The spirits call for Maleagant.
They wake him up in the middle of the night and whisper into his ears and tug at his sleeves, urging him to come. He saddles his horse and leaves the family castle, shaking from cold and frightened for the first time in his life, though he would never admit it aloud.
He knows what the call means.
He’s been waiting for it since the day he could comprehend what he is. A changeling, a fae child abandoned by his magical parents, given a mortal form capable of affecting the human realm in ways that remained forbidden for most of his kin.
A generous gift, but it came with a price. For fifteen years Maleagant enjoyed his freedom, his carefree childhood, and his mother’s sweet love, and now is the time to serve.
He rides for two days straight, changing too many horses to count, he’s barely holding himself straight in the saddle from the sheer exhaustion, but he won’t — can’t — stop.
The moon is high when he reaches the sacred place, his horse runs away, spooked, and Maleagant feels trapped in the circle of stones, suffocated by their otherworldly energy. It’s the very same energy that flows in his veins, but it feels foreign and wrong and he wants it gone.
He’s trembling violently and more than anything he wants to be home, curled before the fireplace, nodding off to his mother’s tales. That’s what he could’ve had if only he were a normal, human child.
Maleagant swallows the bile collecting at the root of his tongue, he closes his eyes and lets himself hear. He hears the voice that reaches from beyond the veil, the voice that is impossibly loud and commanding, and there is no hope of disobeying its will.
“Maleagant.” They know his name. They know him inside out, his every fear and every hope and his most sacred, greatest desire. To be free. “We have a task for you.”
A task. One of many in the endless string of orders he’s now old enough to fulfill. He has just a tiny part of a greater plan, his role insignificant and small, but not the one he can abandon.
“I’m listening,” he whispers.
If he tries, he can see the Dragon’s looming figure before him, their great all-encompassing presence. They are the protector of this realm, most fervent and sure, but they will always see the prosperity of the lands bigger and more important than the fates of people.
“Lady of Cornwall is giving birth,” the Dragon says, “to a boy. The son of Uther Pendragon.”
A son. An heir. It doesn’t matter that the boy is conceived out of wedlock, that his mother is wed to another, the spirits whispered for so long that Uther will never marry, will never leave a true legacy, so this is all they have.
This child is their only hope.
“He is to be the king.” The Dragon’s voice echoes through Maleagant’s mind. “Most honorable and just, the one whose destiny is to save Britain, to finally unite the lands and vanquish the Saxons.”
A fate that was prophesied to his father, but Uther failed. Even with the guidance of druids, he marred himself by the sin of lying with another’s wife, he showed how little the prophecies are worth, and now the cycle starts anew.
“He’ll have the purest of souls and the kindest of hearts, but he will be lost without guidance.”
Maleagant wants to laugh. To laugh and to cry and to scream, to curse the Dragon and his visions, to let Britain fall for the price of being human and free. The sound gets stuck in his throat, it lies heavy in his stomach, impossible to bear.
“Merlin will lead him to the light, but you will challenge him, you will make him into a man, a warrior— The High-King he’s destined to become.”
An enemy, a villain, a monster. That’s who he is destined to be.
“But first…” The words ring like the sentence. “You will take the boy from his mother and deliver him to his foster parents. You’ll make sure he’s raised right.”
“If you misstep… if you let him misstep, all will be lost.”
Maleagant’s chance to earn his freedom will be lost, and that’s the only thing he hears.
The only thing that matters.
Lady of Cornwall is crying.
Her face is deathly pale and tears are streaming down her face. She clutches the babe to her breast with trembling hands, the fear in her eyes real and wild.
Arthur is wailing. He’s small and wrinkled and red, and he’s wailing so loudly Maleagant’s head hurts, and still, he reaches for him, he takes him into his arms, so frighteningly light and fragile.
He rocks the child gently, silently begging him to calm down, smiling at him shakily yet gently, murmuring that everything will be alright. Arthur’s cries die out slowly, he blinks at Maleagant, curious and mesmerized, reaches with his tiny hand to grab at his hair. He laughs when Maleagant winces from pain, the corners of his still-blue eyes crinkle in mirth, and Maleagant’s heart squeezes in a feeling he doesn’t know a name to.
