Rhyme of Another Autumn
The time was 12:00 p.m. Daylight elucidated the streets of Camelot, which were presently filled with the chatting voices of the roaming townspeople. At the local bakery, the pastry chef had just taken out a chocolate soufflé fresh from the oven—the sweet, succulent smell captivating the appetites of nearby customers while at the same moment, a mother bird returned to its nest, where its newly hatched offspring waited eagerly and hungrily from up high on the branch of a redwood tree. Meanwhile, a small group of children was playing tag near one of the apartment buildings, outside of which a newly formed couple could be seen laughing with one another by the fruit stand that was now called Légumes du Lac.
Lancelot was holding Gwen in his arms, placing the box of cherries he was holding down on the wooden counter to press a tender kiss to her soft cheek.
Ensconced by the far windowsill of his flat, The Glass Man was finally adding the finishing touch to his long-awaited masterpiece, his eyes warm and focused on the boy with the glass. The young man's complexion seemed completely different now, a radiant smile spread full across his face and his cheeks rosy with delight, but more so, he was no longer standing alone at the edge of the bustling crowd with the glass concealing part of his shy semblance. Instead, he was holding hands with a blond-haired boy who wore the most winsome expression, in a special world of their own apart from the surrounding townsfolk.
Kil Gharrah smiled, glancing at the building across to gaze softly at the window leading to the flat opposite from his.
In the meantime, outside the Twin Dragons Café, Gwaine was busy smoking a cigarette as he kept track of another girl, who, he realised from looking at her personalised bag, went by the name of Eira and had short, platinum blond hair.
"Elegant blonde, 5'5", don't know if she's from heaven or not…"
Whispering surreptitiously into his tape recorder like he always did, he watched her closely as she walked out the door past him, then smirked with his own amusement. Although he turned around to see a lofty, muscular man coming up the sidewalk, dressed in what looked like a police uniform, and Gwaine flinched, inadvertently dropping the voice recorder on the pavement.
"Damn," He muttered under his breath, stiffening and meeting the man's gaze as he came clearer into view.
However, once he saw a rainbow emblem sewn onto the latter's breast pocket, things weren't as they seemed to Gwaine at all.
Percival, dressed in his official Camelot Funfair guard uniform, had just been walking by on his way to work when suddenly out of nowhere, a tape recorder landed right next to his feet. He eyed it confusedly for a moment then stopped to pick it up, staring at Gwaine inquisitively with a raised eyebrow.
At this, Gwaine gave a nervous chuckle, scratching the back of his head.
Last but not the least, Gaius had done a surprisingly great deal of packing at home, a pair of suitcases left outside on the front porch. It wasn't long before the elderly man emerged in his hat and coat to lock the door, picking his belongings up and stepping down onto the stone path. But that was when he saw the mailman walk by and lodge a small, curious parcel between two of the bars in the front gate.
In that instant, Gaius walked right over and promptly put his suitcases down to pick the manila envelope up in his hands. It was rather odd, he found, that it wasn't even labelled with a name or address, but he opened it anyway, only to find a familiar-looking inhaler taped to a peculiar-looking piece of paper. When Gaius removed the tape from the inhaler though, he made an intrigued sound at the note that was written at the very centre of the page and knew exactly who the parcel had come from.
I'm all better now, the note read. –M
At first, Gaius knitted his eyebrows together as he tried hard to comprehend the meaning behind the short, unexpected message, but then he turned the paper over, and his eyes softened with understanding in the second he saw a picture of none other than his former ward, Merlin, who'd looked significantly happier than Gaius had ever seen him before, was grinning beside a dashing, affable young blonde in a candid photo.
Gaius chuckled at the heart-warming sight, carefully placing everything back into the large manila envelope. Then he slipped it in his suitcase and walked past the gate doors to signal for a taxi.
"Where to?" The driver asked, getting out to open the trunk of the car.
Gaius gave a cordial, decisive smile, walking over with both of his bags in hand. "To the airport, my lad."
The cool breeze felt exhilarating on Merlin's face as he and Arthur rode through the long and winding streets of Camelot. Without a doubt, Excalibur was a motorbike built for speed, and Merlin watched the world around him turn into a blend of vibrant colour, his arms wrapped tightly around the blonde's waist.
The two of them were laughing, pulling faces at each other as they zoomed past the Cathedral of Gedref. Arthur smirked, suddenly making a sharp turn on Caerleon Corner, and Merlin squawked, his hands springing up and covering the blonde's eyes.
"Merlin!" Arthur exclaimed, amused and incredulous. "Merlin—we're most certainly going to crash if I can't see anything!"
