Title: I Forgot, but I Won't Forget
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Leon
Summary: Merlin doesn't remember Arthur's death.
Warnings: Does Arthur's death count as a warning?
Word Count: 920
Merlin wakes to the sun shining in his eyes. He stretches for a moment before the memory of Arthur, slumping in his arms on a log by the fire, telling him to never change, slams into him. Merlin bolts upright in bed, the blankets falling down around his waist.
Wait. Blankets? Bed? Merlin looks around himself. He’s in Arthur’s chambers. Merlin scrambles out of bed and throws open the door to find two guards stationed on either side.
“My lord,” one of the guards says, inclining his head at Merlin. The other guard does the same before hurrying off.
Merlin blinks in confusion. He looks down at himself. He’s still Merlin. Why are people calling him “my lord”?
When he finds his voice again, he asks, “Where’s Arthur?”
The guard freezes and avoids Merlin’s gaze. “Sir Leon will be here in a moment, my lord.”
“Leon?” Merlin asks in confusion. “But where’s Arthur? Why aren’t we still in the forest?”
The guard doesn’t reply.
Before Merlin has a chance to interrogate the guard further, Leon rounds the corner.
“Merlin!” Leon calls, quickening his pace to Merlin’s side.
“Leon,” Merlin says with a tight smile. “Where’s Arthur?”
Leon’s face falls and he takes Merlin’s arm, leading him back into Arthur’s chambers and gesturing for the guards to shut the door.
“Leon?” Merlin asks, voice climbing an octave.
“Merlin,” Leon says softly.
“What?” Merlin says slightly shrilly.
Merlin feels his entire world grind to a halt. Merlin feels suddenly dizzy and Leon catches him as he begins to tumble to the ground. Dimly, he registers Leon guiding him to the bed and helping him sit down on the edge. Merlin sees Leon take his hands, but he feels completely numb.
Arthur couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t. Merlin was going to save him. That’s what he was doing. Bringing Arthur to Avalon. Saving him. As always.
“No,” Merlin hears his own voice saying. The word sounds foreign to him. “Arthur’s not dead. He’s not.”
Merlin sees the sad look on Leon’s face. “Merlin, I’m sorry. But he is. He has been for two months.”
Merlin sways a little. “What?” he croaks. “Have I been asleep for two months?”
Leon shakes his head hesitantly. “No, Merlin. No, you’ve…”
“I’ve what?” Merlin cries, trembling with the effort of keeping his emotions under control.
“You brought Arthur to Avalon, Merlin,” Leon says softly. “But it was too late. We found you by the lake later that day and you told us what happened. But when you woke the next day, your memory of Arthur’s death was gone. We don’t know why. Gaius suspects your magic erased your memories.” Leon squeezes Merlin’s hands and offers a comforting smile when Merlin tenses at the word “magic.” “Every day after, you’ve woken with no memory of Arthur’s death or the days following.” Leon pulled out a letter from his pocket and handed it to Merlin. “Read this. You wrote it for yourself a couple days after Arthur’s death.”
Merlin takes the letter with shaking hands and reads the contents. The letter drops from nerveless fingers. It’s true. It’s all true. Arthur’s dead. And Merlin doesn’t remember how it happened even though he can practically see the scene in his mind’s eye.
Leon tries to comfort Merlin by pulling him into an embrace, but Merlin shrugs him off, turning away to bury himself in Arthur’s bed. He knows now why he’s in Arthur’s chambers. Realizes that this will happen again and again. Merlin glances at the headboard and sees notches in the wood. He counts sixty of them. Merlin laughs humorlessly. Sixty notches for sixty days. Merlin finds a dagger before his eyes, offered to him by Leon. Merlin takes it and carves another notch into the headboard. Then he just stares at the dagger. Leon gently tugs the dagger out of Merlin hand and leaves the room.
Merlin closes his eyes, hoping tomorrow will never come.
The next day, Merlin rushes from bed again, searching frantically for Arthur.
Leon appears to speak with him and give Merlin his own letter.
Merlin continues to sequester himself in Arthur’s chambers.
Merlin begins to write a different letter for himself each day. A different way of cutting his heart out each time.
Eventually, Leon stops coming. Merlin just reads the letter on the bedside table and crawls back into bed.
Merlin counts the notches on the headboard every day. It’s a revelation each and every time.
Soon the notches cover the walls. Then Merlin progresses to using paper and ink.
Merlin realizes he’s not going to die after the eighteen thousand two hundred and fiftieth notch. All his friends are dead. But he still looks like a twenty seven year old.
In a fit of grief, Merlin rips the letter he wrote to himself after seventy three thousand notches. He throws the remains into the fire for good measure.
Then he sits down and writes another letter, leaving it on the bedside table as usual.
Merlin wants to forget. But he won’t let himself. Merlin will make himself remember. Make himself live through the grief and the pain as if it’s new every day.
Merlin refuses to live in a world in which he doesn’t know what happened to Arthur.
Merlin waits for hundreds of thousands of notches.
Merlin waits because every one of his letters contains Kilgharrah’s promise that Arthur will rise again.
For that, Merlin will wait an eternity.