A hundred years had passed since Arthur’s death. Arthur watched as Merlin never failed to visit the Lake of Avalon. He appeared to spend a lot of his time by the shore of the lake. Arthur hoped that Merlin at least had a home to live out his days in. That he wasn’t living outside, the fire his only source of warmth.
Arthur dearly wished he could reach out to Merlin, tell – no – demand of him to move on with his life. To be happy, to have a fulfilling life. To come back to the site of his funeral for a hundred years was unnatural.
Even if Merlin was the most powerful sorcerer to have ever existed and blessed with immortality – although Arthur could see in Merlin’s eyes that this ‘blessing’ was more of a curse --, he was still human. To Arthur, Merlin was still Merlin. His servant and close confidante with flaws and faults like any human. And since Merlin was human, he shouldn’t be grieving this long, so lost in the past.
It hurt Arthur to see Merlin alone knowing how his heart ached for Arthur. The former King of Camelot knew this feeling well because he felt the same for Merlin. His heart ached for him, his body and soul was full of love and affection for the amiable yet infuriating man he’d grown to love and call friend. The truest friend he’d ever had.
Arthur felt like what he had said to Merlin before he’d died hadn’t been enough. His ‘thank you’ seemed inadequate, lacking, in return for Merlin’s devotion and loyalty to him. But he couldn’t think of any proper way to reward the man, the sorcerer, he owed so much to. Arthur didn’t miss the fact that he wouldn’t have lived as long as he’d had without Merlin’s vigilant watch over him.
Merlin had been the guardian angel that had helped him with the unforgettable blue ball of light that time when Arthur was stubbornly determined to save Merlin’s life – for Arthur could have never lived with himself to have Merlin die so that he might live.
All that time. All those years. Merlin had been his secret guardian angel for years and Arthur had been unaware.
Well now, Arthur would be Merlin’s guardian angel. He had to see him, advise him about what he should do. For Arthur couldn’t watch Merlin live so miserably. Merlin had had years, decades, to grieve Arthur’s loss. It was time for him to move on, to start truly living again, make the most of his immortal life.
It was Arthur’s greatest wish to see Merlin smiling again, laughing again. Even be a father because Arthur couldn’t think of a more loving man than Merlin.
He spoke to the Lady of the Lake for only she could allow him to see Merlin. Arthur knew she would understand. She cared for Merlin and she would want him to be happy.
“I can’t let Merlin be like this. I need to speak to him face-to-face,” Arthur explained to her.
“It is not your time to return, Arthur Pendragon.”
“I know.” Arthur said, bowing his head.
“But I share your concerns about Merlin. I can allow you to visit him in his dreams. If anyone can get through to him, you can.”
“Thank you, My Lady,” Arthur said solemnly.
~ * ~
Merlin could scarcely believe it. He saw Arthur alive before his eyes. Yet he looked like a ghost, pale and grey.
“Arthur…Arthur, is it truly you?” Merlin uttered in hope.
Arthur smiled, looking as happy as Merlin felt. “Yes it is,” he assured her. “You’re dreaming, Merlin. I came to tell you something.”
“What is it? What do you need to tell me?” Merlin asked, overwhelmed with emotion to see Arthur again no matter if it was in the midst of his dreams.
“My final wish for you. It has been a hundred years, Merlin. While I’m flattered at your devotion to me, I can’t let you continue to do this. Please move on with your life. I want you to be happy, to smile and laugh again. I want to see tears of happiness not of sorrow.”
“I miss you so much,” Merlin only said, sounding defeated.
“I know. I wish I can return to you now, but it’s not my time yet. I know it’s difficult for you to listen to me, Merlin…it has been one of your more enduring qualities, but if there’s one time you heed my words, let it be now. I know it won’t be easy yet know this. I would be the happiest man in Avalon if I see you happy and cheerful again. I’ve missed your smiles, Merlin. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for me. Please, Merlin. You know I don’t like to beg, but I am now. You’re still alive. You should --”
“—live a fulfilling life and not spend every waking moment anticipating your return.”
