There were mountains full left unsaid between the pair in their final moments together all those years ago. Arthur knew this, and Merlin knew this.
Arthur finally, finally saw the person that Merlin truly was. He was the man who would do anything for him, the man who protected him at every turn, the man who had to sit there and endure Arthur whenever he went on a rant about magic or when he mistreated him.
As the pair kissed again, Arthur could feel these thoughts and memories coming back to him. All the times he had acted badly towards Merlin flooded his mind and made him feel a pang of guilt. He also remembered how, no matter what, Merlin never left his side. He was always there for him, a constant in Arthur's hectic life as Prince then King of Camelot. Even while he was dying, Merlin was there, despite Arthur initially wanting him out of his sight. But Merlin could never be pushed away, he always came back to him. Although he didn't realise it at the time, that was something that Arthur deeply loved about Merlin. His devotion, his unmatched loyalty.
Arthur had poured his heart out to Merlin in his final moments. He had to let Merlin know how much he meant to him before he died. Arthur had tried to cherish every last moment he had with Merlin, he wanted to take the memories he had with him to the afterlife. He held onto his hair as his last physical act, his way of committing Merlin's face to memory. He had brought himself to say "Thank you." to him right before he died. Those two little words, however, held a much significant meaning when he said them to Merlin at that time, and Arthur knew that.
In the midst of their second kiss, which was lasting a lot longer now that none of them were caught by surprise by the other, Arthur's thoughts were a ravishing mix between the fact that he was kissing Merlin and last words that he had said to him. Arthur couldn't believe himself; it was so obvious that he loved Merlin deeper than he had loved anyone else in his life. Whilst his "Thank you." was genuine, it was full of more compassion than anything he had said before. Arthur found a clear thought at last amidst his otherwise occupied mind:
1,500 years ago, he should have told Merlin that he loved him.
Arthur didn't tell him then, so he had to tell him now.
Merlin felt Arthur slowly pull away again and waited for the clotpole to say something. His own mind was clouded by the fact that Arthur had kissed him. Twice. Merlin could once again feel the hotness of Arthur's breath they were that close, he was sure Arthur could feel his.
Through tears that he didn't even know were forming, Arthur finally broke the silence between the two.
"I love you." He uttered in a quiet voice as if he couldn't truly believe what he was saying. He finished it with one of his radiant smiles that Merlin had fallen in love with.
Merlin felt happy tears come to his eyes. His mouth opened slightly agape. How was it that hearing him admit those three little words was more of a shock than Arthur bloody kissing him? He would never know. Regardless, the moment had, at last, come for Merlin to admit how he had truly felt for God knows how long.
Arthur waited in bated breath for Merlin to say something, anything, in return. As he always did, Merlin came through in the end.
"I love you too, Arthur. I have done for a while." Merlin responded quietly, similarly to how Arthur had spoken when he admitted he loved him. In truth, Merlin didn't care if the whole damn world heard him. He'd shout it from the top of the observatory if he was up there. But for now, he and Arthur were on the third floor with a painting of Camelot in the background and the stars Merlin had charted watching over them.
It was perfection.
Hearing Merlin return his feelings for him sent Arthur's mind into overdrive. Sure, he had kissed him back and that was something beyond incredible but hearing the words come from Merlin's lips was something else entirely.
Arthur let out a joyful and loving laugh, the type of laugh his former manservant was so used to hearing. Merlin formed the biggest and most entrancing smile in return at the sound of Arthur being happy.
For their third kiss, Merlin seized Arthur's lips first. Arthur responded to this gleefully, kissing him back passionately, wanting this to never end.
This time, it was Merlin that pulled away. He needed to take a second to wipe his teary eyes. Arthur took the opportunity to do the same.
Merlin, overcome by emotion, felt his knees buckle and dropped to the ground with his hand covering his mouth.
"Merlin? Are you alright!?" Arthur spluttered in worry; he had followed Merlin down to the ground in a heartbeat. He couldn't tell what was wrong with him.
