“What are you doing here?” Arthur growls and prides himself for feeling only a little bit smug when the idiot jumps, startled. The Immortal whirls around and Arthur feels dread pool low in his stomach. He is beautiful, all long limbs and sharp lines and those cheekbones and Arthur can hear his heartbeat singing to him, so very out of place in the silence of his realm.
“Ah, I… I’m admiring the view?” The Immortal offers, holding his hands up as if he wasn’t just about to poke those hands through the Veil behind him. “Lovely place you’ve got here, Mr…?”
“Lord Death,” Arthur intones.
“Yes, yes, of course. Lord Death.” The idiot must have a death wish because he holds out a hand. “I’m…”
“You’re an Immortal,” Arthur growls. “You’re not supposed to be here.” He raises an eyebrow when the hand does not drop.
“Ah yes. About that, you see I was not really planning on visiting but then a student of mine, Mordred, bright fellow, very inquisitive though, which is good I always say, so he had this question about travel between realms, purely hypothetical of course, well for him at least, and it got me thinking, and there were assignments to grade and I really really don’t want to do those, and it was such a nice day so I ended up taking a walk and got lost and ended up here?”
Arthur blinks at the onslaught of words. He levels the intruder with his scariest ‘I am Death’ glare. “You’re not supposed to be here. Leave.” He turns around, satisfied that he’s got the message through and then there’s a hand on his shoulder and there really shouldn’t be a hand on his shoulder and he’s turning with a snarl. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yells, because he might not like the idiot bumbling around in his realm but that doesn’t mean he wants that bright life force that surrounds him to be wrenched from his body and that steady heartbeat to stutter to a stop. He might be trespassing, but Arthur doesn’t want him dead.
He’s not dead though. He just stares at Arthur, hands up in the air, eyes big and imploring, and Arthur is stunned. “You’re not dead?”
“No?” the idiot is looking at him with a confused frown now. “I’m sorry?”
“But you… you touched me.”
“Oh,” and he grins. “Immortality perks I guess. Sorry about that.”
Arthur is… he doesn’t know what he feels right now. He supposes that if he had a heart it would be hammering in his chest but he doesn’t so all he feels is a little flustered and very lost. His face must be showing his confusion because the Immortal gives him a reassuring smile and holds out his hand again. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s try this again. I’m Merlin. And you’re Lord Death. Should I call you my lord, or your highness, or just Lord D, no scratch that, that last one sounds wrong.”
“Arthur,” Arthur offers distractedly, his attention focussed on the hand in front of him. He looks at the Immortal – Merlin – and he’s nodding encouragingly, and so Arthur slowly brings his hand up. He gasps when their skin makes contact and there’s a tingling feeling that he can feel down to his toes as he feels the life force envelop their joined hands and he just stares at the sight in amazement.
“You’ve got a beautiful smile.” Arthur wrenches his eyes away from their hands and looks at the Immortal – Merlin – sharply. “Aaand I ruined it. Not that I don’t like the scowl too. It’s very um… Lord-like I suppose.”
Arthur snorts, surprised. “You’re an idiot, Merlin.”
Merlin grins and nods, unfazed. “Nice to meet you too, your highness.”
Arthur wants to smack that cheeky grin from that idiotic face just as much as he wants to lean in and trace his fingers along that sharp jaw and he can if he wanted to and that’s… that has never happened before. No one has ever survived Arthur’s touch. And this really shouldn’t be possible, it’s not possible and… shit. Arthur snatches his hand away, fingers tingling at the loss of the warm touch. He stumbles back and Merlin has a look on his face as if he’s almost hurt and Arthur wants to kill him. He thinks with a sickening feeling that he just might have.
“You Idiot! Just because you didn’t die as soon as you touched me doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t if you keep doing it!” he’s yelling and hating himself for suddenly wanting something that he had never thought about, that he had never thought was possible. But Merlin just looks at him and he smiles and it’s just so sad and broken that Arthur hates himself even more for wanting to wipe that look from his face… He tears his eyes away from Merlin’s face and closes his eyes, willing himself to behave, and he’s not sure what is wrong with him because there’s a prickly feeling in his eyes.
