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Only For You

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Arthur was dead. Merlin had watched him and held him and could do nothing. He waited for centuries for the Once and Future King of Camelot to return, watched as the kingdom he knew was no more and the world changed. He never returned to Camelot and stayed as close to where he had put Arthur to rest as he could. Merlin stood by as kingdoms fell to ruin, as monarchies were overthrown. The world began to follow democracy and equality, individualism and civil rights. Industrialization and revolution, the people changed, the government changed, and Merlin changed. In a world that noticed science over magic and the supernatural, his gifts became meaningless and unused, as did his destiny. Without Arthur, there wasn't anything he could do to restore Albion’s glory, so he waited. He waited for Arthur or any of his court. The others he met infrequently, their destinies still being tied together. He had lived at one point with another Gwaine, Guinevere, Elyan, and Lancelot, but still not Arthur. The sorcerer had fleeting hope of finding the king again and enjoyed each moment he had with those of his past life, even though they rarely remembered it. Instead, they often found humor in the coincidence of their names in regard to the Arthurian legends, now hailed as children's stories, though Merlin knew they were anything but. With all the time Merlin had on his hands, he originally pursued a well-developed career in medicine, following closely in Gaius' footsteps as the modern version of a physician. After years in the field though, he lost interest and moved on. He decided instead to become a teacher, because who better to teach history than one who lived it? His passion was always clear when he taught, it was his own memories, and even his students began to find aspects of their teach funnily ironic. Merlin Emrys was exceptionally enthusiastic about history, advertised the legends of the knights of the round table, and had been doing such for as long as anyone could remember.


To backtrack, it is incorrect to say Merlin's magic was useless, because it was fantastic at rewriting documents and memories to conceal how long he had been around. Originally, he accepted a temporary, nomadic lifestyle and just never stayed anywhere too long, but it got old when he began to enjoy his life more and spent longer with his friends. He stayed in London, not too far from where Camelot's citadel had once stood, in a flat on his own. In that time, Merlin was accompanied by both Gwen and Morgana, living along the same street as the two. Of course, with no memory of their past lives or grudges, the trio were as close as they had been not long after when Merlin first was welcomed into Uther's court. Besides, without Arthur's father there to have a prejudice against anyone's lifestyle, neither Morgana nor Merlin were threatened by society.

“Morgana, I swear if I find Aithusa in my toilet one more time-“


“Oh hush,” she scolded, holding the white cat closer to her chest, “she’s not doing you any harm.”


“Of course not, but why can’t she fall into your toilet?!”


“Merlin, if it weren’t for my cat you would never wake up some mornings.”
Before Merlin could cut back, Gwen stepped into the flat. She knew just by their posture that their bickering had started up again and she had no patience for it, so the two settled on icy glares.


“How was your night?” Morgana asked, noting her flat mate’s clear fatigue.


“It was fine,” the other woman replied, “only Sophia decided her rounds were beneath her, so I had to cover those too.”
Merlin always forgot she was part of this timeline, for he didn’t understand the importance of her reincarnation. He’d have liked to forgot she was ever part of their story to begin with.


“Why hasn’t she been fired?” He questioned, only to be met with a heavy sigh.


“I’ve told you before it doesn’t work like that. She’s a good nurse, great with the patients and everything, it’s just she so frequently considers doing her job inconsistently. And I can’t just neglect her patients, so if she doesn’t check up on them and I know, I have to do it. It’s better I do that than try starting something by allowing her behavior to affect whether someone lives or dies.”


Morgana shook her head at Gwen’s plight before putting Aithusa on the ground, “Merlin, we’d better head out now if we don’t want to be late.” He glanced to the clock and nodded. He and Morgana worked at the same school, Merlin in the history department and she in sciences, for she was a magnificent chemist. “Will you be here when we get back, Gwen?”


“If I’m not called in early, then I should be here. I’ve got some errands to run today, so maybe we can all have dinner before my all-nighter.”


“My thoughts exactly,” Morgana punctuated with a dazzling smile.

-

As strange as it was sometimes to be so familiar with Morgana, after everything that had happened, Merlin had to remind himself of context. This wasn’t the first time he had been reunited with her, and he was ashamed to admit he was cruel to her originally. The first time he remet a member of the court, it never occurred to him that they did not share his memories. Of course, fate held them together, their intertwined destines meant they would always find one another. Only through experience did the warlock learn that his friends were both the same and very different than when he originally knew them. Morgana was a fine example, for she was just as charming and witty as she had always been, but when her lifestyle was not threatened, her passion did not build into aggression and violence but instead she became lively and successful. It was a joy to Merlin to see her flourish, because he rarely had wished her harm to begin with, which made the current arrangement all the more enjoyable. He worked with Morgana daily and practically lived with her too. Gwen and Morgana shared a flat, which was only a door down from Merlin, which meant most of the time one of them was appropriating the other’s space. It made him nostalgic for that connection he had with them when he first arrived in Camelot, when he and Arthur were always butting heads. Unfortunately, that group was incomplete, always lacking that fourth pillar.


On the walk to school, a comfortable silence had settled over them until Merlin finally turned to Morgana, “Do you think she forgot?”


“Merlin, I think Gwen hardly knows what day it is anymore,”


“Well that’s no excuse to do nothing!”


“Of course I know that, that’s why I planned for us to spend the evening together. Honestly Merlin, what kind of friend do you take me for?”


He let out a coarse laugh, “Morgana, you celebrated my birthday by giving me a grocer coupon, I’m sorry my expectations aren’t too high.”


“That coupon gave you half off on cakes! You were supposed to use it for your birthday cake!” She defended, but couldn’t hide her laughter.


“Yes, I’m so glad you allowed me to go buy my own celebration, that was so considerate of you.”


“Merlin! You’re incredibly picky, I can hardly get you anything without hearing you complain about it for days, my gift was letting you buy your own cake.” Her amusement had doubled, and she laughed between her words in the way one does when they find their own joke so funny they can hardly finish it.


And her joy was always contagious, so Merlin couldn’t find a retort as he smiled to the point it hurt.

Chapter Text

Got called in. Rain check on dinner tonight.

“This is ridiculous!” Morgana exclaimed, looking from the text to Merlin, who just shook his head because he saw it coming. “Alright, looks like Plan B: we’re going to prepare a celebration for when she gets back.”

“Morgana, we don’t have anything for a party, and Gwen will be exhausted when she’s home-“

“And we will be too. We’ll stay up preparing and then stay up even more waiting for her to come back because damn it, Merlin she deserves this and we’re her friends.”

He let out a groan, but couldn’t argue because she was right, Gwen did deserve to be celebrated, more than either she or Morgana realized. “Fine,” he sighed, “but I’m not leaving to run errands, you’ll be doing that yourself.”

