It had been just a week since Arthur had come back, and he was absolutely crumbling under all the changes. The modern world, it was a riddle that just didn't seem to have any answers. He'd left the world when it was filled with huge castles and royalties and horses to take you places. He came back to a world of ridiculously named “machinery”, as Merlin called it (personally, he just decided it was sorcery). He hated it. He felt out of place, out of time. He just wanted to go back to Camelot and live in his own room in his own damned castle. Merlin was trying so hard to help him, make him feel comfortable but not one thing was working. Until Merlin finally just packed a few things in a bag and dragged him down to his car, flinging the bag onto the backseat and ordering Arthur to get in.
“I'm the King, y’know,” Arthur said, huffing.
“Not in this world, you're not,” Merlin said, pushing him in, “Now get in, sire.”
They drove for a good two hours with Arthur’s heart in his mouth the entire time because For God's sake, Merlin, you'll kill someone! When they finally stopped, Arthur spent several moments just catching his breath.
“Horses,” he said decidedly, “were so much better.”
“Horses,” Merlin replied, “Are a lot slower.”
“And safer!” Arthur argued indignantly.
“My driving is very safe, thank you.” Merlin opened his door. “Now c’mon!”
Arthur stepped out and found himself facing the woods. Merlin had parked the car on the side of an already small road and Arthur was half scared another car might come and crash into theirs, but before he could voice his worry, Merlin had grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him ahead.
“C'mon, clotpole. I got a surprise for you.”
Arthur couldn't help but smile at the old nickname. At least some things hadn't changed then.
Merlin dragged them into the midst of the woods, and Arthur felt his natural survival instincts kick in as they plunged further into the dense trees. It was pretty late in the evening and the sun barely shone through the forest, but before Arthur could say anything, Merlin had cast a small ball of light over their heads, like their own “fastlight” (he was pretty sure he'd got the name wrong, but that didn't matter). They walked for a few minutes more before they finally came to a clearing. Merlin stopped in his tracks suddenly, and instinctively Arthur reached for his sword, only to realise he didn't carry one anymore. Merlin turned to him with a smile on his face.
“I know the world is new and scary right now, but this place. You know this place.”
Arthur frowned and looked around, his eyes scanning smaller details now. He could see a messy druid mark on the bark of a tree ahead of him. He walked around and found even more details - a tree marked with a cross like a checkpoint, logs of woods piled up in the back in a way that they made a sort of back rest, ashes of a stamped out fire close to the logs. Arthur felt his throat close up as he turned to look at Merlin, who had a sad smile playing on his lips.
“How could I ever forget?” he said slowly, eyes wide, “I kissed you here the first time...and the last.” The memory was still so solidly engraved in his mind, he didn't think he'd ever forget. He knew he was dying and he'd wanted to kiss Merlin before he left...and he had. They'd kissed for so long, Arthur still remembered the taste of Merlin’s lips on his
“But...it's been centuries, Merlin. How -”
Merlin just raised his hands and made swirls on gold appear around his hands. The answer was pretty clear - Magic. Merlin had used his magic to preserve this place, and protect it from mortal humans. The place had been trapped in its own bubble, time frozen in it as if not a day had passed since then.
Merlin had walked up to him now, and Arthur shivered slightly when he felt Merlin touch his fingers.
"I know everything is too different for you right now, but not a moment has passed here since we left." Merlin laced their fingers together. "So let's pretend we're in the old Camelot. You're still King and I'm your servant and we're stupidly in love and still in denial." Merlin drew them closer, an arm around his waist. " Pretend you survived that hell, and that we've run away to spend time together." His eyes dropped to Arthur's lips and his voice was a whisper now, "Pretend we needed time alone, away from the people so we could do things we didn't dare do in front of anyone else."
Merlin opened his mouth to speak again but Arthur leaned in and kissed him, softly, and agonisingly, beautifully slowly - like they had all the time in the world. And given the fact that Merlin was immortal, and that Arthur had literally risen from the dead, they actually probably did have all the time in the world. Maybe they'll be able to catch up on all the lost kisses from all those centuries back after all.