Title: So Near
Summary: WWII AU. A wounded Arthur sees an angel on the battlefield.
Word Count: 639
Prompt: #228, "second chances"
Author's Note: For whatever reason, I've had Arthur/Gwen on the brain lately, and then I watched one of my favorite 40s films this weekend, and, well, this happened.
The first time Arthur sees her, he thinks she’s an angel. The sun scorches his eyeballs to match his already crispy skin, and all he can make out is the corona she carves from the brilliance as she walks slowly through the battlefield. She has no face, no mortal beauty. Just the radiance he associates with heaven.
He passes out with a peace of mind he hasn’t known since he killed his very first German.
The second time he sees her, he changes his mind. This is no angel. The creature crouching next to his useless legs is set on burying him in the blood-soaked soil.
“Stop…” But the shout he intends comes out as barely a croak, the only moisture to help coat his throat the fresh coppery rivulets that drip onto his tongue from his split lips.
But it is enough, or maybe her hellbound hearing can catch death cries, he doesn’t know except it works. She stops, dark hands plunged into the darker dirt to scoop another layer over him, her lips frozen in mid-soliloquy.
Wide brown eyes turn to him. Her lashes are wet, and as he watches, another tear falls to follow the same hollow track its predecessors left along her ashen cheek. When their gazes lock, however, her mute surprise is a tangible breath between them, and she abandons her task to reach for his throat.
Terror fills him. So this is how death will take him, throttling the air from his starved lungs under the guise of wretched innocence.
His second cry goes unchallenged, but then he realizes she isn’t wrapping her hands around his neck. Trembling fingers touch the base of his throat, hold there without contempt, without condemnation. Grains of soil cling to his flesh as defiantly as they cling to hers. While each moment melts into the next, he refuses to exhale, waiting for the release she will either grant or take away.
She jerks away with a choked laugh and begins clawing at the sod, liberating him from hell’s clutches. Her words now become audible, but he still has no idea what she is saying. His working knowledge of French consists of three phrases, none of which will do him any good in trying to interpret the jumble that rains upon him. Does he need to know? He thinks not. It’s enough that he can rest again—
This word, he knows, and his eyes fly open just as she takes his face in both hands and holds him still. A flurry erupts from her mouth, but when he tries to shake his head, she swears under her breath—okay, so maybe he knows four French phrases—and releases one hand to place her fingers above and below his left eye, widening it farther.
“Stay awake?” he asks. “You want me to stay awake?
She repeats the gesture, then does it to her own eye, and he has no doubt this is what she means.
“Stay awake,” he repeats, this time with more certainty.
“Stay…awake.” Her heavy accent shapes the syllables into new forms, nearly unrecognizable, but her touch is warm, her gaze fervent, enough to make him believe again that perhaps she has been sent from God.
She lingers, reluctant to release him, and though his eyes burn, he obeys. If he dies, it will be with her image etched indelibly onto his soul, unforgettable in its simple solemnity of these necessary seconds. Though dirt and dust stain her skin, they cannot distort what lies beneath, the soft chin she keeps tucked into the open collar of her dark blouse, the full lips that prompt both carnal and spiritual responses, the round cheeks and wide forehead nearly hidden by the fall of her dark brown hair.
He still thinks she’s beautiful, even more so for being real.