Chapter 1: part 1
It starts when Merlin stops eating. And Arthur doesn't notice, not at first. Merlin's always been skinny, always angular and slight. But what Arthur does notice is when Merlin stops smiling. Not all at once, but in short degrees, the blinding grin that the prince had once taken for granted dims and finally, diminishes.
He notices, yes. He notices when Merlin's eyes stop seeking his, when they lose their glimmer of mischievousness. He notices when the quirky comebacks morph into something much more subdued, much more exasperated. He notices the way Merlin begins to skirt away from contact, when he begins to avoid spending time anywhere that isn't in his room or in Gaius' chambers. He notices the dark circles that develop like permanent ink under Merlin's eyes, and he notices when the clothes that once fit Merlin well enough start to look like a sea of fabric Merlin had lost himself in. He notices, he notices how Merlin gets steadily clumsier, when he starts showing up bandaged and bruised and burnt. He notices.
He could feel, from the very beginning, the changes. Churning in his stomach each time Merlin left, each time he sighed or snapped back just a little too venomously. And he wants to believe he'd tried all along to salvage what he was losing. Wants to believe that he'd found the perfect words, that he'd done something, that he'd done anything to help other than respond to Merlin's aggravation with malice of his own.
It starts when Merlin stops eating. And Arthur doesn't notice. He doesn't notice when he probably should, on a hunt at the fire. But Merlin is still smiling and back-talking, still rolls his eyes when Arthur makes a grand, arrogant statement. So Arthur doesn't notice, because Merlin is still Merlin.
He notices the difference later, on the kind of sunny morning Merlin once thrived for. He notices because Merlin doesn’t smile. Not when he opens the curtains and not when he rouses Arthur, not when he helps him dress. He doesn't smile, not once, until Arthur chides him for it and gives him a playful shove on the shoulder. Then he flashes a grin, a brief glimpse of what had not so long ago been genuine and astounding. It doesn't reach his eyes.
And from there, it goes. It all goes, and Arthur doesn't know what to do. So he does what comes most naturally: he gets angry. He gets angry at Merlin for being so irritable, he gets angry at Merlin for being so quiet, he gets angry at Merlin for being so clumsy and hopeless. If it's not an angry outburst, it's a desperate, cinching feeling in the pit of his stomach. He gets angry at himself, irreconcilably angry with himself, because he can't stop what he's doing. And what he's doing is making it worse.
He's angry to smother his helplessness, and he wonders what Merlin's anger is smothering. It terrifies him.
It boils down to this: Arthur loses his temper. It's when Merlin- clumsy Merlin, passionate Merlin, outspoken Merlin- Merlin calls him 'Sire'. That's it, and it boils Arthur's blood. It gives him a sick feeling, and he loses control. Not because Merlin was expressing fealty, but because Merlin wasn't Merlin.
So he yells. He yells and he throws things and shock flashes across Merlin's face and Arthur realizes it's the first emotion he's seen on his manservant besides anger or exhaustion in- longer than he can tell. Which makes him angrier. He tells Merlin this, he bellows it in the boys face, demands to know why. Why he's not eating, why he's not smiling, why he's hurting himself, why he's changed. And then Merlin's shock solidifies into something much realer. Something past anger or frustration, something that sparks a flicker of hope in Arthur, because it's passion. It's passionate fury, and it's familiar. It gives him hope that maybe, maybe everything is not lost. But it's also unfamiliar. He can't remember another time when Merlin's eyes have glistened so terribly, when his words have held a more bitter edge. Arthur realizes, belatedly, that he'd backed him up against the wall, chests almost touching, barely a foot apart. Merlin yells.
"What do you want me to say, Arthur? What do you want? You want me to smile and be happy, laugh with you and act as though everything is fantastic? Well I don't want to! I don't want to do that anymore! I'm tired, Arthur, I'm tired. I'm tired of- I'm tired of having hope. I'm so exhausted of clinging to the future to make it through the day, when the future is just so far off. I'm tired of waiting for peace to come while everyone hurts.
We all hurt, Arthur. You don't see it, no one sees it, but we're all torn. We're all clinging to shreds of normality, we're all barely holding out for better times that might just never come. Morgana hurt, Gwen hurts, I can see how you hurt, and you still just- I hurt, Arthur. I hurt. I've lost everyone. And for some reason I'm still here, I'm holding on, I'm barely holding on and everything around me is just… it's in tatters. And I can't reconcile it, how do I reconcile it?"
As he speaks, the unfamiliar rage ebbs from him, leaves on unfamiliar despondency, an empty sorrow filling his voice. He lowers his eyes to the floor by Arthur's feet, and Arthur is a confusing mixture of relieved and unspeakably sad.
"I've seen evil, I've seen death. I've caused death. How do I make peace with the world around me when I can't make peace with myself? I used to see the good, I could see it and I truly believed in it. But I can't-" He stops and heaves a sigh. "It's just what this place does to people. It hurts them."
Chapter 2: part 2
"I hate camping." Merlin groaned for the fifth time in so many minutes, and Arthur sighed without responding. Merlin glanced at him, blue eyes conveying utmost misery and sweat dripping down his brow. "I really, really do."
Arthur resisted the urge to roll his eyes and reached for Merlin's hand, tugging him along a little. "I know, Merlin. You've said as much." Up ahead Leon cracked a joke, unheard by Arthur and Merlin but greeted by hearty laughter by the rest of their group. Gwen, Morgana and Lance walked just in front of them, stoically ignoring Merlin's whining, and Gwaine walked at the head of the formation with Leon, carrying a walking stick and jabbing it into the ground at every other step. The contentment of his companions seemed only to darken Merlin's mood further, his lips turned down in what he would insist was not a pout.
