It was Arthur who was born, well, reborn, first. He was a healthy baby with a good set of lungs, bright blue eyes and a dusting of blonde hair. By the age of six months he had also perfected the Pendragon pout and even though he wasn't a prince he was just as demanding.
As it happened this time his mother and Merlin's mother were close friends. He was rather puzzled by the fact Auntie Harriet (Hunith was a bit old fashioned for the twentieth century) seemed to be getting fat, although her bump was nice to lean on. He wasn't sure what to make of the fact his mother and adoptive aunt had both told him there was a baby inside Auntie Harriet.
At the age of eighteen months, two weeks and six days Arthur met Merlin (then five hours old) for the first time (again). He was very unimpressed by the pink, soft, squishy thing in Aunt Harriet's arms. Apparently Merlin was going to be able to play with him but he didn't do anything, except make noises that got the attention of the adults. Although he didn't know it Arthur was jealous. To try and win back favour he spilled his mother's cup of tea. She wasn't impressed.
As the months went on Arthur still wasn't struck by Merlin. He had his second birthday party to which Merlin was invited but Merlin didn't really do anything; he just sat and gurgled. Arthur did find poking Merlin got a reaction, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but he found it amusing. He quickly learnt not to do it when adults were around though, as they seemed not to like him doing it for some reason.
When Merlin was nearly a year old Arthur finally noticed he wasn't totally useless. Now Merlin was standing up there was hours of fun to be had pushing him over and watching him get back up. What Arthur never realised was that it was his act of putting Merlin's favourite toy truck just out of reach on the table that would cause Merlin to take his first few tentative steps.
Merlin's first word wasn't Mama or Dada but 'Arfur', which was as close to 'Arthur' as a thirteen month old could manage. Understandably this pleased Arthur, now nearly three and therefore grown up compared to Merlin. As soon as the adults had said Merlin would be talking 'any day now' Arthur had spent a long time trying to get Merlin to say 'Arthur'. He was very pleased his plan had worked, even if pretty much everything was an 'Arfur' until proven otherwise.
At just over two years of age Merlin's magic manifested for the first time (again). Of course it was in conjunction with Arthur who had wanted the tin of biscuits on the top shelf. Even though he'd done a fine job of moving a chair to see if he could reach them he still couldn't quite manage. Seeing Arthur so frustrated was the catalyst for Merlin's eyes turning gold and biscuit tin gently floating down into Arthur's hands. Arthur's remark was to say that perhaps Merlin wasn't totally useless.
They proceeded to eat the entire contents of the biscuit tin. Both of them ended up being sick and scolded by their mothers who could not understand how they managed it (though Harriet had suspected). This didn't put them off repeating the performance with chocolate bars and ice cream over the next several weeks. In the end such foodstuffs had to be banned outright as Merlin's magic was also rather good at opening locks.
Of course Merlin remembered things first. He was five years old when Arthur whacked him with a plastic sword (some things never changed). At the shock of the hurt Merlin yelled “Oi, watch it you, Prat!” and then he felt a bit strange and had to sit down. His five year old mind absorbed several lifetimes worth of memories in an instant and, because it was a five year old mind, Merlin found nothing strange or unusual about this.
With memories knowledge and wisdom had not come so when Arthur asked, “What's a prat?”
Merlin just answered, “You were one when you were Prince Arthur. You hit me with a sword then too.”
This seemed to puzzle Arthur but he said nothing about it. He just suggested they go and see if his mother had stored any cake in the cupboard.
They met Gwen for the first time at school. They already knew Morgana; she was a cousin of Arthur's. Morgana didn't seem to remember but sometimes she said things that only made sense to Merlin. Gwen was one of the older children who helped show Merlin around on his first day and her smile was just as Merlin remembered. Merlin was grateful of Gwen's friendship when the other children teased him about his ears.
“I think they're lovely,” Gwen told him.
Merlin saved Arthur's life for the first time (again) when he was nine years old. It was the day after Arthur's eleventh birthday when it happened. They were playing in the tree house that had formed the bulk of Arthur's present when Arthur slipped and fell. Merlin's reaction was quick and instinctive. He slowed Arthur down and used cushions magically pulled from the patio chairs to break his fall. Arthur ended up bruised but with no broken bones. They tidied the cushions away and no-one was any the wiser.
Later, when they're watching TV, Arthur turned to Merlin and asked, “You really are magic aren't you?”
Merlin, holding their memories close, nodded. “A little bit, yeah.”
It wasn't that Merlin remembered everything at once. Some things remained hazy. It wouldn't have done for a five year old to remember some of the more intimate details of Merlin's life. When he was twelve years old Merlin began to realise this. He started remembering some of the difficult parts of his other lives; seeing the ones he loved die, seeing Arthur die.
