Category: Gen (canon)
Characters/Pairings: Merlin, Will
Summary: A late-night confession prompts both understanding and hatred.
Notes: I got the inspiration for this after re-reading Fata organa and thinking how differently the conversation could've gone if Merlin had been with anyone else. Title from the Beatles song.
"I want to be beheaded."
His friend's confession was almost lost in the darkness, nearly drowned out by the hum of the summer insects, but Will heard it all the same, rousing him from a doze to see Merlin staring thoughtfully at the embers of their dying fire.
"Wow, you do set some lofty goals," Will drawled. "I have an axe at home — want me to get it now, or would you rather say goodbye to your mum first?"
Merlin scowled at him from the other side of the fire. "Don't be stupid, Will," he bit out.
"I won't if you won't."
"I'm not being stupid!"
"I dunno, wanting to be beheaded sounds pretty stupid to me," Will retorted, rolling over so that his back could get warmed by coals. "In fact, I think that's the stupidest thing you've said, in a long history of stupid things."
"No, Will, you don't understand—"
"Pretty sure I do."
"—I'm not just saying this—"
"Go to sleep, Merlin."
"—I need someone to know in case I'm caught."
There was a long silence before Will rolled over. "Now you're really being stupid," he said, trying to cover up his panic.
"Am I?" Merlin answered, and when Will didn't reply, he sighed impatiently and sat up. "Oh, come on, Will — I can't tell my mum, or she'll cry, and I hate seeing her cry. And I can't exactly tell anyone else. But I need someone to know."
A horrible thought struck him and Will sat bolt-upright too. "No one's seen you, have they?" he demanded.
"Do I have to kill anyone?"
"Are you sure?"
"Good," Will said harshly, settling himself into a more comfortable position. "I don't like everyone in Ealdor but I do want to keep living there, and murdering someone to keep them quiet might be a bit alienating."
Merlin laughed uncomfortably, as though he wasn't sure whether Will was joking or not, but when Will failed to clarify he didn't press the issue. Instead he too shifted to make himself more comfortable, and restarted their fire with a flash of gold.
"So what brought this on, if not sudden discovery?" Will asked as the warmth washed over him anew, trying for casual.
Merlin was silent for a minute, watching the flames. "It's just... something I've been thinking about, you know?" he said softly, dropping his eyes to his hands.
"Can't say I do," Will said.
"Well, of course you wouldn't. But... all the things I've heard from Camelot, all the stories my mother told me... it got me thinking about how I'd want it to be done, if I were ever caught. And, well, beheading just seemed the best option."
And now it was Will's turn to stare at the flames, sickened into silence by Merlin's casual attitude towards his own execution. What sort of life was it, he wondered, where this sort of thing kept you up at night? Where you spent minutes, hours, days thinking about how you wanted someone else to kill you for a crime you couldn't help? How long had Merlin contemplated which death was less painful, drowning or having his head cut off or having his neck snapped by a rope?
And suddenly he hated Uther Pendragon with a force he'd never imagined possible. He had always known that the mad king was the reason behind Merlin's secrecy, had always disliked him for the fear he'd sown in his friend, but this — this was the first time he'd realized just how deeply that fear ran, just how much influence the foreign king had on Merlin's life. He'd told Will, once, that he'd dreamt of being burnt alive, but never before now had Will realized what that meant, and a murderous rage was set ablaze in his heart, stronger even than the rage that burnt for his father's killers.
"Promise you'll do what you can," Merlin demanded, face set. "If I'm caught here, at least. Promise you'll argue for it."
"Promise," Will said roughly, but it was a lie, one that Will didn't confess as Merlin drifted off into relieved sleep. It was all a lie, because he knew that if Merlin was ever caught then he'd be dead long before the sentence was passed, trying to set him free.