Title: Here began all my dreams
Word Count: 6,500
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to Shine and BBC. I make no profit from this endeavour.
Author's notes: Thanks to Crazyparakiss for the beta. Written for Fire_juggler.
Summary: Merlin's about to find out that it is the simplest encounters which can change our lives.
"I'm sorry, Sir, the last entry to the house was forty-five minutes ago." Merlin glanced at his watch to double check he wasn't imagining that it was now a quarter-past four.
The man, tall, blond, blue eyed, absolutely bloody gorgeous, seemed to sag at Merlin's words, the light in his eyes fading. "Can't you make an exception? I've driven a long way today."
"I couldn't, I'm afraid—there's an event on in the grounds tonight, a local theatre group uses it every first Saturday of the month." A tiny voice inside Merlin's head was saying, say yes, say yes—say bloody yes!
"Are you sure I can't persuade you?" A folded bank note materialised from the pocket of the designer suit jacket and was slid across the counter towards Merlin. Merlin blinked, suddenly feeling like he was in a movie. Fifty pounds.
Merlin would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted. Fifty quid would mean he could eat between now and next pay day, which was nearly a week away. It had been a tough month with his car breaking down—the garage still had it so Merlin had no idea how much the bill was going to be—and his washing machine flooding the kitchen. Plumbers were not cheap. However, this wasn't a movie and even if it had been, didn't the person taking the bribe usually meet a sticky end, or at the very least, their boss turned up and caught them and they got fired—and Gaius was still in the building! Merlin couldn't afford that. Jobs weren't exactly easy to come by at the moment, he was lucky to have one at all.
He pointedly ignored the note even as the Queen seemed to look up at him and wink. "You really can't," he said. "We open tomorrow morning at ten-thirty."
The man snatched up the fifty and shoved it back into his pocket. "Very well," he said, letting Merlin exhale with relief when he seemed to accept Merlin's refusal gracefully. "Is there somewhere around here that I might rent a room for the night?"
Camelot Court was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, the nearest village being Ealdor nearly two miles away. "It depends what you're looking for. Ealdor, the village down the road, has a pub that has bed and breakfast rooms— The Rising Sun. Otherwise your best bet is Avalon, about seven miles away. The other villages might have something but I can't say for sure."
"Okay, well, I suppose I'll try the village pub then." He nodded, seemed to steel himself as his gaze settled on Merlin for a long moment. Merlin felt as though he had just seen right into him, unable to look away as a familiar sensation rushed its way through his veins. Magic. Merlin gulped as the man said, "Thank you," and turned away.
Merlin watched him go with a tinkle of the bell above the door, staring at the empty space for far longer than was healthy. "So out of my league," he muttered to himself, shaking his head, and set about cashing up the till, ignoring the way his magic was buzzing still beneath his skin. "Gaius!" he called, heading over to the office door and sticking his head round when his boss didn't immediately respond. He found the old man staring at the CCTV screen in the corner with a frown.
"I'm proud of you, Merlin," he said without turning. "I know how much you need the money."
Merlin huffed and resisted rolling his eyes. It seemed nothing escaped his uncle, he'd probably been hovering just inside the office door listening. "What are you looking at?"
In two steps Merlin was beside Gaius trying to see what he fixating on. "It's uncanny," Gaius said, nodding at the screen where in one of the three cars in the car park sat the man who had just left, both hands on the steering wheel, his head resting against them. As they both stared at the image, he straightened, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and started the car— something silver and expensive –and drove out of the shot. Gaius exhaled and said, "I could be mistaken, but I'd put money on that being Arthur Pendragon."
"The Arthur Pendragon?" Merlin gaped. "As in…the Arthur Pendragon?"
Gaius snorted. "Always so articulate, Merlin, but yes, the one and only son of Uther and Ygraine Pendragon if that's what you were getting at."
