This time - Arthur/Merlin
Summary: This time something is different. This time Merlin thinks he might not have to fear Arthur forgetting him. Reincarnation. Arthur/Merlin slash.
Arthur never remembers, that's what Merlin has come to learn over the centuries. No matter how many times he is born, no matter how many lives he lives, he never remembers what he once was, who he once was, he never remembers that he was once a hero, the king of kings, the stuff of legends, he never remembers Merlin.
Merlin has researched reincarnation to the point of exhaustion, even the reincarnation legends based around him, his life, him and Arthur, the once and future king and his kindly old sorcerer. Merlin isn't sure when the story changed from the truth to what people hear today. After all, Merlin is a real life testimony to the fact that he was never a bat shit crazy old man with a long beard, he never made it past the age of thirty, far too young to grow such a thing. Arthur did marry Gwen, she was not a noble woman however, but a maidservant, and their love was merely a farce, a cover, what the people of Camelot expected. Yes, Gwen did love Lancelot and yes, their affair was real, though they did not plot to kill Arthur, nor did they go behind his back, in fact, Merlin, still to this day believes that the king knew long before anybody else. Mordred was not Arthur and Morgana's child, it makes Merlin slightly sick to even imagine the concept. Though sometimes Merlin isn't sure whether the shudder that rips through his body at the mention is because Arthur and Morgana were brother and sister who tolerated each other at best, or because of the mention of Mordred, the conniving little toad he had been, or because when Merlin reads of these incorrect legends he always finds himself imagining Arthur's reaction. A reaction he would never see or experience because Arthur never remembers.
Once, Merlin had found him quite by accident in a public library, reading a large tome on Arthurian legends and for a fleeting moment Merlin had allowed himself to hope, to believe, to pray, and it had been like time had stopped the moment the blonde head had raised towards him, but the smile that accompanied the face was polite, empty with no hint of recognition and Merlin had to tell himself that this is how it always was, lest he break down there and then.
His research had concluded only a few things, one being that most legends said that the once and future king shall not remember who he is until a time of great peril, which Merlin believed to be completely unfair because surely even King Arthur deserved one life where he didn't have to fight, where he didn't have to live a life of violence or die young or lead an army. Secondly, his research had concluded that researching was in fact a complete waste of time because it did not explain why he remembered. Why over the centuries he has only ever found Arthur, where are the others? Gawain, Lancelot, Gwen and Gaius? Why does Merlin remember from the moment he is old enough to understand but Arthur can see his past manservant himself and still be blissfully unaware of what had once been? Why is Merlin born with magic in every life when he has no use for it. There is no use for him at all if Arthur doesn't know him.
They say that hope dies last and Merlin can safely say that this is true because he has never given up hope. Once he has lost his hope he has lost everything, to lose hope would be to completely lose Arthur. Merlin cant allow that to happen.
So he continues to try, sometimes he befriends Arthur and does his damndest to remind him, to hint of their shared lives. To show him who he once was, and always to no avail. Sometimes though, Arthur will look at him in a certain way, like he used to back in Camelot, with affection and fondness and a hint of 'you're an idiot Merlin' thrown in there and his mouth opens and closes and he looks as if he is about to say something and then the spark is gone almost as quickly as it appeared and he is the Arthur of this time again. Blissfully unaware and Merlin is just his new friend and nothing more, these times hurt more than when Arthur doesn't know him at all.
There is one time, one gloriously beautiful, heartbreaking time when Arthur remembers everything, it is gloriously beautiful because he is Arthur again and he says Merlin's name in the way he did before, because his eyes scream of love and promises and everything Merlin remembered. But it's heartbreaking because its too late, because Arthur's gaunt pale skin is stretched across a disease ravaged body and he looks so much older than his twenty five years and what little hair he has on his head is tough and wiry and his eyes are wet and bloodshot and 'I'm sorry' shouldn't be the last thing a cancer patient says on their death bed but it is all Arthur can manage before Merlin goes back to being alone again. Before Merlin goes back to waiting.
