Title: Shivers in the wind
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin had made a stupid mistake, trusting Arthur. Now there was no escape.
Warnings: suicidal thoughts, magic reveal
Word Count: 2000 (it really really got away from me)
Camelot_drabble Prompt: pt 342: cold
Author's Notes: This got a lot out of control, word-wise and I couldn't figure out how to break it up into smaller pieces. - There will be a part 2 at some point.
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
The ice-sharp fingers of winter seemed to be everywhere. Icicles hung like frozen swords from the rafters, and the snow blowing across the roof-tops was a cloud of cold fury, whirling down into the courtyard of the citadel and back up again, leaving frozen drifts in its wake.
It could have been beautiful, the way the snow glittered in the air like tiny diamonds every time the sun came out, the way the icicles shone, clear as glass, in the light.
But Merlin only saw a landscape fraught with danger, his despair was as cold as winter’s icy grip.
He’d been a fool to believe that Arthur would accept him. They’d been so close, joking as only they could, and he’d let it slip, wanted it to slip, that he had magic.
So fast, too fast, too soon, the sunlight between them disappeared into the frost of a winter’s storm. Arthur’s glare was as cold as ice. His voice, too, was bitter, shouting of deceit and retribution and how sorcerers deserved only death.
Merlin barely escaped. Luckily, Arthur had been half-dressed as they relaxed by the fire, his belt bare of daggers, his sword hanging out of reach. His face was open and laughter-bright, and in the next moment, Arthur was scrambling for any weapon to destroy what was between them.
Face wet with tears, Merlin could barely see where he was going. He ended up on the roof, running as far as he could from his king. He wanted to fly away and pretend that he hadn’t just made the biggest mistake of his life.
He knew he should flee, that if Arthur found him, his life would be forfeit. But the memory of Arthur’s winter-frost voice had been enough to sap Merlin’s strength. As he stood there next to the parapet’s edge, looking down into the snow-covered courtyard, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
In the end, Merlin knew that Arthur would find him no matter where he’d tried to hide. Escape was pretty much impossible. Arthur was the best tracker in the Five Kingdoms, and once he chose to pursue someone, he would never let them go. And even if Arthur hadn’t been so good at his job, the weather closed the pathways, the roads full of deep snow drifts and frozen rivers a natural barrier.
There was nowhere left to go.
So Merlin waited. Watched the snow blowing across the air, listened to the wind howling through the towers. Below, icicles rattled and fell, shattering on the stone, ice shards glittering in the light.
Behind him, a door opened and closed, and there was a crunch of ice under booted feet. Merlin didn’t turn around. It would kill him to see Arthur with that much hate in his eyes, and Merlin knew he was going to die anyway. Better to remember the good times before the end.
When Arthur didn’t speak, just stood behind him breathing hard, Merlin looked down over the edge. The wind had died and below, people were already out, going about their business, their clothes bright colours moving through the white. There was laughter, too, echoing up as children jumped into the snowdrifts, and threw snowballs at passersby.
It should have been beautiful. It should have made Merlin laugh and Arthur laugh with him for the sheer joy of it.
But all Merlin could do was wait for the sword thrust and hope it would be quick.
When it didn’t come, Merlin said, “Might as well get it over with. Wouldn’t want you to get sick. You know how easily you catch cold.”
“You are a sorcerer. You have magic.” Arthur’s voice was as flat and ice-laden as Merlin remembered.
“I think we established that already.” With a long sigh, Merlin turned around. The sun retreated back behind the clouds, and behind him, the joy below in the courtyard quieted. All Merlin could hear was the lament of the wind around him and hard snow spilling across the roof tiles. “When you tried to kill me.”
Arthur let out a snarl. “What did you expect? The law is the law.”
“Yes, well I was fool enough to think that we’d gotten past that, that we were friends.” Merlin shivered a little. He was tired and frozen to his very core and he just wanted it over. “I see I was wrong.”
Arthur stepped forward, sword tight in his hand. “A friend would never lie to me like that.”
Looking down at the sword he’d sharpened only this morning, Merlin could see that Arthur wanted to justify himself before the final thrust. But Merlin wasn’t willing to slake Arthur’s conscience or make things easier for him. In this one thing, Merlin wanted to be remembered, even if it was in hatred. If Arthur was going to execute him, let him acknowledge it at least, to know that it was his decision to kill Merlin and no-one else’s.
Merlin lifted his chin, looked into Arthur’s cold eyes. “Everyone lies, Arthur, even you.” Stepping away from the edge, closer and closer to the sword point, Merlin said, “Did you expect me to tell you the truth? I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to be honest with you. For once.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I was a fool.”
When Arthur just stood there, sword-tip wavering a little, Merlin said, “At least, when it’s done, be gentle with my mum. She is innocent of everything, but protecting me. She has no magic. I would… ask that you leave her in peace.”
Looking startled, as if that was the last thing he expected, Arthur said, “What do you take me for?”
“Your father would kill her. Can I expect any less of his son?”
“I would never hurt her, Merlin.” Arthur looked appalled enough that Merlin knew he would keep his word. It was a relief. He knew his mother would mourn, but at least she would be safe.
