Pairing: Merlin/Arthur, McKay/Sheppard in a Merlin/SGA fusion (look, somebody had to do it)
Word Count: ~2,600
Warnings/Spoilers: Merlin up to episode 10, I think. SGA generic spoilers up to season 5, including a line from "The Shrine".
Summary: They're both less innocent than they were a thousand years ago; less trusting, more broken. This time, Merlin is the one who gets called on his behaviour – and it's true, he thinks ruefully, he'd stopped bothering to learn the names of those around him long ago – and Arthur is the one who refuses to leave anyone behind. This time, Merlin is the one saying words like "idiot" and "moron," and Arthur has the stupid ears.
Notes: Thanks go to miscellanny and ionaonie for the beta.
ETA: little_giddy has written her own spin on things: Litmus, in which Merlin tries to figure out why Arthur accepts Elizabeth so easily into their circle of friends, even though he doesn't recognise her soul.
And winkingstar has recorded the story as podfic, which (thanks to cybel) you can also download in podbook form here. ♥
ETA2: And! Now with shiny cover by wihluta!
It takes Merlin one thousand, three hundred and fifty-seven years to find Arthur. The shock of seeing him again almost makes him forget the cold, dozens of metres beneath the ice; the giddiness makes him light-headed.
His name's not Merlin in this incarnation, of course. It's Rodney – at least, Merlin says it's Rodney, because that's better than the other one – and he's not a sorcerer as much as… well, a magician perhaps. Because these days, science is magic, and Merlin has learned so much that of all the people on Earth, he's still among the most powerful.
He's met some of the others over the years, of course, even though they didn't recognise him. Never as many as this time around, and perhaps that should have told him something. He's met Nimueh in the form of Sam Carter, fierce and free without Uther's betrayal weighing her down. He's met Geoffrey, still more comfortable behind a stack of books than anywhere else, excited that he's finally solved the mystery of Atlantis. Gaius is still a physician, and his incarnation of Carson Beckett falls quickly back into his old friendship with Merlin, without quite realising why. Will is related to him by blood this time, even if Merlin hasn't spoken to him in three years after he severed their closeness to go and marry an English major.
Four at once, more than ever before, and he was hoping that it were a sign of the circle finally coming to a close, leaving him to get some rest.
Still, he didn't see John Sheppard coming; dark-haired and pale-eyed and weary beyond his years, but cocky as Arthur's ever been. He didn't expect the way it would make him feel.
Merlin will be the first to admit that he's changed. He's carried the knowledge of who he is from incarnation to incarnation, thirty-two lifetimes of building loneliness. It's made him caustic, stand-offish, less inclined to give up any part of himself that he doesn't have to. He doesn't trust easily, and he knows that he's bordering on becoming a cynic.
It's not the only reason he curses Destiny sometimes, but possibly the most frequent one.
Arthur finds Morgana on his very first day in the Pegasus Galaxy. Merlin recognises her the moment she steps into Atlantis, and he fears that Arthur has brought his own doom with him. The very next moment, he feels ashamed for doubting her already. She, like Nimueh, is different for not suffering Uther's influence – so sad, for a man who meant so well to have brought so much pain – and her prophetic dreams have been exchanged for a connection to the Wraith.
Merlin finds he likes her more than he did when they were young, when he was young. She is less arrogant, less impulsive, but every bit as empathetic. A good friend, both to Arthur and himself.
Owain finds his way back to Arthur's side as well, Arthur's second in command, even if now they lead soldiers, not knights. He has a crush on Morgana and is very, very young. This one, it seems, hasn't changed at all.
They become a team, the four of them: Arthur, Morgana, Owain and Merlin; with Gaius being the one they run to whenever someone gets hurt. They only need Gwen, Merlin thinks, and it might be just like old times.
It's convenient to forget that the old times weren't in any way less dangerous than these.
Merlin tries to be the friend he once was to Arthur, and for the most part, he succeeds.
They're both less innocent than they were a thousand years ago; less trusting, more broken. This time, Merlin is the one who gets called on his behaviour – and it's true, he thinks ruefully, he'd stopped bothering to learn the names of those around him long ago – and Arthur is the one who refuses to leave anyone behind. This time, Merlin is the one saying words like "idiot" and "moron," and Arthur has the stupid ears.
In other respects, things are exactly the same. Merlin still doesn't understand the hand signals. Arthur still charges ahead without thinking first. Merlin still gets to save the day. Arthur still inspires loyalty in those around him.
