I'm posting this here just to get an idea of how this story goes. Please let me know what you think! Please tell me what you think, and if you like it or not! There's one part I'm a little unsure about. So I'd love you hear your thoughts / criticism / what have you. I'm dying to know what you guys think, especially that one part. You'll see it.
Special thanks to the lovely Nef for helping brainstorm for this.
I don't own Merlin, nor do I own Doctor Who.
Merlin never returned to Camelot. The shadows of him, of his King, would lurk in every room and every corner. It wasn't something he could handle, especially not so soon. Though he did not vanish completely from their lives. He believed, truly, that one day he would need to tell Arthur what had happened to his loved ones.
It was Percival who found Merlin, half-starved in the grass with his knees tucked under his chin, his eyes fixed steadily on the water in front of him, watching the point where the boat had disappeared.
But he couldn't stay in his company for long, the brilliant red of Camelot (and of Arthur) was too much like home and almost like a warning. He had no place there anymore. He never would. But Percival coaxed him back into fulfilling basic needs, feeding him and coaxing him to drink and trying to rouse Merlin from the state he had put himself in.
All he could think of, while he lay on the shoes of Avalon with Percival not too far away, was that he had failed. If he had told Arthur to bring magic to Camelot, would he still be alive? If he had told him of his magic sooner, would this have happened? The loss of him was a heavy brick in his stomach. He used magic freely, he no longer cared if anyone saw and he certainly didn't fear anything anymore. Perhaps that's what pure sorrow did, it stripped any fears away until all that was left was acceptance. If he did not fear death, no true harm could come to him.
He went to see his mother, who had already caught wind that Arthur was missing, and didn't ask him to tell her, she simply pulled him into her home and fed him a nice meal. On the third night, he did tell her what had happened. She was one of the first to hear how Arthur ended, and how he may return.
Then the waiting began. He watched Gwen change the laws of Camelot, watched her argue with other kingdoms to lift their own laws as well. He watched the world change under her gentle rule, and he knew that Arthur's death lay upon him, it was his failure that led to his death. He had countless chances to tell him, to fix all of it, but he hadn't. He had left it too long and now there was no going back.
Once, the failure was too great to bear and Merlin hid from the world for a few years. He lived in the cave his father had made his home, let his beard grow out and called on Kilgharrah for company.
When he emerged back into the world, it was much the same one he had left. He shaved and dressed in something a bit more presentable, and he wore the sigil that Arthur had given him proudly. It was all he had of Arthur, even if it bore his mother's crest. It hadn't seem right to strip him of anything, and he still couldn't return to Camelot.
The worst part was watching all of his loved ones die. Just because he had lost the one most important to him didn't mean he was prepared to lose anyone else. He returned to Camelot (though he refused to go inside of the large walls) to send Gaius off, he had been greeted with tearful hugs and invitations to stay. He couldn't accept them, even as he stood in the courtyard with his shoulders heavy, he could see Arthur in the field. He could see him swinging his sword around (and why did they do that, why waste time swinging it in a circle when they could just attack?), he could see him walking amongst armoured knights, speaking to them in his commanding voice, he saw him everywhere.
And slowly, he watched all his friends die. He returned to see each and every one of them off, even his own mother. He was numbed by loss, and that numbness wouldn't fade for a long time. He existed, but he did not live. He let his magic run free through him, choosing that old abandoned shack to live in. It was still close enough to Camelot for him to protect his former home if needed, but far enough away to be hidden and secret. He grew older, Camelot ruled under different people, life continued.
And then he began to wait for death. Kilgharrah was still alive, though he weakened. He was a dragon, a massive beast that could live for thousands of years, Merlin didn't doubt that he would be alive for awhile longer. Long enough.
It wasn't until he was an old man, when he could feel his end coming, that he called for Aithusa. His white dragon, the one he had brought from an egg. She was larger, now, though she still could not speak. He soothed her, apologized for killing her companion, and tried to heal her.
And when Merlin died, old and grey and feeble, he did not expect everything to go a little sideways.
It was a bit strange, actually, suddenly coming to terms that he was definitely still alive, and trapped in the body of a /child/. He knew all this great magic, he knew how to call dragons, but he couldn't do it. His hands were stubby and his ears stuck out in the stupidest of ways and they (the people who had, supposedly, adopted him) called him Rowan. He tried to insist that his name was 'Merlin', but they wouldn't hear any of it, especially because he was a child. His coordination sucked, he tried his best to reach out and grab something but usually only ended up knocking it over because his hands weren't as big as he wanted them to be and they certainly didn't listen as well as he hoped.
Strangely enough, the fact that he was alive didn't occur to him much later, not until he was beginning to gain control of his limbs but not quite his emotions. When he realized that, in the middle of yelling because his whole body just didn't want to work one rainy day, he shut himself up quite quickly. It was strange to have the thoughts of an old man stuck inside the body of a child, and contemplated his new discovery.
