Our Destiny is Time (And Endlessly We'll All Be Free Tonight)

All recognizable characters belong to their respective owners (BBC, Dragonforce). For a prompt on Kink_Me_Merlin.

Once upon a time, there was a boy. That's not where our story begins, but it must be told. There was a boy, and he was magical...

All in all, everything was wonderful. Gaius was proud of him, Uther was happy about saving face, Arthur was happy about not losing pride, and nobody's dead, or even seriously hurt.

Okay, Morgana might not be very happy on account of she wasn't on the throne, but Merlin's really quite okay with that.

Gilli learned his lesson, and Merlin was happy to have told someone about his magic. He's still a bit worried about having someone outside of Camelot knowing, and how the knowledge might spread, but that's a problem for another time.

Still, something was bothering Merlin, rumbling at the back of his mind, causing a restlessness in him.

"You've spent so long pretending that you've forgotten who you really are."

Merlin showed up at Gaius's door halfway through the day, a bit wild-eyed. "Please do you need more herbs?" he asked, almost pleaded.

"Of course, my boy; I could always use more colt's-foot and comfry. What's the matter?"

Merlin shook his head, unable to quite explain. "It...itches," he tried, but that wasn't quite right.

Gaius raised a brow at him. "I see. When was the last time you used it?"

"Gilli," Merlin said, wrapping his arms around himself miserably. "But before that? I'm not sure. It's been...months."

"Go, take the afternoon," Gaius advised.

Merlin did.

He rode out as far as he dared, and found a field. He stood in the middle of it for a while, wondering what to do.

He shrugged, then reached for his magic. It surged up through him, and he pulled, calling on more and more, until he couldn't take another mote. Then he threw out his arms, opened up, and let it flow.

The grass shot up, flowers grew bigger and brighter, trees put out new leaves, and he laughed. He spent some time just like that, channeling pure joy and swaying to the music of the birdsong.

He made it a point to ride out for a while every so often. He picked different directions, different spots, and brought life back to them. He needed to let the magic work as much as the land needed him.

This isn't where we begin either, but it's important. Hush, listen. Once upon a time, there was a wood, and it was magical....

It took him quite a while to realize that he'd adopted a forest. He'd kept coming back to the same grove every other, or every three times, and it'd gone from a copse to an actual forest. His first clue that he'd been there too much was the dryad.

She came swaying out of the trees, superhumanly tall, unbelievably graceful and beautiful. She giggled and spoke to him in the language of nature, and he was enchanted.

They danced to the wind until nightfall.

His forest was large, by this point. It was vibrant and glorious, and there were many dryads, living in peace and happiness. He went whenever he got the chance, and they told him breathless stories of their mother earth, of the stars, of magic. They laughed, and called him 'Lord Emrys' and they begged to see magic and were amazed by it. They took it in, drank it up, and loved it, and him. They begged for his attention, and clung when he had to leave.

It was a nice change from Camelot, really.

One day, Gwen decided she wanted flowers for Morgana. Merlin joined her, and they completely accidentally rode towards his forest. Gwen paused here and there to pick a bloom, and Merlin suddenly felt reckless.

"There's a place not too far from here that's got the best flowers," he said, and Gwen's eyes lit up.

"Show me?" she asked, and for a second he thought she might already know.

"Okay," he agreed, "but it's a secret, okay?"

She giggled. "No, really," he said seriously. "I'm about to show you something I've never ever shared. Can I trust you?"

"Of course," she replied, and he saw her honesty in her eyes.

He smiled at her, full and real, and grabbed her hand. "Come on, then!"

There are only as many beginnings as there are ends. That is to say, none. But once upon a time, there was a maidservant, and she was about to find something magical...

They entered the forest with her on his arm. She saw the flowers around the clearings and gasped. "I've never seen anything like them!" she exclaimed.

"You wouldn't have," Merlin smiled, and then one of the new dryads danced toward him from the trees. Gwen's nose was in a flower, and so she didn't notice.

"Emrys," the dryad sighed. Gwen jumped when she spoke and turned just in time to catch Merlin laugh and the dryad kiss his cheek.