Arthur nodded. “Maybe instead every other day you can think of me,” he joked lightly.
Merlin gave him a small smile, accepting the teasing. “All right. I will try. Before…when you were dying, we didn’t get to talk properly about all I did for you and for Camelot.”
Arthur raised his hand. “There will be time for that when I return. I can only see you briefly now. You can tell me all your stories of intrigue and magic when I can leave Avalon.”
Merlin nodded, and then he bit his lip. “Can I --?” He asked tentatively.
He reached out to touch Arthur’s cheek. His fingers went through Arthur’s cold-feeling skin.
“Sorry…I can feel you though, in my own way,” Arthur was quick to reassure him. “I’m glad I’m able to see you at all.”
Merlin smiled. “Me too.”
He kissed Arthur lightly, a brush against his mouth that left Merlin feeling a cold breeze. He sighed. No matter that the two of them couldn’t touch each other as they desired, Merlin was grateful to have Arthur here with him in his dreams. If only for a brief time.
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” Arthur told him. “So I’ll just leave you with my wish for you to be happy. I’m not worth you being sad for the rest of your life. I’m not.”
“You are to me. You told me once that no man is worth your tears…but you are worth them, every single one,” Merlin said firmly. “But I will try to live my life as you wish it.”
“Merlin, if I’d known that man had been your father, I wouldn’t have said that.” Arthur said with a frown.
“How do you know now?”
“I’ve been able to meet with him during my time at Avalon. He told me.”
“How was he?”
“Hoping you would be all right. I’m sure your father would be glad that I’d be telling you to move on with your life.”
“Two against one?” Merlin mused.
“And don’t forget it,” Arthur retorted with a crooked smile. Then he started to fade away gradually, and sadly, Merlin realized his fleeting reunion with Arthur was coming to an end.
“I hate that you have to go,” Merlin uttered almost like a lost child.
“I will always be with you, Merlin. Even if you can’t see me. Just close your eyes, and you’ll feel my presence… I’m certain with your magical abilities, you can sense me. As long as you believe you can.”
“I wish you could have told me that years ago,” Merlin said to him with a sigh. “Yet I always felt you in my heart, a part of you remained inside me.”
“As you are forever in my heart,” Arthur confided in him. “I discussed you with the Lady of the Lake, and she was very agreeable to having my presence be felt by you. That you would know I was there. She and I both agreed that you have grieved for too long. Though I cannot be with you physically, there is this chance. It was the best I could do.”
“I understand. I await your return,” Merlin said with a nod.
Arthur smiled, and he could only say, “Until the next time, old friend,” before he finally disappeared back to his present home at the Isle of Avalon.
Merlin watched the space Arthur had occupied. He smiled to himself, thanking Freya in a whisper for allowing Arthur to be with him in some form as he lived out the rest of his long life.
He wished he could see Freya again to thank her in person, but Merlin didn’t doubt that Freya, his beloved Lady of the Lake, heard his words of gratitude.
~ * ~
Merlin thought he had seen all that there was in the world, but one morning changed all of that.
He encountered his first mermaid. Or, actually, a mermaid who had apparently lost her fish tail and was left with a set of legs she could barely stand up with. Of course legs were foreign to her, so it wasn’t too easy to get them cooperate.
Merlin watched her collapse on to the seashore, frustrated, her brilliant red hair spread around her head.
He just knew he had to help her because, well, she was completely naked and could use some clothing. Perhaps a dress. And she looked miserable – possibly almost as miserable as he’d been over the last century without his King.
“Er, hello,” Merlin said slowly with as friendly of a smile as he could manage. “I’m Merlin. I mean you no harm,” he was quick to reassure her when she sat up and stared at him in alarm. She looked down at herself as if to check that yes, she wasn’t wearing anything, and a man was seeing her naked. “I just want to help you,” he said kindly, keeping his distance.
The mermaid rearranged her long locks to cover her chest as best as she could.
