This was actually the next chapter of 'Cry of The Prophets' but it became its own fic before I even noticed. Now I have to start the new chappie from scratch. Oh well, things happen for a reason. ;)
(I would recommend listening to 'These Dreams' by Heart while reading this. :D)
The bond between Merlin and Arthur its what makes the whole show. And what better quote to describe it than the one below?
An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.
- Chinese Proverb.
I search for the time
On a watch with no hands
I want to see you clearly
Come closer than this
But all I remember
Are the dreams in the mist
These dreams go on when I close my eyes
There's something out there
I can't resist
But the prince hides his face
From dreams in the mist.
- Heart 'These Dreams.'
Red Thread of Fate.
It started with dreams.
Though now he knows they weren't quite dreams but quick flashes of some sort, breaths of life from a beating heart he hadn't met yet. Sometimes there was nothing but his eyes- blue as the sky above him- sometimes a red and gold banner stood high above, and when he woke up it was as if he had been far away, easily flying above everything and everyone. His magic would unknowingly shift and bubble with emotions he could not place or name and though he would not notice, his heart would pump madly within his chest as he ate his porridge, small booted feet dangling high above the ground.
But the dreams, a manifestation of greater things to come, stopped soon after. And when he'd chirped joyfully to Hunith about them as she tied a small neckerchief around his tiny neck so that he wouldn't catch a cold, she laughed and kissed his forehead.
He never asked her if she believed him, not then. Though years after, weathered and beaten by destiny and loss, he would remember those dreams of his childhood and he would cry on her shoulder.
He had seen those blue eyes from his distant dreams grow lifeless forever.
"Have you ever felt as if someone's waiting for you?"
He hadn't meant to ask the question, not really. But Will's keen eyes immediately looked up at him, a boy almost dangerously skinny and tall, sitting at the very top of the tree from where he could see the world around him.
Will had looked up with a frown and thought for a little while before replying, "Mum's waiting me for dinner if that's what you're asking. And if she gets mad I am blaming you by the way."
An exasperated sigh, then.
"No. I didn't mean it like that."
"Well, what did you mean?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Spit it out, Merlin." Will managed through another mouthful of apple. "You know friends tell each other everything, right?"
However he, bright eyed, still looking at the enormous world before him with awe from the top of the tree, did not answer immediately. Perhaps the troublesome look in his soft eyes was the weight of guilt. Perhaps it was not.
Finally, Merlin spoke again though his voice was lower, almost as if he wanted it to be a whisper. "Will, would you run away from here?"
Though the question was incredibly strange for an eleven year old Will's expression did not waver. He swallowed before answering. "Maybe. To find Dan and join the knights probably. Why, are you planning on running away?"
Merlin shifted restlessly above him, not once looking away from the unknown kingdoms before him.
"Of course not!" he said after a while. "I mean, I couldn't. I couldn't just leave Mum here."
"Where would you go, then?"
Merlin did not hesitate before replying. "Camelot."
-and then fell silent for he didn't know why he'd even said it.
Will grabbed the lower branches so that he could climb and sit with Merlin. "Camelot?" he asked as he pulled himself up. "Camelot, as in Uther's kingdom? Why?"
Merlin looked truly lost when he mumbled, "I don't know."
The branch shook when Will finally reached the top and sat beside his friend, placing one arm around his narrow, bony shoulders. For the briefest moments there it was again- that look of deep, almost desperate longing over Merlin's youthful face- and then it was gone, as if it had never existed.
"You should stop this, you know?" Will said sagely. "Maybe you're just overtired because of what Old Man Simmons made us do yesterday. Crazy old man, I tell you. We're eleven. How were we supposed to plow his garden before sundown?"
It worked and Merlin turned to him with sparkling eyes and a full grin. Every worry was forgotten. "You were the one that scared his chickens away, Will."
"He was the one that told Mum about me sparring with Peter. She took away my wooden sword, you know? The one you did for me? (1)"
Merlin flashed a quirked smile though a shadow crossed his eyes. "Yeah, I remember."
"Merlin." Will squeezed the bony shoulder of the best boy he knew and leaned over as he promised with solemnity, "One day you and I will be knights. The best. And we will fight together and die together as best friends do. And we will see the world and we will eat all the bread there is. And cheese, Merlin, can you imagine the cheese?…"
Merlin stared ahead as his friend spoke and said nothing but deep within his heart he promised- vowed- that, should he ever leave Ealdor, he would find the soundless voice that called him so insistently before anything else.
Years later Will rebuked him for taking such a stupid risk and accused him of leaving his family to chase a dream; Merlin shook his head and pursed his lips, reminding himself of that which pulled so strongly on his soul that sometimes it became a physical tugging on his heart.
And he left- later he knew- because Arthur was calling him.
