last01standing: ([BtVS] Hush)
[personal profile] last01standing
initiation | demolition | reconstruction | confrontation | absolution




PART ONE: DEMOLITION


“Merlin!” Arthur’s voice greets her even before she makes it to Gaius’s room. “Merlin, I just want to know where he might have been during the battle. I’d ordered him to safety but heaven knows he’s too much of an idiot to even follow that simple order.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Gaius bristles as Morgana eases the door open.

“Who I’m talking about?” Arthur repeats, voice rising. “Merlin! Merlin, with his great stupid ears and his idiotic smiles. My manservant. Your assistant. Merlin! Have you gone completely mad?”

“Arthur,” Morgana says sharply. “Don’t speak to him like this.”

“Lady Morgana.” Gaius shuffles toward her, “to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’m afraid that much like the prince, I’m attempting to ascertain the location of Merlin.”

“Merlin, Merlin, Merlin,” Gaius says. “It’s as though the two of you are conspiring to play a trick on me. I’ve never heard the name in my life.”

“There is no trick!” Arthur explodes. “Merlin! He’s been here for months. He lives in your spare room.”

“My study houses nothing but books, notes and a cot for the exceptionally ill.”

Arthur draws a deep breath, anger growing in his features. His hand is on his belt, compulsive clutching for the space that usually houses his sword. Morgana puts a hand on his shoulder to calm him. “If it’s not too much trouble, Gaius, may we examine your spare room?”

“Of course.” Gaius does not look happy at the prospect, but the crown prince and the king’s ward are not people easily refused.

“Come on, Arthur,” Morgana says, tugging him in the right direction and closing the door behind them. Arthur stands against the wall, looking slightly dazed.

“Arthur.” Morgana spins back toward the prince. “Arthur, you have to tell me what’s different. I’ve never been in here before.”

“He’s not here,” Arthur says, eyes flickering around the room. “There’s not a single trace of him. The place is so neat. This isn’t Merlin’s room.”

“Arthur.”

“I couldn’t find him when I was searching through the bodies,” Arthur says. She’s known him for well over half his life, she’s seen him enchanted, embarrassed and devastated but she’s never see him look quite so lost. “Face after face and all I could think was that I was happy none were his. I couldn’t find him so I thought maybe he’d gotten away. But Merlin’s not here. He’s not anywhere.”

He topples a neatly stacked pile of Gaius’s books onto the floor, the pages cascading out like a windstorm. He’s shaking by the time he recovers his voice enough to speak. “My father told me today that I never had a manservant. That I’d refused all those appointed to me. He said he’d never heard the name Merlin.” He turns to face Morgana. “None of my surviving knights have heard of him either. Perhaps it’s not them who’ve gone mad. Perhaps it’s me.”

“Arthur,” Morgana says, stepping toward him. “I saw him on the battlefield.”

Some of the terror drains from his features. “You saw him? You know him?”

“Of course I know Merlin. We went to Ealdor for Merlin, remember? He the only one around who doesn’t treat you like a prince but he’s completely devoted to you. He’s one of the truest friends either of us have ever had.”

“But he’s not here.”

“I saw him during the battle.”

“And did he fall?”

“I think he may have.” Morgana looks to floor. “But before that I think he ended it.”

“Ended it? Merlin? He’s useless with a blade. There’s no way he ended something that killed more than half of my men."

Morgana hesitates. This is not her secret to tell but Arthur is half-mad with grief. They need to figure this out. Between the stars and Merlin, there is something lurking here that has everything to do with magic. “I do not know what to make of it. I fear him dead.”
“If you saw him fall, how did he stop it? He couldn’t have if he were dead.”

“The attacks were magic,” Morgana says, “it is entirely possible that they could only be undone using magic.”

“I know. My father is searching for the sorcerer as we speak.”

Figure it out, Morgana wants to say. I can’t tell you so you need to figure it out for yourself.

“What happened to Merlin,” Arthur continues, still wilfully ignorant. “How did he fall?”

“He didn’t so much fall as shatter, Arthur. He stopped the magic but he splintered in the process.”

“What do you mean splintered?”

“Whatever he did, I don’t think it worked. Not completely anyway. There is something broken here. Can’t you feel it? It’s as if the air itself tastes wrong. Merlin’s gone. Gaius doesn’t remember him and just last night Gwen swore to me that there were no such things as stars in the sky.”

“As what?”