Sometimes Merlin is born rich. Sometimes Hunith and Balinor live long happy lives together, because whilst he never finds Gwen or the others his parents are always there, of course they do not remember anything, but just having them there is enough for Merlin. Seeing them married and happy almost makes Merlin thank the magic in the Earth for making it possible, but then he remembers that he still doesn't have Arthur and he can no longer bring himself to feel grateful for anything. Sometimes, in the lives where he does not find Arthur or when he only brushes past him once in the street he wonders what the blondes life is like, he wonders if Uther is reborn too and if he is different this time around, he wonders if Igraine is alive and if Arthur is happy at home.
One time, Arthur is a movie star, and it makes sense Merlin guesses, with his looks and confidence and the boy had been born to be worshipped after all. This time, Merlin is homeless, his parents dead in a car crash, orphaned at ten, on the streets at fifteen, he thinks he might be about nineteen now and he is pretty sure he's dying too. He sees Arthur's face on bus stop posters and he always feels safer sleeping outside if Arthur is near him, even if only in picture form, sometimes he sees Arthur on televisions through shop windows before he is ushered away. Arthur seems happy and that is enough for him this time around.
The worst times, Merlin thinks, is when Arthur hates him, truly hates him with a passion, for some reason or another and wants nothing to do with him, but then again those times cant be worse than the times when they are close, almost as close as they were in Camelot, except that only one of them remembers such a time, like the time they were born next door neighbours, and they were so close and there were times when Merlin just wanted to reach across and cup Arthur's face in his hands and kiss him until he remembers. Though of course he never did. Besides, Arthur married a red head named Rebecca that time anyway, Merlin hated standing besides his king as best man but did so anyway. What are best friends, and forgotten man servants for after all?
There is the one time, and it breaks Merlin to even think of it, when Arthur is a mere shadow of what he once was, meek, bullied, broken, just a presence in the corner of the classroom in school, fresh bruises adorning his beautiful face each day. Dead at sixteen from internal injuries. Sometimes, one of them wont make it to a full life, and each time it is Merlin who grieves for each lost life. After all, Arthur never remembers.
Every now and then, Merlin will never find Arthur, and he isn't sure whether or not this is better or worse. It's better, he guesses because this time he wont have to lose him, but its worse because he just needs Arthur, that's all there is too it, so in these lives he searches, and searches, only to find that Arthur died at birth, or ran away from home, or is happily married with four or five children and how could Merlin interrupt that?
There were times when it seemed as if Arthur actively sought Merlin out. Which was ridiculous because Arthur didn't remember, but it gave Merlin hope, more hope, and hope was all he had so he wasn't about to question it. Like the time Arthur found him practicing magic, nothing big, in fact if Merlin hadn't been so shocked at his masters arrival he might have been able to explain it away as a simple trick that anyone could learn, like pulling a rabbit from a hat, but as it were, he was shocked, and Arthur was angry, reminiscent of the time he had found out in Camelot, so angry, shouting and ranting before he had pushed Merlin against a wall and he had been so sure he would be executed only to find himself being kissed within an inch of his life instead. This time, however, there was no kissing, just intense anger and then Arthur, shocked at his own outburst and apologising profusely before running away, Merlin hadn't seen him again in that life.
There are so many times that he see's Arthur, during World War 2, Arthur is a soldier, Merlin a nurse and if there comes a time when Arthur ever does remember Merlin may leave the story of this life out of his explanations because he can just hear the torments of 'such a girl Merlin' coming from Arthur when he mentions his profession. Arthur dies under Merlin's hands and it doesn't hurt as much as it should, because Merlin has seen more death in this war alone than in most of his lives and there are people he can save here, he'll be seeing Arthur soon anyway.
There is the time when Arthur works for Merlin's family and Merlin should enjoy bossing Arthur around and he would if Arthur remembered too. Instead he can't bring himself to even speak to the rather confused boy, not until the night that he finds him in his bedroom, wringing his hands together, glancing nervously out of the window, when Merlin questions him he simply leans forward and presses their lips together, and though Merlin doesn't reciprocate he just lets it happen, because for that small amount of time it is Merlin and Arthur again and he's happy. But then he moves away and tells Arthur to leave. A week later Arthur has a better paid job at a house belonging to a friend of Merlin's father and Merlin doesn't see him again.
