Title: Innocence Lost
Characters: Merlin, Nimueh, Arthur, Morgana, Gwen
Warnings: Some dark, angsty Merlin if you don’t like that sort of thing...
Word Count: 1,255
Summary: Merlin never considered himself a killer.
In sleep, his eyes are a hawk’s and they focus in on her face in the moments before it happens, reading every nuance as though he has an age to study her.
There’s surprise at first. That he’s still alive. That he stands before her now with defiance when he should be laying dead, blood soaking the ground with wasted potential.
Arrogance, then. A cold amusement at this boy who thinks he can best her.
Anger next flickers across her features, twisting their undeniable beauty into something cruel when he challenges her. How dare he stand up to her? She, a priestess of the old religion. The architect of the very kingdom he seeks to defend.
Finally, there’s fear as she too late recognises the extent of his power. That he, beyond all expectations, truly means to kill. Her beauty is scared by pain. She’s in agony as the magic rips through her, barely able to scream as it paralyses her whilst she waits for the inevitable.
He can hear her in his head.
And then there’s nothing.
He wakes with a start, bathed in sweat, shirt clinging to his body like it’s trying to suffocate him. He’s panting as though he’s run for miles and he can feel the magic in the air, crackling dangerously around him. The rage in him bubbles like a fire sits beneath it, urging it on, wanting him to give in to the darkness that had momentarily taken him on the island.
He’d wanted Gaius to live but, more than anything, he’d wanted her dead. Wanted to see her punished for what she’d done to him.
He’d wanted vengeance.
Which was perhaps understandable in the heat of the moment, when his grief was still raw, but he knows he should at least feel sorrow now. Pity for Nimueh and remorse for how she died at his hands.
He feels nothing but continued anger and the magic that, for the first time in his life, wants to consume him.
Arthur prattles on about pointless things and Merlin ignores him, body automatically tidying the prince’s chambers, mind lost in private concerns.
Who is he?
What will he become?
A soft knock at the door turns out to be Morgana. The glance she gives Merlin is one of odd distrust and it seems to whisper to him.
‘I know what you did’.
He ignores her and continues working.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” she points out to Arthur, nodding at him as he practices thrusts with his sword, testing the new blade that has arrived for him that morning. “Gaius says you’re still weak.”
“I am not,” Arthur replies in expected affront.
“Of course not.”
Arthur is the densest person in the world at times but Merlin has noticed he’s often surprisingly perceptive of Morgana, their long association perhaps giving him an insight into her that others weren’t privy to. He knows without her saying a word that she’s feeling disturbed.
She looks uncomfortably at Merlin and Arthur nods, getting the message. He immediately dismisses his servant to give them privacy.
Merlin heads to the corridor without question but he feels Morgana’s censure as he passes her. The weight of her gaze slides heavily over him as if she tries to judge what he is.
Outside, he pauses and presses his ear back to the door to listen.
The conversation doesn’t shock him.
“I had a nightmare,” she confesses bluntly. “About Merlin. About him killing someone.”
Arthur knows full well that it is cruel to laugh at the nightmares that afflict Morgana and so Merlin isn’t surprised when he doesn’t dismiss what she says straight out, instead seeking to reassure her.
“Merlin?” he asks with a hint of incredulity. “He doesn’t exactly strike me as the killing kind.”
“Nor me. At least not before.”
Merlin wonders why she tells Arthur this, knowing he won’t believe it’s anything more than a warped fantasy. Perhaps she’s searching for comfort. Perhaps she just needs to tell someone what she’s seen regardless of what they think of her, unable to keep such a thing to herself.
“It was a woman,” she continues, as though the words are raw from her throat. “They made a deal of some sort and he didn’t like how it turned out, so he killed her. It seemed very...wrong. Like it was barely even him.”
She’d sounded truly disturbed by the idea.
“Of course it’s wrong,” Arthur scoffs, not at her but at the notion in general. “Merlin wouldn’t have it in him to kill anyone. Besides, a woman would over power him before he ever had chance to do anything. He is very skinny.”
Whether she’s reassured or simply resigned to Arthur not believing her is unclear from Merlin’s side of the door. Either way she’s silent but, he suspects, not satisfied about the matter. He wonders if she can truly tell which of her nightmares are prophecy and which are fantasy. Does she know that she’s seen him in his darkest moment?
Does she realise how ashamed that makes him feel?
“Walk with me?” Arthur asks.
“Because a little fresh air and exercise might help us both?” she guesses.
“That and I’m obviously concerned that I may faint away in the corridors in my weakened state. Best I don’t go out alone.”
Merlin can almost hear her smile.
“Well, if I’m needed.”
He flees down the corridor, ensuring he is well out of sight before they leave the room.
As he walks, he meets Gwen who smiles at him kindly and he feels too sick with himself to acknowledge her.
Her hand reaching out to grab his arm burns him. Her gently concerned face seems a mockery. There should be sympathy for the victim, not the killer his treacherous mind counsels him.
He pulls away sharply and he can almost feel in the air that he breaks her heart a little with the act, but he continues on regardless.
I’m not a killer, he tells himself. She deserved it. She murdered Gaius.
Gaius who’d asked to die, he recalls. Who, as Merlin had done before him, had freely offered his life to save another. And Merlin hadn’t liked that and so he’d chosen someone else’s life to sacrifice instead.
He’d made the choice, yet who is he to decide who lives and who dies? She’d followed the rules set by the world. He’d followed his wants. How was his decision any more right that hers?
Why has it killed her and yet spared Uther? A man of as cruelty as she ever was.
He hears Nimueh’s screams of death night after night. Other cries too, as though the old religion is angry at him. That he’s wounded it and it curses him.
Nimueh haunts his dreams.
She cries and asks him why he murdered her. Why he was so pitiless. Why he gave her such pain.
She laughs at what he’s become, despite all his noble intentions. She has seen his future, she says, and he will suffer more than she ever did in her last few moments. And he will remember forever the day he set himself on that path and she will laugh at him more because she knows what could have been.
The road to disaster is paved with good intentions.
He shouldn’t have done it.
It’s left him with a deep set fear of what lies within.
He will never be the same again.
Innocence is lost.