I was really trying to keep this epilogue from exceeding 5,000 words. It's 5,032 words. Oh, well. It works if you round it to the nearest thousand, I guess.
I'm in a sad mood, because this is, indeed, the final part of TVITD. I have had so much fun writing this fic, and reading all the wonderful reviews from all you amazing people! Thank you so, so much for all the nice things you've said! I really appreciate it; it's really helped me be encouraged to write my own book. Speaking of which, I thought it was only fair to warn you that I might not be posting quite as much, because I really feel like I need to focus on my book and if I try to write serious fanfiction AND the book, I'll get distracted by the awesomeness that is Merlin (especially since Season 5 is less than a month away, now). So I'll still write for Merlin, just maybe not as much. Then again, maybe it'll be more than ever, once I get inspired by Season 5. Who knows. LOL
I thought I'd give you that slightly sad news (sad for me, at least) before my happy ending epilogue, so we can all get cheered up! :D
And I have to tell you: I have Spotify on my laptop, and I accidentally stumbled across the Merlin theme song yesterday; I actually said out loud (to Merlin, presumably) before I even realized it, "Awh! I miss you, kid!" I thought I'd let you that you're not the only one who might be a little obsessed with this show. ;)
And now, I present the end of this story:
The Voice in the Dream
When Merlin awoke, he did not move for a great while. He merely lay where he was in the dreary afternoon light, curled up in his most comfortable leather chair from France, watching his friend sleep on the Persian sofa beside him and listening to the perfect silence of his flat with a peace he hadn't felt in centuries.
Tomorrow, he would have to invent an excuse to explain why Arthur had not been available for the past three days to run his father's businesses. There would be a mountain of paperwork for himself and a list of responsibilities to compose for Arthur. There would be months of successes and mistakes before they would both understand how to function in this new life of theirs. Tomorrow, they would pick up where they had been before Morgana had nearly destroyed them; they would return to that life of luxury and laughter which they'd been living for months...only this time, they were not just Arthur Gregory and Colin James any longer. Now, they would have all of the greatness of those lives, plus so much more. The thought of it was one which made him sigh with pure happiness in the quiet of the room.
He had no idea if Morgana had survived. The power he had felt when he'd plunged Excalibur into the magic from which it had come was one too enormous and complex for even him to understand; he could not say what sort of havoc or order it had set into motion. If she had survived it, she would surely not abandon her cause. She would return with more unbridled fury and a renewed taste for revenge upon the king and the warlock who she believed had thwarted her life so many times over.
Perhaps it was a mad thought, but Merlin was actually almost hopeful that she was still here. To have a task to fulfill, a worthy man to protect and guide, an evil to overcome…what he once thought were burdens now felt like the best of blessings after he'd lived an existence of emptiness and monotony for so very long. Now, those days seemed so far behind him that he almost wondered if they had even occurred at all; the past in between the time when Arthur Pendragon had left him and before Arthur Gregory had stumbled into his life seemed like nothing but a dim blur, and the present and future seemed so bright by comparison.
He found his hands were trembling with that thought. Though his magic was yet weak from the cut he had made in it to save Arthur, he felt stronger in spirit than he'd ever been before. He was ready for anything that might happen now.
He had no idea how long it had been since he'd merely sat there, quieting thinking, but finally Merlin felt the faint soreness in his muscles and decided he would go and dress for the day; a hot bath would do him good, he knew. It was time to get up. It was time to be the bold and determined warlock he needed to be, for Arthur, for his destiny—for the love of Camelot.
He smiled in fond memory of that slightly ironic phrase as he stood and pulled the woolen blanket from the back of his chair to drop over the still-slumbering Arthur. They had both been so exhausted in the early morning upon return from the Isle of the Blessed that neither of them had even thought to turn on the heat of the flat before they had both collapsed in sleep in his living room. The high, cold breeze from the window shattered by Kilgharrah had chilled the whole room once the noontime sun had vanished around the building.
As he half-stumbled over the items he still hadn't picked up from where his magic had turned the place into a cyclone, he rubbed at his eyes and straightened the ring on the new chain around his throat where it had slid awry while he'd slept. He hardly dared to think how disarrayed he looked, and so he scantly looked into the Grecian, mosaic wall mirror in his bedroom as he passed it, except in his peripheral vision through his still-blurred eyes.
