Title: To Serve and Protect
Summary: After something terrible happens, Arthur, Gwen, Gwaine, and Lancelot take their turns in protecting their protector, watching over their watcher. Merlin's the one in trouble, now, and it's up to them to save him.
Warnings: SPOILERS FOR MOST OF THE SERIES, INCLUDING SERIES 3's FINALE.
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to Shine and BBC – I've got nothing.
AN: Here we are, at the end. It's been a thrill, guys, really. I hope you all enjoyed To Serve and Protect. I'm kind of sad it's over. I've had a blast writing it, and I'm kind of worried that I won't able to top this. Ah, well. Only time will tell! Thanks to everyone who reviewed. It was those reviews that kept me writing when I should've been studying, writing when I should've been sleeping, and writing when I should've been writing Creative Writing homework. Your words of encouragement are more valuable than you know.
And now for the shameless self promotion portion of the program! There are 4 possible "next fics". I'll provide the summaries for each, and y'all let me know which you'd be most interested in reading! Keep in mind, though, that it probably will be a little while before I get anything up here, as I do have, you know, REAL LIFE and stuff to worry about. : )
1.) Title: Crossing the Line (One/Two/Three at most shot, haven't written enough of it to know at this juncture)
Summary: In which Merlin gets bludgeoned, strangled, attacked, smothered, shot with glass, tossed out a window, burned, whipped, stabbed, thrown down stairs, nearly drowned on dry land, and harpooned, yet still manages to save Camelot from seven evil sorcerers. Features BAMF!Whumped!Pissed!Merlin. Focus on Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot, and Gwaine
2.) Title: Beneath the Surface (Oneshot)
Summary: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Especially if that woman happens to be the all powerful Lady of the Lake. And you've just shot her boyfriend with a crossbow. Hurt!Merlin and BAMF!Freya. Focus on Merlin and Freya, with a bit of Arthur at the end, if it goes the way I've planned.
3.) Title: The Incredible Bouncing Knight (Oneshot)
Summary: Or, Why Sir Leon is Not Dead. Whenever the subject of Leon's propensity towards living is brought up, everyone in the household gets shifty eyed and twitchy. Is it skill? Luck? Magic? No, of course not, magic's illegal, don't be ridiculous…Focus on Leon, clearly, with a bit of Merlin…I should point out that this one is a borderline Crack Fic.
4.) Title: The Next Seven Days (Multi-chapter…nine, I think, though it's still very much in production)
Summary: Arthur is told a series of events that will occur over the space of a week. The seventh day will end with magic returning to Camelot, ushered in by the warlock Emrys, either to save the kingdom or destroy it. Arthur has a plan, though. Sort of. Whole cast is featured, but focus on Merlin and Arthur.
So…let me know, and I'll do my best to focus on that one. : )
It starts somewhere in his stomach. A tug, a pull. It's wrong, so wrong, but no matter how hard he fights he can't get loose. He can see Gwaine and Arthur running forwards, just to get thrown away again and again. He wants to cry. He knows he could get away, but then Arthur would know, and he can't let that happen, not yet, not like this. His head is pounding and he can't think straight enough to try and magic his way out. God only knows what would if happen if he were to try…
The tugging moves up into his chest, and into his throat, and he's choking on his own magic. Then he feels the cold stone of that staff lightly touch his forehead, and the world explodes around him. This isn't just his magic, it's something more. It's like every moment that he's ever experienced is being thrown at him at once, every emotion, every hurt, every touch. But then it's all gone, and he's nothing, nothing, just floating and stuck and unable to move, like the slightest wind will send him spiraling away into the void.
It's worse than before. He's vanishing, and he can't stop it, getting pulled into a million pieces. A final thought –
Who's going to look after Arthur?
It hurts like death.
"It's time to wake, Sire," an unfamiliar voice said.
Arthur twitched and opened his eyes. He'd had the nightmare more than once, a left over effect from Merlin's brief stint in his head. It wasn't always that one – sometimes it was other things, other memories. Arthur would always be somewhat jolted after, even when the dreams weren't bad. After all, he – Arthur – featured in many of them. To see his own face, from Merlin's perspective, was odd, to say the least. He could somewhat understand Merlin's endless chatter on the ride to see the dragon now.
He blinked as Merlin's fill-in servant pulled open the curtains only after the boy was sure Arthur was awake. Breakfast was laid out on the table, his armor and sword set up and ready should he need it. His room was the very definition of clean, not a single thing out of place. Everything was polished, organized, and Arthur was sure that if he were to go to the stables, they would be immaculate.
