Title: After Time
Characters: Arthur/Merlin, Will Stanton
Summary: Merlin is more than his memories
Notes: Crossover with the Dark is Rising book series. This is mostly me trying to reconcile the two universes, and possibly a stepping-stone to something much longer.
The first time Merlin met Will Stanton, he'd been in the middle of traipsing after Arthur in the woods, trying not to drag the brace of dead rabbits he was lugging around across the ground. It had taken him a moment to notice that suddenly everything was - different - an unsettling silence and the cessation of any breeze rustling through the trees. And, in an instant, he couldn't see Arthur any more.
"What—" He turned violently, tense and trying to fight down the overwhelming sense of dread. Magic, it had to be, and the sorcerer—
Instead, there was a young man who was standing underneath the largest oak tree at the edge of the clearing, one hand resting lightly on its gnarled trunk, looking faintly confused. Merlin dropped everything he'd been carrying and raised his palm, already deciding on the spell that would end this. "What have you done with Arthur?"
To be honest, the stranger didn't really look as though he was capable of much; young and quite unremarkable-looking, and he seemed almost - out of his depth, staring at Merlin strangely as though he was seeing a ghost.
"You're," the young man began, and his quiet voice sounded strangely familiar, "you're not you."
"What?" Merlin said as he let his hand fall to his side, grasping for coherence but something felt off, wrong, like the world was shifting from focus.
"Merriman?" The voice was wary but curious, and something in Merlin twisted. The trees around them were supernaturally still, and no birdsong broke the air. There was just the smell of wet earth and new vegetation, and a piercing gaze that was too old for one so young.
"No, my name is--"
He was silenced by a thunderclap shattering the air, and all at once he could feel the cool breeze again.
"Don't just dump the rabbits on the ground, Merlin, if you're that pathetically weak just say so." And there was Arthur, bearing down on him as the rain began to softly fall, and a crow cawed harshly from above. The rustle of the leaves against the rain was unexpectedly comforting, and he couldn't even bring himself to be annoyed by Arthur's grousing - not when they were both safe, and for once the strange occurence hadn't resulted in dire danger or injury.
"You're okay," he said a bit stupidly, and - now this was really bizarre - Arthur seemed to sense that something was different, and didn't immediately mock him for stating the obvious. Instead, Arthur was actually hesitant, and when their eyes met he looked faintly troubled.
It passed in an instant, though, Arthur snapping, "obviously," at him and waving his sword in the direction of the abandoned rabbits. "Now pick those up and let's leave already." He cast the forest around them an almost suspicious look, before gesturing for Merlin to follow him and striding away.
The second time Merlin saw Will Stanton was in his dreams that same night, and without even pausing to consider, he knew, and burst out "Will." The stranger from the forest just looked back at him. "I," Merlin choked out, half a laugh and half a despairing sob, "I had a real friend called that."
Dream-Will smiled sadly, and this time he didn't look lost. His clothes were a bit strange, foreign and like nothing he'd seen, but he still felt familiar and was holding out his hand.
"Merriman," Will said, just as he had in that quiet, frozen forest clearing, "you're lost in time. This isn't how it was supposed to be. Come back with me."
"You," Merlin said, and tried to back away but found he couldn't move, "have made some kind of mistake." Will's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement and he dropped his hand.
"You don't remember anything." It was a statement, not a question, and his eyes had taken on an oddly distant look. "I - so you called us here..."
"Um, I do remember, and I'm fairly sure my name's Merlin and that we don't know each other." But the moment he said it, he felt like a liar.
Will just looked at him speculatively, head tilted a little and said, "is this your true face?"
Merlin felt slightly insulted. "Right," he began, but Will didn't seem to actually require an answer and interrupted him.
"You called me here," Will said again and paused, his eyes sad. "It's been a long time, I thought we wouldn’t meet again." He tilted his head and seemed to be considering something, "maybe you like this life better." Suddenly his expression changed, and Will looked almost askance, "are you in love?"
Merlin felt himself flushing, and settled for glaring. Will's mouth made a small silent 'o', and he just breathed, "Pendragon."
Frowning, Merlin shook his head and tried not to feel as though he was drowning. The dream was thick and heavy, light shifting oddly, and Will’s face was drifting out of focus. "No," he managed, "we’re—" but he couldn’t concentrate anymore, and Will was looking at him almost sympathetically.
"You know, Arthur's son is--"
"--wait, what?" He felt as though his heart had skipped a beat. Will regarded him carefully, measuringly, and Merlin could only wonder if he found what he was looking for.
"Arthur's son," Will repeated patiently, "not now, from later, but it's all the same."
"Oh." Merlin felt as though he should say more, and he could feel the expectant gaze on him, but for all of the surreal and magical things he’d experienced, it was this news of something so human, so normal, that stilled him.
"He’s here too," Will said softly, "as I am. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but something’s changed. You called us."
His stomach lurched and he was about to protest when the world moved again, slipping out of sync in a blur of soft colours and murmured words. Achingly familiar thoughts hovered on the edge of his consciousness, there, there, there - and when he woke he was gasping for breath and struggling against a blinding headache, sweat beading on his temples.
And he remembered.
Arthur was strangely quiet the next morning, accepting his breakfast without a word and apparently staring aimlessly anywhere except at Merlin.
It was a strange feeling, surreal and almost overwhelming – this sense of knowledge and latent power, humming beneath his skin until he wondered how Arthur couldn’t notice. This awareness that he’d lived a hundred lifetimes, longer, had seen cities rise and fall and, eventually, the Dark powers do the same. But through it all, something was blurry and full of uncertainties – and that was this period, these coming years.
Suddenly Merlin felt so old, in away he’d never had cause to before, all knowledge a burden.
He blinked, caught unawares, and turned back toward Arthur, who hadn’t so much as touched his food.
"What’s wrong?" he asked, tone casual though he felt anything but; in the cold light of day Arthur seemed more warm and human than ever, shoulders slightly hunched and gaze tinged with defiance.
"You – you already know," Arthur said with a strange kind of resignation, and – and he’d never looked at Merlin like this before – traces of suspicious and disbelief, warring with something else. Merlin hated it.
"No," he admitted, "but I can guess." At those words Arthur stiffened. "You—"
"—am I mad, Merlin?" he cut in, and it was clear, so clear he was searching for an affirmative, "am I under some kind of spell?” Arthur’s voice dropped to a whisper, "was it you?"
"No," Merlin said instantly, and without thinking was dropping to one knee at Arthur’s side – throughout all Time, there was only one man he had served, and he was here, now, and Merlin could not bear to let him go.
Arthur did not reply, but his hand drifted to Merlin’s hair, a reassuring and warm weight anchoring him to earth.
The third time Merlin saw Will Stanton was the day they met – truly met – under the boughs of an ancient tree beyond the walls of Camelot. He was accompanied by a strange pale boy who, much like Will, possessed a quiet sense of power and authority. Arthur’s son. It was at once both now and then, and Merlin felt as though he had always known. This was not their first meeting.
"We are here for Camelot," Will said softly, and stepped forward. "I did not think I would see you again, Merriman."
"Merlin," he said, taking Will’s hand, "my true name is Merlin."