AN: Set post 5X13. Alludes to past episodes and maybe one or two lines of dialogue. Warnings: alludes to abortion and mentions stays in mental institutions - neither of which reflect any personal opinion of my own - they are just plot devices, but I apologise for any offence it may cause. In my mind because their destinies have been foretold Merlin will age slowly until Arthur returns. No slash, though goggles are allowed. Apologies if characters seem OCC. Any mistakes are my own. Hope you enjoy.


GLIMPSES OF US

537

He enters Camelot though a little known passage, managing to avoid everyone until he enters his quarters. Gaius sits, slumped over the table next to a bowl of his favourite soup, probably long past cold. He shuts the door softly creeping towards the stairs, hoping to hide in his room for a few moments before he confesses his failure.

Gaius jerks awake instantly scanning the room until his eyes land on the distraught boy in front of him. "My boy," he breathes out slowly stepping towards Merlin and gathering him into his arms.

"Gwen, has she addressed the court?" Merlin chokes out.

Leading Merlin to a bench, Gaius sits him down, arms still around him. "We were waiting for you, in hopes…" he trails off as Merlin breaks into a fresh round of sobs. "I'm sorry my son...so very sorry."

Hours later, with Merlin laced with a mild sedative, Gaius speaks to Gwen. She collapses against him, hiccuping about Camelot procedures, needing to speak to Leon, about what she will do without Arthur beside her. She declares a week of mourning after shouts of; 'All, hail the queen,' die down.

Black dresses the court, the blood red flags standing tall.

Merlin has not left his room since his return, leaving it up to Gwen to see him and the devastation written clear across his face. Her black dress drags across the floor collecting little particles of dust that float in the sun for brief moments, her head bare without her crown. She is just Gwen. Kind, understanding, trip over her words until she cannot meet your eyes Gwen and that makes it so much worse. He buries himself further beneath his covers in an attempt to avoid her gaze.

Soft brown eyes run searchingly over Merlin's skinny frame still hidden under the blanket. She had hoped that she would greet Arthur once again, watching as he complained of Merlin dragging behind him, laughing as Merlin rolled his eyes in good nature delivering her his patent look of: 'He's a prat yet you still see the husband material.'

Gwen pulls a chair next to Merlin's bedside, bringing down his bed-covers with a slight struggle. He looks up at her, her fingers trailing through his slightly greasy hair. "Hello Merlin," she begins gently, "will you come out soon?" Blue orbs continue to stare. "Come now. You must eat a little Merlin, we're all getting worried."

She makes to stand, already brushing a hand over the skirt of her dress when Merlin catches her fingers. "I'm so, so, sorry Gwen," he whispers.

Carefully she crouches down, propriety be damned, hands still linked with his and leans in close. "Don't be sorry Merlin…" she makes sure to look into his eyes, "…I should be…no, I am thanking you, for everything you have done for Camelot. For everything you have given up for the people even when it has come at a cost to yourself. I promise, your debt will be repaid Merlin, however long it takes – I will fight for your freedom and I will make sure that Camelot will know what you have done for us all."

She lets go of his fingers, emotions flooding her system causing her to struggle for breath as she walks out of his room. Her mind beginning to strategize of ways to rewrite Camelot's long-standing laws, not willing to have Merlin hide in fear any longer. Stepping out into the corridor she encounters a solemn Percival who lowers his head.

"Your Highness."

"Sir Percival." She smiles at the plate of cakes in his hand. "Trying to get Merlin to eat as well?"

The knight nervously scratches the back of his head. "I don't think he knows about Gwaine…" he trails off watching Gwen's eyes widen and covering her mouth as she whispers an 'oh dear'. "Gwaine only stayed in Camelot for Merlin, also said Merlin was his best mate. If it's all the same to you," he nods in the direction of the door moving towards it in a quiet whisper, "I don't want him to hear this from the scullery maids first time he goes out into the castle."

"Of course. Just… don't rush into it, please. He looks so broken," Gwen says.

Percival enters Merlin's room quietly hovering near the door; dark circles surround each of his eyes. He wanted to come sooner, to tell Merlin that Arthur wasn't the only one lost that day, that his second best friend - because really as if anyone could surpass Arthur in Merlin's eyes - had crossed into Avalon, hopefully greeted with a tankard of ale and a beautiful woman.

"Merlin...Gaius says you haven't eaten much, I brought you honey-cakes." the knight offers. When no response is forth coming, he walks over to the bed sitting next to Merlin. "I don't if anyone has been in to see you but I have something to tell you Gwaine…" he trails off, unsure of how to continue.

Gwaine…

Died

Passed away.

Was killed

Murdered

Tortured

Stretched wide by his hands and tortured the vilest of creatures until he had no choice but to tell Morgana Arthur's position, I found him, held his head in my hands as he tried not to let guilt be his last feeling on earth. Percival winced. I'm definitely not telling Merlin that…

"We went off to mind Morgana, Gwaine and I. She captured us and she...hurt Gwaine." He looks down at his hands still remembering the feel of Gwaine's skin, the slight scratch of a beard as he cradled his face. "We were separated and I could hear these screams. Gods Merlin, I don't know what she did to him. I found him but I...I couldn't help him, I'm so sorry. I carried him back and we had the funeral immediately." He feels his own eyes wet with tears and chances a look at Merlin who is struggling to keep his composure.

