Rating: T, Gen
Warnings: Though not explicit this story contains subject matter that some may find triggery.
Summary: Merlin can temporarily read minds. He really wish he couldn't. Hurt!Merlin and protective and BAMF Arthur. Friendship abounds.
When touching the strange glowing green crystal ball thing in the woods gifted Merlin with the ability to read minds, he'd fretted over all the terrible secrets and hidden truths he would discover – Arthur torturing baby ducks or the cook spitting in people's food or something like that.
As it turned out, what people had to think was generally boring, or depressing, or what Merlin had already known. Gwen in love with Arthur, Arthur in love with Gwen, Gwen hates rats, everyone thinks their problems are so much more important than everyone else's (especially Arthur) and Gwaine could use a drink – again. Oh, and the cook didn't spit in the food. She did like to knick a few sweet rolls.
The visiting lords weren't any more interesting beyond what seemed to be a shared sentiment of "if Uther were alive, this wouldn't be a problem," but only because Arthur was young and the old lords had issues with young kings – young anyone. Most of their complaints were non-issue, anyway, so like it mattered.
But Lord Odwin... Merlin didn't like his thoughts. Like slime, they were. Oily things, skittering things, slipping into Merlin's mind and sneaking grossly down his spine.
They were nothing compared to when Odwin took notice of Merlin as Merlin unpacked his things. The words, the images. Lords, the images. Merlin fumbled with Odwin's armor when an image of himself, naked, on the floor and Odwin... Odwin doing things. Odwin making him do things.
The moment Merlin was out of the room, he went to the nearest window and puked. Thankfully no one was below him when he did it.
"What do you know about Lord Odwin?" Merlin asked Gaius during dinner, a dinner Merlin was mostly picking at, having no appetite. The images wouldn't leave him. The things being done to him. The things Odwin wanted to do to him...
"Very little. He's a rather private man, his territory rather small," Gaius said.
Odwin liked them young and liked them thin. Thin meant they were helpless, meant they were fragile and would be easy to break. He liked breaking them and making them beg.
"Not many vassals working for him, either. I'm told few are employed for long in his castle. Oh, he was nearly married – an arranged marriage, I believe – but the bride-to-be vanished before the day of the wedding."
He liked the way they bruised, the way they cringed in horror. How easy they were to hold down...
"He's an excellent strategist."
He liked Merlin. He wanted Merlin. He wanted to...
"And that's all I know. Merlin, are you all right? You haven't touched your food."
Merlin startled and looked down at the food picked and pushed into a brown mess.
"Just tired," Merlin said. "I think I'll turn in." He pushed away from the table as though it were Odwin in front of him, not Gaius.
When he slept he dreamed of the images, of what Odwin did, of what he wanted to do. Merlin woke gasping, shaking and sick to his stomach with nothing in it to purge.
"For goodness sake, Merlin, will you pay attention. What is wrong with you? It's like you're half asleep."
"Sorry, sorry," Merlin said, lifting the thankfully empty goblet he'd bumped trying to fill it. "I didn't sleep well last night."
"Well you'd best wake up," Arthur said. "You're to assist lord Odwin today. He's asked for you personally. Seems he was rather impressed with your unpacking skills last night."
Wine slopped over the rim of the goblet.
"Sorry!" Merlin said, and quickly sopped the wine with the rag he had planned to use to polish the furniture.
"I didn't think it was possible for you to get any more useless. I have no idea what Odwin sees in you that I don't."
Merlin pressed his lips tightly together, stifling the sudden need to gag. "Good question. In fact maybe it would be a good idea if I didn't aid him, seeing as how I'm extra useless today and all."
"Too late. I already agreed with his request. You're to meet him out on the training field in an hour."
Merlin managed, with great difficulty, to suppress a shudder.
"You're a deft hand at this, lad," Odwin said, arms akimbo as Merlin tugged the last straps to his armor.
Odwin had Merlin undress...
"Thank you, my lord."
"But I suppose it is only to be expected as manservant to the king."
He had Merlin bow. He ran his knuckled against his cheek...
Odwin moved his arms, testing the armor's fit. He chuckled. "I'm amazed you're able to lift any of this, waif of a thing that you are."
He liked them thin. Helpless. Fragile...
"I'm stronger than I look, m'lord."
Merlin fought, but Odwin was stronger. So much stronger. He likes to overpower them...
Odwin clapped Merlin on the shoulder. "I'm sure you are, boy, I'm sure you are."
Aiding Lord Odwin on the training grounds consisted mostly of fetching this, adjusting that and, at one point, the usual dreaded holding the shield while Odwin pummeled him. Odwin liked the pummeling.
And the thoughts poured out of Odwin, oozing like muck from his brain into Merlin's. Stronger. Brighter. Vivid as reality. Merlin could almost smell Odwin's sour breath as he...
