Summary: There will be nothing left of Merlin, nothing left as nothing has changed. Arthur, for all his love and need, is still a King bowed under the weight of his crown and the love of a woman who was never truly his. Arthur/Merlin
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin, Arthur/Gwen, Gwen/Lancelot, Arthur/Gwen/Merlin, Arthur/Other
Warnings: Adultery and character death via the legends.
Notes: For a kinkme_meme fill: 'Take it All' by Marion Cotillard, from the musical NINE
Take it all
(so go ahead, take it all)
In the end, Merlin goes to the Isle of the Blessed and waits in the mist and the magic, bathing in it. He doesn't need to form words for the spell he needs; simply willing what he wants and the worlds bending around him, doing his bidding in ways that Arthur never would.
It's Nimueh he's here to see and she steps out, eyes dead of emotion and body slightly rigid, standing opposite from Merlin on the grass as he closes his eyes, smiling ever so slightly, almost desperately.
Arthur was still Prince when he'd drawn Merlin aside, kissed him, fucked him and - later on - made love with him, though the latter would only be mentioned between the two of them. They had been young, eager and Merlin's ears had rung with the words of a dragon and the prophecies he'd been told to complete.
Merlin had always known there was the issue of Gwen, but he'd caught Arthur's attention; he'd been the one at Arthur's side through thick and thin and he was now the one Arthur pressed kisses to in the dead of night. It was Merlin, not Gwen, who was the one Arthur held in the middle of the night, the one he smiled at first thing in the morning.
The first time Merlin had said he loved Arthur was on a lazy afternoon, when Arthur had nothing to do and Merlin had made sure he was free. He'd given everything to Arthur at this point, willingly and between bouts of amazing sex, and the words were easy to say.
For a moment, Arthur had looked shocked at Merlin's confession. Then, he'd tilted his head and sealed his lips over Merlin's, kissing the words away, into himself to keep in his chest, secret and for them only.
It began with Merlin giving and Arthur taking, but also with Arthur giving back and Merlin taking what he needed too. It was easy for Merlin to sit back and watch as Arthur became the great ruler he was foretold to become, even without the title of King; and it was even easier to lounge in his bed at night, languid beside Arthur, boneless and free.
"You know why I'm here," Merlin mutters, trailing a hand over the stone alter in the centre of the Isle. Nimueh is silent, but he expected that.
"I'm not special," are the next words Merlin says, something he has never believed before in his life. But this time he isn't talking about his magic. He isn't talking about all his power, all his greatness, because there is something bigger, more painful and ugly buried into his skin.
"I never was to him," is the last thing Merlin utters, shaking his head slightly as Nimueh takes a single step towards him.
When Arthur said that he loved Merlin, the earth didn't shift. It was a monumental admission, said as Arthur pressed his hands to the broken ribs Merlin had just sustained after a particularly nasty bunch of bandits had set upon them.
It was hidden between insults and Merlin wasn't completely sure that Arthur had meant to say it, but he had, so Merlin kissed him deeply, pulling back minutes later with flushed cheeks and bright eyes.
"It's always going to be you," he promised, cupping Merlin's jaw and making sure their eyes were fixed, as if that could prove his promise. "Always you and only you."
It's a promise Arthur keeps tucked in between his pillows and behind his curtains, laughing with Merlin and stealing kisses when they're alone. It's a promise he keeps like no other, until Uther dies.
As if Arthur becoming King changes everything, Merlin is left in a whirlwind of activity, standing alone in the middle. While he'd been waiting for this moment, had known it was coming, Merlin had never expected it like this, with Arthur so far away and distant, even after everything, everything, they'd done together.
It shouldn't have shocked him, really, when Arthur returned to his chambers silently one night, closing the door and looking at Merlin. His eyes had aged years within hours and Merlin knew without it being said.
And when it was over, when Arthur had said he would begin courting Gwen and that Merlin... that what he'd had with Merlin was over...
It hadn't changed anything. That was the hard bit, the fact that Merlin still loved Arthur, was still there by his side, nodding as he changed Camelots (and then Albion's) view on magic, as he discovered the most powerful warlock in the land, as he made Merlin the Court Warlock.
Whispers of a great destiny are caught between Merlin's fingertips, slipping through. Yes, they have their destiny, but the dragon promised more, Merlin was promised more.
Nothing changed and Merlin still had to watch Gwen as she took her place beside Arthur, knowing that while he might have Arthur's love, he wasn't the only one it was given to.
Merlin wonders if she thinks him a fool for being here, but Nimueh doesn't mock him. Instead she presses a hand to his arm, smiling beautifully with narrowed eyes.