"I ran the witch through with Arthur's sword," Merlin murmurs. "He didn't die alone...that's, that's good," he pauses for a moment, a sad little twinkle lighting his eyes, "I hope you all went to the Tavern after."

"Aye Merlin, we went to the Tavern. Gwaine would've been proud." Percival smiles.

"I think I'd like to sleep now."

Nodding, Percival reminds Merlin to eat, ruffles his hair and pulls the door shut behind him.

He's sure he can hear sobbing.

It's another week before Merlin comes out of his room, his arms laden with parchment that he dumps onto the table ignoring the inquiring eyebrow of Gaius. "Gwen needs to look at these. I've detailed everything I can possibly think of. Every magical precaution, punishment, consideration I can think of resides on these papers."

Gaius stares, his eyebrow still not lowering.

"I'm leaving Gaius." Merlin bites his lip fiddling with the parchment nearest to him. "I thought I could stay but it feels wrong. It's just; please don't think of me as a coward-"

"My boy, you are the bravest of us all. No one will think of you as a coward, least of all me." He walks to Merlin's side wrapping his arms around the younger man. "I figured you would leave. I suppose this doesn't feel like home anymore." Merlin's head shakes the negative over his shoulder. "I suggest you return to your mother, for a short time before you disappear," he says quietly, ignoring the pull at his heart.

Merlin leaves just as the sun rises upon Camelot.

_?_?_

587

Water laps the ends of his boots staining the leather that hides under years of dirt. The tranquil sight before him leaves him bitter, the sense of disappointment weighing heavy on his heart. Ten years has passed since the fall of Camelot – a fall that he marks down as another one of his own personal failures.

He had been so sure. So sure, that the dragon's nonsensical prophecies would come to pass. That Arthur would rise again. Instead, Camelot had fallen and Arthur had not been there to save it. God help him, he tried so damn hard to stave it off. Gwen had ruled well and strong for decades, magic users revered her for bringing magic back to the lands. He had heard wonderful tales as he travelled of the place he once called home, whole kingdoms singing her praises yet it wasn't enough.

He can't help the tears spilling from his face, head cradled in his hands.

"Freya says hello."

He watches Merlin scrabble to his feet, wiping his tears away with the back of his hands. He looks exactly the same as he had when Merlin reluctantly pushed the boat away. His blond hair shines lightly in the sun, once glinting armour and chainmail no longer part of his dress. Instead he wears a crisp white tunic and dark trousers, along with a pair of boots. The glint of the sun on his thumb-ring sends light flickering into the lake.

"Arthur…" Merlin bites his lip walking slowly towards his dead friend. He raises a shaky hand to hold Arthur's forearm. The expected feeling of cotton and muscle – the tangibility of Arthur's return and friendship, is replaced by cold air and fear as his hand passes through Arthur's arm rippling like water. Merlin's face crumples, tears beginning once again.

"Hey, hey now, come now Merlin. Stop that." Arthur struggles with feelings of helplessness, watching Merlin draw his arms around his torso as if he is shielding himself from invisible blows.

"Why are you here? Why are you here now?! Camelot's gone Arthur!" Merlin yells stepping back away from him.

Arthur closes his eyes, anguish passing over him. "I know Merlin." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "Gods I know Merlin. I saw them all pass over, Gwen, Leon, Percival, Gauis...I'm sorry about your mother." He hears Merlin knees give out from under him. "The Saxons were too strong, Camelot gave it her all. Believe me Merlin, I wanted to come back and I was furious when Freya told me that it wasn't my time..." He trails of until the only sound he can hear is Merlin's breathing.

"I…I have to leave."

"Wait! Merlin, I'm coming with you."

Merlin stops short letting out a bark of laughter tinged with anger at this situation. "What are you on about? You can't come with me. You're not even allowed to leave!"

The anguish in his voice breaks Arthur's heart. He had hoped that Merlin would be alright, but all he sees is the loneliness in Merlin's eyes and the defeat in his posture. He shakes his head striding towards Merlin. "Freya and Lancelot were burned, they spirits are bound here. I…well, I wasn't, so I'm coming with you." He continues more quietly, "None of us want you to be alone."

Merlin gapes at him. "So you want to what? Haunt me? Drive me mad?"

Distrust, is the tone Arthur seems to identify in Merlin's words. "I don't want you to be alone," he says catching Merlin's eyes. You were alone even before you came to Camelot. With a grin he adds:"Don't be ridiculous, if anything, you would drive me mad."

_?_?_

721

The discovery of Arthur's somewhat physical abilities is rather by accident. Merlin takes ill and subsequently faints in the middle of the forest. Arthur spends a good hour yelling in equal measures of anger and fear and is well into the midst of downright sobbing scared when the sound of hoof beats reaches his ears. He listens trying to pinpoint the horse's movement which become clear the second the beast gallops its way on a path that will end in Merlin's broken ribs and most likely death. For Arthur, sobbing scared quickly turns into blind, headless chicken-like panic as he screams at Merlin, arms flailing in the air, head swivelling between his sick manservant and the approaching giant of a horse.

