Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or Disney
Time seemed to slow down as Arthur watched his life flash before his eyes. In the last moments remaining to him, he couldn't help but wish he had more time so he could create the vision Merlin had always dreamt of – that he himself had always dreamt of – a land where all were equal, where people thrived off of happiness and peace: the land of Albion.
The world suddenly erupted in fire and, for a moment, Arthur thought he'd died and gone to Hell for not accomplishing his destiny. But then he heard multiple things at once: Morgana screamed, the dull thunk of something heavy fell into the dirt, and the screech of a very angry firebird rent the air.
The king gasped when he finally discovered through the chaos how close he was to an abrupt wall of flame soaring before him about the height of a man. It seemed to be acting as a barrier, protecting him and Merlin from Morgana's wrath. But fire was still fire and the king wasn't fool enough to stay close to it. His body reacting instinctively, Arthur used his hands and heels to propel himself backward, his body scrambling away from the anomaly that licked the ground. It wasn't until he'd made it three feet that he truly realized he'd regained control over his limbs. He caught sight of Merlin's struggling form, lying inches away from the firewall.
"Merlin!" he shouted, rushing back towards his brother.
The king fell to his knees and scooped the wounded warlock into his arms, holding him protectively against his chest as he again retreated from the flames. Merlin cried out in pain, clutching his wound as the movement jostled him back and forth. Arthur muttered an apology but didn't stop. He had to get them away from the fire! Settling about five feet away, Arthur began to apply pressure to Merlin's wound but the sounds of battle distracted him and he looked up through the fire to see what was taking place.
Morgana could be seen through the flames retreating with all due haste as Aurelius chased after her, a stream of fire reigning from his beak; it would have been a rather comical sight had the situation not been so dire. Furious, Morgana paused in her retreat to fling a spell at the irate creature but her assault was thwarted by the eternal flame coming from its mouth. The last High Priestess dived out of the way to avoid the bird's downward attack. With a screech, Aurelius's talons raked into the forest floor leaving scorch marks in the earth where Morgana had previously stood.
As the witch and phoenix continued their duel, Arthur was able to make out his knights. Now that they had control of their limps, each had engaged an opponent in battle. The occasional mercenary was seen flying through the air as Mordred and Balthazar used their magic to disarm their foes. Adaline and Isolde were working side by side, the two women proving more than their worth as countless enemies fell by arrow and sword. Percival rescued Kay from behind by barreling into a mercenary trying to catch him unawares and Bedivere protected Gwaine from the swing of a madman's ax. Elyan and Leon tag teamed eliminating a group of men that had been trying to find a way to sneak around the firewall to finish Merlin and Arthur off. What surprised the king the most was Tristan pulling a daring move by stabbing Morgana in the back with his blade while she was aiming yet another spell at Aurelius as he descended from the air.
Screaming in rage, the High Priestess flung Tristan away from her. The brave fool slammed into the ground and rolled a few times, stopping near the trunk of a tree. Isolde ran to his side, Adaline covering for her by taking down any mercenary that tried to intercept her path with her bow and arrows. Morgana stalked forward to kill Tristan and Isolde but Aurelius stopped her by sinking his talons into her shoulder and wrenching her arm painfully backward. The witch's clothing instantly burst into flame and Morgana frantically began beating at the phoenix to release her. She cried out as her hands caught fire the second they made contact with the firebird's plumage. Her eyes lit up with magic and an explosion of energy burst from her body. Like the gale of a mighty storm, the magic wave not only made Aurelius lose his grip but caused everyone in the vicinity to fly through the air. Arthur bent over Merlin, terrified that the wall of flame would fall upon them from the blast, but the fire held firm when the wave struck its surface, protecting them both.
"This isn't over!" Morgana screeched through the gloom, her voice filled with pain. "I will have my revenge and my throne! Mark my words!"
She then disappeared in a burst of wind and the remaining mercenaries, once on their feet, retreated into the trees with full knowledge that they had lost this round. Once all of them were gone, the fire wall magically vanished. Aurelius landed near where Excalibur resided in the dirt and let out a sorrowful chirp. The phoenix had saved their lives but Arthur was too distraught to send him a thank you; he was too busy cradling the warlock in his arms.
"Merlin," he desperately cried, "Merlin, please…"
The warlock choked, gasping a little as he smiled weakly through bloodstained lips. His blue eyes were clouded with pain and tears as he mumbled, "Hey, prat… Good… to see you're okay…"
Tears pooled in Arthur's eyes. "But you're not," he sobbed.
"It's okay," Merlin muttered softly as Arthur took his hand. "It's okay."
The threat now gone, the knights came running, forming a loose circle around them. Adaline brokenly gasped when she saw her love's wound, her hands covering her mouth as she collapsed on Merlin's other side. Gwaine swore before dropping down next to her, holding her as she began to cry.
