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Long Live the King

Chapter Text

Merlin walked alone. Alone was how he had been for most of the last 932 years, but who's counting? The lonely street was the same as it had been since the Roman Empire and the Civil War. That same unrest was rising from all over the kingdom.

Time and time again Merlin hoped, prayed that the dead would never rise, but in his bones, he knew that the era of fragile peace had shattered.

His home, the only one he had ever known, bled, and it broke his heart.

Merlin came to the lake where it all ended. The smell of fresh dew on grass and birds chirping made him unnaturally optimistic. It was a good day for a resurrection.

Deep within the crypt under the ruin of Camelot lay the ashes of Arthur Pendragon, First of His name, King of Camelot.

Merlin levitated the cover off Arthur's coffin that his likeness had been carved into. He sat beside the ashes and waited. For how long he sat, he did not know, but his bones grew stiff with impatience and the dust on Arthur's coffin settled around him as he drew shaky breath after shaky breath.

Time passed slowly, so Merlin decided to take out his phone and play Candy Crush. He found it mildly addictive and his current student berated him for always playing it despite his denials that he did. The jaunty jingle played aloud and almost masked a ragged breath whispering:

"Dear God. What is that awful racket?" He looked up from the narrow confines of the box to spot Merlin, looking old and frail, and nothing like he remembered.

"Arthur? Is that truly you?" Merlin asked, now standing and marvelling at the fresh new flesh and skin that was knitting together before his very eyes. He had literally risen from ashes.

"Of course, it's me, you blithering idiot! Help me out of this coffin. Wait...why am I in a coffin?"

"What do you remember, Arthur, about that last battle?" Merlin’s voice was soft as quick images of Arthur dying in his arms flashed through his mind’s eye.

"I remember Morgana unleashing an army, we were struggling to fight until an old man turned up and saved Camelot. I remember killing Mordred. I remember getting stabbed. Dear God! Did I die?"

"Unfortunately for Camelot, yes. For me, however, I haven't had to polish anyone's armour since. It has been a wonderful reprieve." The joy at seeing his best friend alive and well enough to insult him made Merlin glib.

"This is no time for jokes, Merlin."

Merlin helped Arthur to sit up properly. As he hoisted the newly awakened king up, the king took the opportunity to study the wizened wizard. His face was familiar to Arthur like he remembered it, but the memory was fuzzy.

"When did you get so old?" questioned Arthur.

"You know, for those of us who don't die at 27, ageing is a thing. I don't really know how old I am anymore, but I think I'm nearing 950."

"I've been dead for 925 years! You have got to be kidding me!"

Merlin tossed back Arthur's own words back at him, chiding him for making jokes. Albion was in danger and Arthur would soon come to realise it.

"Arthur," Merlin nudged him nervously, avoiding his gaze once he had raked over Arthur’s body, "you must tell me immediately if you remember anything else. And also, you need to put some clothes on." Addressing the elephant in the room, apart from the sudden resurrection, required Merlin to pull out a pair of dark wash jeans, a blue shirt, socks and shoes to cover the very naked nakedness of His Diseased Royal Highness.

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing? And what are those?"

"Christ Arthur, you came back from ashes. You aren’t wearing any clothes. You can't walk around looking like that, you'll get arrested for indecent exposure.

Arthur blushed as he looked down to see his family jewels. He dressed quickly and Merlin tried not to stare at him while getting him into his new clothes. He scratched at the clothes until Merlin slapped his hand away.

"I feel so naked. I want to put my armour back on and my chainmail and my sword," he whined, but Merlin was having none of it.

“Get used to it. This is the future. There are no swords, chainmail or armour. People wear these clothes. It will take some time but you will get used to the changes. For starters, you need to learn the language. What we are speaking is a very archaic version of English. We have to leave this crypt and you need to be smarter than before to survive.”

"Who are you to tell me what to do Merlin? Need I remind you that I am the king?"

"Need I remind you that you have been dead for almost a millennia and are still supposed to be." Merlin walked towards the exit when Arthur grabbed his arm and stopped him.

"Wait," he said, glancing around the crypt, "where is Gwen?"

Merlin sighed and directed him to the statue two down from his.

"She was Queen Guinevere the Just. She kept all you had built alive and nurtured it until it grew on its own into the present-day United Kingdom. Her legacy, and yours, still lives on."

