[personal profile] gmtaslash
Title: All Of These Moments I'll Never Replace
Author: [personal profile] gmtaslash, principally Trojie
Fandom: Merlin (BBC) (reincarnation!fic of sorts with general situation debt to Neil Gaiman's American Gods)
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Rating: M
Disclaimer, notes etc: Very much not ours - the characters belong to the BBC via Arthurian Legend, the idea of belief fuelling supernatural beings belongs to Neil Gaiman, the title is from the Foo Fighters' song 'Home'. For those of you not familiar with American Gods, the gist of this fic is that, rather than reincarnation via serial rebirth, Merlin, Arthur et al are kept alive by the power of people's belief in their legends. Oh, and go read that book. That is all.

Beta-read by Bridget and [personal profile] ineptshieldmaid.

It's been a fair few years now and Merlin's powers don't seem to be good for much but whoring any more. He sees Arthur around (follows him around), mostly on sports teams (he started off three-day eventing, polo, fencing, but now it's football, rugby, cricket), once or twice a politician, an actor once as well. He's been a lot of things; sportsman, mayor, cult-leader, general ... people will follow Arthur anywhere.

Merlin does, for a start. He knows he probably shouldn't.

They're always close to each other, but they actually officially meet up only every decade or so, sharing their stories, keeping eyes and ears peeled for Nimueh, Mordred, anyone who could ruin this unstable idyll they have, and they screw hot and lonely up against a wall in some back-alley, and they go their separate ways.

It's been centuries since Merlin knew what it felt like not to have the itch in the back of his skull that told him that Arthur wasn't there. But they're better apart. When things throw them together, that's when the world starts going wrong. Or it might be the other way around, Merlin doesn't know.

They tried sharing a house once, in Pudding Lane, London. 1666.

That was the last time.

Gwen is around somewhere too, usually nursing or feeding the hungry or chaining herself to railings for the vote. Sometimes she's a housewife, sometimes she's a teacher. She's never a mistress. Never a mother.

Morgana's been a queen at least once, they know that, but she fled to Europe sometime during the Renaissance and hasn't come back. Merlin thinks she might have been Catherine the Great, but Arthur doesn't think Catherine was quite insane enough.

Arthur wouldn't know, though. Arthur never moves. Merlin thinks there might be something keeping Arthur within England's borders, but he doesn't know if he wants to know what.

All he knows is, where Arthur goes, Merlin follows. Never together, but close.

Time gets confusing when you live through enough of it. Merlin always knows what now is, when he is now, but his memories are jumbled up, and he's never sure, really, if he's remembering something that happened or something that will happen, when he thinks back. The main thing he remembers is how he felt, and where Arthur was, moment after moment after moment in this stupidly long life they've had.

He knows some of the legends about them, the stories that hold them here because no-one stops telling them. One of them says he goes through time backwards, and sometimes he thinks that might not be too far from the truth (though most of them are ridiculous, painting him as wise and Gwen as faithless. Arthur's the only one they ever get even close to right). Perhaps there is no progression of time, just everything at once, events in whatever order your mind can make of them. He feels like he goes backwards in every direction, really, if you define backwards as the antithesis of progress.

He doesn't want to know what progress is like if Arthur isn't part of it.

Arthur's troops march through town, black boots shining mirror-bright, and Merlin, who never learnt to fall into step with anyone, wanders carefully down the streets behind them. Arthur's eyes are sad when he inspects his men - he knows that somehow, something always keeps him from going with them. Something wants to keep him in England. Merlin watches him from the pavement, knowing Arthur will manage despite his disappointment. He used to lead armies to victory with wounds bleeding out through his chainmail; he can do this.

Arthur makes some minor speech in some minor by-election, the drizzle slowly soaking his blond hair and his pinstriped suit, and Merlin is at the back of the crowd, watching that perfect face mouth words it's mouthed for centuries as the language changed around it but the meaning stayed the same - I will lead and you will follow, you will love me and you will hate me but I will not steer you wrong. Trust me. I can lead you to freedom. Housewives love him, and miners trust him, he kisses babies and clasps hands and greases palms. Merlin hasn't talked to him in about twenty years, this time, but he still follows him, still watches him.

Arthur plays a game of football, and Merlin is in the stands, maybe scouting for custom, maybe not. But he's there. He's there when Arthur gives the half-time pep-talk, is the most important thing, and he can see the belief in Arthur's sweat-soaked men.

Merlin is hungry for it all.

