The first surprise is that time is not linear. Merlin can be reborn anywhere, any time. He can live several lives in the same span of years. Some eras he never witnesses at all.
The second surprise is that his memories are slow to return in each new life. It’s always a shock to wake up one day and remember who he really is, under the new clothes he wears and the new name he answers to.
The third surprise is that everyone from Camelot comes back too, one way or another. But they have no memories of their former lives and they never recognise him.
He stops speaking to them eventually. It hurts too much. He just watches from afar.
He sees Percival as a pirate on the high seas, tanned and muscular, the same fierce loyalty he showed to Arthur now given to captain and crew. Lance as a soldier in Paris, still protecting King and country, sword in hand. Elyan as a doctor in London, hand in hand with a pretty girl, as full of love as ever.
He spots Morgana in a bar one day, leaning in to a beautiful woman with purposeful intent. She looks confident, she looks in control. She looks happy. He leaves her there.
He finds Gwen onstage in a jazz club, all eyes on her as she sings, sultry and slow. She is golden and his heart aches; he wants to take her by the hand and keep her close to him forever.
But then he catches a glimpse of Uther in the crowd and he runs.
He never sees Arthur. Not even once.
Now he’s a reporter in Dublin and his head is full of drink and girls and an eye for the main chance, before he has to grow up too fast again.
Now he’s an impossible creature, half-human and half-machine, angry and worn out and scared beyond reason.
Now he’s a junkie living in a car, and he breaks down slowly; helps pull a man back from the abyss and then dies alone.
Now he’s a detective in Belfast. Now he’s a recluse on a Scottish island. A thief in New York. A liar in Colombia. A lost boy in Spain bleeding out on the pavement.
Now he’s tired. Now he’s old.
One day he finds himself in a future so far away he could never have imagined it. On a bus flying through the stars, bound for somewhere impossible, somewhere beautiful.
Only he makes the wrong choice, again. And the clever man with the kind eyes nearly dies for it.
Weary and soul-bruised, Merlin seeks him out after. The spirit of Jethro has left him, sudden and quick. He’s Merlin again and he’s never felt quite so hopeless.
But he knows this man now, remembers who he is and what he can do. And so he makes a plea.
“Take me back to Camelot. Take me back to Arthur, please.”
The Doctor looks very sad.
“You can’t go back. You know that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve asked me this before, Merlin. You ask me this every time we meet.”
In a rush it all comes back to him. So many timelines, so many crossed paths. The same plea. The same answer.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he says, heart-sick and exhausted beyond belief. “Give me something. Give me anything.”
The Doctor nods.
It’s 2015 and it’s Seattle and the rain is coming down in sheets. Merlin can’t see a soul around but the Doctor never lies, so he sits on a bench and waits.
“Ever heard of an umbrella?”
That voice. He doesn’t know many years it’s been. There’s no way to count anymore, except for the lines of longing that mark his insides like rings on an oak tree.
“Seriously mate, you’re soaked.”
A r t h u r i s
Arthur is here.
And his hair’s brown and his clothes are all wrong and he’s looking at Merlin like he doesn’t know him.
None of that matters.
“I’m Merlin,” he says and he puts out his hand. “Why don’t you join me?”