Title: The Next Seven Days
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.
WARNINGS: FOR ENTIRE SERIES
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to Shine and BBC, I own nothing whatsoever
AN – Here we are, at the end. Thanks for all of the lovely reviews! I've noticed a pattern in my multi-chapter fics – they all tend to end with Merlin drifting in and out of consciousness. : ) Also, has anyone else noticed a sudden blaze of fics about Merlin's scars in the fandom, recently? Not that I'm complaining, as I love them all, but…y'know? Haha, yay, vogues! Finally, this last bit is something I've vaguely ashamed of, but I have…joined Twitter. /hides in shame/ Anyway, if any of y'all wanna chat about Merlin over that-a-ways, I'm realgeekyish there. Come find me, if you dare!
When Merlin came back to himself, he was confused. He couldn't remember falling asleep. He felt heavy – like his limbs had been filled with metal and stone and someone had neglected to tell him. He was tired, drained, so far beyond exhausted that he couldn't think. Everything was dark around him, and for a terrified moment Merlin wondered if he'd actually gone evil and bad. A shudder ran through him, and his stomach rolled threateningly.
"Merlin?" a voice said, somewhere above him. They sounded panicked, "Merlin!"
With that, Merlin realized something else – his head hurt. A lot. A small whimper worked out of his throat.
"I'll go wake Gaius," a second voice said.
There was a hand on his shoulder. "Merlin? Open your eyes," the first voice was saying, "Please, if you can hear me, just open your eyes."
His eyes were closed? Oh. That would be an explanation for the dark that was everywhere. But Merlin's eyelids seemed to be as heavy as the rest of him. The voice was still talking, pleading with him to wake up. They sounded worried, scared. Merlin didn't like that someone was scared because of him, and forced his eyes open. The effort almost sent him spiraling away into unconsciousness.
The owner of the voice, it seemed, was also the owner of the hand. They were also standing over him. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Arthur. Merlin stared up at him, and managed a small, "'thur?"
"Idiot," Arthur said, "Just…you idiot."
And Merlin was gone again.
The next time Merlin clawed his way to being awake, he was able to open his eyes without passing out. Merlin took it as a victory. But he was still as exhausted as before. This time, though, Gaius helped him to sit up, forced him to eat some bread. Merlin, trembling, had to lean completely against his guardian or collapse. He blinked around. "Why m'I in your bed?" he whispered.
"So we can keep a better eye on you than if you were in yours," Gaius said.
"Why m'I so tired?" Merlin said, "Magic…magic's never – not like this."
"What you did was the magical equivalent of sprinting fifty leagues whilst pulling a cart filled with stones," Gaius said, "You defeated an entire army by yourself. Then you took Arthur's wound."
The last thing that Merlin heard before falling asleep against Gaius's shoulder was the physician chuckling, and saying, "You've saved us all, Merlin. Apology accepted."
Time passed. Merlin didn't know if it was the blink of an eye or a day, a year. He groaned, shifting slightly and opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling. Then a cheerful voice, loud and piercing, said, "Good morning."
Merlin flopped his head over. Gwaine, lying on his stomach on the table, wiggled his fingers in a wave in Merlin's direction as Gaius poked and prodded at his back.
"You look ravishing," Gwaine continued, "Is exhausted and bleeding the new fashion? Because between you and me and Lancelot we could get the ladies to…"
Merlin didn't find out what they could get the ladies to do. He was too busy falling asleep again. When he surfaced the next time, still completely unaware of how much time had passed, Arthur was sitting next to him, staring pensively at the wall. Gaius was moving around somewhere, outside of Merlin's line of sight.
"Merlin," Arthur said, once he noticed that the warlock was awake, "Morgana. Is she…did you…what I mean is –"
Morgana? Wait. Right. The fight. The fight with Morgana. "No," he said, "No, I don't think so. She left just before…you know." The words felt like glass in his throat.
