Dying Is Easy, Living (Without You) Is Harder by Emachinescat
A Tales of Arcadia Fan-Fiction
Summary: AU of episode 8. Douxie sacrifices himself for Merlin in a desperate display of magic he didn't know he was capable of. Letting his apprentice die is not on Merlin's agenda, however - the old wizard still has some tricks up his sleeves, but they will cost him dearly. Written for Febuwhump on Tumblr. Day 4: "take me instead"
A/N: Spoilers for Wizards, episode 8. I couldn't find anything about Douxie's actual age, so I guessed the best I could (I just assumed he was actually 16 or 17 when Merlin saved him in the middle ages and worked from there). I also wrote wizard immortality and aging the way I saw it, since no one gets into it in the show. The idea of equal exchange in magic was inspired by the rules of magic in BBC's Merlin.
Dying Is Easy, Living (Without You) Is Harder
I was just like you when I was younger,
Head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr…
Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.
From "Right Hand Man" by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The world tilted into slow-motion, like those lingering moments between sleep and waking.
Douxie saw what was going to happen seconds before it did. The ghastly shell of what had once been King Arthur was crashing toward Merlin, sword held aloft, and Merlin was so busy defending his apprentice that he hadn't seen the attack coming in time. He didn't have time to prepare, to defend.
Douxie struggled madly in the stone grip, crushed into the floor by the twisted version of one of the bravest kids he knew. It wasn't Jim's fault that he was like this, turned against his friends, but that knowledge did nothing to quell the rage and anguish of being helpless while his master, his friend, his father in all but blood was killed by one of his oldest friends.
He didn't know how it happened. He couldn't explain it, even years later when he was older and wiser and had learned far more advanced magic than anything he possessed now. Perhaps it was his potential power, lying dormant inside of him, stirred awake by the screaming of his soul, the refusal to lose the person who had been his whole world for centuries. Merlin was stubborn and rude, and he didn't always get along with others, and often he'd shut Douxie out or wave him aside or refuse to listen - but he was also good, where it counted, and had taught Douxie so much, rescued him from so much more than death because of his magic.
He couldn't die. Not like this.
A burst of raw energy exploded from Douxie - it was exhilarating, like nothing he'd ever felt before. It was like lightning, like he'd stuck his finger in an electrical socket, dropped a hair dryer into the bath. It burned and froze and sizzled inside of him, waiting impatiently for an outlet, demanding release. In retrospect, he should have shot it at Arthur, or blown hulk-Jim off his feet and come to Merlin's aid himself. But only one thought was flying through his head in that moment, a plea that he only half-registered, one that the screaming inferno inside of him took as a command -
Not Merlin. Anyone but him. Please, not him - take me instead.
And then there was a swirl of light and color and suddenly Douxie wasn't being held back by Jim anymore. From his new place across the room, he had just enough time to see his mentor lying face-down on the floor, exactly as Douxie had been seconds earlier, before an armored hand wrapped around his neck, cutting of his air and together he and Arthur smashed him into the back wall, the stone cracking against his head and making him see stars. He struggled, bringing his hands weakly up to bat at the corrupted king's grip, and he thought, maybe for a second, that the hold weakened and -
It coursed through him like water from a broken dam, radiating from his stomach and lighting every single nerve alight. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, he couldn't … he couldn't …
And there it went again, the world around him crawling like someone had hit the half speed button on Netflix. Unable to comprehend what was happening, his senses went mad as time meandered languidly, stretching out each moment of pain and fear and confusion like a slowly unwinding slinky.
Something cold and hard, something foreign, was inside of him, through him, but something else, something warm, pooled around it, the smell of iron, thick and cloying, someone screaming, a roar of rage or pain - was he near water? What was that rushing in his ears? - and there were white spots blotting out his already hazy vision and someone had clamped a hand around his lungs, squeezing them dry, he couldn't breathe, couldn't move, and it hurt…
Then the thing running through him - a sword, he thought vaguely - was wrenched out, and he realized that he hadn't even known what pain was until now. His mouth opened around a scream that had no voice, he felt his chest heaving, screaming for air that wouldn't come, and Arthur still had him by the neck. Blood poured from the gaping wound, pitter-pattering on the ground as the world went cold and white, and then he was flying, the sound of breaking glass, and now falling, falling, into the darkness, into the cold and the unknown.
