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 but an urge to emotionally and physically beat up my favorite characters. I feel like I should worry about that, but…meh. I've come to terms with it.
AN – Here we go, at long last. The finale of The Lost. Normally, this is the point where I'd advertise future projects, but here's the thing: I don't know when the next big future project is going to be and, on that note, what it's going to be.
As you all know, the new series of Merlin starts in LESS THAN TWO DAYS. I like to take canon into account as much as possible. Ergo, I will not be publishing any big ass chapter fics for the next…er…fifteen weeks. Probably. There will be shorter projects, but…yeah. Take that as you will.
Oh, and guys – Merlin this Saturday MERLIN THIS SATURDAY.
Finally – I'm going to be Nanowrimoing this year, again. If any of y'all are as well, be sure to let me know so we can be buddies. XD
ON WITH THE FIC
The ride back from the caves seemed to take longer than the ride there. Arthur rode in the front, the vial of Merlin's blood dangling around his neck, clinking against his armor from time to time. Lancelot was behind him, alternating from staring down at his gloved hands and the back of Arthur's head. Percival and Gwaine brought up the rear, riding side by side. Percival had knocked his head during the fighting, and he was too heavy to ride double with someone. He kept tipping off to the left of his saddle, though, and Gwaine had taken to pushing him back upright.
No one said anything. Gwaine sure as hell wasn't going to be the first. After all, what was there to say? Not much. What could he even lead with?
Hey, Arthur, thank God that Lancelot skewered your sister like that. And what was with that spell she was casting? That didn't sound very good, did it? I bet everything's alright though, you know, since everything's been going in our favor as of late anyway. Right? Arthur? Right? And where's the other one, the blonder one, where's she gotten off to? Morgana did say something about her heading to Camelot, didn't she? D'you think she's going to be a problem, Arthur? Do you? Hey, wait, what are we going to do when we get back, are you going to tell your father what's been happening?
Gwaine shook his head, scoffing silently, and poked Percival back into sitting straight. The large knight blinked blearily at him and gave him a vague smile.
So it was that they rode into the courtyard in near silence. Gwaine had to suppress the shiver that worked its way up his spine at the deserted area. It was hardly the busiest time of the evening, but usually there was someone. Now, though, the courtyard was deserted. Gwaine, again, thought it best not to comment, and dismounted his own horse before tugging Percival off of his. Lancelot and Arthur followed suit.
"I'll go talk to Gaius and get Percival looked at," said Arthur, taking the knight away from where he was listing against Gwaine, "Lancelot, why don't…"
He trailed off, looking at the knight who had killed his sister not so long before. Lancelot looked similarly out of beat with the situation, and with a sigh Gwaine decided it was best for those two to be in opposite parts of the castle. "Lancelot, go and tell Merlin all's right with the world," said Gwaine, "I'll take care of the horses. Yes?"
Arthur cleared his throat slightly, and began to teeter off in the direction of Gaius's chambers with Percival. "Yes, what he said," said the prince.
Lancelot half walked, half jogged away from the courtyard. One of the horses snuffled at Gwaine's hair, and he patted its nose as he gathered the reins of all four mounts, and said, "Thank God this all over, mate. I need a drink."
Gwaine began peeling off tack from the horses. He didn't mind doing the task. The easy motions set his somewhat frayed nerves at ease. The stables were quiet, but not the tense sort of quiet that had surrounded them during the ride. It was the quiet of nickering horses and snapping, horsey tails. The only other people there, save for Gwaine, were two stable boys who were talking in hushed tones.
"So the King killed the witch," the taller one was saying, "And the knights and the physician and the servant are all in the courtyard, and the servant just tips over, he does. Oh, what's his name – Marvin? Matthew? Anyway, then –"
"Wait, wait," Gwaine said, moving over by the stable boys, leaving the horses, "What happened to who when King Uther did what now?"
Lancelot chose that moment to burst into the stables, more than a little wild-eyed, and announce, "Merlin isn't in the tower."
"Aye, that's the one," said the tallest stable boy, "Merlin, the prince's manservant. After the king killed the witch, he had some sort of fit. Fell to the ground, yelling and twitching and –"
Gwaine didn't hear the rest of what he said. He was already out the door, sprinting away in the direction that Arthur had gone. Lancelot was close on his heels. All Gwaine could think about was that last moment when Morgana cast the spell. And as they run, he couldn't stop the thought from rearing up in his mind.
