beyond_avalon: (mordred huddle)
[personal profile] beyond_avalon
Title: Not darkness, but light.
Author[personal profile] beyond_avalon / [livejournal.com profile] pax_morgana 
Characters: Mordred, Merlin (implied Merlin/Mordred)
Wordcount: 2,448
Notes: Finally, the completed version of this!
Warnings: Contains potentially triggering material and character death.


In this dark place of nightmares, Mordred has forgotten what daylight is like.

In this silent prison of hatred and shame, he no longer recalls the sound of voices.

In this frigid world of forever-sleep, he can't remember how to love.

Merlin comes to see him every century or so – only once, and only for a single cycle of twenty-four hours. Sometimes, they reminisce about old times, if Mordred can remember; sometimes, they fuck, if Mordred can gather the strength; mostly, though, they sit in silence broken only by a few words here and there, communing mostly through touch and breath and magic. They never say the things that led to these meetings:

Arthur is dead, because Mordred killed him.

Mordred will never die, because Merlin has imprisoned him here.

In the beginning, Mordred wasted all of his time and energy on hatred: hating Merlin, and Arthur, and himself, but as ages passed by, he lost hatred as he lost everything else. Marking the passage of time by Merlin's visits, it has been two thousand three hundred years. Neither of them look any different now than they did all that time ago, except Merlin is a little more haggard, Mordred a bit more pale, but in truth, time has changed them both beyond measure.

"Can you speak today?" asks Merlin, softly, when he steps through the darkness. Mordred is sitting cross-legged on what can only be called the "floor", although there is nothing truly solid here. It is all magic, all illusion. Grey eyes peer up at him, long since drained of their light.

"I can." The nature of this place is fickle, sometimes stealing away Mordred's speech or his senses. Many times, Merlin has come to see him only to find him curled up in a drooling, muttering heap; or else unable to move or talk. He's quietly pleased that Mordred seems to be in possession of all of his faculties, today. There are things he wishes to discuss. "I remembered something. I don't know when, it was long ago. After you left last time, I think. But I still have it. It hasn't been taken from me, yet. Arthur."

"Just that name?" Merlin folds himself down before Mordred, who has a blank expression on his face. He seems empty this time, uncaring and distracted. Merlin hates these days the most. Mordred blinks slowly and leans forward to pillow his head on Merlin's shoulder. Merlin wraps his arms around the thin, naked body.

"Is it a name? I suppose it must be. Tell me, what does it mean?" The words are muffled, as Mordred's face is buried in the crook of his neck, but Merlin hears and his heart clenches. His reply is very quiet, but there is no other sound but their breathing, so it doesn't matter.

"Nothing. Forget about it." Mordred shrugs and closes his eyes. Like that, it's out of mind; it doesn't take much to forget here, and there's no reason for Mordred to care in a place like this. Merlin knows this, sees what the darkness has done – and it's all for the best. Because of Mordred, Arthur is dead; he knew it would happen and all along, he knew that Mordred would end up here. Tragic in its necessity, which was why Merlin came to visit him every hundred years, to sit with him and talk, or have sex if one or the other felt so inclined. Occasionally, Mordred seemed to come back to himself, and they would argue, but those times were rare. Usually, it was like this: quiet, with Mordred relishing contact he didn't know he missed, and Merlin giving it because he knew what it was to be deprived. It was only a few years that he was trapped in this place himself, by Nimue, his erstwhile paramour and student; those few years shook him more than he would ever let show. Was he heartless, to lay down this torture upon Mordred, who acted only in accordance with the demands of destiny?

Perhaps, but it wasn't his fate to be merciful. Mordred committed a crime, and this was the only punishment Merlin deemed fit to mete out. Nevertheless, in silence, Merlin strokes Mordred's hair, almost as dark as the darkness surrounding them, and Mordred simply relaxes and lets it happen. "I know you," he murmurs after a time, in a small voice with deliberate words. He says this like it's a revelation, like he didn't just mention Merlin's past visits moments before. In this place, memory is fleeting. "You come here often. Why?"

