With nothing to lose, Merlin got back up off the muddy ground and stood as steadily as he could, Arthur's wide, devious smile on the other side of his shield. The knights laughed and jeered to the side of the training field, cracking jokes about Arthur's abilities. Arthur was in an eager mood to trash his servant about, having to just recently deal with a rather irritant awakening, performed by the unusually bothered servant.
The truth behind Merlin's bitterness that morning was that he was exhausted from the days prior, having tested the sturdiness of the barrier between life and death once again during his run with Finna. Despite the Great Dragon having healed him, he was still incredibly weak and tired from the injury to his side. That being the least of his worries, his mind shouted and echoed reminisces of the warning Alator had sent him. No matter how hard Merlin tried to put the inevitable battle's nearing date from his mind, it kept nagging and banging at the back of his head, pleading for Merlin's discomfort. So it was with reason that Merlin snapped at his king when he complained about having to wake early that morning for training.
"Merlin!" Arthur had moaned, "It's barely bright outside."
To which Merlin flew open the curtains to let the light stream in. "No," Merlin said. "No, I think your own dullness has clouded out the sun." Merlin pursed his lips, proud of his own insult.
Arthur started up, readily arming himself with a comeback. "Or maybe it's the giant ego that's suddenly been aroused within you," he had said, almost questioningly.
"If, indeed, I have gained any ego, sire," Merlin retaliated as he pulled Arthur's clothes out to ready them, "I wouldn't think you'd be bothered, considering the massive one you've worn since birth."
Arthur puffed up, like a frog that had been threatened, chest protruding out and shoulders drawn back. "I beg your pardon."
"Hmm?" Merlin hummed.
"Is something wrong, Merlin?" Arthur asked.
"Oh! Nothing," Merlin shrugged, "except I have to wake up in the early hours to slave after an ungrateful prat!"
Before Merlin could turn to see Arthur's reaction, he'd already taken a goblet to the back of the head.
And that's how Merlin came to be crouching behind a barely stable shield, desperately protecting himself from his king.
"Come on, Merlin!" Arthur bantered, "I've seen children last longer than that!"
Merlin huffed and prepared himself for another round of furious strikes from his irritated friend, and oh did they come. Arthur swung and struck his sword hard and fast against Merlin's flimsy shield, pushing him back with each one. Merlin could feel the bones in his knees grinding together as he struggled to keep standing, knowing he might get to rest sooner if Arthur was at least slightly impressed with his resistance.
Merlin wasn't sure how long he had lasted, but when he did finally collapse onto the ground, it was with great force. His knees had given way and he sprawled out on the grass like a ragdoll.
Arthur swung his sword in his hand and nodded with approval, down at his servant. "Not bad," he said. "But, I think one more go wouldn't hurt."
Merlin groaned, not really wanting to even get up off the ground, let alone go through the process over again. His side had begun to hurt again, not incredibly badly, but enough that Merlin was repulsed by the idea of lifting himself up.
"It'll do you good," Arthur said with a cheeky smile, but, before Arthur could insist on another round, he was interrupted by the warning bell.
He, Merlin, and the knights all looked towards the citadel with sudden interest. Arthur reached down his hand and helped Merlin off the ground before they all hurried inside.
Arthur was alerted by some of the council members that a sorcerer had been spotted preforming magic on Camelot's grounds. A witness was brought in before the court and he nervously recited what he had seen.
"Milord," the man said as he bowed to his king.
Arthur nodded, encouraging the man to talk. "You saw a sorcerer?"
"Just outside the city gates, milord."
"That close? What business could they have so far within our borders?"
"I know not, milord," the man quivered, obviously not used to the royal audiences.
"What did they appear to be doing?"
"She, milord," he clarified, "seemed to be pulling smoke out from the earth, saying strange words, like she were talking to it."
Merlin was beginning to get tired of the witness's overbearing use of the word "milord". So much so, he had to look away for a moment each time it was said. He listened, though, trying hard to see if any spells of his memory related to what she was doing.
"Could it have been possible that the smoke was merely from a fire?" Arthur questioned, obviously uncertain of whether this fidgety man was in a rightly state of mind to be claiming he'd seen a sorcerer.
"No, milord, I fear not! For the smoke it – it danced around her!"
