Title: Forever Young
Author : Tak/souzoukyuuketsu
Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Genre: AU – Dark – Future!Fic – Angst
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine; neither is the title. Abuse of Yeats someplace as well
Summary: And then he felt the Pull.
Notes: Title from the excellent movie with Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis. Oh yeah, and I'm so sorry I've fried my brains…
Warning : Death of (very) minor characters.
Words count: 2612
He had been sleeping for over a millennium and a half when he felt the Pull.
His eyes snapped open, and for a long, agonizing moment, there was only silence. Then he felt it. The beat of his own heart. One beat, tearing at his chest. The pain made him squeeze his eyes shut. Made the tendons of his neck bulge. A wordless shout tore out of his gaping mouth as breath forced itself in his lungs, and he felt a tear slide from the corner of his eyes down his temple, lose itself in his hair.
Another beat, just as painful, that had him snap his mouth shut as he dug his nails into the hard stone of the alter he was lying on. And another. He curled onto himself, on the side, clutching at his sides, now. The beats came again, more and more frequent, every bit as painful. Air burnt the throat and lungs he hadn't used for so very long a time. He hadn't anticipated this. Hadn't anticipated that much pain. And the maddening hurt that came with being so far from Arthur. Again. And with the knowledge that very soon, Arthur would need him. Beat. Time was playing against them. Beat. He had to – Beat. He had to go. Find him.
He opened his eyes again and they flashed gold in the darkness. He pushed himself up, fighting against the pain, fighting against the panic – Please don't let me be too late. Sat up. Stepped down the altar gingerly, testing the strength of his legs. Quick. He had to hurry. He would be needed soon. Quick. His thoughts were in uproar, his senses completely off. Quick. Because of the dull throb in his head, his vision swam, but his magic, which had preserved his body all these years, which make his coming back to life possible, – Quick – helped him now gather what little strength he had, – Quicker! – and, on wobbly legs, follow the pull that would lead him to him, and he pushed his body forward, further, into the darkness.
Two weeks later, he found himself on an almost deserted motorway. Smoke was rising angrily from a car wreck, and for an instant, his heart stopped beating again. The car was on the roof, its bowels laughing up at the sky. He fought the panic and guilt and horror threatening to consume him and felt for it – yes. The Pull was still there. Faint, but there nonetheless.
He ran towards the car, towards the wreckage and fell on his knees beside it.
'Arthur?' he called, hopeful.
His slight, tentative smile vanished when he saw the driver. Dead. He blanched. There was a woman beside him, who opened her eyes painfully. She must have been beautiful. But now her body lay broken, mangled below the engine, and angry red glistened down her face, glaring at him, accusing him, mocking him. Maybe he was too late. Her confused eyes seemed to focus on him, and widen fractionally. Panic overtook her.
He watched the car warily. It would explode any time soon. And given the angle of her neck, he would be surprised if she wasn't paralysed from the neck downwards. It was surprising she was even alive.
He would have helped her, though, would have helped anyway even though she hadn't asked. If only he could find a way.
'I'm sorry but…'
'Please… Please help my son…'
His eyes widened, and he looked at the back of the car. That's when he saw him. The tiny body of a four-year-old boy, out cold, his blond-haired head sagged against his shoulder. He gulped and started babbling a string of insanities, trying to ignore the uneasiness at the realization that this – this child – was his long-dead lover. He opened the door of the car, promising her he'd find a way to save her too – to save her. Arthur had lost one mother in a previous life. He didn't need to lose this one as well.
Merlin delivered the child from his seatbelt and helped him out gingerly, his heart pounding madly against his ribcage, blasting the front door with his magic to gain some time. He cradled the child in his arms, trying not to think how unfair this was, and crouched far enough away from the car to lay the boy down so he could go back and save the mother – but he was too late again. As Merlin was getting up, he heard a loud bang, and the ensuing blast blinded and deafened him for a while.
And despite all the pain and confusion, cradling the young child against his heart, whispering It's alright. It'll be alright. I've got you to the still unconscious child, he felt grateful – grateful Arthur was alive.