Merlin sniffled and felt more tears come to his eyes. As he looked up, his crystal blue eyes met Arthur's concerned ones. "I'm fine," Merlin started, which reassured Arthur. "I'm more than fine, actually. I'm just…I'm just really happy. It's just been so long…"
Merlin's tangent was interrupted by a loving embrace from Arthur. He buried his head into Merlin's neck and allowed the tears he had been brewing to stain his cheeks. Something about this hug was different from all the others they had shared that day. It was a good different. Arthur felt Merlin relax into the hug and smiled. Merlin was happy, he was happy. Everything would be alright so long as he had him by his side.
Sometime later, both men found themselves with their backs to the floor. Merlin wanted to show Arthur the best way to look at the stars and planets that he had charted and Arthur had happily agreed to be shown. They lay next to each other and for a minute, nothing was said between them. Their heads were spinning from all that just happened and they needed a breather. Arthur's eyes became locked once again onto the sea of stars above the pair. He started smiling like an idiot when he realised another reason for him falling in love with Merlin. He was just simply amazing. The whole observatory was the finest thing Arthur had ever seen which said a lot considering he was a King in his former life. The best thing about it was that it had been created and maintained by Merlin, his Merlin. Only a person with true talent could manifest something so amazing, Arthur thought. He was like something out of this world.
Whether or not it was conscious, Arthur took a hold of Merlin's hand that was closest to him. Earning a look from the warlock, who didn't mind it at all. Merlin then found some words to say.
"So, you love me then? I must say, I wasn't expecting that." Merlin's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Oh, please," Arthur started, turning his head to face Merlin. "I think it was fairly obvious by that kiss."
"I suppose so, I guess I didn't really mind it." Merlin replied with a smile that was soon to burst. He then moved his head to face Arthur, which resulted in the men bursting into laughter. It was laughter that only the pair of them only ever heard with each other's company.
Arthur then decided to get a few things off his chest.
"I think…I think deep down, I knew. Even back then. I was just stupid and didn't realise it…" Arthur groaned. "This isn't making any sense, is it?"
"It makes sense to me…" Merlin replied. He then thought he should tell Arthur his side of things. "I figured out my feelings…a while ago."
"You really were waiting for me all this time, weren't you?" Arthur said in a sad voice as he realised that Merlin had to live with his feelings even after he had died.
"Hey, after what we just did, every second was worth it." Merlin stated confidently. He meant it; he would have waited centuries more for Arthur. One major factor in loving someone so deeply is the patience that you have for them. And whilst Arthur could be a massive dollophead at times, Merlin would wait for him until the end of time. He had put his feelings behind him for far too long and now, his patience was being rewarded.
Arthur gave Merlin one of his beaming smiles. "I can't argue with you there." The pair chuckled at that.
Arthur could feel his heart swelling with love for the man that lay next to him. It was a feeling that he was familiar with as he felt it every time he was with Merlin. Only that day had Arthur come to realise that the feeling was love.
"You're the bravest and most extraordinary person I've ever met, Merlin. You know, if I wasn't an idiot and figured out how I felt sooner, there's no way on Earth I could've waited as long as you have. It would have been too painful." Arthur said from his heart.
Merlin felt extremely touched at Arthur's words and decided to respond to him honestly. Because Arthur was right, at times, it was painful. There were moments in the 1,500 years that were more difficult than others.
"I won't lie. There were times when I struggled…but I knew that one day, you would rise again, Arthur. That was what kept me going more than anything else."
"You see? That's exactly what makes you so amazing, Merlin. I hope you realise that." Arthur responded.
"I see it more now than I ever have. That's down to you, clotpole." Merlin uttered in honesty.
"I'm still a clotpole then?" Arthur said, amused.
"Oh, absolutely. But you're my clotpole." Merlin held Arthur's hand tighter and looked at him with a smile. Arthur let out a quick breath and broke out into a small, loving laugh. Without a word exchanged between them, the pair sat up and kissed again. They held onto each other for dear life, overtaken by happiness. They just couldn't help themselves.
The observatory days that followed would prove to be quite unforgettable.
On the same day that they gave in to their feelings, Merlin and Arthur also shared a bed together, much to their excitement. Except when Arthur had seen Merlin's bed in the library, there was something he had to point out.
"Merlin, this is a bed for only one man. I'm not sure I could fit in it." Arthur had told Merlin later that night, clad in a modern-day white shirt with black trousers, and was finally out of his chainmail…which Merlin had giddily taken off for him.
"Trust me, let me tweak it first."
