A/N: And here brings the end of Life and Again. I've really enjoyed writing this series. And I'm so grateful to all of you who left me reviews. That's seriously why I write this drivel. Not gonna lie though, I'm pretty proud of this segment structurally and linguistically. (Not to mention, the Old English bit in here? Yeah, probably butchered it, but spent a good half hour researching... lol.)
Anyway. Enjoy, and thanks for sticking with me. ~Shin
Then there are lives like this.
"Arthur! You can't just... just do that!" Merlin throws her hands up in the air, screaming. They've already had this fight. Many times.
"Well, I'm sorry, Merlin!" Arthur shouts, voice full of thunder and sarcasm.
"No you're not!" Merlin shrieks, reaching for the nearest object—a china plate—and chucking it at Arthur.
"Merlin!" Arthur gapes, pressing her hair to her head as she ducks to the side.
Merlin can't find it within herself to look guilty.
Arthur's face tightens. "Ass."
"You take advantage of me, Arthur," Merlin says, voice low and angry.
"And you don't me, of course," Arthur scoffs, voice fairly dripping with scorn.
"Gods! Arthur!" She chucks a mug for good measure. "I hate you!" She whirls and stalks out, tossing another plate as a parting gift.
"Yeah? Yeah well I hate you too!" Arthur's voice is shrill and breaking behind her.
It's dark in their home, Arthur sulking in her rooms, Merlin curled into herself in the corner of the downstairs coat closet, crying until the tears can't come anymore. She cries until there's nothing left but shaking shoulders and soft, wrung noises.
She fixed the broken chine from her closet hiding place, hugging her knees, dragging the backs of her hands over her tear-stained cheeks.
"Merlin?" Arthur's voice calls from far away—probably the top of the stairs. "Merlin..." She calls again, pulling the closet door open.
Merlin looks up, the utter wrecked expression on her face making her tears start again.
Arthur stands there awkwardly, one hand clenched by her side. Clenching. Unclenching.
Merlin's face screws up and she bawls, "Arthur, why does it have to be this way?"
Arthur looks away, voice thick. "It doesn't."
"But it is!"
"Oh, Merlin..." Arthur sinks to her knees and crawls into the closet, drawing Merlin into her arms.
"I'm sorry," Arthur whispers truthfully, quietly, after her shirt is soaked through with tears.
"I'm... I'm so sorry! I really am!" Merlin blubbers.
Arthur pulls back and kisses her lips. "I love you. We don't have to move."
"But your promotion..."
"You're more important," Arthur whispers quietly.
Merlin takes a deep shuddery breath. "Arthur. Arthur, tomorrow?"
"I need to show you something."
"Okay. Okay," Arthur murmurs soothingly.
"I should have shown you years ago. Lifetimes.."
Arthur gives her an alarmed look, but Merlin gives her back a soft enticing smile.
"It's nothing bad. You'll like it."
They retreat upstairs to their bedroom, have a long slow session of make-up sex, and then fall asleep.
In the morning, Merlin wakes first, showers, and starts breakfast while Arthur showers and dresses.
They both look exponentially better after sex, shower, food, and tea, so Merlin grabs the car keys and heads for the door.
"Driving?" Arthur archs an eyebrow. "That's so old-fashioned."
Merlin grins. "I'm feeling nostalgic."
"'Port not good enough today?"
Merlin shakes her head. "Not today. I want to wait to get there." She leads Arthur up to the garage, and slides into the driver's seat, waiting until Arthur is seated and buckled before starting the car."
"Ready, Merlin," she says softly. Even though she didn't need to.
The steering stick extends into reach and Merlin guides them up into the air, soaring above the buildings. There's hardly any traffic anymore since the wide-spread installation of the teleport system, but Merlin takes it slow anyway, swooping until walk-bridges and arching between buildings.
Every once in a while, Merlin looks over at Arthur, blonde hair shining golden in the gloaming rise of the son, hanging loose and wavy past her shoulders. The leather—real leather, expensive—trousers hug her legs, red top hugging her curves and stopping halfway down her torso to show off taut abs. She's gorgeous. Just as always. Her strong arms fold loosely into her lap, fingers tapping—the only sign she's a little impatient.
"You won't tell me where we're going?"
Merlin shakes her head. "I can't."
"What does that mean, Merlin?"
"Don't," she pleads. "Please don't be cross. Let's not start."
Arthur gives a sharp nod before returning her gaze out the window.
The city eases by until they're out in Old London Proper. Arthur sits up and pays attention.
Merlin steers them through a seedy bit of town and then soars upwards to park atop Old London National Bank. Stops the car.
Merlin nods and gets out, locking the doors once Arthur's done the same. "Here." They step into a 'port, pressing a floor number, getting out on 16.
"Hello," says the receptionist as they enter.
"Hello," Merlin returns. "We're here to see a safety-deposit box."
"And your names?" She swivels a screen in their idrection.
"Mari Emerson and Arlynn Pedden," she says as she writes the same. "Shit. What's the date?"
"2 September. 2942," Arthur murmurs.
"Right." She turns to the receptionist. "That's not the name the box will be under though. It'll be under Merlin Emrys Ambrose." She shifts a look at Arthur, who merely frowns with curiosity.
"It..." the receptionist frowned, typing quickly. "Oh! It's been a while since anyone's come."
Merlin nods, knowing the curiosity must be killing his other half.
"Okay, Ms. Emerson. Special instructions prompt for a password, allowing for one guest only, someone who identifies as 'Arthur.'"
"That would be me." Arthur steps forward.
"And Arthur's last name?"
"Pendragon," she says without hesitation.
