• Merlin learned to swim from his mother in Ealdor, and it was the only exercise he really enjoyed. Learning to swim was a necessary skill in a village where a leap into the water might be the only escape from bandits or wolves, and he was a frail and sickly child. Swimming gave him some constitution.
• Sometimes, when he and Arthur are journeying alone for an extended period, they make camp by a lake or grotto with clear water to swim and bathe. Merlin always discreetly uses magic to warm the water first to a comfortable temperature, not too warm to be suspicious, but pleasant enough to keep it from causing any chill.
• When the other knights are with them, there’s too much showing off and splashing around for Merlin’s liking, though he laughs with them from the side of the water. The others leave the water before Arthur, every time, and then Merlin joins him. No one questions this, though Sir Gwaine always flashes him a knowing grin that leaves him a bit mortified.
• Arthur, despite his athleticism, did not know how to swim until Merlin taught him. Merlin cherished the trust and intimacy Arthur showed him in these lessons, and he guided the prince’s arms and legs until he was almost as skilled a swimmer as the country boy.
• After sending Arthur (and all his hopes) to Avalon, Merlin lives beside the lake, unable to bring himself to return to Camelot for long, except to visit his friends and uncle, or when the kingdom needs his help. His grief and hope keep him anchored to the lakeside. Sometimes, when bathing in its waters, he swims out as far as he can, stopping short of the depth from which he might not return, just to feel closer to Arthur. He wonders what would happen if he could swim across to the Isle, or if he simply let go in the middle of the lake.
• When Arthur is gone, Merlin stops bothering to heat the water. Eventually he stops swimming, too.
• When the lake has dried up, centuries later, his dreams are haunted with memories of teaching Arthur to swim, and dragging the tired and floating prince back to shore while Arthur laughed.
• And when Arthur rises from a lake that is both there and not there, Merlin leaps into the water and struggles to swim out to him. Arthur’s first words to him, before passing out in his arms and being dragged to shore, are “Since when are you such a bad swimmer?” But Merlin has no retort, simply laughs until he cries, kissing his forehead and using all the strength his body has to pull the one he loves back to the shore, and both of them back to the land of the living.
(Send me a 💙 + word + fandom for a headcanon.. or several oops)
i think about how long i’ve been writing this fic for - all the years and sweat and tears - and consider that i could have been writing something original and advancing my career in all that time and then i’m just like