Disclaimer: IDOM

Hello, all! So... Oz and I were having a writing spree the other night; she was working on HG, and I was working on... this. :D I'm not kidding when I say that I write best (more flow-y and inspiration-y) in the wee hours in the morning. We were both up til about 3am... xD Anywho, I'm not sure how this came to me... but the major whump scenes were the scenes that fueled this and encouraged me to write. I don't think I've ever written physical whump like this... I'm usually a psychological whumper. ;)

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. ;)


Loyalty


Merlin stood behind Arthur as he addressed another member of the council. Gwaine stood beside him, glancing at Merlin with a suspicious smirk every now and then.

"Why does he keep doing that?" Gwen smiled.

The servant looked down at her, trying to suppress his grin. "He wants me to go to his chambers tonight for a few drinks."

"You should," Gwen said. "You need to loosen up a little, Merls."

"Really? With the name?"

"Hey, Gwaine gave it to you. Not me."

Merlin groaned inwardly, wondering if it had been smart to tell Gwaine what had happened with his magic last time he'd drunk too much. At least Gwaine had the wisdom to drink in the privacy of his chambers instead of dragging Merlin to the Rising Sun tavern.

"Sire!"

All eyes turned to the new voice-a well-known Lord named Ryce. The man's chainmail glittered in the sunlight streaming in through the windows; his still-thick blonde hair shone.

"Lord Ryce," Arthur smiled pleasantly. "What can I do for you?"

"My lord, I was wondering if I could speak to you in private?"

The king glanced at the fellow council member beside him with question in his eyes. When Pyr nodded, Arthur turned back towards Ryce. "Yes, of course. We were just finishing up some business. Merlin, could you-"

"No," Ryce interrupted suddenly, "he can stay. The young woman and the knight as well, as it concerns them."

Merlin could see that Arthur was trying not to show his surprise when he glanced at them. "Alright," he responded. He said a quick farewell to Pyr before he left, and glanced at the guards before they exited and closed the doors behind them. "What is it?"

Ryce folded his hands in front of him, his face a picture of remorse as he leaned closer to Arthur. His voice, however, was loud enough to be heard by all. "Sire, I regret to inform you that there is a sorcerer in the room with us."

Arthur smirked. Gwaine, though, paled; his lips tightening at he glared at the Lord. "Lord Ryce, you must be mistaken. I would trust every person in this room with my life."

"Then, sire, they obviously do not trust you with theirs. There is a sorcerer, my lord, of that I have no doubt. I caught him practicing his dark arts just this afternoon."

Arthur tilted his head to the side, glancing around him. Merlin could see the humor behind his eyes, but the fear stirring within him forbade him from smirking in return. "Then you wouldn't mind pointing him out, would you?"

"I'm afraid I did not get a very good look at him from the angle I was at, sire. I never saw his face."

"Well, all the men here are of different build. Perhaps you could-"

But before Arthur could say anything further, the middle aged man whipped out a dagger, thrusting it against Arthur's neck. The king stumbled backwards in surprise, eyes on the blade while Gwaine and Percival drew their swords.

"Arthur!"

"Gwen, stay back," he commanded. "What is it you want, Ryce? This is an act of treason."

Ryce smiled deviously, his strong hand gripping Arthur's shoulder to keep him in place. "Come in, boys!" Before Arthur could even consider what that meant, several others, mercenaries, if he had to guess, flooded the room from the servant's entrance, dressed head to toe in black and brown. How they got in, no one knew, but their swords were drawn and pointed towards the others in the room.

Merlin drew Guinevere close, wrapping his arm protectively around her shoulders as she looked fearfully at the blades. Gwaine and Percival reluctantly let their weapons fall from their hands and clatter against the stonework as they were clearly outnumbered.

Ryce placed a hand on the king's chest and pushed him backwards, causing him to stumble into one of the mercenaries. The Lord looked round him, sneering at his king. "I know that very well, my lord, but I will have the sorcerer's confession."

"It's me! I'm the sorcerer."

Ryce didn't even glance at the figure in his peripheral vision. "Haha, very funny, Sir Gwaine. No, you are not him."

"I'm the sorcerer."