“The stars, Arthur. The stars. How in the world do you navigate at night without them?”

“You say these stars have disappeared as Merlin has?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re the only one who remembers?”

“I was hoping not the only one.”

“I don’t remember stars,” Arthur confesses. “But I believe you. Perhaps this is the best we can hope for.” He touches the edge of the cot, face oddly contemplative. “We need to talk to Gaius again. Sorcery of this magnitude is bound to leave traces.”

Morgana cannot help but think it has already left traces. That she and Arthur are the only ones not wholly swallowed by the spell’s influence. She opens her mouth to voice the thought but Arthur is already moving back out into Gaius’s laboratory, intent on taking his search elsewhere.

Gaius regards them both like he’s seen a ghost. “Where the devil did you come from?”

“Merlin’s room,” Arthur says slowly. He realizes his mistake after only a second and corrects himself with, “The spare room. You told us we could search it.”

“I don’t have a spare room.”

“What are you talking about?” Morgana says. “Of course you have a spare room. We were just…”

She turns around, intending to gesture toward the door as an example but finds nothing but a smooth wall. Arthur follows her gaze, moving forward to trace what should be the doorframe. “This is impossible,” he hisses. “It was right here. I know it was right here.”

Gaius arches his eyebrows and Morgana can tell Arthur is tensing up in anticipation of an altercation. “Thank you, Gaius,” she says slowly. “I’m so sorry for the intrusion. We’ll leave you to your work.”

In the hallway, Arthur heaves a sigh. “It’s sorcery.”

It’s Merlin, Morgana wants to answer.

“Of course it’s sorcery, though I cannot fathom a reason for a sorcerer to unmake the world.”

“Sorcerers are evil.” Arthur says, his father’s absolute certainty in every syllable. She wants to rage at him. He’s supposed to be smarter than this. He’s supposed to be the king the whole of Camelot is waiting for: kind, wise and fair. It’s no wonder Merlin never thought to take the gamble and trust a man who sounds like Uther’s mouthpiece.

“I highly doubt an entire people can be evil solely because of magic. But even if they were, I expect evil still needs some place to live. Unmaking the world is senseless even for the most black hearted magician.”

“But the world is unravelling,” Arthur drops his voice as a passing servant bustles by them. “Tell me this, why start with Merlin?”

“It’s probably because he was the one who stopped the magic during the fight.”

Arthur nods distractedly, moving toward the great hall. “We must alert my father. Sorcery is at hand.”

***

King Uther is at council when they find him, discussing preparations in wake of the battle. Precious few of the knights remain and if an enemy of Camelot should decide to attack, the city would be nearly defenceless.

It almost pains Morgana to add sorcery to the mix. The king is maniacal about sorcery. It may tempt him to commit resources that they do not have.

“Father,” Arthur announces, “Morgana and I have a matter of gravest urgency we must call to your attention.”

“Graver than the safety of Camelot?”

Arthur falters but Morgana steps smoothly to take over. “We suspect it to be graver than the safety of all of Albion. A matter of sorcery.”

Uther raises his eyes in interest. “Speak your mind.”

“I—we suspect that some sorcerer has endeavoured to unmake the whole of reality.”

“Serious allegations if there is proof.”

“The disappearance of my manservant, Merlin,” Arthur says.

“Preposterous. You have no such servant and have not since you dismissed your last one more than a year ago. I have no time for this. We are discussing manners of defence. The borders with Mercia must be reinforced and there is the matter of providing burial services for those who lost their lives in the fight.”

“I understand the necessity, father, but is it not strange that I remember this servant while you do not?”

Uther looks slightly more interested by that and Morgana, sensing that this could be her opportunity, leaps forward to add, “It’s not just Arthur. I remember the servant as well and have noted something more serious still. The heavens themselves have begun to change. The stars are no longer among us.”

There is a smattering of laughter through the council that Uther silences under his glare. “While I do not for a second believe something so fanciful, I can tell that you both do. Which means some matter of sorcerer has enchanted you.”

Arthur opens his mouth to protest but thinks better of it. Morgana has never been more impressed with his restraint.

Uther continues, “I would like every available knight to search the town for this magician.”

“Every knight?” Arthur interrupts. “But, father, were you not just saying that we needed to shore up our borders? Mercia has been unusually active recently and surely after such a catastrophic battle, we must be wary.”

“Mercia? Battle?” Uther repeats. “Has the sorcerer’s influence spread even farther then a phantom manservant? Camelot is the only kingdom in the region and we’ve been prosperous for many seasons.”

