A/N: This turned from a mindless drabble, to a three page story, to a growing obsession, to finally a Merlin tribute. I started writing this a while ago, but the series finale coincidentally tied in perfectly, so I just threw it in there for kicks :)

(By the way, it's very historical, and the majority of it is American history, because as much as I love All Things English, I simple couldn't research 2000 years of history without driving myself mad.)

Enjoy!


"What's meant to be will always find a way."

– Trisha Yearwood

-:-

Merlin wakes up with a start in the middle of the night and knows that it's time to die.

He finds that he's not afraid at all because it's time, he thinks to himself, for him to get some rest. He smiles faintly at the prospect of being reunited with his father and his mother and Gaius and Freya and Gwaine and all the others who had already left him, and grins even more when he thinks about seeing the prat again. Dollophead.

He takes in a deep breath and lets it go gently, feeling the strength seeping out of him, sensing his heart slow. His mind begins to wander. He closes his eyes.

-:-

And somehow manages to open them again. He blinks.

This is not what he expected.

He's in a small, enclosed space filled with some kind of a watery fluid, and fear jolts through him. He kicks out in fright at the walls, but his foot bounces back without harm.

Realization slowly dawns on him as he looks at his surroundings until awareness smacks him in the face.

He's in the womb.

He curls up into the fetal position and settles back to sleep with a small smile.

Well, this is going to be an adventure.

-:-

He finds Arthur three lives later. It's on an ordinary morning in the town when Merlin walks down the street, but when he spots him, the world starts glowing, and he doesn't hesitate to run over and grab Arthur by the shoulders.

"Prat!" He beams. "Finally!"

Arthur looks startled, but Merlin knows that he has to be joking, because there's no way that he doesn't remember him, not after all the battles they fought together, not after all the quests they went on together, not after the brotherhood they had forged .

Arthur opens his mouth to speak and Merlin listens happily as his familiar voice comes out. "Prithee, sirrah, do I know thee?"

"By my fay, you jester, right on!" Merlin laughs, dizzy with relief. The last three lives had been confusing, to say the least, but now, with Arthur there beside him, everything feels so right, and he knows that Arthur would make everything okay. "Dost thou not remember thy brother?" he teases, a foolish grin on his face.

Arthur's face is still bemused so Merlin searches his mind for something that will trigger Arthur's memory. "All right then, dopplehead, if we shall refer to our first lives."

Arthur's face goes still. "First lives," Merlin prods, hoping for a reaction. "Thou knowst of it, fighting dragons, battling magic, yes?"

Arthur's face goes white and he looks stunned. "Dost thou practice the dark arts?" he hisses. "The Church forbids such speech!"

Merlin laughs, convinced now that Arthur's been knocked on the head a bit too many times. "Dark arts? I thought we conquered this battle. Arthur, you're the once and future king and I'm your warlock!" Arthur makes the sign of the cross and stumbles away. Merlin sighs a bit but remains elated, deciding to seek him out tomorrow. Arthur always had been a bit hard-headed.

The next day, Merlin makes some inquiries and heads straight towards Arthur's house, determined to shakes Arthur out of his joke. When nobody answers the door, Merlin heads towards the church, wondering if he'll find Arthur there.

But there is a crowd gathering like a storm around the sanctuary, and the hushed whispers send a chill skittering down his spine. The look in the eyes of the people is familiar. It means that there is a body within.

He files into the building to pay his respects, thoughts of Arthur momentarily forgotten in the midst of snippets of conversation that pull at his mind uneasily.

"Poor thing."

"The devil's work, 'tis – "

" – methinks the man , jumped into the river on his own, Lord have mercy on his soul – "

" – screamin' out that he was cursed , that a devil had come to him for his soul – "

The last few people move out of the way, and Merlin sees it. Arthur's body, laid out on the altar.

Merlin doesn't look for him in the next life.

-:-

The fifteenth century, he decides, is fantastic.

The height of the Renaissance is something that he will never forget, and being able to live in the heart of Italy, the center of it all, makes the whole experience even more memorable.

He is born into wealth this time around, and is privileged enough to attend universitas and spend hours in the biblioteca. His profession, really, is to spend hours poring over ancient text.

A much more comfortable life than chasing after Arthur all day.

He learns about medicine and religion and the sciences, about the body and the mind and the heavens. He reads all the Greek and Latin codexes and even a few ancient plays. Everything under the sun is at his fingertips.