“Some clothing would be nice,” she said almost defiantly, as if she were trying to compensate for her disorientation with her strange new circumstance. “I’ve fallen in a bad way…and I have to try to be human now,” she explained, sounding like it was the worst fate possible.
“I can help with that,” Merlin offered. He summoned his magic to create a simple but warm blue dress for her to wear.
The dress covered her body instantly, and Merlin added a dark blue cape at her back as well. He put comfortable shoes upon her feet as a final touch.
The red-headed former mermaid stood up shakily, impressed by the magical display. She looked at him. “I’ve always wanted to meet a wizard. How lucky am I! Thank you,” she praised him. “My name is Amelia,” she introduced herself.
Then she overbalanced, falling forward, as her legs continued to deceive her. Merlin was ready to catch her in his arms before she fell awkwardly.
Amelia sat down in a huff, frowning. “I can’t use my legs very well…sorry…must be silly to you. Walking is supposed to be easy, isn’t it?”
“Oh no, not at all,” Merlin assured her as he sat down beside her. “Everything takes practice. I can help you with walking.”
“I don’t want to be a nuisance,” Amelia confessed.
“No, don’t ever think that. I like helping people, and I’m glad to be of service to you,” Merlin said to her, smiling.
He knocked shoulders with her, trying to get her to smile.
She did. “Well then. I appreciate it.”
Merlin grinned at her.
~ * ~
He hadn’t expected to fall in love with Amelia. Her red hair reminded him of the red of Camelot, of the Pendragon House – comforting old memories of his past life. And that always led him back to Arthur. He was surprised that the pain of loss wasn’t as strong and deep as his thoughts settled on Arthur.
Maybe it was because he had been able to sense Arthur as he’d reassured him he would. Always a warm presence that made Merlin think of all the times Arthur had smiled, had laughed his joyful deep laugh and had just been happy.
Remembering the good times helped to ease the aching hole in his chest. Everything would be all right.
One night, with Amelia sleeping beside him, Merlin spoke quietly aloud to the empty room. He felt that Arthur was there, watching over him as Merlin had done for Arthur many years ago.
“I won’t love another in the way I love you, Arthur. You will always be my King,” he declared. “But you wanted me to be happy, and I cannot deny that Amelia makes me happy.”
He nodded to himself, glad to get that admission said. He hadn’t been expecting a response, never hearing Arthur say a word – and assuming he was not allowed to.
But this time, this glorious time, Merlin heard Arthur’s blessed voice.
“Love her, you idiot,” Arthur’s voice ordered him – ever the King, though Merlin could almost see the pleased look on Arthur’s face.
Merlin couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Prat,” he shot back at him affectionately.
Amelia stirred in her sleep. “Merlin?” She asked him, wondering. She must have heard him speak.
“It’s nothing, dear. Go back to sleep,” he assured her, kissing her softly on the lips.
She smiled, her green eyes lighting up, as he kissed her. She deepened the kiss. “You and your magical ways…” Amelia teased him.
“That’s me,” he said cheerfully.
“Hmmm…you don’t fool me,” she said before sleep claimed her.
Merlin smiled down on her, grasping her hand with his, and he fell asleep himself, still holding her hand.
Yet he didn’t miss the last thing Arthur said to him before then.
“I’m glad you found her,” he told Merlin.
“Me too,” Merlin replied back with a yawn, succumbing to sleep shortly thereafter.
~ * ~
Merlin’s first child was a girl. Amelia named her Lily. Two years later, his next child was a son, and Merlin could choose no other name but Arthur for him.
One afternoon, Merlin was watching both Lily and Arthur while Amelia was away at the market. His son was cradled in his arms while Lily was sitting nearby making headpieces out of flowers. That was when he felt Arthur’s welcome presence beside him.
“Hello,” Merlin said, smiling.
“He has your eyes,” Arthur’s voice said.
“I thought they were more close to your eyes.”
“Don’t be contradictory, Merlin. He can only have your eyes.”
“That’s why I named him after you,” continued Merlin with his explanation.
“I thought it was because he was handsome.”
