Author's Note: Indirectly, this oneshot was inspired by Christina Perri's song "A Thousand Years". I've always been a slight Merthur shipper (in that I occasionally enjoy reading Merthur fanfiction but never truly was onboard the ship and never actually saw the characters as being more than best friends) but somehow, this song shifted my feelings on the matter. I'm still no hardcore Merthur shipper, but when I heard this song I, for some reason, immediately thought of Merlin and Arthur, particularly of the song being from Merlin's point of view. So I couldn't get the idea of a romantic bond between them out of my head. That notion, plus the song itself, led to this. I hope you enjoy. Please leave a review!
Arthur Pendragon accepted death; in fact, he welcomed it like an old friend. How many times over the years had he come face-to-face with the nameless thief, only to evade its grasp at the last second?
Well not this time. He was happy to let go. It was time to join all those he loved in the afterlife. He had lived much longer than any king had a right to, and his son had long since taken over rule of the kingdom, so there would be no problems there.
All of his original Knights of the Round Table, those who had been his dearest friends, were already gone, with the exception of Sir Percival alone. Guinevere had passed away two years ago, and Merlin, Merlin, his best friend, had died three years before that.
Arthur's eyes still watered every time he remembered how his oldest and dearest friend had sacrificed his life for Arthur's, saving him from death for the last time, as he had done so many times before. More times than Arthur would ever know about, he was sure. That had become painfully clear when Merlin had finally revealed his magic and their shared destiny.
Arthur felt a hand gripping his, heard the voice and tears of his son calling out to him, but it was time. He did not resist as his eyes fluttered shut and he drifted away into blackness.
In the mortal realm, Arthur Pendragon remained as no more than a legend—the story of a King most noble, brave, and true, who had built a kingdom of compassion and love: the best of men during life, now a legend to stand the tests of time during death.
Arthur blinked slowly, his eyes slowly adjusting to the brightness surrounding him, enveloping him with its warmth. He became somehow aware that he was lying down and he felt an odd sensation all over his body. He made an effort to struggle to his feet. He did so, stumbling a bit; but he got there.
The transition from utter black to this intense light was still too much for Arthur, and he raised an arm to block out what he was now registering as the sun. Looking forward, Arthur realized what the sensation had been. It had been water rushing over him.
He stood on a white sand beach, the ocean stretching endlessly in front of him and lapping at his feet teasingly. Glancing down at himself, Arthur saw that he was dressed in plain breeches and a white cotton shirt. He vaguely noticed that his body was no longer that of an old man's, but rather a young Arthur Pendragon, the man he had been in his prime, in the beginning of his term as king. This felt so right that he did not even think to question it.
Turning around, arm still raised, Arthur noticed something a short ways off. He blinked repeatedly, trying to make out more of the shady shape. Never one for fear, the former king of Camelot stepped towards the hazy dark blob as his vision began to clear. He could see now that it was a figure, the figure of a man, standing still on the beach. He continued moving forward, the soft sand squishing beneath his bare feet.
Finally, Arthur's vision cleared and he could see perfectly. His heart seemed to stop, as did his feet.
The man smiled.
Arthur stared in amazement at the man who stood before him. It was Merlin, but not the Merlin of his most recent memories. It was a young Merlin, in his prime, just like Arthur. His clothes—the boots, pants, shirt, jacket, and, of course, neckerchief—were so familiar to Arthur that his heart ached. The man within the clothes was even more heart-wrenching. Arthur's eyes traced over every inch of Merlin, from his tidy black hair, to his sharp pale cheekbones, to his slim figure. Never had a sight filled Arthur with more joy.
He held back tears as the vision from his past simply smiled at him. How could he have ever forgotten how beautiful Merlin had been? Five years without him had simply been too much. And it had been decades since he'd seen this version of his friend.
"Where… Where are we?" he managed to ask, nearly choking on the knot in his throat. Merlin met his eyes and Arthur was struck by how dismal his memories of those eyes had been. Never had his mind produced images of such piercing blue intelligence.
"These are the Islands of the Blessed," answered the warlock.
"Then why… why am I here? Why are you here?"
Merlin grinned, and Arthur's heart leapt inside his chest.
"Because you earned it. So did I, it would seem. This is a place in the afterlife reserved for only the noblest, bravest, and most virtuous men and women. You and I have been judged worthy."
Merlin just smiled, crossing the small distance between them until they stood only a couple of feet apart.
"I've missed you, Arthur," whispered Merlin, eyes shining with pain and happiness. Arthur choked back a sob.
