See end for Author's Notes :)
Spoilers: Season 5 Episodes 5 & 10
Takes place at the end of everything to do with the traditional Arthurian Legends.
I Dreamed a Dream
The Battle of Camlann was in seven days. Merlin felt the dreaded drum beat of life within him and realised it was the heart in his ears. The constant thump: knocking at his bones and vibrating through his being.
He'd got up during the night; the air dead and silent, no owls hooting, no rustling of deer. Merlin didn't know where he was going, his stained cream nightshirt loosely hanging about his frame like a giant's robes on a dwarfish prince. The castle was cold, the breeze biting at his flesh and feeling like sharp ice would if it cut you as he glided, as if in a trance, not caring for his state of appearance or the lack of warmth he now felt, eyes glazed with a watery sheen and bottom lip somewhat quivering.
There were no servants about at this time of night, for which he was almost grateful. If one were to stumble upon him, they wouldn't see a man, more a shadow of what he could be, now almost translucent in the moonlight.
The torches' flames licked at the lamp oil around the cloth, but he didn't feel their heat, only the marble ground beneath him chilling his veins with the numbness that comes with walking through snow.
He wandered these hollowed halls; the unearthly orchestra of silence plaguing his mind, taunting him with dark spirits. He wished the stars would hide their fires, let not this dark and deep liar be found.
He had felt too much, his heart was full and overflowing. The guilt of his actions were gnawing at his mind like a worm in the bud, feeding through his mind until he felt like he was in a world where only ghosts would understand him now.
Then it burst, the bud, and the tears steamed from his eyes and he fell against the wall, his skinny frame bruising with the impact as he slid down with his head to the heavens.
He had done something most terrible, and now Arthur would pay the price: Arthur who was innocent and determined with an inextinguishable fire to bring peace. Merlin had ruined that. Merlin had destroyed all hope for them.
He loathed his very being with all the might and terror of a thousand suns. The regret and stupidity of himself cut at his bones as if blades of the finest steel were slowing craving his sins into his marrow. The injustice of what he did, without realising what he did. Which he thought made it worse: how everything until now had been on purpose unknowingly.
He heard footsteps, ones he had come to know from a distance, a certain pattern and weight of rhythm only belonging to one person.
Panic froze his blood, unfixed his hair as he wiped and scratched viciously at his eyes to stop the tears. He mustn't let the King see his weakness, his actions, his heart. He stood with shaking haste and started to retreat. He must replace this woe with the mask. The mask must be put back in place before –
'Merlin...' a strong and concerned voice, quiet in volume yet it boomed through him with such force.
He breathed deeply, but it hurt, as if he was breathing poison that rotted his lungs. And he turned.
Questions swarmed in his brain: why was the King up at such a late hour? Could he find an escape from those eyes? Could Arthur hear his heartbeat as much as he felt it?
Seeing his liege: knowing the difference between the sturdy, powerful hero in armour that protected the land and the honourable, tender man beneath and knowing this was the latter before him... a side few knew of and fewer saw...
Merlin's mask cracked.
How could he gaze on someone so God-like? Arthur was a good man who had shown him nothing but kindness. He didn't have to either, Arthur was a King and could so easily banish Merlin... kill Merlin, and the world would sigh as it always had done. What had Merlin done to deserve the presence of such a man? Merlin was the reason for his death – the death of a man he had come to know best among all others.
No-one knew the workings of Arthur's heart like Merlin did, for he was the ghost within that took note of its every beat. Or at least he liked to think so.
In a red tunic for courage, with hair the colour of sundust and eyes a piercing blue, Merlin was met with an image he wouldn't see for long.
'Merlin? What on earth is the matter?' He stepped toward Merlin and the latter took a step back.
Merlin wasn't prepared for this. Seeing Arthur so suddenly worried at his dishevelled manservant...
The mask fell.
Arthur didn't know what Merlin had done.