The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was a shooting star zipping from the same window he'd just been tossed from, heading straight for him.
Make a wish.
He wished that he hadn't failed. He wished that Merlin was still alive, and that his sacrifice wouldn't be in vain.
The hands of death wrapped around him, and pulled him close.
Funny, though, the hands of death were a lot more solid, a lot warmer and stronger than he would've thought.
Huh. That was odd. Death knew his name, and he sounded an awful lot like Merlin.
He felt something soft beneath him and felt hands on his face, and though all he wanted to do was slip away and make the pain stop, his stubborn curiosity got the better of him and he forced his eyes to open, one last time.
What he saw surprised him. Merlin kneeled above him, a look that he had never seen before on his face, one that he couldn't quite place but that radiated so much pain that Douxie wondered for a second if he had failed, if they were both dead, but then he realized that he was shivering from cold and that he could still feel the edge of pain through the seeping numbness, and he didn't think that one could feel in death.
He couldn't move his body at all; his limbs were limp, his whole body was being crushed by gravity, he felt as if he were sinking, being pressed into the earth below, like his grave was already opening up its cavernous maw to swallow him whole. What did it care that he was still alive? He would be dead in minutes, and the earth was hungry.
Using every ounce of strength left in his fading body, he spoke, the words barely a whisper. "M-Merlin?"
"You foolish boy," Merlin chided, but his soft tone and dewy eyes belayed the harsh words. One of Merlin's hands cupped his cheek, wiping away a tear that Douxie hadn't even known was there.
"H-had t-to save-"
"I don't even know how you managed magic that powerful." Merlin's words had a choked quality to them, a rawness, as he continued, "But you always were full of surprises. I suppose you always will be."
Douxie coughed, but it didn't even hurt anymore. Gurgling out a weak chuckle through the blood in his mouth, he said, "For all of t-t-wo min-minutes." He was so cold.
"No, my boy," Merlin said, and somehow the warmth of the sound held the chill of death at bay a moment longer. "You will have a lifetime."
"This old wizard still has one last trick up his sleeve," Merlin said gently. "Open your eyes, Hisirdoux." Douxie hadn't even realized they'd closed. He fought to obey, and was rewarded with Merlin's face, benevolent and sad but somehow content. "There you go," Merlin congratulated. His voice broke slightly, and Douxie felt a hand carding through his hair, a show of comfort and affection that he would have never thought possible from the wizard.
"'S cold," he gasped, and he knew this was it. The forest around him was a vignette now, closing rapidly.
"I know," said Merlin, "but not for long." A beat. "Promise me you'll be great, Hisirdoux. Greater than I ever was."
Light flared against Douxie's eyelids, but he didn't bother to open them - he couldn't open them - but then the cold and numb and pain ebbed away until he felt nothing at all, not even the ground beneath him or Merlin's touch. Only then did he open his eyes, slowly, and at last he understood.
He and Merlin were cocooned in a great whirl of color and fire, and even as Douxie felt himself inching away from death's embrace, he saw the taut pull of the skin on Merlin's face and the dimming of the light in his eyes.
He tried to sit up, to put a stop to it, but he couldn't move. He couldn't feel anything else, but somehow he felt the tears, hot and desperate as they made their pilgrimage across his cheekbones and into his hair. "No," he said, his voice oddly calm, belying the injustice of it all that howled inside of him like a caged wolf.
"I cannot let you die for me," Merlin said.
"That was my decision to make! Not yours!"
"I made it my decision." Merlin's tone brooked no argument.
"This is forbidden magic," Douxie protested. "There has to be equal exchange! You can't play with life and death, Merlin - if you save me, you'll die!"
