"He's not coming back."
"That's fairly obvious," Merlin responded, turning around. "I am very aware of that, yes, thank you."
Morgana sighed and stepped closer. She looked the same as she always did; no matter the parents, her reincarnated form was always the same as the one Merlin remembers, frustratingly clearly, from his youth.
Not that Merlin is much older than he remembers being, at this moment. He could so choose if he wished, of course, but - whenever he stands beside the Lake, Merlin resembles himself as Arthur had last seen him.
As does Morgana. Out of the two of them, only she can die - and if he killed her now... well, he wouldn't - but if he did, he'd be the only person left.
Waiting. Watching. Forever, for something that would never come.
Morgana came closer, then stopped beside him. They'd only had each other for centuries, now; whatever he'd felt about her millennia ago, he can't bring himself to feel anything other than comfort at her presence.
Partially because even now, he thought, he could have helped her if only he'd said something - before everything. Before Morgause. Before the madness, from the fear and the anger and the bitterness and her visions in her nightmares had set in.
Morgana clasped his hand in his and sighed again.
"Arthur will not return, Merlin," she said. "Not now. He did not millennia ago when he'd have been needed - and he will not now when all of humanity is gone to the stars."
"I know, Morgana," Merlin said. "But... why?"
"It was fated," She said, "But we know, don't we, that fate doesn't always come to pass?"
Merlin looked over to Morgana, then sighed. "When'd you get so wise, 'Gana?" He asked, smiling.
She laughed, lightly, and dropped her head onto his shoulder. Her hair cascaded down in curls, as it always had - as it always did after she remembered herself.
It was an unpleasant experience, the first ten times she did. For him, then for them both, then - she remembered remembering, and no magic was thrown his way or hers.
Twenty reincarnations in, they reconciled. Thirty, they lay together - because, in all these years, they were lonely. Forty, they were solid friends - and fifty, solidly allies. Sixty, they started waiting for Arthur, together - and one-hundred... Morgana gave up hope.
(They met Gwen, twice. Lancelot, a few times - along with the rest of the knights. Merlin saw Uther once, in the street - a busy man, CEO of some company or another - and nearly had a heart attack save for the fact he couldn't get those.)
(There had been a memorable time in the early 21st century when Arthur's story had been made into a show for TV, and just about everyone hired looked exactly as Merlin and Morgana remembered - except for themselves, and except for Arthur.)
One-hundred was the last one. Morgana could die from various things, it turned out, in the modern age. But magic could protect her well enough since nobody seemed to even think it existed beyond the occasional ludicrous 'fortune teller' or 'crystal healer' or 'medium' that believed they had it - or whose clients believed that they had it, even as they didn't themselves, pocketing the money as they went.
"I've always been wise, Merlin," She said, imperiously, then laughed again. A hundred lives, a hundred different women who had a name similar to her true one, a personality different but achingly similar until she remembered, women who at their core were still the same woman he'd known - the same girl - and here she was; Morgana Pendragon. Friend, betrayed, betrayer - and now, oddly enough, his companion through the last few millennia - in which they'd been enemies, they'd been friends, and they'd been lovers, and they'd been the only other person the other had had.
(It was odd, that throughout the reincarnations, Morgana's backstory had remained the same. Ward, then Foster child, of her true father - supposedly biologically the child of her adoptive one, who always ended up dead.)
(It was very rare there was a Morgause. And if there was, it would a tossup if Morgana would hate her enough to kill her or -
Well. Those were the early reincarnations, back when Merlin and Morgana had still tried to kill each other.)
Merlin was glad, in the end, if he hadn't been able to have Arthur return - he'd at least gotten her.
"It's me who's gotten dumb, I'd wager?" Merlin asked.
Morgana smiled out to the Lake of Avalon. Her smile faded, then she sighed. "I think it's time," she said.
"It's the hardest magic we'll have ever done," Merlin said. "The Old Religion - there is a price for upsetting the balance."
"And yet the Old Religion's prophecised Destiny and Fate never came to pass," Morgana said sharply, lifting her head and tugging his hand until he'd turned and she was facing him directly. "Perhaps it is as angry as we are, you twit. Perhaps it's so angry that we haven't tried to kill each other in so long that it might indeed give us what we want, just so it doesn't have to watch us live as the only two people left on this godforsaken planet."