Arthur gave the man a slow nod, eyebrow raised in disbelief. However, behind him, Merlin's eye's widened. He subtly recalls reading about such a spell in the magic book Gaius had given him. It's a tracking spell, he recognizes, a fact that would seem insignificant, except one wouldn't need to track the king of Camelot when it's known to all that he would, at most times, be here in the palace. So, the sorceress must have been tracking someone else, someone seemingly less significant, someone like a servant . . . like Merlin.
It was almost certain to Merlin that, whoever this person was, they were after him. Why else would they come so close to the heart of Camelot, if not to find the king? It would be utterly unnecessary to use a tracking spell if one were after Arthur. He was too well known. One glance around, a couple questions asked, and it'd be easy to find out his whereabouts. But Merlin, Merlin was different. Only a few people knew of Merlin, at least by name. And he was the only person he could think of that Morgana would want the capturing of, outside the royal court. And it wasn't as if Morgana could send someone to fetch him from Gaius's chambers either. It's dangerous enough for a sorcerer to be within the borders of Camelot, let alone inside the palace at this time. Guards had been doubled soon after Morgana sent Camelot her declaration of war. If someone wanted to get to Merlin, they would have to do so by waiting for him to be drawn out, away from all the attention.
Lost in his thoughts, Merlin forgot to pay attention to what was happening. Next thing he knew, the witness had been escorted out of the room and Arthur had turned to talk to his knights.
"We'll go for patrol at first light tomorrow, just to be sure there isn't any threat," Arthur stated. "Merlin, be sure that the horses are ready by then, and you'll be coming along so plan accordingly."
Merlin nodded, but inside he was cursing the situation. Merlin would have been safer of the sorceress hadn't been spotted because now they were about to give her exactly what she wanted; Merlin outside the city walls.
Having to wake up early and aching, Merlin hurried to the stables and saddled each horse. He packed the weapons, the food, the water, and the first aid, not knowing what they might encounter or if they'd be delayed of returning to Camelot. Merlin made sure they were ready for almost everything. When the horses were readied and able and the sun began to peek over the horizon, Merlin fled to the kitchens to get Arthur's breakfast, and then to his chambers to wake him up. This time, Merlin was too deep in thought to pester his king. Instead, he hurriedly rushed Arthur along, eager to get things going and over with.
It felt like the morning dragged on forever but eventually, Merlin, Gwaine, Percival, Mordred, and Leon were all lined up on their horses, following steadily behind Arthur, patrolling the wooded area just outside the city walls.
Merlin's horse trotted behind Arthur's, the rider cautiously turning his head for signs of trouble. This, of course, didn't stop him from clattering up a conversation to annoy Arthur along the way. But now they had to be quiet. They were all tired, both from training and from the stressful news that Morgana would soon rage war on them. So, despite the fact that the majority of them thought the witness was just a crazy hermit who saw something he didn't, they took the patrol seriously and with stealth.
It was all going quite smoothly, to say the least. Merlin was even beginning to give in to the thought that maybe their witness was witless. He began to hope that there was no sorceress after all. Unfortunately, as always, just as Merlin's hopes were up, a twig snapped behind a set of trees arched towards each other and Arthur ordered that everyone dismounted.
Merlin swung his legs over his horse and planted them on the ground. He then followed closely behind Arthur. The knights all drew their swords when Merlin had nothing. But, despite not having a sword, Merlin felt he was better armed than the lot of them. Only he couldn't use his weapon, not with the lingering eyes of his friends around him.
Another twig snapped and Arthur became sure that there was someone hiding behind the trees. "Show yourself," he ordered. A few more rustles of sound and a young woman emerged from hiding. "What is your business here?" Arthur questioned.
"I was searching for herbs," she mumbled, back arched forward. She wore a gray cloak that draped over her shoulders hiding her body from view. Her hands were concealed beneath it, like a curtained relic.
"Why were you hiding from us then?" Arthur inquired.
"I did not see who it was," the woman said nervously. "All I heard was the drawing of swords. Isn't that enough to frighten an unarmed healer?"
Arthur heaved and the grip on his sword lightened a little bit. Behind him, Merlin was tense. He could feel something strange emanating off of this mysterious woman, a feeling he didn't know what to make of.
"I understand your concern," Arthur acknowledged. "Where is it that you are from?"
"Helva," the woman replied.
"Helva?" Arthur questioned.
Merlin's eyes were becoming more and more fixed on this woman. Looking her up and down for any sign that might indicate that she was a threat.
