A/N: Merry Christmas! Welcome to a little writing experiment of mine! I usually do song drabbles, but I sort of wore myself out on song drabbles with my White Collar fic Details. Still, I wanted to do a series of drabbles for Merlin, and I decided to do them based on random words, provided by the Random Word Generator (google it, it's brilliant for breaking writer's block). I settled on doing twenty of them, and I was originally intending to post them either in sets or all in one post...until I realized that some of these drabbles were turning out to be...well, not drabbles. So instead, I present to you a series of twenty one-shots, inspired by random words, which will be posted one at a time. Some are shorter, some are longer, but each one is complete. The update schedule will probably be sporadic; the first four one-shots are done or almost done, the fifth is started, and I have ideas for the next two or three. The pairings will predominately be Merlin/Arthur, maybe a couple of others mixed in. Most of these one-shots are going to be based on reincarnations, thus the title Lifetimes, but I might go back to the canon world every once in a while. I'm putting the rating at T for the moment, but it might be raised as we go one. I kind of doubt it, but we'll see. I'll give any particular warnings for the one-shot before, just in case! Well...enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin. Not even on DVD, unless it happens to be under my Christmas Tree. (Which it very well might be, so yay!)

Warnings: The following one-shot contains mild angst and character death. It could also have very light implied slash or just friendship, whichever you prefer.

Lifetimes

1. Immobility—incapable of being moved, fixed

By the time he gets to the hospital, he knows it's too late. He curses every god he's ever heard of as he stalks through the corridors, a force that cannot be stopped even by the fiercest of nurses. (Rightfully, he should probably be praying to every god he can think of, but after living for centuries, he doesn't invite the meddling of gods anymore.) People do try to stop him, but he doesn't heed them. He knows exactly where he's going. The faint pulse of magic—the one that grows fainter and fainter with every step—guides him.

He throws open the door to the hospital room. The door clangs against the wall loudly; the woman who is crumpled into a chair at the side of the hospital bed jumps, her head jerking up, her eyes wide. He spares her a glance long enough to realize who she is, then focuses his attention on the man lying comatose in the bed. This man is pale, thin, dark-haired; his breathing is shallow. His expression is…almost peaceful.

But he's fading. He knows just by looking at him, but more than that, he can feel it. That tiny ember is ever fading to a dull coal. He is slipping away.

He crosses to the other side of the bed and takes the man's hand in his own, conscious all the while that the woman is staring at him with wide eyes. He bends his head and closes his eyes and conjures the magic. (He is like a raging fire next to the fading ember. If only he could….)

He tries to heal. But it's too late, and he's known that from the beginning. It's too late for even sacrifice to bring him from the edge; it's too late and the old magic refuses to heed. This time Arthur will slip away and there is no bringing him back.

He pulls back, surfacing from his magic and opening his eyes. The woman stares at him. There's recognition in her eyes, but not cognitive. She knows him from a dream or from the feeling in her heart that he's supposed to be there. But she doesn't remember that he is Merlin or that the man whose hand she holds is Arthur or that her own name is Guinevere. Instead, she just stares at him with hope until he closes his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says, and he walks through the door as the heart monitor flat lines.

He makes it ten steps down the corridor before his own heart follows suit.


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