Arthur’s eyes widen as he looks to Morgana for confirmation and strength. She nods once and scans the faces of those assembled for another soul aware of the world unravelling at their feet.

She finds instead a man standing unnoticed in the corner. She is sure it must be a man because he seems to be watching her, his body canted toward her and Arthur, but he can’t be watching because he has no eyes to speak of. Nor does he have a nose or a mouth. She hears herself gasp, entranced by the image in front of her.

“Morgana,” Arthur says.

“Look,” she hisses, voice scarcely above a whisper. She extends a finger toward the man. “You see him, right?”

Arthur’s eyes widen, putting his hand toward his sword. It takes her a moment to realize everyone is watching them, looking back and forth from Arthur to The Man With No Face. But no one besides Morgan and the prince can see anything wrong with the man’s countenance. Arthur’s hand closes on the hilt of his blade and almost in unison, the whole of Uther’s court follows.

“We need to get out of here,” Morgana says.

Uther pulls himself to his feet.

Arthur seems unwilling to give up, like he is ready to challenge his father for the right to lead. Morgana grabs his arm. “Merlin,” she hisses in his ear. “You anger your father and we’re not going to be able to help him.”

Arthur straightens. “Father, I would like your permission to track this sorcerer.”

“Of course,” Uther says. “See that he is found at once. It cannot be seen that any son of mine has been bewitched. I will not have you falling prey to some sorcerer’s diabolical plot.”

The Man With No Face turns his head as if watching them leave.

***


Morgana goes to the library while Arthur combs the lower town with the remainder of his knights. Morgana pours through book after book, looking for some kind of clue, but half of the books are empty by the time she gets to them and other disappear the instant she reaches for them on the shelf.

She reads--or at least attempts to read--for hours and by the time she leaves there is no one manning the desk, Geoffrey not there to scold her for replacing the books in different shelves. His disappearance chills Morgana to the bone.

Arthur is on the practise field when she finds him, pummelling an old practice dummy with his sword. There’s rage tearing across his face but also something suspiciously like tears. Morgana watches him for a long moment before making her presence known. “No luck then.”

He whirls toward her, sword drawn. She fears attack for a moment before his eyes betray him. “They’ve not heard of him, Morgana. Not a soul in the lower town knows the name Merlin.”

“Perhaps they are still distraught in the aftermath of the battle.”

Arthur’s brow creases. “What battle?”

It’s only then that Morgana sees it. History is unravelling for Camelot’s prince just the same as his people. But Arthur, ever stubborn, clings to the memories of Merlin. “Never mind the battle,” Morgana snaps. “You must realize though that it’s not just Merlin’s who’s disappeared. The whole world’s unravelling and I appear to be the only one who can keep all the facts in my mind at once.”

“What proof do you have that your story is true?” Arthur challenges.

“Half of the books on the library’s shelves are gone. Even more of them are empty. The librarian is likewise gone. ”

In fact, it’s only the books on magic that remain. The books on magic and a single shield in the books of nobility belonging to a Lancelot Du Lac. Lancelot who had been Merlin's friend. She knows the implications but it has never been her secret to tell.

Arthur nods. “I don’t remember there ever being a librarian but it sounds alarmingly close to what happened to Merlin.”

“It’s all part of the whole,” Morgana says. “The world is tearing itself apart. It started to shatter the instant that Merlin fell.”

Arthur plants his sword firmly in the ground and leans on it, looking as tired and worn as Morgana has ever seen. There’s a long moment when neither of them talk before Arthur swallows and struggling to keep his voice light says, “You know we can’t actually disappear into one of our chambers to discuss this. There’s going to be talk.”

Morgana fights back a smile at this small flicker of levity. She wants to return it with some of her own but what comes back is tinged black with the gravity of the situation. “Are you really so ashamed that you can’t be in a room alone with me even after the whole of reality has begun to unravel?”

There’s a bit of a smile playing on Arthur's lips. “Of course I’m ashamed,” he says. “The idea that anyone would mistake us for a pair is outrageous.” The smile fades quickly and he draws his sword up to sheath it. “We should meet at Gwen’s house. That is if you think she won’t mind.”

The solution is so painfully simple that Morgana curses herself for not having thought of it. “No, of course she wouldn’t. She adores Merlin.”

The sombre air has settled back over Arthur like a fog. “If she even remembers him.”