In complete comfort, Merlin uttered a spell in front of Arthur. His eyes flashed gold as his magic got to work. The utterly besotted former King of Camelot and his warlock watched the bed as it widened for two people. Merlin glanced at Arthur to see his reaction, a cheeky smile dancing on his lips.
"Well, that certainly makes things easier." Was Arthur's response to that.
Before the two men drifted off from all the exhaustions of that day, Arthur had so many questions about the modern world. Merlin lay next to him in the bed and answered as much as he could and in exchange, he told Arthur about the places that he'd visited in those 1,500 years.
"I didn't always stay near the lake. There were times when I had to leave."
Arthur was listening with fascination at everything Merlin had told him so far but at this, he became perkier, since it was about Merlin himself. "Where did you go?"
"I guess you could say around the world," Which was true and for a good reason. "Whenever I got wind of any…unusual occurrences anywhere, I'd always check on the place. In case it was magical."
"Oddly responsible of you, Merlin." Arthur joked in response. Merlin pretended to act offended at this and playfully shoved his pillow in Arthur's face. This ultimately broke out a pillow war between the insanely mature adults that they were. Both of them laughing idiotically in the process.
Once the pillow war was over and the bed set back to normal, Arthur had thought that he couldn't get out of his head. As Merlin settled back down to his side of the bed, he vocalised his thought.
"Merlin…these places that you've been to. I want to go to them," Arthur stated. "I mean, would you take me to them? I want to see the world, with you."
Merlin's eyes lit up like the sun and he wasn't even performing a spell. It was an idea he already thought of but had not yet suggested, thinking he might be moving too fast. He was delighted that Arthur had asked him.
Merlin wouldn't just take Arthur to the places he had already been to. He would take him to the most beautiful locations he knew of so they could both experience it at the same time. In truth, Merlin had kept a few places in mind over the years for when his King returned. They were the ones he felt Arthur would love the most.
Arthur wanted to see the world with him. Merlin could've cried again but managed to hold it back.
"Yeah, if you want, it'll be amazing." He finally replied, daydreaming slightly about where they would go.
"Yes, it will." And the pair broke out into laughter again.
Arthur wanted to see the world with Merlin, even if that started out small. So, a few days later, when Merlin told him he needed to get something from the nearby city, Arthur begged that he take him too. Merlin agreed, of course.
The warlock had vocalised that he wanted to get a book with pictures of the most stunning locations on Earth to show it to Arthur, a way of helping the clotpole decide where he wanted to go first.
Arthur found it strange that Merlin lived in a building with the grandest library he had ever seen but he didn't own the book he was after. After questioning this, Merlin explained that the books he kept were mostly old and didn't have many up-to-date pictures. Arthur was satisfied with that answer.
Before reaching the city, Arthur stopped in his tracks. He had paused his journey with Merlin on a hill that gave the pair a splendid view of the 'city' they were going to. Only to Arthur, it looked nothing like anything he had ever seen before. The same feeling that was present when he initially saw the first floor of the observatory bubbled inside of him as he gazed at towering shiny buildings with infinite windows.
Merlin watched Arthur's face take it in. Part of him was worried that the prat may become overwhelmed in the city centre, the other part of him wanted Arthur to experience a little bit of the modern-day world, especially if they were going to travel it.
Arthur had wanted to come, after all.
"Do not leave me for a second." Arthur announced as he turned to face Merlin, who was so caught up in his worries and thoughts that Arthur's voice startled him a little bit. He'd managed to pick up on what he'd said though.
"Believe me, I don't plan to." Merlin gave Arthur a reassuring smile, indirectly saying that he would never leave him. Arthur responded by taking grip of Merlin's left arm and wrapping his own around it.
"Great. Shall we keep going?" Arthur asked rhetorically, a sunlit smile forming on his lips.
Merlin smiled back and nodded; the pair continued along the rural path to the city.
It had been Merlin's day off from his job at the library. So, it was unsurprising when a co-worker of his approached him and Arthur as they were skewering through the many books the library had to offer.
Arthur's method of remaining calm in this strange new place was to focus on Merlin. He usually did that anyway in heightened tensions but even more so now. Merlin had already informed him that this was the place he worked at and so Arthur put two and two together and realised the lady that approached them was a fellow worker.
