When they can just make out the flags of Camelot in the distance, Arthur tugs at the reins, bringing the horse to a stop.
Knowing they cannot ride into the kingdom as they are, pressed together and holding a baby, Arthur drops from the horse and then helps Merlin and Emerson down carefully.
Arthur and Merlin stand close together, touching in a way they know will have to be in secret from now on.
Emerson sleeps contently in his sling, listening to his father's heartbeat while his dreams.
"Do you remember your story?"
"Arthur, we've been over this again and again," Merlin sighs, "I was kidnapped by a roving band of rebels-"
"For?" Arthur prompts, grinning.
"Pleasure wench," the warlock deadpans and Arthur just laughs. For like the hundredth time.
"And then they were attacked by another gang and I was able to slip away. But, not before I took the baby of one of the women who died."
"All right. But, if you think anyone is starting to get suspicious, tell me."
"What are you going to do?" Merlin scoffs lightly, "Have them killed?"
Arthur just gives him a look.
Merlin doesn't pursue this line of conversation.
"This isn't going to be simple," Arthur warns unnecessarily, looking at the two most important people in his life, "In fact, this is going to be the opposite of simple."
"I have my obligations to Camelot," Arthur continues, his blue eyes flickering with a flood of emotion, "To the world, you and Emerson are my servant and my servant's boy. Nothing more."
"But, when it's just us," Arthur gentles, "You will know exactly what you both mean to me."
He strokes the baby's hair.
He kisses Merlin deeply.
"And my destiny."
The following spring…
Merlin strolls through the forests where he created and then ate the fruit that had borne him the miracle that walks awkwardly beside him now, holding the tiny hand securely.
In his other hand is the handle to a basket filled with fruit, cheese, oat grains and milk.
"Where's a good place, Emmie?" Merlin asks, glancing around the green fields.
The little boy points to an area of lush grass next to a patch of lilies.
The area immediately erupts into flames.
"Now, Emmie," Merlin says in his best stern voice, "What did I say about pointing? It's rude."
Setting down the basket, Merlin extinguishes the fire and clears the ash with his own simple hand gestures.
"Nevertheless, that is a prime spot to have our snack and wait for daddy."
"Da-dee!" Emerson exclaims with a joy only the truly innocent can experience.
When the young boy hears the sound of a horse trotting through the underbrush, the oat piece he had been about to shove into his mouth, completely misses its target and his grayish-blue eyes get as wide as saucers over his fat cheeks.
"DA-DEE!" he screams blissfully and holds his hands up toward the sky.
"Be careful, Emmie," Merlin warns, glancing upward to make sure the sky hasn't changed color and stars don't come raining down on them… Again.
Arthur comes riding into the clearing and Emerson is so ecstatic at the sight, tears start leaking down his face.
Merlin would feel a little jealous, but there are times when he is just as euphoric upon looking at Arthur.
When the prince jumps down from the horse, he pretends to trip and does a few rolls in the grass that have Emerson about to go into cardiac arrest at the tender age of one.
Arthur angles his final somersault so that he crashes into Merlin and Emerson thinks this is the funniest thing he's ever seen in his young life.
Merlin pushes Arthur off and slaps at his thigh.
"Don't teach him that!"
"What?" Arthur laughs, picking blades of grass out of the sorcerer's dark hair, "That it's fun to tackle his Mum?"
"Don't call me Mum!"
"Why not? He does."
"Only because you taught him that!" Merlin rolls his eyes, "You know, it's amazing that he spends seventy percent of his waking hours with me alone, yet you're the only one whose opinion he cares about."
"That's my boy!" Arthur praises, stretching out his arms toward Emerson.
The child eagerly crawls towards his father and gets to his feet with only a little bit of help.
Arthur smoothes back the sandy brown curls and studies his little giggling imp with a pleased grin.
"Thank the gods. I don't think he's going to have your ears."
Merlin gives him his most concentrated glare. Lesser men would have pissed themselves.
Arthur just grows more amused.
"Well, they are good for something. They make great handholds when you're on your knees-"
Merlin claps his hand over the prince's mouth, hissing at him to just shush.
When he moves it away, Arthur leans in serpent-quick and kisses his lips with a wet smack.
Emerson makes a delighted sound that can almost be mistaken for cheering.
Merlin hangs his head and sighs.
"You're such a bad influence."