It was awful, and Arthur hated it. Merlin couldn't return to work soon enough. Then his armor would be scuffed, his breakfast vanished under mysterious circumstances, his sword under the wardrobe, his rooms a mess, and his stables disgraceful. Everything would be back to the way in which Arthur was accustomed.
"Will you be going to the training yards today, Sire?" Not-Merlin asked, all demure and retiring as Arthur dressed behind the screen.
For a moment, Arthur plays this scene out in his head, with Not-Merlin replaced by Merlin. "Rise and shine!" Merlin would say, whipping the curtains open much louder than should be humanly possible, and if Merlin was feeling particularly happy that day, he'd tack on a "Let's have you, Lazy Daisy," or something even more obnoxious. Arthur would insult him, and Merlin would shoot something ridiculous back, Arthur would throw something, Merlin would flee, and they'd both pretend to be terribly upset with each other while trying not to laugh. Then Merlin would peek around the door to stare at him, inform him he was fat, and, like it or not, would be spending his time training and exercising. Arthur would throw something else at him in response. Merlin would grin and run off again.
It was moments like that where Arthur would sometimes forget he was a prince. There were only two people in the world that could give him cause to do that – Gwen and Merlin. Arthur wished more than he'd ever wished for anything before that he could undo the last few weeks. He didn't want to know about Merlin's magic. He didn't want to be kept up at night by nightmares that weren't his. He didn't want to know that his servant, no, his friend – because, really, the only one who he had been fooling about that was himself – had been lying to him since the day they'd met.
But he did know. And, even though Merlin had taken a joyride through his mind, Arthur still wondered – what was the real Merlin? He didn't know anymore. After passing out – and he didn't faint, no matter what Gwaine said, because fainting was wimpy and weak and not something that the future king of Camelot occupied his time doing – Arthur had slept for close to a day. After he'd woken, Gwen had approached him, saying, "We've all taken shifts watching Merlin. When would –"
And Arthur's answer had surprised even himself, with the vehemence he answered with, "No, I can't."
Gwen, to her credit, didn't push him. She did, however, in tandem with Lancelot, update him daily on Merlin's recovery or lack thereof. Gwaine, however, would just look at him sideways, and say, "Go and see for yourself. He's wondering where you are, you know. Not that he'll say so, of course, but still."
"Sire?" Not-Merlin repeated.
Enough of this, Arthur thought, I'm done.
"No, I won't be going to the training yards," Arthur said, "And you are dismissed."
He had a warlock to talk to.
When Arthur entered, Merlin was propped up in a chair by the table, Gwaine sitting across from him. Neither were really talking, but there was a sort of comfortable silence that settled around the room. As soon as Gwaine laid his eyes on Arthur, though, that comfort disappeared in a cloud of apprehension.
"Arthur," Gwaine said, straightening slightly, and Merlin turned his head to look at Arthur with wide eyes, "What –"
"I'd like to speak to Merlin alone," Arthur said.
The knight waited until Merlin gave him a small nod, and even then, hesitated at the door. Arthur stared at him until Gwaine pulled the door shut, and it 'clicked' behind him.
"I'm told you don't remember much after the bandits' castle," Arthur said, "It's not much fun, is it, to wake up and have no idea what's going on around you. You have to rely on whatever everyone else tells you happened. You have to trust them."
"I-I suppose," Merlin said.
"No, it is, it's rubbish, you can admit it. And it's even worse when you find out that the one person you trusted above everyone else has been feeding you lies and falsehoods."
"Tell me, Merlin, what's the first thing that you do remember, after the courtyard?" Arthur said, "Because I am dying to know."
"Waking up," he said, quiet and shaky, "And the, uh, the –"
"Dragon? The one you said was dead?" Arthur said, and Merlin didn't move, only stared up at him with still wide eyes. Arthur tried to remind himself that this wasn't Merlin, his bumbling and clumsy friend with the craziest lucky streak he'd ever seen, but Merlin, liar and backstabber and all powerful warlock. He failed, completely, but pressed on regardless, "You've lied to me."
"I didn't have a choice," Merlin said, immediately, "I…I was scared."
"Why did you even come here?" Arthur said, "Why? Camelot kills people like you."
"I know!" Merlin said, and his voice rose in volume, "Why do you think I didn't tell you?"
"You should have trusted me!" Arthur roared, and suddenly, he realized that was the problem he had been having all along. He had trusted Merlin with everything from matters of state to the state of his clothes. Every bit of faith that Arthur had he had handed over to Merlin without a second thought. He had always known Merlin was hiding something, but he had always assumed it was something to do with nicking food or shirking chores. Little things, secret things that Merlin told no one. But Arthur felt like the last person to be brought in on a joke, excluded and alone. He had been the last to find out what Merlin had been hiding, and in the end Merlin's hand had been forced, instead of Merlin trusting Arthur.
