Title: Worse Things

Summary: Merlin had to dig his fingernails into his hands 'till they bled in order to drag his mind out of the forests of Longstead and back into Camelot. It was just like the Lamia all over again.

Warnings: Scenes of violence.

Notes: I was kind of confused as to whether 'Lamia' is capitalized or not. Here, I capitalized it when referring to the one that we meet on the show (as if it was a title). I hope that it doesn't bug anyone too much.

Written for a prompt by kriadydragon.

Leon was worried.

That was nothing new. To tell the truth, Leon was always worried. But those had been minor worries, like "Which set of bandits is going to attack us on patrol today?" or "I really don't think that this is enough food to last the week." and "I do hope that Gwaine doesn't show up for training drunk again." But this? This was big.

This was more of a "waking up with little memory of the past few days, a massive headache, and the nagging feeling that something's wrong" worry.

As a knight, Leon risked death on a daily basis, so a headache was something he could've handled. Gwen filled in the holes in his memory with a condensed version of what had happened. And he got the nagging feeling that something was wrong every other Tuesday.

But Merlin was avoiding him, and that was never good. Merlin didn't just avoid people. He seemed to be drawn to them, and had a maddening tendency to get underfoot at the worst times possible. Now everyone was packing up and preparing for the ride to Camelot and he'd only caught a few glimpses of the servant out of the corner of his eye.

He'd even questioned Arthur, who'd barely seen him all day. That in itself was odd, since Merlin usually trailed behind Arthur like a kitten on a string.

So Leon took the next best option.

"Gwen, have you seen Merlin at all lately?" Leon said as casually as he could – which was to say, not very casually at all.

Gwen, who had been packing the knights' bags, stopped short in the middle of her task. "Why do you want to know?" Her lips were pressed into a thin line, and Leon rubbed the back of his neck, wondering what was going on. Everyone was acting so strangely. First Merlin and now Gwen...

"Just haven't seen him around very much, that's all. Think that maybe he's avoiding me." A terrible thought occurred to him. "Look, is this about the Lamia? Because – I didn't hurt you, did I?" Because that could be the only reason why she was acting so strange.

Gwen glanced up at him. "No," she said carefully, shaking out a shirt and folding it with deft skill. "I saw Merlin talking to Arthur not an hour ago. He's mostly been wandering around outside since –" Gwen glanced up at Leon – "Since everyone started coming back around."

There was a sick feeling in Leon's stomach. "I didn't hurt him, did I?"

"No," Gwen said again. "You just... You said some things, is all."

After the knights had all recovered and the decision to return to Camelot was made, Merlin decided that he had fifteen minutes to pull himself together.

Fifteen minutes was the approximate amount of time it took him saddle the horses, if he dawdled. It was how long he could wander away from the others without someone (well, without Gaius, anyways; he doubted that the others cared) wondering where he'd gotten at. It was the amount of time that he needed to collect himself, and so he took a deep breath and heaved a saddle over his shoulder, wincing at the pain in his arm.

It could have been worse. A few bruises from where Leon had grabbed him, nothing major. Nothing like the damage the knights had sustained.

It's okay, Merlin reminded himself, because it really should have been. The knights were free from the Lamia's influence now. They were safe, and yet he still got a sick feeling in his stomach when he looked at Gwaine, and couldn't quite meet Leon's eyes.

He was still scared, which was silly. The Lamia was dead. It was over.

Arthur was right. Merlin really was a girl. He cinched the horse's saddle tightly with a sigh of exasperation. Really, worse things could have happened.

Everyone was exhausted and more than a little shaken, all having had sustained some level of minor injuries. But Arthur was alive, Gwen was alive, the knights were alive – and that was everyone who counted, Merlin thought. There were a thousand different ways something could have gone wrong, each ending with Merlin – or, worse, one of the knights – dead at the hands of the Lamia.

That was worse.

So Merlin told himself to stop feeling so sorry. He'd been scared, yes, but he was alive and relatively unscathed and really, this was no different from fighting any other sort of monster.

(Except it was.)


Merlin stiffened. He knew that voice. Sure enough, Leon was jogging up to meet him as he swung another saddle over his shoulder in an attempt to look occupied. All the same, he forced himself to stop and wait, allowing the older knight to catch up to him.

Leon was panting as if out of breath, and when he spoke, his words were jumbled. "Been looking all over for you – Gaius didn't know where you were – I couldn't find Arthur, but then I went to Gwen and –"

Merlin, who had allowed himself to relax in the knight's presence, tensed. This wasn't Leon. Sure, it wasn't how he'd behaved under the influence of the Lamia, but it wasn't Leon either.

"You were looking for me?" Merlin supposed that his reply might have come across as a bit cold, but looking for Merlin was Gwaine's thing, and even then it was because there were bawdy tavern tales to be told or kings to insult.

Somehow, Merlin doubted that Leon had any bawdy tavern tales, and the idea of him insulting Arthur was laughable, to say the least. The events of the past few days had made him wary of the knights, to put it lightly, and Merlin found himself searching Leon's face for any hint that something was... off.

"Well – yes. I – We need to talk." Leon seemed to flounder for a moment. "Um. Do you need help?" He gestured to the saddle Merlin still carried.

Merlin shook his head. "No, I got it." He never got the chance to wonder what the knight had meant because Leon reached for the saddle anyways –

and suddenly he wasn't reaching for the saddle but grabbing Merlin and pushing him down and then Gwaine was swinging the torch in Merlin's face and laughed, because the one thing Merlin feared more than anything else was burning alive and –

– and Merlin stumbled a few steps backwards, putting any distance he could between himself and Leon. His breathing came in quick, harsh gasps, and he fought to even it out, to meet Leon's eyes and act like everything was fine. He didn't need to look up to know that Leon was regarding him with concern.

"No," he said again, and this time Leon listened.

His thoughts were running together and he couldn't make sense of it all. It'sokayit'sokayit'sokay, he thought, not because it was true but because he needed it to be.

"I – look," Leon said with the hurried air of someone who just wanted to get it over with already. "I was talking with Gwen – asking her where you were, you know – and she said... implied that while under the influence of the Lamia I may have said some things." He paused. "Hurtful things."

Oh. Suddenly it all made sense.

Merlin shook his head. "It's all right," he said after a moment's silence – that was what Leon had wanted to talk to him about? Didn't he have other important, knight–y things to worry about? "It wasn't – Everyone said rude stuff, that's how it was. The Lamia did it. It's fine."

It wasn't fine, not really. He wasn't fine, but he was going to be, but that was a detail Leon didn't need to know. "Didn't know that you'd lost your memory, though."

