Title: A New Reality
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot
Summary: Merlin had given up long ago and now he was just trying to find a way to deal with it.
Warnings: Self-harm, drugs
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: 154- Unwinding
Author's Notes: I have absolutely no idea where this came from – it only barely fits unwinding.
Also, sorry but I'm not doing anything more in this universe.
Stephen Hawking says that AI may be the greatest threat to mankind ever so there's a hint of that here.
He never stopped waiting for Arthur to come back. Each day, he'd trudge down to the lake, wait endlessly for some kind of sign and then his heart broken all over again, he'd stumble back to his hovel, suffocating as he remembered everything he'd done wrong.
It was exhausting. He thought often of giving up, of just sinking down into the earth and never coming out again. But each day, he woke with ever-fading hope, only to be stripped bare by nightfall.
He couldn't die. That was the thing. If only he'd known that eventually he'd have the oblivion he craved, he might have been able to go on just a little while longer. But after endless attempts, he gave up, tried to find another way to die.
Poppies and mead, and as the years passed, humanity found inventive ways to unwind, new drugs to drown out the voices in his head. He tried everything, even sex although that ended disastrously; no one could ever come close to Arthur's golden beauty.
Finally, finally, something worked. A game, they said, linking the mind into an intelligence so vast that it would become the new reality. Something Merlin could get lost in.
One moment he was in a sterile room, the next, there was Camelot, its smells and sunshine, its warm stone and gilded memories. And Arthur was there, waiting for him. Smiling, his hand reaching out for Merlin, welcoming him home. The first tentative touch of his mouth on Merlin's, the eager pressing of Arthur's hard body against his. Spiralling in the rightness of it, the growing ecstasy, a sense that he'd never be alone again.
That Arthur was there, always Arthur, Arthur.
The colours, the sensations, infinity stretched into such pleasure that Merlin thought he'd die of it at last.
As he sank down and down and down, he no longer cared about the world or his part in it, that if the real Arthur was never coming back, so be it. This was the new reality.
Arthur was calling his name, shouting as he thrust, frenzied, into him, "Merlin, Merlin, don't die on me. You idiot. Wake…up!"
And in the next moment, Arthur's pleasure-drugged face disappeared and a worried, parody of his golden Arthur was looking down at him.
Merlin was having a hard time breathing. He was so close, so close to what he'd craved for so long that he wanted to sink back down, let everything white out again and return to Camelot.
But the man with Arthur's face was shaking him, looking so much like his king that Merlin had to close his eyes to keep from lunging up and taking Arthur's mouth. "Merlin, Merlin, no, wake up."
"Let me go. I want…" Struggling, trying to escape back into the dream, Merlin strained to bat away the hands and reattach the helmet.
"We have to leave, Arthur." Another worried voice. Looked like Lancelot but that couldn't be. He wasn't part of the game.
His world tilting, he was thrust over the shoulder of whoever this false Arthur was. Kicking out, he tried to wiggle free but the man was too strong and somehow, Merlin felt weak, exhausted, as if he'd been asleep for months.
"Let me go!" Merlin said again even as they ran out of the room, past guards and protesting receptionists, past glass doors and rain.
It hit him like ice, as he was jostled and manhandled and shoved into a waiting car that he'd lost whatever hope he'd had over the years for Arthur's return. That he'd finally given up of ever seeing Arthur again. That Merlin no longer cared what happened as long as he could go back into the game and never come out again.
And yet here was someone, the same build, the same powerful ease, the same gilded skin, the same mouth made for kissing. False as a lead coin parading as gold and yet still Merlin wanted to believe it was Arthur reborn.
But it wasn't. He'd never come back in all the centuries. He wasn't coming at all. This was only his mind playing tricks on him.
"Merlin… Lance, what the hell has happened to him?" The false Arthur sounded worried and Merlin felt a warmth there, in his chest. Even a shadow was better than no Arthur at all.
"He looks like a man who's given up." The other man nudged him, put a warm hand on his shoulder and gave it a little squeeze before letting go. "Don't blame him. It's been a long time."
"Merlin, we've been looking for you for years." Not-Arthur reached up, put his palms on Merlin's face, leaned his forehead against Merlin's a moment. "You weren't at the lake."
"Arthur didn't come." Merlin didn't pull away, just sat there, absorbing the warmth, feeling the touch of a beloved king, however untrue. And then the memory of the game Arthur pushed whatever hopes Merlin might have had away. Too long, too long. "I want to go back."
But this Arthur didn't let go. Sounding desperate, despondent, he said, "Merlin, please, you have to remember me. I need you to remember me."
Merlin looked up, into those blue eyes, so like his Arthur's. There were tears there and worry. "I wish you were Arthur but he's dead. So long ago."
That seemed to push the not-Arthur away. He glanced over to the other man, said, "Lance, what do I do?"
"Remind him of who you are."
This Arthur seemed to take that as a challenge. It was as if his Arthur was reborn, the same mouth flattened, the same determination in his eyes, the same jaw tightening as if readying for battle. Then still holding onto Merlin's face, he leaned down and brushed his mouth against Merlin's.
It was nothing like the game's kiss, more real, more alive, so perfectly imperfect and it awakened something in Merlin that he thought he'd lost long ago.
And his beloved king smiled. "Welcome back."