“I thought being at Avalon would humble you.”
“It would have to take a lot more to humble me.”
“Yeah, you know, I’m not surprised about that revelation,” Merlin said with a roll of his eyes.
“It’s a wonder how we ever became friends,” Arthur said jokingly.
“Absolute miracle,” Merlin shot back without heat.
He heard Arthur laugh. Merlin grinned at hearing the wonderful sound.
“Fatherhood suits you, Merlin. I expect when you become a grandfather, you’ll grow a ridiculous beard.”
“Just for you, I wouldn’t dare.”
“Spoilsport,” Arthur retorted. “See you later, Grandpa,” he teased him.
Merlin felt Arthur’s presence leave him. He shook his head. Arthur the clotpole, he thought – recalling that long ago memory when he first called him that.
Lily came over to show him what she had made, and his son chose that moment to start crying, so Merlin put aside all thoughts of Arthur to focus on his children.
Hopefully soon, Merlin would get to speak to Arthur again and get his revenge for the ‘grandpa’ remark.
~ * ~
~ * ~
A blue lorry passed an old Merlin on the road as he walked down it. He knew he was walking past the Lake of Avalon as he’d done many times before. He had lost count actually.
While he was tempted to look at the Isle of Avalon and the tower situated there, he resisted. He hadn’t felt Arthur’s presence since the turn of the 19th century. He had hoped that absence meant Arthur would return soon, but to his disappointment, Arthur hadn't. One hundred years later, a time of fascinating inventions had come in the early 20th century, and Merlin had been intrigued by them -- the interest becoming a welcome distraction back then. Two world wars had come and gone, and Arthur remained in Avalon – the days when Merlin had felt his presence, heard his voice, had become an old cherished memory.
Despite the radio silence, so to speak, from Arthur; Merlin kept busy. Over the many centuries, he'd magically tracked the descendants of his and Amelia’s children and protected them from afar some of the time. Other times, he had managed to become a part of the family, becoming a close family friend, an uncle, godfather... He made up stories for who he was, and had succeeded, to his surprise, in leaving little suspicion about him and his immortality. Of course altering his appearance had helped.
Now, for the past fourteen years, he had looked after one of his descendants – his great-great-great and so on granddaughter – Merlin had long ago not bothered with the appropriate number of greats. It always made him feel ridiculously ancient, so he just kept it to one great. After his great-granddaughter’s parents had died in a terrible car accident, Merlin had taken in a two-year old Ophelia as his own. As her godfather, he’d actually been babysitting her when her parents had been killed in the accident.
So he'd adopted her and became her official guardian. As Ophelia had grown up, she'd told him about the dreams and nightmares she had. Merlin soon realized that Ophelia had the abilities of a Seer. At first, Merlin had been anxious about this development as he thought of Morgana and how she had gone mad and turned against Camelot. But Merlin knew that the solution was to help Ophelia and be honest with her as he wasn’t with Morgana.
On the wild yet earnest hope that Ophelia being a Seer meant Arthur returning soon, Merlin had even told Ophelia about Arthur. He hoped that maybe she would See him in her dreams and foretell when Arthur would return.
Ophelia was only sixteen, and Merlin knew she was still young and had years to foresee Arthur’s return. But he had waited so long to have Arthur back properly, to finally touch him as he wanted, that Merlin’s patience was beginning to wear thin.
With that unhappy thought, Merlin returned home. He removed his old man disguise enchantment, only going under the disguise when he was out in public and wanted people to leave him alone. Putting on a grim and sour face helped in getting a wide berth from others. He knew that Ophelia was not thrilled with this disguise, but she accepted it as just something he did.
Merlin couldn’t forget Arthur’s long ago comment about him growing a ridiculous beard. While Merlin didn’t think the beard of his disguise wasn’t as ridiculous as the one that Disney version of Merlin had, he still found it ironic that he still stuck with the disguise. In a small way, he hoped that going under the disguise would somehow entice Arthur to visit him. Even if he couldn’t see him as he’d been used to for all those centuries. He could almost hear Arthur’s laugh, thoroughly amused at Merlin’s disguise.