Arthur's hardened eyes immediately snapped to Merlin, anger burning within them for putting himself in danger. A noble act, yes, but it wasn't worth his life. "Ryce, Merlin isn't-He's just a servant. He's not-"

"Show them."

The servant stood there, not able to meet Arthur's questioning gaze. He glanced at Gwaine nervously, pleadingly, hoping that his shaking hands didn't betray him as he stepped forward.

"Show them what you are."

Gwaine stepped forwards, but the mercenaries blade at his middle stopped him. "Merlin, don't-"

"Let them go."

"Not until you show them."

Merlin looked at him, his eyes hard as he fisted his hand. His eyes closed, gold burning beneath his lids, and when he opened his fist, a small flame flickered within his palm.

"You see?" Ryce laughed. "You see?"

"Merlin..." Arthur whispered brokenly.

The warlock couldn't stop his body from trembling, his mind from racing, nor his heart from beating thrice it's normal rate. He closed his fist, the flame disappaiting as he squared his shoulders. "It's me you want. Let them go."

"Let them go? Let them run to find their friends? I don't think so, sorcerer. I don't think so."

Merlin's eyes widened, and he glanced at Arthur for the first time. The broken look on his face was too much; he focused on Ryce's voice. "You said-"

Ryce grinned broadly. "I never said I'd let them go, now did I?"

"Release them," Merlin commanded. He knew he had no authority here, not with the mercenaries pointing their weapons at his friends, but he had to try. "Release them, or-"

"Or what?" Ryce mocked. "You'll turn me into a toad? Give me warts?"

The warlock's face hardened, and he frowned with anger. "I could do so much worse, Ryce. Let. Them. Go."

The Lord's smile only grew more wild. "Merlin, you amuse me, you truly do. You think that you can intimidate me when I have swords pointed at your loved ones? With one word, I could have a sword run through sweet Guinevere's back."

Merlin stepped forward, rage burning within him. "Don't you dare." And when one of the mercenaries stepped forward to block him from advancing further, the warlock's eyes flashed with traces of gold. The mercenary yelled in pain and his sword clattered to the ground, the hilt of the blade glowing red with heat.

Ryce's smile dropped as he glared at the servant with hatred. "Leir, why don't we show Merlin what happens when he does something bad."

None of the mercenaries moved for a moment, and then the one beside Guinevere shifted, slapping her hard across the face. The smack was audible, and she yelped with surprise, stumbling backwards with her hand already rising to cover the red mark from the leather glove. Gwaine, despite the mercenaries sword, rushed to her and put his arm round her shoulders protectively, whispering reassurances in her ear.

"Gwen!" Arthur yelled.

"No!" Merlin shouted, glancing between Ryce and his friend. "Don't hurt them! Don't..." His voice slowly grew weary and his face fell as he clenched his fists at his side. "Please, I'm sorry, just don't... Don't hurt them. Please."

The room grew strangely quiet at the warlock's plea, and Ryce began to pace slowly around him, looking him over with arrogance and awe in his blue eyes. "See? Some sorcerers can learn. Good boy. But who would have thought that you... My goodness, servant, you are something, aren't you? You didn't even need a spell for that parlor trick. You must be powerful indeed," he praised. His brow furrowed for a moment in curious thought before his eyebrows rose. "You're not... You're a warlock, aren't you?"

Merlin, who had kept his eyes trained on his boots modestly, snapped his head up, meeting Ryce's amused gaze with surprise written on his face.

"Of course! That's brilliant!" the Lord laughed. "A rare breed indeed. You don't only have magic, you were born with it. I have to say... That is proper impressive. I haven't seen a warlock since before the Purge, and even then they were extremely rare. It's truly an honor."

Arthur couldn't take his eyes off the servant, wonder and awe and bewilderment and hurt all surfacing in his eyes

"The honor's all yours, then, because I find no pleasure in this."

Ryce laughed humorously, fingers playing against the hilt of the sword at his hip. "No, warlock, I don't think you would, would you?"

"Let them go, Ryce. Please," Merlin begged. "I don't want them hurt."

"I'll tell you what... I'll let you heal her," he said, jerking his thumb in Gwen direction. "But only because I wish to see more of your power before I kill you. And then, when you're slowly bleeding out at my feet, whimpering in pain and begging for your life, I'll let them go."