"You idiot," Arthur whispered through his tears. "You shouldn't have used that spell! Grettir warned me – he said you were going to do something reckless – something that would make it so you couldn't help."
"I don't regret it," Merlin feebly replied. "This way… you can still save Gwen…"
Arthur's eyes widened as his heavy heart lifted. Of course! Why hadn't he thought of it sooner? The king looked around frantically until he found the phoenix. "Aurelius!" he cried desperately, his eyes full of hope. "You can heal him!"
The phoenix stared at Arthur sadly before shaking its head in refusal, a mournful chirp escaping its beak. The king's jaw dropped in disbelief.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tristan shouted angrily.
"A phoenix has the power to heal any wound," Balthazar stated, confused. "Why does he refuse to help Emrys?"
Mordred gasped and stared at Merlin as if he was seeing him for the first time.
"What, Mordred?" Arthur demanded, holding onto Merlin like he never had before. "What is it?"
Mordred's wide blue eyes looked from Merlin to the phoenix before they found the king's. "He's Emrys," he whispered.
Confused as to why the young knight was so shocked, Arthur was about to demand further explanation when Merlin gasped painfully and redoubled his grip on his hand. Everything around the king disappeared, Merlin instantly being the only thing that mattered. The warlock's eyes found his and through the pain Arthur saw the love, devotion, and loyalty Merlin reserved only for him. There was also a silent apology.
"You're not leaving me," Arthur pled, refusing the apology Merlin was trying to convey. "You can't!"
Merlin looked sad. "Arthur…"
The warlock swallowed painfully, tears now freely trailing down his face. He reached up and rested a shaking hand on the king's cheek. Arthur held it there, his tears redoubling as his heart began to break. A small proud smile lifted the corners of the warlock's mouth.
"Don't be… a prat…"
The last word was spoken with Merlin's last breath, the light leaving those blue eyes that were always so full of life, so full of love. Something within the king broke, his body overcome with sobs as a cavity opened up in his chest. The other half of the coin was gone, leaving behind a broken vessel that none other could fill. Arthur's worst nightmare had come to pass.
"No," he choked out as Merlin's hand slipped from his. "NO! Merlin? MERLIN?! Come back! I never gave you permission to die, you idiot! COME – BACK!"
Arthur sobbed, selflessly breaking apart in front of his men; not that they were any better off. Despite strict training to never openly show such emotion, tears glistened silently down the cheeks of the Knights of Camelot. Tristan held Isolde as she sobbed openly into his shoulder while Gwaine supported Adaline, both breaking down almost as badly as Arthur. Mordred alone didn't seem the epitome of despair. He was sorrowful, yes, but there was something else in his eyes.
Aurelius let out a soft chirp and Arthur looked up, murderous. The phoenix had refused to save him. It had the power to heal him and yet it had not. Why?! Weren't all creatures of magic supposed to know how important Merlin was? Albion had been destroyed the second the warlock had taken his last breath! Because without Merlin, Arthur was nothing; he couldn't be the Once and Future King without him! The king's heart filled with despair. They had failed Destiny.
With this realization something further broke inside his chest and, though Merlin had been the one to physically die, Arthur felt as if he had too. His entire world had been ripped apart in a moment. The numbness spiraling around in his brain was instantly replaced by an insurmountable explosion of anger as Aurelius let out another chirp. As he looked at the phoenix the king could think of only one way to ease the pain threatening to drown him. Vision red, Arthur reached for Excalibur, but before he could grasp the hilt and strike the creature that could have been Merlin's salvation, the impossible happened.
A gasp erupted from Merlin's mouth and the warlock's chest rapidly rose. Arthur froze, his eyes widening in disbelief as he witnessed what could only be a miracle. Merlin's eyelids flew open, irises of pure gold shining in the natural fading sunlight with an intensity that rivaled the sun at noonday. The fatal wound in his stomach temporarily lit up the same color before the light faded, leaving nothing but a faint scar in its wake. Merlin bolted upright, gasping heavily as his golden eyes returned to their normal blue. He looked around wildly at the knights until he found the eyes of his king.
"Arthur?" he whispered in disbelief, his chest heaving like he'd run for miles.
"Emrys," Mordred muttered reverently. The druid then surprised them all by bowing low, showing the epitome of respect one reserved only for the highest of nobility. "The Immortal One."
Alarm filled Merlin's eyes as he stared at Mordred. Arthur's eyebrows drew together in confusion as he watched a silent conversation pass between the druid and the warlock. Mordred looked sad as he shook his head and Merlin's shoulders slumped. The warlock instantly filled with unimaginable sorrow, his countenance seeming to age a century overnight.
"I won't die," he whispered brokenly.
