When the light faded, Arthur blinked. Once, twice, and again, a frown growing on his face he gazed at the thriving market, and the somehow familiar bulk of the tower above him. Down the slope he could see the tops of houses, thatched and slated, and beyond the city walls lay fields of red and gold, a winding road giving way to dark forests ion the horizon. Around him men and women wove to and fro in blissful domesticity, oblivious to his presence, laughing and scowling and picking fruit from stalls laden with anything a man could want. Two children sat, not two yards away, pulling sugared fruit from a bag with gleeful expressions, and a dog lay at their feet, twitching and growling in the Hunt of Dreams.
Merlin stood next to him, hood down, and he wasn't looking at Arthur. His gaze rested on the people, a smile playing on his features, the infuriating benevolent smile of a god that saw far beyond the gaze of mortals. The tension was gone from his shoulders so his limbs hung loose at his sides, and now his face and form looked far too young for the burdens they carried, but for the years that clustered in the corners of his eyes.
A shock ran up Arthurs arm as a girl ran through it, laughing over her shoulder at her parents without seeing them, and his head jerked up to stare at Merlin with a look of wonderment. It took a moment, as if to remember he was even there, but eventually the warlock turned, eyes once again guarded, and held out his hand without a word. And all the normal rules seemed suspended it seemed, because Arthur took it, and let himself be led through the throng, the two of them passing through like a pair of ghosts. No-one noticed their going, or even shivered as they moved through limbs and bodies like so much mist, but suddenly Arthur released him, moving towards where a large crowd gathered.
A small boy, no older than thirteen, stood with his hands out, a soft smile on his lips. A man faced him, all crooked lines and weathered features, with limbs bent as an old apple tree, and he leant on a stick as if for support. But fire blazed in the old mans eyes, fire of violet and green, and suddenly it leapt forth from the tip of his staff, racing towards the child with a fury no one could stop. Arthur leapt forward with a cry, forgetting in his panic that none could see him, but no-one else moved, despite the gasp that ran through the crowd. Flames blazed outwards; and the child had gone. Between one heartbeat and the next the boy had vanished, only to reappear on the other side of the ring. And now his eyes were open, and Arthur could see even from a distance the power that danced and snapped in them. Not fire, like the old mans, but strong and steady as the earth; an immovable, unstoppable force.
The ground began to quake, great heaving shifts that sent onlookers tumbling to the ground, but the old tower stood, moving softly with the motion. Had Arthur been able to turn he would have seen Merlin close his eyes, to rock with it, and tendrils of light wrap round his wrist, covering the tattoo till it glowed like the dawn. But he did not turn.
"It's a tournament. They have one every year, around this time." Came the voice from behind him, and Arthur frowned through the rumbling of the earth.
A laugh, sharp and almost cynical. "Is it so very different from yours?" Merlin asked, and in that moment he was very much a sorcerer. Arthur didn't reply, half from indignation, half out the concentration needed to keep his footing.
Eventually, when the old man had tumbled to the floor and raised his hand in surrender, the shaking stopped, and the druid boy smiled, smiled at the crowd that leapt cheering to its feet. It took a moment, for the light to hit his face at just the right angle, and it was then that Arthur recognised him. "Is that..." he began to ask, but Merlin cut him off.
"Yes, that's Mordred," Merlin murmured, and Arthur frowned in question without turning his head. "He was going to be the one who killed you." He said, eyes never leaving the crowd in front of him, even as Arthur turned; suspicion a shadow in his eyes. The warlock's tongue clicked in irritation, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to stave off a headache, and waved away the hand that fell to the king's sword belt. "Was, Arthur. Was going to be the one who killed you. That's all gone now; Morgana's Bane, Mordred's role, the Once and Future King, all of it."
"But not Emrys."
Merlin shook his head, but a sigh escaped him, and Arthur knew defeat when he saw it. His friend's eyes were old again, old as the hills and darkness and voices in the night, and for a moment they were so very sad as he stared at the druid boy. "No, not Emrys. I had to be Emrys for all of this to start; but he's me, and I'm him, and we're the Magic. All of it, and I can't just give up being who I am."