He should be surprised that she's here, alive, when Merlin knows she should be dead. He knows the reason she is here, though; after all, he's the most powerful sorcerer in the land, the world, the universe perhaps. Seeing the dull glimmer in her eyes is child's play compared to some of the other feats Merlin has managed.
Nothing changed and yet everything changed.
Even though they weren't together, Arthur always made sure his attentions fell to Merlin, no matter what. He always paid attention to Merlin; still joked with him, was still friends with him. It might not be enough for Merlin, but love was out of the question between them, not while Gwen looked so beautiful on her throne and she ruled alongside Arthur so compassionately.
The King and Queen had married for love, that much was true. Merlin couldn't even begrudge them that, even when Arthur had pursued his courtship properly, casting Merlin aside without a proper backwards glance. And though there had been apologies later at night, swamped in darkness, as if Arthur could hide his secrets between the stars, it had still left Merlin with a bitter taste in his mouth, one that hadn't faded until he'd seen the crown glittering on Guinevere's head at her coronation.
Merlin couldn't be by Arthur's side and if the task had to fall to someone, then he was glad it was Gwen. She was good for Arthur, kind and compassionate, but most of all she loved him and he, her in return.
Everything had changed when Lancelot caught his Queen's eye, turning her head fully from Arthur and stretching her resolve. The history between the King's favoured knight and his Queen wasn't remembered by many (not when you had the whirlwind romance between Arthur and Gwen, the beautiful acknowledgement Arthur held for a simple commoner), but Merlin remembered.
Merlin noticed the looks and, two weeks later, followed Gwen as she slipped into Lancelot's rooms, warming his bed while Arthur was holding court. No one had noticed Merlin, but that didn't change the fact he had seen them, the betrayal stark against crisp white sheets.
Nimueh is silent, but that's because she's not truly there. Merlin learnt the power of life and death years ago, perhaps hundreds, probably only decades, he has no idea anymore, and knows that even he couldn't have saved Nimueh or brought her back from her death even if he had sacrificed another life for her. She was too old, too much of her made from the pure Old Religion and it would cost far too much to bring her back (and Merlin wonders what it would take to bring him back).
The woman in front of him is simply an illusion, a powerful one, but still an illusion. Out of all the women he could have chosen - Freya, Morgana, Morgause even - he doubts that anyone would ever have said he'd have picked Nimueh to be the one, but Merlin stopped being predictable the moment he left Camelot.
The Isle of the Blessed is quiet and Merlin wonders if there is anyone out there anymore who remembers the High Priests and Priestesses. All but Merlin are dead now, though he never took a solemn oath so he isn't sure he can be counted a High Priest, infinite power or otherwise.
But even so, without the Priestesses in crimson and without the ethereal quality the Isle had always held before, Merlin can feel the power. It is unchanged since the first time he stepped foot on the Isle and Nimueh reflects this, moving through the grass towards Merlin, beautiful and young where Merlin feels old and tired.
She helps him onto the alter, smoothing his hands and legs before returning to stand by his head, eyes blue and, for one second, so alive.
The tryst between Lancelot and Gwen was picked up quickly by Arthur, but he didn't order for a cell to be opened in the dungeons, didn't order an execution; instead he came to Merlin.
(Like he always did.)
Merlin would never forget the picture he'd made, standing in the doorway of the Court Warlock's quarters; shoulders broad, cloak impossibly red and crown regal upon his brow. Merlin had stopped what he was doing, looked up with bright eyes, embarrassingly naive and trusting that Arthur had finally realised, finally recognised that Merlin was more than just a friend.
And how easy it had been. It had been as if nothing had changed, as if the years hadn't parted them. It had been as if they were hurled back in time, young and coltish again without the signs of age, the sag of muscles and the dip of wrinkles. Small, almost unnoticeable markers that were the only proof that Arthur had left Merlin, that he'd chosen Gwen years ago, that he'd cast Merlin aside with little more than a searing kiss.
But Merlin, over the years, had taken what he had. He'd seen the looks Arthur had shot him, clearly lost in memories of a time before Gwen, before he'd become King, before he'd told Merlin to leave his bed, cum barely cooling on their skin.
"Merlin," Arthur whispered, the single word breaking any resolve Merlin might have built up and ending with Merlin locking the door, pushing his king back until he was up against the wall, panting with a hand at the back of Merlin's head, and pressing him closer as if telling him never to leave.
And Merlin wouldn't stray, not like Gwen. He was happy to give himself to Arthur; give every last inch of himself, something that he knew no one had ever given to Arthur to keep.
"I missed you," Arthur admitted against Merlin's mouth, breath hot and wet as he curled his tongue, reeling Merlin back in and kissing him with a sloppy jaw. Nothing had changed and yet everything had and Merlin moaned, closing his eyes as his magic sung, wanting nothing more than to bury itself under Arthur's skin, seep there until Merlin could return, reassuring Arthur that there would always be Merlin, that Merlin wouldn't be the one to leave.
