Of Visions and Future Kings

"Merlin, why are you hugging me?"

"Because five minutes ago, you were dead!"

"Well somebody must not have checked me well enough, because I'm obviously still breathing!"

Sure enough, he was. Merlin could feel the steady rise and fall of the prince's chest beneath his head, when just moments ago, he'd felt nothing. He could have wept with the sudden rush of relief. Thank ye Gods.

To Merlin's surprise, Arthur let him have his hug for a moment longer before pushing him away with all his usual strength. It was hard to believe that the skin that looked as flushed and healthy as ever now had been so drained and lifeless earlier, when Merlin had found his prince lying sprawled across the floor of his chambers.

Behind Merlin, the door opened, and Gwen, who had been with Merlin when he found Arthur, rushed in, Gaius right behind. Arthur groaned.

"You called Gaius, Merlin?"

"You were dead, Arthur!"

"It's true." Gwen added, brown eyes wide with worry. "I saw you too."

"Ridiculous." Arthur huffed. "As you can see, Physician, I am perfectly healthy. They just overreacted."

"I believe you, Sire." Gaius replied in his usual calm, measured tone. "Nevertheless, might I put their minds at ease?"

Arthur sighed loudly, on the verge of a pout, but he submitted to Gaius's gentle inspection anyway. The old physician's hands feathered down the prince's neck, checking for anything unusual. Finding nothing, he looked into his eyes (checking for a concussion from his fall). He pressed a hand to Arthur's bare chest, tracking his heartbeat, then his forehead. All normal. Puzzled, the physician said so.

"Ha!" The prince crowed. "I told-"

"But Gaius!" Merlin interrupted, leaping to his feet. "Gwen and I saw it! He was lying on the floor, pale as death just five minutes ago!"

"I believe you, Merlin." Gaius soothed, putting a hand on the agitated boy's shoulder. "Whatever happened, he's all right now. That just leaves one explanation: magic."

"Magic?" Gwen and Merlin said together. "What sort of magic seems to kill and then leaves without a trace?" Merlin finished, sharing a wide-eyed look with Gwen.

"Oh please." Arthur growled, glaring at all three of them. "You all always jump to a magical conclusion when there is a perfectly mundane answer."

"And what is that, Sire?"

Arthur looked away, decidedly staring out the window. "I had a brief fainting spell. That is all."

Merlin stared at him. "You, a perfectly healthy knight and prince, had a fainting spell?"

A slight touch of pink colored the prince's cheeks. "Yes Merlin. Now if you will excuse me, I have knights to train." And with that, Arthur got off his bed and stalked off, grabbing up a tunic from the pile of laundry Merlin and Gwen had brought up as he went.

"I don't believe that." Merlin stated flatly the second the door slammed shut.

"Me neither." Gwen put in.

"Nor do I." Gaius said. He looked at both of them, his face grave. "I have heard tales of such magic. Subtle magic that produces visions, that can cloud the mind and 'suggest' actions that one might not normally take."

Gwen bit her lip, sharing a worried look with Merlin. "What can we do?"

"Watch him carefully. If anything happens, come to me. In the mean time, I'll look for possible cures."

Watch him they did, throughout the day, at every given opportunity. They made sure the prince was never alone, even when he thought he was; if Arthur sent Merlin out on an errand, Gwen stayed close, finding an excuse to talk, or at least be in the same area. If Gwen was called away to do something for Morgana, or for another visiting lady, Merlin made sure he was there, even when Arthur sent him away. No matter what, they kept it up until Arthur was safely tucked away in his bed once more. Even so, Merlin hovered worriedly outside his door, watching through a crack as he waited for Gwen to get back so they could regroup.

She came back within minutes, slightly out of breath, as if she had run most of the way. "Any change?"

"No." Merlin turned to the girl he called his best friend, an odd look on his face. "Did you notice anything while you were following him?"

"No." The girl replied. "He was his normal self. Except…"

"Except what?"

"Well he seemed more…confident, than usual."

Merlin had noticed that too. "He's always confident, though…" He said, in answer to Gwen as well as his own thoughts.

"No, not like this. Usually, he's hesitant, unsure. Today it was like he knew that what he was doing was exactly right."

It was exactly as she said. Usually, no matter how confident he sounded, Arthur always seemed to have an undercurrent of unease, as if he wasn't entirely sure that his actions were his own and not an echo of his father's. He always looked to Merlin or Gwen for support.

But not today. Today, he had been glorious. With his knights each stroke of his blade had been perfect, struck with a zeal Merlin had never seen in his beloved master before. In council, he'd thrown off his usual reticence and spoke boldly, denouncing a proposed tax raise with emotion and a lion's ferocity, stunning everyone, even Uther. In short, today he had possessed the spirit of the king Merlin knew he would become. Merlin had never been prouder-or more worried about its cause.

"Right." He looked over at Gwen. "I think I should stay with him tonight. Just in case there are more changes."

"…All right. Just make sure you get enough sleep. You're looking peaky."

He grinned. "So do you, Mother."

Gwen rolled her eyes at him, squeezing his arm briefly before heading off for her room. Merlin watched her disappear around the corner, then slipped back into Arthur's room. He looked his prince over as he fetched a blanket from a cupboard. None of the frightening pallor from this morning was anywhere on his face; he was quiet and serene, deep in sleep-and it was definitely sleep, not death. Still…

Merlin settled into a chair, which he turned to face the prince's bed. He would watch, anyway.

He tried to watch through the night. He really did. But Arthur had been particularly grueling with his tasks, on top of rushing to relieve Gwen throughout the day, so despite his best efforts, his eyelids began to droop…


Merlin blinked, jerking awake with a start to find Arthur, backlit by the morning sun, standing over him.

"A-Arthur…" Merlin looked up sheepishly, mentally scrambling for an excuse to be there…but the look on Arthur's face stopped him. He wasn't angry; he wasn't even mildly irritated. In fact, his expression could almost be described as tender as he looked down at his manservant.

The expression made Merlin's heart do something strange; it made it want to both freeze in fear and beat absurdly fast. The odd combination apparently triggered Merlin's tongue, for before he could stop himself, he blurted the root of his sudden fear:

"Arthur, when you were…dead…did you see anything? Anything unusual?"

To Merlin's surprise, the question didn't elicit anger or denial; it made the prince smile softly as he suddenly turned away, toward the window. Merlin almost tripped over his blanket in his haste to follow.

"Yes Merlin. I saw something. But it wasn't bad magic that caused it. It was my mother."

Merlin gaped. "Your mother?"

"Yes." The morning sun caressed the prince's face, turning it gold. "She showed me everything, Merlin. She showed me what kind of king I will become." He smiled at Merlin, his face soft, relaxed. "It was glorious, Merlin. I will be a king that the people will love and respect, a king worthy of his people's trust…" His face darkened suddenly, and he looked back toward the window. "But she also showed me that I'm not there yet, that I still have a long way to go…"

Merlin, once again controlled by impulse, reached out to touch his prince, stroking soothingly along his shoulders. He mentally flinched but didn't stop himself, savoring the contact before Arthur would get angry and pull away.

He didn't. He smiled again, sighing softly. "Yes, she showed me this, too."

Before Merlin could properly register the words, Arthur turned around and pulled his manservant to him, pressing close for a deep, tender kiss.

And cut :) Hope you liked. Pretty please tell me what you thought! But please be gentle; this is my first ever fanfic.