Merlin tripped and dropped to his side. Odwin attacked the shield faster, harder.
The thoughts became a flood, filling Merlin's skull until he was drowning in them, until they might as well be reality. He curled up behind the shield and whimpered.
"Oh, don't be like that, lad. It was all in good fun." The shield was yanked from his arm, replaced by Odwin's outstretched hand. He said good-naturedly, "You're not hurt I take it?"
"No. I'm fine." Merlin ignored the hand and pushed himself to his feet. He flexed his shoulder that he already knew was going to make him pay in the morning.
"Good lad," Odwin said. "What say you help me out of this armor and carry it to my chambers."
Odwin couldn't wait...
Merlin tried to act unaffected, tried to go about his duties as though he hadn't seen what he saw, but dumped Odwin's armor unceremoniously into the trunk, anyway.
"I've exhausted you," Odwin said, pacing the room as he tugged off his gloves. There was a half-smile on his face. The look of it crept up Merlin's back like an unwanted touch.
"No, sire, just clumsy," Merlin said, forcing a chuckle from uncooperative lungs. "Just ask Arth... I mean, the king."
"He doesn't give you enough credit. Lovely boy like you? Seems to me our dear king doesn't appreciate you."
"Oh, he does. He just... has a strange way of showing it," Merlin said lamely. He winced. "That is, he hasn't fired me, yet, so I must be doing something right." He stowed the trunk within the closet, turned, and flinched back a step.
Odwin stood with only a foot of space between them. The older, taller, so-much-stronger man cupped Merlin's jaw in a calloused hand, and with a calloused thumb stroke his face under his cheekbone.
"You're too modest, Merlin. You should think about finding employ with someone who would appreciate everything you do for them."
Merlin took another step back away from Odwin's touch.
"I'm happy where I am. Anything else I can do for you, m'lord?"
"I'd like you to stay," Odwin said.
Stay. Strip. Kneel and... Odwin pet him like a dog. A calloused hand scraping down Merlin's backbone. He shoved a knuckle under Merlin's chin. Lifted his head. Reveled in the way Merlin wept...
"Um... I'm afraid I can't. Other duties to attend to and all that," Merlin said with a nervous huff of laughter. He sidestepped Odwin and made his way to the door at a fast walk.
A hand gripped his arm so tight it hurt.
"I said stay, boy. That is an order."
Merlin was yanked deeper into the room then shoved toward the bed. Odwin placed himself between Merlin and the only exit. He was wide-eyed, his face clammy, his ungloved fingers clenching and unclenching, as though the former Odwin had been replaced or taken over; as though he had lost his mind.
"Strip," Odwin said, fast and cold and all patience gone. "iNow/i."
"What? No!" Merlin yelped, backing up.
Odwin stalked up to him faster than Merlin could back pedal in panic. He grabbed Merlin by the shoulder, spun him around and yanked off his jacket then neckerchief.
"You will do as you're told!" he snarled through gritted teeth. "Now remove your clothes!"
"No, leave me alone!" Merlin shouted. He tried to make a dash for the door only for Odwin to grab him by the arm and throw him against the bedpost. Merlin tried again. Odwin made another grab for him, nails raking the skin between Merlin's shoulder and neck. His fingers caught on Merlin's shirt and the old material ripped down to his shoulder blade. The force of it tripped Merlin enough to slow him down, giving Odwin the opening he needed to tackle him to the floor chest first. The hard floor beneath him and Odwin's heavy body above him shoved the breath from his lungs. Odwin pressed all of his weight onto Merlin until Merlin's ribs creaked and he could no longer draw air. Merlin's arm was twisted violently up his back, with no oxygen in his body to cry out in pain.
"You will do as I say. I am your better. You will do as I say!"
Merlin was lifted to his feet by his twisted arm and fingers buried in his hair. The pressure gone from his chest, Merlin sucked in a breath and yelled, his eyes flashing.
Odwin flew backward. He hit the wall and crumpled to an unconscious heap.
Merlin stood over him, panting, shaking, cradling his arm to his chest.
"I'm not weak," he said through a clenched jaw. "I'm not weak!" He backed up toward the door, stumbling twice. He turned, flung the door open and ran.
Merlin didn't know where he was going or even what he was doing. All that mattered was getting as far from Odwin as possible, to find help, to...
Merlin stumbled to a halt, sucking in a sobbing breath. He'd just attacked a noble, with his magic. Dropping his good shoulder against the wall, Merlin slid to the floor and huddled there, shaking.
He had attacked a noble, with his magic. If the attacking a noble part didn't get him beheaded then using magic to do it certainly would. He was going to pay for this. He was going to die.
"Merlin, there you are. I thought you were aiding Odwin, and what the hell are you doing on the floor?"
Merlin jumped and looked up, a big mistake when he remembered that he was crying, his face covered in tears and snot, and that it was Arthur addressing him.
