Title: All That's Left is a Ghost of You
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: “This sort of magic is forbidden for a reason, Merlin. It is not something to be trifled with.”
Warnings: Mention of major character death and necromancy
Word Count: 995
Prompt: Amnesty Prompt (#34: Devotion)
Author's Notes: I know, we just did this prompt, but I didn't think of this idea until it was too late. Thanks to hms_seth for the beta!
“This sort of magic is forbidden for a reason, Merlin. It is not something to be trifled with.”
Gaius has spoken of the dangers many times before, and once upon a time Merlin would have heeded his warnings. But now, what Gaius doesn’t know won’t kill him, especially since he’s already dead, gone from this world and leaving Merlin behind. Just like all the others.
One might think that the ability to never age or die would be a blessing, but they don’t know the truth. They don’t know what it’s like to have your family and friends cut down like stalks of wheat under a farmer’s scythe around you, until you no longer remember faces and names but brief snatches of jumbled up memories. They don’t know what’s it like to be so close to the gates of Avalon and eternal rest, only to ripped back screaming to a broken and desolate existence.
No, Merlin knows this immortality is his curse. For failing the ways of the Old Religion, his prophesied destiny, the survival of Camelot, and the birth of Albion.
And most importantly, for failing Arthur.
Many a king and warlord alike sought Merlin’s power after hearing of his feats at Camlann; stories about the man who rained death from the sky after the fall of Arthur Pendragon had spread like wildfire. However, no one is successful in ensnaring him in their services, even as they try to ply his favor with promises of land and wealth.
For Merlin has already sworn fealty to the Once and Future King, and one day he will kneel at Arthur’s feet once more. He’s sure of it.
But as the years pass, Merlin is tired of waiting for Arthur’s supposed return. He is tired of seeing all their hard work reduced to rubble by the hand of man and nature alike. Even as the world continues to spin on its axis, he feels the ground beneath his feet cry out about the wrongness of it all. As everything falls into chaos, it becomes quite clear what needs to be done.
Albion needs Arthur. Merlin needs Arthur.
The yellowed and brittle pages of Merlin’s spell book have begun to crumble underneath his fingers, the once vibrant ink faded. But the text is still legible, and even if it wasn’t, he now knows the majority of the book’s contents by heart. It’s more of a comfort than anything, something he clings onto to remind him of happier and innocent times. To remind him of his purpose whenever he starts to forget.
The water of the lake rushes up to nip through the holes worn into his boots, but Merlin ignores the chill against his skin as he continues to stride into the shallows. He raises a hand over the calm surface, and his magic automatically rattles against the bars of his rib cage, anxious for the chance to be let out and run rampant in the world.
It has grown stronger since Arthur died. Now that Merlin no longer has to hide who he is and what he can really do, he’s had time to practice and perfect in ways he couldn’t before. He barely has to utter the words of the spell and his magic immediately reacts with a mighty whoosh that ripples through the leaves of the nearby trees. He hold his breath, because even though he knows he pronounced the incantation perfectly, he has lingering doubts on whether or not it will actually work.
His fears are put to rest when the water parts, and then there’s Arthur, nonchalantly standing upright as if he hadn’t been laid to rest there centuries before. There’s no reminder of Morded’s betrayal now, no mortal wound from where the sword somehow pierced through chainmail Merlin had enchanted himself. There’s just Arthur, giving one of those smiles that Merlin has missed so much that it physically aches.
Merlin gasps, and then laughs as he dashes forward, water splashing wildly with each step. His arms wrap around Arthur’s neck, and he buries his face into the crook of Arthur’s shoulder to hide the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Arthur,” he says, his mouth unused to forming the syllables of the name after so long. “Arthur, I can’t believe you’re actually back...”
Damp, muscled limbs shift slightly against him, and then he hears: “...'Arthur'? Is that the name you wish to call me?”
Merlin jerks away, and only now does he see the signs that something is not right. Instead of Arthur’s bright blue eyes that were always so full of life, his gaze meets dull glassy orbs that are devoid of any emotion or recognition. Merlin places a hand against his mouth and shakes his head, swallowing the bile and dread that threaten to choke him.
After everything he’s learned, after all the power he’s attained, he’s produced nothing more than a shade. A sick and twisted caricature of his king; of his friend.
“Is something wrong?” the imposter asks, and raises its hand to caress at Merlin’s cheek. And for one agonizing moment, Merlin is weak. He leans forward, like a flower bending towards the sun, because how often has he wished Arthur would have returned his affections like this?
It’s the sudden feeling of cold, dead lips pressing against his that snaps Merlin out of his thoughts. He reels back in disgust, shoving fate’s mockery of his failures away from him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers as his magic begins to swirl around him. “I’m so sorry.”
Without warning, he snaps the string on the life he’s created, and there’s a shaky exhale of “Merlin” before the doppelganger's body is claimed by the lake’s murky depths.
Letting out a strangled sob, Merlin drags his exhausted body to shore, his legs buckling out from under him as soon as his feet hit dry ground.
And there he’ll wait, as long as he needs to, until he sees his true king again.