A/N: So I've finally done it. Started in 'Your Heart Greater Than Mine' and continued in "A Merlin For The Hunt' I present to you the startling conclusion, 'Song Of Albion'.
That night, in the face of everything that had happened and everything that is to come on the morrow, Arthur visits his old friend.
Merlin's light pulses subtly in greeting. Gaius says it's naught but wishful thinking, nevertheless Arthur is sure that the swirling blue orb is more than just a projection of light and magic. After all that they've been through, he is certain that it is a projection of Merlin. His soul perhaps or whatever part of him prevents his waking in its absence. The physician says it's not possible. Arthur can't see any other possibility.
Why else the flash of blue hovering in hidden corners of the castle; a light that disappears when the one observed looks for it? What else explains everything else? The Great Dragon willingly helping a Pendragon or the countless sorcerers and assassins, kings and bandits who died in mysterious ways – cracked skulls, internal bleeding, their own weapons – when daring to attack Camelot?
Certain things even he could not explain. His recovery from the incurable bite of the Questing Beast for example. Why Morgana had disappeared from their lives leaving only a strange apology no one had been able to decipher. Or how Balinor had refused all rewards in return for his help up until he'd set eyes on the light that had stubbornly followed Arthur out of Camelot.
No. Arthur cannot imagine a thread that weaves the last seven years together as well as Merlin's light.
He ruffles his friend's hair in an unconscious gesture of gratitude. What is he doing here anyways? Tonight of all nights? Tomorrow everything will change and once again Merlin will not be there to see it. So why visit him now?
Arthur frowns at himself and at the unwelcome brittleness in his vision of the man before him. Lately Merlin, already skinny, had been losing even more weight.
"He's not responding to my tinctures anymore."
"He has to!"
Ever since his Father had succumb to his illness, Merlin had been fading as well. And that is precisely why you are here, Arthur Pendragon. As soon as the thought surfaces he cannot deny it. He couldn't stand to lose two of the dearest people in his life in such a short time span. He refuses. And so…
"You've held out this long Merlin. Surly you won't give up now."
The light blinks and then swells excitedly. Arthur's lips twirk upwards in a bemused smile.
"Finished your rounds? All's well eh?"
Merlin doesn't respond. He never really does, but Arthur can almost hear his cheery complaints.
"Do you know how much I do for you? Every day. Do you even know how many times I've saved your life? I've lost count. And it's still 'Do this Merlin. Do that Merlin. Keep an eye on everybody for me, would you Merlin? Oh and I expect the stables to be spotless Merlin.' Yes Sir. Yes Sire. Right away you Prat. Always the same!"
And so on. That is how it would go, right? The conjured memories bring a smile to his face, but at times Arthur wonders if he's still remembering the real Merlin, or if time and memory have faded the laugh, changed the grin, numbed the actuality of it all. Would Merlin really use that particular tone to teasingly scold Arthur? Hadn't his smile been brighter? Was Arthur missing something when he tried to remember the way their banter had flown?"
"There's something about you…"
Was he forgetting? After all seven years is a long time. Time enough to forget details and exactitudes.
"Are you still up there Sire? It will be a big day tomorrow. You should get to your rest."
Lantern-light flickers over the staircase and spills into the room, casting Arthur's shadow over the sleeping servant.
"I suppose this is goodnight then Merlin? I expect to see you tomorrow of course. Don't be lazy."
The heir to the throne rises from his beside chair and nods firmly in the warlock's direction. It doesn't matter that Merlin can't see the gesture, that he's probably not able to hear the words or catch their real meaning. Arthur still says the same thing every time.
"I need a servant I can trust. So wake up soon, will you?"
/ I'll always be your servant. Till the day you die. /
The words swim upwards through his mind till they breach the surface and send a tremor down his spine. They are words that he has never heard spoke aloud before but they echo in his memory as only one of many such thoughts that had sprung unbidden to his mind when he needed them most.
He crosses the courtyard and slips up the east tower he's promised – if to no one but himself – to gift to Merlin. He's not sure if he means the gesture as bribery to wake the warlock or thanks to make him smile. Perhaps it is a promise to himself. Merlin will wake. He will let Arthur give him a tower. He will listen to Arthur when Arthur orders the servant not to lock himself up in there for days on end. Well… Maybe not the last. But if Merlin ever tries such a thing, Arthur will scale the walls themselves to drag him out.
At the very top of the flat topped spire the stars in the night sky seem to reach down and engulf him. He loses his worries in their slow waltz and smiles despite himself when he is woken the next morning by frantic voices searching for their presumptive king.
The rest of the morning passes in a blur. He's being dragged away by a servant whose face he can't quite focus on and then there's hot water and fine cloth and a heavy weight on his shoulders. The select court to bear witness to the crowning turning to him as one as he enters the throne room. The steady murmur of Geoffrey's oaths, and his quite affirmatives. I do. I will. I am. And then the marriage between leader and land and people is complete and a heavy circuit of gold is resting on his brow and all he can think of is a falcon soaring freely over the land yet still returning to his glove and a young idiot who could have gone anywhere but did the same.
"It is time Merlin, for you to be free."
His quite surety carries him as far as the balcony. There, faced with hundreds of upturned eyes he halts. The people- his people are ecstatic. Anyone can see that. A blind man over in the next kingdom could see that. Shouts, laughter and even breathless, joyful sobs reach up to his ears. This is it.
"People of Camelot! …"
Later he will not remember his promises of confidence and strength, fairness and love for the people of his realm. But the last promise is one seven years in the making. A promise, not to his people, but to his friend.