But it was Arthur who froze like an animal sighted by a hunter.
"Merlin?" Arthur surged forward. He placed himself in front of Merlin at a crouch, looking Merlin over sternly. "Merlin, you're bleeding. What happened? Can you stand? I need to get you to Gaius."
Arthur didn't wait for an answer. He took Merlin by the good arm, either missing the way he flinched or ignoring it, and pulled him to his feet, steadying him when he wavered. He then steered Merlin with a gentle hand down the hall.
"I'm – I'm all right," Merlin tried to say, trying and failing to pull the ripped side of his shirt back up his shoulder. "Just an accident. I'm all right."
"Like hell you are," Arthur said. "What happened, who did this?"
But Merlin couldn't answer. Just the thought of answering made him shake harder. He'd attacked a noble. Servants weren't supposed to attack nobles or use magic and when Arthur found out... because Odwin had done this before. Merlin saw. He had done this before and always got his way because servants were liars and nobles were not.
They were just at the stairs to Gaius' chambers when Merlin threw up.
"Lords, Merlin," Arthur breathed, exasperated. He bundled Merlin up the stairs into the room.
"Sire?" Gaius greeted them when he looked up from the book he'd been writing in.
"Someone attacked Merlin," Arthur said, and suddenly it was the hustle of Gaius having Arthur put Merlin on the cot, then Arthur standing back as Gaius fussed over Merlin, checking the scratches on his neck and coaxing Merlin into letting him check his arm.
"He seems to be in shock. Here, Merlin, drink this. It helps calm the nerves."
A bottle was pressed to Merlin's lips and he drank it without thinking, just wanting the bottle to go away.
"Merlin, who did this to you?" Arthur pressed from behind Gaius' shoulder.
It was all Merlin could do not to throw up again. He coughed out another sob. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to but he scared me and his thoughts... he wouldn't... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"Who was he last with?" Gaius asked.
Arthur's face darkened the way it often did just before a battle. "Lord Odwin," he said. Then he was gone, leaving at a run that would bring him to Odwin's chambers in minutes.
"Oh no, no, no, no, no," Merlin moaned, shrinking into himself, wishing that there was some spell that could make him disappear.
Gaius coaxed him gently to lay down, then covered him with a blanket.
"Merlin, it's all right. You're safe, now. Can you tell me what happened?"
Merlin swallowed. "Lord Odwin he... he tried... I saw his thoughts Gaius. I saw him, me and... Giaus it was horrible. The things he wanted to do to me and he tried but I used my magic and I don't know if he's alive and if he knows and he's a noble, Gaius. I attacked a noble with my magic."
"Merlin. Merlin, look at me."
"Did Lord Odwin do this to you?"
Merlin nodded. "I didn't mean to use magic, Gaius. I didn't but I was scared and..."
Gaius ran his hand over Merlin's hair. "Hush, Merlin. It's all right, you were just defending yourself. And judging from how you've fought with magic in the past, I doubt Odwin will have recognized what happened as magic."
"But, Gaius, he's a noble. I did that to a noble."
"He brought it on himself," Gaius said, uncharacteristically cold. He sighed. "I said I knew little of Odwin but there have always been rumors of the things that go on inside his castle. He attacked you, Merlin. The evidence is clear. Arthur has seen it for himself and cannot deny it. He won't take Odwin's word over yours."
Merlin nodded, even as he continued to shiver.
"Try to rest. You're safe, now."
Merlin wanted to protest that rest wasn't exactly viable right now – not with the images stuck like mold in his head and the fear like a clawed hand around his heart. But the tonic was more potent than a mere nerve solution, and Merlin found himself drifting off against his will.
"Sire?" Merlin heard Gaius say.
"Lord Odwin needs tending. Apparently he tripped and hit his head."
"Did he?" Gaius said, neutral. But it was the neutral with an undertone of skepticism that only those who knew Giaus would recognize. "He did not happen to mention anything concerning who may have attacked Merlin?"
"I asked him about it. He said he saw nothing."
He always got his way.
"How is Merlin?" Arthur asked.
"A wrenched shoulder, some bruising on his chest, and the scratches, of course. He will be all right but he's in no fit state to serve anyone personally, sire."
"I understand," Arthur said softly.
Merlin took a shuddering breath and buried himself deeper under the blanket.
People could say that folding laundry was as easy a task as they come, but clearly they had never folded anything with one arm strapped to their body. But Merlin supposed he should look on the bright side in that at least he wasn't lugging around armor or polishing boots. And the blasted ability to mind-read had finally worn off as Giaus had said it would. There were no words to describe the blessed relief that was no longer hearing other people's thoughts.
There were also no words to describe the joys of a task done without anyone breathing down his neck. The peace and quiet he'd sorely needed after...
