Amelia Jessica Pond waves goodbye to Leadworth and shuts the TARDIS door. The thrill of remembering is still bright, almost painful, and she feels like the luckiest woman in the world – no, the universe! She really has to start thinking on a bigger scale – as she looks at Rory, the Doctor, the TARDIS, and she feels giddy with all the possibilities stretching out before them.
"We do have a honeymoon booked, you know," Rory says.
Amy points at him and narrows her eyes playfully. "Hey! A wet weekend in the Lakes, or the whole of space and time?"
Rory catches her outstretched hand and pulls her into his arms, kissing her forehead before looking over her shoulder at the Doctor.
"So, where are we going?"
"Only the finest ten star hotel in this neck of the solar system!" the Doctor says, a beaming smile on his face. "Call it compensation for the wet weekend in the Lakes."
The hotel's called Avalon, and it is the most beautiful thing Amy has ever seen. Everything seems to be made of crystal, and the light is almost blinding as she blinks her way out of the TARDIS. It seems to settle after that first dazzling moment, and Amy hears Rory's wow as he steps out behind her. His hand lands on her shoulder and she grabs it, squeezing excitedly and hauling him in her wake to one of the huge windows, spanning from the floor to the ceiling.
Every day, every second with the Doctor brings new marvels, new things she always thought would exist only inside her head. Amy pauses just for a second with her eyes closed, her husband's arms around her waist. Then she opens her eyes wide and drinks in the view. Darkness. Stars blazing. Outer space. Actual outer space. Sometimes it's still breathtaking. She hopes it never stops being breathtaking.
When she looks down she realises they're circling a planet, pale purple seas and dusky orange land. She wonders if there are people of any kind down there, what miraculous, bizarre lives they might live. She feels Rory kiss the curve of her cheekbone and turns in his arms, giving him a beaming smile. She doesn't know how to put it into words – she's the luckiest woman that's ever existed. Who else gets to have adventures in space and time with their perfect man and their imaginary friend?
They're a long way past needing words though, and Rory just kisses her forehead, looking over her shoulder at the planet, the stars, their new lives. He looks as awed as she feels. Amy should probably feel out of place, still in her wedding dress, while aliens and robots alike glide around the lobby gracefully, but she's learning that with the Doctor around, it's hard to ever really be that unusual.
Speaking of the Doctor, they find him at reception charming the purple woman behind the desk into freeing up the thirty seventh century equivalent of the honeymoon suite. The three of them are shown into an elevator by a tall, pale blue man in a white uniform, a small fringe of tentacle-y things around his head. Amy can see the moment Rory works out he thinks the room is for all three of them. Very accepting, the thirty seventh century. She waggles her eyebrows at him and he mouths, "Stop it."
The elevator only takes seconds, but it feels like they're much, much higher up than before when they step out into a hallway. It's more like an Earth hotel than the lobby, but still far beyond any kind of luxury Amy's ever known. The blue man shows them into the suite and Amy's jaw drops.
"Oh my God, it's as big as a house," she murmurs, her fingers still twined through Rory's.
The Doctor laughs and sets a hand on each of their shoulders, pushing them further into the reception room.
"How are we meant to pay for this?" Rory asks, ever the pragmatist.
"Oh, don't you worry about that," the Doctor says brightly, adding in a murmur, "Psychic paper, wonderful stuff."
Amy raises her eyebrows at Rory and glances pointedly towards what's probably the door to the bedroom.
"Oh! Right! Yes," he says, and they both duck out of the Doctor's hold. Amy gently turns him around and nudges him towards the door.
"Well, this is really generous of you," she says.
"Really," Rory interjects. "Great wedding gift."
"But you don't want to hang about here," she continues with a bright smile. "You want to go off and – " she makes a vague gesture. "Poke your nose into things."
"Oh – well – " the Doctor says as Rory opens the door for him.
"Great, so – thanks again! See you, later," Amy finishes, patting his shoulder.
The Doctor blinks at the closed door and says, "Oh, well, alright then."
He turns away from their suite and pulls the sonic screwdriver from his pocket, twirling it idly through his fingers. Well. Exploring, then. He likes exploring. His natural inclination is to head for the inevitable little shop, but the view must be spectacular from this height so he ambles off along the thickly carpeted corridor in search of a window.
Something beeps and the Doctor fumbles through his pockets, pulling out the device he'd fashioned out of a few oddments of Argolin technology, a broken coat-hanger and an old watch battery.
"Hello there," he murmurs, looking at it critically. It was supposed to detect anomalies in time, things out of their natural place, but it's never so much as made a peep before now. "Got something to show me, have you? Come along, then."
The beeping increases in pitch and speed until the Doctor finds himself standing outside the door to another suite. He pockets the device again and presses his ear to the door. Nothing. Well. Caution never got anyone a life of adventure through the known universe, so he takes out the sonic and after only a little bit of jiggling and frustrated muttering, he's inside. There's a chaise-longue in the corner of the room, currently occupied by a blond man in an elegant sprawl, a rich red cloak bundled and shoved under his head.
He glances up at the Doctor and then away idly, as though the Doctor's not really there. Or... No, maybe not that.
"Well, then..." the Doctor says, unable to help a smile when the man flails and almost falls off the chaise. "Hello, I'm the Doctor. Who're you?"
"You – you can see me?" the man demands.
"Well, of course I can see you – "
In a lightning movement, the man reaches down onto the ground, and comes up holding a magnificent sword in a practiced grip. The Doctor's still admiring the craftsmanship – and the sheer bloody age of the thing – when he realises the sword is pointing in his direction.
"Oh, now why would you do that?" he asks, disappointed. "Come on, I just want to know your name."
The sword doesn't waver, and the man's blue eyes narrow. "I am King Arthur of Albion, and I demand you tell me what this place is."
The Doctor snorts laughter and tilts his head. "King Arthur."
"Yes, actually," the man says sharply, and it's only then that the Doctor notices an extraordinary crown discarded casually on the table. He ducks around the man to point the sonic screwdriver at it, getting readings of age and origin, ignoring the man's protective movement towards the crown.
"Oh, brilliant," he says, delighted. "This is brilliant. I mean, this is just – Come along, Sire, I've some friends I'd like you to meet."
The knocking on the suite door must be truly thunderous to reach them in here. They'd had to go through two more rooms before they found something with a bed, and Rory is in no mood to answer the door to anyone, not now he has his wife in his arms, and certainly not now he's remembered all they went through to get here. Amy sighs though, and turns her head aside.
"What is that bloody racket?" she demands.
"I'll go," Rory offers, and she nods, but sets her hands on his face and pulls him into another kiss before nudging him away to let him fumble back into his shirt.
"Don't be long," she orders, sprawling back into the pillows and blowing him a kiss.
Rory trips over his feet somewhat as he glances back at her. "Oh. Yeah. Definitely."
As it goes, he's only halfway through the next room when he hears her soft footsteps following him. Never could resist a mystery, his Amy. Although it's not really that much of a mystery when Rory thinks about it. Who else is going to interrupt a couple who took up residence in a honeymoon suite all of twenty minutes ago? Of course.