"Everyone else is built for this or something. Even Gwen. And I'm back here sweating my arse off and trying not to trip over every root in the god damn forest. Why do you people put me through this?"
At this, Morgana broke the invisible barrier between them and sighed, glancing over her shoulder and saying, "Because we love you, Merlin, and we thought we would enjoy your company."
Merlin scowled but said nothing more, watching the ground below his feet with utmost focus. Arthur kept his hand firmly around Merlin's, keeping him upright the few times he stumbled and leading him along gently.
Chapter 3: part 3
When I was a young boy, Forrest Gump was my favourite movie. My mother would put it on for me while she was doing the washing up, and I'd sit in front of the telly completely engrossed for the entire three hour film. By the time I was nine, I knew every word off by heart. So did my mum. "Life is like a box of chocolates," she'd say from the kitchen. "You never know what you're gonna get." By the time I was twelve, I was sick of the movie- and astounded that I'd loved it so dearly for so long. My best mate Will would make fun of me in school. "Life is like a box of chocolates," he'd mock. "You never know what you're gonna get."
I'm twenty-two now, and the one thing I know for certain is this: Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. My name is Merlin Emeriss, and this is the story of how my life fell apart in five days.
Allow me to start by clearing up a few things. I'd like you to know these things in advance, so you can keep them in mind throughout the story. First, I am not allergic to everything. I'm really not. I'm allergic to tomatoes and zucchini, pears and seaweed. I can swim in the ocean, the seaweed doesn't get me then. I'm fine in the ocean. Just something about ingesting it sets me off; I get all swollen and covered in hives. I'm also mildly lactose intolerant.
Secondly, I'm gay. Gay in a relationship-y kind of way. I've never been one for casual sex or flings. That's not to say I've never had casual sex, I just prefer connections and conversation to bathroom-stall-blowjobs with random strangers. I'd say that I miss the days of courting, but it kind of conflicts with the homosexual thing.
Third, my luck is rotten. Really, truly awful. Which is why, when I received a call from the fire department on Monday, I shouldn't have been surprised.
I pulled on to my street just as the last of the flames were being put out. The building- my building- was all but completely gone. It was charcoal black, collapsed in places, and entirely wrecked. The sight hit me like a punch in the stomach. I pulled to the side of the road and parked, staring out at the proceedings lamely. Only two trucks remained, and most of the fire men were not working with the hoses but instead organizing the crowd that had amassed to watch the building turn to ash.
I watched as the last embers died out and the crowd dissipated.
Chapter 4: part 4
Merlin shuffled into the staff change room, removing the large, fake head of Mickey Mouse from his shoulders as he went. He deposited the head on the bench and stopped to lean against the lockers, wiping sweat from his brow. Sighing, he considered burning the costume and stealing Arthur's car as revenge for the hellish day he'd had; he was robbed of the opportunity when Arthur himself entered the change room.
Merlin scowled. "What are you doing here?"
"I knew you were taking your break at three, so I came to see you." The blonde smiled his most winning smile. Merlin felt the familiar fizzle of attraction in his stomach even despite his bitterness, and scowled deeper because of it.
"I'm mad at you," he stated unnecessarily.
Arthur smiled even wider, his eyes flashing, and Merlin knew he was enjoying the situation. "It's not my fault!" He defended.
"It is. I specifically told you I didn't want to wear the Mickey Mouse costume. I've said it a million times! I don't care about Pluto or Goofy, but Mickey is like hell. Do you know how popular Mickey Mouse is compared to Pluto? I'm being mobbed by kids everywhere I turn. More than usual."
Merlin spoke as he turned and opened his locker, displacing the contents angrily until he found the water bottle he was looking for. He drank deeply and waited for Arthur to make his excuses. When none came he turned back to his boyfriend, confused by the disruption in their customary argument routine. Arthur was leaning against the lockers opposite his with one eyebrow raised and a small smirk playing over his lips, looking what would pass as impassive but for the way his eyes followed Merlin's movements intently. They stayed on Merlin's lips as he lowered the water bottle and quirked an eyebrow. The darker-haired man puzzled at this for a second before it clicked.
"Oh my god," he gasped. "The Mickey suit turns you on!" Arthur's eyes flicked back up to Merlin's, and now that he'd recognized it, Merlin could definitely see the lust behind them. The blonde looked like he was going to deny it, slipping on his 'Merlin-you're-an-idiot' expression like a mask, but at the last second rethought it.
Chapter 5: part 5
Merlin woke drenched in a cold sweat, with his sheets twisted around him like a cotton cocoon and blurry flashes of metal and flesh still before him. With a sigh he untangled himself and rose, making a mental note to inform Gaius that he needed to switch prescriptions. Again.
Slowly he padded to the small joint kitchen/living area of the apartment he was renting. He'd been living there for nearing three months, but still refused to call it 'his'. It sounded like finality. Like permanence. And this apartment was neither, for him. It wasn't home.
He had a job interview at 9 am, but he was up hours early- as usual. In his head, he tallied how much sleep he'd managed to get. 5 hours. He sighed again and put on the coffee. It would have to be enough. He fixed some toast and contented himself to nibbling it and sipping his coffee until he could justify getting ready.