"This is my friend Gwen," he introduced, and Gwen stumbled forward to curtsy.

"Merlin!" she hissed as she grabbed onto his arm. "What are you doing?"

"Emrys is our friend, Lady," a nymph said, and strolled out to join them, hanging onto Merlin's other arm. "He gives of himself that we might live."

"Merlin?" Gwen asked warily. He turned to her with eyes of gold, and watched the pieces click into place. The grass grew greener, the trees larger, the flowers brighter. "Merlin," she whispered, awed.

She suddenly noticed the happy, alive atmosphere of the place, and saw how at home Merlin was here. She looked at the flowers in her hands, and the ones growing wild. "Shall we tell a story?" asked a voice of wind behind her.

"Yes!" Merlin answered eagerly.

Gwen found herself spellbound, and at dusk, she didn't want to leave.

Life grew easier at the castle with Gwen to talk to, and Merlin was thankful for that. She'd been smiling more, recently, and he took to surprising her with bits of magic; conjured flowers, gifts, pictures in flame, and the like. Midwinter had arrived, and Merlin was run ragged preparing for the festivals and the feast. He hadn't gotten a chance to go to his forest in a while, and he missed it.

Gwen passed him in the hall, and stopped to squeeze his hand. "Soon," she whispered, "soon." He smiled thankfully at her, and she smiled back. "May I come too?" She asked yearningly, looking at the laundry in her arms.

He laughed. "You're always welcome, Gwen," he said, and thanked her. He still missed the trees, but it was better. He created a small hairpin with a real rose on it, and tucked it into her hair for her. She dimpled and left him behind to stare out the window.

As if they could hear his thoughts, the dryads had joined together to call for him. 'Emrys!' they giggled in his head, and then breathlessly, 'Won't you come tonight? Dance in our branches and give of yourself to renew the life in the land. Tonight, we sing with the moon!'

I'll be there, he swore, and let the winds take his promise to them.

"So," he said blithely, later, "will you need me after the feast?"

Arthur's lips tugged upwards in a smile. "Why, got a date?"

Merlin laughed. "I've been invited to this party, see. Music, dancing, lots of pretty girls, people who actually talk to me, that sort of thing."

"I think I can manage," Arthur said. "By all means, go talk to your pretty girls. And if you disturb me before midday tomorrow, I shall toss you in the stocks."

"Sire," Merlin acknowledged, smiling himself.

He waited until he knew he wouldn't be missed, and left.

The celebration in his forest that night was, in all ways, magical. There was laughter and dancing and water more potent that wine, because it was real, true, pure water. Birds and deer and all sorts of wildlife came to watch and participate, and the land was truly one.

Merlin woke feeling comfortably drained of magic, a state of being he'd never experienced before. Of course, he was also faintly glowing.

Before they let him leave, they made him promise to come on midsummer's eve as well. He was already looking forward to it.

"How was your party, then?" Arthur asked the next day.

Merlin dimpled, because he really couldn't help it. "Best I've ever been to," he replied truthfully.

It took a second, then Arthur smiled, and plied him with questions about the 'pretty girls'.

"Gorgeous creatures," he answered truthfully, even though he knew how Arthur would take it. But Merlin had added up that second and the state of Arthur's chambers and had already realized that Arthur spent last night in his rooms. Alone, and likely drunk.

Arthur is a melancholic drunk.

Merlin made small talk, answering Arthur's questions with half-truths, even as he planned.

He meant to bring it up, really he did. But being in his forest always swept it away, made him revel in the joy of nature and forget his human life.

Time passed, and spring came to his forest. There were fruits and flowers and berries and new life everywhere. The songs were light, airy, and welcoming, and Merlin constantly drained his magic there. It kept coming back, quicker and stronger, and Merlin blamed it on the season.

Arthur made passing comments on the amount of herb-picking he did, and Merlin reminded him of Gaius's age. The whole thing reminded him of his plans, and he vowed to talk to the dryads the next time he was there.

As it turned out, he didn't need to. As he prepared to leave one day, one of the newly-arrived nymphs plucked at his sleeve.