"That doesn't make it right, you know. You know that I bear no ill will toward you – would never do anything to hurt you. None of us would." And Merlin did know that, somewhere in the back of his mind. "And I apologize for any of my actions that may have unintentionally harmed you."

Leon took a deep breath, staring at something far beyond Merlin. "And – I also apologize on behalf of the others. If they were aware of their actions, I know that they would feel remorse and do the same." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Though I'm not so sure that they would be so forward about it. You know how the others can be – I doubt that Gwaine even has the word 'sorry' in his vocabulary!"

Merlin laughed for the first time in days. "That I do."

And he thought that maybe things really could be okay.

The ride back to Camelot was uncomfortably quiet, the air thick with tension. The temporary calm Merlin had felt with Leon had vanished, and he warily watched the knights out of the corner of his eye.

Gwaine kept trying to meet Merlin's eyes for some reason, and Gwen sent sympathetic glances his way. Merlin smiled tightly at both of them, his hand unconsciously going to his shoulder. It still hurt, the dark bruises refusing to fade, and Merlin vaguely wondered if he should ask Gaius for some salve.

No, probably not. Gaius had been busy, what with the sweating sickness in Camelot and then the Lamia's victims...

And he didn't want anyone else to know. If they did know – if the knights got back their memories and remembered what they had done – there was a small part of Merlin that was afraid that they wouldn't see anything wrong with it, that they would just see it as putting a servant in his place.

That was what had scared him.

Somewhere between Longstead and Camelot – or even before that, when Leon had spoken with him – Merlin had made a decision: He was never going to tell anybody what had happened with the Lamia. What was the point of it anyways? It wasn't like it mattered. They'd fought the Lamia, they'd won, and that was the end of things.

Leon's apology had been nice, but Merlin had been worrying more and more that it came from a matter of honor more than feelings of remorse.

And that was fine, Merlin thought, pushing aside his feelings. It was selfish of him to have expected an apology in the first place, and he should have been grateful that he'd gotten one at all. It'd been a nice gesture, albeit an unexpected one. Sir Leon was one of the only nobles among the knights, and for him to stoop so low as to make amends to a servant was beyond kind.

So why bother? The knights didn't remember any of their actions under the Lamia, and if they did, Merlin doubted that any harm would be done. He didn't need to complain.

It could have been worse, after all.

"Gaius, what do you know about Lamias?" Merlin asked over their evening meal.

Gaius looked up sharply. "Why do you want to know?"

"No reason. Just curious, is all."

Gaius quirked an eyebrow, waiting for him to go on.

"I was wondering about the memory loss. I mean, does being possessed always negate one's memory?"

"First off, you're using the wrong word," Gaius said, pointing his spoon at Merlin, "and that'd be the root of the problem. What the knights experienced was not so much of a possession as an... influence."

"An influence," Merlin repeated. He suddenly felt very cold; he couldn't fathom why.

"The Lamia did not directly exert control over the knights. Rather than 'possessing' them, she subtly affected their minds, influencing them to do her bidding. She clouded their minds, and I believe that their memories are clouded as well."

"Will they ever remember?" Merlin was almost afraid to know the answer.

"Only time will tell, but I have reason to believe that the memory loss is not permanent."

Not permanent... Merlin turned the phrase over and over in his mind.

He'd promised himself that it was over. It'd been a week since the Lamia, and he had finally begun to relax around the knights. Those godawful bruises, the last reminder of what had happened, were finally fading. He didn't need to obsess over that any more.


It was good that the knights might get their memories back. After all, he'd seen how agitated Leon had been, not knowing what he'd done. So Merlin told the selfish part of himself, the one that thought only of the knights' opinion of him to stuff it.

"Merlin, are you all right?" Gaius asked, and Merlin realized that he'd been staring off into space, listlessly stirring his soup.

"Yes. I'm fine. I'll be fine."

Merlin wasn't sure which was true anymore.

(That night, he dreamed of the Lamia, hissing threats and temptations and promises in his ear. He was outside of his body, looking down at himself with disgust.

Worthless, she whispered in his ear. Beneath you. Just a servant. Why don't you tell him that?

And so he did, because it was true, wasn't it?

Wasn't it?

Merlin didn't get any more sleep that night.)

Gwaine was having a bad day.

Actually, he was having a bad week. If one counted the amount of tavern brawls and general trouble he'd somehow managed to get into, it could be said that he was having a bad month.

But tavern brawls and bad hangovers paled next to the nightmares he'd been having ever since they'd returned from Longstead. His mind was full of not–quite memories, fleeting things that he didn't know for certain had happened and very few that he had confirmed were real.

Gwaine knew that real was the fight he'd had with Leon, although only bits of pieces of it existed in his memories. He knew that, at some point, he'd gone to collect firewood, and then there was Gwen crying, an event that he couldn't seem to place no matter how hard he searched.

But his nightmares were full of worse things.

There was the Lamia, no longer a girl but a monster, and he wasn't quite sure if he'd dreamed the tentacles or not. The Lamia, always the Lamia, twisting and turning his mind, warping his view. And... there was something to do with Merlin. He remembered Merlin's panicked face, Merlin begging him not to go outside, telling him that Lamia – the Lamia was dangerous.

And then...

Gwaine was sure that there were even worse things. He just had yet to remember them. Gaius had reassured him that his memories of the days he'd spent in Longstead would return, but Gwaine wasn't sure if that was a good thing.

Sometimes, they came during the day, small tastes of what tormented him at night. Yesterday, he'd glanced at one of the torches mounted on the castle walls in passing and remembered... something. Something to do with a torch and fire and kindling and Gwaine.

He'd done something; he only had to remember what.

So Gwaine was frustrated. And so he did what he usually did when frustrated, which was go to Merlin and vent. It was one step above going to the tavern and venting, so Gwaine figured that he wasn't exactly in the wrong for shirking work to have a little chat. Besides, Merlin always looked like he needed company, and weren't knights supposed to do chivalrous things like help old ladies and rescue kittens from trees and all that? So this totally counted as doing his knightly duties.

Whatever those were.

Gwaine found Merlin in the armory, polishing a shield. He didn't look up at Gwaine's approaching footsteps, which was odd, but a lot of things were odd these days, so Gwaine let it go.

"Merlin." Gwaine sat down on the ground across from Merlin, waiting for his friend to acknowledge his presence. He was rewarded with a quick glance upwards and a small smile, and Gwaine interpreted that as his cue to begin ranting.

