Title: Come and Gone with the Tide
Summary: For seven long years Arthur has waited for Merlin to return to the surface.
Word Count: 727
Prompt: #226: Welcome Home
Author's Notes: Modern day AU where Merlin is a selkie.
A gust of briny air washes over the shoreline blowing his hair, calm waves lick the cool sand with every coming and going of the tide. Arthur pulls closer his wool cardigan over his upper body, his well-worn jeans doing nothing to keep him warm. He's been sitting on one of the biggest rocks by the seaside for ages. He'd wait for an eternity and a day. That rock's become Arthur's favorite spot to keep watch over the deep blue sea that seems to reach the confines of the earth.
He draws his knees up, hugging them to his chest. Arthur had left his cottage before dawn, excitement and a spark of fear coiling tight in the pit of his stomach. All he has to do is wait. Wait, wait, wait. Patience is his new middle name.
Arthur only knows how much time has passed since his feet sank on the sand leaving a trail behind because of the ache in his muscles, cramping and sore. Because of the sting in his eyes. Still he stays here, tapping a rhythm on the rocks with his fingers hoping to match the heartbeat of the ocean. A forger at work.
He'll wait for Merlin for another day, another year or second if it means he gets to have him again. Then he'll do it all over again.
There are days when he almost regrets giving him his freedom. Merlin's pelt shimmering black back in his arms. Where it belonged. It was a promise. A compromise. But then he remembers Merlin's smile, the limitless sea reflected in his eyes. He could never take away Merlin's happiness for his own selfish reasons.
The ocean is irrevocably tied to him. Merlin could never leave it behind forever. Not even when half his heart remained with Arthur. One morning Merlin kissed him, salty and sweet, gentle and wild as the very sea. Merlin's skin was always saline, and Arthur wanted to keep touching him. To cling to his smell and taste. Instead he got farewells and goodbyes.
After Merlin returned to his home at the bottom of the sea he left an empty and cold spot on Arthur's bed. The smell of the ocean adhered to his sheets and pillows for weeks.
The ocean roars, seagulls cry overhead and Arthur wonders if Merlin will keep coming back after Arthur's face is riddled with wrinkles and he's no longer young. If the brackish waters he inhabits will be more of a home than Arthur. Merlin swore he'd look and wait for him even when Arthur ceases to live a mortal life.
He sighs staring back towards the ocean again when he spots him, walking back to him, the water rushing around Merlin. His pelt hanging over his shoulder, still as beautiful and bright as the day Arthur found him.
He jumps off the rock, sprinting and joining the sea and salt in a frantic rush to get to Merlin. He falls, cold water splashing his face, hands sinking in the wet sand. He laughs and then hears the sound of Merlin's laughter. A fond and hearty reverberation that makes Arthur's skin tingle. He looks up and Merlin's there, an apparition better than his memories. He's real. He gives his hand out for Arthur to take. He does.
They stand together still surrounded by the ocean and the tranquility of the empty shore. Arthur pulls him close, hugs him tight to convince himself this is it. Merlin wraps his arms around him, breathes him in and Arthur thinks that's ridiculous because he must smell like burnt wood and soap, and that's so mundane compared with the sea leaking from Merlin's pores.
"I've missed you," Merlin says louder than the waves. Arthur nods, he has missed him too. Missing Merlin was like having a wound reopen each new day.
Arthur kisses him, deep and hard, wants to leave him bruised and have him again. Remember what Merlin tastes like. He thinks of all the kisses they have to make up for. All the touches they've imagined. Arthur sneaks a hand under Merlin's pelt, feels his skin cold and wet, tiny grains of sand stuck to the naked skin. He presses kisses to his neck and cheeks, one after the other and Merlin lets him, clings onto him with identical desperation.
When they part, Arthur smiles, pushing the dark hair from Merlin's forehead, says, "Welcome home."
Merlin beams and hugs him again and doesn't let go until the sun disappears on the horizon.
This time two sets of footsteps paint the trail back home.