Once upon a time there was a great kingdom, and like all great kingdoms there was a king and a queen.
A king and queen that wanted a child so badly that when the queens womb remained empty for three summers and three winters they sought out a beautiful sorceress that resided in their court as a friend of the king.
She agreed and placed a spell not knowing that it would cost the king his wife and when the babe was born, and the price discovered, the king flew into a rage and chased the magical people from the land and convinced all he could of the evils magic brings.
One man he chased away took shelter in a small village and bred a child out of love and magic with a young milk maid that took him in and loved him dearly. however the man was forced to flee, and the milk maid, alone, bore and raised a magical boy with eyes like precious gems and the name of a great bird, a child with a great destiny, that fell and intertwined with that of the Once and Future King.
A child that would turn a boy into a man, an ass into a friend, and a prince into a great king.
But that is a tale of long ago, one forgotten with the twists and folds of time and lost to more poplar stories. Today in a rush and tumble world were people don't see magic and have forgotten how it feels to be close to the earth.
And yet in this same world, a man with the name of a bird still waits for the king of his story to return to him.
Until one day he does.
It's the one thousand one hundred and twenty ninth year and Merlin, dispute taking on his true form today feels every bit his age. London is freezing and rainy and with the cold comes an ache deep in his bones that he knows is not purely psychological. But he has things to do, and 'Even Foster' has a shop to open.
He regrets thinking it was a good idea to open a used bookstore near a university campus because not only does he have to open at an ungodly hour but he has to close at one too.
Not to mention that the students are giant prats.
He sighs and rummages around inside his pockets for his keys and roughly pulls off one glove so that he can get a proper grip and shove it in the lock. After three try's the door still doesn't click open.
Stupid old thing.
He pushes a small amount of magic out through his finger tips and the door swings open to isles of books that are contained in a blessed 70 degree Fahrenheit room.
Shuffling inside he shuts the door tightly and hits the lights before switching the sign on the door to OPEN. He mutters to himself and slides into the chair behind the check out counter, pulling an old and coffee stained book that had come in missing its front cover back cover and the title page( he couldn't sell it, and he didn't know why someone thought he could) out from under the table, he flipped to the first page and begins to read.
King Arthur was the noblest of all men, a man who fought for what he believed in and died for it as well. His name has been whispered and spoke of with reverence and he has gone down in history as one of the best of men. He is, as he has always been, the king of all kings who ruled over a land that was, just like he, golden in the sunlight. A man who -
He tosses the book across the room and it lands with a thud against the wall. He hates this, he hates when people speak or even write of Arthur as if they actually knew him, hates how the legends have butchered their tale and made it seem so untrue, hates how Gaius and the little people who were no less important have been forgotten and how the character of people he had known were bastardized.
He hates how he's the only one left who would remember how it really was.
How simpler things would have been if he had died long ago, had begun to fade with the sun that set over Camelot, the golden kingdom, for the final time and had been gone by the sunrise over the rumble of a kingdom lost to conquest.
How simpler things would be If he could even die.
But if he could then who would be here for the golden king when he returns?
If he returns, Merlin thinks standing and picking up the book and tossing it into the trash where it belongs. He feels guilty doubting both Kilgharrah and Arthur, but it's been so long, and he's seen such terrible things that he can't help but think that if Arthur was needed then he would have come back by now.
And truly, he thinks, Arthur would be lost in this world while being simultaneously disgusted by what people have become while he has been away. This is a world that is made for the cowardly not the brave and the deceitful not the honest, Arthur would hate it here and perhaps it is kinder to let him sleep then to bring him back into such a world.
But then why was Merlin still here? He didn't want to be, had tried not to be here more than once until finally he stopped trying. He has no explanation for he fact that he hasn't aged a day since his king fell except that magic and fate and destiny are cruel masters.
He yawns and pillows his head in his hands and closes his weary eyelids. Just for a moment, he thinks, for a moment he'll rest and if memories come then so be it, he'll deal with them.
He wakes from a blissfully dreamless sleep to the tinkering of the bell above the door. He sighs and sits up straight, each of the vertebrae in his spine clinking together. The first customer of the day, probably a student looking for sparknotes, of which he has none.
"Hello, welcome to Todays Yesterday's: Used Boostore, I'm Even, is there something I can help you with?"
The man lowered his umbrella and looked up and -
Oh, oh, well shit, he knew that face. And of course Arthur would come back now - because it was Arthur he could feel it in the way his magic came alive - of course he would come back when after so long, only after Merlin begins to doubt him.
Insufferable, lovely, prat.
"Errr is there something on my face? Even was it?"
Arthurs comment snapped him back to reality and he shook his head once, twice, trying to clear the cobwebs that had suddenly taken root in his brain. He strode out from behind the counter his arms halfway raised into a hug before he realized what he was doing and let them fall to his sides awkwardly.