Merlin hadn't died. He thought he did, of course. He expected to be dead, not living and still holding on to every memory, every ache and joy that he had ever known. It became easier, after that, to live in this strange town with these strange people who had adopted him when he was a babe. He grew, and his magic got easier to control once more. It was like learning how to do it all over again.
He didn't want to 'grow up' again.
And soon he discovered that his age was simply his appearance. It was shaky, at first, to age himself from an adult back to the age he had been when he had met Arthur.
And so he settled in, always travelling, to watch the world turn around him.
He watched Camelot burn, though he had tried to fight it. Invasions, and the truth behind Camelot was by word of mouth. He watched a century pass, and Kilgharrah passed, leaving only the mute Aithusa behind.
He learned that it was much easier to be an old man. No one troubled the old folk, no one asked for favours. He had spent his life, the one that had mattered anyways, serving someone who was good and pure – he had no interest in serving anyone else less than him.
It was lonely, all this waiting. And when things got bad he wondered if Arthur was going to come back. When times got dark, the world needed someone, he would go back to the lake and wait for him.
He never did. What would it take, he wondered? Through wars and invasions, the surface of the lake rippled normally. It never changed and he wondered if he was waiting for nothing. Kilgharrah had been wrong before, the Once and Future King may have been just a myth, and his King was gone for good. Though Merlin really didn't like to think of it like that, he had to have hope. Without it, all was lost.
He watched kings rule and make their mistakes. He watched the rise of religion, buildings went up and everything he used to know went down.
And sometimes, Merlin slept. He could seal himself away and cease to exist for however long he wanted to. It was easy, with the way the magic in him obeyed him. It rose and fell with the swell of the earth and the oceans. Science, as it became more and more developed, was fascinating. And for a little while, Merlin found a passion. He kept his findings to himself for the most part, knowing he wanted no part in history. It pained him to know that magic wasn't as common as it had been before, or it had been kept secret to all those outside who knew. All but him, but he didn't really think he fit in with them anymore.
When he discovered that he could change into animals, his entire life changed for a little while. For the first time in a long time, he enjoyed himself. He wasn't alone, at least not as much as he had been. Animals thought so differently than humans did, they had their own ways of thinking and he grew to learn the new ways. It was uplifting, Merlin was happy.
He ignored most civilization in that time, and turned into a rat to cross the seas to find new places, learn about new animals. He was fond of being a lion, under the hot suns of Africa. He could laze about in the heat of the day, dip his large paws into the cool waters – and he could run. Running was freeing, there was speed in his muscles, it was rather glorious to have such power.
The hardest thing had been leaving the Avalon lake, it felt a bit like he was leaving Arthur behind, but these were times of relative peace. And he couldn't wait by these shores forever, if immortality was his curse, he wasn't going to be lonely for it. If only he had realized that sooner, long before he had suffered years and years of it.
When he went back to Britain, it had changed. It was the age of art, he reasoned, and let himself enjoy it. He went as an adult, later on in his life, enjoying himself as a human for the first time since he had been with Arthur. And gods, he missed him. He missed every little part of him. He missed the way his face lit up when he spoke about something he cared about, the way he shone in the sun, the way he constantly teased him but never truly meant it, the way he noticed when Merlin was upset, and the way he was so damn oblivious to the things Merlin kept secret from him. He missed every part of the live he lived so long ago. He missed his friends that had passed. All of them, he knew, were gone. All but Aithusa, who he had told to find a safe spot, away from other humans, so she would not be killed. He couldn't have stood to lose her. So long as she was safe and well, he would be content.
Once, he grew lonely, he had not spoken a word in a long time, and thought that, just maybe, there could be another dragon egg in the world. So he searched, combing the land and each old looking building he found. And eventually, he did find one. It was small and blue, and when he summoned it from its egg it had no wings.
He settled her in a lake, where she seemed happy enough, and later she would be spotted by people, and given a name different than the one Merlin had given her.
Merlin did not make friends. He would not get close to anyone, if he did then he would be forced to watch them die. He would grow attached, he would have to age with them so they wouldn't get suspicious, and he would have to see them die. So he didn't, he loved none and spoke to few. Each year that passed went on and on, making it more and more difficult to keep going.
The lake of Avalon, when he found it again, (and he knew the exact place where Camelot had once stood. There was nothing there now, and that hurt in ways he should have expected) it was just as he remembered. Still calm, still lifeless, still devoid of Arthur.
But he couldn't stay there, so when the boats grew bigger and began to sail across the sea, nearly a thousand years without /Arthur/, he went with them to try to find something there for him. What he found brought joy to the heart he had closed off from everyone. The people who lived there, surrounded by trees and living off of nature (as he had once done far too long ago), were absolutely brilliant. Merlin learned their languages, so different than anything of his own (and speaking of languages, Merlin had never realized the transition between what they now called 'Old English' and what it had developed into). They taught him things he had never dreamed of, and he taught them the sparse handful of things that he knew.
