Without any ado…
There were a few things that were never allowed to happen. Ever. No where and no time were those things allowed to come about, and if they did, something terrible and catastrophic would happen to the world in general. Merlin knew this. He knew that with all the horrible things that had happened to him in his life, there were some lines that the uncaring, stark world would not dare cross. Would not dare.
But Arthur was bleeding to death before his eyes, lying face first in the dirt of an unfamiliar world; they were alone and unarmed. And it looked a lot like the world was daring.
Merlin dropped to his knees, his hand hovering above Arthur. "Arthur?" he choked out. "Arthur?"
Arthur gave a shuddering breath and tried to open his eyes. "Wha…?" he nearly managed.
He was alive. For now. Alive but dying. "Don't talk, Arthur; don't say anything now. Don't worry. It's going to be fine."
"I've b-been in…jured," Arthur hissed, his words not wanting to come out.
"Yes, but you'll be fine. We'll get you home."
Arthur nodded, his head falling forward, and he didn't speak again. After quickly checking to make sure he hadn't died just then, Merlin wasted about fifteen seconds cursing Not-Arthur for hurting his friend. Then he put out his hand again, placing it on Arthur's back, but careful to avoid any blood.
He tried; he really did. He used the spell he'd found in his book once. He tried it three times. He tried one he'd just heard around. He tried making up one… or two.
Arthur's breathing just got shallower, and Merlin lurched back from his friend's side, roughly brushing the tears away from his eyes.
"Don't worry, Arthur," he mumbled. "Don't worry."
He stood and looked desperately around the clearing. Help. He needed help. He'd take it from anyone right now—even Not-Morgana. Though that wasn't really an option.
Old Merlin. He'd try Old Merlin. Merlin opened his mouth to call the man, realizing that he'd never really used his name for fear of confusing himself. But he had bigger fears now. "Merlin? Merlin! Dragoon?" He thought. "Old Merlin! You?"
Nothing. No response. The trees echoed his cries back at him.
Merlin swallowed. He could barely breathe. The tears were running down his face, but he took no notice of them. They weren't important now.
"Merlin?" he called again, hopefully. And then desperately. "Please. Old Merlin. Dragoon. Help me! Please help me!"
When he received no answer, Merlin choked back a sob and went back to Arthur's side. That was where he belonged.
"What are you worried about?" Merlin finally asked Old Merlin, who was beginning to pace and run his wrinkled head together.
"Us," he said.
"I don't understand."
"Me and the other Merlin, though we're technically the same. I remember this part. It wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. Arthur's probably half-dead by now."
What, so he wasn't allowed to kill the prince, but when Old Merlin allowed it to happen, it was perfectly all right? Merlin bristled at the injustice but quickly forgot it. "Haven't you already been through this, though? Why worry if you know what's going to happen?"
Old Merlin smiled. "Arthur's my destiny at every age. I can't not worry about him."
Merlin shrugged. I'm going to pretend that's not a very, very strange thing to say. "Well, then why don't you just go help now?"
"Because that isn't what he did sixty years ago! He needs to learn his lesson! I need to learn my lesson first."
Younger Merlin surveyed Older Merlin with interest for a moment. At last he announced, "Old man, you are batty."
Arthur gave the tiniest of groans. He wouldn't have let it escape if he hadn't been unconscious. Merlin winced at the sound. The bleeding was slowing, unless it was his imagination, but Merlin knew that Arthur had minutes left. And his protector didn't even have water to wash the wound off with.
"This is all my fault," Merlin said out loud. "Well, since he is me, it's really all my fault… But it's my fault, just me… today-me." Merlin looked at the prince, who wasn't listening. But Merlin had to say it anyway. "I never really thought you didn't like me, Arthur. I shouldn't have tried to leave, to give up on my destiny. Now you're injured and it's because I couldn't learn some stupid lesson!"
He looked at the sky, trying to keep back the tears that just kept streaming.
"You're my destiny," he said at last, his voice strangled. "And more, you're my friend."
Merlin leapt to his feet, but it wasn't necessary. Old Merlin – now he arrived! – had suddenly appeared in the clearing and rushed forward to the gasping and dying Arthur's side.
"Took you long enough to learn your lesson!" he growled irritably at Merlin, as if it was the young warlock's fault. The Merlins – for there were two young ones around at the moment – both raised eyebrows at that comment.
But Old Merlin didn't care. He just grabbed Arthur's arm.
And just like that, the two Merlins were alone in the forest.
The Merlin with shorter hair, who considered himself the real Merlin, spun around once in confusion. "Where did they go?" he cried.
"To heal that Arthur," said Not-Merlin at once. "Old You explained it to me on the way over here. He's going to take him to Camelot… one of them… and heal him quickly, then bring him home and come back for you. It shouldn't take long."
"Oh," said Merlin, sighing. "I learnt the lesson?"
Merlin with the evil grin and hair covering his forehead shrugged. "Apparently. Seems rather foolish to me, but I don't argue with those who can use powerful spells like that. Not while I'm unarmed."
"I suppose…" said Merlin, wiping away the tears on his face (for he just knew that the other Merlin was judging him for them), "that you must be Not-Merlin?"
"No, on the contrary, I think you're Not-Merlin."
"Whichever." Merlin shrugged. "Then we'll be going back to our own homes."
Not-Merlin nodded, and then looked at Merlin for a second, rather closely. "I wouldn't usually admit this," he said in his smooth, insinuating way, "but since we'll never meet again it can't really hurt. I pity you, having to return there."
