Happy Monday! It's time for another flash fiction. This one inspired by "Ever the Same" by Rob Thomas.
I love this song. It's one of my favorites. I went into the world from my "Albion's Circle" series for this flash fic, and wrote a glimpse into what I feel is one of the most important relationships in that series. And it isn't one of the romantic relationships.
I have delved into this world in flash fic before, so if you'd like to see those, here are the links.
I looked up and found Anna standing in the doorway, hand braced on the wooden frame, looking as exhausted as I felt.
“If you’re busy—”
I snorted and pushed my chair away from the desk. “I was paying bills. Nothing exciting, and nothing that can’t wait. What do you need?”
Her lips quirked upward. “Always to the point and ready to jump in without even knowing what I’m about to ask for. I'd forgotten that about you.”
“Well, It’s been a while, hasn’t it? A very long while,” I pointed out, familiar sadness weighing heavily over me.
“Yes,” she murmured. “My memories are coming back—the ones from Camelot that were hidden…” She blew out a long breath. “But I’m realizing that time may have passed, but you’re the same Arthur. And you are exactly who I need, right now. Who he needs.”
I stepped closer. “Merlin?”
“He won’t listen to me.”
I nodded, knowing things were still strained between the couple. Mostly because of Merlin’s self-sacrificing tendencies, especially when it came to the woman before me.
“And another thing I know, that I remember,” she closed the distance between us and took my hands, “is when I can’t get through to him, you always can.”
“That didn’t happen often—you not getting through.” I squeezed her cold, trembling fingers.
“It’s different now.” She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes a moment against the tears that welled up. When her bright green gaze was on my again, she continued, “He doesn’t see me as he did then. He looks at me and all he sees is his failures. Not how I look at the past, Arthur,” she said quickly when I opened my mouth. “But he does. All those lives, never finding me or being able to save me… I’m not the same Annwyl from Camelot. Not to him. Not really. So, I can’t get through to him the way I did then. But you can.”
I sighed, not exactly agreeing with her, but I wasn’t prepared to argue it. Not when there was Merlin to deal with.
“He won’t sleep,” she said before I could ask what the issue was. “He’s pushing himself too hard. For me, for you, for the Circle. He’s trying to figure out a way to find Jamie, to stop Mordred, to,” her voice cracked slightly, “to make things okay between us. He isn’t giving himself time to rest, and he hasn’t…hasn’t taken the time to grieve at all, let alone properly.”
“I’ll talk to him,” I assured then kissed her cheek.
“Thank you,” she said as we parted.
I headed out into the hallway then toward the stairway up to the third floor—Merlin’s space. I stopped and looked back at her. “You need to rest, too.”
“I will, when I know he is.”
Shaking my head, I made my way upstairs. Merlin wasn’t exactly alone in the self-sacrificing department. Hell, that could be attributed to damn near everyone in this house. Myself included. Of course, it was sort of a requirement when you vowed to come back, life after life, to fight against things most people believed were fantasy.
I didn’t bother knocking on the door and strode into the large open room. Merlin was at his desk, old books open and covering the space in front of him. His dark hair stood on end, from his habit of shoving his hands through the strands in frustration, and he was pale as fuck, with dark circles underscoring his eyes. Eyes that he could hardly keep open. Stubborn bastard.
I walked over to his side and settled a hand on his shoulder.
He startled slightly and sleepy blue eyes peered up at me. “Arthur?”
“Come on. Bed.”
Shaking his head, he turned back to his books, pulling one closer. “In a bit. I just need to—”
“You need to sleep. You can look at this with fresh eyes in the morning.”
“Arthur, I don’t need a fucking keeper,” he snapped. “What I need is to work, to figure out what to do, what to…”
And there were those hands in the hair…
I shifted and, gripping the back of his chair, pulled it back. Then, I grasped his elbows and yanked him to his feet, ignoring his protests. I pulled him around the desk, past the shelves of books and the table weighted down with even more books, to the large bed at the opposite side of the room.