Merlin's mouth was hanging open a little, and then he blinked, his entire face softening. "Arthur, I do trust you," he said, "I trust you with –"
"Before all this," Arthur said, cutting Merlin off again, "Who knew? Gaius?"
"Lancelot, too," Merlin said, "He overheard me use a spell that first time he showed up. And my mother, obviously. Will, too, but he t-took the blame, before he...Gwaine said he'd figured it out, but I didn't tell him."
"And why didn't you tell me?" Arthur asked. It was the most vulnerable he'd felt in years.
"If I had," Merlin said, slowly, thinking as he spoke, "You would have been forced to choose between your father and me. You love your father, and I couldn't do that to you. And…it had been such a long time, guess I just didn't want this to happen."
"I have questions."
"I'll answer them," Merlin said, "I'll answer them as best I can."
"And no lies," Arthur said, "I won't stand for it. Swear you'll only tell the truth."
"I swear it," Merlin said. He looked like a man on trial - belatedly, Arthur realized that Merlin kind of was.
"Gaius told me some, but he left things out," Arthur said, "So…the dragon."
What followed were two of the more tense hours of Arthur's life. Merlin, true to his word, told Arthur everything. He told him about sneaking down to talk to the dragon, night after night. He told him how he'd struck a bargain with the great beast, how that ended with Camelot in flames. Merlin told Arthur about Balinor, the last Dragonlord who wasn't quite, and how he couldn't bring himself to kill the dragon. Arthur, feeling the world's biggest prat, remembered his words to Merlin after that – No man is worth your tears – and swallowed down an apology. That could come later.
Merlin went on, telling Arthur about three years of magic, about questing beasts and griffins and anfancs and unicorns. About a man named Edwin and a boy named Mordred. About how he'd known something had gone horribly wrong with Morgana, and why he had been mysteriously absent when Cenred and Morgause had waged their war on the city. He told Arthur about destinies, magic, and secrets. He said about how he'd tried to tell Arthur, screamed the truth to the entire court of Camelot, but no one ever seemed to really believe him, so he'd just given up. He told Arthur about Nimueh and the witch hunter, and poisoning Morgana and the magical Gilli. He told him about all the times that Arthur had gotten clonked on the head, and how almost every time Merlin had used magic while the prince was unconscious. Merlin told Arthur an abridged version of three years of hiding, three years of lying, three years of magic.
"What about that winged cat?" Arthur asked, "The one that showed up around when the Druid girl –"
"Freya," Merlin cut in, "Her name was Freya."
Watching the way that shutters slammed shut in the backs of Merlin's eyes, Arthur knew that was all that he'd get out of him on that particular subject. So, instead, he said, "Just how many times have you saved my life? From what you're saying…it sounds like a lot."
"Oh, I don't know," Merlin said, "Thirty? Forty? Sixty, tops."
Arthur just stared at him, blinking. Merlin looked back, not quite meeting his eyes. The warlock – and, was that an odd word to tack to Merlin – cleared his throat, and said, "Are you going to kill me?"
"No," Arthur said, and he meant it, "You've had your soul sucked out through your face. I think that's punishment enough for using magic."
"Banished, then," Merlin said. His jaw was set.
"No, not banished either," Arthur said, "As I said, you've been punished enough for the magic. I don't even really care that you have it– frankly, it makes a lot of things make a lot more sense. But I don't know who you are anymore. I don't know if I can…I need some time to think."
He turned, and walked from the room, and didn't look back. He almost tripped over Gwaine, who was waiting in the hall and had dozed off. Arthur didn't bother to wake him.
He had some thinking to do.
As Arthur walked through the halls, he felt like everyone was staring at him. The bag slung over one shoulder slammed into his thigh with every step, and it felt like a million pounds. If he were to get caught…he shook himself, and continued on his way to Gaius's rooms.
"Arthur," Gwen said, coming up next to him. Lancelot and Gwaine were with her. "We wanted to talk to you."
"Are you here to tell me that if I hurt Merlin you'll help the dragon cook me?" Arthur asked monotonously, not looking at them, "No, wait, you've all basically done that."
"That's actually why we're here," Gwen said. Lancelot and Gwaine stood behind her. Apparently, they'd elected the lady of their group to do the talking, judging her to keep Arthur the calmest. "We haven't been fair to you, Arthur. All of this happened because none of us trusted the others. We didn't trust you, and we're sorry. Really, truly, sincerely sorry."
