Howling ghosts they reappear,
in mountains that are stacked with fear,
but you're a king and I'm a lionheart.
And in the sea that's painted black,
creatures lurk below the deck,
but you're a king and I'm a lionheart.
And as the world comes to an end,
I'll be here to hold your hand,
'cause you're my king and I'm your lionheart.
~ "king and lionheart," of monsters and men.
As the World Comes to an End
Prologue: Two Thousand Years
Merlin's asleep in the ruins of an old castle in Scotland when he feels the Earth tremble underneath him, and a voice calls to him from far away.
Merlin leaps to his feet. He feels the ground pulling at him, feels a magic intense and ancient rise up from the Earth, and he couldn't fight it even if he wanted to. He sheds his old skin without trying, feels himself grow young again, and he gasps as the magic pulls at his very core. He grabs his chest and whispers Arthur's name.
Then he blinks, and he's at the shore of the lake of Avalon. He was just here a few weeks ago, sending little boats full of candles over the lake's surface in memory of those who died in the last world war.
He feels the Earth tremble again, and the force of it brings Merlin to his knees. He hears a voice calling to him again. Only this time, he can make out who it is.
It has been centuries, millennia, since he has heard this voice. But he would know it anywhere.
"Arthur," Merlin gasps, and when the Earth stops trembling, Merlin gets shakily to his feet as Arthur's head breaks the surface of the water.
Merlin watches in wonder as his King struggles to shore, weighed down by soggy red cloak and damp chain mail, Excalibur hanging loyally at his side.
Arthur spits out a stream of water, and even from this distance Merlin can see his old friend rolling his eyes.
"Merlin, are you just going to stand there gawping or are you going to help out your King?"
Merlin laughs, and it's been so long since he's done so it comes out nearly hysterical. But he doesn't care. Arthur is here. Whole and alive. He's finally here.
Arthur continues to struggle up the shore as Merlin runs, faster than he's run in a long time, maybe ever. He reaches Arthur before he's out of the water and the force of their meeting knocks them both off their feet. They land in the water hard. Arthur barely has time to indignantly shout out "Mer-lin!" before Merlin crashes their lips together. It's violent and passionate all at the same time, full of so many things gone unsaid for so long. Merlin kisses Arthur like he's wanted to kiss him for more than a thousand years, and Arthur kisses him back.
And it feels just like coming home.
Merlin's not sure how long the kiss lasts; it could be days for all he knows. One thing he is sure of is that, after so many years of waiting, it doesn't disappoint. It's everything Merlin has wanted and more. It means that Arthur's alive. After nearly two thousand years, Arthur is back, and Merlin can hardly believe it.
Eventually, Arthur pulls away, ending the kiss much sooner than Merlin would have liked.
"As much as I enjoyed that, Merlin, this lake is freezing."
Merlin laughs and shakes his head, and he's shocked to find that he's crying for the first time in decades; until this moment, he thought he'd cried all the tears he could. He stands up and reaches out a hand. Arthur smiles and takes it, lets Merlin help him to his feet. Together, hands still clasped, they trudge to shore.
It's September, but the sun has barely risen and it's cold. They climb out of the lake and stand shivering for a few seconds before Merlin thinks to do something.
A warm burst of air washes over them, and in an instant they're both standing by the lake dry as can be. Arthur lets go of Merlin's hand and feels his clothes, gazing down at them in awe, and Merlin wonders briefly how Arthur will react to such a direct use of magic.
When Arthur looks back up at him, Merlin is shocked to find that Arthur looks, of all things, put off.
"Merlin...are you telling me that all those nights we spent wet and freezing in the woods, all you had to do was say one word and we could have been warm and dry?"
"Ummm...yes?" Merlin bites his lip, trying not to laugh at the look of consternation on Arthur's face.
Arthur stares at him for a few seconds. Then, without warning, he smacks Merlin on the head.
Merlin laughs in relief as he rubs the back of his head.
"Yeah, I missed you too."
Arthur smiles at Merlin, and before he knows what's happening Merlin feels himself being pulled in for a hug. Arthur wraps his arms tightly around him, and Merlin hugs him back. It's a simple gesture, but considering they've only done this a handful of times, it speaks volumes. Neither of them says a word as they stand on the shore of Avalon and hold each other close, and neither of them really has to, because they both understand.
Finally, Arthur pulls away, patting Merlin companionably on the shoulder.
"So, how long was I gone? Twenty years? Thirty?"
Merlin's heart crashes into his stomach.
"That's...that's how long it felt for you? A few decades?"
Arthur frowns as he loses himself in thought. "It didn't...I'm not sure. I remember you came to me, and you made me a promise. But I don't remember much after you left. Just flashes here and there. It can't have been that long, can it?"
Merlin falls silent, which seems to be enough of an answer for Arthur.
Arthur pulls his hand away from Merlin's shoulder.
"Merlin...how long was I gone?"
Merlin gulps. How can he possibly tell Arthur that he's been gone for nearly two millennia?
"Arthur...maybe you should sit down."
And for the first time that Merlin can think of, Arthur does what he asks without protest. He sits down on the ground hard, and Merlin can just see the gears turning in his head.
"One hundred. Has it been a hundred?"
Merlin kneels next to him on the ground and replies, "More."
Arthur's eyes grow wide. "Two hundred. It can't be more than that."
"Okay, three hundred. Surely it can't be much longer than that." Panic is starting to seep into Arthur's voice, and Merlin can't bear it.
"Arthur...it's the year 2512. You've been gone for almost two thousand years."
Merlin is grateful that Arthur agreed to sit, because the look on his face makes it clear that he would have crashed to the ground otherwise.
"Two...two thousand years?"
Merlin wants to say something, but he has no idea what could possibly help in this situation. In the end, all he can do is nod.
Arthur shakes his head, and Merlin watches as tears rise in his eyes.
"No," Arthur states emphatically, as if he can make it true by simply saying it.
Merlin watches helplessly as Arthur stands, walks away from him, and begins to pace. It's a nervous habit Arthur has always had, born from too many sleepless nights and too much stress, one that has always made Merlin feel useless. He watches Arthur pace now, mumbling quietly to himself, until he can't stand it.
Merlin gets to his feet and slowly approaches his king. Arthur pauses only when Merlin rests a hand gently on his shoulder and whispers his name. Arthur turns away toward the lake, trembling slightly under Merlin's touch.
"Merlin...that promise you made to me. Please...tell me that you..." Arthur trails off, unable to finish his thought, but Merlin knows what he wants.
Gently, almost shyly, Merlin wraps his arms around Arthur from behind. When Arthur doesn't flinch away, Merlin pulls him as close as he can. He feels Arthur's chest rise and fall with breath, feels his heart beat with life, and it's the sweetest feeling in the world. He rests his head on Arthur's shoulder, his lips close to Arthur's ear so he doesn't miss a word.
"I kept my promise to you, Arthur. I didn't live alone. I saved lives, I helped people. I did what you asked me to do. I met a lot of people in two thousand years, Arthur, and I loved some of them as well as I could. But none of them were ever you."
Arthur bows his head in response before reaching down, grabbing Merlin's hands, and holding on tight. Merlin waits patiently as Arthur slows his breathing and calms down.
Finally, Arthur gently pries Merlin's arms off of him and turns to face him.
"Merlin...what happened to Camelot?"
Memories flood Merlin's mind, and he smiles sadly as he answers, "Let me show you."
Reviews are appreciated as always. :)