Morgana sighs. Still nothing.
Is this really going to be another lifetime of boring everyday things, a lifetime where they won’t meet? Morgana will gouge her eyes out if it is. Seriously, she has watched them stumble around Earth for almost 1,500 years, clueless and never quite finding each other. It’s been hundreds of years since their reincarnation cycles began, and they still don’t know how many times they’ve passed the person they are destined to be with. One checks into an inn as the other checks out; one visits a doctor right after the other leaves. In their last life, Arthur read his book on Greek mythology for three straight hours while Merlin slept in the seat behind him... and the idiot had the audacity to get off the train before his soulmate even woke up.
That almost-meeting on the train had been especially frustrating for Morgana, because it had been so close. But no, here she is, still waiting for the one-in-a-million chance of them meeting again.
When she had died, when Merlin had stabbed her with Excalibur, the Gatekeeper between the land of the living and the land of the dead, the Cailleach, had approached her and asked how she wished to continue her existence. Did she want her memory to be wiped clean and start the reincarnation cycle, only ending when her destiny was fulfilled, or did she want to become immortal and wait for her freedom, memories intact?
Without reading the metaphorical small print of this contract, she had chosen the latter, thinking that her memories — and hatred — would sustain her. She thought they would keep her afloat until she exacted her revenge on them all: her brother, the warlock who betrayed his own kind, the servant girl who became queen, the naively loyal knights — all of whom were reborn again and again.
Yet as the years had passed, her anger had slipped away, had melted into something else. As it dissipated and the space it left behind filled with knowledge of prophecies spoken thousands of years ago, Morgana slowly came to forgive Arthur and Merlin. Instead of wishing them a hundred painful deaths, she ignored them and let them live their lives in peace.
Morgana kept waiting for a change, something to tell her about her supposed destiny. A thousand years passed, eleven hundred years. In the 17th century, she got tired of waiting for something that might never come and started searching for the answers herself. She read everything she could find on herself, everything she could find on Merlin and Arthur. When that resulted in nothing, she desperately turned to books and prophecies about the knights, Uther, Mordred, Morgause... still, nothing.
Nothing, anywhere — except in the conditions of her immortality. As it turns out, her destiny is to watch over the idiots, making sure they could fulfil theirs.
Morgana had confronted the Cailleach about it, angry at being tricked into a never-ending life of waiting for the two men to get together. The Cailleach had only laughed and told her that it served her right, having acted so selfishly throughout her Earth-bound life.
That lifetime, Arthur had been run over by a rampant horse carriage. Morgana had been standing beside him when it happened, a bitter and vengeful soul, but even his violent death hadn’t made her feel any better. It was a petty revenge, an immature outburst, and it was the first step to acceptance.
It took a long time, but eventually, Morgana realised the futility of fighting destiny. After all, Merlin had tried, and see where it got him. When Arthur was reborn again, she had decided to give her best effort to protect both him and Merlin until the prophecy came true and she could be set free. She’s protected them rather successfully, thus far. Their last six lifetimes had ended due to old age or sickness — neither of which Morgana has the power to stave off.
However, babysitting is rather boring. Especially when sickness takes one of them early, and the other goes on to live to an old age. The frustration of it gnaws at Morgana’s insides, knowing that they won’t fulfil their true destiny no matter how well they do for themselves in one of their separate lifetimes. They’re always reborn within five years of each other — sometimes Merlin’s a few years older, sometimes not. They haven’t interacted since their original lifetime, but this time, something is different. Morgana can feel it. For one, they are living in the same city this time around. If they don’t meet by themselves, she will force the circumstances for it to happen. She’s sick of waiting.
Morgana isn’t allowed to cheat, technically, but she can always nudge fate in the right direction without being called out on it. She had tried it before, and she most certainly will do it again. She’s sure that this is it, though. This is their redeeming lifetime.
For the ten thousandth time, Morgana looks up at the bulletin board above her desk. The prophecy is pinned to it, as it has been for 1,500 years. It reads:
Two immortal halves are destined to once again become a whole. At the quarter-century, they will start their journey anew. Together, they will return what is long lost. Beware those who misinterpret what has been foretold, and who are the only ones who can bring destiny to its knees. The oncoming storm will shape the world to come. When faith is lacking, aid will come from the one who still is lost in time.
It’s about Arthur and Merlin, it must be, although no names are mentioned. And quarter-century, what does that even mean? She always gets excited at the twenty-fifth year of every century, thinking that the time has come, but nothing special ever happens. There’s more than a decade to go until 2025, too, but... Morgana sighs again. She’s waited this far, ten more years can’t hurt. Right?
Merlin stumbles on an uneven spot on the carpet and almost drops the tray he’s carrying. To stop the accident from happening, he quickly magics it all onto the table. Yes, Merlin has magic. It’s not strange to him, but it’s strange to almost everyone else. Not many know about his powers; just Gwen and Will, and his mum, of course. Merlin has managed to keep it secret from pretty much everyone else. It’s not that hard, really. He was born with it and control of it comes naturally — like breathing... or snoring, which Gwen claims he does, but Merlin’s fairly sure he doesn’t.
His magic isn’t anything that can change the natural order of the world. It’s not strong. It’s more like... household magic. He can move lighter objects, like a carton of milk or even a chair if he concentrates properly, but he can’t stop time or summon lightning or anything fairytale-esque like that.
That was the first thing Gwen had asked when he’d had to tell her about the magic two months ago: “Really? Can you summon lightning?”
Merlin had snorted with laughter and hadn’t stopped until Gwen had become very grumpy because “all the wizards in the books can do it and you’re a horrible person, Merlin!” She had angrily shoved him into the kitchen wall and almost stormed out of the flat before Merlin calmed down enough to explain the real strength of his magic.
Will, on the other hand, had known about the magic for years and years. Growing up together, Merlin hadn’t been able to refrain from showing him the magic, but luckily, Will had understood the importance of keeping it a secret. More cautious as an adult, Merlin probably wouldn’t have told Gwen at all if it hadn’t been for the freakish wok-and-knives accident — even if she is as close to him as Will.
Oddly enough, his friends are polar opposites but work so well together it’s almost scary. Maybe it’s because they unite against Merlin so often... hm. He doesn’t really want to think about it, because if it’s true it could mean Very Bad Things. For one, he would never win an argument. Ever. That would be hell since his friends have a penchant for sushi and really, really bad films — both of which Merlin hates. Especially sushi. Raw fish? Ew. Given that dinner and a film is what they usually spend their get-togethers doing... no. Merlin will just hope they bicker enough to forget about him from time to time, giving him opportunity to get it his way sometimes.
Right now, they’re both on their way over. Merlin runs his hand through his hair, turning it into an even bigger mess than it usually is. Gwen and Will are his best friends and he loves them, but this week he would love even more to spend his Friday night in bed under two duvets and with the sole company of a cheesy romance novel. The situation at work has been rough all week.
Business at the store had been going well, but with only Merlin and Freya there it had been a struggle. A long-planned ad had coincided with a water leak in the bookshop’s cellar, so the large number of customers were forced to share the limited space with a whole team of plumbers trying to save the entire cellar from extensive renovation. Merlin had been forced to run around giving instructions to the plumbers as well as manning the till and giving advice to confused and irresolute customers. Merlin loves people, loves talking to anyone who asks for advice or wants to talk about exactly what Douglas Adams had thought about when he came up with the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide universe, but this week every customer had become a distraction and an annoyance.
It was this that was unacceptable in Merlin’s eyes. He despised himself for thinking about them like that — it felt like spitting on his mother’s grave. Not that she was dead, of course, but, you know, if she had been.
No, he doesn’t want to think about the problems at the shop anymore. He just wants to curl up in his bed and read something light and fluffy. That would be great... but the thought is interrupted by a short snippet of Lady GaGa’s ‘Poker Face’. Some day he’s going to kill Will for getting him that personalised door bell as a birthday present. With a mumbled curse, he trudges out into the narrow hall and opens the door.
“Hi!” Gwen chirps happily, shoving a plate of what looks like newly-baked cupcakes into his arms.
Merlin’s so tired that it takes a second to register. “Uh. Hi. Cupcakes?”
“Hi, mate,” Will says, and unceremoniously drops his battered copy of Braveheart on top of the cupcakes. “No need to call us that, though.”
He then moves to shed his jacket and shoes onto the hall floor before quickly making his way into the other room. Will’s a bit of a slob, Merlin thinks as he follows.
Gwen trails behind him, grabbing a hold of the back of his t-shirt and giggles inexplicably. “We’ve got a surprise for you, Merlin,”
Merlin really isn’t in a mood for a “surprise”, whatever that entails. He’s too tired, and if the giggling is anything to go by, he’s pretty sure he won’t like the “surprise” anyway.
“You’ve been alone for forever, Merlin,” Gwen says as they settle down at the sofa. Merlin puts the cupcake platter down on the table. “You haven’t gotten laid since that... guy...”
“Gilli,” Will says as he frowns and reaches for a cupcake.
Gwen sighs unhappily. “Yes, Gilli. And it’s okay, Merlin, I get it.”
“I don’t,” Will mutters under his breath as he takes a huge bite of the cake and flicks on the TV with the remote.
Merlin knows what’s coming. He should have heard the warning bells earlier, and he blames his distracted brain for not being alert enough to save him from the embarrassment that is surely to come.
“Gwen, please don’t...” he tries.
“No, hear me out!”
“I know he hurt you and everything, but this doesn’t mean you should avoid relationships! Or casual sex, for that matter, but I’m not helping you out with that.”
“I’m not avoiding relationships!” Merlin huffs.
He isn’t. Not really. It’s just that he hasn’t found anyone worth spending time with. All the guys (and let’s face it — there haven’t been an abundance of them) who had come on to Merlin lately had seemed wrong in some way. Too short, too shabby, too rich. His latest date had spent half the evening talking about how women are inferior to men and while Merlin isn’t a girl — or even attracted to them — he sure as hell doesn’t think that. He has a mother, after all.
“Well, if you’re not, you’ve got to meet this new guy I met at work!”
Shit. He had walked right into that one, hadn’t he?
“Uh, no, Gwen, really...”
“He’s super sweet, and pretty much our age, just a few years younger. He’s perfect for you, Merlin. A bit mysterious, and he has the most gorgeous eyes.”
Gwen looks at Merlin with her own big, brown, beautiful ones, and Merlin gives in. He hasn’t got anything to shield himself from her persuasion attempts when she uses the bloody doe eyes.
He grumbles unhappily, “Fine.”
With a flourish and a satisfied smile, Gwen picks the cupcake platter from the sofa table and shoves it at Merlin again. He can’t help but feel like it’s a bribe, but he grabs a cupcake anyway and starts removing the wrapper. When he looks up at Gwen, she has turned her attention to the TV, but the big grin on her face tells him that she considers this a win.
In a rather larger and vastly more lavish flat not too far away, Arthur puts on his pyjama pants, crawls into bed, and kisses Mithian softly on the cheek. She replies with a small, slightly tense, smile and continues to read her book.
Arthur furrows his brows slightly before asking, “What are you reading?”
“Oh, nothing special,” his fiancée replies. “Just something I found in that sweet bookshop on the corner.”
“Okay. What’s the title?” Arthur prompts and reaches out to try to sneak a peek at the cover.
Mithian swats his hand away. “It’s just... something recommended by the guy working there.”
Arthur watches her closely. Although her tone is light, there’s something troubling her. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe she’s had a bad day at work. Maybe she’s starting to get nervous about the wedding. It’s only four months to go, after all
“Yeees. But what’s the title?” Arthur pushes.
Mithian blushes. Arthur can’t help but smile, because the light pink on her cheeks suits her.
“Well, it’s just... it’s not a new book, really, but it’s been reprinted. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.”
“Really, Enduring Love?” He’s joking, but he can feel his chest constrict all of a sudden. “Enduring? Is that what our love feels like, Mith?”
It takes a beat before she answers and Arthur unconsciously holds his breath, but eventually, she lets out a low laugh before leaning into Arthur, placing a gentle kiss on his lips.
“No, that’s not what our love feels like,” she says quietly.
The tight feeling around Arthur’s chest loosens and he deepens the kiss, grabs the book, and throws it onto the floor. Mithian doesn’t seem to mind too much as she giggles into his mouth and shifts her body further down the bed.
A few hours later, Arthur wakes up. He lays awake, thinking about life. This is how it’s supposed to be. He’s got everything: A brilliant job, his dream home, the love of his life... his soulmate. Poor suckers who never find their soulmates. He smiles smugly, because he knows that his is sleeping softly right here beside him.
Merlin is nervous.
He fidgets with his phone in his pocket, fighting the temptation to check the time again. It’s most likely still 7:46, which it was when he looked at it twenty seconds ago. Why did he have to be so early to this date? It was Gwen who had ushered him out the door, saying that it’s better to be early than late, and here he is, almost losing his backside to the chilly weather. April is a pain in the butt, he thinks. Literally. Warm one day, freezing the next. He does a very undignified series of small jumps in an attempt to keep warm. It doesn’t really help, but it does keep him occupied, and unfortunately also makes him forget why he’s here.
That is, until he does a very, very, un-adult pirouette and ends up face to face with a young man with startlingly grey eyes. They hold a surprised expression, and Merlin immediately stops jumping up and down.
“Uh,” he says instead. The guy really is gorgeous. A few inches shorter and a probably a year or two younger than the 24-year-old Merlin, fit but not too fit, and the small, slightly confused, smile adorning his features is kind. Merlin blushes rather violently when he realises that very likely, this is Mordred, his blind date.
“Merlin?” says the man, still smiling that small smile.
Merlin can’t help but stare at his lips just a little bit.
“Yeah... Sorry about that... uh, jumping business. Are you Mordred?”
The guy smiles properly then, and offers his hand. “Yeah! Nice to finally meet you, Merlin. Gwen speaks very warmly of you.”
Merlin takes his hand, but can’t quite offer an equally sweet smile in return. He tries, but it comes out rather strained. “I don’t normally...” he tries, and makes a vague gesture with his arm.
Mordred laughs. The laugh is as soft as his smile was before, just with an edge of teasing, and Merlin blushes even more. Not in a bad way, though, not necessarily. Just... Maybe Gwen wasn’t wrong about this. Merlin gives Mordred a weak grin before hitching his shoulders up into a shrug and averts his eyes from that cute face. Then he scolds himself mentally for playing the “coy” card. He had promised himself he wouldn’t, never again after Gilli.
“Yeah, I figured. It’s a bit chilly, though. I understand why you felt the need to move around a bit,” Mordred says when he has stopped laughing. “Shall we?”
He nods towards the restaurant entrance, and Merlin’s smile become less nervous and more genuine.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’d love to.”
Inside, they are shown to a secluded table and sit down. The conversation is a bit stilted until the waiter returns to take their orders, but when he leaves, Mordred asks Merlin about his work, which always gets him talking. By the time their orders are being served, they have both overcome their initial first date jitters and are engaged in a slightly out of control discussion about sushi (Mordred is pro, Merlin — naturally — is con) and whether fish always should be cooked before eaten. For the first time all week, Merlin feels truly happy.
Morgana sighs. This life is turning out just like the others — her “wards”, who Morgana most often refers to as “the stupid idiots”, find the wrong people to settle down with. Again.
Fuck my life, she curses to herself, before correcting her statement. It isn’t really a life as much as it is a long stretch of waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
She leans back in her office chair, grabs a fistful of popcorn from the bowl on the desk and tilts her head back and starts to throw the popcorn into the air, one after another, trying to catch the kernels with her mouth. She catches them all. It’s not surprising — she’s had time to learn.
If this isn’t it, so what? One more lifetime won’t make much of a difference. Right?
Arthur carries a tray with four beers towards their table in the crowded pub. He’s met with a roar of approval as his friends reach over to lighten his burden.
“Keep your hands off, you filthy excuses for humans,” he shouts to be heard over the noise. “At least let me put the beer down before you pounce on them.”
Gwaine manages to steal a beer anyway and grins at him, “So, you were allowed out of the house tonight, then?”
Arthur makes a grimace and puts the tray on the table. “Of course. She’s never even tried to stop me, you know.”
“Yeah, Gwaine, shut up!” Percy cuts in. “Arthur’s not whipped.”
Leon starts to laugh. “You sure? He did help her colour her hair a few weeks ago.”
“That’s what good husbands do,” Arthur answers calmly.
Gwaine takes a few large gulps of beer. “Mate, you’re not married yet,” he says and rolls his eyes pointedly.
“When you put it like that, Arthur, I might have to change my mind,” Percy says.
“Oh, shut up.” But there’s no heat in Arthur’s answer. “Are you saying you don’t do stuff like that for Sefa?”
“Hey, mate, I do a lot for my lady, but I don’t think she trusts me enough to let me help colour her hair. She loves that hair.”
Arthur ponders this for a moment. Percy isn’t really famous for being good with things that require delicate handling. Strength, yes. Delicacy, no. Which is strange, since Sefa is quite small and fragile-looking herself. Not that she’s requires delicate handling... she’s fully capable of standing up for herself. Arthur’s seen her angry, and that’s not something he wishes to see again. Nonetheless, she and Percy do make an odd couple.
“Hm, fair enough,” he says out loud. “Leon, how about you? You’ve had enough girlfriends to do all sorts of things for them that you wouldn’t normally do.”
“Yeah, I have, but a gentleman never tells. And don’t come crawling to me for support, I’m with Gwaine on this one. You’re completely whipped, mate,” Leon grins. “But enough of this shite now, there’s a game on.”
The game is an exciting one — Man U beats Arsenal three goals to two, United’s last goal scored during injury time — and the group is lively on the verge of raucous as they make their way out of the pub. Gwaine starts to loudly sing songs about beautiful women and long lost loves like he always does when he’s pissed. Percy laughs at him while all the same making sure he doesn’t wobble into oncoming traffic.
Arthur’s pleasantly buzzed and the alcohol makes his skin tingly with satisfaction of having had a great night. Leon’s arm is casually slung over his shoulder and after their
initial exaltation about the match result, they walk in companionable silence, listening to Gwaine’s increasingly inappropriate songs.
At last, Leon breaks the silence between them, “Arthur?”
“It’s great that you’re getting married.”
Arthur’s not sure what to answer.
Leon continues, “I know we’re teasing you about Mithian, but... When you struggled with your sexuality...”
Oh, great, it’s Leon’s drunken honesty hour again.
“Yeah?” Arthur says, getting ready to hear the ‘we’re so happy you’re bi’ speech for the umpteenth time.
“Yeah. But it’s great, you know. Great. Mithian’s a fine lady with lovely hair and we love you.”
“I know, mate.”
There’s a moment’s silence.
“’M jealous, you know.”
Huh. That’s new.
“Of what?” Arthur asks cautiously.
“D’you ever feel like there’s no real sense to the world and you’ll be alone forever and that’s your fate and you just have to accept it?”
Arthur thinks about it for a second. “Not really. I believe we’re responsible for our own fate.”
Leon hums non-committally and is quiet for a while. They reach the bridge where Arthur needs to split up from the group to make his way home alone.
“This is my stop,” he says, slowly extracting himself from under Leon’s arm.
“Just don’t miss out on your fate, mate,” Leon blurts out before turning to Gwaine and Percy. “C’mon, once more unto the breach, dear friends!”
Arthur watches them go, bemused at Leon’s words. Eventually, he makes his way back home slowly.
They are happy when they leave the party. Mordred’s hand never leaves Merlin’s hip and Merlin enjoys the warmth and comfort of it. It’s Merlin’s 25th birthday and his boyfriend and his friends have treated him to dinner at his favourite restaurant, followed by a trip to their local pub, where they’d also brought him a huge birthday cake. Merlin had had no knowledge of these plans — he’d thought he’d celebrate with Mordred, alone, just the two of them. But this was even better.
He and Mordred have been going out for a while now. Three months, to be exact.
Merlin is very much in love.
He had been forced to endure Gwen’s incessant gloating for weeks after the blind date, but it had been worth it. Merlin’s content with coming home from work every day and to snuggle with Mordred on the sofa as well as spending time with him over the weekend. They don’t live together, technically, but in reality, they hardly spend any time apart at all. Sometimes they fight, but it often passes within a couple of hours when they’ve both had the chance to calm down. Plus, the make-up sex is fantastic, so Merlin doesn’t mind the fights that much. They’re usually about cleaning and laundry and other mundane chores — something that Mordred really is appalling at and Merlin consistently has to remind him about.
They stumble along the pavement on their way home. Or, actually, Merlin does most of the stumbling and Mordred tries his best to keep Merlin on his feet, despite the fact they’ve both had their fair share to drink. Decidedly not a lightweight like Merlin, Mordred does most of the work.
“Merlin?” Mordred says, “Ouff... Help me out a bit here! You’re really drunk!”
“’M not,” Merlin answers, but it comes out rather slurred and Mordred just laughs.
He takes a firmer grip on Merlin’s hip and says, “You are, sweetie. You really are.”
Mordred suddenly starts giggling and seems unable to stop. Merlin throws a sideways glance at him, the thought that he should probably be offended registering vaguely in his mind, but he can’t stop his own bout of giggles from escaping. Mordred has to stop in the middle of the pavement, unable to keep walking. The clock on the nearby cathedral strikes one and that sobers Merlin up the tiniest bit. He lets Mordred giggle a few more moments before taking his hand and trying to drag him along.
“Come,” he mumbles, “’Et’s buy Ben & Jerry’s and go home and cuddle. I need a good cuddle.”
Mordred swings him around, places his hands on Merlin’s cheeks and presses soft lips to his mouth. “Yes,” he says, “Yes. Let’s.”
The shop is just around the corner from Merlin’s flat. It’s one of those that’s open 24 hours a day and Merlin loves it. It’s big enough to actually walk around in (although the lap is rather short), but still neighbourly and personal. It’s always fully stocked and the owner is a nice, elderly man who Merlin’s rather fond of for some reason he can’t really explain.
Gaius doesn’t work at this hour, though, only during the day. He lets Edwin take the night shifts on the weekends.
Edwin doesn’t seem to mind. He has a soft spot for Merlin, something that’s not really reciprocated. The lewd looks Merlin gets from him sometimes make him very uncomfortable, and he usually avoids the shop during Edwin’s night shifts unless he really has to.
Today feels like a good enough emergency. There is ice cream that needs to be bought.
The drunk couple stumble into the shop and Merlin manages to nudge a big display of canned soup with his hip and it probably would have come crashing down if his magic hadn’t stepped in and saved it. Merlin can feel it reach out, and at first, he feels bubbly and warm and happy about everything — even the stupid soup.
But as the magic retracts, Merlin suddenly realises how drunk he must be to let his magic act like that, completely on its own, and that scares him a little. Mordred is still giggling silently and doesn’t notice how Merlin goes all tense. To make the uncomfortable feeling go away, he pulls Mordred in for another kiss and they both start laughing as they lean against one of the freezers for support.
Somewhere from behind them, someone coughs politely and when Merlin looks up, he can see Edwin standing there, arms crossed and with a conflicted expression of amusement and intense dislike on his face.
“As nice as it is that you lads are happy, I’d very much prefer it if you could take that kind of business elsewhere,” he says.
Mordred buries his face in Merlin’s neck and tries to hide the renewed bout of laughter, but it still escapes in short snorts.
Trying to save the situation, Merlin looks Edwin dead in the eyes and smiles, “Of course. Sorry.”
He then grabs Mordred’s hand and drags him behind a shelf full of canned fruit. They burst out laughing and Merlin can hear Edwin sigh exaggeratedly before his footsteps retreat in the direction of the checkout counter.
When they’ve calmed down enough, Merlin and Mordred of course kiss again. And again. And again, because Mordred is a very good kisser and Merlin’s drunk and actually quite horny, and just... It’s either pure luck or fate that Merlin glances up in the middle of the snog session to see a ridiculously large glass jar tip itself off the top shelf right above them. He reacts instinctively, drags Mordred out of harm’s way as his magic interferes with the jar’s trajectory. It misses them both by a few inches and breaks when it hits the floor. The loud crash reverberates through the store and Mordred stares at it, seemingly entranced by the smashed glass.
“Shit,” he says, looking confused and not at all giggly any more.
“Let’s... let’s get out of here, yeah?”
Merlin grabs the nodding Mordred and turns a corner. Then he runs into something quite solid.
