Title: A Different Kind of Magic
Character/s: Merlin, Percival, Lancelot
Summary: Merlin agrees to find out why Percival isn't sleeping well.
Word Count: 1163
Prompt: #363, "I had that dream again."
Author's Notes: This ran long because I absolutely could not figure out how to end it gracefully. I still think the ending is clunky, so sorry about that.
“I had that dream again.”
Though Percival paused, Merlin held his tongue. They had gone through this routine enough times now for him to understand that Percival was far from done speaking.
It had started with Lancelot cornering him before training a month prior.
“I need you to talk to Percival.”
Merlin frowned. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“He’s not sleeping well.”
Most of the knights were already on the field. Though he stood off to the side, Percival was easy to pick out, a small smile curving his mouth as he watched Gwaine play with his sword.
“He looks fine,” Merlin commented.
“Of course, he does. He makes certain of that. He’s not willing to look weak in front of the others.” Lancelot angled to block Merlin’s view, forcing his attention away and back to the conversation. “He won’t mention it. He might even deny it. But I don’t know anyone who commands trust like you do, Merlin. Please. Try and find out what’s wrong. I worry about him.”
So Merlin had, using excuses to seek him out first thing in the morning so he could witness what Lancelot claimed. On the third day, he had. He rounded the corner to the knights’ quarters and found Percival standing at the window at the end of the corridor, leaning heavily against the sill as he stared at the rising sun. His feigned excuse disappeared, and he’d carefully approached Percival’s bowed back.
“Do you need something, Merlin?” Percival asked before he’d reached six feet of him.
“It can wait.” And then… “How did you know it was me?”
A broad shoulder lifted. “Just did.”
“Is everything all right? Nothing’s amiss out there, is there?”
“Nothing to worry Arthur about.”
“But you do see something.”
Percival sighed. “I wanted to watch the sun rise. It helps clear my head.”
A long pause. So long, Merlin was convinced he wouldn’t get a response. “A dream I can’t shake.”
Merlin left it at that, but from that point forward, he was more diligent in being there in the morning for Percival, at breakfast, helping with his equipment, running any errand that needed to be done. On the fourth day, Percival was the last to remain at the breakfast table, but before Merlin could leave, Percival murmured, “It happened again. The dream.”
Merlin held his breath. Now that Percival had mentioned it, he noticed the shadows under Percival’s eyes, the tension at the corners of his mouth. So different from the carefree man who smiled his way through the day. No wonder Lancelot was worried. “Gaius has remedies for that. I can talk to him—”
“No. I don’t…I need to remember.”
“It’s always the same. I can smell the burning. Hear them screaming. And I’m helpless. Stuck.” His hands knotted in front of him, his gaze locked downward but unfocused, watching something Merlin could not. “I wasn’t actually there when it happened. I was out on a hunt, so I only saw it at the end. When it was too late. But in my dream…he makes me watch. My family. My friends. And as much as I struggle, I can’t get free to save them.”
Now it all made sense. No one knew the full story about the destruction of Percival’s home. He never talked about it with anyone. Even Lancelot claimed to know only the scantest details. A fierce sense of honor filled Merlin’s chest at being trustworthy enough to share this burden with him.
“It’s just a dream,” Merlin said. “It’s not real.”
“It feels real.”
“That’s the power of dreams.”
“But you have power, too,” Merlin went on. “You use it every day.”
A flicker of lashes. “How do you mean?”
“By joining in Arthur’s fight. You help to protect those Cenred might destroy next.”
“It’s not enough.”
Percival tensed. “What?”
“Why isn’t that enough?” Merlin repeated. “It’s so much more than what many men do. Why should you have to carry their weight as well?”
“Because I failed to protect my family, my village.”
Merlin shook his head. “You said it yourself. You weren’t even there until it was too late. You were doing what you were supposed to, to feed your loved ones. There’s no guilt to be had there.” He paused. “Would they want you to be punishing yourself like this?”
He sat back when Percival suddenly rose. “You can’t understand,” Percival muttered and stormed away from the table.
Though Merlin thought all was lost after that, he showed up the next morning and found Percival at the window again. He didn’t speak, but Percival didn’t send him away, either. He took it as a good sign, especially when Lancelot came up to him later that day and thanked him for how much better Percival appeared.
“Helping people. That’s your true magic,” Lancelot said.
But Merlin didn’t feel like he’d truly done anything, even when Percival started talking to him again. So on this particular dawn, when he sat with Percival after their breakfast, it felt like more of the same.
“I thought about what you said about power,” Percival continued. “Quite a bit, actually. Arthur might even say too much since he bested me yesterday due to my distraction.”
Merlin chuckled. “He thinks it was because of all the extra training he’s done. He kept asking me to test how much stronger he is.”
That earned him a smile. “I decided you were right. I’ve allowed what happened to convince me otherwise. I wanted to change that.”
“But…you said you still had the dream.”
“I did,” Percival agreed. “It started the same. The same horrors. The same helplessness. But it ended differently.” He learned forward, and his eyes blazed with gratitude. “As soon as I realized I was dreaming again, I decided to change it. I fought free. I saved them. And it might not have been real, and nothing is actually different by the light of day, but the victory felt genuine. Because of you. Because you made me confront it.”
Merlin shook his head. “All I did was listen.”
“That’s all I needed. So…” Reaching out, Percival rested his hand over Merlin’s and squeezed. “Thank you. I’m in your debt.”
Merlin let the warmth steal over him. “There’s no debt. This is what friends do.”
Percival smiled and didn’t argue. But the next day, when Merlin stepped out to go to the knights’ hall, Percival was waiting for him.
“I thought we could take a walk before I have to patrol today,” Percival said in response to Merlin’s query regarding his presence. “When I woke up, I realized I’d starting associating the sunrise with you. It seemed only right for you to join me.” His cheeks tinged pink. “If you’d like, of course.”
He would. Very much. Because listening to Percival the last month had felt like a new kind of magic, one he hadn’t felt since Freya had left Camelot.
“I’d love to.”