Work Header

Distant Echoes

Chapter Text

Story Header Illustration

When Arthur finally returned to the living world, more than a millennium had already passed. He was reborn into a loving family, grew up in a small town, and generally had an average childhood.

He didn't remember his past life. He didn't know magic existed. He didn't even know he was affected by said magic, until he was much older. Most importantly though, he didn't know Merlin still wandered the earth – waiting for his return. Merlin, on the other hand, didn't know Arthur was back either.

Nonetheless, ancient magic connected them and would make sure they met in the long run...

Arthur was eleven years old when he first had one of those strange dreams. Or at least, this year's dream was the first one he could remember. Years later Arthur had no doubt he had them all along, all his life.

This particular day he was on a trip with his dad and older brother. They had an amazing day of climbing, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Arthur loved it, and was almost sad when they had to drive back home.

In the evening Arthur’s mother greeted them with a warm smile and home-made pizza. Her cooking wasn’t always the best, but her pizza was to die for!

There hadn’t even been anything special about the day, no birthday, no holiday. Just a random day, turning into the perfect day for Arthur.

As exciting and fun as the day had been, Arthur was downright exhausted when he finally fell into his bed. Accordingly, he was asleep within seconds.

Divider Lake Avalon

The sky was pitch black, no stars or moon visible due to a thick layer of clouds. The wind blew through nearby trees and the tall grass surrounding him. There was a lake just a few feet ahead of him. Only the small waves made it visible in the darkness, but Arthur would have known it was there anyway.

Behind him, he could hear a car driving by. In the short moment during which the headlights illuminated his surroundings, he noticed a person sitting right at the lakeside. Arthur was startled for a second, but then curiosity struck and he walked closer, until he stood right next to the person.

"What are you doing here?" Arthur asked, but got no reply. The man – as he saw now – had his eyes closed, brows furrowed and stray tears streaming down his face.

Arthur stepped back in surprise, and a sudden wave of emotions hit him.

He felt scared, and thoughts of his life being on the line – no, someone else’s life? - flooded his mind. Cold shivers were running down his spine. Arthur felt the sudden need to cry out, but at the same time he had an unbearable lump in his throat holding him back.

All at once, the emotions switched and a deep feeling of betrayal and threat overwhelmed him. Who...? But again, the emotions switched - this time to an all-pervasive sadness. He was going to miss someone? Was he regretting something...? Arthur couldn’t help actual tears forming in his eyes.

All through that, he had this ever-growing warmth taking hold of him. Like a small, gentle tickle to his stomach, that made him want to burst out smiling. What was this feeling? Was it... happiness? No, it felt different. But what was it?

Arthur wasn’t sure how long it took for the strange mash of emotions to fade, but when it did they still stayed at the back of his mind, making him uneasy.

Slowly, he stood up straighter – when had he crumpled in on himself in the first place? – and walked in front of the man. He wanted – no needed – to see his face properly. Arthur had no idea why, just that it was what he needed to do. He ended up standing in the shallow water but it felt neither cold nor wet. He only knew it was there because he saw the waves breaking around his ankles.

When Arthur looked back at the man's face he had opened his eyes and was looking straight at Arthur. Despite the darkness, his eyes were a brilliant blue, and shining brightly. At the same time, they held such a depth of emotions – Arthur had never seen anything like them. Were those his emotions Arthur was able to feel, albeit distantly by now?

Arthur felt uneasy, and he wasn’t sure if the man could even see him, despite looking straight at him. It had seemed like he couldn't hear him either, or was he actually ignoring Arthur?

The man was still silently crying, and with a sad smile on his face he suddenly whispered a single word: "Arthur..."

Arthur was so startled he stepped back too quickly, and tumbled backwards into the water. The last thing he saw before going under, was an island in the middle of the lake with a strange, angular tower on it. The tower was glowing in every colour Arthur knew, and more.

Chapter 1Cover Illustration

Gasping for air, Arthur sat up in his bed. It took him a few seconds to recognise his room. Still breathing heavily, he turned on the bedside lamp and looked at his posters, the scattered clothes on the floor, and the unfinished homework on his desk.

He gulped. His heartbeat was slowing down, finally, but he didn't feel like going back to sleep. That... dream – was it even a dream? – had felt so real and surreal at the same time. What were all those emotions he could suddenly feel? And the strange man. Why was he just sitting there, in the middle of the night of all things? Why was he so sad? Why had he said Arthur's name? He didn’t understand. But the only reasonable explanation was that it was a dream, right?

Arthur was scared and didn't want to be alone, so he got up on unsteady legs and stepped into the corridor. There were voices and a faint light drifting up from downstairs. Arthur rushed over to the staircase. He almost fell down in his hurry, but caught himself on the handrails.

His parents must have heard the ruckus, for his dad stepped into the corridor and turned on the light just when Arthur reached the ground floor.

"Arthur, what-?" he started to ask but stopped when he saw his son’s expression. Arthur looked up at his dad with big, watery eyes, and held out his arms. Without another word he hugged Arthur tightly, picked him up, and walked back into the living room.

When Arthur had calmed down enough to explain to his parents what had happened, they assured him it had only been a nightmare. There was nothing to be afraid of, they said. And Arthur believed them. They were his parents, after all. They knew these kind of things.

Still, when he got back to his room to try to go back to sleep, he couldn’t quite bring himself to turn off the lights. He never had been overly afraid of the dark, and he knew he was supposed to be a big boy, but right now he didn’t care. He left the bedside light on throughout the rest of the night.

Arthur still felt slightly uneasy, even with the light illuminating his room, but after a while the exhaustion of the day got the better of him.

Over the next year, Arthur never truly forgot the strange dream, or the sad man. He actually thought about it a lot, but couldn't remember ever seeing that lake, the tower or the man anytime before in his life.

He did talk to his parents about it a few more times, but they quickly discarded it as "just a dream", or Arthur "reading too much into it". When he told his older brother Henry about the dream, he was rather confused Arthur had bothered to put so much thought into it, too. But he was willing to listen to his concerns and questions at least.

They had always been close, always got along, and had always been there for each other. Arthur was happy he could count on Henry now too. Only, when Arthur kept asking the same questions over and over again, his brother got annoyed. But Arthur didn’t hold it against him and tried to bring it up less – although he was never able to completely shut up about it.

Arthur had to admit, he was annoyed at himself for being so intrigued by this dream. At the same time, though, he couldn’t ignore the stubborn voice in the back of his mind that told him it was important. That he was right to be curious. That it was something important to him!

He just never could explain what made it so important.

In September, when Arthur started secondary school, he struggled between homework, footie practice, and trying to spend time with his friends. It was a good distraction, but even then he sometimes lay awake late at night, thinking about the dream.

By the time about a year had passed, he was almost convinced there was nothing more to it, that his parents had been right all along. But then it happened again.

This time it had been a normal school day, including an exhausting practice in the afternoon. Arthur had been sitting in his room doing homework until late in the evening, and was just happy to finally get some sleep.

He hadn’t expected that kind of dream to happen again, although he couldn’t deny he was hoping for it. Nevertheless, his day had been downright exhausting, and not in the good way. Thus he drifted off almost instantly.

Divider Peru

Arthur had to blink a few times against the bright light. Instinctively, he held his hand over his eyes to block the sunlight while looking around. He stood on a steep mountainside, a cliff rising behind him, and only a small walkway ahead of him it dropped down further. Below, he could make out wide, grassy hills, rivers, and in the far distance, small, tan buildings. The sun was low, dragging long shadows, and the sky cloudless. Arthur had never seen a landscape as beautiful.

Gaping, he took a step forward and looked down the cliff. A few feet below he saw another walkway, even smaller than the one he was standing on.

Suddenly, Arthur noticed a group of cloaked figures to his right. They stood a small distance uphill on Arthur’s walkway, and formed a half-circle facing the sun.

Arthur couldn’t see what they were doing exactly, but one of them caught his attention. A man to the outer left with dark hair, a wide, colourful poncho, and a hideous old backpack. The man walked forward and then knelt down right at the centre of the circle.

He was now almost completely concealed by some of the cloaked figures. Curious, Arthur walked closer to get a better look at him.

"What are you doing?" he asked when he was right next to them. They didn’t react. Arthur frowned, not liking to be ignored, although he still wasn’t sure if the people in these dreams could hear him at all.

The whole group was focused on the man in the middle, silently watching what he was doing. Arthur finally took a closer look at him too – and his heart skipped a beat. It was the man he had seen in his dream before! Arthur would recognise his face, especially his eyes, anywhere.

"It’s you!" he exclaimed, but still nobody reacted to him.

The man was looking at the ground in front of him. His hand touched the earth, slowly moving from left to right over the dusty walkway. Arthur didn’t understand what he was doing, but everyone else watched in apparent suspense.

The sun was about to set, and just when it hit the horizon, the man looked up abruptly. Just like last time, he looked straight at Arthur, but only for a split second before he closed his eyes and mumbled a few words, too quiet for Arthur to understand. Then he stood up, dusted off his knees, and started talking.

Arthur couldn’t understand a word. He didn’t even know what language the man was speaking. Probably Spanish, or something similar, Arthur guessed. He really wanted to know what was going on. In an attempt to catch the man’s attention he waved his arms over his head and asked: "What are you talking about?"

Still, no reaction. The man just continued talking, while a few other people nodded at him silently.

Arthur walked closer to the man, waving his hands right in front of his face, but still nothing. "Why are you ignoring me? Or can you actually not see me?" he asked in annoyance, and tried to grab the man’s arm – only to grab right through him, and stumble. Arthur shouted out in surprise and squeezed his eyes shut.

Divider Peru

When he opened his eyes again, all he saw was the dark ceiling of his room.

It didn’t take him as long to calm down as last time, but the shock of moving right through someone else in his dream lingered for a long time. It was a very unpleasant feeling. Cold, almost freezing, and at the same time burning hot. There had been no resistance whatsoever, which just made it all the more awkward for Arthur.

When Arthur felt ready to get up, he didn’t bother to look for his parents like last time. He simply turned on his bedside lamp and glanced at his alarm clock. It read 11:07 pm – about an hour had passed since he had gone to bed.

Arthur quickly scrambled out of bed and walked over to his brother’s room just across the corridor. The room was dark, but Arthur didn’t care. He needed to talk to Henry about the dream as long as the memory was still fresh.

"I had another dream!" Arthur exclaimed in a loud whisper, and turned on his brother’s bedside lamp. He sat down on the bed, not caring about Henry startling awake and giving him a confused look.

"It was very different from the last one though. This time it was day, well, sunset, and there was this huuuge mountain—" Arthur made a wide gesture with his arms "— and there were other people this time too! And then—"

"Arthur!" Henry interrupted him, "It’s the middle of the night. What the heck?"

Arthur felt guilty for waking him up, but he didn’t budge. "I know, I’m sorry! But I have to tell you now, or I might forget half of it!"

His brother groaned in annoyance and turned his back on Arthur. "I’m too tired. Just... write it down or something. We can talk later."

"But—" Arthur started, but then thought about it. "Actually that’s a great idea! Thanks!" He gave his brother a quick hug – and got another annoyed grunt in return – before turning off the light and sprinting back to his own room.

There he sat down at his desk and searched for an empty notebook he could use. When he finally had one, he started to quickly write down everything that had happened in the dream, and made small sketches of the general landscape and the strange man.

Only when he was sure he had included every last detail, did Arthur discard his notebook and lie back down. He lay there, staring at the ceiling for a long time, going through the dream over and over again. Who was that man? What had he been doing? What had he said?

Arthur would make sure to pay more attention to learning other languages in the future. After all, the dream had happened again, although after a long time. He was certain it would continue to happen.

Grabbing his alarm clock again, Arthur checked the date. Hadn’t the dream last year been at the same date? Arthur couldn’t be sure, but he got up and wrote the date on a sticky note and pinned it to the wall behind his desk. If there was a chance the date was somewhat related to these dreams, he would find out by next year.

Although, Arthur had to admit to himself, he didn’t like the idea of waiting for another year to find out. As strange and confusing as his dreams were, Arthur was excited to find out more. He wanted to know who the man was, why he dreamed about him, and most of all: was he actually real?

The dream certainly felt very real to Arthur, but then again, a lot of dreams did that, right? One way or another, Arthur would have to wait to get some answers.

Henry was still cross with him the next morning, but mostly for show. He wanted to make sure Arthur wouldn’t wake him like that again, Arthur knew.

In the evening they sat down on Arthur’s bed and talked about the new dream. Arthur had his notebook in hand, and sometimes added new notes, questions, and things he wanted to pay attention to next time. He was absolutely sure there was going to be a next time.

Henry, on the other hand, grew more and more weary about the whole topic, especially with Arthur’s never-ending interest in it.

"I’m not saying you shouldn’t think about it at all," he said, "but don’t you think you’re a bit too... obsessed with these dreams?"

"I’m not obsessed!" Arthur argued and pouted at him. "You would be curious about it too, if it had happened to you."

Henry sighed but didn’t argue further. "Just... don’t let it distract you from school and stuff, okay?" When Arthur dutifully nodded in return, he gave him a small smile, and a nod for Arthur to continue.

It was obvious Henry didn’t think the dreams meant anything, but that didn’t matter to Arthur. Arthur was just grateful that he tried, and was there for him, and vowed to himself he would do the same for his brother whenever he needed his help.

Arthur also tried to tell their parents, but they only scowled in concern, and gave each other worried looks. Arthur didn’t like that, so he shut up about it quickly.

On the following weekend, Arthur met with his best friend and told him about the dreams. He had told him last time too, but his friend hadn’t shown much concern – he always changed the topic or straight up asked to talk about something more interesting.

Arthur considered the new dream rather interesting, but sadly his friend didn’t. He listened anyway, but with a sceptical look on his face and only responding with things like "Riiight..." and "If you think so."

In return, Arthur’s excitement was lessened quite a lot, but he tried not to let it get to him. It was becoming more and more obvious that he was the only one who truly cared about his cool and exciting dreams. He wished the others would understand how amazing the experience was, even if it was slightly scary.

The reluctant reactions he got from everyone made Arthur reluctant to tell anyone else about his dreams. The weird looks he got from his parents had made him especially uncomfortable. It was almost like they thought he wasn’t in his right mind. Arthur obviously didn’t want people to think that about him. He was fine, those dreams were strange, and maybe unnatural, but that didn’t make Arthur a weirdo... right?

Somewhere Arthur knew his parents were just worried about him. Worried that he read so much into his dreams. But he couldn’t help it. He just had to find out who that man was, and what those dreams meant!

In the end, however, all Arthur could do was wait and hope for another dream.

Chapter 1 Mini Illustration

The following year passed unbearably slowly. Even though school and practice filled more and more of his schedule, Arthur felt like time wasn’t passing fast enough. He did, however, spend his free time as often as possible on research. Arthur tried to find out where he had been in his dreams, maybe even find information about the man. Sadly he didn’t find anything useful, although certainly not for lack of trying.

He was a well known guest in the City Library, and even travelled with his brother to the next bigger town and scoped out their libraries. He did some online research too, but it was all for nothing.

Well, not completely for nothing. He found out a lot about how to do research correctly, and had a lot of fun with it. Arthur also got a lot of new ideas about what kind of information on his dreams could help him, like figuring out the time and date. He hadn’t even considered until this point that when exactly those dreams happened could be interesting to know. Not to mention that they might have happened for real somewhere, sometime.

Arthur still didn’t think that was very likely, but he definitely wanted the dreams to be real. After all, how amazing would it be to see some kind of visions in his dreams?

When he told his brother, and his best friend they both laughed about the idea, and tried to give Arthur ridiculous superhero names. Arthur only laughed with them, and suggested they could be his sidekicks.

Besides the continued research, their small family grew over the year, in a way. Henry introduced his first girlfriend to their parents only a few months before Arthur suspected the next dream was due to happen. The girl was nice and Arthur got along with her well enough. He couldn’t help being a bit envious of their connection though. He wasn’t interested in Henry’s girlfriend, but rather craved the kind of bond they had, and their shared happiness. Arthur hoped he would be perfectly happy like that too, soon.

On top of that, Henry had less time for Arthur now, and he had to do the research mostly by himself. He rarely dared to bring up the topic around his friend, no matter how much he craved to talk about it.

Arthur did, however, tell his friend a lot of the things he found out in his research, especially when he had read up on some cool knights, big battles, or other things that he knew his friend would like to hear about.

When the day of Arthur’s dream finally rolled around, he skipped footy practice and went straight home after school. He hurried to finish his homework, ate dinner with his family and went straight to bed afterwards. He couldn’t fall asleep though – he was just too nervous.

Arthur didn’t know how long he lay there in the dark, waiting for sleep to finally take him. He could hear his brother and his girlfriend walk through the hall, giggling at each other.

He turned around every few minutes to find a more comfortable position, but no matter what he tried, he just couldn’t fall asleep.

At some point, Arthur got up and got himself some hot tea with honey, hoping it would help to calm him down.

It didn’t.

He started to play silly games on his old Gameboy when just lying in bed got too boring, and so it was almost midnight by the time he finally drifted off.

Divider Tokyo

The morning light shone on Arthur’s face, the air was cold, and Arthur couldn’t help a bright smile spreading over his face. He stood in a small alley, high buildings on each side. Ahead he saw a busy street, with masses of people walking by.

Arthur looked around himself, searching for the man. It didn’t take him long to spot him. He was in the same alley as Arthur, walking towards him. His gaze was lowered, his posture was slouched, and his hands gripped the straps of his backpack loosely.

"Hello, can you hear me?" Arthur asked loudly. Just like before, he didn’t get a reply. When the man walked on straight at Arthur, Arthur stepped aside quickly – he really didn’t want to repeat the experience from last time. He then fell into step next to the man, taking a closer look at his face.

His eyes were only half open and the bags under them were so prominent, he looked like he hadn’t slept in days. He mumbled something to himself, but Arthur couldn’t understand what. They were nearing the road and it was getting more and more noisy.

The man suddenly stopped, only to throw his head back and yawn wide. Then he pulled a mobile phone out from his jeans pocket and frowned at the screen.

"Check-out time is in less than an hour?" he asked no one in particular followed by an exhausted sigh. "I’ll have to pull another all-nighter then. Bloody fantastic..."

He stayed where he was for another long moment, pressing the buttons on his phone in astonishing speed. He must be very used to typing on his phone. Arthur could only guess, since he didn’t use his own phone much. His parents had only given him one for emergencies and insisted he paid for any extra texting or calling by himself. Accordingly, he didn’t do it; not much at least.