Mordred regretfully confirmed this statement with a nod. "You are magic itself, Emrys. You will always be, for Magic will always be."
The king's brain finally digested what was being said and his heart constricted in panic. "Hang on," he cried in fear, "Merlin can't die?" Mordred shook his head since the warlock was staring at the ground in utter despair. "But – that's impossible!" Arthur spluttered. "Everyone dies!"
Merlin finally broke out of his inner turmoil. "When have I ever been like everyone else, Arthur?" he asked with a broken smile, sadness swirling in his countenance. "I've told you before that even to my own kind I'm an anomaly."
"Did you know?" Arthur demanded, anger over this new revelation mixing in with the fear he felt. "Did you know that you couldn't die?"
Merlin's sorrow increased as he shook his head. "No… I guess I never gave much thought to my druidic name. I've been so focused on keeping you alive… the meaning never sunk in."
Arthur swore. How could this even be possible? While he was happy that Merlin wasn't gone, he couldn't help but feel terrified – not for himself, no, but for Merlin. Immortality was something many dreamt of but very few possessed. The Fisher King had been one such person and from what Merlin told him, the ancient sovereign longed for nothing but death when they'd met. Arthur had a horrible vision of Merlin sitting alone in a ruin that had once been Camelot, his long white hair and beard unable to hide the sorrow coming from his eyes, consuming his archaic soul. The nightmare shook the king to the core. Would Merlin be like the Fisher King? Could he be killed? Would he age? Was he going to be stuck here while everyone he loved moved on, leaving him behind?
There were so many unknown factors to this new concept that Arthur was developing a migraine. And through the midst of it all, the sudden realization dawned that there was still a more pressing matter they had to attend to. While he was glad Merlin was here, they still had to heal Guinevere! Panicking over how much time they'd lost, Arthur interrupted the knights who were bombarding both Mordred and a rather distraught Merlin with questions of their own.
"We don't have time for this right now!" he declared, pushing himself off his knees before bodily helping Merlin to his feet. "We need to get back to Camelot. After Guinevere is healed, we'll discuss this in greater detail." He then turned to Aurelius and frowned. "You didn't help Merlin because you knew he was going to come back on his own." It wasn't a question but the phoenix nodded anyway. Arthur sighed. "But you will heal Guinevere?"
The phoenix nodded again. Arthur held out his arm and the bird flew over to him, his talons lightly looping around his chainmail.
"Arthur, we're still hours away from Camelot and Morgana's men chased off the horses," Leon reluctantly pointed out. "How are we to make it back?"
The king froze, his determination quickly being replaced with panic and despair. He couldn't ask Merlin. The idiot looked dead on his feet – both emotionally and physically. How on earth were they going to cross that many leagues in time? Guinevere's fate seemed impossible to cure. Was she really meant to die? The thought nearly caused another sob to escape the king.
"Arthur," Merlin whispered, reaching out and squeezing his shoulder, "Aurelius can take us there."
"What?" Arthur gasped, turning to face his warlock.
"Aurelius, he's telling me that he can take us there."
"How?" asked Percival.
Merlin shrugged tiredly. "He just said to grab hold of his tail feathers."
"That's an odd request," Elyan voiced.
"Odd or not, if it gets us to Guinevere then we'll do it," Arthur growled, grabbing some of the feathers as instructed.
Merlin took some too without hesitation. After a shared shrug of the shoulders, Gwaine and Percival followed their example before the rest of the knights joined in. The phoenix let out a soothing cry before its entire body erupted once more into flame, consuming them all. Arthur wasn't the only one to cry out in surprise as warmth engulfed him and his feet lifted off the ground. A moment later the fire dissipated and there was a shriek as the inner chambers of Camelot's Court Physician surrounded them. Gaius was holding his heart while Iseldir was supporting a rather shocked Hunith. The king only spared them a glance as he noticed his wife lying on the physician's bed, her body encased in a golden glow.
"It's Kilgharrah's magic," Merlin explained.
"Bless my stars," Hunith muttered, "you gave us all a fright!"
But instead of relief, Hunith's eyes widened in terror. "Merlin! You're covered in blood! What on earth happened?"
"We'll explain but first we need to help Gwen," he answered as Arthur looked to Aurelius.
Noticing the phoenix for the first time, Iseldir gasped in awe. "The firebird…"
"You found it!" Gaius cried excitedly.
"We did," Arthur nodded. "Aurelius, would you please?"