"Merlin, you will never believe how terrible my week has been. I've had to go on three patrols already, and yesterday we got attacked by bandits! I was this close–" Gwaine held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart – "to having an arrow in my head! And that's not even counting all the weird stuff with the Lamia..."

At the mention of the Lamia, Merlin's head jerked up and he went pale, staring at Gwaine like he'd seen a ghost. Gwaine took this as in invitation to continue. "That's right, you'll never believe the dreams I've been having..."

And Gwaine let himself drift off into a kind of half–daze, talking of strange dreams and memories and bandit attacks, because Merlin never seemed to mind much when he rambled like that. It was nice to be able to relax for once, especially considering how stressful the past week had been...

Or it had been nice to relax, until Gwaine noticed that Merlin hadn't said a thing. Normally, by this time, he'd have managed to squeeze in a "You're right, Gwaine, Arthur really is a prat," or a "Gwaine, I think that going to the tavern tonight and getting drunk is a wonderful idea!" Well, that last one was an exaggeration, but the point was that Merlin wasn't talking and that was just strange.

"Merlin, mate, you all right?" Gwaine asked.

Merlin jumped at the sound of his name but made eye contact, which Gwaine counted as an accomplishment. "Y–yeah," he said, voice trembling just the tiniest bit. "I'm fine. Just tired."

Which Gwaine would have let go under normal circumstances – lords knew, he hadn't had a proper night's sleep in a week – but Merlin went back to polishing that same bloody shield and Gwaine realized that he'd been at it for fifteen minutes now.

Gwaine stood up and walked behind Merlin, not caring that the servant stiffened as he inspected his work. "Merlin, I think that you've been scrubbing that thing for so long I can see my reflection on it! Here–"

And he made to grab the shield from him and jokingly check, but the second he touched it, Merlin violently jerked away from him, his shoulder crashing into the wall. The shield, torn from his grasp, fell to the ground with a clatter.

And Gwaine would've, should've, said something, but then Leon burst into the armory, drawn by the noise.

"What's all this?" he asked without even looking past Gwaine, as if expecting a fight. (Gwaine had learned from experience that Leon always expected a fight when he was involved.)

When he saw that it was only Merlin and a shield, he relaxed somewhat. "Actually, you know what? Never mind. Gwaine, you were supposed to be in a meeting ten minutes ago –" Oh, so that's what he was doing today "– and Arthur's sent me out to search half the castle for you." He gestured impatiently for Gwaine to come.

Gwaine made the mistake of glancing at Merlin, who had once more picked up the shield and was now rubbing it with a completely dry cloth, refusing to meet Leon's – or Gwaine's – eyes.

And so Gwaine followed Leon, but it was with a knot of dread in his stomach that he asked, "D'ya think that there's something wrong with Merlin? He's been..." Quiet? Jumpy? On edge? Gwaine wasn't sure of how to complete the sentence.

The fact the Leon nodded didn't help one bit.

Meetings were boring. They were even more boring when discussing the various problems of Camelot's outlying villages. They were usually so boring that Gwaine fell asleep halfway through, earning glares from the rest of the knights and reprimands from Arthur.

But falling asleep was not an option today, because Gwaine had been voted into one of the patrols to investigate one of said villages during his absence. Which was hardly fair, because one would think that you got sick leave after being possessed by magical creatures, but no.

So Gwaine's plan had been to wait until the meeting was over, then beg for a few days of rest from Arthur, preferably a few days that overlapped with the patrol. But that never got to happen, because, as it turned out, Arthur wished to speak with him as well.

Arthur had pulled Gwaine aside and asked to speak with him privately, so it couldn't be an issue with his lateness. Reprimands were usually carried out in the public eye and involved a great deal of yelling.

Gwaine wasn't kept wondering for long, because, as usual, Arthur cut straight to the point.

"There's something wrong with Merlin."

And now it wasn't just him and Leon, it was Arthur, so something was definitely wrong.

Gwaine huffed out a small laugh, not because it was funny but because the idea of Arthur worrying over anyone, least of all Merlin, was, well, laughable.

"Get in line, princess. Got a couple others ahead of you on that one."

"I'm not the only one, then? It's just... he's been quiet. Not as annoying." Arthur sounded vaguely relieved. Gwaine liked to think that it was relief that someone agreed with him rather than that Merlin was quiet for once. "Not that I'm worried, of course," he added quickly. "Just curious."

Gwaine shook his head. "Me and Leon, we're both worried. He's been acting odd for about a week now." He then proceeded to tell Arthur what had happened that morning in the armory.

Arthur nodded. "He's been like this for a few days. At first I thought that he was mad with me, but I haven't done anything wrong –"

"– don't be so sure of yourself on that one –"

"– so then I thought it must be an issue with one of you –" and here Gwaine put a hand to his chest, acting mock–offended "–and now? I have no idea."

"Look, I'll – I'll try to talk to him again. Maybe take him out to the tavern or something."

So Gwaine set off in search of one wayward servant amid of cries of, "Gwaine, if you get my manservant drunk, so help me...!"

Merlin had hoped that he wouldn't run into Gwaine again for the rest of the day, but, as it turned out, Gwaine ran into him. Quite literally.

Arthur had unceremoniously dumped his armor on in his arms and informed Merlin that they were to ride out to investigate a village early in the morning – Merlin included – and his armor needed a polishing before then. He'd been hurrying, hoping to finish before midnight, when something large and heavy and human crashed into him. Merlin was thrown to the floor, armor scattering everywhere, and for an awful moment he was in the forest outside of Longstead and Leon was shoving him to the ground.

Then he remembered that he was in Camelot and that he was safe and that it wasn't Leon, it was...

Gwaine. His day couldn't have been worse, not after this.

"Sorry 'bout that, Merlin," the older knight said with a jaunty wink, picking up pieces of fallen armor. Merlin's stomach dropped. Gwaine was picking up after him while he laid on the floor, dazed. He wouldn't like that.

"Gwaine! I'm so sorry, I'll get this –" He cut off as Gwaine laid a hand on his chest, effectively silencing him. As Merlin flinched back from the touch, something sparked in Gwaine's eyes, and Merlin glanced away.

"Careful there, mate. Got to make sure you're all in one piece or Gaius'll kill me. Nothing broken?"

Confused by the sudden show of concern, Merlin just shook his head. Gwaine unceremoniously dumped the armor into his arms. "Great. Because I have to talk to you."

Merlin just blinked up at Gwaine. "Okay...?"

"Great. Because here's the problem: Princess over here–" Gwaine nodded at the armor in Merlin's arms "–thinks that there's something wrong with you, and I think he expects me to fix it."