"Bring the Lord," she said in the voice of water. "Ask him to our dance."

"Arthur?" he asked, just to confirm.

"The Lord," they chorused, and a bird continues, "The boy of the castle on the hill."

Merlin had been prepared to fight for this. "Why?" he asked, truly curious. "He is of Pendragon blood."

"He is the Lord as you are the Land," the nymph explained, swaying in place. "He will come, and dance with us, and we will join him to us, and to the magic, and to the land. He will be marked, and only then will he be a True King, as there has not been in countless turnings." This made perfect sense to Merlin, and so he acquiesced.

As he turned to leave, they whisper, "Bring the Lord," to his back.

He marked his promise with words and magic.

"So," he asked later, "what are the plans for after the feast?"

Arthur sighed, but Merlin could see the smile hiding in the corner of his mouth. "You and your parties, Merlin. I swear."

"Well, yes," Merlin said, ducking his head and poking the fire. "But they wanted you to come, too."

There was silence, and then Arthur said, doubt heavy in his voice, "Really?"

"They were quite insistent," Merlin informed him, shaking his head dramatically. "'Bring Arthur' this and 'Bring Arthur' that. Wouldn't let me leave until I'd promised to ask."

"Oh," said Arthur in a small voice, and Merlin did him the courtesy of looking at the fire until he said, "Very well, I suppose I can spare the time."

Merlin could well guess he'd never been to a party that hadn't been held in the Great Hall, or hadn't involved his knights. So he forgave Arthur the posturing and the immediate addition of, "And I shall be very put out if the girls aren't gorgeous. You promised."

Merlin laughed. "You've never seen their like, that I promise."

Arthur kept catching Merlin's eye during the feast, and Merlin smiled reassuringly at him every time. He was getting a bit antsy himself, feeling his magic rise with the moon and grow with the dark. He wanted out.

Finally, Uther rose, which signaled the end of the feast and the start of the dancing. Arthur rose, caught Merlin's eye, and motioned towards the door.

Merlin waited in the hall while Arthur said something to someone, and then they headed up. Merlin took the steps two at a time, and Arthur quickened his pace to keep up. He pushed past Merlin, who smiled and took longer strides. At some point, it turned into a race, and they tumbled into Arthur's chambers breathless and laughing, and Merlin knew that the same anticipation was building in Arthur's stomach as well.

Merlin doused the fire and stirred the coals. He messed up the bed to make it seem slept in, and then sat on it. Arthur was going through his chest and discarding clothes.

"You know, it's very hard to figure out what to wear when you won't tell me where we're going, or whom with," he complained, then stood to rake his eyes over Merlin's attire.

Merlin's jitters doubled when Arthur's eyes stuck unfairly. "It doesn't matter," he tried, and it didn't.

Arthur stared at him in consternation, then slammed the lid and said, "Oh, fine." He changed into his every day clothes, possibly in an attempt to look less obviously royal.

It didn't work. But then, perhaps Merlin was just biased.

Once upon a time, there was a prince. He'll be king soon, just watch. He has the hearts of the people, the love of the land, and the loyalty of a wizard. He'll be king, but not yet.

This is where we start, for now. Once upon a time, there was a price, and he was about to become magical...

Merlin knows Arthur didn't expect to ride at all, much less ride this far. He's getting impatient, so Merlin soothes him with an "Almost there," and it's true.

There's an explosion of laughter ahead, carried on the wind. "See?" Merlin grins. Arthur straightens his posture, and strains his eyes trying to see.

Merlin's letting bits of himself fall away now, becoming less mundane, more magic. Less Merlin, more Emrys. He can see the trees ahead, and there are already cats and rabbits and mice and birds coming out to meet them.

Merlin dismounts, and Arthur follows suit. Merlin is perfectly at his ease now, here in the place he's made, but he can see Arthur's nerves. He doesn't know what exactly is going on, but he trusts Merlin.

Merlin's heart flips a bit at that, and he takes Arthur's hand, and pulls.

