Footsteps thudded down the stone hallways of the castle, dodging servants and decorations and food. The people either laughed or shouted at the young man as he weaved through them, all with the warning to be careful or that he was late. With only a slightly apologetic expression, he didn't slow as he called his acknowledgement to them.
Just as his destination was in view, a man stepped in his path with crossed arms. He came to a screeching halt, almost slamming into him if the man's hand wasn't placed on his shoulder to balance him. "You're late."
Giving a sheepish grin, his head tilted downward to look at him from under his lashes. "Sorry, papa..."
Merlin let out a sigh, a smile spreading across his face as he pulled Gabriel closer with the hand that was still on his shoulder. "Don't apologize, I can't begin to count how many times I was late to official ceremonies like this when I was your age. Oh, Arthur would give me such a hard time for it, but he'd always shut up when I would 'accidentally' spill food on his lap."
"You spilled food on purpose?"
"No, I did it accidentally, didn't you hear that?"
The two laughed again as they entered to the throne room, spotting the King, Queen, and their oldest child already there. Arthur turned towards them with crossed arms as soon as they stepped through.
"It's just the practice run, Arthur," Merlin pointed out, rolling his eyes. "It's just going to be us, not really much to be late to." He kept his gaze on the Royal family, obviously avoiding his son's playful frown.
"Honestly, Arthur," Gwen smiled, placing a hand on her husband's arm, "I think you're more nervous than Rosewen."
Arthur's eyes moved from his wife to his daughter, softening as he smiled at them. "I just want everything to be perfect. I was terrified for coronation as Crown Prince."
"I can confirm," Merlin pipped as they went to stand next to them, looking to Rose with a mischievous gleam to his eyes. "He didn't sleep for most of the night, had me stay up with him because he was so nervous. He almost fell asleep in the hallway while waiting for your grandfather to finish his speech. If it wasn't for me, he would've missed his que to go in."
Rose laughed, looking to her father. "I never would have guessed you'd be nervous. All your stories of the ceremony have been about how excited you were."
Arthur cleared his throat as he looked around, "I was excited. Now where is your brother? He should've been here by now."
"I can go look for him?" Gabe offered, taking a step back towards the door when Merlin's hand caught his shoulder again.
"I saw the way you weaved through the servants coming here, I don't want you startling one of them have having a mess to clean up." He smiled, nudging his son a bit, "I'll go find him. I believe I know where he might be hiding at anyway."
As the warlock started to the door, he could hear Arthur muttering, even picturing his head shaking. "I swear my son loves you more than me sometimes..."
Merlin's response was a laugh as he left, quickly walking through the hordes of servants and to the knight training grounds. While the young Prince Cassian was not much of a fighter, preferring Merlin and Gabe's teachings of medicine, he was known to frequent the training grounds when he was stressed or overwhelmed. Much like his father, Cassian would lose all track of time while he attacked straw dummies with a dulled sword. Unlike his father though, Cassian did not yet have a full-time manservant that followed him around the castle to remind him of the time and his appointments.
He wasn't far from the training grounds when he heard familiar laughter and blunted thunks. A smile already forming on his face, Merlin walked forward, completely understanding of why the young prince was still here.
Gwaine and Percival stood with Cassian, giving him what Merlin assumed were pointers on how to hold his sword and how to stand properly and where to hit the dummy. But Merlin had been around the Knights and Arthur for far too long to believe they were serious about it.
"Cassian," He called as he got closer, perking the boy's attention, "You should know these tricksters well enough by now not to trust a word of what they say."
"Aw, Merlin...!" Gwaine whined, going over to wrap an arm around his friend's shoulder, "You ruin all the fun."
"I have no other choice when His Royal Highness requests his son." The three adults chuckled at the sarcasm in Merlin's voice as the boy's eyes widened.
"The practice ceremony! I completely forgot! How mad is he, Uncle?"
