*waves wildly* Hello, guys! :D Right, so, new one-shot! Woo-hoo!
First thing you should know is that this whole thing was inspired by a Star Trek: TNG episode, ironically, called "Remember Me". Seriously, what're the chances of that? *shakes head* Obviously, though, I changed the ending and how it plays out, but the gist of it is pretty much the same. :)
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
-John F. Kennedy
It started when a few of the servants disappeared.
It wasn't noticed right away because, well, they were servants; they were always running after the lords and ladies and staying out late busy with their chores.
But I noticed.
I was the only one that noticed.
"Where's Bryr?" I asked. "If he's late again, Lord Winicer will fry him."
The serving girl closest me turned and paused, eyebrow quirked. "Bryr?"
A smile spread on my lips as I remembered that she was still fairly new. "Um, short little guy, brown hair, green eyes?"
"Sorry, I don't know," she smiled shyly.
An hour later, it happened again.
I was returning Arthur's tray to the kitchen, like every day, but Bryr wasn't there. Things worked like clockwork every morning. Even for the king. Every day, I would arrive in the kitchens to fetch Arthur's breakfast. And exactly an hour later, when the king was headed towards the training field, I returned the platter and dishes, as did Bryr.
This time I asked someone who'd been there longer; someone who I knew was familiar with the young servant.
"Did Bryr pick up Winicer's breakfast on time?"
"The servant," I pressed. "He just turned thirteen last week? Kagen, I just saw you with him and Reynolds yesterday at the banquet."
The young boy's eyes flooded with confusion, and his eyes narrowed. "I was with Reynolds, but there wasn't any Bryr with us." He took his leave, leaving me with a vein of frustration.
It concerned me more than anything.
I decided to just go to the lord himself and see if he'd heard anything about the boy. It only took me a few minutes to get there, and when I did, I knocked politely.
"I'm sorry to bother you, my lord, but I wanted to know if you'd seen Bryr this morning? He seems to have gone missing."
A frown pulled on the lord's lips in concern. As far as royals go, Winicer was one of the nicest ones. "No, I'm sorry. Is Bryr someone I should know?"
Disbelief coursed through me like a raging river. "Sire, Bryr is your servant-has been for two months."
"I apologize, but I don't recognize 'Bryr.'"
My lips thinned and I bit my tongue, giving him a curt nod of respect before exiting.
But it didn't stop with Bryr. It spread. Like a plague, it seemed. People went missing: Ana, Kaydense, Roiker, Lemeir, Anwyn, Lord Rinin, Lady Wenlyn, Sir Henshire, and many, many others. And everyone forgot about them. Their whole existence seemed to be erased.
"Arthur, please," I appealed. "People are missing, and their own families have forgotten about them!"
"Why can't I remember them, then?" he argued. "By your memory, I was friends with some of these people, and I don't even remember their faces. Why are you the only one who remembers?"
"I don't know, but it's scaring me. One by one, people are being taken out of existence, and I can't do anything about it. Now, I know you only have my word on it, but these people were real-are real, I mean."
The king sighed, his eyes losing focus as he looked at his desk for a moment. And when his head raised, his eyes were clear: he had made his decision. "I'll send out search parties. Maybe there is something magical going on that we aren't aware of."
"Thank you, Arthur," I breathed, finally feeling a little of the worry roll off my shoulders.
The blond walked past me and towards the door-presumably to organize the search-but turned back as his hand settled on the glinting metal of the handle. "And Merlin," he said. I turned round towards him and saw that his eyes were full of trust. I knew that whatever he was going to say was important, and I hoped that it did a little to ease the pressure on my shoulders. "Your word was always enough."
Search parties were sent out. They came back with nothing. No people, no information, no clues. This was no secret plot of Morgana's. This was no curse of some vengeful druid. This was... I didn't know. But it kept happening. Throughout Camelot.
It didn't end with people.
"Is Mithian still coming next week? I think we should delay her visit until we have this sorted," I cautioned.
"Mithian?" Guinevere responded.
I opened my mouth, but snapped it shut again as my thoughts straightened out. "Gwen, she's the princess from Nemeth," I said, carefully and with precision.
"Nemeth?" she echoed. "I've never heard of it." I sputtered. My words, as far as I remember, weren't even coherent as panic ran through me. She set a hand on my shoulder as my breathing became irregular, concern lighting her eyes. "Merlin, settle down. We'll get this settled, I promise."
And it didn't stop.
"Merlin, I don't know who you're talking about," Gwaine repeated.
I swallowed, trying as hard as I could to be patient. "Okay, I know, never mind. But when you went on the patrol, did anything seem out of the ordinary? Did anything feel different?"
"No, nothing. Everything seemed fine."