"We were in the wrong," Lancelot added, "And we should've had more faith in you."
Gwen elbowed Gwaine slightly. The other knight sighed, and said, "I should've considered that you weren't going to kill Merlin. But, honestly, Arthur, I'd act the same way if we had to do this again. Merlin's so busy looking after you that someone's got to look after him."
Lancelot shoved him.
Gwaine, sighing, said with the air of one who had been forced at sword point to memorize their lines, "We were inconsiderate and out of line and all that. We're sorry."
Arthur blinked at them. Twice. Again. "…Really?" he asked, surprised by how much he was actually relieved to hear them say it, "All of you?"
"Well, we can't speak for the dragon," Gwaine said, "But as far as the present company goes – we collectively apologize. Mostly."
Lancelot shoved him again. Gwaine appeared unfazed.
"I – thank you," Arthur said, "Because I'm not my father."
"We know," Gwen said, while Lancelot and Gwaine nodded, "And we know now more than ever before."
"We've wronged you," Lancelot said, "And we're sorry."
"I accept it," Arthur said, "But if I'm going to be king, then you're going to have to trust that I'm going to do the right thing. I need to know that you are behind me."
All three bubbled up simultaneously with reassurances. Arthur let them go for a while before waving them silent with a hand. Gwen nodded at the two knights, who wandered away down the hall.
"I really am sorry," Gwen said, gripping his arm. Arthur noticed that she had a bandage tied around it.
"What happened?" Arthur asked, lifting her bandaged hand to kiss her fingertips.
"I slipped while I was chopping some vegetables," she said.
Arthur swallowed the question of why she had been doing cooking work instead of having a servant do it for her. Another thought had occurred to him. "Wait," Arthur said, frowning, "Merlin's spell can stop lightening but not cutlery?"
"I made Merlin take it off," she said, grinning slightly, "I had to force him, though. I was worried it was just draining him more."
"You should've left it," he said, "Then I wouldn't have had to worry about you."
Gwen just grinned, and moved off down the hall. Arthur watched until she was gone and continued on his way. "Gaius?" Arthur called, knocking as he pushed open the door.
"One moment, Sire," Gaius said, moving a vial over a flame. The physician then turned to Arthur, "What can I do for you?"
"I'm, uh," Arthur said, "I'm here to talk to Merlin."
"He's in his room," Gaius said, "I'd call him down, but his legs aren't working today."
That made Arthur pause. "Pardon?"
"Oh, it's not so bad," Gaius said, "Last week, he lost one sense for every day of the week. First he was blind, then he was deaf…you missed when he couldn't talk, Sire, I know you would've enjoyed that one–"
"It's still happening?" Arthur said, "But it's been two weeks."
Gaius shrugged helplessly. "All we can do is wait it out, let him settle in his own time."
"I see," Arthur said, and turned to go.
"Try not to mention Cor, or what happened, if you can," Gaius called after him, "He gets anxious, and then things tend to shatter."
Arthur nodded, and jogged up the steps into Merlin's room. The warlock – it wasn't as strange, now that Arthur had had time to mull it over – was flipping through a book that looked like it was about magical creatures. As he had before, Arthur cleared his throat. Merlin, jumping, sent the book flying and then glared at the door. When he saw who stood there, all exasperation melted away.
"Arthur," Merlin said, looking guarded and hopeful all at one time.
"I've been thinking this over," Arthur said.
"And, I've decided to give you another chance," he said, and held up a finger, "But. If you lie to me again, about anything, I will never speak to you again. And I mean about anything, Merlin."
Merlin nodded fast and violently enough that Arthur worried he might injure himself.
"Now," Arthur said, "I'm sorry I haven't been by. It's just –"
"No, I understand," Merlin said, and when Arthur opened his mouth to talk again, Merlin continued, "Really. You don't have to apologize."
Arthur perched, legs folded, on the edge of Merlin's bed. Arthur just stared the other boy down. Merlin fidgeted, and Arthur let him, until the bedridden warlock finally said, "What?"
"Show me," Arthur said.
"Show you what?"
"Magic, of course," he said, with a slight roll of his eyes, "Show me. I want to see it."
Merlin regarded him warily, cautiously.
Arthur sighed, "Merlin."
"Gaius wouldn't like it," Merlin muttered, plucking at the blankets, "Said I shouldn't try and do magic for a bit. It's kind of sloshy, right now."