A second later, he froze in the doorway of the bathroom, suddenly feeling entirely awake and alert and trying to keep his hopes from rising in his chest as he turned back to stand before the mirror.
He put his hands against his jaw to reassure himself that he was not imagining it…but no, he could feel it too.
He released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding and prayed to the gods that he wasn't hallucinating from exhaustion or magic deficit.
Arthur was abruptly wrenched from his most comfortable, dream-free sleep in months by a sound which had him alert in barely a second's time.
"Arthur! Come here! Sire!"
Not wasting a moment, he leapt up from the sofa and followed the desperate sound of Merlin's voice into the bedroom across the flat. When he burst into the room, he half-expected there to be a terrible crisis—Morgana returned, the white dragon attacking, something which he and Merlin would have to overcome together—and he was surprised to find his friend alone in the little place with his eyes glittering with tears and his young face broken into a stunning grin.
"What?" he asked breathlessly, eyes darting around for any sign of danger, hand reaching out to yank Merlin behind him if need be. "Merlin, what is it?"
Arthur was even more startled when his friend grabbed his wrist in a vice-grip without a word of explanation. His eyes tightened in confusion, but he did not jerk his hand away from where Merlin had pressed it firmly so that his palm cupped the angular jaw and his calloused fingers half-tangled in dark hair. His perplexity mounted when the warlock pressed both his hands atop Arthur's to ensure that the man would keep it there.
"Ah…Merlin, what are you doing?"
The old warlock seemed to be unable to answer for a moment, smiling through two tears which fell from his bright eyes, and Arthur wasn't sure whether he should be concerned that his friend had finally lost his mind or pleased to see him look so happy.
"My hair," Merlin stammered out finally, half-choking. "Arthur, my hair is growing!"
Arthur flexed his hand. Surely enough, he could feel the coarseness of short stubble, and now that he was looking, he could see it peppered lightly across the other man's alabaster skin in the early afternoon light coming from the window.
He didn't even get the chance to utter a hope-laced inquiry before Merlin was speaking again, tears flowing freely and soaking Arthur's fingers.
"My hair hasn't grown since the day you were crowned king," he said, his voice shaking audibly even as he grinned. "Arthur, I'm ageing!"
Arthur scarcely had time to register this statement for what it meant before Merlin was abruptly in his arms, half-embracing him and half-collapsing against him.
"Whoa, easy, Merlin," he chuckled against his raven hair, easing them both to the floor when he realized the other man's legs had buckled under him.
The young king could feel warm tears which hadn't been shed the night before soaking his shirt, but he hardly cared as he once might have. He had yet to know anything of what Merlin had experienced in his immortal life, but he did know—at least of the majority he could recall—that this endless existence had purely terrified his dear friend when they had spoken of it in the stone halls of their castle.
The soft sobs shaking Merlin's narrow body and the way he clung to Arthur were evidence enough to him that all his years had not changed that. Arthur could only imagine what dread he had been experiencing all his long life, if he ever considered having to say goodbye a second time after he'd found Arthur so many months ago—had it really only been months?
They would never say goodbye again, he realized, not really, and he found himself looking with soft eyes around the room where they were now, past all the strange and colorful relics scattered about the warlock's bedroom and out the window where London was bustling in the evening traffic.
So much had changed in his time away; the lives and very mentalities of the people of the world had altered more than he perhaps realized. Yet, here they were, two men—brothers—of that past world who had found each other again, proof that that time of magic and hope was not entirely forgotten, after all. It would live on in them until the day they died, a part of them bigger than anything anyone could take away. They could look to each other and see it.
Arthur tightened his arms around Merlin's back and shoulders, closing his eyes and just letting his friend babble uncontrollably into his ear.
"All this time," the warlock whispered through wet coughing around his tears, "all these years, I've been all alone, never knowing what…when..." He trailed off as another controlled sob wracked him. "I'm free. I can hardly believe it. I'm…I'm finally free."
Arthur smiled against his hair.