I let out an annoyed breath. What was happening? I spread my fingers on the table, feeling the familiar notches and cracks in Gaius' table and hoping they'd help ground me. "Gwaine, listen. And this is very important. The census we took a few weeks ago, do you remember how many people were living in Camelot?"
"Roughly two hundred. Why?"
I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. I wanted to panic. But I couldn't. "No, no, no, no. Yesterday, Gwaine, there were over two thousand people living in Camelot!"
The knight scoffed. "Two thousand?"
"Yes! Okay, explain to me why there're so many houses? Why all the extra space and fields if we're only housing and feeding two hundred people?"
"Another kingdom has an emergency and need shelter, people passing by, fill up food stocks," he listed.
"No!" I protested. "This isn't the way it's supposed to be." He set his hand on my shoulder as I my face sank into my hands.
Then it hit closer to home.
"Gaius!" I shouted, terror already setting in. "Gaius!"
But there was no answer. Where was he? Had he disappeared to? He couldn't have, right? I needed him to help me figure this out. Maybe we could use my magic to stop this.
"Gaius?" a voice said.
I spun around to see Arthur standing in the doorway. "Yes," I said, feeling relieved. "Have you seen him?" He gave me a blank stare, and he realized a second too late that that was the worst response he could give me. "Please, not him. I-I need his help. He can't have..."
"Merlin, who's Gaius?" the king asked, stepping closer as concern lit his orbs.
"Gaius! The court physician! He-he lived here-with me! He's my great uncle, and he's been like a father to me since I came to Camelot. He just about raised you! You came to him for everything. Arthur, please," I begged.
I thought I saw pity in his eyes, but in seconds it was gone. Good. The last thing I needed was someone pitying me. He set his hands on my shoulders and drew me into a hug. I didn't resist, but I didn't hug him back.
"We'll get this sorted," he promised.
That's when I got the idea. As I stood there staring blankly at the door, hoping, begging, pleading for Gaius to walk through smelling like books and herbs, I felt a twinge of hope. Maybe I wouldn't have to lose the others.
I pulled away from him, tensing as my mind went into overdrive. "I have an idea," I said.
"I can... I mean, I can... I think I can..."
"Merlin, what is it?"
But that started it's own slew of problems, and I'm still not sure how Arthur held onto his faith in me. I'm not sure how our friendship survived.
We gathered in his chambers an hour later. Him, Gwen, the knights, and myself. The remaining fifty citizens of Camelot went about their lives, completely clueless as to what was happening around them.
I felt absolute dread run through me, but it was now or never. It was this or nothing. It was my only hope. I licked my lips; my throat was dry as parchment. The others traded glances and their eyes flickered towards me occasionally, waiting for someone to break the silence.
It was me. It had to be me.
"I have magic," I blurted. They each had different responses, but there wasn't time to go through them and convince them that I could be trusted. There wasn't time to explain. "I think I can put a shield around each of you individually and tie it to myself. That way I would always be linked to you, and maybe... Maybe you won't..."
"Disappear?" Gwaine offered.
I nodded hesitantly.
Arthur was anything but hesitant after his processed what I said. "You can't have magic," he protested. "I would know."
"Arthur," I said softly.
"No," he refuted. "You can't. Merlin, we, together, have been fighting magic for-"
"I know, Arthur, but I do have magic. And I sincerely hoped that you would find out another way. I didn't mean for it to happen like this."
"And when were you planning on telling me then, hm? When we were facing another cataclysmic event? When I was on my deathbed?" he snarled.
But he wasn't listening. He was headed out the door.
Things went downhill from there.
"I really mucked up, didn't I?"
Gwaine smirked at me, the subtle shimmer of his magic shield showing like dust in sunrays. "I didn't think it was possible to muck something up this bad."
I let out a dry laugh. "Thanks, Gwaine, that helps."
There was a moment of silence before the knight spoke once more. "He'll get over it, Merlin. He just needs time."
"We don't have time."
Gwaine wasn't the only one to accept my magic. The other knights did too after a little while. I had left them alone after I had showed them a short demonstration of my gift-just a little dancing flame in the palm of my hand. They needed time to think, I knew, and while I couldn't explain everything, they needed to trust me.
Gwen approached me after I came down from the battlements. Gwaine had slipped off to his chambers.
"Merlin," she said cautiously. "Do you really think you could stop us from disappearing?"
This was the moment of truth-for Gwen's faith in me at least.
"I...I don't know," I answered truthfully. "But I will try everything in my power to keep you safe, Gwen. You have to believe that."
"I do," was her quick response. "I've thought about it a lot, and you've been there all along, haven't you? Protecting us from the shadows?"
"I-" I hesitated and looked towards my boots, a blush crawling up my neck.
That confirmed it. I saw it set in her eyes as my orbs flickered upwards, and she smiled. "I thought so. Now, the most important question..."