"Okay." Merlin still wasn't seeing the point of this, other than that he'd been an idiot that morning – lack of sleep combined with not having eaten the night before had allowed his emotions to get the better of him. Which wasn't anything Gwaine normally should have been concerned with.

"Merlin," Gwaine said with mock horror, "I think that Arthur's worried about you." He paused, obviously expecting a reaction, and Merlin unconsciously flinched, giving a laugh that sounded fake even to his own ears.

Really, was it that hard for Gwaine to believe that Arthur might care for him? Did he think so little of Merlin after all?

Yes, his mind supplied, and Merlin snorted. "Right, so the prat's worrying about me as he gets me to scrub and polish his armor, sharpen his sword, and clean out the stables. Really, it's a wonder I sleep at night at all." As an afterthought, he added, "Sorry," because even though Gwaine was pretty lenient as far as Arthur was concerned, he was still a noble and he might take offense at what Merlin said and then...

"Well, yes, that does seem to be the gist of it," Gwaine said, shifting from foot to foot. "His Pratness thinks that it might be a good idea for me to talk to you, so... here I am."

Ah. So he'd only been talking to Merlin because Arthur had told him to.

Merlin thought about brushing Gwaine off, but the knight had obviously gone out of his way to find him, and he might get mad if Merlin pushed him away. So Merlin shrugged, making sure to make eye contact this time, since that was what Gwaine seemed to want.

"Not much to talk about, really. Between Gaius and Arthur, I've had a lot of work to do this week and it's just wearing me out. Like I said this morning: just tired." Which wasn't quite a lie. He'd tossed and turned for most of the night, too worried to sleep.

To reassure Gwaine, he topped it off with a smile. "I'll be fine. Everything's fine. I'll be going now, if you don't mind...?" He shifted the pile of armor in his arms; he'd have to hammer out dents now and that would take half the night but it would be worth it in the end.

And so when he turned on his heel and walked on, Gwaine did not stop him.

The sun was just rising as the knights rode out to one of Camelot's villages. Arthur came too, because it was strongly suspected that there was a sorcerer at work there, and where sorcerers were, Arthur was sure to follow. And Merlin followed Arthur, because that was what he did.

If possible, this trip was even worse than the last one. Merlin could feel the stares of both Gwaine and Leon burning into the back of his head. He sank down in his seat, wondering what he'd done wrong this time, and was relieved when they finally arrived and dismounted slightly outside the village.

"All right," said Arthur, and Merlin watched in amazement because only Arthur Pendragon could go from laughing and joking with Elyan to commanding his knights in less than a second. Maybe it was just his imagination, but everyone seemed to stand up straighter as well.

"So what we've got here is a sorcerer on the loose. Or at least that's what the villagers think. There've been reports of blighted crops and odd illnesses, and, more recently, some of the townspeople have been going missing."

The knights began murmuring amongst themselves. A sorcerer with enough power to kidnap people could very well be dangerous, and capturing him would be tricky.

Arthur held up a hand to silence everyone. "To ensure the safety of the village as well as ourselves, we'll go in pairs. Percival and Elyan will search the woods. Leon and Gwaine, I want you patrolling the village for any suspicious behavior. I'll be talking to the villagers, getting their stance on things –"

Gwaine let out a cough that sound suspiciously like, "Of course."

"– And Merlin, you'll be nearby. Go and check out this illness, see if it can be treated."

What, so he stood in for Gaius one bloody time and suddenly he was a physician? "I, ah – Treating magical illnesses is more of Gaius's kind of thing, you see, and I'm not sure that I can properly help anyone."

"Yes, wasn't that what you sent him to do last time? As I recall, that didn't turn out very well," Gwaine said, and Merlin felt his ears burning. Even if Gwaine had just reiterated what he'd said, Merlin couldn't help the sharp pang of hurt in his chest.

"He'll do it anyway," Arthur snapped. To Merlin he added, "The village should have some basic medicines – herbs and things. If you can't treat it, we'll send for Gaius."

Merlin nodded. Arthur probably just wanted him out of the way, and he could do that. It wasn't as if he would be useful in the search anyway.

The illness reminded Merlin of the Lamia's victims in the worst way possible, and he had to dig his nails into his hands 'till they bled in order to drag his mind out of Longstead's temporary wards and back into the small village. The ill villagers were all non–responsive, their breathing was barely noticable. His magic couldn't cure them. In fact, if he hadn't known better, he would've thought that this was the work of...

No, no, no, they'd killed the Lamia. It was dead.

But Merlin remembered how both he and Gaius had spoken of lamias in the plural and had not been corrected. Maybe they're a species… He shuddered, unable to imagine going through that again.

As if on cue, Leon and Gwaine burst into the infirmary with the customary clattering of swords and loud voices. If he wasn't so preoccupied with the thought of multiple Lamias, Merlin would've shushed them.

As it was, the patients were in no state to be disturbed, so nobody really minded. Gwaine seated himself on the bed opposite that of the patient Merlin was examining, and Leon positioned himself by the door. Merlin glanced at both of them out of the corner of his eye.

"So, what can you tell us about this illness, Merlin?" Gwaine asked, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. Merlin panicked for a moment – there was another Lamia; it had possessed the knights and it would get to Arthur and Merlin wouldn't be able to help, not this time. He reminded himself that Gwaine was just being Gwaine, and surely there were a hundred other things that could turn a person so ill, even if he didn't know them.

"Well – it seems to be of a magical nature," he said at last.

Gwaine snorted. "You're not wrong."

Merlin had spent enough time with Gaius to know that, ninety percent of the time, what was thought to be sorcery turned out to be an infected cut or an illness that had settled in the lungs and refused to let go. He also had spent enough time serving various nobles to know that there was a place and time to hold his tongue, and that was now.

Instead, he shrugged. "It's... odd. They're not moving, barely breathing. It reminds me of –" and he cut himself off because like hell he was bringing that back up when he didn't need to.

But Leon had no such qualms. "The Lamia," he said softly, and Merlin finally relaxed, because there was no way that he would've said that when possessed, or influenced, or whatever terminology Gaius preferred.

Merlin just nodded, desperate to change the subject. "I thought that you were investigating the village," he said.

"We are," Gwaine said, exaggerating a glance around the room, hand cupped over his eyes. "Harboring any sorcerers, Merlin?"

"Just me." Merlin allowed himself a private smile.

"We'd best be off, then. Can't have His Royal Pratness think we're slacking."

The back of Merlin's neck prickled, and he slowly turned around, convinced that there was a fourth person standing behind him. There was nobody else in the room but the knights.