"Helva was just ambushed by Morgana's men not three days ago," Arthur told.
"That is why I am after herbs," the woman indicated. "I wish to heal my brother, who was wounded."
There was a silence. Then Merlin stepped forward. "Why not bring him to Camelot? Gaius could help him."
"What my servant says is true," Arthur said. "Gaius is the best physician Camelot has ever known."
"I fear he would not make the journey," the woman replied, woe painted on her face. "Now, I think I must get back to him, urgently."
"We will accompany you," Arthur offered, "assure your safe passage."
"No!" the woman snapped, almost defensively. Only then did she begin to eye Merlin in a curious way.
The knights' grips on their swords tightened by the sudden outburst. "Why is that?" Gwaine questioned, suspicion and authority ringing in his voice.
"He mustn't be bothered!" the woman denied, as she lifted her cloak and began to walk away. She was glaring back at Merlin as she went.
"You should let us help," Arthur insisted as he, Merlin, and the knights followed. There was no doubt that none of the knights trusted this woman any longer. Arthur hoped to persuade her back to the castle to avoid any confrontation.
"I do not wish to be accompanied," she sneered as she stomped away, still eyeing Merlin with her wicket eyes, this time sending a chill down Merlin's spine.
Merlin stepped in front of Arthur, grabbing the woman's arm as he approached her. "Please, let us—" Merlin stopped. Her cloak had fallen off her shoulder, exposing her arm which was coated with symbols of the old religion. One look at Merlin and her eyes burned gold, sending Merlin flying backward onto the ground.
Arthur and the knights all readied their swords but they too were soon thrown back, conscious, but unable to move.
The woman stumbled over the limp bodies of the knights of Camelot and approached Merlin. Arthur clenched his jaw as he saw the sorceress kneel down next to his friend, his eyes fiery with rage. However, he could not threaten or warn her off for he was unable to speak.
The woman grabbed Merlin's upper arm and lifted him up off the ground. Merlin could do nothing but wince as she threw him over her shoulder, surprisingly very strong. Merlin's eyes darted around at his helpless friends as the sorceress carried him away and out of sight.
Leon was the first who was able to move. His fingers began to twitch with feeling and gradually he regained control of his body. The moment he was able to stand he hurried over to Arthur and helped him recover, rolling his joints and supporting him as he struggled to get up. The knights were as quick as they could to get back on their horses and set off back to Camelot to alarm the guards that there was indeed a sorceress afoot. Arthur also made it his personal duty to inform Gaius as to what had happened to Merlin and insure that he would be brought back home safely.
The sorceress repeatedly used a spell on Merlin every half an hour or so that made it impossible for him to move. He was, however, slowly gaining the ability to speak and began to ask questions, despite him being defenseless against his adversary.
"You-you work for Morgana?" Merlin questioned. His voice was hoarse, both from the spell and being suspended over the woman's back in an uncomfortable position.
"No," she replied.
"Alator," she said.
"So he is alive?" Merlin incised, hope in his voice.
"Sadly not," the woman said. "Morgana has taken him."
"If you work for Alator, then why not just ask me to see you?" Merlin asked. "I suppose you know who I am?"
"Indeed I do, Emrys. However, I'm afraid you would not take kindly to what I have in store for you."
"If it is in Alator's wishes," Merlin said, "then I would have happily helped him in any way, surely you know that. There is no need to bind me or put yourself in danger."
"Yes," she sighed. "However, this is not in Alator's wishes. It is in mine."
Merlin felt a knot form in his stomach. "And what is it that you acquired me for?" he croaked.
"I and some others of the Catha church have watched you over the years Emrys. We see and hear all that you do and we wish that your favors to the future of Albion are acknowledged."
"This is hardly a rewarding act," Merlin groaned. Merlin kept it to himself that he was uneasy knowing that he had been being watched.
"Do not let this deter you from my true purpose," said the woman. "I only wish to have your great deeds expelled from secret."
"What do you mean?" Merlin asked, alarmed.
"You deserve recognition."
"I don't want recognition. I never wanted—"
"But the others and I have all agreed that it is what you must receive for such devotions you have performed."
"No," Merlin warned, voice straining to reach higher volumes. "No one is to know about me. Please, you don't understand."
"But they must," said she. "I cannot bare another moment of your presence being diminished by those who take your credit. You speak for us, Emrys. You are the only voice innocent magic users have and I intend to make it heard."