Merlin didn't deserve the attention of someone so true. He didn't deserve the attention of someone he had deceived and yet still looked at him as if... as if...
Merlin felt a stinging liquid stain his cheeks, and with the knowledge and the weight of it, Merlin fled from the night, fled from the corridor and set for anywhere other than here. He couldn't stay here, he was unwelcome.
He ignored the confused, the desperate cries.
Still he wondered, through the ominous night and the eerie air.
Merlin found a forest glade where the grass was a dank, clotted emerald with ferns and moss climbing the trees – trying to see what lay inside.
He didn't know how long he had been running, his feet were cut. Then with bleeding toes and scratched heels he fell to a dying yew and sank into the leaf litter and dirt, shutting his eyes, wishing the persistent flows of acid from his eyes would finally cease.
Silence fell and Merlin wept.
Then eons later, a rustling was heard a breath away and suddenly hands were at his shoulders, pulling and pushing him in one swift movement into a sitting position. But Merlin slouched: he was close to giving up.
He knew whose hands these belonged to... for at the contact Merlin felt terribly safe. He felt warm and he didn't want that, felt unworthy of the stirring in his torso.
Merlin kept his eyes shut, not wanting to see the face before him. Realising his eyes must be bloodshot, his cheeks wet, and not wanting the other to see him so damned vulnerable.
'Merlin? What's the matter? What's wrong?' Arthur's throat was heavy. His hands tightened at Merlin's silence.
'Open your eyes.' Arthur's voice was a deadly low rumble.
Merlin shook his head, stinging eyes persistent.
'Look at me Merlin!' Arthur rattled him slightly now and no veil coated his words: they were almost panicked but more wounded.
Merlin couldn't deny Arthur any longer and let his lids rise, but almost immediately pushed past Arthur to stand away.
'Merlin! Why won't you tell me –'
'Why are you here?' Merlin spun on the spot, eyes wide as if frightened and not understanding why Arthur had followed him.
In times of serious distress, Arthur was known for tightening his armour and lightening the mood, only allowing a fraction of his thoughts be known, only a fraction of his heart be shown to appease Merlin's fretting over him, jokes and only subtle hints following...
Now was not one of those times.
'Because I worry about you.' He stated honestly and plainly, heart racing at Merlin's serious and fixed eyes.
'You worry about me?' It was almost whispered more to himself than as to move forward.
Why did Arthur have to be so unexpected? Why did he have to be so perfect? Merlin wanted to voice his sins but he couldn't, a weight in his throat preventing that collaboration of thoughts being released. Arthur's eyes were strong and almost calculating, unsure in their pointing.
Merlin didn't deserve Arthur's worry!
'Yes... it may surprise you but –'
'I am everything that you despise, that you hate. I am such a burden to you and yet you're still here.' Merlin shouted; his words wet with choked off little sobs.
Arthur moved slowly forward, eyes steadfast, never breaking contact with Merlin's. Merlin took half a step back but thought better of it, his body shaking with anxiety and he worried that he might collapse with emotion.
They looked at each other for a few moments: Merlin desperate to not let his eyes flood, Arthur searching for... something.
The King then reached for Merlin's wrists, the servant's breath fast and deep like that of a wounded animal ready to run, holding them what Merlin hoped wasn't tenderly. He looked down at the contact and was torn: how he longed to be in this position under different circumstances, but it was too late now, Arthur would never want him like that, not after what had happened.
When he had the strength to meet Arthur's eyes again, they seemed to be closer: to reassure.
'I could never despise you Merlin and I will never hate you.' Arthur's eyes glinted in the moonlight. 'You're quite the opposite of a burden to me Merlin and... and if you told me just what- '
Merlin snatched his wrists back and walked away a few paces.
'Merlin!' And in that voice Merlin heard a frightened man confused.
He looked back and tried to resist the way the words were rising, but knew he had to make Arthur hate him, make Arthur see what a deceivious person he was, unworthy of any affection... and before Merlin could think of an escape the words fell and stabbed like a cry in the silent night.