Arthur gave the man another once-over. He didn’t look like he had been out partying or something of the sort. His clothes were well worn – a simple shirt and jeans. But what had he been doing all night then? And apparently multiple nights?

Suddenly Arthur got the idea to get a look at the man’s phone, to possibly get new information from the message he was typing. But just when Arthur peered around him and leant in closer, he put it back into his pocket and continued walking towards the busy street. Arthur only barely moved back fast enough to not go through him again.

"You’re really not making this easy on me," Arthur complained more to himself than anything else. "Why am I even dreaming about you, if not to find out more about you? If you are real that is... But you are real, right?"

They walked onto the busy street, and it got more and more difficult for Arthur not to walk through anybody. It felt strange, even hurt him in a way. Arthur tried to prevent it, but with so many people walking around them, he couldn’t avoid it all together.

Arthur had trouble not losing track of the man in the masses, too. He was really good at pushing his way through the people, almost magically so. After a while Arthur lost sight of him completely. Having no other choice, he took a deep breath, ignored everyone else and pushed onwards to catch up to the man. It felt horrible – and had someone just pushed a bike through him? – but at least he was back next to the man.

Abruptly, he turned left and walked into another, smaller, less busy street. Arthur breathed out in relief , only to gasp and almost stumble back in the next moment. Ahead of them at the end of the street he could see a familiar building.

"Is that the Tokyo Tower? Are we in Tokyo?!" Arthur squeaked and turned around. Now that he wasn’t distracted by people walking through him he noticed all the bright advertisement boards with Japanese writing on them – not that Arthur could read anything, but he knew enough to recognise the symbols. Arthur now also noticed that most of the people were Asian, that they were talking in a language he couldn’t understand, and how had he not noticed any of that sooner?

Henry’s girlfriend had introduced some interesting cartoons – anime – to him and Arthur. That was where Arthur had learned about Tokyo and its famous tower, as well as what the writing looked like.

He couldn’t tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese writing though, and made a mental note to do some research on Asian culture and languages in the future.

Turning back around, Arthur couldn’t see the man anymore. He cursed and ran down the street, looking left and right. But he had no luck. Instead he suddenly felt a weird resistance, keeping him from walking on. Arthur didn’t know what it meant, and kept pushing forward. Only when he noticed the dream around him began to blur, and sounds began to fade did Arthur stop.

But it was too late. He had walked too far away from the man, and the dream ended.

Divider Tokyo

Arthur sighed in annoyance and hid his face in his hands for a long moment. He had failed to find out anything about the man again. And he had been so close, too! He could have just looked at his phone, or followed him to his hotel room or whatever. Now he would have to wait another year!

Well, at least now he had proof these dreams happened on a yearly basis. He lowered his hands and got up. He wouldn’t go to his brother’s room again – especially not since his girlfriend was over – but he would add to his notes.

The notebook from last year laid ready on his desk, as well as a printed map with time zones on it. He would first check up on that one.

It was almost one in the morning where Arthur lived and he guessed it was sometime in the morning in his dream. According to the map, it would be close to ten in the morning in Tokyo right now. This could be the exact time Arthur had seen in his dream. Arthur couldn’t be sure if it was a coincidence or not, though.

He couldn’t remember last year’s exact time he went to bed and woke up, but since he didn’t know the location from that dream either, it didn’t matter much. Arthur would just have to try to find out more in the future. He didn’t look forward to waiting another year, and he felt even less like sleeping.

In the end, he spent another two hours taking notes from the dream, writing lists of things to look up, and adding sketches of the mysterious man. Arthur surely wasn’t the best at drawing, but he liked the result anyway. With the memory of his face still fresh, it was a much better drawing than he had managed before. Maybe if he kept practising he would be able to show a decent sketch of him to others, one day.

This year, Arthur didn’t even bother telling his parents about his dream. There was just no need to make them worry about nothing.

Henry was busy with his girlfriend, and Arthur wasn’t comfortable with telling her about it. He didn’t have many chances to talk to his brother, and slowly Arthur had to realise that this wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

His best friend didn’t even bother to fake any interest. He was busy with potential girlfriends and, as he called it, "actual real life." Arthur was disappointed about this development, but not surprised. No one had actually believed him. Even his best friend, and brother had only listened because they were his friends. Maybe even out of pity.

Arthur was just glad he had never told anyone else about it. He was already concerned that his family thought him there was something wrong with him – he didn’t want to know what other people would think or do.

He decided to not tell anyone about his dreams from now on, unless they were really close to him. He wasn’t even sure if he would tell his future girlfriend. Would she think less of him for having those dreams? For reading so much into them? Frankly, Arthur didn’t want to risk it.

A few years passed without Arthur ever seeing anything helpful in his dreams. He never found out where the man was, and could only guess what time of day it was.

One time they were in a dense forest, in the middle of the night. They were walking slowly among the trees, never even close to an actual path, as far as Arthur could tell. At some point the man sat down and made a small campfire – in record time. Arthur had no idea where the wood came from, or how it started burning so quickly, but it had been dark, and Arthur hadn’t been attentive, so he brushed it off as unimportant.

Another time he woke up to a barely-lit cave. That had been the strangest dream so far. There had been weird hooded people again, and it took Arthur a long time to figure out which of them was the man he knew. In hindsight, it should have been obvious. For some reason he was always the centre of attention, the one person sticking out. In this case, there had been some arguing going on between the hooded people, almost escalating to a fight. When suddenly a small earthquake shook them all, everyone looked at the dark haired man. He had his hand raised, and a stern look on his face. Apparently that was all those people needed to listen to him and – Arthur wasn’t sure he had seen correctly – bow to him.

In yet another dream they had been in a crammed shop. Arthur had no idea what most of the things on the shelves were, but the man was visibly excited to be there. Arthur could almost feel it. At one point he picked up a sword replica – it had to be a replica, right? – and examined it with a small smile on his face. "Arthur would love this," he mused. Arthur protested, and pouted in return. He wasn’t that fond of swords.

Nevertheless, every time the man was somewhere else, and nobody could hear, see, or touch Arthur.

Additionally, Arthur had done some experimenting on touching things and people. Apparently, he could touch some things, like the ground, and walls, and even chairs. But he couldn’t move them. Any already-moving objects, however, went right through him. Someone on a motorbike had driven right through him at one point – something Arthur hoped would never happen again.

But then again, there was that time a tree branch hit him right in the face while they were walking through that dense forest.

In the end, Arthur wasn’t all that sure about what "rules" applied to him in his dreams, except that he had to stay close to the man. He had tried to walk away from him once – only to verify his theory about this rule – and quickly sprinted closer again when the dream had started to fade.

As for Arthur’s non-dream-related life, a lot changed over the years. Arthur had only been 13 when the dream in Tokyo happened, and school work, including his GCSEs, and later A-levels, quickly became his main focus. He’d always enjoyed doing research, and studying – at least when the subject was interesting enough – wasn’t hard for him. But only when he had decided on a university and subject did Arthur seriously sit down and study hard.

Besides all that, he never stopped playing on the local football team. Over the years his teammates became Arthur’s closest friends. Not close enough to share his mysterious dreams with them – Arthur wasn’t sure he would ever tell anyone else about them – but he still spent most of his free time with them. Even more so after Henry moved out to go to university.

Arthur was 16 at that point, and his brother was still his closest friend, and only confidant to talk about his dreams. It was hard to separate, for both of them, but they did their best to stay in contact by texting, or talking on the phone. Over time, it became less regular and they weren’t as close as they used to be, but considering the distance, they did well.

If anything, Arthur was closer to his brother than their parents by the time Arthur graduated, although Henry lived in another town. Not that Arthur had a big falling out with them or anything. It was just that they never really understood him, despite trying their best. And the older Arthur got, the more obvious it became to him that that would probably never change.

Not to mention that his parents never supported Arthur’s research. They didn’t like that it was all that he did. That he barely brought friends home, never mind a girlfriend. They didn’t understand that he simply hung out with everyone at school and practice, and that it was enough for him.

Of course, there had been girls he had been interested in, as well as boys – Arthur knew better than to tell his parents about that little detail though. But nothing ever came from said interest. Either it wasn’t mutual, or Arthur didn’t bother to do anything about it in the first place. For the most part, he just couldn’t bring himself to spend even less time on his research than he already did just to be in a relationship. It never seemed worth it to him. Almost like he knew there was something – someone – better waiting for him.

Also, over the next few years, Arthur and his best friend drifted further and further apart. They still talked, but they just weren’t best friends anymore. While Arthur got closer to some of his footie mates, his friend, in contrast, befriended another group of their classmates. By the time they graduated, Arthur felt like he barely knew his former best friend anymore.

It was a strange feeling. They had grown up together, lived in the same street all their lives, and used to talk about everything. But now he barely knew this young man anymore, or he Arthur in return.

With some of his footie mates, on the other hand, he was such close friends they even planned to go to the same university. Some others wanted to go into professional sports, but Arthur and his closest friends were aiming for Cambridge.

After spending years researching for his dreams, Arthur knew a lot about it and enjoyed it. Not to mention that he was very good at it. Arthur might not find much on the matter of his vision-like dreams, but considering the small amount of information he got to work with, he found out a lot. Accordingly, he decided to make research his profession.

He investigated a lot of potential degrees and courses he could take, naturally. But in the end, the Archaeology programme at Cambridge was the one he liked best.

Arthur actually choose to go with Archaeology instead of History or something similar because of the potential to go outside, to do field work and not just read old, dusty books. After all, besides all the research he did over the years, Arthur had always enjoyed going outside and playing football with his friends, taking a run through the nearby woods, or simply sitting outside while reading.

Frankly, Arthur didn’t want to end up with a job consisting of sitting in an office for the rest of his life – so he was going to do his best not to.

He shared a flat with two of his former footie mates. His friends studied different subjects but that just made living together and talking about their studies all the more interesting. They also often went out together, kicked a football lazily in the nearby park, or simply watched telly together.

All in all, Arthur grew up great, had a good time with his friends, and got into the uni and courses he wanted to do. The only thing he didn’t make any progress with was finding out more about his dreams and the strange man he always met in them.

To be fair, he also slowly lost interest in it over the years – especially after starting university. He was still happy to have the dreams, and wrote everything down about them. However, he didn’t wait impatiently for them anymore, or spent all year thinking about them. At some point, his uni research had simply become more important to him – and for the most part, Arthur was happy with that development.

By the time Arthur was 21, and in the middle of writing his bachelor thesis, he didn’t even think about the dream day coming up. He had been so busy with finishing his thesis on time, he hadn’t thought of anything else for weeks. That particular night, he had finally finished the rough draft. For once, he had a chance to relax, and wanted to spend the evening in bed, surfing the internet, and doing nothing. But his exhaustion got the better of him and he was asleep before it was even eight in the evening.

Divider Sochi

Arthur could hear the sea, the sound of waves calmly rolling over a beach. There were voices in the distance, but too quiet for him to understand them clearly. Opening his eyes, Arthur could see he was sitting on a small balcony overlooking the nearby sea. It was too dark to say were they were exactly, but he wasn’t sure he still wanted to know.

Next to him sat the man, nursing a colourful drink. He looked out over the sea, unblinking and deep in thought. Arthur sighed. "Well, hello again. Where are we this time?" he asked despite knowing he wouldn’t get a reply.

Arthur didn’t even wait for any reaction. He just got up and walked on into the adjoining room. It was a dark hotel room, the same backpack the man had been travelling with for years now lying on the floor, and a few clothes scattered over the bed. Arthur noticed a couple of hotel brochures on the desk, so he walked closer and bent over to look at them.

The texts were in Russian and Arthur couldn’t read a thing. But the photos on the brochure seemed somewhat familiar. Arthur knew he had seen this city on TV sometime recently... He looked over the other flyers in the hope of finding an English one, but had no luck.

Reluctantly he stepped back out onto the balcony. "Nice room. But you really should get yourself a new bag," Arthur commented as he sat down again. "It looks like it’s going to fall apart any second. Actually, it already looked like that ten years ago." He tried to push over the almost empty cocktail glass – in vain. "Ten years. I can’t believe it’s been that long already..."

Arthur was quiet for a long moment.

"It’s kind of strange... you don’t look a day older since then," he stated. "How old are you anyway?"

Even knowing that he wouldn’t receive an answer didn’t lessen the disappointment.

The man was playing games on his phone, looking up every now and then. He was probably waiting for something, or someone. Arthur wasn’t as curious as he used to be, but still kept glancing at the phone screen just in case. It was his best chance for any new information to pop up.

At the same time, he couldn’t help glancing at the man’s face every so often. Despite the fact he had to be at least 15 years older than Arthur, he looked like he was in his mid twenties. The older Arthur got, the less he could deny the man was attractive, in a way. Not that Arthur was interested in him in that way! No this was merely Arthur noticing and acknowledging the fact this man was actually good looking. And that he really should stop thinking about it.

Just then the phone started ringing, but the caller ID only read "unknown". The man picked up instantly, and started to whisper in Russian - apparently not even waiting for the other person to say anything. He also barely paused, and after only a minute, he hung up again.

The man huffed out in annoyance, a slight pout on his face, and complained about whoever called him in a low grumble. Arthur had never seen him like that, and couldn’t help laughing out aloud. For some reason, it made Arthur happy to see him with an annoyed frown on his face, while pouting at the same time. There was something familiar about it.

The man suddenly turned towards him and stared straight at his face. Then he looked around frantically, his eyebrows drawn together unhappily. After a moment he just shook his head. "I’m imagining things again. Great..."

Arthur had watched him wide eyed until now. Had he really heard Arthur laughing? So far, he had never noticed him. Was it even possible? Then again, this were just Arthur’s dreams. There was no proof it was really happening. So, everything was possible, right?

A loud knock from the door startled them both. The man got up and opened the door, Arthur following close behind. On the other side stood a man in a long coat, the hood drawn low over his face. His hands were clasped in front of him and he bowed slightly.

"It is time, Emrys."

"Okay," was the instant reply, "I’ve prepared everything. Where is she?" He walked back into the room, grabbed his bag and the keys, and readily followed the other man.

Arthur had no idea what was going on. The things and places he had seen in these dreams before had always been strange. But never had he had the chance to actually get behind anything. Maybe this time would be different. He could only hope.

And, had the newcomer just called the man Emrys? Was that his name? Emrys? Arthur had tried to find out just anything and now – just like that – he had a name? He couldn’t believe it! And somehow the name "Emrys" sounded so familiar to him. Arthur had heard or read it before, he just couldn’t remember where.

While Arthur tried to comprehend this new information, the three of them exited the hotel and crossed the street, walking down onto the beach. They kept walking towards a group of people, all of them clothed similarly to the stranger who had led them here. Arthur used the chance to look around at the city, but he still couldn’t remember where he had seen it before.

The people stood in a circle, surrounding something or someone. They blocked the view too much and it was way too dark down at the beach – no street lights reached them. It was a miracle Arthur hadn’t stumbled over anything on their sprint down here.

Emrys stepped through the circle and knelt down. Arthur couldn’t see him anymore and was considering to walk closer and get a better look. He could technically walk through people, after all. But over the years, he had tried to do that a few times, and for whatever reason, it felt worse and worse. Now that it seemed like the man – Emrys – had heard him laugh, Arthur really wasn’t keen to try walking through anyone again.

Instead he stood outside the circle, close enough to look over someone’s shoulder. There wasn’t much to see though. Everything was covered in shadows, and Emrys’ movement – was he searching for something in his backpack? – was only vaguely visible.

Arthur could make out another person kneeling next to Emrys, but he couldn’t tell what they looked like, or what they were doing.

Suddenly, everyone started to spread their arms out to both sides and then they slowly took a step back. Arthur quickly stepped back too, almost stumbling over the uneven ground. He looked behind himself, while taking another step back for good measure.

When he turned back around to see what’s going on, Emrys had stood up, his hands outstretched downwards, and in front of him sat the other person, slouched, and their head lowered.

It was a surreal picture. Arthur wasn’t sure what to make of it, but just then Emrys knelt down, put his hand on the person’s shoulder and said something in Russian. There were audible gasps, when she replied in a quiet voice.

One of the women from the circle took an uncertain step forward. Emrys nodded and smiled at her reassuringly. The women threw herself at the girl and hugged her tightly. Emrys only barely managed to pull back in time so he wouldn’t get hit by her arm, but he just smiled more broadly.

Arthur had no clue what had just happened, but apparently everyone was happy to see the girl was fine? It was still pretty dark, and now that everyone moved around freely, instead of standing in a circle, it was even more difficult to follow what was happening.

Trying to keep his focus on Emrys, Arthur stepped around some people to stand next to him. He was just zipping up his backpack, and lifting it over one shoulder. Then he waved at everyone and said goodbye, and although some of the people wanted to thank him more – or at least that’s what Arthur guessed was going on – Emrys only shook his head and brushed it off casually, while politely but quickly retreating.

Arthur followed him back to the hotel, not sure what to make of everything that happened in the past few minutes.

"I have no idea what just happened, mate, but it looked cool. What did you do? Some kind of... exorcism? Some weird cult thing? Magic?" Arthur laughed about the mere idea. "Those dreams are getting weirder and weirder..."

Just when they exited the beach area, Arthur noticed a big advertisement board, and suddenly he knew why this city seemed somewhat familiar. This was Sochi – the Winter Olympics had been held here just last year!

When he turned around to tell the man, everything started to spin. His surroundings got blurry, it was dark and bright at the same time, and Arthur had to close his eyes against it.

Divider Sochi

When he opened his eyes again, he was back in his bed. His laptop lay next to his face, but had shut down by now. A quick glance at his phone told Arthur that it was almost eleven in the evening. Never before had he been so long in one of those dreams. Maybe it cut him off because he was there too long? Because he found out too much...?

Nevertheless, Arthur was happy about all the new information. He had found out more in tonight’s dream than in any of his dreams in the past five years. He had a name! And a location!

Arthur quickly turned his laptop back on and opened a new document to take notes. By now he had a special files for his research. He had digitised everything a few years ago, scanned all the drawings, and made sure to reorganise it all. Now it was easy for him to find any information he had gathered so far, as well as add new details.

After he finished writing down everything, he leant back against the headboard and took a deep breath. Arthur hadn’t been that into his dreams in years. It was equally exhilarating and scary. He could understand now why everyone used to be so concerned about him, when he got all excited about these dreams.