Nothing is all he's good for at the moment, yet he promises that he will never ever call Merlin useless again if he can save his friends life. The horse draws nearer, yet he feels no different – no divine intervention, no magic in the air. He growls and instincts take over as he jumps onto Merlin's prone form, his arms encircling the man's waist and rolls them to the side, startling the horse which rears on its hind legs before changing course. He pants for a few moments, head on Merlin's chest as he tries to catch his breath due to something, he supposes is, akin to the spirit form of adrenalin.

It is then, that he notices the solid feel of Merlin beneath him. The scratch of his clothes against his skin, and the soft feel of Merlin' fingers which lay trapped between their chests. The beginnings of excitement claw up his chest. "Merlin?" he says softly, moving away from him. "Merlin, can you hear me? It's Arthur…I think I'm back Merlin!"

Merlin is still out cold.

He pouts.

He pouts more when Merlin finally recovering enough to listen to Arthur's revelation creates a mirror out of thin air and holds it in front of him. "There's something wrong with your mirror you idiot! I can't see myself." He peers into it more closely, noting the trees in the mirror and comparing it to those that sit directly behind him. He turns the mirror on Merlin looking at it upside down where he can see his friend's sad expression. "Don't look at me like that!" he snaps. "Your mirror is wrong. See this here?" He drops the mirror grabbing the back of Merlin's neck, a hand over Merlin's sternum. "You feel that Merlin? Because I sure as hell can, I can feel your heart beat." Merlin looks down at his hand. "I am back. I am not in your hea-" he stops, hearing voices near them.

"Bandits."

"Lookit hear lads." One says, slinking out from behind a tree. "You here by yourself?" Merlin stands keeping his expression calm as three more join the first. "Do you have anything of value?"

Arthur bares his teeth. "Take your leave."

The bandits crowd around Merlin, surrounding him from all four sides. "We'll just take a look at your bag, shall we?" The bandit behind Merlin places his sword against Merlin's neck, beads of red staining pale skin. Arthur seethes.

"You all get away from him now!" He steps towards the one in front of Merlin, his hands closing around the man's thick throat. No, please no! He begins swiping at the man. Head. Neck. Shoulders. Sticking his hand through the man's stomach, Arthur watches in sick fascination as his fingers wiggle from the man's back, his whole arm dwarfed inside the bandit from elbow to wrist. "Merlin, I can't-"

Merlin flings his hands out, magic blasting all four men away into the trees. For sickening cracks reverberate through the forest and back to them. "Arthur," he sighs, already seeing Arthur beating himself up for not being able to protect him. "It'll be alright."

"It doesn't make any sense! You're the only one who can see or feel me." Frustration pours of Arthur, leaving Merlin to tug Arthur into his arms, holding on until he can feel Arthur loosen slightly. Arthur pats Merlin's back a couple of times. "You were always abnormally fond of hugs," he huffs letting out a smile.

_?_?_

880

Merlin grunts as he rolls onto his side in an attempt to ignore the jabbing finger…which continues to poke him.

"Merlin."

Poke.

"Merlin, come on."

Poke. Poke.

"You can't ignore me forever."

The dark haired man cracks an eye open. God help me I can't.

Poke. Poke. Poketypokepokepoke. Poke. Poke. Pokepokepokep-

"For gods sake Arthur what do you want?" Merlin shouts, still struggling to sit up on his elbows. He surveys the man next to him who attempts to look like a picture of innocence.

Arthur tilts his head before moving a hand to Merlin's head and fingering a strand of hair on the left side of his temple. Critically, blue eyes look at the strand which hangs over his ear. Merlin bats his hands away. "Your hair."

"Really Arthur? You woke me up to discuss my hair." He says flatly. He begin to lower himself back to sleep when Arthur's hand continues to hover over his head. "If you wouldn't mind - I'd like to get some sleep before the Vikings capture me again." Motioning Arthur away with his hands he suddenly stops noting the sad kicked expression upon the blonde's face. "I just really want to sleep. Can't let the Vikings get a drop on me now can I?" He tries to smile.

Arthur drops his hand beside his body whilst peering into Merlin's face. "I...Merlin."

He flops back onto the hard ground, wincing when his head meets a tree trunk. "What is it Arthur?"

Arthur touches Merlin's temple again. "You have a grey hair."

"Oh the horror..." Merlin begins, feeling spiteful, "...say it isn't so Arthur! What shall I do without my lovely dark hair?" He rolls his eyes, looking into Arthur's youthful face. This isn't about vanity. He's truly happy that Arthur is around, full but sharp faced, twinkly blue eyes, body shaped by years of fighting without any sign of Mordred's deadly wound. Really, he's not jealous. It's just, he's aging and he wonders how long this will take, how old is he to look, knowing that he has waited hundreds of years longer – for all Arthur's talk of never being alone, he's still feels an outsider to this world.

_?_?_

1035

That's new, thinks Merlin, feeling the new crevasses that have begun to appear on his face as time continues on. Calloused hands gently run over skin, surveying, feeling the lines that are borne of both emotion and age. He stares up at the sky. Stars littering the darkness, the fire still burning bright beside him, the gentle pressure of Arthur curled up at his side. He doesn't think winter has ever been less kind and for all Arthur's complaining:

"…Merlin you have magic. Don't be an idiot and do something to get rid of this cold."

