Every day Merlin goes out. He searches, through ancient tomes filled with scrolls, through libraries that have hidden texts of magic, through museums where he has access to the writings of the Old Religion. Every day Merlin reads and reads, looking for anything that might be an answer.
By his shoulder, the see-through forms of Nimueh and Kilgharrah (who shrinks in size to accommodate space when necessary) look on with varying degrees of pity and sadness. They assist him in his quest but as usual, none of them can find anything.
Every day... it goes on, until Merlin forgets to sleep and eat. Nimueh has stopped her sneers, it’s no longer of any entertainment to tease her (favourite) warlock. She subtly tricks him into eating every once in a while or retreats to her own corner of the mansion.
Kilgharrah on the other hand is always with Merlin, there to be yelled that or to be consoled in. The dragon is witness to every tear Merlin sheds over his cold king and every time he sees it, the great creature sends a prayer to the gods.
Please let him find the answer. Please let him be with his other half again.
It’s no longer about destiny anymore. It is having to watch one of his precious kin suffer as time drags on and the dragon can watch no longer.
“I wouldn’t have thought that your king could be so foolish in this life,” Nimueh sneers in the aftermath of Arthur drinking the potion. “Surely he has seen that there is always a price in the balance of magic? A life for a life... or in this case...”
“...Shut up...” Merlin has his head hung low.
“No,” Nimueh snaps, “I won’t have you despairing again and playing the martyr, Merlin. He paid the price and this is the consequence—”
“Don’t blame Arthur!” The warlock’s eyes shine fiercely. “It was my fault. I should have told him what happened the first time. I should have explained further rather than just warn him with vague details—”
“It should have been apparent from your demeanour,” the sorceress argues. “He should have trusted your word. When have you ever led him wrong? If he had just listened—”
“Well he didn’t!” The castle ruins are trembling. Waves of golden hues are poring over the broken walls, surrounding Merlin in a protective cushion. He is blazing in heavenly light, by his motionless (forever cold) king.
She actually hesitates, “...Merlin...”
“Nimueh,” Kilgharrah lands beside her, in his true size. “Please leave. I will speak with him.”
In that unspoken glance, it appears that she might argue. But she nods and disappears for the time being.
Merlin looks up at Kilgharrah, tears running down his face.
“I should have been there for him,” he whispers, hugging the frozen form of his lover. Arthur’s eyes are closed, as if he is sleeping but they all know that it is too late once again.
The dragon doesn’t try to placate him or argue. He neither agrees nor disagrees.
He only leans his head low so that it touches Merlin’s forehead and the warlock throws his arms around the dragon’s neck and cried.
Kilgharrah wraps his wings around them both and wishes, not for the last time since he met Merlin, that fate wasn’t such a cruel master.
“...I’m sorry I couldn’t find anything new to help you, Sire,” Merlin whispers at night, when they are alone, when Kilgharrah and Nimueh retreat to the isle of the blessed as they do when he’s supposed to be sleeping.
Arthur never answers. Merlin has stopped expecting him to, instead touching Arthur’s icy skin, the crown of his head with his fingers and staring at his emotionless features.
It’s different from the first time Arthur was turned immortal.
And somehow, it’s worse.
Merlin sleeps by Arthur’s feet, shivering in the cold.
“What have you done?!” Merlin had demanded of the sorcerer who had given Arthur the potion.
The sorcerer laughs, hysterical, as if it is all a prank that has gone delightfully well. “His highness asked for immortal life so I gave it to him!”
“This isn’t immorality!” He recalls screaming. “It’s a curse, a spell, transmutation, not—”
“But isn’t it?” The demented man had choked out. “Art is immortal. It lives forever, transcends all time. King Arthur of Albion, lives forever as the greatest masterpiece of mankind. He never asked for vitality, only to be with you always. And now he will be... always.”
Merlin doesn’t remember what happened to the man. He suspects Nimueh had done something to him, judging from the vindictive look in her eyes when Merlin tries to bring up the subject later.
At the time he is too busy, trying to shake some sense into the (still) shoulders of his other half. But they don’t move. They are stiff, cold stone.
His Arthur is a statue, frozen as he reaches out to Merlin in horror.
“...Why...?” Merlin sobs, as he kisses his king’s (forever) cold lips. “Why did you have to ask for eternal life?” He knows the answer, and hates himself all the same.
He is on his knees, arms wrapped around his king’s torso, leaving tear streaks on the marble.
“...There must be a way to restore his mortality again...” He whispers after hours of taking refuge in Kilgharrah’s comforting presence.
The dragon’s eyes are stern.
“Merlin... though I know more than any being on this planet how essential the once and future king is for the balance of the world, this time, I fear that the price may be too great for you to pay. Arthur dabbled in ancient magic greater than even Nimueh or I even know.”
He shakes his head.
“You don’t understand.”
Merlin stares at the statue that is Arthur, petrified in time, yet immortal as an artwork.
“I need him, Kilgharrah, more than I need air. And without him... I can’t do this anymore.”