It's a rather a shock though, when he opens a book and sees his name.

It's not his current name (Mortimer) but his real name, Merlin Emrys.

His first reaction, as childish as it is, is to peer furtively over his shoulder to ensure he's alone; then he remembers that it's not a crime and he straightens his shoulder. He then proceeds to read the most absurd and disgusting story about how he helps Uther sneak into Igraine's bedchamber so they can conceive Arthur.

Even though his eyes feel scalded from the, ahem, descriptive elements in that tale, he promptly heads for the records to see if there are any more references to himself or Arthur.

He finally realizes how much of an idiot he is when he finds a shelf full of literature and realizes, of course, people must have written about them.

In the reverent hush of the library, Merlin gathers all the books he can find on his past, takes a deep breath, and begins to read.

He laughs to the point of tears when they call Arthur "perfectly noble and always gracious." He grinds his teeth when he sees how history has bastardized the story of Guinevere and Lancelot. And he cries, quickly and quietly, when he reads about the fate of the Lady of the Lake.

He leaves the library with his belly warm from laughter and his eyes still rimmed with tears.

It's comforting to know that they'll always live in legend.

-:-

It is the saddest cry that history will ever hear.

"Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead…"

The plague has made a ghost town over the usually bustling streets of London. The skies are grey and the houses that line the street have bloody crosses staining their doors, marking the sign of an infected household.

Merlin pushes his wheelbarrow wearily as his partner calls out for families to bring out the deceased. It's meant for straw, or hay, no doubt, but is filled with bodies instead, of the young and old, of the strong and weak. The Black Death kills without reason or mercy.

He stops when a door creaks open. A shadowed man pushes a limp body down the steps and Merlin watches as it thuds down in a tangle of blond hair and long skirts. He bends down wearily, long since accustomed to the sight, and clasps his hands around bloodless wrists, preparing to toss her into the wheelbarrow, when he hears a cry.

"Mama!"

A little boy, not more than three, comes running out of the house and falls across the body, his face red and streaked with tears. The man next to him recoils and makes the sign of the cross before calling out for someone to take the child back into the infected house, but Merlin remains frozen.

In all of his time with Arthur, he had unarguably known him better than anybody else, but he has never known him like this. The toddler in front of him has plump cheeks in place of sharp cheekbones, and fat rounding his arms and legs, with grime staining his clothes. He's a child.

Merlin wants to pick him up and take him away and he – he wants to save him. But he can't risk it. Not after what happened last time.

So he watches as Arthur lies sobbing on his mother's lifeless chest, screaming her name like his own heartbeat depends on it, and he watches as Agrivaine appears from the inside of the house like a ghost and lifts Arthur from his mother's corpse, and he watches as his partner spits on them and he watches as the door closes softly, the action gentle in contrast with the bloody cross marked on the door.

Like so many other times, he remains silent.

-:-

Anybody who knows anything about the great Merlin Emrys knows that even though he could move the mountains and split the skies, when it came to healing spells, he really was rather an idiot.

That's why it's rather surprising when Merlin realizes that in this life, he has quite the knack for it. He studies hard and studies well, and soon enough finds himself in charge of an apothecary's shop in the middle of London. He becomes well known and loved by the townspeople, and Merlin finally realizes why Gaius loved the healing arts as much as he did. He always chuckles to himself when he's measuring out potions, wondering just what his old mentor would say if he could see his hopeless student now.

When there is a knock on his door late one night, Merlin wraps himself in a robe and goes to the door, ignoring his protesting joints. He had been expecting a delivery of horehound and anise, but is somewhat surprised to see not the local messenger, but a young boy looking back at him, with bright eyes framed by a thick set of brows.

"Yes?" Merlin asks, wondering now if the boy had been sent by an ill relative.

But the boy's face is clear and he tilts his chin up before he speaks. "I want to be your apprentice," he says calmly.

While Merlin isn't unhappy to hear this, he isn't exactly pleased, especially since it's before morning, so his voice is justifiably gruff when he speaks.

"Where did you study before?"

The boy's confidence falters visibly for the first time, betrayed by the slight fall of his head. "I've never studied medicine or been taught." He straightens his posture and adds on quickly though: "But I'm willing to learn."

Merlin's interest is peaked with this. An interesting child. "What's your name, boy?"

"Garrick."

