Merlin from thirteen years into the future must stop a dreaded witch from doing more damage to the past than he remembers. Under the guise of 'Emrys' the older Merlin must work with Arthur, Gwen and his younger self to stop the murderous witch and (potentially) protect the future. Based on the prompt "Future!Merlin accidentally travels back in time and desperately tries not to reveal anything, hi-jinks ensue."

This is my third contribution to the Camelot Love Spring Fling. I know the prompt wanted something humorous but I ended up taking this seriously. I did it to try and prove to myself that I can still write stories that are plotty. This fic will be 5 chapters long.

Everyone knew that the Sacred Lands of Tor lay just beyond the White Mountains of the northern borders of Camelot. It shared its border with the kingdom on two sides, most notably the western border which ran all the way to the sea. Although not controlled by any king the Sacred Lands of Tor were a frequent victim to the changing political climates of Camelot.

There was the location for many great (and forgotten) monuments to the Old Religion, left in ruins after Uther Pendragon purged his kingdom and obliged the fellow kings that shared the land of Dumnonia to do the same. Though many still allowed secret use of magic for their own purposes it was accepted by many that Dumnonia was 'clean', and so too was Tor.

But that was thirteen years ago.

Merlin recalled those days well and they were days he would rather forget. The tyranny of Uther Pendragon rattled on for years, and each year he was forced to watch more and more of his kind slaughtered.

The crime was use of magic, whether it was for good or bad. It was the same magic that Uther had hypocritically used to beget Arthur by Igraine. Then because he had been forced to make the sacrifice that magic demanded he punished all those that used it.

It had all been for that longed-for-child.

Arthur's reign had brought peace to those innocents; the druids that had all been forced into hiding. It had brought peace to the small-town seers that now reopened shops and were able to trade spells and charms to help people in need. Even dream catchers were legalised once again.

It was all regulated but not illegal.

For the ordinary magic-users that used their craft for harmless practises to war was over. For people like Merlin the war was never over.

He rode his horse through the Valley of the Fallen Kings towards the borders of Tor.

He had one particular destination in mind. Nearby the Lake beyond which lay the Isle of the Blessed there were the Ancient Caves of Neahtid.

There had been reports that the large rock that blocked the entrance to the cave had been moved. Often there were travelling sorcerers and enchantresses that went by it. That was how the change became known, as many of them were loyal to the king—or at least to Emrys. It was said to have been sealed years ago by a powerful sorcerer.

Merlin frequently travelled through Tor so he knew that the cave was indeed sealed. If it was now open then that could only mean trouble.

He dismounted his horse and made his way slowly through the trees that sat at the opening of the cave. Cautiously he walked towards the entrance, still hoping that the mouth would be sealed.

His hopes were in vain.

As Merlin came to the clearing in front of the cave he noticed several lifeless figures lying on the ground. He took a deep breath. They must have heard about the cave being opened come to see. Only when they got there someoneelse with a darker motive for visiting the caves had been there too.

He knelt to touch the skin of one man. It was cold, but it looked like he had only been dead a few hours. He sighed; there was nothing he could do for them now.

Merlin stood up and made his way towards the cave, stepping through the dead bodies.

Suddenly a hand snaked out and grabbed hold of his long dark green robes.

"It was her!" the man winced helplessly. "It was... it was her, Master."

Merlin knelt down beside the man hushed him gently. It was amazing this man had survived so long, although the warlock knew immediately there was no chance of saving him.

"I'm sorry this happened to you," the sorcerer whispered soothingly, placing a hand at the man's temple. "I assure you whoever did this will not go unpunished."

"She went through, Master" he spluttered on. "It was her. The evil Witch, the bitch from Hell itself... I saw her go through the caves..."

"Why did you come here?" Merlin asked.

The man took a deep breath. Life was becoming all the harder to grasp on to. He was just a simple druid that had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He swallowed, "We heard the Caves of Neahtid had been opened. The old druidic prophecies say that the caves hold the secret of the past, the present and the future. We feared that someone was trying to tamper with destiny..."

Merlin nodded. "But she was still here when you arrived?"

"We couldn't overpower her, Master" the druid man croaked. "It was my fault. I led them here. There were ten of us but we never stood a chance. She killed each of my friends one by one before she fatally wounded me in a way that would ensure I'd have a slow death. Then she stood over me... and laughed. Then—then she disappeared into a bright light within the cave..."

"What is your name?" the warlock asked softly.

The man looked up at Merlin weakly. "Denzel, my Master."

Merlin smiled.

"That's a good name," and he placed his hand on the man's forehead, "Sleep now, Denzel."

