"I never thought I would, I-" Arthur began, the words escaping him.
He remembered the flowers in his hands and gave them to Emrys.
He choked a laugh through his tears, "Gifting me my own flowers, how thoughtful."
"They had just made me think of you," Arthur smiled, "It was a compulsion. Even after I first met you, I felt compelled to give you flowers. How stupid is that?"
"You'd be surprised," Merlin smiled, blubbering. "I grew them for you."
Arthur's face turned red, "How? It would take years to grow this many!"
"Exactly," Emrys smiled. "Come on inside, it's getting dark. I'm sure Leon and Alice have dinner on. We'll get you a plate."
Arthur followed behind quizzically, watching Emrys carefully carry his basket in one hand, balanced on his hip, and his other hand gently wrapped around the flowers.
"I tried to find you... after you left." Arthur muttered, shuffling behind. "I pretty much gave up, honestly. I'm so happy to see you again. I missed you, Emrys."
"You keep calling me Emrys, you forget I'm really Merlin." He smiled wryly over his shoulder.
"You feel more like Emrys to me."
Merlin stopped, looking at the flowers in his hand, "I suppose you're right. I haven't really been Merlin for a long time."
They started walking again, side by side. Arthur felt his shoulder brush Merlin's and it made him smile. It was nice being so close again.
"The flowers, you said you've grown them a long time-" Arthur began, Emrys saw the lead and took it.
"They're forget-me-not flowers. They've been growing there since I planted the seeds when I first bought the property. At least a hundred years ago by now, it's been maintained by homeowners all these years as part of a legacy of sorts, passed down parent to child. I bought the land in 1913, right after Artie died, it was part of our promise... Do you remember it?"
Arthur could feel something like a memory, like a word unspoken on the tip of his tongue. He shook his head, "I remember us talking about it, before I... Well, you know, but I don't remember the finer details of it."
"I'll tell you, since you managed to find me, even though you don't remember it all, I owe you that much... We made a promise that when Artie died, I would wait for him here. That he would find me, someway, somehow, and we could be together again. He made me promise to give him the flowers I never gave him when he was king." Emrys smiled to himself at the memory.
Emrys continued, "Once, in the castle, I gave the girls flowers but he was offended even then that he didn't get any. He also made me promise I would never forget him... As if I could." His voice dwindled off, clearing his throat and speaking again. "So, I got the farm set up by myself, handing it off with the promise to have the family who took over the land will be set for life with the various crops as long as they kept it in the family, cared for the flowers, and let me live here again when I was ready.
"Leon and Alice were the most recent owners, but they are on in age and unfortunately their daughter died quite young... They're glad for the help, and since they couldn't pass it on, they wrote to me that the time had come for me to inherit it back. It was opprotune, really. I would like to spend the rest of my mortality away from the bustle. I missed the simplicity of back then. I rise and fall with the sun, it's so simple here, you know?"
"You won't come back?" Arthur asked, unable to hide the hurt in his voice, following Emrys through the fence gate to the farmhouse. The lights inside were warm and welcoming.
"No, I like it here." Emrys admitted, an evident relief in his voice, going in the door of the farmhouse. "Leon, Alice, I'm back. I brought a guest for dinner."
Feeling snubbed, Arthur was grumpy until the smiling face of a woman at least in her 70s came to fuss over Emrys. Emrys looked so happy, it made Arthur's heart ache. Family was such a long forgotten concept to Emrys, of course he missed it. He had his own family back, or was at least on the way to being on good terms with them again, he couldn't imagine being alone as long as Emrys had been.
Alice was pulling off Emrys's hat, taking his gloves and basket from him, and asking him to set the table with a tender smile, "I'll set a vase out for your flowers."
"This is Arthur," Emrys smiled sheepishly, "the Arthur I told you about."
"Oh! I am so sorry, young man! What a pleasure to meet you!" She enthused, giggling upon realizing her hands were full. "I will introduce myself better when my hands aren't full, you boys wash up and we can eat at the table."
"Follow me," Emrys motioned, leading the way down a narrow hallway.
Arthur followed behind but the bathroom was somewhat small, they stood shoulder to shoulder trying to wash their hands at the same time, playfully bumping each other back and forth.
"I talked to my parents," Arthur tried at conversation, waiting for his turn to dry his hands.
"Oh?" Emrys offered the towel, and Arthur took it to dry his own hands.
"It was nice. They seem... different." Arthur licked his lips nervously, handing the towel back.
Emrys leaned against the sink, blocked in by Arthur, but interested in what he had to say, "What do you mean?"
"Well, they retired, so they have less stress. They were always workaholics so I guess the free time has been good for them. They're actually selling the big house to move into the lake house we visited." Arthur smiled weakly, crossing his arms.
"Dad's not doing terribly well, apparently he has been on chemo for a while. They decided to go to the lake house; less maintaining, fewer fees, and it's closer to his doctors. They're well-off, money isn't an issue, especially after the sale of the house. Mom is doing well, considering, they're a lot kinder than I remember, more involved. We even went on a rowing trip at the lake, well, I rowed and they sat but it was nice. I wish you'd been there."
Emrys seemed unable to process the information, frowning and curling in slightly on himself, "I'm sorry, Arthur."
"I told them about you, well not everything, but they would like to meet you someday, if you want to. Mom seems to think you are her ticket to convincing me to settle down."
"Arthur-" Emrys started, hands out in front of him.
