|between the soil and the sky
Author: imperfectandchaotic PM
In what looks like the battle to decide the fate of Camelot, Merlin's luck runs out just as all is revealed. Slight Merlin/Arthur, if you squint.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Hurt/Comfort/Angst - Merlin & Arthur - Words: 2,202 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 33 - Follows: 7 - Published: 01-14-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7741897
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
between the soil and the sky
Note: In an ambiguous AU post series 4 "Morgause and Morgana attack" sort of place.
Morgause is dead.
Arthur's hatred of magic is more painful than Merlin is willing to admit. Kilgharrah and Gaius allude to better days to come, but Merlin is unable to fathom a day in which his revealing of magic brings anything more than betrayal and banishment. Maybe even death.
Even so, that doesn't stop him from creeping into Arthur and Gwen's chambers the night before most everything falls to dust. His footfalls are as silent as they ever were after four years of sneaking. For a long moment he just stands at the foot of the bed, considering his two dearest friends. Arthur is curled around his queen like a stronghold in a storm, while her hand grips his shirt just above his heart. Merlin is alarmed to find his own throat getting tight. He will not lose them. He refuses.
"Amddiffyn Oedolion Agored i Niwed."
Protect them. It is almost a wish whispered in the dark.
Merlin—Dragoon, at the moment—cannot breathe. He found Morgana on the hill overlooking the city, her face contorted in rage, rage mixed with sadness and pain and grief (he sees the sad, lonely, confused girl who was, sending something that feels too much like hope to root like a small, precious flower in his chest) and for a moment the guilt threatens to swallow him up. But only for a moment, because he sees the spell forming on her lips. He feels her magic rise up as something practically physical in the air; the sharp coil of a whip comes to mind.
So he doesn't think about it. If he thinks, hesitates for even a moment, all will be lost. Merlin does not even have to call upon the magic with his voice. The spell hurtles her back with a scream. She is still for a just moment or two, but he can still feel her power, curling like smoky tendrils beneath her skin. Like his. When they're close enough sometimes, the invisible edges of their magic seem to touch.
It is as though she is reaching into his very soul.
The deepest part of his being aches.
Their argument is as painful as it is romantic.
"I will not stay behind while everyone I love goes to war."
"And I will not put those I love in jeopardy."
They are locked in a silent battle of wills that Merlin can never even hope to mediate. It is so intense very suddenly there in the throne room. The fierce intimacy of that silence almost wants for Merlin to turn away so they can have this moment alone. But he can read Arthur better than anyone. At the minute shift in his gaze, Merlin knows that Gwen has won. A smile worms its way onto the King's lips, touching his eyes just as he leans closer to embrace his wife. His faithful servant shoots his eyes to the ceiling and fights off the grin.
"You will stay with the wounded," Arthur says seriously. "Here in the castle."
"You will not find your way to me," is Gwen's reply.
Merlin pretends he doesn't notice the chain mail, sword, and dagger mysteriously disappearing from the armory an hour later.
Perhaps disguising himself as an elderly man is not one of Merlin's finest ideas. They're at a stalemate, he and Morgana. He's surprised she hasn't flaunted her power to the supposedly great Emrys, but then he remembers that look in her eyes.
She is desperate. Desperate people do dangerous things.
Merlin can only be glad that Arthur cannot be torn away from Gwen, not now, not after...and then he feels horrible for the thought. He realizes then that if he dies here, now, Arthur may never know what happened to him. The idea threatens very suddenly to choke him. And then:
Arthur Pendragon appears against the light of the dying sun, coming face to face with the woman whose sister tried to kill his wife (and failed, because Merlin knows Arthur. He does not wear the face of a grieving man. Gaius. Thank you) and the man who, thanks to Morgana's treachery, killed his father.
No one is sure how Morgause obliterated an entire legion of men in order to gain entrance. It doesn't really matter now anyway. They're cornered in the throne room as the sorceress begins to realize none of her spells are working on either Pendragon. Merlin flexes the hand that grips his useless sword.
What can be done? His eyes dart up to the faithfully re-attached chandelier. Is he seriously considering the age old trick? Before Merlin can make up his mind however, everything changes. Morgause's sword jerks away from her billowing cloak with malicious intent. He is not fast enough.
Gwen throws herself in front of her husband.
Arthur's scream stills the very hum of the air.
Gwen is bleeding.
Gwen is dying.
Morgause cackles. The dagger cuts off her air mid-breath. She looks from its bejeweled hilt, embedded deep in her exposed collar, to its owner. Gwen's face is stone. Unforgiving.
There is no time. Merlin hurtles himself at Arthur as Morgana's eyes alight.
The whip cracks.
It is more the shock of it than anything else; it's only after he's been thrown to the ground by the sheer force of the blow that Merlin's senses start to function again. The earth, usually so soft this time of year, does nothing to break his fall. He smells burning flesh. Merlin loses grip on the spell before he can even think about holding on. Every part of his body still aches, but now the pain is magnified a hundred fold.
The darkening sky fills his vision before he thinks to look to either side. He can see Morgana staring as his features return. Her eyes are wide as the truth finally appears. Everything begins to dawn on her. Her face is twisted in the same expression as before, except now there is surprise.
There is betrayal.
Merlin turns his head to find Arthur on the ground, alive. Still breathing. Staring with that identical horror, wonder, and understanding. The same betrayal. He thinks of Gaius, of Gwen, of the Great Dragon. How disappointed he will be. He thinks of Albion, his destiny.