Stumbling backwards, Merlin chokes out a small, “Sorry, mate!” to the quite solid thing as he tries to regain his balance.
The man — because it is a man — reaches out and steadies him with a large hand on his elbow and Merlin’s about to thank him when he realises he can’t really breathe anymore. His eyes widen and he clasps at his chest, trying to draw in some air, but he can’t. There’s a muted pain somewhere in his stomach, and he feels it build and build and build, until his head is ringing with it. He leans forward, falling to his knees, desperately trying to catch his breath.
Mordred appears in the corner of Merlin’s eye, his mouth moving but no words appear to be coming out. His face has gone a very unattractive grey and Merlin wants to calm him down, can’t bear to see him like this, but he really needs to concentrate on trying to breathe.
Suddenly, there are all kinds of sounds surrounding him: high-pitched voices, a loud humming from the freezers and fridges, an insistent beeping sound that’s boring its way into Merlin’s skull, someone running. There’s another stab of pain, like his chest is about to crack open and all his magic burst out, and he squeezes his eyes shut to concentrate and try to rein it in. Sobbing, still gasping for air, he tries to get a hold of it, control it, but it has gone wild and teasingly swirls just out of reach.
Even from behind his closed eyelids, Merlin sees how the light around them changes. It goes from the normal store-lamp fluorescent above them, escalating into a bright, sunflower kind of yellow that envelops them all, to snapping off into complete darkness. The voices around him quiet instantaneously and if it wasn’t for his own loud gasps for air, Merlin would have believed he’d passed out.
When Arthur runs into the thin, dark-haired man, everything happens so fast he’s not sure what’s really going on. One second, he’s helping him and the next, the guy has some sort of seizure and falls to the floor. The other dark-haired man — the younger one, although they’re both younger than Arthur — is about to panic properly when all the lights go out simultaneously and they’re shrouded in complete darkness.
Arthur thinks that maybe he triggered the man’s reaction — maybe he’s allergic to Arthur’s cologne or something? — and tries to move away a few steps. But he can’t move at first, his body is locked into place and it takes a good ten seconds, in which he starts to panic himself, before his feet finally do as they’re told and start to back away.
The emergency light flickers on above them and the store is again flooded with fluorescent lighting. With that, the laboured breathing of the man on the floor seems to ease, and he can even croak out a broken, “Mordred”.
The younger man immediately drops down beside him, stroking his back and whispering urgently. The shop assistant is also bending down, checking on the man, and Arthur feels like he shouldn’t stay any longer, so he doesn’t.
“I’m sorry,” he says, unsure if he really needs to apologise. Then he turns and leaves.
No one notices or seems to care.
It’s not until Arthur’s all the way back in the lift up to his flat that he realises he forgot to actually buy the milk he went out for.
They... they met! Morgana leans forward, looking down on them with a frown on her face. But why didn’t they interact more, why didn’t the connection happen? Arthur just left, the absolute pillock. And Merlin, what did Merlin do? He let Mordred help him home, and then just fell asleep. Such a softy! She scoffs. The greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth? Not in the slightest.
Okay, maybe that’s not completely fair. It’s just... frustrating. With an exasperated sigh, she leans back in her chair and runs her hands through her hair.
“What the hell am I supposed to do about this?”
The following week, Merlin spends most of his time perched on the window seat in his flat, staring out onto the street and the park across the road. Freya is running the book shop in his absence, and he doesn’t worry about that at all. He worries about how his magic reacted in Gaius’s store. It was like losing control of a limb. And then... there’s something more. Something he can’t quite shake that gnaws in the back of his mind, keeping him from relaxing and forgetting about the whole thing. Every time he tries to reach for it, it skirts away, leaving him utterly frustrated.
He sleeps restlessly, dreams of things he doesn’t understand and wakes up feeling like he’s been running for hours — breathless and exhausted. The only person he talks to is his mother, who calls to check up on him. She knows about the magic and she can’t explain it either. The uncertainty of it makes Merlin want to creep out of his skin. After four nights of hardly any proper rest at all, the dreams that torments him in his sleep enter his conscious state, too. There are flashes of bright red and dark green and once, Merlin’s sure he can hear panting — like someone catching their breath — but before he can try to figure it out, it’s gone.
One day, when he’s sitting by the window looking out, he realises he’s crying. He has no idea why and that scares him into action.
Starting up his computer, Merlin googles every variation of ‘magic’ he can think of and spends hours reading about witches and wizards of the modern age, all of which are obviously fake. With every lying website he finds the hope of finding at least one result to help him diminishes a little. There is nothing out there and with this realisation, he goes back to the window, staring out at the world below but not really seeing anything at all.
The only time he leaves the flat is when he goes to shop for food on Wednesday. Avoiding Edwin, he goes around lunchtime, when he’s sure Gaius will be working instead. When he passes the place where the incident happened, he stops. It doesn’t look special. It’s just a corner of a store with its numerous different articles of everyday necessities. So why did it happen here?
When he gets to the checkout, he notices Gaius watching him warily.
“Hi Gaius,” Merlin says and hands him the shopping basket before looking through his wallet for money.
“Hello Merlin,” Gaius answers as he registers the first article and puts it into a plastic bag. He pauses for a second before continuing, “How are you?”
“Fine, thanks. How are you?”
“I heard about what happened, my boy. Are you sure you’re fine?”
Merlin looks up from his wallet. “I—,” he says, “Yeah, sure. I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Naturally, Gaius doesn’t fall for that at all. “I may have failed my doctor’s exam, Merlin, but I am still exceptionally talented when it comes to being able to tell when people are lying. Please don’t lie to me. I only want what’s best for you.”
He raises an enquiring eyebrow and Merlin squirms a bit.
“I’m— I’m all right. Just a bit confused,” he finally admits.
“Confused about what?”
“Um,” Merlin answers. How can you even begin to explain something like that?
Gaius has finished packing his shopping and hands him the bag. “£9.25, please.”
Handing him a tenner, Merlin doesn’t answer the question, just shakes his head tiredly. Gaius doesn’t say anything either and they finish the exchange in silence.
Before he leaves though, Gaius taps him lightly on the shoulder.
“If you need someone to talk to, Merlin, I’ll always listen. I might even understand. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Merlin nods and tries to give him a small smile. “Sure,” he says. “Bye.”
Out on the street again, he gets the overwhelming feeling of needing to get home as quickly as possible, so he collects the bag with food into his arms and runs the entire way. The burn in his throat and chest makes it all feel a little bit better and he even takes the stairs up to his flat at half a run. When he has slammed the door behind him, leans his back against it and slides to the floor. Tucking his knees in to his chest and resting his head against them, he allows the tears to come.
He still has no idea why he’s crying.
“You okay?” Mithian calls from the sitting room.
Arthur’s not sure. To be quite honest, he has been feeling out of sorts for days now. There’s a lot to do at work and he is struggling to keep up with it. Mostly, it’s because his concentration is shot and he spends most of his time thinking about other things.
“Yeah,” he answers and hides in the kitchen for a while, just in case she decides to ask him something else. “I think I’ll have a bit of a snack and then go to bed,” he adds.
She doesn’t answer, but he can hear how she flips the pages of one of those fashion magazines she always reads. Arthur sits down on a kitchen chair and just tries to think. It proves difficult, since he’s suddenly incredibly tired and thinks he can feel the precursor to a massive headache. There’s a pressure, like the headache is building up from inside.
Sighing, he rubs his face with his hands. He doesn’t know why this is happening, why he’s so tired and has trouble concentrating all the time. Arthur closes his eyes and tries to remember what has been happening lately. Well, there was the strange run-in at the store and the guy who had the seizure. That certainly doesn’t happen every day... but Arthur can’t figure out what it has to do with him. It’s as if the answer is right there in front of him, but he can’t grasp it. It’s frustrating to the point where he feels like screaming.
He slowly drags his hands through his hair and, tilting his head down, lets them rest at the back of his neck. He stays like that for a while, trying to will the headache from developing properly.
When Mithian enters the kitchen, he’s still sitting in the same position.
“Arthur? What’s wrong?”
He looks up, surprised at not being alone any more.
“Oh,” he says. “Nothing. I think I’ll— I’m going to bed. Just not feeling great.”
With a scrape of his chair against the pristine wooden floor, he gets up, kisses Mithian on the cheek and leaves the kitchen. He can practically feel her eyes on his back, but for once, he doesn’t care. He just wants to sleep and try and shake himself out of this slump.
On Saturday night, Merlin is once again sitting by the window when Mordred comes over, intent on making him feel better. Merlin rises and lets Mordred sneak his arms around his waist and kiss his neck, but something feels wrong about it. Something feels wrong about the whole situation. There’s a rift between them and Merlin can’t explain how it got there — or why.
“No,” he says, squirming to get out of the embrace, “Let go.”
Mordred complies reluctantly. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” There’s a pause. “Everything. I don’t know.”
They stand facing each other. The only thing Merlin wants is to be alone, but he can’t ask for that, because Mordred has already given him plenty of space the past week. The younger man looks confused and a bit hurt.
“Should I get us food?” he says hesitantly. “I can go out and get Chinese or something.”
“No, no, it’s not...”
“So what is it?”
Merlin sighs. “This isn’t working anymore.”
“I... We’re not supposed to be together, it goes against...”
Destiny. It goes against destiny, fate, the natural order of things, but Merlin can’t say that because that’s insane. There’s no such thing as an unrelenting destiny. You create your own, that’s what he’s always been taught.
“... what I’m feeling,” he ends, lamely.
Mordred’s cheeks flush an angry red. “But we were fine a week ago.”
“It’s... not you.”
“Are you really giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech? Go to hell, Merlin.”
Mordred shoves him, forcing him to take a step back. He doesn’t fight back, isn’t provoked by it.
“I’m not. It’s just that this isn’t what we’re supposed to do, okay? We’re not supposed to be together and... and I don’t want this anymore, Mordred!”
There’s a stunned silence. Mordred’s face has gone from flushed to a shocked pale. Merlin doesn’t want to see the hurt he’s inflicting, so he looks down at the floor. The only thing he wants is to be alone. He needs time to think it through and find out what the hell is going on.
“Babe, don’t say that,” Mordred tries. “We were fine, yeah? Whatever you’re going through, we’ll fix it and we’ll be fine.”
He’s not exactly begging, but there’s a tone to his voice that makes Merlin’s heart break. But he has to end it, because this isn’t right. It’s everything but right.
“No, Mordred, don’t... I just want you to leave. Pack whatever stuff you’ve got here, and leave.”
And he does. It doesn’t take more than ten minutes for Mordred to pack up his left-behind clothes and toiletries and a book about military warfare that’s been lying on Merlin’s nightstand for weeks, and then he’s standing in the hall. He’s upset and in his soul, Merlin gets it.
“Thanks,” he says. He’s not sure what he’s thanking Mordred for, but he feels like he should. Thanks for leaving, perhaps.
“You’re very fucking welcome,” Mordred spits. He’s back at the anger stage, apparently. “Well, thanks for putting your arse up for the last three months. It was nice getting it whenever I wanted, but the sex wasn’t really that good anyway.”
“Sure,” Merlin says flatly. He doesn’t care.
Then there’s a slam of the door and he’s gone. Merlin’s alone again. That doesn’t feel right either, but it’s better than with Mordred, anyway.
That’s when Merlin realises something he hadn’t considered.
Gwen is going to kill him.
Morgana can’t believe it as she watches from above. When Mordred slams the door to Merlin’s flat, she squeals with glee and claps her hands together.
Whoops. She probably shouldn’t be that happy about it, but this is it, isn’t it? This really is the life! They’re finally going to get together and Morgana will finally, finally, finally be set free!
She turns to read the prophecy again. “Two immortal halves are destined to once more become a whole. At the quarter-century, they will start their journey anew.”
Quarter-century. Merlin’s birthday. That must have been it? Oh my, she’s been an idiot. Of course that was it!
Morgana laughs to herself and spins her chair a few extra turns before once again turning her attention to those below.
Arthur’s happy with Mithian. There’s nothing wrong with their relationship until the day she comes home from work and tells him she wants to call off the wedding. Arthur hadn’t seen it coming, but he feels oddly disconnected from it. Maybe Mithian didn’t see
it coming either, because she claims to have met someone else and their feelings for each other had been strong and instantaneous. Arthur nods when she tells him that she doesn’t want to hurt him, but how can she not follow her own heart? Sure, he thinks, Mithian deserves to be happy.
He doesn’t feel sad. Not happy either, of course. More... numb.
But there’s a lot to do at work, so he buries himself in report after report about the company’s financial situation and its new acquisitions and even personnel reports — anything to keep him away from Mithian and the flat. Uther openly praises Arthur’s commitment to the company, but when he finds his son curled up sleeping on the sofa in the break room early one morning, he finally asks what’s wrong.
When Arthur tells him, Uther hugs him tightly before sending his assistant to bring him a clean shirt and a big cup of coffee. It’s an uncommon thing, although not unheard of, that his father allows himself to take care of Arthur. This time, Arthur finds it both reassuring and extremely unwelcome.
There’s something stirring under his skin and he feels more restless than depressed about the break-up. When Uther asks about the restlessness, he can’t explain it and his father dismisses it as a surplus of energy and advises him to take a long run before going to bed, to tire himself out.
That’s not it, though, because Arthur feels it thrum in his blood as he runs. He falls asleep easily, but when he wakes up in the morning, it’s with that same restlessness, that same empty space enveloping him.
It’s not a big deal when Mithian moves out of their flat. She packs up her stuff while Arthur is at work, and when he gets home, she’s gone. The flat looks a whole lot emptier, and a great deal more impersonal, without her stuff there. Arthur gets a beer from the fridge before settling down on the sofa and turning on the Man U game. For the first time in his life he doesn’t care about a football game and after only fifteen minutes, he flicks the TV off again.
He calls Leon.
“Want to go to the pub?” he asks.
“The Man U game is on, Arthur.”
“Yeah. Twenty minutes?”
A sigh. “The pub with the big screen, yeah, not the tiny one close to yours?”
“Fine. See you there.”
Half an hour later, Leon walks into the pub with Gwaine and Percy in tow. Arthur’s sitting at a table by the back wall nursing a beer when he spots them.
Gwaine returns the wave and grins and Percy smiles, but doesn’t wave. Leon keeps his hands in his pockets, and drags his shoulders up as he makes his way between tables and chairs. He gives Arthur a small smile before sitting down and redirecting all his attention to the game on the big screen telly.
“I’ll get your beers,” Arthur says, feeling like it’s the least he can do for dragging them out on a game night. When he returns, Percy is also deeply involved in the game, but Gwaine looks at him carefully.
“So, she moved out today, eh?” he says.
“Yup,” Arthur confirms.
“Good. She was quite a bore, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. So, is it time to get back into the saddle yet, or...?”
Arthur laughs. “Yeah, maybe. Why not? Sex would be nice.”
“Good man,” Gwaine smiles broadly. “Guy or chick?”
They used to do this a lot when they were younger. The guys went to Arthur when they wanted some help with actually charming a girl and get her to say yes when asking her out, but they went to Gwaine when they wanted help with getting a shag or a quick hook-up — of either sex — in a pub loo. Gwaine was almost eerily skilful at picking out willing participants. Leon wasn’t excellent at either charming or hooking up, but he succeeded occasionally. He was amazing at making fun of the others when something went to shite instead, which it did sometimes, of course.
The latest addition to the group, Percy, was surprisingly smooth with the ladies when he felt like it, but he rarely did. Maybe because his relationship with Sefa was long-standing and steady and he didn’t need to go on the prowl anymore.
“Hmm,” Gwaine looks out over the other patrons thoughtfully. “Yeah, I think I have one for you.”
He gets up, winking at Arthur as he goes. Arthur finishes his beer and approaches the bar to get a fresh one. As he waits for the barman, a guy with attractive stubble and a nice, slender neck comes up to him. When the man leans in and talks quietly to him, Arthur realises he also has a pleasant voice, and that it’s extra pleasant when it’s whispering filth in his ear.
The suggestion is pretty much exactly what Arthur needs, so he nods and allows the man to lead the way. Just as he lays his hand on the door handle, Arthur turns back towards their table. Gwaine has returned to his seat and is grinning wickedly at him. Arthur just rolls his eyes before quirking his lips into a small smile and following the guy into the loo. The door closes with a loud bang behind him, muffling the sounds from the football game.
“Coming?” the pleasant voice says, although Arthur can hear that it’s slightly raspy now.
“Sure. What’s your name?”
“Sweetheart, I don’t need to know. I just want to suck your dick.”
It’s not a bad blowjob, but Arthur’s heart isn’t really in it. In the end, he just grabs the other mans hair and keeps his head still while he thrusts into his mouth a few times before coming into the condom. Feeling obligated to return the favour, he puts his hand down Cenred’s pants and jerks him off. It doesn’t feel great, and Arthur normally enjoys seeing the look on a guys face as he comes into his hand. Today, it’s just okay. Nothing special.
To be quite honest, everything has been pretty... blah since Mithian called off the wedding. Actually, no, since a couple of weeks before that, but Arthur had been too busy to notice and now he blames it on Mithian meeting her new guy. He must have subconsciously noticed something was off. That’s possible, isn’t it?
Cenred lifts his head from where he’s been slumped against Arthur’s shoulder and places a wet kiss at his jaw.
“Thanks, love, that was nice,” he says.
“Yeah, thanks,” Arthur replies, but he doesn’t really mean it.
After quickly washing up, he leaves the loo, orders a fresh beer at the bar and mentally prepares for the interrogation that undoubtedly will await him at the table.
Morgana scrunches her nose. Ugh, boys can be so disgusting.
But the whole thing is great, really. Mithian is out. Mordred is out. It’s just a matter of time before Arthur and Merlin can be reunited and then they can finally start their work. Morgana can’t help but whistle happily as she throws her feet up on her desk, grabs her drawing pad and a pen and starts to doodle while daydreaming about what she’ll do with her hopefully-soon freedom from this place.
When she actually looks down at what she’s been sketching, she makes a disgusted noise. What kind of place is her mind in when she actually draws her own brother and his sorcerer having sex? She is obviously going insane.
Annoyed, she throws the pad away into a corner of the room, where it lands with a soft thud.
“What the hell, Merlin?!”
So, yeah. Gwen isn’t taking the news very well. For a week, Merlin managed to avoid her by dodging her calls, but her showing up on his doorstep was bound to happen eventually. Merlin cowers a little at the onslaught of non child appropriate words spilling from Gwen’s mouth.
“I mean, I get it! Sometimes you just don’t click with people and they make you unhappy or whatever, but that-was-not-fucking-it this time, Merlin, was it? I know, because I’ve known you for bloody years and I’ve never seen you that happy with fucking anyone!”
The stress she puts on the words makes her voice crack.
“No, you just shut up! Why the hell did you do it? Just fucking give me a good answer and I’ll leave you alone, I swear. You just can’t... Ughh!” She makes a frustrated gesture. “Just fucking answer.”
“Um,” Merlin answers. He takes a breath. He’s not going to make this any better, is he? “Well, there was the... the...”
Fuck Gwen and her built-in lie detector.
“I wasn’t happy.”
“You were, you absolute arse! But ever since your birthday, since you collapsed— Something happened then, and I don’t get it, Merlin! You know Mordred is a good person who loves you. Why would you do this to him?”
Suddenly, Merlin’s horribly fed up with it all.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him, I just needed to end it!” he yells.
Gwen doesn’t say anything, just glares at Merlin with her dark eyes.
"It wasn’t meant to be, and do you think it would have hurt either of us any less if I’d let it continue?” Merlin says, a pleading tone to his voice.
There’s a moment where they just stare at each other, both clear in their opinions, before Gwen’s face softens just a smidge.
“Merlin,” she says. “What’s really wrong? You’ve been off your game for weeks.”
But for a second, he allows himself to feel all the hopelessness he’s been shoving far under his mental carpet and Gwen — being as observant as she is — spots it on his face.
“Oh, darling,” she says and gives him a warm hug. “Shush, it’s okay.”
Merlin doesn’t cry when Gwen hugs him. He rarely cries at all, and he never does in company. That is what he will forever claim, anyway. In reality, he hugs Gwen back, buries his face in her shoulder and lets the tears out. He cries quietly for a good two minutes before letting go of his friend and wiping his eyes.
“Gaaaay,” Will says from where he’s slouched on the sofa. “Although I’m happy you’ve stopped screaming at each other. It made watching ‘QI’ extremely difficult.”
Gwen walks over and cuffs him on the back of his head, but she’s laughing, so the rebuking effect is somewhat ruined.
“Oi!” Will exclaims.
“You deserved it. You’re such an arse,” Gwen retorts.
Will scoffs. “Hardly. I have a beautiful arse, though. Want to see?”
But Will doesn’t care, so he chases a screaming and laughing Gwen all over the flat before eventually trapping her in the corner by the bookshelves and rubbing his butt on her thigh in what he claims to be a seductive movement that makes all the ladies drop to their knees.
Gwen makes a disgusted noise in her throat. “Maybe if they’re about to faint. Not for any other reason, I’m sure.”
Then she laughs. It’s a beautiful, light, infectious laugh and Merlin can’t not join in. His is a throaty one and he’s still not completely okay, but he has stupid, ridiculous, wonderful friends and that’s at least something.
Will isn’t deterred by Gwen’s harsh words. “Oh, really? Maybe you’d change your mind if I show you my naked arse? It’s even more glorious!”
He starts to unbuckle his belt, but that’s when Merlin decides it’s probably time to save Gwen. He wrestles Will to the floor and they’re laughing and screaming and punching each other while Gwen does her best to act as a wrestling referee. All she really does, though, is kick at Will’s feet and allegedly famous butt and laugh the loudest of them all.
The bookshelves sway precariously before a book drops on Gwen’s shoulder.
“Ow,” she says and looks up just in time to be hit with another couple of heavy volumes as the bookshelves tip forward. “Oh! Merlin!”
Merlin looks up and manages to splay his hands to release his magic just in time. The bookshelves halt mid-movement, the magic saving all three of them from getting crushed beneath it.
“Fuck,” he breathes. “Will, Gwen, move.”
They do, quietly. Merlin’s not sure how he’s supposed to save the bookshelves now, maybe the best thing would be just to get out of the way and let it fall. Even if he tries to raise it again, all the books will fall and...
“Oh, to hell with it.”
He keeps a hand outstretched to keep the bookshelves from falling prematurely as he crawls to safety beside Gwen. And then he lets go.
The noise probably would wake up half the neighbourhood, were they asleep. Luckily, it’s only eight o’clock so Merlin should be able to avoid most neighbourly complaints. Still, the racket is deafening and Merlin doesn’t look forward to see the state of his wooden floor when he’s cleaned up this mess.
He must look pretty devastated, because Will slings an arm around his neck and drags him to the sofa. Gwen disappears into the small kitchen and they can hear her potter around for a while before she comes out carrying a tray with tea and biscuits.
“Is that... biscuits?” Merlin asks.
“Yeah,” Gwen says.
“Did you really find them in my cupboard? I’m pretty sure I had eaten everything even remotely sweet in this flat.”
Will laughs and stuffs his mouth full with several biscuits at once. Gwen looks at him in disgust.
“Will! And no, Merlin, I brought them.”
“And by the way, after that,” Merlin says, gesturing at the bookshelves, “I probably need something stronger than tea.”
Gwen smiles mischievously. “I know. That’s why I made Irish tea.”
“Irish... Do you mean tea... with whiskey?”
Merlin smiles. “Excellent,” he says and makes a grabby movement with his hands. “Give me.”
Gwen snickers and pours generous cups for all of them and half an hour later, they’re comfortably splayed out in the sofa, limbs entangled in ways only friends can make them.
“Yeah, dad, I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon.”
Arthur hangs up as he runs from the bus stop. He’s late for a meeting with the senior board and he can’t be late. He’s never late, but today... Apparently his alarm clock hadn’t gone off and Arthur had woken almost a full hour later than usual. The entire morning had turned into a frantic chase for breakfast, his toothbrush, non-crinkly clothes, the documents he’ll need for the meeting that he’s now late for...
Almost tripping on his own feet, Arthur swears a long tirade of different versions of ‘fuck’ while he tries to ignore the stares from people around him. There’s not a car in sight, so he runs across the road despite the pelican crossing not showing the green man.