"What happened after I died, Merlin? How did she cope? Did she love again?" He forlornly stared at the statue, hoping that it would blink at him or smile Gwen's cheeky smirk. It was a precise likeness, so realistic that he felt like she was in the room with him. Arthur reached up and brushed his fingers along her icy cheek.

"Gwen was the strongest woman I knew and the longest ruler of Camelot there had ever been. As for after you died: she had me, she had Gaius and all the Knights. We struggled the first year or so, as any new ruler and their court would. Especially as her ascension followed country wide devastation and famine. We made it though. And yes, she did love. But it was only after Gaius' and my urging that she even considered the idea of marrying again. Even meeting suitor was a great struggle because none of them were you. I will answer any other questions when we get back home. We have lingered too long, and the dead hear all."

"Goodbye, my love," whispered Arthur to the statue. He paused following Merlin. "Merlin, where is Home? Camelot? Ealdor?"

"Those places exist no longer. The outside world will surprise you greatly in both good and bad ways. Do not be afraid. Keep walking and follow my lead. I have transportation sorted for us."

Arthur scoffed. "Me? Afraid? In your dreams, Merlin."

Merlin gestured to the stairs leading to the outside. Arthur climbed them tentatively, finding his legs again. He shielded his eyes from the light as they adjusted. The brightness began to dim but the bewilderment grew at the sight that lay before his eyes.

He stepped out into the road, his eyes following the tarmac strip. 'Where are all the trees?' He thought. Arthur turned to Merlin, waiting behind him.

"This isn't too bad, right? Just a road," Merlin asked.

Suddenly, a deep growl emanated from somewhere. Arthur looked around with panic.

"What is coming, Merlin? Dragon? Troll? Griffin? Banshee? Chimera?"

"Stay calm, Arthur. Don't attack it. It won't hurt you. I will explain."

"Merlin, where is my sword?" The growling came closer. "Merlin, give it to me. Merlin, please." Arthur looked around worriedly, searching for a weapon but found nothing he could use. Instead he clenched his fists, walked into the road and faced the sound head on.

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The beast roared closer and closer. The sound was like nothing Arthur had heard before in all his years of battling ferocious beasts. This creature was unknown and that made him nervous. Would it have three heads? Devil tails? Or be flying around on feathered wings?


Merlin dragged him away from the road just as a car beeped loudly and braked harshly in front of him.


Arthur jumped on the car and stared it down until a very tall, very slender man exited it.

“This him?” Merlin nodded his assent as he walked closer to the tall man. “He’s cute. Shall we?” The man directed this question to Arthur, who was still gazing at how this weak looking man had ripped free from the beast with no sword, wearing only a jerkin type garment and breeches.

“Merlin, who is this man and why is he asking me to surrender to the belly of this beast?”

“You didn’t explain.” The tall man said with the faintest hint of a smirk as he sidled closer to Merlin. Merlin shook his head.

“No, Daniel. Between him resurrecting from a handful of ashes and the great struggle of getting him into clothes, I haven’t had the chance to explain.” Merlin blew a curl of hair out of his eyes then turned to Arthur.

“This is a car. It is akin to a carriage but uses burning fuel to power instead of horses. It is not a beast; it will not hurt you. You will get inside the car and I will explain as much as I can on the way home, ok?” Merlin opened the back door of the car and gestured to Arthur.

Arthur tentatively jumped off the car and climbed inside. Merlin followed him into the back, shoving him along. The tall man got into the seats in front and started the carriage. You could hear the rumbling less on the inside as it began to move. Arthur watched as it picked up speed and the greenery blurred. Merlin nudged him.

“Arthur? Are you feeling alright? Do you feel any side effects?”

“No, Merlin, I’m fine though confused. What did I miss?” Arthur had missed so much, several wars, revolutions and turning points. Because of this Merlin was stumped.

Daniel saw his expression in the rear-view mirror and encouraged him to start at the beginning, right after Arthur had died.

“Right, so you died.”

Merlin explained everything that had happened, from the funeral, collecting his ashes to place in the crypt and what he did while he waited. He helped Gwen through the years. After she died, he found himself listless, wandering with no purpose to life but to watch the lake. He'd nearly lost his mind there. Several times. Watching the still waters, day after day, night after night, nearly drowning himself at the slightest ripple. At this point he had lost the will to keep himself young so aged greatly and freaked people out by jumping into the icy water, robes and all. Working had been the only way to keep his sanity. His teaching had saved him in more than one way. It allowed him to find and impart his knowledge unto the new generations of magic-users, from hedge-witches and wizards to mages and sorcerers, for hundreds of years. That was his new purpose.