"He's the mirror image of his mother, bless her soul," Gaius said, rubbing his chin between his thumb and forefinger. "Merlin, if he comes back tomorrow, see to it that you offer him the special tour."
Merlin's eyes widened but he didn't argue. "Do you think he will…come back that is?"
"I'm certain he will," Gaius said. He shook his head and muttered, "Well, I never…" as he passed Merlin and went out into the shop.
Merlin followed and finished cashing up, his mind full of Arthur Pendragon. If it really had been him, Merlin had just denied him access to the ruins of the house he was born in…the house his mother perished in when Arthur was just weeks old. If Merlin had known that, he would have bent the rules in half and sodded the consequences.
Merlin had lived in the same village for twenty years, always certain that when the time came to leave school he would go to uni and finally escape the place. His whole life he'd felt like he was missing something and whatever it was, it wasn't in Ealdor. In the end he hadn't been able to afford to leave. Now he lived rent free in his mother's old house, but even with that it was a struggle. He knew that if he asked his step-father, Godric, he would help out with his albatross-like tuition fees, but Merlin didn't ask. He liked Godric, and his daughter Elena, Merlin's step-sister, was adorable, but still, Merlin couldn't do it; he took after his mother in that way, he was independent. He could take care of himself. His weekend job at the house just about kept his head above water, just, for food and petrol to get him the twenty odd miles to uni three or four days a week.
That night he went to the pub anyway, despite only having £1.39 left to last him the week. There were some benefits to village life, not least that Merlin's good friend and his wife, Gilli and Freya, ran The Rising Sun. Merlin had an unofficial tab so cash flow was never an issue. He walked in and stopped dead, because despite it being pleasantly busy, the first person Merlin saw was Arthur Pendragon sitting in the corner, tucking into a lasagne with a newspaper propped up against the salt and pepper. He didn't look up as Merlin entered, to his relief as Merlin was sure to be gaping. Merlin tore his eyes away and went to the bar, grinning at Freya and ordering a pint of bitter.
"Gorgeous isn't he?" Freya asked as she poured his pint. Nothing got past Freya. She'd have clocked him eyeing her guest before Merlin had even realised he was doing it. "He checked in for one night," she leaned over the bar and whispered directly in Merlin's ear, "Name's Arthur Price." She stepped back and winked conspiratorially at Merlin, handing him his drink.
Merlin took a grateful swig and felt himself relax. So Arthur didn't want people to know who he really was. Not here anyway, in the village that had provided most of the staff at Camelot House for centuries, until the day it had been raised to the ground by fire.
"No Gwaine tonight?" asked Gilli, appearing behind Freya, glancing around the pub with a hopeful expression. Gwaine was Merlin's mate from uni who lived in the city and after Merlin invited him over one Friday night in their first year, had made an appearance most weekends at some point, saying he preferred smaller village pubs to the crowded trendy places in the city. He often spent the whole weekend at Merlin's. Gilli thought the sun shone out of Gwaine's arse, probably partly because of the amount of money he spent in his pub!
"No, he's got a hot date," Merlin replied. "With my step-sister." Merlin still wasn't sure that introducing Elena and Gwaine a few weeks ago had been a good idea. Gwaine was completely charmed by Elena, but Elena was playing it so cool if it wasn't for the fact that she kept agreeing to dates with Gwaine, Merlin would say that she wasn't interested at all. Elena usually threw herself into new relationships like an eager puppy. He could tell that Gwaine was really smitten by her and his absence this weekend was testament to that—Gwaine did so love spending Saturday night propping up the bar—kicking out time tonight was bound to be a quiet affair!
Merlin glanced back over to Arthur who had now stopped eating, his finished plate shoved to one side, and was staring directly at Merlin. Merlin smiled, half-apologetically for refusing him entry to the house earlier, half on impulse because, something about Arthur made Merlin's heart beat faster and his magic burn in his fingertips. Should he go over? He could apologise for before, make it clear that he would give Arthur a tour of the ruins tomorrow—but of course not mention that he knew who Arthur was.
