Merlin felt the entire world freeze as the arrow pierced Arthur's heart. He wasn't entirely certain that the world hadn't frozen, that his magic hadn't stuck everyone in their place. All he knew was that he couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. Arthur's fingers relaxed, breaking the stillness that had fallen over the area. Suddenly there were more sounds and movement than Merlin could track. None of it mattered.
Arthur's sword hit the ground first. His body followed shortly after. Merlin knew he was screaming, but he couldn't hear it, he couldn't hear anything. He ran, not bothering to dodge or move between the combatants. They flew out of his way, both friends and foes, but the foes didn't get back up again after they landed. He was exposing himself. Everyone would know he was a wizard but he didn't care.
His magic was out of control. Arrows turned midair and sped back towards the archers that had fired them, spent arrows lifting off of the ground to join the barrage, leaving the enemy archers stuck like human pincushions. Swords were being lowered as the combatants on both sides slowly started to notice the mage in their midst, but that didn't stop his magic from striking out at anything he viewed as an enemy. Men were ripped apart, barely having time to scream before their lives were cut short.
He felt nothing.
Arthur's body had landed on the ground between a large rock and a fallen tree. It formed a sheltered hollow, the perfect cover from the fight raging around him. No amount of cover could help Arthur now. Merlin fell to his knees next to Arthur. The blonde prince turned to look at him. His eyes focused on Merlin for a brief moment and then closed. Arthur stopped breathing.
Destiny shattered and Merlin broke with it. He screamed, mindless with grief and rage. The forest around them was being ripped to shreds. Distantly, he heard people running. Uther was out there somewhere, out with his troops. Merlin was keeping him from seeing his son. Tears fell from his eyes and he curled in towards Arthur, resting his head on Arthur's chest.
Arthur was dead. His destiny, their destiny, was over. Nothing mattered anymore. He'd failed.
"I'll find you again," he whispered. "I'll find you and I'll fix this."
His magic raged, consuming everything in its path. He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling tired beyond words. He couldn't think anymore. He couldn't control his magic and instead it was controlling him. When the magical tempest finally died, so did he.
He was late. Merlin clutched his notebook close to his chest as he ran down the halls. They were mostly empty. Few students ventured into this section of campus unless they had a reason to be there. For him, it was home.
He'd overslept. The dreams were back again, stronger than ever. Even now, he still felt disconnected and disoriented, like his world wasn't what it was supposed to be.
The doors to the classroom were shut. He skidded to a halt outside the room and paused for a moment to catch his breath. As soon as his breathing evened out, he carefully grabbed the handle and willed it not to make a sound as he opened the door. He slid inside the room and shut the door quietly behind him. The back row was full but there were a number of open seats in the middle. He slid down the third row from the back and was almost into a seat when Professor Gaius turned.
"Ah, Merlin, so glad you could join us."
He winced and dropped his notebook onto the desk.
"Perhaps you would care to summarize last night's reading for the class."
A smile stretched across his face and he leaned against the desk, palms flat against the wood. "Of course, Professor. 'The Dream of Rhonabwy' follows Rhonabwy as he searches for the prince's brother Iorwerth. During his journey, he dreams that he was been transported back to the Arthurian age. In this story, Arthur did not die during the Battle of Camlann..." He felt a shiver pass through him and swallowed around the lump in his throat. "...as the majority of the Arthurian legends hold, but rather lived on. Rhonabwy watches a game of gwyddbwyll – a game like chess - between Arthur and Owain mab Urien, who we read about last week as 'Yvain, the Knight of the Lion'."
From the looks on several of the other students' faces, they hadn't made that connection.
Gaius nodded his approval. "And what does the game stand for?"
He shifted slightly on his feet. "It's an allegory for battle. While they play, Arthur's men harass Owain's ravens and vice versa. When the game ends, so does the conflict between Arthur and Owain, and a truce is called before they arrive at the Battle of Baddon. There are some who believe that the game itself is supernatural in nature, and that a win in gwyddbwyll guarantees a win in battle."
"Correct." Gaius turned back to the board, where he'd been outlining the characters that appeared in 'The Dream of Rhonabwy' and how they related to Arthurian myth.
Merlin slowly lowered himself into his chair. He opened his notebook and dutifully copied down Gaius's notes though he didn't need to. A few of his classmates were watching him. They were all new students. Either this was their first venture into the history department or they'd yet to cross over into Merlin's area of specialty – Arthurian legends. Gaius, of course, knew that, or he wouldn't have put Merlin on the spot as soon as he'd walked in.
He wondered how many of the students here would end up in Merlin's follow-up course next semester.
A sudden headache made him close his eyes for a moment. He forced himself to keep breathing evenly. The power was there, waiting. A small breeze ran through the room, ruffling the papers of his notebook. He clenched his hands underneath the table, bunching up the fabric of his jeans.
When he opened his eyes, Gaius was still lecturing but his eyes kept turning towards Merlin. His vision blurred and he saw Gaius not as he was but older and wearing brown robes. He shook his head to clear his vision and had a strange sense of foreboding.
A pawn captures a pawn and advances forward.
Merlin shivered and stopped taking notes.
Arthur sat beside his father, across from the Prime Minister, Tom Jones. He only gave the meeting half an ear. They were talking about a special museum exhibit that was being set up. His mind and attention drifted. There were days, like today, when he felt like he was destined for more than this, that his life was wasted on meetings and college and social obligations. He was a prince but it meant nothing. There were no princesses to rescue, no dragons to slay, no epic battles waiting for him. That was the stuff of legends. His life was anything but.
"The President of Ireland will be visiting in two weeks time," the Prime Minister said, pulling Arthur's attention back to the meeting. "She'll be bringing her daughter Nimueh with her. We're hoping to coincide her arrival with the exhibit opening. PR is spinning it as a display of our shared cultural heritage."
Uther shot Arthur a pointed look and the prince bit back a groan. He didn't mind visiting dignitaries, but he hated it when they had daughters. It was widely assumed that he was going to marry Guinevere Jones, the Prime Minister's daughter, but that didn't stop his father from throwing every eligible bachelorette of semi-noble birth or high political rank Arthur's way.
He really wished people would stop trying to plan out his life for him.
His phone started to vibrate in his pocket. He palmed the device and slipped it into his lap. Two quick taps on the screen brought up the text message. Gwen wanted to go shopping. He swallowed another groan.
Gaius was waiting for him in his office when Merlin finally finished his classes for the day. He dropped his bag on the desk and pulled a can of soda from the box in the corner. Gaius gave him a stern look from behind Merlin's desk.
"One of these years I'm not going to let you sit in on my class, Merlin."
He shot Gaius his most charming smile. "But then you wouldn't have anyone to talk to in class."
The look Gaius gave him in return was not amused. He turned pointedly to the couch in the corner, now partially obscured by an avalanche of papers. There was a pillow at one end and a rumpled blanket spread across it. Merlin winced. He was busted.
"You have a perfectly adequate, if somewhat unkempt, apartment, Merlin. Perhaps you should consider visiting it sometime."
He blushed and dropped into the wooden chair on the other side of the desk. "I was just there the other day." He neglected to mention that he couldn't remember exactly which day that had been.
Gaius leaned across the desk towards Merlin, his expression concerned. "Is it the nightmares again?"
He stared down at his hands and fiddled with the tab on the soda can. That was answer enough for Gaius.
The older man sighed. His chair squeaked as he leaned back. "Have they gotten worse?"
"Yeah." He nodded and looked over at Gaius. The soda can opened with a loud his. He took a sip, giving him time to order his thoughts. "I keep dreaming about Prince Arthur dying, like it was my fault... like I could have stopped it." He sighed and ran a hand through his messy hair.
The dreams weren't new. He'd been having them for as long as he could remember. They varied, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. Recently they'd become more frequent and more... violent. He dreamed about battles and a dragon. He dreamed about magic, stronger magic than he had now.