The woman enters some information and then a password screen pops up in front of Merlin. She looks at Arthur, smiles, and then slowly types the password, Arthur's eyes going wide.
Mryddin freogan Arður.
"Really, Mari?" she says, though her voice catches.
Merlin just smiles.
"Arthur loves Merlin too, you know," she mumbles, hardly over the level of hearing. Merlin knows anyway.
"Okay," the receptionist chirps. "Parker, when he gets here, will lead you down to the boxes. Thank you for visiting!"
Merlin nodes and takes Arthur's hand as they step off to the side. They follow Parker, a bland looking man in a suit, down four flights of old-fashioned stairs and then down a hallway to a barred wall. Parker flashes his keycard, scans his hand and retinas before the three of them pass through.
"What is this, Merlin," Arthur whispers.
Merlin shakes her head, long hair tickling the back of her arms and lower back where her shirt has ridden up.
"Ladies, your box is A3. Here are your keys." He handed them a swipe card and two metal keys. "Please ring the buzzer when you've finished."
"Thank you, Parker," Merlin murmurs attractively. "We'll be a while." Merlin turns and leads Arthur down the rows of locker-like safety-deposit boxes. At the end of the rows, Merlin stops in front of a large door marked A3.
"This doesn't look like a box, Merlin," Arthur mutters.
Merlin just smiles, swipes the card, dials a combination and turns the keys. "Thank you, Milord Obvious. Of course, that would be because all that's in here doesn't fit in a box."
She opens the door.
Arthur gapes. She turns her gaze to Merlin. "This... is..." Moves further into the room and spins in a slow circle. "That... That's... Merlin, is that my armour? My honest to goodness armour?" Arthur rushes forwards, running a hand over the cool metal glinting in the display light. "It looks... My God, it looks like I wore it yesterday..."
Merlin shifts, leaning against the door frame, watching the play of emotions across her face as she coos over the portrait of their family in France, hundreds of other painted portraits, polaroids, photos, Digital Image Captures, and holos.
"Merlin..." Arthur's voice breaks, lifting a small puzzle-piece link bracelet. "How..." She trails off, picking up Merlin's staff from their first life. "And... our wedding bands?"
"You gave me many, Arthur, but those are our first." She clasped hands in front of her, watching Arthur move amongst the mementoes of their past lives.
"Ha... your specs... The—gods, Merlin, really? The arrows that killed us? That's morbid."
She grins. "History."
It goes on. The books they've written. Dog tags. Newspaper clippings, jewellery (all of the wedding bands that Merlin could collect that they'd gifted one another), photo albums, wedding announcements, obituaries, clothing, Arthur's cane, VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, DICs, Vcs, a quilt, memory boxes, Merlin's spellbook, scrapbooks full of concert tickets, plane tickets, cinema tickets, amusement park tickets, theatre tickets, their first wedding dresses—both Arthur's and Merlin's, dried corsages and butineers, letters, Arthur's paintings and Merlin's novels, pet collars, journals, recipes, poetry, hospital bracelets, 3 versions of Merlin's tonsils, Arthur's appendix, ancient computers, Arthur's crown, flash drives, coats of arms, party invitations, a piñata, a tea set, heirloom china, tapestries, travel mementoes, the horrid statue a foreign dignitary had gifted to Arthur one life that the two of them had giggled over horribly, the tooth Arthur accidentally kicked out of Merlin's mouth, a leather jacket of Merlin's that made Arthur flush from memories, graduation tassels and hundreds of degrees all filed in cabinets for "Arthur" and "Merlin" listed from earliest to latest, horse bridles, garters, anniversary gifts, a whole corner full of instruments including a lute Arthur had used to woo Merlin, Arthur's guitars, Merlin's flute and piano, a bicycle and a penny-farthing, shoes, an old victrola, a stack of first-run Beatles albums with figurine bobble-heads to match, and, at the very back of the vault, Arthur's bed, Excalibur lovingly racked beside it.
"Oh Merlin..." Arthur gives her a lop-sided smile as she tries not to cry, voice thick. "You terrible pack rat!"
Merlin laughs quietly, moving forward past Arthur to sit on Arthur's bed. "I kept it all for us."
"I know, you idiot! Gods, Merlin. Only you. You and your magic. This shouldn't even be—your brilliant magic..." Arthur smiles, the same tender smile in all the photos where his eyes are fixed on Merlin. "I love you, you know."
Merlin nods. "I know. I love you too. Always. It was never about moving."
"I know. I don't need the promotion though. We're comfortable." She looks up at her bed, fingers trailing through the fabric of the drape before settling on Excalibur's hilt, breath easing out like she had found home. "We never argue about what we really mean..."
"I... I feel lost."
"We've done this so many times. So many places. So many..." Arthur lifts Excalibur. "I keep thinking: this will be the one." She falls silent again. "But every time... it's just an exercise in waiting. Like holding your breath. You know? You're just waiting for air." Meeting Merlin's eyes almost shyly, she returns Excalibur to its places. "I feel like we're always just waiting for air. Even when we say it's just for us. We can enjoy this one life. Hide away in our country homes. But we're always holding our breath, Merlin."
The lop-sided smile returns. "Stuck on that, are you? All-knowing bastard."
Merlin grabs Arthur's hand and pulls her forward, off-balance enough to fall onto the bed beside her. "I know. And Arthur, this one? Let's have this really be just for us. Yeah?"
"Definitely." Cupping her face, Arthur smiles. A brilliant of-old smile, wide and like the sun, making everything that could come their way fade into the background. A smile that shows Merlin the force of Arthur's love and wipes away the unease, worry, hesitations, and doubt. A smile for them. A smile for the rest of their lives.