Title: The Rise and Fall
Note: This is part of the Superwhomerlock "Haunted Men" Trilogy. Read Part I: Where Angels Tread, Part II: Haunted Men, and The Slow Path: An Interlude.
Programs: Merlin, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock
Setting: Merlin, after "Diamond of the Day, Part 2"; Doctor Who, between "The Day of the Doctor" and "The Time of the Doctor"; Supernatural, between "Rock and a Hard Place" and "Holy Terror"; Sherlock, starting between "The Empty Hearse" and "The Sign of Three" and then between "The Sign of Three" and "His Last Vow."
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock, or their characters.
There once lived an old man to whom no one paid much attention, and whom no one really knew. He lived a simple life, in a small one-floor home—alone, but for some reason he always had the spare bedroom made up. Each day he would take a walk out of town and stare at the lake at the bottom of the hill, as though he had memories of standing on its banks.
When he was a young man, before the town and the roads had been built, he would stand ankle-deep in the water for hours, talking to—and on some drunken occasions, raging at—the emptiness, but it had been years since he'd forgotten what the water felt like on his skin.
Kids and adults, each watching him with quiet curiosity, would walk passed him as he looked at the lake these days from his place on the bridge. "It's like he's waiting for a fish to sprout legs and walk right out," the townspeople would speculate with a laugh, but none of them knew for sure why he would do this each day—like clockwork—and no one ever bothered to ask.
He spent the remainder of his time alone, and he seemed to love watching the news, even though none of it ever had to do with the people of that small town. Why would it? After all, nothing of importance or excitement ever happened in there. Still, he watched the television eagerly when those robots from the sky invaded and new planets appeared on the horizons; he laughed at the papers when they followed the story of those two murdering brothers in America; and he shook his head grievously at the journalists when that proclaimed fraud detective took a swan dive. He followed those particular stories with particular interest, and he seemed to relish bad news and national tragedies in general, even the current one.
Everyone had heard of the recent terror attacks and killings in London. They were normal people—business women and working men with families and happy lives—who just decided to get up one day and stab their coworkers or blow up schools; many had even tried to break into official government buildings. However, when they were caught, none of them seemed to have reason for their wrongdoing. "Temporary insanity," the media doctors were calling it, but people whispered rumors and wondered how many cases of temporary insanity could plague so many people in such little time. These rumors spread further and faster when the Queen was advised to holiday in Windsor when there was an attempt on Buckingham.
Then there were the missing persons reports. All over the UK, people seemed to vanish without a trace. The authorities hadn't found a single one of them for months. Weekly, someone from the Department of Defense or the Prime Minister's office would hold a press conference ensuring the people of Britain that everything was under control; but the Prime Minister himself was never present during these broadcasts.
And all the people of this town could do was shake their heads and watch idly. They did not know what was going on with the world recently, but they chalked it up to there being something in the water.
And the old man still waited.
But even now, the old man refused to get his hopes up. He would not frequent the lake more than once a day, because he knew he would only be disappointed—just as he was during the Revolutionary War, and during both World Wars, and countless other events that brought the nation to its defiant knees.
He would not give up hope, but nor would he hope too much—until that night.
He had a troubled dream, a memory of a face that he had long lost in this new and unfamiliar world. The face was smiling at him and extending a hand, but he could not reach for it. He also found that he could not breathe, and each time he tried to suck in air, his lungs would fill with water.
"Come to me, old friend," said a kind voice, meant for another man from another life. "I'm waiting."
He awoke with a gasp, and the light bulb in the lamp next to his bed shattered. He could do nothing but breathe heavily for a moment, staring into the darkness. Finally, his bare feet hit the carpet and he sprinted to his bedroom window. All the streetlights had gone out, and there wasn't the glow of a single light in any house on the block. The man pulled an apologetic face, knowing that his magic had caused the electrical shortage, but knowing too that such a blast of involuntary magic bursting from his skin meant something big had just happened.
He remembered his dream.
"Arthur," he muttered under his breath, and it was an ancient word that he had not uttered in centuries—a word that felt warm on his lips. It felt like home.
He quickly pulled on his shoes and wrapped his coat over his pajamas. His hat was on the nightstand, and when he went to retrieve it, his eyes caught a face in the mirror above the stand. It was a face that he had not seen in hundreds of years, and for a moment he forgot everything and gaped at it. He brought his fingertips to his cheek, touching his smooth skin. His unkempt gray hair was replaced with short, raven hair, but his dark blue eyes still sparkled with the unmistakable air of knowledge and a life too long. It took him a moment to remember the face, until he recognized it as his own.
He was young again.
The initial shock died away, and the vitality of his youth flowed through his veins. He sprung into life, and left his hat abandoned on the nightstand as he ran from his house and down the pitch-black street, leaving his front door wide open in his wake. Arthur's words were still ringing in his ears.