Leon, who had been turning to leave, looked over his shoulder. "All right there, Merlin?"

"Yeah. Fine." He could have sworn that there were eyes on his back, that someone else was watching him, but nobody was.

And then the doors of the infirmary swung shut and Merlin was left alone with his thoughts.

"We didn't find him."

Arthur's words said less than the slump of his shoulders, the set of his mouth. Merlin knew that they were due back in Camelot the next day, that they couldn't afford to search any longer without worrying the council and having a search party sent after them.

"You're sure that it was a sorcerer, then?"

"Positive. All the signs point right to it. We'll probably organize a larger patrol when we get back to Camelot; it's likely that he's hiding in the woods somewhere, and Percival and Elyan didn't cover nearly a quarter of them."

So that was that, then. Merlin found himself secretly glad that they were returning home. This place was too much like Longstead, and it was creeping him out.

"Send Gaius out with the patrol, then. The villagers didn't have many herbs, and the patients are so far gone that those I carry aren't of use. It – the illness, that is – seems to be magic–induced as well."

Merlin paused for thought as he and Arthur walked towards the horses. One the knights had saddled them up, even Merlin's, and he felt a stab of guilt – no knight should have to do that for a servant.

"It's just like the Lamia," he said without thinking. Arthur didn't look up but grunted in reply. "I mean, the illness – it's almost exactly like in Longstead. Only there can't be another Lamia because we killed it. But there could be, maybe. I was talking with Gaius the other day and –"

"Merlin!" Arthur snapped, and Merlin stiffened. "Could you, for once in your life, just shut up!" Upon seeing the hurt look on Merlin's face, he added, "Not like that – look, Merlin, it's nice to have you back, it really is, but a little quiet is necessary every once in a while." He walked on, not bothering to check if he was being followed.

Merlin stopped short in the middle of the dusty path, and it was only the odd prickling at the back of his neck that bade him to run after Arthur.

Merlin tried to reason with himself. Arthur was tired; he was angry that they'd be going home empty–handed and leaving the town to fend for itself, or maybe Merlin had really been talking too much.

He remembered Leon's voice saying, that doesn't make it okay, but he also remembered Leon telling him that he was just a servant, and that voice was louder.

They'd chosen to camp a fair distance away from the village rather than take over the poor peoples' homes. It had seemed like a good plan during the day, but as the sun set, every creaky branch became menacing footsteps, the wind through the trees became the breathing of someone behind him, and when a leaf landed on his neck, Merlin lept a foot in the air.

"Little jumpy today, Merlin?" Arthur asked, sharing a laugh with the others.

"Merlin thinks that it's the Lamia again," Gwaine interjected.

Arthur laughed. "Yes, I'm aware."

Merlin bristled. "I didn't quite – It's just the illness; it's similar to the one the Lamia caused."

"That may be true," Arthur said, "but can Lamias blight crops? Can they cause villagers to fall ill? Can they kidnap grown men?"

Yes, Merlin thought.

"What we have," Arthur said, swallowing a bite of thick stew, "is a sorcerer."

Which made Merlin feel better, but not by much. He was still on edge, sitting with his back to a tree so as to survey the whole campsite from a decent angle. Watching the others laugh and joke made him feel sick. He was still wary around the knights, still unsure of where he stood with them, and it was that worry that kept him awake at night.

Merlin poked the dying fire with a stick, not bothering to stoke the flames.

"We need some more firewood," Arthur said with a rather pointed look at Merlin.

"I can go," said Percival.

Normally, Merlin would've let him. Today, though, he was jumpy and on edge and more than a little paranoid. If Percival went into those woods – who knew what lurked there? What if there was another Lamia? What if it tricked Percival into bringing it back to camp?

"No – I'll do it!" Merlin hadn't meant to sound so panicked. He was just concerned for Percival's safety. After all, he did have magic. He would be the one to know what to do if attacked.

Arthur laughed and made a joke about lazy manservants wanting to do their chores for once, but allowed him to go with a wave of his hand.

So now Merlin was picking up twigs to add to the pile in his arms, stomping around as noisily as possible, practically inviting whatever things lurked in the woods to come out and face him.

The truth was, he wanted to be attacked, wanted to prove to Arthur that he wasn't just paranoid, that there was really something out there. He needed to prove it to himself.

Merlin felt eyes on his back and whirled around, wielding a forked branch like a weapon. "Who's there?"

Silence fell in the woods. It seemed as if even the wind had stopped blowing. All was quiet. Too quiet.

And yet Merlin was certain that he could hear breathing, that there was someone –– or something –– there with him. He dropped the firewood, prepared to let loose a spell.


Say it was a Lamia. Say that there really was another Lamia, and that it was real and had found him here and was ready to fight him. Say that it tricked him, got to the others first.

How could he fight a monster if he was too busy fighting his friends?

So Merlin gathered the firewood, glancing over his shoulder every few seconds. He practically flew back to camp, back to the laughing knights, back to his safe place at the edge of the campfire.

There would be no sleep for him that night. He'd stay there 'till morning, watching.


Gwaine woke up covered in a cold sweat. He stared at the dying fire, and a quick glance at the weak flames, it was almost his turn to go on watch. But when he raised his head, Merlin spoke.

"Go back to sleep. It's not time yet."

Judging by the position of the stars in the sky and the faint glow on the horizon, Gwaine should've relieved Merlin of his watch hours ago. Not one to pass up on an opportunity for extra sleep, he gave a tired grunt and rolled over.

And then it was like the puzzle pieces of his mind slid together, and Gwaine's eyes flew open. Merlin. The torch. He'd swung it in Merlin's face. He remembered now. Merlin'd asked – pleaded – him not to go out to get firewood and Gwaine, manipulated by the Lamia, had thought that he was questioning his authority.

He'd enjoyed it. He'd loved the look of fear on Merlin's face. No wonder he was so wary of him now – Gwaine deserved it.

Gwaine raised his head a fraction of an inch to look at Merlin. There he was, sitting at the very edge of the camp, arms wrapped around his legs and his chin resting on his knees. The dying fire cast harsh shadows on his face.

He'd talk to Merlin tomorrow, Gwaine reasoned. Try to work things out. Everything would look better in the morning, and they'd talk then.

As it turned out, he never got the chance.

Morning dawned with the usual flurry of activity – packing bags, feeding horses, and scuffing out the fire. Merlin did his tasks slowly, blearily. Gwaine would've guessed that he hadn't slept all night, seeing as he hadn't been woken to relieve Merlin of his watch. Every few seconds, he paused to cast a glance around the clearing, his gaze resting on the knights. Gwaine chalked it up to exhaustion.