“Thank you.” Nodding, acknowledging the vow in Arthur’s words, Merlin let go of the last of his fear. He was too tired and the icy air was growing more bitter by the moment and this had gone on long enough. “Could you make it quick? I’m getting a bit cold and you have a meeting with Uther in an hour. I’m sure he will be pleased that you’ve rid Camelot of another filthy sorcerer.”
With that, Merlin knelt down in the snow and bowed his head, waiting for the blow. The irritation of wet knees and the shivering that seemed to shake him to his core were annoying, but fretting about them was somehow ridiculous. He was about to die at Arthur’s hand and thinking about discomfort should be the least of his concerns.
“Aren’t you going to defend yourself?”
Surprised, Merlin looked up, gazing at the man he’d have once followed into hell if only Arthur asked. “Would it make any difference?”
Arthur scowled at that, but didn’t raise his sword. Instead he was standing there, looking disturbed and miserable, staring at Merlin as if trying to puzzle him out. “Answer the question.”
“I sacrificed everything for you. My life, my honour, my magic. I’ve saved you countless times, defended you in good times and bad, and to my shame, for you, I killed more of your enemies than I ever thought possible. And your only reaction was to try to kill me when I was honest with you because I was born with a gift you couldn’t understand.” Merlin sat back, wrapping his arms around his chest to keep him from shaking from the cold. He gave Arthur a little smile, then said gently, all his anger gone into sorrow and a final acceptance, “It’s all right, Arthur. If you like, you can think of me as the monster that overstayed his welcome. At least now we both know… how it’s going to end.”
Then he bowed his head again and waited for Arthur’s justice.
He hadn’t expected Arthur to snarl at him. “Get up, you fool. If you think I’m going to drag your sorry carcass down the stairs, you have another thing coming.”
That didn’t make sense. Although it did make a kind of sense. Merlin just thought that Arthur would have the guards take care of his corpse, burn it or bury it in the cesspit. Unless, Arthur was going to throw him in the dungeons and have him burned alive once the snow was gone. He didn’t think Arthur would be so cruel, but he’d already made one mistake. He wasn’t about to make another.
Merlin did scramble up. But instead of going down the stairs, he backed away, until he couldn’t retreat any further. The stone parapet was cold and sharp against his back, but if it came to it, better to fly a few moments and meet a final fate on the cobblestones below than to die in agony on the pyre.
“Merlin, the stairs are that way, idiot.” Voice sharp, Arthur pointed to the exit, and nodded. As if he thought Merlin had gotten lost or forgotten where to go.
“I’ll not burn. Not for you. Not for anyone.” Merlin couldn’t keep the dread out of his voice. He was ice inside, and fire, and shivering so hard in the wintery air that it seemed as if his bones would break from the cold.
Arthur stopped, looking over at Merlin in horror. Blinking, he stared past him, frowning, seeing just how close Merlin was to the edge. He said, more gently, as if speaking with a child, “Merlin, I’m not going to kill you.”
Merlin never thought, really, that Arthur would lie to him, but he couldn’t be sure. “Why not? I’m a sorcerer. I deceived you. I… I won’t burn, Arthur, not even for you. I’ll fly first.” With that, he glanced back, calculating just how long it would take to leap past the barriers and plummet to the courtyard below. It shouldn’t be more than a moment or two and then it would all be over. He half-turned, grabbing onto the stone edge. Almost to himself, he said, “Do you think it will hurt much? Landing? With my luck, I’ll hit a snow drift and just break a few bones and Gaius will be angry with me.”
“Merlin,” Arthur almost sounded worried. He must have taken a step forward. Merlin could hear the ice crunching under Arthur’s boots. “Merlin, come away from the edge. You are clumsy enough. I wouldn’t want you to… Merlin, I’m not going to send you to the pyre. I promise.”
It didn’t matter. Although it was snowing harder and the wind was picking up, Merlin no longer felt cold. He’d stopped shivering, too. It felt good to be warm again, for what little time he had left. As he looked down, over the edge and into the courtyard, the children had gone in and it was quiet there. If Merlin jumped now, at least he wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
Turning away from Arthur, with both hands on the railing, Merlin started to lean forward, hoping to heave himself up and over before he’d lost what little courage he still had left. But the stone was winter-cold and icy and he slipped a little. The fates apparently were not kind. He’d have to try again.
But before he could, he was yanked back, Arthur’s hand solid on his arm, and Arthur was yelling at him.
It was sound mostly, echoes of past arguments and past lies, and Merlin couldn’t understand what Arthur was saying. But he was too tired to care and warm, so warm. If Arthur wanted to gut him then, at least it wasn’t the pyre.
The world seemed to shrink, the edges grey and greyer. All Merlin could sense was that they were sitting on the stone floor, tucked into one corner of the roof out of the wind and snow, and Merlin was warm in Arthur’s arms, his red cloak surrounding them both.
Arthur was rubbing Merlin’s arms and saying things about warmth and getting him inside and idiots. And Merlin doesn’t remember much else. Except it wasn’t cold any more.