"It's always going to be you, only you," Arthur whispered, sucking Merlin's lip before grazing it with his teeth, and all Merlin could think is 'yes'.
"And you're mine," he replieed, arching his neck backwards, lips curving into a smile as Arthur's tongue traced swirls against his jaw, trailing down to suck at the skin on his neck.
"Only yours," he said in a jagged breath; Arthur's hands moving lower and Merlin let laughter wrack his body, hands curling over Arthur's shoulders, into his hair, down his back, thinking of all the prophecies, of all the legends they would make real now that they were together.
He's seen it all, Arthur's rise and Arthur's fall; but when Merlin turns all his power and all his magic to the space beside his King, there is nothing there. There is no Merlin anymore and there never will be, not in the Camelot Arthur has built with his Queen, the Camelot he keeps with his queen, no matter what Merlin does.
His magic swirls, Albion slipping away as Merlin sinks, too lost now to be found without Arthur.
There were others, of course. Foreign princesses and ladies, beautiful and wealthy. There were skilled men, lords and knights, and Merlin would be foolish for thinking he was the only one. But none of them knew Arthur like he did. None of them had seen the curve of his muscular shoulders, none of them would be able to close their eyes and see Arthur in perfect likeliness, know every inch of Albion's king.
No one else will ever know that, at least not how Merlin did. Not even Gwen could, not when she had forsaken everything for Lancelot. And, after everything, Arthur had chosen him to love and Merlin didn't care about the others he flattered, the others he bedded. He was a King, far too big and grand, the sole ruler of Albion. He had his Merlin, but there would always be a place Merlin could never fill, the smallest of spaces that he didn't mind.
Guinevere was still Queen, Lancelot was still the favoured knight and Merlin was still the Court's Warlock. Nothing had changed there, but Merlin could feel the looks Gwen and Lancelot shared, the looks Arthur and Gwen shared and he knew he shared his own with Arthur, perhaps under the scrutiny of Gwen or Lancelot. Though they never said anything so Merlin is inclined to think that nothing is amiss, that they believe Merlin is simply still just a friend and member of the Court to them.
"Will you dine with me tonight?" Arthur asked quietly, between talking to noblemen at council. It was the first sign that Arthur had made to reinforce their relationship outside of their secrecy, open in the light of day for everyone to see.
Merlin smiled and nodded, going about his day with a hummed tune in his throat and a slight smile to his lips.
It was on his way to Arthur's chambers that Merlin overhears the noblewoman's gossip and it chills him to the core, freezing his blood and stopping him in his tracks.
"She said the King told her she was the only one, always her!" a cruel, red mouth says, the words meeting a chorus of simpering sighs.
Those were Merlin's words, the ones Arthur had pledged to him, years ago. If they knew that though, if they meant that Arthur had said that to one of the women (perhaps the men too, maybe Arthur said it to everyone he wanted to bed), then the words weren't Merlin's anymore.
So it was with cold realisation that Merlin looked to the truth, that perhaps Arthur didn't love him at all. Maybe he had once, but that was a long, long time ago, far too long ago now.
Merlin knew then that he couldn't stay. He couldn't bear to be around Arthur any longer, couldn't bear to see the women he had lining up to fill his bed and couldn't stand to see Guinevere and Lancelot, unscathed yet clearly betraying their King.
He stole out of Camelot under darkness; the stars above holding his secrets, the same sky he had sat under with Arthur, whispering their love to each other and the night. The night and the stars had seemed as though it would forever be close back then, but now Merlin couldn't see how they had ever thought that as the skies were wild, impossibly large.
In the end, he chose the Isle of the Blessed, summoning his magic and pouring it into the image of a woman he murdered for Arthur. Before he forced his magic (Nimueh) to trap him in the stone alter at the heart of the Old Religion, there was moment where he wonders if he should have stayed, should have looked Arthur in the eyes or... something.
But Merlin was tired, every last piece of him stripped away by Arthur.
Arthur, who doesn't love him, and it was in that moment that Merlin was lost.
Camelot falls and the Once and Future King dies. Merlin can feel it, but he is still so tired, tears freezing on his cheeks. He loves Arthur, will never stop, but his Arthur died a long time ago, buried under the weight of a crown and the love of a woman he could never have.
One day though, Merlin knows that Arthur will return and he'll feel the burning fire in his blood again, the love he'd never let go returning with a rush.
And he knows that when he returns, Arthur will love him wholly, in ways he never could before, in ways Merlin had never dared dream for before. The thought wraps around him like a blanket, and Merlin loses himself to the land, waiting for his king to return.
Thank you for reading! All comments are welcome and I hoped you enjoyed :)