Merlin shifts, pulls Mordred into his lap, where the boy instinctively curls up into a pair of protective arms. "To check on you," the ageless sorcerer says simply.

"Ah. Did you – put me here?" There's only curiosity in his tone, no blame or worry. This is why Merlin can fearlessly respond.

"I did. For your own good." Of course, Mordred nods and settles back into silence, accepting the explanation with no argument or questions. Over the centuries, the millennia, this lack of interest has never ceased to disturb Merlin. His own stint in this prison was not nearly long enough to eradicate all memory or feeling, thus he had not foreseen it happening to Mordred. He should have known, in hindsight: spending ages in this dark void is bound to rob one of something. Merlin catches himself wondering at the reason for his pity ・is it because it grieves him to see another human being in such a helpless state, or is it because the boy is Arthur's son? The latter frightens him a little, because of how truly it rings. He knows that Arthur, had he lived, would have been the first to forgive Mordred and embrace him once again as a comrade and as his son; he would never have wanted this fate for the boy, even if Merlin swore to him on all manner of relics of both religions that it was the right thing to do. Yet, it was this same naïve willingness to trust Mordred that led to Arthur's death. He knew all along that the lad would turn on him in the end, yet his arms opened still. A fool's choice, but one that proved Arthur's true nature and worth as King.

Mordred squirms a little, interrupting Merlin's thoughts. Those pale eyes peer up at him through a fringe much too long (he thinks that, next time, he'll bring scissors and give the boy a haircut). Softly, Mordred inquires, "What are you thinking of? You look as if you want to cry."

Does he? Merlin attempts to school his face into blankness, and replies, "Nothing. You wouldn't understand." It's as if he's speaking to a child.

And like a child, unlike the times before, Mordred presses, "I may. Won't you tell me?"

Merlin keeps silent, gently nudges Mordred's head back down onto his shoulder, and continues stroking it. Definitely, he needs a haircut. Though he does not age here, his hair has grown – albeit more slowly than it would have outside in as many years. With the lack of answer, Mordred once more seems to forget, and makes a soft, contented sound. His eyes are closed again, and his fingers tangle in Merlin's shirt. He isn't asleep, for one cannot sleep in this place, nor faint, nor die. Consciousness is eternal here, but it appears to Merlin that Mordred has, in his long incarceration, learned to close his mind to every discomfort. A type of madness, the sorcerer supposes, but a clever one. Mordred was always clever, so much so that it ought to have been a crime.

"Are you cold?" The question speaks itself, without Merlin really realizing that it's in response to Mordred shivering, though only very slightly. Mordred replies with a mere nod. Merlin removes his coat – for it's winter outside, and snowing – and places it around the boy's too-thin shoulders. Mordred tugs it close around himself and whispers something so softly that Merlin doesn't quite hear.

- - -

The next one hundred years passes in slow, dripping agony on one side and on the other, it passes quick as a day. Decisions have been made in this century, and things are forgotten. When Merlin passes through the darkness, Mordred's eyes are alight and his whole body is thrumming tense like a bowstring. Angry words wait on the tip of his tongue, like an arrow nocked and eager to be let fly, but Merlin forestalls them with a gesture. It's only then that Mordred sees the wizard is carrying something in his other hand: a paper bag, it looks like, and Mordred cannot think why.

"It's time to go," answers Merlin without being asked. The bag is placed in Mordred's hands, and there he stands, completely unsure what to do. He looks inside.

"These are – mine?" His voice is hesitant, unsteady; he sets down the bag and pulls out several articles of clothing, one by one. They're made of fabrics he doesn't know, in styles he cannot comprehend, and Merlin has to help him dress in these alien garments that feel heavy on a body that has not known the touch of clothing in over two thousand years. Merlin also cuts his hair, shorter than he'd intended when he thought of it last time, but at Mordred's own behest. The weighty curtain of black now lay discarded and Mordred feels new as the tips of his hair brush his shoulders. They talk like old friends, with laughter between them as there never was, and when Merlin explains how the world has changed, Mordred's eyes go wide in disbelief.