"It's all right, Merlin," he said, for once knowing that he was saying exactly the right thing. "It's all right."
Merlin pressed his face into the king's broad shoulder, his head and heart in turmoil, scarcely able to believe that finally, gods, finally, he was free of the terrible curse. He would finally see what lay beyond this life. He would finally know what it was like to pass over, to breathe his last breath in this world and take his first in another. He would finally see his mother, his father, Gaius, everyone he remembered so often. Finally, he would not be alone, ever again.
It was more than that, though. It was so much more. It meant that all the strife from the day he'd arrived it Camelot had at last ended in victory. One thousand and five hundred years of history, and he and Arthur—all of that which had formed their legend, the good and evil and pain and joy and everything—it was culminated in this one moment, this staggering moment when it all fell to pieces at his feet and suddenly it was like even the evil and pain were memories of victory. He was everything Kilgharrah had told that naive farmboy that he would be. He was even more.
His magic surged warmly over his entire body and then fresh, hot tears blurred his eyes once more. His magic...his magic had known. His magic had always known who he was, who he was going to become before it was all over. His magic knew that this moment was their future. It had just been waiting for him to realize it for himself.
He could not stop another sob, and he felt Arthur pull him ever-closer, and hear his voice—Arthur's voice, the voice of his other half, the other side of his victory—murmuring gentle reassurances in his ear. They were all right, he said, and Merlin believed him. He believed him with all his heart.
When Merlin only barely managed to compose himself enough to push away from Arthur, he looked to see that the young king was smiling through tears just as prominent as Merlin's own. He understood too. Of course he did.
"Arthur," he said in whispered joy, putting his hand on the side of the man's blonde hair like a loving parent touching a child whom he'd thought lost, "I can die now."
Arthur chuckled again, sniffing and trying to stop his crying even though he didn't really care that much anymore, and he never objected to Merlin's touching him, though he once might have, as he answered back in his old, loud, laughing tone,
"Well, not yet, if you don't mind."
Merlin nearly choked on his laughter, and he leant forward and embraced Arthur again with his hand still against the side of his face.
Arthur smiled and sniffed and let him and vowed he would never again object to an embrace from Merlin. No matter how he thought it was awkward or annoying, he would always remember how Merlin's face had looked that night they had said goodbye, and he would just let him.
At long last, Merlin pulled away from him again, but the flawless grin had not faded even though his eyes had dried. Arthur grinned back and couldn't resist saying, with as much obnoxiousness as he could muster at the moment (which ended up being not very much at all and more unadulterated gladness than anything),
"I think you're getting soft in your old age, Merlin."
"Oh, yeah?" Merlin answered back, lightning-quick, even as he wiped moisture from beneath his eye. "And what's your excuse, boy?"
Arthur burst out laughing, and kept on smiling as he and Merlin stood to their feet and the warlock looked into the mirror once more, babbling in that very Merlin way (because there was just no other way to describe his babbling, even now) about how he might grow a real beard this time, or at least let his hair grow out like Orlando Bloom's in that movie about the pirates and how did he even know who that was because he didn't watch movies and he rather liked Orlando Bloom's Legolas-hair better anyway and why was he even talking about this because he's a bloody warlock and he feels silly now.
Arthur listened to him go on and on, and laughed aloud when his prattling got ridiculous; all the time, so many questions—dozens upon dozens—were forming in his brain, about everything, everything he'd been missing, everything he'd never voiced to Merlin in their past lives. He was ready to know now, ready to sit and listen to his friend talk for hours on end about anything the warlock wanted. He owed him that. He owed him everything.
All of that—his questions, all the things he wanted to know about Merlin—could wait, however. For now, the both of them were simply content to go about the flat, cleaning things up which Merlin's magic had thrown and talking about absolutely nothing and everything.
Mid-way through a peculiar discussion about the similarities between Merlin the Legend and Gandalf and why Merlin insisted he personally had a part in inspiring Tolkien to write the books, there was a quiet knock from the front door of the flat.
All in an instant, Merlin and Arthur, like their instincts were connected, tensed and met the other's eyes, the same thought upon both of their minds. So far, the people who had showed up unexpectedly at either of their flats in the past six months were extremely and entirely unwanted guests. The odds of it being an ordinary person after the night they'd had were really rather pitifully slim.