Merlin grinned. She shook her head, smiling, dark curls bouncing with the movement, Merlin leaned his head against hers, against the only person he'd known for millennia - and she sighed, softly, as he did so, their breaths mingling in the cold air.
"Maybe," Merlin said. "There's no other way to check than to just get on with it, though is there?"
"That's the spirit," She smiled, then tilted her head and pressed a soft, chaste kiss to his lips. "Come on. We can't very well do it here."
Camelot was long gone, Albion now England and Wales and Scotland and the other isle, Ireland, for some reason two separate countries (Merlin admits he quite willing left Albion and it's surrounding countries alone when he'd found Morgana in America in the 1900s - but that was when he still bothered to pay attention to the fact that they were supposed to be each other's downfall, and it's been so long that if Merlin's memory worked like literally anyone else's he wouldn't remember any of that, and also he couldn't bear to watch while Albion was torn apart in various wars, so he didn't pay much attention to politics, and also he never returned which didn't help his ignorance on the matter) but they still went home, for the first time in - years. Millenia.
"It looks..." Morgana took in the overgrown city they'd found themselves in - abandoned, like the rest of earth, but much less well-kept, partly - well, entirely because they hadn't stepped foot on her soil, on the soil of their homeland, for much too long.
Aside from, of course, their trips to the Lake of Avalon - but that didn't count, really. It was only accessible by sorcery - and... well, it's not like Merlin or Morgana did anything to the area. The Lake looked the same as it always had and always would, and that was that.
After being in so many other places on the earth, Albion felt small - but it still held, however minor, that feeling of home, of magic, of belonging - like Merlin could hear, on the wind, the sounds of the tavern, or see in the trees the ghosts of a hunting party.
"London," Morgana said. "We're in the capital."
"Logically," Merlin said, glancing around. "Where is the magic strongest, do you think?"
"You're the 'most powerful sorcerer to have ever walked the earth'," Morgana said, teasingly. "If you can't find it after this long with that magic of your own, I despair for our chances at actually casting this spell."
Merlin rolled his eyes but nodded. He closed his eyes - a bright flare of gold the last visible sign of the magic he was about to do - and then... simply sensed, for lack of a better term, the area around them.
Merlin opened his eyes. The feel of magic on the air, he knew, had just been - memory, more than anything else. "It's gone," He said, almost hollow. Morgana sucked in a breath and glanced around.
"It can't be." She said. "Albion is it's home."
"We're just gonna have to do this on our own," Merlin said, and then reminded himself to not talk like an American once the spell is over. That would give the whole game away.
"Fuck," Morgana said, then started pacing. Merlin left her to her thoughts, just for the moment, as he started clearing away the years of decay from one of the buildings. This part of London appeared to have been preserved, as some sort of relic, by those that had left it for the stars - the buildings old, but re-inforced; older than the sleek construction of modern architecture, older still than that of centuries prior. This was the heart of London, painstakingly rebuilt as it was, millennia ago, so that any future people who found this place might know some of what it was like, once, many many years ago.
"We'll go to the castle," Morgana said. "Or - the Palace, or whatever it was. Buckingham. And we'll do it there."
"Okay," Merlin said, turning. "Are you sure you want to do this?" Merlin asked, not for the first time - likely not for the last, either. Morgana rolled her eyes at him, then stalked over and grabbed his hand. Not a moment later, they were standing outside the Palace - shielded, nature kept at bay, but they themselves able to pass, freely, through the barrier.
Everything other than the plants had been - eradicated, as far as Merlin knew. Whatever it was that let the plants flourish and grow was manmade, in nature... helped along, also, by Merlin and Morgana's unknown efforts. Their efforts would be gone, once this spell was done - this time, this place, gone also.
And Albion would be as it once was.
"What if we don't remember?" Merlin asked as they were setting up the spell in the largest room they could find.
More of a ritual, really.
"Then we don't," Morgana said, "And eventually I'll die, and be reincarnated, and I will remember - and I'll tell you everything, and we'll try again. Until we're both back when everything started going haywire - back to just after you joined the Royal household as Arthur's manservant. Back when Gwen was still my maidservant, back when Tom was alive, back before Mordred grew up and grew bitter, before Morgause, before Uther's death, before the Dragon was freed - before everything." Morgana looked up at him. "And you cannot die by means, mortal or otherwise, which are not dealt by my own hand - and as we've established, any fight between us would end up with us both dead - were it not for modern medicine."
