There were way too many pieces of the plan. There was too much that could go wrong, and honestly, it felt like Merlin was punishing him. What was Mordred even supposed to do with an amnesiac warlock, anyways? Why did he suddenly have to have to bear two burdens? The more he thought about it, the more Mordred wished he’d never met Merlin again.
In another reality, he just went to Europe, without any weird guilt looming over him. He went to Europe, slept around and played tourist before going back home. And in that other world, he went home alone, not with a thousand year old warlock. He’d get to live out the rest of his life, a little sad and a little guilty, but alone. He’d never have to see Arthur again, and maybe the memories would have started to feel like dreams.
Instead, he found himself chasing after Merlin through his childhood neighborhood. After they left his house (after they’d robbed his family of their memories and lives as they knew it), Merlin muttered something about needing to go somewhere secluded. He was running before Mordred could even begin to ask why. Protesting, he ran after Merlin, heaving harder and harder as they got further away from the town.
They ended up in a yellowing field of grasses just outside of town. Mordred had slowed to a walk, his lungs searing with pain and bile working its way up his throat. They must have run at least two miles, maybe more. Merlin was still running, his pace constant, and Mordred knew that he couldn’t possibly have this much energy.
They way Merlin described it to Mordred when they met in the UK was that his body was still bound by all physical sensations, he just couldn’t die from them. That meant he still felt hunger, even if he no longer ate. He was still affected by his criminal lack of sleep. But what it really meant, to Mordred’s horror, is that he knew what it felt like to die. He had felt himself drowning, bleeding out, and burning every time he came close to death.
Mordred looked up from the ground, where he had collapsed after his chest decided he couldn’t go on. He watched,in slow motion, as Merlin’s ankle twisted underneath him, and sent the warlock tumbling down. He heard the snap of a bone, and watched Merlin fall, but heard no shout of pain. He forced himself to get up move towards Merlin, no matter how much body protested.
The ankle was limp, and swollen, but Merlin only smiled. Maddening, really, was the only description for this, as Merlin peered up at him, grinning from ear to ear.
“You wanna see something cool?” Merlin said, as though he were speaking to a child, then put his hands on either side of the ankle. Mordred’s stomach flipped with the realization of what was happening to him right now.
“No,don’t-“ Mordred was interrupted by the crack of the bones sliding back into place. He suddenly felt nauseous. But Merlin stood up, still beaming like a madman.
“What? I thought you’d find it cool.” Merlin said, brushing his hands off on his jeans, like he hadn’t just broken and realigned a bone. He then muttered an afterthought, “ Kids used to be impressed by that…”
“I’m really not a kid…” Mordred knew instantly that the was the most child-like response he could have to being called a “kid,” but that didn’t really matter anymore. Not now that Merlin’s eyes had gone gold, doing magic in front of Mordred for the first time in this life. It should’ve been comforting to Mordred, but it was more painful than anything. He was viciously reminded of how empty and disjointed he felt, without magic. He wondered if Merlin ever thought he was lucky, to have so much power and be so intrinsically connected to the Earth. The real reason behind Mordred’s emptiness wasn’t exactly the lack of magic. It was more the knowledge that his culture was long dead, and he had nothing to tie himself to it anymore. There were no druids in the twenty-first century, all of Mordred’s kin were dead. In fact, it was worse than that. The term “druid” was now a figment of fantasy, merely a Dungeons and Dragons character. The disconnect between his upbringings and cultures in the past and in this life hurt his head. It made his identity on both sides feel half-formed and invalid.
Merlin was the only real link to his culture anymore, despite not being a druid himself. Merlin was at least a pillar of the folklore he was raised on, and there was some comfort in that. But at the same time, Merlin had lost his sanity and frankly, terrified Mordred. He had just witnessed the man react to a broken bone like paper cut.
A massive suitcase, covered in stickers and with ancient buckles appeared in Merlin’s hand. Merlin looked at him expectantly as he set the suitcase down, crouching down beside it and motioning for Mordred to join him. He then popped open the suitcase to reveal a set of wrought-iron stairs. And as if this couldn’t get any weirder, they started to descend into the case.