He took one risk by showing them his magic, they were impressed and it began to feel like home with them. But he didn't stay too long, he remained elusive and didn't get attached. But it was nice, it was like being back in Camelot without the luxury of the castle. It reminded him of Ealdor, a little bit.
But times changed, as they always did.
He didn't go back to Britain for a long time, something kept him there, living off of the land and for the first time in a long time, it felt like he belonged somewhere.
Time kept moving forwards, as it tended to do, and he kept surviving through it. His interest in time came and went, and sometimes he hated everything about himself and sometimes he was awed at what was happening around him. He had seen so much, he /was/ history, he wasn't like anyone else, he lived and breathed and saw everything. He could write history books, he could spin the truest tales of Camelot, he could make so much money. He could be anything, and anyone.
Instead, he lived in a small house on the outskirts of a small town called Salem. And he thought, for sure, that Arthur would return. He nearly called Aithusa to take him back to the lake, consequences be damned, when the trails started.
He went to each one, like the masochist he was, and watched every one of them die. Most of them had no sign of magic, he wasn't sure how he knew that, but somehow he just did. It wasn't difficult to convince himself that Uther had come back, and he was going around killing magic users, unfairly, once more. It was terrifying, and he searched the faces of everyone to see if he could find him in there, somewhere.
None of them had any sons.
It had been frightening, and he hadn't known fear like that in a long time. He was back to hiding his magic in a way he hadn't since he had been at Camelot.
He went back to the lake, no longer did it that place feel like home to him.
The world kept turning, life kept moving, generations passed.
Merlin just kept watching, never connecting, never getting in the way of the world as it passed. He did entertain himself with writings about Arthur, about the legends, and he laughed because he knew the story. He could write it all out if he was any way skilled at something like that and share what had happened.
But he couldn't. It felt like betrayal. And Arthur was a bit of a prat. He didn't think many people would want to read about that anyways.
The years passed in a bit of a blur, and often it turned to agony. It ached to keep going. He was weary, he was alone. He was so, so tired. Nothing he did could ease the ache of the years, nothing could skip through them. He longed to stop existing until Arthur returned. It would have been so easy to find someone, become their friend, live with them and be happy, but he didn't because he couldn't. He never could, he had no real place anymore.
When the war hit, he thought for sure Arthur would come back. He let himself live as an old man because no one wanted an old man to fight in the war. He waited by the lake, every day, for him to return. The surface of the lake remained still and quiet, and he didn't even know if Arthur was coming to the lake, maybe he would be reincarnated. And with that idea in mind, he went to find him.
Merlin gave up after a few years of searching.
By the second war, after everything in between, he had given up on seeing him.
None of it mattered to him.
He cared little about what happened around him. Sometimes he was older, sometimes he was younger. He had lived in a million different places under a million different names. He had taken a few jobs, even, here and there, to pass the time. It was difficult living in cities, it was so different than Camelot had been. There, life had been simpler.
Then everything began to change, he had been watching the development of cars and planes (but he had already flown on the back of a dragon, there was nothing in the world that could compare to that) for a long time, watched telephones develop, watched language change itself here and there as the people who used it changed and grew. The youth began to lead the land, their desires and ideas influencing the world.
And then there was technology. That part seemed to bring him back from the brink of aching sadness, depression, maybe.
He went back to the lake, and settled into one of the smaller towns nearby. It wasn't too small, it wasn't too large. It wasn't Camelot, but then again nothing was. He wasted his time by reading books about his King, about Arthur. Some of the stories were stupid, truly, and he couldn't even imagine some of the things they talked about. He had been hesitant about the concept of movies, but had grown fond of them. They allowed him to disappear into someone else's story, and even though there were loose ends, and he wondered what the characters may have done after all of that, he enjoyed them.
It was the smallest relief to find so many ways to lose himself. He could hide in the place he was living in, under the name of 'Garin', and lose himself in the television programmes. He could lose himself in the lovely voices that came through the radio. He could lay back against a ratted couch and let the sounds of music fill his home. He had never listened to much music before, he had seen bands rise and fall and he wanted none of it. Now, maybe that was okay.
His names changed, and the home he lived in could easily be woven to his. Once upon a time, he had felt guilty over using magic for selfish reasons. Now he just didn't care, he had hardened into something his younger self (when he had been Arthur's) wouldn't have recognized.
Sometimes, he would be the age he had been when he had known Arthur, and he would inspect himself in the mirror. The lines were deep under his eyes, he was thinner, paler, and his eyes no longer seemed bright. He wasn't /happy/, he could see that. That night was the closest he ever came to giving up completely. Arthur wasn't coming back, wasn't he?
He had cycled through using the names of Arthur's knights countless times to use at his own. Changing them to the times, then making up any he could think of. Maybe he should have tried to have fun, maybe he could have tried to be someone else every decade that passed. But he hadn't. He never used Arthur's name.
He didn't even know who Merlin was anymore. He had lost himself, somewhere along the way.