Gaius was watching him curiously. "You dreamed about the Battle of Camlann? I think perhaps you've been reading-"
"No." He cut Gaius off. His office suddenly felt colder. He shivered. "It wasn't the Battle of Camlann. It was before that. Long before that, before he was king, before he united Britain." Just thinking about it brought images flooding through his mind. It felt like he'd been there, like he was still there, stuck in time but parts of it were missing. "There was a skirmish. Arthur and Uther were travelling back from visiting one of the neighboring kings. They were ambushed. I was in the back of the line, too far away to do anything."
Even now, hours later, the memory of the dream still brought tears to his eyes. He'd woken up crying but the grief had been quickly buried when he'd realized that he was late for Gaius's class. The dream had been equally sharp and blurry. Parts of it had been crisp. He'd smelled the dirt and leaves around them, felt blood on his hands. Other parts were faint, blurred out as if seen through a fog or haze.
"And the magic?"
Merlin blushed. The papers on his desk shuffled, rearranging themselves into neat piles along the sides. "It keeps getting stronger, all the time but the dreams... the dreams make it act on its own." He paused. That wasn't right. He shook his head. "No. It's reacting. To Arthur's death."
Gaius sighed. "Have you talked to your mother?"
He groaned. "No. Not yet."
He was glad that he had a supportive mother, that she indulged him in his dreams and the magic and his obsession with Arthurian legend, but sometimes it was a bit much. Sometimes she was a bit too supportive. She'd bought him his first book on Arthurian legend, 'The Lost Years of Merlin'. She'd introduced him to Paganism and New Age and occult interpretations of magic until they'd found something that helped him control what was happening to him. She'd encouraged him to study medieval history and supported him through his Masters and now, his Ph.D.
She was also making a killing off of her latest book series about a young Arthur and Merlin solving magical mysteries in King Uther's court. There was talk of a TV series. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.
"Call her," Gaius said as he slowly stood. "She has your best interests at heart."
He said nothing as Gaius walked out. The door shut, leaving Merlin alone with his books. The avalanche of papers on the couch righted themselves into a pile on the round table at the foot of the couch. Food wrappers and soda cans slid into the trash can. His bookshelves tidied themselves until the books were once more aligned and in order.
It was a bit sad that his usual pick-me-up when depressed was magically cleaning whatever room he was in. He must have been a servant in the past life.
A flier slid across his desk, reminding him that there was a new book out on Sir Gawain that he wanted to pick up. He glanced at the couch and debated. It wasn't a tough decision. If he slept, he'd dream and he wasn't quite ready to go back to that yet. He grabbed the flier and his coat and headed out the door.
The pawn moved forward.
Arthur stared at the shelves in front of him with mild horror. "You don't seriously read this trash?"
Gwen shot him a dirty look. "Yes, I read that 'trash'. Your sister does too, by the way. You should try reading some time. It might help add some actual intelligence inside that dense skull of yours."
He snorted. "I read."
"Playboy does not count."
He tucked his hands in his pocket and glanced around. The book store was thankfully empty, and no one seemed to have recognized either of them. Yet. He looked back at Gwen.
"You don't read Playboy. And, besides, I do read. Real books, with thick covers and big words and everything."
She pulled one of the books off of the shelves. It was pink and had a scantily clad woman on the front. Gwen flipped it over, staring at the back while she spoke. "Really? What was the last book you read?"
He thought. "War and Peace."
She glared at him. "That was in college."
"I never said that I liked to read, just that I had."
She put her book back and pulled another one. "That doesn't count."
He shot her a look but didn't argue. He did read, sometimes. It wasn't his fault that most books were boring. Maybe he'd pick up something with swords and sorcery and dragons. That might be interesting. He moved a bit down the row and started scanning titles. One of the books caught his eye. It had dragons in the title. Gwen watched him as he pulled the book off the shelf and scanned the back. Her smile shifted wider.
"You know, that's the wrong section to be looking in if you want to dispel rumors about being gay."
"What?" He stared between her and the bookshelf, confused.
She pointed at the section in front of her. "Straight romance." She pointed in front of him. "Gay romance."
A look of horror spread across his face. She started laughing.
"That's not funny."
He threw the book at her, suddenly feeling childish and out of sorts. She ducked. The person walking around the corner behind her wasn't so lucky. Arthur cringed as it hit the young man square in the forehead. The man wobbled but stayed upright, his hand shooting out to grab onto the bookshelf to steady himself.
"Are you alright?"
The man looked up at him. He had messy black hair and large ears. His face was rather boyish. His eyes sparkled strangely and seemed a bit out of focus. Arthur stepped forward, concerned that the man hadn't answered him.
"Are you alright?"
When the man didn't answer, he gently touched the man's forehead, checking for a lump. A jolt of electricity shot through him. He tried to pull his hand back but it wouldn't move. The man shivered. Behind him, Arthur heard Gwen squawk as books fell off the shelves around him. Arthur stared. The man's eyes were glowing blue. A strange feeling passed through him. He felt like he knew this man.
Suddenly he could move again. He pulled his hand away as the man's eyes rolled back in his head. The strange man fell backwards, landing on a pile of books.
"Dear lord, is he alright?" Gwen asked from right behind Arthur.
"We have to go." He needed to get out of here. He needed to go.
"What?" Gwen protested. He ignored her, grabbing her hand and pulling her from the store.
A name stuck in his mind as they walked out and he knew, without really knowing how he knew, that it belonged to the strange young man. The name was Merlin.
Merlin woke with a startled gasp. He shot upright in bed. At the edge of his slowly returning consciousness he registered confusion. This wasn't his room or any room that he recognized, but the confusion was secondary in importance to the wealth of information that was flooding into his brain. He remembered. Everything. It all made sense now - his dreams, the magic, Arthur.
"Merlin!" His mother's concerned voice cut through him. He winced at the lingering pain in his head.
"Not so loud, please, mother."
Hunith bustled through the doorway and into the tiny room. Hospital, he vaguely identified, though he had no idea how he'd gotten here. The last thing he remembered was being in the bookstore and Arthur – that had to have been Arthur, even though he'd been wearing a hat and sunglasses and trying to hide his features, Merlin still knew that he'd met, touched Prince Arthur – had touched him. When Arthur's hand had connected with his head, he'd felt a spark and then it was like the gates of his mind had been opened. He'd seen everything, remembered everything about who they'd been.
"Are you alright?" Hunith asked. She hovered at the edge of his bed and took his hand in hers. "What happened? They said you passed out in the bookstore."
He suddenly remembered why the front of his head hurt so much. The door slammed across the room. "That prat threw a book at me!"
Hunith arched an eyebrow. "Prat?"
"Arthur!" He groaned and clutched his head as it throbbed in pain again.
He could feel Arthur, like they were connected now, bound together by a thin string of fate. There were other strings too, reaching out from him to form a web of destiny. They were all part of it – him, his mother, Arthur, Gaius. Destiny was pulling them all together, trying to mirror the past.
"Arthur? Did you have another dream?"
He heard voices down the hall. A nurse was coming to check on him.
"Yes," he answered automatically, then thought about what she must have assumed. "No. That was different. I met the real Arthur, the present-day Prince Arthur, and the prat threw a book at me." He gestured towards the bruise he felt on his forehead.
"Really!?" Hunith leaned forward. "What was he like?"
He bit back his automatic response. He remembered what Arthur had been like – annoying, incorrigible, arrogant, adorable, charming, the most handsome man alive.... Merlin shook his head to dispel those thoughts. They'd gotten him nowhere in his past life, he doubted he'd get anywhere thinking like that in this life.
"I don't really know. I walked into the aisle he was standing in, a book hit me on the head, and I..." remembered everything... "passed out." He paused. If there was anyone who would believe him, it was his mother. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"
The door opened, cutting off Hunith's response. A confused looking nurse walked in, followed by a doctor. His mother stood, intercepting them. Merlin settled back against the bed. His head hurt. He wanted to see Arthur again.
The opposing queen stepped forward.
Arthur pasted a smile on his face and bowed to each of the dignitaries from Ireland. Beside him, his sister Morgana curtsied and murmured pleasantries for the both of them.
"Do you believe in destiny?" He whispered between bows.
She glanced sideways and curtsied again. Her smile turned sharp around the edges. "You mean like how you're destined to be a complete idiot until the day you die?"
He barely resisted the urge to glare. "I mean like how people are destined to do certain things or destined to meet certain people?"