Merlin shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind. The problem with thoughts, however, was that once you brushed them aside they immediately demanded your attention in retaliation. Merlin fumbled folding Arthur's dress shirt when he shivered.
He was safe, now. Far away from Odwin who was too busy doing lordly stuff to bother with the likes of him.
Merlin didn't get Odwin, even after having seen his thoughts. He could have made accusations against Merlin, used his status to put Merlin right where he wanted him. To get what he wanted. So why didn't he?
Merlin at last finished folding shirt number three. Now there were only – Merlin tried to count but couldn't – many more shirts to go.
A grip like iron latched onto his arm. Merlin wasn't given time to look down and see what it was when he was flung back into the wall. It wasn't hard, not like when it was magic doing the flinging, but it was Merlin's bad arm and the pain tearing through him dropped him to the floor with a cry.
"I don't know how you did it, boy, but no one - no one - does that to me and lives," Lord Odwin snarled. He towered over Merlin, his sword in his hand pointed at Merlin's chest. He was seething, his eyes like fire and his skin glowing with sweat. "You're going to give me what I want you miserable sack of bones. I will not be bested by someone as pathetic as you."
Odwin reached for him. Merlin, his arm still throbbing without mercy, couldn't focus his thoughts enough to call on his magic. He shrank back, bracing himself for whatever came next.
A sword at Odwin's throat stopped his progress.
"Odd. I was thinking the only pathetic one was you, Lord Odwin."
Odwin straightened and removed his sword quickly from Merlin's chest as though burned.
"S-sire. I was just-"
"I don't want to hear it," Arthur cut in sharp and smooth as the blade he was holding to Odwin's neck. "Actually, I want you to answer a question for me. Do you think me an idiot, Lord Odwin?"
Odwin stared. "Of – of course not, sire."
"Apparently you do, which makes me all the more satisfied with my decision to keep you under constant watch." Arthur stepped forward, and the pressure of the sword on Odwin's neck forced the other man back well away from Merlin. "I am not an idiot, Odwin. In fact I am more than capable of seeing what is right in front of me. Believe me, Sir Odwin, I see things ivery/i clearly right now."
Arthur took another step forward, Odwin another step back.
"I invited you into my home with goodwill, expecting the same goodwill to be returned. I trusted my personal manservant to you under the impression that he would be safe in your presence. You have dishonored me, Odwin – my house, its inhabitants, your king."
"Silence!" Arthur roared, making even Merlin jump. "You think because you are of a higher status you can take what you wish from those below you and think nothing of it. But you forget there are those above you who see only action. Not rank, not position but what you chose to do. I've seen what you've chosen, Odwin. For that reason, I banish you from my kingdom."
Odwin choked on air.
"I give you one day to leave. Pack your things, get out, and if I so much as hear of you going anywhere near Merlin I will run you through. Now leave."
Arthur lowered his sword. Odwin, gaping like a fish, scurried away. As soon as he was gone, Arthur moved over to Merlin and extended his hand. Merlin took it, letting Arthur pull him to his feet.
"Are you all right?" Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded massaging his shoulder. "Yeah, thanks." He glanced at Arthur nervously. Because Arthur had just banished someone – a noble, the people his father had always gone on and on about the kingdom depending on, and for attacking a mere servant. Merlin knew Arthur wasn't like his father, but then there was that whole matter of politics, doing what was best for the kingdom and all that.
"Was... that a good idea? Banishing him?" Merlin ventured.
"Yes," Arthur said, resolute. He sheathed his sword. "A man who believes he can take whatever he wants, whenever he wants, is not to be trusted. Camelot will be better off without him."
"Oh," Merlin said. "Yeah. Right. Good point. So... does that mean you're not mad at me?"
Arthur gave him an odd, as well as somewhat annoyed, look. "Why would I be mad at you?"
"I knocked a noble out. You don't honestly believe all that 'I tripped' rubbish, do you?"
"Not really, although I am having a rather difficult time figuring how you managed to knock him out in the first place."
"I hit him over the head with... something. I hit you over the head with a bit of wood, remember," Merlin added when Arthur gave him one of his 'you can't be serious' looks. "Even people like me can be amazingly strong when fighting to get away."
At that, Arthur's expression softened. "Of course I'm not mad at you, Merlin. You have every right to fight back, noble or not. I iwant/i you to fight back. I'm glad you did fight... however you did it." He ruffled Merlin's hair for good measure.
"I knocked him out is how I did it," Merlin hedged, still rubbing his shoulder.
"Fine, whatever you say. Come on, Let's get you to Gaius before you rub your arm off." He gave Merlin's head a gentle shove to get him moving.
"You know you can also come to me if there's a problem," Arthur said. "No reason to go knocking people about with solid objects when you've got a king with a sword willing to knock them about for you."
Merlin smiled. "I know."