The most pressing question of the moment, however, was: should he try to fly to Sochi and find this man, Emrys? Was it even worth it? After all, in the end this could have been nothing but a strange dream. But what if it wasn’t? What if it was real? What if...?

Arthur sighed and shook his head. There was no point getting into this right now. He still had a thesis to finalise. He still had at least another month before he went into summer break and could even consider a trip like that. Until then, he decided, he wouldn’t think about it at all.

Accordingly, despite trying very hard not to get too distracted over the following weeks, he wasn’t always successful.

About two weeks after the dream, Arthur actually bought plane tickets and applied for a visa. He would leave right after turning his thesis in, and then stay in Sochi for a week and a half. The tickets were the cheapest he could get, and still were rather expensive. Not to mention the extra money he had to spend on the visa. Arthur really hoped it would be worth it.

Although, in some way even finding out there was no Emrys and these dreams were just that – dreams – would still be worth it. At least then Arthur would know, and hopefully could ignore them a bit easier.

If Arthur was honest with himself though, he would be way happier to find out Emrys was real. That those dreams meant something. Something more. That he wasn’t slowly losing his mind.

By the time he finally was ready to leave for Sochi, Arthur was getting very nervous. One of his flatmates had dropped him off at the airport. Arthur had chosen to travel alone. None of his friends knew about his dreams after all, and it would have been too difficult to hide why he was there – explaining it was certainly not an option either. He would have liked the company, if only to have someone to talk to and calm his nerves. Maybe next time – if there was a next time, that is.

Arthur spent the whole flight fidgeting with his mobile, looking through the notes he had on it, or the drawings he had of Emrys.

Since the name Emrys seemed vaguely familiar, Arthur had done some research on the man. But his time had been too limited to find out much. It was a name that came up in documents from the last millennium and beyond. But Arthur hadn’t had time to look into it, or associate it with anyone living in this century.

Once he was back home, he would spend some more time looking into it – probably independent from the outcome of this trip.

It was almost midnight by the time Arthur reached his hotel in Sochi – not the same one he had seen Emrys in. That hotel had been too expensive, but Arthur knew where it was and would go check it out the next day.

Arthur’s hotel was on the outskirts of the city, but he still could see the sea and the beach from his hotel room. In the dark of the night, it looked exactly the same as the view he remembered from his dream. Arthur couldn’t help his excitement, and he was still overly nervous. For a brief moment, he considered starting his investigation right away, but travelling all day had been very exhausting. He decided to try and get at least some sleep. Naturally, he barely slept at all.

The next day was very sunny and warm. Arthur walked into the city centre, always staying close to the beach. He was still very tired, and by now not all too motivated to do anything useful. But he always was on the lookout for Emrys. He would look for the people he had seen at the beach too, but he hadn’t seen any of their faces. The hoods, and the night, had covered them almost completely.

Around noon, he found Emrys’ hotel. He walked inside and looked around. There was a woman behind the counter, greeting him in a friendly voice: "Welcome to Hotel Santorini. How can I help you?" Arthur still didn’t understand much Russian though.

"Uhm, do you speak English?" he tried and gave her a sheepish look. The woman didn’t seem impressed. She replied with a shake of her head. "Only Russian."

Arthur sighed. He didn’t want to be rude, but with being preoccupied by his thesis he simply hadn’t had time to learn a new language. Also, he was almost fluent in Spanish and Latin by now, wasn’t that enough?

He shook his head and pulled out his phone, opened the best drawing he had of Emrys and showed it to the woman. Arthur then pointed at her, and then at the image on the screen. He tried to make a questioning gesture, but really, how do you do that?

The woman didn’t give the image much thought anyway. She raised her hands in a dismissive gesture and shook her head. She then continued to talk in Russian, but Arthur wasn’t paying much attention anymore. Instead, he took a step back and waved his hand in goodbye before leaving the hotel.

He spent the rest of the day and the next two in pretty much the same manner. He tried to ask for Emrys in nearby restaurants, and shops, and even spoke to random tourists at the beach. But either they didn’t speak English, or didn’t know Emrys.

On his fourth day in Sochi, he decided to do something else – actually be on holiday for once. The city was rather pretty after all, and it was wonderful to just lie in the warm sun at the beach.

That was where he met a tourist group from Dublin. A bunch of nice people, and most importantly, a few of them were reasonably fluent in Russian. After hanging out with them for two days, Arthur decided to ask them for help. He simply told them it was an old friend of his he was looking for. Someone he had lost contact with years ago, and now wanted to find again.

They believed him of course. And why wouldn’t they? It was something you heard of all the time.

So he sent them a few of the sketches and they went around asking for Emrys, with Arthur in tow. At first there didn’t seemed to be any progress. Arthur couldn’t downright propose to go to a specific hotel – it would be too suspicious – but they went to a lot of the shops in the area, and suddenly someone actually recognised Emrys.

It was a young woman working in a small bakery. She told them that about a month ago, Emrys had been here, having his breakfast in the shop every morning for about two weeks. She remembered him, because of his kind smile and chattiness.

Arthur barely managed to hold in his excitement. Someone actually had seen him! And even around the right time! That couldn’t be a coincidence, right?

To be safe they asked around a bit more over the next few days. The group from Dublin got super excited about the whole investigation part, and had fun exploring the city in this unique way.

They split up into smaller groups, and suddenly, the night before Arthur had to fly home, he had a bunch of new friends, a lot of information about where Emrys had been, and at least a dozen people confirming his existence – one of them a receptionist from Emrys’ hotel.

Arthur spent his last evening in Sochi with his new friends, celebrating their successful detective game, as they’d come to call it. Arthur had never been all that much into parties – always being too caught up with his research. But he enjoyed himself quite a lot that night, and the whole week he had spent with these people was more than worth it. Even if he hadn’t found out anything about Emrys, he’d have been happy he was here.

It was rather disappointing to have to go back home though. Arthur was probably not going to meet any of them ever again. He was sure he would miss them a lot.

After he had settled back into his everyday life, and had to fully focus on university and his postgraduate studies once more, he didn’t have much time left to miss anyone, however. Every free minute he got was spent on researching Emrys, and soon enough he was barely in contact with his newfound friends.

On top of that, what information he could gather about Emrys was absolutely confusing. Someone in the ninth century talked about an Emrys, praising him as a wise old man. Another source declared him a mystic legend, who had never truly existed. And then there were some documents from the 16th and 17th centuries that simply stated Emrys had lived in this or that town.

All in all, Arthur wasn’t sure what to make of it. He couldn’t find any relation to a family name, and no one ever mentioned an additional first name. Arthur could only guess that maybe Emrys was more of a title. Maybe inherited in a certain family or profession?

What was most confusing though, were the old photographs and paintings he found. There were a few with an Emrys on them that looked old, with a long white beard and similar hair, but there were also a few photographs of a younger Emrys. An Emrys that looked the same as the one Arthur saw in his dreams. Not just similar like father and son could look. No. Exactly the same.

Arthur had no clue how that was even possible.

On top of that, his dreams in the following years were absolutely unhelpful, again. The next time, he watched Emrys cook dinner and quietly sing along to some music on the radio. It was rather hot inside the room, and bright sunlight illuminated the kitchen. The door was closed, giving Arthur no chance for further exploration. The window was wide open though, and whenever the heat got almost unbearable, a convenient cool gust of wind blew through the room. Sadly, there was not much to see outside, only forests and fields. Arthur still spent a lot of time looking outside, even if only so he wouldn’t stare at Emrys instead.

No matter how much he tried to deny it, ever since he first noticed his attraction towards Emrys, he couldn’t help thinking about him. He felt bad for it every time he reminded himself of how much older Emrys must be, but then again it’s not like anyone - especially Emrys - would ever know, right?

In the dream after that it was night and all he could tell was that Emrys was somewhere in the UK, according to the programme running on the telly in the background. It was even the same programme Arthur had fallen asleep to. He wasn’t too mad about just sitting next to Emrys and watching telly together. Like always, Arthur just talked to him, and at some point it seemed like Emrys had heard him again. When Arthur turned to face him, though, Emrys just shook his head and took a sip from his steaming fresh cuppa – and when had he gotten that anyway?

Arthur was getting more and more desperate to finally meet Emrys outside of his dreams, and talk to him. He wanted to ask him all the questions he had – and get them answered for once.

Besides the non-existent progress in regards to his dreams, Arthur passed his MPhil in Medieval Archaeology with excellence. He started his PhD studies and quickly enjoyed the combination of tutoring undergraduate students and working on his own thesis and research.

Somehow, besides his studies, he had managed to end up in a relationship, too.

His girlfriend wasn’t interested in research, or archaeology for that matter, but she worked a lot too, and was accordingly understanding about Arthur not having much time for a relationship. She probably was even less inclined to do much else beside her work. It was a miracle they had found time to meet in the first place, really.

All in all, Arthur’s life was going well. The only drawback was the non-existing progress regarding his dreams and the mysterious Emrys. Therefore, Arthur decided shortly before his 24th birthday, he would take off a whole month right after the next dream. He would then do anything he could to find Emrys, travel to wherever he was, and hopefully find him.

And if he couldn’t find him – well then – that would probably be the last time he wasted so much time on the subject. Arthur felt like he had spent all his life chasing after a ghost. It was time to live. Hopefully by finally getting his answers and finding some kind of closure.

At the day of the dream, Arthur had been working till late to finish grading some coursework, and was accordingly knackered when he came home. His girlfriend was already home and sat in their living room, probably working on her laptop instead of relaxing. She greeted him briefly with a kiss to his cheek before continuing to work.

Arthur was more than fine with that, though. Usually he would have preferred the company – silently working on their separate projects, or watching telly together – but he was too knackered at the moment. He simply got a quick snack from the fridge before preparing for bed. His head hurt and he wasn’t very keen on having to be attentive in his dream too, but he had little choice.

When he finally lay down and cuddled into the sheets, he sighed contently. Within seconds, he was drifting off, entering another vision.

Divider Hotel Room

He opened his eyes to a small, dark room. The curtains were closed and barely any light got in from the windows. It took Arthur a few minutes to adjust to the darkness enough to see anything at all. Then he spotted the familiar backpack on the floor next to a bed. On the bed was Emrys, rolled up in a blanket, and fast asleep.

Arthur let out a frustrated sigh. "Of bloody course now would be the time you’d choose to catch up on some sleep," he grumbled. Then he walked through the small room, trying to find anything that would help him figure out where he was. There were a few papers spread over the small desk, but it was too dark to actually read anything. There was no clock, no hotel brochures, not even any food wrappings laying on the floor to at least know in which country they were.

After scoping through the room three times, Arthur gave up and sat down at the foot of the bed, hiding his face in his hands. He sat there, his head hanging, for a long moment.

"So I’ve got nothing," he finally stated. He took another deep breath to calm down. It didn’t help. "What am I going to do now?! I took a whole bloody month off to travel after you and track you down! There’s just no way I can find you with so little information!"

Arthur got up again and walked around the bed to stand right in front of Emrys’ face. He tried to touch his arm, his cheek – trying to wake him up somehow – but like always, his hand just went right through him.

Arthur took a look around the room again, making another frustrated noise, before simply sitting down right next to Emrys. "Great, just great," he murmured, pulling his hands over his face once again.

"Can I at least wake up now? I’ve had enough of those idiotic dreams!" Arthur knew no one could hear him, but complaining out loud felt a lot better than just keeping it to himself. He let out another sigh, more resigned than frustrated by now. What was he going to do?

Was he really supposed to just sit here, and wait for his dream to be over? Not only could that take forever , he had nothing to do, was already having a headache, and nothing to distract him from any of this madness. And he was supposed to just sit and wait? Not bloody likely!

Since they were in a closed room, he wouldn’t even be able to put enough distance between them to snap himself out of the dream, and Arthur didn’t know any other option to forcefully end these dreams.

After contemplating his choices for another moment, he just threw his hands up, and shook his head. He decided to do the only reasonable thing he could think off. He went to the other side of the bed and lay down. The bed wasn’t too big, but Arthur didn’t care. He was tired, even in his dream, and he didn’t want to just sit around doing nothing. So he might as well go back to sleep.

It took him a little bit of effort to figure out how to lie comfortably on the sheets while not touching Emrys. The experience of going through another person hadn’t gotten any less uncomfortable over the years.

"You better not roll over while I’m still here," Arthur grumbled, and closed his eyes.

A lot of time passed until he could actually fall asleep, despite his tiredness. He was so annoyed he hadn’t found out more, and kept contemplating getting up and taking another look around. At the same time, he was too stubborn, and angry at Emrys – although it technically wasn’t his fault. For once he had no trouble cutting off any attraction he felt towards Emrys, not giving it a single thought the whole time.

Arthur drifted off, lying on his back, with his arms crossed over his chest. Just before he was completely asleep, not fully aware of where he was at that point, he felt someone shift next to him. A light touch to his shoulder, followed by them shifting closer. "Arthur...?" a tired voice asked. But Arthur was already too far gone, fully asleep just a moment later.

Divider Hotel Room

It was late morning by the time Arthur woke up. His girlfriend had already gotten up; most likely she was at the gym or took a run in the park like every saturday morning.

Arthur didn’t know if he had stayed asleep inside his dream, or simply didn’t wake up after it ended – although that had never happened before. He didn’t care much though, or at least that’s what he kept telling himself.

The longer he was awake, the more his mood dropped. He had counted too much on this dream, and somewhere deep down, he knew it was his own fault. But at the time, Arthur didn’t care about being reasonable.

He was angry at those dreams, and at Emrys. He was frustrated that he didn’t get his answers once again. And most of all, he was just done with the whole vision-like dream deal.

Frankly, he didn’t want to waste any more time on them, ever again.

Nodding to himself, Arthur got up and walked over to his desk in the living area. Without giving it another thought he deleted all his notes, all the information he had gathered about his dreams and Emrys.

It didn’t make him feel any better, no matter what he tried to tell himself. Neither did it help that he now had a whole month off, and no idea what to do with his time.

Maybe it would have helped if Arthur had remembered the last bit of the dream, and that Emrys had actually touched him, and talked to him. But Arthur didn’t remember, nor did he want to remember anything about Emrys at the moment.

All Arthur wanted from now on was forget about it, and live a normal, happy life. So that’s what he decided to do.

Chapter Text

After decidedly not moping for three days, Arthur declared that he should at least get something good out of his vacation. It didn’t take him much musing to come up with a good plan. First, he drove to his brother’s house and visited him and his family for a few days.

Outside of Christmas and big family reunions, Arthur hadn’t seen Henry in years. It was great to hang out with just the two of them, and Arthur's mood improved significantly.

They didn’t even do anything special. Just talking, catching up on each others lives, and kicking a football in the garden behind Henry’s house.

Arthur hadn’t been so unwound in years.

Encouraged, Arthur decided to spend the following weeks visiting more old friends. He even made it to Dublin for a few days and met up with some of the friends he’d made in Sochi.

It was a bit weird to see them again. He couldn’t help relating them to Emrys, and their joint search for him. But they didn’t talk about Emrys more that the initial polite questions. After that, it was all about their current lives, how their jobs and studies were going, and plannings for another meet up in the future.

All in all, Arthur almost had forgotten about his unsuccessful attempt to find Emrys by the time his vacation was over. And even if the memory came up, he quickly discarded it and forced himself to do something else.

At one point, just when he was getting back on track with his PhD work, tutoring and research, Arthur had the toughest test in forgetting about Emrys so far.

He was just leaving his office when one of his professors and another old man walked by. Arthur had only seen them from behind, and couldn’t quite hear what they were talking about. Only, the backpack this man was wearing was so famil— No. Arthur vigorously shook his head and turned the other way.

There was no way this old, white-haired man was Emrys – and even if he was, Arthur didn’t want to know anymore. He was over those stupid dreams, and that stupid man once and for all.

After that, time passed uneventfully. It was great to have nothing unusual happening for once, or at least that’s what Arthur desperately kept telling himself. In reality, it was boring, but Arthur was too stubborn to admit it. Insead, he persuaded himself that this was the life he wanted from now on.

When the next dream was coming up, he almost considered pulling an all nighter, just so he wouldn’t have to dream about Emrys again. But he had an important appointment in the morning, and Emrys wasn’t worth that much trouble, anyway.

Instead, Arthur planned to just ignore the dream, and live his life as if they didn’t happen. End of story.

Divider Palace

The dream, however, was rather hard to ignore. They were in some kind of palace by the looks of it. The walls had detailed ornaments and expensive-looking wallpaper. The furniture was the same, with armchairs and sofas of dark polished wood and satin cushions.

Emrys sat in one of the armchairs, looking rather out of place. He had grown a beard in the last year, and his clothes were worn and shabby. All together he looked worse than Arthur had ever seen him.

But even in his current state, Emrys looked somewhat attractive. Arthur rolled his eyes at himself. He wasn’t supposed to think like that about Emrys. Taking a deep breath and pretending he hadn’t had that thought, Arthur took another look around, only to end up watching Emrys again.

Emrys was completely focused on whatever the other people were talking about. The dark shadows under his eyes told Arthur how little sleep he must be getting – but that wasn’t Arthur’s concern anymore. Why was he paying so much attention to such details anyway?

Determined, he turned away and looked out of the window. Outside, the rain was pouring down so heavily, Arthur could only see a few metres away from the building.

He also couldn’t walk away and end the dream purposely, so instead he lingered in the back. Whenever Emrys said something – and for once they were speaking English, not that Arthur actually was paying attention to what was being said – Arthur commented on it. More often than not in a rude way.

At one point Emrys started looking around the room, eyebrows drawn together in confusion. His eyes stayed on Arthur for a long moment, and it looked like he was about to say something to him , but Arthur didn’t want to hear it. He turned away and strolled through the room instead – completely ignoring everyone else. He wouldn’t let those dreams take up any more of his time than necessary.

Arthur was glad when the dream was over and he could get back to his actual life.

Divider Palace

The following year, however, didn’t go as planned.

Not doing any research on Emrys was easier said than done. As hard as it had been to come by any information in the past, now that he wasn’t trying, he suddenly stumbled upon long paragraphs and even more photographs and old paintings to do with Emrys.

Ignoring Emrys was getting to be a real hardship. Stubbornly, Arthur didn’t give in to his curiosity, or the voice at the back of his mind telling him he was being too pigheaded about it.

Instead, he only got increasingly annoyed the more often he read Emrys’ name somewhere. At one point, he even considered burning one of the library books – just to let out some of his frustration – but thought better of it, since the book had actual useful information, too.