Even as he spoke, Merlin's eyes were fixed on Mordred, till the boy looked up as the crowd dispersed, staring straight at the spot where they were standing. And then the child, who had seemed when Arthur had met him so silent and serious, smiled a soft trusting smile, and raised a small hand in greeting.
And Merlin smiled back as he returned the salute, and there is was again; the sadness was pushed back and the joy had returned, a gentle, loving look at Arthur knew very well, because it was how he felt when he stood on the battlements and looked down across his city. These people made him happy, Arthur realised, here Merlin was himself, whole and complete.
And now that Arthur looked, he could see signs of magic everywhere. The stall nearest to him boasted of 'Protective Amulets' and Arthur could see small spots of light running across the metal, like tiny sparks. Another was piled high with dusty tomes, with titles ranging from 'A Study of Runes' to 'The Alchemist's Lament.' A woman passed by him, eyes blazing gold, and her basket trailed on the air behind her, bobbing on a nonexistent breeze.
No one was pointing. No one was screaming, calling for the sentries that stood on the edge of the courtyard, dressed not in armour, but in soft brown robes, more often than not speaking with a passerby than standing guard. Had Arthur not been raised among warriors, he would have missed them all together.
It was then that Arthur understood, an understanding that explained so much.
"These are your people." He said, and Merlin laughed, a laugh so different from the one he'd used before; this was the laugh Arthur remembered, one that sent him spinning back in time to a castle far from where he stood.
"It wasn't my idea! I was just living in the Fisher Kings Tower" he said, pointing at the Keep that towered above the marketplace. "And one day a group of druids arrived and asked if they could camp here. I said no, and they bowed and said all kinds of humble things and then decided to stay anyway, and I thought fine, it's only a few of them and they're easily ignored, but apparently they were just an advance party, because after a while their whole clan arrived, all wanting to stay. Eventually they moved on; they are nomadic after all, but after that there was always someone sitting on my doorstep, and they refused to let me live like a hermit." He laughed a little breathlessly, shaking his head as if still surprised by it all.
"Then other people heard about this place and started staying too, people without magic, and I couldn't turn them away, could I? It would be as bad as..." he paused, but Arthur heard it nonetheless. As bad as what your kingdom does.
Arthur didn't reply, raising an eyebrow in a look that said quite clearly At least we don't kill them anymore, and Merlin blushed slightly, bowing his head to acknowledge the hit.
"So they stayed, and for some reason every time there was a problem they always came to me, and then they got the bright idea of making me their..." He swallowed, throat working nervously, and Emrys, with all his composure, seemed to have deserted him; now it was just Merlin, the nervous idiot he had missed every day. "Well, they made me their king. The new Fisher King." He said eventually, tone almost challenging, but his eyes still glittered with a strange kind of delight. "It's bizarre to be honest; druids have a way of doing things so that its unofficial yet unescapable; they don't mind if I disappear off for months on end if someone needs a healer, because they can manage perfectly well without me, but I have the last word, if I want it, and I can always feel this place, deep in my bones where I cant escape it. I can always feel if they need me."
He glanced at Arthur, but if he was expecting surprise he was disappointed, because Arthur was smiling; a little wistful, a little sad, but no less genuine for it. "It's what you were meant to do."
"Excuse me?" Merlin was taken aback, surprise in every line of his face, but Arthur just shrugged, turning back to watch the people move around them.
"Just saying it makes you happy. You love these people, this place; it's obvious from the way you look at them." And then a thought struck him. "Are you the reason it's so green now? So healthy?" He asked, looking down towards the fields at the edge of the city. "Last time I was here it was all marsh and barren plain that I nearly died on."
Merlin nodded, following his gaze to the road that wound between the hills. "The land was sick when you were here. Its keeper was dying, and this place has magic in its roots, in its springs; it needed someone to care for it, someone who loved it." He laughed, fingers absently tracing the tattoo on his wrist. "I was the best it could do, I suppose, but it's happy now, and we call it Avalon with pride, even if we did borrow the name."