Arthur remained completely oblivious, although he wasn't oblivious to Merlin. They were playing a war game featuring knights on Arthur's computer when the memories had become particularly strong. Merlin remembered death and destruction and couldn't stop himself from crying. Arthur promptly hugged him, well, gave him a noogie followed by a hug, and asked what was wrong. Although he was tempted to tell Arthur the truth Merlin stopped himself. With age wisdom had started to appear. He knew he couldn't tell Arthur about them yet.
Arthur was fifteen when he briefly became too cool to hang about with Merlin. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate his friend, but his football mates thought it was weird Arthur would hang around with someone so young. At fifteen Arthur was starting to notice girls and think about GCSE's and the future, his future. He thought Merlin was too young for any of that. He didn't know the old soul that lay under the young exterior.
One night Merlin came around to ask if Arthur wanted to 'play'. Arthur laughed and told Merlin he was being childish. When Merlin defended himself and persisted in saying there was nothing wrong with 'playing' as a teenager Arthur slammed the door in his face. Afterwards Arthur felt so guilty he hadn't gone out with his friends when they'd asked.
Two days later Merlin appeared at Arthur's front door with two Mars bars and a brand new football. They went to the field at the back of their houses and played football; Arthur kicking it whilst Merlin used magic. Morgana came to find them later, worried Arthur had been bullying Merlin. She told them Arthur's friend Owen was on the phone. Arthur told her to take a message. After that Arthur split his time between hanging about with his cool peers and hanging about with Merlin. He never had to defend his friendship with Merlin again.
At the age of sixteen Merlin's memories began to take a more carnal turn and he started to notice Arthur in a way that was more than friendship. Around the same time Arthur began to notice Merlin but he had no idea as to why. At Arthur's eighteenth birthday party they both got a little drunk and ended up kissing, their lack of sobriety the only thing that stopped them going further. Merlin knew it wasn't just the drink but Arthur blamed it. He said never to speak of it again. Then he left for university.
It was almost poetic that Arthur would remember on his twenty first birthday, another coming of age. It was, like his eighteenth had been, celebrated with a huge party, this time attended by all his friends from university as well. His parents hired a very large room to accommodate them all. Merlin of course attended and waited, as if he had known what would happen.
Someone yelled out for Arthur to make a speech and as he had stood up, gazing at his all his family and friends, about to make as speech, Arthur suddenly found himself picturing a different room and different faces. No longer was he in a hired room in a hotel but he was back in Camelot, in a castle. The memories came flooding back. It was all he could do to choke a few words out, half hearted jokes and all before he ran to the toilet.
Merlin was at his side as he threw up, even helping him clean up afterwards.
“Took you long enough, prat,” he said.
“Missed you too, idiot,” was Arthur's reply.
After university Arthur got his first proper job. He lasted a mere three weeks in an office for a major bank before quitting. His parents were a little shocked at his sudden career change. For the next couple of years Arthur worked a variety of jobs whilst doing an Open University Masters degree in history followed by a teaching qualification. He lived in flat with Merlin and Merlin did the housework. Some things never changed.
Merlin's graduation from University when he was twenty one was something of an anti-climax. The whole experience had been that for him. Merlin had wanted to drop out once Arthur had remembered, he had only been biding his time anyway. Arthur had persuaded him to finish the course anyway. So it was Arthur's gaze he sought out as he went to collect his degree.
Afterwards Arthur was unimpressed. “It's a pity you don't have to kneel any more.”
“Arthur, it's a degree, not a knighthood.”
“Still, it would have been nice to see you on your knees.”
As it turned out Arthur got to see Merlin on his knees when they go drunk for Arthur's twenty fourth birthday, just the two of them in the flat. When Gwen and Morgana came around they found the both of them stark naked and fast asleep on the living room floor. Gwen took pity on them and threw a couple of blankets on them, but not until after Morgana had taken pictures.
This time there was no blaming it on the drink and no denial, just an affirmation of their true feelings once they were sober. It was also a lot more fun that way.
When Merlin was twenty five and they were both holding down steady jobs, Arthur as a teacher and Merlin as children's entertainer (about the only career avenue for a warlock these days), Arthur finally asked the question.
“Why are here? Why did we come back this time?”
Merlin smiled. “People need myths and legends, Arthur, they always have.”
“Merlin, I'm a history teacher.”
“You won't always be just a history teacher.”
It isn't that Merlin can tell the future, he just 'knows' things. He knows that when Arthur is thirty he will hit his prime when he'll uncover actual evidence for the historical Arthur (aside from the knowledge they keep in their heads). There will be books and films all over again and people will have something from the past they can believe in. A new era of Arthurian myth and legend will inspire people jaded from a scientific and technological age.
That's the gift Arthur and he will give the world. They will make people believe in myth and magic and bring it back to an Albion soaked in cynicism.
When he's twenty nine Arthur finds a sword under the bed he and Merlin share. He recognises it and smiles.