Arthur got settled in the guest bedroom, wearing a pair of Daniel’s pyjama bottoms since Merlin still had a tiny waist, opting for forgoing the shirt since none of theirs would fit. As he observed himself in the mirror, brushing his fingers through his hair, he recognised that he had not changed, and Merlin had. He was still a dumb blond clotpole who had to be carried by Merlin. Well, he decided, no more. Merlin was a man who didn’t need his sorry arse tagging behind him, protecting him or teaching him – he would do it himself.
The walls of the room were lined with bookshelves overflowing with dusty novels and tomes of information.
Arthur removed a small, red leather book with a gold trim. The lettering on the front had faded but he could still make out the title: ‘The Reign of Guinevere The Just. Tears rose to the surface without him noticing until he could not read for the mist clouding his vision. A single tear fell, marking the front cover.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and sat gingerly on the bed, as if any movement made him ache. He opened the book to chapter one – ‘The Death of King Arthur’.
Each page seemed to take longer to read than the one before. He knew the book led to Gwen’s death, more than that, it led to Merlin being left along in the world, and Arthur wasn’t sure he could stomach that.
As he read on he laughed when Gwaine got to ride on Percival’s back for a week after losing a bet; he cried when Gaius died; his head hurt when suitor after suitor came knocking on Gwen’s door, only to be turned away because none of them were him; his heart hurt when Gwen found out she couldn’t have children. The only consolation came from the knights and the family they had with each other. They were never alone. Everyone had each other – except Merlin.
Merlin stood from the shadows, watching, documenting and always helping everyone – even if it wasn’t in his best interest. He was the most selfless person he had ever known and had proven it time and time again to Gwen. She named him court physician after Gaius died.
It was then that Gwen changed everything. She legalised magic. She adopted children. She even married Gwaine and Percival, spreading the message of acceptance. She was well-loved, that much Arthur could see.
Not to say there were no rebellions or uprisings or people who didn’t believe in her or disagreed with her rulings and decrees – there were several. Most could be dealt with quickly and painlessly. However, there is always one that really takes the cake – pillaging, raping, kidnapping, all in the name of rebellion. It could have ended in war, with Camelot in flames. But it didn’t. Guess why.
That brave, stupid man, nay sorcerer, almost got himself killed healing then protecting the leader of said rebellion. He had done so much for Arthur and even more for Gwen. Now Arthur was still relying on him for everything and it killed him.
God knows how long later, when Merlin looked for Arthur to inform him dinner was done, he found Arthur clutching a little red book, crumpled in a ball on the floor – sobbing lightly. He placed a hand on his back and rubbed a soothing circle.
“Arthur? What happened?” Turning Arthur over, he noticed what book it was.
“Oh, Arthur. I’m sorry you found that. I thought it was in my room.”
Arthur looked up at him with bleary eyes, reached up and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug, sobbing more into his bony shoulder.
“I-I’m so, so sorry, Merlin.”
“Oh, Arthur, you have nothing to be sorry for. I knew you would die and who would kill you and what would happen to me. The only shock was how long I waited for you to come back. I honestly thought it would have happened during one of the World Wars, or any of the Civil Wars, or The Plague. But, honestly, now is a good a time as any.”
“How could I possible help? I don’t understand a thing about this time, I don’t fit in. you’ve carved out a new life since I died, and you don’t need me. I mean, you never did, I always needed you but now I have no place anywhere.” Arthur gently pushed Merlin away, “I can’t believe you have waited this long for a dumb blo-”
“Enough!” came from the door. Daniel was standing there, arms crossed, frowning. “Now is not the time for self-pity. So what if you don’t get what a car is or how to use a microwave? That’s not why you were brought back. The world has gone to shit, and we can’t fix it alone. Initially, I thought you were a myth and a cautionary tale for young druids, until I met Merlin. When he spoke of you, you would’ve thought the sun shone out of a perfectly-formed arse. I see now why we need you. Your aura, its intoxicating, stubborn and fascinating. It pulls me in, and I can feel your emotions and drive.”
Arthur was confused. He looked at Merlin, who was looking at Daniel with an emotion Arthur had rarely seen on him. Arthur got up and left the room since it felt charged with feeling and private.
In order to fit in, he’d have to blend. The first challenge, getting clean.