-

The hospital was a bit short staffed, and Gwen, having worked there for some time now, was often called in to cover. She truly didn’t mind–the compensation was well worth it–but having one night off wouldn’t be asking too much.

As usual, she filled her time with caffeine and paper work. The other girls would gather around the desk and they would chat some, but there was always work to be done. It was only when Elena rolled a chair up next to her that Guinevere realized that group that had gathered. “Yes?” she addressed them with a loose laugh.

“Oh come on, don’t act confused,” the blonde at her side smiled, holding out a white box. Gwen wasn’t pretending, and took the box incredulously. She placed it in front of her and opened it, and inside was a cake. “Mith made it,” Elena piped up, pointing to the baked good as if clarification was needed. It looked wonderful, and exactly like their friend’s handiwork. Reading the purple piping, “Happy Birthday Gwen,” the nurse felt like an absolute idiot. She’d spent so many late shifts at the hospital and so many days sleeping that her birthday had snuck up on her.

“Thank you all,” Gwen said, “and I’ll have to thank her next time she comes in.”
Elena, an absolute sweetheart as always, spun away with a huge smile on her face while the other doctors and nurses worked on gathering plates and napkins and a knife to cut the cake. As often happened, someone made a joke about using a scalpel and they all laughed like improperly using the medical tools was a new joke until someone hurried back from the cafeteria with a plastic knife.

-

Merlin had this old cuckoo clock in his flat, and it drove Morgana insane. He found the thing beautiful, and claimed it was a family treasure. In reality he had made it himself so many years ago and a bit of magic might be what kept it in such good shape. At midnight, the soft bells chimed, playing Edelweiss, and Morgana groaned, “Why do you keep that old thing, there’s digital clocks and phones and alarms-“

“I’m an old thing, so don’t insult my clock,”

“Merls, you’re the same age as me.”

He hesitated but with a soft smile sighed, “yes, but I am so much wiser and more mature that I easily forget.”

Morgana threw a party hat across the room at him, “you forget things because you’re thick, not because you think you’re so wise.”

He only laughed as he ducked away from the projectile.

-

“Hey,” Sophia yawned, leaning against the desk, “some John Doe has been transferred out of ICU, I left his file at his beside for you to check on your next rounds.”

“Thank you,” Gwen flipping back to her paperwork, dismayed she would have to add another patient to her stack. She took a sip of her coffee before looking at the clock and standing, it would be a long night.

She made her rounds, checking each patient and found them all the same: sleeping and stable. Reaching one bed, she was unfamiliar with the patient, and the file at his table made it clear he was the recent transfer. Gwen glanced through his file. John Doe, age estimated 28, 6’ and so on with all the specificities of his appearance; more interesting was his report: found unconscious, with a wound in his left side. It seemed he had been stabbed, and his only other injury was a bruise on his head. He was found by a driver, who said Doe was laying on the side of a road, it was as though he had wondered there and then passed out, hitting his head on the way down. The driver brought him to the hospital when he wouldn’t wake up and noticed he was bleeding terribly. He would have died if he hadn’t been found. He was sent to ICU and they stabilized him, stopped the bleeding, but weren’t able to wake him up. There was a note on that: possible concussion. Though it was unknown how or why he was stabbed, especially because he was stabbed all the way through, he fainted from bleeding out, hit his head upon collapsing, was saved by a stranger, taken to the hospital, and now lucky to be alive. He was barely alive though, he was unresponsive and only just breathing. Gwen spent a while at his side, something she couldn’t put a finger on held her there. Pushing hair from his eyes, it was clear he had no fever, and seemed as though he was only sleeping.

-

“Do you want me to call her?” Merlin asked. He figured Morgana’s plans weren’t going to work out, but couldn’t bear to break it to her. Gwen was busy a lot, and when she wasn’t she was so exhausted she could hardly spend time with them. It hurt their friendship, though neither of the women would ever admit it. 

“No,” the clock had struck two and the streamers looked a little lonely in the still room. “I wouldn’t want us to bother her. She’s working anyway. We can… we can celebrate another time.”

It so genuinely hurt Merlin to see her like this. He pulled his phone out and stared at Gwen’s contact, finger hovering over that circular call button. 

No, he knew Gwen’s shifts were tiring but it was because she had to stay awake, not because she was busy. That’s not to say her work was not invaluable, but that the hospital was calm at night, and she mostly just checked that patients were comfortable every hour. Filled with a wave of awakening determination, Merlin stood from his couch and pulled at Morgana’s arm, “it’s no time for moping.”

”What?” she countered with a forced-sounding laugh.

“No one should celebrate alone, and it’s rather lousy to work on one’s birthday.”

“Merlin what are we doing?” 

He only grinned, shoving his keys in his pockets and pulling his coat on, throwing Morgana’s at her. He was so thrilled that he didn’t realize the chrome party hat was still on his head. 

Chapter Text

Merlin was a bit of a mystery to his friends. He was incredibly kind and supportive, very often clumsy and forgetful, a bit snarky, a bit lazy, and on rare occasions, incredibly wise beyond his years. Rather, beyond his visible years. They were so used to him trying to lay around all the time that in the moments when he seemed exceptionally jubilant, they were quick to credit alcohol. This was such a moment, with Merlin pulling Morgana into a cab at such early hours and raving about celebrations and friendships. If he weren’t so absolutely charming with his face blushing from cold and enthusiasm, and a childish grin that only made his ears seem to stick out more while almost shutting his eyes entirely, Morgana would shudder to think her party plans had invited such behavior.

“We’ll burst in there and she’ll be absolutely stunned,” he spoke more with his hands than his voice, almost hitting the driver. He wasn’t buckled because he was using the freedom to allow his lanky limbs to do the talking. Morgana was clutching her stomach with laughter and noting to pay the poor cabbie extra. “And I’m thinking we could sing, ‘she’s a jolly good fellow’ would be perfect. Oh! and if only we had sparklers! A candle wouldn’t have the same effect…”

His antics only escalated and when the driver stopped, he almost fell onto the pavement leaping out in such a hurry. Morgana stayed to pay and apologize excessively to the man whose night they had either just ruined or made.

The two had both visited Gwen at work before, having brought her coffee, tea, and food during extended shifts, so there was no wondering about the hospital to find her. Destination in mind, Merlin pulled Morgana, stumbling, behind him to the lift. In it, they were alone and he took a moment to shoot her a grin. He hopped on the balls of his feet as if he needed to boost his energy any more and slid into a runner’s stance as the speaker dinged and the whirring of the door opening could be heard. Morgana couldn’t hide her amusement.

Merlin in this way was not a mystery, because as sudden as his behavior was, his motives weren’t. Both Gwen and Morgana recognized a certain desperation that was always in their friend’s actions. He was entirely dedicated to them, to their happiness and companionship. His way of showing it was occasionally strained, but he cared about them deeply and they could never do enough to equal his affection.