By the time he reached the edge of the lake, the sun was peeking out from over the horizon. As though this moment had been waiting for him, and not the other way around, the surface of the water rippled and a figure, at last, rose from it. The light of the rising sun hit the figure's golden hair, and made the water droplets falling from his body twinkle as they fell back into the pool.
Merlin looked upon the sight with a breathless smile, hardly able to believe his own eyes. He had waited for this moment for an eternity—he had dreamed of it, but the dreams always portrayed a faceless man. The face in the near distance, however, was one that Merlin could not believe he had forgotten. In a rush, Arthur's bright blue eyes and toothy smile filled his memory, and he longed to see those features up close.
"Arthur!" he shouted as he ran full-speed into the lake. He ran until he could no longer stand, and he kicked his feet from the murky bottom and began to swim. Arthur seemed to be floating. Merlin pushed his body to swim faster, and soon caught up to Arthur, but accidently splashed him in the face with the effort it took to stop himself.
"Merlin, you idiot!" Arthur shouted after spitting the water out of his mouth. "Watch what you're doing, will you?"
On any other occasion Merlin would have shouted back, but he found himself letting out a laugh, because that was so . . . well, it was just so Arthur.
"You've just been surrounded by the stuff," he said, deliberately splashing Arthur this time. "You can handle a bit more of it."
Arthur rolled his eyes, but his bright smile betrayed him. "Just get me to shore, will you?"
"Oh, yes, can't have you pruning," Merlin retorted.
He hooked Arthur's arm around his shoulders and they began treading through the water together. Finally, they reached the shore, and Merlin wanted to collapse onto the ground, but instead found himself falling into Arthur's arms. Arthur had wrapped them around Merlin tightly, and in an instant Merlin's world was filled with Arthur's familiar scent mixed with the smell of muddy lake water. Merlin felt the long-forgotten roughness of chainmail against him in the embrace, too. It was strange, but he had half a mind to polish it.
And that was the last time the old man ever went the lake—except for one.
The sun was lighting up the entire sky by the time they made it up the hill into Merlin's neighborhood. People were already milling about their gardens, and the two men earned strange glances from the neighbors as they stared quizzically at Arthur's chainmail and the long, sopping red cloak wrapped up in Merlin's hands. One man's gaze followed them, almost unblinkingly, until they were out of sight.
Merlin paid them no mind. His eyes were on Arthur, who was viewing the changed world with a mixture of excitement and horror in his eyes. He waved his gloved hand regally to the onlookers every now and again, and jumped into defense at the sight of every streetlamp or telephone pole. On the way up the hill, they had run into a garbage truck, speeding down the road and honking its horn, and Arthur nearly unsheathed his sword and jumped into the middle of the road before Merlin could grab him. Besides that one incident, in which Merlin feared Arthur would die just as he had come back, Merlin was brimming with euphoria as he saw the world anew through Arthur's eyes. His smile was wide enough to crack his cheeks, and he felt the old sensation of happiness warming his bones.
He led Arthur down the stone walkway to his front door, and closed it behind them once they were inside. Arthur looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings with discomfort etched on his face. Merlin should have expected Arthur to turn his nose up at the small house, as it was hardly fit for a king; but, in Merlin's defense, he hadn't had visitors in quite some time.
"It's nice. I like it," Arthur said in a tone that Merlin instantly recalled as his lying voice, so Merlin moved on. He changed into dry clothes and retrieved a set of spare modern clothing that he had kept around for Arthur just in case, as he did for every trend in every era. These—the pair of jeans, the trainers, and the T-shirt and hoodie—Arthur did not even pretend to like. He insisted that he stay in his chainmail, but Merlin eventually persuaded him and even helped Arthur get into them properly (after a mishap where Arthur put the jeans on backward and the shirt on inside out). When he was dried and dressed, Arthur did admit that these new clothes were more comfortable than armor.
A half hour later, Arthur was sitting at the table in Merlin's modest kitchen, devouring a plate of scrambled eggs and jam on toast. Merlin watched him fondly as he leaned against the sink and waited for the coffee to be ready, as a cup of morning coffee had become a part of his daily ritual, and had been since the early 1820s, and he was not about to stop now. Although, he did make sure there was enough for two cups that morning.
He placed a steaming mug of the stuff in front of Arthur, who grabbed it without looking at it and started gulping it before Merlin could shout, "No, it's hot!" Arthur began to cough and spit the scalding liquid back into the mug.
"What is that, Merlin?" Arthur said as soon as he could feel his tongue again, distaste written on his features. Merlin couldn't help but smile softly again at the fact that none of Arthur's expressions had changed.
"It's coffee," Merlin told him, wiping up the spilled substance with a paper towel.