"What's that?" I asked cautiously.
"I noticed that Gwaine's shield sparkles kind of blue, and Leon's is slightly red. Is there a way to make it purple?"
I smiled for the first time since this all began.
And then it really hit a nerve.
"Gwen, please." My heart pounded within my chest at three times its normal pace. "Please tell me you remember her."
Her shield shimmered with shades of violet. "I don't. I'm sorry."
I felt tears build in my eyes, and I felt one slid down my cheek. No. My mother... she was gone. She wasn't remembered. She deserved so much than that. Gaius too. Everyone deserved more than that.
"Please, Gwen, just... I think I need to be alone for now."
She left, and I let everything I'd been holding back the past two days come roaring forwards: all the emotion, all the pressure, all the expectations.
It was Arthur who had found me. I was lying on my side in Gaius' bed, hugging my middle as if I was in physical pain. My mind was wandering-dead, really, from all the build up from the last few days, so I didn't hear him come in. I didn't even notice him until he sat on the stool next to the cot.
My eyes snapped into focus, and I flinched at the suddenness of it all. It took me a moment to pull out of my grief induced haze, and when I did, all I could say was "Arthur?" I tried to stand up, knowing that our friendship was strained and he was still the king and I was only a servant, but he stopped me just as I sat up.
"There's no need for that."
I froze, my mind still unsettled. "Sire?" My hands fidgeted in front of me, and I avoided his eyes. He hadn't talked to me since I revealed my magic to him. He had avoided me; stayed shut in his rooms. "C-can I help you with something?"
His eyes softened, and I looked away, ashamed. "I came to talk," he said simply.
I let out a jagged, uneven breath. "Talk?"
"Um, about... You know. Your... magic."
I was still dumbfounded, and whispered, "Oh."
"And I... I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I shouldn't have hidden myself away-"
"No, Arthur, you had... You have every reason to hate me."
"Hate you?" he said with shock. "Merlin, no matter what you did, I could never hate you. I was... upset, yes, but I never... I'm sorry if you felt like that. I really am. That was never my intention."
I finally met his eyes, and I could see every bit of the apology that was in his voice, in his eyes. The sincerity, the love, the brotherhood. All of it. And I knew...
But something else happened.
Something so sudden that it made me gasp for breath.
"Merlin, what is it? What's wrong?"
"Leon," I said, standing up. I wavered as pain shot through my chest. I brought my hand up to my heart, clutching my tunic, and Arthur grabbed my arm. "And Elyan."
"They're gone," I cried.
It took Annis' kingdom, the rest of Cenred's kingdom, Gedref, the Valley of the Fallen Kings, and it took the people. There were only ten citizens in the whole of Camelot now, not including Arthur, Gwen, Percival, Gwaine, and myself.
And I was afraid.
So, so very afraid.
The shields didn't work-they ended up just being a way of letting me know they'd gone.
"T-they're all leaving," I said, blubbering. "And you're all forgetting. Why can't you remember? Why is this happening?"
Arthur squeezed my shoulders, and the pressure helped ground me. The faint maroon sparkle in his shield glowed brighter as he stepped through a vein of sunlight. "I don't know, Merlin. I don't know. But I have to believe that it's all going to work out."
"How? How can everything work out when everyone is being forgotten? They deserve so much more than that, Arthur! They're not... they're not just some dusty book that's to be left on a shelf. T-they're real, they had lives-families, friends! I can't..." I floundered, and my lower lip trembled. I deadpanned, "Why am I the only one who remembers?"
"I'm sorry, Merlin."
"I don't understand... Did-did I do something wrong? Why...?"
He pulled me into a hug, but this time, I immediately wrapped my arms around him, grabbing the back of his shirt in my fists as my breathing became labored and tears fell down to my flushed cheeks.
Percival disappeared within the hour.
The rest of Camelot's citizens within the next.
And something else happened, too. Gwaine was the first one to see it, only an hour before he, too, was forgotten. It was a cloud. A gigantic, plain, grey cloud mass moving towards Camelot from all sides. It blocked out the rest of the landscape. And it kept coming.
And then Guinevere disappeared.
It was only Arthur and me left.
And I don't think I'd ever been more terrified in my life.
I had lost my only family relations-Gaius and my mother-and my only friends. I couldn't lose Arthur too. He couldn't disappear. But what would happen if he did leave-would I forget like the rest of them?
The cloud mass kept coming and coming and coming. It swallowed the bordering forests, the training field, and soon, the lower town. It pressed against the castle walls, all around us as we looked out from the battlements, and I noticed that, whatever the dust covered, Arthur forgot.
"Arthur, I think this is the end. I think it's happening." The cloud climbed up the battlements like curling waves. I felt Arthur's hand on my shoulder as I stared fearfully at the slate colored dust, and I turned towards him.
