Title: The Lost
Summary: In the blink of an eye, Merlin goes from laughing in the halls of Camelot to lying on the ground, hurt and alone, in an unfamiliar, ruined castle. Now all he has to do is figure out what's happened.
WARNINGS: Lots of whump, Spoilers though the end of series 3, did I mention the whump?
Disclaimer: I own nothing
AN – This is one of three stories that I've gotten ideas for in the realm of crazysauce!Merlin. This one is less crazysauce than the others, but I think it still counts.
Also, I'm also doing something that I had sworn to never do again – posting and writing at the same time. For all my Merlin fics, I've had at least two thirds of the thing written before I started tossing it up online. Now, though, with this one, I just really wanted to get it posted. My reasoning for doing this is simple – I need a bit of a break from drabbling. Seriously. I WANT TO WRITE SOMETHING LONG, DAMN IT. /goes insane/
NOT SLASH, only bromance. Sorry, slashers. You can pretend if you want, though, I don't mind. It's just that I try to stick to canon pairings, with one exception.
On with the fic!
"Well, Merlin," Gwaine said, sitting down next to him, "You look like the bad end of a horse."
"Seriously," said the knight, reaching over and snagging a boot. He began to polish it as he talked, "I've seen happier looking faces at a funeral."
"Again, thanks," said Merlin, "You're doing wonders for my self-esteem. And give me that boot back."
"No," Gwaine said, holding the shoe out of Merlin's reach, "I'm helping."
"You're a knight," Merlin said, but dropped the subject. In truth, he was more than a little bit thankful for the assistance.
"Now," said Gwaine, "Why the pitiful face?"
"Arthur's making me come on patrol with the lot of you," said Merlin. "I hate patrols. They never end well."
"Sure they do."
"Name one," said Merlin, brandishing his polishing rag at Gwaine's face, "Name just one that went off just fine, without anything going wrong at all."
"Um," said Gwaine, and scratched his head. He tossed the now shiny boot in a pile with other cleaned and polished boots. "All right, you win."
"That's right, I win."
"It's just a good thing I didn't bet any money," said Gwaine. "But you'll see, this'll be the one where everything works out alright. First time for everything, and all that."
Merlin huffed. He rolled his eyes. He knew better, after all. He knew that the best way to ensure one of these patrols went wrong was to say that it wasn't going to go wrong. He told Gwaine as much, and the knight responded by throwing a boot at him, declaring him a terminal pessimist.
"Besides," added Gwaine, "We don't have to leave for another three days."
Merlin shrugged, humming noncommittally. He didn't bother pointing out that they'd only returned from the last patrol two days earlier (It had ended with Lancelot getting a cold and Percival twisting an ankle, that is to say, it hadn't ended well). Uther, having recovered almost completely from the shock of Morgana's betrayal, had once again become obsessed with finding his daughter. This time, however, his motivations were less pure than they had been two years ago. Instead of making sure Morgana was safe, the king now spent almost all of his resources on finding her to get revenge.
"You're looking long faced again," Gwaine said. "Stop. It's depressing."
"Sorry," Merlin muttered.
"How are things without Gaius?" Gwaine said, once they'd been quiet for a few minutes.
"Oh, you know," Merlin said, waving a hand slightly, "Less…Gaiusy, I guess."
"Your way of spinning a phrase continues to astound me," said Gwaine, "Any word on when he'll be returning?"
Merlin shrugged again. "A week or two," he said, "He's figured out what it is, and how to cure it. He just wants to make sure it's gone completely before he heads back."
Gaius had been called away to an outlying village near the border of Camelot that had been having trouble with a plague, and Uther, rather grudgingly, had allowed him to go. That left Merlin on his own for the time being. He had also been pestered nonstop by each of the knights in turn (and Gwen, and the kitchen staff) on if he was eating enough, sleeping enough, and Lancelot was given the task of discouraging him from using magic. It was clear that the old physician had little faith in Merlin left to his own devices.
Merlin couldn't really blame him.
"Well, it looks like we're about done here," said Gwaine, and he helped Merlin gather the pairs of boots into his arms.
"Don't fall," the knight said, waving at him and walking off.
Merlin snorted, and walked through the corridors. When he walked into Arthur's chambers – a bit of magic helped him get the door open without dropping any of the boots – he found them empty and thoroughly trashed, Arthur already having ran off to training for the day.
