Summary: Merlin’s long wait finally comes to an end, and so does the time of Albion’s relative safety. But for now, it’s a bright summer day, and Merlin couldn’t care less.
Warnings: Age difference, issues of immortality
Word Count: 1115
Author's Notes: Thanks to keire_ke for the beta! The title is from the song Year Of The Cat by Al Stewart. It’s a reincarnation fic brought to you by post-finale trauma. Also, there are kids.
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
He’s sprawled on his back, shielded from the sunlight by the newspaper held above his head. He lies motionless, so the creaky old wooden planks are silent for once. Water is lapping at the pillars that keep the tiny pier above the surface of the lake. Above him the larks sing and clouds travel lazily across the sky. Everywhere around him summer happens.
The other boys play around in the sun, unabashed in their youth and their enthusiasm. It’s a simple game of beach volleyball – whoever screws up gets dumped in the lake. This time, by the sound of it, it’s Elyan, who puts up a valiant effort to stay dry before Percy picks him up to the chorus of catcalls and ends the argument.
Merlin spares them a single glance. There’s not much in the papers to hold his attention for long, not on a day like this. Singular events and poisonous ideas that are nothing yet, small seeds of unease that have waited for years to spring up and blossom. He can see the signs, really see them, but it’s nothing that can be put into words, not yet. They are like pieces of jigsaw that he has to put together before time runs out – but there is still time. Maybe years.
They have time.
The group is small – not everyone is here, although more and more familiar faces keep cropping up every year. There’s one person that Merlin’s eyes gravitate towards, a young boy still, but with every bit of nobility and pride and a healthy dollop of prattishness that never fails to bring a smile to Merlin’s face.
The boy stands surrounded by his friends, commanding their attention in ways none of them can notice or appreciate at this point. He’s laughing now, at Elyan who emerges from the water soaked to the bone and glaring, and at Percy, who lets himself be caught off-guard. There’s no malice behind the laughter and he’s the first to start running into the lake, kicking up water and splashing it around, while the others follow.
Merlin smiles and folds away the paper. Sunlight hits him in the face and he squints, dark spots dancing before his eyes while his vision adjusts.
‘Come on, Merlin,’ comes the voice.
Merlin is being annoying again.
There’s nothing strange about that, because Merlin is annoying roughly one hundred per cent of the time; some days Arthur doesn’t know why he puts up with him. He sighs, now, shaking his head to get the wet hair out of his eyes and wades in the water toward the small pier.
‘Merlin,’ he says again, letting the pout creep into his voice because he knows Merlin hates when he does that.
Merlin has freckles. There are freckles all over his nose and cheekbones and Arthur’s mouth twitches.
‘Come on,’ he says.
Merlin stares at him lazily, through half-lidded eyes. The sun glints of his irises and the small golden chain around his neck.
‘Make me,’ he says.
‘You know very well I can.’
‘Can not,’ Merlin says, because he’s an annoying little prat.
(Prat is not a word Arthur would ever, ever use, not before he met Merlin. He sometimes thinks Merlin is bad influence.)
And so Arthur does. He cups water in his hands and splashes it on Merlin’s face and, when Merlin sits up to ward him off, he grabs his pale, narrow wrists and yanks him forward. They topple backwards, Arthur’s feet trying and failing to catch him in the slippery mud at the bottom; suddenly the world spins and he lands on his back in cool water, with an armful of wet and angry Merlin.
‘You got water on my newspaper,’ Merlin complains, staring down at Arthur.
‘You read too much anyway,’ Arthur grumbles, lifting himself on his elbows. Merlin’s weight disappears as he scrambles off. His hair is wet, the long dark curls clinging to his skull and neck and face, the sunlight turning his prominent ears red. Arthur wishes he had a camera.
Merlin is annoying and strange. Merlin is many things, and sometimes Arthur tosses and turns at night trying to figure them all out. He thinks, right before sleep descends, that he has it, all the pieces falling together, that he can see and know everything there is to know. That Merlin no longer has any secrets, that he no longer is a secret.
Then he falls asleep, and when he wakes up Merlin is just like he always is, a touch of sadness to his smile, a warm hand to catch Arthur’s (not anymore, because holding hands is for girls, and Arthur isn’t a girl – though Merlin often acts like one – but there are moments when Arthur wishes he has never told Merlin that). And Arthur looks into his blue eyes and knows, deep down, that Merlin makes about as much sense as a blizzard, or platypuses, or algebra.
He also knows it’s all right.
He never got the hang of aging. He drifted through time as suited him, it seems. Sometimes, when he stayed a long time in one place, he aged normally, like the people around him. When he felt tired to his bones, unable to go on, unwilling to step away from one place for days, drowning in happier memories and kinder times, he would grow old, sprouting a beard and long white hair, and his skin would turn wrinkly and grey. But then something nice would happen – a beautiful sunrise, a long walk through the forest on early spring, a flutter of butterfly’s wing, a warm, steady beat of life – and his footsteps would quicken until he broke into a run, unable to hold it all in, and he would be younger and younger, nothing but a boy again, full of simple, uncomplicated joy and endless possibilities.
He used to think that seeing Arthur again would be strange, that the weight of centuries between them would turn them from friends to strangers.
He was wrong. He knows it now.
He knows, because Arthur is everything he remembered him to be, and much more than that. He knows because every moment in his presence is new and wonderful. They can fight and make up and then fight again, and Arthur finds novel and hitherto unheard of ways to get under his skin. He knows, because Arthur changes a little with every passing day, slowly growing into the king Albion needs him to become for whatever the future brings.
Yesterday was memories and tomorrow will be another adventure, but today, Merlin muses, is a gift, and he will never stop being thankful for that.