The phoenix let out a soft cry before flying over to where the dying queen lay. Landing gently on the bed beside her, the bird located the wound and chirped at Merlin. The warlock interpreted the message and held out his hand. Magic removed the bandages, exposing decaying flesh for all to see. Arthur nearly cried at the sight. Aurelius lowered his head, tilting it to the side. Tears of gold began to drip from the corner of its eye, the drops falling thick and fast onto Guinevere's wound. The rotten flesh began to glow and the wound sealed shut as magic wove through it. Aurelius ceased to cry, letting out a soft chirp before flying up to the banister in the corner. The glow of Kilgharrah's magic faded and the queen let out a gasp as her eyes flew open. Arthur was beside her in seconds, taking her hands.
"Guinevere," he whispered, searching her eyes.
No longer did she look like Death's next victim. Her skin was smooth, her brown eyes were bright with life, and her breathing was strong.
"Arthur?" she cried. "How? What's going on? Where's Horvath? I thought…"
Instead of answering her, Arthur wrapped her in his arms and kissed her. Though shocked at first, the queen melted into the embrace, responding to the kiss while resting a gentle hand against Arthur's neck.
"You're okay," Arthur murmured, holding her tight, "you're okay."
The queen, though still disoriented, soothed him. "I'm okay."
They pulled apart and Arthur laughed. That was when Guinevere noticed he was covered in blood. "Arthur! You're bleeding!"
"What? Oh, no, it's Merlin's blood not mine."
"Merlin's?!" she cried in alarm.
"Arthur, you're only confusing her further," Merlin chided, pushing him aside so he could give the queen a hug of his own. "It's good to see you back, Gwen. We've got a lot to tell you."
"I'll say," said Gaius somewhere behind them as Arthur smacked his Court Sorcerer over the head.
"Ouch! What was that for?"
"You can't just go around hugging the queen whenever you want to, you idiot!"
"Why? Because you said so? Like I've ever listened to you before."
"There's going to be some new rules that you'd better listen to if you don't want to end up in magical restraints in the stocks!" Arthur stated.
"That's an empty threat and you know it!"
"Boys!" Guinevere shouted, stopping the banter. "Will you both kindly explain to me what on earth happened?"
Arthur and Merlin shared a look before they began taking turns recounting the tale of all that had transpired from the time of Horvath's dastardly plot to Guinevere's rescue from the Questing Beast's poison. When it had come to explaining Merlin's immortality, the warlock clamped up and remained quiet until the end of the tale, leaving Arthur and the knights to divulge the rest. There was an uncomfortable silence and then Guinevere broke it by reaching out and taking Merlin's hand.
"Thank you, Merlin," she kindly smiled, "for saving Arthur and helping to save me. I don't think he or the knights would have made it very far without you."
The sadness in Merlin's eyes lifted a little as he smiled. "I'd never let anything bad happen to you, Gwen."
"I know," the queen gratefully replied.
"I think it's high time we all get some much needed rest," Gaius stated, ever the physician. "All of you have been through quite the ordeal."
Everyone knew that Gaius was right so they all began taking their leave. Merlin would have been the first out the door had it not been for his mother calling him back. The others watched as the Court Sorcerer let out a heavy sigh before turning around and walking back over to his mother, his head bowed low. Arthur had hoped he was the only one to see the tears on Merlin's face but from the concerned look Gwaine shared with Leon, he knew he hadn't been. The king caught their eye and waved his hand for them to leave Merlin be. Who better to help him right now than his mother? The Knights of the Round nodded, accepting the dismissal. Bowing to their sovereigns, they each left the room, Iseldir following after them. Adaline also excused herself, looking at Merlin worriedly but knowing there wasn't really anything she could currently do for him.
Arthur squeezed Guinevere's hand. "Wait for me in the hall?" he quietly whispered.
"Okay," she smiled.
Kissing her forehead, Arthur let her go before turning to his warlock and sighing. He didn't know why he'd stayed. He didn't really know how he felt about Merlin's immortality either. Worried and scared were definitely at the top of the list, though. But how was he supposed to comfort Merlin when he was in need of comfort himself?
"Was there something further you needed, sire?" Gaius prompted.
Arthur jumped. He'd forgotten Gaius was even in the room; the older man had been so quiet in the corner. "Um, well…" he fumbled, not exactly sure what to say.
"It's okay, Arthur." The king looked up to find Merlin staring at him gratefully. "You don't need to stay."
"Are you sure?" Arthur pressed.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Arthur bit his lip but gave in. He somehow knew that Merlin needed space right now, even if he was happy that his king seemed to care. "Alright," Arthur sighed, "But get some sleep, okay? You look awful."
"I'd say the same to you, Arthur, but you might not get much sleep tonight."
"Merlin!" Hunith chided, slapping her son's arm reproachfully though she herself was trying not to grin.