The last of the dignitaries passed and they shifted back towards the edges of the throne room, safely out of earshot of anyone besides the palace guards.
Morgana grinned at him. "Aww, does someone have a crush?"
He did glare this time, but he kept it short, the look there and gone in a second. "No. I just met someone the other day and we... connected. I can't stop thinking about him." It wasn't a crush. He wasn't even attracted to the other man. Okay, maybe a little but seriously, who had ears that big?
"What's his name?" Morgana sounded far too smug.
He started to answer, to say 'Merlin' and then stopped himself. "I don't know. He was kind of passing out at the time."
Morgana giggled. Arthur rolled his eyes. She was having far too much fun mocking him, but that was fairly standard for his life. "Aww, did he faint at the sight of your handsome visage?"
A blush painted his cheeks and he groaned at the memory. "No. I kind of... hithimintheheadwithabook." The last part came out as a rush of sounds.
She raised an eyebrow. "What?"
He sighed and shifted on his feet. In front of them, Uther was giving a speech on how great it was to have the Irish President and her daughter visiting and how close their two nations were. The daughter, Nimueh, was looking at him with a smug smile. He didn't like her.
"I hit him in the head with a book."
Morgana stared at him. "Why?" She drew the word out and he winced at the accusing tone.
Arthur squirmed. "I didn't mean to. I was trying to hit Gwen."
Morgana's eyes narrowed and Arthur knew that if they weren't in public, she would have hit him. He flinched anyways, remembering how hard she hit.
"Like that makes it any better."
Gwen stood near the other end of the room, mixed in with the councilmen and staff. She got to sit and not be stared at. Arthur's envy knew no bounds.
"Did you at least apologize?" Morgana asked.
He flinched, knowing that his next words would definitely earn him a smack as soon as they were out of the throne room. "No, he sort of passed out and we left before the media caught wind of it."
If looks could kill, Arthur would be a smoldering pile of ash on the floor. He shifted slightly away from his sister.
She glared at him for a moment longer and then visibly calmed. Her gaze turned forward, and outwardly it seemed as if she was paying rapt attention to Uther's words.
Minutes passed before she spoke again. "If you're meant to see each other again, you will. Destiny has a strange way of pulling people together."
He certainly hoped so. He had a feeling that he'd need Merlin before too long.
"I'm fine," Merlin repeated for what felt like the hundredth time.
Hunith started to ask how his head felt again. He hung up and turned the ringer off on his phone. The books in his arms threatened to topple as he reached for the door handle. They stopped midair, holding their place as he opened the door and staying there until he wrapped his arms securely around them again.
Gaius sat behind Merlin's chest. Merlin shut the door with a groan and then let go of his pile of books. They floated into place around the room.
"Did mother send you to check up on me?"
He dropped onto the couch and threw an arm over his eyes to block out the faint light in the room. His head hurt again. His head seemed to constantly hurt, ever since he'd had that dream, the morning he'd met Arthur.
"Do you need checked up on?"
Merlin would have glared but moving seemed like far too much effort. He groaned instead.
"Like I told mom, I'm fine, really."
He heard the chair squeak as Gaius shifted. "So you don't believe you're the reincarnation of the wizard Merlin?"
This time he did glare. "Nope, still believe that, thank you."
"I'm not trying to mock you."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I can see that. You just think I'm batty."
Gaius gave him a stern look. "You have a head injury."
"Had," he corrected. "I'm fine now."
They both knew he was lying. He quickly changed the subject.
Merlin stared up at the ceiling. "You know, it's nothing like the legends. Most of them say that Merlin was a lot older, that he'd shaped Arthur's destiny and raised him to be a great king, but that's not at all what it was like." He closed his eyes. It felt like he was back there, still walking the halls of Camelot. "We were the same age. I was Arthur's servant and Arthur... he was a great prat, but he would have been an amazing king. He would have united the land and magic would have returned, grown back to the level it was meant to be."
"But he died."
Memories started to flood in on him and he snapped his eyes open. The grief of Arthur's death never quite left him, always hanging at the back of his consciousness, threatening to overwhelm him.
"Yes," he said, slightly proud that he didn't choke on the word, not this time. "Yes, he died because I failed to protect him. It was my destiny to make him into a great king and I failed."
"Perhaps you've been given a second chance."
Merlin stared. Sometimes he felt like Gaius was just humoring him because Merlin was his nephew and his favorite student. But then Gaius would say something like he just had and Merlin knew that he really got it, that he understood how much this strange destiny meant to Merlin.
"Do you think he's in danger?"
As soon as Gaius said the words, he knew. Merlin gasped and his whole body tensed. Images flooded his brain, swirling too fast to get a clear picture but throughout them all one face stood out. He knew that face. He'd killed the woman who held that face.
Merlin sat up quickly. His breaths came harshly. "Dear gods, Nimueh."
"The Lady of the Lake?"
He shook his head. "Yes. No. She was a sorceress." Pain shot through his head and he pressed one hand to his forehead. "She wanted to kill Arthur as revenge, because she hated Uther for outlawing magic."
Gaius was watching him carefully. "And you think she's a danger?"
He nodded and then groaned as it caused his head to hurt. A bottle of aspirin and can of soda floated over to him. Two pills floated in front of him. He popped the pills and took a swig from the already open can.
"She's here. I can feel it. It's like everything's coming back full circle – me, you, Arthur, Morgana, Guinevere, Lancelot, Nimueh. Destiny's bringing us all back together again and I'm not quite sure how it's going to end. I'm not sure what's going to happen if Arthur dies again."
Gaius raised an eyebrow. "You think I'm involved?"
Merlin shifted in his seat. He'd yet to mention much of what he remembered to anyone. "You were my mentor in the past life. Mother – Hunith – sent me to study with you in Camelot. You were the king's physician, and you taught me magic. You had a book, knew a bit of the old ways."
The look Gaius shot him was entirely skeptical but he remained silent for several long minutes. Finally Gaius stood.
"I think you need to rest."
Merlin's heart fell. He flopped back on the couch. Gaius walked over and pulled the blanket over Merlin's body. He paused and stared down at Merlin.
"If, like you say, destiny is bringing us all together, I don't think you need to worry. You're a different man that you were then. You're all different. If Arthur is truly in any danger, I trust that you'll save him."
Gaius started to move away. Merlin closed his eyes. He heard Gaius start to open the door.
"I was going to wait until I was sure you were well, but the Museum of London is opening a new exhibit on Arthurian Legend. They claim to have gathered real artifacts from the age." Merlin's eyes opened and he turned to look at Gaius. "We've been invited, as has Prince Arthur. You'll get to see him again in two days."
The door closed but Merlin found that sleep was impossible. He was going to see Arthur again.
Destiny was moving forward. He only hoped that he'd be ready for it.
The pawn captured a bishop. The queen waited.
Arthur's glass nearly slipped from his hand. He stared. Morgana gave him a questioning look then both Morgana and Gwen turned to follow his gaze. Gwen squealed slightly and tugged on Arthur's sleeve.
"That's him! That's the man from the bookstore."
Morgana gave the man a brief once-over. She smiled. "Not a bad choice, Arthur. I quite approve." She placed a hand on the small of his back and shoved, causing his drink to slosh onto his hand. "Now get over there and apologize."
He glared at her. "I don't need to-"
She smacked him, hard, cutting off what he was going to say.
"Fine." He downed his wine and dropped the empty glass on a table.
The man didn't appear to have noticed Arthur yet. His back was towards Arthur as he studied a sword set in the center of the display room. It was supposed to be Excalibur but Arthur had his doubts. He paused next to Merlin and turned to look at the sword. Even for a fake, it was extraordinarily well done. The hilt was gilded and there was a strange series of letters down the blade.
"It's not real," the man said before Arthur could speak up.
Arthur looked over at him but the man was still staring at the sword. "Oh?"
"The real one's at the bottom of a lake. It wasn't this fancy."
Arthur raised an eyebrow but couldn't bring himself to question it. The man spoke like he knew and there was something in Arthur that told him to implicitly trust the man.
After a moment, the man turned. "Hi." He held out his hand. "I'm Merlin Emrys."