"Hello, Doctor," Rory says as he opens the door. And oh, naturally, brilliant, there's a very handsome, if slightly dazed looking blond man with him. In Rory's opinion, the Doctor introduces far too many handsome men into their lives.
"Your timing is appalling," Amy says mildly, knotting her dressing gown more tightly.
"Yes, yes, never mind that now," the Doctor insists, brushing them aside in his usual half-distracted way and leading the blond man inside. It's a mark of how weird his life has become that Rory is only just noticing that the man is wearing a fine red cloak with white fur at the collar. There's also a distinct hint of armour at his wrists and is that – yes, definitely a scabbard for a massive great sword. It's barely even surprising anymore.
Once the door is shut, the Doctor turns back to Amy and Rory with the grin on his face that Rory has come to dread and anticipate in equal measure. It usually means he's about to tell them something amazing, or life threatening. Often both.
"This, Pond and Pond, is a true legend."
He shakes the still confused looking man's hand enthusiastically, ignoring Rory's muttered, "I really wish he wouldn't call us that."
The Doctor's still going, an unreasonably huge smile on his face. "I mean, really, this is the man himself, the cornerstone of all great British mythology, the...the hero to end all heroes. Amy, Rory, I give you King Arthur."
There's a distinctly unimpressed silence before Amy says, "Wait, wait, wait. Actual King Arthur? As in... the scrappy little blond kid and the creepy old guy with the beard?"
The Doctor deflates a little. "Well, yes. The myth doesn't always do history justice. He's got a sword! Look at his sword."
With a surprisingly boyish grin King Arthur (apparently) draws his sword and presents it with a flourish before sheathing it again.
"Yours was bigger," Amy mutters.
Rory laughs, blushes, and whispers, "Hardly the time."
"I don't – " King Arthur says haltingly. "I don't understand any of this. Who are you all? What is this place?"
"Hotel," the Doctor says. "Bit posh. Here, let's sit."
Amy looks at Rory with an expression of delighted confusion and soon they're settled on sofas at the coffee table, Amy and Rory sitting next to each other, while the Doctor's turned sideways in his own seat and looks as though he's having to restrain himself from poking at King Arthur's cloak or sword or...general person.
"What's the last thing you remember?" the Doctor asks. "You told me you woke up here, but what happened before that?"
King Arthur looks at his hands, then around the room. Rory recognises that look of being absolutely lost, torn away from everything you know. "A battle," he says. "Merlin promising to fix things."
"Wait, Merlin's real too?" Amy demands.
The King looks affronted. "Of course Merlin is real."
"Oh, oh!" Amy says, obviously not picking up on the tone. "Did people used to call you Wart?"
"I certainly never met any that dared," the King says stiffly.
"Okay then. This battle," the Doctor says, swiftly changing the subject. "What do you remember?"
The King shakes his head slowly. "Just that there was a battle. That and Merlin."
"No," the Doctor frowns. "No, no, no, come along, your highness." He pulls out the sonic screwdriver and waves it in King Arthur's face. "That's rubbish. Someone or something doesn't want you to remember." He bashes the sonic against his palm a couple of times and waves it at the King again. "Nothing malicious. Just a simple, gentle memory filter. So. Not an enemy, a friend. A friend who didn't want you to remember."
"Merlin," the King says, and although he sounds quite angry, there's something like a smile on his lips.
"But you're King Arthur," the Doctor says. "You don't take orders from anybody. Come on. Remember."
"I can't – "
"Of course you can."
The King's eyes fall closed for a moment, a pained frown flitting over his face for a second. "No – "
Rory jumps in his seat when he feels Amy's fingers curl around his own. He glances at her to see her watching intently, lower lip caught between her teeth.
"Shh, now," the Doctor says, gently setting his fingers to King Arthur's temples. "Come on, just tell me."
"They were falling," the King says without opening his eyes. He sounds like he's in that nearly trance-like state the Doctor seems to induce in people, making them open and dangerously honest. "My knights. One by one. It was Mordred and Morgana. Even with Merlin, we couldn't get close enough to have a chance. But then Leon – he wept while he did it, but he struck Morgana down with an arrow and Mordred – " he breaks off and his eyes open wide. "No. No! He killed me? He killed me! The little – I'm...I'm dead?"
There's a silence where the King looks at them desperately, hoping for a denial.
"Well, you certainly wear it well," Amy offers.
To Rory's surprise, the King smiles shakily and then laughs, burying his face in his hands. "This is madness. I didn't think the next world would be like this at all."
The Doctor rolls his eyes and claps King Arthur on the shoulder. "Oh, you're not dead, you idiot. You're just in some kind of dimensionally-restricted stasis."
The King lifts his face from his hands and looks at the Doctor as though he's speaking in tongues. Which is fair enough, really.
The Doctor groans and flings himself back into the sofa, spreading his arms wide in a gesture of despair, nodding at Amy and Rory."Oh, honestly, this is hard enough with their twenty first century brains," he says. "Alright. Imagine it's like a bubble. No one can see inside. Time passes outside the bubble, doesn't pass inside it. You're inside it."
King Arthur looks distinctly unenlightened. "A...bubble."
"A bub-ble," the Doctor says slowly, waving his hands in vaguely circular motions in the air.
"So...how come we can see him?" Rory asks.
The Doctor makes an encouraging face and Amy says, "Ah! Oh! Because we're out of our time and so is he! Right?"
"Oh, she is good," the Doctor says approvingly. "Isn't she good? So we need to sort of...pop the bubble, and then you'll be able to communicate with people."
"Yes. Well, in reality, no, nothing like that."
"Go with it," Amy advises the King sympathetically. "Honestly. It's easier that way."
He looks around at the three of them and says, "So I'm not dead?"
"Have you ever taken a knock to the head?" Rory asks.
"Rory, play nicely. And no, you're not dead," the Doctor says. "I'd say you were close, very close. And then someone locked you in a little bubble and pushed you to safety, and now here you are. So as soon as I've worked out how to safely neutralise the stasis – er...pop the bubble," he concedes, sounding a bit pained. "Pop the bubble, yes, as soon as I've done that, we can take you anywhere you want to go."
"Any place, any time. But no, not back to the battle. Not back on yourself, can't let you do that, sorry. Too important."
King Arthur looks like he's still processing that when Amy asks, "But – but how did he end up here in the first place?"
The Doctor considers for a moment. "Well, the hotel's called Avalon, and the legends say Arthur's spirit, or sometimes Arthur himself, went to Avalon after the battle at Camlann, so..." He shrugs, and looks sidelong at Arthur. "Wrong Avalon?"
"Oh, that is just typical Merlin," King Arthur scoffs. "Honestly."
Amy nudges Rory and pulls an amused face. He's wondering the same thing. King Arthur sounds like he's talking about much more than an elderly wizard advisor.
"So, this Merlin – " Amy starts.
"Amy!" Rory and the Doctor both warn.
She pouts and demands, "Okay, fine. So – if you died in battle, why do you look so...fresh?"
"Don't know, working on it," the Doctor says, then, turning back to Arthur, "Do you eat? How long have you been here, Arthur?"