And oh, suddenly it's like the young boy's face is morphing before his eyes, and Merlin can see where the wrinkles will form around his eyes, and what the hair will look like longer, and whiter, and how those eyebrows quirk at an angle just like so and –

Then he blinks, and it's Garrick again, staring up at him and waiting for an answer.

Merlin steps back and holds open the door. "Come on in, m'boy." He watches Garrick step inside. "I'll teach you everything I know."

It's the least he can do, after all.

-:-

After being reborn into excruciating poverty, Merlin decides to take a gamble and is one of eight score to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

The one thing he learns from this voyage is that if ever, by fate's wicked humor, he is reborn into a sailor's life, he will wave goodbye to saving Arthur and throw himself off the boat.

(In other words, the journey is not a good one)

When he lands, Merlin kisses the ground and vows that he will never leave the earth again. As soon as he clasps his weary traveler's eyes on a quaint Puritan town, he decides that he will settle there. It's small and quiet, and he's so very tired, and he thinks that Salem will be the perfect place to rest his queasy stomach and soothe his troubled mind. (He hasn't seen anyone in this life, and he's feeling a bit lost and lonely, not to mention seasick)

He is seven-and-twenty when he moves into the community, and although at first he's a bit of an oddity, being a middle-aged man without wife and children, he is soon well accepted by the townsfolk.

He fills his days with simple things, like carving simple furniture and walking along the countryside. He gathers herbs and chops wood for the kind widow that lives on the outskirts of the town. She feeds him johnnycake and molasses and he grows to view her as the grandmother he never had.

For once, he ceases his frantic search for his destiny and stops living with the fear that if he closes his eyes, he'll miss a glimpse of Gwaine, or Percival. He focuses on the present, on the grain of the wood in his hands and the sweet smoke that curls from the hearth.

Everything is perfect.

But when Reverend Mather comes to town, Merlin goes home and weeps, because even if the name is different, he remembers the steel-cut jaw and the gimlet eyes and the merciless gaze. And he recognizes, with terrible knowledge, the look that the Reverend gives to old Goodwife Bassett, and for that, he weeps, and weeps.

In another week, there is a pyre being built in the center of the town, and Merlin has disappeared into the night.

-:-

He's an American trader, traveling with a group of caravans deep into the Southwest territories, when he hears a young woman's laugh. The town that they have stopped for respite is filled with Mexican women looking to barter for American goods, so it shouldn't be extraordinary, but for some reason he turns around, and there she is.

Freya.

Of course, her name is Freida, and she's a fiery native who heaps Spanish curses on his head the first time he tries to talk with her, but her glossy black hair and her gently curved chin and her darkdark eyes are the same, and he would have recognized her anywhere, in any time.

It takes time for her to trust him. He brings her desert sunflowers this time, instead of roses, and prickly pear fruits instead of strawberries, and even when his offerings are tossed into the dust, he continues to persist.

In the end, his patience is rewarded because she doesn't pull away when he cups her face in his hands, and she smiles against his lips when he whispers, te amo.

Their second kiss is as sweet as the first, 1123 years ago.

He abandons his caravan to live by her side, and they spend the rest of their years wandering the country together. With every step, he falls more and more in love with the craggy mountains and the endless horizon of the American Southwest, and even more in love with the light in Freida's eyes and the sound of her laugh.

Every night, as he watches her eyes fall closed under a glittering sky of silver and light, he thanks destiny for this magical second chance

When she dies, he spends a year in mourning before he follows her into the grave. It's not because she's gone; he will find her again one day, the truest of love conquers all.

It's because he knows that she won't remember any of it.

-:-

Merlin watches another slave-cart trundle by his window and turns away with a lump in his throat.

He tells himself repeatedly that a millennium has passed since , but the past and the present come into startling intersection when he walks outside to his vegetable patch and finds Gwen hiding in his corn stalks.

It sounds funny, but it isn't, because there are scars lining her beautiful caramel skin and her eyes are large and fragile and afraid and she shrinks away from him when he reaches out to her, and he can't deny that that hurts.

But the hurt fades in the light of the gaze of Gwen's liquid eyes, and he feels strength like magic rushing through his veins.

He is going to protect her.

He hides her in his root cellar and brings her apples and bread and candles and spends the night telling her about the way she'll be able to walk down the street with her head held high when she's free, promising her that it'll all be hers. In return, she tells him that her name is Gzifa and laughs at his stories and smiles at him so brightly that he can't remember a single dark thing that has happened over the years.

