Title: Standing on the Edge of Forever
Summary: Merlin couldn't for the life of him remember at what point he'd heaved himself up onto the actual wall, standing with the wind ruffling his hair and the toes of his boots sticking out over the edge. But, he had.
WARNINGS: Possibly touchy subject, suicidal type thoughts
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
AN –Mini-fic. One-shot. Ultra-angst. Etc.
A sorcerer had been found in Camelot four days ago. The guards and knights had chased the man up and through the castle, straight onto the walls that surrounded the city. The man, staring out from the wall, had refused to put his hands into the air, refused to go with the guards. Instead, after standing frozen, he had leaped out into the air and fallen to his death rather than stand trial and, inevitably, be executed in front of a large and muttering crowd.
Here, now, Merlin stood, looking down at the courtyard below. He barely remembered making his way up to the wall. He knew that he had stood, knuckles white with the grip he had against the stone as he stared out. Merlin couldn't for the life of him remember, though, at what point he'd heaved himself up onto the actual wall, standing with the wind ruffling his hair and the toes of his boots sticking out over the edge. But, he had.
It was a warm night. Merlin's fingers were twitching slightly. He couldn't see it from where he was, but he knew the exact place that the white cobblestones of Camelot were still stained a little red, no matter how much anyone scrubbed. From where the sorcerer had landed. Merlin didn't even know what his name had been, or what act of magic he was accused of committing. He didn't even know if the man had actually practiced the magic he was being pursued over.
He bit the inside of his cheek. The breeze continued to press at his back.
"Merlin?" Arthur's voice said, and there was the sound of the door creaking open. "You've forgotten to clean my boots, and a guard saw – Merlin!"
Merlin almost turned, but he didn't. He kept staring out in front of him at the nighttime. It had been day when the man had leaped down off of the castle, and it had been over on the opposite side.
"Merlin," Arthur said, slower now, quieter too, "What are you doing?"
"I understand that thinking is probably a new concept for you," said Arthur, "But most of us tend to do it on the ground. Not standing on ledges."
Merlin smiled slightly, snorting. Had that man thought at all before jumping, or had he just been so desperate to get away that he'd just…did it?
Arthur, taking Merlin's response as an apparently good thing, sounded a little less like he was trying to soothe a skittish horse when he said, "Step down over this way before you trip over yourself and fall."
"Fall?" Merlin said. It was the first time the thought had occurred to him. He could fall. He was clumsy, after all, very much so. All it would take was leaning his weight the smallest bit in the wrong direction and he would be gone, pulled away just like the sorcerer had been. He twitched his head to the side, "Falling would be bad."
"Very good," said Arthur, "I'm glad we agree on that."
"It would probably kill me," Merlin said, frowning. The breeze was pushing him ever so slightly forward. Had that man, the sorcerer, actually wanted to jump? What if he'd only fallen, not meant to take those last, fatal steps forward and off?
Arthur didn't say anything for a moment. "It would," he finally said, slowly. He was still using that even, calm voice, but there was a small shake in the words now. "So why don't you come down before that happens, yeah?"
That sounded nice and logical and sane. But Merlin wasn't feeling any of those things right now, not in particular. He felt disconnected and floating, like he was already tumbling downwards. "Not yet," he said.
"Okay," said Arthur, drawing out the word, "How about you tell me what it is you're thinking about, then."
Merlin paused, mulling over his words. He couldn't exactly say that he was trying to come to terms with what could possibly be his future. He couldn't exactly tell Arthur that he was trying to figure out the thought process of a dead man, a dead sorcerer. So, instead, he said, "I can't."
"Because," said Merlin, and he could hear his voice wobbling with some sort of unnamable emotion, "You wouldn't like it very much."
"I swear, Merlin," said Arthur, "Whatever it is, we'll fix it. I just – we can fix it, all right? Come down, and we'll figure it out."
Merlin wanted to laugh. Maybe he did, the sound vanishing away into the night, harsh and manic. "You can't fix everything, Arthur."
"Not if you don't let me try," Arthur said. Merlin could hear him shift a step closer.
"I'm not going to jump," said Merlin. "I only wanted…"
As he trailed off, Arthur said, "Wanted what?"
Merlin looked down at his shoes. At the shifting torchlights down below. He wondered how the man had felt, just before stepping off of the ledge. He wondered if there had been a moment of perfect clarity before throwing himself over and tumbling through the air. Had he actually chosen it? What had he thought of in those few moments before the plunge downwards, before all became whistling air and flying and a swift and sudden end?
"What?" said Arthur
"I only wanted to understand," he said, staring downwards still.
"Understand what?" Arthur said, "Why don't you step down from there, right over here, and you can tell me all about what you wanted to understand."
It would be so simple. A step forward, a small lean, a shifting of his weight and then –
A hand landed on his foot. Merlin looked down, and Arthur stared up. He was worried, Merlin realized. Mouth set in a hard line, wrinkles about his eyes – not only worried, about actually scared. It made Merlin want to break down and laugh because Arthur was never scared. Ever. About anything, let alone Merlin. "Merlin," he said, voice rougher than it had been a few short seconds ago, or more so than Merlin had picked up on, "Please."
Merlin blinked down at him for a moment, and then nodded. He turned and sat to slide off towards the prince and off of his ledge, and immediately Arthur had a hand locked painfully tight around Merlin's wrist, jerking him away from the edge. Merlin only realized that his legs had started shaking when he was down and on the ground. How long had he been standing up there before Arthur came and found him?
He collapsed more than sat on the cool stones, heavily, staring at his lap. Arthur squatted down across from him, staring intently at Merlin. Then Merlin pushed himself up and started to walk away, but Arthur stopped him. "Where are you going?"
"You said I forgot to do something with your boots," said Merlin, "I was going to –"
"Forget about the boots."
"I said to forget about the boots!" Arthur snapped, and then fell quiet, looking about as surprised as Merlin felt about his outburst.
"It wasn't what it looked like," said Merlin, feeling he should say something.
"No?" said Arthur, "Then what was it? Because it looked like you were going to – it didn't look good."
"I – It's complicated."
"I wasn't going to jump," Merlin muttered, even though he knew it wasn't an answer. But he couldn't explain it to Arthur. Not this. "Really. I wasn't."
Arthur said nothing. It was clear he didn't believe Merlin in the slightest. That was all right, though. Merlin wasn't even sure that he believed it himself.