Arthur’s friends, and girlfriend noticed his distress and bad mood, of course. They tried to be there for him, tried to cheer him up – but they couldn’t understand why he was in such a mood in the first place. And what was Arthur supposed to tell them? Nobody knew about Emrys, and he wasn’t starting to tell people about him now.

They kept probing Arthur with questions he didn’t want to answer. It only worsened the situation and increased his frustration.

On top of that, Arthur became more and more unhappy with his work. The research either downright bored him, or simply wasn’t going as it should. If he wasn’t distracted by Emrys, he spent days – if not weeks – on the same books, only to dismiss them and start over again. Tutoring used to be one of his favourite parts about his postgrad work, but was downright bothering him now.

Accordingly, he spent more and more time on his work, getting less and less done.

He was mainly working on his PhD thesis at this point, and needed to do a lot of research on it. Tutoring classes only came up when someone else couldn’t make it, and he had to step in. It should have been good, satisfying work, but the only thing actually making progress was Arthur’s bad moods.

Even his fellow PhD students noticed the difference. Of course, their additional concern just annoyed Arthur all the more.

He avoided everyone by working even harder. He was almost never at home anymore, and if he was, he rarely did anything other than eat, wash, and sleep.

Just after the new year started, Arthur and his girlfriend broke up. On the one hand, Arthur could understand she wanted to leave. He couldn’t even recall the last time they had talked properly, not to mention kissed, or hugged. And – heck – not even Arthur wanted to be around himself right now. But it hurt nonetheless, and certainly didn’t help to improve his mood.

If anything, he only buried himself in even more work, desperately trying to escape reality and all the unwanted information about Emrys he still stumbled upon.

A few weeks after his girlfriend moved out of their shared flat, Arthur got a call from his mum: his father was in hospital, and it wasn’t looking good.

Arthur visited him the next day, and stayed at his parents’ place for the rest of the week. It came naturally to him to take his most important work with him, and he continued working on it whenever he had a free minute – much to the annoyance of his family. He couldn’t help it though. Arthur was simply at a point where his work was his only distraction from all the bad things happening in his life.

When his brother tried to talk to him, and confronted him about the obviously bad state he was in, Arthur considered for a moment opening up, and telling him. After all, Henry had always been there for him, he already knew about Emrys, and if there was one person Arthur could trust, it was him.

But when he tried to come up with a reply, his mind went blank. Suddenly all his problems seemed so unimportant, and Arthur felt like he was overreacting and—

"I’m alright," he said instead, putting on the best smile he could muster. By the look on Henry’s face it wasn’t convincing at all. He didn’t pry, however, and Arthur was forever grateful.

The next day, Arthur fled back to the safety of his own flat. His dad wasn’t much better, but his condition was stable. Arthur knew he should have stayed, should have been there for his mum, but he simply couldn’t stand being around his caring, sincerely concerned family any longer.

When he finally arrived at his flat, a sudden wave of loneliness hit him. He was all alone – just what he had wanted – but somehow it made him feel worse.

Arthur ignored it, just like all the other times before, and got back to work.

He now did everything he could from his office at home, only leaving the flat to go to the library or go grocery shopping. The latter he did less and less, not even noticing how little he ate.

Arthur didn’t talk to any of his friends for weeks, and only responded sporadically to his family and coworkers. He just didn’t want to hear about his father’s condition anymore. And it wasn’t like he could report anything but his work progress to anyone, since it was all he did.

Chapter 2 Mini Illustration

Naturally, it only took so long before Henry interfered with Arthur’s unhealthy lifestyle. He showed up quite suddenly – at least to Arthur it felt like it. If he had checked his phone or emails in the past few days, he would have known about the visit.

When Henry saw the state of Arthur, and his flat, he didn’t hesitate long.

"Alright, enough is enough. You," he pointed a warning finger at Arthur, "are getting in the shower. Right. Now. And then you will eat, and sleep. Actually eat, and sleep. And don’t even think about working!"

Arthur didn’t like being told what to do, but right at that moment he felt too tired to put up a fight. He did try to ignore his brother and just stay at his desk, but Henry wouldn’t have any of it. Swiftly he unplugged and hid Arthur’s laptop, and came back to take away most of Arthur’s books just a moment later.

"I’m cooking your favourite," he said before he left the room again, "so you better hurry up, or I’ll eat it all myself."

He obviously tried to sound annoyed with Arthur, but Arthur knew him too well and could see right through him. His brother was concerned – downright afraid – for Arthur’s well-being. Did he really look that bad?

Reluctantly, Arthur got up, and slowly walked into the bathroom. Somehow he already knew the answer before taking a look in the mirror. The rings under his eyes were dark, and prominent. His face was thinner than ever, and his skin had an unhealthy pale colour. His eyes were so dim and— Arthur quickly shifted his gaze.

Sighing to himself, he finally did as he was told.

Henry stayed at Arthur’s place for the following two weeks. At first, Arthur was annoyed with him. At least every half an hour he asked his brother to leave, and to let him work. But Henry wouldn’t budge. He stayed, and tried to explain to Arthur how much he was hurting himself right now.

It took Arthur a few long days and a lot of arguing with Henry to realise how serious his condition was.

"Arthur, please," Henry said. "We already almost lost Dad. I don’t want to lose you instead." And finally Arthur was willing to listen.

Only after he got Arthur to see a therapist, was Henry willing to leave Arthur to himself.

He still visited him every weekend for the next few months, and only stopped when Arthur started to visit his brother instead. But it was a long way to get there.

After Arthur was forced to take a sick leave, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He tried to work secretly anyway, but somehow his brother always knew.

The first time, Henry took Arthur’s laptop with him for the week, giving Arthur even less to do. The next time, although Arthur had only checked his work email and not even actually worked, Henry set up some of Arthur’s friends to visit him at least once a day. They were either spending time with him at his flat – making sure he ate enough and all that – or they made him go outside to the nearby park. Arthur was beyond annoyed about the constant intrusion, and only got worse, if anything.

It wasn’t like hanging out with his friends was bad, per say, but Arthur still wasn’t feeling well. And now that he had no work to distract him from said illness, it was only getting worse.

On top of that, he was constantly feeling tired and would have preferred to stay in bed and sleep all day.

Only at the end of the week, when he finally had a whole day to himself again, did Arthur admit to himself that it hadn’t been all bad – just a bit too much at once.

He told his brother as much, and Henry instantly apologised, albeit obviously not completely understanding it. He didn’t know how to deal with this kind of situation, Arthur knew, but he was trying in every way possible to make Arthur better. Naturally, it wasn’t the right thing to do all the time, but that wasn’t any reason to give up trying, not to Arthur’s brother.

Beyond his annoyance, Arthur was grateful for everything his brother and friends did for him. He knew it wasn’t a given to have people back you up like that. But at the moment, all he wanted was to be left alone.

Arthur couldn’t understand how he had ended up in such a bad condition. Just a year ago he had been fine! Or maybe he hadn’t been? With all these weird dreams, chasing after them... maybe he had been ill all the time without knowing it?

It wasn’t the first time he had questioned his mental health, but never before had he dared to give it proper thought. Arthur had always told himself that he was fine. That his  dreams didn’t mean anything bad. But maybe he had just been lying to himself all along, just like he had been the last couple of months about his health.

No matter what, Arthur didn’t dare to bring up his dreams to anyone. Not his therapist, or friends, and not even to his brother.

About two months into his leave from work, Arthur decided he’d had enough of sitting at home and having people fuss over him every other day.

Overall, he was feeling better. He wasn’t constantly tired anymore, he was back to a somewhat normal eating schedule, and he generally looked healthier. He didn’t feel all that much better, but Arthur just knew that some long overdue alone time would help.

He didn’t tell anyone about leaving. Arthur’s therapist would have forbidden it, most likely. And his friends and brother would have wanted to join him.

But all Arthur wanted to do is drive through the country, do some sightseeing, and – hopefully – be able to breathe again.

Arthur had wanted to do a trip like this for years. There were a lot of places he had never been to, or hadn’t seen in a long time. A lot of these he had either visited with his family when he was younger, or read about in his research.

In the past, he never had the time to actually travel – always too caught up in his work. But since he had more than enough time right now, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally check some of his travel goals off the list.

The first night, Arthur checked in at a small hotel in Bristol. He had been driving for most of the day, including lots of short stops, and he planned to stay for a day or two before driving further south.

He made himself comfortable for the night before turning on his phone. There were a few messages, but nothing too worrisome. No one had noticed his absence so far.

To prevent any arguments, and hopefully be left alone at least for a few days, Arthur called his brother.

Of course, Henry wasn’t happy to hear Arthur had run off – even less so when Arthur refused to tell him exactly where he was.

"Henry, I am not a child!" Arthur argued. "I get it, you’re concerned – and I appreciate it, really. But it’s not making me feel any better."

There was a deep, drawn-out sigh from the other end of the line, but no immediate reply.

"Please, just trust me, alright?" Arthur added, after the silence had stretched on for too long.

"Alright. But you text me at least once a day. And if you go sightseeing, you better take some pictures," Henry replied after another long moment. It was clear to Arthur that he still wasn’t happy with the way things were going, but just like back when they were kids, he had Arthur’s back, and supported him as best as he could.

"You’ll regret that in a few days. You know how crappy I am at taking pictures," Arthur said, and was glad to hear a small chuckle in return.

"Looking forward to it," was the simple reply.

After they hung up, Arthur felt a lot calmer. His brother’s support, like always, was a big encouragement. And this kind of support – trusting in Arthur and letting him do his own thing, instead of fussing and worrying about him all the time – felt a lot better too.

Over the next week, Arthur traveled through South England, then continued on towards Wales. He stayed true to his word and sent his brother a few pictures every day. They were just as awful as he had predicted. Either Arthur made a stupid face, or they were downright blurry or slightly unfocused. Naturally, Henry loved every single one of them.

As much as Arthur had enjoyed his trip so far, he liked it in Wales even more. He could just walk or drive around those mountains and forests for ages. They made him nostalgic in a way he couldn’t quite explain. He had grown up in a small town, yes, but he never spent an elaborate time in forests, or nature in general.

But standing there, on a small walkway in the middle of nowhere, made him feel so much at ease. It was like coming home after being away for far too long.

About two weeks before the day of the dream – not that Arthur was thinking about it, no, not at all – he came by a strangely familiar place.

He was driving through a small village by a lakeside. There was only a short stretch of tall grass separating the road from the lake, and only a small path leading down to it.

What actually caught Arthur's eye, however, was a strange, rectangular-shaped tower on an island in the middle of the lake.

Without realising it, Arthur had slowed down. He startled when another car honked behind him. Quickly he pulled over, stopped his car, and took another look at the tower.

It wasn’t like his memory of that dream was particularly good. He had been only eleven at the time – it felt like a lifetime ago! But there was this voice at the back of his mind, telling him that yes, this was the place!

Arthur didn’t know what to do.

He had spent almost two years now trying to forget about Emrys, and his dreams about him. Not that he had been very successful at it. Maybe this was the final cue to give in? Should he stay? Should he come back in two weeks for the dream?

Was it really a good decision to give in to his dreams in the first place? Or should he get as far away as possible, and never look back?

Arthur stayed at the lakeside for a long time, thinking over and over about his options, and what he should do. He didn’t dare to get out and actually walk down to the lake, but when the sun started to set, he made a choice.

He would come back here in two weeks. From there on, depending on the outcome of the dream, he would make further decisions. Until then, he would continue his trip through Wales, and try not to think about it too much.

For once, it worked rather well.

Two weeks passed quickly, and before Arthur could begin to feel more comfortable about it, he was back at the lake.

Albeit reluctantly, Arthur left his car and made his way down to the waterside. It was strange to stand here, knowing he had been here before in one of his dreams. It hadn’t been the same in Sochi, but Arthur couldn’t tell why. Something about this place just made him uncomfortable. He stayed anyway.

Arthur had no idea if being here for his dream would make a difference. It was very likely it would just be a normal, useless dream, as it had been many times before.

But if there was a chance for this to work – in whatever way – Arthur was willing to try. He still wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, or if he should get back to his research on Emrys after this.

In a way, it had been freeing not to spend all his free time on additional research, at least for the first year. But the more time passed, the more he started to miss it. To miss Emrys.

His inner turmoil about missing him, and at the same time wanting to forget about him, was probably one of the main causes for his increasing frustration and resulting bad moods. So maybe getting back to it would help...?

Arthur shook his head. It didn’t matter at the moment. He would decide about  getting back to his research on Emrys after tonight’s dream.

Arthur stood at the lakeside for another few minutes, deep in thought. The sun had set a while ago, and it was slowly getting too dark to see properly. Arthur could barely make out the island, or the tower on it, for that matter. How had he been able to see it so clearly in his dream, then?

He turned and walked back to his car before it got even darker. It was a warm day, but sleeping outside was not an option. Arthur would have to sleep on the backseat of his car. He had a thin blanket he had bought just the day before, and put on an extra hoodie – just in case.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Arthur to fall asleep. The night was quiet, and there were no stray lights. It was actually a very peaceful place to be in. Arthur hadn’t expected it to be like that. Frankly, he had been prepared to lie awake for a long time and to have his usual trouble falling asleep. But no, for the first time in months he fell asleep in only a few minutes.

Divider Memories of Camelot

His dream wasn’t the same as usual. Instead of waking up in one specific place and staying there for the duration of the dream, Arthur went through a dozen or two different moments.

It didn’t feel like his usual dreams either. Arthur wasn’t able to make out all the details, only sometimes very specific ones, and he couldn’t act freely. It was more like an actual dream, like reliving memories.

But they weren’t Arthur’s memories. Emrys was there all the time. He was either talking to Arthur, standing supportively at Arthur’s side, or fighting alongside him. Although, fighting might not be the right word, since Emrys tended to only show up after the real danger was over.

Nevertheless, Emrys was at Arthur’s side, through all of these small dream fragments.

The locations varied from a quiet, peaceful forest – were they on a hunting trip? – to a beautiful castle and its surrounding town.

The castle especially seemed familiar to Arthur. Had he seen it in his research before? He was sure he had never been there, but then again, it felt like he knew every room in it – heck – every little alcove.

There were knights in chainmail and armour, practicing sword fighting. People – no, servants – in medieval clothing, as well as some noblemen and women.

Everything looked like it was from a time long ago, everything but Emrys. He was still the same as the man Arthur knew from his other dreams. Well, not his clothes, but his face, his voice and even the way he walked and acted – it was all the same.

How was that possible?

The last sequence of his dream was the most intense, and he felt even more like he belonged in this moment – this memory.

Arthur was in a great hall. He knelt at the front, with a large group of people filling the hall behind him. Everyone was quiet and watched with anticipation as an old man put a crown on Arthur’s head.

Arthur wasn’t nervous, at least not as much as a coronation called for, but rather sad. He knew he wasn’t ready to be king. He’d just have to try hard and do his best. He wanted to make his father proud – no matter whether he was still there to watch Arthur or not.

When he turned around and let his gaze wander over the faces in front of him, the people started to chant "Long live the king!" Arthur only wished the last king would have lived longer. The loss was still too fresh.

His gaze halted on his manservant; his closest friend and confidant. He was chanting with everyone else, and it was written all over his face how proud of Arthur he was. Beneath it though, Arthur could also see the sympathy.

It was not what Arthur wanted to see, so he looked away, and tried to put on a confident smile.

Divider Memories of Camelot

When Arthur woke up, he needed a long moment to work through everything he had just experienced. It had felt even more real than his usual dreams about Emrys, in a way. A very strange way. And the whole time it had felt like he had seen it all before, as if they were actual memories.

But that was absurd. Arthur couldn’t possibly have memories of, what, another lifetime? A lifetime he was apparently a king in, nonetheless? What would that make him, King Arthur?

Yeah, right...

Maybe Arthur was losing it, after all.

It’s just, what if he wasn’t? What if these dreams, these memories, were actually his? What if all of this was real?

The voice at the back of his mind seemed to scream at him in agreement.

Whatever these dream sequences were, Arthur couldn’t deny his newfound curiosity and excitement about them. In a way, neither had ever been completely gone, but after denying anything was happening for such a long time, it was a really good feeling to just freely think about it, and plan the research he could do.

Arthur knew he wasn’t allowed to get back to work, not yet at least. He wasn’t planning to completely go against the prohibition. But an hour or two per day, and just a little bit of looking up would be fine, he hoped.

He certainly wouldn’t overwork himself, and as soon as he was feeling worse, he would stop. That would have to be enough for now.

After making up his mind, Arthur got up and climbed into the front of his car. He drove back home right away – he had seen most of the places he had wanted to visit anyway and hadn’t planned to travel for much longer. Cutting it short by a few days wouldn’t make much of a difference. If anything, his brother would probably be happy to see Arthur again. It had been over a month since they last saw each other in person.

A few years back, that might have been normal, but considering how close they had been for the last half a year, it was a long time. Arthur couldn’t deny he was looking forward to seeing Henry again, too.

He left the lakeside very early in the morning. The sun hadn’t even risen yet, and it was barely dawn but Arthur didn’t care. He stopped at the first petrol station he came across, and got himself a coffee and a sandwich, took a short break, and then continued his drive back home.

Arthur thought about his last dream over and over again, and barely stayed focused on the road in front of him. Especially Emrys and their relationship made him wonder. Considering – just for the heck of it – that these were memories: what had they been to each other? They had seemed so close. Could it be...? Had they been in love?

Sadly there was no way for Arthur to find out without meeting Emrys.

By the time it was ten in the morning, he had taken another break to call his brother and inform him about his plan to be back home by tonight. As predicted, Henry was excited about the news and – after asking for permission first – would visit Arthur the following weekend.

All in all, everything was looking a lot better for Arthur.

By the time he actually reached his flat, it was mid afternoon. Seeing the current state of the place put a damper on Arthur’s excitement. His plants had died – he hadn’t even thought about asking someone to water them. There was a noticeable layer of dust everywhere, the dishes he had left in the sink didn’t look great either, and a look in the fridge actually made Arthur a bit sick.

He really should have thought his trip through a little better. Cleaning up all this was going to be a massive pain.

Nevertheless, Arthur was glad to be home again. He spent the rest of the day cleaning, unpacking, washing his clothes, and buying fresh groceries. By the time he fell into bed from exhaustion, it was almost midnight.

Over the following days, Arthur stayed true to his plan and slowly restarted his research on Emrys. For starters, he dug up his old notebooks. He regretted deleting all his digital files two years prior, but there was nothing he could do about that now.