Or maybe he does, he’s just scared to admit it.
Lady Igraine smiles at him through the tears, her eyes full of sorrow.
“Protect him,” she begs. “My child, my little baby… please, protect him.”
Maleagant can’t. That’s not the role that was given to him by the highest power, his destiny is to oppose the little prince, to challenge him and hurt him and let him grow stronger. Like skin grows thicker with scars, the baby’s soul will toughen too, for the High-King must be honorable and just, but he can’t be soft-hearted.
“I will,” he promises.
Maleagant is lying.
Maleagant is bound. A heavy chain is wrapped around his neck, it scrapes his skin raw, his blood is fused with each link. No mortal man could hope to see that chain, but Maleagant feels its heavy weight and agony it brings.
Fifteen years pass with no orders to fulfill, but it no longer feels like freedom. The servitude has started, and he’s only waiting until Arthur is ready — old enough — for the next step.
Maleagant takes no lovers that last him longer than a night, he makes no friends and no meaningful connections, not when he’ll have to abandon them all for the mere whisper of the Dragon’s will. He still finds his solace in evenings spent with mother, his gentle and kind human mother, who knows what he is— She always knew, and yet never denied him her love and affection. She taught him how to give it back.
When his next order comes, Maleagant’s no longer a child.
He’s a man grown, a knight, a prince. He has the reputation of a formidable fighter, of a ruthless and arrogant opponent, and all those things are him, yet not. All of those things he plays at because that’s what he’s bound to do.
He enters the tournament for the crown he doesn’t desire and won’t get, he takes one victory after another, pretending to laugh at his opponent’s failure, but in truth, he’s laughing at himself. Bitter, resentful, hateful to be the puppet he became.
Between the fights, from the corner of his eye, he watches Arthur Pendragon.
The boy who is terribly young and remarkably foolish.
It was spirits sent by Maleagant who befuddled the boy and muddled his thoughts, who made him forget his brother’s sword and get lost in the woods, but it’s all Arthur who’s stumbling through his explanations, who’s stubborn and bratty and disrespectful to his elders.
He seems so oblivious to how the world works. Maleagant remembers the pair he gave the child to. They looked like kind people, like smart people, so why haven’t they seen fit to educate the prince? What was the point of entrusting him to their care? To teach him humility? That certainly failed.
Arthur doesn’t even seem to get why he’s denied the sword by the blacksmith, he doesn’t seem to take no for an answer, he’s all too ready to lower himself to petty theft. If Merlin has to stop him, has to push him in the right direction, is he any better than his father?
Maleagant curves his lips into a grimace of disdain.
How Arthur’s heart pure? How can he be the man he’s destined to become?
Is Maleagant bound to fail no matter how he tries?
The last fight is a blur of movements, short and all too easy to win, and Maleagant is filled to the brim with anticipation and rage and almost hysterical glee.
When he wraps his hand around the hilt of Excalibur, it burns, the accursed iron stinging his fingers, stubborn and unyielding just like he knew it would be, and yet he doesn’t need to fake his disappointment, his rage and his resentment.
For the boy that’s so much less than he expected, for the people’s favor they gave him so easily. Maleagant doesn’t want the throne, he doesn’t want people’s love or their acceptance, he just wants to be free, and yet he hates them for hating him all the same.
He hates Merlin for his mistake, for even allowing the boy’s birth.
He hates Arthur's shock and his confusion, his naivety, and his foolishness.
He’s not ready.
He may never be.
Maleagant argues with Merlin because that’s what he’s expected to do, he doesn’t look at Arthur because if he does—
If he does, he’d allow himself to remember that Arthur’s just a child. That he never asked for this, and if he’s anything but perfect it isn’t his fault. His whole life is carefully crafted and laid out. Everything is chosen for him, his allies and friends, his adversaries and most bitter rivals.
Maleagant doesn’t want that later role, it’s too familiar to him, the outsider feared and resented for being different. He doesn’t want that role because for all of his faults he never enjoyed hurting people, and certainly not with such a deliberate, well-thought cruelness.