"I've no way of knowing," Arthur says with a shrug. "I can't leave a mark on anything, not even with my sword. I try to count off the days, but when I wake, the marks are gone. I've counted minutes and hours, too, but they pass differently here."
"Variable orbit," the Doctor mutters. "Irregular hours of light and darkness. Do you eat?"
Arthur looks like he shares Rory's confusion at exactly why that's relevant. "Food and drink appears regularly."
"Wherever you are?"
"Yes, I – "
"Okay, so you don't know how long, alright. What do you remember? What's the first thing after you woke up?"
"A ball," Arthur says. "Of sorts. A demon with three heads was singing."
The Doctor leans forward, looking interested. "Three heads? Was this demon a sort of silvery colour?"
"And what did you do?" he asks keenly.
"I tried to run it through. Obviously." Ignoring the Doctor's scoff of oh honestly, humans, he goes on, "My sword had no effect."
"And a good job, too!" the Doctor says reprovingly. "That three-headed demon is only the finest singer of her age. Which makes it..." he glances at his watch. "Ten years. Ten years ago, this hotel opened, ten years ago, Avalon – this Avalon – came into official existence. Ten years ago, our boy arrived in Avalon from thousands of years in the past, and it took him less than a heartbeat. Now that...is a good trick."
"It was Merlin," Arthur insists. "He's the greatest sorcerer the world has ever known."
"But – magic? Really? I thought there was no such thing," Amy protests.
"There's not," the Doctor says. Arthur looks affronted again and the Doctor waves a hand before he can voice any objections. "Well... What does anyone call science they can never hope to explain?"
"Merlin could bend the world with magic before he knew a thing about science," Arthur protests. "The court physician used to despair of him."
The Doctor shrugs. "No, well. He probably wouldn't have known it as science. There are...weak spots in worlds, in times, and energy can leak across."
Amy looks at him, face suddenly tense, her hand unconsciously reaching for Rory's. "Like the cracks?"
"No. No, nothing like the cracks. Forces and energies and even ideas from one time can spill through to other places and times. Some people, special people, they can harness those powers and...well."
"He used to make fire and water dance together for the children when they were sick," Arthur says, his voice soft.
"He could – he could heal all but the worst injuries, and he – he could raze a city to the ground with three words."
Amy and Rory exchange a glance. "But this," Amy says. "I mean, Doctor, this is huge. I get – okay energy. Heat, and healing, and things like that. But to send someone...what? Thirty-odd centuries into the future is incredible."
"Ye-es," the Doctor says slowly. Then he suddenly grabs Arthur's wrist and passes the sonic screwdriver along the length of his arm.
"What is that thing, and why do you keep waving it at me?" Arthur demands irritably.
"Sonic screwdriver," the Doctor says. "It's...well, it's a bit like a magic wand."
There's a pause. Then: "Merlin never needed a wand. He just used his hands."
"Doctor?" Amy insists, and Rory understands her curiosity suddenly. Because all this, this bending time, playing with it, this is the sort of thing the Doctor does.
"What?" Arthur demands, looking between the three of them, then back at the Doctor. "What is it that you aren't telling me, Doctor?"
The Doctor is suddenly looking at Arthur as though he's suddenly even more impossible than before. "There are legends," he begins slowly. "But no, it can't be. Legend to men and legend to Timelords too? Your chum is a very special man."
"I don't...really understand what you're saying, but Merlin was always special."
Amy leans forward. "Doctor? What is it, what's the legend?"
There's a pause and he says carefully, "They say that, for love, a mortal man once harnessed the power of the Time Lords. He stopped the world. Stopped a great battle, froze the world around him and spirited his love away. They say he poured the life of a hundred suns into his love, but he wouldn't wake. He wouldn't stir. So the man 'touched him and he was made clean, wept for him and he was made whole, kissed him and he was made perfect.' And then he sent his love away, into the deeps of space where he would never be touched or even seen again."
"And the man?" Arthur asks, visibly anxious.
"Oh, they say he died," the Doctor says, with a familiar obliviousness to anything like normal human emotion. "That he couldn't face life with this terrible power, life without his love, so he died."
"Then what – " Arthur begins explosively before he grits his teeth and looks away. "What is the point? Why should I go anywhere?"
"He's not dead!" the Doctor says. "Oh, no, no, sorry your highness, obviously he's not dead."
"What do you mean obvious?" Rory demands. "How is any of this obvious?"
The Doctor looks a little deflated, like he always does when someone's being disappointingly, humanly mundane. "The energy – your Merlin will have made himself into a conduit for the Time Lord energy and obviously he's still alive, because the conduit's still holding."
All three of them just stare at him.
"The food and drink," he prompts. "Arthur, you said you get them regularly, yes?"
"Yes – "
"So it's not a stasis," the Doctor says thoughtfully, looking closely at Arthur. "Well it is, but it's not. Sort of is. It's a complicated stasis." He brandishes the screwdriver again. "You don't need to eat, Arthur. The stasis is providing you with everything you think you need to survive, and that means the food is part of the stasis. And that takes energy. Energy which is still flowing."
There's a long silence. "Oh, well. Obviously," Rory says with as much sarcasm as he can muster.
"Are you saying that because the spell is still working, Merlin must be alive?" Arthur asks slowly.
"No," the Doctor says, with a little shake of his head. "No, not a spell – "
"Spell makes more sense, to be honest," Amy admits. "'Spell' makes more sense than a lot of the things you say."
"It's a useful shorthand, at least," Rory says.
"It's not a spell. Every time he did what you call a spell, he was opening a conduit, accessing some other world, some distant or yet-undiscovered force. He was a genius, and I bet he never even realised."
"It was a spell," Arthur insists mutinously. "You won't persuade me he wasn't magical."
"Oh, Arthur," the Doctor says, getting that fond smile on his face. Rory sometimes wonders if the Doctor's capacity to love relative strangers so much is somehow related to the extra heart. "Oh, Arthur, of course – listen to me, we're going to get this sorted out," he promises quietly. "Don't you worry."
Rory watches as Arthur looks at the Doctor, searching his face. It's a familiar sight, people trying to work out why they trust this mysterious man. The King looks like a lost little boy for a moment, like he might just crumple and cry. Then his face hardens and he nods.
"What do I have to do?"
"Right!" the Doctor says, leaping to his feet, all lanky and animated. "First things first! Let's pop this bubble, eh? Get you moving in sync with the rest of the universe, yes?"
"And how do you expect to do that?" Rory asks.
The Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver in Rory's direction without looking at him. "Easy. Find the right frequency, quick bit of sonic-ing, boom."
Arthur allows himself to be pulled to his feet by this madman who calls himself a doctor.
"You just stand there," he says, clapping his hands on Arthur's shoulders. "I'll do a few scans with the sonic, find out exactly how this stasis works, neutralise it, and we'll be on our way. Shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes."
Arthur thinks he means that he's going to use wand-like device he calls a sonic screwdriver to break whatever part of Merlin's spell it is that stops people seeing or hearing Arthur. Arthur is frankly unoptimistic about the Doctor's chances, and says as much. He doesn't seem offended, just pats Arthur on the shoulders again and backs off a few paces. Arthur notices that Amy and Rory are both leaning forward, watching expectantly. Maybe this Doctor has more power than Arthur imagined.
