Title: Lies and A Broken Heart
Pairing/s: Arthur/Gwen, Arthur/Merlin (one-sided)
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Perhaps Arthur should have died at Camlann. Then Merlin wouldn’t have to watch him waste away in the decades since.
Word Count: 566
Camelot Drabble Prompt: #386: Comfort
Author's Notes: I’ve had to deal with my father and his increasingly frail mind. This is a way of coping.
Disclaimer: I do not own the BBC version of Merlin; It and Shine do. I am very respectfully borrowing them with no intent to profit. No money has changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended.
Merlin swallowed, his face frozen a moment, and then he put on a fake smile and patted Arthur’s trembling hand. “She’s taking care of Camelot, Sire.”
The answer seemed to quiet Arthur. His hand was cold, skin paper-thin under Merlin’s grasp, a sign of the passing of years since Camlann. He’d survived it, thanks to Merlin, and their relationship had had its bumps and anger, thoughtlessness and fury, but Merlin was still there, still keeping Arthur safe, even after all the decades since.
For a moment, Arthur squeezed Merlin’s fingers, a pale reminder of the strength he used to have, and Merlin squeezed back. But it seemed to exhaust Arthur, and reluctantly, Merlin let go.
As he stared down at his king, he saw, not the golden boy he’d first known, but aged wrinkles and confusion. Arthur, a once mighty warrior, was now a doddering old man, too small for the large bed, wandering aimlessly when Merlin wasn’t looking and Arthur often muttering to himself before asking that damnable, ever-repeated question.
It killed Merlin to hear it. The same thing over and over again, and the way Arthur forgot the answer as soon as Merlin answered him.
“She’ll be here soon.”
It was a lie, of course. Gwen had died years ago, a queen to the last, wise, strong as she needed to be, and full of understanding.
Merlin, on the other hand, was still there, watching his king, his friend, the only man he’d ever loved, slowly waste away to the frail half-corpse that even now looked up at Merlin with clouded eyes.
Wanting to scream at Arthur, to shake him, to have his prat return if only for a moment so that they could bicker and wrestle and get into trouble once more, instead Merlin smoothed down the rumpled coverlet, and let his fingers warm the translucent skin of Arthur’s hand.
“Arthur, she died a long time ago. But I’m still here.”
For a moment, Arthur’s eyes cleared, and he jerked back as if struck. “Gwen… dead? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Merlin began to hope again, that somehow Arthur had regained what was left of himself. “I did tell you, Arthur, many times. I’ve so much to tell you about….”
But even as he leaned forward, eager to have Arthur shout at him for lying or keeping things hidden from him or the latest news of Camelot, Arthur gave a little sigh. “Where’s Gwen?”
Blinking back tears, Merlin said, “I’ve loved you from the first time you were an utter prat to me, but right now, I wish….”
He couldn’t finish the thought. He knew it wasn’t Arthur’s fault. Age and injuries and the knowledge that the mind’s weakness sometimes runs in families were all reasons for the way Arthur was now.
But sometimes, in the stillness of his room, he wished he hadn’t saved Arthur that fateful day at Camlann, that by thwarting destiny, they were both being punished. Arthur should have died in glory that day, not waste away into the frail husk that lay in the room beyond.
Sometimes, in his heart of hearts, Merlin wished that Arthur was dead. Sometimes Merlin wished he was, too.
But now all he could do was smooth down the coverlet, and pat a frail hand, and try not to cry the next time Arthur asked, “Where’s Gwen?”.