There was a time when Merlin had met Arthur in a hospital, the blond had been blinded in an accident and the moment he had sensed someone in the room he had whispered, "Merlin?" and Merlins heart had seized and he had known that if this were the time that Arthur remembered he would do all he could to help him, care for him, but seconds later, as if he hadn't spoken at all, the patient had asked, "Who is there?" before an elder woman, whom Merlin recognised as Igraine had pushed past him and he had been asked to move on. Arthur left the hospital that day.
He always see's Arthur, he always loses Arthur, however, what haunts Merlin the most is the first time they said goodbye. It was such an unimportant day, there was no battle, no warning, nothing but a solitary sorcerer than hadn't gotten the memo that magic was a nice thing these days, and Arthur and Merlin in the court yard, gentle touches and glances, after all, in hindsight it couldn't have been a big secret that the king had his court sorcerer in his chambers at night just as surely as the queen had Sir Lancelot in her own. Then, there was ancient words spoken and if Merlin weren't so wrapped up in his king he might have noticed the magic before Arthur was falling, before the people were screaming, before his own magic had reacted so quickly and violently and felled the sorcerer where he stood. Then it had been a mirage of pain and Arthur's weak voice beginning, "I wish, I'm - I wish-" before Merlin interrupted, "I know- It's okay, It's okay." and then the tears and Merlin didn't think he had ever felt that way in any other life since, after all in the other lives he hadn't had Arthur as long as he had the first time. Merlin remembers that it had been hours, maybe even the whole day before he had been forced to leave Arthur's side, people had come and gone, Gwen and Lancelot, the other knights, everyone who had loved him and whom Arthur had loved and Merlin had stayed the whole time, his forehead resting on one of Arthur's cold hands, unable to acknowledge anybody else. Merlin had been twenty nine when Arthur had left him and thirty when his own life had left his body. Apparently hearts can't work without a soul. One side of a coin cannot function without the other, even the dragon had known this it seemed. Yet this half still lived without the other, this half remembered whilst the other did not. This half continued to love and hope and pray whilst the other had no idea.
Merlin doesn't know why they keep coming back, he probably should since the entire thing reeks of powerful magic but he doesn't. If it is true that the king is not needed again until a time of great peril then why is he always around? If this is true then surely Merlin, what with Arthur being his destiny, is not needed until that time either, yet here he is. Merlin doesn't know if there is a way to make Arthur remember, he has tried so much after all, magic, hinting, once he had even told him straight up, fully prepared for the question of, "Have you been drinking?" that followed as a reply.
But the truth is Merlin doesn't think he can do anything to make Merlin remember, he's grown to understand that, over the centuries he has realised that Arthur never remembers, the prat is still torturing him even now after all these years.
In all his lives Merlin finds himself returning to where Camelot had once stood, he sits on the same hill, he has seen Camelot at its peak, Albion united, the world, magic at peace, he has seen Camelot fall, Camelot in ruins, something for the history books, he has seen Camelot just the remnants, rocks and a few pillars, he has seen Camelot as nothing, a tourist spot for what might have been and eventually even that was forgotten, buildings had been placed there, modern towns built up, commercialised and there had been nothing of the Camelot he had once known, except where the castle had once stood, there was now empty fields, as far as Merlin knew nothing had been built over it as if people just knew, knew that something amazing had happened there, something amazing but also something, the most terrible thing Merlin had ever experienced. Loving and losing King Arthur. The king of legends. Families now picnicked there, children played with balls, couples kissed and sunbathed and generally loved and Merlin thought it might be the most peaceful place he has ever been. He sits, always, in every life, on a hill, on that field, in that place where Camelot had once been and he remembers everything, every kiss and touch, every time they had moved together, Arthur inside and all around him as master and servant. Every time his king had whispered words of love and devotion to him. Every time he finds Arthur in another life, unable to remember but Merlin unwilling to give up. One day Arthur would remember, of that he was certain. Almost certain. Not really, very certain at all.
