Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Freya
Summary: When Arthur woke, he was alone.
Word Count: 890 words.
Prompt: #289 Picture Prompt + Thankful.
Author's Notes: I don't even know, okay.
When Arthur woke, he was alone. Frowning slightly, he stretched out one leg towards the other side of the bed, but the sheets were cool.
There was no answer. With an irritated sigh, Arthur pushed back the covers and got up, pulling on his pants as he did so. As usual, Merlin had gone swanning off without bothering to tell him where he was going: the man was impossible. One of these days, he was going to get himself kidnapped or fall down a well and Arthur was going to have to be the one to rescue him, and frankly it would serve him right if Arthur left him there to rot.
Not that he ever would, but Merlin really should stop taking so much for granted.
Outside, it was still early enough that a low-lying mist obscured his view of the lake. Arthur hunched his shoulders against the autumn chill, his nose stinging as he inhaled the frigid air, and took the path that led down to the shore, the gravel crunching audibly beneath his feet. There was only really one direction to go in from the cabin, a path that ran down past the pier and then petered out like a half-finished thought somewhere in the middle of the woods. Arthur had never bothered trying to find out where it went, because he wasn’t an idiot who enjoyed getting himself lost in the woods, but Merlin occasionally ventured that way when he was feeling curious. He was one of those strange people who enjoyed nature for its own sake, and although Arthur indulged him, he did not always understand the fascination.
He came to the fork in the path and turned right. He didn’t know how to explain it, but he was fairly sure Merlin hadn’t gone into the woods today. It simply wasn’t that sort of day.
By the shoreline, the leaves were falling. The rising sun had burned off some of the mist by that time, catching the laden branches red and gold and reflecting off the water in bands of blazing light. The colours stirred something in Arthur’s memory: something from a dream he’d had once and half forgotten. The pier stretched out towards the middle of the lake. Merlin was nowhere to be seen.
“Beautiful day for it, isn’t it?” a voice said. There was a girl at the end of the dock; small, dark-eyed. She was wearing a long white dress that could have been a nightgown, her legs dangling over the water. She didn’t look at him.
“Beautiful day for what?” Arthur asked, coming to a stop beside her. He didn’t remember stepping onto the pier.
He could kind of see her point, but at the moment Arthur wasn’t interested in dabbling in philosophy. “I’m looking for Merlin. He’s my– well. Mine. Dark hair, blue eyes, stupid ears. Have you seen him?”
“Merlin is waiting for you,” she said.
“Yes. And no, not exactly. Sometimes I think he forgets I’m here.”
“Does he.” She didn’t sound interested. “Then maybe it’s time for you to remind him.”
In the centre of the lake, Arthur began to panic. He had been rowing for what felt like hours, but the sun had not shifted in the sky and he didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the bank. It occurred to him that the sequence of events that he remembered – the girl, the boat, the cabin in the woods – might have happened decades ago for all he knew. Time was not supposed to feel like this. How long had he been looking for Merlin?
By the shoreline, the leaves were a riotous green, the banks of the lake glowing with new life. Arthur tied the boat to the dock and stepped onto the wood, feeling the warmth of the setting sun at his back, the weight of his feet on the ancient planks. The sound of running footsteps was loud on the gravel path ahead of him.
Merlin skidded to a stop in front of him, wild-eyed and out of breath, and after a moment’s hesitation flung his arms around the king, holding on as if for dear life. “Arthur,” he said again, his voice choked with emotion. “What took you so long?”
“I was looking for you, I expect,” Arthur smiled a little, touching Merlin’s cheek and hair just to watch him blush. “You get into all sorts of trouble when you go off on your own.”
A flicker of confusion crossed Merlin’s face, breaking through the gratitude. “Arthur,” he said slowly. “I haven’t seen you in over a thousand years. You’ve been in Avalon. I’ve been– I’ve waited– ”
Arthur sighed. “Maybe so,” he said, quite gently. “But I’ve been right here with you, all the same.”
“You have? But…” He saw Merlin swallow. "I thought I imagined it."
“Like I said, Merlin.” Arthur smirked at him, knocking their foreheads together. “You'd get into all sorts of trouble without me.”
When Arthur woke, he wasn’t alone. Merlin lay sprawled on the mattress beside him, his head pillowed on Arthur’s chest, one arm wrapped tight around his middle as though to anchor him in place. Arthur was perhaps a little too warm, a little too uncomfortable, but it made such a pleasant change that he didn’t really mind.