Hey!

So, those of you who don't want to be spoiled in any way about the first two episodes of season 4, don't read any forward.

But those who got interested, this is my speculative take on a scene that will be in the two-parter opening episodes of season 4. No major big spoiler, but quite an interesting one.

Here's the thing: Merlin has lost his powers. There was a fan who saw this being filmed and reported it in her LJ. Their conversation (what they filmed with Colin and Santiago) goes like this:

Lancelot: You shouldn't be here, Merlin. You have no powers.

Merlin: (walking nearby, gathering firewood) It doesn't matter.

Lancelot: You're not a warrior, Merlin. I don't want to see you die.

Okay, that's an interesting bit but there's more, a two scenes filmed later, this is taken straight from the report:

"The scene was with Merlin and Lancelot (now in his knight's cloak!) riding partway through the woods, Merlin bent over in his saddle and looking in pain, and Lancelot offering him something (it seemed to be a drink). "

and later, another scene:

"I think the point of the scene was that Merlin was using the last of his energy to tell Lancelot something, before (though they didn't do this bit) he apparently collapses to the floor, unconscious! " (From albiona on LJ )

Did that make you intrigued for the episode? It surely made me! I started to think about the possible storyline and suddenly this popped in my head. It's a purely speculative take, and of course it has Arthur in it. We need this scene in the upcoming season, don't we? Or at least something close to it.

So, please tell me what you think about this. :) Feel free to review!

Note: I planned this to be a two-shot, and if there is enough interest for it, I will post the second chapter, too.

It's up to you.

Story: Thick as thieves

by: Niphrehdil


-Merlin?" Arthur breathed out, his voice unsteady, as he entered the forest clearing.

Blue smoke was filling the air, and the signs of a battle could be seen. Arthur had frozen to his place, eyes fixed on the form of Lancelot and Merlin.

Lancelot was kneeling beside Merlin, crouched near to his friend. Merlin lay on the muddy and dark ground, unnaturally still, his limbs looking like there weren't any strength left in them.

His dark hair was mixed to the mud and his face was pale. Lancelot's face showed unmasked worry and agony, he was holding Merlin's wrist carefully.

They didn't even notice the prince coming. Arthur stood there in place, fear starting to take a grip on his heart. Uncomfortable anxiousness settled in.

Merlin looked so fragile. Arthur just stared the scene in front of him, forgetting the rush to leave this forest. The knights had been here to search the powerful sorcerer who had attacked Camelot and then escaped. They had splitted up into pairs, Merlin and Lancelot had gone together.
They had been away for hours, and the sounds of a fight had alerted Arthur.

His heart felt icy as he watched the sight before him.

Lancelot's face was twisted in worry and empathy, and his eyes glistened.

Arthur took a deep breath and finally was able to move. Suddenly it seemed to be harder to breathe, and he rushed forward.

Lancelot noticed his presence and looked up. The look in his eyes made a lump into Arthur's throat - it was fearful, sad, and helpless.

Arthur reached them and knelt down to Merlin's other side, his eyes landing on his servant.

Merlin was very pale and he had a few drops of cold sweat on his forehead. His blue eyes were open, but they were shadowed with pain. Merlin turned his glance slowly to Arthur, panting slightly. Arthur noted that Merlin struggled to breathe.

-What happened?" Arthur asked, voice hoarse. He scanned Merlin to find an injury what could be causing this. Beside a few bruises, there was nothing. Arthur looked up to Lancelot.

-What happened?" he repeated, more demanding. -What's wrong with him?"

Lancelot clearly struggled to catch his voice. He looked at Arthur, then to Merlin. There seemed to be an odd exchange between the knight and his servant, like a small hesitation. Merlin gasped for air and shared an odd glance with Lancelot.

Arthur's heart started to took pace. -Lancelot. What. Happened?" he asked.

Lancelot swallowed and looked up to the prince. -He's...he's poisoned." he said, his voice unsteady.

It was a like smack to Arthur's face.

Poison.

His mind was instantly flooded with the memories of Merlin drinking the poisoned chalice...