Merlin's eyes softened at the boy, a hand going to his hair. "There's no need to worry, he isn't mad. Gabe and I were late too, so we took the brunt of it for you." His hand moved to his back as he started to lead him back to the castle, looking at the two Knights. "Want to come watch? Arthur's fidgeting."
Gwaine's eyes lit up as he and Percival fell into step next to them. The four laughed and bickered the whole way back, most of it teasing Arthur and Cassian for various things, some aimed at Merlin and Gabe, but all good-natured fun.
As they entered back into the throne room, Arthur seemed to be running down what the proceedings would be for the ceremony, pausing as he heard the door opening and smiling at the extra company. Cassian ran to his mother, his curly hair bouncing as he went, her arms opening to him just as he embedded himself in his skirts.
"Oh my, I can guess where you were by just your smell," Gwen chuckled, plucking a piece of straw from his hair.
"Gwaine and Percival were giving him some 'pointers' at the training grounds."
"Oh no," Arthur playfully groaned, "you've probably ruined all I've taught him by now."
Gwaine's grin was unashamed as he plopped down in the first seat, "Just about."
Merlin went to stand next to his son again, smiling as the King and Knight teased each other for a few moments longer before getting back to the run through. While the notion itself was simple, Merlin knew it would be much longer come tomorrow. With the official genealogy of the Pendragon lineage, Arthur's speech, Rosewen's vows, and the crowning itself and all the details they would ensure, they would all be here for some hours. And with still so much work to be done...
Arthur, true to his fashion, had only just finalized his speech the day prior and requested that Merlin read through it to see if there were any mistakes and edit what he could. ...Merlin already edited more than half of it. And that was in between working on his and Gabe's blessing for Rose.
Merlin hadn't been in Arthur's employ for long when his coming of age ceremony took place, lifting his title from Prince to Crown Prince; he remembered all the servants rushing about but never fully understood all the work they put into it until now. Now that he was going to be apart of the ceremony and not just making sure Arthur stayed awake. He could understand Arthur's nerves to a degree... Though a part of him was always nervous to have all the attention on him, no matter how old he got. He couldn't wait until that duty was passed on to Gabe.
Gabe, following in his father's footsteps by taking the apprenticeship of both Court Sorcerer and Court Physician, was on his way to becoming one of Arthur's youngest advisors. It worked well for them both, where Gabe could take up a role when Merlin was busy. While there was still much for him to learn, Merlin felt comfortable leaving Gabe with Arthur as a stand in when Merlin's duties took him elsewhere. Just the week prior he had delivered his first baby while Merlin was away stopping a griffin.
Like his father as well, Gabe had no true respect for status quo. Sure, he gave Arthur and Gwen and any visiting nobles respect, but that pesky idea of commoners not having any romantic relationship with the royals was completely ignored - as much as he and Rose tried to hide it. But Merlin and Arthur had seen the way their children spent all their free time together or snuck off to picnics in the forests. Arthur had been playfully upset at first, claiming that Gabriel was stealing his daughter away, but even he had to reluctantly give in to the obvious devotion there. When questioned of their relationship by other nobles looking to marry Rose to their sons, Arthur would always dismiss the idea. If Rosewen wished to keep it a secret for whatever reason, then it was her business. She knew her parents would be open to the idea of her being courted by someone of lower status, given Gwen's position in the Royal household before she married Arthur.
Arthur had even brought up the fact that technically, even though they had both renounced their ties to Isla's Kingdom, Gabe and Merlin were royalty in their own rights. Not to mention that Gabe had also been apart of the royal family for those few months that Merlin was missing after Isla's attack, all the status needed to be married without fuss from stuck up nobles. And yet the two denied their relationship still.
Though, as Merlin stood behind Arthur and watched as they ran through the ceremony once again, he could see the glances Rose and Gabe snuck to each other. He couldn't help but wonder how long they would continue to deny their feelings.
"I pronounce you Rosewen Pendragon, Crown Princess of Camelot."
