Winter is nearly upon Camelot.

Its citizens can feel it in their core, like some sort of internal calender. The streets of the lower and upper towns are already filled with families gathering supplies. They are starting somewhat early, for sun still stains the sky (if only just) and the trees aren't completely bear. But it comes with living in the same place for an extended amount of time; you get to know nuances in the weather patterns and what they mean. People have been preparing for winter since the last one ended. They haul barrels of grain and salted meats on their backs, narrow logs of wood under their arms, they trudge to their homes. Lack of preparation means death for many.

The harvest season ends and frost appears on the tips of drying blades of grass. A sharp chill in the air becomes more pronounced. In the square, a lanky servant is shoved out of the way. He stumbles, nearly falling, and drops his load of firewood. No one stops help him gather it. With a cursory look about, Merlin stoops to pick it up. He carries on his way, the same thing nearly happening not twenty feet later. He's able to avoid the brawling masses with minimum casualties.

Like a dry autumn leaf, he crunches underfoot.

With each day towards winter, Merlin disappears more and more. He's fading, less and less of him waking up with each passing sunrise. Pushed around corners, unspeaking in the back of meetings, his eyes take on a overcast shade that mirrors that of the sky. His boots are scuffed, there are holes in his shirt and in the elbows of his ancient brown jacket. He forgets his cloak constantly, it's absence going unnoticed until he's already deep into his errands. The cold then comes suddenly, going unnoticed for any stretch of time; he comes home shivering.

"Merlin."

Gaius notices. Gaius is usually very keen, especially when it comes to his ward, and he's ashamed to admit he's been failing on that forte. The physician can't exactly place when he noticed him disappearing. He looks up that night and double takes the sight of the young man at the oak table, stirring his dinner in figure eights. "Merlin."

So thing, thinner than he ought to be, anyway. Cheekbones sharp, eyes sunken slightly, dusted with shadows so dark they're like inkblots. "Merlin."

The stirring stops for a second. "Gaius." He answers without looking up.

"What ever is the matter?"

Merlin blinks into his bowl. "Not hungry."

"No?" Gaius is unconvinced.

"Just tired, is all. Got that––that hunt tomorrow, was busy half the day preparing for it."

Gaius nods dubiously.

"In fact, I think it's best for me to retire." The bench scrapes against the floor as he rises from his seat.

"Merlin," Gaius calls as he is halfway to his room.

Hesitates. Half turns. "Yes?"

"You can talk to me, you know."

"I know." Merlin won't look at him. He pulls at his fraying sleeve.

Gaius bows his head once. "Very well. Good night."

"'Night."


Prince Arthur is nowhere near as observant as Gaius is.

Then again, Merlin can be a better liar than he lets on. The two still banter back and forth, and all that matters to the prince is the obvious things. Merlin hasn't fallen silent, Merlin hasn't expressed anything contradicting that all was not well, so why would Arthur seek out subtle giveaways?

There are a few things that Arthur notices. Like reduced reaction time when items are chucked his way, and the fact that chores are actually, miraculously, getting completed. And not half assed, most of the time.

Merlin remembers his cloak the morning that they set off.

"All ready then, Merlin?" Arthur says, thumping his servant solidly on the back. He did look a bit pale.

He struggled onto his horse. "As ready as I'll ever be." He tacks a "prat" on as an afterthought.

As they ride, Merlin thinks that he'd prefer to clean at least fourteen of Gaius's leech tanks per day in place of going on a hunt. Maybe more. He'd clean so many leech tanks until the point he inevitably became a leech, just to get out of going on a hunt. Merlin contemplated falling down a flight of stairs, making himself ill, to get out of this gods forsaken hunt. Especially this one. He had to use eighty-percent of his effort just to get himself up out of bed per day, and they expected him to go on a hunt? In the cold? For days? With Arthur?

He knew why he had to go, of course. Beasts, bandits, renegade sorcerers and the like existed out there, beyond the somewhat comforting walls of Camelot, and since it was positively written in the stars that Merlin had to protect the One and Future King, he did. He got out of bed in the morning. He went on this sodding hunt. Destiny can go to hell. Destiny can go on a hunt with Arthur Pendragon. See how Destiny likes it.