"If this really is the end, old friend, I want you to know that I know you did all you could. Thank you, Merlin. There is no one else I would rather face the end with."
A smile pulled on my lips for the second time in days, and I felt a strange peace settle in my heart. "Nor I. And you should know, Arthur, that you've always been my greatest friend. I hated lying to you, and you can't begin to know how it feels for you to finally know the truth. Thank you," I said softly, "for accepting me."
"Of course," he answered, giving my shoulder a squeeze. "Just... I hope this isn't the end, you know? There's still so much we need to talk about-so much that I owe you."
"You owe me nothing," I breathed. "Your friendship was all I ever wanted."
And then I made a mistake.
When I opened my eyes again, Arthur was gone.
"Arthur! No! Arthur!"
The cloud tinged the air, making it a greyish silver as it ebbed around me. I began to choke. I coughed, hard and sharp in a futile effort to clear my lungs. It hurt so much. It felt like there were daggers in my throat, and I fell to my knees, clenching my eyes shut as my hands wrapped around my throat. I couldn't breath. I couldn't move. I was in the most pain I had ever experienced. I was choking, wheezing, suffocating within the acid-like cloud as tears streamed down my cheeks.
And then I woke up.
I shot up before I was even fully awake, fingers desperately reaching out as I fought for air. The first thing that I realized was that I could breathe, and I greedily gulped the air as my hands came to my throat again. I was overwhelmed with dizziness and nausea. I coughed harshly as I drew in too much air and then I became aware of the firm grip on my arm. I flinched and shied away, because everyone had gone. I know it. They had disappeared, and everyone had forgotten. They all had.
"Stop," I wheezed.
"Merlin, settle down," a voice answered.
But... but he... How could he...?
I tensed but stopped resisting as another blurred figure rushed towards my left.
"Merlin? Merlin, can you hear me?"
"A-arthur?" I breathed.
"You're safe," he reassured. "It's okay. It was just a dream. I'm here. You're safe"
It had all been a dream.
They were all here: Arthur, Gwen, Gaius, Percival, Gwaine, Elyan, Leon. Each, as soon as they heard I was awake, came to visit me.
They hadn't disappeared. They were there-with me.
Gaius explained it all later-after everyone had gone.
"You were extremely ill, my boy," he said. "You've been in a coma for two days; your fever only broke this morning."
"A coma? What happened to me?"
He shook his head, patting my hand. "Nothing. You just... didn't wake up."
I didn't tell him, but I knew it was more than that.
I wasn't ill by any natural infection or contagion-it had been my magic. It had plummeted me into the coma, and I knew exactly why.
It hadn't taken me long to figure out.
But I knew that it was more than just a dream, more than just a nightmare, and more than just a coma.
It was a message.
And I had been a fool. Such a fool.
I had been blinded, I realized, to how it was supposed to be. I hid behind false reasonings and pretentious thoughts.
I had forgotten.
As I lost each of my friends to the nightmare, one by one, I truly realized what they meant to me, what my life would be like without them, and I realized their potential: for kindness, for compassion, for understanding.
Yes, I had wholly absorbed the subtle lesson that my magic had been trying to teach me.
Because I had forgotten what their friendship-their trust-really meant.
Somehow, I knew that everyone had reacted just as they would in real life. I knew that what had happened-if it had really been played out-wouldn't have happened any other way.
In the dream, I had revealed my gift to them. That was the key. Everything had pushed me to telling them the truth about myself... And they had accepted me. Each one of them.
The boy who'd been raised to hate magic and, in turn, me. He had accepted me-called me his friend. And I knew that, no matter what happened, that's the way it would always turn out. We would always be two sides of the same coin.
And maybe it was because of that nightmare... No, it was because of that nightmare that I stood in front of the king's chambers now. My stomach burned with anxiety, but I closed my eyes, took a breath, gathered my courage, and knocked.
My magic had opened my eyes.
My magic had reminded me when I'd forgotten.
But I would never forget again.
A voice called me to come in, and as I pushed the wooden door open and saw a smile spread across Arthur's face, I felt a grin tugging at my lips.
Because this wasn't the time for pretentiousness or unwelcomed secrets or lies or hidden talents. It was the time for forgiveness, compassion, and friendship.
It was time to tell them the truth about my magic.
And I was no longer afraid, because I knew that everything would be alright.
It was time.
I feel like I need to explain why I chose the quote I did-the gist of it is that 'the greatest enemy of truth' (what prevents Merlin from telling Arthur the truth) 'is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest' (all the lies that Merlin has told everyone to keep his secret) 'but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.' (the idea Merlin has in his head that no one will accept him) Ta-da! I hope that helped a bit. ;)
Anyway, please review. Thanks for reading. ;)