“We’ll soon find out. We should be there at sundown.”

***


There are no guards at the gate of the castle. In fact, there’s barely a gate to speak of. The castle is shrinking and the only thing preserved in perfect detail is the executioner’s block in the courtyard.

The night is uncomfortably warm and supremely bright—especially considering the starless sky.

Morgana makes it to Gwen’s house an instant before Arthur does. She had not seen him on her way here but as far as she can tell, there is only one remaining route to the house. Arthur looks equally surprised to see her there but it’s not enough to stop his resolve and he knocks three times in quick succession on Gwen’s door. Gwen edges the door open after only a second, not enough to reveal more than a sliver of her face. “You weren’t followed, were you?”

“By whom?” Morgana asks.

The crack in the door widens just a bit. “He has no name.”

“Everything has a name,” Arthur says. “Perhaps you’ve only forgotten as the rest of the world has.”

Gwen takes another look up and down the street and then opens the door quickly to let them inside. “The Man With No Face,” she says, shutting the door behind them. “I call him The Man With No Face.”

Arthur stops moving. Morgana feels the colour drain out of her face. “But we’ve seen him. In Uther’s court. Who is he and what does he want?”

“He’s after someone,” Gwen says, pressing her eyes shut. “A boy. I helped him out of the city only yesterday.”

“A boy,” Morgana whispers, thinking of Mordred. “What was his name?”

“I’m afraid I don’t remember.” Gwen moves briskly away from the door and toward her table. “He was scarcely more than six years old. I couldn’t let him be taken. He was just a little boy.”

Morgana catches Arthur’s eye just long enough to confirm that this is someone they need to help as well. It didn’t matter if it was Merlin or not. If The Man With No Face wanted him, they needed to keep him safe. “Where did you take him?”

Gwen lowered her eyes. “Ealdor, milady.”

“Ealdor,” Morgana repeated. “But that’s quite a ride. How did you ever manage to get all the way there and back in the past day?”

“It’s not a long ride, milady.”

Morgana frowned. “But it took the four of us nearly a week last time.”

“Four of us?” Gwen echoes, the confusion written clearly on her face.

Arthur turns away in disgust. “Yes, the four of us! How could you forget?”

“Arthur, it’s not her fault,” Morgana snaps, moving the curtains aside to peer out at the darkened street. “She can’t help what’s happening to her any more than we can stop it.”

“I’m sorry, milady, happening to me? Is something happening to me?”

“It's nothing, Gwen,” Morgana says quickly. “Don’t worry about a thing.”

“What aren't you telling me?”

“We’re looking for Merlin,” Arthur cuts in, ever forthright. “Do you know where he might be?”

“Who’s Merlin?”

“He’s my---” Arthur starts but falls short of finishing the thought. “If you don’t know who he is, you won’t really be of help to us, Guinevere. I’m sorry.”

“We’ll be heading to Ealdor in the morning,” Morgana says. “Perhaps we’ll be able to find answers about The Man With No Face if we find the boy. I’m quite certain this is all related.”

She catches Arthur nodding. At this moment, they have no better explanation. Merlin is nowhere, and if her instincts are right, Camelot is in danger. No matter how worried Arthur is, Camelot will always be his first priority. Even if losing Merlin is an option.

The stand staring at one another in silence for a long moment before Arthur says quietly, “I don’t want to go back to the castle again. Not without Merlin there.”

It’s such a blatantly raw statement that Morgana knows Gwen won’t refuse him even if she doesn’t understand.

“Would it be all right if we stayed here for the night?" Morgana asks. "You are more than welcome to say no of course, but it would save us the trouble of sneaking out of the castle tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Gwen says. “You need only to ask. I will prepare a bed for you.”

“I don’t need one,” Arthur says and Gwen looks up in shock. “I highly doubt I will sleep tonight.”

“Don’t put yourself out because of me,” Morgana admonishes. “I’m quite comfortable to sleep on the floor. We’re the ones imposing on you.”

Gwen bows slight. “Thank you.”

Morgana drifts off to sleep later than she would like, Gwen’s gentle snores lulling her into a state of comfort. Arthur spends the evening scribbling furiously onto a parchment under the dim light of a waning candle. The silence is back in her dreams, the deep depths of nothingness that force themselves down her throat and rob her of her breath.

She wakes up Arthur whacking her on the back, his face ashen. She blinks owlishly at him. “What on Earth are you doing?”

