A Problem Shared...
Summary: Is a problem halved. Elyan feels guilty about betraying his king and so does Merlin.
Disclaimer: Still don't own it.
Well this was a surprise! I've had a lot of ideas for stories floating around my head for a while, just waiting for me to write them down. Apart from this one, which seemed to fall onto the page basically fully formed! It's a little more serious than the other Merlin fics I've written, but I hope you like it. :-)
I also just quickly want to vent the fact that I've been struggling with literally the most frustrating question mark on the planet. I put it in, click save and it vanishes! I've even tried completely re-uploading the document. Grrr... Sorry, not really relevant, but it's an annoying little thing when I proof read this a gazillion times so it's perfect but it won't let me! So if you happen to spot somewhere you reckon could do with a question mark, it does, I agree!
Rant over...on with the story!
It had been a few weeks since they'd retaken Camelot from Morgana for a second time. Well the others had retaken Camelot. Elyan had sat in a cell watching Gaius get weaker as Gwaine fought to exhaustion to get them some food.
He was still troubled with nightmares. The creature Morgana had tortured him with had caused such unbearable pain, he couldn't endure it and had given up his King's destination shockingly quickly. It made him deeply ashamed to think of it, so soon after he'd almost killed the man while being possessed and so soon after his own sister had broken his heart.
He thinks he'd have driven himself mad with the disgust of such a betrayal, if Gwaine hadn't been in that cell with him, no end to his incessant chatter in sight. But when he was out fighting, Elyan was left with a barely conscious old man and his own thoughts spiralling into worst case scenarios. Arthur, Merlin and Percival were pursued and killed or captured and forced to swear fealty to Morgana or tortured for the witch's pleasure; the village, Merlin's village, was razed to the ground and the people murdered; Camelot was lost forever under Morgana's evil rule, the people cowed into fearful obedience; Gwaine didn't return and Gaius didn't wake and Elyan was left here alone to rot...
The others had noticed something was off, but everyone was generally too busy to call much attention to it, though the other knights did seem to be constantly inviting him to the tavern. He turned them down, instead spending his evenings alone, brooding in his chambers, or walking aimlessly around the castle when the walls got too close. Thank goodness Gwen was suitably distracted by her wedding preparations – she always could read him like a book. He was hoping he could avoid it until the problem just went away on its own, his favourite technique for dealing with his troubles, but knew deep down that eventually someone would call him on his quietness, his lack of sleep, and make him talk about it. He just hadn't expected it to happen quite the way it did.
He'd been sat near the armoury in the early summer sunshine, idly sharpening his sword, his mind elsewhere, when Merlin came clattering over with a pile of Arthur's armour.
"Mind if I sit with you?" Merlin had asked, not waiting for an answer before dropping the armour and flopping down himself. "It's a lovely day, nice to sit outside while I polish this!"
Elyan agreed, but made no further effort to start a conversation. He'd seen very little of Merlin since the battle, and felt oddly uncomfortable around the man now. Of course, that didn't dissuade Merlin, who happily chatted away about everything under the sun as he busily worked at the armour. Perhaps it was a fondness for endless prattle that made Merlin and Gwaine such good friends?
His musing were cut short by Merlin's suddenly serious tone. "I wanted to thank you Elyan."
Elyan blinked, wondering if he'd missed something important in the conversation. "Thank me?"
"Yes," Merlin continued, "for looking after Gaius while you were captured."
He started to protest. "I didn't really do anything Merlin, it was Gwaine that did all the work. Morgana had him fighting dozens of her men, just to get us a piece of bread. It's a good thing she chose him too, I don't think I'd have managed that..."
Merlin just shrugged lightly. "You'd been injured. You stayed with Gaius, kept him going."
"You were there Elyan, I wasn't. So thank you." Merlin interrupted.
Elyan thought he looked slightly troubled, there was something tense about his jaw. Not for the first time, he wondered what would happen if Gaius died. The man was practically Merlin's father and this had been a close call, the second in a matter of months; Merlin was clearly shaken by it. This only served to deepen his guilt. "Merlin, I don't think you should be thanking me. I did no good in there – quite the opposite in fact."
The servant was unconvinced. "Gwaine told me Gaius was going to give up. You were both there for him when he needed someone."
"But we couldn't do anything!" he exclaimed. "And I... don't you know what I did Merlin?" he ended quietly. Merlin just looked back, an unreadable expression on his face. "I told Morgana where you were going, I betrayed you and Arthur! She could have killed you both, or worse!"
"Well she didn't, did she?" Merlin replied with a shrug "We got away, everything's fine."
"But I didn't just put you two in danger did I? Gwen was there and the other villagers – your mother! Morgana knew you were from Ealdor, that your mother was there. She could've ordered the whole village to be destroyed just to spite you!"
Merlin shivered slightly and Elyan realised that this was not the first time that thought had occurred to the young man. Suddenly, he knew why he'd felt so awkward around Merlin. This could so easily have gone differently, horribly wrong for Merlin. What if Agravaine had attacked Ealdor, rather than just pursuing Arthur? What if Gaius had died in that cell? Merlin would have lost his mother and the man he considered his father all at once and it would have been all Elyan's fault. "I'm so sorry Merlin."