"Colin?" The lady had said as she walked past the aisle they were in. At first, Arthur assumed she was calling for someone else but then confusingly watched as Merlin turned his focus away from the books to face her instead.
"What are you doing here?" She had asked in a friendly tone. "I thought today was your day off!"
As she got closer, Arthur took note of how different this woman's attire was than those he was familiar with. He tried not to make it obvious that he was looking in case she got the wrong idea.
"It is," Merlin responded to the lady. "I've brought a friend to look around, we're looking for a particular book."
"Ah, well, you're better at that than me, Colin. As you know." She responded with the same friendly tone. She then looked at Arthur. "Hi!" She greeted, very bubbly.
"Oh, hi!" Arthur greeted back, finally being brought out of his little trance.
"I'm Lydia. If you need any help, come and find me. But I'm sure Colin's got this covered."
The more this 'Lydia' referred to Merlin as 'Colin' the more confused Arthur became. He thought he might have misheard her the first time but was now definitely sure that she was saying it deliberately.
"Thanks, Lydia. But I think we'll be good here." Merlin replied, thankful for her offer.
"I'll leave you two alone, then." Lydia said with a smile, a smile that told Arthur that she sensed something more between himself and Merlin.
Once she was gone, the question that was nagging away at Arthur surfaced.
"Why did she call you 'Colin'?" Arthur whispered with a confused voice.
"Ah," Merlin uttered before saying anything else. He knew this would come to light eventually, he had stupidly forgotten to tell Arthur before they left that morning. "I'm kind of…known as Colin round here. 'Merlin' isn't really a common name nowadays…" Arthur could tell there was more to be said and so pulled a face which told Merlin to keep going. "I suppose you could say it's laughed at…"
"What!?" Arthur exclaimed, albeit quietly since they were still in a library. "How ridiculous, 'Merlin' is a fine name."
Merlin found himself blushing again. "Well, I'm glad you think so, prat."
Arthur tried to laugh quietly. "Are you sure it's in this section?"
"I'm sure. There's just so many."
"You can say that again." Pointed out Arthur as he took a sweeping look at the parts of the library that he could see. He then turned back to Merlin. "I thought that Lydia girl said you were good at finding books." Arthur teased.
"I usually am, when there's not a dollophead in my ear." Merlin joked back. "You can look too, you know."
"I'll have you know I've inspected every book of this damn shelf, none of them match the title you're after."
"Well keep looking. I know it's here; I organised this aisle last week!"
"Ah, no wonder we haven't found it." Merlin shot Arthur a glare that tried to be annoyed but looked far too loving to be considered even remotely vexed. He'd so greatly missed their banter.
"Maybe we should get Lydia to help?" Arthur casually suggested.
"No, no I don't wish to bother her. She has enough on her mind." Merlin responded; sorrow echoed in his voice.
Arthur's brows knitted in concern. "Oh? Is she alright?" He may have only just met this girl but Arthur didn't like the thought of anything bad happening to her.
"She is," Merlin started. "But her girlfriend isn't. She's ill, Lydia's been working extra hours to take Cherry somewhere nice when she comes out of hospital."
Arthur blinked. He wasn't sure if he had heard Merlin correctly but he could have sworn he said that Lydia had a girlfriend. Lydia, who was a girl, was courting another woman. Arthur had to make sure what Merlin said was true.
"Her girlfriend?" Arthur uttered, genuinely baffled. He knew that same-sex courting was possible back in Camelot but had never heard of anyone doing it nor had he seen it. Formal, official courting, that is.
"Yes, Arthur. Her girlfriend," Merlin placed emphasis on his last word. "Same-sex relationships are very common these days."
"And the name 'Merlin' isn't?" Quipped Arthur.
Merlin laughed at that. "I guess so, one for the other as they say." He responded jokingly, still rummaging through the shelf they were on.
At Merlin's confirmation that same-sex relationships were common these days and not peered at with Camelot's judgemental gaze, Arthur's found himself with an overwhelming desire to ask Merlin something.
"Merlin, I…" Arthur had futilely begun.
"Ah-ha! Here it is!" Merlin exclaimed as quietly as he could, his excitement overtaking him. A well-kept book with a beautiful cover of a garden was pulled out from its slot on the shelf and into Merlin's eager hands. "We've got it. I just need to check it out and we can head back if you're ready." Merlin looked at Arthur with excited eyes and then remembered that he had tried to say something seconds before. "Sorry, you were going to say something?"