In the end, it lasts for only three days before a suspicious neighbor calls the county sheriff.

Merlin wakes up to the screams of Gw – no, Gzifa – and leaps out of bed into a sight from hell.

His yard is swarming with white men holding rifles, and when he runs out back to the potato cellar, all he can do is watch in horror as Gzifa – no, Gwen, Gwen – screams as a man cracks his hand against her face. She collapses in the dust, sobbing, screaming, begging for mercy.

The man turns around so Merlin can see his face, and the grief is almost expected, because for a man cursed with eternal memory, who else would fate have in store?

A shock of blond hair, sharp features – Arthur is the one twisting Gwen's arm and making her cry out in agony, Arthur is the one who is hurling her body into a cart, and Arthur will most likely be the one to force her onto the auction block, selling his Once and Future Queen like a dirty piece of meat.

As Arthur slams the door of the cart shut, Merlin closes his eyes. If only he knew. If only he knew.

He feels more than hears the sharp whistle of a club speeding towards him, but doesn't open his eyes. It doesn't matter to him if he'll wake up again or not. This life is already over.

-:-

The influenza epidemic is the worst he's lived through since the Black Plague. But this time, he's once again skilled at the healing arts, so he works days and nights, focusing on the ones he can still save with a fire that burns from within.

Morris Penn. He reads the chart as he draws back a crude curtain, staring at it fiercely. 8 years old, presenting with typical symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and fever. His heart sinks, then hardens. He will not let another child die.

He looks up and smiles. "Hello, I'm Doctor Em – "

One pair of green eyes and another pair of hazel stare back at him.

He drops the clipboard.

After he apologies profusely for his shakiness, he unsteadily checks over Mordred with his stethoscope, listening to his breathing. The familiar act soothes him, and he recovers enough to make the little boy laugh when he pokes his stomach, but when he takes Morgause aside for some questions on family history, he knows that it's not going to be easy.

Because even if Mollie O'Fara was born a thousand years after the woman Morgana called sister, some part of him still wants to hurt her, for corrupting Morgana so badly that Merlin had no choice but to battle against her.

He questions her quietly, avoiding her eyes, about Mordred's behaviors in the past few days and whether he'd been getting enough to eat. She responds quickly and calmly, her only sign of anxiety being fingers knotting together, until he asks her about Mordred's father.

Morgause's face crumbles. "My husband died a week ago." She buries her face into her hands and bends her thin frame into herself, and Merlin carefully places a hand on her frail back. Each bone feels as sharp as a knife, but the pain he's beginning to feel stems from his heart, not from his hand. "Doctor – " she chokes out the words. "-Doctor, don't let him die."

Merlin doesn't answer.

That night, he looks down at the sleeping child, flushed and feverish in slumber, and lets faded memories come rushing back to him in a dizzying flood, of pain and poison, death and destruction, betrayal and beckoning. He sees not a little boy, but a man, twisted and burned by rage, who drove a knife into Arthur's side, and in turn, ripped his own heart to shreds.

The memories are so strong that he has to grab the bed railing for support, and for a moment, he feels a rush of rage flood his veins. Modred killed Arthur, he killed everybody he loved, he's the reason he's here, alone…

But he takes a deep breath and looks again. Rounded limbs, patched clothes, a thumb gently suckled in his mouth. Mordred is no more. His name is Morris, and he is a child.

He is a child.

When a weeping Morgause embraces her healthy child after thanking him profusely, he looks on and feels emotions rise up in his chest, a physical pain near his heart.

Do better, he wants to say. Love him. Teach him. Don't frighten him.

Instead, he hands her a prescription and watches them leave. Mordred laughs in his mother's arms, before turning around to wave at him. He raises a hand in return, smiling faintly. Perhaps there's hope after all.

-:-

The roaring twenties were quite aptly named. The speakeasy is being held in the basement of the local mob boss, and even though the noise is not of a eardrum-shattering decibel, there is an undercurrent of sound and energy that seems liable to break the walls any second.

Merlin is dressed spotlessly in an elegant black tuxedo, and although he has never been one for vanity, he can't say that he doesn't enjoy the feel of the smooth silk across his skin. With his hair combed to one side and just the tiniest hint of a 5 o'clock shadow on his face, he knows that he cuts quite a dashing figure (if he does say so himself).