To which he laughed in reply because Arthur can't feel the cold…or the heat for that matter.

"It could apply to you too, you know?" Arthur reminded him.

Merlin knows this but has decided that he has some form of penance to pay regardless of the Kilgarrah's on assurance that there was nothing to be done.

Morning greets Merlin with, music ringing in his ears, a dead fire and no sign of Arthur which turns out to be quite normal in the mornings. Worry starts to gnaw at him when half a day passes and Arthur, who has been stuck to Merlin's side like glue since he left the Isle, hasn't appeared.

A week has passed when Merlin decides to travel to the lake only to be met with Lancelot sitting on the shoreline. Feet bare, the water gently lapping at his toes, easiness rolls of him and Merlin finds it nice and soothing.

He coughs to bring Lancelot into the present, already grinning when his friend winks at him and stands. "Good morning. Arthur will be back shortly I imagine." Merlin nods seeing Arthur's body fully restoring itself to the island. "You look good. The hair's interesting." He gestures at his chin and at his own hair, brunette locks falling effortlessly around his face, longer than when he had last been 'alive'. Merlin runs a hand through his own salt and pepper hair and strokes the tip of his beard.

"I think I look smart and distinguished."

"Well then, I'd have to agree. Arthur's not really fond of the beard – he says it's odd seeing you with facial hair." Lancelot smiles seeing Arthur trudge past them, still wet from his almost reincarnation muttering about it 'almost taking'.

Merlin rolls his eyes at Lancelot's polite re-jigging of words watching Arthur's back disappear into the forest. "I didn't know you could even grow facial hair Merlin," he says mimicking Arthur.

_?_?_

1348

"The doctors out there are idiots! Even more than you are! They're wearing masks Merlin. Masks! What good will that do anyone when the people are dying of illness? They look like giant black crows… They keep waving posies of rosemary and herbs around. It is absolutely horrendous out in the city! This must be the work of sorcery!" Merlin casts Arthur a dark look. "Nevermind." Merlin feels Arthur's gaze sweep him critically. "You won't get sick right? I mean, your magic will protect you so you won't catch it…are you sure this isn't magical in nature."

"I would know if this was magic related and no I won't get sick. If I feel sick, or my neck swells, or pus leaks out of boils, or I vomit blood or something equally unlikely, you will be the first to know. I promise I won't inconvenience you by dying."

A look is levelled in his direction. "You know that isn't remotely funny Merlin."

"Well you always said that I was supposed to be your manservant and not the court jester." A grin appears on his face. "That doesn't explain why I had to juggle eggs for Queen Annis though."

"Well you were a lousier manservant then you were a jester…oh. You used magic when you preformed!" Merlin blinks at him stupidly turning to walk further into the cave, a place that he has disguised from the outside world and now serves as home.

"I'll have you know that I have many hidden talents Sire."

"So you did..." Arthur watches Merlin disappear leaving him desperately wanting to know the truth. "Then you didn't? Merlin…I demand an answer. Merlin, are you listening to me? Merlin!"

_?_?_

1707

"Apparently we are known the United Kingdom of Great Britain." Merlin says whilst drying out his hair.

Arthur looks up from his wooden sword he carved out of boredom, flourishing it in Merlin's direction. "Since when? Hang on. I said that first! At Camlann, I said 'the future of the united kingdoms, which is exactly the same thing. Merlin, I, King Arthur named the United Kingdom."

His happiness is met with amusement from Merlin who ties his white shoulder length hair back with string. "You, King Arthur are an arrogant prat who had no bearing on this decision whatsoever."

"But I said it first." Arthur crosses his arms, pouting, when Merlin magics his sword away in exasperation.

"Are you pouting Sire?" Arthur's face flushes in embarrassment, protesting a negative. "It looked like you were." Folding the towel away he feigns tiredness looking away from Arthur. "Fine Arthur yes. Yes you named us the United Kingdom, you clotpole." He can feel Arthur grin behind him.

_?_?_

1914 and 1939

They largely ignore both World Wars, burrowing underground, further into the cave system as destruction reigns above them. Merlin can see the desire to go and assist in Arthur's eyes. He can feel the pull, the sound of men shouting over infernos, causing Arthur's hand to past over his waist where his scabbard once hung – his fingers itching for a way to help win wars.

The conversation always stays the same…

"It's something I'd be good at Merlin." Arthur states; lacing his fingers behind his head. "I could be helping them."

Merlin flinches, the vibrations in the earth race up his spine. "War is no longer fought with swords Arthur."

"You think I don't know that? Innocent people are dying out there!"

"They are not your people, Sire, and clearly this is not your war."

_?_?_

1979

Merlin's walk to the island is filled with misery and an odd sense of nostalgia for Camelot, Gaius and his mother, the smells in the market place, the uneven feeling of cobble stones under his foot. Arthur has been gone for longer than a month – his leaving, replaced with something else in Merlin's existence. Since Arthur's various departures his magic sings, almost as if it were rejoicing. He feels happy and light and he can only assume that his wait is almost over.