Merlin didn't answer, turning towards his friends and gritting his teeth as he trembled with fear and anger. Both had their gazes locked on him, but each showed a different emotion in their eyes. Gwaine's was one of anger and desperation while Gwen's was fright and forgiveness.

"Gwen," he whispered quietly, looking at the hand cupping her face. "Can I...?" The girl stared at him, eyes softening as she lowered her shaking hand from her cheek. Merlin winced as he saw the pink welt on her skin, and remorse flooded him. "I'm sorry," he offered genuinely. "I shouldn't have-"

She reached out and gripped his arm tightly. "Merlin, don't. Don't do that." Gwaine nodded beside her.

The warlock took a deep breath, shaking as he released it, and raised his hand to hover on the side of her face. Carefully, he moved his hand, cupping her cheek, careful not to aggravate the injury further. "Just... look at me, alright?"

She nodded, and with a second's hesitation, he closed his eyes and felt the heat rise within him. He heard Gwen gasp, and he tilted his face in concentration. A moment later, he opened his eyes once more and pulled his hand away, relieved to see her clear skin gaining it's natural pink hue again.

"Brilliant!" Ryce praised. Merlin whipped around, keeping his hand on Gwen's arm to keep her behind him. "That would exhaust anyone else, but you...? You're special, you are. Definitely talented. Tell me, do you even use spells?"

Merlin bit the inside of his cheek, but he wasn't willing to give Ryce an excuse to teach him another 'lesson.' "Occasionally."

"Does it even tire you?"

"I've had it all me life," he answered easily. "I've learned how to use it."

"You have so much power, warlock... What do you use it for here in Camelot? Why do you remain a servant? You could rule this place with a flick of your hand."

Merlin hesitated, eyes meeting his king's gaze for a handful of seconds before he looked at Ryce again. "To protect my friends. I use it... to protect the people I love here in Camelot. I remain a servant because it isn't my destiny to rule; it's Arthur's, and I will not usurp my best friend."

"Hm, very noble," Ryce praised, nodding as though the answer pleased him. "Really, I almost hesitate to kill you."

"So don't."

The Lord laughed again, his hands behind his back as he paced. "Merlin, you realize where you are, don't you? You've broken Camelot's biggest law: No magic. You've betrayed your friends; you've betrayed your king. You've betrayed everyone you love-everyone you 'protect.'"

"I would never use my magic to hurt them," he said, glancing at Arthur, pleading his friend to believe him.

"Nevertheless, warlock, you broke the rules. And that one is punishable by death." Ryce gave him a twisted smile, and Merlin felt fear build in his chest, constricting his breathing.

"Merlin, you have to run," Gwaine hissed. "Now. Go!"

"I have to warn you, warlock," Ryce interjected acidly. "If you so much as take two steps in any direction I don't approve of, I will kill each of your friends one by one, slowly and painfully, and I will make you watch."

Trying not to let his voice break, Merlin asked, "Why are you doing this? I've never done anything to you."

"No," Ryce agreed. Fury built in his eyes, and his voice was filled with anger. "You didn't. But magic... your magic-"

"Whatever happened, it had nothing to do with me."

Suddenly, Ryce rushed forward, his thick fingers wrapping themselves around Merlin's thin neck and shoving him hard against a pillar. Merlin yelped with surprise, silenced when his head cracked against the stone; his vision swam. Choking, his hands wrapped around the Lord's wrist, trying to push him away as his friend's, even Arthur, broken out of his daze at his friend's suffering, screamed their protest. The mercenaries leveled their swords at each of them, stopping them from helping their friend.

"All magic users are the same!" Ryce spat in Merlin's face. "With your cursed, damned magic! I watched as a sorcerer killed my family, warlock! That is not something I could easily forget!"

The servant fought for air, his feet trying to gain purchase on the ground. "-sn't me."

Ryce brought him forward half a foot just to slam him brutally against the stone pillar again. White spots danced across Merlin's vision; his eyes struggling to focus while nausea rolled with him. His face was shaded with purple now, but Ryce didn't loosen his hold. "It doesn't matter! Everyone with magic must pay the price."