He takes a sip of his whiskey and ignores the chattering girls on his right. He sweeps the dimly lit room with wandering eyes, and it's then that he sees them.

The sheer joy of sharing their presence pins him to the spot, and all he can do is stare as he drinks the sight of them in thirstily.

There's Gwen, her skin smooth and glowing under the smoky lights, with a soft smile hovering on her lips. Her hair is in the sleek style of the decade, but a stray, achingly familiar curl has escaped her careful eye, and Merlin blinks suddenly, because he realizes that the last time he saw her, she was pleading for mercy and screaming for salvation.

But he wills away the tears, because past lives be damned, she's here now, alive and breathing, and he beams to himself, drawing strange and wistful looks, respectively, from the men and women around him. As Gwen turns to the man next to her, Merlin moves his gaze accordingly, and he stops breathing once more.

Because it's Gwaine, and in his pinstriped suit and fedora he looks so dashingly Gwaine-like that Merlin wants to just weep like a child and throw his hands up and dance. The man's shooting a coy look to the ladies around him, and Merlin shakes his head joyously at the antics of his old friend.

But it's the last figure, a laughing woman dressed in white, that shatters and remakes his heart in an instant.

She's wearing a boxy white dress with fringe that sways every time she moves and a long string of pearl that drip down her white neck. Her hair is curled and bobbed and she's laughing without inhibitions, ignoring the admiring glances of the males around her.

She looks happier, the lines around her mouth softer, and perhaps she remembers. She's wearing a boxy black dress and long white gloves and a long string of pearls that drips down her white neck. .

She is both Morgana and not Morgana. Her eyes in this life seem more blue than green and there's a gap in her teeth that shows up every time she smiles. She looks happier; the lines around her mouth are softer. She looks beautiful.

When his legs finally recover the ability to move, he heads straight across the saloon towards their little group, and as he near them, he catches strains of lilting voices that he is so wonderfully at home with, he slows his pace, just so he can savor their sound again.

"…and Gilbert, he called her a bug-eyed Betty!"

"What? That choice bit of calico? What do you think Margaret?"

"I wouldn't touch him with a ten cent box! Pass me that drink, will you Grace? I mean, the man's a total big timer! And just because I'm the boss's niece that doesn't mean I have to accompany him to the student rub, does it?"

He almost wants to stand there and drink in the sound of their voices forever, but the night isn't getting any younger, and the music is thrumming pleasantly through his veins, and even more than he wants the sound of their voices in his ears, he wants the warmth of their hands in his.

So he strides forwards and offers a slim hand up to Morgana, cutting off her rant and provoking coy smiles on the faces of Gwen and Gwaine, and grins, quirking up the corners of his mouth. "Save me with a dance, doll. You're breaking my heart."

She looks startled at first, green eyes widening, but her lips curve into a smirk that he never thought he would be so glad to see.

"Well, of course," she drawls. "It's not every day a girl gets to save her prince."

-:-

Merlin sighs and leans back in his seat.

He never thought that it would come to this for him, being forced to work at a 9 to 5 job as a paper-pusher. It makes him almost miss the days of being Arthur's servant, and he feels like he's betraying them, in a way, accomplishing nothing with his life.

He tilts his head to look out the window. The train station is filled with men dressed in gray suits that match his, and the emotionless faces of the men heading off to work embodies the era perfectly.

He's about to close his eyes to take a nap when an elderly couple catches his eye. They're dressed in simple clothing, but even their civilian wear sets them apart from the businessmen swarming around them.

They're reuniting, Merlin decides, after he sees the way the woman holds a hand up to the man's cheek. Their skin is soft and sagging, hair white and like clouds. The love they have for each other is apparent in the way they hold each other. He smiles to see it.

The man turns around a bit, the woman tilts her head, and Merlin is falling back into memory, of a mother that loved him and a father that died in his arms.

He leans back in his seat again, but this time with happy tears in his eyes. He's glad that his parents got to have their happy ending.

-:-

Musical festivals are always ripe for people-sighting. That's why Merlin loves them.

Morgana has already made her cameo on stage, and it's interesting to see her in a headband and barefoot with a name like Marianne. He thinks that he caught a glimpse of Freya, but if it was her, she's long lost in the crowd.

