Title: Red Sky, Blue Sky
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: When Arthur arrives at the heart of the Druid camp, there are only faint echoes of a lament he cannot hear.
Warnings: kinda apocalyptic?
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: First time doing a drabble, it was suuper fun. A bunch of thanks to Katie for looking over this and being awesome! <3
Music can still be heard from the ceremony behind Arthur. The hymns fade with each step, becoming increasingly melancholic and haunting. When Arthur arrives at the heart of the Druid camp, there are only faint echoes of a lament he cannot hear.
"Your Majesty," a woman says, greeting Arthur outside the entrance. Blue paint streaks her face. She’s Marked and Arthur has seen her in the past, at the previous druidic leader’s side. "I am Hunith. We are most honored to be graced with your presence, sire."
Arthur inclines his head regally. "It is my pleasure," he says, and it's supposed to be true. The Harvest is for the kingdom. For his pleasure, now that he's king.
Whatever honor the Druids retained after the subjugation is illusory, serving as a noose. The pride that goeth after the Fall has trapped them, because it's the only thing they can pretend to have.
(The Druids don't have a monopoly on play pretend. They aren’t the only ones who lost the war.)
Hunith’s gaze is sad and resigned. She's old enough to remember days from Before—young enough to have a son who doesn't. Arthur allows her a moment, letting her offer the bowl of paint instead of taking it straight away. Camelot’s taken enough. He can spare this.
Hunith reaches for the purple drapes. The ceremony has ended: now comes the feast.
There stands a young man, flocked by a few others who scamper out. He and Hunith exchange a look before Arthur enters.
They've adorned him with a once abundant berry that the earth now scarcely provides. Soft linen wraps around his hips. His antlers have grown longer with age, protruding from his crown, from nature, not gold. But his crown is also inherited, and just as heavy and pointless.
The air is heated in here. Arthur meets brilliant, piercing blue eyes. Blue hurts to see—a reminder of the Sky That Was. The sky that isn’t bleeding red. The sky Arthur’s never seen before. The other man stares back, unafraid. Arthur’s heart aches, but that’s impossible, for kings mustn’t rule with the heart, nor let the heart rule them.
“Aren’t you going to kneel?” Arthur asks, not about to admit how frustrating (impressive) it is that this man has learned to make silence sound defiant instead of compliant.
He tilts his head, pink dusting his cheeks, jaw locking. The warm gold of the candlelight is sharp, cut by his cheekbones, his eyes flashing gold, a trick of the light. Arthur swallows. The motion would look like shame on anybody else, but on him, it looks like an attempt to suppress fury. Arthur doesn’t think he’s trying very hard. “Of course a Pendragon expects others to kneel.”
“You don't speak to me that way, Emrys,” Arthur snaps warningly, hit with the sudden image of Merlin on his knees, gasping and wrecked. It’s what the rest of the world—well, what is left of it—expects anyway.
Arthur could do it. He could.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Merlin takes a step forward instead of away at the sound of his new title. “Am I wrong?”
Why shouldn’t he?
“You forget your role in the Harvest.”
“No. You forget yours,” Merlin retorts. “The Harvest used to be ours. We celebrated life. Now it's for kings who want to play god. Look where that brought us all—death of the world. And what magic is left is used for such perversities. Are you really just like your father, Arthur?”
Arthur blinks, pushing the bowl forward. Drops splatter onto Merlin’s bare chest. “As you said—I am a Pendragon. We’ll carry out the ritual to bind you to me. Or do you dare risk the lives of all your people?”
“Is that a threat?” Merlin asks softly, dangerously, fingertips lightly dancing on Arthur’s arm.
Arthur inhales sharply. “No. It’s the truth.”
“Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s right.” He peers at him searchingly. “You were kinder, last we met.”
“Last we met, I wasn’t king.”
There’s a pause before Merlin laughs darkly. “Yes, you’re right,” he mutters. “I was wrong. I thought maybe you’d—change things.”
“Nothing can be changed. It’s too late. It’s already over,” Arthur says, voice rough, ignoring the part of him that protests this isn’t how it should go. He dips his fingers into the paint and begins to make his Mark, drawing over Merlin’s smooth skin slowly.
Merlin holds onto him tightly but doesn’t push away. If anything, it’s as if he’s letting him be here (nobody lets the king). His fingers curl tightly around Arthur’s other arm. They weren’t friends back then, they couldn’t be, and they definitely won’t be now.
“There is Before the Fall,” Arthur says quietly, “but there is no After. There’s only the Fall because the Fall is the end, Merlin.”
Merlin’s gaze sears. “I refuse to believe that.”
“Idiot,” Arthur sighs. He runs his fingers over the antlers. They are smooth, sharp at the end. Merlin tenses, jerking slightly and licking his lips. Arthur’s eyes follow the movement. “Then what do you believe?”
Merlin says nothing and too much at once, just continues to stare at Arthur. That intimacy is unbearable, too hot in this cold world, he needs Merlin to stop, he can’t allow such a cruel, doomed beginning. But why does any of it matter? He’s so mad, they’re all mad in this damned world the sun has forsaken.
He crushes his lips onto Merlin’s, tasting sweet berries and illusions. Merlin opens his mouth, managing to make the kiss defiant, manages to make pretend-gods bleed. He kisses hungrily, painfully honest, and Arthur falls into the blueness of the skies, dizzying like he’s been enchanted.
After, Merlin whispers in Arthur’s ears. “If it’s already over, Arthur...” He’s too close for Arthur to avoid, his words echoing in his mind. Perhaps it’s hope that makes Merlin sound so wrecked, but hope’s something Arthur doesn’t recognize. “Then all we need to do is begin again.”