'I have magic!' He cried and no matter of what the impact would be Merlin felt his full heart of all these years abruptly burst at the seams.
'I was born with it!'
Arthur was silent. His face was as if it had been frozen, his eyes wide and... of an emotion Merlin was too lost to place, somewhere ripping through frightened anger into betrayed anguish.
'W-Why...' Arthur stopped himself and closed his eyes for a long short time, tightening his concealment, trying to find his voice. But Merlin was far gone into his despair to turn back now, arms conveying his agony in their movements, and he poured his heart out, not giving Arthur the chance.
'I have betrayed you more than any other. More than anyone can. And I have caused your death.' His heart was heavy and knocking at his ribs, the ties that bound it together snapping and Merlin was afraid of dying from internal bleeding. 'Every day I have lied to your face and made you believe I played the part of an innocent servant, stumbling to your aid when it was never wanted. And yet I have felt more than any other ever could! Every day I have had to conceal my true self in fear of discovery, hide my nature in dreadful apprehension of being torn down and hunted like a wild animal. I have seen death and it is cold and...' Merlin swallowed, he properly looked at Arthur and could see the King slipping: into what he knew not. Merlin felt his legs give out and his knees collided with the damp earth. He looked lost. 'I dreamed a dream of a time gone by, when there would be peace and no more hatred. I dreamed that you would be a fair and just King, ruling a realm bursting with life and magic. And I would be at your side, protecting you as I have always tried. I dreamed that God would be forgiving of those who had been corrupted but would deliver justice.' Merlin wrapped his arms about himself as if he was wounded... which he most certainly did feel with more intensity by the breath. 'But that was when I was young and unafraid. I dreamed my life would be so different from this hell I have created, so different from what it seems! So many have died and you have been so betrayed by magic I am sure that you loathe anything of the sort. You above all have been the victim of such practises: taking your parents and stabbing your trust and whenever I have hope it's... and every day the world is against you... against me. I have grown up and realised that there are some things that cannot be!' His skin was clammy, his lips swollen and eyes stars of water. 'Now...' He swallowed. 'Life has killed the dream...'
'That day... of the Disir... when you asked me if magic should be brought into Camelot once more I... I wanted more than anything to say yes, convince you that magic is the invisible sword... But I thought that if you embraced the Old Religion then yes, magic would return once more, but only for a time, for Mordred would be cured and was, is, destined to be your downfall. I have seen it.' Merlin looked up now and saw Arthur... stiff and taunt, eyes frozen, unblinking and wet, lip bitten within his mouth. They both knew that in seven days Mordred's army would be ready... and Merlin knew the outcome. 'But in rejecting the Old Religion, in my efforts to protect you, I caused the opposite. I have sealed your fate.'
Merlin wanted to say he was sorry, but knew his actions and stupid thoughts were unforgivable.
There was silence.
Arthur looked at Merlin in such pain, such raw emotion, the tried and tired armour he always wore about him slipping now...
Exposed and broken, the King knew not what to do.
Merlin: with his simple and dirty clothes, hair that would shadow the ebony oakwood, light rosa lips and a white flawless complexion... he looked avoid of life... but when he met the pleading and crying azure eyes that held oceans...
Arthur was struck.
Before he knew it his lips moved, powered by something else within him.
'Why would you do that?' He didn't know perfectly what he was thinking, and yet everything seemed so clear now.
Merlin was caught between panic that Arthur would now hate him, ask him why he did it so that his death could be fitting... Merlin had tried so hard and still his life was wanting; something was still missing. And before his mind would grasp the rebelling words and pin them down to never rise, negotiate it was a fatal idea, they slipped through the net. Yes, a rush of needing to say this.
'Because everything that I do is out of loving you!' The voice that left him was that of a whispered yell and he truly knew Arthur would leave him in the dirt to rot now.