"It's fowl," Arthur retorted.
"It's an acquired taste," Merlin defended, taking his place against the sink and sipping his own cup gingerly. Arthur watched him with a wrinkled nostril.
At that moment, the doorbell rang, and Arthur's eyes went wide as he leapt up from the table. Merlin looked at him with bemused sympathy.
"It's fine," he said, assuring Arthur that they were not under attack, and went to the door. Despite his coolness towards the subject in Arthur's presence, he had to admit he was a bit confused. Who could be ringing his doorbell? In all honesty, he didn't even know he had a doorbell.
He opened the front door a crack at first, and saw through it a small, brunette-headed boy standing on his front stoop. Merlin was vaguely aware of Arthur peeking through the entranceway of kitchen, wanting to make sure everything was all right.
"Hello?" Merlin said to the boy, his voice still confused.
The boy mimicked his expression. "Oh," he said in a small voice. "Who are you?"
Merlin's eyebrows darted up to his hairline. "You knocked on my door," he said, and then he wanted to laugh: He had just sounded like the old man that he was.
The boy looked sheepish. "Sorry, sir. I thought this was Dr. Smith's house."
Merlin nodded. "It is."
"Oh," said the boy again. "Well . . . my mum wanted me to check up on him, what with the electric out and all. She said he might be needing some help . . . 'cause he's old."
Merlin blinked in surprise at the boy. He had always regarded his neighbors as cold people, but perhaps there was more humanity in them than he thought. It almost made him feel bad about blowing out their power—and then using magic to fix only his circuit breaker—even if it hadn't technically been his fault.
"Ah, well tell your mum Dr. Smith is just fine," he told the boy.
The boy nodded, and then peered behind Merlin at Arthur with a furrowed brow. Arthur waved at him unsurely.
"I never seen you around," he said to Merlin. "Who are you?"
"I'm—," Merlin considered what to say for a moment. "I'm Dr. Smith's grandson," he settled on. He nodded back to Arthur. "That's my mate. We're in town visiting for a while," he added, although he wasn't sure why.
"Oh," said the boy. "Okay. Well, not much goes on 'round here ever, so don't expect anything exciting."
Merlin glanced back at Arthur again, and for the first time he realized that Arthur's presence wasn't exactly a good thing. It meant something was about to happen—perhaps something bigger and more terrifying than the UK had ever seen before. His heart in his throat, Merlin told the boy never to say never, and sent him on his way.
"Dr. Smith?" Arthur asked when Merlin closed the door and headed back into the kitchen.
"Well, I could hardly go around calling myself Merlin," Merlin admitted. He was still getting used to hearing himself addressed with that name again. The first time Arthur called for him, it took him a few moments before he realized he was being beckoned. No one had called him that in such a long time, and the word was almost as rusted as Arthur's discarded chainmail to his ears.
"Yes, but Dr. Smith?" Arthur said, retaking his seat at the table.
"The retired Dr. John Smith," Merlin corrected. "I got the name from—," he found himself smiling fondly at a memory, "—from an old friend."
When he looked back at Arthur, Arthur was looking at him as though he was seeing Merlin for the very first time. His face was set and stony, but his eyes were bright and full of a light Merlin thought had long gone out—the light of the old world, a world that now only existed in legends. Arthur hadn't changed a bit, and he was still beautiful. Merlin wondered how he could ever forget that face.
"You've changed quite a lot," Arthur said after a moment, looking Merlin up and down.
Merlin nodded. He felt older than he ever had before.
"What year is it?" Arthur asked, more airily than before.
"Two-thousand-and-thirteen," Merlin said promptly, and he watched as Arthur's eyes widened and he sat back heavily in his chair. Merlin's beamed at him. "It's been a long wait."
"Yes, well, you certainly don't look like you've waited that long," Arthur said, and it took Merlin a moment to remember the face he'd seen in the mirror just a few hours before.
"I moisturize," he joked, but Arthur only furrowed a confused brow at him. "But never mind that," Merlin continued. "Why—?" He let out a sigh. He wanted to badly to keep living in the happiness of having Arthur back. He didn't want to think about the days to come, but he had to be ready. "Why have you come back?"
Arthur shrugged. "No idea," he said. "You're the one who always talked about destiny, Merlin."
Merlin searched him. "But there must be a reason. Here—"
He disappeared into the next room and returned a moment later with his laptop. He set it on the table in front of Arthur and leaned down over it, opening a series of articles he'd saved over the past few months. He was about to reach for his reading glasses before realizing he no longer required them.
"Maybe this has something to do with it," he murmured, resting his chin on his palm as he clicked through the articles. "People have been trying to break into government buildings. Just the other day, someone tried to plant a bomb in Buckingham's garden. And there's been killings and shootings all around for no reason. They must be connected somehow—"
"—They must be adding up to something—"
"—But what? And why now?"