Arthur looked back at Merlin, and felt like icy water would have just taken over his heart. Merlin was lying on the ground, strengthless, almost too still. Like it would be too painful to move, too painful to do anything. And yet, like all of his muscles would have been tensed in the same time.

Arthur tried to take in a breathe. He had to think clearly. Poison.. He blinked hard and took a deep breath.

-Then...we need an antidote." he stated.

Merlin closed his eyes briefly, odd despair flashing in his face.

Arthur felt how fear started to rise again. Something didn't seem right. Not at all. The prince turned to Lancelot.

The knight shifted his eyes between the prince and the servant. Arthur felt anger flashing towards the knight. Why didn't he do anything?

-Lancelot, we need an antidote. What was the poison?" he asked, demanding.

Lancelot seemed desperate. - Sire..."

-Answer me!" Arthur said, frustration and anger mixing to his worry.

Lancelot swallowed. -The sorcerer has the antidote. He was the one who did this...But he escaped." The knights clutched his fingers around Merlin's wrist comfortingly.

Arthur shook his head. No. Despair stung him, but he didn't give into it. Merlin's weak moan drew their attention.

-H...he's..." he tried to whisper, clearly in horrible pain, -...s-still h...re." he managed to say and his face twisted in pain again.

Arthur looked at Merlin and felt hope filling him. -Well, then we have to find him." he said and was about to rise up. But Lancelot stopped him.

-No. I'll go, Sire. It's too dangerous for you." he said, and was clearly anxious, too.

Arthur's brows furrowed and he felt a bit insulted. -It's not too dangero...

-Please, Sire." Lancelot said, his brown eyes pleading. He was clearly upset. -Someone should be here with Merlin...Taking care of him."

Arthur's air flowed heavily, he was about to object. But Lancelot quickly shook his head and rose his hand to the air.

-There is no time to argue. I'll go. I promise I will do everything it takes to save him." the humble knight promised, breathing out heavily. His eyes glistened again. Arthur had to swallow and blink. He thought about it for a while - Lancelot was right. Arthur shot a worried glance over Merlin, and realized that the time was really running out. There wasn't any time to waste.

-Fine." the prince said. He looked at the knight sharply. -Go as fast as you can. I trust you, Lancelot. Do not fail this task."

Lancelot nodded and then turned to Merlin. Again, a some odd exchange, knowing glances, were there between the two. In any other situation, Arthur would have wanted to observe the reason for it, but right now there was no time. Lancelot let out a faint smile and squeezed Merlin's wrist gently.

-Hang on there, my friend. I will come back soon." he said and Merlin tried to smile but failed, pain filling his face again. Lancelot stood up, looked at Arthur one more time, nodded, and then broke off to run. He quickly vanished to the forest.

Arthur let out a breath and watched as the knight disappeared into the night. Then, he inhaled the cilly air and looked back to Merlin. They were alone now. The silence seemed to be suffocating, only interrupted by Merlin's troubled gasps. Agony crippled the prince. The seriousness of the situation slowly started to dawn on him.

Merlin panted mutely, looking at the prince, his blue eyes once again clouded with pain.

-You had to get into trouble, didn't you?" Arthur said, trying to sound teasy, but his own voice sounded hollow.

Merlin tried to let out a small smile again, but it faded soon. Pain shone from his face. He was like in a fevered state, where he could barely move and yet he was slightly shaking. Arthur hated to see how unnatural his servant looked like this. Lying on the forest floor. Helpless and weak.

Arthur had almost forgot what this situation felt like, because he had been here just once before, during the incident with the poisoned chalice.

And back then, he had barely known Merlin at all.

Merlin wasn't supposed to get hurt. He wasn't supposed to suffer any of the injuries that the battle claimed. Arthur had thought Merlin was extremely lucky to walk out of several battles and ambushes unharmed, and he had learnt to trust in that luck.

Merlin looked so fragile, like he would be glass.