"Maybe," Merlin said sagely, "it's time."
"NO!" This time Douxie roared the word, angry at Merlin for trying to leave him like this, angry at his body for refusing to move, angry with himself for allowing this - somehow - to happen. "I put myself in your place. I took a sword for you. And you're going to just throw it all away, and for what?!" He was sobbing now.
Merlin barely looked like himself anymore, with sunken eyes and nearly translucent skin, but his voice was stronger than ever as he answered, "For you."
The impact of those two words knocked the air out of Douxie's chest almost as completely as being impaled by a sword had. The anger faded, and he wanted it back, because now his heart was splintering like the glass of the window he'd been thrown through…
"I can't," he started, made a noble effort to compose himself, and tried again, "I can't live without you."
"Well, Hisirdoux Casperan, like everything else I've tried to teach you over the past centuries, that is just going to be something you're going to have to learn how to do on your own."
"Please - I tried - I wanted to - I died for you!"
Another chuckle, this one the crackle of dead leaves under foot - brittle. "Well, you certainly gave it your best shot." The hand was back on his face, thinner and frailer than Douxie had ever seen. It was cold, like bone. "I am honored that you would sacrifice your life for me, but I've had 900 years. You're still young."
Stifling a sob, Douxie argued, "I'm 701."
"Pah. That's nothing for wizards."
"How am I supposed to go on after this? What will I do without you?"
Merlin was fading in earnest now, and the light of the exchange spell flickered. "Defeat Morgana and Arthur. Overturn the Arcane Order. Save my Trollhunter. Protect Nari. And know that none of this is your fault, Hisirdoux, and I am so very proud of you. But just as you made the choice to sacrifice yourself for me, I am making this choice of my own free will. This is not your fault."
"Please don't go."
"Don't think this is the end. I expect you'll see me again, one last time."
But Merlin was gone and Douxie's world folded into blackness and all was still and quiet.
He awoke to someone shaking him. Loud, frantic voices sounded above him.
He opened his eyes, weaker than he had ever felt before. Claire stood over him, brown eyes huge with mingling worry and relief. "Douxie! You're alive!"
Something soft rubbed up against his hand that lay at his side, and he glanced over to see Archie. "I thought we'd lost you," the bespectacled cat said, nuzzling Douxie's arm affectionately.
Slowly, with the help of Claire, Douxie sat up. His shirt was wet and tacky with blood - so much of it - and he wondered how he had even survived long enough for Merlin to work his forbidden life exchange magic. Feeling had returned to his body, but he was numb inside. Merlin's last words echoed in his head. This is not your fault.
He could tell that the wizard had truly meant what he said, and he knew he should try to believe him, should honor Merlin's memory and sacrifice by accepting the choice to take his place. But Merlin was dead, and it certainly felt like Douxie's fault. Maybe if he had channeled the strange magic another way, if he had had more control over it, then Merlin might still be alive. They might both be, together.
But he couldn't dwell on that now. Merlin had been right about one thing, at least - there was important work to be done, and the role of leader had fallen upon Douxie's shoulders.
He stood, weary and hollow, and stumbled over to Merlin's book and staff - the only things left of his master who had so audaciously spit in the eyes of fate. He bent over slowly, head spinning, not yet recovered from his encounter with death.
A puzzled voice came from behind him and he felt the soft puffs of air from the flaps of Archie's wing tickled the back of his neck. "Where's Merlin?" the dragon asked.
Without turning around, Douxie said, "He's gone." He took the book in his hands, ran his fingers across its ornate surface, wrapped trembling fingers around the staff, and straightened, squaring his shoulders.
Merlin had given him a second chance. He'd be damned if he wasted it.
He had a lot of work to do.
A/N: This may very well be one of my favorite things I've ever written. The father-son dynamic between Merlin and Douxie is perfect, and getting to explore how much they truly mean to one another in this fic was an honor. Also, there will be a sequel to this, coming up on Day 19, so if you enjoyed this story, there's more to come!
Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed, and I'd love to hear your thoughts! :)