There’s a loud screech of tyres and Arthur feels how something warm envelops him as he sees everything going on around him at once with a strange sense of clarity. The car that is about to hit him is a red Honda with a long key mark on the hood. A Honda! Really? Death by red Honda doesn’t sound very badass. And then he thinks that TV and films actually got it right for once – the world actually does slow down when you’re about to die. If not, he would have been hit already. He tenses and braces for impact when there’s a mild shove to his back, pushing him to safety, and then everything speeds up again.
The whole thing is over in seconds.
Arthur lands on his right shoulder on the pavement. The car comes to a screeching halt about ten feet further down the road from where he was standing just a second ago. He should have been hit. He should have been hurt — if not dead. A middle-aged man jumps out of the car and rushes over.
“Oh my God, are you okay? Are you okay? You okay?” he asks, over and over again, even when Arthur has got to his feet again and brushed the dirt off his suit as much as he can. “You just appeared out of nowhere, I didn’t see you!”
Arthur’s shaky, but does his best to stay calm. “I’m fine, you seem to be fine...” He smiles weakly. “I apologise, I shouldn’t have crossed the road right then.”
That’s true. The light hadn’t turned green, so he really shouldn’t have crossed. But he’s also sure there were absolutely no cars in sight — even if he hadn’t seen them, he would have heard them, and he hadn’t. Where the red Honda had come from, he has no idea.
Not able to flee the accident scene until the driver has calmed down and they’ve had the discussion on whether or not they should call the police, Arthur is late for the meeting. So late, in fact, that he just decides he won’t go at all, and locks himself in his office instead.
There are a lot of thoughts keeping his mind busy, none of which have anything to do with work. He unsuccessfully tries to bring order to them until he feels completely drained. When he falls asleep on his desk, it’s a relief. Dreams swirl in and out of his head, some more tangible than others. Several feature people Arthur knows, but they all have eyes that are not their own — instead of grey, greenish or brown, they’re a cerulean blue and glittering with suppressed laughter, even when the context of the dream doesn’t call for it.
If Arthur didn’t know better, he’d say someone was locked in his memory and was fighting to get out. Strangely enough, the thought doesn’t feel as evil or threatening as he’d imagine.
In the middle of a blurry dream featuring a lot of darkness and small flashes of blue and red, Arthur is woken up by the sound of someone knocking loudly on his office door. The handle rattles, as if someone is trying to open it.
Fuck. It’s Uther. He might be a caring father outside of work, but he most often isn’t when they’re at work. Arthur scrambles out of his chair, wipes his chin with the back of his hand — just in case he has drooled — and unlocks the office door.
“Arthur! Where were you this morning?” Uther says, voice tense.
What time is it? Arthur sneaks a peek on his watch under the pretence of scratching his chin. One? He’s been asleep for hours.
“I’m sorry, dad. I ran late and I missed it. When I got here, I just thought it’d be better not to disturb the meeting as it was about to end anyway, so I came straight to my office.”
“What is wrong with you nowadays, Arthur? I understand the breakup with Mithian is taking its toll, but I can’t allow you to slack off at work.”
Arthur looks down at the floor, but rolls his eyes at the insinuation that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with his work because of heartbreak. Uther just continues talking about the importance of the meeting and how the clients had asked about where his son was and how he had been forced to make up a ridiculous explanation and doesn’t Arthur know how bad Uther is at hedging the truth?
“Of course,” Arthur answers, loyal as ever.
Why doesn’t he just say what really happened? He could surely claim shock and there’ll be no repercussions from Uther — the concern for his only child would surely win over anything business related — but to Arthur, the near-accident feels oddly private, so he doesn’t say anything to excuse his behaviour.
The rest of the day turns into a blur as Arthur tries to catch up on everything he should have done instead of taking a nap in his office. When he gets home to his empty flat, he’s exhausted and doesn’t even bother getting anything more to eat other than a half-stale sandwich before stripping out of his suit and flopping down, face-first, on his king size bed. Tomorrow, he’ll need to take the tube out to meet with one of the company’s pain-in-the-arse associates who apparently needs to have their arse kissed. Such a great week.
Groaning, Arthur buries his face in a pillow and tries to make sense of this morning. He should be hurt at the very least, so how did he escape unscathed? There had been the shove, or what had felt like a shove...
It takes a long time to fall asleep, and when he does, he dreams vividly about blue eyes and vibrant colours.
Morgana frowns. There have been a lot of close calls lately. There’s something else going on than just another boring, ordinary life, but maybe it’s because they’ve met but haven’t connected yet?
Today, she isn’t sure what happened. She’s technically not allowed to interfere, so she hadn’t... but it was magic that had saved Arthur. She can feel it still lingering in the air around him, like an after shave that won’t come off. Logically, it must be Merlin — Merlin’s magic — that had somehow saved her brother, but Merlin hadn’t been close at all. He’d been at work several bus rides from where Arthur had been.
This is getting stranger and stranger. Maybe she should keep a closer watch on them, just in case they’re actually in danger.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, where are the damn keys? Merlin’s rushing around his flat with his shirt only half buttoned with one sock on and the other in his hand. Stubbing his toe on the threshold, he swears aloud. He frantically rummages through the heaps of old newspapers and magazines lying on his kitchen table, but still no keys.
He would’ve run by Gaius’s shop to buy something for lunch, but there’ll be no time now. If he doesn’t have the time to do a food run before the meeting, he just has to go hungry. It’s an arranged meeting with different publishers where they pitch newly published books to him and try to get him to stock it in his shop. He’s had to cancel it twice already, and if he doesn’t make it today... It’s not like his bookshop is a big one and they’ll probably just ignore him if he doesn’t show up. The man arranging the meeting, Gareth, has been understanding so far, but there’s a limit to everyone’s kindness. Merlin really, really needs to be there. Preferably on time.
“Aha!” he yells triumphantly as his fingers close around his keys.
They were under the seat covers on one of the kitchen chairs. Of course, why not? They always are somewhere nobody would ever put them. Not consciously, anyway. Honestly, Merlin could swear it’s actually not his fault — he always puts them where he can find them! Sometimes, he blames his magic, but it nags him that he can’t pinpoint when said magic would actually pull those small pranks on him. As an integral part of him, he should be able to feel it work.
That’s actually quite strange, Merlin thinks as he grabs his jacket and slams the door behind him.
At the tube station, he swipes his Oyster card and jogs down the escalator onto the platform. Three minutes to the next train. He needn’t have rushed. There’s a lot of people in the restricted space as everyone is on their way to work. Merlin makes his way slowly along the platform, weaving in and out between people, trying to find a spot where it isn’t too crowded. He balances precariously close to the tracks, but the train isn’t coming in yet, so it’s fine.
But then there’s a rush of wind and Merlin can hear the tell-tale signs of the train approaching the platform. He sees its lights in the tunnel, and then the train rushes into the station with a soft ‘whoosh’. Not really paying close attention to his surroundings, Merlin tries to take a step away from the tracks but as he does so, a broad-shouldered man passes him on the inside. The hard knock on his shoulder pushes Merlin off-balance and when he tries to straighten up, he trips on his own feet and starts to stumble backwards. He’s close to the tracks, too close to the tracks... His magic reacts too slowly, Merlin can feel it struggling to work properly — like it’s distracted — and when he realises he’s about to get hit by the train, he panics. He waves his arms desperately, trying to get a grip on something, anything, that will save him.
There’s a hand. It closes around Merlin’s wrist and roughly pulls him back up. The train rushes by, breaks screeching loudly as Merlin slumps safely down on the ground. He breathes heavily, tries to regain control of himself, but he’s shaking and feels like he’s going to be sick any second. The person who saved him, the person that the hand belongs to, hunches down beside him.
“Are you okay?”
Merlin can’t answer yet. He closes his eyes and feels how people around him move in and out of the train, a few bumping into him roughly but he doesn’t care.
“I— I’m fine.”
There’s a hand on his shoulder, a gentle squeezing. Merlin opens his eyes and looks up at the man, tries to convey just how grateful he is.
“Thank you,” he croaks.
The man smiles. “No problem, mate. I’m just glad I reached you in time.”
Merlin chuckles humourlessly. “Yeah. Me, too.”
Merlin takes a good look at the man. He’s got a Mediterranean look about him; dark eyes and a five o’clock shadow that must be deliberate since it’s still early. He’s gorgeous.
“Here,” the man says, offering Merlin his hand.
Merlin takes it and unsteadily gets to his feet. The train starts to move and soon Merlin and the man are almost alone on the platform.
“You’re okay,” the man says reassuringly and gives Merlin a smile.
He’s not, though. He’s not okay, because for the first time in his life, his magic has failed him when it really mattered. Yes, he had dabbled with strange spells and impossible wishes as a teenager. Many of those had failed, but Merlin likes to think that it wasn’t his magic as much as the spells being plain wrong or having become distorted into ruin over the years since their invention. Never ever had his magic failed him like this.
Suddenly he remembers he’s late for the sales meeting.
“Fuck,” he says, “I’m sorry, I’m so late, I need to catch a taxi instead. Hey, what’s your name?”
The man smiles, “Lance. Lancelot, really, but my parents were a bit too fond of the Arthurian legends, I feel. I go by Lance.”
“Lance. I’m Merlin. Would you mind giving me your number? You can take mine as well. I want to buy you lunch some day, okay? As a thank you for saving my life.”
Lance looks slightly suspicious for a second, but doesn’t hesitate before answering. “That would be nice.”
“Thanks,” Merlin says and scribbles his number down on a small piece of paper he finds in his jeans pocket. “Got to run. Sorry for making you miss your train.”
He smiles at Lance again before turning and leaving.
Yeah, something is definitely going on, Morgana thinks. There’s something else happening besides Merlin and Arthur getting together. Which of course they haven’t yet, the idiots.
She bites her bottom lip, worries it between her teeth. If this is the prophesied lifetime — and it looks like it is — Morgana needs to keep the clotpoles alive until they can meet and face “the oncoming storm”, whatever the hell that is.
Maybe she should... She wants to talk to Merlin, get his advice. Warn him, maybe. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to remember yet. Would he if she chanced talking to him?
She isn’t really allowed to do that, but... it might be worth the risk.
When Merlin finally manages to hail a taxi and opens the door, it’s already occupied. A woman is sitting in the furthest seat, twirling a strand of her long, dark hair leisurely, and staring out of the window from behind her sunglasses.
Startled, Merlin says, “Oh, I’m sorry, the sign was lit, I—”
“I’ll share,” the woman says, takes off her sunglasses, and looks up at him.
Her irises are shifting between colours: grey, blue, green — even a little bit yellow, like a cat. Merlin can feel his magic burst when their eyes meet. It hisses and burns under his skin, like a physical manifestation of rage. It’s uncomfortable and reassuring at the same thing, considering it failed less than five minutes ago. When the woman looks away again, the flare subsides a bit, making Merlin shudder slightly.
Looking in at her, he says, “I’m in a hurry. I can’t really wait for you to be dropped off somewhere. I’ll just get another taxi. Thanks anyway.”
He’s just about to close the door when he hears her.
“Merlin, get in.”
Her voice is sharp yet polite. Merlin’s not sure why he does it, but he climbs into the taxi and gives the address to the driver.
Turning to the woman, he says, “Thanks... I’m sorry, have we met before? I don’t remember...”
And there it is again, the magic protesting in his veins. Something is wrong about this woman, he can feel it but doesn’t know what it is yet.
“Okay,” he says, “Thank you... Morgana.”
“Do you remember anything at all?” she says, again turned away from him.
A moment’s silence.
“Apparently not, then,” she says to the car window.
How do you respond to that? Merlin doesn’t, just looks down on the bag in his lap and distractedly fiddles with a seam on his jacket. His magic still thrums louder than usual, but it’s calmed a little, at least.
Morgana sighs. “Look, I need to speak to you, but I can’t do it if you don’t remember anything yet.”
“What am I supposed to remember?” Merlin asks, cautiously.
There’s silence yet again. Merlin’s skin is starting to prickle and he regrets sharing the taxi. He could have waited an extra few minutes... But then he looks at the time and thinks that no, he really couldn’t. Now he’s only got ten minutes to get to the meeting, and in this traffic it’ll probably be at least a twenty minute drive.
The woman turns to him again and looks him over. It’s a hungry look, albeit not a sexual one. Still, it makes Merlin uncomfortable.
“Who are you?” he asks.
“I told you. I’m Morgana.”
“Yes, but... Who are you, really? How did you know my name before? Have we met?”
“You’re sure you don’t remember?”
Merlin is getting annoyed now. Who the hell is this woman?
Again, Morgana sighs. “I’ll tell you. Let me just...” she looks at Merlin and reaches over to touch his hand. For a moment, she hesitates, but then she puts her hand down on top of his. “I’ll show you.”
At the touch, Merlin’s mind starts to spin, and pictures run past his eyes at high speed. It’s like an old black and white movie where the reel has broken, making the picture flicker for a few seconds before the screen goes completely white... except it doesn’t, and these are memories, Merlin’s sure of it. They flicker past too quickly, and there’s no way of telling what they’re supposed to show. It doesn’t hurt in any way, but the sensation is unpleasant. Merlin shuts his eyes instinctively. That doesn’t help.
Morgana’s voice breaks through, “I’m not allowed to do this, really. Merlin, listen, you need to trust me on this. Concentrate on my voice.”
Breathing in laboured puffs at the intensity of it, Merlin tries to concentrate on the lilt of Morgana’s accent and the coolness of her hand. As Morgana keeps talking, mostly nonsense as far as Merlin is concerned, the pictures start to slow down. There’s the moment they meet for the first time; when they helped Mordred; laughing together in a corner in what looks like a medieval banquet hall; he, Morgana and Gwen enjoying a rare day together outside in the sun... Gwen? Merlin’s not sure why she’s there. Has he thrown her in there as some sort of defence, someone safe and known, against all the new impressions?
It’s confusing, because the memories aren’t Merlin’s, except they are.
And then there’s a clear memory of Morgana sitting on a throne. She looks vicious, wearing a victorious sneer on her face. A man hunches before her. He’s older – maybe around fifty? – but there’s something excruciatingly familiar about him, too. Within the memory, Merlin looks to his right and there’s a man his own age with a broken expression on his face. The face is familiar, too familiar, but still – Merlin can’t place it. He wants to reach out and touch that face, wipe it clean from dirt and sweat, but he stops himself. Chest clenching, Merlin feels his magic curl into itself and reverberate throughout his body as he fights the impulse to touch the man.
The scene fades into a different one. Merlin’s strung up, bound by the wrists. He can feel the pull on his shoulders and arms, even as he’s still aware that he’s sitting in a taxi in the 21st century with his hands firmly in his lap. The memories are centuries old, and it makes Merlin breathe faster, panicking slightly.
To stop the imminent panic attack, Merlin concentrates on the scene before him. Morgana’s there, too. She looks different from the last memory: wilder, more desperate. When memory Morgana puts her hand on his bound body, he writhes in pain and the scene blacks out again. Merlin can’t discern if it’s his magic that hisses like a snake or if it’s something else.
The images start flashing by quicker and quicker again. Morgana, Gwen, himself, the man with the broken facial expression... Merlin doesn’t recognise his own voice when he speaks the name. It comes out harshly, more forced out than spoken by will.
When Merlin utters the name, Morgana lets go of his hand. She’s shocked, because he wasn’t supposed to remember that, wasn’t even supposed to see him in the memories. She just wanted him to remember her, making him trust her. What the hell just happened?
Beside her, Merlin starts back to reality, eyes flying open. Morgana stares at him, and he stares back for a beat before scrabbling away from her as far as he can go in the cramped backseat.
“Morgana!” It comes out more like a breath than an actual word. “What...? Get the hell away from me!”
“Look,” Morgana says, trying to soothe him even though she’s pretty shaken herself. This clearly didn’t go as she intended. “I’m not going to hurt you, I swear. I know I did before, but I want to help this time. Listen, you’re in danger, you’re both in danger, and—”
“No!” Merlin almost shouts. “No, get away from me, don’t touch me, you—”
“No, no, no. Driver, stop! I’m getting out now!”
It takes a while for the taxi to find a suitable place to pull over, and Merlin doesn’t shift his gaze from Morgana for a second. She continues talking, tries to convince him to trust her, listen to her, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t anymore. He can’t. Of course he can’t.
Morgana can feel the magic pulsating off him, his mistrust obvious, the failure of her attempt to help them slapping her in the face over and over. She’s really in the shit now. It’s like standing on melting tarmac knowing that whatever direction you choose to go, your shoes are going to get stuck again and you can’t get away. Fuck.
To Merlin, she will always be a threat, because that is what she has always been.
When the taxi eventually comes to a stop, Merlin practically hurls himself out of the car and staggers onto the pavement. When the taxi pulls away again, their eyes meet and Morgana tries to will him into understanding that she’s not a threat this time. That she has changed. But Merlin doesn’t get the message because when Morgana breaks the eye contact, he turns and runs off.
So that went straight to hell, then. There’s no chance of warning them now. Morgana really should have known better. Of course Merlin wouldn’t trust her. There’s too much history, too much hurt, too much of everything between them. She should have known not even centuries could bridge that gap. Her betrayal had been too deep to begin with.
In hindsight, maybe she should have contacted Arthur instead. She hadn’t, because there’s so much pain in their relationship, not only for Arthur but for her, too. Merlin had always been better at coping with the things she did. And what could Arthur do against magic, anyway? Nothing, that’s what. Angry with herself, Morgana curls up on the car seat and starts twirling her hair despairingly. What the hell is she supposed to do now?
Fucking idiot, she thinks, unsure if it’s herself or Merlin she’s referring to.
Arthur falls asleep everywhere nowadays. In his office, on the bus, on the tube... Yesterday, at the meeting, he slipped up for a second, earning an annoyed look from several of the people he was supposed to impress. It’s strange, because he isn’t sleeping badly at night at all, but he still falls asleep during the day. Always when he wakes up, he’s disoriented for a couple of moments, feeling like there’s somewhere else he should be but still unaware of where.
There are also the dreams. They’re insistent, always slightly changing but mainly the same. The blue eyes are constant, and so are the flashes of colour. Arthur’s unable to let them go. The more he tries to make sense of them, the less distinct they become. It’s frustrating.
Now, he shuffles the papers in front of him, realises that — while asleep — he has drooled on a corner of the economics report and swears quietly to himself. Waking his computer from its dreamless sleep, he opens the right document and prints another copy. It’s quite late, already after 7 pm. He should probably go home.
He thinks of Mithian, wonders about where she is and what she’s doing. If she’s happy. He’s still not bitter about it, but he is curious. There’s a sting of guilt for not feeling more devastated about the break-up — she was his fiancée, after all. Sighing, he gets up from his desk and treads out of his office and down the corridor to Uther’s office. It’s empty, of course. Uther has left for the day, as have most people by now. There might be a few left, people who’re behind on their work or who are trying to impress the powers that be. It’s good to have such dedicated employees, Arthur thinks as he puts the newly printed economics report down on his father’s desk.
Instead of returning to his own office, he takes a detour up to the roof of the building. He hasn’t been up there for a long time. When he was younger and new at the company, he had spent many hours on the roof. Almost no one goes there, but Arthur used to whenever he felt the need to breathe for a few minutes. Whenever everything felt too much.
Like it does now.
Though he’s not sure why it feels like that. It’s like life has taken a turn and everything is suddenly very uncertain. He opens the access door and steps out onto the roof. It’s a bit windy, but not cold enough to go back inside. It’s not completely dark yet, either. The door slams behind him as he walks to the edge and looks down. So many people, so many cars... but they’re so small. Being this high above everything else is freeing, in a way. Arthur loves to be able to close his eyes, stretch his arms out and just feel how the wind tugs his clothes.
He doesn’t this time, but he stays on the roof for a long time, letting his thoughts run free.
Merlin’s meeting yesterday went badly. He had arrived more than thirty minutes late in a terrible state — sweaty and still very upset — and even though the sellers had done the pitch, it had been obvious what they had thought about Merlin. Gareth had listened to his apology afterwards, but hadn’t said much besides a short “Well, I’m in a bit of a rush”, shuffling Merlin out the door as quickly as he could.
Yesterday had been horrible. Today hasn’t been much better. When he got home the previous night, Merlin had gone straight for the vodka bottle at the back of his kitchen cupboard. Downing two shots in a vain attempt to forget the embarrassment as well as the weird encounter with Morgana, Merlin had gone to bed in the hopes of forgetting the entire day by falling into a dreamless sleep.
But of course, his sleep hadn’t been dreamless. There had been yellow and blue and a stark red interrupting it, and Merlin had woken even more distraught than when he went to bed.
Probably a result of him being distracted and rather grumpy, he’d tipped out the entire pot of coffee over Freya when he got to work this morning, having to send her home to get changed and cleaned up. Thank god the coffee hadn’t been hot, at least.
After ten hours of dealing with his own bad mood more than anything else, he locks up the bookshop and heads to the nearest pub. On the way, he calls Gwen. It rings twice before she answers.
“Gwen, I’m on my way to The Mystic Dragon. Meet me there?” Merlin says.
Gwen sounds regretful when she answers, “Merlin, I can’t. I’m babysitting my friend’s kid tonight.” There’s a pause, and then she says, hesitant, “You alright?”
Fuck this, Merlin thinks. “No, yeah, I’m fine, just had a rough day. Wanted to get drunk with my best mates.”
“Oh, babe, I’m sorry. But Will might be able to meet up with you? He’s usually not very busy. I’m sure he’ll be able to make it.”
“Yeah, no worries. I’ll call him now,” Merlin says.
Gwen sounds a bit happier at that. “Do it. And you can always call me if you want to talk. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
When they hang up, Merlin dials Will’s number straight away and waits for him to answer.
“This is Will, Possessor of the Best and Biggest Dick in the Whole Known U—?”
“Will, for fuck’s sake, answer like a normal person,” Merlin interrupts.
“Shut up, arsehole,” Will replies like the good friend he is.
“You’re up for the pub? I’m heading there now.”
“As absolutely splendid as it’d be to meet you, mate, I can’t. I’ve got a date.”
Merlin frowns. “A date? It’s Wednesday!”
He can practically hear Will’s grin as he answers, “Yeah, hump day, Merlin! A day practically made for dates!”
Okay, so Will’s getting laid tonight, apparently. In their teens, they’d always picked people up together, until Will realised it was hopeless because all the girls fell for his very cute, very big-eared, very gay friend instead of him. After that, he only flirted with girls occasionally when Merlin tagged along, only seriously trying to find someone when Merlin wasn’t there.
Merlin had often wondered about how Will actually managed to find girls willing to go out with him — he really was quite crude and loud when hanging out with his friends — but that mystery was solved when he accidentally spotted him on a date, once. He had brought the girl to a quaint little street market, stopping to buy a pink daisy off a flower booth and putting it behind her ear, making her giggle coquettishly. Merlin had gaped at how uncharacteristic of Will it had been.
For a few hours afterwards, he’d wanted to blow the doors wide open on Will’s blatant fake romanticism, but in the end he’d decided against it. Even though it wasn’t very ‘Will’, it apparently worked... for a while. Maybe that’s the reason Will can’t keep a girlfriend for very long.
Now, he holds his breath for a second too long before breathing out, “Okay, sure. Just... I’ll be at the pub if you decide you want to come down.”
“I don’t think so, mate. I think this chick’ll dig hump day.”
Merlin makes a grimace at the crudeness of that statement. “Will—”
“Yeah, yeah. If it doesn’t work out, I might come down later. Which pub?”
“The Mystic Dragon.”
“The one close to your work? That’s halfway across town from me!”
“Yeah, but it’s got that beer you like,” Merlin tries.
“Sorry, mate, you’re on your own tonight,” Will says and hangs up.
Merlin stares at the phone for a minute before stuffing it back into his pocket. Well, fuck Will and fuck Gwen. If they won’t join him, he can drown his sorrows on his own. Angry, he sticks his hands in his pockets and stalks into the pub. It’s not empty, but it’s not too busy either. It’s a little more than half full. It’s nice, Merlin thinks, just enough people to still be able to get a table in a corner and be forgotten about, and not enough people to have to stand at the bar the entire night.