“This is everything I own, everything I’ve collected in my life.” Merlin said as they reached the end of the long staircase. In the small room was a Victorian loveseat, surrounded by shelves full of books and knick-knacks. The wallpaper was simply hundreds, maybe thousands, of postcards pasted onto the walls. “ It’s got all of my clothes and journals,” Merlin motioned to a china cabinet, full of leather-bound notebooks, “The journals document everything that’s happened to me, so you can consult them when the magic starts manifesting when I forget. There’s only a couple more things to do before I do the spell, but that’s the most important one. I had a magician in Belgium upload the journals to a magical database in the cabinet. All you have to do is say ‘search, keyword,’ and whatever you’re looking for.” Mordred swallowed, gripped with fear at the thought of reading Merlin’s first-hand accounts of his life.
“Alright, next order of business-cut my hair.” Merlin sat down on a stool that Mordred could swear wasn’t there a minute ago and handed him a pair of shiny, metal scissors.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Cut my hair. It’s too long to deal with and I want you to cut it.” Merlin insisted. But Mordred was absolutely dumbfounded. Surely, the most powerful warlock of all time could cut his own hair, or simply use magic. It didn’t make sense, but he found himself doing it anyways. This is how everything concerning Merlin seemed to work.
He gathered the hair into one hand, and shakily raised the scissors towards it. He tried his best to cut it evenly, but when he made the cut, his hands were shaking too much for it. There was something terrifyingly intimate about someone’s hair. The hair now fell to Merlin’s shoulders, kind of lopsided. It looked terrible and Mordred felt guilty, even though he knew Merlin wouldn’t care about how it looked anyways.
“I wonder what it’s going to feel like, going into all of this blind again.” Merlin’s voice was soft as Mordred raised the scissors again, determined to do clean cut.
“What d’ya mean?”
“I don’t know how I’m going to make sense of all the physical sensations. The way time feels.” Mordred tentatively placed a hand on the side of Merlin’s face, to steady himself as he cut along Merlin’s jawline. “I can feel you aging, you know. Your hair getting longer, skin getting looser, vision getting worse. I can feel it. I don’t know what that’s going to feel like without context.”
Mordred felt small. He felt so incredibly insignificant standing in Merlin’s enchanted suitcase, cutting an old friend’s hair. The hair fell to the floor, dark against the beige carpeting. If he looked closely, he swore he could see the hair curling, almost writhing like a fish out of water. That was the thing about Merlin, Mordred decided. Even in Camelot, Merlin had a way of making him feel powerless against everything. Merlin had the power to stop, probably even to reverse time, but he didn’t. He let things happen, even when trying to change them, he never manipulated the natural order of things. Merlin was a force of nature, Mordred decided, watching the warlock tilt his head at his own reflection. Merlin was probably never human, even when he was born.
When they resurfaced in the field, the air was thick with tension. It was time to see how well their plan could work. Within the next five minutes, his entire future would change. Merlin handed him a baseball bat. Mordred looked down at the bat, and then back up at Merlin, who was grinning again. Only, he looked a little more sane without the waist-length hair. He looked more polished now, a little bit less like a cryptid.
“Alright, so you’re gonna hit me on the head.”
“I’m sorry, I’m going to what?”
“Hit me in the head. When I get to the hospital, I’m gonna have head trauma. So hit me in the head.” Merlin looked slightly exasperated, as though they’d gone over this particular detail a hundred times. They most certainly hadn’t talked about it all.
“If it makes you feel better about it, think about how much I hated you when you were a knight. How hard I tried to get Arthur to hate you, how I told Arthur that there was no place for magic in Camelot with you in mind, how I-” Mordred hit him, and a deafening crack rang out across the empty field. He heard Merlin mutter a string of words, achingly familiar in the sound, and his eyes flashed gold. Merlin fell to the ground and Mordred took in a deep breath, bracing himself.