Sunlight seeped over the sill of the small, rectangular window of his bedroom as he silently dressed and regarded himself in the mirror. Tired blue eyes stared back at him, rimmed with red sleepless-ness. The dark bags underneath them contrasted against his pale skin and made him look 3x more exhausted than he felt. In frustration, he tried to smooth his hair flat to his head to combat his ruffian look, but only succeeded in amplifying the prominence of his ears.
After minutes of fruitless adjustment to his appearance, he gave up. It was useless to try to make himself look any less lanky and awkward when he would just betray all that effort as soon as he opened his mouth. Though his people skills were amiable at their very worst, his talents in speaking to authorative figures left much to be desired. It was a trait bred into him by being raised by a single mother with liberal values and a strong belief in participatory, 'I'm-your-friend-we're-a-team' parenting. He'd only just pulled on his shoes- a moderately expensive pair of loafers he'd purchased souly for this job (opportunity)- when his phone vibrated. He pulled it out and checked the ID before answering.
He glanced up towards the window, "I told you, you don't need to drive me!"
There was a long suffered sigh on the other end of the line, "And I told you that there's no way in hell I'm letting you take public transit to an interview at Camelot Industries. How did you sleep?"
Merlin grimaced at the concern in her voice, "Fine. Really, completely fine." He lied.
Gwen scoffed, "Liar. Now get down here, you'll be late." She disconnected the call and Merlin slid the phone back into his jacket pocket, a feeling of childish appreciation warming his insides. As disconcerted as he could be with Gwen's insistent caring, it was nice knowing that she was there. Especially on days like today.
The anxiety he'd kept at bay for almost two weeks rose in him now as he descended the stairs to the parkinglot. He'd had other things to worry about: namely, his increasing list of failed prescriptions and reoccurring nightly hallucinations. He referred to them as such, rather than 'psychedelic REM dreams' as his psychologist had coined, because they were much to vivid to be dreams of any sort. They were more like- more like memories, if he was honest. Confusing and overlapping memories of a life that was not his.
A lot of the time he could ignore them, mostly because they faded and blurred as soon as he awoke and if he tried to address them he'd drive himself mad. They did not effect him much while he was awake, besides the occasional splitting headache and nauseous panic attack, so he tried to just carry on living. It helped that he couldn't really remember a time he'd not had strange dreams. Though they had increased in intensiveness after the accident. After he'd moved.
The thing about the dreams was that as much as they irked him, they felt like a part of him. And somewhere in his mind, he knew they were massively important. Like they were a missing piece of- something. But whenever he brought that thought forward it started one of his headache-slash-panic attacks and, more than that, terrified him. So rather than sit in his own brain-goo, he'd sought out guidance.
He'd made it through multiple psychiatrists (including Dr. Muirden, who'd suggested electric-shock as treatment) before he'd made it to Gaius. And though the elderly man had made only little more progress than any other of the doctors, something had seemed right about him. There was something Merlin liked about him. That something had stopped him from seeking anyone else, and had made him stick around as Gaius bounced him from pill-to-experimental-pill to try and block the dreams out.
He flashed a grin at Gwen as he slid into the passengers seat of her car, and she surveyed him.
"You like?" He gestured at his ensemble. In addition to new shoes, he'd purchased a small variety of work-appropriate clothes, effectively cleaning out the remaining scraps in his bank account. Gwen raked her eyes up and down his frame, inspecting his dark blazer-jacket, and smiled. Her face lit up with it, and she nodded.
"You look lovely." She reached over and put her hand gently on his forearm, "You'll do great! You're practically over-qualified for this job." She offered him a reassuring smile, even more radiant, and the knot in Merlin's stomach loosened a little. He knew she was only being a good friend, but it still helped.
He was being interviewed for a position he'd not known existed until Lance, his friend and Gwen's fiancé, had told him about it. It had something to do with assessing the language of transcripts and editing all reports for optimal communication and exceptional use of the English language. Which was exactly Merlin's cup of tea. Though, despite all of Lance's protests, it sounded a lot like a glorified secretary.
Still, he would take what he could get. He was nearing on four months of unemployment, and his health insurance had stopped paying for his essentials when the hospital had declared him fit to go back to work. He'd been living out of his savings fund since then. Plus, he had to admit he was slightly awed by the possibility of working at the great Camelot Industries.
Gwen navigated them through the city easily, and they chatted idly about wedding plans to keep Merlin's anxiety at bay as they went. It didn't work, though, and as they got gradually nearer to their destination, he found his leg jumping more and more aggressively. By the time they pulled into the carpark, he was practically shaking. Gwen shut off the ignition and turned to him, dark curls framing her kind face almost angelically in the growing light. She reached over and placed a hand on his knee firmly, stilling his jittering. He looked up at her desperately, feeling as though his toast might make a reappearance all over the dashboard of her car.
"You'll do fine, Merlin."
He shook his head fervently, "But Gwen, you know how I am! I'll- I'll say something rude, or I'll spill coffee or I'll-"
She silenced him by leaning forward and catching his frantically flailing hand with her own, "You'll do fine, Merlin." Her gaze was soft and level and Merlin heard the unadulterated faith in her voice. Her certainty soothed his nerves, and he smiled. She returned the smile full force and he leaned forward to give her an awkwardly angled kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks," She nodded and let go of his hand as he opened the door. He slid from the car and said goodbye before closing the door. She gave him a small wave before pulling away. And then he was alone.