He goes straight up to Kay, the barman, greets him with a nod and orders two beers and two shots of tequila and takes them over to an empty corner booth. So, he thinks, let’s get smashed, then. Forget all this shite.
The two shots of tequila get poured into one of the beers. Merlin’s never been particularly good with shots anyway, and mixing them with beer makes them taste significantly better. Kay watches him carefully from behind the bar. Merlin just smiles, raises the pint at him in a salute and takes three big gulps of the tequila beer. If this doesn’t make him forget everything that’s happened the last few days, nothing will.
It’s quiet on the roof, but it’s starting to get a bit chilly. Arthur huddles in on himself, hugs his arms around his own body to avoid losing more warmth than necessary. He can hear the city noises far below. Sirens, cars honking, someone yelling. It’s nice, reassuring in a strange way. A reminder that he’s not alone. He feels calmer than he’s done for months.
Breathing in, he closes his eyes.
For a second, he sees nothing but the blackness. Then, as a flash that imprints itself on the back of his eyelids, there’s an image of a man in his twenties, dark-haired, with exceptionally sharp cheekbones and a gorgeous mouth, head tossed back in a careless laugh. Arthur knows that man, has seen him before. He opens his eyes, brows furrowed. But where?
He rises from where he’s sitting on an air vent exhaust and starts pacing. Movement makes it easier to think. There’s something going on that he can’t put his finger on, and it bothers him. There’s too much stuff happening, too many close calls and stupid accidents for it to be a coincidence — but on the other hand, how can it not be a coincidence?
And who is that guy?
The more Arthur thinks about it, the more he reaches the conclusion that it must be a coincidence, after all. It’s getting late and he must have been out here for hours, now. It’s time to go home. There’s a new workday tomorrow, after all.
He’s gone more than half way down the stairs when he falls. His shoulder hits something hard and he lets out a yelp of pain as he continues to tumble downwards. Scrabbling for purchase, he tries to get a hold of the banister, but he’s not close enough to manage a grip. When he finally reaches the landing, he hits the left wall and knocks his head.
Before he loses consciousness, he becomes aware of that strange warmth again. This time, it’s accompanied by a soft humming noise... or maybe that’s just because of the hit? Arthur’s not sure.
The bricks are cold against Merlin’s back and the t-shirt he’s wearing isn’t helping against the coolness. Not that the cold is Merlin’s biggest problem right now, since he’s pressed up against a wall in a dirty alleyway behind The Mystic Dragon.
Not pressed up in the good way, either.
Apparently, some people don’t appreciate being propositioned in front of their friends in the middle of the pub. Maybe even less so when they’re propositioned for a blowjob.
Merlin thinks the bloke should be grateful. He doesn’t look like he’s one to get offers like that every day, anyway. He’s not particularly attractive... his nose is crooked and he has a prominent beer gut and his teeth don’t look great either. But he does have a large cock, the outline of which still is clearly visible through the jeans fabric. Merlin just wants his hands — and tongue, don’t forget the tongue — on it. I mean, if you wear jeans like that and show off your big cock through said jeans, of course you’ll get offers.
Two shots of tequila drowned in beer and a certain amount of horniness have put Merlin in this position. He doesn’t regret it. To be quite honest with himself, he thinks he probably deserves it. He realises what’s going to happen, he’s seen reports on gay bashings on the news enough times. Strangely enough, he’s not afraid, but that’s probably thanks to the alcohol. Plus, everything has gone to hell lately and it’s all his fault and just... it’s difficult to not blame yourself when you’re drunk. For a second, he thinks of Mordred, but what’s the point of that? He doesn’t want him back.
Everything... everything is just wrong, and Merlin doesn’t know how to fix it, and that drives him mad. And here he is, regretting nothing and everything all at once.
There’s three of them standing around him, here in the alley. Number one is the guy with the huge cock, pinning Merlin to the wall by pressing his arm to his throat. Merlin doesn’t fight back, thinks that he probably wouldn’t even if he could, just lets his arms hang loosely at his sides, waiting. He’s drunk. So, so drunk.
Number two is tall, thinner than the first one, but with nice, muscly arms. Merlin would very much like to have those arms wrapped around his chest and a cock pounding into his arse. Oh, well. Merlin shrugs mentally. Maybe he can squeeze that in later this week.
Heeh, ‘squeeze that in’. Get it? Merlin wishes Will was here. He would have appreciated that joke.
Number three is obviously nervous. He’s young, younger than both his friends — younger than Merlin — and quite short and bulky. As he looks around he fiddles with his hoodie straps, pulling at them, tying them into knots only to unravel them moments later.
“’on’t be nervous,” Merlin wheezes out, looking at Three. “I give ‘eally good ‘ead.”
One presses his arms tighter against his throat, “Shut up, faggot.”
Merlin coughs, struggling to breathe now. There’s white pressing into the edges of his vision, threatening to overtake it, but he fights it until One releases the pressure just a little.
“You need to be taught a lesson,” Two says, cracking his knuckles in an attempt to look menacing. It doesn’t, it just looks ridiculous. “We’ll beat some sense into you.”
“’Ou’ve been watching too many mafia films, mate,” Merlin says hoarsely. Cheekily.
“I told you to. Shut. Up!”
One moves his left arm to grab a hold of Merlin’s t-shirt before sinking his fist in his gut. Merlin doubles over, gasping for air as he lands on his knees on the tarmac. There’s a sharp tug on his hair and he’s hit in the face. Merlin can’t see for a second, the blow making it impossible for his eyes to focus properly. Licking his lips, he recognises the taste of iron. A split lip. Huh. It takes another blow for him to feel blood trailing his skin just in front of his ear. It tickles.
It’s wrong, he knows it’s wrong to want this, but he does and he doesn’t. There’s a hopelessness that has been eating him up since Mordred left — no, since his birthday — and nothing has helped. Maybe this will help. His desperation is greater than he realised before, and it’s growing by the second.
One lets go of his hair, and Merlin falls to the ground. Someone kicks him, hard, and he lets out a groan. Merlin makes himself as small as possible, shields his head and face with his arms, his body wiser than his mind when it comes to protecting itself. More kicks. At least one of the others must have joined the party, because there’s more than one foot kicking now.
Merlin reaches for his magic to protect him — like it always is, always has — but it’s not there.
It’s the tube accident all over again, and there’s a surge of panic running through his body before Merlin feels something hard, impossibly hard, hit his back and he mercifully blacks out.
Morgana sets off in a run towards Merlin, shouting at his assailants as she goes.
“Hey!” she yells, “Hey, what the fuck are you doing?”
At that, they run.
When she reaches the limp body, she realises Merlin’s bleeding and she quickly dials 999 to request an ambulance before leaning down to check him more closely. She can’t be here when the ambulance and police arrive, but she wants to make sure that he’ll recover. The blood is flowing abundantly from a small head wound, and Morgana presses her hand to it and whispers a few words. The bleeding slows down to a faint trickle. She’s never been an expert at healing magic, but at least she can do that much.
It’s a lot more than she’s allowed to do, but she can’t help herself. For destiny to come true, Merlin needs to live. She places a hand on his back and closes her eyes when she releases her magic to search for inner damage. Nothing that she can find, thank fuck.
She strokes Merlin’s cheek once, as he lies there, unconscious. His skin is pale even under the dirt and blood. It’s soft, and Merlin looks young — younger than Morgana can properly remember. She suddenly remembers the first time she saw him. It had been in the Great Hall, him standing beside Gwen, Morgana in one of her best dresses. None of them had known what the future would bring, then. Morgana didn’t know which road she’d take, Gwen hadn’t even started dreaming about what would become of her, Arthur hadn’t known of Merlin’s magic...
Huh. That is strange. Merlin’s magic isn’t there, she can’t feel it pulsating like she did yesterday in the taxi. She lets her magic run free to search for it — it’s not hard, she’s finely tuned into her precious idiots and their abilities, after all — but when she finds it...
Oh my god, she thinks. Of course.
But then she hears the sirens approaching. With a last, long look at Merlin, she steps into the shadows and disappears.
Arthur opens his eyes and stares up onto a beige ceiling. He’s hit by a wave of nausea and tries to turn to his side, but a firm hand on his shoulder stops him. The person beside — no, above — him gives him a smile, but it’s strained and doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Lie still,” she says, “The ambulance is on its way.”
Arthur makes another try to move. “I don’t need...”
There, he cuts himself off, because the movement makes him dizzy and he’s not completely sure he’ll be able to actually get up.
“Sure, love,” the young woman says, patting his shoulder patronisingly.
“Who...?” Arthur tries, making a vague gesture with his hand to convey what he means.
“What? Oh, I’m Elena. The cleaning lady. Or what’s the proper title again? I’m not sure, some of the women I work with resent being called ‘cleaning ladies’, though I don’t mind, myself. It’s kinda sweet, I think. Well, I’m cleaning the offices, anyway. I really didn’t aspire to become a cleaning lady, though, of course, not really. I’ve always wanted to work with children, you know? Children are so amazing, and who doesn’t want to work with children? Helping forge the next generation, you know. Who doesn’t want that?”
Quite a few, Arthur thinks. She’s babbling on, though, so he doesn’t get the chance to tell her.
“I even took all the relevant university courses! But when I got onto the job market, it’s so hard. Everyone wants a letter of recommendation to be able to employ you to work with children. And I get it, I do, but it’s just... how am I supposed to get that letter of recommendation in the first place? I just wish I could get a first position as a nanny and then...”
Arthur’s mind might be somewhat addled at the moment, but Elena is beautiful, despite talking at 200 miles per hour. He’s always imagined cleaning ladies to be ugly.
It’s not until Elena laughs that he realises he’s said it out loud.
“Um, thanks?” she says, again patting his shoulder.
Arthur smiles up at her. She really is pretty. As he thinks that, there’s a vague hissing sound in his ears and the air around him compresses a little, making it slightly harder to breathe. The feeling isn’t completely unlike being hugged by a pushy, too-large lady with too much jewellery and too much perfume. Arthur’s had his fair share of those kind of hugs, considering his father has been a hotshot in the industry for over twenty years and used to drag him along to all kinds of events as a child. Events mainly attended by fat women with the need to hug small, blond boys uncomfortably stuffed into suits, apparently.
But when Arthur redirects his eyes towards the ceiling again and concentrates on trying to not throw up, since the nausea isn’t subsiding, the pressing feeling evaporates.
There’s a slam in a door somewhere below them, and someone shouts, “Hello?”
“We’re here!” Elena yells back. “They’re here, finally. Just stay calm, Arthur, okay? You’ll be fine.”
“I... I didn’t say,” Arthur says.
“Oh, please,” she smiles, “Like I don’t know who the boss’s son is.”
The ambulance personnel come up the stairs and Elena lets go of Arthur to let them do their job. They stabilize his neck and lift him onto a stretcher after making sure he’s not broken anything.
When they’re ready to whisk him away, Arthur says, “Elena?”
He can only see her in his peripheral vision, but he’s pretty sure she smiles when she answers.
“No problem. You take care, okay?”
Merlin wakes up in a hospital bed, with Gwen sleeping in a chair beside it. It looks uncomfortable. When he looks around the room, he notices that Will’s there too, lying on a sofa by the furthest wall. He is snoring quietly and Merlin lets out a laugh at the absurdity of it. But the movement makes his head ache and there’s a stab of pain to his torso. He tries to shift his body to see better but the pain is too much and he lets out a low whine under his breath. The noise rouses Gwen.
“Merlin?” she says, voice raspy from sleep.
Merlin leans back onto his pillow again, turning towards her as best he can. “Yeah, I’m awake... What happened?”
Gwen looks sad and incredibly tired.
“I got the call at about 10 last night when the hospital called. I got Tom and Maya to come home early, and here I am.” She suppresses a yawn. “Apparently I’m your ‘contact in case of emergency’ person, thanks for telling me. Arsehole.”
She smiles, but it’s a weary one.
“Anyway, I called Will right after the hospital had called me, and he made it here before me.”
Merlin glances at Will.
“You got beat up, Merlin,” Gwen adds, suddenly serious.
“Yeah,” Merlin says. “Yeah, I noticed.”
Gwen glances at Will. “He got worried, you know. He yelled at the doctors all night for not letting us in here and not telling us how you were doing because we aren’t family. It wasn’t until he started talking about how you were an important Pendragon employee and that he would have to call Uther Pendragon himself that they let us in.”
“But... I’ve got no connection to the Pendragons. And even if I would, it doesn’t make any sense...”
“No,” Gwen shrugs, “You don’t and it doesn’t. But the Pendragons apparently have a lot of pull with the hospital since they donate a lot of money to it. Will just... transferred his own work onto you. Oh, well, and lied about the ‘important’ part, of course.”
The attempt at joking falls flat, because neither of them smile.
Gwen continues. “Look, Will’s an excellent liar and, for once, it came in handy. I’m not complaining that we got to see you and stay by your side.”
Merlin sighs, nodding slowly, “Who found me?”
It’s not Gwen that answers this time. Will’s voice is muffled since his face is half pressed into the sofa cushion as he speaks.
“We don’t know. The 999 call was anonymous and no one was there when the ambulance arrived.”
“Oh,” Merlin says.
Will pulls himself up to a sitting position and straightens his shirt. His voice is still riddled with sleep as he continues, “The police were here earlier and wanted to ask you some questions about all of this. They’re coming back in a while, I think.”
“Oh,” Merlin says again. “All right.”
“What the hell happened, Merlin? You’ve got...” Will lowers his voice so it’s barely audible, “... you know... magic. How come you were so badly beaten up?”
Merlin swallows and turns his face towards the window, looking out at the clouds above.
“I don’t know,” he says, “It just didn’t... work.”
“What?” says Gwen. “What do you mean ‘it didn’t work’?”
“I couldn’t reach it.”
Merlin chances a glance at Will, who looks worried where he sits at the sofa.
“Do you know why?” he asks.
“No,” Merlin says, “It’s been a bit wonky ever since my birthday, and the day before yesterday... uh, I think? What day is it today?”
“Thursday,” Gwen supplies.
“Right. Yeah, okay, so I had a bit of an accident on Tuesday, and the magic didn’t work then either.”
Will’s expression tenses but before he can say anything, there’s a knock on the door and a doctor steps in.
“Oh, I’m pleased to see you’re awake, Mr Emrys. I’m just going to do a quick examination. If your friends would please wait outside?”
The way the doctor says it results in a mean glare from Will, but Gwen grabs him by the arm and drags him out of the room before anything worse happens. Merlin makes sure the door closes behind them before turning to the doctor, who has started to carefully prod at Merlin’s ribs, making him wince slightly.
“How bad is it?”
The doctor frowns before answering, “Well, you’ve got a concussion as well as a rather nasty head wound. That’s the worst, and we need to keep you here until tomorrow just to make sure there’s no swelling inside your skull.”
Merlin glances up at him. “I feel fine, though. Ugh!” he adds as the doctor prods a particularly tender spot. “... Besides the pain, I mean.”
Letting out a humourless laugh, the doctor takes a deep breath before answering. “Yes, well, you’ve got some bruised ribs, but at least they’re not broken. You should consider yourself exceptionally lucky that your back also only seems to be bruised and didn’t suffer worse damage. You were quite badly beaten.”
Merlin doesn’t ask anything else until the doctor’s done with his examination, and when Gwen and Will returns, he only asks them to beg Freya to take on the extra shift at the shop tomorrow. She won’t be happy, he knows, but she’s kind and never has let Merlin down this far into her employment. Gwen says that she can stop by and help her out, and Merlin’s gratefully accepts her offer.
Will makes a move as to shove at his shoulder when they turn to leave, like he so often does normally, but stops himself at the last second.
“Yeah, well, mate,” he says instead, reaching back and scratching his neck awkwardly, “Feel better, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Merlin says, “I’ll be home tomorrow, it’ll be fine.”
Gwen waves as they leave, and then, Merlin is alone. He fumbles with the small remote that controls his bed for a while before figuring out the way to lower the mattress so that he can lie down.
It takes a while for him to fall asleep, so at first he stares up at the ceiling, pretending that the weird spots are stars and tries to count them all. That proves decidedly less effective than counting sheep, so he turns onto the side and watches people pass by the half-open door instead. There are patients, nurses, a doctor...
His breathing evens out eventually and his eyes glide shut. For the first time in weeks, his sleep is dreamless.
Uther’s hand resting on his uninjured shoulder is annoying Arthur. It makes him feel like a child, sitting on an exam table while his father talks to the doctor. Talking about him, but not tohim. Ugh.
He’s fine. After having to go through extensive examination and some sort of scanning procedure to make sure he hadn’t hit his head or fractured his spine, he’d been declared well enough to not have to stay at the hospital. It had taken forever, though, and they were now well into the early hours of the morning.
Apparently, he had been ‘very, very lucky’ not to hurt himself more. According to the doctor, he is uninjured other than a few bruises and perhaps some soreness that might linger for a couple of days where he hit his shoulder.
The two older men talk for another couple of minutes and then Uther’s grip on Arthur’s shoulder tightens as he turns to him and says, “Well, come then, let’s go home.”
Arthur dutifully rises, shakes hands with the doctor and steps out into the corridor. He can hear Uther’s ‘thanks’ before the door slams shut again behind them both. They walk in silence for a while.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Uther says eventually.
“Yeah. I was lucky, apparently.”
“You were. You could have broken your neck in that fall.”
Arthur shrugs and winces as there’s a flash of pain in his shoulder.
“Arthur...” Uther begins, “I’m giving you some time off from work, effective immediately. Take a couple of weeks, maybe a month. Sort through your affairs.”
Uther stops and grabs Arthur’s arm so that he has to stop, too. Looking at each other, Arthur’s expression incredulous and Uther’s determined.
“It’s obvious that something’s wrong, Arthur,” he continues, voice kind. “And I don’t want to have to worry about working you too hard, so please, just humour me and take a few weeks off and rest.”
What can Arthur say to that, really? Uther’s apparently trying to be understanding, and yes, maybe it would be nice to get a week or two to rest and try and work things out. He doesn’t need to think about the break-up with Mithian, but there’s so much else going on...
Uther continues, “Helen’s worried, too. You haven’t visited for a while and she worries about you. Please take the time to drop in when you’ve rested.”
Arthur smiles at the mention of Uther’s wife — Arthur’s stepmother, of sorts. He’d been at university when his father met her, and he had been worried at first. Uther hadn’t had a lot of luck in love since Arthur’s mother passed away, and the woman in the last of his temporary relationships had been a straight-up gold digger.
But when Uther had met Helen, he had finally settled down again. Almost fifteen years younger than her husband, she is easygoing and doesn’t have any trouble standing up to him and, maybe because of that, there had been an instant, mutual affection between her and Arthur. And since Helen had always been respectful towards Ygraine’s memory, there had never been any real problems between them. To be honest, Arthur has long considered Helen to be the mother he never got to know, and her presence in his father’s life makes him happy.
“Is it Helen that has badgered you into giving me time off work?” Arthur asks, smiling for the first time all night.
Uther scowls, unwilling to admit to being firmly under his wife’s thumb. “Well, I would have thought of it sooner or later myself,” he finally grinds out.
That makes Arthur laugh, despite the pain it causes in his back and shoulder. “Fine,” he says, “I’ll take some time off. And tell Helen I promise to visit as soon as possible.”
Uther looks relieved and happy at that. Probably partly because he doesn’t want to disappoint Helen, Arthur thinks, smirking slightly to himself.
“I need to sign some papers before we leave. It’ll only be a couple of minutes,” Uther says. “Just hang on.”
Arthur nods and sits down in a chair a bit further down the corridor. He tilts his head back, letting it rest against the wall. It’s cool against the back of his neck and his eyes starts to drift shut. Out of nowhere, there’s a soft tug to his sleeve and he immediately opens his eyes, thinking that maybe someone needs him to move out of the way. There’s no one there, though.
Frowning, he leans back against the wall, but keeps his eyes open. There’s another tug, more insistent this time. Still, there’s nothing there. It’s weird, but Arthur gets up, going to wherever the strange nothingness leads him. Luckily, it’s not very far, because when the tugging sensation disappears and Arthur stops, he can still see Uther scribbling away at the nurses’ station from where he stands.
He’s standing in front of a door that’s slightly ajar. There’s nothing else close, except a couple of chairs nearby and an ugly painting on the opposite wall. Curious, Arthur opens the door a bit more and peeks inside. The room is occupied. There’s a man lying on the bed, apparently asleep, and Arthur is hesitating whether or not to take a step into the room when he unwillingly shudders, as if he’s suddenly standing in a draft. A second later, the man in the bed sighs contentedly and turns in his sleep.
“Ready?” Uther calls from the desk.
Arthur’s conflicted, because he clearly needs to leave to go home and rest, but there’s also... that man. Something drew Arthur to that room and although he doesn’t know what it is, he feels like he should stay.
After a few moments deliberation, he nods at Uther’s question and follows him as he leaves. But at the end of the hallway, he turns back and looks at the door. What the hell just happened?
Morgana’s restless. She’s happy that both Merlin and Arthur are okay, but the intensity and the gravity of these ‘accidents’ is worrying. And what — if anything — should she do? They’re supposed to get help when it’s needed... and don’t they need it now? Morgana leans back in her chair and reads the well-known lines of the prophecy again.
Two immortal halves are destined to once again become a whole. At the quarter-century, they will start their journey anew. Together, they will return what is long lost. Beware those who misinterpret what has been foretold, and who are the only ones who can bring destiny to its knees. The oncoming storm will shape the world to come. When faith is lacking, aid will come from the one who still is lost.
For a second, Morgana doesn’t find the words applicable to the situation, thinking that perhaps this isn’t the lifetime, after all? But then, they have met already, although they didn’t recognise each other. And everything began when Merlin turned 25. They’re constantly in trouble because of these strange accident-like incidents... This mustbe it. Mustn’t it?
She swears out loud and bangs her fist on the desk in frustration. Ugh, idiotic, vague prophecy!
As it turns out, Freya claims to not need the two extra days off with full pay that Merlin gives her as a ‘thanks for looking after the shop’ present. However, she takes them anyway and in return bakes fresh pastry for their coffee breaks for an entire week afterwards.
Will, on the other hand, is quiet for five minutes after he picks Merlin up at the hospital and then yells at him for the rest of the way home. After that, they don’t speak for a whole week, because that’s how long it takes for Merlin to realise what Will’s really angry about: he got scared something even worse had happened when Merlin didn’t return his calls that night.
Merlin gets so overwhelmed with guilt that he off-handedly promises to let Will choose all the features for the next year’s worth of film nights. Gwen scoffs when she hears about it, but doesn’t protest since she and Will share pretty much the same taste in films. It doesn’t matter what Gwen thinks about it, Merlin thinks, because Will starts talking to him again when he calls him up and blurts out a half-arsed apology, and soon after everything is pretty much back to normal.
The only lingering reminder is the bruising on Merlin’s face.
Those bruises are faded but still visible when Freya leaves to meet a friend for lunch yet another week later. She asks Merlin three times if he’ll be okay with managing the shop alone before Merlin practically shoves her out the door and slams it shut behind her. Business is slow and he’s really not doing much, just sorting some titles on the history shelf when a woman enters the store and smiles at him. He smiles back, not really feeling as happy as he tries to project. It doesn’t matter if he succeeds or not because the woman doesn’t seem to notice either way, and she finds the book she’s looking for without having to ask.
While ringing up the purchase and exchanging pleasantries with his customer, Merlin hears the door open and close and he throws a glance towards it. When he recognises the blond hair and the broad back, he fumbles with the bag and totally forgets about the woman in front of him. She leaves with an appreciative look at the other customer and when the door closes behind her, Merlin swallows audibly.
He swiftly sorts through the memories Morgana left in his mind, tries to apply them to the man in front of him. It can’t be. It can’t be, he thinks before letting out a tentative, “Arthur?”
The man turns and smiles at Merlin. There’s surprise in his expression, but it’s the polite kind of surprise, not the ‘Oh hello there, soulmate’ kind of surprise that Merlin wants right now.
He doesn’t know what to do, so he just stands there and stares. The blond hair, the slightly crooked smile, the form of his body, his stance, his eyes... Everything about him is exactly how Merlin remembers it, and that’s unsettling. How can he be here, looking exactly the way he used to? Merlin remembers Arthur clearly now. The details of how, when, where are still hazy, but Merlin knows Arthur like his own skin, his own thoughts, his own mind. To see him here, in the flesh, smiling politely at him, is dizzying.