So maybe it was time to try living.
It was difficult, but he turned himself into a kid. Just a teenager, someone who was supposed to be inexperienced. And he tried, he really did, to make himself seem like he belonged there. It took him awhile, a few jobs, but finally he settled on one that worked for him.
He didn't really make friends, but he got along with people. He began to connect to them, it had taken more than a thousand years, but he was finally beginning to live. It seemed absurd that he had lived this long already. He had no hope he would see Arthur again, it seemed like he had been too young back then, believing more lies. If only Kilgharrah could see him now, a broken man with nothing left for him. He was nothing, he meant nothing to anyone, except maybe Aithusa. He had dropped off the world for so long, he didn't even know if she was alive anymore, that thought saddened him.
He wanted to collapse most days, but every day he would pick himself up off of the bare mattress he slept on. He would get up, he would go to work, he would return home and he would turn on the television and lose himself in the lives of other people.
So really, even if he wanted it to, not much had changed. Technology kept moving and he bought into it. The internet was glorious, and gave him a whole new outlook on things. On the internet, no one cared if you lived or died. He could have been completely truthful about himself and no one would have believed him. It was laughable, really, how the one place he could be honest no one would believe it.
He found loneliness online, too, he found other people who were lost. It was easier to speak to people online, it was easy to befriend them because he would never meet them and if they died he would never know. He made friends, people he was close to, and let himself get attached. He would never know if they died, and if they stopped coming on it could mean anything.
Merlin stopped living under fake names, he stopped pretending to be someone else. He was Merlin, and he would never be anyone other than Merlin. There was a place a little closer to the lake, a town that he started over as Merlin, found a place to live and was honest, or at least as honest as he could be with magic flowing through him like his blood.
And when he wasn't working, he was an old man again, because no one bothered old man and there was something about loneliness that had become almost comforting. He would walk by the lake, and he would try not to linger for too long because he knew that he would ever see his King again.
He sat on a bench in a park. The day was cloudy, foggy, the air was heavy. All around him, people were happy walking their dogs or letting their babies play in the grass before the weather changed. Merlin sat there, eyes unseeing with his gnarled hands resting in his lap. The long white hair of his beard fluttered in the breeze.
He could taste the rain in the air, he knew it was going to be coming soon. He couldn't bring himself to care, just watching the breeze in the trees. If he stood, he could have seen the lake from here, in the distance. There would never be Arthur.
A man was walking towards him, but something seemed entirely different about him. He didn't seem like he was human – though Merlin did not react as the man sat down beside him. They were quiet for a long moment, Merlin stared straight ahead. And finally, he was speaking.
"You're not of this world, are you?" His voice was soft, raspy from lack of use and the old man's throat forming the words. He could sense the man tense up beside him, just a little bit, before he was relaxing again.
It was beginning to rain, the people around them were hurrying back to their cars. He didn't know what brought him to being reckless, he couldn't place why today seemed like the day to let someone in to his secret – but he did. There was no one else watching, and his body changed. The physical aches disappeared (though everything inside of him had a permanent place now), his hair shortened and darkened, his skin smoothed out and he was young again. Maybe the same age as the man beside him, if not a little younger.
"Look at you" The man said, his voice full of appreciation, "In all my years I haven't met someone who could change their age. What are you?"
Merlin was quiet for a long moment, contemplating.
"I am Merlin."
The silence between them was filled only by the sound of the rain and that light breeze. Water dripped down his cheeks and soaked the thin coat on his shoulders.
"The Merlin." Was all the man said. "Emrys. Immortal." Merlin could almost smile at that, at how easily the man had connected the pieces.
"Come with me" The man said, getting to his feet. And Merlin stood, and looked at him for the first time.
And so Merlin followed this strange man into a strange blue box, he was not shocked at how large the inside was, somehow it didn't seem like a surprise given the strange feeling he got from the stranger. Though there was no magic here, he could sense something powerful. The man was moving different pieces of the machine, the floor rumbled under him, and when it stopped the strange man grinned at him. "Come on." He said, moving to the door and opening it.
Merlin followed, his shoulders still wet from the rain, out into what looked like a ship of some kind. The window in front of him was large, and the view actually did take his breath away. He had seen pictures, of course, but he had never seen it like this before. It was first hand, it was beautiful. One palm pressed to the window, and he let his forehead touch the cold glass, just staring.
He could see the rich blues of the oceans under the scattered white clouds. The land was speckled with green and brown and other things he couldn't name.
"This is the year five thousand and seven" The strange man said.
"Who are you?" Merlin asked, his breath fogging the glass.
"I am the Doctor."
Merlin could spend so long watching this, and found himself sinking to the ground with his forehead still touching the glass. "Everything seems so insignificant like this" he said softly. All this waiting and searching, it seemed so pointless when he looked down at the earth in all its glory.
"It isn't" The Doctor said, sinking to the floor beside him. "Each and every person down there is important, no one is insignificant."
