Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, sadly. All credit where credit is due. :) Hope you enjoy!

The leaves in the great oak tree rustled softly, playing about the dark haired boy's head as he sat, one leg dangling from the branch, an apple in one hand and a book in the other. His eyes wandered aimlessly over the pages of the book. It seemed pointless to even bother now. He'd be at another school come September. He wouldn't even be using this book. And yet, it felt as if the moment he stopped reading, he'd lost his last connection to the old school-like he'd stop existing in this world and no one would remember him anymore. A gust of wind tugged at the pages, turning to a new chapter, and he focused for a heartbeat on the words printed across the top of the page:

In 2059, Callan and Treasa, the last members of the renegade rulers known as The Pure, were tried and executed for their crimes, and a new era of peace began for England. The corruption of magic was purged from this earth, and the Sorcery Laws were set down for the safety of all.

He sighed quietly and let the book fall shut, propping it against his bent knee. Peace. He wasn't the only one who was waiting for the peace to shatter-waiting for the first crack in the glass dam Uther Pendragon had built.

Merlin was restless. He knew-had always known that there was a reason for his gift. He had always felt that there was something about him-something deep inside him that he had forgotten, somewhere he was supposed to be, and something he was supposed to do. Why... He couldn't say. But he was restless. He needed a purpose. Had things been different, he might have tried to wait it out, but here in his birth town he was no longer welcome. Suspicion and hostility had begun to dog his steps.

Merlin's mother had worked hard for the past many years to keep herself and her son safe and alive in Armagh. He wished for all the world that she didn't have to worry so over him. She so much on her mind already. On top of her work and her worry over Merlin, Hunith endured the unspoken judgment of the neighbors. There had been a man at some point, of course. Merlin had never met him; he had left before his son was born. Hunith very rarely spoke of him, though when she did it was with both sorrow and love in her eyes, which led Merlin to believe that she knew something no one else did. His father had left for a reason. The neighbors had no such feelings for Merlin's unnamed father. As far as they were concerned, Hunith had made a mistake in her choice of man. Nonetheless, Hunith was well loved, and her mishap had long since been forgiven if not forgotten. Merlin had been generally accepted by other neighborhood children, saving a few who still called him the bastard child.

School had been a bit of a trial for Merlin. Hunith had kept him at home until he was six, old enough to manage his gift, as she called it, so that no one would notice it. One of the neighbors, Mrs. Taran, used to take care of him while his mother was at work. The elderly woman had passed away a couple of years ago, leaving her house to her daughter and taking Merlin's secret with her to the grave. After starting school, Merlin had lived in a state of constant excitement and fear, wondering if anyone would notice how... different he was, wishing he could have friends he didn't have to hide himself from. Then at the age of thirteen, Merlin had found a friend who made his life in Armagh bearable: William Dempsie. The boy had befriended Merlin early on at school, and soon the two found themselves out on adventures in the neighborhood. In one ill-fated escapade, the boys had ventured too far into the suburbs of the city and found themselves cornered by a knife-wielding thug. Their assailant had abruptly found himself hurled against a nearby dumpster, and while he staggered dazedly to his feet, a golden-eyed Merlin fled, dragging his shocked friend after him. It had been a long night of eager questions for Merlin. After that day, the two boys became hard and fast friends, and rarely was one to be seen without the other.

Life had settled into a routine for a time. Merlin never had a large circle of friends. For the most part he spent his time with Will who kept his secret faithfully and backed him up to the hilt every step of the way. Lately, though things had grown tense for Merlin. A couple of incidents had caused rumors to spread in the school. Before long, Merlin found himself increasingly isolated. As he grew older, Merlin's powers had grown with him. Merlin had tried to explain to a frightened Will after a nerve-wracking episode with some bullying classmates, that he couldn't help the magic. It just... happened. No one had been permanently harmed, but word got out pretty quickly. Even the cheerful and carefree Will had become uneasy for his friend's sake. The more Merlin tried to suppress it, the more unruly it seemed to grow.