Gaius would write often when Merlin was a child and he would sit on his mother's lap, listening with drooping eyelids to the soft cadence of her voice while she read the letter.
"…if you only knew, my dear, what it is like to see a father treat his son so sternly! He sometimes stays with me after training and tells me that he feels alone. Even if he plays and banters with the Lady Morgana he still feels 'on his own' he says…"
"I know how he feels."
And Hunith had looked away from the letter and into the stormy eyes of her beloved son, who was gazing steadily back even though she'd assumed that he was fast asleep.
"What do you mean, Merlin?"
"I know how he feels, the little boy from the letter." A yawn and then two soft blue eyes blinked away the land of dreams. "As if something is missing."
"….he says something is missing, Hunith. And by Heavens I just can't imagine what…."
Later, standing by the riverside, an old and weary Emrys closes his eyes and let memories wash over him.
"A knight is here. He says a boy is lost since yesterday. First time he went on a patrol with the knights. Poor little thing could be dead."
Oh, he remembers too distinctly the way Hunith had placed a hand upon her lips.
"There's no sign of him?"
By Hunith's side little Merlin stood, listening. In the future he would value and treasure the ability that had been given to him so freely, even when he was but a boy. Titling his head to the side, as if listening for a heartbeat that had always palpitated in accordance with his own, he closed his eyes.
Before he understood what he was saying Merlin spoke.
"Tell them to check the left side of the river where Mum likes to wash clothes."
Hunith and the small woman that had been talking to her both looked down at him, at his confident smile, at his blue eyes.
Perhaps it was the spark that had lightened her boy's wise eyes what convinced her but, nevertheless, Hunith coaxed her friend into asking the knights to look for the missing boy over there. Later, deep in the night as Merlin silently played with his wooden horse, the woman returned. She was barely able to speak in her agitation.
"Hunith, how did your boy know? They found him, the knights. He had wandered away from camp to explore. Oh, to think that he could've died out here! Old man Simmons says he was a jumpy little one, repeating something about his father…."
When she was gone and the little village of Ealdor quieted under the stupor of the night, Hunith sat by him and watched with a smile the tiny sparkles of light that sprouted from his fingers.
"It was just a hunch." Merlin said then, with a shrug of his thin shoulders. "Just a hunch, that's all."
But as he lays on the grass, watching the starry night, Emrys' old soul aches as his heart weeps and beneath the flutter of his eyelids he remembers Arthur's broad smile, the laughter booming around them. "I don't know what I would've done without the knights." The prince had admitted once, a youth surrounded by his family of knights. "It was my first patrol and I had managed to get lost in the middle of nowhere…"
Camelot. The word beat within him like a prayer that had not been answered. There was an ache that called him and lead him towards those snowy towers and though Hunith voiced her concern she grew quiet and said, at last.
"You could stay with Gaius. He is Camelot's Court Physician."
With a kiss, a guffaw and a loud, "Mother you are wonderful!" it was decided.
The day he left Ealdor he closed his eyes tightly and tried to calm his thunderous heart unsuccessfully. He still remembers the soft assurance of whomever called him that yes- yes- he was in the right path and he would soon be where he belonged.
By Arthur's side.
There were little things, such as the drawing of his blonde eyebrows or the intensity of his gaze, which Merlin noticed. They were soft, almost ethereal but he always managed to see them under the stoic mask of regent and King.
They were wordless actions that spoke to Merlin's heart in a way orders never could. A small shove, a crooked grin...
And within moments of their first meeting Arthur used their silent language to say what was unsaid between them but that was never untrue. His King learned ways, almost subconsciously, in which he could take advantage of it.
A rough hand clutching his shirt. 'Stay beside me, I don't want you killed.'
Bright eyes locking with his, a strong pat on the back. 'I'm glad you're well.'
And as the years went by Merlin could no longer tell what it was like to be anywhere but at Arthur's side, to stop seeing that bright-eyed looked that often meant he had managed to make his King smile, to never again read in those sky-blue eyes and the crook of that grin every last joy and struggle deep within his King's heart…
Slowly, he, too, began to do it. He would let his fingers curl around Arthur's wrist whenever his King was about to do something rash, he learned that a small pressure in Arthur's right shoulder made his Once and Future King immediately look towards him with inquisitive and attentive eyes…
He never forgot.
Perhaps because he knew as well as Arthur what their silent actions conveyed, his heart grew sorrowful long before all hope was lost.
Arthur's calloused fingers running through his hair were always an unspoken way of letting him know he was loved.
The tender look in Arthur's eyes…it had always meant goodbye.
"Yarrow, mint and rue." Gaius had said, "Oh and Merlin…be here before nightfall."
He whistled as he went through the woods, enjoying those moments in which he was free from all responsibility, mesmerized by the chirping of the birds and the beauty that surrounded him.
When the growling started Merlin barely remembered himself running.