As he argued with himself inside his own head, Freya cleared Arthur's meal away, came back to the bar, poured a pint and said, "You could take this over for me, you know, as an excuse." She held up a pint of Guinness with a smirk.
Merlin made up his mind and snagged the glass. "If I bomb out, you're plying me with sloe gin until I pass out." He pushed away from the bar and picked his way through the throng of the Saturday evening crowd towards Arthur. "May I join you?" he asked, placing the drink on the table beside Arthur and nodding towards the empty chair opposite him.
Arthur's expression was surprised, but he nodded and said, "Of course, take a seat." Unfailingly polite, Merlin thought, and in that slightly posh accent as well—wasn't that just…hot?
"I'm sorry about before, at the house," Merlin said, watching Arthur carefully for a reaction and hoping Arthur recognised him. "I can give you a personal tour tomorrow morning if you come early. I know the house like the back of my hand."
Arthur regarded him silently for an awkward few moments before picking up his drink and taking a sip. "Thank you that would be very welcome."
Arthur's eyes widened and Merlin waited for the inevitable sarcastic comment about his name. It didn't come. Instead, Arthur licked his lips and held out a hand. "Arthur."
Merlin opened his front door and almost fell inside, laughing as though it was the funniest thing in the world that it made a loud creaking noise that wouldn't be out of place in an old Hammer Horror movie. "Shhh," he whispered, giggling, "You'll wake the cat."
"I should've known you'd live alone with a cat," Arthur said, following Merlin through the door and closing it behind him. "You look the type."
"I do not," Merlin countered, shrugging out of his hoody and throwing it in the general direction of the sofa. "'m not a type."
"Oh, you are, Merlin, you most definitely are." One moment Arthur was in the doorway, the next he was crowding Merlin into the wall, pinning his hands to his sides. "You're my type."
Merlin wasn't so drunk he couldn't appreciate the feel of Arthur's hand sliding along the waistband of his jeans before moving downwards and making light work of his buttons. Strong hands pushed his jeans down to his ankles and Merlin's knees almost gave way when Arthur closed his hands around his prick and leaned into kiss him, sliding his tongue into his mouth and sending his magic reeling. God, but that kiss was what he'd been waiting for.
Something was wrong with time, Merlin was sure, because one moment Arthur had been kissing him, the next he was nuzzling his neck and thenArthur was on his knees and Merlin's cock was in his mouth and those low moans that filled the room were his.
He remembered coming—God, how could he forget that?—and then time slipped again and they were upstairs, Arthur lying back on Merlin's bed, Merlin straddling him and riding him for what felt like hours, finally coming and almost blacking out from it, watching Arthur's face as he thrust up into him a couple more times and came, the expression on his face searing itself into Merlin's retinas.
Falling asleep after that had been easy, curling into Arthur's side he'd closed his eyes and let his magic wash over him.
Merlin woke up to a tension headache, a heavy weight across his chest and the realisation that there was someone in bed with him. For one moment he thought it was Gwaine, because it wouldn't be the first time they'd slept in the same bed after a few too many drinks in The Rising Sun, usually because Merlin had forgotten to make up the spare bed before he arrived and couldn't be bothered when they got home from the pub. Then he remembered: Arthur.
He tentatively opened one eye, thankful that his bedroom curtains were almost impenetrable and that the room was only dimly lit from the sunrise outside. Arthur was lying on his front, his face towards Merlin, one arm curled possessively around his chest as Merlin lay on his back. In slumber his face was relaxed, his blond lashes soft against his cheeks, his lips a perfect pout. Merlin recalled his first response to Arthur yesterday:so out of my league. It was still true. The Arthur's of this world belonged to a different life path than that of the likes of Merlin. A life that included doing things like travelling first class on planes and sitting in boxes at the theatre; probably. Tomorrow Arthur would be gone and Merlin would simply carry on his life just as he had been before he met him. It was just one night, a drunken fuck—a fantastic drunken fuck—other people did stuff like this all the time.