Still, there were worse things than not getting a full night's rest. Like Arthur when he was angry. Which was now.

"I can't believe it! A whole day to search and still no sign of the bloody sorcerer. Now there's nothing that we can do about it except maybe send a few guards down this way."

Two weeks ago, Merlin would've called Arthur a prat, winking at the knights and reassuring them that they had done their best.

As they set off for Camelot, Gwaine glanced at Merlin out of the corner of his eye, unsure if he should say something. After all, based off of his experiences from the past few days, Merlin really didn't want to be talked to, and Gwaine wasn't sure if he'd make matters worse.

Maybe he'd talk to Leon, put this off until tomorrow.

They took the well–worn dirt path that lead away from the village. Arthur was surprisingly jumpy, halting the patrol at every creaking branch or small scuffle that sounded through the surrounding wood.

"It seems as if your paranoia is rubbing off on him, eh, Merlin?" Elyan elbowed Merlin in the ribs and he skittered away.

Gwaine hung back with Merlin until the rest of the group moved a fair distance ahead of them. If he was going to say something, it was now or never.

He placed a hand on Merlin's shoulder and the servant let out a surprised squeak, but seemed to calm down when he realized that it was only Gwaine.


"Merlin–" he began urgently, but got no farther, as yet another snap sounded through the forest, and Arthur held up a hand for them to stop.

This was different, though, and Gwaine heard it. It wasn't the sound of a branch breaking, nor the scurry of a small animal through brush. It was the sound of footsteps, of a twig under a boot.

"Gwaine. Percival." It was hard to miss the commanding tone in Arthur's voice as the two largest knights stepped forward. "Go and scout the area. I think we're being watched."

Gwaine did as he was told, ducking into the underbrush and entering the forest. Percival followed closely behind.

It was because of this that they weren't around to help when the sorcerer attacked.

This was not good.

The sorcerer, it seemed, had been trailing them for miles. It was the only reason he could've attacked this far from the village. Merlin quickly sized him up – middle–aged and with graying hair, they could've seen him on the street and thought nothing of it. He was old enough to have lived through the purge, so his priority was probably –

Merlin shoved Arthur out of the way of a well–aimed spell, quietly counteracting with one of his own. Leon and Elyan drew their swords.

– killing Arthur.

Neither sword nor spell could get near the sorcerer, it seemed, as Leon's sword hit an invisible barrier and the strong wind Merlin had summoned rebounded on him.

The sorcerer threw spell after spell, and it seemed as though they were outmatched. Merlin only had thought that could really use Gwaine and Percival right now. His magic was virtually useless with the other knights in such close proximity, and now would be a terrible time for them to find out. He was forced to fall behind Arthur, Leon, and Elyan, using quick spells to defend them when he could risk it.

If only he could get that barrier down...

As if on cue, Merlin watched as first Percival, then Gwaine emerged from the forest, seemingly drawn by the noise of the battle. They seemed to still be taking in the scene as the sorcerer flung a spell at them.

Merlin couldn't get there fast enough, couldn't use his magic. He watched helplessly as the spell seemed to hit both knights, his shoulders sagging in relief when there were no immediate ill effects. Maybe the sorcerer wasn't as powerful as Merlin had thought him to be.

He opened his mouth to say something, maybe to call out to the others or to ask for some help. He'd never know for sure, because in that moment, he realized that something was wrong.

It was Gwaine. Percival too, but the look in Gwaine's eyes as he drew his sword was all too familiar. Merlin had seen it in his nightmares – the cold, unfeeling glare of someone whose mind was not their own.

And his gaze was fixed on –

"Arthur!" Merlin shouted. Arthur turned around slightly, but it was enough for him to see Gwaine, moving with the methodical, jerky movements of a puppet, sword drawn and heading for him. He was able to move out of the way and parry Gwaine's next blow, leaving Merlin to wonder what on Earth was happening.

Percival was trying to stab Elyan, who seemed to have even less of an idea of what was going on than Merlin did. This left both he and Leon open to attack from the sorcerer.

"What's going on?" Leon asked, breathless from trying to stab his way through the barrier.

"Think they're possessed. He threw a spell at them and –"

–and the sorcerer did just that, causing Merlin to have to drag the distracted knight out of range. He took inventory of the situation. Percival had Elyan backed up against a tree and Gwaine had disarmed Arthur.

"Go help Elyan; I'll –"

take care of the sorcerer, he was going to say, but Leon took off before the end of the sentence. That left Merlin to deal with a sorcerer, a possessed knight, and a weaponless king. He longed to take out the sorcerer while everyone else was distracted, but Arthur's safety was a priority.

Gwaine's sword was pressed to Arthur's throat, and Merlin did the only thing he could think of.

"Hey! Gwaine! Over here!"

He was an idiot, but at least his plans worked. Mind–Controlled Gwaine was marginally dimmer than Normal Gwaine, it seemed. He took the bait, charging for Merlin.

A flash of gold sent his sword spinning out of his hand – the only amount of magic he was able to perform before Gwaine was on top of him, tackling him and pinning him down with a knee to the ribs.

Too late, he realized that Gwaine was set to kill, and it didn't matter if he had a weapon or not. Too late, because Gwaine's hands were already wrapped around his throat and he was squeezing –

can'tbreathecan'tbreathe usemagic he'llkillmeanywaycan'tbreathe

Merlin's hands were desperately scrabbling at Gwaine's wrists. If he had the breath to speak he would've been pleading. As it was, he could feel his lips moving but no sound was coming out –


– and his vision was growing dim. He tried to call on his magic because he just didn't care anymore. He needed to breathe.

It wasn't working. His magic wasn't working and he was going to die. All because he was an idiot. It had been stupid to trust Gwaine. He should've known –

Black spots danced before his eyes. Can't breathe. His hands fell from Gwaine's wrists. He didn't remember what they'd been doing there in the first place.

But he remembered the Lamia. Remembered feeling betrayed by his friends. Remembered thinking about how it could have been worse. How he shouldn't have been selfish.

And now he wished that he'd been selfish. Wished that he'd left Arthur to fend for himself.

Because this?

This was worse.

There was yelling and people crowding around and then someone was pulling Gwaine off of him, tugging on his arms. There was a spoken order and then a muffled thump and Gwaine went limp and the pressure on Merlin's throat eased. He desperately gulped for air, not caring if it hurt.