The crowd cheered as Rose dipped her head, allowing Arthur to place the crown upon it just as Merlin looked to his son and nodded. Their hands lifted in the air and their eyes flashed gold, blue butterflies appearing in the air and fluttering around the room, a trail of sparkles falling in their wake.
Rose stood to her full height, eyes widening in awe as a butterfly passed her. A giggle erupted from her when the butterfly suddenly turned back and landed on her nose. Merlin cast a knowing glance to Gabe, seeing the tell-tale gold eyes as he smiled at the princess. Judging by the chuckle from Arthur and Gwen, they had noticed it as well.
As the butterflies flew to the ceiling, they burst into sparkles, Rosewen's que to leave the throne room with her family following behind. As the crowd bowed as the Royal family passed, Merlin patted Gabe's shoulder before slipping out the servant's passage so he could get to the dining hall before them and make sure everything was ready. Even twenty-two years of not being Arthur's manservant, he just couldn't break the habit.
In the dining hall, he took one look around and decided there weren't enough flowers for Rose. Or butterflies. The dozens of white doves that the servants caught were definitely enough though.
He finished up his final touches just as the doors opened, Merlin quickly going to stand in line with the other servants hoping to not be seen, much to their amusement.
His efforts were futile though, because as soon as Arthur entered, his eyes were immediately drawn to Merlin with a disapproving frown. Merlin gave an innocent smile back as the guests started to file in behind them.
Merlin stayed there for a time, hiding his laughter as Gabe did a double take at him as he went to his seat one down from Arthur, Merlin's empty chair a taunt to the king. As Arthur's manservant went to start pouring the wine, Merlin stopped him. The twinkle in Merlin's eye was explanation enough for the boy to hand the pitcher over.
He stepped up behind Arthur, head bowed slightly as he held up the pitcher, "More wine, sire?"
Arthur spun in his chair, eyebrows narrowed. "Merlin...! Sit down already before one of the nobles mistake you for a servant. Again."
Merlin chuckled as he poured Arthur's drink anyway, "Does it not give you a sense of nostalgia? Remembering our youth?"
"All I remember is an awful servant who spilled food on me most of the time."
A full laugh escaped Merlin this time as he finally handed the pitcher off and took his seat. "I only did that for your own good. Yelling at me kept you very awake during ceremonies and the like."
Arthur snorted, taking a sip of his wine as Cassian leaned forward to look at Merlin and his father. "What do you mean by nostalgia, Uncle? Why would you spill food on father?"
A fond smile pulled at the lips of the three adults at the table, Gwen putting a hand on her son's head. "Your Uncle Merlin didn't always have the position of Court Sorcerer and Physician. When Merlin first came to Camelot, he started out as your father's manservant, just like I was a maid."
The boy's eyes widened, looking to the two men at the end of the table. "You were a servant?"
"In between protecting your father and studying medicine from my mentor, yeah." Merlin nodded, smiling at Arthur before looking to him. "When I went away to have Gabriel and came back with him six years later, your father gave my job to someone else, so he had no choice but to promote me."
"If anything, I should have demoted you." Arthur scowled, "You left me to deal with George until they could find a suitable replacement."
"Oh but, sire, I thought you said George was the pinnacle of a perfect servant?"
"Shut up, Merlin."
The table laughed at the exchange before falling into respectful silence as the visiting nobles started offering their presents to Rose. Arthur watched the nobles and their servants give their offerings and blessings, smile on his face at his daughter's happiness, but his mind was elsewhere.
Merlin's little show had indeed caused a fit of nostalgia in him. The memories of a simpler yet harder time when they were nothing more than a prince and a servant. Oh how Merlin had his ways of making Arthur fight laughter while at feasts and ceremonies, or keeping him awake when his nerves forbade sleep the night prior. Merlin had become such a deeply rooted part of Arthur's life so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that he had never appreciated those little gestures until he had lost him for those six years he was at Isla's mercy.
Without Merlin, council meeting lasted longer, ceremonies were droning, and feasts were boring. It had been like the sun had vanished and everything that was bearable before became suffocating.