"You pity me?" Merlin gawked. "What happened?"
Not-Merlin nodded. "I spent the past days surrounded by incessant smiling. It nearly drove me to insanity. And I ended the time by nearly getting my head knocked off by a pot." He pointed to his head. Blood was still matted in his dark hair.
"Smiling? I had to face… Wait. Why did you get your head hit by a pot?"
Not-Merlin blinked. "You've got a bit of explaining to do when you get home. Especially to your Gwen."
Merlin shook that thought away. "I spent the past days with a master who hated me and suspected me, a guardian that wanted to poison me, a king that wanted to hide from me, and worst of all, Morgana wanting to… Well, she wanted a lot of things, all the time, but she wanted them very much! I can't believe you'd want to go back to that."
"How is Morgana?" Not-Merlin asked immediately, a flicker of some emotion in his eyes.
"She's… probably crying. I left her yelling at some guards."
"Was she hurt?"
"No, just angry. And confused. But then—"
"She's always confused," both men finished together.
"The Arthur from your world, though… He's not." Merlin winced, for the first time realizing exactly what he'd done. "He's wounded and wants to arrest you. You may have a bit of explaining to do too."
Not-Merlin tilted his head. "How hurt?"
"Stabbed in the shoulder, but he was alive last I saw him."
"Then he'll be fine," Not-Merlin said dismissively, waving his hand. "Between Gaius and me, he'll make it. And there's no need to worry about me… I'll just say it was an enchantment. That always works."
Some things remained constant, then. Merlin might use that too. Or he might just have Arthur help him talk to everyone involved, unless the king was mixed up in whatever happened.
Not-Merlin looked towards Camelot. "I'll be heading back home, then," he said. "You can wait here for Old Merlin."
Merlin nodded, accepting that plan. He realized that he was still standing and sunk to a sitting position next to a tree.
Not-Merlin nodded farewell and turned to go, but stopped and turned back. "Merlin?" he said.
"You shouldn't cry. It's a sign of weakness."
And then he turned and was gone.
Old Merlin did indeed come back for Merlin. It took only a few minutes, but the instant he arrived, Merlin was on his feet.
"How is Arthur?" he asked.
"Fine. He'll make it. He's resting in his own bed at the moment."
Merlin sighed in relief… And then he got angry. "Why did you take so long?" he demanded. "Arthur was dying."
"I would not let him die," Old Merlin assured him seriously. "Don't forget, sixty years ago, I was where you are now. Actually, I was you."
"Please, don't start that again." Merlin shook his head and pressed his palm to his brow for a moment. "Can you… just take me home? Please?"
"Of course," Old Merlin said, rather sympathetically. "You've learned your…"
"If I were you, I wouldn't even say that," Merlin warned, glaring, and then the old man chuckled kindly and offered a hand for Merlin to take.
With a reluctant sigh, Merlin took it.
When the world came back, the surroundings looked like they had when Merlin had first appeared in Not-Camelot. He was on the road, empty space and sky stretching around him. But he knew better. He was home; he could feel it.
"Camelot," he breathed. "Finally."
"Before you go, though," said Dragoon, holding out a hand to stop Merlin.
Merlin had actually begun to walk forward, and didn't appreciate being stopped, but he stayed put anyway. He didn't want to get dragged away to another world again. "What is it?" he said, not as patiently as he could have. "I want to go see Arthur."
"I have a few things to tell you before you go," said Old Merlin, clasping his hands together and looking very wise and impressive. Merlin wasn't impressed.
"Well," he said, "tell me quickly. Not to be rude or anything, but I'm a little annoyed at you."
"And you will be for many years. But not when you're eighty. Remember that. Eighty years old is the time. To the day… The birthday, precisely."
There was a pause as Merlin took a step back. "What does that mean?"
"Don't worry about it too much," said Old Merlin. "Another thing, you may want to talk to Gwen first thing. You can tell her the truth, or most of it. She might think you're still a crazy assassin if you don't."
"…What did that other Merlin do?"
"Don't let it bother you. And then, after you've talked to Gwen, you can go see Arthur."
Merlin crossed his arms. "Is that all you want to say?"
"I believe so," said the old man. "Welcome home." He smiled, the grin taking over his craggy face momentarily. And then, with a flash of golden eyes and a swish of those horrible robes (here an image of Not-Arthur made Merlin shudder), he disappeared.
Merlin was entirely alone, with just the feeling that he really should have punched the old man in the face, and the sudden desire to find Morgana after he finished talking to Gwen and Arthur and engage her in a really good, hateful fight.
It sounded wonderful.
But before he did anything… There was one thing that he needed to look up…
Merlin found the page in his magic book after just a few minutes. It was right there, though he knew the spell was beyond his power at this point in time.
The time-traveling page.
He plopped his book down on his bed, and went and got a pen and inkwell. Careful not to spill the ink, he put both down on the floor and sat down. Then he picked up the pen, dipped it in the ink, and on the white page describing time travel, he wrote in thick, black, slanted letters:
A/N: Yes. Yes, it is over! I'm excited too; I got it out before November! Whew and Whoooo!
Alright, well, since it's the last chapter, please let me know what you think!
Also, there is a poll on my profile that pertains to this fic, so please vote. I won't leave it up more than a few weeks, I think.
Now I must leave. Thanks for reading.
~ Kitty O of Awesomeness