That’s not what Arthur needs, he wants to argue. It’s not right that he has an advisor so-far removed from everything human despite being one. It’s not right that while his enemies aren’t yet real enough to destroy, they will hurt him all the same.
Maleagant will hurt him, and the false promise given to lady Igraine stings him like the iron could never hope to.
“Does it have to be this way?” Maleagant whispers to the spirits circling him and mocking him, even their affection superficial and shallow, just mimicry of human emotions.
There was no one to teach them how to feel, but Maleagant isn’t like them.
Not enough to be human, not enough to be true fairy.
He can’t see people as playthings, as tiny pieces of a bigger picture, because he was raised amongst them, he loves them, he wants to be one of them.
He wants a goal of his own, victories to his name, praises for his choices.
He wants a partner he could share his life with, who’d know his every secret and love him all the same.
He could’ve helped Arthur still. He could’ve told him of the fate that awaits him, straightforward yet gentle with the truth, he could’ve educated him and guided him, he could’ve protected him from the world like he promised his mother he would.
He would be better at this than Merlin, he wouldn’t have to break and twist himself for that role.
“Does it have to be this way?” he repeats.
The spirits don’t answer.
Sometimes Maleagant forgets.
When he fights numerous battles to protect and strengthen his kingdom, when he seeks to expand Gore’s borders, when he returns home to his mother’s proud smile, he forgets the true purpose of his existence.
To be the villain of the story he’s never wanted any part in.
For years Maleagant painstakingly collects the rumors of Arthur’s accomplishments and his failures, he listens to the gossip the spirits are eager to offer. They grow stronger over time, feeding on power the Dragon supplies them. They follow Maleagant’s every step like the silent shadows they are.
One day they take form, solid and real, and thus they become an army he needs to take the next step.
Maleagant hears the rumors about himself too. About his dark and inhuman nature and playing with the forces he cannot hope to tame. If only he could, he would have avoided that. He would have remained the most ordinary man in everything but his blood, but it’s that blood that took the choice away from him.
Because of it he’s bound, tethered to the man who simply can’t be worth it.
Arthur isn’t strong enough to set him free. He’s still a child, inexperienced and immature. He chooses to seek guidance where he needs to rule and the worst thing—
The worst thing of all is that he’s denied it.
The spirits laugh at Arthur, they hiss and crackle and mock the fool who seeks support and sympathy from the druid, the man who may be human in blood, but his heart forever belongs to the fae.
Maleagant doesn’t want to laugh. He pities Arthur and he’s angry at him. He’s angry at himself for being so cowardly and powerless, so ready to obey another set of orders that commands him to act.
With the newly gained army, he sets the perfect trap for Arthur, sieging his ally’s castle and threatening the kingdom’s peace. He sends one of his men, disguised, to seek the young king out and cry on his doorstep and beg for his help.
Then, Merlin ensures that he comes.
Arthur comes, wrathful and glorious, no longer a boy but a man. At least in appearance, but what of his heart?
Fighting him is easy. It’s easy to summon anger Maleagant possesses in abundance, it’s easy to spit out vicious insults he doesn’t try hard to come up with. In truth, they are fears, the darkest and deepest of all.
“Look at your king,” he mocks, his voice as sharp as his blade. “Look at how worthless he is. Is this who you choose?”
Is this who Maleagant has to trust with his only chance of freedom?
Arthur’s blood, red and thick, coats Maleagant’s sword, its coppery smell fills his nostrils and he hates it.
He hates that he had to spill it, he hates how easy it was to catch the boy off guard and land a strike that would be deadly if Maleagant weren’t so deliberately precise.
Yet, there is nothing precise or planned in the way he loses. It is a misstep, miscalculation, payback for being too arrogant and too reckless, but in that fleeting moment when Arthur shifts the balance and overpowers him Maleagant feels almost impressed, almost hopeful. But then, Arthur could be the most skillful of swordsmen, the most brilliant tactician, that alone won’t be enough to make him a great king.