Merlin, although he has taken up the positively uncanny ability to sleep anywhere at all, has not yet mastered the skill of falling asleep on a moving horse. However, focused on the reins clasped tightly in his hands, he lets himself fall into a sleep-like stasis. He's aware of movement and rocking and his sore bottom and the crackling of twigs and the knights, talking. He's falling behind. He kicks his horse slightly and saddles up next to Arthur, when suddenly, he feels it.

With every fiber of his being. His eyes go wide and he snaps his head up and looks around, a call in his throat, get down! But then suddenly arrows are whizzing through the air and there is chaos, on horses they scatter as bandits! file in, but these are no ordinary bandits, he feels the familiar buzz of magic, nothing too strong but no a force to be underestimated, no sorcerer is.

He spots a man, as arrows rain down and swords clatter, off to the side with a hood up and favoring his left side, leaning heavily on a staff. Merlin turns to alert Arthur, when suddenly the man lifts his staff, pointing it at the Prince. Body moving of his own accord, Merlin lunges at his friend-employer-ruler, knocking him off his horse just as magic crackles through the air where he sat moments ago.

But his body, dizzy and weak (this is why we eat) betrays him, and he can't move fast enough as the next blast of magic hits him straight through his chest. The force of which launches him off the horse and soaring into the air. For a few fractional seconds, he feels like he's flying clean through the air, on the back of a dragon, on his own, like he has wings or just the sheer willpower to fly––

But gravity, oh, gravity, the force that grounds us and is potentially Merlin's true archenemy, pulls him down to earth. He slams into the frozen ground, air completely eliminated from his lungs, head knocking hard against compact dirt. He looks up at the branches of trees forming a lattice against the sky and struggles to breathe, but to no avail. As he lays there gasping, darkness creeps over his vision like a mask and he thinks, fuck destiny.

He awakes to the sound of someone calling his name. He thinks it might be Gaius, getting him up to go to work but no no no no no sir, he is certainly not getting up, not today, not this morning. Tell Arthur he's ill, tell him he's at the tavern, he is not waking up.

More than one voice. Not Gaius. Still doesn't want to open his eyes.

"He's not waking up."

"...Damn."

"I don't think we should move 'im, though, he might have a––a back injury, I heard a story 'bout a bloke who fell of his horse and couldn't move an inch from the waist down––"

"Well, we can't just leave him on the floor, can we? We're gonna have to move him eventually."

More than one voice. Not Gaius. Arthur.

Arthur. Sorcerer. Magic. Spell. Arthur. Horse. Merlin. Magic. Flying.

No, revoke last thought. Not flying. Falling. Onto ground.

Not dead? Not dead.

Thank heavens.

No, not heavens. Destiny.

His head hurts. The grounds is hard. Breathing a task. Oh, gods alive, his head––like someone cracked his skull open like an egg and is setting his brain aflame.

Open your eyes.

He does.

Arthur. The prince visibly relaxes. "Sleeping on the job, then?" he jokes. Tries to joke.

Leave me alone, Merlin wants to say. Let me sleep. My head hurts.

Instead, "Sorry for pushing you off your horse."

Odd look. Wrong thing to say? Probably. "You think you can stand?"

"No."

Eyes soften. "What hurts?"

"Head." Tired. Let me sleep. Closes eyes.

"Merlin? Oh, no, Merlin. Wake up. Open your eyes."

Not today, prince Arthur.


a/n: i don't know what this fic thinks its doing. it's like a mixture of two ideas i had because i dont plan stories i just start writing and it never ends well? i dunno if i'll continue this

maybe if i can make it work

maybe i'll like break it up and make the two different stories aS PLANNED

you can kind of tell because there are like 2 totally different writing styles up in here whoops

always plan your fics kids

also there are mad grammar/spelling errors oOOSP

anyway thoughts?¿? good bad both neither i'd like to hear them

ok bed time