Ten years later, the boy was still living with him. It had been hard at the beginning. 'Arthur' – though it wasn't his real name – seemed to trust him implicitly, and after beating the warlock with his tiny fists when Merlin told him his parents were in heaven and that even he didn't have the power to bring them back, the child took to clinging to him fearfully every time a stranger tried to get close and ask strange questions like 'Do you have any remaining family?' or 'When's your birthday?' and 'What were your Dad and Mom's names?' So when the police couldn't find his relatives, when nobody answered the ads in the newspapers, and when social workers tried to get a screaming and kicking and crying Arthur away from Merlin, Merlin couldn't take it anymore and decided Arthur had had enough pain for one lifetime – and they disappeared.
Arthur never called him Dad. Merlin had insisted on it. They didn't even bear the same names, and it was only the warlock's magic that kept people from asking too many questions about their strange family. It was far easier to hide in plain sight when people didn't believe in you anymore, and so easy to fool that damned technology. So they led a relatively quiet life, were relatively happy. Merlin could tell Arthur saw the ghosts of the past in his eyes sometimes, but he couldn't help that; and though Arthur didn't seem to remember, maybe he understood.
If was difficult for him. Painful. Arthur had been his lover. And now he was this little boy, growing up, getting sick and healthy again, and Merlin was conflicted. Not that he saw his lover in that boy, not that he felt things the way he had felt them so long ago, but he had his memories, and sometimes Arthur would look so much like his lost lover, or say something that sounded so much like him that, filled with longing for his lost love, Merlin had to swallow against the lump in his throat, thought about the life they had led together, or wish he hadn't found Arthur like this – and he felt dirty and hated himself for thinking like this.
But Merlin was a man as well, and as a man, he had certain needs, and though more than a decade long he managed to keep his affairs from his charge, managed to be discreet – so discreet in fact that it ruined any relationship he might have had before he really had had them. He didn't love his fuck buddies anyway – so maybe it wasn't a great loss. But nothing prepared him for the mortification he felt that day, at three in the fucking morning, when a fourteen-year-old Arthur found him pressed against the fridge by a blond-haired stranger munching on his neck.
Arthur had stared at him, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, and before Merlin could register what was happening and act on it, he read hurt in Arthur's eyes, betrayal, fury, Arthur threw down the glass he was holding, sending it crashing against the tiles, and ran away. Merlin's heart skipped a beat and he reached for the boy, pushing the man, calling Arthur's name desperately, and as this night's partner turned nasty and started throwing insults at his face, and wasn't he ashamed to bed such a young man, practically a child, what the fuck was he thinking, he should call the police… and incensed at his implications, Merlin fried far more of the man's nerve cells when he removed his memories than was strictly necessary.
Then he ran up to Arthur's room, but the door was closed. He pounded on the door, begged, but Arthur wouldn't open it.
Eventually, exhausted, he sagged against it – and slept.
It was Arthur who woke him the following morning, with a surprisingly gentle push at his shoulder.
There was something off – something more than just what had transpired the previous day, but neither of them broached the subject, and since Arthur kept his eyes lowered as they ate breakfast, the only emotion Merlin caught in Arthur's gaze was uncertainty. It hurt Merlin more than plain rejection. He couldn't fall in love with his charge, could he? Anyway he hadn't. Not when Arthur was just a child – even though he could see more and more of the man within him every passing day. And even though Merlin started to wonder whether Arthur had recovered any memory of their previous life together.
But that was then, and this was now. Even though he longed to be joined with his Arthur again, this young man was not 'just' Arthur. He was a child he had seen grow taller and stronger and more and more handsome, year after year, while he himself remained the same. Unchanged. On the outside anyway.
But then, just like that, Arthur looked up from his bowl of cereals and said:
'I want to attend a boarding school.'
Merlin felt his face crumble. And even though there was an apology in those blue eyes, something that told him Please don't hate me, Merlin knew Arthur was conscious of the pain he was inflicting on his keeper. Arthur knew too well the power he held over him. The warlock took his napkin from the tabletop to lay it on his knees and smooth the fabric distractedly, an excuse to hide his trembling hands from Arthur's sight. He kept his eyes lowered on his eggs, on the stupid ketchup smile he had taken to draw on them because Arthur wouldn't eat in the morning when his eggs weren't smiling, and fought against the lump in his throat. Guilt, shame, and the feeling he was a dirty, sad, lonely old man were consuming him, and he knew Arthur had every right to feel – whatever it was that he was feeling, and to keep away.