"Okay," Arthur said. He nodded, and ran a hand through his hair, sending the blonde strands sticking up in all directions. "Okay."
"Arthur?" Merlin said, blinking at him. Something wasn't exactly right.
"You're wearing a different crown."
Arthur paused, apparently at a loss, and then looked over at Gaius, "Has no one told him?"
"Told me what?" Merlin said. He was gone again before he got an answer.
The fifth time Merlin woke up, it was with a yelp as he jerked from a nightmare. As he sat up, the room spun around him in dizzy, lazy circles. He couldn't focus, couldn't shake the dream. There was a popping sound as several of Gaius's bottles exploded. All of the books flew off of the shelves to clatter on the floor. On the other side of the room, Lancelot flew to his feet and walked over to stand next to the bed, still limping ever so slightly.
"Merlin?" he said.
"Oh, I sat up too quickly," he muttered, leaning his head in his hand. He closed his eyes and forced himself to take deep, even breaths. He opened his eyes once again, and looked at Lancelot, who was just sort of gaping at him. Gwaine was loitering in the doorway. Then he took in the mess he had made in the room. "Um," he said, "Sorry?"
"Holy hell," Gwaine said, "What's going to happen when I get you drunk?"
"I don't get drunk," Merlin said. Everything was still spinning slightly.
"That's not what Gwen told me," said Gwaine, "And she's promised to tell me as soon as you're back on your feet."
Merlin smiled sweetly at him, and lay back down and pointedly closed his eyes. He heard Gwaine mutter, "Brat," from the door. Someone pulled the blanket over his shoulders. This time, when he drifted off, it wasn't into the complete void of exhaustion. This time, it was just regular sleep.
In the end, it took Merlin just short of two weeks to stay awake longer than an hour. He still tired easily, but they all just assumed that it was the normal progression of things. None of them had any previous experience in matters such as this, but Merlin was improving, and that was a good thing. As far as everyone else was concerned, Merlin would be back to normal in no time.
Merlin was less than hopeful.
He hadn't mentioned Old Merlin to any of them, not even to Gaius. He never brought up the fact that when he thought about That Day, when he'd come crashing back to Camelot, a cold and icy panic gripped his chest. He knew none of his friends actually knew how close he'd come to going completely and utterly insane That Day. He didn't mention how sometimes he woke up, rubbing at old battle wounds he hadn't gotten yet. How sometimes someone would say something, and a memory of ten years from now would spring into his mind.
After all, it would only worry them.
So it was that Merlin sat at the table, listening to Gwen regale a spellbound Gwaine about that one time that Merlin had gotten drunk. Gaius had joined them, and all three of them were giggling. Merlin was grinning, a bit ruefully, and quietly rubbing his thigh that would, at some point, get injured enough to pain him with a dull throb at any given moment.
"So then," Gwen said through the giggles that shook her, "Then he gets up, on the table, and starts singing. And then Arthur, just as drunk, climbs up there with him and gets to singing with him –"
"You didn't tell me this was a drunk Arthur story, as well!" Gwaine said, delight radiating out of him. "What were they singing?"
Gwen glanced over at Merlin, and said, "How did it go again, Merlin? Something about voices, and understanding?"
Gwaine began to bellow with laughter, slamming his fist on the tabletop. Gwen gave into her giggles, wiping at her eyes, and even Merlin smiled a bit. Gaius laughed as well, and patted Merlin on the shoulder. "Oh, God," Gwaine said, clutching his sides, "The stuff of legends, kings and warlocks drunk on tabletops –"
"Wait, what?" Merlin said, pushing himself up and forgetting about any wounds – real or yet to come – that may have slowed him down. "Arthur's the king?"
"Um," Gwaine said, "Whoops?"
Arthur had been by to see Merlin several times – mostly, except with a couple exceptions, the warlock had been unconscious – but his new, kingly duties kept him from Gaius's chambers more than he liked. There were moments, still, where Arthur would be gripped with a sudden and irrational fear that Merlin had upped and died on him.