He rushed from the elevator, turned a corner and managed to almost run straight into a wall. He skated the corner and kept going, Morgana a step behind him. Fortunately, he decided not to sing when he saw Gwen, but he waved his arms wildly as a substitute. She wasn’t behind her desk, but on her way to it with a file in hand, the other hand going up to cover her laughter, taking in her friend’s ridiculous appearance. Merlin was a bit out of breath from a solid half hour adrenaline rush, his face flushed, the party hat was hanging onto his head desperately and had pushed his mop of hair even more askew than it originally had been. His coat was barely on, only one shoe was tied, and only one glove was on. Morgana followed him and only added to the effect by always being the picture of elegance. She wore the same grin he did through, it was a sentiment shared between the trio.

Merlin was so out of breath that he couldn’t even verbalize his excitement and just let out a huff of breath while flailing his arms before gripping a stitch in his side. Morgana shook her head, “happy birthday, Gwen,” she said, embracing the nurse. Merlin nodded, confirming that’s what his gesture had meant.

“What are you two doing here? It’s late, or rather, it’s early.”

“We-“ he struggled the words between pants, “we wanted. to celebrate. with you.”

“You didn’t have to come here, and at this time,” she had the same matronly concern she always did, looking at her watch, “the others made me a cake anyway.”

“Well, in that case we should have just forgotten your birthday entirely,” Morgana said dryly, but couldn’t hide the humor in her eyes, “Merlin, she had cake the whole time, I don’t know why we bothered.”

He leaned on the wall for support and held out a hand, “then we will get you anything that you want, you name it.”

“I want you to get home and rest,” Gwen smiled. It wasn’t as though she was unappreciative, for she was far from it, but these shifts were exhausting for her and she worked them all the time. She couldn’t help the guilt she felt for her friend’s to have stayed up as well just for her.

“Never mind, anything but that,” Merlin pointed at her, leaving all emphasis to body language.

Morgana led Gwen back to her desk, “food, coffee, any birthday gifts you had in mind…” she offered.

Gwen bit her lip, tapping a pen on her desk, “well, I do have a John Doe, so I’ll be here late sorting out his file and contacting the authorities to find his identity, and Mithian won’t be here for a few hours. Yes, I’d love some breakfast, but not now.”

Merlin perked up, propping himself on the counter above the desk, “We’ll get you anything, Gwen.”

“Not now,” she dismissed, “I do really need to work on this report.”

“Is that him?” Morgana asked, pointing to a face on Gwen’s computer screen with a mischievous smirk, “if that’s the John Doe then I’ll claim him.”

Before Merlin could catch a glimpse, Gwen had covered the program, swatting Morgana away, “that is personal, you aren’t supposed to see any of that.” She cleared her throat but there was a bit of a flush on her face, and the two shared a look of knowing appreciation about this mystery man’s appearance and Merlin could only roll his eyes.

“Fine, leave me out of it,” he feigned dramatic hurt, “it was my idea for us to come all the way up here only to be ignored.”

Morgana rolled her eyes, “I’d better get Merlin home before he pulls his ego. Call us when you’re ready for that breakfast and we’ll be back before you know it.”

-

It was sometime around 5:30 when Merlin’s phone rang. He had crashed in Morgana and Gwen’s flat after they got back from the hospital, laying sprawled out on their couch. His phone vibrated on the coffee table and he sleepily reached for it, only managing to slide it on the floor. With more focus, he grabbed the device and held it to his ear, “ello?”

“Merlin,” Gwen’s voice was soft, she knew she was waking him up, “I expected Morgana to answer.”

“But you called my phone,”

“Yes, and you’re not the best at responding.”

“You’re making me regret offering you breakfast.”

“Yes! Breakfast,” Merlin could just picture the smile on her face, “if it’s not too much to ask that is. Mithian’s here now so I’ve only to catch her up and I can be off.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Merlin assured before they said their goodbyes and hung up.

It wasn’t long after he woke up Morgana that they headed out of the flat to return to the hospital. This time Merlin was fully dressed and not wearing a party hat.

-

They ate together at this cafe Gwen liked, it was small, quaint, and it always brought Merlin reeling back to her home in the lower town in Camelot. It was that sort of homey spot, with dark paneling and delicate flowers and a vanilla, lavender aroma.

It wasn’t until they were almost back to the flat that Gwen stopped, a hand flying to her coat pocket, “I’ve left my wallet back at the hospital.”

Her face reflected her panic, and even guilt at inconveniencing her friends, but Merlin nodded, “I’ll go back with you. Gana here looks like she’ll fall asleep standing.” He was right, Morgana was exhausted and even though she could have mustered up the energy to walk back to the hospital with the two, she was grateful to be excused from the activity. She gave a final goodbye to the two and wished a last belated happy birthday to Gwen before heading down the street. The pair waited to see her into the building before turning off to make the trek back to the hospital. They filled the walk with mindless talk, mostly Gwen remarking at Morgana’s exhaustion, and Merlin making a joke about how exhausting some of her students could be. In all reality, he figured it was a bit of emotional fatigue as we, for Morgana had poured so much time and thought into a celebration for Gwen only to stay up to ungodly hours for nothing. Of course, Merlin would never say that to Gwen, she was too kind and figured she already had some awareness of her fault in her friend’s state. A benefit of getting to live with his friends over again was that he knew much more about their thoughts and inner workings than he did in their first meeting. Guinevere’s selflessness was more apparent to him now than it had ever been, as was Morgana’s passion, and both of their genuine trust in him. It was an awareness that made him feel so much worse about their time together back in Camelot, about all that had gone wrong.

As much as Merlin tried to move on, there was only so much he could do to keep his thoughts from straying back to that time. It was possible that if he were just any other immortal, that if he weren’t reliving the same destiny with the same people, he could have moved on, but that wasn’t the case. He thought of Camelot because he was surrounded by its people and because he knew that one day its king would return. Arthur was both the faintest and sharpest memory he had of that time. He was sharpest in that Merlin considered him most important, for they were two sides of the same coin and all that, but he was faintest because he was the one person that Merlin had not been reunited with in all that time.

“You didn’t have to do all this,” Gwen said as they stepped off the lift, “I could have come back by myself, you should have stayed and rested too.”

“It’s nothing,” Merlin dismissed. Truthfully, he hated sleeping. Unless he had genuinely passed out, his unconscious state was haunted by dreams that were more graphic, gruesome depictions of his memories. He could tolerate reliving the same cycle over again, but not when in his sleep he had to relive the deaths of everyone he had ever loved. “I need the exercise,” he joked and Gwen just smiled softly.