On his word Denzel closed his eyes and within seconds his body fell limp. He took one last relieved breath before everything grew still. He was dead. There was no saving him so the least Merlin could do was end his suffering.

He stood and turned away from Denzel's body. To some his reaction may have seemed cold but in truth it was hardness. He had seen too many deaths and cried too many tears, and now he had none left to cry. So all he could do was follow their murderer and see that she was punished. Maybe if he was lucky he might kill her this time... but he doubted it. He found it as hard to kill her as she found it to kill him.

He raised his sidhe staff in the air and looked up at the cave entrance; the light that Denzel had spoken of burst out from inside.

With no reluctance or second thoughts, Merlin walked into it.

It was morning, and the bell tolled over Camelot.

People knew that could only mean one thing: something had happened. This time was a rare occasion where the common folk knew exactly what had happened. In the early hours of the morning the dead body of an old woman had been discovered not far from the castle walls in the lower quarters of town. Amidst the death and destruction surrounding Camelot one dead old woman didn't seem like much news.

Nonetheless Gaius was called out to inspect the body.

Arthur and the guards made sure that no one disturbed the area. It was everyone's hope that Gaius would announce the old girl had simply run out of time and died naturally.

"She's got to be at least eighty," Arthur said, pacing slowly around where the body lay. "It might be that she just... keeled over and died."

Gaius raised an eyebrow, "In the street?"

"Like I said she is old," the prince replied. "Her time was probably up..."

He stopped when he noticed the old physician's face. It wasn't difficult for Arthur to forget that Gaius was an old man but very easy to forget that his time was probably closer to being up than most people he knew.

"Sorry," Arthur said quickly. "I didn't mean to offend you."

Gaius shook his head. "None taken, my lord, but there is something that doesn't quite add up."

"Like what?" Arthur asked curiously.

He walked around the area again. In the distance the guards were keeping back anxious locals wanting to see what was going on. He then surveyed the area: there were no signs of the ground being disturbed, no sign of a struggle and no sign that the old woman had been attacked as far as he could see.

"There are no marks or wounds on the body," the prince pointed out. "So she couldn't have been murdered by either a man or a creature."

"Perhaps," Gaius nodded.

He took up and closed his notebook.

"Nonetheless I would like to examine the body more closely," he added, looking to Arthur. "So I can be completely certain that she died of natural causes. I think your father would appreciate it more."

Arthur sighed.

He knew what Gaius meant was 'conclusively prove no magic was involved'. Even a poor little old lady couldn't die without the question of magic coming up. That was probably why the locals were so edgy. An old woman that had survived the travesties Camelot had faced was surely harder than to just give up and die in the street. At the very least she would have dragged herself home and died in bed.

The prince was starting to wish she had and saved him, the guards and Gaius the formalities.

"Of course," Arthur finally said. "I'll have the guards collect the body and bring it to your chambers for examination."

Gaius nodded. "Thank you."

He looked down at the old woman one last time and sighed. Something wasn't right.

He covered her with a white sheet and followed Arthur towards the crowd. After they had left word with the guard to have the body collected and taken to Gaius's chambers, the two men made their way back to the castle with a handful of the other guards to report back to the king.

"Will you be requiring Merlin's help?" the prince asked distractedly.

Gaius nodded his head. "I think it would do well for his education, not that he's taken much interest in it since he first came to Camelot. Unlike Gwen..."

Arthur's cheeks tinted red.

"Gwen will be there when you examine the body?" he asked, surprised.

"Naturally," the old man replied. "She has very little to do around the palace these days so I asked her to carry out chores for me. I hope to train her up as a healer... so she has to learn how to handle a dead body as well as a live one."

"I understand that but," the prince paused, trying to explain his feelings without 'giving the game away' "it just seems a bit much to be obliging her to help you cut up a dead body."

Gaius raised an eyebrow, not like before. This time he was amused. He tried to hide his smile. It was sometimes easy to forget that Arthur didn't know that he knew about his and Gwen's feelings for each other.

"I see," he replied. "I wasn't aware that you have been following Gwen's recent dabbling studies in the arts of science, my lord."

Now his cheeks were bright red.

"I just meant that..."

"I know what you meant," Gaius replied. In more ways than one, he thought. He smiled and went on, "In order to understand the human body better a physician or healer must first examine one, and the best way to do that is the analyse a dead one."

There was a short pause.

"However unpleasant that may be," Gaius finished.

Arthur said nothing but inclined his head to show acceptance. He still didn't like the idea of Gwen being around a dead body. He hated the thought of her dealing with the death of this old woman, and he couldn't stand the thought of her having to look at people mangled and mauled by creatures or killers.