Maybe he’s dreaming. Or suffering a stroke.
“’M not dreaming?” he asks, voice slightly strangled.
Arthur’s smile falters and he looks unsure as he answers, “I don’t think so. Depends on what you see, I suppose? Are you all right?”
“You. I see you.”
But Arthur — it is, it really is Arthur — doesn’t seem to recognise Merlin. It breaks Merlin’s heart a bit, because he knows instinctively of their connection, even if he can’t remember it all yet. Maybe it’s the magic, Merlin thinks and as he does, he can feel it thrum joyously beneath his skin, extend itself to envelop Arthur, too. He can see the almost invisible shudder in Arthur’s muscles as it reaches him.
Merlin can’t help it, but states it again. “You’re Arthur.”
It’s obvious Arthur doesn’t know what’s going on, though. He doesn’t know. “Yes, I am, but... I’m sorry, I don’t know you?”
“Arthur. Arthur, you do,” Merlin tries and reaches out for him before stopping himself, lowering his hand again. If he really doesn’t recognise him, that will probably freak him out like nothing else.
But Arthur doesn’t look freaked out. He doesn’t look scared either. He does look very, very confused – and maybe even a bit curious.
Merlin changes tacks. “Hi, I’m Merlin,” he says, forces his mouth into a smile, and offers his hand.
Arthur smiles back, slightly nervously now, and takes it. When their skin connects, Merlin’s magic pulses violently and something similar to an electric shock surges through Merlin’s arm. It burns for a second, but when he tries to let go of Arthur’s hand, their skin feels like it’s been melted together. The sensation is quite painful, but doesn’t last long — a couple of seconds at the most — and when they manage to let go of each other, they’re both gasping for air. Arthur’s eyes are wide and he’s rubbing his palm with his thumb, as if to soothe the brief pain away.
So, he doesn’t remember anything. That’s okay, Merlin thinks. I remember, I can tell him. Still, it hurts to know that they’re connected, finally reunited, but only he remembers. Merlin looks down at the floor, closes his eyes and tries to remain calm.
The voice is uncertain, more uncertain than Merlin has ever heard it before, in memory or in life. He looks up again, and there’s something different about Arthur now. Something has shifted, and when their eyes meet, Merlin can see the recognition and the fear as well as the sudden, unexpected longing.
The longing to touch, to reacquaint himself, to see everything, to again know everything in every way possible about Merlin.
A soft sound of relief escapes Merlin’s mouth then, and he takes a step forward and wraps his arms around the man in front of him. Arthur hugs him back, albeit a bit hesitantly. Warm, firm, present Arthur... Merlin breathes in heavily, clings to Arthur’s body like a vine around a tree. Oh God, how he’s missed everything about Arthur. The hands on his back are large and warm and familiar, and Merlin revels in the feeling of finally coming home.
But just then, the door opens and Merlin and Arthur fly apart with the shock of the real world still existing outside of their magical one. No, no, this isn’t right, Merlin needs to talk to Arthur, he can’t deal with anything else right now. Deciding quickly, he shoos the little old lady out the door again, apologising profusely as he does so, and locks it behind her. He turns the sign on the door to ‘closed’ and leans his head on cool glass and takes a second to breathe.
It’s almost too much, all of it.
“So,” Arthur says from somewhere behind Merlin, his voice a little unsteady. “I don’t really understand what just happened, but we should probably talk... right?”
Merlin turns and gives him a shy smile. “Yeah,” he says, “we probably should.”
Morgana can’t believe it. After more than 1,500 years and countless close calls, they’ve finally met. It’s weird, it’s... empty somehow. But it’s still great. Fantastic, great, awesome, wonderful!
Her smile is so huge she can’t really cover it with her hand and she shuts her eyes and squeals a little before realising that’s totally undignified. It’s hard not to squeal, though, because they’ve met.
They. Have. Finally. Met.
Arthur’s confused and calm at the same time. This feels natural, being here with Merlin. Merlin, whose blue eyes Arthur remembers from both dreams and an era long forgotten.
Long forgotten by everyone but them, it seems.
The thin body hidden beneath those ordinary jeans and that grey, slightly washed out t-shirt... It’s the same — well, not the same, but yes, the same — body Arthur has spent so much time around. He’s not really sure when he has, but his skin itches with anticipation and recognition whenever he looks at the man in from of him.
This is... quite unbelievable. Even as the familiarity runs through his body, his brain keeps telling him that this is plain weird.
Merlin looks like he’s going to faint. His gorgeous, pale skin is even paler than Arthur remembers it as he reaches out to touch Merlin’s cheek. Merlin shivers, closes his eyes and leans into the touch before breathing out, shakily.
“Um,” he says, “Let’s... Let’s go in here, yeah?”
Arthur just nods before following Merlin into a room that has books lined up on shelves on all four walls. The floor is full of boxes, and there’s a narrow boxless path running through the room towards the furthest wall. It’s strangely cosy in here.
Merlin gestures for him to sit on one of the boxes and smiles slightly when Arthur looks at it, contemplating if it will really hold, or if it will send him crashing onto the floor.
“It’ll hold,” Merlin says when Arthur shoots it a suspicious glance. “They’re all full of books.”
“Oh,” Arthur says and gingerly sits down on one. He still feels insecure even if what Merlin says really is true, so he half-balances on the edge of the box, not fully trusting it to hold his weight.
Merlin sits down on a box opposite Arthur, draws his knees up against his chest and wraps his arms around them. The situation is suddenly awkward and Arthur’s not sure what he’s supposed to do, so he goes into his defensive mode: straightening his back and schooling his facial features into that bored neutrality he’s perfected through years of board meetings and his father’s lectures.
Apparently, Merlin feels the tension too, because he squirms a bit before lifting his head and looking at Arthur.
“What do you remember?” he says eventually.
“Not much. You, mostly. And colours, a lot of colours.”
Merlin smiles a little. “Red, right?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says and relaxes a bit. “I just thought it was a coincidence first, because red’s my favourite colour.”
There’s quiet for a moment, and he can see Merlin smile though his eyes are downturned again.
“Well, I mean, I didn’t realise...” Arthur starts over. “About you... I only remembered your eyes clearly until... just now, really. Oh, and your cheekbones and the hair... But then, here you are, and...” He takes a deep breath to try and keep himself from rambling on. “What do you remember?”
Merlin shakes his head a bit, more to himself than to Arthur. “A bit more. I remember you. Your hair, your face. And I remember some other people. I have a friend that’s... she’s there, too. Gwen.”
Guinevere, of course. That name is ridiculously familiar to Arthur, but it was never... He closes his eyes and tries to remember anything more than the name, but all the details escape him. Knowing that he used to know her is perhaps enough for now anyway.
“And the colours are there for me too,” Merlin continues, “Green, yellow, blue... and a bright red that feels like home, strange as that sounds.”
Arthur never thought of it like that, but now that Merlin mentions it, yes, that kind of red really does feel like home to him, too. It belongs to him, in some weird way.
“But...” Merlin continues, “you remember me, at least?”
“Yeah,” Arthur breathes and leans forward, because he does remember Merlin. Maybe not so much in clear pictures, but the feeling of him being close is so familiar he aches with it.
His thoughts are abruptly cut off when Merlin leans forward too, putting his legs down on the floor, placing them between Arthur’s own. They’re close now, close enough to breathe in each other’s air. Nervously, Arthur clears his throat and makes a move as to draw back when Merlin closes the gap between them and kisses him.
Then, several things happen at once. First — and most importantly — there’s the very pleasant feeling of Merlin’s lips on his. Arthur automatically closes his eyes, opens his mouth slightly and breathes in when Merlin prods curiously with his tongue against his. Merlin’s inching closer, pressing against Arthur’s body, clinging to it again and Arthur holds fast. He holds Merlin as tight as he dares and Merlin makes a soft, pleased sound in the back of his throat and squeezes Arthur closer still.
Second, there’s a crackling sound and a couple of loud thumps to Arthur’s right. He doesn’t care because Merlin doesn’t seem to care and the only thing he wants to do is hold him and kiss him and... do even more, but maybe not in the back room of a small book shop. There’s that much sense left in him, at least.
Third, the colours are back, but they’re different from Arthur’s dreams. They’re kind of... dampened, and spinning, floating, flowing like water. Everything at once. He can see them even though his eyes are closed and it’s not until he and Merlin break apart and he actually opens his eyes again that he realises the colours aren’t just in his mind this time. They’re along the walls, giving the dusty shelves a life they’ve missed, highlighting the spines of old books as well as new.
Arthur laughs, delighted at the display. Merlin looks slightly abashed, but smiles and grabs his hand, twining their fingers together.
“Do you remember?” Merlin asks.
Still watching the dancing colours, Arthur answers distractedly, “Remember what?”
“The what?” Arthur laughs. Surely, Merlin’s joking. It’s some sort of inside joke he doesn’t yet remember.
Merlin squeezes his fingers tighter and leans in to place a kiss right in the corner of Arthur’s mouth.
“The magic,” he says again, running his thumb along the jaw. Arthur shudders. “You know... this.”
He makes a sweeping gesture with his hand towards the colours around them. A dark forest green swirls over a stack of book boxes in the corner, disappearing from view.
“You’re doing this?”
At that, Merlin lets go of Arthur’s hand and leans back into his own space. When Arthur looks at him, his face is tense and there’s a hint of fear that Arthur doesn’t like. It doesn’t suit him. That expression on Merlin’s face is just plain wrong.
And then he understands.
“Hey, hey,” he says. “It’s okay, I understand. It’s okay.”
Merlin looks at him, sceptically, but with a little less fear.
“I mean, I don’t understand,” Arthur continues, “but I’ve found you and this...”
He points to a sliver of red that’s sneaking in under Merlin’s left shoe, slowly caressing his shoelace like it was a lover.
Arthur gets a bit distracted by the colour’s motion, “Uh, okay, that’s a bit weird, but...”
Pause. A deep breath, and then, “But I’ve found you and I won’t leave because of that. It’s strange and weird but this... this is real, isn’t it?”
Merlin takes the hand that’s feebly gesturing between them and holds it to his own chest.
“It is,” he says and smiles softly.
It’s not really clear if he’s talking about the thing between them or the magic, but Arthur decides that it’s probably both. He reaches out with his other hand and cups Merlin’s cheek. Merlin draws a breath and leans into the touch.
“I—” he begins, but is abruptly interrupted by the shop door closing with a bang.
Merlin draws away from Arthur and hastily gets up from the book box. The colours surrounding them disappear immediately, but Arthur’s distracted enough to not question it.
“Didn’t I lock up?” Merlin mumbles as he disappears out the door, leaving Arthur alone in the back room, confused and happy and oddly disconnected to all the strange things happening.
A few seconds later, Arthur can hear a woman’s voice, upset, and the low murmur of Merlin’s response. Of course, he’ll be in trouble with his boss for locking up the shop in the middle of the day and snogging someone completely unknown in there. They really shouldn’t have, it’s not proper.
“How the hell was I supposed to know nothing had happened to you again?” the woman near yells, making it easy for Arthur to hear even though he doesn’t intend to.
“Freya!” Merlin’s voice is high-pitched before it goes back into its normal lower register, but the murmur is still audible to Arthur even if he can’t make out the words. Not that he’s trying to, that’d be creepy and highly inappropriate.
Feeling out of place and guilty that he’s causing Merlin grief, he takes a deep breath, exhales slowly and walks into the shop. He stops in the doorway, looking at the scene before him. If the lady in question wasn’t so angry, it’d look very funny. She’s tiny, really — a full head shorter than Merlin and even thinner than him, too. Nonetheless, she has him crowded against the shop counter. Merlin’s face is flushed and he looks like he wants to sink through the crust of the Earth to get away from her.
“... What if those guys had found out where you work and come to finish the job, eh? They could have surprised you and locked the door and fucking killed you in the back room! What were—”
She cuts herself off when Arthur clears his throat awkwardly. “Hi,” he says and gives her a small, even more awkward wave.
“Who. Are. You?”
Arthur glances to Merlin, but doesn’t get the answer out before Merlin does.
“Freya, don’t be... rude,” he says as the woman — Freya — shoves a finger into his chest. It looks painful. “His name’s Arthur, he’s... He’s a friend,” Merlin finishes weakly.
“A friend?” Freya says, eyeing Arthur suspiciously. “Really?”
She looks thoughtful for a moment, and then presses the tip of his finger a bit harder into Merlin’s chest. “So he’s not threatening you, then?” She turns to Arthur, “You’re not threatening him?”
He lifts his hands, palms outward in what he hopes is the international sign for ‘I’m not a threat’. “No,” he says, trying to keep his voice calm. “I swear I’m not.”
Apparently, that is when Freya notices the slightly rumpled fabric of Arthur’s shirt where Merlin grabbed him as they hugged, and that his lips that are still wet and a pleasant red from kissing. Her eyes go comically wide as she looks at him, back to Merlin, and at him again.
“You...” she starts and then blushes a frankly adorable shade of crimson.
When Arthur glances at Merlin, he notices that the tips of Merlin’s ears have gone reddish, too, and he can’t help but quirk his lips slightly at that.
“You were snogging!” Freya spits out and turns back to Merlin again, again placing her finger against his chest like the tip of a sword. “You were snogging! At work! And you closed the shop to do it!”
Merlin looks embarrassed and he pointedly doesn’t look at Arthur when he tries to make the shrug seem nonchalant and his “yeah” sound like a “who wouldn’t?” — but in the end, he still fails miserably.
When Freya snorts and turns back to the door and says, “Well, by all means, please continue. I’m out of here.”
And then she’s gone, door slamming shut behind her. Left to their own devices are Merlin — who looks shaken by the whole thing — and Arthur, who still feels guilty for causing all this trouble.
“So,” he says in an attempt to break the tension Freya left behind her, “does that mean you’re fired?”
That’s... probably not the best thing he could have said, his brain informs him, but it’s too late to take it back now and Merlin looks confused and not angry, anyway.
“What?” he says, “No! No, no. I’m, um... I’m actually her boss and not the other way around. Though I can understand why it didn’t seem that way right now. She can be a bit... intense sometimes.”
There’s a pregnant pause in which Arthur starts to feel sorry for not having any nervous habits, like biting his fingernails or cracking his finger joints. Or something. Just something to get rid of the awkward silence.
“... And she really loves books?” Merlin tries, and there’s a beat where they just stare at each other before Arthur loses his composure completely and starts laughing.
He laughs and laughs and laughs and Merlin smiles at him and it’s all really silly, but Arthur can’t stop because it’s all too silly and there’s too much to take in right now anyway.
He keeps laughing until he feels a hand on his arm, and even with tears in his eyes, he can see Merlin’s beautiful smile when he looks at him. With an effort, he reduces the laughs to mere giggles as he reaches out and runs his index finger under Merlin’s jaw.
“Clotpole,” he whispers, more to himself than to anyone.
But Merlin hears and makes a noise that probably is supposed to be a laugh. “Dollophead,” he answers, but the tone is affectionate. And then he leans forward and presses another kiss to Arthur’s lips.
In her clandestine office, Morgana has brought out the booze. This technically isn’t heaven, but the consumption of alcohol — and inebriation on the whole — is still very much frowned upon. Still, Morgana has always been good at sneaking stuff in and out of rooms, and this isn’t an exception. Thankfully, the Cailleach isn’t all-knowing. And if there’s a cause for celebration at some time, this surely must be it.
She takes a healthy swig of vodka directly from the bottle, then cradles it to her chest. She still can’t believe it. The idiots have finally met. And finally snogged! Oh jeez, she’s been waiting for that for... for forever, to be quite honest! Snickering to herself, she takes another swig from the bottle and twirls her chair around, joyfully.
Because of Arthur, Merlin closes the shop early. He tells Arthur it doesn’t matter which makes Arthur look at him with a mix of relief and reproach — it’s such a clear display of feelings versus logic that Merlin bursts out laughing and kisses him again.
Then he turns and locks the door behind him. He can feel Arthur’s eyes on him all the time, and it’s familiar and weird and strange, all at once. The connection between them is enhanced by Merlin’s magic, and it crackles like electricity. Arthur probably can’t hear it, though. A shame, Merlin thinks, he would probably like that.
He turns. Oh, shit. How is this going to—
“Hey! Ouff,” he says out loud when he gets somewhat tackled by Gwen when she goes for the hug. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Arthur looking politely puzzled, but it doesn’t seem like he recognises her yet. But he will, he will, and what will happen then?
It’s ridiculous to be worried about it. Merlin knows that because they’ve found each other in this lifetime and they won’t make the same mistakes this time around... he hopes. What if Arthur actually does choose Gwen... again? Merlin’s not sure he will be able to deal with that.
“Oh, hullo,” Gwen says and smiles when she sees Arthur. “And who might this be?”
“Er, I’m Arthur, nice to meet you.”
For a second, Merlin fears that she remembers — that they’ll both remember — and that she’ll steal Arthur away from him just when they’ve found each other again. The violent flare of jealousy in his stomach scares him.
Then he realises that she doesn’t know Arthur, and that the look she gives Merlin is teasing and conveys happiness for him more than the recognition Merlin expected. Plus, she’s his friend and she would never do something like that. Merlin’s magic bubbles unhappily under his skin, more instinctive than logical, but he manages to keep in under control.
“Well, all right, nice to meet you, Arthur. Merlin,” Gwen turns back to him, “I’ve tried to call you, but you didn’t answer. You’ve got that lunch thing today and you wanted me to tag along, remember?”
Merlin groans unhappily to himself. So many things to remember these days. He hadn’t remembered that he had promised to meet Lance today, taking him out for a late lunch as a thank you for saving his life.
“Er,” he says and unconsciously shuffles an inch closer to Arthur.
Gwen looks amused. “Or do you want me to help you out? It looks like something else has come up.”
“Yeah, actually...” Merlin shoots a glance at Arthur, unwilling to let him go now. He bites his lower lip, worries it between his teeth for a second before continuing, “Yeah, would you? Please? I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”
“Sure,” Gwen says and smiles at Arthur, eyes sparkling with mirth. Merlin’s pretty sure he’ll be hearing about this moment for years to come. It’ll still be worth it.
“We were going to meet at—”
Gwen rolls her eyes as she interrupts, “The small restaurant on Essetir Road. Yeah, I know. You’ve told me before.”
Merlin thinks he grabs Arthur’s hand sneakily enough for Gwen not to notice, but when he squeezes Arthur’s fingers with his own and gets a squeeze in return, he looks up to see her wide grin.
Trying for nonchalant instead of bashful, he says, “Please apologise to Lance from me. Tell him I’ll make it up to him, too.”
“Well,” she says, graciously. “I’m off then. Use condoms.”
When she rounds the corner Merlin finally stops sputtering and thinks that he really needs to get better friends. But then he feels Arthur’s fingers against his skin, his thumb slowly stroking his palm. Suddenly, nothing else matters, and when he drags Arthur in for a kiss, he tries to put as much emotion into it as he possibly can.
It has really been too long without him.
They go to Arthur’s flat, because it’s a closer than Merlin’s. When Arthur closes the door behind them and puts the key on its small hook, there’s an awkward pause. Merlin shuffles his feet around a bit while Arthur hangs both their jackets.
“Maybe we should talk about th—” Arthur begins, but it turns out that it’s not completely easy to talk when Merlin suddenly has his mouth on his. So Arthur gives in and kisses him back, hungry for closeness and affection and the weird connection they’ve already established. That they have always had, apparently.
Merlin runs his fingers through his hair and deepens the kiss. It’s lovely and it feels like it’s something they’ve done a thousand times before because they just fit.
Arthur untangles himself and asks, breathless, “Have we... done that before?”
“Not that I know of,” Merlin answers with a shrug before diving back in.
Maybe Arthur is thinking too much. Maybe it would be better to just give in to it and lose himself in Merlin’s touches. It’s weird how it feels like the right place to be, how at ease he feels. He’s never this relaxed with people he doesn’t know... but that’s the difference, isn’t it? He does know Merlin, but it’s just not completely clear how he does.
It’s not easy, thinking clearly when Merlin presses into him, grabs his shoulders and draws him towards himself, like he needs to be as close as he possibly can. He burrows his face into the nook under Arthur’s chin and the only thing Arthur can do is hold him. There’s a slight shiver running through his body as he feels Merlin’s heart beat rapidly against his chest — like his body is reacting to a draft. There is none, though, just Merlin’s warm body and shuddering breaths against his skin.
He leans his cheek against Merlin’s hair and breathes in. It smells faintly of citrus and that specific smell of wet forest floor, like when it’s just stopped raining and you run through the forest and stir up all the aromas. Arthur hasn’t smelled that in years, but it brings back memories of his childhood when Uther had taken him camping. Those are good memories.
Merlin’s hands are clammy where they press harder against his back and Arthur can feel the t-shirt sticking to his skin. He’s thinking of trying to manoeuvre Merlin further into the flat instead of staying in the hallway when he can feel the unmistakable feeling of Merlin’s lips pressing softly against his neck.
“Want you. Let me?”
The whisper is quiet, almost impossible to hear, but Arthur knows what he’s being asked. He squeezes Merlin’s body tighter and answers into the darkness of his hair, “Please.”
The word makes Merlin let out a sob that Arthur’s not sure is relief or something darker, but then they are kissing again and he doesn’t want to think about it anymore. The kissing isn’t as violent this time, but slower, more exploring. They make their way to Arthur’s bedroom, bumping against a few pieces of furniture but not enough to break their stride. Arthur grabs Merlin’s arse and presses their groins together, causing Merlin to moan deliciously into his mouth. The t-shirt Arthur’s wearing somehow makes its way onto the floor, but Arthur doesn’t mind in the slightest.
He laughs when Merlin stumbles over a footstool in the sitting room, and it earns him a mildly annoyed look. “Prat,” Merlin mutters as he breathes into Arthur’s neck, “My prat. Mine, mine.”
The desperation in his voice makes Arthur’s heart break, because he doesn’t remember as much as Merlin — that is quite obvious. But before he can ask about it, they’re back on track towards the bedroom and before he knows it, Merlin pushes him onto the bed and crawls up on top of him.
“Mine,” he repeats with a small smile and leans in to kiss Arthur again.
Surging upwards to meet him, their lips clash uncomfortably, but Merlin just huffs out a laugh and presses Arthur back into the mattress before kissing him more carefully. His lips are soft and there’s nothing that has ever felt more right to Arthur than this exact moment. Closing his eyes, Arthur trails his hands up Merlin’s arms and shoulders to cup his face. He strokes the sharp cheekbones with his thumbs when Merlin slowly pulls away, leaving Arthur feeling cold and bereft.
“...what? Did I do something?” he says as he opens his eyes, frowning.
Merlin smiles tiredly, uncertainly. “It’s all right, it was just— It’s nothing.”
But it is something... something Merlin isn’t telling him.
“What is it?” Arthur asks and reaches out to put his hand on Merlin’s knee, gently stroking it as if that will prompt an answer.
It doesn’t. Merlin sighs and shuffles backwards, straightening his t-shirt as he goes. The same t-shirt Arthur has tried to get off Merlin’s thin body the entire way from the hallway — and spectacularly failed to rid him of. It’s just rumpled and hitched up in the back where Arthur has reached in under it to get to close to the warm skin as possible.
“No...” Arthur breathes, “Where are you going?”
Merlin looks pained. “This... maybe this is too quick? It’s not you!” he adds when he looks back at Arthur. “I just... Maybe we both should think about it?”
Arthur is trying to stay calm, but there are two things running through his mind. First, he wants Merlin like he’s never wanted anyone before and it’s... well, it’s quite obvious if you look at the right part of his anatomy. Second, and this is probably more important, he’s scared that if he lets Merlin go right now, he’ll disappear and they’ll never find each other again.
“Merlin,” he says again. “Sit. We don’t have to do anything, we can just talk.”
He feels sick to his stomach when he watches how Merlin struggles. His face goes from hopeful to almost angry to so clearly torn between happiness and sadness that it’s difficult to not turn his face away. It hurts.
“Tell me what happened.”
Merlin’s eyes widen. “It’s—” he begins, “It’s not that. It’s not—”
“But it is. I don’t remember, but I know that’s why you’re hesitant. I’m not an idiot.” He smiles. “Though I have vague memories of you calling me one more than once.”