'Yes. It'll be best. For both of us.'
Merlin raised a tentative gaze towards his charge, and when he met Arthur's blue, unreadable gaze, he regretted all those times when he had Arthur close and could have seized the day, made the most of what their relationship, as it was, could bring him, but had wished he was somewhere else, some other time, with his body flushed against Arthur, his skin heated against his, their open mouths pressed against one another so they could share air – life. He wished he hadn't wasted all those years. He knew he looked miserable. He couldn't help it.
'You must be right', he sighed.
He didn't have to like it, though. A small, tentative smile, reeking of regret.
'You always are. Aren't you, Arthur?'
'Someone here has to keep his head on his shoulders.'
There was affectionate teasing in his voice, and Merlin felt himself relax fractionally. It didn't deliver him from his regrets, though.
'You'll be okay without me?'
'I'll survive. There's the telly. And my job.'
'Try not to blow up the house. I want to return to something.'
Merlin blinked away some tears.
'I'll miss you', he said.'
'I know', Arthur answered.
They stayed there for a while. 'I'll miss you too' was left unsaid, and stayed between them like a wall when, a month later, Merlin saw the teenager to his new school.
They spent the holidays together, after that, and though they didn't speak of Merlin's (now inexistent) sex life the first few years, Arthur, uncommonly nervous, tried to broach the subject during the summer between his sixteen and seventeen summers. The damage hadn't been repaired, but its blade had apparently been blunted, and it was a dull, throbbing ache in Merlin's heart, ever present, but not sharp enough for him to be aware of the pain most of the time.
If Arthur had decided to go away partly so that Merlin could live his own life, he had been gravely mistaken. So when he told Merlin that he would very much like to meet his boyfriend, see if he was worthy of the warlock, and 'squash his ugly head flat' if Arthur decided he wasn't worthy enough, Merlin blinked, then laughed like he hadn't laughed in years. As Arthur, flushing, irritated, was getting up, Merlin reached to hold his arm and make him stay, and explained to him that he had no boyfriend. Conflicted emotions played on Arthur's face as he seemed to try to determine whether he should sit back down (which he did eventually), but Merlin tried not to read too far into them.
Arthur waited a bit, then admitted.
'I've missed you.'
Merlin grinned, relieved.
There was something in Arthur's intense blue eyes, something Merlin didn't dare to place – and just like that, it was gone.
'You still have one year to spend in that blasted school of yours, though', Merlin teased.
Merlin never really knew for sure whether Arthur remembered or not. And what he remembered. If he remembered them at all. He had told the young man he was a warlock – showed him even, very early on. When it seemed the child wouldn't sleep at night, haunted like he was by nightmares picturing screaming women and cars tumbling and a huge, roaring, devouring fire, those nights when Arthur came in Merlin's room to curl around him under his blankets, trembling, the warlock made animals of light dance against the ceiling, made them dance until the boy fell into a sleep devoid of cars of any sort…
Nothing prepared Merlin, the day of Arthur's graduation from high school – Arthur who looked so much like his past self that Merlin wondered if genetics had anything to do with looks after all – when the young, blond man pushed him against the entrance door of their house, stared at him with a special, craving, wounded look, and just after recognition hit the dark-haired man, his pulse beating faster and faster again – Arthur… – Shh it's me… It's me… You understand, Merlin? It's 'me'… – the blond man proceeded to kiss him thoroughly, open-mouthed and greedy, and for a few seconds, whimpering, Merlin thought Thank God he went to that blasted school of his… So easier to dissociate that kiss given by a young man from the child he had raised himself.
They pressed against each other frantically, starved for each other's touch and scent, aching, longing, and Merlin almost cried from the pain as he tried to pull Arthur even closer, Arthur who was shushing him softly and saying – Shh, love, it'll be alright. It'll be alright. I'm here, now. I'm here. And I'm not leaving…
Merlin didn't want to be selfish, but he was, and as he lay in his lover's arms that night, looking up at the ceiling and the stars beyond that, he wondered whether this time, fate would let him comb Arthur's grey hair…