With a pounding heart, Arthur suddenly felt the rush of a thousand years of being tightly confined. He felt himself unravelling, something as pure and clean as water slipping through his fingertips, and he himself powerless to stop the loss.
'I am the King, Merlin, ME! Not you. You do not get to make those choices for me.' Arthur cried strongly, then he approached Merlin in dangerous strides, grabbing Merlin's shoulders and lifting him as if to shake him violently, eyes locking with Merlin's glazed ones, tears newly formed and ready to burst the dam. Merlin looked like an arrow was piercing his side.
'I thought we were...' Arthur's hands glided south, his voice starting to tremble but he forced himself to catch composure, hands sliding roughly smoothly down the fabric of Merlin's nightshirt and staying at his wrists once more, where they wrapped warmly and easily as if it was a familiar touch. His eyes following the movements of his hands.
Merlin felt as if his heart were a crying, screaming animal, about ready to burst forth through the confines of its cage and chains: his sore heartstrings.
'... I thought we were friends, you and I.' And Arthur looked up then, right into Merlin's eyes, as if to find his soul.
'We are...' Merlin whispered.
'Then why, Merlin, didn't you tell me?' His grip tightened like a vice and slightly strongly rattled Merlin's wrists, as if pleading for an explanation.
Merlin was silent.
'Do you think that because I am noble and royalty that I must be narrow-minded and ignorant?' The King growled almost with tender venom, spitting the words. His eyes were wild and perilous.
'No...' Merlin honestly and sincerely stated; the answer deeply rooted within him.
'We...' Arthur's face dropped to something vulnerable, something conflicted, looking down at their connection. 'It's always been... Didn't you trust me?' Arthur looked up and it seemed to Merlin that these words were hurting Arthur as if he was choking up blood. 'I thought we could.'
Arthur stepped closer, closer as to invade Merlin's personal space and Merlin was even more self conscious about the King's proximity. Merlin could feel his breath against his face, hot and moist, and realising that his own eyes were wide, lips trembling and slightly agape, as if to gain more air in the confined space. His eyes glazed to Arthur's lips, which the King licked to swallow a breath.
And when Merlin glanced up next, Arthur's gaze was so intense, pining to convey something to Merlin but somehow frightened, as if in uncharted territory. He saw a man that was wounded not by a physical injury, but a tearing far more deep and severe, far more ingrained within him; for the first time Merlin thought the King looked unguarded and naked.
The large warm hands around his wrists tightened still.
'I would have been upset, Merlin, angry, vicious maybe...' he paused, voice wobbling, something in his transfixed eyes. 'But I would never hurt you.'
Merlin felt an embrace of warmth, gentle and tender; caress every part of his flesh in under a moment. A deeply embedded feeling touching even the solid interior of his bones.
'I know.' He whispered, and realising he always had.
However, Arthur looked even more desperate and even more distressed.
'Then why, Merlin, didn't you tell me?' voice weak and yet so strong.
There was only one answer.
'Because you're the only friend I have and I couldn't bear to lose you.' The echoed words Arthur had once spoken himself cascading the gravity of their situation to a new energy.
They had always been so close, yet there was a silent mutual agreement to keep a comfortable distance, and only rarely would they dare step that line.
But now everything collapsed.
Arthur closed his eyes slowly and dropped his head, and only then had Merlin realised that his thumbs were stroking his pulse points... and were shaking.
The King then quickly drove his manservant into the nearest tree, only a few steps away, the bark rasping at Merlin's back. Arthur then let his eyes rise and Merlin saw how bloodshot they were... and yet Arthur was still trying to hold himself.
He leant forward, resting his forehead against Merlin's and moved his hands, their fingers naturally intertwining, every touch of fingertips acutely warm and tender: similar to that of water droplets hitting skin. They were both breathing heavily and as Arthur rose their hands, after they both looked at the connection as if out of themselves, Arthur looked as if he might gently kiss their joined fingers. Merlin felt his eyes, felt how besides himself he felt with years of yearning. This coupling was incredibly intimate and incredibly personal and Merlin just felt so full of a fond aching.
