Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin, Arthur/Gwen
Character/s: Merlin, Gwen
Summary: Life without Arthur was no life at all. This was barely existing.
Warnings: character death, mourning, grief, angst, open relationship.
Word Count: 863
Prompt: #285: angst month-sorrow
Author's Notes: So, this happened.
Dawn brought the inevitable sting of reality with it. Silence, hollowness, the distant murmurs of the world still turning. Merlin opened his eyes, stared at the ceiling, unmoving. These days he went from sleeping the day away to not sleeping at all.
The days blended together, and time-- time didn't heal but reminded him of friends, loyalty, love gone. Of his empty hands. The cold in his bones.
The frailty of life.
He closed his eyes burrowing under the quilt, hoping oblivion would take him far away.
He was still numb.
Merlin's steps faltered, his lungs failed. Camelot was different, on every corner he found a cold reminder of the past.
He walked through halls and towers and bed chambers, rooms full of secrets, spaces overflowing with memories. Now bare empty spots where their bodies once met and crashed together, where mouths loved and traced hot flesh drawing new roads and questing fingers burned promises, every kiss a benediction. Conquering and yielding.
In a secluded tower he saw two figures, hiding, laughing, pushing and pulling. Their voices loving and fighting and forgiving.
He's been cut open and everyone's able to get a glimpse of his insides, all the hurt and guilt and denial. All the love with no place to be laid. He loves alone.
"I don't know how to let go," he said to Gaius one night. A dull throb settled on his chest.
Gaius looked at him with the same sadness Leon showed him, trying to convey in silence what they don't know how to say aloud. "My dear boy, one day it'll pass."
Merlin shook his head, thought no, no. He could live a hundred lives and every part of him would still ache for Arthur.
He was drowning.
Life stopped making sense.
Merlin was sitting on a staircase, ensconced in the shadows, alone with his thoughts and Arthur's ghost when the sound of echoing footsteps had him wiping furiously at his eyes. He straightened his back, took a deep fortifying breath.
It was Gwen.
He swallowed. It was like he was seeing her for the first time, Solitude was his only companion nowadays. She must have been falling apart all this time too.
Silently, she made her way up and sat down next to him, her dress grazed the floor. Their arms touched. "I was looking for you," she said, her voice almost too soft and frayed at the edges.
He turned his head. In Gwen's eyes he saw reflected everything he felt: the anguish of loneliness. A deep pain struck him again. His loss anew. Fresh like a bleeding wound. Merlin stared at the floor, couldn't face her. "Why?"
She took his hand in hers. "Because I thought-- I believe that out of everyone here you're the only one who understands how it feels to wake up and realize you won't see him again." Gwen's voice cracked. She shook her head, new tears leaving a trail down her cheeks. "How much it hurts to know you won't have a conversation ever again, that you won't touch him and he won't smile at you making you feel you're the only one in the room."
A sob was stuck between his ribs. Merlin knew what she meant. Arthur had a way of making you feel like you mattered, because you mattered to him. Because he had chosen to give a part of himself to you.
The abrupt finality of Arthur being gone hit him all over again.
He squeezed her hand, a small gesture of comfort. Gwen was hurting and he was lost.
"Sometimes, I think you should hate me," he said, voice rough from lack of use.
"Why? Because he loved you too?"
Merlin nodded. Despite their quiet understanding guilt could eat away at him. Now more than ever because he couldn't do a thing to save Arthur.
"It wasn't your fault. Not him-- dying," Gwen's voice trembled on the word, "or him loving you. Both were destiny. I understood. I was glad he had you," she said. The sincerity in her voice amazed and warmed him.
"He was right. There's no one who deserves the crown more than you. My Queen."
Gwen gave him a melancholic smile. "You know, I have cried and cursed life for taking him away so soon. I've never felt anger like it," she said fixing her gaze on him. He inclined his head, showing he'd felt its darkness. She inhaled before she continued, "I couldn't sleep the first week because the bed still smelled like him and then because I was afraid it wouldn't anymore. But, I'm trying. For him. Always for him."
"I've dreamt every night of the first time we met," he said, seeing Arthur, arrogant, proud, golden behind his eyelids.
Something that was not quite a laugh came out of Gwen's mouth, it was strained as if she'd pushed the sound with great effort and it pained her. "How can we forget your time in the stocks?"
He bumped their shoulders. It felt easy, effortless. Something dislodged from his chest. They traded stories, shared moments with Arthur, and between them the void was filled if only for an afternoon. And maybe they needed each other, their memories kept Arthur alive. It didn't stop hurting, laughter gave way to pain, and their tears tasted bittersweet, but they were holding on. Trying not to fall apart.
"Long live the King?" Gwen asked with her head on Merlin's shoulder, their arms wrapped around each other. Holding on. For him. Always for him.
"Long live the King," Merlin agreed.