Then one day Hunith found out that Will knew her son's secret, and everything changed. At first she'd been horrified. It had taken a lot of convincing on the boys' part to keep her from leaving then and there with Merlin. But with the rumors about Merlin growing larger and more elaborate by the day, both boys knew that it was time for Merlin to move on. Tensions were running higher than ever at the school. Despite Will's efforts, the end of the semester was a nightmare for Merlin. No one spoke to him save Will, and there was real fear in the eyes of many when they passed him in the halls. Thoughts of leaving Will and his mother, as painful as they were to Merlin, often became eclipsed when he imagined spending another semester shunned and ostracized in his school.

Once Merlin's fifteenth birthday came around, Hunith settled on a plan to keep Merlin safe. He had to have instruction to keep his abilities in check. And so, today-less than twenty-four hours before his departure for Camelot, Merlin sat, his back tucked against the trunk of his favorite tree, one leg dangling off the branch, a half eaten apple in one hand and an old schoolbook leaning against his knee. He lifted a hand and absently sent eddies of wind through the leaves, making them dance and twirl in intricate patterns. He didn't look down when the branches rustled noisily below him, nor turn his head when another boy settled on a branch beside him. Only one person knew how to find him in this place.

"Your mum's looking for you," his companion announced. Merlin didn't respond. There was a long moment of silence. "Going to be boring 'round here without you, mate," Will commented at last, his tone falsely light.

"Hmm." Merlin hummed noncommittally, trying to ignore the tears of frustration that pricked at the back of his eyes. It was funny, sometimes, how his unsought talent affected his life. He couldn't imagine a world where he didn't have magic. It made him who he was. Yet he couldn't even tell anybody about it. He couldn't even stay here... in case someone else found out. When he thought about it, he realized too that it wasn't just for his sake. His mother wasn't safe either as long as he was here. She had hidden him for years. Her life was as much at risk as his own, and perhaps even Will's. The wind Merlin was sending through the branches increased to a small cyclone, making the branches wave and sway wildly.

"Come on." Will reached out, nicked the apple from Merlin's hand, and took a bite. "You haven't got it all that bad," he said over a mouthful. "You're going to go to school in Camelot! Lots of kids here would kill to go live there for free."

"Yeah. It's great," Merlin said blandly. He let his hand drop at his side, watching the leaves settle from his little windstorm. Rays of fading sunlight trickled through them, dappling the tree-bark with spots of yellow. Will was silent for a moment. Then,

"Here." He prodded Merlin sharply in the side with a foot. Merlin looked up just in time to catch a bundle the boy tossed at him. "Brought you something." Will muttered, not meeting his eyes. He looked embarrassed. Merlin carefully unravelled the cloth in his hands. A pair of soft scarves came free, one red and one blue, and from the two pieces of cloth a pair of new leather boots tumbled out into Merlin's lap. Merlin blinked at them and looked up at Will. The tips of his friend's ears were turning scarlet.

"I mean... it's gonna be bloody cold in Camelot," the boy muttered, "And you're a stick, you are-probably don't even-"

"Thanks, Will." Merlin cut him off, and for the first time in what seemed like weeks, a genuine smile appeared on his face.

"Yeah, well..." Will shifted. "Just try not to be as much of an idiot as you are here." he finished lamely.

"Oi!" Merlin reached out and shoved him. "You should be grateful. I'm the one who gets you out of trouble. You won't last a week with me gone." Merlin let his book fall from his perch and dropped down out of the tree to avoid Will's attempt to push him back.

"Me? You're the one who uprooted Mr. Simmons' tree," Will snorted.

"It was your idea," Merlin argued, now out and out grinning. Will arched an eyebrow at him and lobbed the apple at his head. Merlin, gathering his bundle of scarves and boots, sent it spinning back at the boy with a golden flash of his eyes before taking off at a run.

"Not fair!" Will yelped and dropped to the ground to pursue the laughing warlock across the park.