Dislcaimer: Hello folks, I do not own BBC Merlin in any universe. Well maybe in some alternate one but we will never know! Lol I find myself amusing.
One last thank you to Paralelsky for taking the time to beta :) Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Enjoy the last chapter :D
Gwaine swore and doubled back the way he came, cursing himself once more. He didn't make it more than five steps when Agravaine's voice called out to him. "Sir Gwaine!"
Gwaine's head snapped to the side and he started running toward the lord's shout, heedless of the stray branches catching on his flowing cape and hair. He burst through the trees with stealth and surprised the lord who was standing before a make shift camp. Gwaine glared at him and was going to demand an explanation before his eyes caught on a familiar figure. Merlin was slumped against a tall ivied outcropping at his back, looking warily at Agravaine through his half open eyes.
"Merlin!" Gwaine yelled and ran toward the servant who blinked slowly at him. The horse grazing in the tall grass looked up at his presence but deemed him less than interesting and returned to eating. Merlin did not move except to smile at him when Gwaine slid onto his knees in front of the servant. "Are you alright?" The knight demanded while scanning Merlin's features. He was paler than usual, almost ashen with clouded dark eyes and slightly quivering limbs.
Gwaine's worry was assuaged a little when Merlin's smile did not fade and he assessed it to be genuine.
"Fomorroh is gone," Merlin breathed. The sound of his voice caused Gwaine to become much more anxious because it was thin and fragile, so unlike Merlin's usual strong and lively timbre.
"This must be the sorceress' camp. Though I am surprised he got here in this condition," Agravaine mused from behind him. Merlin eyed Agravaine and Gwaine could have sworn his friend's lips turned downward, but then Merlin's head flopped forward onto his chest and stayed there.
Gwaine ignored the lord for now, in order to give Merlin a gentle shake. "Merlin!" Gwaine called worriedly. The servant let out a quiet groan, but did not move when Gwaine drew him away from the rock at his back. The knight frowned when he saw that Merlin did not seem able to support his own weight.
"Couldn't let us be, could you, mate?" Gwaine sighed but had to smile as Merlin gave a miniscule shake of his head. As the knight wincingly peeled back the dressing over Merlin's neck, Agravaine grabbed the horn around his belt and blew a single blast, telling the rest of the knights that the camp had been found and then another to tell them that Morgana was absent.
The lord then went to Merlin's horse and led it over the two men. "We should depart at once. I will help you get Merlin up."
"Thank you," Gwaine told him gratefully after replacing the bandage over Merlin's neck. He gave a satisfied smile and pulled one of Merlin's arms over his shoulders so he could get the servant up. Gwaine stood and could not resist a worried frown when Merlin remained limp at his side. As he half dragged Merlin the short distance to the horse, the warlock seemed to find some strength and by the time Gwaine stopped Merlin's feet were planted on the ground though his head was still bowed.
"Alright, up you get," Gwaine coaxed and secured his hold on Merlin. Agravaine helped him and between the two of them, they sat Merlin on his blessedly still horse. The effort caused Merlin's breath to come in arduous huffs, but the warlock determinedly held his heavily slumped torso up.
"Good man," Agravaine smiled and patted Merlin lightly on the shoulder before turning around. Merlin gave a flinch Gwaine attributed to the servant feeling weak and he sent a glare at Agravaine for being so rough with his friend.
Gwaine led the horse after him and kept one hand ready and waiting to catch Merlin should he fall. It seemed as if any moment Merlin would collapse and his silence was greatly disturbing Gwaine whose brow was furrowed worriedly. "Merlin, I need to know if you're alright," Gwaine implored.
Merlin must have heard the fear in Gwaine's voice for the servant mustered up the strength to answer. He mumbled two words which Gwaine took to mean, 'just tired.' The knight then patted his knee but remained troubled, knowing that Merlin was never completely honest about these things. He talked to Merlin to keep the younger man awake and was disappointed when all Merlin would do in response was bob his head to keep it from lolling to the side.
Distraction came moments later when Gwaine heard his fellow knights running through the trees ahead. It was not long after when Arthur burst through the foliage with his group of knights following. He scanned them and his eyes widened when they centered on Merlin.