They fall into their banter like two old friends falling into step with each other, and it feels like one of Gaius's balms smoothing over the parts of Merlin that were left ragged and bleeding by time and loss.
It feels like healing.
The others are slowly gathering around them, and that's how Merlin knows that whatever lies ahead of them, it's big. They lose Owain but gain Lancelot, even if his sense of honour has been tainted by seven years on the run from the Wraith. Gwen joins them, a doctor like Gaius, still getting tangled up in her words and torn between Merlin and Lancelot. Will forgives Merlin his absence, which is good, because he always had a better head for maths than Merlin. Even Nimueh fights at their side for a while.
And they need her; need every single one of them. With the Wraith and the Replicators standing against them, Merlin sometimes wishes for a gryphon, or an Afanc, or a disgruntled dragon. Something he knows. Something easy.
But there is no easy in the Pegasus Galaxy. There is only brief respite.
And even that comes with a price.
None of them realise who he is, of course. Much as he loves the people they are now – Teyla, Carson, Ronon, Jennifer, even Ford when he was still with them – their obliviousness makes him feel like an outsider sometimes. It's worse when they sit at one table and he at another, though it's his choice to stay a step apart.
He's been alone for so long he doesn't quite know how to reach out anymore. It used to be so easy, back when he was young and Camelot – Arthur – was his whole world. Now, his walls are so thick that even he can't break them down.
Nimueh is the only one who knows him. She's like him, always has been; at once a part of the circle and not. Merlin is glad that this time, she doesn't stand alone. "Sam Carter" has friends, a good life, and she's happy. Meeting her was a relief, the old enmity turned into gentle teasing, even friendship. And sometimes, he sees a spark of recognition in Morgana's eyes, but it's always gone before he can think of anything to say.
If Arthur were to look at him like that… but no. Wishing for things you know you can't have will only lead to disappointment in the long run.
Merlin has learned that lesson well.
Gaius dies, and it's as devastating as it was the first time it happened. They've lost so many already – poor Owain, taken by powerful drugs rather than an undead knight, but gone nonetheless – and this death feels like a punch to Merlin's gut because it's twice-personal. Gaius was a friend to him as Carson was to Rodney, and he misses him more than ever, his absence keenly felt each time he looks at those who still remain.
Then they find the clone Michael created – he's older even than Merlin, and the depth of his hatred is frightening – and for a brief moment, Merlin feels relief so strong it staggers him. But it's short-lived; the new Carson Beckett is nothing but himself now, the subtle shadow of an older soul gone from him. Merlin tries hard not to be disappointed, to be the friend Carson remembers.
Like in so many other things, he fails.
Merlin comes close to telling his secret only once.
Arthur makes fun of him for having a secret name, and in Merlin's head it echoes, drags up memories of a different time and another name. Now it's Meredith, back then it was Emrys, and honestly, Will called him Mer, shouldn't that tell Arthur something, make him think?
The connection is obvious to anyone who's looking, but of course Arthur doesn't look. Arthur doesn't even remember.
It should be an old hurt by now, but it still cuts like glass, sharp and clean. And deep.
Arthur touches magic on M3X-387. Merlin has long-since gotten used to the way the lyrical names of his childhood – Avalon, the Fortunate Isles, the Island of Glass – have been replaced by letters and numbers. There is still magic outside of science, and here, Arthur touches it. It doesn't seem to do him harm, and only when people start to die does Merlin realise what foe they've brought along with them, and by then it's in him.
Arthur volunteers to save him, of course.
It's all Merlin can do not to dream of a medieval setting.
The Travellers aren't the Sidhe and Larrin isn't Sophia, not really. She doesn't enchant Arthur, which is why his flirting hurts all the more.
He always does that, smiling at this woman and that, discussing Dr. Esposito's virtues with Major Lorne and Gwen's with Lancelot, nudging Merlin at Katie Brown when he didn't even want to talk to her, not really. Offworld, he leaves a string of smitten women in his wake, even if he hardly ever shares as much as a kiss. Not one of them has ever meant anything to him before, but he talks about Larrin like she might be different, and Merlin… Merlin gives up.
Arthur isn't going to look at him like that, not in this life. They're not two sides of the same coin anymore. He's not even sure they're still part of the same currency. The Arthur who was his died one thousand, three hundred and sixty years ago, and this man, while still so similar, is different.
What use is struggling if it's all for a dream?
So he doesn't. He lets it go, the memory of Arthur and him, standing side by side up high on Camelot's battlement, gazing over the surrounding lands. He abandons the dream of having that again, of sharing a kingdom by day and a bed at night. John isn't Arthur, and it's time that Merlin accepts that.