At that, the corner of Merlin’s mouth quirks upwards slightly.
“Look,” Arthur continues, “I really want you, and I know you want me, too... It’s right there, you know.”
The attempt to bring another small smile to Merlin’s face succeeds. “So it must have to do with the memories. Get it off your chest. And if you don’t want to have sex later, either, I’ll wait. It’s fine.”
“Forever, if that what it takes.”
Merlin stares down at the floor, a small frown appearing on his face. “Forever?” he asks.
After a few seconds, Merlin draws a deep breath and sits down on the bed. He draws his legs up, crosses them, and shuffles so that he and Arthur sit turned towards each other. His fingers play with Arthur’s bed cover, balling a small part of it up only to smooth it out right after. When he just continues doing it, Arthur lightly grips his hand and makes him meet his eyes.
“Clotpole,” Arthur says, but he tries his best to make it sound endearing and not like the insult it kind of is.
It seems to work, because the weak smile’s back on Merlin’s face. Arthur strokes Merlin’s knuckles and ignores the sigh he gets as a response.
“Ready?” he says.
Merlin nods. “Yeah.”
There are a few more moments before he actually starts talking, though.
“You died,” Merlin says, blunt. “You were killed, betrayed, and I was left behind.”
He quiets and looks down on Arthur’s hand that continues stroking his. Goosebumps break out on Arthur’s upper body, where his bare skin is unprotected against the chill. He fights to keep his breath calm though it feels like the memory is within his grasp — just unwilling to come out yet. He doesn’t remember it, but he doesn’t doubt Merlin’s words for a second.
“Okay,” Arthur prompts. “What else?”
Merlin throws him a glance. “There’s... I remember that betrayal clearly. I remember how you died. How I held you and how you refused to say goodbye.”
Arthur grips Merlin’s hand, lacing their fingers together. When Merlin doesn’t say anything else, he squeezes it slightly.
“It’s all right,” he says, “We’re here now. Together.”
A breath, and then Merlin continues. “You wanted me to hold you, but I wasn’t ready to let you go. I fought so hard to keep you there, with me, because I loved you so much... but you left, and I had to stay. I had to keep fighting in your name. I had to talk to—”
He interrupts himself and swallows.
“To your wife. To Guinevere.”
There’s bitterness in that voice, and Arthur doesn’t know what to say, so he just waits.
“She was devastated, because she loved you, too. Of course she did, I know that. But she didn’t love you like...” He looks up and meets Arthur’s eyes. Seeks reassurance Arthur cannot give. “And that was the worst part. She moved on, eventually. I couldn’t.”
Arthur looks down at their entwined fingers. There’s a lump in his throat and he tries to swallow it, but it stays where it is and it starts to hurt. He closes his eyes and tries to breathe evenly to keep away the tears he can feel threaten behind his eyelids.
“In a way, I died when you did, Arthur. I kept fighting for you afterwards, to keep your kingdom like you left it. To keep your legacy alive. I remember fighting so hard, but you never returned. And it was... it was unbearable.”
There’s silence for minutes while Arthur tries to sort through Merlin’s words and make sense of them in relation to his own memories. He can remember... something.
“’Stay with me,’” he eventually says and looks up in time to see how Merlin’s eyes widen. “You said that, didn’t you? That’s the only thing I remember.”
Merlin covers his mouth with his hand — the one Arthur’s not holding — and lets out a high-pitched, short wail.
It’s painful to hear, and even worse to see, Merlin’s reaction.
“Merlin, Merlin,” Arthur says when Merlin lets go of Arthur’s hand and makes a move to rise from the bed. He grips his wrist to hold him close. “Don’t, it’s all right, it’s okay.”
Merlin turns away but stills when he feels Arthur’s hand on his skin. Quiet sobs wrack his body and it takes everything Arthur has to not start crying, too. Silently, he gets up from the bed and wraps his arms around the other man. It takes a couple of seconds, but soon, Merlin turns into the embrace and cries onto Arthur’s chest. They stay like that for a long time, just standing there in silence, waiting for everything to slow back down.
When Merlin wakes up, he’s being spooned by someone. It takes him a moment to remember who it is. He’s also almost naked, only wearing his underwear under the duvet. Arthur’s arm is slung over his side, hand hanging loosely against Merlin’s stomach. When Merlin shuffles slightly, feeling the need to go to the bathroom, Arthur mumbles something incomprehensible and turns over in his sleep. The adorableness of it makes Merlin laugh quietly.
He stays in bed for a few minutes longer, enjoying the warmth of another body beside him and the sound of Arthur’s calm breaths. It’s nice. He overreacted yesterday — he knows it, Arthur knows it, but it was also kind of impossible not to.
Afterwards, they had stood for what felt like forever and just held each other, until Arthur had taken Merlin back into the living room, pushed him down onto the sofa, and ordered in Chinese food. They’d eaten it mostly in silence, but with some food in his stomach, Merlin had felt better and they’d talked a bit about before.
As it turns out, Arthur doesn’t remember much — only glimpses and disconnected moments that he struggles to make sense of. Merlin’s not sure how much he should tell him, so he’s just filled in what he can remember about the two of them. That feels safe enough. Arthur had laughed at the idea of himself as a knight, but Merlin wouldn’t have any difficulties seeing it even without his memories. There’s honesty and something utterly noble residing in Arthur, and regardless of whether he notices it himself or not — it really is there for everyone else to see.
When Merlin got ready to leave yesterday, feeling as if maybe he was intruding by staying too long, Arthur had reached out for him and asked if it would be all right for him to stay overnight. And so here they are. Lying side by side in a too big bed with still too much space between them when all Merlin really wants is to snuggle close and map out all the crevices of Arthur’s body with his fingers.
With a long-suffering sigh, he eventually shuffles out from under the covers and treads quietly in the direction of what he assumes is the bathroom. It isn’t. It’s an enormous fucking closet. Why would anyone even...? Grinding his teeth slightly, he sneaks out of the room in an increasingly desperate search.
After finally finding his way to the loo and back again — Arthur’s flat really is too large for only one person — Merlin climbs back into bed and just watches the sleeping man. His blond hair is rumpled and there’s a pressure mark on his cheek from the pillow before he turned over. It’s adorable, really.
Thinking about yesterday, Merlin feels more than a little embarrassed about how he reacted. But it hadn’t been completely his fault. It’d been a rush of memories falling into his mind at once, and when he realised what they meant... it’d been quite impossible not to react to it. It was like being back there, losing Arthur all over again, and the whole thing was strange. This time around, Merlin knows it’s not the same, because the Arthur lying beside him in bed is breathing peacefully, the gentle rise and fall of his back accentuating the exposed muscles... Hm.
Merlin’s fingers act on their own accord as they slowly trail along Arthur’s spine. It probably tickles, but Merlin can’t stop. The skin’s soft and warm and it’s reassuring to feel the live body underneath his fingertips. When Arthur starts to wriggle, Merlin leans in and presses a kiss to the place where his fingers just were.
The voice is muffled, the name uttered into the pillow. Merlin smiles at the similarity to what he can remember from before. Apparently, time hasn’t made it easier for Arthur to get up early in the mornings. He places another kiss to Arthur’s spine, laps at the spot with his tongue before kissing it again. The back under his lips tenses, and then Arthur turns around with a laboured groan.
“Early bird?” he says as he rubs his eyes and blearily looks up at Merlin.
Merlin just smiles. Yeah, maybe he is, after all. Though it’s not that early, it’s after eight already. He shrugs and leans in to press a kiss to Arthur’s chest — the spot above his heart. Arthur’s eyes follow his movements wearily when he draws back again.
The question is asked cautiously, like Arthur’s afraid Merlin will freak out again. Merlin won’t. His memories are not now, and he wants this moment to be now and not then.
“Yeah,” Merlin answers and shifts so that he can easily lean over Arthur’s body. “How about you? Tired, still?”
Feeling daring, he quirks his eyebrow and looks at the man underneath him. And then he smiles widely, because the expression on Arthur’s face is priceless. He looks like he has been given a magic lamp that he has just rubbed and a genie has emerged to grant him all his wishes — and yes, Merlin might be slightly dirty-minded because he immediately thinks that he wouldn’t mind being the person to rub certain places if that’s what Arthur wants.
When he gets the all clear, an unbelieving “no, not tired anymore”, Merlin leans forward and puts his arms on either side of Arthur’s head. Arthur laughs and drags him down for a kiss. Not quite prepared, Merlin lands on top of him, causing him to let out an undignified “ouff” when Merlin accidentally elbows him in the stomach.
“Sorry, sorry,” Merlin says breathlessly, but Arthur only shoots him a huge, crooked smile and kisses him again.
Merlin licks into Arthur’s mouth and the kiss goes from slightly tentative to pretty damn dirty. He can feel Arthur’s hands trail over his ribs, fingers searching for the good spots.
“Too skinny,” Arthur breathes when Merlin shifts his attention from his mouth to his neck, “Will need to fatten you up.”
Merlin pauses the biting and licking of Arthur’s neck and looks at the man beneath him. “Shut up,” he says, but it comes out rather weak since he realises just what those pink, wet lips could be doing instead of calling him skinny. He can feel his face and neck heat up at the thought, and sees Arthur’s answering grin.
“Tell me, Merlin,” Arthur growls, and suddenly Merlin is on his back with Arthur towering above him. “Tell me what you want.”
It’s strange how familiar yet completely new this is. Merlin’s sure they’ve never done this before, they were never this physically close in their last life, but... it’s like they were made for it. It wasn’t like this with Mordred, that was never quite right, but this... this is.
“Merlin.” Arthur’s voice is demanding. “Tell me.”
Swallowing, Merlin closes his eyes and lets Arthur caress his chest and side. “Uh,” he says, grabbing hold of Arthur’s hands, keeping them still as he speaks, “Your lips...”
The arsehole smiles — Merlin can hear it in his next words — and asks, “These lips?” before pressing a kiss just below Merlin’s navel.
“Fucking hell, Arthur,” Merlin grinds out. “You know what I want, just— just do it.”
When Arthur slowly makes his way to jiggling Merlin’s underpants off, his fingers touching hips and thighs, Merlin shivers and grabs Arthur’s shoulder.
“Careful, yeah?” he says, like Arthur is about to do something violent to him. He’s not sure why, but it still feels reassuring to have voiced it. Arthur doesn’t answer, just keeps fighting the underpants until he has won and they are lying defeated on the floor beside the bed.
Then, Arthur wraps his hand around Merlin’s cock. Merlin closes his eyes and keens at the touch. The hand is hot and a little bit sweaty and it feels strange but incredible. Better than Mordred, better than anything else. He can’t concentrate on anything but the feeling of Arthur’s skin on his. He’s already hard, painfully so. Arthur just holds his cock, doesn’t stroke it. He breathes at it, drags his nose along the inside of his thigh and just generally seems to breathe in his scent. It’s more intimate than anything Merlin has ever experienced in his life and that realisation makes him dizzy.
“Arthur,” he says. “Arthur, please...”
And Arthur does. He looks up at Merlin as he takes him into his mouth and that heat makes Merlin want to tell him all the things that have been on his mind since yesterday. All the memories about Arthur, all the... everything he can remember about before, but all that comes out is a low growl that makes Arthur laugh around his cock. The vibrations make Merlin draw his breath and oh God, what the fuck is Arthur doing with his tongue? Oh, if he does it like this for much longer Merlin’s going to come even before he’s...
“Arthur, wai— ah!”
There’s a soft popping sound as Arthur lets go of Merlin’s cock. “What?” he says, mischief clear in his voice.
“Can I— Can I, please... Can I fuck you?”
“I don’t know, can you?”
That makes Merlin laugh, breathlessly. “You... giant... prat! May I fuck you?”
“Ooh, yeah, I actually am pretty giant... if you know what I mean,” Arthur answers and wiggles his eyebrows a little before starting to giggle at Merlin’s wide-eyed expression.
But the giggles soon subside into a fond smile. He crawls his way up Merlin’s body and places kisses on his chest, neck, jaw... mouth. Merlin separates his lips a little to let Arthur lick into his mouth, to let their tongues touch. His cock is rubbing at Arthur’s thigh, and Merlin lifts his hips just a little to increase the friction.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, their breaths mingling. “I want you to fuck me, Merlin.”
And the look on his face is so open and vulnerable that Merlin doesn’t know what to do except cup his face in his hands and kiss him again and again and again.
When they finally break apart, he asks, “You sure?”
Arthur — rather clumsily — reaches over to open the drawer in the bedside table and rummages inside.
“Condoms...” he says as he finds what he’s looking for, “...and lube.”
The look on his face is triumphant when he hands his findings to Merlin and gives him a quick peck on the mouth. Then he gets to his feet and shimmies out of his underpants before getting back on the bed.
“Come on now, get going! Can’t wait forever.”
Arthur’s tone is still teasing, but there’s something more in it, too. Nervousness, perhaps. Merlin’s on the verge of not caring, almost high on anticipation as he shuffles to the side to let Arthur lie down on his back. The sight of him — his king — on his back, knees falling apart wantonly, cock ready for whatever he’s going to dish out... it’s all Merlin can concentrate on.
He strokes the insides of Arthur’s thighs reverently, places kisses on the sensitive skin and listens to the small gasps Arthur lets out as he does. Tentatively, he licks just under the head of Arthur’s cock to see if it twitches, and it does. It isn’t giant, as he so cheekily claimed before, but Merlin thinks that it’s pretty much perfect. He’s trembling with adrenaline and excitement as he opens the lube and makes his fingers slippery and ready.
“Okay?” he says, voice raspy and so unlike what he normally sounds like.
Arthur nods and draws him closer. They kiss and Merlin lets his lips linger for half a second too long.
“Okay,” Arthur says.
The preparation is a bit awkward, because it was so long ago Merlin prepped someone. He never did with Mordred and before that... he really hadn’t done it often. Arthur doesn’t seem to mind the hesitation and the amount of time Merlin puts into it, because he squeezes his eyes shut and balls his fists into the covers. He even pushes down onto Merlin’s fingers when he’s being too gentle. That makes Merlin feel a bit more confident. When he scissors his fingers, stretching them as wide as he dares, Arthur lets out a lengthy moan that Merlin can feel reverberate even in his own stomach.
When Merlin rolls on a condom and pushes in, he does so slowly and watches Arthur’s face for signs of discomfort or pain, but he luckily can’t see either. On the contrary, it produces something that sounds suspiciously like “move”, but Merlin doesn’t until Arthur’s legs tighten around him and his left hand claws at Merlin’s forearm. That’s when Merlin realises that it’s possible he worries too much.
He lets go little by little, goes from small, shallow thrusts to bigger, harder ones, circling his hips experimentally and revels in the encouraging sounds coming from underneath him. Leaning in, he presses his lips to Arthur’s again, pries them open with his tongue.
“Arthur,” he whispers as he gives a more forceful thrust with his hips.
“Look at me.”
“F— fuck, Merlin...”
Merlin kisses him again before stilling and drawing away enough to reach in between them and grip Arthur’s cock. Arthur lets out a shuddering breath and opens his eyes, looking straight into Merlin’s.
God, he’s beautiful. The blond hair is messier than Merlin’s ever seen it, his face is flushed and his lips wet and pink where he has bitten at them. Those blue eyes are looking at him with so much raw emotion and suddenly Merlin remembers a moment where those eyes were equally blue. To hide the sudden onslaught of memories, he circles his hips painfully slowly and looks down at Arthur.
“Look at me when you come.”
“Yeah,” Arthur replies, breathlessly.
Merlin tightens his grip around Arthur’s cock before he starts jerking him off. He lets his thumb drag over the tip, spreading the fluid already leaking from it. The look on Arthur’s face has gone from pleasantly surprised to strangely determined as he wraps his own hand around Merlin’s and picks up the pace.
It doesn’t take very long for Arthur to come like this, and he keeps his promise and looks into Merlin’s eyes as he does. It’s the most beautiful thing Merlin’s ever seen, the surprise and the emotion and the want...
The clench around Merlin’s cock prompts him into moving again, and it’s so tight and so hot and he’s not going to last for much longer, either. Uncaring about the mess between them, Merlin leans in and kisses Arthur’s lower lip before his entire body tenses and he comes.
Arthur huffs out a laugh, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, when Merlin pulls out and slumps down beside him on the bed. God, this must be what it feels like to be high. They’re both sticky with sweat and come and oh, yeah, Merlin can fix that... He mutters a word and they’re both suddenly cleaner.
“Nifty,” Arthur says and kisses him above the ear.
Merlin laughs. “Yeah.”
“God,” Arthur continues, “You’re fucking amazing.”
“Not a deity,” Merlin says teasingly, relaxed and more content than he can ever remember being.
Arthur snorts, “And you’re calling me a prat?”
“But you are. You’re my prat.”
He turns his head to face Arthur and then there are lips on his and light touches and Merlin chooses to forget the rest of the world.
Just for a little bit longer.
Merlin has just about fallen back to sleep, curled comfortably into Arthur’s side, when the sound of The Lion King theme is heard from somewhere far away and it’s... kind of muffled?
“Really, Merlin?” Arthur groans and covers his ears with his pillow, “The Lion King?”
He stumbles out of bed, still naked, stubs his toe spectacularly on something incredibly hard, and swears loudly while he rummages through what he assumes are his clothes by the door. It turns out they aren’t, it’s Arthur’s t-shirt and what looks like a... vest? Ew. Dropping the offending piece of clothing, he can hear how the music is cut off only to start again a few moments later. Whoever is calling is calling again. Where is it?
Growing more and more frantic, he searches through all the small piles of clothes he can see, but still no phone. He runs his hands through his hair at a loss for what to do. Arthur is watching him from the bed.
“Can’t you... you know, magic it to come to you, or something?”
The ringing tone starts again for the third time, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Merlin prays that his magic is back to normal and whispers a summoning spell and suddenly, the phone’s there, in his hand. He fumbles a bit with it before managing to press the right button.
“Finally! Merlin, where the hell are you?”
Merlin can’t help but feel a little bit relieved it isn’t his mother who’s decided to call just when he’s had the most mind-blowing sex of his life. That’d be awkward. But mostly, he feels yesterday’s bitterness well up in him again. Gwen. Guinevere, who got Arthur, who loved him so much, but still less than Merlin. Guinevere, who got to be close to Arthur while Merlin wasn’t allowed.
But then, there’s Gwen’s voice — his Gwen — and his anger turns into a deep shame. She doesn’t remember. It’s not her fault. He needs to remember that.
“Oh my God. You’re still with that guy, aren’t you?”
“Um, yeah, but—”
Merlin can hear her cackling rather nastily through the phone and moves further away from the bed, just in case Arthur can hear it, too.
“Gwen, listen, you little shit—” he hisses.
The laughter quiets on the other end of the line and is replaced with a tone of voice that can only be described as ‘sassy’, “Oh, so that’s the way it’s sounding now you’ve got some? Well, well, well...”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“What do you want?” Merlin asks, deciding that a straightforward question might be the only way to get rid of Gwen anytime soon.
“Just wanted to tell you that yesterday went well with Lance, but I can’t imagine you’re interested since you got arse—”
New friends, new friends, new friends. He definitely needs to get himself new friends.
He takes a deep breath and continues, “Tell me what happened.”
“He’s perfect, Merlin. A real gentleman. He offered to pay for dinner and held out my chair and opened doors and... stuff.”
There’s a disgustingly cooing quality to Gwen’s voice, but...
“’And stuff’?” Merlin asks and shoots a glance at Arthur, who’s slumped back into his pillow and looks like he’s trying to sleep again. Maybe he can talk for a little bit longer, then.
“Um,” Gwen answers, and now it’s her turn to sound uncomfortable. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
Merlin smiles broadly. “Oh my. Oh my, how the tables have turned. You slept with him!”
“Well, you slept with yours, too!”
“Lance isnt that much of a gentleman, then?” Merlin says and ignores Gwen’s words.
He can practically hear her smile when she answers, “No, but he really was! We spent the entire day together and we had so many things to talk about! And then he kissed me good night, but I kind of thought it would be nice to talk some more and then... stuff happened.”
Merlin giggles. “Gwen, you did the right thing. He’s gorgeous, that man. I would have slept with him, too, if I’d had the chance.”
There’s a rustle behind Merlin and he suddenly remembers where he is.
“Um,” he says into the phone, “I’m happy for you, but I need to go. Talk later?”
“Yeah,” she says, “Yeah, I need to get back, too...”
Merlin’s eyes go wide. “Are you... Is he still there with you?”
“Um. I’ve got to go. Bye!”
There’s a tiny click at the other end when Gwen disconnects.
Huh. Okay, so Merlin wasn’t the only one who got lucky, apparently. He really hopes Lance is the stand-up guy that Gwen claims, but — on the other hand — she’s always been good at standing up for herself. There’s a reason he always takes Gwen’s side when she and Will fight.
“Who would you have done?” Arthur’s voice comes from the bed.
“You said that you’d have slept with someone if you’d had the chance.”
“Er,” Merlin deadpans, “I— It’s just a guy. The guy I was supposed to meet yesterday, but who Gwen went and met instead.”
He goes over to the bed.
“Oh,” Arthur says. “Well, aren’t I lucky that I got to you first, then?”
And then he drags Merlin down onto the bed and tickles him and it isn’t until he’s pressed against the mattress that Merlin realises Lance is familiar in the same way Arthur is familiar, except not quite. It’s not easy to work it out, though, when Arthur drags his teeth against Merlin’s jaw and grinds their hips together.
Oh, well. He’ll try and straighten out the memories later.
Morgana has decidedly not looked too closely at what Arthur and Merlin have been up to in the last day. It’s not exactly hard to figure out, but she’s just used her spidey senses to pinpoint their location instead of actually checking in on them. She does love them, in a way, but there’s no need to see that.
Honestly, though, she’s feeling quite restless. Maybe she should try and find some of the others? There haven’t been any incidents for a couple of weeks — not since Merlin’s beating — and it doesn’t look like there’ll be any today. They’ll probably stay in bed the whole day, anyway. Plus, Merlin’s got his magic back. It should be all right.
It should be all right.
The expression on Merlin’s face when he’s asleep stirs something hitherto unknown inside of Arthur. It might be protectiveness, because Merlin looks so innocent — though Arthur knows he really isn’tconsidering what they’ve spent most of the day doing thus far. But there’s really something special about Merlin that makes Arthur feel like he needs to care for him.
It is, however, nearing lunchtime and Arthur’s really starting to feel quite famished. You can only survive on sex for so long before you need something sturdier.
Letting Merlin sleep, he puts his underwear and a t-shirt on and treads into the kitchen on light feet. He starts to make breakfast — coffee and toast with eggs — and is just in the process of tipping the scrambled eggs into a bowl when the phone rings.
“Hi, dad,” Arthur says and puts the now-empty pan in the sink. “How are you and Helen?”
“We’re both very well, thank you for asking. You sound tired, however. Are you ill?”
“No, don’t worry. Just tired.”
“Excellent!” Uther’s voice booms into his ear. “And speaking of excellent, I have some good news!”
Arthur tries really hard to sound interested. “Oh?”
“Yes! We’re expecting!”
“I—” Arthur drops the bag of bread he’s been holding. “What?”
“Helen and me. We’re expecting!”
“I don’t— Expecting what, exactly?”
“Arthur,” Uther says, admonishing. “A baby, of course.”
A baby? But... uh, there’s a bad mental image right there. When Arthur really thinks about it, of course it’s not impossible. Helen is a lot younger than Uther, and Uther’s not really that old, either. He’s still— You know what, let’s not go there.
“Hm?” he says when he realises he hasn’t really answered yet. “I’m sorry, I was just really surprised. I assume congratulations are in order?”
Arthur can practically hear Uther beaming with pride through the phone.
“Please give Helen my congratulations, too, of course.”
“She actually wants you to come over for dinner today,” Uther says, “Seven o’clock.”
Arthur flinches. “Seven?”
“Does that work for you?”
“Um,” Arthur says and thinks of Merlin. He doesn’t want to leave him, really. Not yet. “Yes, probably. Can I bring a date? I’d like you to meet someone.”
Why would anyone ever want to wake him up when it’s so nice to sleep like this? That’s just mean.
Someone’s stroking his hair. Mmm, that feels nice.
