A/N Another written for the Heart of Camelot's Lyrics and Melodies challenge. It made me listen to the song 'My Skin' by Natalie Merchant (really, truly a beautiful song, and that is where the italicized bit are pulled from) for approximately five days straight before I managed to write this, so that was a lesson in insanity. However, I have been on a bit of a hiatus recently, but finally managed to come up with something because this, so yay? This is canon-verse AU, set probably about the s3-4 hiatus. It may end up being the prologue to a longer fic, but we will see.
Summary: A careless mistake had revealed his secret. Arthur saw the magic – the lies – and wouldn't, couldn't, see past them. After the anger and accusations ran out, they'd been left in suffocating silence.
Well, is it dark enough? Can you see me?
Do you want me? Can you reach me?
Merlin was born to shadows and secrets, but he'd hoped someday, someone would see him.
Not like this.
Arthur saw the magic – the lies – and refused to see everything else Merlin was. The bright future Merlin hadn't dared admit to wanting in recent years, as the future of Camelot ever-darkened, was lost. He didn't want Arthur's promise that his secret would be kept. He didn't want Arthur to avoid him, to flinch when Merlin reached to adjust his armour. Merlin didn't want this silence that dragged between them in the solitude of Arthur's chambers. Arthur refused to even glance from the table, though he had to know Merlin stood staring, waiting for his answer.
Everything was wrong, broken. Merlin had dreamed of the light, but he'd always stood in Arthur's shadow willingly.
Merlin could've lived as a shadow, but if there was only silence left...
It had been so long, with only the promise of a future Merlin couldn't even imagine. He'd never known the world the druids spoke of; he was a child of the Purge. A world where magic was free? His magic was born of whispered warnings as his mother combed bath-wet hair, of fear, of the desperation of the hunted. His magic was secret. He'd known even as a child that the consequence of breaking his silence, of allowing someone to truly know him, was death. He didn't know the first thing about being free, and yet he'd sacrificed so much to return a world he didn't remember losing.
Making all of it worthwhile was the promise Arthur represented, the friend Merlin had found in him, all the glory and brightness Arthur held with the same deadly grace with which he held a sword. Merlin had been transfixed by that light, had been glad to follow behind invisible. Merlin wondered if it wasn't as possible to get lost in the light, as in the shadows.
Perhaps he did need the darkness, perhaps he had lived there too long. Is that what Arthur saw, now? Is that why he turned away? But that was magic. You couldn't have life without the pain and fear of death. And Merlin... was magic. He was light and hope, doom and pain and laughter. It was only when the sun was gone that the expanse of space stretching into infinity was revealed. Was it dark enough to see him? Could Arthur understand?
"Look at me," he'd whispered into the silence that grew between them, eating away at all they'd shared, devouring the hope for a future Merlin wanted perhaps because he'd never known what it was to be himself without being afraid. "Can't you forgive me? Just talk to me, Arthur."
He needed the future Arthur promised, but he'd sacrificed too much already. If there was no hope....
He would've stood in the space Arthur granted him until the end, but there was no space left; it had disappeared with a secret revealed, burned away in Arthur's anger, frozen under the weight of the betrayals between them.
They stood on the edge, Merlin revealed, Arthur looking away.
Merlin knew that if Arthur would just look up, he would see Merlin clearly for the first time. What he did then, if he rejected or reached out, it would topple them off the ledge they'd been walking so precariously, balanced on Merlin's secret.
But one way they would fall together.
And the other, apart.
...Or I'm leaving.