"Surely this is not what Alator had wanted," Merlin persuaded.
"Sadly, it was not," the woman breathed. "This is why only now that he is dead can I carry out this task."
Merlin sighed, looking down at his arms helplessly bobbing back and forth over the sorceress's shoulder. He could not move. He could not use his magic. He couldn't do anything to prevent her plan. So he stayed there, lost in his own thoughts, looking for any possible way to escape, as a small ruined castle came into view.
Arthur had Gwaine and Mordred accompany him to find Merlin the next day. They rode their horses to where he was last seen and were able to pick up a trail relatively easily. Being on horseback, it wasn't long until they had reached the very same ruins that Merlin had been taken to.
The trio dismounted and tied their horses to some of the trees that lingered near the structure, overgrown onto a destroyed section of the tower. There seemed not to be more than two or three stories left standing, and Arthur doubted anything above the ground floor was stable anyway by the looks of it.
They cautiously ventured inside, hands on the hilts of their swords. The building was unsteady, the walls leaning in, threatening to collapse on top of them. Quietly, stealthily they crept down the long halls and corridors, listening intently for any sign of Merlin or his capture.
As they went deeper into the abandoned wreck, they began to notice more stability in the structure, straighter walls, stronger support, even a stable set of stairs. After scouring the ground floor and finding nothing, they decided to journey up a level. Thankful that the floor didn't fall out from under them, they searched on, warily aware of the large amount of time that had gone by since their friend had gone missing. When it seemed as though the castle were empty, Mordred spoke;
"What is it, Mordred?" Arthur asked, hoping he had spotted something.
"I'm beginning to think that Merlin isn't here."
Arthur took a heavy breath. "He has to be. The tracks end at the cast entrance. Where else could they have gone?"
"Perhaps they left through another exit," Gwaine suggested.
"Regardless," Arthur huffed, "we keep looking until we've checked everywhere."
Suddenly, there was the sound of footsteps in the distance. The knights went silent and listened to see where they were coming from. Then, they hastily snuck around the corner to find the sorceress at the end of the hall.
"Hey!" Arthur yelled.
The woman spun around. Alerted of her pursuers' presence, she ran. Arthur, Mordred, and Gwaine darted after her, swords now drawn. She rounded corners and swung around doorframes, the knights of Camelot slowly catching up to her, weaving out and around crumbled walls and columns.
Finally on her heels, the sorceress led them down a long, straight hall, seemingly with no end. The knights were gaining on her and, just when they were about to reach out and grab her, she turned another corner. Mordred and Gwaine, having been in the lead, effectively ran past the turn. Arthur, however, skid into the adjacent hall, continuing to pursue the woman while the others caught up.
Almost out of breath but the hope of finding Merlin swelling up in his chest, Arthur leaned forward, the woman's cloak fluttering about his fingertips as he reached out to grab at them. But, just as he had the worn cloth in his clutches, the sorceress vanished and the world went dark. Arthur stopped, stunned. He frantically looked around to see where he was, but it was nearly pitch black. He could hear banging behind him and realized that Mordred and Gwaine were closed off from wherever he was. He called back to them and tried to make the wall budge but it was no use.
"Alright," Arthur said, accepting defeat, "you guys try to follow the sorceress and see if you can find out where she went. Keep an eye out for Merlin. I'll go ahead and see if I find anything in here." The knights agreed and left their king to the void that surrounded him. Fat chance I'll find anything in this black mess, he thought as he turned away from the wall.
Arthur took a few slow steps forward, not knowing how big the room might be. However, as his vision adjusted, it seemed to him that there was dim light coming from the room ahead. He cautiously passed through the ancient doorframe to find the awe striking source of the light.
It was Merlin. Merlin, his arms stretched out and wrists bound to columns on either side of him, body suspended between them, and toes hanging just above the ground, seemed as if he were admitting off a strange glow. Arthur stepped closer with shaking legs, his friend slowly coming into view. Merlin's shirt had been removed and his pants torn at the knees. He was wearing nothing but the scraps that were left of his trousers. His head was lolled on his chest and his body limp. His skin seemed to radiate a strange illumination, allowing Arthur to only see Merlin and nothing far from him.