Merlin let out a dry chuckle that hurt his throat.
The silence stretched before them as Merlin memorized the patterns on the earth.
"You've been alive a long time now, haven't you?" The man asked quietly, Merlin said nothing. He heard a short exhale of breath, and felt a hand close over his shoulder – warm and comforting. "And you're waiting for something."
"Arthur" Was all he could say, and his voice still cracked over the word. He would never stop waiting for him, even if he told himself he wasn't going to anymore.
"King Arthur?" The man was grinning again, he could tell. "Would you like to see him?"
Merlin snapped his eyes to him, staring hard at him. "You're not serious."
"I am always serious."
"But that's impossible. It already happened. He's dead."
"Time isn't a straight line. It can twist into any shape, I can take you back to him."
His heart was in his throat, he watched him carefully. He could see Arthur again, he could see him alive and well and breathing. He nodded, unable to speak, and got to his feet.
"We're the same, you and me." The man said suddenly, and Merlin kept watching him. His face, which had been carefree and happy before, had turned serious, almost sullen and maybe a little sad. "Loneliness and I are good friends." Merlin felt, for a moment, a small spark of hope. And suddenly he desperately wanted to know everything about this man. "I'm the last of the Time Lords." He was saying. "There's no one left. No one but me." Merlin could see it in his face, the same thing he had known for a long time. The knowledge that everyone but them gets left behind in the end.
They went back into the blue box, and he let himself lean against one of the railings. "We're going to have to make a quick stop first." The Doctor said, the cheer had returned to his voice like he hadn't been speaking of loneliness and immortality and things that connected them.
When they did stop, Merlin found himself in a city, London, he thought. The Doctor merely stood on the concrete for a moment, smiling and waiting. It didn't take long for a girl with blonde hair to come rushing out. She flung her arms around him, and Merlin withdrew a little bit. She didn't feel different than anyone else he had ever met, she was human while the Doctor was something else.
"I didn't know where you went" She choked, squeezing him. "I thought you left me behind."
"How long was I gone for?" He asked, smoothing his hands down her back.
"I'm sorry. But I found someone, he needs our help."
She pulled away from him, and turned to Merlin for the first time as she wiped at her cheeks. He gave her a shallow smile, one that didn't reach his eyes, and she said. "I'm Rose."
"This is Merlin." The Doctor grinned, her eyes widened.
"Like the wizard?"
"The same. We're going to go find King Arthur."
All Merlin could think of on the journey back to his time (he wished he had this power, the control over time, all he could do was stop it for a few moments) was that maybe he could change it. Maybe he could have kept Arthur alive instead of letting him die. Maybe he could have met himself and told himself that he needed to tell Arthur to accept magic, that he couldn't tell him no because it meant his death. He could change his own personal history. He could be reckless and young again, risking everything for a foolish King.
He wanted to – but he knew better than that. He could not interfere with Arthur's death, he could not change the history he had been watching all this time. And when they landed, his heart was in his throat again and he pushed open the door and stepped into the grass. The air was fresh and clean, and he thought his heart was skipping beats because he was here. This was Camelot, he was back. The air was the same, the grass and the trees he recognized, he knew everything.
"You need to be careful" The Doctor murmured from behind him. "No one will understand seeing two Merlin's running about."
"And don't change anything" Rose said, her voice darkening a little bit. "I've tried that, it didn't work."
Merlin nodded mutely, staring at the beautiful walls of Camelot. He missed it, those walls were his home even if he had never felt safe. He ached, he longed to stay here again. He nearly lost himself in the moment, staring at the walls, before his eyes flashed gold and his clothing changed.
He pulled the hood over his head, looking back at the two of them slowly. He gave them a small nod, and made his way towards the gates. It was easy to just walk in, though Rose and the Doctor attracted a couple odd looks. They weren't exactly dressed like everyone else was. But he didn't care, because Arthur was somewhere ahead. His Arthur was there, and he could see him.
The courtyard was full of people, of knights, and it hurt to look at them again. He had carried the knowledge of the death of each and every single one of them. He wished he could warn them, or that he could tell them to be careful. He could do nothing to help any of them, he was nothing more than a shadow here. And he was sure his heart skittered to a stop for a moment when he spotted him.
And god, that hurt even more. It stung behind his eyes to see him again like this; he held a sword in his hands and directed the training. His hair was bright gold in the sun, it shone like a crown, his chainmail glittered silver. He clapped a hand across his mouth, and found himself rocking backwards. The Doctor placed his steady hands on his shoulders. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, this was the first time he was seeing him in more than a thousand years.
Right in front of him, Arthur was alive. He stood tall against the sun, a King in every sense of the word and glowing like a God. He had watched this man die, he had seen him fall to Mordred's blade, he had held him as he died in his arms. He had touched his face and stroked his hair, trying to soothe him, trying to tell him without words just how much he wanted to keep trying to save him. He had stopped to hold him as he died, instead of letting him die on the journey.