Once, he wanted to see Arthur unite the country and lead it to some nebulous yet glorious destiny. He'd been so sure Arthur had a future, the future. That he held it in his hands. But he hadn't known just how much future there would be.

Arthur does well - he has that way about him, that air of command. That hasn't dulled over the years, and people are still people. Arthur has never had to change tactics.

Merlin has. No-one sees magic these days. Merlin used to command so much respect and fear amongst Arthur's people, after he'd been set up as Court Sorcerer; it was heady. It was a rush. These days he garners as much belief and awe and trust as he can from playing bedroom games, games for money. He doesn't need the money, he needs the look on their faces as they spend themselves over his sheets and between his thighs. He can help them along with it, a trickle of power here and there. He can know what they want. It's the only outlet he has for it these days, anyway.

Gaius never told him, if he even knew, the price of destiny and legends and dragons. The price of being anchored to the earth, the price of being tied to people's dreams, is that they never let go. They took Arthur and threaded him through people's minds, and they took Merlin and they dragged him alongside, they took Gwen and Lancelot and Morgana, they took everyone Arthur ever met, and tied them to him.

So the once and future king is here and now a bureaucrat, here and now a football player, here and now a sergeant, and his queen relives the lives she could have had if she'd never heard of Fate, and the warlock hides in plain sight and trades the magic of life and death itself for faceless pleasure and nameless pay.

Somewhere in the Nineties, Arthur holds up the FA cup, and Merlin hears the roar of the crowd through the thin walls of the men's bathroom, and over the grunts of the man behind him, and he smiles into the toilet stall wall.

Somewhere in the Sixties, Arthur salutes his troops as they embark, and Merlin's hiding in shadows and deciding they need to have their once-a-decade drinks tonight, because he has to pull that despairing look from Arthur's face.

Somewhere in the Eighties, the drizzle doesn't stop, and Arthur's had five coalminer's children to hold. His eyes meet Merlin's over the heads of the crowd, and he smiles, and just briefly, the sun comes out.

Date: 2009-08-10 11:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lassroyale.livejournal.com
This is really one of the more interesting stories I've read in awhile. I like the take on it - I of course had to take a read when you mentioned Neil Gaiman and "American Gods" which is just brilliant. Whenever I write characters like the Trickster or other pagan, non-Christian dieties, I always mention that worship is their lifeblood or something like that. ;)

So I totally understand Merlin's perspective in this sense.

I also like the language you used to describe the transition of language around Arthur's mouth, though the meaning stayed the same. That was nice and precise without being too superfluous.

Anyway, great job! I can't wait to read what other interesting takes you might have on Merlin or any other fandom. :)

Date: 2009-08-10 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Thank you :)

Yeah, I'm a big Gaiman fan and it seemed to me like a good way to reincarnate the Merlin characters, because their legends have fascinated people for centuries. It seemed like it fit :)

I do have one other Merlin fic, an OT4 And None Above All The Others (http://agenttrojie.livejournal.com/81230.html), and there's a sequel to this one in the works.

Date: 2009-08-10 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lassroyale.livejournal.com
Heh, I'm reading it right now. ;) I like the way you fit words together. I struggle with my natural inclination to be verbosely odd with trying to teach myself to write nice, clean, to-the-point sentences.

I have a WIP Merlin fic, but I mostly write Supernatural fanfiction. :)

Date: 2009-08-10 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
My natural inclination to be verbosely odd is only kept under control by a posse of five very dedicated beta-readers for various fandoms and so forth :) They are saints to whom I owe a lot.

I'm just starting to get my feet wet with Merlin fic - my most prolific fandom is Narnia (in which Edmund and Caspian are The Most Depressing Lovestory Ever)

Date: 2009-08-10 11:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lassroyale.livejournal.com
Same here with the Merlin fandom. I hemmed and hawed with this idea in my head for a Merlin fic and finally couldn't stand it anymore and jumped in. I'm 8 chapters into my story and am still liking it, so that's something. ;)

I find it's actually a really fun fandom to play around in; of course my Muse has a penchant for torturing pretty boys, but it adds a nice gritty side to the bubblegum pop land of Merlin.

Date: 2009-08-10 11:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
It's fun to add a gritty side to a bubblegum story. Hence my sex'n'politics Narnia-fic ....

Date: 2009-08-10 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] archaeologist-d.livejournal.com
Really well done. Depressing as hell but I could see why they could never be together if that only brought disaster to others. Loved it.

Date: 2009-08-10 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Thanks. Depressing as hell is somewhat of my MO lately, but I actually think I see a way to make this 'verse end happily - there's one sequel in the works and more to come, I rather think.

