AN: This technically falls into the same universe as my coda "Full of Grace," though it's not necessary to read that to understand this.
Please Tell Them My Name
Merlin stumbles home from the tavern that night, pockets full of money, head full of rowdy bar songs, and heart full of good memories. He trips drunkenly over a chair, crashes to the floor, and narrowly avoids waking Gaius. He laughs quietly as he drags himself to bed.
Just as his head hits the pillow, a thought occurs to him. This has been one of the best nights of his life, and he doesn't feel that way because he's drunk or because he's won so much of Arthur's money. It's because tonight was one of those rare occasions when Merlin was able to spend time with Arthur as his friend.
Arthur may have joked about it not being a disgrace for a servant to lose to his king, but nowadays jokes like that are just words. Over the past few years, though neither of them will admit it out loud, Merlin and Arthur have become more than just servant and master; they've become friends. Tonight was one of those times when titles were put aside and the two of them could be together as friends – as Arthur and Merlin, not as king and servant.
Such occasions have been rare between them more recently, and as Merlin lies in bed, head still spinning from the laughter and the good times and probably too much ale, he finds himself wishing desperately for something to remember this night by.
Maybe it's the drink running through his veins or the fatigue, but Merlin suddenly finds himself remembering a spell used long ago. A spell he used to copy a house crest for Lancelot. Perhaps, with the right adjustments...
Merlin stumbles out of bed and pries up a loose floorboard. Reaching inside, he pulls a blank sheet of paper out of his magic book. He sits by his bedside table and puts it down.
Then he sits quietly and thinks, forcing his mind to remember back past the drunken bar songs, the scantily clad women, and the last round of drinks Merlin had bought with Arthur's money. Eyes closed, Merlin smiles as his mind settles on the image he wants to remember.
Merlin had just rolled twelve, sending the tavern into an uproar. While Merlin was cheering and hollering with the rest, Arthur had gotten this look on his face that Merlin could only identify as pride. Arthur had smiled almost sheepishly to himself before looking up and grinning, and Merlin could just tell that in that moment Arthur was happy for him.
Though Arthur would never admit it out loud, he had been proud of Merlin. Granted, it was just a game of dice, not a fight for life or death, but that look had meant a lot to Merlin.
Which is why he chooses it now.
Merlin holds that image in his mind, opens his eyes, and whispers a few words. As his eyes glow gold, an image brands itself onto the paper. It's more vivid than a drawing, more vivid even than a painting. He whispers one more word, and the image begins to move. He smiles as the image replays that brief moment in time for him. Then he whispers stop and the picture ceases to move, freezing on the image of Arthur smiling with pride.
Merlin laughs out loud in the silent room as he climbs into bed and falls asleep to the sound of Arthur's laughter.
Merlin has no idea as he creates that picture just how precious it will soon be to him. How, in the weeks, years, centuries to come, it will be a lifeline for him.
Losing Arthur is more painful than dying, and Merlin clings to that picture tightly through the years. He places a spell on it so the paper will never crumble, so the image will never fade. He looks at it whenever he finds himself forgetting Arthur's face. Looks at it whenever he needs a reminder of why he's still here; of why he waits, why he watches the world rise and fall around him.
During WWII, he carries it with him into the trenches, and a man with long hair who reminds him painfully of Gwaine tells him how lucky he must be to have someone to fight for.
Merlin smiles as he answers, "His name is Arthur."
When the third World War rolls around, he tries to get the image to move again and finds that it won't. Whether it's the magic wearing thin or Merlin himself, he doesn't know.
Merlin carries it with him wherever he goes, like a talisman. He keeps it close to him, always, just like he still carries the crest bearing Ygraine's sigil. He carries it with him until the day Arthur returns, when Merlin can finally see that look on his king's face once more. Until it's finally real again.
(the image at the beginning of the fic is the image I had in mind when I was writing this)
AN: I was listening to "Long Live" by Taylor Swift one morning on my way to work and I heard "when they point to the pictures, please tell 'em my name" and I actually started to cry on the subway platform, because I realized that Merlin would never have pictures to remember Arthur by, or to show the world. So I naturally had to change that.