"Arthur Pendragon." He took Merlin's hand. Their flesh touched and once more he felt that strange connection, like destiny was pulling them together.
"I know," Merlin said. "We've met."
"Sorry." He gestured towards Merlin's forehead. There was still a faint bruise there, partially hidden by the fall of Merlin's hair.
Merlin shifted on his feet, falling into a stance that reminded him of Morgana. He arched an eyebrow. "You threw a book at me."
Strangers should not be able to make him feel this guilty. "I didn't mean to. I was trying to hit Gwen."
"Like that makes it any better."
He had a strange feeling of déjà vu. Arthur stared at Merlin. "Have you been talking to Morgana?"
Merlin blushed suddenly and seemed out of sorts. He shifted his gaze back to the sword. "No," Merlin answered too quickly. "We've never met."
Someone was watching them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nimueh hovered in one of the alcoves, talking with King Uther. Merlin shifted beside him and glanced in the same direction. Whatever it was that bothered Arthur about Nimueh, he knew Merlin felt it too. He shifted.
"Want to get a drink?"
Merlin glanced over at him and nodded. Arthur led the way, moving back towards the entrance of the museum where they'd set up an open bar.
"Are you a fan of Arthurian legends?" Arthur asked as they walked. The exhibit opening was a closed event, so Merlin must have had some connection to the museum in order to be invited. He would have remembered if any of the politicians had a son named Merlin.
"You could say that." Merlin looked uncomfortable for a moment. "I'm a professor actually. I teach Medieval Literature with Professor Gaius Emrys." He pointed towards a gray-haired man on the opposite side of the room. "My focus is Arthurian Legend."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "You're a professor?" Merlin seemed young for a professor. He appeared to be close to Arthur's age.
"Assistant Professor. I'm still in graduate school, finishing up my Ph.D."
"Ah." He grinned suddenly. "Isn't that weird, though? I mean, I'm Arthur Pendragon, Guinevere is over there." He pointed. "You're Merlin. All we need now is Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table."
Merlin blushed suddenly and coughed. "I know Lancelot actually."
They reached the bar. "So you're friends with Lancelot? Coincidence is a scary thing." Arthur picked up two glasses of white wine and handed one to Merlin, who downed his quickly.
"Ex-boyfriend, actually." Suddenly all of Arthur's attention was on Merlin. His body felt hot. "And I don't believe in coincidence."
A grin spread across Arthur's face and he switched Merlin's glass with a full one. Suddenly his night was looking a lot better.
Merlin giggled, though he wasn't sure what he was giggling at or why. The joke Arthur had told wasn't even that funny, he just knew that he wanted to laugh suddenly and couldn't stop. Arthur's arm was around his shoulders and he leaned against Merlin, his body pressing against Merlin's in a way that made his skin tingle. He was fairly certain that he hadn't gotten his keys properly in the lock, but the door had opened for him anyways. The lights flickered on as they entered.
If Arthur noticed anything odd, he didn't say anything about it. "You live here?" The prince's voice was a mix between curiosity and disgust.
"No," he giggled, "I just thought it'd be fun to break into some other Arthurian-obsessed history nut's apartment."
The room was slowly cleaning itself. Socks slid out of the way to hide under the couch. Garbage rolled through the shadows to bounce into the trash can. He had a feeling the kitchen and bedroom were being less covert.
Arthur was too busy staring at Merlin's packed bookshelves to notice. "Did you actually read all of these?"
He felt himself automatically slipping into his old insolence. It was a reflex. He couldn't help himself. "No, they're decoration." He rolled his eyes behind Arthur's back. "Of course I did, you prat." Then he giggled again. He'd called the prince a prat. It felt good, right.
Arthur turned suddenly to stare at him. "What did you call me?"
He couldn't stop giggling. "Prat." It seemed funnier than it should be.
After a moment, Arthur grinned back at him. "Come here and I'll show you just how much of a 'prat' I am."
Merlin stepped closer. His giggling stopped as Arthur's mouth closed over his. A tongue slipped inside of his mouth. It felt amazing. His hands spread across Arthur's chest and it was like he was touching a live wire. Arthur's hands slid down Merlin's back to cup his ass and he groaned into the prince's mouth.
"Fuck," Merlin cursed as soon as Arthur pulled away to breathe in a quick gasp of air.
Arthur's smile turned smug. "I'll take that as an invitation."
Sometimes, destiny was an amazing thing. He grabbed Arthur's shirt and pulled the blonde towards his bedroom. In their last life, he hadn't been sure of Arthur's orientation, but apparently, sometime between now and then, Arthur had taken an appreciation for men. He wasn't going to complain. Merlin wasn't sure how long he'd been in love with Arthur. He hadn't even realized it, hadn't had a name for his attraction until he'd seen Arthur killed before his eyes.
The memories of Arthur's death threatened to crowd in on him again but he fought them off. Arthur's skin was warm beneath his hands. He peeled Arthur's shirt off and pressed the prince down onto his bed. His lips found the spot where the arrow had pierced Arthur's chest, right over his heart, and he kissed there, licking and kissing the skin over and over again while his hands worked on the button of Arthur's pants. His own clothes were similarly being stripped away but he pulled back before Arthur could open his pants.
Merlin dropped to his knees and stripped the last of Arthur's clothes off. He barely gave Arthur time to register the change in position before he was leaning forward, one hand closing around Arthur's burgeoning erection, holding the flesh steady as his mouth descended. He sucked in a deep lungful of air before swallowing Arthur down to the base. Arthur's erection pressed against the back of his mouth. It felt wonderful.
Apparently Arthur agreed with Merlin. He moaned in pleasure and grasped Merlin's hair tightly. How many times had he fantasized about doing this during his lifetime? He'd thought his attraction had just been based on looks. Arthur was a handsome man and Merlin had known since he was young that he was attracted to handsome men. Lancelot was proof of that, as were the rest of Merlin's past boyfriends. But it was more than that. He lusted after Arthur because he was Arthur, the man who shared his destiny, who was his king, his prat, his everything.
He could have come just from this. His mouth was full of Arthur and he could taste him, all the way in the back of his throat. He sucked greedily, filling the apartment with loud, wet noises as he bobbed his head up and down.
"Merlin," Arthur gasped. He tugged on Merlin's hair.
He looked up but didn't stop moving.
Arthur groaned. "Get up here."
He pulled off of Arthur with a lewd pop. Arthur's hands helped him to his feet and then pushed him down onto his back on the bed.
"Do you have lube?" Arthur asked. That was probably the best thing Merlin had ever heard him says.
The bedside drawer opened seconds before his hand touched it. The bottle of lube jumped into his hand. Arthur was pulling his wallet out of his discarded pants. He retrieved a foil packet from the wallet and then let the wallet fall back to the floor. The foil packet was opened and tossed to the side. Merlin watched with interest as Arthur rolled a condom down his erection.
He started to uncap the lube but Arthur took it from him.
"Have you ever done this before?"
Merlin raised an eyebrow and wrapped his legs around Arthur's waist. "No, I just magically learned to deep throat all on my-"
Two slick fingers pressed inside of him, cutting off the rest of Merlin's retort. He moaned in appreciation and arched into Arthur's touch. Another finger joined the others, rubbing inside of Merlin and stretching him expertly.
"Ah!" Merlin shifted his legs until he could get enough leverage to push against Arthur's fingers. "I see... you've done this... before too."
Arthur just smirked at him and curled his fingers. Merlin bucked in pleasure.
After another minute, Arthur's fingers pulled out. He untangled Merlin's legs and turned him, positioning Merlin up on his hands and knees. Merlin groaned his appreciation and gripped his pillow. The mattress shifted as Arthur moved forward. Hands gripped Merlin by the hips. He was never going to get used to the thrill that shot through him every time Arthur touched him. Then Arthur was pushing into him and it was so much better than anything Merlin had felt before.
Arthur filled him. His erection was hot and thick inside of Merlin, stretching him. He shivered in pleasure and gripped the pillow. His senses were suddenly on full alert. He felt everything, every point where skin touched skin tingled, afire with sensation. Merlin moaned loudly and buried his face in his pillow.
He had a feeling that he was going to be loud tonight.