A condensed version of his previous nerves re-settled over him as he navigated his way through the extravagant office building. There was an awkward moment when he got out of the lift when he was unsure which way to turn, but eventually he made it to room 1411. Outside there was a desk, and seated at it was a scarily beautiful woman. She looked about Merlin's age, with hair just as dark as his- long and wavy- and skin just as pale as his. She held a phone to her ear and was talking venomously at full speed to whoever was on the other end. She looked up as Merlin approached, acknowledging him with a small nod.
"No, that's not 'good enough', we didn't ask for 'good enough', we asked for- yes I understand that it was short notice, but you shouldn't have agreed to it if it was imposs- you know what? I'll have Mr. Pendragon call you directly, and you can explain it to him. Good luck." She hung up with perhaps a little more force than necessary, and smiled at him. The expression looked more like a grimacing smirk, and a chill that had nothing to do with his nerves ran down Merlin's spine.
'No, not now.' He swallowed and willed the emotions away. If he went into psychological unrest right now, he'd be unemployed forever.
The woman's brow furrowed infinitesimally, and her grimace slipped into more a frown of contemplation. They regarded each other in silence, the air around them stilling as the familiar feeling of confused recognition bubbled in Merlin's chest. Her eyes were a light shade of green, almost blue, and they met his in an almost combative gaze. Inexplicably, Merlin felt fear replace the recognition. Something was telling him to turn and run from this woman, but at the same time telling him to stay here and to- to what? His first instinct said 'stop her', but he pushed it away because it didn't make sense and frustrated him. His next instinct said 'save her' and he pushed that away for the same reasons.
Then she turned her frown into a smile again, this one a little warmer, if not also a little confused. The fear dissipated and he remembered what he was there for. He opened his mouth to introduce himself, but was cut short by the door behind the desk swinging open to reveal a perturbed-looking man standing in the doorframe. He had broad shoulders and shining blonde hair, offset by fair skin, and he was scowling down at the BlackBerry in his hands. He spoke without looking up.
"Morgana, is that English kid here yet? His interview starts in-" The man looked up and registered Merlin. His expression went from perturbed to moderately annoyed in a flash as he looked the skinnier man up and down. Merlin just stood awkwardly before him, vaguely noting through his discomfort that his scrutinizer had the bluest eyes he'd ever seen.
The man glanced down at his BlackBerry again before speaking, "Merlin Emrys?"
Merlin swallowed before nodding once, perhaps a little too eagerly. The man- whom Merlin took to be Mr. Pendragon himself- scowled before turning and, with a summoning gesture, retreating back into his office. After only a second of hesitation, Merlin followed, unable to stop himself from glancing at the secretary as he passed. She watched him go, her expression resettled into moderate confusion. Merlin fought to ignore the dull ache beginning to throb in the back of his skull.
He entered the office and hovered awkwardly in the doorway for a few moments, until the blonde man impatiently waved for him to close the door and sit as he took his own seat behind and executive looking desk. Merlin did as he was bade, sitting and folding his hands in his lap. He waited for the other man to speak first, and when he did, there was impatience and exasperation in his voice. Merlin did his best to pretend he didn't hear it.
"You're Merlin Emrys?"
Merlin nodded, "Yep. That's, uh- me." He tried a friendly smile, but felt it turn out more awkward than charming. It was met with a small, tight-lipped frown.
"And what makes you qualified for this position?" The bluntness of the question was matched in the voice that spoke it. Merlin blanched, taken aback. It wasn't so much the question, but the bored dismissal in the eyes that surveyed him, as though they'd already seen all they needed to, and the decision was already made. Merlin felt his face heat up, and the man quirked an eyebrow.
"Really, if you can't answer that, then-"
"I graduated first in my class," Merlin cut him off, "with recommendations from all my professors. I was awarded an honours award in my third year. In my fourth, I was already logging premedative internship hours for Ealdor Publishing. I've had three papers and a short story published in Canadian lit magazines to date."
Merlin tried not to let his satisfaction show as the man opposite tried to do the same with his surprise. He cleared his throat and glanced down at the file open in front of him, which Merlin assumed was his. "It says that you worked for E.P in Vancouver for a year and a half?" He glanced back up at Merlin, who nodded. "It doesn't specify the terms of your departure, though. What happened?"
Merlin looked away now and swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. He did not look into his interviewers eyes as he answered, though he knew it was horrible interview-etiquette, "I was in an accident about 5 months ago. I was declared unfit to work for a few months."
"And they let you go?"
Merlin was silent for a moment before responding, still not looking up from his hands. "No. I, uh… I lost someone in the accident. Decided it was time for a relocation."
There was a beat of silence, and Merlin looked up again. Blue eyes were studying him carefully, and, for the first time since he'd entered the interview, his interviewer seemed to be considering him seriously. Their gaze met momentarily before finally there was a reply.
"And you chose Toronto because of all the budding publishing opportunities?"
Merlin felt annoyance flare inside him, but shoved it back down again with difficulty, thinking of his empty bank account and fridge. "I had some friends who'd moved out here recently. They offered to help me out a bit until I could find a job"
Gwen and Lance had helped. It had been them who'd found and made first deposit on the apartment he was renting, while he'd assured them profusely that he'd repay them as soon as he found a job. And in the end, it had been Lance who'd found him a job, as well.
He watched as the blonde nodded and closed the folder, then met his eyes again, "And you're sure you can handle this position?"