From the shadows, Merlin had influenced great events in history that would ensure Albion’s survival. In the First and Second World Wars, he was an army medic on the front lines and didn’t hesitate to use his magic to help. When officers came to visit, he would plant ideas and strategies in their heads that they would think were their own ideas. It was sneaky, but necessary to preserve his anonymity.

But now, facing Brexit, President Trump and global tensions, there was nothing he could do. It was too much for one man, or even wizard to handle. That overwhelming fear he felt every time the news was turned on was the reason that he had travelled to the crypt at Lake Avalon. He knew that the world was too fucked up for him alone to fix so he needed his best friend back, the man he cared for – even love once upon a time.

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“Here we are. Home sweet home.” Merlin stepped out of the car and held out a hand for Arthur. On the car ride back to his and Daniel’s house, Merlin had reverse aged himself, making him look as he did usually. Arthur had freaked for a little finding out that Merlin was ‘Dragoon the Great’: the grumpy old codger that had saved him, insulted him and had zero respect for social customs and the hierarchy of nobility.

“Home? Where is that?”

“We’re about 2 days north riding horseback from Camelot, in a city called Preston.”

“2 DAYS! How has this abttomoble done 2 days journey in a few hours?”

“Automobile. And it can travel great distances quickly. Perks of the 21st Century.”

Arthur rubbed his fingertips against his head, trying to ward off a headache. Merlin raised his hand to Arthur’s head and the pressure vanished instantaneously.

“I’ll never get used to that,” said Arthur, looking with wonderment at Merlin, who blushed profusely under the praise. “I can’t believe that I blamed Magic for everything that had gone wrong in my life, blamed you. I’m sor-”

Daniel help a hand up to silence Arthur and grabbed his hand to drag him away from a now sad-looking Merlin.

“Please, don’t. Merlin has been through so much and it has taken him years to work through your death and the events since he went to Camelot. He had nightmares and panic attacks at those memories. He only now understands that none of it was his fault and that he tried so hard to keep you safe. I don’t need you to come here and bring back the memories that broke him. You hurt him, but he moved on and so should you. There are more pressing matters at hand. You are in our home and I’ll thank you not to mention anything before coming back or your death.”

At these words, Arthur reluctantly swallowed his apology and focussed on the words ‘our home’.

“Our home?”

“We live together,” piped up Merlin from the red front door, embroidered with symbols.

“Ok. Why? He’s not a servant.” Arthur asked, looking between them. Merlin ducked his head as a nervous blush crept up his neck.

Daniel looked over at Merlin, smirking, “We are dating.”

“Dating? As in courtship? Merlin, you are an invert?”

“Yes, though I prefer the term demisexual, meaning that I am attracted to people I have a strong emotional connection to.  Also, calling people inverts is offensive. The common term is gay.” Merlin unlocked the front door and stepped inside.

Arthur followed him to find an open space with plenty of light with sunshine coming in from the windows in the ceiling. It was a beautiful room that screamed Merlin. Everything was shiny and clean, but messy like his bedroom used to be, books littered the corner in stacks. Like the walking contradiction Merlin himself was, his house was him, including the things that must belong to Daniel.

“Arthur,” Merlin gestured, leading him up the stairs, “This way.”

Arthur looked at the framed artwork that hung along the staircase, until at the top, the sight stopped him dead in his tracks. In the middle of the next room was his sword. His sword.

“M-Merlin?”

“Arthur? What’s wrong?”

Arthur lifted a shaky hand towards the sword. He turned to Merlin; his face drained of colour. Merlin noted the sheen of tears in Arthur’s eyes and smiled softly in remembrance.

“Freya gave it to me when I collected your ashes.”

“You’ve had it all this time?” Arthur turned to Merlin, observing the reverence with which he looked at the sword. That sword had saved them both countless times, and the memories of its creation rose to the surface of Merlin’s mind.

Kilgharrah. The Great Dragon. The one who told him of the prophecy. The one who guided him through his journey leading to Arthur’s final moments. The sword represented who he used to be and served as a reminder from his father, Balinor, to always be strong.

“Always.”

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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.
Merlin.

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.