Arthur was so caught up by Merlin's excitement that he paused before answering him. "Oh, no, it doesn't matter…I'll tell you later."
Merlin didn't want to push him. "Okay. You ready to head back?"
Arthur nodded and the pair moved to check out the book at the counter. Merlin felt warm when Arthur took hold of his arm again, he could get used to this.
The moon shone brilliantly on the observatory that same night, it was magnificent. The sky was as clear as anything, meaning Merlin and Arthur could see the stars so brightly they might as well have been on the third floor. Arthur had very originally nicknamed it 'the star room' which Merlin adored so much that he just had to use it.
By candlelight, the two men sat on the unofficial top floor of the observatory. Merlin had lit the candle with his magic, much to the fascination of Arthur. They were flicking through the pages of the book with Merlin pointing out where he'd been and Arthur pretty much going "Yes. There. I want to go there." every time.
Once they'd finished, they found themselves stargazing again. Only this time, they were looking at the real stars. Merlin started to point out some of the ones he knew from the top of his head.
Arthur had been thinking a lot to himself about what he'd learned in the library. He'd been thinking about what he'd nearly asked Merlin before they left and decided now would be the best time.
It didn't need much debate on whether or not it was what he wanted. He'd already kissed Merlin, told him that he loved him, now he wanted to make things…official. At least, official by his book. Although Arthur knew he would be eternally happy with Merlin no matter what they were to the rest of the world.
"Mm?" Merlin acknowledged, turning his head to meet Arthur.
"I was wondering…" Arthur began, suddenly feeling a bout of nervousness. Why was he nervous? He'd been rehearsing this since the library. Arthur's mind told him to pull himself together. "…that perhaps, you'd like to…" Every pause just made it worse for Arthur. Merlin stared in anticipation.
Arthur couldn't let his nervousness swallow his words, not after he'd come this far.
Not after he'd come this far with Merlin and somehow manage to not ruin what they had.
"…if you'd like to start courting, with me." As soon as the words escaped his mouth, Arthur's chest felt tight with the breath he was holding onto.
No one would know why, since the answer was so damn obvious.
Merlin didn't answer Arthur directly. Instead, a smile that was so bright and beautiful it could melt the coldest lands came upon his face. Arthur's heart skipped a beat when he saw that damn goofy smile that Merlin had always possessed. Though, it still wasn't an answer to his question.
He would get his answer, in a better way than just by words.
Merlin seized Arthur in another kiss which was joyfully returned by the other man. In the short time that they'd been doing it, Arthur had found that being kissed by Merlin was his all-time favourite thing. On it went, accompanied by the moon, the candlelight, and the gentle noise of the Lake of Avalon below them.
When Merlin finally pulled away, his eyes were a shiny mix of blues and bore the reflections of the stars above. He stared deeply into Arthur's eyes, the same way he had when Arthur had first kissed him. The hand that was touching Arthur's face moved in a gentle, loving manner. Arthur returned this gesture with another one of his sunlit smiles that Merlin so incredibly adored. Until finally, one of them spoke.
Merlin let out a small, fond laugh. "Is that a good enough answer for you?" He said almost in a whisper.
The uncertainty bubbling up inside of Arthur withered away. He felt as if he was in a whole new life. Well, technically he was, but this life was better. It was like the one he had dreamed of back in Camelot. A farm with just him and Merlin. And while the observatory wasn't quite a farm, it was better than anything Arthur could've fathomed.
"Yes, it is. Better, actually." Arthur replied in confidence he hadn't felt since before 1,500 years ago. He wasted no time in pulling Merlin in for another kiss upon realising he finally had everything he ever wanted.
The golden sparkles that danced on the painting of Camelot glowed brighter that night and continued to do so every second that Merlin and Arthur spent in each other's company.
The observatory days that followed would prove to be quite unforgettable in more ways than one. They wouldn't be forgotten for many lifetimes to come.
Two sides of the same coin shared their long-desired life together, loving the other in the way that they had always wanted to. Albion's greatest need had, at last, been fulfilled…
…and destiny had never tasted so sweet.