People were still shouting and Merlin opened his eyes a crack. There was light – burning, searing light – and all he could see was a blur of red and gold. He eased himself up on his elbows and saw Gwaine, weakly struggling against Elyan and Leon. Percival lay prostrate on the ground and the sorcerer was on his back, Arthur's sword embedded in his chest.

"He let his guard down," Arthur said from somewhere on Merlin's left. "He was dead before he realized what was going on. Percival's out cold, and it looks like the spell's running its course."

Merlin thought that Arthur might have been gesturing to Gwaine, but he couldn't tell. His arms gave out from underneath him and he fell back to the forest floor, struggling to draw breath.

Suddenly Arthur was leaning over him, and Merlin wondered if it was exhaustion that made him look so concerned.

"...Merlin? Merlin? You okay?"

Merlin wanted to say yes. Wanted to tell Arthur, stop worrying about me; I'm fine. Go see to the knights. Wanted to get up and brush it off, like always.

But he couldn't. Because when he closed his eyes, he could still see Gwaine's eyes, cold and calculating and not his own. He could still feel his hands around his neck, choking him, cutting off all air.

It felt so real that Merlin had to put a hand to his throat, to check that it was over, that he could breathe. He was surprised to find that he was crying, tears dripping down his chin.

"No," he found himself saying. "I'm not."

Merlin was only vaguely aware of the events that followed. He recalled being wrapped in something warm and soft. Someone pressed a water skin to his lips and he gratefully gulped from it.

Merlin closed his eyes again and the next thing he knew, someone's hands were at his throat. He jerked away and would have fallen if not for a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"No," he heard himself say. "No, no, no. Please, I'm sorry, please –"

The hands at his throat stilled and were withdrawn.

"Merlin, open your eyes."

Merlin did. He blinked for a moment and realized just how out of it he'd been. The sun was now sinking low over the horizon, and the last he remembered was early afternoon. But Arthur was still by his side, though from the looks of things they'd traveled a long ways.

"Good, you're awake. We need to examine your throat now. Check for damage." It was the same way Arthur addressed his knights: an order, not a suggestion, a command with no room to back out.

Arthur's supporting hand left his shoulder and Merlin swayed for a moment. The only thing preventing his fall was that he was already on the ground, propped up against a tree.

Too late, Merlin realized that Arthur was reaching for his throat again and he leaned away from the touch.

"Best to leave that to Gaius," someone said from behind Merlin. He thought that it might have been Leon, but he wasn't sure.

"Should probably bind those ribs, though." The voice was unmistakably Gwaine's.

Merlin squeezed his eyes shut. Now that he was aware of it, his chest ached painfully whenever he tried to take a breath. Cracked rib, then, or maybe broken. He wondered when it had happened – had it been when Gwaine had tackled him? When his pressed his knee to Merlin's chest to keep him from struggling?

Gwaine was still talking, rambling about some inane thing, but Merlin wasn't listening. Didn't want to listen. Everyone was too close, and, if he'd been able, Merlin would've pushed them away.

He was just so tired.

As it was, he allowed the darkness in his mind to pull him down until the knights' voices faded to a murmur.

Dealing with the aftermath of fights always left Arthur drained, exhausted enough to sleep for days. Two of the horses had spooked and run off; they were now without half their supplies. That didn't matter much – they were about a three hours' ride away from Camelot, but Arthur was still sore about it. He'd liked those horses.

Then there was the matter of injuries. Elyan had clobbered Percival over the head hard enough to knock him out for several minutes, and the large knight was still dazed, even several hours later. Arthur himself had sustained a few shallow cuts across his arms and torso, and had wrapped them using strips of cloth torn off of his shirt.

And then there was Merlin.

Arthur had seen men like that, men with those same wild eyes and that same trapped, cornered look that Merlin had had. In the aftermath of battles or after liberating dungeons full of prisoners, he'd often found himself watching over them as they tried to escape, delusional, not sure what was real. And that was what scared him.

This was Merlin, and this was not right. Arthur had only ever seen his manservant bounce back, whole and fine and hale even after taking what should have been a deadly blow, and that he wasn't now, when he should have been, was frightening.

They'd made camp a little ways away from where the battle had been fought, councils and deadlines and worried citizens be damned. Merlin had been in and out for the majority of the afternoon and into the evening, when Arthur thought that he must've truly fallen asleep. It would've been cruel to wake him in order to ride out, not when he finally looked so peaceful, wrapped in Arthur's cloak and curled as close to the roaring fire as the heat would allow.

Gwaine had mentioned that Merlin hadn't been sleeping; Arthur couldn't fathom why. He should probably ask him. Yes, that was what he'd do. When Merlin woke, they were going to have a discussion.

Arthur glanced across the fire at the knights. They sat in a subdued semi–circle around the fire in an unspoken agreement to give Merlin the space he needed. Leon sharpened his sword, Elyan and Percival were quietly talking – Well, Elyan was talking; Percival still seemed too out of it to make a response.

And Gwaine – Gwaine was uncharacteristically quiet, staring down at his hands as if his fingernails were the most interesting thing in the world. The reality of being possessed, of having hurt his friend, had hit him hard, and Arthur knew that he was probably beating himself up over it, or at least planning a week–long drinking binge.

Two possessions in as many weeks. Arthur could understand where Gwaine was coming from.

Arthur looked back down at Merlin and was surprised to find that he was being watched. Merlin was wide awake, struggling to sit up, shrugging the cloak off his shoulders.

"Careful there." Merlin was wobbling precariously but seemed to be more alert than he had been, so Arthur helped him sit the rest of the way up. He replaced the cloak around his shoulders and passed him a full water skin, which he drank deeply from.

"You all right?" Arthur asked once he was finished, which seemed like a stupid question to his ears, but it filled the silence between them.

"It was just like the Lamia," he said in lieu of a reply. Maybe Arthur had been wrong about that 'alert' thing after all.

"Huh?" Lamia, Lamia... They'd fought the beast not two weeks ago, but Arthur was still unclear on the details of what had gone on. Maybe he was referring to the possession angle of it all?

Merlin drew his arms around his knees, and Arthur realized that he was shaking. He started to ask what was wrong, but stopped.

Maybe it was the shaking. Maybe it was how lost and vulnerable and alone Merlin looked. Either way, Arthur came to the understanding that talking was probably not going to help at the moment.

He was saved from searching for a response by Merlin, who had once more shrugged Arthur's cloak off his shoulders. Arthur replaced it again, noting that Merlin was far too thin, the knobs of his spine showing through his worn shirt. Lords, Arthur was starting to think that he hadn't been eating as well as sleeping...

"Why do you keep doing that, you idiot? You're only going to get colder."