Shocked at what had been done to his servant, Arthur rushed to him. However, what he found as he got closer would prove to be even more shocking. Merlin, innocent, clumsy, idiot Merlin, was painted with an arrangement of scars and marks scattered about his body. Arthur stopped. His jaw dropped as he stood before his friend, bearing more scars than he had ever seen on any knight. Initially Arthur thought that it must have been the recent work of the sorceress that caused this much harm. But no, it couldn't have been. These scars were old. Tracks were woven into every part of Merlin's body, contrasting vibrantly on his pale skin. It became abruptly aware to Arthur that he had been standing stiff for the longest time, his dearest friend just inches away in desperate need. He quickly sprung forward and put his hand on Merlin's shoulder to see if he would wake.
A shot of pain struck Arthur as he touched Merlin and he reeled away, thinking he might have seen a flash, an image, as he made contact. Taking a moment to debate with himself on whether or not to try and wake Merlin again, he put a steady hand on Merlin's shoulder and didn't let go.
With a hard knock on Arthur's upper back, he realized that he has change locations. He was now on the ground looking up at . . . himself, his shoulder burning with a fresh wound. Arthur watched as he saw himself sweep dirt onto him and he felt the tight grip of guards' hands around his arms as he was lifted off the ground. "Wait, let him go . . ." he heard himself say, but his voice faded away as he appeared in another change in setting. A wince escaped his mouth as the wounds on his back stung. He could see Gaius tending to him, sitting on Merlin's bed. "I'm not a monster am I?" he feels himself say, though he has no control over his words and it is not his voice that leaves his mouth, but Merlin's. As his pain died away, before he could hear Gaius's reply, the sight faded.
Arthur tore his hand away from Merlin's shoulder and staggered back. He looked up at Merlin's face and saw that it was no longer calm, but slightly scrunched up in pain.
"Merlin?" Arthur questioned in a whisper. But Merlin was not yet conscious. Arthur then placed his hand again on Merlin's shoulder and gently traced his fingers along Merlin's arm until they ran along another elevated stretch of tissue.
"Your first battle wound," Arthur said. "Here."
Arthur began tearing up his undershirt to make a make-shift bandage to tie around the small gash in his shoulder. Words of Merlin's protest brushing past his lips.
Just like that, he was back in the dark, empty room. He looked up again. Merlin had murmured something, though Arthur could not hear. Arthur disregarded what Merlin had to say and his hand dropped down onto Merlin's collarbone. As Arthur's hand came into contact with the red, scared skin, a pain jarred in his own chest, and he again found himself somewhere else.
Arthur saw small bits and flashes of conversation between Merlin and himself. Merlin's hand rested on top of his wound, delivered by a mace to the chest. He talks with Arthur about his wound and the entire day seems to pass in a moment. Gradually, things fade to black.
A rush of cold water smacked against Arthur's—no, Merlin's—face and he began to gasp for air. Arthur saw Morgana smiling evilly back at him and she began to spit threats at Merlin. The words that left his servants mouth then shocked Arthur. Merlin spoke with a strong voice of his duty to Arthur, in a tone he had never heard before. Everything seemed to play in Arthur's mind at a normal pace and yet it all went by in the blink of an eye. Soon, Morgana had plastered Merlin's wound with medicine and Arthur could feel its sting. Then, he drifted away, back to where the real, present Merlin was.
This time, Merlin let out a small yelp. Arthur suddenly became aware that not only he was living through Merlin's memories as he touched the brands they left on his skin, but Merlin was too.
"Merlin," Arthur gasped, still bewildered by what was happening. Merlin looked down at him, screwed up eyes peering down at him with a gleam of sorrow and pain. Arthur looked at Merlin, his head cocked to one side, trying to decipher what he was thinking. Then, he saw the cicatrix on the back of Merlin's scrawny neck, and began to reach out his hand.
"Don't," Merlin pleaded in a hush. But Arthur's fingers itched to touch, as if something was pulling him in, daring him to see more.
Morgana's face appeared again, eyes flaring with a devious excitement. In her hand was the severed head of a serpent of sorts, which wriggled in her fingers as she spoke. "The Fomorroh will suck the life force out of you. Everything that makes you Merlin will be gone. And in its place there will be just one thought. One thought that will grow until it's consumed you completely. One thought that will be your life's work. You will not be able to rest until it's done. And that one thought is simple. You must kill Arthur Pendragon!" Morgana's hand grounded the snake into the back of Merlin's neck and Arthur had to experience the sharp fangs pierce his flesh and the slick body of the Fomorroh slink beneath his skin.