Lancelot stands near the lakeside, biting the inside of his cheek. His eyes skimming the top of the water searching for…for something…

"Lancelot, what's the matter? You're tense. Is everything alright?" Merlin asks looking up at his friend. The singing stops, fizzling out into a pathetic whimper.

"Arthur!" Lancelot speaks stepping into the water.

Merlin's eyes widen in surprise, his mouth forming into an 'oh' as Arthur struggles to wade to them. The blonde's fringe is plastered to his forehead, head bowed down, shoulders hunched and quivering…You're shaking…why are you shaking?! He looks at Lancelot helplessly ignoring the solemn expression upon the other's face. His clammy hands pulled Arthur to his chest. "Sire, are you alright?"

Arthur nods, wincing as he palms the side of his left rib. "How long have I been gone?"

"Little under two months, Sire. So I assume the world doesn't need you yet." Merlin says not noticing Arthur's eyes go glassy and Lancelot's eyes grow hard.

"Can we just go back to the house Merlin," the scratchy tone in Arthur's voice catches the attention of both brunettes.

"Sure. Lancelot, what's going on?" Merlin asks staring at the knight who has a hand on Arthur's shoulder.

"Just get Arthur home, Merlin."

The trek back is quiet, Arthur still silent and pressed into Merlin's side. When they reach the house (which stands where the cave once was) Arthur sits in front of the fireplace, knees drawn to the chest, head bent over them. It scares Merlin a little. Well actually it scares him a lot. The defeated posture is unnerving and so unlike Arthur that Merlin wants to ask what the hell happened instead of hovering near the door.

Merlin moves to add another log to the fire.

Arthur catches Merlin's wrist between his head still bent low. "It was wet…and disgusting…and I could hear sounds, just like any other time…there was a lot of yelling though and crying and…" Arthur sniffles, scrubbing at his eyes with his unoccupied hand. "She didn't want me." Merlin's breath hitches at the raw emotion displayed in Arthur's voice. "She got some procedure done…I think I got poked…and then, sucked out?" Merlin wants to find this woman; cast a ferocious spell on her for rejecting Arthur and undoubtedly bringing up unspoken emotions stemming from Uther to the surface. His anger is tempered slightly when Arthur adds almost offended, mumbling: "I definitely got poked."

He settles for clasping the hand around his wrist with his own and rubbing Arthur's knuckles gently.

_?_?_

1987 - 1993

Arthur had been yelling for seven minutes where the most common words included: imbecile, idiot, stupid, mad, please, you can't, don't you dare and a weakly added attempt of I am your King and I demand you to stop this. He had turned red in the face pacing for three meters, letting out a strangled cry and disappearing. Merlin counted to one before the voice shouted: "This is the most idiotic thing you've ever done!"

"I'd like to check myself in." Merlin says, grinning like a lunatic.

The girl looks up narrowing her eyes taking in his long beard and even longer hair. "Okay sir, if you wait here, I'll ring up one of the doctors."

Merlin nods his head in agreement, turning to sit in one of the hard plastic chairs that are bolted to the floor.

At the shuffling of feet near reception, Merlin looks up. The doctor dressed in jeans and dress shirt stares as the receptionist pointing towards him. "Right, hello Sir, would you like to come with me."

Slowly, Merlin stands feeling the first niggles of apprehension of this plan. Go through with this. Don't let Arthur be right.

"Of course I'm right!" Arthur's voice shouts from his right. Merlin's flinch is immediately noticed by the doctor who cautiously leads him into an office.

Name:("Really Merlin, M Grant?")

Age: 68 ("You look good for over a thousand.")

Condition: Mild schizophrenia (Arthur snorts letting Merlin know exactly what he thinks of the diagnosis as he continues to read over the doctor's shoulder.)

Symptoms: Auditory and Visual hallucination of mythic figure, King Arthur, believes himself to be the King's manservant. ("Mythic figure? MYTHIC FIGURE?!" he shouts. "Merlin, explain yourself at once. Why am I mythic? I am not a sodding fairy tale!")

Dangerous: No, very unlikely to hurt others or himself. (Arthur is decidedly quiet on that one.)

Frequency: Mild episodes of hallucinations every few day. ("I am not a hallucination. I am not an episode. For all things good Merlin, why are you doing this?")

Medication: Yes. May be able to be released from institution and into society provided medication is taken. ("You will pretend to take whatever they give you - if you don't, I will sing. Sing Merlin! That is something I wouldn't even wish upon Morgana. I'll prove it..." Arthur begins to tonelessly sing...well yell one of his favourite battle hymns. Merlin sits counting to ten, trying to fight the desire to bring his hands up to his ears.)

Notes:
-
Self admittance. (Arthur stops his singing/yelling looking down at the last note. His eyes harden, jaw working furiously. "We will be discussing this at length, multiple times.")

-Revaluation to occur every six months. (Arthur's face shuts down and he vanishes.)

"This is a terrible idea."

"Why?" Merlin smiles at Jane as she ambles past swatting at flies. "Doesn't she remind you of anyone?" he says feigning innocence when Jane turns around and takes Merlin's hands in her own.

"No." Arthur replies.

"You have that look about you - the guilty one." She begins, squinting her eyes. "What have you been saying, better yet, what have you been telling Arthur, hmm?" Arthur stays quiet. "He's still not big on talking to others is he?"