Fingers dug into his sides, not enough to bruise, but enough to reinforce that Arthur was in control. He started to move. The pillow barely muffled the wanton sounds Merlin was making. He bit into the fabric as Arthur slammed his hips forward, making Merlin keen.
"God, you feel good," Arthur gasped from behind him.
Merlin whimpered in response and pushed backwards as Arthur slammed forward, forcing Arthur deeper inside of him. It felt amazing. He wanted this, wanted Arthur inside of him forever.
He was going to have trouble walking straight tomorrow. Arthur's gentleness was slipping and Merlin encouraged it. He wanted it that way and he moved to tell Arthur so.
"Ah!" He should have kept his head down. His voice was too loud. He hoped his neighbors weren't home, otherwise he'd never be able to look them in the face again. "Harder," he gasped. "Please, Arthur, fuck me harder. Want it. So much. Want you. Gods, please."
Arthur pulled out suddenly and Merlin almost cried, afraid that Arthur was going to go away, was going to leave him like this, hot and needy and so close to the edge. Instead Arthur turned them, pushing Merlin down onto his back and shoving inside of him again. Merlin gasped and forgot how to breathe as Arthur pushed Merlin's legs up towards his head, opening him up wide.
"Hold these," Arthur commanded.
Merlin whimpered and did as he was told. He wrapped his arms around his knees and held himself open for Arthur. The prince's hands moved back down to his hips, gripping tightly and pulling Merlin towards him each time his hips slammed forward. Merlin was being loud but he couldn't bring himself to stop. Then Arthur leaned forward, pressing Merlin's legs back towards the mattress as he kissed Merlin deeply.
He screamed as he came, the sound mostly drowned out by Arthur's mouth over his own. His magic surged, bridging the gap between Arthur and Merlin and connecting them for a brief moment. He felt Arthur, deeply, intimately, and it wasn't just that Arthur was physically inside of him, suddenly he was emotionally and mentally inside of him. He felt what Arthur felt – the delight at making Merlin scream for him, the pleasure when Merlin tightened around him, the wonder and confusion as he suddenly realized that he was feeling things that weren't his own.
Merlin? Arthur thought.
Arthur. He answered in kind.
Then the connection was gone, leaving Merlin feel suddenly bereft. He gasped, arching up into Arthur reflexively. Belatedly he realized that Arthur had come as well. He was still inside of Merlin but the hardness had faded. He was in no hurry for Arthur to move.
Arthur was staring at him but Merlin couldn't speak, couldn't do anything until his magic settled. He pressed his hands against Arthur's chest. There was still a faint part of him that was connected. That thread that connected them, the web of destiny that entwined them all, had just tightened. Instinctively he knew that he could now find Arthur, wherever he went. Merlin's magic had bound them together.
"I think I'm too drunk for any of what just happened to make sense," Arthur said suddenly.
Laughter ripped through him. He wrapped his arms around Arthur and kissed him soundly. "That's fine. Sleep?" He felt like he could sleep for days.
Arthur's expression shifted to a grin. "Yeah." He pulled out of Merlin and tied off the condom before tossing it into the garbage can. Merlin grabbed a handful of tissues to clean them both off.
He couldn't stop smiling as Arthur rolled them until Arthur was pressed against Merlin's back. Arthur pressed a kiss against Merlin's neck and then settled down to sleep, apparently uncaring that they were both naked and exposed to plain view. The blanket that had been kicked to the foot of the bed earlier stretched over them. Arthur murmured softly and shifted tighter against Merlin's back.
That night, Merlin didn't dream.
The pawn captured a knight. The king advanced forward.
Arthur felt different. He wasn't quite sure how he was different, he just knew he was. Somehow, during his night with Merlin – his wonderful, incredibly hot night with Merlin – he'd changed. He wasn't the same person that he had been yesterday. He felt... whole.
Morgana had been giving him strange looks all day, ever since he'd walked into the palace that morning wearing the same clothes he'd gone to the exhibit opening in. She finally cornered him shortly after lunch. Arthur grunted slightly as he was suddenly shoved into one of the private reception rooms.
"Spill," Morgana demanded.
He stared at her and squinted. There were two of her there, the vision of one overlaying the other. Both of them were still recognizably Morgana, but the other, the one not physically standing in front of him, seemed colder, more refined. It was strange seeing a fine gown overlaid on top of Morgana's jeans and t-shirt. He quickly shook his head. The double Morgana disappeared.
A sharp fingernail pressed into his chest. "You. You've been out of it since you got in this morning. Do you know how hard it was to keep Uther from issuing a city-wide search for you after you disappeared last night?" She smirked suddenly, her grin a touch too vicious for his taste. "Merlin was gone too. I don't suppose you happened to have noticed."
He coughed and felt his face heat. "I may have noticed."
Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't!"
Arthur quickly stepped around her and further into the room, away from the door and any chance of being overheard. He glared at her, suddenly angry. He was prince and she was only his father's ward. She wasn't supposed to talk to him like that. He would rule their kingdom one day.
He froze. Where had those thoughts come from? Morgana was his sister, his full, biological sister. If it weren't for the slight difference in their ages, she would be the one to inherit, not him.
"What in the world is going on with you?" Morgana asked.
"I don't rightly know." He shook his head again but the strange set of other memories still lingered at the back of his consciousness.
There was something else as well. He felt a connection to Merlin, like nothing he'd felt before. If he closed his eyes, he knew he could point, without error, exactly to where Merlin was. He could almost feel him, just at the edge of his mind, like a solid presence that refused to go away. It was both comforting and disconcerting at the same time.
"I think I'm in love," he blurted suddenly.
Morgana took the admission in stride. "With Merlin?" There was no censure in her voice but also no approval as well.
She should approve. They were friends – her and Gwen and Merlin and Lancelot. He paused again. They'd never met Lancelot. Aside from the brief encounters in the museum and the bookstore, the girls had never met Merlin either, and yet he felt like they should have, like they were all connected and destined to be connected.
"Yeah," he answered after a minute. Morgana was staring at him. She seemed concerned. "I'm in love with Merlin."
He always had been, he realized, ever since he first met Merlin, a lifetime ago. That was the key to it. Past lives, past destinies. He'd been Prince Arthur from the legends, never the king because his life had ended too early, but he'd still been the legend, the real, living, breathing legend. He remembered.
"You do realize your father is going to have a fit." Arthur stared at Morgana. He'd forgotten that she was even in the room.
"Let him. I'm not losing Merlin a second time."
She stared at him. "A second time?"
He ignored her and started towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Morgana sounded annoyed, which never boded well for him, not in either of his lifetimes.
"To find Merlin."
They needed to have a long talk.
Merlin was not having a good day. He'd woken up sore and alone, in his own bed for a change instead of the office couch, which meant he was once more late for class. He had a feeling some of the other students in Gaius's class were starting to figure out that he knew more than he was letting on. And, to top it all off, he'd answered one of Gaius's questions wrong.
Well, that wasn't entirely right. He'd answered the question how he remembered it instead of how legend dictated. Thankfully Gaius had covered for him but he still felt like a complete and utter idiot. Next he was going to start teaching it wrong and then the whole department would be in an uproar.
He thought his day couldn't get any worse and then he opened his office to find a certain blonde prat sitting behind his desk. Merlin groaned and kicked the door shut behind him.
"One of these days, someone will come see me and actually sit on the other side of the desk," he muttered to himself.
Arthur quirked an eyebrow at him and smiled cockily. His feet were up on Merlin's desk, probably getting dirt all over his papers.
He glared and magically shoved Arthur's feet off the desk. He was being petty, but he felt that he deserved a bit of pettiness today.
"Thanks," he growled and slammed his books down on the desk. One of the stacks already there slid aside to make room.
Arthur stared at him, started to say something and then apparently thought better of it. "More books?" He pointed at the stack Merlin had set down. "Don't you have enough already?"
"These are from the library. Research. A concept I'm sure you're unfamiliar with."
He'd been doing far too much research lately, looking into legends surrounding Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake. Geography had changed so much from what he remembered and the maps of his time, of his old time, hadn't exactly been the most accurate. There were hundreds of lakes across Britain that could match the one he'd hidden Excalibur in. Add in the rest of Europe and the Isles, and it jumped to thousands.
