Title: A Broken Compass Points Home
by magique
Fandom(s): Merlin (BBC)
Pairing(s): Implied Arthur/Merlin.
Genre/Rating: General, Future!fic/PG
Word Count: 2045
Summary: The compass doesn't point north, but it is far from broken.
Warnings: None.
Notes: I don't know quite what happened. All I remember is the mental image of future!Merlin inheriting a compass that points to Arthur and then I sat down to jot some notes down so I didn't forget it, you know, once I'd finished the studying I was meant to do, and spat out about 2000 words instead.
There are a few name changes, so, uh, basically Jeremy=Merlin and Grace=Gwen, but I would hope that might be clear anyway. (We all dream, y'know?)

Jeremy is six when his father dies. He sits by the hospital bed and searches within himself for the bravery not to cry into the sterile-white sheets.

"See that compass?" His father nods his head towards the bedside table, a miniscule movement and one that wrenches energy from him. It is five minutes and fifteen seconds until his last breath will leave him. "I want you to have it."

Jeremy reaches for it, turns it over in his hand, frowns. "It's broken."

A gentle smile. "It isn't. You'll see. One day."

"What do you mean?" Jeremy asks, but his father's gaze is evasive.

"I'm glad to have known you this time," he says.

"I don't understand," Jeremy says, and; "Don't die. I don't want you to die."

Later, when his mother says her final goodbyes to her husband, Jeremy sits in the waiting room and examines the compass. It is broken. It doesn't point north at all. It's pointing somewhere closer to south-east and, as he sits still, it quivers impatiently like it wants him to follow it to wherever it leads. He curls it into his palm and decides to keep it, even though it's broken and even though his father dies when Jeremy told him not to.

The compass is an oddly comforting weight in his pocket and he ends up carrying it with him everywhere in those awful next few months, until he almost loses it.

He drops it into a desk drawer in his room and thinks, to keep it safe, and then forgets instead.

The dreams begin after his twelfth birthday, preceding the feeling, the emptiness, by almost five years. Jeremy tells Will at first, when all he sees is the dragon and the cave and sometimes a sword encased in flames, but then the dragon begins to speak to him and it feels too private to share.

Two sides of a coin, the dragon says, his reptilian lips curving up oddly, and it's familiar and yet not at all.

Your paths lie together, the dragon tells him, and Jeremy wakes with the words, just tell me WHO, heavy in his mouth.

It's your Destiny, the dragon explains, absurdly and irritatingly vague.

Something, a strange, inexplicable something (Jeremy is never quite sure what it is until it finally hits with full force) curls through his stomach as he falls out of dreams each morning more and more frequently over the next years.

It hits when Jeremy is seventeen. It hits like a tidal wave and leaves him coughing and gagging and trying to find oxygen to suck into his lungs in the sudden nothing. He throws up for almost half an hour in the bathroom, stomach forcing all of its contents up through his oesophagus and into the toilet bowl unrelentingly.

He goes back to bed that morning and his mother smothers him until she has to leave for work, leaving him alone with the emptiness.

It feels less like a loss and much more like an awareness of something he's never had. Something he wants and needs and must have no matter what, because, whatever it is, it's important. He can feel, deep within that empty space, that everything about it is important, life-or-death, and, apparently, annoying. But worth it.

Jeremy doesn't go to school for a week. He doesn't even need to feign how fragile he's feeling; he can barely find the energy to eat, let alone doing anything else. He lays in bed, curled in a ball and facing the wall, and wonders if the throb will ever go away.

It doesn't—well, it will, though not for years yet—but it slowly dissipates into something manageable. He slips back into his old life and no one seems to notice that he doesn't mesh with it as well as he once did.

Jeremy sits beside Grace, a pretty girl with soft curls and brown skin, on the first day of classes when he starts university. They exchange names, but it's all so new and overwhelming that neither of them really talks. It isn't until a week later when Jeremy's pen explodes, leaking ink over his hand and his notebook, that they have their first actual conversation.

Grace, his mind supplies as her name when he leans toward her to ask for a pen, but his mouth blurts out, "Gwen?" She turns, surprised, and Jeremy interrupts before she can even open her mouth, "Sorry. Grace," he says. "I don't think I'm all here this morning."

Grace shrugs, smiling. "It's alright, Mer—Mar—?"

"Jeremy," Jeremy supplies, and Grace blushes.

"Oh! I'm sorry. I thought—I don't know, for some reason I thought your name was," she pauses, as if searching for what was on the tip of her tongue, and finally tries, "Marlin?"

"Nope," Jeremy says. He grins and finds her returning it, almost tentatively. "Could I, er, borrow a pen?"

"Of course," Grace says, pulling one out of her bag and handing it over.

And then they're friends, as if they hadn't just met but were sweeping back into a steady routine after years apart. Jeremy realises that she alleviates the emptiness slightly, distracts him from it with her bright eyes and stuttering awkwardness. He almost kisses her, slowly getting up the nerve, until the dragon whispers he needs you into his dreams, and the idea crashes and burns.

A year and a pub crawl later, Jeremy tips through his front door with Grace and Will in tow. Grace is giggling into his shoulder, unable to stifle the noise properly, and Will's eyes are starting to flicker with the look that is always followed by bawdy, terrible, loud singing.