"Oh, come on," Merlin muttered, looking around. He put the boots in the cupboard and then ran a hand through his hair. He looked around, even though he knew the room was empty, but Merlin felt that he was better off safe than sorry.
Along with his new determination to find Morgana, Uther had begun cracking down even harder on magic, something that Merlin hadn't thought possible. People were being brought for trials nearly every day, though most of them had their names cleared within an hour. The rate of executions had risen, as well. It was enough to make Merlin nervous, enough to keep Gaius lecturing him constantly about not using his magic.
But, still. With a messy prince to look after and a list of chores that made many of the more seasoned castle servants look rather faint, there was only so much self-control that he could have. With a muttered spell he sent all of the clothes flying back into the wardrobes and chests. He gave a pointed look at the bed and flicked his wrist. Instantly, the covers drew themselves up and flattened out. Merlin continued, saying spells and cleaning. In a quarter of the time it would have taken otherwise, Arthur's chambers had been rendered clean.
Merlin surveyed the room, feeling rather pleased with himself, but also a little sad. It would probably be within a matter of minutes of Arthur's return that the place would look as if someone had sacked it again. Merlin turned, running through the list of his remaining duties in his mind, and froze. The door to Arthur's chambers was standing ever so slightly ajar. Merlin frowned. He didn't remember leaving it open. In fact, he was more than certain that he'd closed it behind him. Walking over, he peered out into the corridor. There was no one there, so with a shrug he turned and…
…And everything was pain, agony and burning. He lay on his side, on top of what felt like shattered stones. They dug into him as he lay there, fighting to draw in air. The fear that washed over him was paralyzing – where was he? Had someone attacked Camelot?
Wait, oh, no, Arthur. Where's Arthur? And Gwen, Lancelot, Gwaine, everyone…
Merlin forced his eyes open, rolling over so that he was on his back, staring upwards. He was inside, or at least what used to be inside. There was a hole blasted in the ceiling above him, and through dust and haze he could distantly make out the night sky.
He pushed himself to sitting up, gasping at the pain that ripped through him at the motion. His head pounded, and the world around him spun in slow, lurching, sickening circles. He put his head in his left hand, waiting for it to pass. His right arm hung uselessly at his side, and even thinking about the limb sent lightning bolts of sharp and angry pain knifing through it. Merlin didn't know how long he sat there, quivering, trying to calm himself, but it soon became clear that his dizzy spell wasn't going to be stopping any time soon.
He looked around again, trying to ignore the way that everything around him kept tipping and twirling around. He could hear a distant shouting. The room – it looked like it could have been a castle, once upon a time – was filled with broken stones and ruins, all black and dark gray stone. Not Camelot, then. Camelot was all white granite and light grays.
So, if not Camelot, then where was he?
The room continued to loop around him, and without Merlin having much say in it he found himself laying on the floor once again, curled into a ball, trying desperately not to pass out. He tried to call out, to see if anyone was there, anyone at all, but all that came out was a strangled, croaking " 'lo?" that he could barely hear himself.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to figure out what the hell could have happened that made him hurt so much, feel so weak that he couldn't even sit on his own.
There was a clatter of metal against stone, jolting Merlin out of his slowly growing haze. He opened his eyes to find a silhouette of a man wearing armor, facing in his direction. He couldn't make out any features through the dust that was floating through the room.
There was a high pitched shout, almost like a scream. The man flinched, looking wildly to his right, and then sprang into motion, striding towards Merlin. "No," Merlin said, curling around his hurt arm, "N-no, stay away ."
The man, paying no heed to Merlin's words, hooked his arms under Merlin's armpits and pulled him across the floor. Merlin almost screamed from the pain that roared through him, especially his chest. His arm – most definitely broken, he decided – hit a bit of rock that was sticking out from the floor
When he came to, he was being clutched to someone's – he could only assume the man's – chest, bad arm dangling on the ground, good one pinned to his side, hiding behind a particularly large hunk of fallen ceiling. The man had one arm wrapped about Merlin, keeping him still. Merlin kicked slightly, but his legs weren't too enthusiastic about the idea, only twitching slightly and aching.
Merlin wiggled, desperate to get away, and said in a ragged mutter, "Lemme go!"
The man shushed him, and covered his mouth with a hand. He kept Merlin held down, vice like, an arm still clutching him around his chest. Merlin struggled uselessly, feeling weaker than he could ever remember being.
"Stop fighting me," the owner of the arms whispered into his ear, "Stop it. They'll find us if you don't stop."
