The first time it happens, he kneels to the ground a second later, crushed with the weight of his despair. It’s stupid, really—who cries at the elusive memory of an exact shade of yellow? It’s only just a colour, and it’s everywhere, so knowing an exact shade is—redundant.
(Except, he used to be able look at any yellow—or maybe it was gold?—and compare it in his head; he’d never looked at sunflowers or gold necklaces or even strands of sunlight without thinking about—)
It’s stupid, really, but the first time it happens, a sort of numbing fear mixed with dread and guilt burrows its way into his belly and never really goes away.
Because it happens again, but this time with blue. It’s even more jarring because he’d resigned himself to forgetting, ever since—well. He’d dreaded it, of course, thought it would happen a little later (or maybe he’d just been denying his denial; pretending to accept something he would never forgive himself for), but expected it all the same.
(Except, he had spent so long looking at that blue, so long drowning in it, that he could never have imagined—)
It was only a colour, anyways. It really shouldn’t be so agonizing because the sky's still blue and so is the water and he knows it was close enough to one of those shades so, really, why should he care?
(Because it’s drought, this barren wasteland of a mind, and he thinks that if he were to get a choice, he’d prefer drowning over this.)
The thing about it is:
It never stops. Every day he wracks his brain looking for something else that has abandoned him, left him even more lonely than before, and every day there’s at least one thing that he finds. Or—doesn’t find. They’re small things; things he could only recognize because of how much time he’d committed to memorizing them; things he only realizes he’s missing when he begins to look for them, but suddenly they’re the world.
At first he thought that it had started with yellow—gold—whatever. But all the small details are stripped, now, so he wonders if maybe it was even before that.
It’s numbing; dreadful in a way that he can’t shake or distract himself from. It took so long to memorize the little things, and if all that work could be so easily undone, he fears how much longer he has until the rest of his memory—the large and obvious details that he catalogued again and again, every day, because of mere exposure—is gone, too.
He used to wish for this: to just forget. Surely, not remembering anything would mean not missing it but—he wonders how he could have been so foolish. Everything is slipping through his grasp, disintegrating right in front of him, and he wonders why losing something once isn’t enough.
Finally, the last to go are sounds; subtle lilts and the placement of emphasis. Shifts in tones, and how soft the softest ones could be; how unrelenting and cruel the worst ones could be. All of it—aloof orders and tender insults—everything but the concept, is gone. And how cruel is that? To have known something— someone— so intimately and so well, to have had them memorized at some point so thoroughly, and yet to forget them anyways.
To lose them again, and again, and again. To lose them with every fading memory.
He can’t remember their exact heights in relation to one another. He doesn’t remember if, when he looked into those blues, he had to look down very far, or if they were close enough in height for him to look straight.
He can’t remember whether, when they walked side by side, it was his left side that was occupied more, or his right. The white hot feeling of an arm brushing his, that once seeped into the depths of his bones, has poured out; there is nothing left but an empty, biting cold, and if he wasn’t so numb from all the loneliness, he wonders if he would shiver from it.
He knows that it was a crooked tooth smile that started it all—that burrowed in the furthest corner of his mind, became liquid fire in his veins, and reminded and assured him of everything brilliant and warm and good—but he cannot remember whether it was one tooth or all of them, and which side the tooth—or, teeth?—was on. There is knowledge, and then there is memory, and while Merlin knows that smile—knows about the memory of it, he cannot picture it anymore.
Sometimes, he wonders how all this could have happened. How a person could, at one point, be a solid presence, a consistent solace, only to later be reduced to this: a plethora of concepts that sting despite their faintness. A vague shape that’s slowly fading away into an intangible, hazy outline.
Other times, he wonders if maybe he could recognize—
—but he doesn’t let himself get any further, because he doesn’t think he can handle answering that question. He thinks he’s better off not knowing.
(Except he already does.)
It used to be:
Arthur, with huffed snorts, full body laughs, and everything in between. Some intentional, subtle signs of companionship; others either startled out of him in surprise, tired chuckles, or drunken giggles. Merlin used to be haunted by them, their echoes resonating all through his hollow bones and empty organs.
(He wonders why he ever thought being haunted was worse than being utterly alone. At least being haunted by Arthur’s laugh meant still having a small part of him; some proof that he was, at least at one point, alive and well and Merlin’s to know.)
Now, it is:
Silence. No memory of a sound that he was once so attuned to, no recollection of a sound that was once so dear and known. It is the need to scream in order to fill all this empty space; lash out and destroy whatever he gets his hands on, demand why—with every word and action and anyway else he knows (he thinks Arthur would’ve been proud).
And it is also:
Demand for recompense—
— insistence that he deserves that,—
—after everything he’s given and everything that’s been ripped away from him—
—Merlin deserves it.
But then—for one, excruciating, split second—he remembers cloudy blue eyes and pale, dry lips telling him, you can’t save my life and it’s too late and just hold me, and thinks that maybe this is what he deserves, after all.