Merlin flinched at the joking insult. "'S not right. Not my place."

Which didn't make sense at all, so Arthur moved on to the next best strategy – food. He drew out a cloth containing a bit of bread and cheese. "You want something to eat? Gaius'll probably kill me if we starve you."

Even that didn't provoke a smile out of Merlin. "You don't have to do this, you know."

"Do what? Sit with you? I don't –"

"No, this. Pretending." When Arthur still didn't understand, Merlin added, "To be my friend. I mean, I know that it's beneath you, to have to do this –" he gestured to himself, to the cloak and the bread and the fire "– and you shouldn't have to work for a servant. And I know that you know that but you don't want to hurt my feelings and I'm starting to think that the Lamia was good because it showed me how you really feel and now you don't have to pretend anymore –"

"Merlin. Stop," Arthur said because even if that was the most coherent Merlin had been in hours, he was starting to ramble and Arthur was confused again. "I really don't understand. Could you, I don't know, start at the beginning or something?"

And then – wonder of wonders – Merlin started to talk. He spoke of Lamias and insults, distrust and false friendship. At some point, the knights joined them, sitting in silent horror, and at some point, Merlin began to cry.

Arthur tried to say something, anything – I'd never do that, you idiot or you should have said something or, we don't think of you as a servant, we think of you as a friend, but he fumbled for the words.

So instead he said nothing, but allowed Merlin to cry. (And if just happened to be on his shoulder, nobody said a word.)

In the heat of battle, he'd always wondered if Leon could read minds, because how else would he be able to carry out Arthur's orders when the king had barely even spoken them? Now Arthur wondered if the skill applied to moments like this as well, because, in the end, it was Leon who spoke.

"Merlin," he said, and Merlin's head shot up as if the knight had shouted. His eyes were bloodshot and he still wasn't looking anyone in the eye, but at least he wasn't crying anymore.

"Merlin," Leon said again, "I want to – to tell you, to reiterate that none of us were aware of this, and, had we been, amends certainly would have been made. None of it –" he paused and seemed to divert his train of thought. "We can fix this. At least, we'll try."

It seemed as if he had spoken for everyone.

And when Merlin had finally exhausted himself and fell asleep wrapped in Arthur's cloak, when Arthur talked to the knights for hours in low, worried whispers, when he lay awake for hours that night, never sleeping but instead staring at the stars – all that time, he wished he'd been the one to say something.

(What he didn't know was that he already had, in something larger, something more important than words.)

The next time Merlin woke, he felt better. Lighter, somehow, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He shifted experimentally, discovering the rough sheets and lumpy mattress of his own bed.

Wait, no, that wasn't right – he was meant to be on patrol.

But there'd been a patrol, and not Longstead but some other outlying village and not the Lamia but a cunning sorcerer and–


The knight was sitting in a chair next to Merlin's bed, leaning back with the casual demeanor of someone who'd planted themselves in a seat and refused to budge. Which he probably had.

"Nice to see you up," Gwaine said cheerfully, but his words were a little too forced to be genuine. "Been waiting all day for you to wake. I was starting to think that you weren't going to." A half–eaten apple in one hand, he tossed another at Merlin, who fumbled to catch it. "You should eat. Gaius'll kill me if you don't."


Merlin had a vague memory of Arthur offering him something to eat. Everything was fuzzy and not–all–there, but – lords, he'd told Arthur everything. He even thought that he might've cried at some point. For Arthur's part, the king hadn't said very much, just patted him on the shoulder once or twice and then went off to talk to the others, or at least that was what Merlin thought he'd been doing. And Leon had spoken and he didn't know what he'd said but he felt as if it was good. Everything past that was blurry, and he had slipped back into sleep at some point.

Merlin peered at Gwaine out of the corner of his eye. The older knight was watching him with the sort of intent concentration that one reserved for studying particularly difficult texts.

"You were exhausted – 'lest, that's what Gaius says, don't take my word for it – and coupled with the stress... well, suffice to say that you've been in and out for the better part of a day."

Merlin shrank down under Gwaine's gaze. "Look," he began. "If Arthur sent you here to talk to me –"

"He didn't," Gwaine said. – "Not that he's not worried – he is, and he might've suggested that I go sit with you for a while, but... Trust me, Merlin, the princess can't make me do anything I don't want to."

"Oh." Merlin looked down at his hands.

"And even if he had, it wouldn't make what I'm about to say any less true." Gwaine raked a hand through his hair. "Merlin, mate, I've no idea what I said – what any of us said – for you to get the idea that we disliked you due to your status, but let me tell you right now – none of it was true. I would never – we would never – do anything like that."

And Merlin knew that, he really did. "Oh," he said, because that seemed to be all that he could say. His voice suddenly sounding very small.

"And don't you get it in your head that this is some sort of knight thing. I want to make this better. I want to fix it. Only –" Gwaine leaned forward, letting the front legs of the chair thunk to the ground "– I have no idea how."

"S'okay," Merlin said, meeting Gwaine's eyes to let him know that he was sincere. He wanted to tell Gwaine it's not really okay but it's going to be and I just need time, that's all and possibly thank you but his throat hurt and he still had to strain his voice to be heard so all those things went unsaid.

"No, it's not. It's not okay, but we're going to make it okay. Trust me, I'm not proud of anything I did while possessed. Well," he added, "Almost anything. I'm told that I wrestled Arthur to the ground with my bare hands. I'm proud of that."

"Not with your bare hands. You had a sword. You knocked his sword away, though."

"See?" Gwaine said, raising his eyebrows at Merlin. "Best damn fight of my life and I don't even remember it."

And then Merlin started to laugh. The Lamia, the sorcerer, Gwaine. It was all so odd, and all so funny. He'd have remember to tell Gaius that, yes, being possessed did seem to do away with one's memory as well. And when his laughter turned to tears, he didn't bother to hide them.

"You all right, mate?" Gwaine asked, startled.

"Yes. I'll be fine." He paused, reconsidered. "I'm fine."

And this time he knew which was true.

(Later, when Leon and Percival and Elyan and even Arthur asked him the same question, that was the answer that he would give. Leon would nod and incline his head and Percival would clap him on the shoulder and Elyan would let him know that, if he ever needed to talk... And only Arthur would respond to that statement by assigning extra chores, even if they were chores where Merlin would be within his sight.

But right now, he was still in bed and talking with Gwaine, half–laughing, half–crying, because Arthur was alive, the knights were alive… and he was alive, and that was what counted. He was fine. Aching and sore, with broken ribs and too many bruises to count, but absolutely fine.)