Great, Merlin thought. Even if whoever 'they' were wanted to kill him, anything was better than being smothered alone in the dark, wasn't it?
"Merlin, please," the man said, "I'm begging you, stop, you'll only make it worse."
Merlin froze, heart hammering in his ears. This man knew him?
Apparently, having taken Merlin's stillness as a good thing, the man continued, saying, "Yes, that's it, I've got you now, you idiot, it's done, we've got you. You're going to be all right, I swear."
The relief was enough to almost knock Merlin unconscious. As it washed through him, he almost started to cry, and it was intense enough that he felt even more ill than before. Merlin let his head fall back against the shoulder behind him, and immediately the hand pulled away from his mouth.
"Arthur?" he whispered, and his voice sounded wretched and worn to his own ears.
The arm wrapped around his chest tightened ever so slightly, though not enough to hurt, and Arthur shushed him. "Of course it's me," he said. "Who else would it be? Honestly, Merlin."
And Merlin did let himself cry a bit then, even if it was only a tear or two – he hurt, he had no idea what the hell was happening, and his head was spinning. But Arthur was here, and he seemed to be in a better sort of way than Merlin.
"What-t happened?" Merlin asked, "My head…c-can't think straight."
"Not now, later, I promise," Arthur said, still whispering and Merlin didn't need to see his face to know that the prince was frowning. "Are you injured? You're shaking."
"I-I don't…" Merlin answered, and tried to steady himself with a deep breath. It didn't work, and only caused his chest to explode with a sharp and stabbing agony. He whimpered, unable to finish his sentence.
"That's enough of an answer, I think," Arthur said, and despite the situation, Merlin felt the smallest flicker of a smile cross his face, gone as soon as it came. "We should wait a bit, make sure they aren't coming back this way."
Merlin nodded. At this point, he decided to just do whatever Arthur said, as the prince seemed to have a better handle on things than he did. Of course, that wasn't saying all that much. Arthur kept one hand on Merlin's shoulder, but moved so that he was squatting in front of him. He squinted to see through the dark and strangely cloudy air that filled the room.
He just stared at Merlin, looking like he very much wanted to say something. Just as Merlin was debating that maybe the prince wasn't as well off as he'd originally thought, Arthur said, "Can you walk? The others will be waiting for us by now."
Others? He decided to worry about it later, and just answer Arthur for now. Merlin shook his head, "No…I…I-I don't think –"
"I'll have to carry you, then. You always have to make everything about you, don't you, Merlin?" said Arthur, a forced smile on his face. But then he grew serious. "This is probably going to be painful for you."
"Please, just," Merlin said, and he didn't care how pitiful and pleading he sounded. "Just get me out of here."
"Brace yourself," Arthur said. He gently moved Merlin's arm – definitely broken, Merlin said, clenching his teeth – so that it was sitting on Merlin's torso. Merlin couldn't stop the small groan that he gave, and Arthur winced slightly, not looking at Merlin. Then Arthur shifted so that he had one arm around Merlin's back, and the other beneath his knees. "I'll lift on the count of three. Ready?"
Merlin nodded, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth.
"One, two," Arthur took a deep breath, and said, "Three."
He lifted, and Merlin stifled a cry. His entire body was lit with pain, and as Arthur began to pick his way through the rubble, his head pounded and his chest tightened.
"Hang on," Arthur muttered, and Merlin felt more than heard the words, the way his ears were roaring at him. Arthur continued, "We're almost out, you'll be fine. They won't hurt you anymore, I promise, Merlin, just hang on."
Merlin wanted to demand to know who wasn't going to hurt him anymore, and, on that subject, why they were hurting him in the first place. Instead, as Arthur tripped slightly and almost fell, he let himself get jerked away into unconsciousness, Arthur talking nonsensical, soothing words all of the while.
More time passed, though Merlin couldn't say how much. He drifted, always just on the brink of waking but still somehow…not.
They were on horses, at some point. Merlin couldn't quite work up the energy to open his eyes, but he moaned slightly, the motion of the running horse jarring him uncomfortably. He only realized someone was holding him on when the arm tightened around his stomach slightly, and Arthur said, "It's all right, Merlin." The horse slowed slightly, closer to a walk.
And then there was a breeze against his bare torso, and he was leaning heavily against someone's chest. He could feel their breath ruffling through his hair. Someone was poking and prodding at him, and whoever he was propped up against said, the words rumbling through them, "Holy hell. Did they even feed him once?"