"Right," the Doctor says, bringing the sonic screwdriver close to his face and adjusting it in some way, producing more of those strange bleeping noises. He holds it out with a flourish and it produces a green light that wavers in time with the discordant noise it produces. After a moment the light abruptly goes out and the Doctor's face falls. Amy and Rory sigh and lean back into their seats.
"Alright," the Doctor says, recovering some of his confident air. "No problem, just need to find the right frequency, won't take a tick. Maybe two small ticks." He smiles and nods at Arthur. "You just hold still."
The light returns, fails, returns, and fails time and time again and Arthur finds himself with little to do but examine this man, this Doctor. He still knows nothing of these people, really. The Doctor himself has a young face, unlined, and a long-limbed, slender body, but he gives instructions like a battle seasoned lord who's earned the respect his companions show him. And then there are the companions themselves; the young woman, Amy, with the flaming red hair who seems to be dressed only in a bathing robe. It's hardly appropriate, but he's heard enough of her sharp tongue already that he's not going to say anything. After all, the final member of the trio is by all accounts her husband, and if he hasn't commented on her immodesty, then Arthur supposes he shouldn't either. If what they tell him is to be believed, times have changed anyway.
Arthur's not entirely convinced that they aren't all mad. Or maybe more likely, he is mad, and has made up these impossible people to occupy what's left of his mind. But he has been alone for such a long time, and bored for most of it. When he first awoke here in this strange place, he had spent days running the length of its halls, searching for a way out, screaming to be heard. But that feels like a long time ago now, and since then it's been one identical countless day after the next. Even if they are just figments of his imagination, it is so good to have someone speak to him, just to have his existence acknowledged.
As the Doctor waves his device at Arthur again and again, intermittently staring at it and muttering, Amy and Rory try to explain to Arthur how they ended up travelling with the Doctor. That throws up so many questions that they try to explain something of the history that Arthur has apparently missed, the long, long centuries between his death and their births. The Doctor chips in with corrections and occasionally slaps the screwdriver into the palm of his hand.
"Is it broken?" Arthur asks cautiously.
"No, not broken," the Doctor says. "Just this – this is a mess. Brilliant, but it's messy. Overcomplicated, because he was an amateur, I suppose. Imagine that, you two," he says, looking to Amy and Rory. "Imagine being able to wield that power since you were a child and never being taught how."
"Merlin studied magic," Arthur informs him. "Although not before he was already an adult."
"Yes, but – " the Doctor breaks off and scrubs a hand through his hair, the fingers of the other curling as though to pluck words out of the air. "What he did, what he called magic was...was human words wrapped around something much bigger. Were there others like him?"
"None as powerful. But, yes, sorcery was common, if hidden for a long time."
"Ye-es," the Doctor says slowly. "Yes, makes sense. A period of time when some weak spot was allowing a lot of energy, lot of different types to pass between the worlds."
Arthur just looks at him. "If you say so."
"So I thought this would only take a few minutes," Amy says suddenly, a little later.
"Yes, well," the Doctor says with a shrug.
That seems to be the extent of his reply and Amy laughs, flicking Arthur a glance and whispering, "Magic wins the day, eh?"
"It often did," Arthur tells her over the Doctor's protest of 'it's not magic'.
"Booooored," Amy groans moments later, burrowing into Rory's shoulder.
Arthur privately agrees.
"Oh, alright, fine," the Doctor says, shaking the screwdriver.
"D'you give up, Doctor?" Amy asks, an obvious tease in her voice.
"Give up," the Doctor scoffs. "Honestly. What rot. No, just need a few more bits and bobs. Pond and Pond, get yourselves ready. Back to the TARDIS."
"What's a TARDIS?" Arthur asks.
"Time and relative dimension in space," the Doctor says, as though that should make sense. "It's a space ship. And a time machine. It lets me travel anywhere I want. Anywhen I want, too."
"That's sort of what we do," Amy says. "Travel, break things, fix them again."
Arthur has precisely no idea what any of that means. "That sounds..."
She shrugs. "Don't judge. It's a lifestyle. Rory?"
"Yeah? Oh, yeah!"
Arthur watches as Amy pulls her husband to his feet and they disappear back through the door. He finds himself alone with this mad Doctor who is currently just – staring at him, looking as though he doesn't know whether to laugh or subject Arthur to thorough examination.
Whatever else, the Doctor made him remember, and it's only now he's realising how much was missing. Whole years that, while he remembered them, might as well have happened to someone else. But now there's feeling to it, and Arthur fears he could choke on the tender, raw place inside that's screaming for Merlin. It's a shocking pain to hit so suddenly, but it's right. It's how he should feel, not the disconnected acknowledgement of Merlin's absence, the missing him but not properly, the wanting him but not needing him the way he ought to, the way he does, now.
For that at least, he has to be grateful, so Arthur bears the scrutiny for as long as he can before demanding, "What?"
"It's exciting!" the Doctor says, with a grin. "You're exciting."
"I'm – "
"You're King Arthur!"
"You keep saying that," Arthur says suspiciously. "But you are all too obviously not of Camelot. I have never seen anyone like any of you."
The Doctor laughs and squeezes Arthur's shoulder fondly. "It's like I said. You, my liege, are a myth."
"I – "
"Back on Earth, back home – Arthur, they think you've been dead for a thousand years or more. Your deeds are the subject of story and song, your knights are renowned, your round table is legendary."
And that's what every King wants, deep down. Immortality. To reign, in some way, even just in the minds of the people, forever. And yet...and yet... "And they speak of Merlin, too?"
The Doctor smiles, but it looks oddly sad, and he half turns away, looking out of the windows that dominate one whole wall (Arthur had feared falling straight out into the darkness and stars the first time he saw them).
"Oh, yes. They speak of him. But I don't think," he goes on slowly, turning back to look at Arthur, "that they got it quite right."
Arthur is reminded of that day – another crystal-bright memory, in a detail he'd thought lost forever – when Merlin had 'introduced' him to the dragon, Kilgarrah. This mysterious Doctor has none of the dragon's menace that Arthur can see, but there is something there, some air of impossible age, something in the eyes that say they have seen too much of death and life and war and love and everything.
"I know what it's like," the Doctor says quietly. "I know how it feels. To love someone who's gone, someone who's in the wrong place, wrong time."
Arthur swallows and wants to look away, because it hurts, but he can't, because something is unfurling inside him, slow and terrifying and oh, oh –
"It hurts," the Doctor goes on. "It hurts so much you almost want to stop thinking about them. Because you don't think about the times you had, not even if they were the very best times. Not even if you were both...absolutely fantastic."
We were, Arthur thinks. He was –
Just when Arthur thinks that he's going to embarrass himself and cry like a boy, the Doctor looks down. Whatever the man says about science, Arthur is not ruling out magic, not with the way he feels released when the Doctor's eyes move off him.
"You think about them right now," the Doctor goes on, his tone less raw. "Alone, far away and missing you. And the grief...the guilt, Arthur. But I understand, and I will find him for you."