Arthur's face turned bright red as he suddenly caught on to what Merlin was implying. Right… now that Guinevere was okay…
His heart took off, his eyes widening. It didn't help that Merlin was smirking knowingly. Covering his nerves and embarrassment with anger, Arthur picked up the nearest thing and threw it, aiming for his Court Sorcerer's face. It turned out to be a book so it was a good thing Merlin stopped it from reaching its target. Despite the fact that he was nearly hit with a thick volume, the warlock chuckled lightly as the king stormed towards the door.
"We're going to have a long talk tomorrow, Merlin!" he stated."With you in the stocks!"
The ghost of the warlock's laughter reached his ears as he slammed the door shut and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Idiot," he muttered, his cheeks still pink. Someone giggled and Arthur looked up, startled. "Guinevere!"
"Are you alright, Arthur?" she asked with a smile.
The king's heart took off again as he realized that Guinevere was now his wife and he had every right to take her into his chambers at this hour, no questions asked. Excitement and nerves suddenly erupted in the king's stomach like a drove of butterflies. Swallowing, he became very aware of Guinevere's thin waist and the low cut of her dress.
"Hmmm? What?" the king asked, shaking his head.
"Are you alright?" Guinevere repeated, eyeing him curiously.
"Yes," he assured, wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her close to him.
Smiling at her, Arthur bent down and claimed her lips before sweeping her unexpectedly off her feet. Guinevere let out a surprised giggle, quickly wrapping her arms around his neck as the king started making his way towards his room. They passed a few servants who had to do a double take. No one had seen either royal for two days, everyone assuming that they had been locked away in the king's chambers this whole time. Rumors were sure to arise as to why they were roaming around but at the moment Arthur didn't care. Reaching his room, he pushed the door open and carried Guinevere inside. The new queen's cheeks were flushed pink.
Setting her down on the bed, Arthur rubbed the back of his head, not entirely sure how to proceed. Guinevere seemed to be equally unsure, biting her lower lip nervously. The two shared a look before both started giggling.
"I confess I've never been in this situation before," Guinevere admitted.
Arthur scratched his cheek. "I'd like to say the same but… magic love potions and what not…"
Guinevere laughed. "Well, hopefully the real thing will be different than not being in control of yourself."
"I have no doubt that it will," he quickly assured.
Guinevere raised an eyebrow. "And how can you be so sure?"
"Because none of those experiences were with you," he muttered, gently rubbing the pad of his thumb against the side of her cheek.
Guinevere's eyes softened as the gentle smile the king cherished so much graced her beautiful face.
"I love you, Arthur."
"As I love you, Guinevere."
He then slowly began kissing her, his hands resting on either side of her thighs. Instinct soon took over and the king's tongue gently slipped against Guinevere's lips. The queen allowed him entrance and Arthur lowered her backward so he was now fully on top of her, his lips still moving silkily over her own. One kiss became many and soon enough, after a little maneuvering and a few giggles, Arthur found himself shirtless while Guinevere was lying beneath him in nothing but her undergown, her long hair spread out in beautiful curls over the pillows.
"Exquisite," Arthur whispered, his finger tracing the features of her face.
Guinevere's cheeks darkened and the king lowered himself to reclaim her lips, his hands beginning to explore areas he had previously denied them. Guinevere gasped in pleasure, her hold on the back of Arthur's neck tightening as she crushed her lips even further against his. An explosion of passion suddenly rocked them both and they continued to make new discoveries about each other, consummating their marriage and deepening their love in a way they never had been able to before.
Two weeks passed and the kingdom flourished. The truth as to what happened the night of Arthur and Guinevere's marriage somehow leaked out; the king suspected it was one of those pesky lords that tried to arrest his Court Sorcerer though it was never confirmed. Arthur had done as Merlin asked, begrudgingly forgiving the lords and doing what he could to work with them in future council meetings – although he expressly warned them that he would strip them of their titles and make them work in the fields until the end of their days if they ever questioned Merlin's authority again.
Since the story of their poisoning was made known, it became necessary to tell the people how the royals were healed – and why a phoenix now roamed Camelot's halls – although Arthur and Guinevere both decided it was best to leave Merlin's fate out of the details. Horvath's betrayal was a heavy blow and for a few days people seemed distrustful of the knights with magic. Balthazar and Mordred's relationship with the Knights of the Round helped to settle fears and soon training resumed without any further craftily laid insults. Merlin also received a little ill treatment from the incident but his popularity quickly won over the few prejudices some lords possessed. Overall the people were thrilled that the warlock had been adopted into the royal family and immediately started treating him as such. Merlin hated it and everyone who knew him personally knew it too.
This was why Arthur was currently ignoring state affairs to search for his warlock who had recently taken to hiding as much as possible in neglected parts of the castle. This time the king found him in the tallest tower of Camelot, a thin spire that overlooked the entire city. The warlock didn't even turn around when Arthur threw open the door.