Later, bundled in a blanket, Merlin felt almost too warm. But he didn't want to complain, didn't think he even had the energy too. There were people talking around him, and a hand holding onto his wrist through the blanket, fingers pressed over his pulse. The people were talking in low, hushed tones, and there seemed to be a lot of cursing involved.
When Merlin finally woke, properly this time, it was dark. He was on his side, laying near a fire. He watched the flames for a minute, until someone said, "Merlin?" He twitched his eyes over to where Lancelot was sitting, watching him intently. Lancelot scooted closer, looking at him intently, and again, he said, "Merlin? How're you feeling?"
"Not too good," he answered, resisting the urge to close his eyes again.
"Here," Lancelot said, holding out a piece of bread.
Merlin shook his head, and said, "No." He felt sick at the thought.
"I'm not offering," the knight said, grabbing one of Merlin's arms and forcing the food into it. "It's not that much."
Merlin took a small bite, and swallowed it. Suddenly ravenous, the bit of bread was gone in an instant. Lancelot lifted a waterskin to Merlin's mouth, and Merlin drank it with the same ferocity he'd eaten the bread. Lancelot had to pull it away several times and caution him to drink slower. Finally, Merlin, feeling like his stomach was full to bursting, said, "Arthur?"
"Sleeping. Same as the others," he said, "Except Percival, he's on watch."
"You're not sleeping," Merlin said. Even with the water, his voice refused to grow louder than a ragged, rough whisper.
"I'm on Merlin Watch," said Lancelot, a small grin flitting across his face, gone as soon as it appeared. "You really scared us this time."
"What happened?" Merlin asked.
"You don't remember?"
Merlin shook his head. "I…there's nothing," he said, "Just…nothing. What happened?"
"Later," Lancelot said, "Don't worry about it now."
Right. Because there were so many other things for him to be thinking about. "Lancelot, please," he said.
Lancelot hesitated for a moment, glancing somewhere off to the right. Merlin could only assume that's where the others were. Then, he said, "You were jumped by some outlaws in the woods, after the – anyway, Arthur got a demand for ransom, and we rode out, but they were all gone, and so we've been searching –"
"You need to rest."
"How long?" he repeated, and by the sounds of Lancelot's words, he had been wherever he was for quite some time. "How many days?"
"Days?" Lancelot said, eyebrows drawing together, "Merlin, I...it's been two months. We've been –"
"No," Merlin said, shaking his head. There was something not unlike panic clawing up his throat, scratching at his heart, strangling his lungs. "No, it can't have been that long. Not months. I would remember, I would – I'd –"
God, he couldn't breathe.
"Merlin, calm down," Lancelot said, and then cursed. Distantly, Merlin could hear him yelling for help. Merlin couldn't care less, he was too preoccupied with the fact that what had been mere seconds for him had, apparently, been two months for the rest of the world.
Two months. Two months. He had lost two months.
"No, c-can't have been, must be some…some mistake," Merlin insisted. His vision was fading, bits of black rolling over everything else, "It can't – I'd know, I…"
He broke off, retching at the grass next to his head. All of the water, the little bit of bread, that Lancelot had pushed on him rose back up, until Merlin was just dry heaving, pain jolting through him each time. Someone was rubbing his back, speaking quietly, and they continued to do so until Merlin, shaking, finally stopped. Hands gripped either side of his face.
"Look at me," said Arthur, in his very best I-am-the-future-king-and-thou-shalt-obey-me voice, "Merlin, I am ordering you to look at me."
Merlin did, but he couldn't force his thoughts into any semblance of order. He still couldn't breathe, and every gasp sent stabbing pain through his ribs.
"Now breathe," Arthur said, and the prince grabbed Merlin's uninjured arm and pressed the hand against his own chest, taking deep, deliberate breathes. "Focus, now, Merlin, just breathe with me. In, out…in, out…"
Merlin did, keeping his eyes locked on Arthur. Every few seconds, the words 'two months' would drift into his mind, and he'd feel himself getting pulled away again, but Arthur would just keep talking, until Merlin finally managed to get his breathing in order. Shaking and weak, Merlin finally nodded slightly at Arthur.
"There," Arthur said, "Now why don't you have a bit of a rest while I talk to Lancelot outside, hm?"
And Merlin, little energy he'd grasped gone, did just that.