Rose was threading her fingers within his, it was an unexpected action but he was tightening his grip on her palm. The bones in her fingers pushed hard between his and he couldn't think straight enough to loosen his grip. She didn't complain, she only held his hand impossibly tighter.
Arthur had stopped, and he was flicking his hand in the air, and a boy hurried over to him. It was himself, he was watching a stupid version of Merlin running up to Arthur, grinning his stupid grins and insulting him. But Arthur was saying something, and he watched himself turn away, glaring darkly.
He wanted to smack himself.
But he turned away, because Arthur was punching the other Merlin's arm and grinning that grin that made the sun seem dim in comparison. And once they were finally out of sight, both of them, the Doctor and Rose, were wrapping their arms around him. He caught sight of her tear streaked face, and pressed a thumb to the stream to wipe it away. How could she cry for him like this? She didn't even know his story, she knew nothing about him, but here she was, sharing this with him.
After a little while, she was sniffing and taking his hand again, leading him away. He couldn't be here anymore, he couldn't watch him like this. It was a shock to see him like this again, and it hurt. It burnt inside of him but if they hadn't been there, he would have stayed. He would have watched all the events unfold as they had before, so many years ago. He would watch everyone die around him. He would have lived again through all that time, just to see Arthur again.
But maybe he could meet himself again, and maybe he wouldn't be so alone.
He didn't even know if time worked like that. Likely, it didn't. He'd probably break something if he tried.
They led him away, back to the blue box, and Merlin sank into the grass beside it. But this was the last time he was going to see Arthur – he could at least know that he had seen him when he was happy, when he was grinning like a fool and punching another Merlin's arm.
Rose was tossing herself onto the ground beside him. "What's your story?" She asked, peering up at the sky, the watery sunlight drifting lazily through the branches. He let out a soft breath. She turned her soft eyes to him, the concern was still written across her face.
But Merlin wasn't sure if he could speak about it. All these years, and he still couldn't form the words to tell this story.
But it had never been his story to tell, it was always Arthur's. He wasn't the one who should be sharing it. "I've been alive for a long time." He said, finally, because it was all he could say. "And I'm waiting for Arthur to return. I was told once, a long time ago, that he would rise when the world needed him most."
"The Once and Future King." The Doctor murmured, he stood leaning against the side of the ship, looking up into the sky. "It all makes sense now."
"If you can travel through time, do you know when he comes back?" Merlin said, the realization hitting him suddenly. He was on his feet, then, because maybe the Doctor could take Merlin to his awakening. "Can you take me there, please?" He was begging, because he could see him again, properly this time.
But the reaction he got wasn't what he expected, the man's eyes went a little wide, his lips parted, as the realization ripped through both of them.
Merlin felt cold, numb like he had left his soul inside a block of ice. He took a few small steps backwards, murmuring the word 'no' before tripping and falling to his backside, his hands tore the grass from the earth under him.
If this Time Lord knew what had happened through all of time, it meant Arthur never came back. The look on his face told him so, he didn't need to ask. He couldn't breathe, again, his breath was caught in his throat. An endless lifetime without Arthur? And endless circle all alone? He didn't even realize when arms went around him. He felt nothing. Though Merlin had given up on finding him, even though he kept convincing himself that it was hopeless to keep waiting, he had still held onto the hope that just maybe he was going to surprise him, that Arthur was going to come find him again.
But that wasn't the case. Arthur was gone, he was dead and there was nothing else he could do about it. "I'm sorry" He heard the Doctor say to him, running a hand across the back of his head. "I'm so sorry."
Arthur was his other half. He had not tried to make friends after him, he had not wanted to deal with losing someone he cared about again. And suddenly he was clinging to the Doctor, because he had to know how this felt. Surely, Rose was human. She would die one day, and then what would he do? Merlin was done, the one thing that kept him going was the thing that was never going to happen. Perhaps the Great Dragon had lied to him to give him hope – so he could keep moving. So he wouldn't give up. But now that he knew how it ended, he couldn't bring himself to keep going. He wanted to find Kilgharrah and yell at him, tell him he was a liar because Arthur wasn't coming back, not ever.
He felt lifeless, then, his expression fading into blankness. He stared ahead, breathing slowly and evenly, Rose grabbed ahold of his cold hand and didn't let go. She squeezed his fingers until it hurt.
When they were back in Merlin's time, he could only step out into the cold rainy day, the clouds darkened. Rose still held his hand as he began to walk, and she kept snatching glances backwards at the Doctor, trailing behind them.
When he stood at the lake of Avalon, he tried to sense the magic that had once been here. He tried to find it, he tried so hard, but there was nothing. The magic in the water had died, it was over.
"Rose. Go back to the Tardis."
"What? But are you—"
"Go. Now. Please, just go."
His hand was icy where her fingers had once been locked within his.
"This is it?"
It seemed to take an eternity to learn how to speak again. "It was."
"The magic is gone. I.." His voice wavered, he took a breath of the clean wet air. "I failed him again. He was supposed to return. I was supposed to be here."