"There you are!" the king growled in slight annoyance. "Did you know there was a case just now that had to deal with a magical dispute? Usually such things are handled by my Court Sorcerer but he was nowhere to be found! So guess who had to calm a raging woman dealing with a fire-breathing chicken that her neighbor decided to curse in the lower town?!"
"Did it get cleared up?" Merlin asked without emotion, his back still to his king as he leaned against the tower's edge, his eyes trained on the countryside.
Arthur sighed through his nose, his anger leaving him. "Mordred went to sort it out." The king joined the warlock and let out another heavy sigh. "Are you ever going to talk to me, Merlin?"
The warlock hung his head. "I'm sorry, Arthur."
"You've been avoiding me," the king said, a little hurt. "Don't think I haven't noticed. You attend most of the meetings like you're supposed to, you answer questions, and you come to feasts, but you disappear as soon as those are over. Are you mad at me?"
"What? No!" Merlin immediately consoled. "Why would you think that?"
"Because I made you a member of the royal family and now everywhere you go, people treat you differently."
"People were treating me differently when they found out I had magic, Arthur. This is nothing new."
"Then what's really bothering you?"
Merlin sighed. "I guess," he muttered, playing with a bright purple neckerchief over his finely made silver tunic, "I just thought you'd treat me differently after what happened."
Arthur frowned as he watched his Court Sorcerer rub the spot where Excalibur had stabbed him. "Merlin, it's been two weeks. It doesn't take me that long to figure out how I feel about something. You should know that."
"Were you angry?"
"Why on earth would I be angry? If anything, I was scared," the king quietly admitted. "Still am, in fact."
"You're scared of me?" Merlin asked dejectedly.
"What? No! Ugh, I'm scared for you, Merlin," Arthur corrected, yanking on the brim of the warlock's light gray hat.
Merlin rearranged his hat with a frown. "For me?"
"Yes! How do you think it makes me feel knowing that one day I'm going to abandon you?" Arthur raged, allowing his emotions from the last two weeks to fully burst in a full-on tirade. "To know that you'll still be here, wandering around Camelot without me? Will you ever grow old? Will you ever move on? Will you one day have to witness the rise and fall of the kingdoms around us? Will you eventually forget me? I can't stand the thought of you suffering, Merlin, but that's exactly what you've been doing these past two weeks and I can't think of anything to change that! You look as if you've aged a decade in a fortnight! I hate this! Why does the Old Religion continue to punish you?! What have you done to deserve this?"
The warlock witnessed his king's frustration with a furrowed brow and a small frown. When Arthur finished, Merlin sighed before grinning. "Feel better?"
Arthur stared. "How on earth can you smile right now?"
"Because of you, Arthur," Merlin answered seriously. "I was expecting you to be angry and demanding a way to fix the problem but instead you surprise me by showing that you care."
"Of course I care, you idiot," Arthur mumbled, staring out at his kingdom.
"You're right," Merlin muttered a moment later, "I have been an idiot."
Arthur raised a curious eyebrow. "Since when do you actually admit that I'm right?"
"Don't get so pleased, Arthur, most of the time you're not," Merlin teased. The king flicked his ear, the warlock smiling happily. But the smile dimmed a little as he continued, "I'm an idiot because I'm moping over something that I can't change. I went to the Crystal Cave last week."
"That's where you ran off to?"
Merlin nodded. "I went looking for answers. The only one I got was that my immortality is necessary in order for Destiny to be fulfilled."
"What on earth is that supposed to mean? Didn't we already do that?"
"Not quite," Merlin said, shaking his head. "We still have to unite the lands under one rule, Arthur."
The king swallowed. "Oh, right…"
Merlin saw right through Arthur's insecurities. "You can do it, Arthur," he stated with conviction. "I know you can."
"Merlin, my allies are my friends. I don't think I would take kindly to any of them coming here and asking me to step down so they could rule in my stead."
"That's not how you're going to unite the lands, you clotpole!" Merlin groaned, thumping his king on the head.
"Ouch!" Arthur glared at his warlock, retaliating by yanking his hat. "Then how, pray tell, am I supposed to unite the kingdoms under one rule?"
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know but it's not going to be through simply asking for their thrones. Events will occur that will inspire the others to consider you their leader and Albion will naturally develop over time."
"You have a lot of faith in this," Arthur muttered, resting his chin on his folded arms.
"I have faith in you, Arthur," Merlin declared. "I know you will one day be the greatest king this world has ever known."
"I think you're missing the reason I came up here," Arthur complained, turning to his warlock in exasperation. "I came up here to comfort you, remember?"
"And you have," Merlin smiled. "You've reminded me of my purpose. I may be fated to live forever but that doesn't mean that I should stop living. I have a prat to protect and a kingdom to help him build. I don't have time to mope."