Merlin sputtered, throwing his arms back around Arthur's torso. "You almost threw me off!"
Arthur laughed, glancing over his shoulder to look at him. "That's why you're supposed to hold on to me! Especially when it's your first time!"
"I am, you massive prat!" Merlin griped, squeezing Arthur's stomach with his arms for emphasis. "We're just going too fast! Are you absolutely sure you know what you're doing?"
"I've been riding Excalibur for far too long not to!" Arthur chuckled. "Besides—we're already going a whole lot slower than we should be!"
Before Merlin could protest, they very gracelessly hit a speed bump, and he gaped at the blonde with wide eyes, almost bulging from their sockets as if he were a cartoon character about to get hit with a truckload of dynamite. "Are you mad, Pendragon?"
Arthur quirked a mischievous smile and sighed. "Would you like me to let go of the handlebars and see?" he asked, glancing down at his knuckles with a daring expression on his face.
"No!" Merlin giggled, immediately reaching forward to wrap his fingers over Arthur's wrists. "Oh god, no! Keep your hands where they are, Evil Knievel!"
Arthur laughed, beaming at him with a warm gaze and then pressing a kiss to Merlin's cheek.
Merlin grinned fondly, leaning his head on the blonde's shoulder and closing his eyes. Of course he trusted Arthur. For the first time in his whole life, Merlin felt safe as they rode off into the distant horizon.
A few moments later, Arthur stopped when they'd reached a quiet wood and parked Excalibur at the edge of the forest. From that point onward, the two continued their walk on foot.
For some reason, however, Merlin started to get the strangest feeling in his stomach—like he'd seen this place before, even though he really hadn't.
…or otherwise thought he hadn't.
"Arthur, where are we going?" Merlin asked, glancing around curiously at the towering trees.
Arthur didn't falter in his stride. "I want to show you something," he replied in a hushed voice that Merlin couldn't read. "You'll see."
Confused, Merlin frowned, following him into a nearby clearing.
Gradually, a small, quaint cabin came into view among the tall grass and shrubs, and Arthur slowed down just a few feet away to let Merlin catch up from behind him.
There was a long, deafening silence, and Merlin frowned, looking at Arthur with a perplexed countenance.
"Where are we?" The young warlock whispered softly.
Arthur closed his eyes and sighed. "My second home," He replied in a dull, even tone. He kept walking, gazing at the old cottage with wistful eyes.
"When Father kicked me out of our estate," Arthur began, glancing over at Merlin. "This was the first place I ended up staying at before I'd gotten word about Morgana." He winced, darting his gaze back at the faded glass of the cabin's ramshackle windows. "I don't remember why I chose this place, but for some reason, it always brought me comfort when I was a boy. I'd found it the first time I ran away from home—the only place where things were quiet, where I knew no one was there to yell at me for my mistakes," he spoke with a reminiscent, sombre smile on his lips. "Since then, I'd often used it as a hideout whenever there were times that I'd just wanted to get away from it all." He took a deep breath, slowly shaking his head. "After that day though, it became a makeshift dwelling for me."
Merlin's eyes softened on Arthur, then shifted towards the dilapidated cabin. Time had worn out its walls, leathery jade-green moss growing over the damp logs. At the same time, the sense of familiarity that Merlin had been feeling before only continued to burn stronger, a sharp, unexplainable chill running through his spine. There was something about the cabin that made his heart ache with unbearable grief.
In the next second, however, his attention was completely averted by the slightest glimpse of a nearby lake.
While Arthur went on to check the inside of the abandoned bungalow, Merlin wandered off into the tall grass. After pulling back a few reeds, he was standing at the edge of a vast lake, its waters as clear as crystal and an eerie mist hovering just over its surface.
At that moment, Merlin froze, slowly looking up to see the faint sight of a tall, ancient tower overlooking the pond from afar on a mountainous island the colour of emeralds, and soon only one word came forth from the darkest depths of his subconscious:
All of a sudden, the young warlock gasped, overtaken by a prominent memory that burned into his mind.
He was in the meadow again, sobbing and cradling a fallen friend in his arms. Who had been his destiny since the beginning of time and had, once upon a golden age, ruled the fairest, most powerful empire. Who the Great Dragon himself had said was the Once and Future King and who he'd promised would rise again when Albion was at its finest. Who, now that Merlin could better see his dull, ashen semblance, went by the name of Arthur Pendragon.