Arthur felt so helpless to just sit here - he was used to action. He felt a burning urge to go after that sorcerer who had did this. He would have wanted to do something. He wanted to feel like he was doing something effective, something that would fix this. But this waiting and watching Merlin suffer...

It ate him more than he could have imagined.

Arthur wanted to make Merlin better. He wanted to take the pain away, he just couldn't stand to watch it. But he couldn't move him, it would just quicken the poison's spreading. And he couldn't leave Merlin here, it would be out of question.

All he could do was to sit and watch over his servant, and hope Lancelot would get back in time. And the thought was disturbing.

-thur..." Merlin said weakly.

Arthur startled and looked down to his servant. -Yes, Merlin?" he said, trying to sound calm, even his heart ached for the sight of Merlin's blue eyes watching him.

-m...I'm s-sorry," Merlin said, voice slurred.

Arthur chuckled emptily, poignant guilt filling him. -You have no reason to be sorry for. This was my fault, I shouldn't have commanded the group to split up. The sorcerer was too powerful, you couldn't have fought him alone."

Merlin blinked and flinched for the pain.

-N-no. I'm so-sorry that...I liedto...lied to you..." Merlin said, voice barely audible.

Arthur's brows furrowed. He didn't understand a word. -You're not making any sense, Merlin. You shouldn't talk. Just...stay awake."

For a moment, only blue smoke of the twilight time lingered, and the haunting silence of the woods just highlighted the situation. No birds moved in the trees, the sky was starless.

It was just the eerie, quiet forest around them.

Merlin's face filled suddenly with emotions. He looked so vulnerable like that, the presence of pain mixing to it. Arthur had to swallow two times to maintain his calmness.

-No..." Merlin said, again panting for the pain, his whole body being unnaturally still...Like he wouldn't have any feeling in it.

-rthur..." he started again, clearly struggling to stand the pain. Arthur sighed heavily, biting his lip.

-Merlin, I'm serious, you shouldn't talk. Please just once, obey me and stay quiet. The poison will spread faster if you move or talk."

Merlin closed his eyes tightly, like about to burst in tears. -I'..m - I'm not p-poisoned." he said quietly.

Arthur blinked in surprise. -What?" he hissed. The prince blinked and tried to swallow the lump in his throat. If Merlin wasn't poisoned, and he wasn't wounded...Things made no sense.

-If you're not poisoned, then what's wrong?" the prince asked, crouching a bit closer.

Merlin opened his eyes again, slowly and locked his eyes with the prince. He whimpered and swallowed.

-Th-e...truth is that...when that sorcerer...attacked Camelot, he w...was after me." Merlin said slowly.

Arthur just stared Merlin. Why on Earth would he be after you?" he asked, incredulous. Normally he would have rolled his eyes and sounded teasy if the situation would have been different, but now he just couldn't. The worry was too overwhelming.

Merlin blinked several times. -He...he took m-my lifeforce."

Arthur's eyes widened and he had to look away as the words sank in. For a moment, he gathered himself. His anger just grew towards that filfhy sorcerer. How could a sorcerer want to steal someone's lifeforce? Well, he had magic, so it explained that, but...Why on Earth would a sorcerer want to steal Merlin's lifeforce?

-At f-first..." Merlin continued, and Arthur turned back to his servant, -...it didn't c-cause any trouble..." Merlin closed his eyes briefly before his eyes found the prince's again, -...but I g-got worse du-ring the hunt. Lanc...lot tho-ught that my lifeforce c-could be returned if w-we found the sorcerer i-in time, but..."

There was a silence. Arthur squeezed his fingers into a tight fist, emotions roaring inside of him.

-And why...why didn't you tell me?" Arthur asked, slightly hurt for the lack of trust.

Merlin looked guilty and miserable, and Arthur felt instantly worse for asking. Merlin drew another painful breath to answer, but Arthur shook his head.

-No, that's not important now. How can we get your lifeforce back?" he asked.

Merlin's eyes glistened. -Y-ou can't." he whispered, sounding serious. Arthur shook his head fiercely. -Yes we can. We just need to find him and..."