Yet even the chance to tease Merlin hadn’t gotten Arthur to see him for a little over two centuries now.
“I’m home, Ophelia,” Merlin announced as he shut the door.
Ophelia came to meet him with a very happy look on her face. “Oh Dad! It’s happened! I’ve seen Arthur! He’s at the Lake! Oh, you must go!” She told him excitedly.
Merlin stared at her for a beat as if he couldn’t realize what she had just revealed to him. But he had just passed the Lake – had Arthur come back after the Lake had been out of his sight?
“Are you sure, Ophelia?” Merlin asked.
She nodded. “Yes, yes. Now go! You’ve been waiting for so long.”
“Thank you, my dear. I – thank you. I’ll bring him back here and you can meet him,” he told her.
He embraced her, and she hugged him back. Merlin could feel how happy Ophelia was – he had told her about how much Arthur had meant to him so he wasn’t surprised that she was so pleased that he finally could see him again.
Merlin pulled away, grinning at her and feeling like a kid again. “I’ll be off now.”
“Good luck!” She wished him as he practically floated out the door in his joy.
~ * ~
Arthur was at the Lake of Avalon as Ophelia had said. He was stepping out of the Lake, clothed in the same clothes Merlin had laid him to rest in all those centuries ago.
“Arthur!” Merlin exclaimed.
He rushed up to meet him, grinning so hard it almost hurt.
“Well there you are. I’ve been hoping you’d be here,” Arthur said lightly, though he was smiling too.
Merlin pulled Arthur toward him, enveloping in a hug. It was a wonderful thing to properly feel Arthur again, to touch his skin and feel warmth, to hear him breathing and his heart beating.
Arthur returned the hug. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” Merlin told him. “And I’ve been waiting to do this for ages.”
“What?” Arthur asked.
Merlin leaned forward and kissed Arthur deeply on the lips.
Arthur responded, and then he whispered, “One of your better ideas, Merlin,” in between breaths.
After a few long moments of enthusiastic kissing, Merlin reluctantly pulled away first.
“I was wondering about something,” Merlin began, looking carefully at Arthur.
Arthur idly fixed his hair that Merlin had ruffled up in the heat of the moment. He nodded at Merlin. “Yes, what is it?”
“I hadn’t felt your presence for two centuries now. You just stopped coming without a word of warning. Was there any reason for that?”
Arthur shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think I just fell asleep…I was dead, Merlin. I guess I had to have a rest. If I’d known that would happen ahead of time, I would have told you…but it came on suddenly.”
“You had to rest for two centuries?”
“I guess so… you were all right, weren’t you? I mean, what’s two centuries with how long you’ve lived.”
Merlin shook his head in disbelief. “Right, of course. I was fine. I kept an eye on my descendants like I told you the last time I saw you. I’m taking care of one of them now after her parents died. I was made her godfather after she was born.”
“So a great-great-great-great--” Arthur was really getting into it before Merlin cut him off.
Merlin made a face. “Shut up. Great-granddaughter is good enough. Ophelia is her name.”
Arthur laughed and Merlin couldn’t help but smile. He was glad to hear Arthur happy and laughing again even if it was at his expense.
Arthur put his arm around Merlin’s shoulders. “Well come on then. I want to see where you live.”
“Wait. You can’t go around looking like that in the year 2012. Unless you fancy going to a RenFair.”
Arthur stared at him in confusion. “What in the world is a RenFair?” Arthur wondered.
“I’ll get to that later. First I should tell you what you missed in the last two hundred years.”
“Please spare me and give me the short version, Merlin,” Arthur requested.
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” Merlin said solemnly, doing an overly formal bow as he finished speaking.
Arthur took that as an opening to give him a noogie. Merlin tackled him to the ground in revenge and somehow, the world seemed to stop and all that mattered to the Once and Future King and his devoted Sorcerer was one another.
As it should be.
~ * ~