Needing no more words, the two men came together, wrapping their arms about each other, embracing tightly. Arthur felt quite sure he'd never held someone so close in his lifetime. It felt good to be with Merlin once again. Everything felt right.
When they pulled apart, Merlin's eyes had a misty sheen and Arthur had tears rolling down his cheeks. Reaching out, Merlin tenderly wiped them away.
"I've been waiting for you," he said.
"I'm sorry, Merlin," burst Arthur, the guilt of five years pouring out of him. "I'm so sorry. You died for me; it's my fault. If only I hadn't-"
"Arthur, no," interrupted Merlin swiftly, his voice gentle. "You don't need to apologize to me. Never. I have no regrets. I would always willingly have given my life for you. I can think of no better way to have left the earth than by protecting the life of the person most precious to me."
Arthur smiled shakily, fresh tears falling.
"I don't know how I've survived without you for the past five years. It's been… so painful, Merlin. I've missed you so much. I've been so alone."
"Well don't worry," assured Merlin, "You're here with me now. You'll never be alone again."
Arthur didn't know who initiated it. Perhaps neither man did. Perhaps it simply happened.
But suddenly their lips met, and the old friends were kissing fiercely. A surge of fire raced through their veins, the first touch like an electric shock, but a pleasant one. Merlin pressed himself as close to Arthur as he could, his hands resting on Arthur's chest. Arthur used one hand to wrap around Merlin's waist and the other to run through Merlin's perfect black hair.
This feels right, Arthur thought simply, losing himself in the wonderful sensation of bliss as their mouths moved quickly together.
When they pulled apart, the two men observed each other, both smiling with pure happiness.
"I assume that that…" Arthur cleared his throat awkwardly. "…was alright with you, then?"
Merlin chuckled brightly. "You could assume that, yes."
"And… if I chose to repeat that action at any time, that would also be acceptable, yes?"
As an answer, Merlin leaned forward and pressed his lips against Arthur's in a tender kiss.
"Arthur… I love you," he admitted softly. His heart fluttered as he saw the effect his words had on Arthur: an uncontrollable smile settled on the Once and Future King's lips, and an undeniable spark leapt into his eyes. "I've always loved you. And I always will."
"I'm sorry that I didn't-" Arthur began. Merlin cut off what he knew would be an apology for not having realized those feelings sooner by saying,
"I told you, no apologies!" A smirk twitched at the corners of Arthur's lips.
"Did you just give me an order?"
Merlin grinned. "Yes… sire."
"Feel good, does it?"
"It's not unpleasant."
Grins stretched across both faces, and the men who had been restored to their youth laughed together. The words themselves seemed to come from another time—in fact, Arthur could remember the night perfectly.
Recalling the memory now, it seemed so clear to Arthur that even at that time he was in love with Merlin, that he'd always been in love with Merlin. How could he never have seen it, in all those years? He'd loved Guinevere as well, yes, there was no denying that, but his bond with Merlin had been unlike all others. Arthur had trusted Merlin implicitly, had turned to him for advice, had relied on him and protected him, had looked after him and made him laugh, had sought comfort in his presence. He had been at his happiest with Merlin. It was so plain to see now.
"It's alright, Arthur." Arthur's head snapped towards the warlock, who was smiling fondly. "None of that matters anymore. What matters is that we're here together, and we have eternity ahead of us. I could never have asked for anything more than that. Serving you was the greatest honor of my life; let loving you be the greatest honor of my death."
"I don't feel like I'm dead," said Arthur. "I feel more alive than I've ever been."
"Well actually, you do feel dead, you just aren't thinking of it that way because you're so used to associating this feeling with being alive," replied Merlin sassily. "But I assure you, we're perfectly dead. Will be for all of eternity."
Rolling his eyes with a smile, Arthur grabbed Merlin's shirt and pulled him in for another kiss. Merlin melted into his touch, returning the kiss.
"Now come on," said Arthur, slinging his arm about Merlin's shoulders and pulling him along by playfully pushing his head a bit. "Give me a tour, will you?"
Merlin grumbled good-naturedly at Arthur's typical roughhousing, but still smiled and grabbed Arthur's hand, sending a delicious tingle up both their arms.
"Anything you say, sire."
They walked off across the beach together, hand in hand, heading into the mess of trees in front of them.
And if, a short while later, Merlin tripped over a root, and Arthur laughed as he climbed back to his feet, and Arthur proceeded to call Merlin "the same clumsy fool you've always been", and Merlin responded that Arthur was "still the same royal prat", well then… everything was just perfect.