"Merlin?" Arthur stared.
Gwaine changed direction to lead the horse to Arthur. "Agravaine found him. The camp was empty though, probably for the best since Merlin here got to the fomorroh before we did."
Arthur's lips thinned and he glanced toward Agravaine before striding forward. "What's wrong with him?"
Merlin had not moved an inch even when hearing Arthur's voice. Gwaine looked to see that Merlin's eyes were open only a fraction and not aware. "I think he's fine. The fomorroh is still there but not moving."
Arthur stopped when he was beside Merlin's horse and he stared up at the servant. "Merlin," he called. Merlin's head swayed in Arthur's direction and the king caught a sliver of blue as Merlin glanced at him. Arthur had to bring his hand up to stop Merlin from tilting off the side of the horse. "Why is he like this? And why the hell was he at Morgana's camp?" Since it was clear that Merlin would be offering no explanations, Arthur spoke to Gwaine and Agravaine.
"It seems he destroyed the fomorroh himself, Sire," said Agravaine, "the camp was empty when we arrived and there were no signs of struggle if that is what you are concerned about."
Gwaine nodded when Arthur looked to him. "Merlin must have woken up after I left him. You know what he's like." Gwaine and Arthur frowned at an oblivious Merlin.
Arthur placed his hands on his hips and if he were not the king, it would have looked like he had been worried. "Unfortunately I do. Get him back to Camelot, Gwaine."
"I thought you'd never ask," the knight said lightly and then swiftly climbed onto the horse behind Merlin. He grabbed the reins which were the only piece of equipment Merlin managed to put on with one hand and used the other to steady the unmoving servant. It was a great deal harder to ride bareback while supporting another rider but Gwaine managed to make it look easy as he had the horse canter through the trees and back to Camelot.
Arthur schooled his expression watching them go and he sincerely hoped that the state Merlin was in only had to do with exhaustion and not dark magic. He then turned toward his knights and ordered them to move ahead and look for Morgana. They departed at once, leaving Arthur alone with his uncle. "You found the camp?" Arthur wanted to clarify.
"I did, Sire," Agravaine replied. "I can lead you there if you wish."
Arthur nodded and motioned for the lord to lead the way. Agravaine smiled at him and moved forward, picking his way past the trees to arrive at an otherwise difficult to find location. The king moved forward and scoured the crude camp, observing the way it was hidden against the rocks and trees and the bare minimum it contained. It brought him no amusement to imagine Morgana hurriedly gathering her things to escape.
He sighed and turned to Agravaine. "I must thank you, Uncle. This place would have taken a while to find even with my knights."
Agravaine brushed his hand through the air. "I merely did what I could, Arthur. The thing that worries me is that the sorceress was so close to Camelot. Surely a patrol should have spotted her."
Arthur was wondering about that as well and cast his grave eyes to the boulders facing north. He decided to bring Gaius here to see if the magical symbols carved on the rocks played a part in her concealment. Agravaine followed his gaze and gave a thoughtful hum. "Perhaps Gaius can tell us about those symbols, Sire," the lord spoke aloud Arthur's thoughts.
The king blinked and replied mechanically as he thought. "Yes, that was what I was thinking as well."
If Agravaine was the traitor, why on earth would he point that out? And why would he willingly find the hideout of his ally? There was still the issue of Morgana obviously being tipped off, but Arthur was no longer sure it was by his uncle. Gwaine did not seem suspicious of him when Arthur found them, yet the knight was known to not think clearly when his friends were in danger, especially when it was Merlin.
Arthur smiled and shook his head, pushing his reservations about Agravaine aside for now. "You have been a great help, Uncle. I am grateful to you." The lord had indeed been a help and Arthur could not discount that. A great weight had left his shoulders now that he was certain that his uncle was not a traitor.
Agravaine smiled warmly at him. "I am glad to have been of service."