In that moment Merlin wanted nothing more than to extricate himself from the press of Arthur's arm and the weight of his thoughts. He steeled himself to slide out of bed, glanced at Arthur again and found that his sleep hazed blue eyes were fixed on him. "Morning," Merlin mumbled.
Arthur blinked. "What happened?"
Right, so that was how it was going to be. Despite himself, despite knowing that Arthur was so far out of his reach it was funny, disappointment coursed through Merlin. Did people ever really drink enough that they could both get it up, and then forget it had happened the next day? Merlin had never been so drunk he'd lost hours of his life. He'd blurred them, yes, lost them, not so much.
A sarcastic reply formed on his tongue, angry and bitter, but before he could speak Arthur said, "Does it hurt?" and reached out a hand to touch Merlin's cheek gently and Merlin realised Arthur hadn't been referring to his memory but to the probable bruise that had likely formed on his cheek from his middle of the night trip, literally, into the bathroom door.
Arthur's fingers were so gentle on his face. Merlin couldn't speak. Arthur's eyes darkened as they met his and his grated out, "Oh God," was enough to send the blood rushing to Merlin's cock, just in time for Arthur to straddle him and pin his hands above his head. "Do you know what you do to me?"
Merlin glanced at Arthur's erection, standing proudly in front of him, making Merlin's mouth water and said, "I've got a pretty good idea."
When Arthur leaned forwards and snagged Merlin's lower lip between his teeth time didn't alter, but the tension in his head evaporated and all that was left was a burning need to kiss Arthur. Arthur prepared him, slowly, teasing Merlin open until he was almost crying with need, before settling himself between Merlin's thighs. Merlin closed his legs around his back and Arthur pushed in, gently, his eyes never leaving Merlin's face as he settled, his balls brushing against Merlin's arse. They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, staring at one another in the half light, until Merlin pressed up, kissed Arthur and whispered, "Come on," tightening his legs around Arthur's back. Arthur moved, languorous, his breath heavy as he buried his face in Merlin's neck and Merlin slid his hands around Arthur's hips, grabbing hold, grinding up into him. "Come on," he whispered again and Arthur sped up.
It was still leisurely, a slow almost graceful fuck to counteract their furious coupling the night before. Merlin's cock was trapped between them both, enjoying the friction of their bodies as they rubbed together, his orgasm building almost casually, starting gently before rushing through him and exploding from him, uncontrolled, desperate.
"Need you so much," Arthur hissed as Merlin lost control, "Merlin—I need—!" Merlin never found out what Arthur needed as he lost his voice to his climax, pulsing endlessly inside him, before finally stilling and rolling to the side. He snapped off the condom, threw it towards the bin and pulled Merlin into his arms.
Once again, sleep came almost instantly.
Arthur held Merlin's hand when they left the gift shop and headed down the path towards the lake before turning right and diverting towards the house. Merlin told himself that it didn't mean anything, that Arthur was going home that day and that he just wanted support in visiting the scene of his mother's death. Merlin couldn't even say that he blamed Arthur for that.
"Tell me about the house," Arthur said as they meandered through the grounds, rhododendron plants flanking them on both sides.
"It was built in 1656 by Theodore Pendragon the third on the site of a former manor house," Merlin began, spouting his tour guide spiel. "It was added to and subtracted from until 1837 and the current layout was designed by the famous architect John Nash. Around that time the current Duke Pendragon lost the house in a bet, and the only way he was able to return it to the family was to marry the daughter of the man who'd won it. The poor woman, Elizabeth, died in childbirth."
Arthur's hand tightened on his and Merlin had to bite the inside of his cheek, firstly, to remember that this was Arthur's ancestors he was talking about, and second, to stop him from stopping right there and leaning in to kiss Arthur. To remind himself that Arthur would leave later today and Merlin wouldn't see him again.