“Morgana!” he cries and pulls her into a tight embrace. Over his shoulder she can see Gwen crying.

He hasn’t touched her like this since their youth, when they were just children not yet bound but the court. It’s a comfort in more ways than one. Arthur has always been the brother she’s never had. “What happened?”

Arthur pulls back but doesn’t let go, like he needs the tangible grip on her arm to assure himself that she’s still there.

“You were choking,” Gwen says. “We didn’t know what to do.”

“You’re all right now.” Arthur croaks.

“It was my dream,” Morgana says.

“I’ll be sure to get the sleeping draught from the castle if you would like to wait here before you set out,” Gwen offered. “It would be no hardship at all.”

“No, Gwen. Thank you, but no.”

“You're not leaving,” Arthur whispers in her ear. “Not after Merlin. I don’t think I could stand to lose you as well.”

Outside the bells chime. Gwen lets a flash of anger flicker past her features. She still hasn’t forgiven Uther her father’s death but she hides the anger for Arthur’s sake.

They all know what the bells mean.

“Who’s he executing this time?” Morgana asks aloud. “He can’t have had time to convict anyone since yesterday.”

“You think perhaps he’s found the sorcerer who has erased Merlin?” Arthur jolts to his feet, snatching the parchment and folding it carefully into the same belt that held his sword like it was precious. “We must go see.”

He’s out the door before Morgana has a chance to protest. All she and Gwen can do is trail after him, hiking up their dresses for ease of motion. Arthur’s standing dumbstruck in the mess of commoners in the courtyard when they reach him. It's just in time to see the executioner tear the sack off the man’s head.

Just in time to realize it’s not just anyone standing on the execution’s block. It’s a familiar pale, wild-eye boy with a mess of dark hair.

“Merlin!” Arthur cries, lunching toward the block.

But he doesn’t even get halfway there before the axe falls.

Time slows down. Arthur keeps screaming. Morgana turns away. There’s a collective gasp through the crowd, just a sharp intake of breath as the axe collides precisely with the neck and the head detaches. Gwen puts a hand over her mouth and then, out of the corner of her eyes, Morgana sees him again, The Man With No Face, standing halfway across the crowd. But his gaze for once isn’t on Morgana and Arthur, it is directed to a boy. A scrawny little thing of about six with dark hair and Merlin’s eyes who was watching the execution in horror. For an instant, Morgana thinks it’s Mordred but there is something off about the face. She tugs on Gwen’s sleeve, pointing toward the boy. “Gwen, do you know that child?”

“But that’s him,” Gwen says. “That’s the boy I helped out of the city only yesterday.”

Morgana doesn't wait. She simply darts to forward to catch Arthur by the shoulder. “We’ve got to go,” she cries. “There’s no time.

Arthur lets himself be dragged away from the execution, back toward the gates of the city where the boy is still standing rooted to the spot. His clothes are filthy and he looks like the worst of street urchins. “We’ve got to get him out,” Morgana hisses in his ears. “The Man With No Face has his sights on him.”

That small sense of purpose is all Arthur needs. He propels himself into action, grasping the little boy by the hand, adding, “I’m Prince Arthur and we’ve got to get you out of here right now.”

The boy looks at Arthur, shell shocked and then over where he caught the sight of The Man With No Face. “Run,” he hisses at the boy and just like that the two of them are off, moving in tandem. The boy is light on his feet and able to duck through any obstacle. Arthur, of course, is crown prince of Camelot more than fit. Morgana trails after them, knowing in her heart that they’ll end up in Ealdor. The Man With No Face pursues, gliding through the crowd with the ease of a phantom.

Gwen squeezes her arm. “Go after them then. I’ll be fine here by myself.”

“But I don’t want to leave you.”

“I may just be a servant,” Gwen says, drawing herself up, “but I do know destiny when I see it. Go, Morgana.

She catches them at the gates of the city, but only because Arthur has come to a standstill, staring blankly at what used to be the forest. “But that’s impossible,” he mumbles. “It can’t have just left.”

There is no forest beyond Camelot’s gates just a smattering of trees and past that, a village. Morgana squints at it. “Is that Ealdor?”

The boy is still clutching Arthur’s hand, so close to the prince that he appears to be glued to his leg. “Yes,” Arthur says faintly. “Yes, that’s Ealdor, but what happened to the forest?

“It doesn’t matter,” Morgana hisses. “We’ve got to get out of the city.”