Please, do not let us have been too late.
" – not know, Guinevere, all we can do is wait," Gaius was saying as Arthur staggered in the door, the old man facing away. Gwen was sitting next to the patient's bed, dapping a cloth against the face of whoever was in the bed. Between she and Gaius, Arthur couldn't make out who it was. He had a terrible, sneaking suspicion of who lay there, but he refused to dwell on it for too long.
Gwen noticed Arthur, and swung to her feet, turning so that she was still blocking the patient. "Arthur," she said, "You're back."
Gaius turned. "Sire," he said, "Sir Percival."
Arthur deposited Percival on one of the chairs by the table.
"What happened?" Gaius asked, moving towards them. Gwen shifted slightly to the right, and Arthur saw the face of the patient.
"Merlin," he said, moving forward. Merlin's eyes were closed, but Arthur could see how they were moving rapidly beneath the lids. His hands were clenching and unclenching in the thin blanket that covered him. The vial of Merlin's blood was cold against his palm. He could only think of Morgana's voice hissing out spells, just before Lancelot had – just before. Arthur stood next to Guinevere, who slid her hand into his free one. "Is he –"
"I drugged him, Sire," said Gaius, looking every one of his considerable amount of years, "I couldn't bear to – he was in such pain."
Arthur ignored him, reaching out to grasp Merlin's shoulder, "Merlin, wake up," he said, shaking him lightly, "I need you to wake up."
"I don't think you heard me," said Gaius, "He won't be waking up for a long while. But the blood, Sire, did you –"
Except for then Merlin was blinking awake, jerking slightly. He blinked at Arthur, blearily, as if not sure what he was seeing.
"You're alright, Merlin," said Arthur, "Sit up and I'll catch you up."
"I really think that he should be lying down," said Gaius. Gwen remained silent, eyes twitching from Gaius to Arthur to Percival, who was half asleep at the table.
Merlin, however, pushed himself up, still looking muddled.
"See? He's alright," said Arthur, "Merlin, I need you to –"
"Arthur!" Gaius suddenly barked, harsher than Arthur could ever remember the old man sounding, "Put the blood down!"
Arthur frowned, confused, and looked from the physician to the vial to Merlin struggling to sit up, and back down to the vial again. Gwaine realized the problem the exact moment the prince did, and, with a sickening jolt, realized that the prince had been hurling around his offhanded orders while holding Merlin's blood. Merlin was doing what Arthur said, but it was because of the enchantment.
"Oh, Arthur," Gwen whispered.
"Merlin, hold out your –" Arthur stopped, and then rephrased, after swallowing roughly against the guilt that was thick in his throat, "Can you hold out your hand?"
Merlin did, and Arthur dropped the vial into it. Merlin shuddered as he slowly closed his fingers around it, shoulders slumping slightly.
"It's done," Arthur said, "Merlin, it's done. You're safe. Camelot's safe. We're – it's done."
Merlin nodded, still staring at his closed palm.
"How do you feel?" Gaius said, after a moment, moving to place a hand on Merlin's shoulder.
"Tired," Merlin answered, "A bit sore."
"You should sleep more, my boy," the physician said.
Merlin looked down. Gwaine followed his gaze to the vial. "What do we do with that, then?" he asked.
"For the time being, I think it's best that Merlin holds onto it," said Gaius.
With the confusion of the immensely tired, Merlin blinked slowly and said, "But then how'm I supposed to sleep?"
"Put it around your neck," Arthur said.
Merlin did, and then lay back down. Gaius moved away to take a look at Percival. Arthur was just starting to think that maybe, maybe things could calm down so that he could start to process the day, to catch Gaius and Guinevere up on what was happening, so that he could be caught up on what was happening, when Gwaine and Lancelot came barreling into the room, both wild-eyed and panicked.
Apparently, calming down could wait.
They let several days pass. Things settled. Merlin slept, but during his waking hours there was something more to him than there had been in recent weeks. But, then, the issue could no longer be ignored.