"After this time, the house prospered, the Duke clawed back his fortune by investing in local mining, his son, Uther the first, followed in those footsteps and by the late 1900s he was a millionaire several times over. The Pendragons maintained the house as a residence although Uther the second preferred to live in London until the first world war when he returned to the area and the lesser used wings of the house were used as a hospital for returning veterans. This was repeated again for the second world war by Uther the fourth."
Merlin stopped talking as they escaped from the rhododendron prison and the house first came into view before them, sunlight bursting through the empty beams where the roof had once sat.
"Beautiful isn't she?" Camelot Court, despite its state of ruin, was a Grade I listed building. There was a certain beauty in its desolation, a story to be told. Arthur's story was part of it. Merlin chanced a glance at Arthur, looking away immediately when he saw the shimmering in his eyes. "Come on, the fountain will fire in ten minutes and you don't want to miss that."
Merlin tugged gently on Arthur's hand and Arthur let him lead him onwards. Arthur remained silent as Merlin recounted more facts about the house, ending with, "The house burnt down on Christmas Day 1994. It was supposed to be empty, the family were to be in London and the all of the staff were with their families. No one knows why Ygraine Pendragon left London with her toddler son to return to the house, some think it was because her husband, Uther the sixth, had been called away on Christmas Eve and she did so love it here."
They rounded the side of the house and the vast landscaped gardens opened up in front of them, the impressive vista of the elaborate fountain in pride of place in the middle. The fire, of course, had not damaged the garden and they were lovingly cared for by Camelot Court Trust. Arthur gasped.
"What happened in the fire?" Arthur's voice was low, his hand twisting and threading through Merlin's fingers, squeezing tight.
"No one knows how it started, the fire investigators never pinpointed a cause, all they know is that something happened to cause something to ignite. The house was old and full of dry old timber and it went up quickly. Because there was no one else there, the alarm was raised too late by a neighbouring farmer who saw the smoke from his bedroom window." He tugged Arthur's hand gently again and led him down the steps at the front and towards the fountain. "Let's sit here," he suggested, nodding down at the stone step. Arthur sat, Merlin followed.
"How— How did the boy survive when Ygraine perished?"
Merlin sighed. "You'll either believe this or you won't. This isn't something I tell to the visitors. It's said that he was found in his pram in the drawing room—I'll show you the spot if you like—the whole room had burned down around him, but a two metre radius around him had remained untouched. The ceiling above had caved in but none of the debris fell on the child. It was as though there had been a protective shield around him."
"How can that be possible?"
"There are many things in this world that have no rational explanation," Merlin said. "I long ago learnt to accept that as the truth." The strange abilities he possessed had taught him that.
Arthur laughed a short involuntary bark. He let go of Merlin's hand and placed it on Merlin's knee instead. "There's something about you, Merlin. Somehow coming from you that explanation sounds perfectly rational."
Merlin hummed and decided now was not the time to offer Arthur his mother's theory on what had happened to keep Arthur safe that night.
In front of them the slow trickle of water from the fountain stilled and the silence surrounded them. "It's starting," Merlin said, nudging Arthur. "There's always a test run in the mornings. You have to see this, it's amazing." They had the place to themselves as the house it didn't open to the public until 10.30am; Merlin had wanted Arthur to see the place undisturbed.
Gradually, the fountain sprang to life, a slow trickle became a healthy spurt that became a ten foot high jet of water coming out of the middle and cascading back down over Perseus's head. The sound of the water, from their vantage point, was incredibly loud, so Merlin made no effort to talk, merely covering Arthur's hand on his knee with his own.
After fifteen minutes, the fountain began to die back down until it was back to the original trickle.
"No wonder she loved it here," Arthur said quietly. "If I could watch that every day I'd never leave."
