately, the sun stops his journey for no mortal: the light is growing stronger with every passing minute, chasing away the shadows and with them, this fleeting moment of closeness.
As Jensen raises to begin a new day, Jared gently grabs his arm and pushes the still half-full tumbler in his hands. “Here. I still think you need it.”
Jensen doesn’t say anything as he raises the tumbler to his lips, yet, in spite of the shadows, Jared is certain he saw him smile.
By mid-afternoon, Jared has had enough.
He doesn’t care for anything else, not even how well he did in the solo combats: perhaps it’s the lack of sleep catching up with him, perhaps it’s the heat, but he just wants the day to be over. Just one more thing, and it will be over.
His squire leans in to adjust the cloth over his armour identifying him as a member of the green team and whispers, “Are you sure you can’t avoid this?”
“Yes, I am.” he snaps. “Are you sure you have the spare lances?”
Jensen can’t do anything as forward as glaring at him, but his voice still holds a note of sarcasm. “Yes, sir. Checked twice, sir.”
Jared closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, trying to focus on the task ahead. When he opens them again, he finds himself looking at the real Jensen instead of the usual mask. “Is there anything you need?”
A kiss for luck. “No. No, thank you.”
The younger man nods in understanding and Jared looks away as the masquerade comes back.
“Jared!” Geoffrey calls, moving toward them through the crowd of horses, knights and squires. Jensen immediately turns away and busies himself with checking the lances for the third time.
“Geoffrey! I thought you on the stands already.”
“Not without wishing you the best of luck, my friend. I’m certain you will do well.”
Jared forced himself to smile. “Thank you, Geoffrey. I shall do my best not to disappoint.”
“You need not worry about disappointments. Well, I shall go find a seat now. God be with you.”
“And with you,” Jared answers even as the older man disappears into the crowd.
After that, there’s no more time for talking: their captain is yelling at them already and all the knights scramble to get in the saddle.
Following sir James, they ride out on the field among the deafening cheering of the crowd and line up on their side of their field.
A couple of knights subtly turn to check their squires’ position between thin embanked line and the stands, but Jared keeps his eyes on the rival team: he knows Jensen will be where they agreed.
Sir James gives the order: one by one, the green knights level their lances.
For an endless moment, nothing else moves: there are just two lines of riders facing each other, holding back their restless mounts, and then…
Then the bugle calls raises high in the air before drowning in cheers, war cries and thundering hooves.
Jared barely hears any of it as he spurs his horse right into the Yellow line and hangs on tightly.
Somehow, he manages to pass between count Ventimiglia and sir Murray without being unseated and turn his horse around at acceptable speed.
The dust from the first charge hasn’t settled yet, but the other riders are already charging at each other and choosing adversaries.
The game has begun.
Jared grits his teeth and spurs his horse into the fray, all feelings and thoughts forgotten except one: this time, he must not kill.
A dull, throbbing pain cuts through the darkness. His eyes flutter open only to find light and shadows dancing across a canvas roof instead of the sky. His lungs fill with warm, stuffy air marred by the sharp tang of blood.
He frowns, trying to think through the haze surrounding his mind. He remembers his lance breaking and riding back toward their base to get a replacement with count Ventimiglia at his heels, remembers engaging him and then...nothing at all.
“Jared? Are you awake?”
It’s barely a whisper, as if the speaker knew exactly how much his head hurts. Jared carefully turns his head, wincing a little when the light from a candle hits his eyes. “Jensen...” His voice sounds like rusted nails.
“Thank God...here, drink this,” Jensen says, helping him up and offering him some sort of honey-sweetened herbal tea, which doesn’t do much for his head but works wonders on his parched throat.
As he drinks, Jared’s eyes grow accustomed to the light – later, he’ll tell himself he was staring at Jensen simply because he was nearby.
Still, even in the flickering light he can see that his squire looks pale and weary – but relieved, too, as if a great weight had just been lifted from his shoulders.
“What happened?” Jared asks as he lays back down on the cot.
“You don’t remember?”
Jared tries to shake his head, but stops immediately. “Nothing.”
Jensen looks away and hesitates before answering. “A yellow knight tried to intervene in your fight and knocked into your horse. You fell.” Jensen’s voice is filled with emotion, but Jared refuses to identify it. “We are in the infirmary, now.”
Jared closes his eyes as a single memory hits him – the blurry figure of a physician bending over him, Jensen standing a few feet back, staring worriedly at him as he crosses himself and...something else, a shapeless figure right out the corner of his eye.
Probably just a shadow. He reasons, pretending not to notice that Jensen is the thing he remembers best.
“How long has it been?” he asks instead.
Jensen shakes his head. “I...I’m not sure. Even if...I suppose it’s Monday morning by now.”
“Monday...” Jared repeats, shocked.
“Yes, but very early,” the younger man adds in a rush, blushing a little.
“Oh. Have you slept at all?”
“Somebody had to keep an eye on you,” he replies, his voice carefully neutral.
“I’m awake now. You could sleep.” Jared suggests kindly.
For a moment, Jensen seem to consider this. “No, it’s fine. It’s better if you stay awake – I’ll just keep you company.”
Jared opens his eyes, resolutely meeting Jensen’s gaze. “I will be fine. You don’t have to stay awake.”
Jensen’s fingers toy with the frayed end of his blanket. “It’s fine. I want to.”
His face looks suddenly warm.