"Why?" Merlin choked.

The Lord pulled him forward and turned on his heel, throwing Merlin to the ground and releasing his hold. The warlock rolled helplessly before coming to a stop on his hands and knees, doubling over as he choked and dry heaved. He brought one hand to wrap round his throat as he coughed haggardly, sucking in air, while his shaking arm rested on the ground to support him.

But then the world spun as Ryce brought his boot up to connect with Merlin's stomach, flipping the boy over before he could even catch his breath. "Because my family was killed!" Merlin, gasping, tried to roll over, but the Lord's foot connected with the warlock's face, cutting his cheek and bruising his eye. "Magic must be eliminated." He kicked the warlock's ribcage; Merlin instinctively brought his knees up to protect his middle. "All of it." Ryce ruthlessly kicked him in the gut three more times, one for each emphasized word and harder than ever before, as though the great sum of his hatred and anger were focused in his kicks. "Which means you have to die, warlock."

"Stop!" Gwen shrieked.

Surprisingly, Ryce did, stepping backwards to inspect his work while his angry breaths came harshly. Merlin's clothing dirty and askew, and a bruise already forming around the cut on his pale face. His left eye was narrowed and shadowed, giving the impression that a bruise would darken there, too. He coughed harshly, his lungs begging for air as he struggled to even move. Merlin felt his magic just there on the surface, begging to be released, to help him, but the warlock pushed it down fearfully. He couldn't... Ryce said...

"Fight back!" the Lord shouted.

Merlin shook his head, fists clenched with pain. "No," he rasped weakly. "I-I won't... put them... in danger." He coughed again, every breath like acid in his lungs.

Ryce paced beside him, nostrils flaring with anger. "It doesn't matter anymore," he spat. He pulled his sword out of its scubbord, the metal glinting in the light as he twirled it dangerously in his hands.

Arthur struggled within his captors hold, his eyes locked on Ryce's blade. "No! Leave him alone!"

"Don't you dare touch him!" Gwaine yelled.

Guinevere was only stopped from running to her friend by Gwaine's arm, still wrapped tightly around her shoulders. "Stop! Please!"

"You're going to die, warlock. Not very poetically, I'm afraid, but you'll be dead nonetheless."

Merlin trembled on the ground, his breaths uneven as his throat and eyes burned; the rest of his body felt like it was on fire. He wasn't even aware of the sword that Ryce pulled above his head, nor how Ryce's muscles moved as he brought it crashing down...

...And the main doors flung open; Camelotian guards flooded the room from various entrances. Ryce was startled out of his rage, eyes whipping round just in time to see Leon hit the back of his knees with the flat of his blade before white spots flashed in his vision, his face stinging from the well-aimed throw. Two more guards gathered his arms behind his back, forcing him to kneel as they tied his arms.

In the confusion, his captor's hold loosened, and Arthur threw his head back, making it crash into the mercenaries nose and blinding him for the single moment he needed to get away. He crashed to his knees beside Merlin, eyes pleading and full of worry. "God, Merlin, please... Merlin?"

"Arthur?"

Relief flooded the king as Merlin's eyes cracked open. He looked upwards. "Gwaine, explain what happened and tell Leon to throw them all in the dungeons. Gwen, fetch Gaius. Hurry!"

Merlin moaned, his head rolling to the side in pain. The king grabbed his shoulders, and Percival helped the king get Merlin to stand enough to get him to the nearest pillar before he collapsed again and the knight was called over by Leon. Arthur crouched next to his friend, keeping his hand on his shoulder while Merlin's eyelids fluttered.

"Merlin? Listen, stay awake, okay?" The king ran his hand over Merlin's scalp, looking for bumps or a sign of concussion. Finding none, Arthur examined the cut on his cheek, fingers brushing against it and wiping away the blood seeping out. Carefully, the king then reached behind him and undid the knot in his neckerchief, pulling it away from Merlin's throat. Sickness rolled through him at the dark purple and sickly green bruises already forming on his friend's neck. "Can you speak?"

"I-" His voice cracked, ending in a harsh, ragged cough that made black spots appear at the edges of Merlin's already limited vision.