"And because I am not the king my father was, I make you one more promise. Magic is not the terror he would have lead us to believe. I have seen this with my own eyes time and time again. From this day on, for as long as I am King, there will be magic in the heart of Camelot."
The cheers subside into silence. As the words echo around the courtyard the air brightens, an expectant hush falls upon the world and a murmur like the receding tide rises from the gathered people.
Arthur ignores it all. He is already moving , rushing as slowly as he can manage while checking his sudden sense of urgency.
He lurches through the physician's room, up the stairs and flings open the door hiding the room of secrets.
The name slips from his lips and the gaunt young man meets his gaze in surprise.
His voice is raspy with disuse. Arthur can hardly trust his ears. After all this time…
"You do realize there's a crown on your head yes? Uther-"
Arthur throws back his head and laughs.
The servant cocks his head, unable to share in his friend's obvious, if inexplicable joy. "Is this just another dream? Or has something happened to you? Surely you aren't acting so un-Arthurish over me sleeping in…"
The newly crowned King gapes, again laughs aloud for the sheer wonder of it all and then asks a question to stall sorting out all the answers that must be given even if they have no clear head nor tail, beginning nor end.
Merlin's mouth twitches as if fighting to decide between a smile and a frown.
"The most vivid dreams. They felt almost… real…" Merlin trails off in contemplation. "And you were in all of them."
Arthur recalls blue lights and mysterious shields, magical creatures and bouts of wisdom he'd sworn came not from himself. Merlin's magic, his light, had been his constant companion. Had Merlin been there too? Could he hope?
"Tell me about these dreams."
And if Gaius appears in the doorway with a soothing tea followed by Guinevere, a trio of commoner knights, and behind them all a slim black haired witch hovering uncertainty just beyond eyesight, neither man notices.
Arthur basks in the truth that Merlin is home at last, talking and laughing and living and finally, finally, finally awake. For the first time in seven years the man who'd risked everything for him on the faith that Arthur would be a good man smiles freely, no longer frozen. For the first time since his thin frame had failed to wake up that same frame is shifting, gesturing, always moving. For the first time since he can truly remember Arthur can breathe free.
And Merlin? As he tells his story, the words fall into place. Not as half remembered dreams but as half lived memories. In the telling his bemusement at Arthur's interest matures into a quite gladness. Somehow he hadn't failed. Somehow Nimueh had not been the end. Arthur – King Arthur – had risen from the ashes of his father's grief. The Golden Age was heralded in the rising sun. And though he'd somehow slept through most of it he'd still been there every step of the way.
"-and right before I woke up you were standing on the balcony. I couldn't hear your words but everyone was so happy. I felt like something was happening. Something beyond any of us. Something great…. Then I woke up. So much for all that."
Merlin grins at his mild humor and Arthur can only hope that he'll never stop.
"You know Merlin. Quite a lot has happened since you decided to take your little nap." There. That's how he would refer to it. A nap. Just Merlin being his lazy self. A nap. "And there's something you should know."
The watchers hold their breaths. Merlin merely grins wider in confusion. "Yes?"
Arthur pauses. The little memories of wisdom floating through his head remind him of something.
/ But you must learn to listen as well as you fight./
Yes. Well he'd listened. He'd listened patiently for far too long. He'd begun to doubt himself. But he'd remembered the real Merlin all along and it is with this certainty he smiles sweetly as he opens his mouth.
"Yes. I've upgraded your position. Think of it as a reward."
Merlin looks edgy, but it's not a nervousness sprung from danger. Rather it's his friend rightfully wondering about the 'honor' of his 'reward'.
"You'll be moving quarters of course. I'm sure you'll miss cleaning the stables, but don't worry. I've placed you in charge of cleaning up the entire armory."
Merlin's growing horror nearly makes Arthur lose his composure.
"Your presence will be mandatory during all foreign affairs. And of course I'll expect you at every council meeting…"
At last the King cannot stand the suspense any longer.
"After all, I'd rather not do without the advice of my Court Warlock."
Merlin falls silent. Arthur holds his breath as shock and fear are swallowed up by joy and confusion. Finally understanding blossoms over his elfin face.
"You knew. All this time. How many years has it been? All this time you've known."
And though he'd sworn he wouldn't ruin this reunion by mentioning the past, Arthur is certain that Merlin needs to hear this now.
"Ever since you didn't wake up."
"And you- You've kept the secret."
"Ever since. For seven years."
Merlin leans back, overwhelmed. He can feel the weakness in his muscles and the pallor in his skin. His throat scratches terribly despite Gaius' tea. Seven years. He'd been lying in this bed for seven years. Arthur had known about his magic for seven years. Had protected it. He'd been asleep for seven years and he still feels exhausted. The thoughts chase each other round and round in his mind. Seven years. Seven years. He closes his eyes.
Arthur jumps forward, instantly frantic and Merlin's eyelids flutter open again in response.
Arthur sighs in mockery of himself. Of course Merlin would be tired. Not much strength? Of course. Because he'd barely eaten in almost a week and because he'd just woken up from a coma for the first time in years. Exhaustion is normal. Arthur reassures himself thusly and then kneels, taking one of Merlin's long hands in one of his own and slipping his other hand across the pale forehead to sweep the hair out of the other's eyes.
"Don't sleep for too long. You wouldn't believe how far behind you are on your chores."
A sleepy smile. A nod that is a promise of better things to come.
" 'll be up 'n 'bout b'fore you n' I'."
The warlock is already slipping back into slumber.
"Allright Merlin. But I need a servant I can trust, you understand."
"So wake up soon."
My bleak ambiguity is the element that attracted many of you and I so I hope that the ending is to your satisfaction. In the end (5x13 nonwithstanding) what other ending could there be? In short there's simply not a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot! Adieu.