“Merlin... open your eyes.”
Noo. That sounds like a really bad plan. Sleep and having his hair stroked are far more important.
But then there is laughter and a soft kiss just over his eyebrow, so Merlin opens his eyes after all. Arthur looks down at him, face close enough to touch if Merlin would extend his fingers just a couple of inches. He does, lets his thumb trail Arthur’s jaw and land on his lips, where it gets a kiss, too.
“Hi,” Merlin says.
“Hi,” Arthur answers.
There’s a pause and Merlin feels the pressure of having to say something.
Ohh, that might not have been the best choice.
Arthur laughs. “Dollophead,” he retorts. “You’re not very articulate when you’ve just woken up, are you?”
Merlin shakes his head.
“I just wanted to say that breakfast’s ready and I hope you don’t have any plans for tonight.”
“How come?” Merlin says and slowly shuffles his body up into a sitting position.
“Dad wanted me to come over for dinner and I asked if you could come, too, so we’re both going... If you’re available, of course?”
There it is again. The uncertainty. Merlin doesn’t like it and would do anything never to hear it again, so naturally he says yes.
“Of course, if you want me to. But I probably need to go home and change clothes first. And take a shower.”
Arthur laughs. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure your magic doesn’t get rid of the smell even if it does get rid of the physical evidence.”
That makes Merlin blush. “Yeah, no, smell’s always an issue,” he says quietly, “but it feels different now. My magic, I mean. Stronger, if that makes any sense.”
“Really?” Arthur says, intrigued. “You need to show me later.”
And Arthur cups Merlin’s chin with his hand and kisses him again.
“But do it later,” he says, “There’s breakfast to be had. Do you like scrambled eggs?”
Most of the day is spent in bed. It’s hard to stop touching and talking and just being close when you’ve been apart for over a thousand years... in a way. Merlin tells Arthur about of all the ways he saved his life in their original lifetime, and Arthur huffs indignantly every time, but still prompts Merlin to tell him more. Secretly, he enjoys hearing about it because he can’t quite understand how the magic works.
They get food from the kitchen and eat it in bed. Maybe the touching gets a bit too intense sometimes and they have to work the energy off, but mostly they just talk.
Later, they take the tube to Merlin’s flat and Merlin fixes himself up with a change of clothes — just a shirt and a pair of clean jeans — before heading out again.
They hop on the tube and get out at Albion Street. It’s still a bit of a walk along a rather busy street, but it’s a nice night so Arthur hopes that it doesn’t really matter to Merlin. It’s nice, walking alongside him, feeling his warmth radiate off his skin. Reassuring. Arthur wants to hold his hand, but he doesn’t dare. What if Merlin doesn’t want him to?
But he can at least look, so he does.
When they turn a corner, Merlin is the first to notice something is wrong. Arthur hasn’t yet, because he’s so happily absorbed by the curve of Merlin’s neck that he doesn’t hear how everything except their own breathing goes completely quiet.
Arthur doesn’t notice anything until Merlin stops and looks around with a conflicted expression of deep recognition and utter confusion on his face. When Arthur finally looks away from him, he notices that there actually is something strange happening. Or, rather, not happening.
Everything is frozen in place.
Mouth falling open, Arthur looks around to see people caught mid-movement. The traffic on the street has stopped. A dog on a leash, baring its teeth at a passer-by, looks like it’s been stuffed in a rather threatening pose. A young woman is caught mid-shout. To Arthur, it feels as if he’s standing in the middle of a scene that has been paused on his DVD player. It’s unnerving and he can feel a trickle of cold sweat disappearing underneath his collar. Merlin apparently isn’t frozen, because he keeps turning his head to try and take in everything around them. Flexing his own fingers just to make sure, neither is Arthur.
“What’s going on?” Arthur croaks. He can feel the panic rise in his chest, and he fights to keep himself under control.
“I think,” Merlin answers with a slight tremor in his voice, “that time is standing still.”
Still struggling to understand, Arthur goes for the most logical denial there is. “But... we’re not frozen. We’re talking. And moving.”
Merlin turns to look at him for a second before turning away again and looking at the strange scene around them. “Yes,” he says slowly, sounding unsure but strangely calm.
It calms Arthur just a little. Maybe it’s Merlin’s magic, Arthur thinks. Merlin’s used to this. Maybe he did it?
“Is it... is it you?” he asks.
The look on Merlin’s face is slightly shut off when he answers. “No,” he says. “I really don’t think it is.”
He walks over to a middle-aged man in jogging trousers and a Camelot Knights t-shirt crossing the street. He leans in to watch his face, slowly reaches out a hand and moves it in front of the man’s eyes. There’s no reaction. Sighing, Merlin turns around to look at Arthur. “I might be strong enough to do something like this — maybe — but I can’t feel my magic stretching out like it should if it was me,” he says. “But that doesn’t really help. If it isn’t me, who is it?”
Arthur doesn’t answer, he tries to see how far the frozen zone stretches, but wherever he looks, there’s no movement and he can’t hear any bird song, no sounds whatsoever besides their own breathing and the rustling of their clothes. But it must be a zone, right? They can’t be the only ones unfrozen. His heart beats hard in his chest, a surge of adrenaline makes him hyper vigilant, and his muscles tense as if expecting a fight. For a second, Arthur sees a flash of red and can hear a dull clinking sound, but it’s gone so quickly he hardly has time to acknowledge it.
Glancing around nervously, he can feel Merlin approaching him rather than see him. When a cool hand lands on his arm, Arthur releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I...” he starts, “I can’t believe this. What’s going on, Merlin? Tell me what’s going on. Say there’s a reason for this.”
“I can’t. I wish I could, but I can’t. I don’t know either.”
Arthur is at a loss for what to do, and he desperately feels the need to hold onto something. Merlin’s hand is clammy when he presses their palms together, but he doesn’t care. The instinctive need to feel something real, something to anchor him, trumps everything else at this precise moment.
Morgana is watching eagerly now, worried. Chewing on her lower lip, she watches the scene anxiously. This is it. This is what the prophecy is about. She watches how Merlin and Arthur stand close together, clearly uncomfortable with the situation, holding hands. The wait is almost unbearable, and she knows that something is about to happen. Her brother and Merlin don’t. It must be ten times worse for them.
This is when the fate of the world is going to be determined and Morgana will be set free — if the right side wins. They will, she thinks, they beat her in their original lifetime. She doesn’t think about the cost of that victory, though. Arthur lost his life and with that, Merlin lost the love of his life. Unable to move on, he had become ruthless in his protection of Camelot – as if keeping it safe would bring his love back. It hadn’t, and Camelot had fallen eventually anyway. Merlin had died alone and bitter that lifetime, unwilling to let anyone else come close enough to care.
But this time, this time there’ll be an outside force that’ll make sure of their victory and the sacrifice won’t be as great. That thought doesn’t make Morgana calmer, though, and she unconsciously presses her fingernails into the seat of her office chair as she leans forward to get a better view of the scene below.
No, no, no, this is wrong. This is all wrong. Merlin feels oddly disconnected to this whole situation. There’s a feeling of muted panic in his chest, but it’s as if there’s a glass wall between that and his brain. Maybe that’s a good thing, because he needs to figure out how to fix this.
He tries to reach out with his magic, to feel how far the scene stretches. He needs to know how far it reaches if he’s to fix it. It needs to be fixed before something permanent happens, something he can’t correct, something that will change everything.
With a glance at Arthur, though, he realises that whatever he needs to do, he first needs to stay calm enough to not send Arthur into a panic. It’s obvious he is freaking the hell out and Merlin can’t begin to understand how it must feel to be in this situation without magic. He had read as a child that stopping time is possible, that time can be affected if there’s a strong enough magic source, but he hasn’t really delved into it since he never had that kind of strength himself.
It’s ironic that he seems to, now.
Slowly, not to spook him, Merlin squeezes Arthur’s hand firmly and says, “It’s okay. We’ll fix this. We’ll figure it out.”
It’s not much, but there’s a small slump of shoulders as Arthur relaxes slightly at his words, and Merlin’s hand gets a tiny squeeze back.
“It must have something to do with us, Arthur,” Merlin continues, “because why would—”
He is interrupted by a voice coming from behind them. It’s deep, but has an echoing quality to it, as if the source is standing inside a huge dome. “Of course it has,” it says. “You two are destined to be the spark to light the fire that will burn our world to the ground. But I won’t let you.”
Both Merlin and Arthur turn around. Arthur’s hand instinctively reaches for his hip, but it closes on thin air. The man in front of them seems familiar, but Merlin can’t place him. It’s the voice that brings it all back.
It doesn’t sound like Merlin remembers it, but there’s enough left in it to make it recognisable. When he last heard that voice, it was demanding and entitled, but now it sounds almost petulant. The force with which the memories of that night come back to him — the crow, the rampaging gargoyles, the blue stone, all the worried faces — overwhelms Merlin slightly and he staggers back a step. It is the warmth of Arthur’s hand in his that keeps him anchored enough to croak, “Cornelius Sigan!”
Arthur glances back at him with a confused look on his face and Merlin can see it the second he remembers, because his jaw clenches and his eyes are cold when they turn back to the man in front of them. It’s surprising the memories seem to come so easily now, but maybe it’s a defence mechanism of some sort. It doesn’t matter and Merlin doesn’t have the time to work it out.
It’s not Sigan as they remember him. Last time, he used Cedric’s body and lost it when Merlin had re-captured his soul in the stone. Cedric had been wiry and sneaky. This man doesn’t resemble Cedric at all with his blond hair and a rather fit body. In another situation, Merlin would probably have considered him hot.
“You like?” Sigan says, seeing the expression on Merlin’s face. “It belonged, strangely enough, to a historian that handled my prison. My stone, as I’m sure you remember, Emrys. In my time, historians never were this... muscled. Well, no complaints here, this body suits me perfectly. It’s no longer a historian, you see. Now it’s me.”
The smile on his face makes Merlin sick to his stomach. Beside him, he can feel Arthur tremble, but he can’t tell if it’s from fear or adrenaline.
“What do you want?” Arthur says, his jaw tense.
Sigan has mostly kept his attention on Merlin, but now he rakes his eyes over Arthur and makes an appreciative sound in his throat. Merlin’s magic reacts to the flare of protective rage rising in him and manages to push Sigan back a few feet before the ancient sorcerer can deflect it with a small wave of his hand.
“Really, Emrys? No need to lash out, I won’t touch your boyfriend...” Sigan laughs. “Well, not until I kill him, anyway.”
Merlin throws a glance at Arthur and his insides freeze. No. No. He can’t lose Arthur. He won’t. To protect him, to protect them both, he lets go of Arthur’s hand and throws both his arms forward in an all too familiar gesture. He doesn’t know, doesn’t have the time to see, where Arthur is or what he is doing. Sigan has foreseen Merlin’s magic, though, because he just waves it away and throws a curse of his own in return. Merlin sees it coming and magically pushes Arthur out of harm’s way.
With Arthur somewhat safe, Merlin’s magic acts on its own again. When he puts a hand up to try and deflect Sigan’s curse, it explodes with a roar and the force emanating from Merlin’s body catches Sigan straight on. The sorcerer lands on the pavement a few yards away with a loud crack that stirs a long-forgotten memory in Merlin’s mind. Then, everything goes black.
From above, Morgana watches the events unfold with a rising feeling of horror. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. The prophecy says “aid will come from the one who still is lost in time”. They should turn up now. They’re needed. Even if Merlin knocked Sigan out, they will need help to eviscerate him — properly this time around. It’s not just about killing the body, they need to kill his soul. Sigan... of course it is Sigan, Morgana should have figured that out. Who else is self-entitled enough not to trust the fucking age-old prophecies?
But still, yes, Sigan needs to be killed properly, and Morgana isn’t sure if Merlin will be able to actually kill someone in this lifetime. Ironic, she thinks, since he was the one who had killed her. But, to be fair, he had never wanted to kill anyone, he only did it out of necessity — he grew ruthless to protect Arthur.
There’s movement below, and Morgana watches as Sigan starts to stir. She needs to heal Merlin, get him ready for whatever Sigan is going to throw at them. She needs to get down there.
Arthur falls when Merlin magically pushes him away and an unseen force is pinning him to the ground for a few seconds. He can see a pale face framed with long, dark hair standing looming over him, but the expression isn’t sinister, only sad. A beat passes when the memory of Morgana — his sister who betrayed him — tumbles down into his brain. He struggles to make sense of it, to make it fit in with what he already knows, but it’s difficult.
“Morgana,” he whispers.
“Yeah, Arthur, it’s me,” she answers as he gets up unsteadily. “We need to make sure Merlin is okay.”
At first Arthur doesn’t understand. Then he spots Merlin lying passed out — or worse, no, no, no! — on the ground. Someone lets out a scream, a deep “No!”, as Arthur lunges forward into a run to reach the body as quickly as possible.
Approximately eight feet from the seemingly lifeless body, it’s as if Arthur runs through a thin veil of cold water. The sensation makes him shudder, but he remains dry so he keeps going. In the corner of his eye, he sees Morgana start, but he doesn’t stop for anything until he’s reached Merlin’s side. Oh god, he’s so pale! Hands shaking, Arthur places two fingers under Merlin’s chin and draws a sharp breath when he can make out a pulse and he feels almost dizzy with relief. He’s alive.
Uncertain what to do now, he turns, expecting to see Morgana at his side, but she’s not there. She’s still those eight feet away, holding her hands up like one of those French mimes you can see at popular tourist places in the summer. Arthur doesn’t understand. Why isn’t she coming closer? Why isn’t she helping him? It was she who said they needed to help Merlin!
It’s only then he realises she can’t move forward — her hands are pressing against a solid surface where there isn’t one. Only air...
Her voice is distorted when she talks to him, a bit like she’s speaking into a tin can. “I can’t get through.”
Arthur can’t believe it. “But I got through. Why not you?”
“Because of Merlin.”
The bitterness in Morgana’s voice is apparent. Something has happened there and Arthur doesn’t know what. But now’s not the time.
He turns back to Merlin’s limp body and carefully lifts his head up into his lap. Merlin’s still pale, but he’s breathing calmly and doesn’t look like he’s in any immediate danger. It would be nice if he would wake up, though. Arthur allows himself to relax a little; takes a few breaths to calm himself down. If he had lost Merlin... The stupid idiot, he must have exerted himself by using such strong magic to wipe out Sigan. Arthur glances around, hoping that he’ll never have to see the evil sorcerer again.
There’s dirt and sweat on Merlin’s face where it’s placed in his lap and Arthur wipes some of it away with his the sleeve of the dress shirt he’d changed into for the dinner. One of Merlin’s eyelids twitches, but he doesn’t wake up. Arthur feels slightly less anxious anyway, just by being close and able to hold him.
“Morgana, what should I do?”
His sister still stands with her hands pressed against the invisible barrier, watching them both closely.
She sighs. “I don’t know. Maybe try to move him? Take him somewhere safer, somewhere you’re not out in the open like this?”
Lifting a hand to run through her wildly messy hair, she mumbles, “I’m not sure this is how it was supposed to happen.”
Arthur watches her, afraid to ask what makes her so troubled and anxious.
“Why can’t you get closer?” he asks, ignoring the other questions he really wants to ask her. He can ask her later, when they’re all safe, when whatever is happening is over. When they aren’t being hunted by evil sorcerers.
“Merlin doesn’t trust me, and I guess his magic doesn’t either. We had an... altercation in our past.”
Arthur feels even more confused now. Morgana sighs.
“I’ll explain later,” she says.
There’s a metallic sort of sound coming from behind Morgana and she quickly turns towards it. Everything except her, Sigan, Arthur and Merlin are still frozen in time and everything looks the same as it did when Morgana left her office. Except... where is Sigan?
With a flare of panic, Morgana spins around again, searching for the threat. She can’t see him. Where is he? She looks back at Arthur, watches how he clutches Merlin’s body closer to his chest and how his pale face is tense and watchful.
And then it suddenly strikes Morgana what’s about to happen. Fuck me, she thinks and smiles somewhat madly, because it’s like being doused with a bucketful of cold water. The sudden realisation is refreshing in a way she hasn’t felt for years — for decades, even.
She is their rescue. She is the one who has been lost in time. She is the one who will decide the fate of the world — and it all comes down to if she can defeat Sigan.
There’s one thing she needs to say to Arthur first. Morgana turns back to the invisible barrier between them and meets Arthur’s eyes. She can tell he’s struggling to cope with everything: the man he loves lying unconscious and possibly badly hurt in the middle of the street, the powerful magic that is in play here, the realisation someone is out to kill them both. It must be near impossible to take in like this, all at once.
Morgana is proud of her younger brother, but he doesn’t know that. When she leans in and whispers something into the air barrier between them, Arthur’s eyes widen. She then presses the words forward, locking them into the magic. After a second’s hesitation, she strengthens the protection around the men. If Morgana survives, she will be able to remove it and tell him everything herself. If she doesn’t...
Well, if she doesn’t, she’s not sure what will happen. The barrier will automatically break when she dies. The spell she just cast will unlock her whispered words. Arthur will finally get to hear what she should have said hundreds of years ago. Maybe that’s what’s most important.
Looking back at Arthur, she smiles and lays her hand against the invisible bubble, hoping he will understand. Then she turns to find Sigan.
Arthur pulls Merlin closer still as he sees Morgana turn around for the second time. What did she do? What just happened? He looks back down at Merlin, takes a second to stroke his chin. There’s stubble against his fingers and the scratch burns a bit. Arthur had said he looked hot with stubble so he hadn’t shaved. The clotpole, Arthur thinks desperately.
Merlin mumbles and moves slightly. Arthur tries to hoist the unconscious body up onto his lap, tighter to his chest so he can keep Merlin closer and better protected. He really needs Merlin to wake up now. Wake up, Arthur thinks. Wake up!
And Merlin does. He starts to move, a little at first, but after what feels like long, torturous minutes he finally opens his eyes. Cross-eyed, he looks up at Arthur.
“What happened?” he croaks and shakes his head just slightly, as if to shake the unconsciousness away completely.
“I don’t know, you pushed me out of the way and something exploded and you were on the ground and then... and...”
Arthur’s voice breaks and he can feel tears of relief fighting to escape. He looks away and sees Morgana walking slowly among all the still-frozen people on the street. It’s not until he can feel how someone lightly strokes his hand that he looks back down. Frowning, he realises he’s inadvertently tightened his grip around Merlin’s chest, and immediately lets go.
“Sorry,” he says quietly.
“Where’s Sigan?” Merlin asks and tries to rise.
Arthur quickly gets to his feet and helps him up. Merlin groans and presses his hand to his forehead.
“Fuck,” he says and squeezes his eyes shut.
Arthur watches him worriedly. “Are you okay? We need to get out of here.”
“Sigan,” Merlin insists, but he’s still unsteady on his feet and doesn’t move.
Arthur can’t really remember Sigan properly, there’s something clouding his memories. All he can remember is Merlin’s violent jealousy and the darkness that engulfed Camelot when Sigan did... whatever he did. It’s not much, but it’s enough to know they’re in danger now. They are all in danger.
Arthur turns to look for Morgana, who is now halfway down the street.
“Morgana!” he yells at her back.
It’s obvious she can hear him as she walks — slowly, searching — but she doesn’t turn towards him, just raises a hand to quiet him like you would a child. If they were in a different situation, he’d never stand for it. But now... He has to trust her to know what she’s doing.
There’s so much he doesn’t understand about this, but he just knows instinctively that the thin, pale woman is his Morgana, the sister he loved too much. The sister he lost. She’s not like him, with his memories of growing up in the eighties: crying after falling off his bike, Uther’s stern lectures, kissing his first girl, kissing his first boy...
Morgana is the same person as the last time he saw her, but also... there’s something different about her. He’s not sure how he knows, but he does. It’s like his soul can recognise her, not unlike it recognised Merlin.
Where Morgana has been and how she fits into all this isn’t important to him, he just wants to protect her. He can’t, though, because he needs to support Merlin and right now, Merlin needs his help more than she does.
“Morgana?” Merlin asks, confused.
“Morgana!” Arthur yells again, louder this time.
She still doesn’t turn back. Carefully, Arthur takes a couple of steps towards her, half-dragging Merlin with him. Arthur won’t leave him, he will never leave Merlin, but he needs to just get closer to Morgana, persuade her to flee with them. As soon as Merlin can walk by himself — perhaps even before that — they’re running. Arthur can’t stay and fight, he doesn’t have magic and he’s terrified of the kind of force that knocked out Merlin. It’s strange, the threat of magic is both terrifying and familiar.
When Arthur takes another couple of steps, he isn’t prepared for the invisible barrier. He hadn’t expected to walk into something solid. At first, he doesn’t understand — he got through the invisible barrier just fine minutes ago. Then it dawns on him. The whispered words Morgana uttered... she must have reinforced the protection around him and Merlin, effectively barring them from the fight that’s inevitably about to take place.
With a last glimmer of hope, he glances at Merlin, hoping that he’ll be strong enough to lower the barrier and allow them all — Morgana, too — to escape. But as he looks at him, Arthur realises Merlin’s not strong enough, he’s barely able to keep himself upright although Arthur has his arm around his waist as support.
Panic welling into his chest, Arthur pounds the barrier with his fist as he shouts.
“Morgana! Morgana, please don’t! Morgana!”
When Morgana realises Arthur has worked out what she has done, she stops and turns towards him, giving him another small smile. This is how it’s supposed to be. She feels eerily calm and certain that this is her ultimate penance, no matter the outcome. She’s been lost for a long time and it’s finally time to find her way back home.
Then she sees him in the corner of her eye: Cornelius Sigan. He’s walking towards her from her right, slowly but deliberately. Morgana turns to face him and he stops some fifty feet away. Even at this distance, Morgana can see the awkward angle in which he holds his left arm, and the blood trickling down his temple. He didn’t escape the magic run-in unscathed either.
“Lady Morgana,” Sigan says and bows, voice dripping with false charm. He keeps his eyes trained on her the entire time.
“Cornelius Sigan,” Morgana replies to the greeting. She doesn’t want to give him any advantage, so she doesn’t mirror his bow.
“I thought you and I were on the same side,” Sigan says. “I thought we both wanted to bring magic back.”
“We do,” Morgana answers. Her hands prickle uncomfortably as she tries to gather as much of her magic as she can at her fingertips, where it’ll be easy to access when the need arises. “But you’re doing it the wrong way.”
Sigan huffs out a surprised laugh. “Oh, am I?”
“Okay, I’ll bite. How, my lady, am I doing it wrong?”
“Merlin and Arthur will bring magic back. You’ve seen the prophecy.” The rising panic in Morgana’s voice breaks through on the last word before she can stop it.
Sigan’s smile is wide but malevolent. “Oh, yes. I’ve seen the prophecy. It doesn’t say a word about magic returning. It says that ‘they will return what is long lost’. Why would the King and his lap dog bring magic back, anyway? Arthur kept magic banned even after the mad King’s death. He treated everyone who had magic with contempt and hate, just like Uther. Even though he was born of magic, he hated and feared it. King Arthur is a bully and an enemy of all wizardkind. If he lives, he will repeat his actions and try to eradicate magic once again!”
He’s shouting by the end, his face tense and radiant with a hate Morgana hasn’t seen in anyone for many lifetimes.
“And then there is Merlin, Emrys, the traitor. One of the most powerful sorcerers that ever walked the earth, who turned his back on his own kind and betrayed us all because he fell in love with a King. He betrayed you. He trusted in a destiny that failed, much like you are trusting them now, Morgana. You will not bring this world to its end by supporting them!”
“So what will they bring back, if not magic?”
Sigan stares at her for a few seconds before answering, “Hate. Persecution. Fear. They’ll start the process that will throw the world into ruin!”
“How? They’re only two men!”
Morgana is ready for the whip of wind Sigan throws at her. It’s not a seriously meant attack, more an attempt to find out what kind of powers Morgana has. The spell is easy to deflect, and Morgana does so with a wave of her hand.
She continues, “Are you sure you’re right? Are you sure Merlin and Arthur will bring the world to its knees?”
Neither Morgana nor Sigan can know the answer, of course — not for sure. There’s always an element of interpretation in prophecies, but Morgana really believes she is right this time. She wasn’t last time and she has paid the price for that mistake over and over and over.