I pushed him to sit on the edge of the mattress then crouched down to untie his boots. He jerked away, and I grabbed him by the calf, scowling at him.
“Merlin!” He stilled, and I pulled off both boots, tossing them to the side before standing. “If you want to sleep in something other than what you have on…”
He glared up at me, and I returned the hard look, not giving an inch. He pushed to his feet, hands clenching and unclenching at this sides.
“Don’t need a keeper,” he said again.
“Not a keeper. A friend,” I murmured. “A friend who worries. A friend who loves you.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed audibly. “Low blow.”
I lifted a brow and waited. He muttered under his breath, and in a blink, he was standing there in a pair of pajama bottoms and threadbare t-shirt.
“Now, you’re just showing off.” I bent, reaching around him, and pulled back the duvet and sheet. “In.”
He looked as if he was going to argue again, but after a moment, his shoulders slumped as he sighed.
“In,” I repeated, a bit more gently.
Woodenly, he moved onto the bed, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. I toed off my shoes and stripped down to my boxers and t-shirt before climbing in beside him.
“Turn off the lights, Merlin,” I instructed.
“Arthur, please,” he whispered.
“Lights,” I said, adding a bit what Merlin called my “royalty” into my voice, knowing what needed to be done, knowing what he needed.
He blinked rapidly, then all the lights, save a small lamp across the room, went out. His breathing quickened and became harsher with each exhale. When his trembling shook the bed, I rolled onto my side and laid a hand on his chest, over his heart.
“It’s not all on you, Merlin. Stop carrying it all.”
His entire body jerked, and he shook his head frantically.
“You need to give some of it up. Give some of it to me, so you can rest. So you can be better and do what needs to be done. The weight of it all is crushing you, my friend.”
“You’re one to talk, sire.” The snarkiness of his words was completely ruined by the tears in his voice.
“Yes, and when the time comes—because it inevitably will—when I need to give up some of what smothers me, when I need to rest, you’ll be there to remind me, won’t you? It’s what we do.”
“I can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I see…”
“What? What do you see?” I asked when he fell silent. Because it could be so many things. Living the lives we did, there was no shortage of horrors to relive in the quiet unguarded moments.
“Arthur," he said, voice small and quiet. "I killed him.”
I closed my eyes as my throat tightened, the pain from that loss still a very fresh wound. “It wasn’t your fault. You know that.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know that,” he bit out. Then, his hand covered mine. “Whose fault is it, if not mine? I should have…should’ve done it differently. Should have figured another way to stop it.”
“It was Mordred,” I said, loud voice echoing through the room. “He set that in motion. And don't start down the road of questioning or diminishing the choices we make. We all made the choice to be here, and to give our lives if necessary. He did what he believed to be right." Even as I was assured Merlin and believed everything I said, with every ounce of my being, I couldn't quite bring myself to say his name, yet. My fallen knight. The first of the fallen in this life. "And he’d be pissed as fuck, Merlin, if he knew you were blaming yourself. Don’t lessen his choice, his sacrifice like this. Honor it. Be better.”
“How many more are we going to lose, before this is over? Before we stop him?” He gulped. “Am I going to lose her again?”
Merlin moved closer, just an inch or so, but it was enough. I pulled him the rest of the way and held him—like I had hundreds of times before, like he had held me just as many times, if not more, when I was the one in need.
“We will stop Mordred. And we’ll keep Anna safe.” I said firmly, closing my eyes, praying I was right, this time.
“I’m so tired, Arthur.”
I had to fight to keep quiet, to not cry at the depth of pain and sorrow in those four small words. Silence settled over us, and slowly, Merlin relaxed and grew heavy in my arms. I continued to hold him as sleep finally stole over him, trying to give him what strength I could, hoping it was enough.
(and a big welcome to Siobhan who will be joining us for flash fics!)