Merlin closed his eyes, and one tear escaped the corner of his eye. The blue light of the night made him look even paler. -N-no, Arth...r. I tr-ied. I'm...the only one w-ho can take it...back. I'm...the only one...powerful enough."

Arthur stared at Merlin, his own heart thundering in his ears. He tried to comprehend, but Merlin wasn't making any sense.

-Merlin, I don't understand. Powerful enough? What does that mean? Where did Lancelot go? What happened before I came here?" he asked, confused.

Merlin opened his eyes, and they were full of tears.

-A-rthur," he said, panting and clearly struggling with the pain, he locked his eyes with the prince's. Arthur felt how air flowed heavily, because he had never seen Merlin like this. So vulnerable, so hurt, so desperate. One more tear rolled down onto Merlin's cheek.

-I'm...d-dying." Merlin whispered.

Arthur's heart sank and his emotions rushed forward. -No. Stop. Don't say that. You're not going to die, Merlin..." He paused and felt his eyes burning. Merlin just looked sadly back at him.

-You won't die. I won't let you." Arthur stated, but his voice was trembling. The situation seemed desperate.

Merlin's eyes glistened and Arthur couldn't help but to feel his eyes burning even more than before.

You can't die. You can't.

Arthur swallowed. -There has to be a way to get your lifeforce back from that sorcerer."

Merlin took a faltering breath and his eyes were clouded in pain.

-N-no. Ar-thur...I-I want you to li-listen to me...very closely..." he whispered, voice unsteady and slurred by the waves of pain.

Arthur nodded, and took a heavy breath. -I will listen," he said, because he didn't want Merlin to talk anymore than necessary.

Merlin took a long breath and swallowed. Tears started to run freely.

-B-before you c-came...We fought against...the sorcerer...I t-tried to take my lifeforce b-back, but...I c-couldn't. And...it took a-all my strength..." He paused and took another hollow breath.

-The rest...the rest of m-my lifeforce is fadi-ng fast. I can't live w-without it." he said quietly.

Arthur felt his eyes glisten and he shook his head once again. -No. Lancelot will find that sorcerer and bring your lifeforce back and..."

-No." Merlin said, and more tears rolled onto his cheeks. -Y-you don't understand..."

Merlin blinked and then looked back to the prince. -M-y lifeforce...is m-magic."

Arthur felt the air got stuck into his throat, as the shock hit him like a punch in the face. He blinked several times and just stared at Merlin. He couldn't comprehend...

Merlin...Magic...

That...that couldn't be possible...

Arthur just stared at Merlin, wide-eyed. -W-what?" he whispered.

Merlin sighed and shut his eyes tightly, tear pouring beneath his lids. -I'm so-sorry. S-should've told you. I w-was born with magic...But I've only used it for g-good."

Arthur just stared at Merlin, fury rushing forward. Chaotic emotions suddenly started a war inside of his head. He didn't know whether the blind rage, the feeling of betrayal, confusion, hurt or strangling worry was the most overwhelming.

Merlin gasped. -B-but...guess that...d-don't matter now. I-it's alright if you can't forgive me. I unders...stand." he said, whispering.

Arthur just stared at Merlin, and fought back the angry tears that burned his eyes.

-You're a sorcerer?" Arthur said, defeated.

Merlin looked pained. -I'm s-sorry that you had to f-found out this way." he whispered, eyes closed.

-That sorcerer...he took away...your magic?" Arthur asked emptily, his voice sounding odd and emotionless. The situation was insane.

This couldn't be real.

Merlin opened his bleary eyes and looked fragile. -Yes." he whispered. He blinked and continued: -It...it's a part of me...Like a soul. I will d-die without it." he added. Mute tears poured from Merlin's eyes.

Arthur was frozen. His mind had just been sent to chaos. Magic. Merlin had just said he had magic.

Merlin was...was a sorcerer. And...he wasn't poisoned. He was dying, because another sorcerer had stolen his magic.

Merlin was dying because of it. Arthur just stared Merlin, unable to comprehend anything. Merlin looked so familiar. He looked so...Merlin, not evil at all. Nothing made sense.