"None of that happened" he replied, sounding a good deal more confident than Elyan was expecting. "and even if it had, it wouldn't have been your fault. You were tortured Elyan. Besides, they would have tracked us to Ealdor eventually. In fact it was probably a good thing Agravaine turned up when he did, if we'd stayed there much longer, we'd probably have arrived in Camelot too late. Gaius would be dead, possibly you and Gwaine too."
Elyan didn't know what to say to that. It was twisted logic at best, and didn't change the fact that he'd cracked under torture, but nonetheless, actually make him feel a little better. He watched as Merlin turned back to the neglected armour, a slight frown marring his forehead, then resumed silently sharpening his sword.
"Can I tell you something Elyan?" to his surprise, Merlin looked nervous all of a sudden, glancing quickly at him before returning his attention to the armour. "You can't tell anyone else, only Gwen and Gaius know."
The knight stared back, wondering where this was going now. He considered Merlin a friend, especially after all his help with the whole possession thing, but they hardly confided in each other. "Of course Merlin, I give you my word I will keep it to myself."
Merlin nodded slowly, still polishing the same bit of armour. "You remember when we were ambushed by those mercenaries in the Valley of Fallen Kings? And I...went missing?"
Elyan nodded. They'd all been very worried, and by the time Merlin had turned up again, pretty much resigned to the fact that the servant was dead. Even if the mercenaries had left him alone, it had seemed clear that he would've died from the injury that Arthur had described. But it seemed Merlin's unassailable good luck had still been intact and he'd returned, hungry, confused and caked in mud, but blessedly alive.
"I told you I couldn't remember what had happened – how my wound had healed, how I ended up in that bog." Merlin continued. "But actually I do remember some of it, well I didn't at the time. I only remembered later, when I realised what was wrong..." he sucked in a breath, noticeably attempting to halt his babbling. Then he looked Elyan straight in the eye and said "I was with Morgana."
The knight couldn't help but exclaim "What!" Morgana had captured Merlin? Had she tortured him too? But then he hadn't seemed injured, or even scared...
"She didn't hurt me or anything...well, not very much. She actually healed my wound...wasn't very nice about it though." Merlin shrugged, glancing at him again, while Elyan tried very hard not to look totally horrified by this revelation. "Later, she summoned this thing – a sort of snake creature with lots of heads; called it a Fomorroh." Merlin was starting to look uncomfortable again, his voice kept abnormally light. "She cut off one of the heads and said that they could control people's minds, sucked out your life force, everything that made you you, then replaced it with one single thought that you had to obey..."
Elyan distinctly did not like the sound of that and found himself shuddering as he tried to repress his own memories of Morgana advancing towards him with a snake-like creature. Merlin looked pale and ever so slightly nauseated. He swallowed and shifted slightly before continuing. "Then she put it on the back of my neck and told me...told me to kill Arthur." His voice drifted to a whisper. "I remember that, it hurt."
Elyan gaped, surely, Merlin couldn't have tried to kill Arthur? "Merlin..."
"I don't remember a lot after that to be honest...everything's a bit hazy. I think I remember Arthur hugging me when I was covered in mud." the knight smiled at that; Gwaine had told them what had happened later that day, clearly pleased with the honest relief the King had displayed. "Apparently I was acting a bit...off. Gaius said I was very rude to him. But of course the worst thing was when I tried to kill Arthur."
Elyan swallowed, watching carefully but keeping silent. Merlin clearly felt guilty about this, but it was probably best he talked about it first.
"Thankfully Gwen and Gaius figured out what was going on, but I was lucky Gwen had served Arthur lunch that day. They managed to knock me out before I did anymore damage and Gaius cut out the Fomorroh" Merlin turned and yanked down his neckerchief, displaying an ugly scar on the back of his neck, looking for all the world like someone had tried rather unskillfully to cut off his head.
"Merlin, you were being controlled by Morgana, that wasn't your fault." Elyan tried to comfort the troubled man.
"Arthur is my King and he... he's my best friend. I thought there was absolutely nothing in the world that would ever cause me to betray him, but I did." Merlin replied morosely.
Elyan felt for the man, and tried to allay his guilt. "The important thing is that you would never willingly betray him Merlin. In your heart, you've always been loyal to him, that's what matters."
He realised what he'd said as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but Merlin pounced immediately. "You're right Elyan, I'm glad you've realised that." He didn't seem anywhere near as sorrowful as he was a second ago and was regarding Elyan with a shrewd glint in his eyes. Elyan was almost angry, that sneaky little... Arthur complained now again of Merlin's unexpected wisdom, but the knight had never really experienced it for himself.
"I...you..." he responded eloquently.
"I've gotta go!" Merlin announced, suddenly jumping up. "Arthur's got a speech tomorrow and I'll need to launder his shirt before I write it! See you around Elyan!" Elyan watched as the man bounded away, stumbling slightly under the weight of the armour he was carrying.
He turned back to his sword thoughtfully. Merlin may have gone about it in a pretty underhand way – he was definitely going to have to keep his wits about him more in the man's presence – but he had spoken the truth, or rather Elyan himself had done. He knew he would never willingly betray Camelot and that was the most important thing. Arthur didn't blame him for his lapse and things had turned out alright in the end. The memories of his torture were still fresh and painful, but the burning guilt that came with them had lessened.
He rose and sheathed his sword. It was time to join the others at the tavern.
Well I'm actually pretty proud of that (apart from the invisible question mark), so I hope you like it too!