Not that he said as much to Merlin, of course. It would only encourage him. And, speak of the devil…
"You!" Merlin said, throwing open the door to Arthur's chambers and jabbing a finger at Arthur, "You…you prat!"
"That's King Prat to you," Arthur said, falling back into a chair as Merlin fumed in the doorway, and waving a hand at the chair across from him, "Sit, we need to talk."
"How could you not tell me that you were the bloody king?" Merlin said, taking a few steps inside.
"You're the Grand Poobah of all things magical, rider of lizards and fryer of witches, yet you never seemed to find the time to mention it," said Arthur, and pointed at the chair across from him, "Sit."
Arthur could see the fight drain out of the warlock. "I'll stand, thanks," he said.
"No, you'll sit."
"You know," Merlin said, beginning to fidget slightly, as if regretting his sudden entrance, "I don't know if I've ever properly sat in a chair in here. Well, not while you were in here, at the very least – "
"Fine," Arthur said, "How about this train of reasoning – you're my friend, and you're still looking a bit off, and if you don't sit down I'm worried you will tip over, again, and then I'll have to deal with explaining to Gaius why you've bashed your head on the ground. Again. On my watch. Again. This ends with me having the shortest reign in the history of Camelot, because Gaius will kill me this time, Merlin, he will kill me. So sit. Down."
Arthur cracked his knuckles. "Right, then, onto business," he said, "You're fired."
"Brilliant," Merlin said, "Just to clarify, is it because of the lying or just because I have magic or both?"
"None of those, actually. I've named you as my Chief Advisor," Arthur said, "It would be awkward if you were my servant as well."
Merlin blinked once. Again. A third time. "Sorry, what?"
"I'm King, and I need advisors, and God help me, you seem to one of the best for the job. I know you're probably still a bit miffed at missing the coronation, but you slept through it," Arthur said, "We waited as long as we could, but then the council started moaning and groaning about civil war and unrest. I told them no one was going to try and usurp the throne, not while they thought that we had Emrys skulking about. We've kept it covered up, by the way, that you got all swoony after. If anyone asks, you've been going through everything down in the vaults, which you're going to do later, but…still. That's the story."
"Arthur – "
"As I was saying, though. You're to be in charge of all things magical, once Gaius clears you as healthy. You can wear a hat," Arthur said, gesturing up by his head, "A big, pointed one. You like big hats, don't you? We can add another title on there, too, if you'd like, like Advisor on Magic. We'll talk to Gwen, she's better at wording these kinds of things than I am."
"Arthur, stop," Merlin said, holding up a hand "I don't understand what's happening."
"I know you've had a rough few weeks, Merlin, but really," Arthur said, "But I would have thought you'd know a promotion when you hear one."
"Yes, but," Merlin said, sputtering slightly, "Why are – "
"Because I've been talking to Gaius and Lancelot a lot these last few days," Arthur said, "And all of their stories seem to point to you having a remarkably low sense of self preservation. You are important, Merlin. To the knights, to Gaius, to Camelot…to all of us. Everyone else seems to see it, except for you. And if that means I have to bury you in titles and codes and ethics to get it through to you, then I'm going to. Get used to being respected, Merlin, because it's going to happen whether you like it or not. So, congratulations, you're a council member now. I think that Gwaine's been saying something about adopting you into his family or the like, but you'll have to talk it over with him."
"I can't…" Merlin trailed off, "I can't accept any of that. Thanks, but –"
"You're under the impression that you have a choice in this," Arthur said, rising, "And I find that amusing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some other things to see to. King, after all."
"Don't 'Arthur' me, Merlin," he said, and then scratched his chin thoughtfully, "I'd knight you, too, if I thought that you'd want anything to do with it. Would you?"
"Would I what?"