Arthur did have to leave though and Merlin's awareness of that heightened with Arthur's words. Arthur would get in his car, head to the motorway and back to London and Merlin would be left here with that empty feeling again.
"Do you want to see the room they found the boy in?" He turned to watch Arthur's face, saw nerves and fear there before he covered himself and nodded.
Gaius had taken one look at Merlin's face that morning when he'd arrived at work early with Arthur in tow and said, "Take the day, I'll cover the shop." So when the visitors started to wander in to the house's grounds Merlin suggested to Arthur that they might go for a walk.
They crossed the grounds and went out of a locked side gate that Merlin had a key for, down the adjoining lane, into the dappled shade of Camelot Woods. They held hands again, coming to rest when they reached a clearing with an ancient wooden bench a small lily pad covered pond. They sat, silently watching the dragon flies spinning over the surface, listening to the birds in the trees above.
"You've realised who I am," Arthur said suddenly.
"Gaius realised last night," Merlin answered.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I thought you would tell me if you wanted me to know." He reached over his other hand and ran his thumb over Arthur's lower lip softly, tipping his head and placing a gentle kiss there. "Gaius said you're just like your mother, he recognised you straight away."
"Do you think he'd talk to me about her?" Arthur's voice was raspy. "My father has never told me anything about her, wouldn't answer any of my questions. In the end I stopped asking, put it to the back of my mind, but with the…" He tailed off, staring down at their joined hands.
"I'm sure he would, though I don't think he knew her very well. My, um, mum might be more help to you. She and your mother were very close—Mum was her housekeeper." Merlin pushed his mind back as far as it would go but only came back with vague images and the memory of the one photograph his mother had kept in his baby book. "You and I, we used to play together I'm told."
"Somehow this doesn't surprise me, I felt there was something familiar about you." Arthur returned Merlin's kiss with one of his own. "Something clicked when we met."
"I'm sure my Mum would be happy to talk to you," Merlin said, licking his lips, staring at Arthur's, bloody swaying towards him. "She doesn't live that far away, you could—" Arthur's mouth closed over his again and Merlin's train of thought was gone. A hand came up to cup Arthur's face as he responded to the tenderness Arthur was showing him, his magic tingling beneath his skin. When Arthur pulled back Merlin nearly fell off the bench.
"The reason I'm here, why I left London in the middle of lunch, is because—" he paused, scanning Merlin's face before continuing, "Because I get married in two weeks, and all of the wedding preparations and the fuss, just made me wonder what it would be like to have my mother there on the day, to watch me walk down the aisle, to…"
Merlin yanked his hand out of Arthur and stood, stepping away from the bench. So out of my league, supplied his brain. "So what was last night, some last minute getting the gay out of your system?"
Arthur watched him intently and didn't rise from the bench. "I'm sorry. You were there, it felt good, I wanted you so much. I didn't think about—"
"You didn't think about your future wife when you fucked someone else two weeks before the wedding?" Merlin had never felt so angry! He'd expected that Arthur would be going back to whence he came today, but part of him had hoped that this was more than just a one-time thing. They fitted so well together…
"Don't bother, Arthur, really. It's fine. I knew this wasn't any more than it was." He glanced over Arthur's shoulder, calculating his exit strategy. He had to get out of there before he did something really embarrassing, like cry. "Just…leave your number at the shop and I'll ask my mum about talking to you about your mother, and I'll send you a text if she agrees." His mum would agree, she was a kind soul, she'd help Arthur reunite with memories of his mother.
He took a deep breath and headed off, ignoring Arthur's calling of his name as he sped up. His phone was out of his pocket the moment he was out of sight. "Gwaine? It's me—any chance you could come and pick me up? I need to get out of here for a couple of days."
Two days later, Merlin text Arthur: Mum said to go ahead and give her a call, she'd love to meet with you. He added his mum's number and didn't bother signing his name. Arthur would know full well who the text was from.