They still needed to figure out what to do with the vial of blood.
"Why don't we just smash it?" asked Percival. All of the knights, Arthur, Gwen, Gaius, and Arthur were crammed into Gaius's chambers. They were arranged in something resembling a circle.
"Tried," said Merlin.
Gwaine looked over at a broken shelf, rubbed his sore back, and said, "It didn't end well. It sort of lit off Merlin's magic –"
" – And Gwaine got tossed into a wall," finished Merlin, sheepishly. "I am sorry about that."
"We could burn it," said Elyan.
"No, too risky," Gaius said, "I'm worried it would hurt Merlin."
"Couldn't he just hold onto it?" Gwen asked.
Arthur was shaking his head before she'd finished the question. "No," he said, "No, someday, somehow, something would happen. We need a permanent solution."
"We could lock it in the vaults," said Leon.
"Yes," said Lancelot, "Because no one ever breaks into the vaults."
"Sarcasm, Lancelot," said Elyan, "That's new."
"What if we build a vault?" suggested Percival, "A new one, a, er, better protected one."
"Hell," said Gwaine, "Why don't we just weight it down and toss it in a lake while we're at it?"
"Be serious, Gwaine," said Arthur, "If you don't have an actual suggestion, please, do us all a favor and keep quiet."
"Makes as much sense as what you lot are coming up with –"
Merlin, though, sat up a bit straighter. Toss it in a lake. Toss it in a lake. "That's brilliant," he said.
They all looked over at him. "What is?" said Arthur.
"Gwaine's lake thing," said Merlin, standing and leaving, "I need a horse, I – why didn't I think of it? The lake."
They sat in stunned silence as the warlock left. "Er," said Gwaine, "I would like to point out that I am in no way responsible if Merlin steals a horse and drowns."
His words, ridiculous though they were, were enough to spur the others into chasing after Merlin.
"He's not actually going to drop it in the water, is he?" Lancelot said.
He, Gwaine, and Arthur were lying on their stomachs beneath a bush, watching as Merlin stood on the edge of the lake. They had decided just the three of them would go, versus the whole group. That way it would be easier to tail Merlin through the woods without the warlock knowing. Arthur, though, couldn't shake the feeling that he had been to this particular lake before.
"I assumed there'd be some sort of…of magic or something involved," Lancelot continued.
"If he drops it in the water, I'm throwing him in after it," Arthur growled.
"Arthur," said Gwaine.
"What?" Arthur answered, "I'll make sure he doesn't drown."
"That's right," said Gwaine, lightly, "Because I'll be throwing you in after him."
Lancelot snorted slightly. Arthur had to fight down a grin of his own. Not only were the two knights speaking to him, they were even starting to joke again. Arthur didn't know if they were still angry, and a small part of him hoped that they were. After all, Arthur was still angry with himself. And there was the part where Lancelot had killed his sister.
"But, seriously," said Lancelot, "Does anyone have any idea what's happening?"
"Shh," said Gwaine, "He's doing something."
Merlin had pulled off his boots and rolled up his pants, wading into the water until he was submerged to his knees. He pulled the chain off from around his neck, and then, quietly, so quietly Arthur almost couldn't hear him from where he was, called out, "Freya?"
There wasn't an answer. Arthur realized that he was holding his breath.
Merlin took a step further into the water. "Freya?" he said again, "Freya, are you here?"
Arthur blinked. His eyes were closed for less than a moment, but when he opened them there was a girl in a red dress standing in the water not far from Merlin. She said something, and Merlin answered, and then she reached up to touch his cheek with her fingertips.
"…We should go," said Lancelot, "We should – this isn't for us to see. We should go."
"We should," agreed Gwaine. None of them moved. The lady said something else, waving her hand towards the shore. Merlin laughed, the sound simple and delighted, drifting out over the still water. Arthur hadn't realized how much he had missed the sound, not until that moment.
As they watched , Merlin held up a hand, the vial and the chain cupped in it. She frowned, reaching up to brush his face again, fussing over Merlin. With a small smile, she took the vial out of Merlin's hand. They exchanged a few more words, and then, right before all of their eyes, she sank down beneath the water, leaving barely a ripple in her wake. Merlin stood still for a moment, and then walked out of the water. He sat on the ground, heavily, and pulled his boots back on. Then, he turned to face straight towards Arthur and the knights, and called, "I know you're there. You might as well come out."