All he did for a few days was to re-collect the information he’d already had at one point, and then he started on all the books he had come across over the last two years.

However, Arthur never spent more than two hours a day on research. After a couple of weeks he slowly started to increase the time, until he was sure he would be able to get back to his actual work.

He had been on a leave for almost a year by that time. Arthur loved being back. He was enjoying his research again, just as much as he had loved it in his early university years. Even tutoring undergraduates was fun again, although he didn’t do that often. His main focus was getting back on track with his thesis.

Albeit grudgingly, Arthur had to admit it had been the right thing to take a leave. He hadn’t been well and didn’t enjoy doing what he used to love so much. Even now, he wasn’t at his best again. But he was at a point where getting back to work and to a normal life, was helping him to get better.

He was 27 by now. He could have been fished with his PhD if he had really pushed it, but there was nothing he could do about that now.

His research on Emrys was confined to weekends when he started his job, but Arthur didn’t mind. He wasn’t as impatient as he used to be. If he didn’t feel like reading up on Emrys, he simply didn’t do it, and spent time with his friends or family instead. And if he was in the mood to browse through books all weekend long, well then, that’s what he would do.

By the time the next dream was about to happen, Arthur had come across a bunch of new information - he still didn’t know what to make of some of it, though.

For one, he had come across notes on meetings of former kings and lords who had explicitly asked for Emrys’ advice. What matters they needed advice on was never mentioned.

Arthur supposed the dream from two years ago might have been a similar meeting. He regretted not paying attention to what had been said. He made a mental note to ask Emrys about it, whenever he finally got a chance to do so.

One of the bits that was still the most confusing was what the name Emrys stood for. Arthur still wasn’t sure if it was some kind of title, or surname, or if it meant something else entirely. The only thing that became more and more clear was that this Emrys always looked the same. Despite sometimes looking older and sometimes about Arthur’s age, his eyes and overall features were always the same.

If it wasn’t such a ridiculous thought, Arthur would have guessed this Emrys was one and the same person. But that would make him, what, 1500 years old? That was impossible!

Then again, the Emrys in his dreams never visibly aged. He still looked the same as when Arthur was eleven. There weren’t many reasonable ways to explain that away either. A cold shiver ran down Arthur’s spine whenever he thought about it, so he tried his best to not think about it at all.

Another thing Arthur had spent way too much time thinking about was whether the last dream had consisted of actual memories, or not. In a way, all the people he had seen in the dream had seemed familiar, not only Emrys. He couldn’t remember – if he was remembering – any of their names, or how they were related to him. But he knew their faces, sometimes even their voices, and felt there was a connection, some kind of bond between them.

Sometimes, when thinking about them, Arthur couldn’t help the heavy feeling in his gut, or his heart aching. He was missing them, despite not even knowing them, and it gave the whole idea of this being memories an uneasy touch.

Arthur often wondered if maybe he had been reborn into this life, and if he had been meant to remember his past life for whatever reason. He couldn’t come up with a decent explanation as to why this would be helpful to him though.

In the end, all Arthur could do was continue his research patiently, and hope for answers. Preferably answers that didn’t make him sound so ridiculous.

The day of the dream was on a weekend, and Arthur was at his brother’s place. He had considered staying home and postponing his visit, but decided against it. One of his resolutions about getting back to the whole Emrys thing was not letting it get in the way of his everyday life.

Besides, it wouldn’t make a difference where he was, most likely. Staying at the lake last year obviously had made a difference, but that wasn’t comparable, right?

By the time Arthur lay in bed late that night, he was actually getting nervous. He hadn’t been nervous about those dreams in years. But for whatever reason, Arthur had a feeling this dream would be big. This dream would make a difference.

He could only hope he would be right, and not be disappointed again.

Divider Camelot

Arthur took a deep breath, not opening his eyes yet. He could almost taste the clear, clean air, the grass under his feet, and the forest surrounding him. It reminded him of his trip through Wales last year, and instantly put a smile on his face.

It made opening his eyes to an old cobbled street, a high wall, and no nature in sight all the more confusing. The walls stretched out in front of him and to his left. Arthur stood so close to them he couldn’t see anything above or beyond them. To his right, the cobbled path continued to go uphill until it turned left. There was only faint torchlight illuminating his surroundings, making it impossible to see any further.

Arthur guessed there was a forest somewhere nearby; maybe on the other side of the walls? Not that it mattered much. It was mostly confusing, and a little bit distracting to have the aura and smells of a forest surround him, while standing in the middle of a – what? – town? Village?

However, what actually did matter was that Emrys was nowhere in sight. This was a first.

It made Arthur uneasy, not knowing where Emrys was. Was he even close by? Or was this again another kind of dream, one... without Emrys?

No, that couldn’t be.

Determined, Arthur started walking up the road and turned the next corner, only to stop abruptly and gape as he took in the sight in front of him.

A beautiful castle had come into view. It was the same castle he had seen in his dream last year, only this time he could actually look around and make out all the details. Arthur was instantly excited to have this opportunity. He had thought about this place all year, and despite knowing what an amazing castle it was, it had been hard to remember it in all its beauty.

Arthur lifted his gaze and squinted to make out the high towers in the darkness. They rose high into the sky, but it was just too dark to see their highest point properly. With the patchy lighting, all he saw looked even more majestic.

There were balconies and battlements on the upper levels. Arthur couldn’t imagine how great the view from up there must be, although a part of him felt like he actually knew  only too well.

Down in the courtyard, Arthur could make out a person slowly walking towards him. It was probably Emrys, going by his posture and outlines. Arthur was glad to see him – although he had never actually doubted his presence, of course.

For the moment, though, he ignored him and took another look at the castle. Arthur could spend hours just looking at all the details. The beautiful windows made out of stained glass, the stone figures gazing down from the upper levels, and the red banners featuring a golden dragon.

It was all so familiar – and not just from his dreams last year. It felt more like he had been here countless times before. Like he had spent an entire lifetime in this castle.

"Camelot," Arthur whispered. He knew it was absurd. Camelot – assuming it was more than a legend – had no known remains. No ruins, no old landmark, not a single stone. And here he had a fully intact castle. Sure, the stone was broken in a few places and some of the windows needed fixing. Nonetheless, this castle couldn’t possibly be over a thousand years old!

Or maybe it’s not that old yet, and this is just another one of those memories from a time long ago. How else could Arthur explain he knows what Camlot looked like?

Emrys had stopped a few feet in front of Arthur, and was looking around too. His expression was completely blank.

When he started walking towards one of the side entrances, Arthur followed him.

They entered a steep staircase and slowly made their way up. The stairway wasn’t lit at all, but neither of them minded. Arthur just knew he had walked these stairs countless times, and knew them by heart. Even a particularly uneven step that should have made him stumble, didn’t come as a surprise. He somehow knew it was there, and took a careful step at just the right time.

It was a strange and exhilarating experience all at once. The probably-memories from last year were one thing, but those subconscious ways of knowing things he wasn’t supposed to know were a completely different feeling.

At the top of the staircase was a short hall, with a wooden door to one side. Emrys stopped in front of the door, hesitating for a moment, but then continued to open it and entered the room.

The room was large, but cramped with so many things it seemed small nonetheless. Books and potions adorned the many shelves, a big workbench with even more potions and ingredients on it stood in the middle of the room, and a lit fireplace was set into the wall to the left.

Then he noticed the small staircase leading to another room at the far end, and couldn’t help walking towards it. The door was opened wide enough for Arthur to slip inside. Only the gap in the door, and very faint light from the window gave him some light. It was enough to recognise the room without a doubt.

Arthur had been here countless times, even seen this place in his visions last year. This was M— Emrys’ room.

Arthur blinked in confusion. What was the name he had had in mind just now? It was at the tip of his tongue, but he just couldn’t quite remember. He just knew that he was finally remembering the most important part!

He looked up to see Emrys standing in the doorway, taking a look around his old room too. He had a warm smile on his face, probably wallowing in memories and nostalgia.

Arthur still couldn’t comprehend how he knew all these places, how he knew what they meant. Maybe it was all just a dream after all, and he only knew all these things because it was all in his head? Because he had actually seen it all before and just couldn’t remember?

Arthur knew it was the reasonable explanation, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe it for one second.

Emrys turned and left the room, closely followed by Arthur. They walked back down to the courtyard, only to walk over to another entrance and climb the next staircase. This time, it went up much higher, and they only left it to walk down the battlements and climb even more stairs.

All the while, Arthur took a look around whenever he could. He would have loved to stop at the battlements and take his time. It was one of his favourite views over Camelot. He had to stay close to Emrys though; he didn’t want to risk ending the dream any sooner than necessary.

When Emrys finally stopped, they stood on one of the highest towers overlooking the whole castle. From up here Arthur could see that there was actually only the castle itself – even in the darkness it was clear there was no town, not even a single building – beyond the high walls. All he could make out were a few tree tops glistening in the moonlight.

Arthur had woken up right on the walkway to the courtyard. If he had walked in the opposite direction he would have ended up in the forest. Only, it had been so dark down there he hadn’t been able to see it. Arthur would have probably fallen on his face trying to walk among the trees without a torch. It had been the reasonable decision to go towards the light, and considering he now stood up on the highest tower of his castle with Emrys next to him, it had been the right choice, too.

The castle was just as beautiful as he remembered. He wished he could spend forever up here, looking over Camelot. He wanted to wait for sunrise, see the whole beauty of his lands in the morning light, but he knew the land itself wasn’t there anymore, at least not how he remembered it.

It was a mystery how the castle itself was still here, really.

"When I find you," Arthur said turning towards Emrys, "we have to come here again."

Of course, Emrys didn’t reply. But he frowned, rubbed his temple, and finally shook his head. He turned and looked right at Arthur, but it was clear he wasn’t actually seeing him. Arthur had the impression he was trying to see him, desperately so, but just couldn’t.

Arthur remembered how Emrys had seemed to notice him in the dream two years ago when Arthur had witnessed that meeting in the unfamiliar palace. It was hard to tell what exactly he could hear, or see – if anything at all. Maybe he just... sensed his presence?

One day, he would hopefully know.

"And I will find you, just you wait." Determined, Arthur fixed Emrys with his gaze. The man stared back at him with a confused, struggling expression on his face.

For the first time in years, Arthur actively noticed Emrys’ good looks, particularly how cute he looked right now, with his confused expression. For the first time ever, he didn’t bother to deny it, or mentally correct himself. He had been accepting a lot worse and certainly more ridiculous things over the past year. Emrys might be a lot older than him, but that didn’t change anything about how he looked to Arthur.

After a long moment, Emrys sighed, and turned to walk back downstairs. Arthur took another longing look around before quickly following him.

They didn’t stop until they reached the courtyard again. Here Emrys stepped right into the middle of the open area – about the same place where Arthur had seen him earlier – and knelt down. Arthur watched him in confusion.

Emrys, started speaking in a strange language. It sounded a bit like old English, but Arthur didn’t know it well enough to understand him. He didn’t need to understand anyway.

With wide eyes, Arthur watched the castle slowly fade. Everything started to glow in silver and gold until it became more and more transparent, and finally completely vanished. It was over so quickly, Arthur had to blink a few times, and he still wasn’t sure that he wasn’t hallucinating.

They were left to stand in the middle of a large clearing, nothing giving even the slightest hint there was a castle right there.

Arthur couldn’t help gaping. He turned to look at Emrys again – and maybe ask what was going on – when he saw it. Emrys’ eyes were shining bright gold while he finished his spell.

Golden— Spells— Magic!

"Merlin—!" Arthur exclaimed, but just then the dream ended.

Chapter 2 Cover Illustration

"Merlin!" Arthur shouted again, waking up abruptly. His heart was racing. Frantically, he pulled away the sheets and stumbled out of his bed, desperate to get to his laptop.

Merlin. Of course it had been Merlin all along. How could he not have remembered him sooner? Everything made so much more sense now!

The magic. The strange things he sometimes couldn’t explain in his dreams. The dreams in general!

Suddenly, a still unexplainable fact crossed his mind: how could Merlin still be alive? Had he been reborn too, like Arthur apparently had, or had he – had he actually been alive this whole time?

Arthur had wondered about Emrys’ – Merlin’s appearance throughout centuries so many times, but now that he knew, actually knew him, it was even weirder to consider that he might have been alive all this time.

A cold shiver ran down Arthur’s spine at the bare thought, and he desperately hoped Merlin simply had been reborn over and over again. Although, considering he possibly remembered his past every time, it didn’t sound that much better of an option either.

With shaking hands, Arthur started his laptop and impatiently walked circles in the room until he could finally open a new file and start taking notes. It didn’t actually take that long, but felt like ages to him.

He was still trembling so badly from shock and excitement that typing wasn’t working at all. Annoyed with the overall situation, he chose to get himself a cuppa – it would hopefully help him calm down a bit.

Nevertheless, he already knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep tonight. It was only three in the morning, but Arthur already planned to leave as soon as he finished his notes about today's dream. He would drive to where he knew – remembered – Camelot to be.

Arthur could only hope Merlin would still be there.

That’s when it hit him, and he suddenly stopped typing. He had been attracted to Merlin all this time. The thought felt reasonable and strange at the same time. Had he felt that way in his past life too? Maybe. Arthur couldn’t remember all that much, yet. But – Merlin?

He shook his head, and pushed the thought to the back of his mind. He would think about that another time. Besides, whatever he thought about Merlin in his past life didn’t change how he saw Merlin in this one, anyway.

He quickly finished his notes, only writing down the most important parts to save some time, and then hurriedly packed and left the guest room. He left his brother a quick note on the fridge about some emergency at work, before rushing to his car and driving off.

It was early afternoon by the time Arthur parked his car. He had still at least an hour of walking distance to the clearing he had been at last night, maybe less if he really pushed it. But even here he could remotely recognise the landscape. The road was actually one of the former travel routes through Camelot, and the nearby hills and mountains were almost the same as back then. Even some of the trees seemed to be exactly as Arthur remembered, but he knew that was only wishful thinking on his part.

The only thing missing was the town and castle itself, as well as the roads leading directly towards it.

Arthur was sure he knew the path by heart, but there wasn’t even the slightest hint of it. It made him unsure. Maybe he remembered it wrong? Was he really heading in the right direction? Was he really remembering all this or was it only in his head?

Arthur vigorously shook his head at the last thought. There was just no way this wasn’t real. The thought of remembering a past life and being reborn into this one still made him uneasy and slightly ill if he thought about it too much, but with remembering Merlin, Camelot, and generally more about Arthur’s  past life, it was a much easier task to accept them as true memories. In a way, he felt at ease, as if he finally found a piece of himself he hadn’t even noticed was missing.

He wasn’t disappointed by his sense of direction. He reached the clearing where his castle used to be – or rather still was, just hidden by Merlin’s magic – lenn than an hour after parking his car.

The sun was lighting the area in bright colours, and only the trees behind Arthur cast short shadows over him. The grass was calmly moving with the light breeze, and birds were chirping all around him. It was a truly beautiful image – except for the fact that this wasn’t supposed to be a beautiful clearing in the middle of nowhere.

Arthur ached to see his castle again, to walk through the corridors, see the throne room again, and look over the lands from the highest tower – in broad daylight this time.

But there was nothing he could do. A small part of him had hoped that he could see and enter the castle, simply because he was Arthur. It was his castle after all. Apparently that wasn’t enough, though.

Arthur didn’t know if Merlin simply hadn’t included the possibility of Arthur coming here, or if there was another reason. He hadn’t know much about magic in his past life – at least as far as he could remember – and he certainly didn’t know more about it now.

That didn’t reduce his disappointment though. Merlin really should have been more considerate.

"Useless, as always," Arthur mumbled to himself.

There was nobody else on the clearing, and Arthur hadn’t seen any hint of another person on his walk here. He called out for Merlin a few times, just for the sake of trying.

But Merlin was long gone.

Arthur stayed a long time, wandering around the clearing and trying to find some kind of track – footsteps in the grass and dirt, broken twigs – anything. But either Merlin had covered his tracks with magic, or Arthur’s tracking skills weren’t as good as they used to be.

It was the magic, for sure.

Arthur had brought a small bag filled with sandwiches and two bottles of water. He frowned at the extra provisions he had packed in hope of meeting Merlin, and ended up eating all of it himself – most certainly not sulking all the while.

When the shadows started to get longer and longer, Arthur had to give in and walk back to his car. It wouldn’t help to stay into the night and end up getting lost. Not that Arthur would ever get lost, not in his own bloody lands.

But deep down he knew, even with the mixing memories of his current and his past life, these weren’t his lands; they hadn’t been in a long time. It was very likely that he wouldn’t recognise his surroundings. Worst case scenario, he wouldn’t even be able to rely on his phone. He had tested the signal earlier while taking countless of pictures of the area. He had no reception, and the GPS wasn’t working either. Probably a side effect of the magic – or he was just too far away from civilisation.

He blamed it on the magic, just for the heck of it.

By the time Arthur had walked half of the way back to his car, his phone suddenly started to buzz, alerting him to a bunch of messages he had received over the past few hours. He postponed replying until he was back in his car. It was getting really dark, especially in the dense forest he was passing right now, and he wouldn’t risk stumbling over stray roots because he was texting of all things. Especially not with the possibility of Merlin still being nearby. He would have the talent to walk up on Arthur right in that moment.

Even the chance to finally find him wasn’t worth the embarrassment on Arthur’s part. He would much rather wait another year, or two, or who knows how many.

Arthur couldn’t possibly know if next year's dream would be worth anything. Maybe he would spend another couple of years with useless dreams. Maybe it would take another decade, or longer, until he finally met Merlin. He really couldn’t know.

The only thing he did know was that he wouldn’t give up on his search, and his dreams ever again. This time, he would do everything in his power until he was finally reunited with Merlin. After all, now he knew who he was looking for, and Arthur knew how much the wait would be worth it in the end.

Chapter Text

It was no surprise to Arthur when over the following years nothing eventful happened in his dream visions. He had predicted nothing less. Of course, it was still a disappointment, but Arthur didn’t let himself get discouraged by it again. If anything, it made him all the more convinced to do better the following year.

The first year after rediscovering Camelot he sat next to Merlin on a bus. They were driving the whole time, and although Arthur knew where they were thanks to the street signs he had no idea where Merlin would get off the bus. They were in the middle of the US, going east, but that’s about all Arthur could find out.