Arthur wants to ask why the Doctor is doing this, but just then Amy and Rory walk back in, changed into what Arthur imagines are casual clothes for this impossible place. They look relaxed and happy, as though following this madman's instructions is not only normal but also good. Deciding he has nothing to lose, Arthur obediently follows when the Doctor ushers them all out of the suite of rooms.
The Doctor leads them along the hallway and into one of the moving boxes that people use here to travel around between floors.
"Hey, your highness," Amy says suddenly.
"This is called a lift," she informs him as they step inside. She clutches Rory's arm and murmurs, "Oh, I've so much to teach him!"
Rory looks faintly worried. "We're not keeping him."
"Oi! He's not a pet," the Doctor says, his lips nonetheless curling into a small smile. "No knowledge of how to talk to royalty, that's the problem with the youth of today."
Although he can understand what they're saying Arthur soon finds himself hopelessly confused by their conversation. It's too fast, too animated. It's obvious that they know each other well, that they have shared adventures and joys and sorrows.
It makes Arthur feel lonely.
But then there's no more time for loneliness, because they come to a stop in front of a blue box, large enough for maybe three people at once, four at an uncomfortable squash. He fails to see any explanation for the looks on their faces.
The Doctor clicks his fingers and the blue doors swing open. "See?" he says pointedly to Arthur. "I can do hands."
Amy is failing to hide a smile in Rory's shoulder, and Arthur could swear he hears her say, "I love this part."
Arthur feels like they're playing some good-natured trick on him as they usher him inside. What he sees beggars description. The place he'd awoken – some kind of hostelry, apparently – was enough of a shock, but this. This is impossible, all gleaming surfaces, a floor that looks as though it should be fragile, and bits of machinery unlike anything Arthur had ever imagined.
He holds his silence for a long moment before Amy, following him inside, says pointedly, "It's bigger on the inside."
"I noticed that," Arthur acknowledges.
He sees Amy exchange a look with the Doctor before she asks "Aren't you... I don't know, confused and amazed and slightly scared?"
"Should I be?" Arthur asks. "I assume it's more of that magic you insist on calling science."
"Oh," Amy says, sounding deflated. Arthur feels like telling her that he's fought beasts she couldn't possibly imagine, and that a blue box with illogical dimensions holds no fear after you've stared down a dragon.
"You wait til you see what she can do," the Doctor says, stroking a hand along the structure in the centre of the TARDIS.
"She?" Arthur asks.
"It's his girlfriend," Amy says in a hushed, singsong voice as Rory closes the door behind them.
The Doctor is too busy to respond to that, already digging in a drawer, pulling out and then discarding one unfamiliar object after another. He mutters to himself distractedly, but judging by Amy and Rory's lack of reaction, that's perfectly normal. Finally, he settles on an instrument that looks a little like one of the odd foreign weapons Gwaine sometimes brought back from his travels – five small spikes surround a central stud set into a circle of metal. A handgrip not unlike the pommel of a sword extends from the back and the Doctor grasps this as he waves the device at Arthur. The five spikes begin revolving at an impossible speed and lines of blue-ish white light extend from the device towards Arthur.
He starts and moves back a little.
"It's perfectly safe," the Doctor says soothingly.
"What're you doing?" Amy asks curiously.
The light keeps pouring forth, until there are tendrils all over Arthur. They're concentrated in some spots though, so much that the individual strands are indiscernible, just a bright white mass at his wrists, his ankles, his sword, his head and his heart.
"All right," the Doctor says after a long moment, setting the device aside. The lights vanish instantly and Arthur looks at the Doctor expectantly. "Told you it was messy. Those were the energy channels being held open to keep you here. Or," he looks uncomfortable, "spells, if you insist."
"Right..." Arthur says doubtfully.
"But did you see where it was focused? Your armour, your sword."
Arthur nods, feeling Amy and Rory draw closer, obviously interested.
"Is that what you were wearing in the battle?"
Now Arthur thinks about it, he has to shake his head. "I was wearing full armour," he says. "Lost a few bits, but it was mostly intact. And no crown, obviously."
"I think I need a closer look at that armour," the Doctor says.
"Why?" Arthur demands suspiciously.
"Looks like the energies are somehow wired into them, or at least focused on them. Might tell us more. Just let me have a look, I promise I won't harm them."
After a moment, Arthur nods. "Alright."
"You should get him some normal clothes, as well," Amy pipes up.
Arthur fingers the fur at his collar and tries not to pout. "What's wrong with my clothes?"
"You're hardly going to blend in if we take you back to Magical Merlin looking like that."
Arthur supposes she might have something of a point, if as much time has passed as they insist. He follows the Doctor when he lowers himself to the floor and then hops down onto a lower level.
"No fez, no braces, no bowtie!" Amy yells after them, and Arthur hears the Doctor laugh in front of him. He follows the man through corridors and rooms and finds himself wondering about the magic that folds this space in on itself like so much paper, fitting it all inside the small blue box. Ruefully, he thinks that Merlin would love this. He always had a soft spot for the outlandish.
Eventually, they come to a room full of clothes on long rails. Some of them are very strange indeed, and seem to be intended for people with more than the usual number of limbs. But then there are others more familiar, or at least similar to what he knew. He thinks he spies a row of fine ladies' gowns off in the distance, and casts a curious look at the Doctor.
Once Arthur has pulled off his armour and handed it over – he can't help a murmured imprecation to be careful with the sword – the Doctor boosts himself up onto the table and starts fiddling around with the sonic screwdriver, brandishing it at Arthur's armour and making interested sounds to himself.
"Oh," he says, looking up. "Help yourself to clothes, bound to be something that fits."
And well. While he might not be about to take Amy's advice when it comes to proper dress, the idea that he has been wearing these same clothes for ten years is unappealing, even if they look and feel fresh every day. Quickly, Arthur picks clothes closest to what he knows – loose breeches and a short soft wool tunic, tighter fitting than he is used to, but comfortable. Ducking behind a screen, Arthur takes the chance afforded by the lack of eye contact to ask,
"Who did you lose?"
There's a silence and Arthur thinks the Doctor might not answer, wonders whether he's offended him.
"Oh – lots of people," he says after a moment. "Some of them more than once. Never mind all that now, though. Do you know what I'm going to do next?"
His enthusiasm is infectious and Arthur finds himself smiling as he admits, "I can honestly say I have no idea."
"Well, because I'm clever, and I mean really quite clever indeed, I'm going to trace those channels your friend's holding open to keep you here, and I'm going to find a safe spot in the time scale to latch onto, and I'm going to take you home to him."
He's said it before, but Arthur allows the possibility to settle inside him for the first time, and feels something tighten in his throat. "You can really do that?"
"I would consider it an honour," the Doctor says, very serious. Then the moment is broken when he leaps from the table and hands Arthur back his sword and a few oddments of armour. Arthur scrambles to hold them all and, wondering exactly why he's doing it, trails after the Doctor once more.
Amy looks up when she hears the Doctor and Arthur re-emerge from the depths of the TARDIS. They're both carrying handfuls of armour, but Arthur is now dressed in dark grey suit trousers and a black jumper, the ridiculous red cloak draped over one arm.