As she went to find her wallet, for she didn’t remember where exactly she had left it, Merlin wandered the halls. He came to the hospital often enough to know the place and not feel lost. For a while, he was there so frequently that he’d befriended a few patients. Outside one room was a clearly new label: John Doe. The door was ajar but inside it was dark. He nudged the door open with one foot, first checking to see if Gwen was around, then stepped in. It seemed odd he would have been transferred to his own room when unclaimed and comatose. There was a consistent beep from his monitor though, and Merlin could see the form of his body laying in the slightly elevated bed, a steady breathing. He took a slow step further in, he wasn’t quite sure why he was being so cautious, it wasn’t as if it was likely the man would wake up. For some reason, it felt as if the seconds were ticking off like hours, and when you’ve lived as long as Merlin, that’s a rare sensation. The idea of the man’s unconscious form isolated in the dark like this felt wrong to Merlin, but he felt that the room’s light would be too intrusive, so instead he moved past the bed to the window. The blinds had been shut, but Merlin pulled the cord and tightened it so a bit of that spotty early morning sun beside the clouds could shine in. It didn’t do much to the actual lightness in the room, but it shifted the mood a little to make it feel less heavy.

A soft smile sat on Merlin’s face as he watched the clouds’ slow trek across the grey sky before he turned. The smile fell, his face felt frozen. In the dim light, in that subdued hospital room, he knew he couldn’t be mistaken. He took a staggering step, reaches a hand out, but his body couldn’t seem to work in sync, his brain, his hands, his arms, his legs, all acting separately. His step ended up collapsing him at the bedside, but his hand still fell on the bed, and he assured himself that the body was there, that he wasn’t imagining it. And now it was his emotions that were scattered, he felt overjoyed, shocked, and a bitter sadness wash over him overwhelmingly. He stood, shaking, touched the face of the man he had seen so often in only his dreams, it felt surreal.

His voice came out a chocked sob, “Arthur.”

Chapter Text

“Merlin?”

Hearing the sound of his own name woke him up a bit. The man had been so swept up that he’d hardly noticed anything else. Gwen stood in the doorway, her face reflecting the same concern it always seemed to, she seemed expectant.

“I-“ he couldn’t find the words, not the words to explain anything running through his brain. Some part of him always knew the day would come, but if he were to be entirely honest, Merlin would admit that he doubted. Maybe he didn’t doubt exactly, but he thought the moment of Arthur’s return would be more defined and obvious, and not seem like some chance meeting, like this. I guess that’s just how destiny works though.

“Do you know him?” Gwen was always so kind, and her face always reflected the depth and consistency of her personality. Her tone was just as equal an indication here, it edged fear. Merlin was in tears, cradling the face of an unconscious man that she had heard or seen no mention of in the many years she had practically lived with him.

He nodded, “yeah.” It was a bit of a cough, and a bit of a laugh, as though it were obvious. Really “know” is just the understatement of a century, many centuries actually; Merlin’s lifespan. “Yeah,” he repeated, “I knew him… I know him.”

“What’s his name?” She was gentle now as she put one of her hands on the bed, “if you know him, you can help us find his family, a guardian maybe.”

Merlin doubted there was any family. As often as the people of Camelot returned, they were always the same in many ways. Their names never changed, and neither did their faces; it made Merlin’s life easy in a way. Often, their relations were with them, Gwen accompanied by Tom and Elyan, Sophia with her father, Uther with Morgana, and so on. However, some people were more rare finds, Uther being such a case. Gwaine was all too common, it seemed that as soon as one died, another showed up. Perhaps that is a sad thought, but it had become Merlin’s reality. But if the name and the family were to have come with Arthur, Merlin doubted he would have missed an entire Pendragon clan in this life. “Arthur. And he probably doesn’t have any family,” Merlin said.

“Probably?”

“No, it’s been so long but, I doubt they’re around.”

It wasn’t a real answer and Merlin knew it, but he couldn’t give her one, it felt too dishonest, and he wasn’t even sure enough to say anything.

“Arthur,” Gwen said it as a thought, “well I can look in to some reports, see what there is on an Arthur…”

“Pendragon.”

“Well, isn’t that fanciful, Arthur Pendragon,” Gwen smiled and Merlin softly returned the sentiment. “We’d better get back though,” she said after a moment, “I’d hate for Morgana to worry if she wakes up and we’re still gone. There’s also not much to do now, I’m glad he’s a name though. You’ll be a big help in this now he’s not alone.”

Not alone. What an idea, for once in so many hundreds of years, Merlin truly felt the same.

-

“So you know the John Doe?”

“Arthur,” Merlin corrected Morgana. She had been up when they returned, claimed she only took a small nap and would nurse the rest of her fatigue with caffeine. Gwen told her the news.

“Right, Arthur. You’ve never mentioned an Arthur before, not one I remember at least,” she glanced to Gwen for confirmation and received a nod that neither of them had any recollection of hearing the name before, “what do you think happened?”

“He came back. It’s that simple.”

“Do you think something could have happened?” Gwen spoke now, “you’re being a bit cryptic Merlin, we’ll back off if you don’t want to talk, but I’d say it’s rather more than you’re making it out to be.”

His hand tightened into a fist. That was unfair, both of her to say and of Merlin to be mad about it. It was much more than he could make it out to be, and she couldn’t possibly know that.

“I guess, I just never expected this. Or maybe I did, I’m not even sure,” he sighed heavily and ran both hands down his face. “I knew him so long ago, and I knew when he… departed… that I would see him again. At the same time though, seeing him there, seeing him at all, it was more than I ever expected.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He, Arthur died. Well, I only thought he did apparently-“

“How do you make that mistake?”

“Look Morgana, it’s not like I just decided he was dead. I watched it happen, he died, in my arms. But if he’s alive, then he wouldn’t remember a bit of that, probably was barely conscious for it,” Merlin said. He knew he was pushing it. There was a fine line between what he was willing to tell them and where reality was absurd, and he was skating that line. He had thought Arthur died, because he did die, but he couldn’t explain that. He also couldn’t think of any other lie, his mind wasn’t focused on the conversation with them, there was something much more important than Morgana and Gwen interrogating him on his apparent connections. “None of that is important now anyway, whatever happened then didn’t land him in the hospital.”

“Yes,” Gwen cleared her throat, “unless he’s been sporting a stab wound for all the years since you’ve seen him.”

Well.

“Looks like he was stabbed, and would have bled out if he hadn’t been found, so he’s lucky for that.”

Merlin agreed, but also didn’t think Arthur would have come back just to die on some roadside. But also, destiny is a bit of a bitch so who knows. “But he’s fine now?”

Gwen shifted in her seat, finger drumming on the side of the cup she held in both hands, “well we can’t be sure, Merlin. He hit his head, probably when he passed out from blood loss, and he might have a concussion. Even if he doesn’t, he’s still comatose, unresponsive. Anything could happen.”

“Can I… can anything be done?”

“Mithian is always a great help, she’ll be able to check on him when none of the nurses can, but there’s not much medically or otherwise that we can do. The doctors and nurses, we’ll monitor him, but we can’t make him wake up, Merlin.” Gwen sighed and looked to him apologetically.