It brought out the protective side of him, though he would never admit that to either Gwen or Gaius. She would probably scowl and think he was being patronising (Although she wouldn't say it). And Gaius, well, he already knew why Arthur felt the way he did.

"Poor thing," Gwen muttered.

She watched over her shoulder as Arthur, Merlin and two servants brought in the old woman's body. Although it was covered in a white sheet it sent a chill down her spine and she looked away.

Gwen's sight immediately fell on Arthur. He then noticed the servant girl watching him, and he looked back. They both quickly looked away, trying to hide the blushes on their cheeks from everyone else. Gwen distracted herself by clearing Gaius's workbench of all the papers, potions and other nonsense to make room for the corpus.

"I know," Merlin replied. "It's sad that she lived this long only to keel over in the street."

"I meant that she was alone when she died," Gwen corrected.

In the meantime Gaius had been watching Gwen clear the table and turned his scowling eye on Merlin.

"I thought I told you to clear all this junk up," the old man scolded. "Most of it is yours."

"The potions aren't mine," Merlin retorted cheekily. "They're yours. Besides the papers aren't all mine either, half of them are Gwen's from that test you made us do yesterday."

Gaius had decided to start from scratch with Merlin's education. This included giving him tests every week to see how much information they had retained, and he often invited Gwen to do them too. Gwen always won. Merlin wasn't jealous but he was always keen to point out to Gaius that he had to run around after Arthur half the time too (whereas Gwen had Arthur running around after her!)

Not that Gaius accepted that as an excuse.

"I don't mind doing it," Gwen quickly said, wanting to save an argument between the pair. She then smiled teasingly at Merlin. "Most of them are my correct answers, anyway."

Merlin chuckled, "Teacher's pet."

"Gwen, could you fetch some more water?" Gaius asked suddenly. "We'll need to wash the body down."

She nodded, "Of course."

Gwen picked up a bucket.

As she slipped behind Arthur's back, (while he was still trying not to look at her), she brushed her fingers against his back as she walked past. It was a moment of guile; she wanted to remind him, in a way, that she still had feelings for him. That she still loved him.

It was a tiny gesture but very noticeable to Arthur. He jerked up as the shiver went right through him. He still managed not to watch her as she left but allowed himself to glance at her from the corner of his eye.

"You needn't stay any longer, my lord" Gaius said, turning to Arthur.

He had seen what had just passed between them, of course.

"I will send someone with my findings later."

Arthur hoped that someone would be Gwen.

The truth was didn't know whether he was coming or going at the moment with Gwen. When he had survived the confrontation with the dragon she had rushed out in full view of the guards to embrace him. Then they had returned to his chambers and talked. God, they talked all through the night.

She had admitted to him how she had almost lost faith that their love would ever come to anything. But the past week had restored that faith. It made her realise that she couldn't bear to be without him. That's she'd be at a loss if anything ever happened to him. She didn't say how she came to realise all of this in detail but it meant the world to Arthur to finally hear it.

It seemed for the first time they were both on the same page.

Now they were both been preoccupied with the rebuilding the city. He didn't begrudge her helping Gaius. In many ways he was glad that after Morgana's loss she hadn't suffered too much in her job. Arthur was pleased that someone was letting Gwen was doing something that she was good at.; she was too clever to be a lady's maid.

The prince left the room as the servants helped Merlin move the body onto the work bench.

It was frustrating not being able to spend time with Gwen. However when she made little gestures like that, running her fingers against his back or quickly kissing him when no one was looking, it reassured him until they finally did get to talk, which would hopefully be a little later that night.

"Merlin, if you're going to keep getting in the way I will have to send you on Gwen's errands instead."

Gaius moved Merlin to one side as he continued his autopsy of the old woman. His assistant and the former maid watched as he worked. They had past the stage of being disgusted by the sight of blood or the organs of a dead human. It was only when there was a loud squelching that both flinched.

He had already checked the heart but there was nothing to suggest that the old woman had suffered a heart attack.

"Gwen, would you take a look in my notebook?"

The young woman obeyed, picking up the brown leather book and opening it to the most recent page.

"Read out my notes to me."

"It says 'Body found on the left side of the street, lying on her back and inclined to the right'," she read aloud to Gaius and Merlin. "'Left arm lying across the victim's chest, right arm laid out straight to the side' and then in brackets you said '(Position of body indicates the victim fell to one side, and did not lie down. No sign of a struggle.)'"

Gwen then put the notebook down.

"You wrote 'victim' twice," Merlin pointed out. "So, do you think Joan was killed?"

"I'm not sure yet," Gaius muttered, looking at her other organs. The two students watched in silence before he spoke again. "There's no sign of any disease or damage in the liver, kidneys, or any other organs. I'll have to examine them more closely..."