"He doesn't understand what I'm saying. Do you, sweetheart?"
Emerson just smiles, earning him another gentle caress of his soft locks.
"My mother says his hair reminds her of mine when I was his age, but lighter," Merlin comments, pleased by the resemblance.
"I like the color," Arthur remarks approvingly, "Let's hope his eyes don't get any grayer though. I want them to stay that deep, sapphire blue. Like yours."
The prince gazes into said blue eyes and Merlin cannot help lowering them demurely.
"He has a new favorite trick," the sorcerer announces, knowing how much Arthur craves hearing about the developments he cannot always be around for.
"Let's see it," Arthur says, turning the toddler around and setting him in his lap.
"Emmie? You want to do the rainbow trick for daddy?" Merlin asks, holding his son's palms together between his own.
They bring their hands up.
They bring them down.
They bring them up and apart, vibrant colors streaming from between Emerson's palms in a graceful arc.
He leans back his curly head and stares in open-mouthed awe at the rainbow he created.
"Oh, and he's also finger-feeding himself," Merlin adds, thinking Arthur might appreciate hearing about his son's normal milestones as well.
Arthur kisses his baby's forehead.
"People are amazed that you're able to accomplish all your manservant duties and still provide full-time care to a year old baby."
"Yeah, well, as long as they don't get too amazed," the sorcerer says, thinking he might have to purposefully goof up in public a few times this week.
"Uther wants me to make nice with the Kingdom of Elyscia," Arthur says suddenly, wanting to get the not-so-good news out in the open.
"So, that's why the meeting ran long," Merlin sighs, "How long will you be gone?"
"A week or two at the most."
Arthur falls silent, staring intently at Emerson who is now trying to eat the rainbow out of his hands.
"You were right, of course," he says solemnly after a while, "He will never be able to take the throne."
"No," Merlin agrees without resentment, "But, he will be the greatest sorcerer to ever live. And when you are king that will no longer be a vice, but a virtue to honor and adore."
"And when I produce an heir?" Arthur asks with distinct uneasiness, stroking the boy's chubby arms.
"You're a good father and he will always love you," Merlin assures first, truly happy that he has believed these words in relation to himself ever since that night at the Moonlit Passage.
"And when he is old enough, I will explain it to him and he will understand," Merlin continues with conviction, "He will never be made to feel lesser and he will have a place in this kingdom as your son. I will make sure of it."
Merlin smiles affectionately at Emerson who has dusted off the inedible light and now leans against his father's chest, struggling to keep his eyes open.
"I can see his future now," he says in quiet reverence, "A warrior magician who will advise his brother or sister on matters of political strategy and fight by his or her side for the good of the kingdom. He will be like his father, heroic and clever."
"And like his other father," Arthur adds, "Beautiful and strong."
Merlin rests his head on the prince's shoulder and joins him in caressing their dozing child.
"I'm going to miss you both during this campaign," Arthur laments, "I could justify my manservant coming along, but it would be a stretch trying to justify Emerson's attendance, even for my diplomatic skills."
"I know. But, I've been working on this spell that allows you to travel great distances in seconds. We could come visit you every night and be back in Camelot before dawn. No one would ever know."
"You scare me sometimes," Arthur says with a fond expression, "Do you know that?"
"You know you never have to fear my magic," Merlin avows sincerely, "I command it. And you command my heart."
They stay out there until late evening.
And while Camelot sleeps, Merlin casts a distraction spell and slips into Arthur's chambers unseen, carrying an unconscious, drooling Emerson.
With their baby safe and close by, the prince and the sorcerer come together in the secrecy of night, feeling and sharing and pledging and dreaming.
Merlin doesn't know if this is the destiny the Great Dragon had spoken of. He doesn't know if, with his attempt to control the balance of life and death, he has altered the projected course of their future forever.
But, Merlin has nothing to fear.
Whenever challenges obstruct their path, demand their submission, or threaten their peace, he only has to remember one thing.
It is the three of them against the universe.
Notes: So, who wants to kill me and who wants to kiss me? Haha... *Sigh.* There were so many different ways I could have done this sequel and I don't know if I always made the right choices. I really tried to make it an enjoyable read.
I love every single person who has read/reviewed either Bearing Fruit or Rediscovering Magic. You truly made me as happy as Arthur, Merlin, and little Emmie :) Peace, love, always.