Maleagant lies on the ground, pain rapidly spreading through his chest. He watches with odd detachment as vicious determination hardens Arthur’s usually gentle brown eyes and his still youthful features grotesquely twist in ire. He watches as the sword comes down towards him, merciless and swift, and—
It all can end like this. If Arthur chooses to kill the man who dared to oppose him, if his strike lands, Maleagant will be gone. His mortal body will be destroyed, and then his spirit will be free. From servitude, but from this world as well.
It won’t be the freedom he seeks, but it will be a freedom.
Arthur hesitates. He lowers his sword and lets his anger fizzle out, forgetting it without the faintest regret. He sways on his feet, weak from blood loss, delirious from it as well. With his eyes wide open and earnest, he asks Maleagant to knight him and offers him the sword.
Foolish, naive child, so eager to trust his life to his enemy’s honor.
He’ll risk it all for the chance to become equal with his rival, and Maleagant wants to laugh and laugh and laugh at how impossible this truly is.
They aren’t— they can’t be equal, and nothing will change it.
Because Arthur is a king and Maleagant is not.
Because Arthur is human and Maleagant is not.
Because Arthur is free and Maleagant is—
Maleagant is bitter and hurtful and angry. The famed Excalibur trembles in his hand, the words of knighting drip like poison from his lips. The iron burns him like it always does, it’s painful and impossible to bear.
He throws the sword to the ground, resentful and spiteful, and once again he doesn’t need to act to seem hateful.
He is. He is, he hates so much he can feel the corrosive influence spreading through his heart, poisoning and darkening it until he almost believes himself a true villain.
Arthur dares to look so grateful. He doesn’t doubt when he chooses to trust his enemy, and Maleagant would have given so much to have the luxury to trust in turn.
He wonders why he can’t. He wonders why he doesn’t truly believe in the light he sees in Arthur’s eyes, why he puts so little faith in his pure and honorable heart, why he struggles to imagine his spirit being capable of bearing the burden of power.
Perhaps it is because he knows deep in his heart that Arthur is just a man. He has an enormous weight on his shoulders, too many expectations placed on him, and the help he gets from the fae is no help at all. It’s manipulative and cruel, it’s—
It’s something Malegant is ashamed of being a part of, and yet he is.
He is, and as he retreats, the only true disappointment he feels is in himself.
Later, Maleagant finds the dimmest light of hope still kindling in his soul, he cradles it in his palms and shields it from the winds of doubt, he tries to convince himself — he’s always been so good at this — it’s not too late to change the fate.
His own fate and Arthur’s fate for they are tightly intertwined together.
He dreams of forgiving his own mistakes and moving past the atrocities committed, he dreams of starting anew and succeeding this time, he dreams of defying orders and finding his own way. A much better way, less cruel, less—
The Shadows surround him, they circle him and whisper to him, and for the briefest of moments Maleagant believes in their support, in his own power, but—
They grew too strong.
They are his overseers, they’ve always been, it’s just that now he sees it all too clearly.
They won’t let him stray, and no matter how many new beginnings he has, they will always lead to the same end.
They say they didn’t expect it, that it’s an unforeseen consequence of their actions. Maleagant’s mouth twists into a bitter mocking smile no one will see. Unforeseen. They think themselves so clever and all-knowing, they think they can find the truth by reading the stars, but there are only possibilities to be found.
Uther was one. He possessed everything required to be a great king, but the rot took place in his heart and twisted his mind, the rot he called love. It made him forget his honor and forsake his chance to save Britain.
Arthur is another. He has a heart that’s so much purer than his father’s, but what they chose him for might also be his downfall.
He falls in love. Enchanted by beautiful and gentle Guinevere, he abandons his sacred duty, he basks in his happiness, unaware that his people suffer and die.
Maleagant can’t even summon disappointment. He knows that Arthur is too young to see the bigger picture, that there is no one by his side to offer him honesty instead of vague threats.
Maleagant knows that if he could, he too would’ve chosen his happiness.