"Not bad," she says, looking at him with a critical eye. "You could stay. Always room for one more in the TARDIS."
"Amy!" Rory protests.
"What?" she asks, shooting him a flirty look while he rolls his eyes.
"You're a married woman," the Doctor scolds. "Can't just flit around the universe collecting good-looking men anymore."
There's a pause, just verging on awkward and Amy glares at the Doctor, once more cursing his inability to pick up on the basics of human interaction. She's also aware of Arthur looking back and forth between the three of them with a half-amused smile on his face.
"Did I say anymore?" the Doctor asks. "I meant at all. Ever. Right! Let's get this king back to his wizard, shall we?"
And with that, he pulls the cloak and other assorted armour out of Arthur's arms and spreads it all over the TARDIS console. From the depths of a compartment below the controls, he pulls a small grey box that makes almost a crooning noise when he passes his hand over it. While Rory offers Arthur a cup of tea Amy creeps up behind the Doctor and leans against his arm to look over his shoulder.
He glances down at her from an awkward angle, and says, "Multi-dimensional quantum detector."
"What's it do?"
"Detects quantum," the Doctor starts.
Amy rolls her eyes. "In multiple dimensions, okay, very clever. What are you doing?"
"Tracing the energy channels," the Doctor says. "When someone exploits those weak spots I told you about, especially when they don't really understand what they're doing and it gets a bit messy, it leaves a...a trail. A scar. It's usually obvious, takes one little scan with the sonic to trace, and you're away. I don't know why this is so difficult."
"Maybe he wanted it to be difficult," Amy suggests and then, joking, but still lowering her voice so Arthur doesn't hear, "Maybe he didn't want him coming back."
"Don't be silly," the Doctor says and then – "Oh! Oh!" He claps a hand to his head and scrunches his eyes shut. "There's silly and there's outright stupid, of course! Arthur," he says, striding over to him. "You and Merlin had powerful enemies, didn't you? People like Merlin, who could channel energies between worlds."
"Sorcerers," Arthur says stubbornly. "And yes. I'm certain Morgana and Mordred were both killed, but they'd trained others. A lot of others."
The Doctor casts a look over his shoulder at Amy. "Get it? I'll bet Merlin wasn't thinking about Arthur coming back so much as he was making sure no one could trace you if they ever got hold of him."
"Over-protective life-partner," Amy says in a stage whisper. "I wonder how that feels."
"Makes sense, I suppose," Rory says. Then, with a sidelong glance at Arthur, "He'd want you safe, wouldn't he?"
Arthur nods once, tightly, and the Doctor muses, "Alright. Okay. This could be trickier than we thought." Then he claps his hands together and beams. "Love a challenge."
He turns back to work and Amy leans against him, asking quietly, "So is he really King Arthur, then? I thought he was just a legend."
"Oh, Amy. So are a lot of people. Yes, he's real alright. Dating and materials on his sword, crown and armour all tally with scholars' best guesses as to the origin of the legends. I'd say he's very real."
"Wow," Amy says, glancing over to where Rory is amazing Arthur with a kettle and a handful of teabags – all of space and time, and the Doctor still favours PG Tips. "A real life storybook prince."
"Didn't I promise you adventures?" the Doctor asks, looking just a bit smug.
Amy takes another look over at Rory and Arthur and lowers her voice. "And the next adventure is getting him back to his...sorcerer," she says, putting a special emphasis on the pause just in case he doesn't get it.
"Ah, no, no," the Doctor says sternly, pointing a finger at her. "That's none of our business. Don't go prying. I imagine he's not a man accustomed to being questioned."
"Yeah," Amy says dismissively. "So, do you think he realises how young he looks?"
The Doctor shrugs. "There was a mirror when he changed clothes. I don't know that he noticed, really. Things are still coming back to him, I think. Need to give him time to realise the extent of what this means."
"What does it mean?" Amy asks.
He glances over at Arthur, who's sipping steaming tea from a chipped mug. "Second chance," the Doctor says. "Whole new life."
Amy looks over at Arthur speculatively, wondering what he'll do once they get him back to Merlin, wherever and whenever he might be. What life can a medieval King and his sorcerer have in the modern world? She thinks it might be worth hanging around to see.
"Rory, come and give me a hand, will you?" the Doctor calls suddenly. "I need some things from downstairs."
Rory follows him and Amy crosses over to Arthur, looking at him appraisingly as she picks up her tea and takes a sip. She leans against the curved wall, mirroring his posture. He looks at her a bit warily and she nudges her foot against his a little awkwardly.
"Hey. I don't bite."
To her relief he smiles and seems to loosen up a little bit. Certainly he's a bit less imposing in trousers and a jumper, cradling a cup of tea, than he was with the armour and the sword and the bloody cloak. And when he smiles he just looks...normal. Any old bloke from Amy's time. But if he was alive all that time ago, then – she knows the Doctor told her not to pry, but he spends his whole bloody life prying, the hypocrite.
"Tell me about yourself?"
Arthur gives her a look as though he doesn't quite know what to make of her, but says only, "What would you like to know?"
"Did you really fight monsters?" she asks eagerly. They weren't her favourites, but she remembers some of the legends, giants and evil witches and near-immortal knights.
"We did," Arthur says.
It's strange, travelling with the Doctor. It changes the way you think, and Amy wouldn't have noticed before, but – we. He said we, and he said it in the same way the elderly couple next door to her mum and dad say it, like it's been so long since they thought of themselves as anything other than part of a 'we'.
"What was the worst one?" Amy asks.
Arthur seems to think for a moment, and something in his eyes changes, maybe dimming with the weight of memories. "Probably the dragon. I was young then, and unready for anything like it."
"Did you kill it?"
"No," Arthur admits. "Merlin. He was a Dragonlord as well as a sorcerer, and he spoke to it, sent it away."
"He spoke to a dragon and sent it away?" Amy asks incredulously. The smile that creeps across Arthur's face then is boyishly fond, proud.
"Yes. It was our ally in many of the battles that came later."
"Because Merlin asked it to be?" Amy nudges him sharply in the ribs and ignores his perturbed expression. "He must be quite the guy."
Arthur gets an amused, confused expression on his face that Amy's seen before when they've used a wording he isn't familiar with, as though he sort of understands the meaning, but couldn't explain why.
"Quite the guy," Arthur echoes a bit awkwardly.
She frowns and tugs on a lock of her hair, wondering how to pry without looking like she's prying.
"So if he wasn't a wrinkly old man, what was he? One of your knights?" she asks curiously
Arthur laughs loudly. "No. Although I did try to knight him, after – once I knew what he'd done in the service of the kingdom. He refused it. Time and time again, the ingrate." His face softens as he admits, "I even tried knighting him in his sleep and passing it off as official. At first, he was my servant, though."
"Oh, I see," Amy nods. "Bit of upstairs-downstairs."
She can see that she's completely lost him now so she just pats his hand and says, "Never mind. Tell me about him?"
Arthur frowns just a little, looking at her suspiciously. "Tell you what?"
"The things you did together. Adventures! Quests! You know. Knightly stuff. God, protective, you royals, aren't you?"