Merlin huffs, rolling his eyes and passing a look over Jane's head glancing at Arthur who shifts quietly behind her. "It's like he's trying to prove that I'm not supposed to be here."

"Because you're not!"

"Shush you dollophead! I'm talking to Jane." Arthur wants to begrudge the smile that appears on Merlin's face as he takes her arm and leads her to where she thinks Lucy is sitting in her sky of diamonds…Arthur shakes his head not understanding what that means.

Merlin is out cold lying haphazardly in his bed two years after his admittance when Arthur appears back at the island. Lancelot and Freya are talking in hushed voices, shrouded in darkness bar the soft glow of the moon, when he approaches, concern highlights their faces. "They have considered your request and approve." Freya whispers taking Arthur's hand. "'Emry's must be free,' they said. How could he go there in the first place?"

Arthur stares at his feet. Because he's still feels alone…

Lancelot separates them leading Freya away. "Good luck Arthur."

Arthur disappears for a month, leaving Merlin withdrawn from the group that he manages to call his friends. Jane sits next to him in the day room, knitting and talking about the Martians that live on her dressing table. He plays with the sleeves of his dressing gown, trying to supress panic.

"What is it pet?" She pokes him with a knitting needle, waving off the nurse that approaches her in reprimand. "Isn't your friend talking to you?" Her powder-blue hair flows down to her shoulders, irritating her neck. Deftly, she picks up a lone needle from her bag and ties her hair back, jabbing the plastic through the bun. "That's much better," she says in approval. "I'm sure he'll come back when he's ready. Friends sometimes need time to themselves, mind you, not too much time...that isn't any good either. That's why Boris comes to visit me. You've met Boris, haven't you dear? The blue giraffe, I swear you've fed him before. He tap-dances on weekends that one does. Tried to get me and Marjorie to dance as well the daft old fool…"

Merlin manages to rip a hole in his sleeve.

It is three months later when he hears singing. His magic sings the most amazing melody that is laden with highs and lows, bright reds and the darkest of blues. He turns his head, staring at the space in front of him. Arthur. The reality of what he's done crashes over him when he sees Jane's daughter walking out of the institute talking of a trip to Australia. He tries to walk to the doors, to head outside and find his king. He is stopped by two people latching onto his shoulders and taking him to his room.

I need to…oh god what have I done.

The mash potatoes lay cooling on his tray, gravy coagulating on the top of his peas and carrots. Shaking fingers raise the fork to his mouth, food swallowed without chewing. "Mr Grant, what have I told you about swallowing without chewing?" Tezra admonishes removing his tray when he signals he's done. Her hands drop a yellow pill and a red pill into Merlin's palm. Her dimpled smile coaxing him into revealing his mouth, and underside of his tongue in proof of taking his medication.

"When can I leave?"

"End of the month if the doc clears you." Tezra reminds him. "If that's all you need? Goodnight!" The music reaches a crescendo before tapering off, into quiet tones.

Six years after Merlin enters the place, he leaves just the same. Quiet and unassuming, in dark slacks and a grey pullover kept clean by Tezra. A navy blue scarf is wrapped around his neck, a gift from Jane who sent him off with: 'It was wonderful knowing you pet. I hope you and Arthur sort out your differences and say hello to that cranky little robot from Venus over there.'

He reaches the lake at sunset and sleeps on its shore. The music stops when Arthur drags himself out of the lake. "Hello stranger!" Arthur splutters, coughing out water, his eyes sweeping over Merlin's face for anything out of place.

"How was it this time?" An apology waits at the end of his tongue.

"It was wet Merlin...what else is it supposed to be. Are you alright?" He stands helping Merlin to his feet, his eyes meet Lancelot's a few feet away from him, a sigh of relief released from the male who walks away…

"You want to do what exactly?" Freya says hovering over the lake.

"I need to be reborn so that Merlin will stop this nonsense! He's in an institution Lancelot, a sodding institution!"

"I know that Arthur but how?"

"Listen, Merlin says that when I disappear in preparation for rebirth – his magic sings…or he hears music, I'm not quite sure…but he says that when I die, that music stops. I need Merlin to hear the music. If he thinks I've come back he'll do everything he can to get out of that place and try and find me. If I don't do anything he's going to wait there, pretending to be ill when he isn't. Being forced to take medicines that he doesn't need…and…what happens if I actually get reborn and they don't let him out…what's he meant to do? Magic himself away from it?

"He could if he needed to Sire."

"Yes, he could…but he won't. That's why this has to be done. Freya you have to speak with the priestesses."

"They won't put you into rebirth Arthur."

"Then tell them to pretend! It doesn't matter as long as Merlin's magic sings."

_?_?_

1999

There has been news reports and speculation. The Millennium Bug. The End of the World. Y2K.

Merlin has never paid attention to end of the world theories before. They seem to break out in clusters at various times, nothing really substantial. This is different though. People in the city are stocking up on canned food, batteries, water, flash lights...toilet paper. Already he has been approached on the street by sellers asking if he wanted to buy cellars, basements and capsules equipped with everything needed to survive such destruction. All he does in response is pull his coat tightly around him.

He knows that the world will not end.