Before Arthur reverted back to the strange chamber where Merlin was kept, images flashed before his eyes of Merlin struggling to kill his king. It was a blur, for not even Merlin had remembered those moments.
Merlin and Arthur seethed with pain, both wincing through clenched teeth in unison. "Arthur, please!" Merlin begged. He knew what was to come if Arthur continued and he didn't dare wish to see it unfold.
But Arthur didn't listen. His fingers twitched numbly as the hovered over Merlin's skin before he placed them down, cupping Merlin's hip.
Almost nauseating, an arrow pierced Merlin's side and he sunk to the ground. A strange woman, to Arthur, knelt down beside him and ripped it out, asking Merlin if he could walk and rushing him along. Time flew by and the pain was coming and going in waves of heat, blood trickling down Merlin's leg. It was difficult for Arthur to understand what the woman would say to Merlin, however he did catch the urgency in her voice and he knew from what he saw that it was Morgana who pursued them.
Arthur could feel the ache in Merlin's legs and feebleness of his body as he climbed up the spiral stairs to take cover on the roof. Then, Arthur felt the strange, voluminous words echo from Merlin's mouth in a tongue he did not understand. And just as the vision died, he thought he saw a dragon through Merlin's eyes.
Arthur stumbled back away from Merlin, shaking like a leaf in a cold breeze. "What was that?" Arthur questioned fearfully in a gritty whisper.
"Stop," Merlin whimpered. "Arthur, stop. Please!"
Arthur's big, blue eyes were open wide as he glared back at his friend. "Why?" he asked. "What is this? What am I seeing?"
"You don't want to look any further Arthur, please, trust me!" Tears were staining Merlin's cheeks now, the salt water gleaming with his own luminescence.
Arthur stood there, unmoving, breathing heavily, for a long time, having an internal argument with himself. He did not want to cause Merlin anymore pain and yet he wanted to know where all of these secret scars had come from. And, when he finally came to and saw that unmasked expression on Merlin's face, he knew he had to know, so he placed his hand solidly on the middle of Merlin's chest where a large scorch mark had claimed.
Arthur opened his eyes and saw the sky. He was on the ground, his chest hot with a boiling pain. He could feel Merlin's muscles aching and easing into numbness. He could hear Merlin's thoughts of defeat, but then a bitter voice spoke. "Pity. Together we could've ruled the world." Arthur's mind went racing, wondering who and why anyone would say something like that to Merlin.
Perhaps the most astounding thing of all is that Merlin then got up, despite being in a condition Arthur couldn't have ever recovered from so quickly. Then Arthur felt a power rise within Merlin, something cold but burning, a strange feeling that started in his stomach and rose to his heart, eventually filling him up. "You should not have killed my friend!" Merlin shouted, and Arthur suddenly became, not just one with Merlin, but with the sky as well. And he lived every moment of that powerful act, the sky obeying Merlin's command, striking down the woman who had attacked him with a flash of lightning.
Arthur launched himself away from Merlin, falling onto the ground. He struck a frightful gaze up at his servant, whose muscles were contracting and writhing with pain, restraints keeping him from doubling over.
Arthur was baffled. Merlin had used magic and he didn't just see him use it, he lived it, first hand, leaving no room for doubt in his mind that that power he felt had come from Merlin.
Merlin was weeping now. Arthur was deterred from his thoughts by the sound of small whimpers and tears hitting the stone floor. Arthur stood up and marched forward, tears brimming his eyes as well. He stood before this stranger before him that he once called friend.
Merlin's body was shaking and shivering, shoulders heaving as he cried. The room had become incredibly cold, causing Merlin to jitter. He wanted to say something. He wanted to tell Arthur that he was sorry but he wasn't sure that either of them fully understood what was happening quite yet. Arthur just stared at him curiously, jaw clenched and eyes wide.
Arthur didn't want to see anymore. He didn't want to feel anymore. He didn't care why Merlin was hurt, why Merlin had scars littering his skin, or why Merlin had such a heavy presence within him. But his whole body still longed to be in Merlin's mind again, it was no longer under his will. He mindlessly reached a hand forwards and began to run his fingers down Merlin's scars and along his tracks and up his burns, seeing, feeling, living, through every one of the palpable, painful predicaments.
