Title: Howling at the stars
Rating: G (Series rating Nc-17)
Character/s: Merlin, Gaius, Kilgharrah.
Summary: Sam is dead, and with him Merlin's hope begins to wither as well.
Warnings: Minor-character death.
Word Count: 1197
Prompt: #80 Wrath
Author's Notes: This chapter should have been much longer, but I am super busy with my thesis, so I haven't had time or energy to work on FS lately. Then again, this is the format that used to sustain the story, so maybe I should go back to it for a while.
Sam is so big from head to toe that the sheet cannot cover all of him. His feet stick out at the bottom in a grotesque parody of a sleeping man. Merlin sits on the bench and looks at the corpse while the room spins slowly around him.
Gaius gently removes the dead man’s hand from the grip of the old woman sitting by his side. She is still asleep; Merlin’s spell had been a little too effective in his drunken frustration. Gaius touches her shoulder, and she wakes with a start.
“Oh! Oh dear me, I dozed off. How is he?”
Gaius sits down opposite her and takes both her hands in his without replying. He gives her time to notice the sheet that covers Sam’s face.
“Oh …” she says, and she blinks rapidly, eyes going shiny. “Was there nothing that could be done, Gaius?”
Gaius shakes his head, glancing briefly at Merlin. “We did everything we could.”
In his palm, Merlin can feel the memory of Sam’s sluggishly beating heart: slowing, slowing, and then beating no more, even as Merlin had raged at him, roared spells at him, until Gaius had pulled him away and sat him down on the bench.
“It’s over, Merlin. You did your best.”
But it wasn’t Merlin’s best. Merlin hadn’t even tried. Albion should have been united by now, and magic made free. Alice should have come back and filled this house and Gaius’ life with laughter, flowers and healing. Camelot should have been full of magic, helping the old, the sick and the needy. But Merlin hasn’t tried: hasn’t brought it up with Arthur, hasn’t tried to change the King’s views … never confessed. Even now the thought of laying himself bare terrifies him. When he weighs the reward of freedom against the risk of being chased from Arthur’s side...
The stone of guilt grows in his gut until he can feel it crushing his lungs.
Gaius helps the old lady to rise. She smiles down at Sam. “It sure will be quiet without him living next door.”
“Someone new will come along soon enough,” Gaius says. “We old ones know well that life goes on.”
She lets Gaius escort her towards the door, but on the way she stops and puts a hand on Merlin’s knee. “Don’t be sad, dear boy. You gave him hope, and he liked his new job very much.”
Merlin can’t even nod.
Gaius sees the old lady out and closes the door behind her. Then he comes down and sits beside Merlin. After a little while he says, “She’s right, you know. This is not your fault.”
Merlin feels only self-loathing. “If I had-” His voice breaks as the first tears spill. Gaius leans towards him, offering his shoulder and his quiet support, but Merlin’s shame is too monstrous to be spoken out loud.
“Sometimes it is simply time,” Gaius says.
Rage flames up in Merlin. He rises and rounds on Gaius. “No, it’s not!” The ground sways aggressively and Merlin almost stumbles over his own feet. He puts a hand to his spinning head. “It’s not time! I’m going to stop it!”
Gaius looks confused for a long moment, before realisation dawns. Merlin turns away because he doesn’t like it when Gaius looks inside of him like that. Especially now. Merlin is a greedy, selfish monster who only, only cares about Arthur, but it is too late now to redeem himself; this is all he knows how to do.
Gaius’ hands fall on his shoulders. “Why don’t you go lie down for a while? You’ve had too much wine.”
Merlin shakes his head. Arthur is waiting for him.
“I will wake you before bedtime,” Gaius says, because he knows everything.
Merlin wants to go to Arthur very, very badly, but he acknowledges that he is in a state, and it wouldn’t do for Arthur to see him like this. He doesn’t reply, just walks forward, imagines that this is what being at sea must be like, enters his room and pulls the door shut behind him, feels bad for treating Gaius so coldly, goes to his bed and lies down. He swims in and out of sleep, pain ebbing and flowing through him. His waking thoughts blend with his dreams, until he can't tell the difference between them anymore.
He walks through the city, snow crunching under his boots, while the heavens spin like a great wheel above him. He leaves through the gates and stops on the great plain just outside the walls of Camelot. Kilgharra is waiting for him, a massive, hulking shape in the dark, his yellow eyes glimmering with inner light.
“This is the first time you have called on me this way, young Warlock. Your powers are growing.”
When he speaks, great clouds of steam rise from his mouth.
“I don’t care about Albion,” Merlin says. “I don’t care about any of it. Mordred lives.”
Kilgharrah cocks his head to the side. It makes Merlin dizzy to look up at him while the stars and spinning behind his spiky head.
“Are you surprised?”
“How do I keep him from Arthur?”
The dragon hums thoughtfully. “... It puzzles me as much as you, how this can be Arthur’s fate, so soon after he has ascended to the throne. Albion has not been united, and the children of magic are still persecuted in the world of men, so how come the Saxon horde, and the witch Morgana, lie in wait just on the other side of winter?”
Merlin bares his teeth. “Give me an answer!”
Kilgharrah’s tone turns sharp. “For once, young Warlock, I am not being obtuse, I simply have no answer to give you. You have, in the past, come close to changing destiny, but in the end, your choices have always led you back on the foretold path, and I did once warn you that letting the druid boy live would keep you from fulfilling your destiny.”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT MY DESTINY!” He closes his eyes, but the stars are tumbling around inside his head now, making him feel sick. “I need to keep Arthur safe!”
“Merlin. This feat might simply not be in your power.”
Merlin’s blood runs cold. “No!” He hesitates, his heart and mind protesting the only path that seems open to him. “I will ... I will find him … I will kill Mordred.”
“... Perhaps. Perhaps it would even work. Or perhaps the attempt will be the very thing that turns him against Arthur once and for all.”
Helplessness strangles him, makes him hate, hate, hate. So angry.
“I am sorry, Merlin,” Kilgharrah says, sensing his distress. “I do not want this to happen any more than you do.”
“What do I do?” Merlin grits out.
The dragon is silent for a long time, his eyes lowered to the ground. Above them the stars grind to a halt.
“Go to Arthur. Give him your affection. Kiss him, lie with him. Arm and dress him for battle, fight beside him. Hold him until he passes, and then give him a funeral worthy of a King.”
Merlin wakes up howling in rage.