"Anything we can do?" Gwen asked.

"If you and Merlin could examine the content of her stomach I removed earlier," the old man told her, pointing to the white cloudy liquid in the glass jug. "See if she took something that disagreed with her." As he turned back to probing the organs he added: "There's no sign of poisoning..."

Gwen picked up the large orbed beacon and brought it over to where Merlin had set the fire to heat up the liquid. She dropped another liquid into the white fluid and held it over the fire.

"I don't understand it," she said to Merlin as they waited for it to change colour. "Joan was eighty but she still had so much life in her."

"I know," Merlin nodded. "Only the other day she was trekking along the streets trying to keep everyone motivated."

"She was always so healthy," she added.

"I know," he said again. "She is—was in better nick than some people half her age in Camelot."

"She lost her house in the dragon's attack," Gwen sighed sadly. "She was living with Mavis and her two children just next door to me; only last year her husband in the gargoyles' attack."

"Let's hope the other kingdoms don't try it on while we're still recovering, eh?" Merlin muttered, watching the liquid.

Gwen raised an eyebrow. "You realise that you just jinked us, don't you?"

He looked up.

"Sorry!" he chuckled nervously.

The liquid remained the same colour: that meant there was nothing out of the ordinary with her stomach acids or anything else. Gwen brought it over to show Gaius.

"So, nothing going on there then," Gaius muttered, "Interesting."

The pair tilted their heads.

"Is it interesting?" Merlin asked. "Did you find something?"

Gaius put down his instruments and sighed. It had been staring him in the face but in his attempt to find a more logical explanation he had tried to ignore it. He had hoped to find something else but... this was all he had. He looked up at the two youngsters.

"It may be an after effect rather than a cause but," he then stepped aside and beckoned the two of them to look at her open chest. "Look and tell me what you see."

They moved closer and looked. Merlin puffed out air and made an 'um' sound while Gwen thought about it, not wanting to get it wrong.

"Um, well" Merlin said, deciding to state the obvious. "There was nothing wrong with her ribcage when you..." he gulped, remembering the unpleasant crunching sound, "removed them to look at her heart."

Gaius rolled his eyes.

"Is it something to do with the heart?" Merlin asked.

The physician shook his head.

"Is it something to do with her lungs?" Gwen then said.

He then smiled.

"Oh," Merlin said, and looked back. "But... there doesn't look like there is anything wrong? Does there?"

He addressed the 'does there' to Gwen, who shook her head in confusion. "What are we looking at, Gaius?" she asked. "Apart from the fact that she clearly breathed out when she died..."

"That's just it," the old man said finally. He pointed at her lungs, "These lungs have been completely starved of air."

"Oh," Gwen said, confused.

"You said there was no sign of her being suffocated," Merlin said, equally confused.

Gaius nodded. "Yes I did say that but look at her lungs. They are perfectly healthy, in better condition than mine probably are. But they are tiny, like every last breath has been sucked from her body."

Merlin's eyes widened. "But if she wasn't strangled or anything how could her lungs be so starved of air?"

Neither of them wanted to say the word, especially while Gwen was there. It was so easy them to forget sometimes that she existed outside their 'hidden warlock' talks.

"Gaius," Gwen suddenly said.

The two men looked over to see her crouching over the old woman's head. She was staring at a lock of wispy white hair. She pointed at it, "Does this mean anything?"

Gaius moved over to look. "What are you talking about?"

"No, I just noticed" she explained as Gaius crouched over to have a look. He even whipped out his magnifying glass. "It looks as though a piece of her hair had been cut."

"Hmm" Gaius murmured.

Indeed, she was right. The hair had definitely been cut recently.

He stood up again. "It's probably nothing but worth noting down."

Gwen chuckled. "It was a silly observation, I know. I mean why would someone cut a strand of a dead woman's hair off?"

Gaius didn't want to answer that question directly. He moved over to a basin to wash his hands. Once they were washed and dried he picked up his notebook and began to write down his findings so he could send them on to Arthur, and then to Uther.

"You still haven't answered Merlin's question though," Gwen then said. She looked away from the body to address Gaius directly. "What could have starved Joan's lungs like that?"

Gaius still didn't want to shock or frighten her, not at this early stage. He certainly had no intention of writing it down before he had exhausted all possible explanations or possibilities for Joan's sudden death. Yet he knew Gwen was a smart girl that wouldn't run around causing a panic. Plus the look on Merlin's face said that they should tell her.

He sighed. "I wish to conduct a few more tests but no mortal could possibly starve the lungs to that extent and no leave a single mark on the body. It's too early to say this conclusively but I suspect that Joan was killed by use of sorcery."