The question was meant to be diagnostic, probably even empathetic, but Merlin heard only condescension in the words, and felt heat spread over his cheeks. "Yes, I'm sure. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be here, right?" He snapped, and immediately regretted it. He clamped his mouth shut and bit the inside of his cheek, hoping desperately that he'd not blown his only shot at employment.
His tone was met only with another quirked eyebrow and a small, surprised parting of the lips, "Well as long as it's clear, the hours are very- extensive." It was spoken almost as a challenge, and Merlin resisted the sudden and overpowering urge to lean over and smack the little smirk right off the mans face. His headache was really beginning to set in, and he didn't know how much longer his patience would hold.
Gritting his teeth, he forced his lips up into a polite grimace, "I've been medically fit for work for almost three months. I'm prepared for whatever you can throw at me."
Momentary shock flitted across his interviewers features before they settled into amusement. He regarded Merlin for a second longer before laughing once. "Alright then," he glanced at his BlackBerry as he spoke, then stood. "You start tomorrow."
He passed Merlin and paused at the door, looked back, "I expect you here at 8 AM. I'm Arthur Pendragon, you'll be reporting to me. Don't be late." And with that he was gone. Merlin sat motionless as the realization swept over him. He was employed.
His headache suddenly intensified, hammering against the inside of his skull as though his brain were seeking escape. He stood and headed for the elevator, levelling himself as much as he could. He didn't want to stagger out of the office like a lunatic when he'd only just gotten the job. His vision teetered uneasily and he noted the scarily beautiful face of the secretary. 'Morgana' his brain supplied, and he wasn't sure if it was because he'd heard it earlier or because he just knew. She was looking at him worriedly, reaching out for him and tentatively gripping his elbow.
At her touch, fiery pain seared through him. He jerked away from her as a single wave of pure discomfort crashed over him; it was all he could do not to cry out. He reeled and looked at the woman in horror. She was pulling back as though she'd been burnt, looking back at him with wild, frightened eyes.
A sickening feeling of deja-vu bubbled in his stomach and he inhaled deeply to avoid keeling over. Everything about her was ringing in his mind, familiar like his own reflection. She was just the same as she'd always been, his mind said. Just as daunting and devastating and sad, and for some reason, looking at her now, he felt the heaviness of failure settle over his heart, and the stinging pressure of tears build behind his eyes. She was still looking back at him as though afraid he might attack her, and inexplicably it deepened the senseless sadness wrapping around his heart.
He'd never wanted to hurt her.
He'd tried everything.
He'd always tried his hardest for her.
He'd thought they were the same.
White spots flashed in his vision as he pushed the thoughts away. No, no, no, he thought. This woman was a stranger, he'd never met her in his life. But somehow she was important. It was the same feeling he got about the dreams when he tried to evaluate them, un-medicated, but it had never happed this intensely where a real-life person was involved. Sure there'd been the recognition and unprecedented familiarity with Gwen and Lance and Will, but-
Bringing Will into it was too much. He felt as though his brain and heart were trying to jam together pieces of an ill-fitting puzzle inside him, trying to connect things that had no connection. Will had no place in these new thoughts.
He inhaled again and made his way to the elevator with what little remaining dignity he could. He did not look at Morgana as he went. As soon as the doors had shut behind him, he slumped against the wall and focused on breathing as the floors dropped away. Inhale, hold, exhale. By the time he'd reached the lobby again, the pain in his skull had become bearable. He crossed to the main doors with his fingers massaging his temple, head tucked down and eyes on the floor. The fresh air of outdoors hit him like a cool wall, soothing the hot burn still lingering on his skin.
He breathed deeply again and finally dropped his hand, leaning back against the building and tilting his chin upwards. The sun was shining happily from where it hung in the picturesque blue sky, and there was a pleasant breeze rolling down the street and lifting the tips of his hair. He savoured the sunlight as his mind settled again completely. When his good sense had returned enough, embarrassment burned in his stomach. Briefly, he considered turning around and returning upstairs, apologizing to the poor woman and explaining that he really wasn't a crazy homicidal maniac. He discarded the idea almost immediately, telling himself that his reluctance had nothing to do with the irrational fear instilled in him at the prospect of seeing her again. He had no reason to be afraid of her, really. Other than the possibility of her calling security. Or telling his new boss that he was potentially psychotic.
Repressing a groan, Merlin glanced up the street. He was on Queen, only a short walk away from Gaius' office. He deliberated between immediately starting back towards the public transit or walking the few blocks distance and begging his psychiatrist for a last minute appointment, and decided on the latter. Through he had regained the ability to properly think, his brain was still throbbing in his skull and the walk would do him good. Righting himself and smoothing the front of his jacket, he started towards King.
Chapter 6: part 6
(11:46 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
(11:48 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
well hello Arthur
(11:48 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
i csntelope, the food. Mprgana is ewvil
(11:50 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
are you drunk at your father's museum opening?
(11:55 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
npt my fault csntelopw is SO gppd
(11:56 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
you don't even like cantaloupe.
(11:58 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
(11:59 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
text me when you're sober.
(11:49 AM) To: Morgana. From: Arthur
can you please tell me why there are 4 slices of cantaloupe in my pillowcase
(11:52 AM) To: Arthur. From: Morgana
apparently it was for 'head insurance'
(12:34 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
how're you feeling?
