Rating: T

Warnings: Mentions of off-screen torture.

Summary: "Do I know you?" he asked. Modern AU, Arthur returns.

A/N: The muse lives! I apologize for going silent for so long. Real life issues plus projects with due dates plus plot bunnies with the attention span of gnats have made coming up with Merlin fic (and actually completing said fic) rather tenuous. But it seems the plot bunnies have finally settled down, so you should see quite a few fic from me in the near future once I clean them up. In the mean time, just a little something to get things rolling for me again.

~oOo~

I Know You

"Do I know you?" he asked.

Merlin kept his head down. He couldn't look at the man. Looking was bad. So very bad and wrong and bad. They thought you were going to do something naughty whenever you looked at them, but as long as Merlin kept his head down, then they wouldn't hurt him.

"No," Merlin said, quiet and contrite, just the way they liked it. A good little warlock, so docile and weak.

The man loomed over him like a mountain, with his white lab coat and constant need to see, see, see – see what the little freak was capable of, see what happens when you drug him, see what happens when you hurt him and starve him…

"So I don't know you," said the man in the white lab coat, and Merlin shook his head no, shrinking deeper into himself, quaking, tensing, waiting for them to press the button and make the collar on his neck sing and him scream and scream and scream…

"And yet you called me friend."

"I'm sorry," Merlin whimpered. "M-my mistake. I'm so sorry." He started to cry, which they didn't like, but he couldn't help it. He was so tired and in so much pain and so hungry and pathetic, his ribs sticking out like a cage and his spine like a ladder, to break and bend and twist and distort when they made the collar sing.

The man in the white coat knelt in front of Merlin. He reached out, and Merlin looked away. All he could do was look away.

Something beeped.

Something clicked.

The collar fell away.

Gentle hands took Merlin's face and turned it up.

"Are you sure you don't know me?" said the man with the golden hair and blue eyes brimming with hope. He smiled a sad, watery smile, and said on a sob and a laugh, "Or do you still not make friends with arses?"

Merlin wasn't allowed to answer when he was gathered into strong arms and carried as if riding the wind from the building full of white walls and pain – whisked away as if riding a dragon. And then the white walls were gone, replaced by trees, and white ceilings replaced by stars. Air that smelled of wood and water filled his lungs, flushing away the chemical stink that he had thought had become a part of him. The faces of his dreams surrounded him, smiling, weeping, flooded with happiness and relief.

Merlin looked up into the blue eyes.

"Yes, Merlin, you do know me."

And for the first time in a thousand years, Merlin wept tears of joy.

The End