_?_?_

2012

The blue truck passes him as if he were just another part of the green foliage, dark sky and rain laden clouds.

A passer-by.

An insignificant speck.

The long coat has been brought from the local Salvos, the bags over his shoulders heavy with two extra sets of clothes, a water bottle and a little bit of money. His gloves and beanie are his own magical creation, knitted in a fit of boredom as he walked along the road. He can feel the anticipation grow as his peripheral vision follows the vine covered wall.

His steps lengthen, chest tightening. He fights with his desire to run past the piece of land. The lone obelisk standing tall against the landscape.

I will not look.

I will not look.

I will not - he slows down in two steps and stops, tilting his head down, squeezing his eyes shut tightly in resignation.

I will - his head turns slightly to the side, more of the obelisk creeping into view.

I - "Arthur," he breathes out, cutting his gaze short, walking onwards feeling the imaginary bands across his chest loosen.

He follows the asphalt road for over an hour until a little beaten path comes into view to his right. He crosses the road, stepping onto the path feeling the branches of low hanging trees covering his presence from behind as he travels further into the forest.

1475 years. How time flies. Merlin muses whilst carefully moving over a fallen tree trunk and slinking between denser patches of trees before finding the entrance of his…of his something.

He checks the surrounding land with his magic before entering. Arthur immediately comes to his side helping him with his bags, setting them down by the fireplace and insists on taking Merlin's coat placing it upon the rickety chair to dry. He goes further into the closet, disappearing into the darkness muttering about the cold which greatly amuses Merlin. When Arthur emerges bringing out a dark green blanket Merlin's eyes soften. The Once and Future King's hands gently wrap the cloth around Merlin's shoulders.

"Sire, did you know it has been 1475 years since you have passed."

For a while neither man speaks the silence broken by the crackling of the fire, until Arthur takes one of Merlin's hands in his own and leads him to the fireplace. "You have to stop Merlin." Arthur kneels in front of him. "I am asking, not as a king, but as your friend. Don't do that to yourself. Please, tell me you will stop?" he asks softly.

The trips are painful for him now, but he will do it since his stay at that place he will go and continue to go. Forever.

Merlin brings his gaze to Arthur. "You know why I go. To remind me of why I am still here, why I have been asked to wait alone until it is decided that you shall return." A gloved hand finds its way to Arthur's cheek. "It hurts Arthur. To be alone, to watch those I love die, the landscape change, the technology evolve, the knowledge grow - it all hurts," he fights back a sob, "I go to pledge my loyalty to you." His thumb traces a line under Arthur's eyes. "Maybe next time you'll consider hanging around longer than a few months?"

Arthur scratches the back of his neck before taking Merlin's hand. "I'll think about it," he teases.

_?_?_

2013

The house is cold when he wakes up. Stepping over Arthur sprawled out like a starfish on a mass of blankets; he starts the fire with a wave of his hand whilst muttering about winter, holes and needing to mend his boots. It doesn't take long for the house to heat up and Arthur to wake whilst ungracefully trying to get out of the blankets, not that you need them, Merlin thinks wryly.

Arthur smirks at Merlin strolling to the door to survey blue sky. "It's quite nice outside. Peaceful, everything looks so fresh and...and new."

Merlin pauses using his well-trained eyes to see the stain of red that decorates Arthur's bottom lip. There's something different, like something he should make a point of but all Merlin can do is nod.

"Go out then, I'm sure you're dying for a hunt Sire," Merlin says coming up behind him.

Apprehension is forgotten, replaced by eye rolling. "Don't be ridiculous. I can't hunt here Merlin."

"So finally, you admit there is something you can't do." Merlin smiles at the familiar banter.

"I never admitted that."

"You okay?" Merlin touches Arthur's shoulder. "Something's going on. I can sense it, I'm feeling light headed and you, it's like you're fading awa-"

The corners of Arthur's lips twitch upwards. "Light headed, Merlin? Are you calling me fat?" He turns around finding Merlin's face even paler than usual. "Stop looking at me funny."

The twinkling of notes begins to play.

"You're fading...you're being reborn...how? How long will I have to wait for you?" Merlin swallows.

Arthur runs a hand though his hair. "I don't know, not long I hope. You have to promise me, no foolishness Merlin. I need you to find me. You know I'm useless without you…can't even dress myself."

"You're leaving." Arthur pulls the older man in close hugging him tightly. "Arthur, you have to come back quickly. Please, I don't want to wait any longer."

It sounds like notes fill the room, vibrating in the air, the earth shaking with the sheer volume of it all."Mer-"

Arthur disappears just as Merlin collapses to the ground.

_?_?_

2033

The ground trembles beneath his feet, lurching him away from the glass display. "The world is preparing for battle, as countries pick sides, people arm themselves and billions make preparations to flee ..." Images of people screaming, bodies lying in streets, soldiers marching to their deaths litter the screen.

Merlin stares at the TV, mouth hanging agape. We're all at war, oh my god. He presses his face closer to the glass, his heart leaping at the sight of fluffy jet black hair, and a smooth angular face covered in a day's worth of stubble and nothing else.

He had awoken in his cave two and a half days ago to rain sodden sounds and the beating of his own heart as blood rushed through his veins. His magic sang, beautiful melodies that he remembers hearing in his head whenever Arthur was on the verge of being reborn or present on earth for no matter how brief it may have been.