He and Merlin choked, their throats burning with sizzling poisons as Arthur gripped Merlin by the neck. Merlin had been choked and punched there and Arthur saw every bit of it. He felt the serket launch its stinger into Merlin's back and he felt the venom course through his veins. He felt pain in Merlin's leg when he had been dropped into a ravine, lungs filling up with a thick, black liquid and limbs shaking from the effects of Morgana's poison. The breaks between visions began to slowly stop and present and past merged as he experienced more of Merlin's past unfortunates. He could hear Merlin scream, "Please, Arthur! Please! Stop! Please!" as he caused them both to relive every hardship, heartbreak, and broken bone Merlin had ever dealt with. His hands drifting over Merlin's stomach, he began to feel kicks and jabs and stabs and punches. Arthur was brought all the way back to Merlin's childhood at times to see other's feast upon Merlin's misery, pushing him down, rattling him up, and kicking him until his limbs were numb and his chest was throbbing. Arthur could do nothing but let the feelings jet into him. Merlin had been stabbed, burnt, assaulted, attacked, pelted, poisoned, bit, torn and worse, all without Arthur's knowing, and he still wasn't entirely sure why.
When every pain had been felt and both of them were aching and shaking and breaking in their place, Arthur threw himself away from Merlin and let out a short but loud yell of agonizing agitation and aggravation, Merlin still before him, wheezing and whining and crying and bawling.
By now, their entire bodies where shaking uncontrollably, pain still fresh within their senses. Arthur was entwined with whatever spell he was under and, though he wanted more than anything to stop and tear his own hair out, his hands reached out once again.
Merlin shook his head in denial as Arthur's hands came around to either side of his head. "Please, Arthur," Merlin pleaded. "You don't want this. You don't want to know what I feel."
And Merlin was right. Arthur wanted less than anything to drive himself into Merlin's mind, even deeper than he had been so far. However, whatever magic that had him entranced, compelled him to gently place his thumbs on Merlin's temples.
Suddenly the real world was gone and all there was was Merlin's memories. Arthur's and Merlin's souls twisted and knotted together as they not only shared physical but mental pain as well. Arthur now knew what it was like to be inside Merlin's head. He knew all his motives and all his reasoning for everything he'd ever done. He knew where Merlin came from and where he was headed. He could hear all the voices Merlin ever heard and he could feel all the gut twists, sunken heart, and butterflies the words caused. He knew how alone Merlin was inside his head, pressured with a heavy burden he couldn't share. Only now he was sharing, with Arthur. Arthur had rapid access to all of Merlin's memories and he pulled and threaded into them one by one, in and out of order. Eventually, Arthur had seen everything. Every single moment of Merlin's life in the most vivid way possible. And he began to cry. His heart had been so full of betrayal, mistrust, and defeat, having been forsaken by so many others who had used magic for evil, but now his heart was light. He knew he could count on Merlin more than ever, having seen the things that go through his mind every day. Merlin was not like Morgana. Merlin was just as crushed and hurt by these people as Arthur was, abusing magic and causing Merlin more and more pain. And it amazed Arthur how willing his friend was to push through this depression. Everything Arthur had ever said about magic being evil had struck Merlin like a knife to the gut, but he'd still follow him to the ends of the earth. More than that, Arthur knew how worthless Merlin had felt before he came to Camelot and how close he was to enacting his own death, and even how Merlin sometimes still felt that way now. Because Arthur felt it now, through Merlin, a nauseating weight in his stomach that twisted his mind into evil thoughts. Yet, somehow, Merlin sought past all of that, for Arthur. Arthur knew this now and he'd promise himself, then inside Merlin's mind and soul, that he'd never forget it.
Gwaine and Mordred had nearly scrapped the entire place clean before they found the wall on the verge of collapsing that led them right to Merlin and Arthur. They kicked and shoved the brinks out of place until they could push through and into the room.
There they were, frozen and unmoving, Arthur and Merlin staring into each other's eyes, gazes locked. The blue in their irises glowed vibrantly, casting a stream of light between them, making their tearstained faces looked glazed.
Arthur's hands still cupping Merlin's head, Gwaine and Mordred tried to pry him away from Merlin, but it was as if they were glued together. Neither Merlin nor Arthur would budge, and as they relived Merlin's life over and over and over again in various different orders and sequences, their souls became more and more knotted and snarled together.