Except, she thinks as she picks her way through the trees, it really did matter because just hours ago, Arthur hadn’t remembered. Hadn’t been able to see the world unravelling unless Merlin had been there as well and that mattered.

The prince hauls the boy up to his shoulder after he stumbles over some rocks. Morgana looks behind her to see that The Man With No Face had stopped his pursuit at the gates of Camelot. The boy clings to Arthur’s neck, burying his face in his shoulder. Something cold washes over her and the ice doesn’t thaw when they reach the village.

Arthur gently pries the boy from his neck and sets him to the ground. “You’re safe now,” he says. “I promise.”

The boy nods mutely at him. Arthur smoothes an unruly strand of hair from the boy’s face. Morgana can’t help but think it fits him. This gentle protectiveness. He’s not only going to be a great king one day, but he will also be a great father.

He is a far better man that Uther can ever hope to be.

“What’s your name?” Arthur asks the boy.

The boy chews on his lip for a moment before grinning and saying, “Merlin!”

Morgana only barely catches the look of shock on his face before the boy has his hand again, tugging him in what she knows is the direction of his mother’s house. “You’ve got to meet my mum, Arthur. You’ll love her, she’s absolutely brilliant. Will’s probably here too but he doesn’t much like knights or ladies.” He glances back toward Morgana and she wonders how she could have possibly missed it before. Everything about this child screams Merlin even though Merlin was the one who had been beheaded in the square only seconds ago. “Come, Morgana! My mum always loves meeting my friends.”

Arthur lets himself be dragged along, still half in shock when Hunith embraces him and thanks him profoundly for bringing her little boy back to her.

Merlin finally detaches his hand from Arthur and the prince sags. Morgana hadn’t realized how lost he looked without his manservant. “Where did you find him?” Hunith puts a familiar hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “I worry about him so much.”

“He was in Camelot,” Morgana answers for him.

“There was an execution,” Arthur says. His hands are clenched against the place where he’d tuck the rough scrap of parchment only last night. “He was watching his own execution.”

Hunith’s face clouds and Morgana has the vague sort of notion that if anyone can tell them what’s happening right now, it’s Merlin’s mother. Merlin darts through the near empty village with a filthy brown haired boy who could only be Will.

But Will is supposed to be dead. This place is nothing but a preserved memory.

“Something’s wrong, you realise,” Morgana tries. “He shouldn’t still be this young.”

“It is every mother’s secret wish to have her son be innocent forever,” Hunith says. “But no, I know. I mean that’s my Merlin out there plain as day but he’s not the person he’d grown into. But if my little boy walks back in here, I’ve got to do all I can to take care of him.”

Arthur stands at the window, watching Merlin and Will outside, the two of them laughing together.

“We’re trying to find out what happened,” Morgana says carefully. “We don’t know much but Merlin seems to be at the heart of it.”

“You’re safe though,” Hunith replies with absolute certainty. “Even as a boy Merlin looked out for the people he loves. Myself, Will, the two of you. Gwen. Gaius. Merlin won’t let a thing come to any of you.”

“If we don’t fix this, it may not be in his power to keep us all safe.” Morgana lowers her voice. “If there’s anything you may have heard. Anything about The Man With No Face?”

Hunith shakes her head. “He’s a special boy.”

Arthur’s hands fly to his sword, moving back toward the door with purpose.

“What’s going on?” Morgana demands.

“Sorcery,” Arthur says darkly and pushes open the door.

Morgana exchanges a terrified look with Hunith and they both jolt to their feet trailing Arthur out the door.

There’s a dragon made of midst in front of the two boys, soaring as if in flight. Both Will and Merlin are cackling in delight but it’s Merlin not Will with his hand outstretched. Arthur has his sword drawn, bellowing, “Where is he?”

This will end badly. But it’s too late to stop.

“The sorcerer!” Arthur bellows. “Where is he?”

The two boys freeze; Will looking at the prince in anger, Merlin in fear.

“Arthur!” Morgana cries.

“Are you protecting him?” Arthur demands. “How could you harbour a sorcerer when you know what’s happening to this kingdom?”

The sword wobbles toward the boys and Merlin steps in front of Will. “I thought you were good,” he says.

“I am good,” Arthur retorts.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Merlin says, sticking his chin out defiantly. “I’ll stop you if you try to hurt us.”