Merlin seemed to be aware of his presence, just like the last few times. Arthur hadn’t even said anything when Merlin suddenly turned towards him and stared. For a second there, Arthur thought he could actually see him.

"Merlin?" he asked in a quiet voice and waved his hand in front of Merlin’s face. To Arthur’s disappointment, Merlin didn’t react. He continued to try and touch Merlin, to carefully pat his shoulder, or touch his arm – well more like caress it, but no matter how desperately he tried, he couldn’t touch him.

Once, when Arthur was about to turn away and look out of the window instead, Merlin whispered: "You’re back again, aren’t you?"

Surprised, and a little bit startled, Arthur only nodded in reply – not that Merlin could see it. But maybe - maybe he could sense it?

"Why does it always have to be today of all days...?" Merlin asked with a sigh, before turning away and putting his earphones in.

Arthur had spent the rest of the dream trying to catch Merlin’s attention, but to no avail. It almost seemed like Merlin was ignoring him on purpose. Morosely, Arthur had to admit he kind of deserved it for ignoring Merlin in the past.

Anyways, traveling after Merlin was worth neither the money nor his time, as he didn’t have an exact location. So Arthur decided to be true to his word, and patiently wait for the next dream.

Only, the next dream wasn’t much better. If anything, it was even less helpful, since all Arthur saw was Merlin walking a bunch of dogs. They were in an old town – somewhere in Europe, going by the architecture and road network – but that’s about all Arthur could tell. No famous buildings and no helpful street signs were in sight.

For the longest time, they were strolling through a park, and only when the dream was about to end, did Merlin leave. They almost got close enough to a tram station for Arthur to read the sign. Well, almost.

Besides that, Arthur finally managed to finish his PhD. He had to postpone it due to falling ill for so long, and getting back on track with the topic wasn’t easy. He had been writing about an ongoing research and archaeological dig. By the time he wanted to continue his dissertation, there had been so many new findings and new facts to consider that he literally had to start from the beginning.

Arthur wasn’t happy about the additional years he had to spend on his PhD, but in the end it was worth it. He graduated with honours, and would be able to get just about any job he wanted.

Staying in Cambridge was his most pressing condition on any job offers. He had lived there for almost a decade now, and he loved the city. In a way, it reminded him of Camelot, although there weren’t that many similarities in the looks of the city itself. It was more like the general feeling both cities produced: warm and homey.

In the end, it didn’t take long for Arthur to find the perfect job, and only a short driving distance from his flat no less. He had a nice, cosy office, got along with his new coworkers quickly, and at least once a month he had the opportunity to work in the field instead of doing office research.

It was almost scary how well the job fit Arthur’s requirements and slotted into his life. Even more so when he learned that the job had only become available about a month prior to Arthur’s application. If he had finished his PhD on time, he wouldn’t be here. He probably would have had to move to a different town, too.

In a way, everything Arthur had been through over the past few years suddenly seemed to have a purpose. It was like someone or something was trying to tell Arthur "stay" and "it will be worth it" – not that Arthur needed much convincing.

The year Arthur turned 30 – three years after he had been to Camelot – a change was noticeable even before the actual dream happened.

A few days prior to his dream, he started to have an inexplicable pain in his lower stomach. At first it only flared up every now and then, and it was more annoying than painful. Over the following days, however, it got worse and worse.

The day before his dream, Arthur decided to see a doctor about it, but they couldn’t find a cause. They did some tests, gave him some painkillers, and said he would get a call if they found anything.

The painkillers only helped a little, and Arthur wasn’t getting much sleep, both due to the pain slowly spreading up to his chest, and his brooding over possible reasons for it. Accordingly, he was knackered the next day and almost decided not to go to work at all.

The pain was even worse in the morning, and he wasn’t sure he had slept at all. But then again, work would be a welcome distraction. Additionally, sitting hurt less than lying in bed. So he got up, took another couple of painkillers, and prepared for the day ahead.

Naturally, Arthur was more asleep than awake throughout the morning.

To his surprise, around mid-morning the pain suddenly stopped. Not that he was complaining, but considering how suddenly it had started, and the fact that he still didn’t know the cause, it made him rather uneasy. The more time passed without the pain returning, however, the more staying awake grew difficult.

At the end, it was a quarter to noon when Arthur finally drifted off. His head was resting on his arms on top of his desk, and he had the chair rolled back as far as possible. It wasn’t overly comfortable, but Arthur was so tired he couldn’t care less. He would just nap for a moment or two, and then get back to work...

Divider Memories of Avalon

Arthur was suddenly standing in the middle of a battlefield. It was dark, dawn just upon them. Nevertheless, everyone around him was fighting relentlessly. Arthur’s arms and legs were aching from the exertion but he kept swinging his sword. They had to win this battle. They just had to.

Suddenly, a loud, booming voice echoed throughout the valley, and Arthur lifted his gaze just in time to see an old man on the hillside shooting lightning bolts down at his enemies. He recognised the man: it was the same sorcerer he had met a couple of times before, the one who had failed to save his father’s life.

But at the moment, it didn’t matter. Arthur barely even cared why the sorcerer was helping them – and he obviously was since only their enemies were being attacked. All that mattered to Arthur right now was making sure all his knights were safe. He shouted orders at a nearby knight to help the wounded back to the camp before heading in the opposite direction – right through the masses of their fallen enemies.

Arthur had to find Morgana and end this once and for all.

Just like that, the memory ended, and instead he sat beside a campfire. Arthur was hurting in the same way he had outside of his dream. Only now he knew why he was hurting: Mordred had stabbed him, with a magical sword no less, and now the wound was slowly killing him.

Merlin was there trying to look after him, trying to make sure Arthur survived. Merlin, who had magic. It hurt to know Merlin had been lying to him for so long - almost more so than the actual wound. Merlin should have told him sooner, should have trusted him.

At the same time, Arthur was slowly coming around to understanding Merlin and why he did what he did. It just made him angry at himself for not giving Merlin more reasons to trust in him.

Maybe things would have been different, if they had been more honest with each other...

Not that it mattered anymore. Arthur already knew he was dying. Not even Merlin’s magic would be able to save him this time.

Swiftly, the memory changed again, and even before Arthur opened his eyes he knew what was coming. This was his last memory, the last thing he would see, hear, and feel.

He wanted to tell Merlin not to cry over him, but he knew it wouldn’t be fair. Arthur would have been just as broken, if their places had been swapped.

Instead, he said the only thing that was important to him at that moment. Hopefully, Merlin would understand. Hopefully, he would be able to hear all the other things Arthur had no more time to say. Hopefully, Merlin wouldn’t mourn him for too long and would live a happy life. Arthur just wished he could be there with him.

The last thought crossing his mind was how much he would miss Merlin's smile.

Again the dream changed, but this time in a more spectacular way. Colours flared up, and he felt blinded for a moment by the bright sunlight. He could hear the busy street, cars driving by and people talking to each other. There was calm music playing in the background, barely audible but at the same time all-pervasive.

He could literally feel the warm sunlight on his skin and the light breeze going through his hair. Arthur was standing next to the outdoor coffee shop down the street from his office. He had been there countless times during his lunch break or after work. They had the best coffee in town. Arthur could literally smell said coffee.

This dream felt so much more real than any other before. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Arthur couldn’t comprehend what was going on. He had just relived the last memories from his past life, and he was struggling to deal with all of his  emotions and and suddenly, he saw him.

Merlin sat at one of the tables, nursing a cup of tea and reading a newspaper. He looked relaxed and comfortable with a small smile on his face.

Arthur rushed over to him and started talking – until he remembered that Merlin couldn’t hear him. For a second, he looked around frantically, not knowing what he should do. If he waited for the dream to end, Merlin might be gone by the time Arthur reached the coffee shop. He had to wake up, now!

He turned around, trying to come up with an idea to maybe get Merlin’s attention, or even better, to make himself wake up. Maybe he could walk to his sleeping body and wake himself up? But was the distance short enough

That’s when he finally got it. He grumbled at himself for taking so long, then started to run away to forcefully end the dream.

"You better not move until I’m back!" Arthur shouted over his shoulder, hoping that this would be one of the rare moments Merlin could hear him. Then he ran as fast as possible, making the dream fade quicker and quicker.

Chapter 3 Mini Illustration 1

Arthur jolted awake and didn’t waste a second. He ran out of his office, ignoring his co-workers’ confused questions, and made for the stairs – he wasn’t patient enough to wait for the elevator.

It took him less than a minute to leave the building, but it felt like an eternity. As he rushed down the street towards the coffee shop, he prayed Merlin would still be there. It would be just too disappointing to be too late after being so close.

But Arthur needn’t have worried. When the shop came into view, he spotted Merlin immediately. He was still sitting in the same seat, calmly reading his newspaper.

Arthur slowed down and finally stopped a few steps away from Merlin’s table. Merlin was too engrossed in his reading to notice him, and Arthur used the moment to calm his breathing and gather his thoughts.

The first thing crossing Arthur’s mind was that Merlin somehow looked even prettier than in his dreams. Then all he could think about was that he was standing right next to Merlin.

He couldn’t believe this was actually, finally happening. After years and years of searching for him, and even giving up on it for a short time, he had actually managed to find him. Well, with some magical help, that is.

Arthur knew it was magic that connected them and made him have those dreams. That it was said magic that had made this reunion possible. He didn’t know whose magic it was, but if he ever found out he would make sure to thank them.

Nevertheless, Arthur liked to think all his research and looking for Merlin had done its part too.

He took another deep breath and let out a relieved chuckle.

"Finally." He just had to say it out loud. It didn’t do much to make this impossible meeting any more real to him. It would take a few days, maybe weeks, to fully comprehend his search was actually over.

Merlin must have heard him. He turned his gaze in surprise, and his eyes widened slowly, almost comically. He dropped his newspaper, probably not even noticing he did so. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out.

Arthur couldn’t help laughing out loud again, and even after he stopped laughing he couldn’t help smiling broadly – and what reason was there to stop smiling anyway? He had all the reasons to smile, and to laugh!

He sat down in the empty chair next to Merlin. "Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?" he said. When Merlin didn’t seem to be able to form a reply, Arthur continued: "You have no idea for how long I’ve been looking for you. You really could have made this easier on me. Why can’t you just stay at the same place for at least a little while, huh?"

Teasing him finally shook Merlin out of his stupor. He quickly shook his head, stared unblinking at Arthur for another short moment, and finally shook his head again. Arthur already wanted to comment on it, when Merlin suddenly stood up and hugged him tightly. It was a slightly awkward hug, with Arthur still sitting down, and Merlin bent  down in a way that couldn’t be comfortable, but a warm hug nonetheless.

Arthur blinked in surprise. They’d never been very touchy-feely in their previous life, but after the long search and wait, Arthur had to admit that a hug was the perfect reaction.

He hugged Merlin back, tightening his hold on him, not caring about the weird stares they were probably getting from the other patrons. They stayed like that for a long moment.

When Merlin pulled back and sat down again, he was shaking slightly. His hand hovered in the air between them uncertainly.

"You " Merlin started hoarsely. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You were looking for me? But how ? When ?"

Arthur watched Merlin’s hand, only hesitating for a moment before he took pity on him. He enclosed Merin’s shaking hand in both of his and placed them on the table in front of them.

His plan had been to just make Merlin put his hand down somewhere, but now Arthur couldn’t quite make himself let go. Merlin didn’t seemed to mind, or maybe he was still too shocked to fully notice what’s happening around him.

"I have dreamed about you," Arthur explained. "Once a year I had to watch you doing whatever nonsense you were up to. Well, and a few years ago I saw memories too, but that was only once – well, twice now."

Merlin blinked at him, confusion and disbelief written all over his face. "You... dream about me?"

Arthur nodded, his broad smile never leaving his face, and continued: "Just now I saw you sitting here. In my dream, I mean." Arthur let out a short laugh. "After years of seeing you God knows where and not finding you, you suddenly sit just down the street from my office. Seriously, you could have done that sooner."

"It’s not like I knew you were watching me!" Merlin protested. Suddenly his eyes widened for a short moment in realisation. He covered his mouth with his free hand, and jumped up again.

"I wasn’t imagining things when I heard your voice sometimes, was I? That You were actually there!"

Arthur motioned Merlin to sit back down and not draw even more attention to them by shouting. To his credit, Merlin did look sorry for making a scene. He took a deep breath, visible forcing himself to calm down, and sat down.

"Well, I don’t know about you imagining things " Arthur finally replied, only to be kicked in the shin for his trouble. He pouted at Merlin and kicked back, but missed Merlin’s leg. The cheeky sod had pulled his legs as far away as possible without breaking the contact of their hands. He had known full well Arthur would try to get back at him.

A happy laugh bubbled up in Merlin, and once he started laughing he didn’t seem to be able to stop. Arthur was infected by his happiness instantly and joined in on the laughing.

So much for not drawing everyone’s attention to them - not like it actually mattered if people gave them weird looks.

"Yeah, I was there," Arthur answered when they had calmed down a bit. He took a quick look around, to see if anyone was in fact watching them for making such a racket. Luckily, only a few other people were nearby and didn’t seem to be paying them any attention. The waiter was giving them a small frown, but turned away quickly and got back to work when he noticed Arthur looking at him.

"So, what happened to you?" Arthur voiced the most pressing question. When Merlin raised an eyebrow at him in confusion he added uncertainly, "Were you... reborn over and over again, or...?"

He still didn’t dare to say it out loud. Merlin, on the other hand, had no such qualms, apparently. "Lived on forever?" He didn’t need to clarify that that’s what was going on, his expression said so very clearly.

Arthur flinched at the words. He had no idea what it must be like to live for so long, not to mention with the added memories he must have made over the years. All the friends and loved ones he must have lost... Arthur shook his head. He really didn’t want to think about that now.

Right now was about Merlin and him, finally reunited. There would be more than enough time to think and talk about the more unpleasant things later.

But speaking of later – Arthur pulled his right hand away from Merlin’s and checked his watch, albeit reluctantly. He knew he had been away probably longer than his lunch break usually allowed, and he was right. It had been about 40 minutes since he left the office. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

Merlin gave him a questioning look. "What’s up?"

He still looked so happy to be with Arthur, to finally be back together after all these years. Arthur really didn’t want to go, but he had no choice if he wanted to keep his job.

"Sorry, I really have to get back to work. My break was over at least ten minutes ago," Arthur said with another sigh and made to get up. Merlin just tightened the grip on his hand, and furiously shook his head.

"I just got you back! I’m not going to let you leave any time soon, Arthur." He looked so serious, Arthur had no doubt Merlin was ready to just follow him back to the office, no matter what. But Arthur really needed to get some more work done, and having Merlin around would be too much of a distraction. Not to mention they wouldn’t be able to talk freely.

He wasn’t keen on separating, but it wasn’t like they had only a limited time together.

"It’s just for another few hours. We can meet later." When Merlin looked like he was about to protest again, Arthur held up his free hand in defence and added quickly: "I can finish early, around four. I’m sure you can manage until then without me, right?"

Merlin didn’t look happy, but didn’t say anything to protest either. He did tighten his grip on Arthur’s hand however. Suppressing a roll of his eyes at this childish attitude, Arthur gave him another broad smile instead and tousled up his hair. He tried to be reassuring and make Merlin see that it wasn’t so bad to separate for a few hours. The hair tousling was a good distraction too. Merlin let go of Arthur’s hand to pushed the other one away from his hair. Arthur used the moment to finally get up.

When Merlin made to protest again, Arthur got his phone out and offered it to Merlin. He looked confused for a second, then grabbed for the phone and punched his number into it in high speed. After sending a short text to himself, Merlin gave the phone back, finally smiling again.

It wasn’t the big happy smile from earlier, but certainly better than nothing.

"Alright, we’ll just text until I get off work. I’m sure you’ll manage now, right?" Arthur was only half joking. Merlin actually looked like he was about to disagree. Instead, he took a deep breath and nodded.

"I’ll manage. I’m more worried about you," he admitted, and Arthur understood. After all, just an hour ago he had re-lived his own death, and he had seen how bad it had been on Merlin. He gave a short nod, and put on his most reassuring smile.

"See you later," was Arthur’s short reply. Arthur waved his hand in a goodbye, already retreating. But Merlin wasn’t having any of it.

He quickly got up and pulled Arthur into another tight hug. Arthur, now less surprised by the sudden proximity, just laughed and patted his friend on the back.

"Is this going to be a thing now?" He was only joking, but Merlin apparently took him completely seriously – or he didn’t want to acknowledge it as a joke. Arthur wouldn’t put it past him.

Merlin nodded his head vigorously. "You better get used to it." Arthur couldn’t help the wide smile spreading on his face. He certainly wouldn’t mind.

After they let go, Arthur hesitated for another short moment before he actually turned and walked away. He forced himself to not look back the whole way down the street to his office. He was sure Merlin would rush after him and never let him leave if he did.

Naturally, Arthur barely got any work done in the following hours. Not only was it hard to focus on his work instead of thinking about Merlin, he also received a distracting amount of text messages. At least half of them only consisted of emojis.

It figures that Merlin would be prone to that kind of texting. Arthur couldn’t help laughing at how well it fitted, and received confused stares from his colleagues in return. He was usually the kind of person who was all focused on his work – no dilly-dallying or lazing about. It must have been weird for his co-workers to suddenly see this other side of him, especially just after he’d run off like that at lunch.

Arthur tried to ignore his phone – he really did! – but this was Merlin. The man he had been dreaming about and searching for his entire life! The man he wanted to talk to and finally get his answers from. His best friend from a time long ago – Merlin.

There was just no ignoring him.

By the time the clock finally hit four, Arthur had completely stopped bothering to pretend he was working. He had shut his computer down 20 minutes ago, restlessly fidgeting in his chair, and didn’t wait a second longer than four o’clock sharp to leave.

Some of his coworkers gave him weird looks again – Arthur never left early – but he simply waved them goodbye with a wide smile, ignoring any questions. He had pulled more than enough overtime since he started working there to justify leaving early today. He would have told anybody who tried to stop him so, but nobody did.

They probably thought he was still in pain, like the past few days, or something similar, and would now gossip about his weird behaviour for the remainder of the evening. Arthur would hear all about it the next time he came in. Since he had two weeks of vacation ahead of him – like always after the dream day – this was a long way away, though. Not that he actually cared that much about it either way. His co-workers would gossip, yes, but they were always well-meaning.

Merlin already waited for him right outside the building. He now had his backpack with him – still the same old, ragged thing Arthur had seen countless of times – but no further luggage.