Date: 2009-08-10 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] archaeologist-d.livejournal.com
Glad to hear that you might be able to make it end happily. I'm all for leaving it depressing if the story calls for it but happy is good, too!

Date: 2009-08-10 11:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
I'm in favour of happy ... I just find it so difficult to write! But I'm going to be making an effort for these boys :)

Date: 2009-08-11 12:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slanted-edges.livejournal.com
So I'm a sucker for future!fics -- can never have enough of them! I say -- and I couldn't resist seeing what this one was about.

I'm really glad to have checked it out. The challenge with these stories, I think, is to do something that hasn't been done before because there are so many milling around LJ; it's something that you certainly accomplished in this. The flashes we glimpse of each of their lives are beautiful and awesomely woven together, and I love your take on all of them. My favorite thing about this fic, though, is definitely the short rumination on "fate" -- the fact that it tied them all down, whether they really wanted it or not.

So, yes, gorgeous job! (Though I do so wish that there was more! There's certainly a ton of things you can play around with in this universe you created.)

Date: 2009-08-11 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Thank you! And I'm glad to be able to say that there is definitely one more installment in the works and quite likely more to come :)

Date: 2009-08-11 06:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] srin.livejournal.com
Um. Wow. This absolutely and completely breaks my heart, even more so than a lot of (good!) fic where one of them dies (permanently). The concept's very interesting - I love the use of that idea of belief keeping them around - and very well executed. It's just so bloody sad, but the fact that I find it so distressing speaks to how well-done it is. ;)

Date: 2009-08-11 07:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
The basic concept is straight from American Gods - to the point where I toyed with labelling this a crossover - so I can't take all the credit :)

I'm sorry to have broken your heart, but I'm glad you liked it.

Date: 2009-08-11 07:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] srin.livejournal.com
Yeah, I've read American Gods, and Terry Pratchett uses a very similar idea for gods on the Discworld. I've always liked the concept. Still, very nifty to apply it to Merlin. :D

Date: 2009-08-11 07:30 am (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-11 06:59 am (UTC)
ext_85481: (Default)
From: [identity profile] hsavinien.livejournal.com
Okay, this is kinda my modus operandi whenever there's hooker-fic. Um, why? For what reason is this what Merlin ends up gravitating towards instead of a scholar, or a weatherman, or one of the Travellers, or a bus driver or something?

In any case, liked the bits about Gwen and Morgan. I should eventually get round to watching this.

Date: 2009-08-11 07:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Roughly for the same reasons Bilquis was a hooker in American Gods. It gets explained more in the next installment but basically, the idea is, he's Merlin. The legends about him are all adamant that he's a sorceror. He can't be himself without the magic, and nowadays people don't really believe in magic. But he needs their belief to survive.

To quote the up and coming fic - 'Nowadays the only magic people believe in is a good shag'.

If it helps, he wasn't always and won't always be a hooker - this is just one period of his life. As it happens, this is currently the job that suits him best.

Yes, you really should :D It's fabulous.

Date: 2009-08-11 07:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Bear with me? :)

Date: 2009-08-11 08:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elvenpiratelady.livejournal.com
*clapclap* What a wonderful idea! (And WHY do I not have a Merlin icon yet?... will have to settle for Discworld, which is sorta connected.) You could get a whole ficathon going with this kind of idea...

Anyway, to review the actual fic... do you think Arthur would get some sort of tarnish on his reputation for never being able to leave England (ie he encourages all the soldiers/etc and never actually goes to war with them)? I'm intruiged and I'm glad there's going to be more.

Date: 2009-08-11 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
Hmm, I dunno. I had thought that the Sixties would be the last time he'd be in the armed forces because of the inability to leave... will have to ponder. I also thought he'd end up fast-tracked to command, nice and safe at home, a lot faster than he'd like and that would be disheartening for him

I'm plotting fics for each of the time periods mentioned and for bits in between as well :)

Date: 2009-08-11 09:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thismaz.livejournal.com
Oh, that's bitter and sad - the settling for less is always so. But it's lovely writing, so although I now need to go and find something light and fluffy, or better still, long and tortuous with a happy ending, I do thank you.

Date: 2009-08-11 08:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agenttrojie.livejournal.com
You're welcome :)

Date: 2010-01-31 10:04 am (UTC)
meredyth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meredyth
What a moving and profoundly different way of viewing the idea of Merlin and Arthur and their immortality. It's bleak and lonely and has a momentum of inevitability, but it's also powerful and feels right.


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