(12:35 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
never drinking anywhere near morgana again. i woke up with fruit in my pillow. she kept forcing weird vodka mix things at me and smirking. it was like a never ending cycle of bad alcoholic taste
(12:36 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
reason you didn't just stop drinking =
(12:39 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
too stupid, too bored, and eventually too drunk
(12:41 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
too drunk to stop drinking. you have a problem.
(12:42 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
shut up, merlin
(12:45 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
are you going to your lectures today?
(12:46 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
no. come over and take care of me?
(12:47 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
how about i come over and we quietly plot morgana's demise
(12:48 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
knew there was a reason we're friends.
(12:49 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
be there in 10
(6:45 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
you @ arthurs?
(6:48 PM) To: Gwaine. From: Merlin
not anymore, nope.
(6:50 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
well are you 2 up for drinks tonight?
(6:52 PM) To: Gwaine. From: Merlin
idk. don't think so, i have a lecture at 9. and arthur was pretty drunk last night.
(6:55 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
so? what's wrong with drinking multiple nights in a row
(6:57 PM) To: Gwaine. From: Merlin
let's not turn all our friends into alcoholics
(6:59 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
thats no fun. i think i need new friends. this is the third night in a row ive been drinking alone
(7:02 PM) To: Gwaine. From: Merlin
get used to alone, you'll be growing old with it.
(7:04 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
itll be just me and my penis against the world
(7:05 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwaine
what a noble conquest
(8:45 AM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
(12:41 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
what have we said about texting us before noon
(12:43 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
what have i said about referring to yourself as more than one person
(12:46 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
that was Morgana, she crashed here. shes right tho. its too early for u to be so chipper.
(12:47 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
i had a lecture, so i was up. sorry for sharing my good mood, wench
(12:48 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
and it's like one
(12:50 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
i know what time it is. your insults r outdated, child. where u at?
(12:52 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
the pharmacy. helping gaius out for a few hours.
(12:55 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
what about that guy who works there?
(12:57 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
lance? he's here. we're stocking shelves together. fun fun
(12:57 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
i should stop texting, gaius just gave me the eyebrow
(12:59 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
tell him i said hi. i was just texting to tell you gwaine found a new club and is dragging us all out tonight.
(1:01 PM) To: Merlin. From: Gwen
bring the lance kid if you want
(1:07 PM) To: Gwen. From: Merlin
(1:14 PM) To: Arthur. From: Morgana
gwaine found a new place to get shitfaced. merlin's already said he's going
(1:20 PM) To: Morgana. From: Arthur
why do you say that like it confirms my attendance
(1:25 PM) To: Arthur. From: Morgana
it basically does
(1:26 PM) To: Gwen. From: Arthur
is merlin actually going?
(1:28 PM) To: Arthur. From: Gwen
yep. and bringing the guy from the pharmacy
(1:30 PM) To: Gwen. From: Arthur
fresh meat. has anyone warned him about morgana?
(5:58 PM) To: Arthur, Gwen, Leon, Merlin, Morgana. From: Gwaine
its called Camelot. google it and be there @ 9
(6:05 PM) To: Gwaine. From: Morgana
if it's another gay bar, i'll castrate you. (:
(9:42 PM) To: Merlin. From: Lance
what's the story with the girl in the blue?
(9:43 PM) To: Lance. From: Merlin
gwen? single… she and arthur had a thing some time ago
(9:44 PM) To: Merlin. From: Lance
but it's over now??
(9:45 PM) To: Lance. From: Merlin
yeah i think. 'just friends', they say
(9:46 PM) To: Merlin. From: Lance
so do i have a shot?
(9:47 PM) To: Lance. From: Merlin
with the way she's making googly eyes, i'd say yes.
(10:21 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
lance has a crush. on gwen. i told him to go for it… is that okay?
(10:22 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
Why wouldn't it be?
(10:24 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
idk if you were still pining i wouldn't want to set her up with one of my friends…
(10:25 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
i don't pine! and i've told you, i'm over it. we just didn't work out.
(10:28 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
are you sure though?
(10:30 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
don't make me come to the bar and hit you in front of all those people
(10:31 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
where are you anyways? the dance floor is disaster free, so i know you're not there.
(10:34 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
in a back booth, stuck with morgana and some scary blonde she's just met. don't want to leave them alone in case the blonde tries anything funny.
(10:35 PM) To: Arthur. From: Merlin
what a compassionate brother you are. i worry about your fragile soul
(10:36 PM) To: Merlin. From: Arthur
i hope you puke everywhere tonight
(10:37 PM) To: Merlin. From: Morgana
are you and arthur seriously texting from across the room? stop being so co-dependent and get laid or something
Chapter 7: part 7
There were some things Arthur never said.
Arthur never said that he blamed himself for his mothers death, because it was a selfish and childish thing to do. Arthur never said he loved his father, because he wished against every fibre of his being that one day he wouldn't. Arthur never said the death of his sister had torn him in two, because he thought if he ignored the pain it would no longer be. And Arthur never said that he was in love with Merlin, because he knew that it would be his downfall.
They met the first time on the patio of the hotel where Arthur's father was throwing his annual New Years party. (Though sometimes Arthur finds it hard to believe that was the first time, because how could his life have started so late?) Arthur took refuge in the smokers, enjoyed the chemicals clouding the air and his lungs, with each drag easing the tension in his shoulders; until there was naught left but the filter, which he studied for a moment before flicking it over the railing and watching it fall through the cold air. Smoking tastes a bit like death, he decided.