He's hesitant at first, but by the time Rory and the Doctor return, Arthur's speaking animatedly about riding out with only Merlin for company on another mad, dangerous quest. The boys get to work at the TARDIS console with whatever's in the boxes they lugged up with them, and Amy listens to Arthur's stories. It seems almost a relief to him to talk about it, and Amy wonders what it's been like for him these years, little more than a ghost in a posh hotel, thousands of years away from everything he knows.
"You miss him," Amy says when Arthur pauses.
Arthur says, "He was wonderful," and then blinks, as though he's surprised to find himself being so open.
"Hey," Amy says. "Is. We'll get you back to him."
Arthur's face hardens and he looks down at his shoes. "Maybe he's wrong," he says in a low voice. "Your Doctor. Maybe Merlin isn't waiting. Maybe he's." He breaks off, a muscle jumping in his jaw.
"Oh, hey, no. He wouldn't say it if he wasn't sure," Amy promises. "He'll find a way."
"And if he doesn't?" Arthur demands. "What do I do then?"
Amy pauses for a moment, glancing over to where Rory and the Doctor are examining a 3D laser display of pin-point stars and jagged trails of light. "You could stay," she offers again. "I wasn't just joking, you know. We won't leave you here if that's what you're thinking."
Arthur snorts and rolls his eyes. "By all that you say, I have no kingdom anymore, no place in the world to return to. If I don't have him, I might as well stay. There's nothing for me otherwise."
Amy squeezes his forearm and Arthur looks up abruptly. "I understand," she whispers. "Sort of. I got...trapped. In this box. For centuries. And Rory, he waited for me." Arthur goes very still, not quite looking at her but obviously listening intently. "He guarded me," Amy tells him. "Kept me safe that whole time, so I know. It's unbelievable isn't it?" she asks, nudging him. "Bit scary? To be loved that much."
She sees Arthur press his lips together and for a moment she thinks he won't answer. Then he says, "He said that once. When he was drunk and feeling sorry for himself, the bloody fool. He said the lengths he'd go to for me scared him."
Amy nods, and she touches a hand to his arm, feeling suddenly, sharply sorry for him. He looks and sounds so lost.
"I laughed at him but – it scared me too, a little," Arthur admits.
"We'll find him," Amy promises. "We'll get you back to him."
Arthur shrugs. "We'll see."
Amy frowns and wants to reassure him, but the Doctor looks unhappy and Rory looks anxious, and neither are good signs. Nor is the way the Doctor's movements are becoming increasingly spiky, the way he frowns at the equipment like its failure is a deliberate slight.
"Ah-ha!" The Doctor booms.
Arthur looks up, not daring to hope, while Amy jolts upright from where she'd started falling asleep on Rory's shoulder and says, "What, huh – "
"Found something," the Doctor says. "Oh, yes, I have found something. Come here, look," he says, and the three of them all crowd around him at the TARDIS console.
"What is it?" Amy asks.
"One of the traces," the Doctor says. He twiddles a knob, yanks at a lever, and a silvery trail appears on the screen in front of them.
Amy peers at it. "What's that, then?"
"It's residual energy from the – "
"Magic," Rory interjects. "Just say magic."
The Doctor rolls his eyes and Amy lifts a finger to trace the trail across the screen. Arthur notices for the first time that her nails are painted a vivid red, the colour of the hangings at home. It reminds him of Camelot red, of Merlin complaining about his official robes, of a life he might never even glimpse again. He isn't made any more optimistic when the Doctor's shoulders slump.
"What?" Rory asks. "What's 'oh'? That didn't sound like a good 'oh'."
"Well, it's – that's not right. It can't be right."
"Doctor!" Amy insists. "What can't be right?"
"Well, this – look," the Doctor says, and he taps at a few buttons below the screen. The silver trail unfurls, a map of strange skies appearing behind it. The trail almost disappears at times, looking like a frayed thread, but the Doctor manages to track it into a cluster of stars. "I mean look at that! Ridiculous, isn't it?"
Behind his back, the three of them exchange looks.
"Oh, yes," Rory says. "Completely ridiculous. Why is it ridiculous?"
The Doctor turns startled eyes on them, as though he can't quite understand their confusion. "Well, because that's the Dragon Supernova."
"The what?" Arthur asks, and in spite of himself he feels a little flutter – dragons, Merlin, please.
"Dragon Supernova," the Doctor says, turning around to face them. "It's the explosion of a massive star, quite rare I suppose, just not rare enough to be particularly interesting. Except the Dragon."
"What's special about it?" Amy asks.
The Doctor shrugs. "Should never have happened. The star wasn't big enough to go supernova, let alone burn the way it did. Oh, you should have seen it. Years it lit up the sky above the planet Hyspero, around the fourteenth century your time. Looked like a dragon's head where there was still any mass left to it, and all the gas and dust were spread out like a jet fire, glowing every night."
"So...?" Amy insists impatiently.
"Well, you know me and massive interstellar anomalies. I did a bit of digging. And," he says significantly, poking a finger into Arthur's chest, "What I dug up suddenly makes a lot more sense. You see, someone made that star supernova, and they made it do it in a pattern that was far too precise to be accidental. And whoever did it was the same person who sent you here."
"I don't – " Arthur starts helplessly.
"It's a message," the Doctor says. "It's a sign, King Arthur Pendragon."
Amy nudges him and Arthur looks between the three of them, these mad travellers in this impossible box. They all look happy. Hopeful.
"What are we going to do, then?" Rory asks. "I'm guessing tracing the energy isn't going to work?"
"Not if it hasn't done already, no," the Doctor says regretfully. "It's too complicated, too well hidden. Oh, he's very good, your friend," he tells Arthur. "No, what we do now, Pond, Pond, and Sire, is research."
Amy looks singularly unimpressed. "Research? Some all-powerful space and time traveller you turned out to be."
"Lesson eight, subsection three of the TARDIS, Amy. Sometimes there is research."
"How do you mean?" Arthur interjects, desperate to get a handle on the conversation. He feels like he only understands maybe a third of what they say.
The Doctor's suddenly all movement, pulling books and unidentifiable beeping objects from seemingly nowhere, shoving them into Amy and Rory's hands. He even gives Arthur a book with the thinnest pages he's ever seen.
"What are we looking for?" Amy asks.
"Well, fourteenth century, Merlin engineers a massive celestial event, roars the Pendragon name across the galaxies. I think it's safe to say he won't have stopped there. We're looking for anything originating from earth that might be from him. Anomalous energies, unusual wavelengths, things like that."
Amy and Rory seem to have understood that perfectly because they turn away, talking in low voices. Arthur's left holding the book the Doctor had passed him, looking down at it helplessly. The Doctor approaches him looking more hopeful than he has for a while.
"He's been looking for you," the Doctor tells Arthur softly. "Through ages, across worlds... He's written your name in the stars. He's never forgotten, and he's never given up."
There's a long pause before Arthur says, "And if we find him – Can you take me to him? In this – this box of yours?"
"Well..." the Doctor says seriously. "I can give it a bash."
Arthur nods, even though his legs feel weak and he wants to fall down because if he understands rightly, Merlin has been ripping stars apart just to send a message to anyone listening that he is seeking Arthur; that he still remembers, still loves.