He doesn't mind too much though, because as the day goes on, he watches Elyan strum a guitar and Gwen laughs with her friends on a picnic table a field away from him. He feels a twinge in his chest when he sees her kiss a man with blond hair - shouldn't she be with Arthur? – But he can't blame her for not remembering.

He's lost in years – really, years - of memory when someone crashes into him and causes him to stumble. He barely catches himself before he hits the ground, and is turning around to scold the stranger when a hand reaches out and starts petting him on the head.

Merlin blinks. This he was not expecting.

He turns around. And smiles. Suddenly, everything makes sense.

Gwaine smiles at him dreamily with bleary eyes. "Hiya hunk." He waves a hand and nearly pokes his eye out in the process. "Name's Grrrrreg." He slurs this out happily, swaying back and forth before tipping forward dangerously.

Percival – Merlin's heart leaps with happiness –reaches out a huge hand and steadies him. Gwaine beam at him in thanks and Percival looks alarmed.

"Sorry mate." It's Lancelot who's speaking easily now, and Merlin has to physically squeeze his hands together to keep himself to from throwing his arms around the man's neck.

It creates a rather awkward pause in the conversation, but Lancelot smiles like Merlin isn't staring at him like an idiot and speaks again.

"I'm Larry." He jerks his head towards the other men. "That idiot's Greg and the big guy's Pat." Lancelot squints into the crowd around him. "We lost Leo, but he'll pop up eventually." He grins and Merlin does too. "He always does."

Merlin finally recovers his voice. "Guessing Greg's a little loaded?"

Percival laughs. "You got it…" He trails off purposefully and Merlin hurridly fills in the space.

"Martin." He bumps fists with Percival's outstretched hand. "Martin Evans."

Lancelot grins. "You seem like a cool head. Wanna come along?"

Merlin looks at him and wishes that he could slow down time again so he could have a moment to think. Tears are fringing his lashes because they were so close, because they were almost all here for the very first time in 1400 years and they were just a few people away from being together again.

But there's no sight of Gaius, or Uther, or Mordred, and from the stillness of his heart, Merlin knows that Arthur isn't coming. Not this time.

…So he might as well have some fun while he waits.

He blinks back the tears and smiles widely at Lance – Larry.

"Let's go, dude."

-:-

Merlin smiles wryly as the truck rumbles past him. Things had sure changed since he'd last stood on these watery shores. He had passed stores and cars and telephone poles on his way here, and he spares a chuckle to what his friends would have thought of this new world.

When he reaches his destination though, he stands on the watery shores of the ancient lake and realizes that very little has changed. The breeze is still sweet, the waters still cool, and the shiver that skitters up his spine is not from fear, but from awareness, the knowledge that he has stood here before.

He still doesn't know what made him buy the airplane ticket and board that plane. He's far too old for such adventures, far too old for such dreams of finding fate. But Merlin's glad that he did, for the lake seems to clear his age-clouded thoughts for the first time in decades and he lets his mind wander freely.

He thinks of all of his lives, and all of his years, and wonders how much longer he will have to wait, wonders what on earth he is waiting for.

The lake laps at his feet like an old friend, quiet and patient, and as he looks down, waves of memory spill over him, bearing traces of Gwen's warmth and Freya's smile and Lancelot's laugh.

He sighs, and it's not happy, but it's close enough. Because he's living for them, and he's searching for them, and most of all, he's not going to stop until he finds a certain prat.

I will wait, he vows, as the lake murmurs against sandy shores and gulls wail a dirge in the distance. I will wait for you.

He sits there for a long while, trying to find a pattern encoded in the pebbles littering the ground, a reasoning to the leaves that float on the water, anything that lets him know that Arthur can hear him and that Arthur is there.

But the dollophead was never very good at communication, so when the stars begin to flare to life, Merlin finally gets up with a groan and hobbles off, his aching heart that brought him here finally at peace. Even if Arthur couldn't hear his words, that didn't change a thing.

I will wait for you.

-:-

But with his twenty-seventh, comes loneliness, painful and deep. The magic of reincarnation wears away, and Merlin is left a weariness that comes from not decades, but millennia of living alone, bearing a secret that no one remembers, searching for people who don't know he exists.

The feeling has swept him before, many times, but a glimpse of a single familiar face in a crowd or a name too fateful to be just coincidence has always been enough to pull him from his mourning and give him strength enough to carry on.