Mordred had the idea to cut Merlin loose and as they did so, Merlin fell limp, Arthur sinking down with his head still in his hands. Gwaine caught his king before they could smack into the hard, stone floor and Mordred lifted Merlin opposite him by the underarms. Eventually, after several attempts, having to use all their strength, Gwaine and Mordred tore Arthur and Merlin apart. Forthwith, a bright flash of light blinded the entire room as Arthur and Merlin screamed in anguish.
Gwaine and Arthur flew back to one side of the room as Merlin and Mordred did to the other. On either side, writhing in pain, Arthur and Merlin looked at each other, eyes wide with woe. It felt as though they had been torn apart, left a pile of flesh and bone on the floor, pain riveting through their bones in pangs of hot chills.
As Gwaine and Mordred climbed to their feet and attempted to aid their friends, Merlin's and Arthur's eyes slowly rolled into the back of their heads, everything gradually dispelled into a blur.
Merlin opened his eyes to find that he was back in Camelot, in Gaius's chambers, lying on a cot in the main room, which struck as odd considering his own bed was a mere few feet away. But then, as his eyes adjusted, he saw Arthur staring back at him, on another cot, seeming to have just recently woken as well.
"Arthur," Merlin breathed. He felt weak. His voice was barely a whisper.
"Merlin," Arthur replied in a voice of similar volume. A feeble smile stretched upon his face.
Merlin blinked slowly once or twice, taking in the sight he thought he'd never see; Arthur smiling back at him, knowing of his secret. Despite the fact that Arthur was accepting, Merlin still felt he owed Arthur something for lying to him all this time. "I'm sorry," he said, brow furrowing as far as his strength would allow it, which wasn't much.
"No, Merlin," Arthur said, shaking his head gently. "It's alright. It's alright now."
Merlin became aware that they were alone in the chambers, Gaius inevitably having gone out for supplies. Merlin stretched out his neck and his back as far as he could, a small, exasperated breath leaving his lips. "I should not have lied to you."
"It's alright," Arthur said again. "I understand why you did not tell me, Merlin. I know what you've done and why you've done it. There's no need to explain yourself."
A frail, toothy smile gained a place on Merlin's face. "I know."
There was a silence for a few moments, during which Arthur had closed his eyes for rest. However, before he could drift into sleep, Merlin awoken him. "Thank you," he had whispered.
Arthur opened his eyes and his smile was renewed.
Several moments later, Gaius walked in, meeting a dazed pair of friends with eyes drooping from tiredness.
"You're awake!" Gaius said cheerfully. "I was uncertain how long you two would be out for."
Merlin grinned. "Hello Gaius."
"You two seem unusually gleeful for someone whose souls have just been ripped apart," Gaius heaved.
"What?" Merlin questioned as he tried to sit up, not that his arms could support him very well at the moment. They were sore and brittle.
"Here, lie back," Gaius instructed, noticing Merlin's difficulties. He stacked some pillows and blankets behind his ward's back for support before doing the same for Arthur who too wanted information. "Unfortunately, when Gwaine and Mordred found you, you were in a state of shared minds. Your souls intertwined with one another, like mess of string. So, when they pulled you two apart, your souls effectively ripped in half."
"And what will that mean?" Arthur asked, alarmingly.
"I can't know for certain," Gaius shrugs. "I've never actually been presented with such a problem before! However, you two mustn't venture far apart from each other."
"Why is that?" Merlin asked.
"When your souls split, they were weaving in and out of either body," Gaius explained. Therefore, both of you contain a small portion of the other's soul within them. Should you separate the two halves of your souls, it would be immensely painful."
Merlin and Arthur exchanged looks. "So how far apart are we able to go?" Arthur asked.
"No more than a few yards, I'm afraid," Gaius said, curling his lip in as he finished.
The two of them looked at each other again. It was strange how there was a still a vibration to be felt between them, even after they had been separated. The two of them locked eyes and seemed to have an entire conversation within just that one look.
Gaius abruptly stood up, "Now if you'll excuse me," he said, "Gwen asked me to inform her when you had awaken." With that, he left, leaving the two halves alone again.
"I guess I'll just have to be by your side at all times," Merlin said with a smile, somewhat jokingly.
"So nothing's changed then," said Arthur.
Merlin smiled and Arthur scoffed. It was just as Merlin could have wished it. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had, and the two of them felt more connected than they ever had before, truly two sides of the same coin.