Arthur's head was in chaos, but there was only clear thought in his head:

Merlin couldn't die.

It was a stubborn thought that stood out from the mess of all others.

Magic or not? That was what he asked from himself. Did it matter?

Right now, did it matter?

His mind told him that if Merlin was a sorcerer, he was evil and he should die. But his heart was almost crushed by the sight of Merlin suffering from that kind of pain, weakening every minute. His heart told him that right now, the priority was to keep Merlin alive.

Arthur didn't know what to do. Or what to say. What was there to say?

But he couldn't just...abandon Merlin. He had known him for years, spent every day with him...Even if he was a sorcerer.

He could make it easier to everyone if he just left. He could leave Merlin to die, and he wouldn't need to make the decision later on. He wouldn't need to think about the fact he should turn Merlin in. But in its simplicity, it just wasn't an option: he wasn't able to leave.

In a short moment, Arthur realized it: he cared about Merlin much more than he had ever admitted to himself.

And he couldn't let him die. Not now. Not here, in this stupid forest on this stupid hunt. He could think through everything else later, but Merlin just couldn't die now. Arthur wouldn't let him. Because it would be inevitable soon, and he had to stop it.

Merlin was hanging on, fighting back. But he was also weakening.

-Is...is there anyway the magic can be returned?" Arthur said, voice slightly shaking. The words tasted odd in his mouth and he had to concentrate.

Merlin's eyes opened, and the hope in them was so heart-breaking and pure that Arthur had to blink several times to stop the tears forming.

-You...you'd do that f-for me?" Merlin whispered, clearly moved.

Arthur sighed. -I...I don't know...I don't know anything. Just - I can't deal with this right now. Just tell me how can I return it. If I want to be angry with you, I need you to stay alive. "

Merlin's face turned into a sincere smile, even if it was soon faded by the pain.

-Th-thank you, Arth...hur...But..." Merlin looked stricken with despair: -...there isn't a way to return it."

Arthur felt a wave of frustration and panic. -Why not?" But then he remembered what Merlin had said earlier about being powerful enough, and then things clicked.

-So it would need magic to do it?" Arthur said, through gritted teeth, because the word still made him furious and hurt.

Merlin made a faint nod and closed his eyes, his face twisting in pain.

Arthur felt worry wave again. Where the hell was Lancelot?

-Where did Lancelot go, then? Did he go after the sorcerer?" he asked, more from himself than Merlin. He shot a worried glance to the direction the knight had gone to.

But Merlin didn't answer. Arthur looked back to him. Merlin's eyelids were closed, and he writhed faintly, small lonely tears escaping.

-Merlin?" Arthur asked, voice weary and alert.

Merlin took a faltering breath and his eyelids fluttered, but they didn't open.

-Merlin?" Arthur asked now, voice pitched. He crouched lower.

Merlin had gone too still. His writhes had faded, and he didn't open his eyes.

-Merlin!" Arthur shouted now, desperation starting to crawl into him. He took a grip from Merlin's arm.

But Merlin stayed quiet and still, his tears had stopped and he didn't respond to Arthur's touch. The prince shook his arm.

One tear broke free from Arthur. -Answer me." he whispered, voice squeaky.

But Merlin stayed still. Arthur was about to call his name again, when a sudden bolt of white light bursted into colour somewhere in the right, somewhere further away in the forest, in the direction Lancelot had gone into.

Arthur could feel raw transparent energy radiating from the source of the light, hitting him and punching the air out of him, going through the forest like a pressure wave. And then, suddenly, Merlin gasped for air, and his eyes snapped open. Arthur felt already how a rush of relief went through him, but then a flash of gold filled Merlin's eyes.

For a moment, the prince stared the golden colour of magic in Merlin's eyes, but then, it faded quickly in a second and Merlin's eyelids slid closed.

-Merlin!"

The white light disappeared from the air of the forest, shrank away and the blue colour of the night took its place.

And then, it was completely quiet.