Morgana stood, “get some rest, it’s been a long day.” She put a hand gently on Merlin’s shoulder, easing him off their couch. Though she hated to leave him alone, she thought it better if he returned to his own flat. He couldn’t argue, it didn’t matter where he was, he was clouded by the same thoughts regardless.

“Merlin,” she said just as he turned through the door, “are you sure you’re alright?”

He nodded but couldn’t pretend enough to smile, to try reassuring her, “yeah. You’re right, I just need to rest.”

“If you ever,” she put a hand on his, keeping the door open, “if you ever need anything, you know Gwen and I are here, always.”

“Of course.”

-

Merlin didn’t know what he expected. He didn’t cry, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t smile, but he didn’t frown, he seemed entirely neutral. Of course, he was thrilled that Arthur was back, but with the thrill came fear and the unknown. The primary question was why had he come back?

Their destiny was to unite Albion and bring it to glory, but Arthur had already done that, and now the kingdoms of Albion were defined countries and territories,Arthur had no say in any of that, and the whole of it was more likely to reasonably break apart now than to unite under some risen king of legend. No, it’s not like the Once and Future King came back to fix Brexit, so there must be something else.

Merlin groaned, putting his head between his hands. It made no sense, and he didn’t want to think about it, but he couldn’t help it. This was his life, his destiny, Arthur was the reason he was alive. Two sides of the same coin and all that.

Maybe rest was best for him, and if he couldn’t will himself into it he’d just cheat. There were lots of practical uses to magic.

-

He was back in Camelot, in his chambers at Gaius’. The sun shone through his window and he stood, going to look out over the kingdom. Merlin had forgotten how beautiful it all was. As if the routine was still fresh, as if it hadn’t been hundreds of years, Merlin got dressed and left the bedroom. Gaius was up, making breakfast, something else was bubbling, a potion in the works, on his work table and he had never felt more at home.

Gaius?” he heard his own voice as though behind a wall, so incredibly muffled. He felt restrained trying to reach out to the man and panic surged through him.

“Arthur will have your head,” the physician warned with a mischievous smile and the familiar quirk of his brow.

“You know he couldn’t live without me,” the words fell out without control or thought, and clear as Gaius had been. It wasn’t real Merlin realized, he was reliving a moment, his actions weren’t his own.

He tried though, calling out to Gaius and trying to stay in the room. “I just need to know,” he cried out as his feet carried him through the castle. Even when he tried to, he didn’t knock as he entered Arthur’s chambers. This, of course, was a mistake for the prince was already up and took no time to reprimand Merlin.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I bother with you, you come in late and don’t even knock!” the prince was unseen, but it was clear he was changing behind the screen.

“I’ve grown on you,” was the cheeky reply Merlin gave as he moved further into the room to collect dirty laundry. Really he was dreading this, he was fighting each step. In his head he was screaming no a thousand times over, he couldn’t take it.

There was a sigh, a shuffle, and Merlin turned to see Arthur coming out behind the screen dressed formally for a day of negotiations and council meetings. With a shit-eating grin he threw more clothes at the manservant, who stumbled.

No no no no no.

“You’re right, what would I do without you,” and despite the mischievous glint to Arthur’s eyes, the smile had settled into something more genuine as he closed the distance between them and clapped a hand on Merlin’s shoulder.

I can’t!” Merlin cried out, finding himself sitting upright in his bed, body cold and covered in a slick sweat. Tears pricked his eyes and he let out a gross sob. The look in Arthur’s eyes, that crooked, kind grin, burned through Merlin and reminded him of so many memories he had hoped to forget.

Chapter Text

“Was King Arthur real?”

The morning lesson had been completely ignored as soon as that topic was hinted at, Merlin of course distracted by it and his students just spouting off questions. “Oh was he,” Merlin sighed, a soft smile curling at his lips as he relaxed against his desk. “Some believe that the Arthurian legends are based in some history, perhaps a town hero rather than an actual monarch, but there’s really no confirmation on any of it. There’s no record of a King Arthur-”

“Yeah, but the stories are filled with magic and dragons and destiny!” A kid who was cynical of everything they discussed shot back.

“What do you believe then?”

“What I believe? Oh the legends of King Arthur are true and don't do the man near enough justice. Of course, the stories you've grown up with aren't the truth, they're just the product of centuries of retelling and manipulating. But Arthur? Camelot? They were as real as you or I and just as honorable as told. However, the stories could give Merlin a bit more credit,” he added with a sly smile. Most the class returned the look like they were all in on the joke.

But then the class period was dismissed and the students filed out before he could continue derailing his own lecture.

“Merlin!” from the growing crowd of students in the hall, Morgana’s voice and body pushed through them so she could step into his room. He didn’t remember seeing her in the morning though he usually did, and now he noticed first that she seemed tired and slightly flustered. Her hair wasn’t immaculately pulled back and she looked paler, like she hadn’t slept well in eons. “Merlin I’ve got to talk to you- I had this dream and I can’t get it out of my head. It felt incredibly real and I keep getting flashes of it-“

“Morgana,” he gripped one of her arms, which she’d been waving emphatically. Her eyes were wide and Merlin knew well enough to say she looked on the verge of tears. “This was just a dream,” and somewhere deep within him he could recall Gaius’ voice dismissing her with the same words, “you shouldn’t let it bother you so much.” This fear swept through him and he shook his head, she nodded.

“It’s only- I kept hearing your name, so I got all bothered by it.” She nodded again, forced a smile that he knew too well “but you’re right. It was only a dream.”

He hated to continue her distress but- “you heard my name?”

“Yes,” she waved a hand. He’d dismissed her beliefs and now she was doing the same to herself, “it was only your last name. Emrys. And I guess that’s why I remember the dream; your name made it seem much more real.”

His name made panic grip him- his brow knit together. It felt too similar to everything all those years ago. And if Arthur was back then maybe it wasn’t entirely ridiculous for Morgana to have a dream. Maybe it wasn’t going to be another lifetime that felt useless and empty. Merlin hesitated, but forced a smile, “Why don’t you come over tonight? I’ll make you some tea and you can relax for once.”

Both their faces eased, something more genuine shared between them. She nodded, squeezed his arm and said a quick thanks. They both had students to attend to as it came closer to the start of next class. Morgana left just as she came and he didn’t miss the look another passing professor gave the two of them. The implication of it would make him blanch if it weren’t so purely hilarious. Him and Morgana? Never in the thousand or so years he’d lived would they ever.
———
Mithian wasn’t a nurse, but she knew all of them and was at the hospital as often as she could be. She was a volunteer, helping out with the patients in any way she could, mostly in the form of moral support. Volunteers like her were usually the biggest aid when it came to child patients, who always benefited from the company, but they were also a relief for ICU and comatose. Now, no patient in either facility could really react to or interact with the help, but they still had their purpose. Lots of people believed, though there was little to actually support it, that talking to a comatose patient may help them wake up, especially if talking about something that is important to them.