He jerks back in surprise and opens his eyes. Merlin has moved closer and his thumb is on Arthur’s cheek and he’s… he’s wiping away tears, because Arthur is crying and Arthur doesn’t know what is happening anymore. He is surrounded by Merlin’s presence and his life force thrums all around, his vibrant heartbeat singing in harmony with the pulsing brightness around him and Arthur has never felt warmer and safer. There’s a low broken sound that Arthur realizes is coming from him but there is a warm hand that’s cupping his face and he doesn’t have it in him to pull away.
“Please, please don’t,” Arthur whispers, looking into blue eyes so old and wise and out of place suddenly on such a lovely face and he wishes desperately that he wouldn’t listen.
“Shh, it’s alright,” Merlin is whispering back. “It’s okay.” It’s really not okay, and Merlin doesn’t understand. Arthur is death. Anyone he touches dies. And he doesn’t want to kill Merlin, he doesn’t want that, please. And Arthur must have been pleading out loud because Merlin is murmuring softly, his breath on Arthur’s face as he leans in and touches his forehead to Arthur’s, “Shh, I’m not dying. You’re not killing me. I can’t die.”
Arthur is getting very familiar with simultaneously wanting to kiss Merlin and hit him too because he just groans. There’s no way Merlin could know that for sure. And he must be talking out loud again for Merlin gives him a soft smile again and pulls back a little so he is looking Arthur in the eyes. He doesn’t move his hand from Arthur’s cheek though, as if he knows just how much Arthur doesn’t want to lose that warm connection to a living being and that look is back in his eyes, that tired look that speaks of centuries of loneliness and loss, that look that Arthur is so achingly familiar with. “Arthur. I’ve lived for far far too long. If you do end up killing me, I would be glad.”
The weight of those words is lessened by the blinding grin that Merlin gives him as he suddenly moves away. Arthur whimpers when the hand on his cheek disappears, but Merlin is taking Arthur’s hand in his and pulling him towards the Veil. “Now, how about you act like a proper host and show me around?” he says, all smiles and dimples and Arthur is reeling at the sudden shift in his manner. He wonders absently if it is possible for him to fall in love and if this is what it feels like.
“How does this work? I walked in through it obviously, but does that mean that my body is lying in the Tesco parking lot, or am I actually here? Is it like a door or more like a portal?”
The Veil is fascinating Arthur supposes, it’s like a heavy mist of silver, appearing like an almost solid wall that stretches on for as far as the eye can see and Merlin is staring at it captivated. Arthur however cannot bring himself to look away from Merlin’s face, their joined hands a strange and new weight between them.
Merlin looks at him when he doesn’t reply and he’s smirking, eyes alight with mischief. Arthur doesn’t know why his face suddenly feels hot and he curses at the idiot. Arthur does not blush.
He clears his throat, giving the idiot a half-hearted glare. “You really should be leaving you know.”
Merlin must realize how much he doesn’t mean it because he just rolls his eyes at him. “Yes well, I’m not. Now, are you going to stand there trying to look all frightening or are you going to show me around?”
Arthur tries not to, he really does, but his face is softening in a smile and the idiot flashes him a grin before gesturing at the Veil again.
“It’s a gateway to the mortal dimension. And usually no one comes through in corporeal form, you’re… you’re the first to do that,” Arthur explains.
Merlin beams like he’s done something magical and impossible, which Arthur supposes he has. “So I didn’t leave a body for some poor underpaid kid to find? Good, that’s good. What do other people come through as though? Is it their souls? What do they look like? Why can’t I see them?”
Arthur can’t help himself, he’s fully grinning now, charmed by the overexcited barrage of questions. “I closed off this part of the Veil when I felt you enter. I wasn’t sure what was coming through. Usually yes, it’s a soul, or much more the life force that comes through when someone dies.” And Arthur doesn’t know how much time he has with this impossible man who’s latching onto his every word, leaning towards him slightly even as his eyes remain fixed at the Veil, but he does know that he doesn’t want to let go of him yet. So he squeezes the hand that is still holding his and Merlin looks at him eyebrows raised. “I could show you if you like?” Arthur offers, suddenly bashful.
Merlin’s smile becomes impossibly wide. “I would love that,” he says and there’s a strange feeling that unfurls deep within Arthur spreading throughout his body, warming him from the inside. He supposes this is what it must feel like to feel happy.