In this life though, there is no sight of them to give him hope. He combs the papers daily, praying to find a name that sparks recognition, or a face that he's seen before, but there is nothing. It is as if they have all completely disappeared.

Merlin begins to wonder why it is only he that has been cursed this way, doomed eternally to search the earth for people who know not his name, who would rather shoot themselves than take his hand (He's never quite forgiven himself for that).

And this world that he's been condemned to roam grows darker every day. There is a war that is cold turning into a war against terror and revolutions that slaughter more than they save. There are people who claim their god bids them to kill and parents who hurt their children in spite.

There is no more magic. No more miracles, or things like gods and faith and stars. There is nothing that proves to Merlin that this spinning rock in space is his home.

The weight of all these lives finally comes crashing down on him, and he realizes that he's waiting for something that will never come. So he gives up. For the first time, he loses hope.

He turns off the cable. He stops going online. He spends an entire adulthood sleeping, living inside his room to hide from the monsters that prowl the streets.

But he can't escape the demons that rage in his head, centuries upon centuries of memories of living alone and dying alone and watching from a distance, unable to save the world. His dreams are haunted by betrayal and darkness and death, his days by tragedy and pain.

He buys the gun on a Sunday morning.

He dies alone.

-:-

The first thing he tells himself in his next life is that he will not give up. That he will find them and bring them all together, even if it takes another thousand years.

So even though years pass between sightings so brief Merlin wonders if they even happened at all, he keeps his promise. He does not give up.

He buys a small apartment in New York as soon as he turns eighteen and spends his days working in a tiny bookshop crammed with enough books to sate even his appetite for knowledge. At night, he reads and taps out stories on the keyboard, committing to paper his own history, as proof of his existence.

He works. And watches. And waits.

On days when he feels just a little lonely or just a little bit lost in the roar of the city, he treks down to Central Park to sit on his favorite bench among whistling birds and pools of sunlight dappling the ground, and it's there that he finds himself one lovely Sunday afternoon.

Slumping his shoulders and relaxing his arms, Merlin looks
around him with a small smile. It's spring, and even though he knows that cars are screeching just a block away, for now, all he can hear are the birds and the winds and the soft rustle of baby leaves. His eyes wander around the park and –

He sees her first. Freya, , Franchesa, Fiona, Francine, whatever her name may be in this life, she's walking across the street like it's the simplest action in the world, like she's not his once and only ever love. Her hair is down and shining and she's wearing a rose coloured skirt that brings out the colour in her cheeks.

He rips his eyes away from her to breathe when he sees her next. Morgause, jogging across the street in tight black leggings, a high blond ponytail, and headphones in her ears.

He begins to hyperventilate as his eyes flit around the park. There's Gwen, sitting on a bench and laughing gaily with a group of girls. Morgana has a smart two piece suit on and is walking briskly on the sidewalk, snapping orders into a cellphone. And it doesn't matter if her name is Anna or Morgan or Mildred in this life, all that matters is the smirk on her face and the way she carries herself.

A group of guys is laughing and sweaty and coming home from the court, and even though they're wearing blue pinneys instead of red cloaks, even though the names they use – Garrett, Eddie, Lennie – are those of strangers, the faces are of those he could never forget.

Uther is hobbling along the street, clutching a hand of a small and skipping child, and as Merlin looks on closely, he recognizes pale green eyes and a round face. He rocks back, once again stunned as destiny's sense of humor.

His heart threatens to beat out his chest when he sees a laughing group of two elderly man and a woman. They seems wise and peaceful, and he knows that they are, for they are, after all – his mother, his father, and his mentor.

And as he turns his head to look behind him, his heart is hammering in his thin chest, because something ingrained within him knows that this is it,and every life has brought him closer to this moment, and after a thousand years, he's come home, finally, and gods, the breeze is blowing hope and light, and he's both achingly afraid and joyous beyond belief and –

Everything falls into place.

He walks up to the man ambling down the path and taps him on the shoulder. As the blond turns, Merlin reads the name embroidered on the baseball cap and smiles. Some things never change.

"Hullo Arthur."

-:-

"Some things are destined to be - it just takes us a couple of tries
to get there."
J.R. Ward,Lover Mine


A/N: *Cries* This monster of a fic is OVER, I think it's the longest oneshot I've ever written. *Gives a huge sigh*

So what did you guys think? Feedback is loved :)