"Is that all you have?" Arthur asked with an raised eyebrow. Merlin had texted him earlier about checking out of his B&B – fully planning to stay with Arthur instead. Arthur had simply replied: ‘where else did you think you’d stay?’

Despite never seeing Merlin with more luggage than this single backpack – and, seriously, how was that thing not falling apart by now? – this was the first time Arthur had actually noticed and questioned it. There couldn’t be room in it for more than a few shirts and some trousers, and only the most essential items.

"Yeah," Merlin said with a cheeky smile. "Now, how do we get to your flat?"

He didn’t even ask where said flat was, Arthur noted. It figured that now that he knew Arthur was back, Merlin had finally done his own investigations, and was apparently quite successful with them.

"My car is just down the street," Arthur said and started walking toward it. Merlin fell into step next to him and instantly started talking again.

It wasn’t anything important he talked about, just what he had been up to in the last few hours, and complaints about how boring it had been to wait so long. Arthur didn’t even listen to all of it, but smiled nonetheless. Listening to Merlin’s babble was so nostalgic, Arthur could spend hours – days – just like that.

By the time they reached Arthur’s car, Merlin had linked their arms and didn’t make any move to let Arthur go. Again, Arthur could understand him – he rather liked the contact himself – but he didn’t want to waste any time in getting back to his flat either.

"You know, I kind of need this arm for driving," he joked. Merlin smiled back at him, questioning the "kind of", but let go of his arm. Arthur gave his hand a brief squeeze before letting go completely, then walked around the car and got into the driver seat.

"So," Merlin started, after Arthur started driving, "you studied Archaeology."

Arthur nodded – not that Merlin needed the confirmation. When he didn't elaborate on the implied question, Merlin poked him with his elbow. Arthur laughed and pushed his nudging arm away. "That’s your fault too, in a way.

"When I first started noticing these dreams I wanted to know more about them, about who you were. For the most part, I tried to figure out if you were real, or if I was just slowly losing it, really. So, yeah. I did a lot of reading and research besides school."

It was hard to stay focused on driving while thinking back to all the times he had sat in an old, dusty library going through books, slowly figuring out how research was actually done. It had been a good time.

"Then, when I had to think about possible degrees, the decision wasn’t much of a decision at all – it was the natural thing to do, really." Arthur gave a short smile to Merlin as they stopped at a street crossing.

Merlin’s smile in return was just as bright, followed by an enthusiastic nod. "I studied Archaeology about 50 years ago. It wasn’t the most interesting I ever studied, I admit, but really nothing can compare to Forensics."

Arthur raised his eyebrows at that, and was glad he finally pulled up to his block of flats and could park his car. "Forensics, really?" He didn’t even question Merlin getting multiple degrees – there had obviously been more than enough time for him to get as many degrees as he liked. But Forensics, of all things?

"It’s the best! Don’t you dare say anything else!" Merlin jokingly argued. His smile didn’t make him sound more convincing in the slightest.

Arthur just shrugged, not feeling like arguing the point. There were way more important things to talk about. At one point – about two years ago – he had started to make a list of questions he wanted to ask, if and when he caught up to Merlin. He was tempted to pull it out and finally get all his answers.

He didn’t want to look that desperate though. Merlin probably already had a good idea about how much research Arthur had done on him over the past decades, he didn’t need to know the full extent of it.

Hopefully, Merlin would never find all the sketches and old notebooks. Arthur would never hear the end of it otherwise.

"So, how long have you been in Cambridge?" Arthur asked to change the topic, getting one of his easier questions off the list. They were just crossing the street, and talking about magic and vision-like dreams would have to wait until they were inside.

"Only since noon. I wanted to visit an old friend of mine and was planning to drive back home tomorrow morning," Merlin explained nonchalantly. He was looking around them, surveying the area Arthur lived in. Arthur didn’t know if it was only curiosity or also something else, but there were more pressing questions to ask first.

He unlocked the front door, and made room for Merlin to step inside. "Where is ‘home’ then?" he asked. "I always see you in different places, and, well..."

Arthur didn’t even need to finish his sentence for Merlin to turn around, walking backwards while answering with a smile. "Cardiff, for a few years now. I used to have a flat in the outskirts of London. But I never stay in the same place for too long."

"No kidding..." Arthur mumbled, not meaning for Merlin to hear him. Of course, he heard anyway. Teasingly, Merlin hit Arthur’s arm, all the while continuing to walk backwards. They were now climbing the stairs, and Arthur could already imagine Merlin stumbling over his own feet. Surprisingly, he hit every step without fault. Even when they reached the next landing he didn’t falter. Cheating poser...

"Not just with all the travelling. I never make myself at home for more than a decade or two at the same place," Merlin continued. "But yeah, I do travel a lot too. It’s uhm... complicated."

"How so?" Arthur instantly asked, and finally pulled on Merlin’s arm to make him walk forward beside him like a bloody normal person. Merlin gave him a small smile and linked his arm through Arthur’s again, but he also looked rather unsure. It took him a few seconds to form a reply, and he still stumbled over his words.

"Well... I don’t know how much you remember, and, uhm, if you don’t remember then this might sound like I made it up – although I can assure you it’s real! – and, you know. It’s hard to explain "

"Is this about your magic?" Arthur interrupted him in a hushed voice. They still weren’t in the safety of his flat, but he also didn’t want to continue listening to Merlin’s useless rambling. The startled look on Merlin’s face told Arthur he had been right in his suspicion. Of course, even after centuries, Merlin would still be uncomfortable talking about his magic to him.

It made him want to roll his eyes or pout in annoyance, but he knew it was more important to make a difference. To do things right this time around, and give Merlin all the reasons to trust him. With his magic, and with anything else.

They had reached Arthur’s floor by now, and Arthur pulled Merlin down the corridor. "I remembered the magic part after I saw you at Camelot three years ago," Arthur said,  giving him a small, and hopefully encouraging, smile.

Merlin tightened his hold on Arthur’s arm for a split second and made them stop a few feet away from Arthur’s front door. "Right, you were there too!" he exclaimed – only to have Arthur shush him instantly. They walked the few remaining steps and finally entered the flat. All the while, Merlin continued in a hushed voice: "Fuck I thought I was losing it for so long. I bloody thought I was imagining hearing you calling my name and and you you prat, you were actually there all along!"

"Oi, it’s not like these magic dreams were my fault!" Arthur scowled at him, but Merlin just continued to stare at him with an overly serious expression. It made Arthur a little bit uncomfortable – not that he would ever show or voice it. Especially not to Merlin.

Merlin let go of Arthur’s arm, closed the door behind them, and dropped his backpack next to it. He didn’t bother taking a look around, or walking further into the flat. Instead he continued talking, rooted to the floor right where he stood. "Were you that night I stayed in Prague, I woke up and for a moment I was sure you were there, lying right next to me. I was so sure I’d even touched you, but as soon as I opened my eyes it was morning, and I was alone."

"When was that?" Arthur asked, already thinking about a dream that could fit that description. He had the dire suspicion this might have been the one back when he gave up looking for Merlin.

"I don’t know. Six, maybe seven years ago," Merlin said, confirming his suspicion. Arthur really didn’t like thinking back to that dream. The added information that Merlin had apparently been able to touch him for a second there gave it a slightly better feeling, but it still mostly reminded him of his own stubbornness and stupidity.

"Yeah, that was probably me," Arthur admitted reluctantly. "I didn’t notice you touching me, though. I never was able to touch you in any of my dreams, no matter what I tried."

And he had tried it a lot. Even in the past two years – especially on that long, seemingly never ending bus ride – he had tried countless times to just touch Merlin’s arm or shoulder. It figured that touching had only actually worked the one time he was too sleepy to notice.

Merlin stared at him for another long moment, then let out a long sigh. "There is nothing we can do about it now, anyway. We found each other, that’s what matters."

Arthur smiled at him and nodded. Merlin was right; it didn’t matter anymore. The past was in the past. He turned and motioned for Merlin to follow him. "Come on. I’ll make us some tea while you make yourself comfortable in the living room."

He pointed to the couch and continued his way to the kitchen leaving Merlin to sit down.

Arthur made a quick job of starting the kettle and preparing two cups. He didn’t want to postpone getting all his answers out of Merlin any longer than necessary. He also really, really needed that cup of tea.

"You know," Merlin suddenly said from somewhere close behind him, "back when I lived in Cambridge, I lived in the same street. Hah, I can even see my old flat from your kitchen window."

Said window was right in front of Arthur. He had watched the flats opposite countless times – whenever he was in the kitchen waiting for his food to cook or, like right now, for the kettle to finish. It was weird to know that Merlin had lived right there, who knows how many years ago.

Arthur turned his gaze and instead watched Merlin. The small, content smile on his face, and the way his eyes sparkled with happiness, made him look so much like Arthur remembered him. Back in Camelot, he had seen that exact smile so many times, and it had always put Arthur off whenever Merlin wasn’t smiling. He couldn’t recall ever seeing him smile like that in any of his dream visions, though.

Merlin turned, giving him an even broader smile, and moved back to gaze out of the window. The kettle had finished cooking, and Arthur poured the hot water into their mugs after putting the teabags in. He added sugar to his own tea and silently offered it to Merlin.

"Well, it’s not like you could have lived here much, with all your traveling and whatnot," Arthur said, stirring his tea way more often than necessary. He tried not to sound too reproachful, but after all the years of failing to find Merlin due to said travelling, it wasn’t an easy task.

Merlin turned away from the window to look at Arthur fully, frowning slightly. "Hey, I’ll have you know I wasn’t always on the road so much. It used to be only once every few years," he defended himself. He didn’t need to defend himself; it was his right to travel and do whatever he bloody liked. Somewhere deep down, Arthur knew that, and he certainly didn’t want to start a fight over something so trivial.

He took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh. "What changed?"

Merlin hesitated to reply, then shook his head shortly. "Let’s sit down first. That’s a long story. And you probably have a lot more questions, too," he said, and motioned for Arthur to walk over to the living room. Arthur nodded in return, quickly discarded his teabag, and stayed silent all the way to the next room, where he sat down on his couch. Merlin sat down right next to him, their knees touching, and blew into his cup.

It was clear that he wasn’t keen on talking about whatever was to come and that it must be a dire subject. Arthur wasn’t so sure he wanted to know anymore.

"Magic has been getting rarer over the past few centuries," Merlin started, his gaze lowered to the cup in his hands. "There are still a few small groups of druids left, but they usually prefer to keep to themselves. But lately... I don’t know what is causing it, but the earth’s magic has started to drain in some places. I usually travel to those places and try to fix it, but really there isn’t much I can do: as long as I don’t know the cause, it will just happen again.

"I managed to prevent most of the more serious consequences so far, but I really need to find a proper solution before things get worse."

Arthur didn’t know what he had expected, but it was certainly not that. It sounded so... so big, not to mention dangerous. Like peoples lives were in danger, and Merlin was apparently saving them...? How strong exactly was Merlin’s magic? Arthur hadn’t seen much of it in his past life, or at least he didn’t think he had. He was awed by the mere thought of Merlin being such a powerful sorcerer, and most of all by him using said power for good.

However, Arthur wasn’t ready to ask Merlin about the extent of his magical abilities. He went for the other, even more pressing question instead: "What consequences...?"

Merlin sighed, and finally lifted his gaze. "Sometimes it’s earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. Mostly it has an effect on the people though – especially the ones without magic. I think everyone can kind of feel the lack of magic, although they don’t know about it. People can get ill from it, but most of the time it has a psychological effect. It’s hard to explain..."

"I get it, I think," Arthur said, when Merlin paused for a long time. He wasn’t so sure he actually understood, but he had a good idea. Arthur had seen what Merlin had been doing for years, and now things made more sense. Like that time in Sochi with the girl that Merlin had healed with his magic. Arthur had the vague suspicion this wasn’t one of the more pressing consequences Merlin was talking about though.

Merlin nodded, taking another sip of his tea. He glanced up at Arthur uncertainly, then gave a long sigh.

"There is a prophecy, about you returning to Albion when it’s need is greatest, and "

"What A prophecy?!" Arthur interrupted. He jerked, startled, and accidentally spilled some of his tea. Luckily, it wasn’t much, and it only hit the couch, not his leg.

"Yes, Arthur. A prophecy." Merlin took a deep breath, before going on to explain how he had first heard about their prophecy, and how he wouldn’t believe it for a long time. He told Arthur about Kilgharrah, and the druids who foretold Arthur’s death, and how Merlin had tried so desperately to prevent it.

His hands were shaking and he didn’t meet Arthur’s eyes. Not that Arthur was doing much better. It frightened him to even think about how Merlin must have felt, especially those last few months with Mordred around.

Part of him wished he had known about the prophecies, and about Merlin. But at the same time, he knew his past self wouldn’t have reacted well – especially not to Merlin’s magic. He probably would have come around to accepting it given some time, but never as quickly as he had while knowing he was about to die.

Arthur remembered how mad he had still been at Merlin in his last moments, mostly for keeping such an important part of himself from Arthur. For not trusting him more. He also remembered how it didn’t seem to matter all that much in the end. Arthur had understood Merlin had done it for him, for Arthur, and never for himself.

It was still a strange feeling to have memories of a past life pop up in his head. They didn’t feel much different than the memories from this life, which made it sometimes hard to tell which memory belonged to which lifetime.

Arthur already knew this would only get worse now that he had Merlin around.

He only noticed Merlin had stopped talking after it had been quiet for a long time. He hadn’t been listening attentively for a while now, too caught up in his own thoughts. Merlin must have noticed.

He was watching Arthur, his empty cup still in his hands, and a smile slowly spread over his face when Arthur looked back at him.

"Sorry, didn’t mean to zone out there," Arthur said and quickly drank the rest of his by now luke-warm tea. Merlin slowly shook his head. He reached out to place a soothing hand on Arthur's knee but hesitated. His hand hovered midway between them, struggling between pulling back and going through with it. Taking a deep breath he finally put his hand down on Arthur’s knee, so lightly Arthur could barely feel the touch.

"It’s a lot to take in." Merlin was right, it was a lot, but not only finding out about the prophecy. Arthur struggled way more with comprehending the fact that his search for Merlin was actually over. It had been so long since he’d started searching for him, and to actually – finally – sit next to him, and in Arthur’s flat of all places, felt so surreal.

Merlin wasn’t making it any easier for him, with all the touching, the warm smiles, and the way he was looking at Arthur. Not that Arthur didn’t like it – he certainly did! – but it would take some getting used to it, after all the years of not being able to interact in any way.

"I don’t remember you being so tactile," Arthur commented, trying to sound cheeky. Merlin had started to slowly circle his thumb in a soothing manner. He probably hadn’t been aware of it, going by the way he visibly started and quickly pulled his hand back. Arthur missed the touch instantly and wished he hadn’t said anything.

"Yeah, uhm, sorry. I-I know I shouldn’t-" Merlin stopped, shook his head, and flailed his hands, almost dropping his empty cup. Arthur raised his eyebrows at him before reaching for Merlin’s arm and taking the cup from him. Merlin blushed even more, if possible, and bit his lip nervously before going off on another rant. "I just missed you so much, and it’s still so surreal to have you back after all this time and I didn’t even know you were reborn years ago and "

"Merlin," Arthur interjected.

"Right, shutting up." Merlin took another deep breath and started to move back. Arthur openly rolled his eyes at him, although Merlin’s gaze was still lowered and he wouldn’t have seen it anyway. He quickly reached out for Merlin and pulled him closer in a sideways hug. Merlin stiffened under his arm, but didn’t try to move away again.

"I missed you too, you know?" Arthur said in a quiet voice. Merlin relaxed a bit and started to lean more into him. Encouraged, Arthur continued: "And besides, you always were my closest friend. I wasn’t good at showing it all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m acting the same way now. I’m not the same Arthur as back then. I have some of my memories back, yes, but I’m still... me. And this me most certainly likes hugging and all that, alright?"

Merlin wasn’t looking at him, but Arthur could still make out the smile on his face. After a moment of contemplating Arthur’s statement, Merlin finally relaxed completely against Arthur and rested his head on his shoulder.

"Well, so far you don’t seem all that different from the Arthur I remember," Merlin said, grinning cheekily.

Arthur huffed and pouted in fake annoyance. "There are lots of differences!" To be fair, he wasn’t so sure about it himself. Considering how little he knew about his past life, it wasn’t easy to tell. But a few things he was very sure about had changed. "For one, I can cook, and don’t need a bunch of servants catering to me. And I’m neither a king nor a knight. Never even held a real sword in my hands."

"Okay, I get it," Merlin laughed. Sitting as close as they did, Arthur could literally feel the bubbles of laughter rocking Merlin’s body. It delighted and bothered him equally. He almost didn’t hear what Merlin was saying next, so distracting was Merlin’s proximity all of a sudden. "But I have to say, you do look exactly the way I remember you, and you act a lot like it too."

"Hmm, maybe," Arthur replied, and took a slow and deep breath. There was no use of getting overly attracted to Merlin right now. Even if he was interested in Arthur, this wasn’t the time and place for this kind of talk. They needed to sort out a lot of other issues first.

Accordingly, Arthur jumped into pestering Merlin with questions about the things he had seen in his dreams and what they meant. What places Merlin had been to? Who were the people with him? And what had he been doing during all the time before Arthur was even reborn?

After a few hours of almost constant talking, Arthur cooked them dinner – to prove his point on being a decent cook in this life. Merlin wasn’t fully convinced, but probably only said so to spite him.

If there was one thing Arthur had learned about Merlin and their relationship in the past few hours, it was how easy it was to banter with him. At one point, after there were no more questions Arthur could come up with without looking at his notes, there had been a long, awkward silence.

In a way, they had only met a few hours ago, no matter how long they had know each other in another lifetime. But then Arthur had offered to cook dinner and Merlin apparently couldn’t help reminding him of his failed attempt at that in his past life. This was followed by giggling and other snide remarks that Arthur returned in kind, and all off a sudden they were laughing and bantering happily.

Arthur couldn’t even say he was surprised about it. It just fit that this was the way they would truly open up to each other.

When Arthur was finished with cooking – just spaghetti with meatballs, there would be other times to prove his skills more – Merlin pretended to be scared to eat it, despite how great it smelled. When he finally started to eat, though, it wasn’t hard to tell how much he liked it even without him admitting it out loud.

Afterwards, Merlin insisted on washing the dishes, and Arthur sat back and watched. It made him think again about how weird it was that Merlin was standing right here, in his kitchen. About what his family – what Henry –  would say, and that was when it hit him: He had to tell Henry!

