TITLE: Echoes of Grace and Madness
WORD COUNT: 882 words
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No matter how much I wish it so.
SUMMARY: Written for the prompt, Igraine/Uther, ghost!Igraine, forgiveness. Set in the time period at the end of S3 when Uther is imprisoned during Morgana's reign.
When he was young, magic was thrilling. Dark secrets to keep. Sloe-eyed women at his beck and call. Intoxicating results that made him a champion. Aredian and Gaius asked for nothing in return, content to reap the spoils with him. Life was everything he had ever dreamed it would be, everything he had always wanted.
Then she came along. Eyes like an innocent summer sky. Skin untouched by blemish, dewy sweet and tempting. He fell in love.
Perhaps all three.
And nothing was the same afterward.
Contrary to what everybody believed, he didn’t fear the magic itself. He feared the repercussions. Actions always bred reactions. He’d seen enough of them to recognize, and enough had assaulted him for him to know their presence.
So when he heard her whispers in the dark of night, he knew. Not real. Figments of whatever magic was woven around his dungeon cell. Morgana’s doing, meant to torment him more than she already was.
By day, he tore the space apart, searching for the talisman that had to be responsible for the visions. He scratched at the walls until his fingers bled, then crawled around on the floor on the hunt for a hiding place tucked beneath the stone. When the guards brought him his meal, his face was streaked with perspiration and dust, his hands unrecognizable for the scratches and blood that tempered their skin. For these visits, though, he pulled himself straight, lifted his chin. He was still their king, no matter what Morgana might think she usurped from him.
The nights, though…bravery forsook him.
“Uther…please, listen to me…”
He curled up into the smallest ball he could manage, knees drawn to his chest, chin so tightly down he could barely breathe. His back pressed hard to the cold wall, and his eyelids hurt from how tightly he squeezed them shut. A hallucination. That’s all. Like she’d been when he’d been so ill after Morgana’s return. Induced by the magic that had ultimately destroyed her.
Something cold tickled across his brow. Shivering, he edged farther into the corner, trying to escape it.
“You’re not real,” he said. “You’re not there.”
“But I am. You feel me.” Another icy touch. His throat closed up, making it impossible to breathe. “Don’t be afraid. Please, Uther. Not of me. Never of me.”
Except how could he not be? She had tortured him with the images of her death, her beautiful face an agonized rictus. He lived with his guilt every day, even when it sat across from him at the dining table and bragged about his daily adventures. As long as Arthur thrived, he could tolerate it, but here, now, without any certainty of his future or knowledge of his—their—son’s health, where could he find the strength to withstand even the memory of her voice?
“You need your strength,” she murmured. “For Camelot.”
“She’s destroying Camelot,” he muttered in spite of his determination not to acknowledge her presence. “Everything I worked for.”
“She won’t win.”
“She already has.”
“So you would just give up? That doesn’t sound like the Uther I knew. The Uther I loved.”
Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. This version of Igraine was almost worse than the nightmares. He didn’t want her sympathy. He didn’t deserve it.
“You’re not real.” He forced strength into each word. He had to banish her before he lost what little of his mind he had left.
At the chill molding over his body, his spine stiffened. The ice sank deeper into his flesh when he felt what he would’ve sworn was a slim arm coil its way around his waist. With his eyes shut, it could’ve been Igraine, slipping into their bed.
But magic always had its repercussions.
“Believe what you must.” Her voice was in his ear, delicate and fragile. “Believe me a trick, believe me a torment. But above all else, believe this, my lord. To give our son life, I would have happily traded mine. Because he is all the best parts of you. He’s strong and proud and beautiful. He thrives when you fear he doesn’t. He is out there, and he will be the greatest king Camelot has ever known, greater than even you could have ever imagined.”
“Sshhh…” Soft caresses grazed along the side of his neck. “I am not here for her. I’m here for you. Because you need to know…I forgive you, Uther. For the lies, for the indiscretions, for everything.”
Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. “You shouldn’t. It’s all my fault.”
“How could I begrudge our wondrous son? I can’t. I won’t. Neither should you.”
The cold never went away. It embraced him all through the night, often accompanied by the damning murmurs he refused to believe.
And when day finally returned, he began his search for the talisman again. It had to be here. Somewhere. He only had to look hard enough to find it. Once he did, the ghost would be gone, and he could seal shut the tiny door in the back of his heart that wanted desperately to trust in its promises.
Because he couldn’t believe her. He couldn’t.
Magic left its imprint, long after it was gone.
Just like ghosts.