Summary: Death doesn't have to come in just one form. Sometimes it's the kind that stares us in the face, broken and alone behind a gaping reach, in a gaunt smile of a friend that's no longer there.
Warnings: Implied rape. No super details, but there you have it.
Disclaimer: Don't own Merlin. Never owned the poor bastard or the show.
A/N: Quick thing: this story is dark and based off Jissai's story, rated M, Inheriting an Infatuation which is way more crazy dark and twisted and sick and sorta badass than I could ever manage. Felt like giving it a go anyways. Props completely to him. Oneshot.
Merlin knows he knows.
But he can't tell him.
He knows he sees it in the servant's eyes, the subtle way he shifts, the branch of uncertainty that claims him, the prince, his friend's eyes as he watches.
But Merlin can't even look at him.
He can see the manner in which the other worries. Bantering more than usual, a pillow at his head or a prod here and there. It was just like with Balinor. But this wasn't Balinor. This wasn't questing and wonder and desperation and fear. It wasn't pain and desire and uncertainties.
It was something else.
Something broken, something torn.
Something that wouldn't collect itself back, small and fragile, to place itself together into any form of light.
Something that couldn't be repaired, desolate and alone, unending and dark.
He forced himself awake most nights. Everything was the enemy. A creak of a stair, a shift in the wind. He was never safe at night. He was never safe alone. He was never safe. Never. He was never safe from the dreams. He was never safe from the feel of skin against skin, raw and lethal and sickeningly hot. He wasn't safe from that hunger or the thrill of agony, the broken body left, bleeding, dying on the floor.
He wanted out. He needed out. But he didn't know how to do it.
People started worrying. Gaius would push him, prod for what was going on every night he'd stumble in, dead, broken, and far too late. And Merlin, he'd just smile a confident smile and assure his as good as father all was well. He hid himself, hid his eyes, locked inside his room. Too afraid to sleep. Too afraid to leave. Gwen would question him with her eyes, the worry showing through in volumes. Out in the halls and out along the town. Pale and shaky he'd grin and promise her everything was fine, "Just feeling a little under the weather, honest."
Arthur was the worst though. Switching tactics every day just to get him to spill. From taunting to that amused mocking to bantering to throwing soft objects to punching his arm; way more affectionate than usual. The kind of affection that was trying to cheer him up, like he had so many times before, get him to tell him what was wrong. But he never could. He really couldn't. He never could.
And so he slept with it. He held it close like someone holds close a dear friend, a vial of poison, a stolen ravaged corpse, cold and shining pearl white to clutch tightly against his bed. He held tight to every secret, every night, every wandering that left him to those same quarters as the fear mounted and he resisted every impulse, every urge to abandon everything and run. Leave Arthur. Camelot. Everything. Held tight to it all such as a lost child would clutch a monster in its arms; wracking sobs on his bed, body as broken as his mind.
The days wore on into endless stops, endless summons into that room. Into cold starks of reality. Into nothing that meant anything but the fear and the hatred and ravaged grief. He stopped talking, soon enough. Cheerful hellos and chipper good mornings with a flourish of the curtains as they were pulled aside left behind and forgotten, littered along the ends of his dreams to the waking reality of the world. He stopped smiling. Waves or greetings or shared secrets between friends vanished without consequence replaced with an empty gaze and listless eyes. He stopped eating. The pattern was steady, but quick, leaving nothing in the room for his shell but a gaunt kind of lifeless figure, pale, timid and weak, winding the halls and doing his chores, finishing his duties and making it on time, always on time. He stopped using magic. It was an ironic kind of twisted manner, a sick kind of pleasure if the king had known what he had really done in this; leaving him away from his studies, away from everything.
More than once Arthur had sat him down, "Look. I know you don't want to tell me what's going on. But I don't care anymore. You aren't eating. You aren't sleeping—don't look at me like that, Gaius told me, and you sure as hell aren't acting like yourself. So here's how this is going to go. Either you tell me. Or I'll find out by force. Got it? Now as the Prince of Camelot, I am ordering you to tell me what's going on."
He felt disconnected. The words neither clicking nor impacting, simply staring with a soft, "…is that all, sire?" that sent an almost stony, disbelieving expression across the prince's face. Polite and proper. Like any servant should.
He had probably expected a witty comeback. Expected something. But nothing had come.
Eventually he just gave up. He gave up crying and raging at night, pounding pillows in desperation and fear and grief. He gave up praying for something else. He gave up trying to struggle, gave up trying to run. Eyes dull, the boy simply moved his way around the castle like a whisper of a ghost; neither existing nor living, dead nor alive, never doing more than bows and polite remarks and duties. The perfect servant. The perfect, silent serving boy that no one ever sees.
Uther remarked how civil he'd become.
And for once, Merlin wanted to laugh.