They walk into the trees and out into a clearing, and a dryad steps out to meet them. Arthur hisses and tightens his grip on Merlin.

The dryad is swaying in the wind. She's the oldest, the first to arrive here in Merlin's forest. He knows her name, but human throats were not made to speak nature's language. "Hail, Lord," she says, and Arthur relaxes a bit. Her voice is the winds over branches, and ever so soothing. "Hail, Lord, and welcome. Came you safe, and keep you safe, and safe you'll ride from here. Tonight is a dance, and it is sacred."

Arthur nods, and the dryads and nymphs and others come pouring out of the trees, and Merlin goes to meet them. "Hail, Emrys," they call; "Hail, Land!" Merlin laughs and takes their hands, and they twirl out and Arthur sees.

The dance is the land, and the magic. It comes together, and it must stay together. He watches and notices the place that's empty. He frowns; something's just off, and not quite right. Merlin spins a nymph to the left, and Arthur understands, suddenly, that the missing spot is left open for him.

He joins in without a thought.

He is holding the hands of a slight girl with overly-large eyes. He's not sure what she is, beyond spectacular. She is beaming and she says, "We've been waiting, Lord." He grins back, and the dance spins them apart. Every one of his partners is gorgeous, inhuman, and greets him warmly.

It ends, and there's lots of laughing and collapsing. He sits down, and he finds that he's thirsty. Merlin appears at just that moment, dropping next to him, and hands him a cup made from leaves. It looks like water, so he takes a sip.

"What is this?" he asks Merlin, awe in his voice. It's potent and perfect and pure, and he's never tasted anything like it.

Merlin beams at him. "It's water," he says, and laughs. "It's the essence of water; what it's meant to be."

Arthur stares at his cup. "No way," he says, and downs the rest.

Merlin is still laughing at him, and leans over to take the cup. Arthur holds it out of reach. Merlin's eyes flash gold, and the cup is levitating over to him. Arthur stares. "No fair," he says, and kisses him.

Merlin opens to him, completely on-board and unsurprised. Arthur doesn't know why it's taken him this long to work this out. His mouth is warm and willing, tastes of water and feels like home.

The cheering raises around him, and he breaks off to see that they're the center of attention. There is a cat of a colour he's never seen sitting by Merlin's head. It smiles. "The Lord will be one with the Land," it hisses, and laughs. "By all means, don't let us stop you."

Arthur flushes, but Merlin's chuckling. Another dance starts up around them, and he fists his hand in Arthur's tunic and pulls him back in.

The rest of the night goes by in flashes of sex and singing and dancing and drinking, and one point there is magic. Arthur can't remember it clearly when he wakes, but he's got the taste of Merlin on his tongue and of magic in his veins, and he's supremely happy anyhow.

The moss is softer than his own bed, and he lays there, content with being, until Merlin wakes as well. There are cups of water, real water, left for them, so they drink and kiss and find their clothes. Merlin is letting Arthur tie his kerchief when the dryad reappears. "Hail, Lord," she says, and "Hail, King-to-Come."

He smiles and nods, then turns to Merlin and hisses, "What?"

Merlin rolls his eyes, as if this should all be perfectly obvious. "The land has accepted you as Heir. When you are king, you'll be a True King."

The dryad nods. "We welcome you, King-to-Come, and wish you peace. Go you safe, and keep you safe, and come safe home to us." Then she dances forward to kiss Merlin on the cheek, and giggles. "Return to us soon, Emrys, for we do miss you sorely." She leans forward even further, and says it like a secret; "We have new stories to share."

Merlin manages a bow that is effortless and perfect, and that Arthur has never seen before. "I make you my promise, and seal it with stars," he says, and she giggles more and disappears into the trees.

By the time they reach their horses, Arthur is smiling. "You and your parties, Merlin," he says as they ride out. "I swear."

This is not an ending, nor is it a beginning. It is a story, and it is so, so magical. There are words and sounds, voices and songs. There is a wizard and a king-to-be, and there's magic and love. We tell these stories even now, and so they stay, stuck in time without end. This is not a beginning, because there is no end.

Once upon a time...

...but you knew that already.