Unfortunately, when a patient’s identity was only so recently discovered and he still lay unclaimed, finding out what might trigger something was difficult.

“I can always read something generic, folk tales, kids books, some classics,” she listed off to Gwen, who nodded.

“You know you can try anything you like,” the nurse replied, “anything you think will help. I can always ask Merlin if there’s something that might work.”

“Merlin knows him?”

“Yeah,” Gwen typed behind her desk, only half heartedly invested in the conversation, still trying to find anything substantial on the no-longer-John Doe. “Turns out they knew each other years ago, Merlin won’t tell us much though. Just his name. Put this over his tag, will you?” She handed Mithian a label:

Arthur Pendragon.

———
After all the years since he’d been apprenticed to Gaius, Merlin still found himself thinking back to the remedies he’d learned from the old physician.

In all that time, with all the professions and lives he’d picked up and even with freer range of his magic he’d found the knowledge of herbs and the body useful. The only drawback was that now Morgana and Gwen both would tease him for the drying herbs hung in his kitchen and how he was more likely to use poultices over painkillers.

“But you both still come running to me when you feel ill,” he’d nag and they would sigh and suffer through his smug smiles as he fixed remedies that were always effective.

Morgana would often hesitantly ask for something for headaches or insomnia. For a time Merlin had wondered if there was something more to her ailments but then he’d ignored such thoughts. Now the idea came back with a vengeance. She’d had issues sleeping before, but never the nightmares; there would be bouts of migraines and sleep deprivation but it had never been more than that. Now undeniably something had shifted and this sense pricked at Merlin as he fixed her tea, a mix he’d made himself.

After school had let out, they’d gone back together to his flat. Morgana had kicked off her shoes and cozied into his couch. She was going on about some of her students, seeming to have moved on from her dilemma that morning. “I swear Merlin, they were going to blow up the lab! One of them tried to get the cleaning supplies involved-“

“Isn’t all that locked up?”

“Yes! And one of those brats knows how to pick locks! They were a moment away from making chlorine gas!” Morgana threw up her hands, before pausing to take the steaming mug she offered.

“See, history is much calmer. No one gets hurt in my classroom.”

“No one stays awake either.”

“Oh ha ha.” If it wouldn’t have risked spilling her drink, Merlin would have thrown a pillow at her as he went back to his kettle. He pulled another mug out of his cabinet and noticed it had a chip. It was some earthenware thing and he honestly wasn’t sure how long he’d had it or how long it’d been chipped. Half his belongings were like that, they could easily have been somewhere between one year or a hundred years old- if not older. It was exhausting and impossible to mentally catalog everything.

“What are you looking for?” Morgana quirked a well defined brow at the man who stood patting his sides and oscillating in his kitchen.

“Can’t remember where I put my mobile.“ Merlin’s brow furrowed. His fingers lightly tapped the mug in his hands as he tried to think. Everything felt off. Something within him was disagreeing with the state of things and he wanted to say it was his magic. The last time he’d felt so bothered was when he’ first arrived in Camelot and the Great Dragon was calling out. But Kilgharrah wasn’t in his head this time, it was just him and Morgana sitting in his flat with his misplaced cell phone. “I swear I just had it-“

“It’s here on the table you-“ but whatever scathing insult she was a moment from uttering disappears on her tongue. As she reached for the phone sitting on his coffee table the mug in her hand shattered suddenly and without reason.

Her eyes were wide as she looked between her now tea soaked hand to Merlin, “I- I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened, I was only holding it by the handle and it just-“

Merlin rushed over, towel in hand to sop up the mess. “It’s fine, are you alright?” She shook her head but he could see a cut on one of her knuckles were flying ceramic had struck. He stood again to get his little first aid kit but then his phone went off and he didn’t know why a million things had happened in the span of ten seconds.

It was Gwen, and she’d stopped calling before he could even answer. Following the notification he had a missed call was a simple text, all lowercase that read “arthur.”

Chapter Text

Some part of him knew what happened before Gwen had messaged. Even if she had said nothing, even if Morgana hadn’t broken the mug, he would have known. After all this time how could he not have known the moment it had happened? Was it not, after all, the sole reason he was still alive? It’s not as if the signs weren’t there. Only that morning had Morgana told him she’d had a dream and never before had she had such specific sights. Currently many from their first lives were back, Gwen and Morgana along with the slew of princesses they’d once known. It had always been curious that so many of them would relive at once, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened so Merlin never questioned it. He’d also never encountered more prominent figures at one time, if any of the knights had returned that would have set off a few bells. So he’d seen it coming in the sense that inevitably it would happen, but he hadn’t anticipated it to happen now.

Arthur.

The text confirmed what he knew, confirmed what his magic had told him and what all signs had obviously pointed to.

The Once and Future King.

Of course it had been inevitable, or so the dragon had said. Arthur would return, and Merlin would be there when he did.

But it had been centuries, it had been a thousand years and he had lived so many lives. He had seen so much, that it felt unreal. He felt unreal half the time. Because if Arthur was back now, then it had to mean something, and it had to give some validity to everything that hadn’t been enough to rouse him. There weren’t even words for any of it, not at this point.

So when he dropped his phone as well as the ceramic pieces he had cleaned up, he didn’t notice, and didn’t hear Morgana saying his name, or feel when she gripped his arm. It was like he’d retreated entirely within his own mind, everything else blurring out, melting into the insignificance it always had been. Like a mantra at the back of his brain. Arthur. But in front of that buzz was all the questions and wonderings of what it all meant, of who he even was now. He, just a school teacher, but actually millennia old

Merlin

And what did it mean for his magic, now so scarcely used? For his home, for his sense of life and security.

Merlin , more insistently.

When his whole life was based around this, did it make him anything without Arthur? When he could live so long pretending he still had value, must he now address that he did have a purpose, a destiny, and he’d spent centuries ignoring it?

Merlin, I swear if you don’t answer me -

He looked up, bleary eyed, at Morgana. She, an anchor to his thoughts and panic, because she was so solid and real in front of him, gripping his shoulders and her brow intensely low. Some relief flitted over her features at this slightest response, her own eyes wide and mirroring his.

“Gwen-“ a shock to his system he slipped from her arms as easily as she let him, taking a step back and hands dropping. He ignored the cup, it was an issue for later, retrieved his mobile, and only fully stood again when he was half across the flat grabbing his things. “-get to the hospital- she texted-“

“Are you going to actually explain things with real words or keep muttering,” her tone, harsh as ever, he knew was covering concern. In her usual style, Morgana stood unmoving, arms crossed.