"What can I help you with?"
"I was wondering if you had any sparknotes?"
He sighs and inwardly shakes his head because it was so - so Arthur, apparently death hadn't been enough to stop him from trying to get out of writing and reading. A wonderful king he may have been, but he preferred action, he'd rather do battle than read about it in a book.
"Sorry, no . Stipulation of setting up shop so close to campus, no selling students anything they can use to get out of reading it themselves."
Arthur's face colored. "I read! I just didn't understand all of it!"
Merlin laughed and then laughed again at the look of pure outrage on Arthur's face, it reminded him of quips on hunting trips and the way idiot became not an insult, but a term of endearment ,and it felt more genuine than any laugh that had escaped from him in generations.
"Okay. Okay. What are you reading!"
"The Once and Future King by T. H. White."
Oh, Merlin thought, how ironic.
"I've read it." A lie, but Arthur didn't need to know that, he'd find a copy tonight and read it. He'd hate it, but he'd read it. "What are you struggling with?"
"Everything. From the way it's written down to what the fish in the pond symbolizes." And then, in a purely Arthur move he continued. "Not that I usually have problems with the assigned reading, it's just - there is something about this book. It just rubs me the wrong way."
Perhaps, Merlin thinks, perhaps it's not about wanting to take action over sitting and reading about the actions of others, perhaps it's because that book got it all wrong, and somewhere in there is the king I love, and he would have hated the way the truth has been forgotten. It's that kind of thought that gives him hope and even though dark days are coming, he has his king now, and they would be ready.
They're sitting in the green with fish and chips and a open book out in front of them.
Its been three weeks since they started these sessions, meeting everyday after Arthur's classes, and Merlin was learning this new Arthur, and was finding that while, no matter how different they may be, his king of years past and this new modern king, were still the same. His new Arthur still valued the same things and he was still a bit too cocky and he was still far to beautiful with crocked teeth and golden hair that glinted in the sunlight.
This was his king. This was his destiny. This was why he was still here, why he waited so long. For this moment because Arthur laughing, Arthur smiling, Arthur alive, these were things he thought he might not ever see again.
"Do you think King Arthur truly lived?"
Merlin's breath catches, and he wonders If this is the moment he'll remember, if this is the moment when the last puzzle piece falls into place, but no, he doesn't see anything but the curiousness of a new friend wanting his opinion. He almost sighs and pastes a thoughtful look on his face, even though he already knows the answer.
"Yes, I do believe he did."
Arthur looks at him for a moment.
"Good. Glad I'm not the only one. it'd be a waste to think that someone that good wasn't even ever real."
This is what Merlin remembers.
He remembers Gwen's tears and he remembers Arthur's hands in his hair. He remembers Gwen's acceptance and he remembers love and sleeping within a bed of furs, and he remembers the warmth and the promises that he and Gwen made as they both kissed one of Arthur's hands. Because for this man between them, they agreed, for this man they would both do anything, because that is what love is.
Because the legends got more than one thing wrong, because the tragic love was never really Gwen and Lancelot ( the shade did not count, the real Lancelot had been far too noble) Or Gwen and Arthur. Nor was it really tragic, not in the beginning anyway, the real story is between the most powerful warlock ever born, the High Queen, and the man they both loved. The tragedy is that they had to live without him, she until her death, and he, for centuries with Arthur's thank you ringing in his ears and all the memories that haunted him at night.
But this time, Merlin thinks as he watches a dark haired mocha skinned girl flint and fly around Arthur, this time he doesn't want to share with her, perhaps the centuries have made him selfish, but this time he wants his king for himself.
"What do you think of Emma?"
They're lounging in the shade of a tall oak, on a hot summer day, their arms and legs spread eagle in the plush grass.
Its been almost a year and a half since the bookshop meeting and Arthur still remembered nothing about their shared pasts, Merlin's not sure how to feel about that, he's not sure if he wants Arthur to remember at all, Arthur's previous life had not always been a happy one, and he didn't think he wanted him to have to relive that.
And yet a selfish, less logical, part of him that seemed to grow each day did because then he could have his Arthur back. He sighed and glanced over at the man beside him from the corner of his eye before rolling over and pulling a blade of grass out of the ground and beginning to shred it.
"Hmm? sorry. I think that she's a nice girl. She's smart too, it's hard to get into Collinsville on scholarship. Incredibly difficult."
"You did, before you graduated three years ago. You're an idiot"
Ah yes, that paper trail had been a pain in the arse.
"An idiot who graduated top of his class."
Arthur rolls his eyes. They fall back into silence then until Merlin looks over.
"Why'd you want to know what I think of her?"