"Dear gods," Merlin paused. "We're going back to when leeches were used. And people other than Royals didn't bathe regularly. Dear gods, a broken leg could kill a man, due to infection."
Morgana froze. "Fuck," She said, "Do you think we could discretely -"
"Gaius would notice," Merlin said, "Fuck, I don't want to get a cold back then - I never want to drink one of those 'remedies' ever again, gods, how did people just not die immediately from existing, water had all sorts in it-"
"Merlin," Morgana said, forcefully, and placed a hand over his. She leaned forward, her eyes searching for his own, as her hair cascaded down over her shoulders. "We'll figure something out," She promised. "We're not going to be alone this time. I swear it, Merlin, you're not going to be alone. "
"Neither are you," Merlin promised, allowing the oath to echo with his magic. "I'll tell Gaius I'm giving you the 'medicine' and - we'll figure things out from there."
Realisation dawned on Morgana's face. "We haven't thought this through enough." She said.
"'Gana, if we did, we wouldn't do it," Merlin said, cracking a slight smile. "Though we should probably at least come up with an excuse as to how we know each other."
"We'll go back to when you get thrown in the dungeon," Morgana said, with a sudden sense of exactly what they needed to do. "I'll visit, to see who antagonised my brother-" Morgana paused, "... Prince Arthur... and I can easily explain such as amusement that someone had finally stood up to him." She looked at Merlin. "Pity you won't get to land a punch in, but the second time you meet - isn't that when you get thrown in the stocks and meet Gwen? no, actually, that was after your stint in the dungeon - regardless, you'll fight better against him, which should take him down a peg, and be less obvious about your use of magic, I imagine." She glared him down.
"I was practically a kid who definitely didn't know what he was doing," Merlin said, "And I was plenty careful; a couple days earlier I'd seen an execution. I knew what happened to magic users - I just wasn't very good at control back then. I didn't even know any spells."
"Luckily for us, it should send us back as we are, in mind and soul and magic and spirit, into the bodies of our youth, so you will know spells - and more importantly, you won't need them," Morgana said, leaning back - satisfied with Merlin's response, but also - glaringly obviously - ignoring the mention of the execution.
"... which means we'll be millennia old surrounded by what amounts to children," Merlin said.
"Not quite," Morgana said. "The bodies we'll be put in will have the brains of our younger selves, so though we have the memories of the future we've lived, they'll be in brains that belong to a young man and a young woman - what amounts to children among what amounts to children." She smiled, pleased, proud.
"If it weren't for you I think I would have just willed this to happen and hoped for the best," Merlin admitted. But then, if it weren't for Morgana - he'd have been alone for too long.
(Merlin - Merlin would have likely walked into the waters of the Lake willingly years before the earth became this; back when it first became truly apparent that nobody was returning, and if they did, they didn't remember - and there would never be any sign of Arthur, in any form, anywhere.)
"See, this is why we complement each other brilliantly," Morgana said, as she set up the runes. "Like you told me the Dragon said - She is the darkness to your light, the hatred to your love... which means, in turn, that I'm the light to your darkness, and the love to your hatred - and, luckily for all of us, the intelligence to your sheer idiocy." She grinned, teasingly.
It showed how far they'd come, over the years, that teasing each other about their shared fate of being the end of each other quite literally, was something that came easily and without pain.
"How funny," Merlin said, "Ha-ha. See, I'm laughing."
"Great," Morgana said, cheerfully.
"We're gon-going to have to act exactly as we used to, back then," Merlin said, frowning lightly.
Morgana sighed, sobering, her shoulders lowering as her brows furrowed. "We could... postpone, for a few months longer, as we train ourselves to do so," Morgana mused. "It's not like anything's happened for millennia. It could - It may indeed be good for us to at least make somewhat of a plan," She said, dryly, then, "And it would be good to practice - it's been years since I had to act the ward of a king... years still since I had to work through the politics of such. And do you even remember how to be a manservant?"
"Crytal clear," Merlin said.