His mum had been delighted when Merlin told her he'd met Arthur. "The two of you were so adorable when you were little," she said. "Arthur was just that much older and he was so protective of you. The two of you developed your own language, it really was fascinating."
Merlin had mumbled something indecipherable even to his own ears.
Hunith had carried on, "I know without doubt that you're the one who protected him that night." This was not the first time Merlin had heard that theory, but now that he'd met Arthur again, it took on a whole new meaning. "After the fire, when his father took him away, you pined for months. I thought you would never get over it at one point, but then one day you woke up and you didn't say, 'Afa?' and after that you seemed to have forgotten him."
Merlin had been crying before he'd realised it. It seemed as though he had fallen into the same trap as his toddler self, waking up every morning and reaching out of someone who wasn't there, his brain craving something he couldn't have: ArthurArthurArthur.
He was a bloody idiot. He barely knew Arthur, he had no right to feel so empty.
Arthur had replied to his text with one word: thanks. Merlin had thrown his phone at the wall.
In the end he spent all week at Gwaine's, going to class, getting drunk on cheap wine in Gwaine's flat whilst having a Star Wars marathon, teasing him about his attempts to woo Elena, going to the all you can eat buffet and eating enough food to sink a ship and not pining over Arthur. That would be ridiculous. He'd spent less than twenty-four hours in the bloke's company and their previous relationship, if it could be called that, had been nearly twenty years ago!
Still, when he finally went back to Ealdor on Friday afternoon, pay day, to collect his car from Valiant's Garage, and found Arthur sitting on his doorstep, his first thought wasn't don't be an idiot, Merlin but rather, Arthur looks terrible, quickly followed by the urge to hug him and put a smile back onto his face.
"What do you want?"
Arthur looked up and unfolded himself from the doorstep. He looked lost. "Can we go inside?"
Merlin nodded and being careful not to touch Arthur, unlocked his front door and crouched down to pick up five days' worth of post. Arthur followed him in as he dumped the post on the hall table and went into the kitchen. He sat himself at the table, hoping Arthur would sit opposite and keep a nice wide barrier between them.
Arthur sat. "Your Mum told me it was you who saved me," he said.
Merlin shrugged. "She thinks so, but seeing as I can't even remember knowing you I'd hardly remember saving you would I?"
"I had therapy," Arthur blurted. "When I was fourteen—I was still having the nightmares about the fire, still waking up and thinking 'Merlin' before remembering I didn't know anyone by that name—we did some regression to help me remember the fire so that the therapist could help me to disassociate with it. I remembered a blue ball of light hovering in front of me before the fire took hold. It stayed there until they found me."
Merlin closed his eyes. His mother had been right. His eighteen month old self had somehow, from two miles away in the village, protected Arthur. He held out a hand and opened his eyes, and there, hovering above his hand, was a blue ball of light. He watched Arthur as he stared at it, slightly open mouthed.
He snapped his palm closed and waited for Arthur to meet his gaze. "You can just thank me on the way out."
"Even after the therapy I never stopped waking up with your name on my lips every now and then. I'd be full of joy, the name Merlin in my head, and then I'd wake and the joy would evaporate like vapour. Even up until last week, before I came here—I woke that morning like that. I walked in that shop and wanted you the moment I saw you, I think I knew somehow, but—I was engaged to be married and I walked away."
"You should've kept on walking," Merlin huffed, folding his arms over his chest, wondering where Arthur was going with this.
"When we met again in the pub and you told me your name was Merlin…" Blue eyes bored into Merlin's. "I've called off the wedding."
Merlin's heart stopped beating. "You— You're serious?" Arthur's expression didn't falter. "Why?"
"Why do you think?"
Merlin didn't know what he thought right now other than but he knew what he hoped. "But—"
"I'll need somewhere to hide from the wrath of my father—and hers."
