Character/s: Merlin (brief mention of Gaius, Arthur, Gwen, the knights, and Morgana)
Summary: Even after destroying everything between them, Merlin can't shake the hold Morgana has on him.
Warnings: self-harm, blood
Word Count: 990
Author's Notes: LOL, of course I take a fun prompt like "skin" and make it angsty and dark. Set after 4x06, "A Servant of Two Masters"
Weeks after destroying the mother beast, Merlin is still feeling the effects of the Fomorroh.
Thankfully, the desire to kill Arthur no longer remains; even when the prat is at his finest form - like when he orders the stables to be mucked out for the umpteenth time - Merlin has the urge to retaliate with a spell for warts or flatulence, not death.
And yet, the sensation of something moving, coiling, squirming underneath his skin is ever present nowadays, involuntary shudders racing through his body and leaving prickling gooseflesh in its wake. He doesn’t even realize that he’s been unconsciously scratching at the spot where the parasite resided until, suddenly, there’s a sharp pang, and he draws his hand back to find red smeared across his fingertips.
At first, he thinks it’s just from the incision closing up, the scab that’s formed pulling, puckering, and stretching in ways that are quickly becoming unbearable. When he shares this theory, Gaius seems to agree, admonishing Merlin for disrupting the healing process. The physician tut-tuts over his work being tampered with as he places salve and then a thicker bandage on the wound, instructing Merlin more than once to not touch it this time. This is supposed to help.
Except it doesn’t.
For while the itch is subdued on his neck, the need to scratch isn’t, and Merlin often catches himself half-way to ripping off the bandage, his fingers twitching as he forces his hands to return to his sides. Trying to maintain such self-control leaves him with so much pent-up tension that it physically aches.
To make matters worse, the unsettling sensation isn’t just at one location any more; it’s spreading. The phantom creatures are multiplying at a rapid pace, slithering under his skin and leaving a trail of pain so intense that Merlin has to check more than once to make sure he hasn’t been burned somehow.
But all he finds is the fiery marks his own fingernails have left behind.
Gaius says that Merlin must be reacting to some toxin inside his system, but has no answers on why the redness occurs only after Merlin’s scratched at it. Has no solutions besides to trim Merlin’s nails to the nub, have Merlin wear gloves at all times, and to wait it out until it clears.
While he knows Gaius is trying, Merlin thinks this is a horrible plan, simply based on the fact that nothing is working. The compulsion to claw at his skin until the pain overrides the itch increases exponentially by the day, and despite his best attempts, his arms become pocked with tell-tale signs of his misery.
Shaking his head in reproval, Gaius concocts a bath mixture of oats that just makes Merlin constantly reek of porridge. Gwen keeps shooting Merlin looks of concern when their eyes meet, and he always has to turn his gaze away, his face flushed with mortification. Gwaine and the rest of the knights get him close to confessing everything after a round or two at The Rising Sun, but don’t press him for more when he lies and says he fell into a bramble bush. Even if it’s obvious that they don’t believe him.
Even Arthur, who can be the most oblivious person sometimes, notices something is wrong. “What the hell is with you lately?!” he barks after being surprised by the yelp Merlin lets out when their arms nonchalantly brush by each other in the hallway.
Merlin freezes in place, sheer panic flooding his expression, and he wishes. He wishes it wasn’t such a humid spring that he could wear long-sleeved shirts without melting in the heat. He wishes that he could get rid of the dark rings of dried blood that stubbornly cling to the underside of his nails. He wishes that this is one of those times where Arthur completely misunderstands the situation and it works to Merlin’s advantage.
Luckily, one of his wishes actually comes true; Arthur laughs with unbridled amusement as he claps a hand on Merlin’s back. “Only you, Merlin, would have a fight with a tomcat and lose.”
“Some of us can’t be a hero in all of our battles, sire,” Merlin replies with a forced smile that nearly makes his cheeks crack.
Soon Merlin learns that, like everything else in his life so far, it’s best to keep his affliction a secret. Which means while his arms are now off-limits, his legs are fair game, concealed from public eye and scrutiny by the thin layer of his breeches. Dressed in only his night shirt as he hides under the safety of his bed sheets, he waits until he hears Gaius snoring from the next room before he even dares to begin, too ashamed to give in when there’s a possibility he might be discovered.
Thoughts of the Fomorroh and eventually Morgana herself trigger the strongest reactions, but when just one pops up uninvited, he can’t stop the rest that rush to flood his mind as well. Knowing what she’s become leaves behind angry, raised welts that tell the story of her betrayal. Knowing he had a chance to stop her before it was too late (but instead let his emotions rule over his head) creates dotted, oozing ribbons that dance across each other in some sort of sick, twisted waltz.
It’s the knowing he had a hand in it all that finally makes him stop, hissing between clenched teeth as he realizes he’s gone too far, gone too deep. The blood that erupts from torn flesh is different than the usual shade; in the dim light, it appears pitch-black, and he watches in dumb shock as it spreads rapidly, poisoning anything in reach with its sanguine stain.
Even while his body is screaming at him to do something, do anything, he can only sit there helplessly as he stumbles upon the truth: it’s not the Fomorroh that’s gotten underneath his skin after all.