Arthur returned the smile and then looked around the camp for more clues. It was Agravaine who spotted the broken twigs and the beginnings of a trail that must have been Morgana's. "Surely she can't have gone far, Sire," he stated calmly despite the panic that made his palms sweat, "would it not be prudent to join the knights in the search?" He walked to Arthur and away from the incriminating tracks.
Arthur straightened from examining an empty jar and sighed. "You are right of course. Let us go." The king led the way through the trees and did not see the relieved smile that flashed across his deceitful uncle's face.
The search lasted until dusk and bore no sign of Morgana. Arthur led his men back to Camelot and the setting sun glinted off their armour as they trooped past the drawbridge. The sparse clouds above were dark and sat staunchly in the hazy vermillion sky - Arthur gave them a passing glance before he went through the gate. The white stone of the castle shone against the receding daylight like it always did at this time, giving Arthur comfort at seeing his home. As he walked into the courtyard with Leon, Percival, Elyan and Agravaine at his heels, he issued orders to them without looking back.
"Leon, I would like you to assist Agravaine in organizing more patrols. We need to find Morgana now while she is vulnerable."
"Yes, Sire," they answered and walked together towards the council chambers. If Leon appeared guarded with the lord only Elyan and Percival noticed.
Arthur spared them a fleeting look before turning back to the two knights. "I need you two to send letters to our outposts alerting them of the situation. I want patrols to be sent out from there."
"Yes, Sire," Elyan said and waited for Percival who hesitated.
"Understood, my lord," the tall knight affirmed. "Will you be checking on Merlin now?" Both of them had been somewhat distracted in the search after Arthur had informed them of Merlin's role in it.
"Of course, I need to see if he has any information to offer after all."
"Of course," Elyan remarked with a grin.
Arthur smirked at them before heading off to the physician's chambers to see how his friend was doing.
"Good morning, Gaius, is your good for nothing ward still sleeping?" Arthur asked loudly and loftily as he opened the door to Gaius' chambers the following morning. When the king had visited last night, Merlin had been out cold and everyone elected to let him sleep. Gwaine had suggested that they tie Merlin down again so he wouldn't give them all a heart attack but Gaius had regretfully declined.
The physician looked up from eating a bowl of porridge and gave a small laugh. "I believe so, but I have no objections to you visiting so long as you are quiet."
Arthur seemed a bit put out that he would not be able to talk to Merlin but nodded in agreement. "Yes, alright. I trust all is well with him, then?" He noticed that Gaius did not seem anxious at all in the way he had been last night.
The physician smiled and the action lightened his eyes. "Yes, the fomorroh is gone for good and Merlin is getting a much deserved sleep."
Arthur heard the warning in Gaius' words and nodded contentedly before striding up the stairs to Merlin's room. He opened the door slowly and sidled inside without making a sound. The king grabbed the chair at Merlin's desk and placed it beside the bed. Just as he went to sit on it he looked to the servant, but instead of finding him sleeping like the dead, Arthur met Merlin's open eyes.
The younger man took advantage of the king's surprise and spoke first. "You aren't going to open my curtains for me?" Merlin lay on his back, looking sallow and weak as if he were ill, but he had a mischievous smirk on his pale lips.
Arthur blinked at the amusement dancing behind Merlin's eyes and fought not to smile. "You don't have curtains," Arthur informed him and sat down, resting his ankle on his other knee.
"But if I did?" Merlin yawned.
"Then I'd open them for you," Arthur said blandly.
"I have shutters," the servant pointed out.
Arthur could no longer resist smiling. "I don't think you can handle the sun at the moment."
Merlin rubbed his eye and laughed. "I look that bad, huh?"
"Do you feel that bad?" Arthur asked.
"A lot better than yesterday," Merlin answered honestly.
The king sighed. "What do you remember about yesterday, Merlin?" There was a definite rebuke buried in his tone.
The servant rolled his eyes, but did not turn away from Arthur, like the king would have expected. Arthur guessed it was because Merlin did not feel strong enough to move.
"Is this where you tell me I've been a bad Merlin, going off on my poor, unguarded lonesome to do a knight's job?" Merlin laughed at his own joke and grinned crookedly at Arthur. The king felt relief making his heart grow at seeing that his friend was perfectly normal.
