((I’ve been reading some merthur fics lately and it made me remember that I have such sappy sweet feelings about these two <3 Anyway, here’s a cafe/reincarnation fic))
I wondered, sometimes, why I bothered to stay. Why I hadn’t given up, moved away to live somewhere else, anywhere else. Across the Atlantic, to America, maybe. Or maybe moved out instead of away, out of my bubble of consciousness, out of my body, out of earth. Out of life.
It would’ve been so easy, so simple. But I was still there, even after every century passed, even after all the dark, swirling thoughts came, trying to convince me to leave. I lingered in Camelot, even though it didn’t go by that name anymore, even though nothing was the same now; the sights, the sounds, the smells. I stayed, through every war and revolution, every protest and reformation. I waited. Until suddenly, I wasn’t waiting anymore.
Time had slipped by, a revolving current in a slow, languorous stream. But time was fickle. It was thick, like honey, but as soon as you let yourself blink, it trickled through your fingers, a heavy waterfall. It was forever since I had last seen you, but now that you were here again, I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I would ever be truly ready.
My name had changed over the centuries. For every lifetime, it was a different letter of the alphabet. Last time, it was Matthew, the accountant. This time, it was Nathan, the barista. It was there on my chest, typed out on a little plastic rectangle, pinned to a cotton apron. A name, displayed loudly as the scent of dark coffee beans and light pastry filled the room, the idle chatter and soft music in the cafe a buzz in the background. It was there, easy to see, easy to say, easy to forget. And yet, you somehow managed to mess everything up.
But then again, how could I expect anything different from you?
You walked in the same way a lion would walk among his pack, with your head held high and shoulders straight. You brought with you an air of absolute confidence, scented with golden sunshine. You hadn’t changed much since all those lifetimes ago, and looking into your blue, blue eyes as I took your order was the damn hardest and most painful thing I had to do since that day.
You paid, muttering a soft “Thank you, Merlin” as you took your change, and left, coffee in hand with its steam billowing out behind you in a trail of regret. And I was left to stand there, staring at the door with my fingers cold and throat stinging. Arthur Pendragon, you goddamn prat.
The next time I saw you, it was six in the evening, two days later. I was just about to leave, ready to close up, but then you came barreling in, a look on your face that told a story of immense frustration and headache. You were angry, at what I didn’t know, but the moment you opened the door was the moment that my body pulled taut, like the end of a string reaching a hand out to grasp its anchor.
You rattled and complained to me, speaking of men too blind to see their own shortcomings, of company leaders so arrogant they couldn’t walk a single step without falling over for how big their heads were, and the sound of your voice around the sentences were all at once so familiar and yet so strange. You once confided similar sentiments in me, but this new, modern dialect fit differently in your mouth, the syllables a different shape than the ones I was used to hearing from you.
But then you started waving your arms, curling your hands into gestures as you talked, and within your sweeping movements you took my shoulder into your palm. And you said, indignance in your tone, “Can you believe it, Merlin?”
And everything within me melted.
Because although your speech may not have been exactly as I remembered, your touch was, and to feel your skin against me heated me from the inside, washing my form in complete and utter warmth.
So no, Arthur, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that I finally, once again, after everything, had you right here in front of me, solid and real and mine.
I pulled you into an embrace, cutting your rant short. You spluttered, stiffened for one terrible moment, before reaching around to hug me back. Put your face to my neck and whispered “Merlin” into my skin. In that moment, there was so much I wanted to tell you, so much I wanted to say, but the only thing my throat could let loose was a strangled “Arthur.” But you understood anyway, pulling me tighter against your body.
All those centuries, all those lifetimes, I had stayed. But it was only then, enfolded in the circle of your arms, that I finally came home.