Arthur used Merlin’s distraction to secretly snap a couple of pictures of him and quickly sent one to Henry. He just had to send his brother a picture of Merlin and show him he had finally found him. Henry had seen all of Arthur’s sketches and surely would recognise him.

Arthur didn’t get an instant reply, but it was late and Henry was probably already sleeping. Despite his constant support, Arthur knew Henry had never truly believed Merlin actually existed. What would he say now? What would he say when he actually met Merlin?

Arthur couldn’t wait to see it happen.

They took turns in the bathroom, changed into more comfortable clothes, and finally decided to call it a night and get some rest. Arthur knew he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep anytime soon, but he didn’t want to keep Merlin up all night long. Besides, that way he would have time to go through his notes and come up with further questions.

"I’ll just sleep on the couch then, yeah?" Merlin said, voice quiet. He held his hands behind his back and slowly scratched his leg with the bare toes of his other foot. Arthur couldn’t help feeling uneasy all of a sudden, but didn’t say anything. Instead he nodded and turned to get a spare blanket and pillow for Merlin.

After everything was set, Arthur awkwardly stepped back to his bedroom door. "Well, goodnight then," he said. He couldn’t help the feeling that something about this was wrong, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

"Night, Arthur," Merlin replied, a small, unconvincing smile on his face.

Arthur nodded once more and finally closed the bedroom door. He stood there, door handle still in hand, for a long moment. This was just... wrong. Merlin had spent countless years waiting for him. He had even said he had missed Arthur a lot. Separating now – even if it was only for a couple of hours – wasn’t right. And most importantly, it wasn’t what Arthur wanted. Carefully, he opened the door again.

Merlin was still sitting on the couch in the same way, his head lowered. The lights in the living area had been turned off and only the ones from Arthur’s room were illuminating them.

Blinking in surprise, Merlin lifted his gaze to Arthur. They silently stared at each other for a long moment, and Arthur was sure he could read in Merlin’s gaze what he had been thinking himself.

Merlin must have seen the same in Arthur’s eyes. He got up, picked up the blanket and pillow, and sprinted towards Arthur, who quickly engulfed him in a short hug before stepping aside and letting him into the room.

When they had finally settled into Arthur’s bed, it quickly became apparent that they were both still too excited about their reunion to go to sleep. Instead, they kept talking and asking questions, and laughing quietly.

It was nearing dawn by the time they finally fell silent. Still, Arthur didn’t feel like sleeping just yet.

Throughout the night, Merlin had clung constantly to Arthur’s hand. They didn’t lie all too close to each other, but their hands were always touching in some way. Arthur could see on Merlin’s face that he craved the touch just as much as Arthur himself.

"You have no idea how glad I am to have you back," Merlin said, breaking a long silence. They lay on their sides, Arthur on his left and Merlin on his right so they could look at each other. Merlin held Arthur’s left hand in both of his own. He held them close to his chest, clinging to it almost desperately. Arthur could even feel Merlin’s heartbeat if he really focused on it.

He couldn’t help thinking how much he liked the feeling. It was calming in a way Arthur couldn’t possibly explain.

"Oh, I think I’ve a pretty good idea." Arthur smiled, and squeezed Merlin’s hand briefly.

The first rays of sunlight streamed into the room from behind Arthur, illuminating Merlin’s face and giving his eyes a golden glint. But Merlin quickly squeezed his eyes shut – the light probably was blinding him. Arthur just kept staring at Merlin’s face, at the strong shadows quickly fading with the rising sun, at the messy fringe covering Merlin’s forehead and falling into his right eye, at his lashes jerkingly moving in his attempt to blink is eyes open again.

No matter how much time he spent watching Merlin, he would never get tired of it, Arthur was sure about that. He also was sure that he really shouldn’t have such a big crush on Merlin of all people. But then again, it was Merlin. How could anybody not have a crush on him?

Arthur took a deep breath and closed his eyes too. They had only just reunited. This crush could be nothing more than excitement about meeting again, and he wasn’t going to make any rushed decisions he might regret later.

For now, he gave Merlin’s hand another squeeze – Merlin returned it, making Arthur smile again – before slowly drifting off.

Chapter 3 Mini Illustration 2

When Arthur woke up, he was lying in the same position, his hand, and by now half of his arm, clutched to Merlin’s chest. Merlin was still sound asleep, quietly snoring, and not about to wake up anytime soon by the looks of it.

For a long moment, Arthur watched him quietly. Even fast asleep he looked so tired. Merlin had told him a lot about what he had been up to over the last years, and it was no surprise he needed a break. Not that Merlin would admit it, or actually give himself the rest he needed.

Some things just never changed, apparently.

Nevertheless, Merlin also didn’t want to leave Arthur’s side anytime soon – he’d made that part very clear. As Arthur had taken off the following two weeks, they had a lot more time to talk and catch up. Arthur could already tell they would need every second of it.

He closed his eyes again. He had dreamed about his past life. It felt like he already remembered almost twice as much as before. For one thing, he had started to remember people other than Merlin more clearly. His knights, his father, Gwen... He hadn’t remembered her so far. He knew he had been married to someone but now he also had a face and a voice. He couldn’t help the sadness of missing her welling up. But then again, he missed everyone else just as much.

Overall, he was mostly glad he at least still had Merlin.

Arthur also remembered a lot more about Merlin, about how important he had always been to him, and how much he had cared for him. Merlin had been a constant in his life he had never wanted to miss. Now that he was part of Arthur’s life again, he realized all the more how much he had missed him. Even before he had started remembering him, there had been something about this "mysterious man". Sure, Arthur had managed just fine without Merlin, but if he had the choice Arthur would always prefer to spend his time – his life – with Merlin.

Suddenly, Merlin was squeezing his hand, silently asking Arthur to open his eyes again. When he did, Merlin was watching him with a questioning expression.

"I dreamed about our past again," Arthur answered the unspoken question. Merlin nodded and made to reply something, but suddenly had to yawn widely.

"Too early," Merlin grumbled when he finally was able to speak again.

Arthur chuckled at that, then finally untangled his hand from Merlin's grasp and got up. "It’s noon."

"Yeah, like I said." Merlin grinned, then stretched his arms over his head, the bones in his back cracking. Arthur shook his head, still smiling. Even the next day, it was impossible not to smile at Merlin.

Not that Arthur was complaining.

"I’ll prepare breakfast," Merlin said suddenly and jumped out of bed. He moved past Arthur swiftly and was already down the hall by the time Arthur had so much as exited his bedroom. Arthur followed him, quickening his steps when he heard something crashing to the floor.

They spent the next two weeks in a similar manner. They stayed at Arthur’s flat for the most part, talked a lot about their lives – present as well as past – and Arthur couldn’t help the feeling that they’d gotten a lot closer too.

One weekend, Henry visited them – as Arthur had predicted. He was equally shocked and happy to meet Merlin. He was sorry he’d never believed Merlin was real – he even told Arthur so – but the confusion about how all this was even possible was even bigger.

For now, Merlin didn’t want anybody to know about his magic – or rather magic in general – so Arthur couldn’t quite explain it to his brother either. Instead, he shrugged it off, revelling in the present, and the fact that they’d finally met. After a while, Henry couldn’t help agreeing, especially since he got along with Merlin so well.

Arthur and Merlin also made the effort to travel to Camelot. Arthur couldn’t even begin to describe how much he loved being in his castle again – and in broad daylight this time around. If he could, he would have just stayed there and never left.

They actually did stay for one night – they even had brought sleeping bags and provisions along – but in the end, they kept strolling the corridors all night long and shared every memory they could recall about whatever place they were in.

Merlin redid the protection spells shortly before dawn. It was easier to hide a castle suddenly popping up during the night and it had already cost a lot of magic to hide it the previous day from prying eyes. Arthur was sad to see his castle – his home – disappear again, but he knew it was the right thing to do. Maybe one day they could reveal it for good.

Merlin’s magic was another thing he got a lot to see of over these two weeks. At first, he had been reluctant to use it, but Arthur wasn’t having any of it.

"Why do I have to get up to get a fresh cuppa, if you can just use your magic for it?" he had argued. Merlin had argued back that magic shouldn’t be used for that kind of nonsense. Only after Arthur reminded him that Merlin used it for these kinds of things all the time had he relented.

Not that Arthur actually minded getting up for such small tasks. It was more about making Merlin comfortable using his magic around Arthur. And the plan worked perfectly. By the time Arthur actively asked to see Merlin’s magic, he was happy to agree and showed him a bunch of small incantations without arguing about it at all.

Watching Merlin do magic was the best, Arthur learned. The genuinely happy look on his face made Arthur’s heart skip a beat, and he had to force himself to actually watch the magic, and not Merlin, the whole time.

While Arthur cooked them dinner most days, Merlin had started to bake. It had become clear very quickly that he wasn’t good at cooking – especially with modern technology – but baking was something he was excellent at. Even Arthur had to admit that Merlin's apple pies were the best he had ever eaten.

When Arthur’s two-week-vacation was over, Merlin traveled back to his own flat for two days to pack his stuff and move out. He did ask Arthur for permission to move in with him, although he looked ready to argue the case if Arthur had denied it. It wasn’t like Arthur didn’t like the idea of having Merlin live with him. His flat wasn’t large, but the last two weeks had shown it was more than enough space for the two of them. But with his growing feelings and the uncertainty of what to do about it, he had hesitated to say yes, if only for a moment.

While Merlin was gone, Arthur had been very busy with work. A lot of paperwork had piled up on his desk, and he had to plan his next field trip. Still, he missed Merlin a lot. It had only been two weeks but with all the returning memories, it felt like so much longer.

He also missed dreaming about these memories.

Ever since he had found Merlin, he had dreamed about Camelot and its people every night. But for the time he was alone, his dreams were normal and didn’t reveal any new memories. Arthur had already guessed as much, but now he knew for sure that it was Merlin’s presence – or maybe his magic’s – that made him remember.

By the time Merlin was finally back in his –  their – flat, Arthur was so glad to see him again he embraced him in a long hug all of his own accord. Merlin wasn’t even surprised about it, and hugged him back tightly.

He had brought a large suitcase with him, nothing more. The suitcase looked just as ragged and used as Merlin’s favourite backpack. Only the brightly-coloured rainbow unicorn sticker attached to its front was still in good shape.

The suitcase itself, as it turned out, wasn’t just old, but had been enchanted to carry about everything Merlin owned. It still wasn’t all that much, mind, but a lot more than Arthur had first guessed. When Merlin pulled a large flatscreen TV out of it, Arthur couldn’t help staring wide eyed.

Merlin just grinned at Arthur’s reaction.

Another constant in the first weeks after they reunited, was Merlin’s growing uneasiness. More and more often he had to make calls, talking in whispers and a different language every single time.

It didn’t take Arthur long to figure out that this was about the magical problems Merlin had mentioned before.

Merlin would have to leave sooner or later and get back to his work. It seemed only fair since Arthur was back to working too, but he still didn’t like the prospect of separating for longer time periods.

Arthur didn’t want to give up his job or his current life either, and Merlin agreed with  that. But Arthur also wanted to spend more time with him, to get to know him again, and preferably to help with the disappearance of magic. He had no idea how he could be of any help, but – if Merlin was right – he was supposed to return when Albion’s need was greatest. He was supposed to help. And he would do everything in his power to do exactly that.

It had been almost a month since their reunion when it became obvious Merlin had to leave. It was clear how little he liked the idea of separating, but there was just no way he could stay. The longer he didn’t do anything about it, the worse the magical draining got. Merlin had to do something, or people would get hurt, or even killed.

The final straw had been an especially desperate phone call from an old friend of Merlin, a druid leader living somewhere in Canada. Merlin hadn’t even pretended it wasn’t important, like all the other times before, and that alone told Arthur how dire the situation was.

The worst thing about Merlin’s departure was that they didn’t know how long it would be until they could see each other again. Arthur already planned to spend his weekends travelling after Merlin whenever possible, but since Merlin usually didn’t stay close to any big cities and didn’t have the time to stay in one place for a longer time period, it was likely Arthur wouldn’t be able to follow him much.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to at least try.

The morning Merlin was due to depart, Arthur woke up in the early hours. It was still dark, not even dawn yet. Arthur didn't know what had woken him – probably just the anticipation of Merlin’s impending departure.

Arthur blinked his eyes open and looked at Merlin, who was fast asleep right next to him.

They had never bothered to get Merlin a separate bed. Technically, there was an additional room that could have been Merlin’s bedroom, but neither of them ever brought up the topic. Arthur liked having Merlin close and – although he wasn’t ready to admit it – he liked how Merlin always ended up cuddling up to him.

As he had most nights, Merlin had managed to steal all the pillows just to rest his head on Arthur’s shoulder and chest anyways. The pillows lay on his other side, unused and out of reach for Arthur.

Carefully, Arthur shifted to put his arm more firmly around Merlin and pull him a bit closer. He wouldn’t have the chance to do this for quite a while; better use the opportunity while he still had it.

Arthur kept watching Merlin’s face and tried to memorise every detail he could in the dim light. After a long time, and just when it started to dawn, he drifted off again.

He was dreaming of their past lives, as usual. Arthur couldn’t remember when exactly it had happened, but he and Merlin were on a trip through the forests surrounding Camelot. It was a sunny day, but not too warm. They walked side by side, silently enjoying each other’s company.

Arthur remembered that he hadn't even actually paid attention to any potential game, but rather kept gazing at Merlin from the corner of his eye. He had watched the small smile on his face, the way he cringed whenever the sunlight blinded him for a second, the way he kept glancing back at Arthur with so much trust and fondness and adoration.

That had been the day that Arthur realized he was in love. Completely and utterly in love, and with Merlin of all people. A bumbling idiot, a peasant and servant. But also the most caring and loyal person Arthur could think of. It simply seemed impossible not to love him.

It had also been the day he was forced to admit to himself that there was no way he could ever do anything about it. No matter if Merlin felt the same – which he very likely did. Arthur had responsibilities as the Crown Prince of Camelot.

It had neither been the time nor the place for such feelings towards his manservant.

With exactly that thought in mind, Arthur woke up. He had clung to Merlin even tighter in his sleep and must have woken him up. Merlin was blinking his eyes open and sent Arthur a confused look.

Arthur knew exactly what he had to do. It might not have been the right time back then, but now – now, there was no reason to hold back.

Carefully, he lifted Merlin's head up, holding his face in both hands, and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. After a few seconds, he pulled away and nervously watched Merlin’s face for his reaction.

"Huh...?" Merlin was evidently even more surprised than before, but he didn't seem to take it badly. Arthur really wanted to lean in again right away. First he had some explaining to do, though.

"I just remembered how I first realised I’m in love with you. Ever since I started remembering my past life I had wondered if I had been in love with you back then, too."

Merlin just stared at him wide-eyed and a blush slowly crept onto his face. Arthur wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. But there was a spark in Merlin’s eyes and the way he looked at him gave Arthur the confidence to continue. "In a way, I’ve always been in love with you. I’ve just never been in a position to act on it."

Before Arthur could say anything else Merlin leaned in and kissed him back desperately. He broke the kiss only to adjust the angle of his head slightly and dive right back in.

Arthur was overwhelmed with happiness, his mind filled with thoughts of finally, finally we can do this, and the physical proximity to Merlin. He had rolled on top of Arthur and entwined his hands in Arthur’s hair. In return, Arthur slung his arms tightly around Merlin’s back – not planning to let go anytime soon. They still had a few hours left before Merlin had to get to the airport. Arthur would make the best of the time they had.

They arrived at the airport with only a few minutes to spare and had to rush to the check-in area. That didn’t stop them from holding hands the whole way and sending each other meaningful smiles every few seconds.

As usual, Merlin travelled solely with his old backpack. It was a bit strange for Arthur to see him like that – looking exactly the way he had seen Merlin countless times in his dreams. At the same time, there was something so different about him.

It must be the constant smile on his face, Arthur figured. Merlin had never looked this happy in any of his dream visions.

Sure, Merlin wasn’t looking forward to leaving Arthur’s side for an unpredictable amount of time, but they finally had each other, and they would see each other again sometime soon. So much had changed in the past month, and especially in the last few hours.

When they reached the security checks and had to say goodbye, Merlin pulled Arthur into another tight hug. Arthur pressed his face into the crook of his neck and took a deep breath while Merlin slowly moved his hands over Arthur’s back. They stayed like that for a long moment.

"I really have to go now," Merlin whispered into his ear, nuzzling his nose into Arthur’s hair. Arthur sighed and pulled back, only to be drawn back in for a short but meaningful kiss.

He smiled at Merlin when they finally parted and held onto his hand as long as he could,  while Merlin slowly turned and walked towards the check-in gates. He squeezed Arthur’s fingers one last time before he let go and fully turned away.

Arthur stayed next to the gates until he couldn’t see Merlin any longer. An uneasy feeling came over him, most likely caused by being separated from the man he loved, and not knowing when they would see each other again. But maybe it was also a prediction for what was to come.

Hopefully, Merlin would find a way to permanently fix this magical draining soon. Hopefully, Arthur would be able to join him and help too.

Just when Arthur turned away and made to walk back to the car park, he spotted a familiar face. A man about Arthur’s age with short and wavy ginger hair stood a few feet away, watching Arthur with wide eyes.

It took him a little while to remember how he knew this man – Arthur couldn’t recall going to school or uni with him. But then it clicked.


The man nodded and started walking closer with wide, confident steps.

"Arthur! What " Leon shook his head, clearly still shocked by the unexpected meeting. Arthur felt just the same.

Did Leon even remember Camelot? Or any of their friends? And if he did, since when?

"Was that Merlin you just kissed goodbye?" Leon asked motioning to the hallway Merlin had walked down only moments ago. He still looked a bit shocked, but there was also an unmistakable smile creeping onto his face.

Arthur couldn’t help throwing his head back and laughing out loud. He pulled Leon into a short hug, clapping him onto his back once, which Leon returned. "Yeah, the one and only."

Leon joined into his excited laughter, and together they left the airport – after Arthur took a quick selfie of them and sent it to Merlin.

They had a lot of catching up to do about their current lives but also the past ones. Arthur was sad Merlin couldn’t be there too, but maybe this was Arthur's part in their adventure, to find and gather their old friends? To get the support they needed?

Whatever it actually meant, Arthur just knew this was only the beginning.

Chapter 3 Cover Illustration