"... Right," Morgana sighed, then stood, and held out a hand for him to take. "Well. You and your crystal clear memory need to help me remember, then," She said. "Some of us don't remember things from multiple millennia ago as if they were only yesterday."
"My memory to your forgetfulness," Merlin said, cracking a smile.
"Indeed," Morgana said, hauling him to his feet, an answering smile on her face. "See, now he gets it."
"Kilgharrah only knew what was prophesied, and what he could - sense, I suppose," Merlin said. "And I was also a pretty young adult. You can't blame me for thinking the ancient and powerful and wise dragon knew things about what the fuck I needed to expect."
"Like I said; the intelligence to your idiocy," Morgana said. "Everyone has their own intentions - even if they're good ones, they're not always good for everyone. And he'd been imprisoned for so long, vengeance was only inevitable."
Merlin sighed and nodded. "This time," Morgana said, "You should already be a dragonlord by the time you meet him - Balinor already died, from your perspective. Time-travel; confusing, wonderful, dangerous, and incredibly useful."
"Last time the order was necessary," Merlin said, "He wanted revenge on Uther, more than anything."
Morgana's grasp tightened on his hand. "As did many," She said. "But he needs to live just long enough for Arthur to see sense - and become the man he needs to be to be king. Uther wasn't a sensible ruler, not by any means mostly related to magic, but he did enough to keep Camelot alive for over two decades."
"That's the main problem," Merlin said, "Getting Arthur to see sense."
"The man was foolish and curious in his youth," Morgana said, "My -" She sighed, then rolled her eyes at herself, "Arthur, if he thought he was looking up information on magic of his own accord -"
"He could change his mind gradually and slowly," Merlin said, nodding.
"After all, being ignorant about the largest threat to your future kingdom is simply ludicrous," Morgana said, a smile spreading across her face.
"Only a total prat would allow himself the indignity," Merlin grinned back.
Morgana laughed. "If there is one thing we need to practice," She said, "It is modern-day slips of the tongue. We can't have us saying things that don't make sense in Albion's time," Morgana added, smile still there, a softness to her eyes as she kept hold of Merlin's hand.
"Then we can," Merlin said, "Now if you want. And - we should probably plan things out, using the memories I have. How we're going to deal with the first few things that happen, and - once we're in the past - we can figure out the rest."
"The memories we have," Morgana said, reminding. "I have a side to each story that you don't - I've told you some that I remember, but not all, and it would be foolish to plan without all the information we have at hand."
"Then first," Merlin said, "I'll help you with your memory."
Morgana smiled, nodded, and tugged at his hand to have him walk with her out of the room.
"So we go back to when I've just been thrown in the dungeon," Merlin concluded.
"It could make us pass out upon arrival," Morgana said, "So logically we want excuses - I am alone at that moment, and you are in a cell - you have been thrown into a cell, and there is no reason not to assume they didn't do it too harshly and let you hit your head on the way down."
"It still -" Merlin sighed. "Lady Helen will still be killed," He said, somewhat sullen. "And Mary Collins will still swear her revenge - there is not much we can do about either, Merlin," Morgana said, placing a hand over his, then turning it over and entwining their fingers. "Unless you wish to return much earlier and risk changing too much?"
"No, no," Merlin sighed. "I can remember exactly how I acted - I don't - it'd be a waste to make all our memories useless by changing too much too quickly."
"And risk our deaths in doing so," Morgana continued, as she stood. "Which does mean we need to- make doubly certain that Uther does not come across anything incriminating about anyone, such as what happened with Tom."
Merlin winced and stood. "Yes," He said, heavily. Morgana sighed and shook her head at him. "You said it yourself," She said, "You didn't know what you were doing, and you were doing it alone. This go around will be easier, because we already know what happens, and neither of us will have to deal with it alone."
"Indeed," Merlin said, mustering up a genuine smile. "You're not wrong there."
"I rarely am," Morgana said, imperiously, then smiled and laughed, lightly. "Come on. We've done all the planning we can - it's time to do the spell."
Merlin nodded. Morgana held her hand out, and he took it - and the two of them left the room, returning to the one with the spell held within it, just waiting to be cast.
"Are you ready?"
"Merlin - I have been ready this whole time. The question is if you are."
"Of course I am."
"Then let's get on with the spell already."