Jeremy tries shushing him before it starts, but it comes out as, "SHHHH," instead of the whisper he'd intended, and Grace giggles harder at his surprise.

They manage to make it upstairs without waking up his mother—or falling to the ground in a pile of limbs when Will stumbled halfway—and Jeremy lets Grace commandeer the spare room while he and Will slip into his.

Will drops to the bed like a stone and Jeremy opens his mouth to complain. He doesn't even get the irritated, "Wiiiill," out before the snoring starts with long, deafeningly breaths.

Jeremy lets himself land in his chair and resigns himself to sleeping there, resting his head in the crook of his elbow on the desk.

He wakes with a crick in his neck a few hours later. It's still dark and he fumbles his way to the bathroom, the fullness of his bladder no longer avoidable. He's sobered a little now, hovering somewhere between completely pissed and the beginnings of an awful hangover that he plans to blame entirely on Will.

When he gets back to his room, Jeremy reaches blindly into one of the desk drawers, sure he had some pain killers in it somewhere. His fingers touch something hard and cold, metallic, and he thinks that tomorrow, when it's light, he'll pull it out and figure out what it is because he can't, for the life of him, think what it might be right now. He grasps the packet of tablets then, the foil of it crackling softly, and he accidentally slams the drawer as it closes it.

The next morning, the metal object in his drawer pales beside the way his stomach gurgles menacingly every time he moves. Later, he resolves, and then forgets again.

The broken compass is found, eventually, months later, when Jeremy decides to move out. He starts culling the contents of his room in preparation, getting to the desk on the second day. He pulls open the drawers, dragging everything out in handfuls and dumping them on his bed to be sorted.

The compass bounces when it hits his mattress, too close to the edge, and falls to the floor. Jeremy kneels beside it, and slowly draws it into the palm of his hand. It's cold and heavy, almost thrumming with energy. He opens it carefully and it whirs as if confused for a moment before settling, like it always has, at some point southwards.

It's broken.

It isn't. You'll see. One day.

Remembrance makes his chest twist, and Jeremy's fingers curl around it, pressing it shut in his hand. He thinks that maybe that day might be near. If he doesn't quite see yet, he will. The compass is calling to him; pulling and pushing and pressing. Losing patience.

He thinks of the emptiness; intuition, or maybe the compass, whispers to him that this, this will remove it, fill it, set him free.

He rolls a die across a map of the world he'll never remember why he owns, because the compass—and it has to be the compass; he wouldn't know any other way—presses a thought into his mind: Not here, it says. Not in Europe. The die lands, the two side up, near the bottom of the east coast of Australia. Jeremy lifts it from the worn paper and beneath it is Melbourne.

He uses the money he'd begun saving to buy a one-way ticket, not sure how long he'll be away from home.

"I'm going to find myself," Jeremy says, because the truth is too farfetched for even him to believe completely. He's going off on a whim, following a broken compass; it's nonsensical and idiotic if he stops to think, but there's something missing and, somehow, he knows that the compass will take him to it. To him.

"You're going to find yourself," Will echoes, incredulous.

Jeremy shrugs defensively. "Yeah."

"In Australia?"

"Yeah," and it sounds ludicrous the way Will puts it, but he doesn't understand. Jeremy has to do this; to know, to be sure. If it ends in nothing, he doesn't know what he'll do but—but he'll put himself back together and come home. He just needs to be sure.

The plane ride is insanely long and Jeremy is wound tight because of something he can't quite explain. The compass sits in his pocket, much like it had when he was a child, only leaving it throughout the past weeks when Jeremy tugs it out to stare at the needle as it shivers. It's growing surer, he thinks during the flight, of Jeremy's destination. It's less shaky now, steadier, as the flight progresses.

On the second plane, as they are finally soaring above land, above Australia, Jeremy pulls the compass out again and watches it.

The man beside him glances over and snorts with laughter. "That thing's broken, mate," he says.

Jeremy smiles. "It isn't. It's pointing exactly where it's meant to."

"If you say so," the man replies, shaking his head like he thinks Jeremy's a little off.

He's probably right, Jeremy figures and lets his smile turn stupid.

The first thing Jeremy's eyes find as he follows the stream of people into the airport is a man. He's blonde, tall and muscular, and Jeremy knows without needing to look that his eyes are a brilliant blue. Without really thinking about it, he reaches into his pocket and draws out the compass. It is pointing forward, dead-on and unwavering. Arthur, his mind offers as easy as breathing, and he knows it's true.

Arthur steps forward, both uncertain and sure; confused and comprehending. "Merlin?" he says, voice shaking and slipping up an octave into a question.

Jeremy sees a long red cloak secured around Arthur's throat and a gold crown, shining brightly under the fluorescent lights, on his head, only for a moment, and then his vision slips back to the black suit, simple but tasteful. Everything makes sense suddenly. "Arthur," he replies, and then he smiles, the corners of his mouth straining to let it grow across his face because it just isn't big enough for the way he feels.

Arthur smiles then, too, and he's moved close enough that Jeremy—Merlin?—can see the blue of his eyes and his slightly crooked teeth. The empty tightness in his chest swells and fills in this moment, in this airport near the bottom of the world, with this man who he has known for a lifetime but never met.

It feels, bizarrely, like he's just found himself.