"What do you need me to do?" he asks determinedly and the Doctor gives him a beaming smile, looking extraordinarily proud.
"This book," the Doctor says, "Contains all the broadcasts from planet Earth which are out of synch with their time, anything that doesn't fit. Here," he says, pulling it from Arthur's hands and flicking to a point about halfway through. "Fourteenth century, start here," he says, clapping his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "It'll be something meaningful to you I imagine. Good man."
The book makes very little sense to Arthur and he ends up just skimming it for familiar words, half wondering whether Merlin is sending Lost: One Royal Clotpole messages out to the universe. There's silence in the TARDIS as the four of them search for something, anything.
Amy, Arthur and the Doctor all jolt upright when Rory stands up suddenly, the device the Doctor handed him held close to his face.
"Oh, hey!" he says. "Oh, yes, yes, yes. There's a flat in Streatham that's been broadcasting the message Camelot stands since 1950."
Arthur's heart swells about three sizes inside his chest and he thinks oh please, oh please, oh please.
"Ha. Sounds about right, don't you think?" the Doctor asks.
Merlin's skirting around the edge of the common, cutting across to Streatham High Road. Something feel strange tonight, the air seeming to swirl with possibilities in a way he hasn't seen for years, centuries.
"Hello," a voice calls. Merlin looks over his shoulder. A girl is leaning against one of the horse chestnut trees that line his route, her red hair whipping about her face in the wind.
"Er – hi."
She steps forward and smiles at him. "You're looking for someone, aren't you?"
"Oh!" His eyes widen hugely. "No! No, no, no!"
She pulls a scandalised face and flashes her wedding ring at him. "Not like that! Pervert! You're waiting for someone, yeah? A man."
She huffs, sounding exasperated. "King Arthur! You're waiting for King Arthur."
Merlin blinks and then says carefully. "No. That would be crazy."
"Oh." The girl pulls another face, this one dubious and she's deliberately casual as she examines her nails. "So the signal broadcasting Camelot stands in every conceivable language, that must be coming from someone else's flat."
Merlin loses the battle with restraint and steps forward. "Have you seen him?"
The girl nods. "He's with my hubby and my friend right now. They'll be here in a minute."
"Oh, God. Oh, God. Tell me this isn't a joke," he begs.
She shakes her head, a smile blossoming on her face. "I'm Amy, by the way."
Merlin hears voices behind her and he looks over her shoulder and oh, oh –
"Ah! My boys!" Amy says. "Perfect timing. So, this is Merlin the magician. This is Rory. You may call him Mr. Pond. This is the Doctor. And this. Well, you know who that is, don't you?" she asks, her voice softening.
Merlin's heart pounds in his chest as he stares and stares and stares.
"You're...eating chips," Merlin observes intelligently, and Arthur's vaguely aware of Amy hiding her laughter in Rory's shoulder.
"I like them, I think," Arthur says, and he feels about as sensible as Merlin sounds.
He looks Merlin up and down, taking in his battered boots and absurdly tight jeans with an air of puzzlement. Then he drops the chips, takes two steps forward and yanks Merlin in close, the same possessive grasp as ever, his hands hot and hard on Merlin's neck and the small of his back.
"Arthur – "
"Merlin – "
"Sire, I – It's you," Merlin says breathlessly, like he hardly dares to say it. "It's you, it really is. Oh God, Arthur."
He looks suddenly weak and Arthur tightens his hold. How the weight of Merlin's body in his arms can still be familiar after so long, Arthur doesn't know, and he's not inclined to question it. He buries his face in Merlin's neck and breathes deeply.
"You smell the same," he says a bit stupidly.
Merlin just laughs and touches his face, the way he always used to when they reunited. A cough grabs their attention and Arthur turns to look at the Doctor, and at Amy and Rory standing just behind him, their hands entwined just as tightly as Merlin and Arthur's are.
"Thank you," Arthur says hesitantly. "Although that barely seems adequate. You have my loyalty, now and forever."
"Not to be sniffed at," the Doctor says gravely.
"Problem, though," Rory interrupts anxiously. "Only we can see him. Made for quite an interesting chip-buying experience actually, what with the mad alien and the invisible man."
"Oh." Merlin looks stumped for a moment, then laughs. "Ah. I can fix that, I think."
"I knew you could," Arthur says. He hasn't looked away from Merlin once yet, just in case, just in case he vanishes. "You said. You swore you would, do you remember?"
Merlin bites his lip and nods, a memory of pain on his face. "I'll look after you. I'll fix this, I'll fix anything for you. I will save you," he recites, and they both laugh shakily.
Arthur hears the now familiar sound of the sonic screwdriver and turns to see the Doctor scanning it up and down him. "Ha!" He sounds delighted. "No need."
"What?" Arthur asks.
The Doctor shrugs. "Nothing to fix."
"But he – he was invisible five minutes ago!" Rory protests.
"And now, as far as the universe is concerned, he's back in his right timeline."
"That. Is. Adorable," Amy whispers.
"It's destiny," Merlin corrects her, looking giddy. "I knew it. I knew we'd get more than those few years."
Arthur laughs. "Merlin, it was decades."
"And I've waited centuries. Don't you start with me."
Merlin sounds like he might cry, but when he pulls Arthur in again to hug him, fierce, he's laughing.
Amy and Rory both jump when the Doctor touches their shoulders. Amy looks surprised to realise she's clinging to her husband's hand.
"We should go," the Doctor says. "Leave them to get reacquainted."
"Oh, yeah," Amy says dryly. "Reacquainting, that's what's going to happen."
Rory laughs and nudges her, while the Doctor just looks between them, puzzled.
"Oh, never mind," Amy says. "Hey, boys!" she calls, looking over to where Arthur and Merlin are standing, silent, just staring at each other with an intensity they must have waited centuries for.
"We're off," the Doctor says.
Merlin looks over at them and says, "Wait, no! I've got so many questions – "
"I think you have more important things to take care of right now," Amy says.
"Oh. Well, yeah, but – "
She laughs. "Don't worry. We'll be – around. We're always around, aren't we, boys?"
"Apparently so," the Doctor says.
"Onwards, D'Artagnan," Rory says waving the Doctor towards the TARDIS.
"What? No. Don't like that. Didn't get on with him."
Amy's laughter is bright and carefree as she follows them inside. "Okay, King Arthur and Merlin the magician I just about buy, but D'Artagnan was not real! Also, Rory, not even a real Musketeer. He'd be Athos..."
The door slams behind her, only to open a second later, the Doctor's sticking his head out.
"Live well, this time," he tells them. "You know. For yourselves."
When the door closes again, the sudden noise that follows makes them both jump and Arthur looks around warily as the box disappears.
"Now what?" he asks.
Merlin turns to look at him. "Anything. Everything. I've got so much to show you."
"Other than chips?" Arthur asks, slinging his arm around Merlin's shoulders.
"Yes. I think you're going to like cars. Possibly motorbikes," Merlin says. "Definitely rugby. Come on. Let's go home."
Merlin clasps his king's hand and they fall into step together, walking side-by-side into a second chance.