His magic is still singing, gently in the background.

"Families are being urged to stay together in order for the national census to occur. In further news, both Russia and Japan have declared themselves to be in a 'state of emergency'. Russia's snowstorm and plummeting temperatures left much of the region in minus forty conditions. Millions of people have expected to be affected with a further eight thousand believed to have perished. Japan is still on tsunami alert, after its seven-point-three magnitude earthquake. England is also on alert after the bureau issued an alert of a predicted six-point-three magnitude earthquake…" The news anchor said, eyes worn down and hidden in sunken sockets.

End of the world…it's the end of the world?! He gives himself five minutes before he starts to hyperventilate.

"Terrible thing this war…environment…worlds hating on us, isn't it lad." Merlin jumps at the stranger's voice. "I have orders from the government. You are to come with me, if you wouldn't mind."

"Sorry, I think you have me mistaken for someone else." Merlin takes a step away from the man.

"Then if it is a mistake we can at least have you accounted for by the government, two birds, one stone and the like. Can't we?" The man smiles bundling Merlin into a black SUV that pulls up beside them.

I can get out if I need to. I can get out if I need to. I can get out if I need to. Merlin repeats in his head. Christ, what if they want to kill me…his panic increases seeing the large building in front of him. "This is Buckingham Palace!"

"Astute observation sonny. This is our headquarters. If you'll follow me."

Merlin is lead to a large room many times larger than the size of his house. Where he believes paintings once hung, now lay home to strategic maps of the earth, charts on environmental forecasts and what appears to be, the television schedule for tomorrow night. The long table is covered in papers and books, chairs pushed away from the table as if the occupants had to leave in haste.

He feels absolutely clueless as if he's just woken up from a deep sleep…which in actual fact he has, which only serves to ratchet his panic higher.

"You'll never be on time will you Merlin?" The voice startles him into tripping over his feet, sending him crashing into a familiar body. "Also clumsy…time really won't do you any good will it?" Arthur looks about twenty and is dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt on which he wears a red sports jacket and black biker boots. Merlin stares taking in the odd look.

"What the hell are you wearing?" Is the only intelligent thought he can voice.

Arthur looks down at himself comparing it to Merlin's blue jeans, ratty sneakers and red plaid shirt. "You really are a girls petticoat. I'm wearing clothes…appropriate for this time which I managed to dress myself in." He beams proudly at Merlin. "Yes, you heard right Merlin, I can dress myself."

Another tremble rips though the ground both men catching themselves holding each other up. "How do you remember everything?"

His question is met with a shrug. "I dunno. I started remembering when I was about ten, it helps when you're adopted by –"

"Princess!"

It's almost comical, how wide Merlin's eyes go when he hears the familiar moniker. "Gwaine?" You were adopted by Gwaine?!"

"Gwaine that wasn't funny then and it certainly isn't funny now." Elena chides pulling Merlin from Arthur's grasp.

"He says that he remembered everything when he first passed out in the gutter...he took me in like a brother when he was twenty, met Elena who says she's a bit psychic and they stopped me from freaking out." Arthur says wincing when Gwaine pats his head.

"Haven't met many others from Camelot yet, but I think there's still time. It's good to see you Merlin!" Gwaine takes Merlin from Elena and brings him in closely patting Merlin's back when his tremors become noticeable. "Sorry about the information overload. We figured better get this done now before we get kicked in the shin by man and earth."

"Eloquent as ever dear," Elena makes to leave the room. "Just make sure that Mithian and her father are prepped for the envoy leaving tomorrow for China." She stops shooting a look at Gwaine who still has Merlin in his arms. "Let the boys get reacquainted."

Gwaine pushes Merlin back over to Arthur who drops an arm over his shoulder. "Look after him Princess; he's looking a little pale…well more than usual."

Moving to Elena's side he leads her to the door. As they cross the threshold, she adds: "There is a lot to do if the Lieutenant-General/Once and Future King Arthur Pendragon must save the planet. First things first, Arthur, feed him and get him up to speed – I envision that we'll be in for a lot of late nights."

When they leave Merlin looks at Arthur who just grins at him. "So you're really back."

"Yes."

"This is Albion's time of need?" Arthur squeezes Merlin's neck, breathing into his ear.

Merlin pulls a face at the warm air. "Appears so."

"You've lived for more than a few months."

"Obviously." This brings a bark of laughter from Arthur's lips and he pulls Merlin in for a proper hug.

"Well…this will be interesting." Arthur smiles fondly at Merlin tugging the tip of his ear, to which Merlin swats his hand away. There's a light in Merlin's eyes that wasn't there before, borne from hope or no longer feeling lonely he isn't sure, but he's glad that destiny stuck them together. When Merlin moves his head back he thinks of Arthur's long-standing companionship for over a thousand years. I don't want you to be alone. He wills himself not to cry feeling warmth bloom in his chest.

"You alright Merlin?" Arthur asks with his arms still wrapped around Merlin.

Merlin nods, the notes swirling around them, the rumble of the floor beneath their feet and the shouts of leaders from the TV, and brings his head back to Arthur's shoulder. "Just…thank you."

~finis~