He should have put up a sign. A big fucking sign that said 'Excalibur Hidden Here' so that when he wanted to find it again ages later, he could.
Arthur pouted at him, a gesture so familiar from their old days that Merlin paused. He stared at Arthur, really noticing the man for the first time since he walked in. Something was different, or, really, something was the same, the same as he remembered.
"That's no way to talk to a prince, you know," Arthur chided. "It's really quite sad that we've gotten rid of the stockade. Marvelous invention." He stood suddenly, bouncing to his feet like an overeager puppy. "Might be one hiding in that dusty old museum exhibit you're so fond of, but in this day and age, you're more likely to get molested than fruit thrown at you, and we can't really have that." Arthur shifted closer until he was inches from Merlin. He grinned widely. "After all, that's my job."
He opened and closed his mouth several times, gaping like a fish. It wasn't possible. It shouldn't be possible. Last night... he'd... Arthur hadn't said anything, so he assumed.... It wasn't possible.
"It's your job to throw fruit at me?"
"No." Arthur closed the distance between them. "To molest you." Then Arthur was kissing him and he didn't really have a response for that, at least not a vocal one. Arthur's hands dropped to Merlin's hips and then shifted down, putting action to words and thoroughly molesting Merlin's ass.
He gasped for breath as Arthur pulled away. Arthur was grinning smugly at him and there was really only one thing he could think to do in response.
He smacked Arthur, hard, on the arm. "You complete and utter prat!" Arthur's hands pulled away quickly. The smug look fell from his face.
"What? What the hell was that for?"
Books quivered on the shelves, reacting to his anger. "You prat! All last night you let me think that you had no fucking clue, about any of it, but you fucking knew!" He smacked Arthur again for emphasis. "You knew and you didn't say anything! And then you left, without a word. Prat!" Another smack, just for good measure.
"Ow!" Arthur rubbed at his arm and glared. "Stop that! I did not. I mean..." His face shifted towards that confused expression which Merlin found far too adorable. He refused to let himself get distracted from his anger, no matter how much he wanted to kiss Arthur just then. "I didn't know until today, just earlier, and then I came straight over but you were in your class so I waited and..." Arthur deflated suddenly. "I'm here now. I'm sorry I left. Uther, father, he gets uptight sometimes when I'm out overnight. Keeps worrying that I'm going to make some sort of scandal and embarrass the crown."
Merlin snorted. His anger had died a valiant death. He dropped heavily onto the couch, hissing softly in pain as it jarred his sore muscles.
"Oh, I'm sure he'd just love it if the papers knew what you'd been up to last night, fucking some bloke."
"You are not some bloke." Merlin cocked an eyebrow at the vehemence of Arthur's words. "Okay, so you're definitely a bloke, and for the record, I rather like that about you but-"
"So do I," Merlin interrupted. Arthur glared at him. He smiled cheekily back.
"But," Arthur emphasized the word, "you are not 'some' bloke. You're a very particular bloke that I'm quite fond of."
He blushed uncontrollably and looked away. That was probably the sweetest thing Arthur had ever said to him, which was slightly sad in proportion.
"You're still a prat."
Arthur grinned and turned the wooden chair in front of Merlin's desk around, sitting on it backwards. "I know. It's part of my charm."
He couldn't help himself. He laughed. He laughed until his sides hurt, looked up at Arthur's grinning face and then started laughing some more.
"Gods, what am I going to do with you?"
"I'm sure we'll think of something." The smugness crept back onto Arthur's face. "That thing with your mouth last night was quite good. You could do that again."
Merlin dropped his face into hands to hide his complete and utter mortification. "You're such a prat."
"We really need to get you some new insults. It's the twenty-first century, Merlin. Add some color into your life."
He stared. "I could call you a twat if you'd prefer."
Arthur made a face. "Let's stick with prat."
They grinned at each other for a long moment. Merlin was the first to break eye contact. He shook his head and sighed. They were going to have to talk about it sometime. He stared down at the wooden floor. He needed to sweep.
"So you remember now?"
Arthur's feet shifted but that was all of him that Merlin could see. "Yeah."
He dreaded the answer.
"All of it? I mean, everything up to..." Merlin flinched. "I don't know what happened after."
He swallowed painfully. "Dying has that effect on memory."
The chair tipped forward. Arthur took one of Merlin's hands in his. "How long? I remember your magic going wild, as I was... dying." He was slightly proud of Arthur for saying that with only a faint falter. Merlin had never been able to manage that. "Uther saw, so I'm assuming he had you exiled."
He shook his head but couldn't find his voice.
One of Arthur's hands tipped his face up until they were looking straight at each other. "He had you executed?" Arthur's repressed anger was clear in his voice.
He shook his head again. "No. I'm sorry."
He wasn't going to cry. He wasn't. Except that he was. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, burning a hot trail down his cheeks.
"Why are you sorry?" Arthur asked softly. He took Merlin's free hand in his own and squeezed lightly.
"Because I couldn't save you." His voice broke. He was losing it. "I was supposed to protect you, keep you safe so that you could fulfill your destiny and I failed." His sentence ended on a wail.
Arthur stood quickly and joined Merlin on the couch. His arms wrapped around Merlin. They were as strong as they used to be, before he'd died. It was strange just how much of their lives, of them, had been recreated in modern day. For a moment, he felt like he'd never died but then he stared across at the bookshelves lining the room, full of myth and legend, of history and folklore, and he remembered that this wasn't his old life. This wasn't how any of it was supposed to be and that was solely because of his failure.
He buried his face in Arthur's shirt, using the fabric to muffle his sobs. He'd ruined it, ruined the Golden Age that Arthur was supposed to usher in. Arthur was supposed to make the land safe and whole but instead he'd died because Merlin was too much of an idiot to protect him from a simple arrow.
Hands rubbed along his back, soothing. "It's not your fault, Merlin."
He tried to protest but the words came out as a wordless wail. The hands didn't stop moving.
"It's not. I promise. You didn't send the archers and soldiers to ambush us. Despite all of your magic – which, by the way, you never told me about, but I still knew anyways because that's just how awesome I am – you're only one person. You can't see the future. You can't know what's going to happen, all you can do is react. Things happen that are outside of our control but that doesn't make it your fault. I'm here now. I'm safe and I'm not going anywhere. Not for a long time."
Merlin drew back and shook his head quickly. "It's going to happen. I can feel it. You're in danger."
Arthur's thumbs brushed over Merlin's cheeks, wiping his tears away. He sniffled and slowly stopped crying.
"Then we'll do better this time. Things are different. We're different. I don't really have to worry about archers in this century." The small grin on Arthur's face took the sting out of his last words.
Merlin snorted and rolled his eyes at Arthur's poor attempt at a joke. "No, instead you have to worry about gun and bombs and chemical warfare. There's also poison and knives – those never go out of style. Oh, and car crashes or plane crashes or really crashes of any kind involving the plethora of large metal boxes society's so fond of strapping themselves into and hurtling through space at high velocity. And-"
A hand over his mouth cut him off.
Arthur stared at him. "Morbid much?"
"Only for you."
"Charming." Arthur grinned at him like he meant it, despite his sarcastic tone. He brushed his hand through Merlin's hair. "So, what do I have to worry about for you if it wasn't old age or Uther? Archers as well?"
He blushed, suddenly feeling stupid for his own reaction years ago. He'd acted on instinct, instinct heavily controlled by grief and fear and his own self-pity.
"I don't think it'll be a problem."
A tissue floated over to him and he blew his nose before sending the tissue on its way into the garbage can. Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"That was probably the stupidest use of magic I've seen yet. Also, you're deflecting. It's not going to work."
He attempted to grin but it came out muted. "Stick around, I'm sure you'll see stupider. I used magic to open a can of pop the other day."
Arthur stared at him pointedly.
Merlin sighed and looked away. "Fine." He shifted slightly on the couch, moving away from Arthur. "When..." The words stuck in his throat. He swallowed and tried again. "When you... died..." He shivered. "I... overreacted. Just a tiny bit."