Arthur pretended to think for a moment. "No, I think Gwaine wants to do that. Do you want to sit up?"
Merlin appeared momentarily surprised but then looked away, a flush creeping up his neck. Arthur knew what that meant so he helpfully lifted Merlin to sit with his back resting against the wall. "Thanks," he muttered when Arthur adjusted the pillow behind his back.
"Still can't move a muscle then?" Arthur frowned.
Merlin flashed him a rude hand gesture to be contrary, but his arm fell back down with more abandon than if he had full control. "I don't suppose you can convince Gwaine to go easy on me? He can go on, you know."
The king grinned despite Merlin's insolence, or rather because of it. "I'm afraid not, you are the only one he truly listens to."
Arthur watched as Merlin's eyes fell closed above his small smile. The king sighed and decided to hold off their conversation until later. He got up to let Merlin back onto his bed. "I'll let you sleep the-"
"No!" Merlin cried suddenly, his eyes flying open wide and alarmed. "No," he carried on in a quieter voice, "you don't have to."
The change in Merlin made Arthur slightly worried and he did not bother to hide it as he tried to catch Merlin's gaze which was casted downwards. "Merlin?" Arthur asked quietly.
"I've had enough of sleeping for now," Merlin answered with his eyes still downcast.
His shoulders were slightly hunched and he looked troubled. Arthur was suddenly aware what was bothering his friend. "Nightmares?" Arthur guessed.
Merlin nodded and forced a laugh but still did not look at the king. "When did you become an expert?"
Arthur felt a spike of anger meant for Morgana. In a rare show of compassion, Arthur grabbed Merlin's chin and lifted. His eyes locked onto Arthur's, even though they were shadowed with a distant fear.
"Since you have always forced me to tell you of my nightmares," Arthur told him and drew back his hand.
Merlin heard the petulance Arthur wanted him to hear and he could not resist smiling. "I never forced you."
"That remains a point of argument," Arthur teased. "Merlin?"
Merlin's hand hovered over his chest but did not answer- Arthur stiffened upon remembering the horrible night when he had to prevent Merlin from killing himself. The king could not quite suppress a shiver at the memory and Merlin looked at him questioningly.
Arthur sighed and spoke slowly. "When you tried to do me in the other night, you fought it. Merlin you tried to kill yourself so the fomorroh would not kill me. That was not a dream." As soon as he said it aloud anger flared inside Arthur and this time, Merlin deservingly received his fair share.
Merlin froze and paled, causing Arthur to venture to hold off on reprimanding him. "I wasn't sure," he muttered vaguely, "only in my dream I couldn't fight against the fomorroh and I killed you."
"I wish you didn't fight it," Arthur snapped harshly, "and left me to take care of myself."
Merlin looked hurt before adopting a defensive hike in his jaw and mimicking Arthur's tone exactly. "Well all I knew was that I couldn't let it win. I didn't exactly know what was going on, Arthur."
Arthur's eyes narrowed into slits and his fists curled so his knuckles turned white. "So of course your gut reaction was to kill yourself. Bravo, Merlin." He knew that he could have been less foul but having Merlin nearly stab himself so close to his father's death completely terrified him. And his fear masqueraded as anger.
"It was either that or have the fomorroh take control!" Merlin snarled.
"You begged me to kill you, Merlin!" Arthur shouted.
When he couldn't speak past the fear trying to choke him, Merlin took his chance to interrupt. "Do you have any idea what it's like to know you have no control over your own body? To watch yourself try and kill your closest friend? I was scared, Arthur." The servant's nostrils were flared and he pressed his lips together before heatedly glaring at the wall.
Merlin's unguarded words seemed to cool the fury Arthur felt- it was rare that Merlin ever told him how he was feeling. The king looked down and stamped on the inexplicable warmth he felt when Merlin named him as his closest friend. "How do you think I felt?" Arthur asked him quietly. Merlin turned toward him at the clear vulnerability only two people were allowed to hear. "I thought I was having a nightmare at first. It was-… To think that she would do some-… You're a lot stronger than you look you know." He offered Merlin a tentative smile and nudged the servant's arm gently.