It's time that Merlin leaves him be.
He decides to embrace his incarnation, after. With any luck, it will be his last, and Rodney McKay deserves some happiness of his own.
He snatches Jennifer from under Ronon's nose. He spends Christmas with Jeannie and Madison and Kaleb and tofurkey. He races remote-controlled cars with John and doesn't expect anything but friendly banter. He continues to pull everyone's bacon out of the fire at least once a month, but he doesn't cheat anymore. It's a good life, if a challenging one, and he settles into it with an ease that surprises him.
He slips, just once; calls John by the wrong name as his mind slowly slips away. John doesn't notice, and Rodney pretends it's a joke before he forgets it happened.
One way or the other, it doesn't matter anymore.
Merlin hasn't stopped loving Arthur for one thousand, three hundred and fifty-seven years. He doesn't think he ever will.
Rodney doesn't allow himself to love John. He's a genius. He knows a spectacularly bad idea when he sees it.
They make it, this time around; they do it. Hunt down the monsters and win the fight; defeat the Replicators, Michael, the Wraith. Morgana's… Teyla's son won't be raised in hatred; he won't bring about his name-father's death. The circle is broken, John's destiny lying bright and new before him, and no one knows but Merlin. He allows himself a quiet moment of celebration, toasting to Nimueh's congratulatory email, before he settles into the skin of Rodney McKay for a final time.
Merlin's work is done. Let him rest now.
Rodney concentrates on Atlantis, and Pegasus, and Jennifer. He takes her back to Earth, is her knight in shining armour, tries to be the man she wants. It isn't easy; he's out of practise at being nice. But he succeeds, more or less, and she smiles at him and says she loves him, and he says he loves her back. And they kiss and do other stuff that couples do, and for the first time in centuries – no, years; he should be counting in years now – he's truly content.
He has nothing left to long for.
Except John keeps watching him, odd little glances that Rodney doesn't understand. He keeps sending out signals so mixed that Rodney doesn't have any hope of disentangling them. He congratulates Rodney on his successful romancing of a beautiful woman one moment and acts like a jealous lover the next. It's confusing.
It doesn't become any less confusing when, after two years, Jennifer decides that she needs to be with someone closer to her own age after all. John smiles and frowns, invites Rodney to drown his sorrows and brings nothing but soda, tells him he's sorry and adds a joke about dumb blondes. He seems wired, on edge, but Rodney doesn't know how to ask what's wrong.
Things settle down quickly enough, anyway. Rodney overhears John telling Lorne that Rodney's way of fixing things under pressure? Just like magic.
He doesn't think twice about it. It's a common figure of speech, after all.
Rodney returns to the cheating on P4X-331. He and John are scouting an ancient temple out of sheer boredom while Teyla finishes negotiations, when the earth starts to heave and rumble and the entire complex comes down around them. John ends up with a pillar crushing his chest, and Rodney knows that this isn't a matter of engineering. It's a matter of seconds.
A few mumbled words and the pillar moves. John doesn't. He stares up at Rodney, a gobsmacked expression on his face, and Rodney cringes.
He knows that his eyes just flashed golden. With his luck, John's going to cry Goa'uld any minute now.
John doesn't. John blinks, opens his mouth, closes it again. And then Teyla and Ronon come running, and this strange moment between them passes.
When Woolsey comments on how lucky John was to have the pillar miss him by barely an inch, both of them just nod.
John comes to Rodney's lab that night. He keeps his silence, fidgeting and hovering and generally making himself distracting until Rodney snaps at him that if he has something to say, he should just spit it out already.
John nods, but he still doesn't say anything, and Rodney is about to start yelling – the best defence is always shooting your opponent down before they open their mouth – when John's expression hardens into determination. He grabs Rodney's wrist and starts dragging him, out of the lab and down the corridors, all the way to John's own quarters.
Rodney isn't sure if he's surprised when John pushes him up against the wall. He is surprised when John's face stops inches from his own, John's harsh breath hot against his lips. For a moment, neither of them moves. And then-
And then Rodney gives in to a spectacularly bad idea. By the time he pulls John down on the bed with him, he isn't sure anymore if he didn't give in years ago.
I know you, John says the next morning over breakfast.
Biblically, Rodney agrees, not even bothering to shift his focus from his Eggs Benedict.
No, I mean I know you, John says, and when Merlin looks up, Arthur smiles at him.
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