He bent down to his knees, mud soaking his clothes. He dipped his fingers into the water, and still felt nothing.
"Rose is only a human" He said, finally, to ease the sound of the rain between them. "What happens when she's gone? How.." He pulled his hand from the water, and almost hoped to see some sign of the magic, of Arthur, on his fingers. "How will you deal when that happens?"
"I promised I would keep her safe." His words were quiet. "I'll bring her back to her time, I'll let her live in peace."
"So you don't have to see her die." He said gently, understandingly. When the Doctor said nothing, Merlin simply nodded.
"You could come with us, Merlin" He said softly. "Legendary sorcerer and the last Time Lord. We'd make a great team, you know."
"And Rose." He added, almost wistfully.
He could hear the smile in his voice when he spoke. "And Rose."
"You would never be alone again, Merlin." He squatted next to him, "I could show you the end of the world. I could show you all of time and space. I could take you, anywhere you wanted to go. Just name it, and we'll go."
Merlin looked at him, and thought about his offer.
The Doctor was still a mystery to him, he had no real name but they were the same breed of man. Though he didn't belong on earth, they shared the same lifetime of never ending sorrow. Losing companions, friends, loved ones, watching everyone around them die and letting the world burn around them.
Arthur was gone, but Merlin was still here. This life was a curse, but he could share that curse with someone else who knew what it was like. He could finally ease these aches.
After a long moment, he nodded. He didn't think he could do anything else at this point. So he took the Doctor's hand, got himself to his feet and turned his eyes back to the lake. He watched the surface, uneven by the raindrops, and exhaled his last good-bye to Arthur. His final farewell, because after all this time, it was time to move on.
So he went with the Doctor, he let him lead the way back to the ship. And he started a new chapter in his life, his magic finally happy to be of use.
He couldn't be sure how long he had been with the two of them, he had no sense of time anymore and it was so wonderfully freeing. He felt at home, finally, and he felt like he was finally at peace. Rose was affectionate and sweet, she reminded him of Arthur, a little bit, a less prattish version of Arthur. Stubborn and headstrong with a heart of gold, and brave as all hell to boot. The Doctor was eccentric, or maybe he had just gone mad after all this time.
But they were home, now. He was home, he had finally found where he belonged, a true wanderer through not just the world, but all of time and space. He could go anywhere, there was nothing that could keep him still anymore.
And finally, when they were heading back to the lake, Merlin could have said he was happy.
It was Merlin's time, maybe only a year or two after he had left it. He couldn't be sure how long he had been gone for. It felt good to not count the days, to just let them pass without thinking about it.
It was the Doctor who came up with the idea, they stood at the lake together, watching the magicless waves dance across the shore. "Merlin" He said softly, the pale sun shining in his messy hair.
"Yes?" He asked, idly kicking a stone into the lake.
"You said the magic in this lake was dead." Merlin nodded, the Doctor's eyes were wide. "What if you gave the magic back? What if you brought it back to life?"
He narrowed his eyes at the lake, contemplating the words. "What if I lose my magic?"
"You are magic."
He was quiet, watching. Could it work? Could he breathe life back into the lake? Would he be able to bring Arthur back? The thought sent a sick twist of hope through him. If the lake came alive again, would Arthur still be there? Or would he have departed into whatever happened after death?
He didn't bother taking off his shoes before walking into the lake. He concentrated, listening to the sounds under the surface, the ones that the other's couldn't hear (but maybe the Doctor could, he had told him once that he could feel the earth spinning under his feet, maybe he could hear this too). And suddenly the earth was tilting under his feet, he felt something rushing out of him, it was being ripped from his lungs and his body.
As suddenly at it started, it was gone.
He was laying in the water, staring at the grey sky that was beginning to shine light again. And he felt it now, the life was all around him. It flowed in the waves, he knew it was there. And God, he felt like this was it. All his waiting led to this moment, he felt it in his bones. The Doctor watched from the shore as he hauled himself out of the water, soaked to the bone and cold. But it was all around him now, the magic. Everything hummed with it, the lake was alive again. It was beautiful, and as he went back to the sandy edge of the water he knew that whatever he wanted, it was here and now.
And maybe that meant Arthur. His King.
He met the Doctor's eyes, and in that moment he knew. Arthur needed him, just this one last time, and that would mean giving something up. The Doctor knew it too, and Merlin could see the realized grief in his eyes.
This would mean that he would be alone again. He would lose Merlin now, their time together would be cut off. Merlin would be left behind and the last Time Lord would keep living. They stood face to face, Rose watched intently, her eyes wide. He couldn't be sure if she understood or not, but this was the end of it.
Arthur had not risen when the world needed him because the world had never needed him. All things came to an end someday, and sometimes it just had to happen. And now, this was Merlin's end.