"Merlin, what is this thing?"
"What? Oh!" He had never had to describe what a computer was before. He tried hard to remember what they had been described as when they first came out, but he could not. "It's a laptop," he said lamely in ways of explanation.
"A lap . . . top," Arthur said, staring at the thing as though it were the enemy. "It's a magic box."
"No," Merlin corrected. "No, it's like—it's a way to get information and to connect with people and things from all around the world instantly."
"A magic box," Arthur said with resolve.
"No! Just—look, focus on what it's saying, not what it is," Merlin said, straightening out and deciding to power through Arthur's confusion. "The Queen's left Buckingham—that's the palace now. There's something going on that they're not telling the public—and me. They must know something, and it must be a matter of public safety. Terrorists, maybe? But that's happened loads of times before. What's different?"
"Right," said Arthur, standing up again. "So let's go there and find out."
Merlin chortled. "We can't just waltz right into Buckingham Palace, Arthur."
With the way Arthur was looking at Merlin, it occurred to him that Arthur hadn't understood the expression, but he spoke anyway. "Of course I can," he was saying arrogantly. "I'm the king."
"No, you're not," Merlin told him. "Not anymore. And, even so, the monarch has very little power anymore." Arthur looked hurt by this, and Merlin felt a pang of guilt stab his heart. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "The point is, we can't just knock on the Prime Minister's front door—especially not without raising suspicion with the current terror attacks . . ."
He tilted his head, a thought suddenly striking him.
"But I think I might know someone who can."
Getting Arthur onto a train was probably the most difficult thing Merlin ever had to do, just when he thought convincing Arthur to leave his sword at home was hard enough. Arthur spent the majority of the train ride clutching onto the bottom of the seat, wide-eyed and breathing heavily. Merlin couldn't help but laugh at him, and Arthur constantly kept shooting daggers at him and telling Merlin that he was the King of Camelot and Merlin could not laugh at him. Comments like these earned Arthur agitated or confused stares from the tops of newspapers.
They finally made it to King's Cross, and Merlin had to take Arthur by the arm and lead him as they wove through the throng of commuters. Arthur was completely oblivious to where he was being led, as he was too busy looking all around him, at the people, signs, and glowing schedules on the monitors above. He was completely awe-stricken and totally overwhelmed, and Merlin was certain he would have a heart attack when they reached the outside.
"Now, Arthur, this is a city. It's called London," Merlin prefaced. "There will be a lot more people here—and there are lots of tall buildings."
Arthur snorted. "Please, Merlin, I was born and raised in a city."
Merlin took in a sharp breath; he felt a headache coming on. "London makes Camelot look like a barren wasteland."
Sure enough, Arthur's jaw dropped as soon as they stepped outside. He stopped dead, instantly causing a massive pile-up at the door, and Merlin had to take him by the shoulders and steer him out of the way when people began throwing profanities Arthur's way. Once clear of the door, Merlin spun Arthur around to face him, a hand on each shoulder.
"You're fine," Merlin said, trying to coach his breathing. "It's just a city. You'll be alright."
There was fury in Arthur's eyes as he tore himself from Merlin's grasp. "Of course I'm fine! For god's sake, Merlin, I'm not a child!"
Merlin decided he shouldn't back-sass him. It was okay for Arthur to get angry; he had to work through his confusion as best he could—and anger was the only way he knew how. So Merlin kept his hands to himself and let Arthur follow him into the crowd, praying that a cab ride wouldn't be too much of an ordeal for Arthur.
Without much incident, they reached their destination, and Merlin and Arthur stood on the pavement, facing an awning that read Speedy's. Next to the café was a residential door, with the number 221B catching the sunlight.
"I think this is it," Merlin thought aloud, starting towards the door. "This is the address the blog gave, anyway."
He was knocking on the door when Arthur asked, "What on Earth is a blog?" But, before he could answer, the door swung open, revealing a small, pretty older woman in a floral-patterned dress and an apron.
"Hello," Merlin said, facing her. "I was wondering if Sherlock Holmes was in? I would have phoned, but I don't have his number."
"Oh, yes, dears," said the woman in a kind voice. She opened the door wider and gestured to the staircase. "He's just upstairs. Have you got a case for him? I do hope so! He makes such a mess when he's been idle for too long."
Merlin smiled politely as he and Arthur followed her inside. "I think so," he said. "If he'll take it, that is. You know how he can be."
The woman's face fell slightly. "Oh. I didn't know you knew him."
"Oh, I don't!" Merlin quickly corrected. "Not really. We met just the once, a—a long time ago."
"I see," the woman said, even though Merlin was sure she didn't. "Well, as I said: he's just upstairs. Forgive the clutter." With that, she disappeared back into her own flat.