A/N: Okay... So this is not at all like anything else I've put up here: it's all dark and sad. For that reason, I'd really appreciate feedback - I'd love to know if you're interested in this kind of thing from me. I am also very sorry if this makes anybody unhappy. If it does, please allow me to redeem myself and go to my profile to read something else I've written - all of my other stuff is humour, or you could go and hug a kitten or google 'rainbows' or something... Just please don't be sad because of me :) Also - I was inspired to write this by The Eyes To See by jaqtkd, which is a collection of reveals. I recommend checking it out if you haven't and Jaq, thanks for the inspiration!
Merlin lingered behind Gaius, like the shadow of his mentor, observing the King with a look of terrified uncertainty.
When your arch-nemesis crumbles to reveal a hollow shell of a man, you are probably supposed to feel a sense of relief, of satisfaction, even.
Merlin felt neither of those things as he stood, face cloaked in the clouds of night-time, watching the bleary eyes of King Uther dart ferociously about his own room, recognising none of the things that stood before him.
The golden dragon swimming amidst a sea of Pendragon red leered jestingly over the old man, its lip curling in distaste as it seemed to threaten to burn him to a crisp with a single breath; the harsh stone walls, coated in unfamiliar etchings edged closer and closer to him when he wasn't looking, he was certain of it, he could see hear the sinister creaks and gurgles of the room as it tried to collapse on top of him; the painting of a ghost woman was impaled on the wall, her eyes tracking his every movement with venom, as though she might leap to life at any minute and throttle him for some great injustice he had committed. Hatred and disgust seemed to drip from the surface of the picture like wax from a candle, even as a loving hand cradled a slight bump beneath her dress that same hand blocked Uther from the child, blocked him from both of their lives and both of their love, he knew it: but he didn't know why.
Everything in that room and in that space seemed to have been put there to torment him, to loathe him, but he could not bring himself to remember why.
His mind sat stoically in the depths of despair and madness and when he tried to push out of it, he would see her face.
Sweetness and lightness and innocence contorted with a sneer and a curl of the lip into sheer evil that coiled and curled its way around her dainty figure. The stony, resolute grip of hatred clasped her tightly with white knuckles, choking every last breath of decency out of her.
How he recoiled from that face.
And yet, he could not bring himself to hate it.
The sight of that face, of that snide, snivelling witch seemed only to inspire a feeling of sheer wretchedness within Uther, disappointment in himself swirled around inside his stomach until the point where he could be sick; he had been sick, many a time.
How was it possible for him to love the very personification of hatred?
All Uther could surmise, as he tossed and turned relentlessly in his bed, scrunching the sheets in his withered fists, was that it was his punishment. Whatever evil things he had done that his mind would not allow him to remember; whatever cruel torture he had inflicted that caused the screams and cries that now scratched at every corner of his consciousness; whatever sinful, horrible, bloody crimes his hands, now clammy with sweat, had performed: this was his punishment for them.
And so he endured it.
He endured the agony, the fear, the paranoia; because deep inside him the gnawing realisation that it was his fault tugged away at him. He was to blame, even if he could not recall why that was.
Gaius stroked a reassuring hand across his sovereign's blazing forehead, watching as the King shuddered at the contact, his eyes roaming across Gaius' face for anything even vaguely recognisable, and coming up short.
Gaius sighed a weary sigh, and turned to Merlin.
Merlin felt the desperate aching need to speak, to fracture the angry silence, but he found, looking into Gaius' eyes, that he could say nothing.
What was there to say?
Uther was mad.
They could see it as clearly as anyone.
Gaius was by Uther's side almost constantly and yet every time that their gazes met, the King looked at him as blankly as though it was their first encounter.
He stared at Gaius with tormented eyes.
If eyes were the window to the soul, then Uther's soul was boarded up, blacked out, painted over. There was no glass to shatter to wake him from his stupor, no nook or cranny to exploit to slowly wrench him free.
The old man was trapped.
In the faces of his friends he could only ever see enemies, even as they bathed him, fed him, changed his clothes.
Just as Uther had once seen foes where there were friends, sorcerers where there were only servants.
There was a time when Merlin might have found that funny; the irony of the situation would have tickled him.
Uther lay, imprisoned in his bed, shuddering away from everyone and everything; skulking in the shadows as though the light burned his unseeing eyes.
Merlin could not hate this man, this man who had caused him so much misery and so much pain.
He could not hate him.
And so he hated himself all the more for it.
He frowned behind Gaius, who had now creaked to his feet, and begun muttering to himself about various lotions and potions. Merlin thought he ought to be revelling in Uther's misery…
No, he thought, hearing the calm voice of reason that was the memory of his mother in his head. That is not who you are, Merlin.
Merlin nodded to himself, admitting this.
He could not delight in another's suffering.
He was no Morgana.
Uther's head snapped towards Merlin, as if he could detect even a trace of a thought of her name, and the timidity with which the fearsome, noble King Uther regarded a lowly servant inspired such pity in Merlin that he felt disgusted in himself.
He at least wanted to believe that Uther deserved this…
Gaius shuffled past him, mumbling something about the root of some plant, and Merlin caught enough of the words to grasp that Gaius was excusing himself, if only for a few minutes.
Merlin took a tentative step towards the King.
This was his chance.
He needed to believe that Uther deserved this.
After all he, and his kind, had suffered at the King's hand, he needed to believe that, in some way, what destiny had handed the old man was merely justice.
The words worked their way out of the crack in Merlin's lips without him particularly realising it: "I have magic."
His voice was so quiet, so hoarse, that Merlin would not have been surprised if the King had not heard him at all…
But then he turned to regard him with a look of such horror, such fear, that Merlin knew he had.
The guttural scream from Uther that almost shattered the windows in the room gave Merlin little satisfaction.
The piercing, howling wail that resonated around Merlin's mind long after it had ended stung of such anguish, that Merlin certainly could not revel in it.
The feeble cries of "Sorcerer!" and the hollow command: "Guards, seize him!" were so half-hearted and faint that Merlin wondered if Uther even believed them himself.
He still jumped a little when Gaius re-entered, half imagining a patrol of knights coming to drag him off to his pending execution.
But of course no such patrol came.
It was by now an hourly occurrence that someone was sentenced to death, when the old Uther would flare up for just a second, and he would decide that whoever was closest to him was obviously a wicked magician who had deliberately inflicted this madness upon him.
His demands that the executioner be sent for and the fires be set alight - however daunting for the meek servant they were directed at - were now habitually ignored.
And then, when the old Uther was again swallowed up by the rambling, demented madman Merlin had come to know so well, and the King turned to look at the man he had just sentenced to death, with absolutely no idea who he was, all Merlin felt was guilt.
Guilt that he had tried to make himself hate a madman.
Guilt that it had almost worked.
Merlin slunk back until he was hidden in the darkness of the room again, observing the scene as an uncomfortable outsider once more, the burden of tending to an enemy weighing heavily on his heart.