And now, twenty-nine years of knowing each other; twenty-nine of Merlin risking his life to protect Arthur and their families; twenty-nine years of sass; twenty-nine years of friendship and advice and guidance...
Merlin still couldn't grow a beard.
Nearly forty-six and all he could manage was a tad of stubble on his chin. It was the bud of most of the knights' teasing, proving to be a hilarious annoyance to him. Because of it, there were many foreign visitors who mistook Merlin's age to be years younger than what he was. Arthur even had a bet going with Gwaine to see what age Gabriel grew a longer beard than Merlin.
Emotions successfully lifted, Arthur fought off a laugh in his seat. Merlin sent him a quizzical look as he and Gabriel started to get up, an elegant box in Gabe's hands. Arthur waved him off, smiling as the father and son went to stand in front of their table and bowed towards Rosewen.
"Rosewen Pendragon, as heir apparent and Crown Princess of Camelot," Merlin started, standing up straight again, "I offer you this blessing for a long and prosperous life; that you learn and grow during this time, discovering what it truly means to be a ruler."
Gabriel stepped forward, holding the elegant box to him and opening the lid. Inside was a detailed necklace with the brightest red ruby sitting in a silver casing, diamonds embedded around the ruby and along the woven chain. Rosewen smiled brightly, nodding her appreciation.
"Thank you, Merlin, Gabriel, it's beautiful."
Merlin and Gabe bowed again before Gabe moved to place the closed box in front of her on the table.
"We're honored, Princess." Merlin's smirk was not lost to Arthur as he looked to his son, "Gabriel even took a temporary apprenticeship with the blacksmith just so he could shape the silver for it."
The royal family gaped at the boy, eyes wide and mouths open. Gabriel sent his father a glare as he backed away from the table, his face burning red. Arthur could only imagine the mental bombardment he was sending Merlin.
"You made this, Gabe?" Rose asked, her voice soft.
Gabriel swallowed thickly before bowing his head and nodding. "Yes, Your Highness... You deserve nothing less than perfection. Making the necklace myself was the only way to assure it was right for you."
Merlin and Arthur shared a knowing look before the two went back to their seats.
The feast and festivities went on, the band hired for the night livening up their playing as guests started to dance. Arthur hadn't paid much attention to the going ons around him after he asked Gwen to dance with him. But after the third dance, he did notice Rose partnered on the floor with a young prince. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the room, not seeing Gabriel or Merlin anywhere.
"Guinevere, have you noticed if-"
"Rose has danced with Gabe yet?" She finished for him with a smile, "No, she hasn't. Prince Philip asked her to dance and has been holding her time ever since."
"Hm..." His eyes scanned the room again, seeing no sign of them anywhere. He was normally so attuned to where Merlin was (he blamed it on the destiny thing, two sides of the same coin and whatnot) but he couldn't see the man anywhere. Could they have left?
"Go on, go find them."
He blinked, looking back to her. "Hm? No, I'm dancing with my queen now."
"And the longer you dance with me the longer our daughter has to dance with Philip..."
"Good point. I'll be back soon." He leaned down to place a kiss on her forehead before walking off the dance floor. He didn't miss the way Cassian quickly rushed to his mother's side before she could leave as well, asking her to dance with him no doubt.
Arthur smiled, watching his son and wife dance more a moment before moving on to his task of finding Merlin and Gabe.
Figuring the best place to start would be outside, he made his way to the door that led to the gardens and looked around. He was about to move on when he spied a head of black hair just over one of the rose bushes; with a triumphant smile he walked over to them.
"What's with you lately?" He heard Merlin ask, causing him to pause just out of sight. "I know you love her, why aren't you in there dancing with her?"
Gabe let out a sigh, Arthur could just picture him running a hand through his hair. "She's a princess, papa... And I'm... me. I have nothing to offer her. Nothing to offer Camelot. Her and the Kingdom would benefit better if she were with someone else..."
