He doesn’t know how long he’s been here now. Could be days, weeks. It’s difficult to know how much time has passed when there barely any light and nothing to fill his days, save cold and black and pain.
He has no magic here. It’s as if someone has placed their hand on his throat and squeezed out everything that makes him unique. He’s just as vulnerable as if he had never been born with the legacy of the old religion in his veins.
He isn’t Emrys here, just Merlin, and Merlin can only feel pain. Can only whimper when the black sap of the Mandrake root drips on his face: sticky, cold, thick like tar.
“I’m so sorry for this,” Morgana had said to him. “truly I am, Merlin. I want to help you if you’ll let me.”
He had laughed. But now he almost believes her. She’s known pain like this; known madness and nothing but dark. He almost wants to give in, just so he can tell her he understands, cry on her shoulder.
But then he thinks of Arthur and he remembers why he can’t.
Merlin’s lips are chapped and split. His mouth’s so dry that he’s sure he’d do anything for a cup of water. Morgana had brought him some the first day, but he’d spat it on her boots and said he’d rather die of thirst.
“So brave, so stupid,” she had said to him. “Does Arthur have any idea how loyal you are, Merlin? Do you think he’d do this for you?”
He doesn’t feel very brave now. He squats behind a pillar and tries to hide; sits on the ground with his knees pulled up and his eyes closed. If they’re closed he can’t see them: Nimueh, Agravaine, Borden. But when he opens them again, just for a second, Will is right in front of him: his wounds seeping black.
“Why couldn’t you save me?” he asks, his eyes harsh and unforgiving. “It’s so dark here, Merlin, always so dark.”
“I’m sorry, Will. I just couldn’t— I—” Merlin’s voice comes out cracked and raw and Will’s face turns white, glowing. He grabs Merlin, his hands clawing and desperate. His screams turn Merlin’s blood to ice.
Merlin drags himself away, his arse sliding along the filthy ground. His hand catches on something sharp and he flinches, but he doesn’t stop until he’s backed up against the wall. He starts to sob, breathless and pathetic.
“Shhhh.” There are hands on his face, stroking his cheekbones and Merlin can’t look, just clutches his head saying, “you’re not real,” over and over and hoping he’ll go away.
“Idiot. Of course I’m real.”
“Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”
Arthur laughs, his eyes crinkling and Merlin so wants to believe. If he could just reach out and touch— he stops himself, clutching his hands into fists.
“Merlin.” Arthur leans forward, whispers against Merlin’s mouth, “It’s all right now, I’m here.”
Merlin doesn’t say anything, doesn’t move, just whimpers when Arthur’s mouth brushes against his.
Arthur’s kisses are insistent, claiming, and Merlin doesn’t resist. He can’t.
“I know what you want,” Arthur says, in between kisses. “It’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?”
Merlin groans when Arthur’s deft fingers unlace his breeches and wrap around his cock. “Please,” he says, “please just—”
“Just this,” Arthur breathes against Merlin’s neck, “and then I’ll take you out of here.”
Merlin shuts his eyes. It’s easier to pretend that way.
Arthur’s hand is cool on his cock and Merlin just gives in, thrusts his hips forward and drives himself into Arthur’s fist, forward and back while Arthur whispers low and filthy about how beautiful Merlin is, how much Arthur’s wanted this, how long he’s wanted him.
When Merlin comes, he scrapes his fingernails across the ground, watching as they collect dirt and when he looks up to meet Arthur’s eyes they’re green.
“Oh Merlin,” Morgana says, her hand stroking his face, “my brother doesn’t deserve your love, you know. All you have to do is let me take care of you and all of this can stop.”
Merlin lifts his chin and grits his teeth, his hands shaking. “Never.”
“So be it.” Morgana stands, her skirts swirling about her. “Let’s see how long you last in here without my help, shall we? Oh and Merlin?”
Her eyes glow gold and her face changes back to Arthur, mouth upturned and eyes ice-blue. “Please do yourself up, would you? It’s obscene.”