'Do you have any idea how it feels Merlin?' Arthur wetly placed the words affectionately wounded, eyes closed intensely, tightening their fingers as if Merlin were something fragile, something precious, something that could vanish immediately...
... as if he already had.
'Do you have any idea how it feels Merlin? To understand and realise that while I was so concentrated on being King, not like my Father, but someone respectable and good...' He met Merlin's eyes now and the servant once again found Arthur incredibly close. 'I had overlooked the closest person to me. You: Merlin. You who have held this burden on your shoulders for such a terrible time, the weight of its brutality too heavy.' Arthur looked as if he dared not, as if he had denied himself this for an era; but then rose his right hand to melt into Merlin's cheek; hard muscle on soft cheekbone: both breathless. Merlin's heart stopped as Arthur finally seemed he had found Merlin's soul.
'Had been crumbling for some time, but you have now been crushed Merlin, and we are both helpless to say otherwise.'
The silent cries of I should have protected you and What could I have done? were exchanged with remorse and painful pushing-aside those words.
The only sound Merlin could hear now was his heart beat and Arthur's heavy breathing. They looked at each other, really looked, taking it all in... and melted.
Merlin saw the walls tumble down in Arthur's eyes, how he nervously and hesitating moved his lips closer, the hand on Merlin's cheek sliding into place against the back of Merlin's neck: the large hand sown into place by Merlin's hair. Merlin closed his eyes and opened them again as if sleepy, overwhelmed. Arthur licked his lips once more, blood filling the plump muscles again. Then with one last look of deprived love... their eyes drifted shut and their lips collided.
Instantly it was too hot and too wet but that's what made it so perfect. At the first touch of sliding muscles: the pure sensation of lips sliding into place, both felt the world haze away. Tongues were large in mouths and eager and felt glorious, felt like sweet ambrosia: combined with the consequence that they had to move closer, heated bodies with sighing aches, and lips had to slip together even more, Merlin realised that this was what he had wanted. He just hadn't realised before because his heart had been cursed subconsciously to never dream of this, but it had always been there, at the back of his mind: the need to be all Arthur needed. And as Arthur moaned and pushed their bodies together and against the tree further, Merlin let go. He allowed Arthur to take him, to possess him, for it was what they needed.
They knew they would die.
But in these small hours, these little wonders: they were able to feel the colours of love, the light, the sound of victory, and a warmth so tender, so intimately woven with heartstring: the type of fire only felt when one is so irrevocably devoted to the other...
Then given the chance to touch the untouchable.
Ending Author's Notes:
How was that?
The inspiration for this ending was for how Merlin and Arthur were portrayed in the episode 'The Disir'. I thought their character building and the climax and then the twist was brilliant: how Merlin must have realised that his burden was crushing him.
So I wanted to explore that guilt and regret. I really wanted to bring out Merlin's pain and Arthur's concern: something which he can't act on directly because he is a King.
That's another thing: I wanted to explore the real theme of how there is the class barrier that splits Merlin and Arthur. I wanted to highlight the intense feelings just beneath the surface but had always been suppressed. Which equals to my hopefully, heartfelt reveal and sudden, and yet not so sudden, realisation that they loved each other. Something Arthur had always known, Merlin blocking it.
I wanted this to be concise, snappy and to leave my reader... emotional I guess.
Anyway, A VERY LONG AUTHOR'S NOTES! But there's just SOME of my thoughts while writing this. A comment would be lovely but I understand if you don't want to.
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or its characters and this was inspired by the episode 'The Disir' and catalysed by the song 'I Dreamed A Dream'
Also, I'm thinking of maybe extending this story, to finish it with a romantic love-making scene – I'll add it in if people want me to :)
Thanks For Reading x