Arthur stared, shaking his head in disbelief. "Wonders never cease," he sighed with a weary smile. "You truly are a riddle, Merlin. You can take an entirely hopeless situation and find something to smile about. How can you just accept what the Old Religion has done to you?"
The warlock shrugged. "A man can look at his fate and give in to despair or he can hold his head high and choose to be the master of it." He then pushed himself away from the wall and grinned. "Come on, Arthur; there's a kingdom we need to build and it starts with making sure Mordred hasn't let that fire-breathing chicken terrorize the lower town."
Patting his king on the shoulder, Camelot's Court Sorcerer left the tower, his eyes rekindled with the sparkle they'd been missing for so long. Arthur stared after his warlock in awe.
"He is, without doubt, the bravest man I have ever met." Grinning to himself, the king started down the stairs. "Merlin, that chicken is your problem! Court Sorcerer duties, remember?"
"Last I checked, protecting the people was yours, cabbage head!"
Hearing the laughter as well as the faster footfalls of his idiot, Arthur picked up the pace chasing after him. The king's strides quickened once he emerged from the tower steps into a corridor Merlin was already half way down.
"MERLIN!" He snarled.
The warlock chanced a glance over his shoulder, smirking before dashing around the corner.
"I'm not going to solve your problems!" Arthur shouted after him, rounding the corner and running past his Round Table Knights.
"I've solved plenty of yours!" Merlin called back. "It's time to return the favor!"
The king and warlock emerged into the courtyard a few minutes later, playful insults falling from their lips as they continued the game of chase. As they ran towards the lower town, they passed many of their friends, all of whom were smiling widely at the sight.
The lingering cloud that had hovered the last two weeks seemed to have passed, allowing the sun to shine upon the kingdom once more, restoring hope to all who dwelt therein. And the King of Camelot inwardly rejoiced for his warlock, the other half of his coin, was finally smiling.
 One Year Later 
The familiar bellow was heard throughout the citadel as an irate king stormed down the hall towards his Court Sorcerer's tower. Servants and courtiers leapt out of his way, trying to hide knowing smiles.
Arthur growled when he received no response, turning the corner to the steps of his old friend's domain. Climbing the small staircase and throwing the door open, the king searched the circular room until he located the source of his ire. Merlin was crouched in the center of the room, his fingers covered in white chalk that he seemed to be painting onto the floor.
"Are you defacing the stones again?" Arthur asked, exasperated.
"Oh, hello Arthur," Merlin smiled, returning to his work. "I thought I heard you bellowing."
"Then why didn't you answer?" the king demanded.
"Because I'm obviously in the middle of something, you prat," he said, gesturing to the circle he stood in.
"What on earth is this?" Arthur wondered, his anger slightly abating due to curiosity.
In the past year, it had quickly become commonplace for various explosions and anomalies to grace Merlin's tower. Now that he had free reign of his magic, Merlin had taken to exploring every avenue – though not all of his experiments ended well. The worst so far had been two months ago when he'd changed everyone in the kingdom into some sort of animal. Arthur had continued to roar like a lion for nearly a week while his knights bleated like sheep. Merlin had made a joke about the lion lying down with the lambs. Arthur hadn't been amused.
The warlock's latest experiment was some kind of magic circle. Merlin stood in the middle of what looked like a ring. Inside the ring were six individual spheres that were separated by lines that stretched out from the center circle where he stood. Each of the six spheres held a different kind of symbol. Arthur felt apprehensive as he shuffled closer to examine the floor.
"This isn't going to result in you creating another swamp in the palace kitchens, is it?" he asked. "Because I don't think I can take another one of Elliani's lectures."
Merlin chuckled. "No, it won't create a swamp, Arthur. This is something I've been working on in order to help those with magic to better focus their power."
Arthur was definitely interested now. In the last few months there had been many people discovering their magic but lacking the capability of controlling it. It had caused quite a ruckus, resulting in many homes needing to be rebuilt and farmland needing to be restored after accidental fires and floods.
"And does this thing have a name?"
"The Merlin Circle," the warlock proudly stated.
Arthur's lips cracked in a smile before he snorted out a laugh he could no longer contain. "You named it after yourself? And you call me conceited!"
"It's my invention so, yes, I did!" Merlin huffed. "I feel I have every right to do so!"
"Whatever makes you feel better, Merlin," Arthur chuckled. The warlock muttered something that sounded suspiciously like prat. Arthur's grin widened. "So, have you tested it out?"
"I was about to," Merlin griped, wiping the chalk off his hands, "but then you barged in like a raging boar."
"Well, don't let me stop you now," the king smirked, walking over to a nearby stool and sitting down. "Let's see the great Merlin's Circle in action!"
"You're a right cabbage head, you know that?"
"And you love me for it. Now shut up and get on with it."