There was a pause, as he and Arthur stared at the horizon. The kings hands were curling into fists at his sides, as if he would prefer to fight than say what he had to, but when he spoke, his voice was perfectly calm. "I was going to ask if you would come back with me, but I can't now. I can't ask you to leave here."
It hurt, Arthur thought, to say what had to be said, hurt beyond speech. The words were razors cutting his throat, because he would be going back alone, to be untouchable, where everything was just beyond his fingertips.
He didn't look down when a tentative hand slipped around his wrist, fingers circling like a bracelet. His fingers clenched, willing Merlin not to be kind, because if he was, there was a very good chance he would lose it, there on the stones of the courtyard, would scream so hard that even Merlin's spell couldn't hide them.
"Arthur," Merlin murmured, but he still didn't look. He couldn't. "Arthur listen to me." And his voice was low and urgent, words tumbling from his lips almost too fast to hear. "This is my home now, these are my people. But Camelot was once, was for many years, and connections like that linger, they keep a part of you."
Arthur trembled then; his whole body shuddered, and something in his stomach uncoiled, ever so slightly. "So?" He asked, and his words were barely a whisper.
"Just call me and I'll hear you; wherever I am, whatever I'm doing. I can always hear you, even when I'd rather not." He mumbled, and if Arthur had looked up, he'd have seen the tips of those ridiculous ears turning a fiery red. "You call and I come running, isn't that how it always works?" He asked, and Arthur could hear the desperate smile in Merlin's voice, the tone almost pleading for him to understand and realised, right there, that Merlin had missed him too. And wasn't that a kick to the heart, he thought, that the all powerful Emrys had missed him, the idiot King of Camelot who had longed for him so desperately. "Camelot's in my bones as well, right next to Avalon."
Arthur nodded, throat to tight for words, and the fingers round his wrist became many, leading him away from the market.
"Come with me. There's someone else I want you to meet before you go." Merlin said, and without warning landscape blurred again, a rush of whiteness and fog, till they stood in a clearing, water dripping from leaves made greener by the recent rain.
And there was a shape sprawled across it, huge and scaly with eyes of gold, and by now, Arthur had run out of surprise.
They sat a long time in that glade, the King, the Dragon and the Dragonlord, and they spoke of many things. And never, not even years later when two of the three were old and grey, would they tell what passed between them in that rain scented clearing.
Hours passed unheeded, but eventually, when the shadows began to lengthen and a chill crept on the air, the humans rose, bowing to the beast that rose silently into the night sky.
Neither of them spoke when Arthur turned to go, to step into the waiting spell that would bear him back to his city, but by then words were no longer necessary. In silence, Arthur opened his arms to his brother king, and in silence Merlin moved into them, arms curling round broad shoulders to bury his face in the crook of Arthur's neck. And the spell broke and they both laughed, the sound rolling joyfully through the still air, and as they stepped away, both sets of eyes were shining like the stars above them.
"Get going you idiot, or they'll start thinking your dead!" Merlin teased, and Arthur smiled slowly, wickedly, reaching out to rumple dark hair that was just begging to be mussed.
"Be polite Merlin, or you can forget coming to the wedding." He grinned, and Merlin scowled, trying in vain to flatten the strands that stood every which way. "Anything you want me to say to them, other than the obvious?"
Merlin shrugged with exaggerated casualness, giving up the battle with his fringe. "I think 'I'm cancelling the ban on magic and opening trade routes with a city no-ones ever heard of' is quite enough to be getting on with. You'll probably have to convince them you're not bewitched."
"And Agravaine?" Arthur asked, worry creeping back into his eyes; his uncles betrayal had hit him hard.
"He'll be long gone." Merlin sighed, pursing his lips. "You needn't worry about him anymore."
The golden king nodded, moving to the swirling mist that waited to bear him away. His hand rose in a final salute, a gesture of equal parts sarcasm and affection, and then he was gone.
"Prat." Merlin muttered, and turned back towards the road.
It's done! This story has finally finished- please do let me know what you thought of it as a whole, and thank you ever wonderful person who's reviewed, favourite-d, ect. You made this so much better!