Maybe this is where it ends. Maybe this is all Merlin was destined to be.
"Arthur..." It hurts to breathe. But he must say this. "I'm sorry."
Before the navy sky blurs black, (he will never see the sun again) Merlin can't help but wonder who hates him more.
"Merlin, please. Don't be stupid."
It is comforting, to know that the memories of his most dear friend are going to carry him beyond this life.
"Arthur I'm sorry. Forgive me. I'm so sorry."
"Come on, Merlin. You haven't been saving me all these years just to give up now."
Or perhaps not.
He opens his eyes to moisture on his face.
Merlin's vision swims in bright blurs. But he sees red. Silver. Blonde. Blue. Arthur. Merlin can feel his head being supported, the front of his robe being knotted by a familiar, strong fist.
Is he crying?
This is it, Merlin thinks. I must be dead.
"Arthur?" It comes out less like his king and more like a soft, sad croak.
"Merlin?" The warlock can barely distinguish his name in the sad, broken syllables. But he would know that voice anywhere. Arthur. It comes back. The focus. The pain. The danger.
"A-Arthur." There. "Arthur you have to get out here." Merlin coughs, suddenly aware that his lungs feel as though they're being squeezed with an iron fist. He starts to wheeze. "Morgana—"
"I'm not leaving you."
Merlin finds enough energy to look over at the spot where he'd last seen the sorceress. She's still standing there, her arm dangling at her side. The incredulity has not left her.
"Gwen—" He's grasping at painful, desperate straws.
"Gwen will understand."
"Gwen will never forgive you if you do not return to her. I will not let my death cause yours."
"You are not going to die!" Merlin is startled at the vehemence in his friend's voice. "Gaius—"
"You'll be fine—"
"Arthur!" The effort causes pain to flare inside his chest. He can feel himself shaking. Even though the proof is still there drying on his cheeks, Merlin cannot believe the shining tears in Arthur's eyes. He's so tired. "Arthur, it's alright."
"I would say you're a terrible liar, but..." His king is smiling faintly, smoothing Merlin's matted hair away from his forehead. Merlin can't help but think he'd be alright, dying here, now, because at least it looks as though Arthur will be alright. Gwen will be alright. Camelot will live on.
"Gwen would never forgive me if I let you feel you were alone."
Something knots hot and tight in Merlin's throat. Shame shuns thought and reason and he's left gasping for air. "Arthur I'm so sorry. Please, I tried-"
"Shh, Merlin, Merlin!" There is a serious glint in Arthur's eye; his manservant is thrown back to every moment in which they faced death together, to the moment in which the future king proclaimed his hatred for Merlin's very being.
The memory draws him back to the very present danger in Morgana. But she hasn't moved. He doesn't understand it. She's just standing there, watching them. Watching him die. Maybe, he thinks dryly, she's enjoying this. Another flower (that feeling) blooms close to his heart in protest.
"It's alright, Merlin," Arthur says now, surprisingly soothing in spite of the way his voice is low and rough. "I..."
"I forgive you."
He can finally let go.
They're both crying openly now; there is no point in trying to hide it.
"Tell Gaius..." Merlin tries to summon the words, but there are none that can ever be enough. "Tell him..." He falters, wheezes, the sound rattling his chest like an angry ghost in chains. Arthur's grip on him tightens.
"A-And Morgana. Tell her I'm sorry, sorry for everything." Merlin's voice is beginning to fail him.
Arthur's expression folds into confusion. "What–" The King's eyes dart up, and Merlin wonders if he sees in Morgana what his manservant did. Does he see the girl she used to be?
"She knows." He can still feel the guilt waging war on his conscience, even now. "And she knows that I don't deserve forgiving. Promise me you'll tell her. Whatever happens."
Merlin supposes it is a testament to all they have become that Arthur does not question him further. "I promise."
So tired... "You'll be alright," he says, his words softer now. "You are a great king, Arthur. Just know that."
"How will I ever be great without you?"
Merlin tries to laugh, but it is actually quite painful. "You always were. You just didn't know it yet." His arm is weak but he manages somehow to raise a hand that Arthur covers with his own. Together they tremble over the faint thrum of his slowing heart.
"You were a terrible servant, you know," Arthur whispers. Merlin's eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. He smiles. "Worst I ever had."
"You," he gets out, "are the greatest friend I will ever know." His breath is becoming more and more shallow. "I would have followed you to the very edges of this Earth."
Arthur just squeezes his hand. The King nods sort of frantically, his Adam's Apple bobbing in his throat, as Merlin coaxes his lips into one last smile.
Just let go.
"I can save him."
Surely he has to be dead by now.
"I can heal him."
Hope (like the flowers that bloom in crags and crevices and will never quite stop) springs eternal.
Author's Note: Hey everyone, this is my first kind of frenzied go into the Merlin fandom which I was able to get into really recently and really quickly, so I'm sorry if there are continuity/characterization errors and whatnot; I tried my best with what I understand of canon and the characters. I wrote this sort of for a graphic maker on Tumblr, and she is going to make something for the fic. Hopefully I'll get to see that soon. My url is actually my pen name here, for anyone interested in seeing that.
Opinions are cherished!
(Also, in my head Morgana would heal him, thus taking the first steps on a road to redemption that leads to her and Merlin being all tentatively trustful and then loving. Gwen and Arthur are perfect as always. And then all the fluff. Yes.)