And so it was for this very reason that Merlin silenced himself immediately and tossed another sword from his world-gathered collection toward Arthur as they both maneuvered stealthily toward the door.
A quick glance to Merlin, and Arthur swung it open.
Immediately, he was smitten mute.
Merlin, who had seen and done the most shocking and extraordinary things all across the expanse of a millennium, could only blink wide eyes.
For a long moment, no one spoke; they were three people suspended in breathless silence, and then the young woman standing in his doorway said, timid and fumbling, as though she wanted to say something else but couldn't get the words out,
"Is this Colin James's flat, the assistant to Arthur Gregory? I tried his flat upstairs, I think, but there was no one…"
She trailed off after that, her tender, caramel gaze focusing on Arthur, who had yet to move or even blink.
"You are Arthur, aren't you? I mean, I wanted to meet you and introduce myself to you—both of you—because…well, you see, I'm…not quite sure how to say this, but…first, may I come in?"
It was at that time that Merlin suddenly came to terms with the fact that he was probably most capable of adequately dealing with this situation, and he cut his eyes to Arthur for a moment before he spoke the simple words which were heavy with meaning.
"Yes, he's Arthur—"
Gwen pulled her eyes away from the handsome blonde man to look at his mystic-faced companion, knowing already that she had them both more than memorized.
"—and I'm Merlin," he finished, and he could see it in her eyes that she knew exactly what he meant.
Guinevere's hand came to her mouth, and she giggled breathlessly.
"Really?" she whispered, hardly daring to believe it.
"Really," Arthur's deep and assertive voice cut in, and he hadn't yet released the Arabian sword in his hand, but that was all right; Guinevere wasn't the slightest bit afraid.
She lowered her hand from her face and looked into his gorgeous blue eyes.
"I'm Guinevere," she said, "but most people call me Gwen. In fact, only one person doesn't; at least, he didn't…long ago."
It was almost a question, and one to which Arthur more than had the answer.
"Would you like to come in, Guinevere?"
She most absolutely, positively did.
Arthur tossed the old sword aside and brushed his hand against her long, soft hair as he pulled out a chair for her at the table.
Merlin pushed aside a few bottles of glowing potions in the refrigerator to fetch some of the biscuits he and Arthur had made from scratch two nights before and some grape jam, because Queen Guinevere had always loved grape jam.
Gwen smiled at them both, took their hands when Arthur sat beside her and Merlin across, and talked about strange dreams.
Guinevere McGrath had a brother named Elyan. He'd left home after his parents accused him of being an attention-seeking addict because he swore his and his sister's dreams were connected somehow. Elyan dreamt of being held hostage by a wicked sorceress with blonde curls and a hawk-eyed king, rescued by his brave sister and a noble prince, and later attending their wedding in a throne room as a knight in a great kingdom called Camelot.
Merlin found him a week after Guinevere met them, and Elyan never subjected himself to the escape of drugs again.
It was two months after this, at a train station on a business trip with Arthur in Venezuela, that Merlin met Lancelot Cabrera, who also had strange dreams about a little sorcerer who helped him defeat a griffon and a tear in the veil between two worlds and a wonderful life in a kingdom called Camelot.
A month after that, and a mostly drunk bloke who called himself the Green Knight (because he rode a green motorcycle) defended Gwen against a gang of entirely drunk blokes in a crowded pub off Baker Street. Gwaine Macken had dreams about being banned from a great kingdom called Camelot by a king called Uther, about being returned as a knight by Uther's fair-minded son called Arthur, and about taverns all across five kingdoms.
Three weeks later, Arthur shook hands with the kind-eyed son of one of his father's esteemed Welsh business companions. The son's name was Leon Young, and his strange dreams consisted of the desire to be a knight of a great kingdom called Camelot since he'd been a child, a chance to do just that when a spirited prince called Arthur accepted him as a trusted friend, and a fulfilling life fighting beside King Arthur and other noble knights even until the final battle.