Merlin doesn't know how many lives have passed since the last time Arthur actively sought him out, simply because something told him that he should, but this time, when he does, something is different. For starters, Arthur has never sought him out somewhere important, somewhere with a link to their past and yet this time when Merlin climbs up to his usual space the blonde, and Merlin instinctively knows it is him before he turns because in every life he looks the same, in every life Merlin just knows, is already there. Merlin doesn't dare speak, or move, he doesn't dare take a breath, he doesn't know what is happening this time.
"Merlin?" Arthur asks as he turns and if Merlin were breathing at that point his breath would have caught, because Arthur has never known him first, has never said his name without first being introduced, but this doesn't necessarily mean that he remembers, all Merlin has is hope and he can't keep letting it take a knock. His eyes though, like nothing else Merlin has ever seen in all his years hold so much, so many memories, so much hurt and pain and regret and guilt. So much love, excitement and happiness. Merlin has never known eyes as expressive as Arthur's, nor eyes as beautiful. "Merlin." the kings voice is barely a whisper and Merlin can almost believe that he is imagining this, it wouldn't be the first time after all, but then there is a hand on his shoulder, a pressing weight and it is so similar to the many times they rode to war or faced a beast and Arthur didn't know any other way to express that he was thankful Merlin was there. "Merlin." there is a sense of wonder in his voice and Merlin has never heard his name spoken with such awe and love, at least not form someone who isn't a six year old boy obsessed with magic and Doctor Who. Never has Merlin heard such desperation in Arthur's voice. The hand on Merlin's shoulder moves to his neck, cups his cheek, a thumb familiarly stroking a cheekbone, God it's so real. "I'm sorry, 'm so sorry, I'm so sorry I didn't remember." Arthur's voice sounds, "I remember-"
"Stop it." Merlin whispers, "just stop."
"Please Merlin, God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to forget, please." Merlin knows that it's stupid to be angry, to blame Arthur, but he does, and right now, even though Arthur finally remembers and is here Merlin stops hoping because, "You'll forget again. You always forget."
"No," blonde head shakes, "no, can't you feel it? This is real, this is- this is now, can you not feel it? It's the start of something. Something beautiful."
Merlin shakes his head, "Please Arthur." he whimpers, "It hurts."
"I know," Arthur pulls him close, "Every time, I left you, I didn't know you, I'm sorry. I'll never forget you again Merlin, I can feel it. I promise."
Merlin breathes deeply and inhales Arthur's scent, closes his eyes and allows himself to believe, just for a while that this may be the last time he has to fear Arthur forgetting him.
This time when Merlin remembers it is on his twentieth birthday, and his mother has thrown him a party, she stands with his father in the corner an odd smile on her features. There is no one else here and Merlin is beginning to wonder if it might not just be some kind of cruel joke when the door opens and Arthur steps through the door with a smile to rival Merlin's own and after only a brief moment of hesitation Merlin realises that, yes, Arthur remembers, he has the past three lives since all that time ago on the hill that had once been Camelot. Merlin is in his arms as if he had never left, as if the last years they were together had not happened. Their mouths are moulded together with age old familiarity and Merlin has to thank the magic in the Earth that this is happening, that they get these chances. "I have something to show you." Arthur whispers against his lips, gesturing to the door. Merlin is smiling brilliantly and there is a small pause before the door opens again and Gwen is striding through, holding tightly to Lancelot's hand, and they are followed by Gaius who is so much younger than he had been in Camelot, his mothers age Merlin thinks, followed by Gawain, Leon, Elyian, and Percival, Uther, who much to Merlin's surprise was smiling warmly holding gently onto Igraine's hand and behind them is Morgana. Morgana who had betrayed them in Camelot after being led astray, but who had loved Arthur deeply and cared for Merlin once too and Merlin can tell by the smile on her face and how close she stands to Uther that in this life she has not been betrayed. Everyone is there, together and Merlin is not going to be executed, not for magic, not for loving the prince and as far as Merlin knows there is no great peril either. "I told you I could feel it Merlin." Arthur whispers into his ear as Merlin stands in shock at the sight before him as he wraps an arm around his waist. And Merlin knows, without a glimmer of a doubt that Arthur is right, this time, it is forever. And in their next lives they will all find each other, it is inevitable. It is magic. It is their destiny.
What did you think? I'm not too sure about this one?
Perhaps you could let me know?