It wasn’t exasperation, but he knew that was probably how she took it. Wasn’t like he could just sum up his life experience in a way that made sense in any manner, much less under the present time constraint. With a breath that was too much like a sigh, he looked at her seriously “Gwen texted, Arthur is awake. I’ve got to go to the hospital to see him. I’m sorry that means cutting this short-“

“No, I’ll go with you,” and both their tenseness dropped, offensive stances becoming casual and welcoming. Morgana slipped on her shoes, grabbed her own things, and in the doorway said, “and don’t ever try to cut me out of events. I don’t know what it is about this man, since you’ll hardly tell us, but I won’t have you pretending that I won’t always be at your side.”

And it killed him for that had not always been the case.

———

Mithian has been watching him when it happened, reading from the same set of stories she always did, keeping company and monologues going. As usual, it was ineffectual, but it was the company she provided she thought was important, the stories and talking was just to make it easier. Easier for who wasn’t easy to label, but in the end mostly easier for herself and not for whatever comatose patient was on the receiving end. With Gwen’s advice in mind, and the patient's name a constant flag only feet away, it hasn’t taken long before even she grew bored of her usual routine and switched instead to something more suiting.

Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. That perfectly sized collection of courtly stories and adventures, the gold and blue and red cover, with the famed sword as the focus. Looking between it, some part of her recognized the parallel of that image; the sleeping sword, cobweb covered and locked into the stone in that empty autumn clearing and the slumbering being, a man with golden hair and sharp features softened by something she could not name, who looked easily as powerful in body and potential but for the moment rested as surely as the stone of the bed itself.

Book One: The Coming of Arthur

“After wicked King Vortigern had first invited the Saxons to settle in Britain and help him fight the Picts and the Scots, the land was never long at peace…”

And on the story went, to tell of Arthur and Kay and Ector, and Mithian told it with more passion than usual, since it was rare she strayed from her usual set on stories.

It garnered no response, she took a break when Gwen asked if she wanted tea or anything, though this wasn’t long after she had begun, only some pages in. She returned nursing a small mug, and with a sigh set in again, neglecting to even look at the man as she read to him.

She recited Merlin’s words “I will tell you of wondrous things, Arthur is indeed your King, the rightful King of all this land-“ she paused, if only for a sip, still not looking up, and continued, “…Three gifts they gave to Arthur: that he should be the best of all the knights; that he shall be the greatest king this land shall ever know; and that he should live long- longer than any man shall ever know.”

The monitor beeped. Her eyes were tired, they often were from reading endlessly, and she rubbed them in the same manner of a child who would say they were not tired. Again the monitor beeped, the display of the man’s vitals changing. Mithian glances up, the screen blurry but coming into focus, seeing everything pickup.

It was ridiculous, she blinked twice to clear her eyes and head, but still the signs were changing and she hadn’t imagined it. She stood, almost dropping but just barely saving the book, putting it off to the side. “…Gwen-“ she called the name absently, knowing the door was open but it was still hardly likely he nurse would hear.

With more purpose, she straightened herself to go out in the hall, call for her properly, but a hand around her wrist stopped her. The hand, linking to the arm of the body on the bed, the man whose face, eyes still closed, looked like that of a fitful dream. His brow was low and she thought of some ancient sculpture, his face like that lazing faun also sleeping through some nightmare. “Sir, can you hear me?”

Gwen came in of her own accord, a doctor behind her. Mithian should have readied they’d come without her trying, was their job after all, She’d managed to tune the monitor out when she’d been grabbed, but obviously they’d be notified about its going’s on. Without provocation, “I was just reading to him and it,” a motion to the screen, “started going and I didn’t-“

Again it should be noted her method of treatment never had such direct results.

The doctor waved a hand, possibly to acknowledge her, possibly to dismiss. She took it as passive recognition. Questions again rose of “can you hear me?” and in this action Mithian pushed the man’s hand off of her own. Gwen appeared at his side though Mithian swore she had just stepped back out of the room, but dutifully there she was.

There was an air of a false start, that nothing truly would happen, and the monitor calmed and the touch felt like a phantom on her wrist. Both Gwen and the doctor like sentries beside him, watching with resolves tension, seeming ready to leave. A fluke? Who was to say, it was the nature of comatose patients, fleeting excitement, no reward.

But his eyes opened abruptly, not predicted by the monitor or by any movements of his own. His body was still, but now was aware at the very least, not the near dead thing it was a moment before. His mouth opened like he wanted to speak, but shut again. He had this set to his face like he was angry, but it easily could have been fear as well, as both professionals spoke to try and reassure him, Mithian watching from a distance.

He was unresponsive, but did seem capable of understanding at least.

His vitals were normal.

He looked entirely healthy now, something different about everything now that he was woken up. Again Mithian thought of that sword, but perhaps now those cobwebs dusted off, a new glow to it.

If she didn’t know better, she’d question why he was in a hospital at all.

“Mithian? I didn’t know you were here” In a daze, she’d left the room, acquired or been given water - she wasn’t honestly sure which - and time had passed, but she wasn’t sure how much. Morgana was the one who spoke; they hardly knew each other, only to an extent. Gwen was closer to each of them individually, and both felt sure they’d talked a little at some event or other, so this was probably the realest interaction they’d had. The woman in question had a grip on Merlin’s arm, right above his elbow, a place and physicality that should have been amiable but there was something of restraint in both their features, making them look almost like a mother and a belligerent child. Her face, impassive and polite, was the antithesis of his: determined, possibly brooding, possibly concerned but not at all over the etiquette of a “hello how are you”.

“I really shouldn’t be,” Mithian replied, returning that tight nod and a soft smile cut by a forced laugh, “I only came for volunteering, but with everything…” She trailed off, waved a hand, took a sip.

“About that,” in the tiniest of pauses she noticeably gripped Merlin’s arm, as if to scold him and keep him from scampering off, “have you seen Gwen? She texted- I thought it better to see her first than go barging in.”

She hadn’t emphasized the I in that, but it was understood and clear enough. Morgana knee better than to rush in. Merlin did not. Thus, the grip.

“Yes, of course, she’s in there, best knock first.” Giving any more advice would be false considering she couldn’t warn of anything. She hardly remembered leaving, and not any more than that the man had woken, so she wasn’t any the wiser on the state he was in.

Morgana mouthed a thank you as she let Merlin pull just enough to lead them away, but quickly she controlled again. She’d held his arm since the moment they entered the building and saw this familiar look in his face- familiar only to an extent though. She knew it as fear and concern, but there was such a mix of that with determination, excitement, and some more volatile feeling like anger that didn’t fit with the remorse. She didn’t know for whose safety she held onto him for.

“Would you just let me-“

“No,” cold and definite, but not unfeeling. “We’ll do this properly.”