"Accept knighthood," Arthur said, straightening, "Because I could arrange that."
Merlin wrinkled his nose in distaste, "What? No. No. Just…no."
Arthur sighed in relief, "Thank God. You'd have been a bloody awful knight."
"The worst," Merlin agreed. "Can you even imagine?"
"I can't, I honestly can't," Arthur said.
Merlin tapped his fingers on the table, and said, "I'm sorry about your father."
Arthur became rather preoccupied with his thumbs, and said, "I am as well. About yours. Which, in turn, begs the question – which of us actually killed the dragon? And I want the truth."
"Um," Merlin said, "What would you do if I said neither of us did?"
One of Arthur's eyes twitched ever so slightly, "Probably slap you in the face, Gaius's consequences be damned."
"In that case, I think I hear someone calling me," Merlin said, and sprung to his feet, "I better go."
Merlin fled. His plan was to go hide out in Lancelot's room, but apparently fate, once again, had a different idea.
"A word, if you would," someone said from just behind him, latching onto his arm and pulling him into an alcove. Merlin squeaked, and almost fell over backwards in surprise. Old Merlin watched him from beneath a hood.
"You knew, didn't you?" Merlin accused, jabbing a finger at his older self, "You knew what I'd do."
"Well, in a manner of speaking," Old Merlin said, "You could've razed the city to the ground. You almost did. And, and don't try to deny it, I remember. There was that one moment, before you went up to the throne room, when I…you…we turned around and looked at the castle, and the thought was there, that I could've if I'd wanted. But I didn't want it. Neither did you, apparently."
"No," Merlin said, "I didn't. But still, you knew."
Old Merlin grinned lopsidedly at him. "Honestly, what did you think was going to happen?" he asked, "We've put too much work into Camelot to just tear it down on a whim. My God, to think of all those wasted years spent slaving away, just to let it all turn to dust."
"Gaius would've been disappointed," Merlin mused.
"'Merlin! What were you thinking, tearing down the castle! I don't believe it!'" Old Merlin barked in a frighteningly good imitation of the physician.
Merlin smiled, and the two giggled quietly together for a minute. Then, Merlin's glee died down. "I would've lost everyone. Gwen, Lancelot, Gwaine, Arthur…"
"We'd've probably had Morgana," Old Merlin mused. They both stared off into the distance, and then simultaneously shuddered at the visions that danced through their heads. Old Merlin shook himself again, and said, "Needless to say, I'm glad things have gone this way."
"Merlin?" Gaius's voice came drifting down the corridor, "Merlin, where did you go?"
"That is my cue to be on my way," Old Merlin said, "Well, good luck. Don't die, or I might take it personally. Oh, and before I go, I've always regretted not –"
But then he was gone, in the space of an eye blink. Merlin was taken aback at the suddenness of it, and the curiosity of what Old Merlin was going to say, what he had always regretted. But he just reminded himself that he'd no doubt find out one day, in the right time. With a slight shake of his head, he stepped out of the alcove and into the corridor, calling out to Gaius. The old man came around the corner.
"Who were you talking too?" Gaius asked, glancing around, "I could have sworn I heard you talking to someone."
"Oh, no one," Merlin said, waving a hand. He hadn't told anyone much about his time away from Camelot that week, not about Morgana trying to get him to join her side, not about the dragon, not about his future-self popping in for a visit. He didn't know why – all he could say was that it just didn't feel like the right time. He grinned at Gaius, and said, "Just myself. Just talking to myself."
"Why does that do little to reassure me?" Gaius said, "Anyway, Arthur's looking for you, something about dragons. I told him I saw you heading to the lower town."
Merlin laughed and thanked his mentor, and walked along side of the physician. It was comfortably quiet for most of the way back up to their rooms, but then a question occurred to Merlin. "Gaius?"
Gaius looked at him, humming slightly in response.
"I was just wondering," Merlin said, "Do you happen to know anything about time travelling?"