He continues to collect rumors. With an almost morbid fascination, he imagines in brightest colors those pictures the Shadows paint him. Of Arthur’s life, so carefree and happy. He’s drunk on love, the light in his eyes shines impossibly bright, and for the first time in forever, he feels like he belongs.
Maleagant could’ve told Arthur that he was loved before, unconditionally and fiercely, that he was wanted by his gentle and fragile mother whose heart had no place for darkness. She wouldn’t have denied her child affection, no matter the sins of his father.
Maleagant could’ve told Arthur that, he could’ve protected him just as he promised, but that’s not the role he’s bound to play.
These days though, he thinks, all roles are the same.
The fairies are scared.
They won’t admit it, but they fear the intensity of Arthur’s feelings, they fear that he’s bound to walk the same path his father chose. If they knew anything about this boy, if they were even capable of understanding him, they’d have realized how foolish this fear is.
They chose Arthur for his heart, pure and capable of holding so much love, but now—
Now they are set to break it.
They say that Guinevere is a distraction, that she’s a threat, this innocent little girl whose feelings may be shallow and fleeting, but they are genuine all the same. They say that she will have all of Arthur’s attention, that she’ll become his whole world, and surely they can’t have that.
There is only one love Arthur is allowed and that is for his kingdom.
And thus it all begins.
It starts with a whisper in Arthur’s ear, a wise and sound suggestion to call for the brightest of Britain’s youth. Brave Lancelot is one of those who come, pushed in the right direction by the Lady of the Lake.
His love affair with Guinevere is written in the stars.
Their mutual attraction is inevitable, but their unfaithfulness isn’t, and this is where Morgana comes to play. Igraine’s only daughter, she may have genuinely loved her mother, and yet inherited no kindness of her heart.
Blinded by anger and hatred, Morgana weaves her web of masterful manipulation, not knowing that she’s manipulated too. It’s not her plan to push Lancelot and Guinevere together, it’s Merlin who tugs on the strings.
In this he knows how to play with human emotions. The fairies taught him well.
When Maleagant thinks of this, his mouth tastes of bile. It tastes of deceit and awful cruelty not even Morgana possesses. She may be vengeful and angry, she may be lashing out and willing to destroy the man who did nothing to deserve it, but it still feels better — more honest — than the fairies’ manipulation, their careful and deliberate shaping of Arthur’s life the way they want it to be.
Maleagant wishes he could succumb to the temptation of thinking himself different, not a part of them, just their unwilling servant. A victim just like Arthur is. It’s easier than feeling guilty and ashamed, responsible for ruining too many lives.
He knows too much to keep his hands clean. He still plays his part, no matter how he hates it.
Morgana thinks herself so clever reaching out to offer Maleagant her help, trying to use him, the man rumored to be desperate and hateful, willing to do anything to get the woman and the throne. In truth, it’s him who plants the seed in her mind to enact the insane plan of kidnapping Guinevere, forcing Lancelot to forget the last of his vows.
In will benefit no one, not even the fairies, but Maleagant is long past caring.
In playing the man on the brink of insanity he came too dangerously close to becoming one.
It is a miracle Morgana believes in his sincerity. It is a miracle Guinevere does.
Trapped in his castle, bound and chained, she buys so easily his ramblings of passion and love, those feelings he never had for her. Confessions ring hollow to his ears, they taste of rot on his tongue, bitter like his whole being is.
Maleagant wants love. The only thing he wants more is his freedom, but he’s allowed neither. He takes it the only way he can, he steals it under the nose of his ever-vigilant guards. Pretending to wish Guinevere’s love, he dreams of taking her place.
He can’t pinpoint when it happened when his sympathy and pity turned into something more. He stops himself from asking why he just wants—
Arthur’s love and his utter devotion, his light and his kindness. The gentleness of his gazes, the warmth of his smiles. Everything he would’ve cherished like the rarest of treasures.
It is pathetic, falling for the man Maleagant had no chance of knowing, but is it truly that surprising?
For twenty years Arthur has been the center of his world, the only one who was allowed to matter, and he did. He does. For him, Maleagant broke the only rule he could, the only one that didn’t need his courage.