He closed the distance between himself and the Doctor, sliding his wet hands to either side of his face, his thumbs tracing the lines of his cheekbones, and kissed him as the Doctor slid his hands to his back. He saw her in his mind, then, concentrated intently on her location, pressing his tongue into the other's mouth and breathing her name into him. "Aithusa" He felt the power move between them, he could see the orange glow though his eyes were closed. He could feel it, and he pushed it into him. Aithusa would die, one day, but she was alive now. She would be alive for a lot longer than Merlin would be. And now, as he broke their connection, it felt as though a small piece of him were missing. It was the piece that connected him to the dragons, it was the piece of him that had been given to someone else.
He felt breathless, and stepped away from him. The Doctor watched him, his eyes sad, as Merlin took a few backward steps back into the water.
One gift given, and the next – this one was for Arthur.
He stood ankle deep in the water, and let his eyes close again. He went deeper into the newly given life, trying to find him. And he knew what he had to give in return. There was always a price, and this was one he was willing to pay. He was grateful to pay it, and let his arms stretch out on either side of him. "Bebiede þe arisan ealdu" He murmured into the air. And he repeated them, louder and louder until the words didn't seem like his own. He could feel the wind spinning around them, the Doctor and Rose stood at the shore, trying to keep debris in the air from hitting them. They watched him as he chanted the spell. Mesmerized.
"Doctor, what is he doing?" She was saying through the wind. He didn't respond, only watched Merlin. "Doctor!"
"Grith fæstne mid thisse tintregedan sawole!" The air roared in his ears, and all at once everything went still and quiet. Leaves fluttered back down to earth, the sun shone in scattered beams of light, Merlin was falling into the water one more time, his palms scratching against the stones and the muck under the water.
Rose splashed over to him, shouting his name and coming up beside him. Everything felt too quiet, something felt completely off and he couldn't tell what it was, his head was in a fog. "What did you do?" She asked, frantic, but Merlin couldn't speak. Something felt different, very different, in a way he had never known before.
The Doctor stood behind him, his expression blank.
And there it was.
The surface of the lake, forever still and lifeless, began to move. It was a path, directly towards them. Merlin stood, scarcely daring to believe it. He wouldn't – not until he saw with his own eyes. The surface rippled, the sun shone across the lake until it glittered like diamonds. Everything was so quiet, he could hear the water slosh.
The water parted in a small circle, slowly, and kept going as a man emerged from the lake.
Merlin stood, the sound of the water dripping from his clothes was too loud to his ears. Then he was moving, splashing through the water towards the man.
Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King of Camelot, was walking straight towards him. His hair was bright and dry, fluttering ontop his head in the light breeze. The chainmail was polished bright, the sword gleamed at his side as the sun illuminated him and everything around him.
Merlin threw himself at him, hiding his face in the side of his throat. Arthur's arms were around him, then, real and strong. "Quit your sobbing, you great bloody girl" Arthur said, breathlessly, into his hair. His voice was like breathing again after drowning for a thousand years. But he clung to Merlin for dear life, and Merlin held on as tightly as he could.
Behind them, the Doctor folded his arms over his chest. "He'll live, and die now, as any normal man." He said, watching the two men stand in the water.
"What? But I thought he was immortal"
"He was." And he wondered if he would see Merlin again, "But he gave that up for him."
"He can do that?"
"He can do anything. He's Merlin, the greatest sorcerer of all time."
"He would give up everything, immortality, all for one man"
"I think he would give more than that, if he could."
She smiled, and slid her hand into his. He squeezed her fingers, his thumb stroking her knuckles. "His story is at an end, I think."
"Where will we go now?"
"Oh, but we're not quite done yet. There's one more piece to this puzzle yet to solve."
He grinned, nodded his head to the Tardis, and they were off once more, to complete the end of this story.
She wasn't happy to see him, when they got there, unfurling her large wings and curling her tail around herself. He could hear her growl somewhere deep in her throat. And when she opened her jaws wide, they rushed for cover from the dragon's fire fanning over them. "A dragon" Rose said, almost laughing. "He gave you a dragon"
Aithusa was coming for them, they were strangers in her sanctuary, and he stepped out of hiding, held out a hand and said "Álynnan." And she stopped and peered at them. He walked towards her, and pressed his palm to her snout. "You gorgeous thing." He cooed, "He hid you well, didn't he? I never would have found you on my own."
He grinned at her, she was ancient and still had so many years to go. He had thought that, maybe, he could spend the rest of time with the lonely sorcerer called Emrys. Instead, he had delivered the sorcerer to his King – soothing one man's sorrow and giving another his life back. And here, a dragon he hadn't known existed until now, an actual dragon that breathed fire and had wings and a tail. She was simply beautiful, affectionate and a little hesitant, and he was the one she would listen to.
"Hey Rose." He said warmly, fingertips stroking the warm white scales. "How do you feel about finding a few dragon eggs?"
I've used two sites to help me write this, for both the spells and for the dragon's language. Merlin dot wikia dot com slash wiki slash Spells and oldenglishtranslator dot co dot uk