He'd remember later how the city below, flickering with promises of life on which it never truly delivered, had paled in comparison to the crisp figure of Merlin leaning over the railing; his suit tailored to perfection, his skin- almost as white as the snow blanketing the city- contrasted against the darkness of the material. He'd remember watching Merlin until he straightened up, squinting out over the city and plucking the cigarette from behind his ear to place it between his pink lips. He'd patted his pockets before sliding his gaze over to Arthur.
"Got a light?" He asked.
(Arthur thinks later about the injustice those three little words did to his life. Wonders how differently it could have gone if he'd been standing three feet further away, if Merlin had asked someone else, never spoken to him at all.)
He found out the next day that the man he'd lent his lighter to was Merlin Emrys, who was apprenticed to his fathers oldest friend. The sight of Merlin silhouetted against the city would linger in his mind longer than he'd care to admit.
Arthur never said he hated himself, because then he'd have to stop ignoring his slow self destruction.
He remembers his twentieth birthday. The day his father shepherded him into the family company, the day he gave up any dream of separating from the clinically formal and cold life that business inspires. He remembers his sister standing over him long after everyone else had gone, one hand wrapped around a glass of gin and the other on his shoulder. "You're allowed to be happy, Arthur," she'd said. "Remember that, for me."
He remembers attending her funeral three weeks later, cursing her love as he watched her body lowered into the ground. It hadn't been enough.
They met the second time the day after Arthur's twenty-sixth birthday. The brisk frigidity of January had shifted and settled, the snowy streets turning into swamps of slush and the cutting winds dying down to biting breezes as the year made its natural progress into February and then March, declaring another year gone for Arthur Pendragon.
He was rigid in the uncomfortable chair that had sat ominously in front of his fathers home office desk for as long as he could remember, silently counting back from one thousand while he waited for his father to finish the regular spiel. Uther's grand finale ("Another year has gone by, Arthur. You're getting closer to taking over this company and I still don't see any evidence that you're ready.") was interrupted by a soft rap on the door. A moment later, Uther's doctor and only friend appeared on the threshold.
Uther excused himself, polite (militant, businesslike, stone cold) as always, and Arthur was alone. He considered the desk before him, admiring his fathers legacy, before letting himself out of the office and into the cold corridor beyond. He hadn't lived in the mansion for years, but the impersonal halls- full of grand portraits and beautiful art pieces but not a single picture of Arthur, his sister, or his mother- still irked a small irritability in his chest.
Chapter 8: part 8
King Arthur Pendragon dies at Camlann. Legends will tell of this, will tell of his nobility and greatness; the golden age of his ruling. What legends will never mention, however, is the sorcerer who died that same night. History will twist and contort the stories of this man; will tell of his wisdom and power, but never of his final fight standing by his Kings side. Never of the devastation and agony that comprised his last night. Never of the devotion he harboured for the King, his lifetime of loyalty. Merlin's love and loss are things history forgets. And history moves on.
The time of legends ends. The world keeps turning, society advances, the human race advances, and even the contorted stories of Merlin and his King become nothing more than treasured tales. No more real than aliens or the monsters under a child's bed. The only true accounts of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin Emrys being the times, distributed along the continuation of history, that the story is repeated. Never as remarkable as the first, and always forgotten.
Chapter 9: part 9
Arthur looks up from the file open on his desk to the gentleman opposite him, smiling politely. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Emrys."
The man laughed. "Merlin, please. Call me Merlin."
Arthur glanced down at the file to double check what he already knew- the man's name was Simon Francis Emrys, no mention of 'Merlin' anywhere- and pursed his lips ever so slightly.
"Alright," he said tactfully, "Merlin it is."
The man- Merlin- laughed again, a good-natured sound. "Don't look so worried. I'm not that crazy, I don't legitimately think I'm a wizard or a sorcerer or what-have-you. It's just a nickname."
Arthur breathed a reassured breath and smiled again, fractionally more sincere. "That's a relief," he confided. "May I ask where you picked it up?"
"When I was younger, I had a friend who was convinced I could control the weather. I wouldn't let him name me Houdini, so Merlin it was. I guess it just stuck. No one calls me Simon anymore, not even my mum."
Arthur chuckled. "Sounds like an interesting character, this friend."
Merlin's expression slipped for just a second, bringing the light-hearted feel of the conversation to a close. "He died a few years back," he said neutrally.
Arthur inclined his head respectfully. "I'm sorry to hear that. What can I do for you, Merlin?"
"Well I'm pretty sure the full story is in my file, but in short: I'm requesting a transfer. To Avalon. Obviously."
Arthur nodded slowly and looked back down at Merlin's file. The full detailed request was indeed all there. He skimmed it briefly then looked back up at Merlin, shutting the folder. "Okay. I've seen your full request and diagnosis, of course, but I'd like to hear it in your own words."
Merlin nodded reasonably. "Well," he started, furrowing his brow slightly, "Isle of the Blessed isn't really… I guess I'd say it's not working. Doctor Nimueh is great, I just feel like nothing's helping, and I-" he faltered, looking away from Arthur's face. "I've tried everything."
Arthur absorbed the exhaustion he felt Merlin exuding with the last word and his eyes flicked down to the mans arms. The exposed skin there was covered in varying degrees of cuts and scars, disappearing underneath the fabric of his sleeves- some almost completely faded, and some looking as fresh as a few days old. A tug of pity cinched his stomach, as it always did, and he professionally ignored it. "I understand," he told Merlin, "and as far as I can see, your transfer should go through smoothly. I can't give you a definite answer until Monday, but I can honestly say that the odds are: you're in."