After that, it was only a week before Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, Elyan, Lancelot, Gwaine, and Leon were on their way to have a long, explanation-filled picnic in the country and stopped to help put out a fire accidentally started in a small apartment building in the little town. Two minutes they were there, and then a local, off-duty fireman emerged from the billowing smoke with an armful of coughing children.
His name was Percival Hopper, nicknamed "Gentle Giant Percy" by the admiring townsfolk, and he dreamt of befriending a young traveler who spoke of a great kingdom called Camelot and a kind young manservant who lived there, of helping that traveler, the manservant, and their future king take back the city from a vengeful witch, and saving the lives of hundreds of innocent children as a knight in the land.
On that very afternoon, all eight of them watched as the sun set over the hill across from the one upon which they had set up their picnic, their long conversation—filled with shocks and laughter and solemn memories—having at last died away some minutes before.
Arthur kept his arm around Guinevere's shoulders as the sun started to go down, and it was almost strange to him to see the valley so often in his dreams and memories empty of the city he had once so loved. He could remember it so clearly, however—the way the sunlight glinted off the high towers and the smoke rose in dissipating trails toward the sky. He would hold onto that vision for all of time, and cherish it in his heart more than any of his companions could even know.
As the men grew bored (as young men are wont to do), Gwaine shoved Leon so that the rich young heir went tumbling to the ground. Arthur rolled his eyes fondly as Leon retaliated by kicking the shaggy-headed man's knee, which sent him half-falling atop Percy. It was barely moments later that all five of them left Arthur, Gwen, and Merlin sitting on the blanket as they chased each other some little distance away, playfully practicing their reawakening combat skills against one another.
Arthur watched the sun sink a little lower, simply remembering, until Guinevere nudged him gently and gestured with a tender smile toward Merlin.
The warlock, who had happily let his wavy hair grow out past his ears so that it was close to covering his eyes, was lying on his stomach with his head in his arms near Arthur's knee. The king (for he would always be that) leant over the slightest bit and peered down into his friend's face, confirming to his fiancée that the man's eyes were indeed closed, faintly flickering under his lids as the noise of the men's laughter echoed to their ears.
Arthur, partly curious to see if his warlock was sleeping and partly getting annoyed with the length of the locks of dark hair which he refused to cut, ruffled a few of the wavy strands out of Merlin's face.
Merlin's eyes opened, slightly blearily with the exhaustion of trying to explain to five young, bright-faced men all the details of their strange and wonderful dreams, and he smirked softly at Arthur without bothering to move even his head.
As Arthur chuckled at him and turned to press a kiss to the curly hair his lovely bride-to-be, who rested her head against his shoulder in return, Merlin kept his eyes on them for a long moment, making sure that the two of them, watching the sunset, was the last picture he saw before he closed his eyes again and gave into the call of sleep.
He had strange dreams too, filled with colors and faces and voices from past and present melding together to form one reality in his mind. He never really spoke of his dreams, but he held onto them, and to the people who were their center. He would never let go again.
In the end, the peace was well and good for a few more months, but of course there was still the problem of Arthur being the Once and Future King and Merlin being the Greatest Warlock Ever. Such meant that destiny would not keep away from them but for so long, and their destiny never failed to bring danger along with it.
What they hadn't known—none of them, not even Kilgharrah, who visited every once in a while—was that the return of the King of Albion had reawakened something deep within the earth's core. Magic lived again, as it had before, and it was not very long before it spread to the surface and revealed itself to the skeptical world, not in any sort of burst of power, but little by little.
Merlin told Arthur one evening a year after the man's spirit had reawakened that he'd felt the magic pervading the city and seen strange news stories appearing in the papers which grasped his attention, and that he had the feeling magic would someday return. Arthur had considered this in his own heart, until finally, five months later, strange incidents began to appear all across Britain, much more than Merlin had seen in many centuries. Kilgharrah told them gravely that magic might never be as prominent as it once was, but that it was the responsibility of all who knew of it to keep it safe and balanced.
On the first night of October the following year, Merlin and Arthur sat in Gemma's Café eating a warm meal Gwen had made just for them (for while she was now the wife of one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain, she vowed she would always help care for her aunt's little shop). As they talked about nothing in general, Merlin suddenly froze where he sat.