"I can feel it moving around," Merlin said, rubbing his chest, "It's not as bad as it was, but every time I think about it or move or anything, it gets all wibbly-wobbly. This is weird, talking to you about magic –"
"Get used to it," Arthur said, "We're going to be having lots of chats like this one. But do you know what I think, Merlin?"
"You think?" Merlin answered, "Gaius was right, I do learn something new every day!"
And, just like that, everything snapped back into place. Arthur felt his shoulders relax, and he drummed his fingers against his bag. It wasn't a perfect fit, not like they used to be. But Merlin – all powerful and wise – was making stupid jokes and grinning crookedly like he was God's gift to the earth. Arthur decided to humor him, and ignore the comment. "I think," Arthur continued, "That you are making excuses and behaving like a girl."
"Gwen would say that's a compliment."
"Gwen isn't here right now."
"It's just…Why?" Merlin said, suddenly serious, "Why do you want to see? You hated magic before."
Arthur paused, considering. "I did. Or, at least, I hated what I thought was magic. But I'd only been seeing half of it, hadn't I? I don't hate unicorns, and they're magic. I don't hate Gaius, and I'm nearly positive that he's magic. And I certainly don't hate you, and if we've learned anything the last few days, it's that you are most definitely magic. Gwen said you're the reason she wasn't hurt, not even by the lightening, and God knows that wasn't an evil action," Arthur said, and then shrugged, "Then, with Cor –"
Merlin's hands clenched into fists around the coverlet, the table rattled ominously, and Arthur quickly pushed forward.
"You have power, Merlin, more than I ever realized one man could have. When you were running around in my head," Arthur tapped his temple, "I got a few glimpses of...of you, I guess. Things you wanted to do, plan to do…things you'd never do. I'm…I guess that I'm curious. I have questions. And…you've been hiding long enough. Now, as your prince, I command you to show me something magic. Nothing big, or grand, just something."
Merlin stared back at him for a long time. Then, he waved his hand over the candle on his nightstand. His eyes barely flashed to gold, and then the wick was burning. Arthur felt a smile pull on his face, but suddenly the flame leapt up to the ceiling. Merlin squeaked and pushed himself backwards and away, and Arthur grabbed the goblet full of water and dumped it on the fire. It went out with a hiss.
Arthur looked over to where Merlin sat on the floor, having fallen out of the bed. "What," Arthur said, crossing his arms, "Was that?"
"L-Like I said," Merlin answered, "Sloshy."
Arthur crossed over and helped lever Merlin back into the bed. As Gaius had said, Merlin's ability to move his legs had gone on a brief holiday. The small display of magic – and it's unintended escalation – had clearly drained Merlin, for as soon as Arthur had him settled in his bed again, Merlin's eyes began to droop shut.
Another thought had occurred to Arthur though. "I'd almost forgotten," he said, and reached over to pull the book from his bag, "Here."
Merlin frowned sleepily, grinding the palm of his hand into his eye. "What is it?"
"It's a book," Arthur said, clearing his throat, "A, uh, a spell book. I lifted it from the vaults. To say thank you for looking after Gwen, and…and all of us."
"It was nothing," Merlin said, blinking, "Really. But I can't accept this, Arthur, you could get into trouble –"
"It wasn't nothing, it was everything. There's no way that I can ever…You could've died, Merlin, but you still saved her, and us, and I…thank you." Arthur said, and the awkward silence of male bonding blanketed the room. In a desperate attempt to restore normality, Arthur tapped the book cover, "Be careful with this, though."
Merlin nodded, still fighting to keep his eyes open. "I'll put it with the other one, later," he muttered.
Arthur fought the urge to slap Merlin in the back of the head, and almost lost. "Other one, Merlin?" he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"You've been keeping it under the floorboards, haven't you?"
"Go to sleep, idiot," Arthur said, sighing.
"Prat," Merlin murmured into his pillow, and began to snore softly.
Arthur waited until Merlin's breathing evened out and it was clear he was asleep. Then, he reached out and quietly carded his fingers through black hair. He let out a shaky breath through his nose, and closed his eyes for a moment, pushing back the sudden urge to cry. From the distance of memories, Merlin's screams echoed through his head. "On my life, Merlin," Arthur said, "I will never allow you to be used like that again. I swear it."
He leaned back in the chair, legs propped on the end of Merlin's bed, and stared at the wall. He thought of many things, of screams and Gwen's curls floating in the air, of souls flying free and magic running through his veins like fire. He thought of faithful knights and warlocks with too much magic and too much loyalty for their own good. Eventually, he fell asleep. That is how Gaius found them, and he smiled at the sight of the prince and his warlock.
Of course, then he happened to notice the scorch mark on his once pristine ceiling.