But his blood pumped in his neck as he sprinted aimlessly and the beast lunged forwards, determined to get its prey.
He remembers his magic lashing out to protect him and then how he screamed as he lost his footing. He ended up in a nature-made hole, alone and with a broken ankle. Trying his hardest not to cry out in pain and stay still because it was almost as if Arthur's there with him, screaming and demanding him to stop moving.
What a foolish action it was! But when he heard the beast pace around, whining hungrily, he did not think it through and with one overused enchantment all his tracks disappeared from the face of the earth.
A few moments later so did the beast.
He remembers cursing his magic when no healing spell worked and his teeth began to chatter from the cold. He remembers thinking that no one would ever find him and that the hole would probably be his grave.
As the sun touched his skin the following morning so did a hand, raising him from sleep, touching his shoulder. Arthur Pendragon was there in all his golden glory, beaming, though a small hint of concern still clouded his eyes.
"Only an idiot like you Merlin." Arthur had helped him stand and placed one of his thin arms around his own broad shoulders. "-would break his ankle while picking herbs."
The Once and Future King then squeezed his shoulder. ' I don't want to lose you. Ever.'
And as they walked home he had asked, "How did you find me, Arthur?" Because there were no tracks, no signs that could possibly stir Arthur in the right direction.
His King's fingers wrapped themselves once more around his shoulder and they lingered there, warm and solid.
"It was a hunch, Merlin."
There were times in which he swore Arthur knew, too.
"Shut up Merlin."
Even though he was accustomed to Arthur's short temper that was ridiculous. "I didn't say anything!"
A dry smile, a quick glance. His Once and Future King's eyes twinkled. "You didn't need to."
The first time he'd said it out loud his soul sung the words.
"You could say…there is a bond between us."
Uther turned towards him and even though he knew nothing of Emrys and The Once and Future King Merlin was forever certain that the king felt a tiny spark of the fire that ignited such loyalty within the scrawny manservant.
"I'm glad…look after him."
The red thread of fate tensed, resisted…and Arthur opened his eyes again.
"Stay with me-"
But Arthur's eyes closed before he could finish his plea-
"…or take me with you."
The thread- he knows now- that tightens around his heart ever so often, that bounds his soul to Arthur's, cannot break.
How could he forget? Even now he remembers each playful shove and gingerly touch, each careful embrace. Perhaps it was lifetimes ago but it is all fresh and untouched within his heart. The dreams came back, after Arthur's death. But now he isn't just a golden head in a stark white sky. (2) He is a name, a man, a King. His King.
Sometimes Merlin dreams with his past life in beautiful Camelot, with sweet Guinevere, wise Gaius and the happy years in which he was right were he belonged. But there are times when his dreams take it upon them to try and heal the raw wound in his soul and he dreams of things he's never seen before. Of a young, toddler Arthur that smiles at him waving a banner of Pendragon red and that, time and time again, extends his little arms towards him with a longing that must mirror Merlin's own.
In these dreams, whenever he has the chance to touch this tender Arthur, so fragile in his youth, it is as if his heart is whole again. He kneels beside his child King and wraps his arms around him, perhaps he is as touch starved as Arthur is, for he too buries his nose on Merlin's old and feeble shoulder, and then stays still.
These dreams are the ones he treasures the most.
His wait ends with a dream, as well. Though perhaps it is not a dream but a vision. Arthur stands there, no longer a child but a King, offering Merlin his gloved hand. There is a smile on his lips and there's fondness on his eyes. He cannot remember seeing Arthur as majestic as he sees him now, even though it is a dream.
When he wakes the familiar tugging on his heart is already tormenting him with insistence and he wastes not a second as he tumbles around and wraps his jackets around him, breaking into a desperate run once he's out of the small cottage he uses as a refuge. (He has no home, no home when Arthur is not with him.) he runs with his heart beating wildly against his ribcage and wonders if such happiness can be agony as well. Each step the ancient warlock takes towards Avalon hurts in the need to reach him.
Avalon is still, silent, and it is only disturbed by Merlin breaking through its sacred waters, panting and splashing as he did once before, lifetimes ago, when Arthur had fallen prey to vengeful Sidhes. But this time he does not scream Arthur's name. He just waits.
Nothing but heartbeats later, when Arthur's hand breaks through the water, Merlin is there to hold it with his own, in a grip so tight that he shakes.
This time Merlin swears he will never let go.
(1) I thought it would be awesome if Merlin could carve wood as Balinor. ;)
(2) reference to 'What if the storm ends?' by Snow Patrol, specifically the lines:
'The perfect halo of gold hair and lightning
Sets you off against the planet's last dance.'
Yes, the Asian proverb intrigued me deeply. It's just...amazingly complex and so so perfect for our dear King and Warlock. Now that this is up and done I guess I better start re-writing. ;)