"You'll see," is Merlin's reply. The hours are like their own small centuries before the dark is banished behind them, and Mordred is awash in sunlight for the first time. He wants to weep, to laugh, to do so many things, but he can only stand in silence as the warmth prickles along his pale arms and face and the air raises goosebumps like so many little pins. He doesn't yet see the world that is not the world he left, but when the sun no longer blinds, he opens his eyes and sees. Buildings all about stand tall as castles and taller against a sky painted shades of blue that Mordred has long forgotten. People walk about in thick droves, and beasts whip by leaving trails of terrible noise behind them.

Merlin watches him with a strange expression on his face, and Mordred only now realizes that the man has not aged a day. He has that same young-old look about him, green-eyed monster that he is, with his shock of nut-brown hair and hawkish nose. Taller than he by several measures, the sorcerer stands lean like a cat with his arms folded as if he's waiting for something to be said or done. The silence is long and heavy, and when it's broken, punctures and leaks away like a lanced abscess.

"Why now? Why at all? You could have just left me in that place, or left me to die where he died. What purpose does this serve?"

Merlin only responds to one thing: "You didn't deserve to die beside him."

Mordred does not argue.

- - -

Outside, it takes effort to grow accustomed to the movement of time. In this bright, new world where there is everything when all Mordred can recall is nothing, he is afraid. He finds that he misses the darkness, where he doesn't need to remember or think or try – all things that he must do, now. The nightmares come unbidden and clear, and in the night they wake him with the cry of his own voice. Sweat bathes his skin and his heart flutters, he remembers and sometimes he weeps. Merlin does not come, has forgotten him it seems, and the true nature of his punishment comes clear. It was not the darkness that was his damnation, but the light.

Years pass by outside Mordred's bedroom window: one year, two years, five, ten. He cannot become used to this world or its people, nor can he forget the way his dreams ring true in their horror. He doesn't leave the apartment that Merlin had arranged for him unless he absolutely must, and it's easy to talk himself out of it even then. Mostly, he sits in his bedroom, or in the living room with the curtains drawn and the television off. He sometimes forgets to eat, but it's just as well for he can never eat without vomiting anymore, anyway. Often in the middle of the night, when he's too frightened to sleep, he calls for Merlin. He begs and curses and shrieks and sobs, but it's all for naught: the wizard never comes.

It's almost Christmas when he finally does, and Mordred watches him with apprehensive, glassy eyes. Merlin makes himself at home, doesn't say much beyond commenting on how cold it is in the apartment. (Mordred is always cold anyway, so he never bothers to turn on the heat, and makes no remark when Merlin cranks it up high.) They sit side-by-side on the sofa, Merlin sprawled comfortably and Mordred drawn up small and tense, hugging his knees; Mordred's eyes never leave Merlin's face. This game of silence persists for several minutes, and Merlin is the winner.

"You abandoned me. Ten years." Merlin pretends not to notice the hollow thrum of Mordred's voice, and he lifts and drops a shoulder in a fluid shrug. His fingers find Mordred's hair and comb through it; it wants cutting again. Mordred doesn't so much as flinch.

"I never professed to be your caretaker, Mordred," replies the wizard easily. And it's the truth: such a claim had never been made, nor had he done anything beyond what was morally responsible for him to do.

"My gaoler." Another shrug; Mordred settles his head down on Merlin's shoulder as Merlin continues to stroke his hair.

"Just so. How do you like it here?" This question receives no answer, but he doesn't expect one so he doesn't prompt. The rest of the afternoon is spent in silence, and when the sun begins to set, Merlin excuses himself, wishing Mordred a happy Christmas. The apartment is dark now, but it's far from true darkness and Mordred finds it a poor substitute. Nevertheless, it will do. In the bathroom, he turns the water on in the tub, scalding-hot, and climbs in. It hurts to sink beneath the surface, but his skin soon becomes numb to the unpleasantness of it.

It doesn't take long to fall asleep.
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Morgan Arthur

September 2011

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