"I—" Arthur's hand crept across the table towards Merlin and Merlin couldn't help but reach out and take it. "I don't know what to say."
"You could start with 'yes, Arthur, that would be lovely,' followed by, 'let's go to bed, Arthur,' or words to that effect." Arthur grinned.
"…was in love with my best friend anyway. We were both doing very poor jobs of trying to please our fathers." Arthur's smile faded. "I've been missing you my whole life, Merlin. Did you really think that now I've found you again I could just walk away?"
Merlin knew then that he felt the same. That the feeling he'd sometimes get that something was missing, like he'd lost something very important but wasn't sure what that something was—it had been Arthur. Maybe he really had met his soulmate when he was still in the cradle. It sounded like something that would happen to him, he never did anything the easy way.
"I suppose you can stay for a while," he conceded, wondering how quickly he could get Arthur up those stairs and into his bed. "What about your job?"
"I jacked it in. My father's footsteps never quite matched mine anyway." Arthur turned Merlin's hand over and traced his inner wrist with his forefinger. "I suppose I should tell you that Camelot House is mine, that upon his marriage to my mother my father signed it over to her as a wedding gift—that sort of makes me your boss—but I have plans to restore some of it, make more of the place. I think that ought to keep me busy for the immediate future."
"Actually, I think you'll have your hands full with something else in your immediate future," Merlin said, waiting for the penny to drop. Arthur's eyes lit up and Merlin said, "Bed?"
"Beds are for wimps," Arthur said. "Tables on the other hand…"
Six months later
Merlin thought it was funny how the desire he'd always had to leave Ealdor evaporated the moment Arthur moved into his house and into his life. Home became where Arthur was and that was as simple as that.
His mum had hunted out the old photograph of them together, taken a week before the fire, Arthur in a red t-shirt, his blond hair sticking up in tufts, his chubby fist clutching Merlin's possessively, and Merlin, all messy dark hair and wide blue eyes trained on Arthur, full of adoration. Merlin framed it and put it on the mantelpiece and showed it to everyone who visited, much to Arthur's annoyance.
Merlin still had to pinch himself to make sure it was real at times, that Arthur really was living in his house, sleeping in his bed and making love to him every night. He'd never been happier.
"Arthur, it looks amazing," Merlin said, awestruck, when he stepped into the old ballroom at Camelot Court. It was an August evening, dusk was setting in and the room was filled with candles on every available surface. The room had no roof, and later the stars would shine down upon them. There was just a huge old table in the middle, laid for dinner and now simply awaiting it's guests. Arthur's half-sister Morgana, her partner Leon, Arthur's ex-fiancée and Arthur's best friend Lance, Gwaine and Elena, Freya and Gilli and Percival and Mithian were all coming for this test run.
Arthur had had the idea that the ruins would be the perfect setting for small intimate weddings and dinner parties, weather permitting, and he was in the process of putting a glass roof on the old dining room as a bad weather back-up. Larger weddings could use the old chapel for the ceremony and have a marquee in the grounds. The house was still open for visitors, Gaius still ran the shop and Merlin still worked there at weekends, refusing to rely on Arthur for money despite Arthur's insistence that he had more than enough to go round.
Arthur turned at Merlin's voice, stopping his straightening of the chairs around the table. His face lit up and he covered the ground between them and pulled Merlin in for a kiss, like they'd been apart for days not just a few hours whilst Merlin worked. "You like it?" he asked, biting his lip and looking back to survey the fairy-tale he'd created.
"You know I do," Merlin said. "I predict this venture will be a great success."
"You better had like it," Arthur said, kissing Merlin again before pulling back to regard him. "Because this is where we'll get married. When I ask you that is."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Who says I won't ask you?"
"I just know," Arthur said confidently. He pressed another kiss to Merlin's lips. "I love you."
Merlin couldn't help grinning, wondering if Arthur was indoctrinated in his life enough yet to get the reference when he said, "I know."