"Gabriel," Merlin's tone was soft but stern, "have you talked about this with Rosewen? Have you asked her what she wants?"
"She wants you."
"Then that's all there is to it. Camelot is strong and has enough allies for Rosewen's marriage to be with who she wants, for her to be happy. Do you not want her to be happy?"
"No...! I want her to have the world! I want her to wake up in the mornings thanking the gods for the happiness that she has. But I'm just a Court Sorcerer and Physician, what can I offer her?"
"Until she realizes that there's so many better men out there... I don't ever want her to be unhappy with her choice, I don't know what I'd do if she regretted choosing me." Another sigh left Gabriel, "Just thinking about it makes my heart hurt so badly I want to die."
Merlin chuckled, "And Arthur says I'm dramatic and an over-thinker..."
"You are, papa."
It was quiet for a time, Arthur almost deciding to go out to them, when Merlin started talking again.
"Listen... I know it's scary to put yourself out there, to love someone so much you end up thinking less of yourself for it. But I can promise you, I've seen the way Rose looks at you, it's the same way that Gwen looks at Arthur. She cares for you, Gabriel. Just as much as you do for her. And if you keep telling yourself that there's going to be someone better for her out there, you're forcing her to choose someone else, and she won't be happy with him. But she will be happy with you."
It went silent again, Arthur choosing that now would be the best time to reveal himself. He took a few steps backwards before walking to them again, deliberately making his boots sound on the stone. He turned the corner of the rose bushes and smiled at the two as they leaned against a stone railing.
"There you are, I was wondering where you two wandered off to." Merlin returned his smile as Gabe nodded his head in greeting, Arthur going to lean against the railing next to Gabe and looking out at the rest of the gardens in the moonlight. "Gabriel?"
"If you don't go inside and dance with my daughter for at least four songs, I will put you in the stocks for a day."
From his peripheral vision, he could see Gabe's eyes widening and looking to his father frantically. Merlin simply laughed and nodded back towards the castle, "Don't question him, he's put me in there for less."
The boy swallowed thickly before turning to give a quick bow to Arthur and hurriedly going back inside, leaving the two men alone in the garden.
It was quiet between them for a time, a comfortable silence as they watched the moon shadows move across the plants. But then Merlin let out a quiet huff of a laugh, his head dipping down and his eyes closing.
"What?" Arthur asked, an eyebrow raised and curious smile on his face.
"When we first met... could you imagine us where we are now?"
Arthur laughed as well, shaking his head. "I thought you were one of the most annoying people I'd ever met. There's no way I could have ever pictured us here within that first year."
"Me either, every day you didn't fire me was a shock. I was so bad at my job..."
"Only in those first two years..." Arthur stared ahead, but he could tell Merlin was looking at him. "Tell anyone I said this and I'll put you in the stocks with your son, but... you really got the hang of it after a while. Especially in those later years. You probably became, dare I say it, the best servant I've ever had."
"When those slavers caught you, after I was forced to give up looking and made to accept that you were probably dead, I went through so many servants. All of them boot-lickers. I slept through so many meetings because they were all too scared to wake me up in the morning..."
Merlin's head tipped back as he laughed at that, "Oh, after all those years of yelling at me for waking you up...! Glad to see my efforts were appreciated."
"Your efforts were always appreciated."
There must had been something in his tone, in the way he said it, that caused Merlin to look at him, his laughter cutting off and replaced with a kind smile. "Thank you, Arthur."