Merlin let out an exhausted laugh, and just like that the tension in the air cleared away. "Was that a compliment?"
The king contorted his face in exaggerated consideration and looked sideways at his friend. "No."
"It clearly was," Merlin insisted.
Arthur shook his head. "It was not. Because if it was, I'd know you throw it in my face and try to act like a hero more than you already do. It's not becoming."
Merlin grinned through his yawn. "You said Gwaine was going to lecture me, not you."
"Yes, I did, didn't I?" Arthur droned to which Merlin smirked smugly at him. And because Arthur was still annoyed at his friend for putting himself in danger, he did not let Merlin completely off the hook. "I've been thinking-" Here Merlin groaned in genuine displeasure. "-When you are recovered, I'm having someone teach you about being a servant."
"What?" Merlin asked scandalized, "I know how to be a servant."
"Hmm, well you clearly do not know how to act like one, gallivanting through the forest and all. George will teach you how and it will serve you right for going out on your own."
"George?" Merlin repeated.
Arthur brightened. "You know him?"
Arthur's grin widened. "Excellent. Oh you are going to love him Merlin, the most efficient servant around."
Merlin scowled stubbornly but had a hint of a smile on his lips. "Doesn't sound like someone I would like."
"Please, you like everyone," Arthur scoffed. "But a word of warning... the man makes jokes about brass." Merlin stared as if he did not hear Arthur right and the king fought hard not to laugh. "It'll be fun."
Merlin took that moment to sink back into his bed. "Cover my head, will you?" He asked long-sufferingly. "And get Gaius, I don't feel well." He then produced two pathetic coughs which were extremely false.
Arthur laughed and took pleasure in pulling Merlin's blankets over his head. "Don't worry, you have a week to recover," he grinned and then stood up.
"Really?" His voice was muffled and hopeful. "I mean, a week is hardly enough time. I don't thi-" He broke off to give an enormous yawn which made the sheet over his face flutter.
Arthur smiled and shook his head. "Go to sleep, Merlin," he ordered and left before the dark haired man could protest.
Gaius looked around when he walked down the steps with his eyebrow raised in a chastising manner. Arthur smiled a little apologetically. And despite the fact that Merlin was joking, Arthur told the physician. "He could do with a sleeping draft. One that knocks him right out so he won't have any dreams."
The physician nodded and smiled at the king before going to find one at the work desk closest to the window. "Thank you, Arthur." What exactly for, Arthur wasn't sure.
The king hesitated before leaving and then he turned back to Gaius. He opened his mouth but could not think of the words he wanted to say. "...Make sure he's alright, Gaius," Arthur settled.
As much as he would have liked to watch over Merlin as he had failed to before, Arthur had to find Morgana. He needed to. The king strode for the exit and in his eyes entered a ruthless shadow. Morgana had forced Merlin to be her servant when his loyalty was anywhere but to her. Arthur alone was Merlin's master, especially since Merlin could not be trusted to be a good one to himself. And Arthur would never disrespect Merlin so that he would force his servant to do that which went against the very fibre of his being. He knew very well that the only one that Merlin would truly serve was Arthur - a fact he couldn't help but being humbled by. And Arthur vowed he would show Morgana what it meant to defile his friend like that. He cast a last glance at the door to Merlin's room before leaving the chambers and Gaius' stare behind.
The end! AU but it perfectly falls into canon :) Oh if only I was a Merlin writer. Hahaha if wishes were pennies (or is it horses?), or however that saying goes.
Guest- :D I've been told I am good at the suspense thing, it's certainly fun making cliffhangers. But not fun waiting for what happens next! Lol thanks so much for reading and reviewing!
Guest- Poor Gwaine, isn't the sharpest sword on the rack. And yep I tried to stick as close as possible to canon while still giving it a different spin. So it would still fit in with the rest of the episodes. I hoped you liked the conclusion, and thanks for reviewing!
Thank you everyone for reading, reviewing, favourite-ing and alerting! I really hoped you guys were happy with this, and please drop a review if you have the time :D