"Fine," Merlin sighed, straightening.
Closing his eyes, the warlock took a deep breath before opening them, the irises now a brilliant gold. The circle erupted in a wall of flame and Arthur would later deny crying out in alarm as he nearly fell out of his chair. Over the flames Merlin could be heard shouting out some gibberish. A blinding white light erupted in the circle and the flames extinguished as a loud bang rent the air, the explosion causing books to topple off shelves and potion bottles to shatter into dust. Arthur leapt to his feet in worry as the circle filled with smoke.
Someone started coughing but Arthur was confused for the tone was not Merlin's.
"Arthur? What's going on? How did we get in a tower when we were at a lake? Was it the angel in the water? Did she bring us here?"
The King of Camelot stared in disbelief and amusement as a five year old boy stumbled out of the circle in a red tunic and a blue neckerchief three times his size. Arthur started to laugh and for the longest time he couldn't seem to stop.
"What's so funny?" Merlin demanded, folding his arms even though his sleeves were now too big. "And why am I wearing one of your shirts again?"
The door to the Court Sorcerer's tower opened with a bang, Sirs Gwaine and Leon storming in with worry in their eyes.
"We heard the explosion. Merlin, are you–" Gwaine stopped mid-inquiry as his eyes fell on the bemused form of his now five year old friend.
"Oh no," Leon sighed, "not again."
"I'll go get Adaline," Gwaine offered while chuckling.
"Wait," Arthur called, halting the roguish knight.
In the past year there had been many times the king had missed the five year old version of the other side of his coin. He'd never dared to ask Merlin to revert to a child again but now that it had happened accidentally…
"Why not take advantage of this?" he asked with a shrug. "Things have been pretty uptight as of late. Perhaps Arlin could lighten things up?"
Gwaine started to grin. "You just want an excuse to get out of preparing for King Odin's eventual arrival next week."
"Can you blame me?" Arthur asked with a shrug.
"Arthur, what's going on?" Merlin demanded, yanking on his hand. "Where are we?"
The king smiled down at his little warlock before picking him up and setting him on his lap. "We're in Camelot, Merlin. This is the secret tower of the Court Sorcerer."
"I have a tower?!" Merlin asked in excitement, his eyes growing wide.
"Yes," Arthur laughed. "Would you like to take a look around?"
"Yeah!" Merlin cried excitedly, hopping down and running over to an open book that had illustrations of magical creatures in it. "Arthur, look at this!" he exclaimed.
The king wandered over and sat on the floor next to his best friend, a warm smile on his face as Merlin's innocent magic reacted instinctively in excitement. Figures of the creatures in the book appeared in the air, dancing around out of magical smoke. Leon and Gwaine shared an amused glance.
"Shall we come back later, sire?" Leon called.
Arthur waved his hand distractedly, dismissing them. Once the knights had left, he turned to Merlin and ruffled his hair, his eyes softening as his little brother complained and batted his hand away.
"Arthur!" he grumbled while trying to fix the dark locks on his head.
The king chuckled. "Sorry. Say, Merlin, can you show me something?"
The five year old tilted his head as he stared at the king curiously. "With my magic?"
"Yes," Arthur nodded, his heart pumping faster in anticipation.
"Sure. What do you want me to do?" Merlin asked with an eager smile.
The king leaned in close and whispered his request in the little warlock's ear. Merlin's responding grin was wide as his eyes lit up with the pure magic that flowed through his veins.
The windows streaming in sunlight were suddenly cloaked in darkness, the entire tower filling with the shadow that only night could bring. Small specks of white energy began to paint their way through the inky black atmosphere, lighting up the room just enough for Arthur's smile to be seen. The delight in the king's eyes was reflected in Merlin's as the two enjoyed an anomaly they'd shared so long ago.
This was what started it all, Arthur silently mused as he lay on the floor and stared up at the constellations. While his little warlock had introduced him to many innocent spells, this particular one was the defining moment of their shared destiny. For with this spell, Arthur's heart was changed towards magic forever and its legalization had begun. Now his kingdom thrived, his best friend was happier than he had ever seen him, and the lands were almost united under one rule.
"Thank you, Merlin," he muttered as the little warlock settled down on the ground next to him.
"For everything you've done," he smiled.
Merlin smiled back. "You're welcome."
King and warlock stayed where they were for hours, both celebrating the magic that had changed them in so many ways, that had brought them together and created the beginning of a new time and a shared destiny: the time of Albion and the Once and Future King.
Thank you all so much for coming with me on this journey! I've experienced a lot of life changes while writing this and I'm grateful its been a means for me to cope through it all. Thank you for your reviews, your prayers, and your encouragement. I wish you all well and hope that you will leave me with one last review. Long live the King (and Merlin)! - Pumpkinmoose22