Arthur took his hands and held them, "I-"
"Emrys, dear, your food will get cold!" Alice called.
Arthur lost his nerve, dropping the hands and following the voice to the dining room, "Coming!"
Emrys tucked his hands under his armpits, hugging himself to stop his hands shaking, exhaling with his eyes closed before leaving the bathroom and stepping into the dining room.
Leon was already loading up Arthur's plate with a small mountain of potatoes, Arthur's eyes widening with every scoop. Emrys couldn't surpress a laugh, his nervousness dissolving.
"Leon, we all love your potatoes, but he may not be that hungry." Emrys smiled, sitting next to Arthur's left.
"I am starving." Arthur deadpanned, looking at Leon. "Thank you, sir."
Alice sniggered behind her fork mid-bite, held in front of her mouth, "You heard him, hon, load him up."
"I still need some for me, Al," Leon narrowed his eyes jokingly, sitting down to load his own plate.
Emrys began to dig in to his food, content with the atmosphere. It was nice. He had so desperately missed Arthur's company, he dreaded when he would leave and go back to his normal life, away from him- the memories an afterthought and a closed chapter in their life.
"How long are you staying?" Alice asked with a subtle smile, leaning her cheek on her hand.
Arthur choked slightly, taking a sip of his water, and Emrys answered for him.
"Not long, I'm sure he has things to get back to at home."
"Right," Arthur deflated, eyes staring blankly into his plate of meat and potatoes, nibbling on what was left of his meal.
"Well, stay the night at least!" Leon insisted, giving a dirty look to Emrys for answering in Arthur's stead. "We have a spare room, don't we, Emrys?"
"I wasn't going to send him out into the night," Emrys grumbled.
"I took a week off from work," Arthur supplied, eyes focused on Emrys, pleading. "I did what I set out to. I found you, I saw Camelot... or what was left of it, and I can go home now. I didn't expect to have completed my goal so quickly, especially not in one day. I'll go home tomorrow, I don't want to impose."
Arthur stood, his plate and glass empty, "I'll go wash my dishes. Anyone else?"
Emrys stood, his plate not empty yet, but taking up the empty plates of Leon and Alice, "I'll assist you."
Emrys takes his plate and leads Arthur to the small kitchen, a silence falling between them as they shared the job of washing dishes.
"I didn't mean to barge in," Arthur whispered, trying not to be heard by the couple in the next room. "I found you on accident. I'll leave first thing tomorrow."
"It's likely for the best. You have a life to return to, back in London." Emrys nodded to himself, eyes focused sternly on the dishes.
"I won't ask you to leave this place. I can see how good it is for you," Arthur sighed. "I just wish your life had a place for me. I would never leave your side again, if you asked me. "
"You have a job, friends, family, a life back there. Why would you leave that?" Emrys sighed, clanking the dish he was holding on the counter.
"I can get a job anywhere, I'm not particularly skilled in anything niche. I can visit Finn and Morri anytime I want to, same thing with my parents. You are the only thing I have trouble with, I want to be with you but you don't seem to want me around." Arthur threw up his hands in defeat.
"It's not that!" Emrys yelled, blinking quickly and lowering his voice as he tried furiously to avoid tearing up, "Jeez, Arthur. I don't want you to abandon all that to be with me. The last time you were completely absorbed with me you wound up killing yourself. I don't want you to react that same way again. Besides, you were the one who wanted out first."
Arthur felt both resentment and guilt at that, it was true, but it was an unprecedented situation. "I've had time to think about it. My life is better with you in it."
"I won't send you away," Emrys sighed, defeated. "Stay as long as you like. I enjoy your company, I'm sure you know that."
"Then why do you make me feel like a burden?"
"You are a burden. My burden. A heartache of many years." Emrys smiled tenderly, "It is hard to seperate the man from the memory. Perhaps the time you spend here, I may be better equipped to seperate the two."
Arthur nodded, taken one of Emrys's hands in his, looping their fingers, "I will spend the rest of my holiday here. I would like to know you better. The you I've only seen a glimpse of."
"I'd like that," Emrys smiled. "We'd better finish the dishes, I'm sure they're waiting to hear our verdict."
"Already heard, dear!" Alice piped in, "You two are not as quiet as you think you are. Nice to be housing you, young man! Need I make up the second room or shall you boys be sharing?"
Emrys blushed crimson, even his ears tinted red as he grumbled to himself, "So nosy. How embarrassing."
"Two rooms, thank you, I can make it up myself!" Arthur blushed himself, smiling at Emrys's embarassment.
A half hour later, everyone prepared for bed and Arthur made up his bed, flattening the wrinkles in the sheets with his palm.
"Making out alright?" Emrys asked, watching through the open doorway, leaning against the door frame.
"Nearly done," Arthur admitted. "Part of me wanted to share a room, even though it's inappropriate with us not knowing each other long."
"Best to proceed naturally," Emrys agreed, stepping into the room. "Did you need anything before bed?"
"Just one thing," Arthur smiled impishly, kissing Emrys on the cheek. "Goodnight, Emrys. I'll see you in the morning."
Emrys smiled sheepishly, unconsciously cupping his cheek with his hand, "Goodnight, Arthur. Sweet dreams."
Arthur climbed into bed, Emrys leaving the room and closing the door behind him. Once flopping onto his own bed, despite how uncomfortable it was, felt just like a cloud and he slept more soundly than he had in weeks.
This is a long one but couldn't bear to split it. One or two chapters left at maximum. Thanks for sticking with me!