"Because, you're double dating with us this weekend. Which reminds me, find yourself a date."
It had been a disaster from the start and it had only gotten worse as the night progressed.
He had a headache, he hadn't been able to find a date and so he felt like a third wheel and Gwen and Arthur were being nauseatingly cute, completely oblivious to everything around him, it curdled his stomach and suddenly the small dimly lit room was far to small and his tie far to tightly.
"I'll be right back."
Not waiting for a reply he pushed back his chair and half walked half stumbled out the front door. Once out in the night air he felt less stifled and he slowly breathed in and out before sliding down the side of the building, cradling his head in his hands he kneaded his temples sending short bursts of magic into his head until the pain came down from sky high to manageable.
He couldn't do this. He couldn't. He wanted Arthur to remember so badly. He didn't care if it was selfish, he didn't care that perhaps there was a reason he hadn't remembered yet, that Arthur might not be supposed to remember the life when he was a king. Didn't have to, not to complete the goal he was brought back to accomplish. He just wanted his Arthur.
The one that had loved him.
And if he couldn't have that man, he thought shoving his hands into the pockets of his suit jacket and starting to walk after shoving himself roughly of the ground, then he couldn't stay.
He'd run before, set up protective spells and ones to alert him to any danger, then it had been the lake because he'd thought that was were Arthur's return would happen, but he could just as easily cast them on Arthur himself. Arthur was a year away from getting his degree in law and he knew he would be great, do great things, but Merlin wasn't needed for this. He could protect Arthur from afar just as we'll as he could here.
And as if sensing his mood then, the sky's opened up letting down a steady downpour of rain.
He didn't look back, refused to, and sped up, and suddenly he was being grabbed by the shoulders and spun around to stare into blue, blue eyes that reminded Merlin of waves in the tropics, light and beautiful.
"Hey! Where are you going?"
He looked down and didn't look up and tried to shove the mans hands off of his shoulders until finally he gave a final lurch and the man let go.
"Go back to your date Arthur."
"Fine. let's go."
Arthur turned and walked a few paces and when he didn't hear Merlin's footfalls behind him he spun around and for a moment Merlin saw chainmail and red clothe over Arthur's suit and god it hurt.
"I'm not coming Arthur."
A statement, simple, he could do this and because he was still staring down at the pavement he let his eyes flare gold in the night as he cast three protection spells and two separate ones that should get him to Arthur if he was ever in serious danger.
"You want to go home? Why didn't you just ask? Emma wouldn't have minded."
Merlin laughed and it was tinged with hysteria.
"Emma is why I'm leaving."
Arthur took a step foreword but Merlin jerked back.
"No, no! Don't touch me, just - just go back to her, I'll be fine."
"Tell me what's wrong Even."
And that was it, Merlin looked up his eyes still gold and stared Arthur right in the eyes.
"Everything! Everything's wrong, Arthur! You don't remember me, you don't remember your home, you don't remember how far we came back then and it hurts! And I can't do it, Gwen was lovely then, and is lovely now, but I won't share! I won't share you with Guinevere, not this time. I waited so long, Arthur, so long!"
Arthur threw his hands up into the air.
"What are you even talking about!"
"Exactly, you stupid royal prat!"
"That's not even my name!"
Arthur swallows. "Than what is?"
Merlin opens his eyes and turns around magic already building.
"My name? It's Merlin, my king."
And then he closed his eyes and when he opened them and found himself in his apartment down the block from his shop. Closing his eyes and shedding his sopping wet suit he falls into bed, tears sparkling like faded gems on his eyelashes.
He wakes to furious pounding on his door, stumbling out of bed he slid a bathrobe on and half walked to the door fully intending to tell whoever it was to go the fuck away so he can sleep until he's feeling a bit less sorry for himself and then arrange everything. Perhaps Ireland this time.
He flung the door open and blinked before attempting to shut it.
But before he got the chance Arthur grabbed it and didn't let go. Figuring he had nothing else to lose he let his eyes flare gold, hoping to startle the insufferable, beautiful man enough that he could get the door shut, but Arthur leveled him with a steady gaze.
Merlin's eyes widened, the way he said it was -
"Arthur. Let go of my door."
"No. Your not running from me Merlin. I wanted you to always be you, this isn't you, you don't run. Don't start now."
It takes a minute for it to sink in but then; "Arthur?" And it was filled with so much hope that the smirk on Arthur's face softened to that of a smile that Merlin remembered from long ago.
And then Merlin kissed him. And when they pulled away from each other, they both laughed, low and husky, echoing from red kiss swollen lips.
"We have a lot to talk about."
"We do, later."
Another kiss, this time more slow and lingering.
"I won't share you."
"I'm not going to make you. Guinevere will find someone else."
Merlin grinned and leaned in for a long and filthy kiss.