“You’ll stop me,” Arthur scoffs and then Morgana can pinpoint the moment that the realization sweeps over him. His whole body sags like and then all of a sudden he’s kneeling so he can look the boy in the eyes. “It’s you,” he says. “All this time, it was you.”

Merlin back-pedals, clutching at Will’s arm for support. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hunith signs heavily. “My little boy’s always been special.”

Arthur scrambles to his feet, a valiant effort to restore his dignity. He turns to Hunith. “How long?”

“He could move things with his mind before he could walk.” Hunith says. “There’s not an evil bone in his body, sire.”

Shakily , Arthur sheaths his sword, moving toward Merlin with utmost care. Merlin flinches away. “It’s me, Merlin,” he says. “Arthur. We’re… we’re mates, remember? I wouldn’t hurt you. I just didn’t know.”

There’s a certain amount of pain in his voice and Morgana for the first time finds herself realizing just how much Arthur cared for his manservant. She supposes she should have figured it out sooner, maybe when he’d defied his father for a flower or when they’d ridden into the enemy’s kingdom for the sake of Merlin’s mother, but this, Arthur offering friendship after such an obvious display of sorcery, going against his father and his king with hardly a second though because it was Merlin.

Maybe the execution had seared itself into his mind. Maybe he’s always been like that but Morgana suddenly feels like an intruder in this moment. Hunith has already snuck back to her house to watch from the window. Will tries to tug Merlin back but the boy is already moving toward Arthur like he was enchanted. “We’re mates?” he echoes.

“Of course,” Arthur says. “I’d never let anything hurt you.”

“I’m your mate, Merlin!” Will shouts, trying to tug the other boy away. “He was just swinging a sword at us!”

“I protect you,” Merlin says. “Not the other way around.”

Arthur laughs. “Yes, I suppose you probably do. Though I’m the prince and it’s supposed to be my job to protect the people. It’s all right though. I forgive you.”

Merlin gives him a brilliant smile, the very same one Merlin, the real Merlin, handed out with far too much trust and edges toward Arthur. He looks almost shy as he slips his hand into Arthur’s. Will behind him huffs and storms off. “Let’s go inside,” Arthur says.

Even his voice sounds different. It’s like Merlin’s touch has slotted the world back into place. They could conquer the world, the two of them, and Morgana is loathe to admit, the world may actually be better for it.

Not that there’s much world left.

Merlin drags Arthur back into the house, chattering happily as he starts to perform small feats of magic for Arthur, showers of sparks that twist through the air, a spoon enchanted to dance a jig. The tricks are something that would enchant any young boy and though Morgana can tell by Arthur’s too-straight spin that the magic makes him nervous, he keeps it off his face and Merlin is none the wiser.

“He’s split himself apart, hasn’t he?” Hunith asks.

Morgana turns away from Arthur, blinking in surprise. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s happened again. He was such a little boy the first time. I thought he’d grown out of it.”

“This has happened before?”

“When he was a child,” Hunith confirms. “Only about a year older than the little boy over there. Will’s father had died in one of the campaigns and Merlin decided he was going to fix it. Bring Will his father back. Finish the campaign before anyone else got hurt.”

“Did it work?”

“To an extent. Will got his father back however briefly, but Merlin, Merlin was demolished. It was all I could do to talk him back into one piece.”

“What do you mean 'tore himself apart'?”

Hunith worries the hem of her dress between her hands. “I mean just what it sounds like, milady. He tried something too big for even him and he split himself apart to finish. But the world can’t abide by that and it started to collapse around him.”

“Wait, Merlin’s doing this?”

“It certainly seems the most likely scenario.” Hunith casts a look over to her son. “Magic holds the world together after all and it’s always seemed to me that Merlin held the magic.”

“You said the last time there were… pieces of him wondering about. It’s worse than that this time. Me and Arthur are the only ones who even remember him. The heavens themselves are being torn from existence. The world is shrinking.”

Hunith turns back to Arthur and Merlin, the young boy yawning as he tucks himself into Arthur’s side. Arthur looks bewildered for the barest fraction of a second before putting his arm protectively around the boy. “Then I guess you’ve better find a way to put him back together.”

The candle's light flickers ever so lightly as Arthur stares out the open window. He looks comfortable with Merlin asleep at his side. But then his gaze drifts out the window, his eyes widen and his back straightens. “Morgana,” he hisses. “The stars! What happened to the stars?”

***


Morgana works it out.