Arthur had a childish moment of wanting to stay down and hidden, just because. But Gwaine was already on his feet and bounding out of the bush. Lancelot, giving Arthur an almost wry look, followed, so the prince was given no choice but to follow.
"Merlin," Gwaine said, "Who was that?"
"Freya," said Merlin, simply.
"Is she magic?" Lancelot asked.
"And?" said Gwaine, waggling his eyebrows.
"And," said Merlin, "She'll keep that safe."
"Are you sure?" Arthur asked.
"She'll keep it safe," said Merlin.
"Believe me," said Merlin, and his voice booked no room for argument, "She will keep it safe."
None of them pressed the matter any further.
They returned to Camelot. Days went by. Things began to sink back down into normality. Merlin still had yet to return to his duties as Arthur's manservant, and Arthur didn't bring it up. They saw very little of each other. Arthur, though he'd never admit it, was anxious over talking with Merlin, now that all was said and done. So it was that one day, Arthur was in his chambers, sitting and filling out reports, when the door creaked open. He looked up to find Merlin standing awkwardly, head stuck around the doorway.
"Arthur," said Merlin, "I need to say something."
Arthur laid down his quill. In the back of his mind, he began to prepare himself for whatever Merlin had to say to him. He got ready to accept the fact that Merlin was going to go home to Ealdor or off to find Druids. He started to wonder if he should send Lancelot or Gwaine away with him, or both. What supplies he could spare to send with his servant. He waited for Merlin to say any of these things.
Merlin didn't say any of that. Instead, he shut the door and sat down across from the prince. "I have magic," he said.
Arthur waited for Merlin to continue. The servant, however, seemed to have said all that he was going to. So, Arthur, arching an eyebrow, said, "Yes. And?"
"And," said Merlin, "I wanted – had wanted to be the one to tell you. I used to think that's how I'd like it to happen, how you'd find out. From me. Not second hand, or from someone else. Not like how you actually did, but from me."
"I would have preferred that too," Arthur said.
"It isn't that I didn't trust you," Merlin said. He had fixed his eyes on the window just behind Arthur's head, and was fidgeting slightly in the chair, pulling at the ends of his shirt sleeves. "Maybe that was it at first, but things kept – it all sort of got bigger, and it never seemed like the right time. I was going to tell you, but –"
"I swear to God, if you're going to apologize I may slap you."
"No, you won't."
Arthur stared back at Merlin for a moment, and said, "No. I won't."
"Look, I'm going to be honest," Merlin said, "I don't blame you for what's happened. Really, I don't. But even though I understand why you sent me away, it still hurts. I'd imagined what it would be like, when everyone found out. And I'll admit, that was one of the worse ones."
"I only wanted to –"
"I know what you wanted to do," said Merlin, "But I've been in Camelot for years and I'd managed to survive. You should have trusted me. And maybe if I had trusted you first, things would have been different. If I hadn't lied for so long. I guess, um. I guess I just have a question."
"Can we call it even?"
"No," said Arthur.
Merlin's eyes got a bit wider, and he looked stricken. "Oh," he said, blinking quickly.
"I don't think that you understand," said Arthur, "I can't call it even because this isn't even. You lied because it would have meant death if you didn't. I betrayed your trust, and I ruined everything. We can't call this even because what I did, what I caused, is worse than any lie you may have told. Even the dragon."
"Arthur," said Merlin, quietly. "You don't know the sort of things I've done. You don't know all that you're forgiving me for."
"Well, then," said Arthur, leaning back slightly, "I suppose you better get talking, so that we can…I don't know, so we can start to figure this mess out. Unless you don't want to, of course, I'm not forcing you into anything."
Merlin, however, simply took a moment of quiet. Then, he started to talk, to tell Arthur the other side of a story the prince had thought he'd known. Arthur, for his part, sat and listened and thought.
It would take time to repair the damage. Time for Arthur to let go of his guilt and time for Merlin to come to terms with the fact that Arthur knew everything. Some days would be better than others, as days tend to go. Eventually, they would move past this.