They hadn’t needed to knock because Gwen appeared first, with a jug freshly refilled and her usual look of mixed exhaustion and pure intentions. If there were any gods among men, Merlin knew it would not be him, despite his immortality, but Guinevere: a being of hospitality like Vesta, humility and kindness and not near enough recognition for it.

She had this recognizable response to seeing Merlin, looked almost surprised to see Morgana and he explained, “she refused to let me come alone.” And none of them needed more to be said on that, because all three knew why. Merlin wouldn’t admit to how he could slip into these more manic moments of isolation and the other two couldn’t know it was a habit born on over a thousand years of loneliness. They did know that in any potentially overwhelming moment, they must cling to him as both friend and guardian because no matter what they had each other, though neither of the women could explain the bond.

So Gwen didn’t say it was right of Morgana to do that, but it was true.

And Merlin didn’t tell either of them off because there was always a comfort of them at his side.

With all that aside and unspoken, Merlin, ever so seriously, asked in one breath, “so he’s awake?”

Gwen nodded, but her body and that frightfully full water pitcher blocked the door, “Yes, but- no don’t make that face. He’s fine, physically and mentally, as far as we can tell that is. He can- Might we sit down?” But it was a pointless question to ask given everything about Merlin in that moment. “no, of course not, it’s only that- He can’t remember anything. He didn’t know his name, can’t say anything about his life. He can speak though, and read and write, though he does both a little funny- Not in a bad way! Just in this sort of… Like in that first Thor movie, how he talks so formally, sort of like that.”

“Can I see him?” Merlin asked it as soon as she seemed finished, as if he hadn’t cared.

She swallowed, glancing at her hands then to him, “you can, of course. But he doesn’t remember anything. He won’t-“

“Remember me,” that part finally clicked.

Arthur was back and awake and alive he wouldn’t even fucking-

“I still want to see him.” His eyes widened in that slight way of someone fighting tears.

And Gwen couldn’t- wouldn’t argue with that, for anyone’s sake. She nodded demurely, and let them through.

The doctor had left, so it was just them now. He was sitting up, but more because of the angle of the bed than any willingness. Mithian had thought of him like this regal thing, stuck in the stone but with a remarkable quality nonetheless. Merlin saw him as the man he knew, but lessened, looking almost sickly, but maybe that was just the environment, with tubes and wires hanging about and those renowned hospital fluorescents. Where Mithian saw him cobwebs gone, Merlin saw them in abundance, an eerie shadow of one of their first meetings.

“Arthur?” Gwen’s voice was soft and sort of blended into the air and contributed to this almost repressive quality of the room. “You’ve some visitors… do you remember either of them?”

Oh, god and when Arthur looked at him hollowly, with no recognition in his searching eyes Merlin wanted to fade away, not even die exactly but just cease being. He couldn’t bear it, that half glazed look, with hardly any emotion. Merlin wondered if he was drugged or if this was just it now, if this was all Arthur was after all that time.

“No,” his voice was audibly dry, and it made Merlin’s mind think of the pitcher again. Pale blue plastic, probably cool to the touch, still in Gwen’s hands as she poured him a cup, warning he take it slow. He spilled some on himself and only then did he seem to experience anything, some trace of anger passing his face. It shouldn’t have made Merlin laugh for it almost did but that sinking feeling in his gut kept all levity away. But oh what it was to hear him, because his voice was the same (why wouldn’t it be?) and it was almost like how he sounded in the mornings sometimes.

“I’m Morgana,” she had stepped into the room, around Merlin and thankfully abandoning the vice grip on his arm. “We’ve never met before,” she said it like she wasn’t sure why she was saying it, but Gwen at least seemed relieved that someone was doing something. Merlin again hated the untruth of it, that they had met, but frustratingly neither one of them knew that and he cycled back into despair of his life. “but Merlin has told us so much about you-“ at least she knew that one was a lie.

Mer lin?” Arthur has cut in and the man in question almost lit up, mistaking it for recognition. “Does no one- Are those normal names?”

And instead Gwen’s face lit up in this suppressed smile. Morgana looked uncertain until Merlin, with the smallest laugh that came out as hoarse as Arthur’s words, shook his head “no, they’re not really normal.”

Of course, after a thousand years and many centuries more, that was the first thing Arthur said to him.

“Not like you’re one to talk,” Merlin continued, feeling normal in this regard, “your’s is so pretentious: Pendragon.

“That’s not really my name, is it? They told me that earlier and I thought it was some joke,” Merlin couldn’t miss how both Morgana and Gwen looked so pleased, and how the former’s gaze was equally as curious as satisfied.

“No, that’s really your name, Arthur,” he hadn’t meant to sound so serious in saying it, but supposed it was fitting, perhaps not to the conversation for himself. There was no one else that could earn that name and no other name that fit that man.

———

“So he’ll have to leave,”

“What?”

“Not right now, of course not. But eventually, and sooner rather than later. Now that he’s awake, and he’s fine , Merlin. I don’t really know how, it doesn’t make sense that there’s nothing wrong, but that he doesn’t remember anything. We’ll start with some therapy soon, some physical some psychological to see how things are, but I doubt he’ll even need much of that.” Because even after all those years plus however long he’d been in this time before the hospital, Arthur hadn’t really changed physically. He’d proudly and indignantly call himself fighting fit if he was his usual self.

He had no memory and the hospital, and by reluctant extension Guinevere, was ready to dump him on the street. It was shit, but such was the way of things. And that wasn’t even mentioning the bills-

“I’ll take him.”

“What?”

If Gwen was shocked, then there wasn’t even a word for what Morgana was, the three of them  standing in that brightly lit hospital corridor, Gwen ever the professional and both the other two looking like they’d had a collective three hours of sleep.

“I’ll take him, when he’s discharged. You said he doesn’t remember anything, so he’s got nowhere to go. He may not remember me, but I do him and I won’t have him just dumped out-“

Gwen looked too concerned to speak, but again Morgana compensated, “You can’t just invite a stranger to live with you- No, don’t make that face because I know that you say you know him, but he doesn’t . You can’t just steal him away, how would you pay for it? And look out for him? You’ve still got work-“

Merlin took a step back, hands up to his face so his palms pressed into his closed eyes. Just like the prat, for his return to be the most thoroughly inconveniencing thing in the world. “I know, I know-“ His hands dropped with a forced exhale, “I’ll need the both of you. Only at first, so long as he’s comfortable. You say he’s fine so he won’t need constant supervision, and he’s a full grown man. And I won’t be loading a bunch of responsibilities off on either of you-“

“Does this really mean that much to you?” Gwen’s sweet eyes looked up at Merlin, and she had a hand on his arm in a manner the opposite of Morgana’s.

“Yes,” he couldn’t keep the emotion from his voice, and he nodded to try to push passed it. “It really does.”

“Then we’ll help.”

Morgana said nothing, looked neutral, but he knew Gwen was not wrong in speaking for the both of them