“They will,” Sigan answers and his voice doesn’t waver at all.
Morgana can’t believe how sure he sounds. Only madmen are completely sure, she thinks. The world is built on insecurities and coincidences. You can’t — you shouldn’t be — completely sure about anything.
She had once believed that killing her brother would bring freedom to all of Albion in their original lifetime, but it hadn’t. Merlin had allowed Gwen to lift the ban on magic, but he had hunted down all rogue magic users with such ferocity and fervour that even those who practiced magic legally didn’t consider the lifted ban to be a blessing. When Arthur had died, something had broken in Merlin and it had been apparent to everyone except him.
But Merlin’s not going to lose Arthur this time, Morgana thinks. He’s not going to be left alone and bitter. He’s going to do good things in this life; he and Arthur will excel and they will do so together. Morgana can feel her magic sizzling under her skin, clawing to get out, to defend and protect the only two people who matter to her now.
When Sigan casts his next spell, Morgana’s ready.
Merlin is dizzy as he clings to Arthur’s body with all the strength he can muster. He must have hit his head on the ground when Sigan’s spell hit because when he speaks, the words come out slightly slurred and the world at large feels like it’s not real. It’s as if Merlin’s watching from far away, not as if he’s standing right here with Arthur’s left arm tight around his waist and trying very hard not to throw up.
Arthur’s voice is hoarse, as if he’s been shouting for a long time. When Merlin recklessly tilts his head up to look at him — ow! — there are tears streaming down Arthur’s face and he looks so desperate that Merlin wants nothing more than to hold him tight and kiss the tears away. He can’t, though, due to the small balance issue he’s facing right now. A small laugh escapes Merlin and he can feel Arthur’s grip on him tighten further. He’s confused. Why is Arthur so upset? There’s something he’s missing. Squinting to try and counteract the dizziness, he looks in the same direction as Arthur.
There’s Morgana, the treacherous... Merlin doesn’t finish that thought, because opposite the sorceress stands Cornelius Sigan.
She’s... Morgana’s taking on Sigan. Oh my God. No. No, no, no.
“No!” Merlin shouts and lurches forward. Luckily Arthur has a firm grip on him, or he would have fallen. “No...”
Arthur looks at him. “What?” he says, his voice gentle.
“She’s our enemy, she’s not...”
“She’s my sister, she won’t hurt us.”
“She won’t hurt us this time, Merlin.”
There’s a short awkward pause, in which Arthur turns back to the only two moving people outside their safe bubble. Morgana throws her hand out in a strange motion and Merlin realises after a second that she deflected a spell Sigan has cast. The two are talking, quite heatedly from the looks of it.
She’s really going to take Sigan on. But she won’t make it, Sigan’s too powerful... It was almost impossible for Merlin to defeat the old sorcerer before and Morgana’s weaker than Merlin used to be. Weaker than Merlin is again, if he’s to judge by how his magic had reacted to Sigan’s spell.
But Morgana will never make it.
With a glance at Arthur, Merlin realises Arthur knows this, too. He knows Morgana is going to sacrifice herself for them. Slowly, Merlin puts his left hand on Arthur’s, as it rests on his hip. There’s a comfort in feeling the heat of the soft skin, so unlike and at the same time familiar to how they felt hundreds of years ago. There’s comfort in knowing Arthur’s there and Merlin turns his head just slightly to press his face into Arthur’s shoulder, unwilling to see what is going to happen, but still unable to look away.
When Sigan casts his second spell, there’s an explosion of light and the harsh sound that accompanies it can be heard — albeit muted — behind the barrier. Both Merlin and Arthur avert their eyes for a few seconds from the bright light. Merlin’s head pounds viciously and his legs are about to give out. Arthur won’t let him fall though, he’s sure of that.
Looking back at the fight, Morgana has retaliated, but Sigan is still unscathed. Arthur is looking desperate and Merlin is struggling between the desire to give Arthur everything he wants — to get out and try to help Morgana — and keeping him safe from all harm. Merlin knows it’s doubtful he can lower the barrier anyway, he’s weak right now and his concussion doesn’t help.
He doesn’t try to get to Morgana. There’s guilt twisting in his stomach, because he knows he’s partly to blame for her fate, but he also knows he will never let anything happen to Arthur — no matter who he has to sacrifice to keep him safe. The ruthlessness of his own thoughts hits him, and apparently that is the last straw, because this time he really does vomit. Clasping desperately on Arthur’s shirt with his right hand, he turns away from the other man and throws up on the pavement.
Panting and coughing, he tries to spit out the sour taste of his own bile, but there’s no use. He’s not sure if Arthur has even noticed him throwing up, because he looks like he’s only got eyes for the magical fight. It’s not going Morgana’s way. Sigan is forcing her back towards them with spell after spell and Morgana never has the time to retaliate. Merlin can see she’s about to lose from here, with his head aching and still slightly disconnected to the reality of the situation. He squeezes Arthur’s shoulder, trying to show him that he’s here.
Then it happens. Morgana shoots Arthur and Merlin a quick look before throwing herself on Sigan. The sorcerer is obviously startled by this unusual hands-on approach to fighting and stumbles backwards. Merlin sees Morgana shouting something, a spell he can’t hear. First comes another bang, then the air around the two sorcerers contracts and then pushes outwards in an explosion. Merlin can feel the blast press against their barrier and then it’s gone. There are softly spoken words that envelop them both, but Merlin doesn’t hear them because so much else is happening at the same time.
All sounds and movements that were suspended a second ago are back and the world is spinning again. There are a few people who shoot Arthur and Merlin odd looks, but who can really blame them? To them, they are standing in the middle of the street, drenched in sweat and dirt, Merlin barely able to keep upright.
Arthur stares at the spot where he last saw Morgana. Both her and Sigan are gone, as Merlin knew they would be. The barrier wouldn’t have broken unless they were. He touches Arthur’s arm softly.
“Arthur,” he says quietly. “We need to go.”
It’s odd how he has to be the strong one, but maybe that’s how it’s always been. Most often Arthur was the one with courage and the resolution to act, but the few times he had faltered and lost faith, it had always been Merlin who had carried him home. This was no different.
A car horn blares at them when they aren’t quick enough to move. Arthur stumbles as they make their way off the street, clearly shocked by seeing his sister disappear like that — to sacrifice herself for them. Well, Merlin thinks, that’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t be shocked?
To be quite honest, he is, too.
A familiar face — a face hardened by infinite age — greets Morgana when she looks up. Sigan isn’t nearby, and Morgana feels the flare of panic in her chest. Did she fail? Is he still alive?
“He’s already gone through,” the Cailleach says, as if Morgana spoke the question out loud. Maybe she did. “His soul was torn and almost unrecognisable, but he has passed through.”
All the fear she’s been holding in for centuries leaves Morgana and she sinks to her knees on the cold ground. “And they’re safe?” she whispers.
“Yes. Your brother and your kin are both safe.”
At the answer, her body gives a harsh shudder of relief and the tears break through Morgana’s defences. She hasn’t cried since she actually lived and even then, she didn’t do it for years before Merlin ran her through with Excalibur. It’s a relief, a weight lifting off her shoulders and she can’t stop.
When she feels a light touch on her bowed head, she has no idea for how long she’s been crying. Her body hurts and her knees ache against the hard ground. It takes a few more minutes before she has collected herself enough to rise to her feet again and look at the Cailleach. She squeezes her eyes shut for a few seconds to stop more tears, but then she meets the Gatekeeper’s gaze with more determination than she perhaps really feels.
The Cailleach smiles, neither kindly nor unkindly. “You did well, Morgana,” she says, voice low.
Her voice shaking, Morgana can’t help but ask, “I did?”
“Yes. It would always take a sacrifice and you made it. You managed something even the great Emrys couldn’t. But now, strong one, it’s time to move forward.”
With a discreet arm gesture, the Cailleach ushers Morgana towards the Gate. Getting closer, Morgana slows and halts. She keep looking straight ahead, into the darkness awaiting her.
“Will they remember me?” she asks.
There’s a long moment of silence. Morgana almost regrets the question, but it’s important to her to know. She won’t come back, she’ll be lost forever, and she wants Arthur and Merlin to remember her for what she did tonight – not for her original betrayal.
And with that, Morgana takes her final steps and disappears into the void.
It takes a lot from both of them, but eventually Merlin and Arthur make it to safer ground. Arthur hasn’t said a word since they left the street, but when Merlin tripped and almost fell over a small child in his exhaustion, he took the lead until they reached Uther and Helen’s house. That was the closest safe place he can think of and he doesn’t even consider how they must look when Uther opens the door. Without a word, Uther lets them in when he notices the dirt and sweat on their faces. Helen covers her mouth with her hand before pulling both him and Merlin into a tight hug and asks what feels like a thousand questions. Are they hurt? What has happened? Were they robbed? Is that blood?
When Arthur can’t manage an answer, Uther rescues them by asking Helen to find blankets and make some tea. A former military man, he should know how to treat shock, Arthur thinks.
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur can see Merlin telling Uther his name and he thinks he can hear him make something up explaining the state they’re in. Well, what else can he do? It’s not as if he can tell them what really happened.
Without realising how he has got there, Arthur finds himself on the sofa in the sitting room, a blanket around his shoulders and a cup of tea before him on the table. Merlin’s right beside him, close, his warmth comforting in a way the tea isn’t.
It’s difficult to understand what happened. The memories in Arthur’s mind are still jumbled together, but he does remember Morgana more and more clearly with each passing minute. He weighs his memories of her betrayal against what he just saw her sacrifice and he can’t make any sense of it. If she was here, why didn’t she come to see him? Why didn’t she contact him earlier?
And her words. He needs to ask—
“Merlin,” he says quietly not to alert Uther and Helen, who are talking in hushed voices just a few feet away.
Merlin takes his hand and twines their fingers together before answering. “Yeah?”
“Did you hear what she said?”
There’s no doubt he understands what Arthur means, but there’s a long moment before Merlin slowly shakes his head. “No,” he says and tries to catch Arthur’s eye.
Arthur looks down into his tea, not wanting to look at Merlin too closely in case he accidentally blurts out Morgana’s words. It’s selfish, but he just wants to keep them to himself a little while longer.
Apparently, Merlin understands, because he doesn’t push. Instead, he strokes his thumb across Arthur’s knuckles before lifting Arthur’s hand up and kissing it. “It’s all right,” he says. “We’ll be all right.”
It’s soothing, the way Merlin touches him. Arthur closes his eyes and allows himself to get lost in those touches for just a few moments.
Later in the evening, Uther tries to talk to him. Using his kindest, most fatherly voice, he tries to coax out what really happened — Merlin apparently is a terrible liar — but Arthur just shakes his head and draws the blanket closer around himself, like a protective shell. Helen provides cup after cup of tea, disregarding the fact that Arthur hardly takes more than a couple of sips of each. She looks at him with worry and it’s not until hours of tea and silence that he remembers the reason they were coming over in the first place.
“Helen.” He catches her wrist to stop her as she’s putting yet another cup of tea down in front of him. He tries to offer her a smile, but it probably doesn’t come out right. “Congratulations on the baby.”
She just smiles sadly and gently strokes his chin. “Thank you, sweetheart. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about that later. Don’t think about it now.”
It’s the first time she has ever called him anything but his proper name and it makes him realise just how worried she is. He actually drinks the entire cup of tea and when Merlin nudges his side and squeezes his hand a bit tighter, he tilts his head onto his shoulder and closes his eyes.
As it turns out, Uther won’t hear about Arthur or Merlin leaving his and Helen’s care until they’re better, so Merlin ends up in a bed in a stylishly decorated guestroom in their house, wearing borrowed, purple satin pyjamas and feeling extraordinarily out of place.
He looks over at the other twin bed, where Arthur is sleeping. His breathing is slow and calm and Merlin’s worries ease just a little. For a second, he wants to magic their beds together so he can wrap his arms around Arthur and just hold him. He doesn’t. It probably would be frowned upon, because even though Uther has done nothing to earn that kind of fear tonight, there are residual feelings toward him from before. Those feelings are starting to get on Merlin’s nerves.
He closes his eyes and relaxes into the down pillow as he tries to understand everything. He needs to trust that Morgana... He needs to trust Morgana. It sounds wrong even inside his own head, but he must trust Morgana to have got rid of Sigan. For good.
There are definitely still feelings of anger, even hatred, towards her, because her betrayal is fresh in Merlin’s memory. But there are also feelings of guilt, frustration and gratitude. She loves Arthur. Loved. She loved Arthur and Merlin can’t deny that without Morgana, he and Arthur both would likely be dead by now.
What had Sigan said? Something about the world burning to the ground... because of him and Arthur. It’s difficult to think about, impossible to make any sense of. How would that even work?
Merlin’s head hurts when he tries to rack his brain for a plausible answer. Helen — who has had extensive first aid training — had wanted to take him to hospital and get checked out, but Merlin had protested enough that she had allowed him to stay by Arthur’s side as long as he promised to let her know if he got worse. Luckily, he hasn’t, so he hasn’t had to lie to her. There’s no way he would leave Arthur when he’s like this.
Not trusting himself to stay awake the entire night, Merlin releases a few tendrils of his magic to swirl across the floor, over to the other bed. If Arthur wakes, Merlin will know and he’ll be there for his king — for the man he loves. Like he should. Like he always has been.
Curling in on himself under the covers, Merlin keeps an eye on Arthur until his eyes insist on closing and he falls asleep. His dreams are back but they aren’t as dark as they were in the weeks leading up to him meeting Arthur. Instead, Merlin’s dreams are incomplete images of sunny days and early mornings, a chorus of raucous laughter, and shadowed corners where he silently waits and fantasises about better days.
When Arthur turns towards him in his sleep, the magic around both of them coils a bit tighter and pulses contentedly. Neither of them notices.
The voices behind Merlin are happy. The weather defies the odds and the sun shining through the branches of the apple tree warms his skin pleasantly. He has taken a break from the party and sneaked into the small orchard separated from the garden. Now he’s sitting on the low wall, just enjoying the weather and the reason they are all there. The drink in his hand is still cool, and he absentmindedly trails a triskelion shape in the condensation on the glass before quickly erasing it.
It’s been a year since the thing, as Arthur has dubbed their magical run-in with Cornelius Sigan. The following months had been rough on them both. Arthur didn’t want to see Merlin for weeks, but being unable to completely let go, he called him during all hours of the day and night to talk, or yell, or just sit quietly on the phone and listen to Merlin trying to coax a few words out of him.
Merlin didn’t sleep very well — partly because of the late-night phone calls — making him lose his appetite and causing his already thin frame to become even thinner. Eventually, Will hunted Arthur down and gave him an ultimatum to either leave Merlin alone or “fucking get his shit together”.
There was a terrifying week where Merlin didn’t hear anything from Arthur, but then he stood outside Merlin’s door late on a Sunday evening, looking guilty and stuttering out an apology that Merlin really didn’t need to hear. He got it.
It did, however, take Merlin a long time to understand Arthur’s feelings about Morgana, as he hasn’t got any siblings of his own. But when he told Gwen a simplified version of the troubles in his and Arthur’s relationship, she sat him down and told him about her own estranged brother. She told him about how she wanted nothing more than to just hold him again (and, being Gwen, then kill him for abandoning her). At that, Merlin at least began to understand that love isn’t always is limited to ‘good’ people. He probably should have worked that out on his own.
Merlin asked Arthur to explain about Morgana, and Arthur tried to, but it really didn’t help much. In the end, Merlin told Arthur everything he could remember of their joined past life and tried to accept there was a part of Arthur he’d never completely understand. It’s still difficult, sometimes.
Arthur asked Merlin about the magic, making him explain it over and over, showing Arthur what he can do again and again. Eventually, Merlin grew tired of all the questions and promptly used his magic to press Arthur down onto his bed and fuck him with it — to Arthur’s surprise and pleasure. After that, things shifted into a more normal relationship with its natural up and downs.
Six months later, Merlin moved into Arthur’s huge flat, caving under Arthur’s somewhat sentimental argument that it’s “cosier with you in it, anyway”. Though he complained about the flat being far too big every time it was his turn to hoover, Merlin secretly didn’t regret moving in even for a second.
Every once in a while, Merlin gets flashbacks he doesn’t want to talk about, but mostly, they share what they remember. Sometimes it’s small pieces of an incomplete story, like sharing a meal out in the woods, sometimes it’s bigger, more complex memories that make their way to the surface. The night Arthur remembered knighting Lancelot was the same night Merlin remembered Lancelot’s death. That coincidence wasn’t very pleasant for either of them.
They don’t talk about the memories with any of the others, though they realise that they — oddly enough — surround themselves with the same people in this life as in their original one. Sometimes it freaks Merlin out a bit, like when he remembers that Percival’s girlfriend Sefa betrayed Camelot to Morgana, and Arthur has to pull him aside to calm him down and remind him that things aren’t the same this time around.
Gwen’s voice interrupts his thoughts and Merlin turns around to see her walk towards him, carrying what looks like two fresh glasses of white wine.
“No work tomorrow, right?” she continues and smiles when Merlin shakes his head and accepts the glass, putting his old one down on the wall beside him.
It takes Gwen a minute — as she is quite short — to awkwardly climb onto the wall to take a seat beside Merlin. They sit in companionable silence for a while, sipping the wine.
“Lance really is a good guy,” Merlin says, suddenly.
Gwen throws him a glance. “Yes,” she says, “So is Arthur.”
That makes Gwen burst out in that contagious laugh of hers, and they end up giggling like nursery school children. Merlin accidentally tips his glass to the side and half of it spills onto the grass below.
“Hey, dorks, watch it!” Will says from behind them.
When they turn, both he and Lance are on their way over from the tables filled with food, each carrying a plate holding sweets. Will’s is crammed with cake, biscuits and what Merlin assumes is some sort of fancy sorbet.
“Be careful, Will. That might send you into a sugar-induced coma,” he smirks as Will takes a huge chunk of the cake and obstinately stuffs it into his mouth.
“Mffphth,” he says in answer.
Gwen looks disgusted. “You’re a pig, Will.”
She doesn’t get an answer besides a nonchalant wave of the spoon as Will rolls his eyes and walks away again.
Lance watches him as he goes. “He’s a great guy, Will, but he’s a bit of an original.”
Gwen hops down from the wall to swat admonishingly at his arm, but grins nonetheless.
“Oh,” she suddenly says, “Lance, let’s go back into the garden...”
Confused, Merlin looks around to see what scared them off.
“Gwen, Lance,” Arthur says, smiling, when they meet a few yards away.
The two of them smile back and wander off, arm in arm. They look as if they were made for each other, and Merlin thinks that it’s nice to see they got the chance to make it work this time.
Arthur closes the gap between them and leans in for a kiss. “Staying in the shade to protect your delicate skin?”
“Arse,” Merlin answers but kisses him back.
“Mmm,” Arthur says into his mouth. “But I’m your arse.”
Merlin laughs and climbs down from the wall, “True. And you’ve got a beautiful one, too.”
There’s a clinking of glasses and they reluctantly look away from each other. By the tables in the garden, Uther and Helen stand side by side — like king and queen — smiling at their guests. A blonde girl stands right behind them, holding a small bundle of what looks like a small, white, poufy dress with a dark hair topping. She smiles at it, scrunches her nose and laughs openly when she gets the desired response.
Merlin squeezes Arthur’s arm softly. “It was nice of you to recommend Elena for the nanny job, despite her lack of references.”
“Yeah, well...” Arthur says, “It wasn’t very difficult to convince dad, and Helen’s always willing to give people a chance. And after all, Elena was the one who took care of me until the paramedics came when I fell down those stairs.”
“About that... You know how you’ve always called me clumsy?”
Arthur huffs and straightens his back to try and look down at Merlin. He fails, of course, considering Merlin is an inch taller to begin with.
“Hm,” he just says instead, “Well, you always were.”
“Yeah. But...” Arthur hesitates, “But not everything is like it was, after all.”
And before Merlin can answer, Arthur grabs his hand and tugs at it to get him to follow. They slowly make their way to where the others are assembled.
“Welcome!” Uther says loudly to quiet the chatter among their guests. “Thank you all for coming to our beautiful daughter’s christening party today. Helen and I feel very honoured that so many of you were able to make it.”
He beams at the people closest to him. Arthur and Merlin stand a little to the side, hands clasped together, waiting for the toast to come. That’s not yet, apparently, because Uther plunges into a long speech about the pregnancy, Helen and — eventually — Arthur.
“I was blessed 28 years ago with a son,” Uther says and turns to Arthur, “A son who has done me proud every day since.”
Merlin squeezes Arthur’s hand and feels more proud than he probably should considering he entered Arthur’s life only a year ago.
Uther smiles somewhat indulgently at them both before turning back to the rest of his audience, “It’s my pleasure to be able to tell you that Arthur has agreed to become Morgan’s godfather.”
It’s not a particularly unexpected decision, and Merlin and Arthur had of course known beforehand, but their friends and family still explode in thunderous applause and somewhere in the crowd, Merlin thinks he can hear Will wolf-whistle. The shouts of congratulations drown out Uther’s bid for a toast, but he doesn’t seem to mind and everybody understands they’re supposed to drink anyway.
Blushing under the sudden onslaught of attention, Merlin feels Arthur’s shoulder comfortingly bump into his. When he looks up, it’s into eyes shining with joy and emotion. Merlin’s about to tell Arthur just how much he loves him when there’s a slight commotion behind them and Gwaine squeezes in between them, slings his arms around both their shoulders and starts prattling on about... something. It’s a bit unclear, really, and Merlin realises that he doesn’t care much, either. He loves Gwaine — for his friendship in this life and the old one — but he really can be a bit of a gossip.
Instead, Merlin listens as Arthur throws his head back and laughs like only he can. It’s a beautiful thing, and when he feels Arthur’s hand reaching for his behind Gwaine’s back, Merlin knows he’s found home.
It’s quieter in the garden now that most of the people have left. Only Gwen, Lance, Leon and Merlin are still here, helping Helen and Uther tidy up after the party. Arthur stands by himself at the other end of the garden, rocking slightly to keep tiny baby Morgan happy. It seems like she is, because she looks up on him with huge eyes and reaches out to him with her hand. He kisses it lightly, like a knight would kiss a lady’s hand, and smiles at her. That brings a smile to her face, too.
Her eyes are Morgana’s eyes. It’s weird to think that way, but Arthur’s convinced destiny has granted him and Merlin one last thing. To be honest, maybe mostly him, because Merlin still can’t let go of his mistrust of Morgana. But Morgan... tiny baby Morgan. She’s different, but still the same. Her eyes are different colours — green, blue, grey, yellow — depending on how the light hits them. The rather wild tuft of hair she was born with is black as coal, like Morgana’s, but the miniature mouth is different, and she has rather large ears for such a small baby.
Merlin had groaned when Arthur proudly had pointed that out. “Poor child,” he had said before affectionately tapping her small nose, prompting her to cross her eyes confusedly.
Now, Morgan’s reaching out for him again. He is watching her fondly when he notices it: the smallest glittering trace of magic at her fingertips. Leaning in a bit, the magic escapes her grasp and trails its way up onto Arthur’s face. It touches his nose, cheekbones, forehead, before lingering in his hair for a moment, ruffling it in an affectionate manner.
Arthur laughs, because what else can he do? Plus, it tickles a bit. The sound of his laugh makes Morgan giggle, too, and Arthur can’t stop looking at her, even when the magic trickles out again. Someone should probably talk to Uther and Helen about that, Arthur thinks. Maybe he can get Merlin to do it, considering he knows magic better than anyone else around these days.
Suddenly, he remembers Morgana’s last words to him. Looking down at the baby, he thinks he needs to let her know how he feels about her before it’s too late this time. He lets her wrap her tiny hand around his finger and looks towards the others. Merlin looks back at him with a smile on his face, beckoning him over. Arthur smiles back and nods, but turns away again.
“There’s just a few things I need to tell you, too,” he says quietly. He looks down at the baby who lets out a huge yawn and squeezes his finger the tiniest bit.
A voice reaches him from behind him. “Arthur?”
“In a second!” he answers.
He sighs and wonders if Merlin was this impatient before, too.
“Anyway,” he says and looks back down at Morgan, “there’s just a few things I need you to know.”
Please forgive me. Don’t forget me. I love you.