A/N- I started this THE DAY AFTER the finale, so be warned of H/C and the super amount of ANGST! Hopefully not too melodramatic- I wasn't sure I'd post it, (having been in quite an emotional state myself at the time, and less competent at staying under the over-dramatic line) but I think that anyone else suffering from post-finale blues will find it worthwhile. I'm a little obsessed with Merlin and Arthur's "lives after Camelot." Please note that the 'sleeping together' thing in entirely platonic- just friends who don't want to leave one another's side after being parted for centuries.

This stands apart from "But One Side" and "Damaged at Best." In this story, Merlin's didn't play a part in bringing about his own immortality.

Hope y'all enjoy! Please tell me what you think!



Chapter 1

Merlin was calling for him- it was the first thing Arthur noticed, his friend's distress being the second. When the cries escalated to panicked screams, Arthur's eyes flew open and he sat even before noticing that Merlin was also sitting up in bed, his hands clawing at the blanket that covered him.

"Merlin!" Arthur shouted beside him, gripping his friend's shuddering shoulders. "It's okay! We're okay!" His voice settled in volume as Merlin choked on his last scream, and began to sob- hard, as if nothing could ever comfort him. He reached out to Arthur's face in the darkness, feeling it over before cupping both hands around it.

"You're-… you're okay," he whimpered, panting so much that Arthur barely made out even those of his words that were spoken more strongly. "…Here with me- …You're here… me…"

"Yeah," Arthur whispered, out of breath himself from the start. He clutched his friend's wrist. "I'm here."

He took in a deep breath and released it slowly. You just scared me half to death, Merlin, he thought, but held his tongue. Merlin was still so upset by this, and a good deal more than he ought to be over any nightmare. Yes, centuries had passed, but the Merlin that Arthur remembered never allowed himself to be so disturbed by something which had already passed- yet here they sat holding each other, long seconds after Merlin had woken, and he still cried as harshly as the moment he woke.

"Come here," Arthur said in a soft voice, and gently pulled Merlin closer so that the wizard's head could rest against his shoulder. "We're okay," he repeated, for it seemed to calm Merlin. Right now, he would reach for anything to comfort his friend, whose continuing cries tore at his heart. "Just rest," he whispered, stroking Merlin's back. "We're okay. We're okay."

The wizard's hands slid from Arthur's face and went limp against his chest as he relaxed a bit. He cried just as bitterly as before, but gradually quieted while Arthur spoke to him. No matter how subdued his sobs became, it still seemed as if the very air was choking him. Arthur wanted to lie back down, and could still hold Merlin if he did so, but he worried that it might make breathing more difficult for him. He continued to hold his friend upright, slowly rocking back and forth out of instinct.

"…What did you dream about, Merlin?" He'd wanted to wait until he thought the wizard could reply clearly before asking, but believed it better to encourage him to come out with it as soon as he could, that he might take his mind from it.

A long time passed before Merlin was able to speak. "Th-that day," he stammered at last, his voice unsteady with repressed sobs.

Arthur took only a moment to realize exactly what he meant. "Oh," he breathed, though he had guessed it would have something to do with his "death."

"…And, all- all the… time after," Merlin finished miserably, his warm, quivering breaths tickling Arthur's neck.

Well, what did I expect? Arthur wondered. Merlin had consciously lived the fifteen hundred years that the once king had slept through- essentially alone, waiting for Arthur's return, with no way of knowing how long that would take.

If he had known- would he have chosen to go through all that again?

"You know, there's nothing I can say," Arthur told him after a moment of searching for a suitable reply. "Because there are no words to really tell you how I feel."

Now visible to Arthur's dark-adjusted eyes, Merlin reached up to brush the hair away from his king's face, looking up at him. "Try 'f-if you can," he whispered uncertainly. "'Nd if you can't, j-just talk. …Want to hear your v-voice. Please."

Arthur rubbed the sweaty hair on the back of his friend's head. "I can only say thank you," he admitted. "Because if you weren't here, I'd feel so lost… and terrified. I was terrified, Merlin, when I awoke, because of everything that had changed. This time is still strange to me, and losing everyone…" He shut his eyes against his own surfacing tears, maintaining a mostly level voice. "Losing Gwen would have killed me. But you keep me going, Merlin. Because of your loyalty- because you're here for me." As his voice cracked for the second time, Arthur's tears found their way down his face. "…Because you were alone for centuries so that I would never have to be. For that I love you more than I ever thought I could."

Arthur regretted allowing his emotions to show when his tears led Merlin to begin crying again. Arthur held him tightly as his friend turned his face into the once king's shoulder.

After a time, Merlin shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it; I don't want to think about it- I want to forget," he ran off, his tone rough but determined.

"That's okay," Arthur said with a nod, though he worried how okay it would be. Fifteen hundred years was an incomprehensible time to Arthur. Merlin would not just forget it, even if he wanted to. He had to come to terms with it- talk about it. Arthur wanted to let Merlin know that he could tell him whatever he needed to whenever he needed to- but the way Merlin had spoken stopped him. The wizard wasn't ready to face it yet, though all of those years spent alone would haunt him until he did.

No, Arthur realized. They have been haunting him- this doesn't happen overnight. Who knows for how many centuries he's experienced these kinds of nightmares? And who can blame him for not wanting to confront that?

He grabbed a tissue from the bedside table, wiping Merlin's tear-streaked face before letting him take it to blow his nose. After he'd gone through several more, Merlin lay down with Arthur, nestling close and holding onto his friend's arms.

Arthur pulled the blankets back over them both, tucking it in around the wizard with care. Merlin rubbed his doubtlessly stinging eyes, letting them fall shut as he tried to inhale naturally, though his breaths still hitched from time to time.

Arthur watched him in concern. Merlin's face never fully relaxed, retaining an almost involuntary frown even as he tried to go back to sleep. It pained the once king to think now of the light that had always been on Merlin's face, so much that it was a part of him and his cheerful nature. That anything could impair that light was heartbreaking.

When Merlin opened his eyes as he shifted his grip from Arthur's arm to his waist, he noticed this observation, and met his friend's eyes, blinking his own wearily. As it had done a few times already, the worry conveyed through such prolonged eye contact brought Merlin to the verge of tears, but unlike the other times, he'd cried all that he could for now. He merely frowned in a pained manner and reached out to hold his palm against Arthur's face, as if reassuring himself again that the once king was really there.

Arthur laid his own hand against Merlin's cheek, leaning them both closer so that their foreheads touched. "What happened to make you so… damaged, Merlin," Arthur began. "…I can't change it. But I'm going to do everything in my power to fix you-" He swallowed to steady his voice. "…And to make you whole again."

"You make me whole," Merlin whispered, "by living." He shook his head just slightly. "…I'd forgotten- I didn't notice how…"

"What?" Arthur prompted gently.

"Nothing," Merlin replied, verbally banishing whatever thought had presented itself. "Just… hold me. Please."

Arthur stroked his damp cheek and felt himself smile a bit. He only ever asks for simple things. When Merlin released a deep sigh, Arthur was convinced that he would rest at last.

But he knew better than to think that his friend was all right.