The arch of Arthur's raised eyebrow suggested that he didn't believe Merlin in the slightest.
"I was grieving," he defended sharply. "Inconsolable, if you must know." A faint smirk started to form on Arthur's face and Merlin glowered. "My magic reacted quite... strongly. A lot of people died." Arthur's face fell and he corrected himself quickly. "None of ours. At least, not by me. It... it took a lot out of me. Everything, actually."
He couldn't look at Arthur. He felt ashamed of what he'd done. There could have been other ways to handle the situation. He could have lived, but he knew, deep down, that that had never really been an option. There was no Arthur without Merlin and vice versa.
"So you killed yourself because you couldn't stand to be without me?"
Arthur's tone cut through his shame. He gaped at the insufferable prat who actually had the nerve, the very nerve, to suggest such a thing. He smacked Arthur.
Arthur grinned at him. "You totally did! Oh, Merlin, that's terribly romantic. Gwen and Morgana would practically swoon if they knew."
He smacked Arthur again and pushed off of the couch, suddenly needed to be very far away from Arthur.
"I don't know why I bother."
"Because you love me," Arthur said solemnly, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Arthur's boots thudded across the wooden floor. Arms wrapped around him from behind. "And, I love you." His chin settled on Merlin's shoulder and he dropped his voice to a low whisper. "It's silly that we never figured that out before. I mean, I loved you for a very long time, probably since I first met you, and I never really knew it until this lifetime."
Merlin clasped his hands over Arthur's. "Yeah. Silly."
"I'm going to tell him," Arthur said suddenly.
Merlin blinked at the non sequitur. "Tell who what?"
"My father. King Uther. I'm going to tell him that I'm madly in love with you and that I'm going to marry you – someday, eventually – and that he doesn't have a choice in the matter."
He shoved away from Arthur and turned. "Are you completely daft?"
Arthur shrugged. "Probably, but I'm still going to do it."
"What about the royal line, becoming king?"
"Bugger all that. If I'm destined to do it, I will. Otherwise, if Uther disowns me, Morgana will inherit, and I'll run off to Tahiti where I can spend all day buggering you senseless."
Merlin's mouth hung open. Obviously, somewhere in the time between the old Arthur and the new one, he'd gone a bit daffy. Then he replayed the rest of their conversation and he outright stared at Arthur, agast.
"Did you just propose to me?"
Arthur grinned in that self-righteous, cocky way that only he could. "Not really. Consider it advanced warning. When I do actually propose, it's going to be much more romantic."
He sank into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands with a loud groan. "I don't know why I put up with you."
The queen captured a rook and a bishop.
Merlin felt a shiver of foreboding run down his spine and he snapped his head up to stare at Arthur. He remembered the conversation he'd had with Gaius earlier. "Do you know Nimueh?"
Arthur's smile disappeared.
"You've been watching me."
Arthur froze. He turned very slowly and shut the door behind him. When he looked back, Nimueh hadn't moved, still seated primly on the couch in Arthur's sitting room.
"I'm sure you're mistaken." They both knew he was lying.
She smiled. It wasn't an expression that seemed used to her face. It hung there, seeming distant with a trace of bad humor. He didn't like it when this Nimueh smiled. At least in the past she'd had some sense of elegance, but she lacked that here.
"I'm not. You have been, and that's fine." She stood and brushed off her skirts. "I saw that you've found your Merlin again. How lucky for you."
Her eyes seemed to go through him, at once piercing and vague. Whatever her true focus was, it wasn't him.
"What do you want?" Instinct made him reach for his sword, but it wasn't there anymore. Nimueh's eyes followed his hand and she smiled wider.
"Merlin." The word came out as a hiss, dark and angry.
Words fell out of his mouth before he could think, before he could realize what he was saying to a former and possibly current sorceress who may or may not have gone a bit wrong in this incarnation. The Nimueh before him was nothing like the polite mask she put on for state visits and nothing like the little he'd seen of her in the past.
"I'm sorry, but he's taken."
She laughed. There was no humor in the sound. "He's not the only one." She stalked towards him. Belatedly, he realized she was focused on the door, not him, like he was of little consequence and not a threat. She was probably right. He couldn't do anything to her, not without causing a political scandal.
Arthur quickly stepped aside. She paused with her hand on the door and looked at him. Her eyes seemed so much colder up close.
"If you want your sister and the Prime Minister's daughter returned to you, you will bring Merlin to meet me at the museum at midnight. By Excalibur. Do not be late."
She was through the door before he could protest. Arthur cursed loudly and started dialing.
"Merlin? We have a problem."
Merlin pressed himself flat against the wall and clutched Arthur's hand. His heart was beating a mile a minute. "We're going to get caught."
"We don't have a choice," Arthur hissed. He moved ahead of Merlin, sliding along the wall. They paused for a moment and he heard Arthur fumbling with something along the wall. "Door."
Merlin checked around them, but the hedges and darkness hid them from view. He moved around Arthur.
"Can you open it?"
He nodded. A quick jolt of magic and the lock clicked open.
Arthur grinned at him. "Have I ever told you how beautiful you look when your eyes glow?"
Merlin felt his face heat to the point where he was certain Arthur could see his face glow. "No, you hadn't." One of Arthur's hands settled on Merlin's back. His mind went the exact opposite direction it needed to go. "But we can talk about that later. Princess to save, evil sorceress to defeat, all that."
Arthur grinned at him as he opened the door. He was far too excited about the whole situation. If Merlin was completely honest with himself, he was too. He'd kind of missed this. Their lives – their current lives – were so dull compared to what they'd almost lived through, would have maybe lived through, if it hadn't been for the ambush. He paused inside the doorway. It was dark. They were in some sort of storage area.
There was no guarantee that they would have made it to old age. If it wasn't one ambush, it would have been another ambush or a monster or a poison. Their lives had been destined to end, early, violently. His hand curled around the doorframe. He had no way of knowing what their destiny really was, or what it had been.
"Are you okay?" Arthur's hands settled on his shoulders.
He half-turned and smiled. "Yeah. Come on. Destiny awaits."
They snuck though dark rows of shelving and into the halls.
"Are you sure you know which way we're going?" Arthur asked after a moment. He seemed nervous but Merlin couldn't blame him. Likely, he was wishing for a sword in his hand.
"Yes," he hissed. "Beating people with swords and sticks is your thing, old books and museums is mine. I know where I'm going."
He'd been coming to this museum since he was a child. Even without that knowledge, he could feel the Arthurian exhibit pulling him. They were meant to be here, now. He only hoped no one had to die for destiny this time.
Nimueh was waiting for them. She smiled widely, her mouth stretched thin across her features, nearly bisecting her face. It reminded him of a really creepy doll. Gwen and Morgana sat behind her, perfectly still, staring blankly into space. The fake Excalibur shone from its place on the podium behind them.
"We're here, now let them go," Arthur demanded. He placed himself between Merlin and Nimueh.
The sorceress snapped her fingers. Morgana and Gwen gasped loudly, expressions of surprise and fear quickly replaced the blank look on their faces.
"There. It's done." She stepped forward and gestured grandly. "And now, so are you."
The suits of armor lining the edge of the room marched forward. Merlin barely managed to dodge in time as the closest stabbed a spear through the space he'd just been occupying. The statues shifted to fill the doorways, bristling like a metal porcupine.
Merlin stared at the blockade. "You do know that I can just move those right? That's not going to stop us from leaving."
Gwen and Morgana were staring at them.
Nimueh's smile never faltered. "It's not meant to stop you."
A loud roar echoed through the chamber. Merlin shivered, his blood suddenly running cold. The girls screamed. Arthur turned, took one look at the giant lizard crawling down the wall and ran towards the girls. Merlin just stared.
"It," Nimueh said with a smug look, "like that," she gestured towards the lizard, "are distractions."
She pointed. Merlin felt her intent seconds before a bolt of energy slammed into his chest. He barely reacted fast enough to keep it from ripping a hole through him, but he hadn't been able to stop enough of it. He flew backwards, slamming hard into the stone wall.