He wasn’t meant to harbor any real hatred towards Arthur, but even that would’ve been better than his sympathy, his affection, and love.
They are no less cruel.
Arthur is— good. He is everything he was promised to become and more. A generous and kind man, a loving husband, a strong and fair ruler. He isn’t perfect, but he tries. He may not always listen, he may be stubborn to a fault, but he never willingly left his people in need, he never refused to admit his mistakes and try to fix them.
Maleagant is too tired of denying it, hiding his cowardice and his failure to rebel behind the doubts. There is nothing Arthur couldn’t have done if he had just a little more support, someone willing to guide him and teach him. Someone capable of loving him with utter devotion.
Maleagant could’ve been that someone. He wanted to be that someone, but—
It is too late. Even if Maleagant turns back now, it’s already too late.
Arthur’s heart — his pure, precious heart — is set to be broken, it will shatter and no one will offer him kindness. No one will help him heal. They will only add to his misery, and Maleagant will be one of them, he’ll always be one of them.
He knows that Merlin is already gone, that he left for the place he calls home, thinking his job done, but Maleagant’s isn’t.
With startling clarity, he realizes that he won’t the freedom he wants. He won’t be allowed to live, forever bound by his duty to challenge — to torture — the man that he loves.
But if there is anything he’s capable of fighting, it’s this.
Maleagant knows that Arthur won’t come.
He wants to, but he’s held on a leash, his every move and decision foreseen and controlled. If only his handlers truly knew what to do, but they are stumbling in the darkness, reading their path in the stars that lie too often.
Maleagant watches Guinevere struggle against her bonds, he watches her cry and call for her lover — for Lancelot, and he detests her for that. For all that she was manipulated too, for all that she’s young and foolish, for all that he betrays Arthur just as gravely, he still detests her.
Arthur won’t come.
If only he had, perhaps Maleagant would’ve found enough strength to reach for him and offer the truth and beg for forgiveness. He’d have sacrificed his pride, his everything, however much it’s worth.
Perhaps he would’ve been punished for that. Perhaps not, and he’d have earned a chance to fix at least some of the things he’d broken, maybe—
He won’t know the outcome.
He won’t because Arthur won’t come, and then all struggles will be futile. Maleagant already feels his humanity chipping away, rotting and peeling off like skin from his bones. If his appearance reflected his soul, he’d be a hideous sight.
All of his life he lamented what he is, but he never struggled enough, never reached for the heights the man he pretended to be always did. And if the other side calls for him, if it claims him like a useless, broken thing, it’s nobody’s fault but his.
The weight of the dagger feels heavy on his belt, the weight of his rotten heart in his chest is heavier still, and Maleagant knows without a doubt how this will end.
He is doomed.
Freedom tastes like copper.
Maleagant’s mouth fills with blood and agonizing pain that rapidly spreads through his body is almost blinding. The wound on his stomach is gaping and deadly. Lancelot aimed to kill, but even if he didn’t, Maleagant wouldn’t have hesitated to finish it himself. He’d have rebelled the only way he knew how.
He played his role so masterfully, the role of the man who is ambitious and cruel, arrogant and dismissive and insanely prideful. The man who never gives up, who fights the odds and rises after every fall, no matter how painful. The real him isn’t that different, much as he loathes to admit it, but there is still something lacking in him that his mask possesses.
The will to go on.
The blood in Maleagant’s veins might be magical, but he doesn’t have the gift of foresight. He doesn’t know if he gives up too early, if he willingly refuses the chances that aren’t lost yet, but he does know that he’s exhausted and fed up and wants it all to end.
There was a time when he dreamed of human life, simple and his own, he dreamed of love and belonging and freedom. Just like the man he pretended to be Maleagant became obsessed with his dream. He was willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to reach it, betray his own morals and commit sins that’ll taint him forever.
Just like the man he pretended to be he failed to realize how impossible it was.
For years Maleagant has been digging his own grave, and now it is so deep the sun’s warmth no longer reaches it. When he closes his eyes, he still can imagine its light but it’s not for him. He lost that right forever.
He could’ve stayed.