"No, let me finish. Thank you for being who you are, for putting up with me for so long while I learned my job properly. Thank you for being my best friend, even if our status didn't allow for us to audibly announce it. Thank you for welcoming me back when I showed up after six years and with a child, then bringing a war to your Kingdom... Thank you for taking Gabe in when I was gone and couldn't make it back. And thank you for accepting me after all these years, giving me a spot on your council and three - four court titles that will make sure Gabriel and his children should he and Rose not marry are taken care of for generations. But most of all," He turned to Arthur completely, looking him in the eyes. "Thank you for becoming the great king that I always knew you would be. This, all of this, is what I had been fighting for, dreaming of, praying constantly would come to pass. Arthur, I'm not sure if you've realized it, but you've given me my dream. You've freed me from the death sentence that hung over my head since birth... You've freed Gabriel and so many others... Words can't possibly thank you enough but... I'm indebted to you. Gladly and wholeheartedly. And if you want me as a manservant again, I'll do so willingly. Because getting to serve you is the greatest honor I have ever known."
Arthur felt like his throat was tightening, a burning behind his eyes that suggested the emotions he had tried pushing away earlier were coming back after Merlin's little speech. Leave it to him to know just what to say to push his buttons. He sucked in a deep breath, looking up at the stars before turning to Merlin and grabbing his arm, pulling him close as he wrapped his arms around him.
"You just had to go and make it emotional, didn't you, Merlin?"
The warlock laughed lightly as he wrapped his arms around Arthur, his voice cracking, "I view it as my personal duty to make things emotional, sire."
With a hard pat on his shoulder, Arthur pulled away, pushing Merlin ahead of him towards the castle. "Yeah, well cover up those emotions before we get inside or everyone will spread more rumors. I just managed to stop that poetry one last month."
Merlin laughed again, rubbing a fist against his eyes. "The castle maids love their gossip, though I'm afraid after tonight we won't be on their list for a while."
"Oh? What makes you say that?"
They paused in the doorway to the dining hall, Merlin smiling knowingly at the scene in front of them. Gabriel and Rose the only ones on the dance floor as they twirled around each other, a fog laying low to the ground that swirled with their movements. Rose's crown was encircled with flowers and butterflies, sparkles raining on her from the butterfly wings. She laughed with such pure joy as Gabriel spun her around, their eyes never leaving each other. Arthur could definitely recognize the look as the one he and Gwen shared.
Arthur smiled at them, his heart swelling at seeing his daughter and his best friend's son so happy together. He nudged Merlin's shoulder gently, not taking his eyes off them. "Remember when I claimed you as Kin of Pendragon?"
"Yeah?" The smile in Merlin's voice told that he knew where this was going.
"Well it seems that my daughter plans on making her own claim of kin."
"It's about time, honestly."
A/N: I was really happy with this story... with the fluff. But then, when writing about Merlin not being able to grow a beard... Whatever you do, don't think about the fact that Merlin's immortal. Don't think about the fact that he's still going to outlive Arthur and Gwen, and Gwaine, Percival, Leon, Elyan... He already outlived his mother and Gaius, that was hard enough. And absolutely do not, under any circumstances, think about the fact that he's going to outlive Gabriel, and Gabriel's children, and their children. Don't think about it. It hurts too much. T^T
This is why I don't write fluff. Some of my worst ideas come out through the happiness.
But, that aside, this is my final part to Merlin and Gabriel's future (you can understand why). I do plan on making a separate book though! About Merlin's time with Isla and everything that she put him through. It'll most likely be another oneshot collection as ideas come to me, but I think it'll be fun to play around with that idea! So make sure to keep an eye out for that story!
And if anyone is wondering about the ages, here's the list!
Arthur - 50
Gwen - 47
Merlin - 46
Gabe - 22
Rose - 21
Cassian - 10
Yes, I'm getting emotional looking at those ages... Leave me alone...
Also, a quick note about Cassian. Not a lot is shown about his character but I love him so much... I hinted very briefly at it, but I imagine that he would absolutely adore Merlin and Gabe. He would hang off of their every word, and even started learning medicine like them as well. I imagine it would have something to do when he was younger, maybe an assassination attempt that Merlin burst in to stop, Gabriel right behind him to protect a 3yo Cassian while Merlin fought off the attacker. At one point he probably even started dressing like Merlin and trying to comb and straighten his curly hair to look more like theirs. Just... I love him, okay? He's adorable.