Merlin smiled again and something else cinched Arthur's stomach. "Thanks," he said sincerely.
"So if all goes to plan, I should see you back here on Tuesday," Arthur stood as he spoke, leading Merlin to the door.
"Hopefully I'll see you Tuesday, then." Merlin paused in the doorframe and glanced back, looking for the first time a little nervous. "Thank you. Really, Doctor Pendragon."
Arthur smiled. "Please, call me Arthur."
Merlin's returning smile flashed bright, and then he was gone.
Merlin was shown to his room by a man with a tag that read only "Leon". After Leon had unlocked the door, he stopped in the doorway and smiled.
"It's after lunch, so you've missed it," he said. "If you're hungry, come find me or a man called Kay and we'll get you something. Doctor Pendragon is in on Wednesdays and Fridays, so you'll generally have your appointments then, unless you make additional plans. The orderlies switch out every week, Kay and I are here until Sunday. Group isn't mandatory, but it's every night at seven. I'd recommend it, it's a pleasant way to get to know your colleagues-"
"You mean fellow lunatics?" Merlin asked.
The corners of Leon's mouth quirked upwards, but he continued. "Wake up call is at eight. Breakfast at eight forty, meds- if you have them- at ten. Early lunch and dinner, doors close at eleven pm, and on Sundays we have fish. Oh, and a Mass in the Group room, if you're interested." He stopped and Merlin saw him bite the inside of his cheek as though he were trying to remember something. After a moment, he did, and his eyes went to Merlin's arms guiltily. "And- we've relieved you of any razors, knives, switchblades, etcetera. If you shave, you'll need a supervisor there… sorry."
Merlin smiled and nodded. When Leon had gone, he dropped his single suitcase on the floor and collapsed onto the bed to stare up at the starch white ceiling.
Merlin glanced up from the applesauce Kay had fetched for him and found himself looking into the kind face of a woman around his own age.
"Merlin," he replied. She gaped and he sighed. "It's just a nickname," he clarified. "I don't think I'm a warlock."
Gwen's kind face broke into a kinder smile. "That's a relief," she shared their doctors sentiment then lowered her voice. "Although you wouldn't be the first."
Merlin laughed and gestured to the seat opposite him. "Please, sit."
She smiled wider and did as she was summoned, folding her hands on the tabletop elegantly. "So, Merlin," she said, "where'd you get the name?"
"Childhood friend," Merlin explained habitually. "Thought I could control the weather."
Gwen arched an eyebrow playfully. "And can you?"
"Well, don't tell anyone I told you this, but…"
She laughed, her fingers loosening and her forearms relaxing. Merlin said nothing, and after a moment she fell silent again. She studied him for a moment. "How did he die?" She asked abruptly.
It was Merlin's turn to gape. "How'd you-"
"People in here have a way of just knowing things, Merlin," it sounded almost like a warning. "Eventually you'll get used to it." When Merlin remained silent, she bit her lip awkwardly. "I don't mean to say that I think you'll be here long," she hastened to add. "In fact, I hope you're here for no time at all-"
He cut her off before she could continue. "It's alright," he told her. "I hope they fix me and send me on my way within the week, too." When she smiled tentatively- seeming to have lost all her bluster in her small outburst- he said, "It was an accident, he slipped on some ice and hit his head three years back. I was eighteen."
"My dad died about the same time," she offered sympathetically. "Stabbed in the market."
They lapsed into silence and Merlin spooned a few more bites of his applesauce into his mouth. After a few minutes, Gwen said, "You called him a childhood friend, instead of a friend, but you were close enough that you let him rename you which means you likely didn't just lose touch over time, and if you'd had a falling out you probably wouldn't still go by Merlin. Also, when you spoke about him you looked away like you were trying to remember something, maybe his face, and your voice got softer which means you loved him and that talking about him makes you sad. I figured he was either a good friend who passed away or a boyfriend you broke up with. And considering you still introduced yourself as Merlin, a break up didn't seem to fit. That's how I knew."
Merlin stared at her, spoon half way to his mouth.
"You think that's impressive, wait until you meet Morgana. She's scary."
Merlin didn't go to Group that night. He lied on his bed, listening to the silence in the air and concentrating on keeping his breathing even.
"How'd you settle in, Merlin?" Arthur sat at his desk, once more peering over it at Merlin with his file open between them.
Merlin shrugged. "Pretty well. Haven't run unto trouble yet."
Arthur nodded, jotting something down in Merlin's file. "So your first night passed without incident?" He asked tactfully.
The corner of Merlin's lips twitched with the ghost of a smile. "No attacks thus far," he answered.
After jotting something else down, Arthur tipped the filed shut, as he had on their first meeting, and met Merlin's gaze. "Tell me about the attacks."
Merlin looked taken aback at the doctors direct approach, but after a second his features smoothened out and he spoke. "Well," he said, not looking away from Arthur's face, "they usually happen at night, and they last all night. Some times are worse than other, and so far I've never managed to stop one. The only way to make it through is to get as distracted as possible. Its like hell burning inside my head for hours. Until the sun rises, and then sometimes for a little while after that."
Arthur's gaze remained steady and intent on Merlin. "And do you believe that we can stop them? Together?"
Merlin paused and looked thoughtful, his brow creasing at the off-routine question. "I hope so," he said finally. "I don't know what I'll do if we can't."