Arthur, sitting on the grubby floor in Merlin’s mother’s hut with the miniature version of his manservant tucked into his side can remember everything in perfect clarity. Morgana quizzes him about the battles, the days before she came to the castle and all the minute details of life before Merlin.

The second he pries the boy’s arms off of him and moves him securely into the bed, it’s gone. He stands dazed, disoriented for a moment like he’s just woken up from a blow to the head. He doesn’t move back to the boy despite how much he obviously wants to, despite how badly the dearth of knowledge leaves him shaking, just sits across from Morgana and Hunith, clutching at the scrap of parchment he’d taken from Gwen’s house.

Morgana, burning with curiosity steals it from his hands when he finally falls asleep. Hunith likewise has taken her rest and she’s alone when she unfolds the paper and stares at Arthur’s painfully familiar handwriting.

Penmanship had always been one of Uther’s marks against him as Arthur had always valued many things more than writing. But there’s obvious care in this script, meaning etched into every letter. It’s a list of things Arthur and Merlin have done together. Morgana scans the first three entries and then folds it carefully up again, feeling like a trespasser. She moves to put it back when she realizes that Merlin’s tiny form has woken up and is staring blearily at her. “What’s that?” he asks through a yawn.

Morgana hesitates for just a moment before offering Merlin a small smile. “It’s your adventures.”

Merlin perks up. “Can I look?”

“Can you read?” Morgana asks, surprised.

“I’m getting better,” Merlin says like it’s the most natural thing in the world even though most peasants don’t have the faintest idea of how to read. “You could read it to me.”

He stands there, all wide, pleading eyes and Morgana realizes that he could force her to read it to him if he chose to do so.

Realizes that this little boy may be the most powerful being in the universe.

“You’ll be able to remember them all for yourself after we put everything right again.”

Merlin chews on his bottom lip, trying to muddle his way through the statement. “Something’s happened hasn’t it? The world feels funny and mum looks so sad.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, but we’re going to fix it.” She reaches out to stroke a strand of Merlin’s hair out of his eyes.

The instant her hand touches his skin, there’s a spark and she lets out a gasp as she feels the magic build up inside her, causing the flame of the candle to leap. Merlin shoots back from her. “You’ve got magic,” he says, half terrified, half awed.

“Yes I have.”

“You’ve got to hide it!” he says firmly, moving toward her. “Mum says you can’t show things like that! It’s dangerous if people can see you.”

Morgana finds herself backing away from the boy almost instinctively, something clawing just at the edges of her understanding but in the end, this is still Merlin and she cannot find it in her to be afraid.

“I’ll help you hide it.”

Merlin’s hands are tiny and cold. When they connect with her wrist white explodes into her vision like a thousand lights from dying stars.

(Part Two: Reconstruction)

(no subject)

15/4/11 18:06 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] mihnn.livejournal.com
Arthur's innocence just made me smile. And I realized how much I missed the old Morgana when I was reading this chapter. - I especially like the idea of The Man With No Face, as well as little Merlin, who is just too adorable.

(no subject)

18/4/11 20:24 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Morgana used to be such a joy to watch. I like evil moustache twirling Morgana as well but this one's more fun to play with. Glad you're still enjoying the fic.

(no subject)

24/4/11 23:32 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] davincis-girl.livejournal.com
“I don’t want to go back to the castle again. Not without Merlin there.”

This is the thing about some of the episodes that I enjoy most, when the main characters care so deeply for one another.

(no subject)

8/6/11 01:45 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] kasleigh1.livejournal.com
So I was feeling adventurous and hit the 'Surprise Me!' button on my home page and got your journal.
Though I didn't much understand this I'm guessing I should've read the beginning but I thought since I read the original book that it would make up for not reading the beginning to your story. Lol. Fail on my part. XD
Anyways I thought it was well written :)

(no subject)

11/6/11 02:35 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Heh, yeah, not the best sort of place to start. =)

(But it is always fun to find a fellow Alfred Bester fan. *waves*)

(no subject)

11/6/11 02:45 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] kasleigh1.livejournal.com
*Waves back*
Though I wouldn't say fan, just an occasional reader ^^

(no subject)

11/6/11 02:51 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Heh, the man has like what? 3 books anyone's heard of. Two are all time sci fi greats and the other one is kind of steeped in mediocrity. You can more than get away with being an occasional reader. =)

(no subject)

11/6/11 02:52 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] kasleigh1.livejournal.com
Lol then I shall :D