"Just hold me…" the blonde whispered, clutching weakly at the young warlock's arms. "Please…"
Merlin felt tears welling up over his cheeks as he remembered the faint, fleeting light in Arthur's ocean blue eyes and the scarlet stain on his ravaged chain mail; then his imagination started to overflow with colourful, vivid images:
He and Arthur venturing into the Valley of the Fallen Kings and fighting off a ring of bandits.
He and Arthur bickering over a plate of sausages that had miraculously disappeared to god knows where.
He and Arthur exchanging surreptitious, meaningful glances by a campfire in the dead of night.
He and Arthur wandering into empty castle chambers and making sweet love to one another under dim moonlight.
He and Arthur embracing in the middle of the wood after being separated for what had once felt like an agonising amount of time but had been nowhere near compared to the dreadful fate that they would encounter much later on in life.
While all this was happening, Merlin could hear the blonde's faltering voice.
"Everything you've done. I know now," it resonated in the back of Merlin's mind. "For me…for Camelot…" There was a long pause. "I want to say something I've never said to you before."
At that moment, an intense vision of Merlin casting Arthur's funeral boat out onto the water came forth and then flashed to a painful image of an older version of the young warlock gazing forlornly at the mysterious obelisk in the distance.
"Thank you," Arthur's voice echoed, making Merlin choke and his insides turn.
Suddenly, however, Merlin's mind snapped back to reality at the sound of a branch breaking. He gasped, whirling around to see the blonde himself standing not far behind.
Arthur exhaled sharply, looking at him with wide eyes, almost frightened as if he'd just seen a ghost.
But Merlin's own only softened with melancholia. "You saw it, too," he murmured, shifting his gaze to the ground.
Arthur stepped out of the tall grass and slowly moved towards Merlin until his arms were wrapped tightly around his waist. "I'd always thought they were dreams," he muttered into Merlin's ear. "Every night…every night, I'd always see you in them, but your face would be so blurry that I never understood…"
Merlin took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Me, too," he sighed, knowing all too well. He gulped when he felt Arthur shift uneasily against him.
"A thousand years," the blonde croaked, hugging Merlin close to his chest. "A thousand fucking years of…" Arthur let out a ragged sigh, leaning his face into Merlin's hair. "Merlin…Merlin, I'm so sorry…"
Merlin's expression softened. He reached his hand up to give Arthur's fingers a gentle squeeze. "Don't," he whispered back, turning to wrap Arthur in a warm embrace. "Don't be—none of it was your fault. And it never will be."
"I don't want to lose you again," Arthur murmured, his tone full of anguish and anxiety. "Not now. Not ever."
Merlin fell silent, stroking the small of Arthur's back. "Without you…today's tomorrow would be the scurf of yesterday's," He began, in a hushed, affectionate voice. "But me…" He sniffs, leaning his head against Arthur's neck. "I'll always be here for you, Arthur. For as long as it takes, I will wait. Always—no matter what happens."
Arthur sighed, pulling back to press his forehead against Merlin's, and stared at him with a longing, unreadable gaze. "Always."
Merlin smiled, then calmly backed away from the blonde and reached down to pick up a smooth stone from the sodden ground beside them.
Arthur's expression became amused as Merlin smirked, giving the pebble a gentle toss, leaving a path of fleeting ripples as it skidded across the surface of the lake.
"I remember Morgana told me before that you always collected the best stones from different places just so you could skip them," Merlin laughed as he turned around to see the other's disbelieving countenance.
Arthur raised an eyebrow at him, and the young warlock grinned, bending down to pick up another rock. Before Merlin could throw it though, Arthur slid his hand over Merlin's wrist and leaned his chin over his shoulder. Then slowly, they tossed it together, and Arthur smiled, pressing a kiss to Merlin's temple while they watched the pebble skip far into the billowing mist.
If by fate, they ever did get separated again, Merlin would wait as long as the sun shone high in the sky, and the seasons continued to change, and the wind continued to blow past the towering trees…because then he would know for sure that someday they would find each other once more.
Because it was destiny that Arthur and Merlin, the King and his lion heart, were together at that moment.
Because their love was a timeless, ineffable echo that resounded long beyond the temperate, ethereal waters of the Lake of Avalon.
The title of the fic is based on an instrumental composed by Yann Tiersen from the original Amelie soundtrack. It's called Comptine d'un autre ete : L'apres Midi (Rhyme of Another Summer - Afternoon), and it's included as Arthur's theme in the fanmix made for this fic, which can be downloaded at the LJ masterpost. :)
Thanks again to everyone who helped/supported me in writing this fic, and to you guys for reading! It was a pleasure writing for you all this one last time, and I'll miss each and every one of you who have always been following me here! Farewell! ^_^
(Reviews are much appreciated! :D)