He could’ve fused with his role even tighter, he could’ve become the madman fighting for the throne he doesn’t need. He could’ve learned to hate Arthur, he’d have hurt him time and time again, he—
He doesn’t want to.
He never ever wanted to.
He still remembers the weight of the tiny warm bundle in his arms, Arthur’s baby blue eyes, so big and pure, his childish giggles at Maleagant’s awkward attempts to soothe him.
He remembers Arthur’s carefree joy and his youthful excitement at the tournament before the weight of responsibility came crashing down on him.
He remembers Arthur looking scared and lost before the promise of power, seeking guidance and begging for help, but instead being pushed to achieve the impossible goals, too grand for any human being.
He remembers Arthur kneeling before him, foolishly trusting, never hateful no matter how deserving it would’ve been.
He remembers his own desire, impotent and naive, to help this boy, to offer him advice and guidance and show him an easier path. He can imagine it easily, this life he was never meant to have, this life where he would’ve been allowed to remain by Arthur’s side, to be his confidant, his friend, his lover.
It’s an illusion awfully tempting, but oh-so fragile.
Maleagant was powerless to make his dream come true. He wasn’t brave enough, he wasn’t free—
Now he is.
He is free the only way he could ever hope to be. Free from his mortal form, free from human life he wanted so fiercely. Free from ever having to hurt Arthur ever again.
Blood seeps through his fingers, hot and human red, his body is weak and his vision blurs. He doesn’t see, but he feels the Shadows surrounding him, ready to drag him down without mercy, rip him out of his useless form.
They’ll take him home—
No. Not home. His home has never been in the realm of fairies, it is here amongst the people who are capable of empathy and love. It is where his mother lives. It is—
By Arthur’s side.
Leaving the mortal plane is painful. It’s torturous, agonizing, almost impossible to bear. It feels like death, although it’s not, not really. Not to a fae, but Maleagant—
Maleagant has always been too human. Not enough, lacking that tiny bit that would’ve made him complete, but he’s leaving too much behind and it still feels like the end.
There is nothing awaiting him on the other side, nothing but cold and unfamiliar halls of the realm he never belonged to. He’ll lose his right to freely step on Britain’s soil, he’ll lose his place in the human world, but that’s the price he chooses to pay.
Some people believe that fairies cannot lie, and maybe they are right.
Maybe Maleagant didn’t lie that day he promised to protect Arthur, for this is what he does now. He protects him the only way he can.
He protects him from himself.
And thus he’s free.
Through vast and unwelcome halls of the fairy realm, Arthur’s desperate call reaches Maleagant’s ears, his cries of pain and unbearable misery, the agony of his soul begging to be healed.
They all feel that, all who’s been bound to the king, but no one answers.
“Nothing can be changed now,” they whisper.
“It is too late.”
“It had to be this way.”
But that’s not what Arthur asks for. He doesn’t beg to rewrite the history and prevent his heartbreak, he simply needs a shoulder to cry on, someone to offer him sympathy and comfort. The fairies are incapable of understanding it, but Maleagant—
Maleagant is still tethered to Arthur.
Arthur’s will, his wish is still enough to bring him home, and that’s an opportunity Maleagant can’t miss.
He can’t remain deaf to the pain of the only man he’s ever loved.
Maleagant doesn’t know if he can do anything to soothe it, if Arthur will welcome his presence when it’s Merlin he calls for. He doesn’t know if the sins he committed can ever be forgiven, but—
He wants to find out.
Because he’s finally free.
Because Arthur needs him.
Perhaps that painful and miserable path Arthur is being led through doesn’t end in ruin. Perhaps past heartbreak and death, there is still something left to salvage. Perhaps Maleagant still hasn’t let go of that obsessive determination the man-he-was possessed.
For years he lived the life he hated because of Arthur.
He died because of Arthur— for him, the only thing he was brave enough to do, but now he needs something more.
Against all odds, he needs to live again.
He thinks it might be worth it.
listen, I could've chosen to skip that last part, but I'm not that cruel
there is still hope! and maybe sort-of-not-really a sequel :D