Nimueh's laughter carried over the creature's growls. Merlin fell limply to the floor. Arthur tugged on the fake Excalibur but it was stuck. Gwen and Morgana ran towards one of the blockades and started untangling the suits of armor. Bits of metal clattered to the floor, giving Merlin an idea. Nimueh raised her hands, a maniacal look of pleasure on her face.
Merlin breathed deeply and pulled. He reached out with his magic and grabbed anything that might possibly be of use to him. The armor collapsed into fragments, each piece lifting in the air to float around the room. A breastplate took the force of the second bolt meant for him, giving him time to stumble to his feet. A pair of helmets took the third and fourth, shattering into dust under the force of her rage. He sent a spear after Nimueh but she shattered that as well, batting it aside with barely a glance. The rest of the spears he sent after the creature. They bounced harmlessly off of its hide but it kept the thing busy, batting at the weapons instead of advancing after his friends.
It bought him time, but really that was all it did. That was all he needed. Just a bit more time. He wished he could have had longer. He had a feeling that his current destiny was coming to another quick end.
"Run! Get out of here."
No one listened to him. Arthur had given up on the display sword and was looking around for something else. The girls were grabbing spears and settling into fighting stances. They weren't approaching the beast, but they were ready for when it approached them. Spears were no use. They needed something more.
Desperate, Merlin turned his concentration inwards and flung his magic out, reaching for anything that could help him. He felt the web of connection, the thin mystical threads that bound him and Arthur and Morgana and Gwen together flare into life. The spears they were holding glowed blue as his magic settled around them. At least they had some defense now.
Merlin screamed as Nimueh sent a raw torrent of energy flying at him. The thin wall of metal protecting him shattered. He lost his concentration as the force of the energy slammed against him, not damaging but disorienting enough that his magic faltered for a second. That was all the time Nimueh needed. The shards of metal froze midair and turned.
His eyes widened in horror. "Oh, shit."
He jumped to the side but he wasn't fast enough to avoid all of the shards. He screamed again as shards of metal ripped through his clothing, sinking into his flesh.
"Merlin!" Arthur's voice sounded distant, too far away.
Then the doors to the museum banged open, echoing loudly throughout the museum. There was a faint whizzing sound, barely audible over the clank of metal and the creature's hungry howls. The spears attacking it had all shattered, leaving it free to stalk towards the girls. Arthur turned as a flash of silver streaked into the hall, heading straight towards him. Nimueh's eyes widened.
Apparently, Merlin's magic had managed to find something useful. Excalibur halted in midair inches from Arthur, gleaming as if it had been freshly forged instead of spending years upon years at the bottom of a lake. Arthur reached out reverently and grasped the hilt. Destiny shifted, responding to Arthur's reunion with the legendary sword.
The king advanced across the chess board.
Merlin gasped for air. He hurt. His head pounded from being bounced off walls, weakening his concentration. He had to keep fighting.
Nimueh turned to advance on Arthur. Merlin lashed out blindly, sending a solid wall of air at her. She blocked and started to turn back towards him. Arthur shouted and rushed forward. Merlin gathered all the energy he had left but it wasn't enough. He'd never learned much about fighting versus other wizards. All he knew how to do was help others take out the evil monsters. Closing his eyes, he remembered how he'd felt the day Arthur had died. Grief swelled through him, but it was muted now, faded under the realization that it wasn't his fault, that Arthur had been meant to die, meant to be born here, meant to live again. Another emotion surged over the grief, giving him strength.
He screamed and the walls of the museum trembled from the force of his rage. His magics slammed against Nimueh's shields, not enough to get past them yet. He didn't need to. Arthur stepped up behind her. Excalibur's blade blossomed through her chest and she looked down upon it in surprise. She fell, sliding off the blade to land on the stones. Part of the rug covering the center of the room had been kicked away in the fight, revealing a strange red marking on the floor. A drop of blood from Arthur's sword fell on it as he lowered the weapon.
Bright red light filled the room for a long moment, pouring out of ancient symbols hidden on the wall and floor. They flashed blindingly bright and then faded as quickly as they'd appeared. When they disappeared, so did Nimueh.
Merlin's head hit the floor. He was going to pass out very soon but he had the feeling that there was something that he was forgetting.
"Arthur!" Gwen's terrified scream revived him.
The creature was still here. Morgana and Gwen were holding it off feebly with their spears, but that was all they were doing. It was backing them into a corner. They didn't have much time left. Merlin reached for his magic but there was nothing left. This body was still new to it. He didn't have the reserves he was used to, though they'd build in time. He didn't have time. Arthur ran towards them but he wasn't close enough. Merlin was closer but he couldn't get his body to move.
Someone ran past him into the room, picking up a spear as they went. Merlin would have recognized the tousled black hair and thick frame anywhere. Lancelot stabbed his spear into the creature's tail. It roared and turned towards him, but he wasn't alone. Arthur's sword caught the creature along the side, cutting in deep.
There were more people coming. Their voices filled the hallway. A pair of nearly identical looking brunettes slid in front of the girls, guarding them. A redheaded woman in men's clothing and an older man in a business suit flanked Arthur and Lancelot, spears in hand. A dark-skinned man and a young boy in a jersey slid around to the creature's other side. Two sets of hands lifted Merlin and carried him out of the room, away from the fight.
Merlin whimpered in pain as he was propped against one of the museum walls.
"It's alright. I'm an EMT."
Merlin turned his head up to face the thin blonde. The other man that had helped carry him was already heading back into the hall. Merlin caught a glimpse of elaborate tattoos and then the creature started screaming.
A name came to mind. He instinctively attached it to the blonde. "Percival?"
The blonde stared at him. "How did you know?" He started to peel back Merlin's jeans and then gave that up. There was a white case by his side. He pulled out scissors and started cutting the fabric away to get at the scrap metal.
"Merlin," he said by way of explanation. "Connected." It was probably a bad sign that his words were slurring so much.
"Ah. We never met before. I have a feeling you're the one to thank for all the past life stuff?"
He started to nod but his body had other ideas. The creature howled one last time and then fell silent. Merlin passed out.
When he woke again, he was in a hospital room. It was not the same hospital room as last time – or at least he didn't think so – but it shared the same sort of vague similarities that all hospital rooms shared. He groaned and thought about trying to sit up. His body ached, vetoing that idea. It was far too bright in the room and he wasn't alone.
Merlin turned his head and glared. Arthur grinned cheekily back at him. He leaned forward in his chair and kissed Merlin on the forehead.
"Welcome back to the world of the living."
He groaned. "I want a refund." A return to consciousness apparently meant a return to pain.
"Sorry, none currently being offered." Arthur's hand wrapped around Merlin's. "How are you feeling?"
He arched an eyebrow. "Like I was in a magical duel with a sorceress trying to kill me as revenge for already killing her and had a bunch of shrapnel stuck in me. Shouldn't I be on, like, a morphine drip or something? That's how it always happens in the movies."
Arthur chuckled and squeezed his hand. "You're actually not that bad off. A bunch of bruising, some minor cuts. Percival was adamant that you'd been hurt worse than that, but they didn't find any sign of it by the time we got you to the hospital."
He shifted slightly. His body still didn't want to move but he felt better than he should, considering. Tentatively, he reached for his magic. It responded sluggishly, but still responded. He traced the magic through his body, feeling certain areas where his magic pooled, other areas it ignored.
"Oh." He turned back to Arthur. "I didn't realize I could do that."
Arthur grinned. "Magic?"
"Percival will be glad to know he's not going insane. Well, no more than the rest of the Knights. And myself, and Morgana and Gwen and Gaius and Uther."
Merlin stared at him questioningly.
Arthur's grin widened. "We all remember. It's great." His expression fell slightly. "Well, not so much for father. I think he regrets what happened a little bit, the things he'd done while ruling Camelot."
Something else Arthur had said caught his attention, dragging his thoughts away from Uther. "Knights?"
"Of the Round Table." Arthur practically bounced as he said it. "Well, we still have to get a round table, but that's the general idea. It's still sort of new to all of us, but... destiny, all that. I figured you'd know."
Merlin rolled his eyes but he was smiling. "Is that so?"
"You always do." Arthur kissed him again before he could respond.
He had a feeling that he'd just woken up to a complete mess. He groaned, and this time it had nothing to do with the pain. "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"