Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur (if you want - who knows where it will go)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Leon, Gwaine, Percival, Lancelot, Elyan
Summary: Arthur had been missing for months. Merlin wasn't sure he had found him.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Why is this happening to me?
Author's Notes: Continuation from last week.
Merlin stared, watching Arthur struggle in Percival’s grip. The man looked feral, his lip curled in a snarl and his hands scratching fiercely at Percival’s arm, trying to force him to let go. Percival winced, but kept his hold on his prince.
“Arthur?” Merlin tightened his grip on the fighting man, forcing Arthur to look at him. His heart chilled at the blank orbs staring back at him but Merlin kept looking. He had to figure out what spell this was if he was going to reverse it.
He held on too long though. Arthur managed to free an arm and his hand instantly clawed for Merlin’s throat. Gwaine pulled him back out of the way, but the knights remained frozen, staring at Arthur. They all knew that despite the number of things Arthur threw at Merlin on a daily basis, the prince would never try to hurt him.
Percival suddenly moved, his actions too fast for Merlin to stop.
“What was that for?” Merlin demanded, shrugging free of Gwaine’s hold. Percival lowered the unconscious Arthur to the floor and looked at Leon for guidance.
“We have to get him out of here,” Leon said. “It’s easier this way.”
“But-,” Merlin’s argument died in his throat. He knew they were right. Percival reached down again and this time, pulled the prince over his shoulder. Merlin winced. He knew Percival was strong, but it shouldn’t have been that easy to lift Arthur. He had failed his destiny: he should have found Arthur straight after he had been taken. He shouldn’t have ever let him be taken in the first place.
“C’mon,” Gwaine muttered. “Let’s get out of here.”
He led the way out of the dungeon and Merlin stood back to let Percival go first. He wanted to be able to keep an eye on Arthur at all times.
“He’ll be alright,” Lancelot murmured as they took up the rear. “He’s one of the strongest men I know. Besides, I know you’ll figure it out.”
His reassuring smile did nothing to ease Merlin’s worries, but he forced a tight smile in response and followed his friends up into the night air. They moved away from the castle without a word, only stopping when it was miles behind them and they deemed it safe to rest.
Elyan and Lancelot collected wood for a fire and Leon and Percival took up guard. Gwaine sat with their supplies, giving Merlin some space to examine Arthur. He had lost weight and had clearly fought against his restraints, but other than that, he looked unharmed. While Arthur’s eyes were shut, Merlin could pretend they had rescued their prince and it was over.
“Step aside, Merlin.”
Merlin looked over his shoulder to see Leon approaching with a length of rope. He instinctively moved closer to Arthur.
“What are you doing?”
“He has to be secured,” Leon said, his eyes apologetic even though his tone was firm. “He trained us all, he’s the best of us. He can get past us and from what I have seen so far tonight, he’ll try and kill you again.”
“But-,” Merlin stared down at Arthur’s prone form. He knew Leon had a point. He couldn’t admit that he could defend himself. Without knowing Arthur’s curse, Merlin couldn’t be certain his magic would even work against the prince. He reluctantly nodded and stepped aside, nausea clawing his insides as Leon carefully secured the man to the tree. Merlin knew how much Leon cared for Arthur and how much this would be hurting him as well. It was the only reason why Merlin was letting it happen, knowing there was nothing malicious at work here.
It didn’t escape his notice that the rest of the men kept their distance. Initially, Merlin believed it was to give him his privacy with his master. Indeed, Merlin made the most of it, cleaning Arthur up the best he could and wrapping soft rags around his wrists so the rope didn’t chaff the chain marks.
Then Merlin realised they were afraid to come closer, fearful of seeing that deadened look in Arthur’s eyes and knowing they were helpless to save their friend. Only Lancelot edged closer, but retreated once he had handed Merlin some food.
For his part, the warlock didn’t move. He ate, drank and even dozed where he was, protecting Arthur from anything else that might come their way. But the night was quiet and the knights eventually slept, leaving Elyan standing on guard.
“Why is it always you?” Merlin whispered, washing Arthur’s face carefully, feeling more protective than ever when Arthur’s eyes remained close. He sighed heavily, resting a hand on Arthur’s shoulder even as he stared into the trees, feeling more alone than ever.
“Why is it always me?”
Merlin didn’t see Arthur’s eyes twitch, but he felt the prince’s grip as Arthur grabbed the bottom of his jacket, attempting to draw him closer.
“Kill,” Arthur mumbled, his first audible word. But he was barely lucid and as restrained as he was, Merlin was able to pry his hand free and stepped back out of reach.
“Why, Arthur?” He whispered, not wanting the knights to hear. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Merlin closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. Wherever Arthur was, it was beyond Merlin’s reach. He glanced over at his friends, momentarily considering joining them.
Merlin jumped, staring at Arthur. The prince’s hands had clenched into fists and his knees had drawn closer to his chest. Despite that word breaking Merlin’s heart, it gave him hope. It made him believe that the real Arthur was still in there, fighting. And if Arthur was in there, it meant that Merlin had a chance to get him back again.
He put his hand back on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Sleep,” he whispered, allowing the magic to flow from him into his master. Arthur couldn’t resist the spell and slumped again.
Merlin took a breath. He had a prince to save.