"What's wrong, Col?" Arthur asked, his spoon half-way to his mouth. (Though Colin James was no longer a façade between them, Arthur Pendragon's great magician Merlin and Arthur Gregory's best friend Colin had blended into one in his mind, and so he called him whatever he felt like, and of course Merlin didn't mind in the least what Arthur called him).
The warlock was quiet for another short minute, and then he shook his head dismissively, though his eyes were still tight, the blue of them looking even brighter against the dark of the locks which framed his pale face now.
"Nothing," said he. "I just thought I felt something, that's all."
"Something like what?" his friend pressed, putting down his spoon into his avocado soup.
Merlin's brow furrowed and he held his breath, taking in the feeling again.
"A weird…vibe," he answered finally, and then he glanced upward toward his right, as though he were looking through the ceiling. "I think there's someone practicing black magic in the building next door, Arthur."
Arthur, though he had not seen with his own eyes any magical activity in a year (apart from Merlin's, of course), chewed on his lower lip for a moment before asking,
"So…should we do something about it?"
Merlin cut his eyes toward him and smirked.
"'Like old times,' you mean?" he joked. "I thought you wanted to be at peace now, sir."
"I never said that," Arthur replied, slipping the cell phone he'd laid upon the table back into his pocket. "The truth is, Merlin—"
His warlock tilted his head in interest as the king's tone became suddenly low and hushed, weighty with quiet sincerity.
"—you always said that it was my fate to keep my kingdom safe. I've been thinking a lot about it lately, and…even though we've presumably completed our destiny, my responsibilities to Albion have not changed, have they? I still feel as though I have a duty to the people of this land. Do you think I'm supposed to have that feeling, Merlin, and that I'm supposed to use it?"
The older man's smile broadened because, though Arthur hadn't even noticed (as he never did), his language had changed half the way through his solemn admission to the language of their first lives. Arthur was King. No matter what name he had or what era he knew, he would always be that.
"Come on, then," the old warlock, who somehow didn't feel so old after this year, replied simply, and Arthur followed him, and he always followed him, out of the restaurant with a quick wave to Gwen that they would be returning.
Arthur and Merlin soon discovered that it was Morgana who was teaching black magic to people who were vulnerable to its possession. She had survived, after all, and now she gathered together followers in the darkest and dirtiest parts of Albion for her revenge. Those whom magic had gifted upon its return to the surface, she sought out. It was a game, a dangerous game, Merlin and Arthur and their friends against Morgana and Aithusa and their dark powers, but the more innocent souls of magic Merlin found and salvaged before she could reach them, the safer Albion remained.
Merlin did age, and when he finally died an old man, surrounded by open, star-dusted skies, he entered with serenity into the next world.
In the short time which separated them, the king heard his warlock's voice in his dreams, and he knew that very soon, he would see him again.
I really do hope this ending is satisfactory! Let me know in a review, and I just want to thank everyone who as reviewed so far, and who will in the future.
Here is the final song list for this fic; enjoy!
All In by Lifehouse
Our Lives by The Calling
This is Home by Switchfoot
The Voice by Celtic Woman (I know it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think it works with the whole atmosphere of the show in general, not just for my fic.)
Remembering You by Steven Curtis Chapman
Open Up Your Eyes by Jeremy Camp (This one is actually more for the previous chapters and not so much for this one, just so you know. ;))
First Time by Lifehouse
And that concludes it! PLEASE remember that you are free to request any fic you want me to write; just let me know if you'd like to see any part of this fic expanded upon (such as something in the beginning of Part iv or in the last part of this Epilogue). I'll be happy to write it if it's requested. :D And also feel free to take any of your ideas about this fic and write them yourself. I would love nothing more than to find someone wrote a story set in this 'verse; just send me a link so I can read it! :)
I am so excited that everyone who's read has seemed to like it so much. Please, please, please pray for me and wish me luck on my original book. I really need it. haha
And lastly, my sign-off:
"There's magic in you; you've just got to reach past everything else to touch it."
"You're always better than you give yourself credit for. Remember that."
Fare thee well, everybody!