"Get me some water!" he shouted to no one in particular. In moments, a cup was pressed into his hands, and Arthur gently pressed it against Merlin's cracked lips. "Slowly," he cautioned. The water felt cold and biting on his throat, and Merlin pushed the cup away, coughing again. "Try again." This time, however, the water felt more soothing, and Merlin's shaking fingers wrapped around the cup. "There you go."

"Arthur... I'm-"

"Don't speak," Arthur interrupted, but his voice wasn't harsh and hurt like Merlin had expected it to be. It was concerned and... proud? "Just listen, alright?"

Merlin nodded cautiously, fisting his hand over his mouth as he coughed again.

"I'm... I don't know what to feel. I don't feel betrayed, as Ryce suggested, but I... I'm disappointed. Not in you. In myself. Because Ryce made it..." Arthur took a breath to calm himself. He lowered his voice, glancing at the others to make sure they wouldn't hear. "Ryce made it perfectly clear to me why you wouldn't want anyone to know about..."-he looked around, the others too close for his liking-"...it. And I'm sorry that you had to live like that. And I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you. But, Merlin, what you did-or what you were willing-I mean... What you were willing to go through to protect us; to keep us safe... Ryce was right about one thing-you are different. In so many ways. Good ways. I mean-Just... Thank you, Merlin. For everything. I imagine you have quite a story to tell me?"

Merlin's eyes, burning with tears now, too, shone with brotherly love and gratitude, and he nodded eagerly. Only a squeak escaped him when he tried to talk, and he put a hand to his bruised throat, wincing.

"I promise you, Merlin, Ryce will be punished for this. Banishment, probably. He did put a knife to my throat; he's lucky I'm not having him executed. I should, actually, for what he did to you."

The warlock let out a small laugh, which turned into another cough. "Arthur-"

His friend gave him a stern look, reminding him of what he'd said. "You're only going to hurt your throat more, you idiot. But, um, it's going to take me some time to... to get used to this, but I want to know everything. When you're healed, of course. But please, Merlin... no more secrets? Not like this one, okay? I don't want you to ever feel like you have to hide anything from me."

Merlin barely needed to think before nodding again and mouthing, "Promise."

"Good," Arthur breathed. Just then, Gaius's voice rang round the corridor outside. "I'll come by later, alright, to check up on you. You've got three days off, more if you need them, to rest. I'll talk to Gwaine and Gwen about keeping your secret-"

"Gwaine," he rasped, "knows."

The king rolled his eyes, chuckling lightly. "Of course he does. Well, I still have to speak to Gwen. Gwaine can help me, I suppose. She shouldn't be too hard to convince, I imagine, considering how close you two are."

"Merlin!" Gaius shouted at the sight of him. "My boy, what happened?"

Arthur bumped his shoulder lightly in affection before standing and embracing Guinevere. Gwaine came over just as the two pulled apart, his face serious.

"Arthur, listen, about Merlin-"

"He's safe, Gwaine," the king placated, glancing at the warlock.

Gwaine's gaze stayed fixed on him, though relief flooded his eyes. "What? Are you...? Arthur, I had a speech planned and everything! It was going to be brilliant!"

"I'm sure it would've been," Arthur said, turning to the woman beside him. "Guinevere-"

"His secret's safe with me, Arthur," she soothed, hugging him sideways.

The king smiled, looking at his two friends before looking at his best friend. He was being dotted over by his uncle, smiling as Gaius readily complained about the state he was in. And when Merlin's eyes met his, the warlock's grin only widened.

Their friendship wasn't broken.

It was jumbled and confused and mixed up.

But it was there.

It was firm. It was resilient. It was strong.

Like a coin. And the two of them were each one side.


I hope you guys enjoyed it! Oz mentioned that Ryce is my best OC yet, and I'm inclined to agree with her. ;) He's nuts. I based him off Bonvilian, from the book Airman, with a hint of the bad guy in the first episode of Sherlock. Seriously, guys, if you want physical and psychological whump/manipulation, read Airman by Eoin Colfer. :D

I think that's it... I have a few more ideas banging around in my head, but I don't know when/if I'll get around to writing them.

Thanks for reading! :)