Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin (pre-slash)
Summary: (Takes place before 5x11 – The Drawing of the Dark) Following the magic reveal, Merlin has to deal with Gaius retiring and a stranger coming in to take his place. Besides that, Merlin is uneasy about fully confiding in Arthur about all that he’d done with his magic.
Amidst all this, the last thing Merlin ever expected was the life-altering parting gift that the new court physician leaves.
Word Count: 4,272
Thank you to my betas, schweet_heart and dylogger, for looking over my story. I really appreciate it!
My recipient, narlth, requested:
As the year draws to an end, it is decided that Gaius should step down as court physician. The replacement is brought in from another village within the kingdom and is less than pleased to have Merlin foisted onto them. With Gaius out, things can only go badly for Merlin.
And also for likes: The boys being pining idiots, fluff, hurt/comfort, Merlin whump.
I tried to include most of your requests. Happy Holidays!!
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
~ * ~
Merlin looked back at Camelot, slowly becoming smaller as he increased his distance from it. The cold was beginning to grow worse as winter settled in. He folded his arms together, rubbing them to keep warm. Merlin had tried to keep his magic hidden for so long, that it didn't occur to him that he could use a warming spell.
But his mind was distracted. The thought that he may never see Arthur again pained him.
And all because of the new Court Physician.
~ * ~
Three days earlier…
“Why are you doing this?” Merlin demanded. “You found out about my magic, and less than a month later, you decide to let Gaius go?”
Arthur sighed, a weary look in his eyes. He pressed his hand to his brow. “I’m sorry, Merlin. Gaius’s departure has nothing to do with your true nature. Since Gaius is getting on in years, I decided it was best to allow him to retire. See that someone new can fill his position, give them a chance to prove themselves.”
“I could have filled that role. Why didn’t you consider me instead of looking for a stranger?”
“You’re my manservant, Merlin. First and foremost,” Arthur told him, his voice stern. Then he spoke softer as he said, “And I don’t care to lose you.”
Merlin had heard though. He stopped, realizing that this was hard enough on Arthur. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Especially with Arthur knowing Gaius all his life – telling him to leave must have been difficult, even if Arthur felt that it was the right choice to make.
“Arthur, l may not agree with your decision, but I can understand why you did it. Though I don’t like the idea of a stranger I’m not sure I can trust coming in. This stranger will be responsible for treating you medically.”
“You must accept this change, Merlin. I know it won’t be simple and it will take time, just as I need time to make peace with you possessing magic. But Gaius has been a faithful servant for many years, and I believe he deserves to live a quiet life, free from the stresses of work.”
“Gaius is still fully capable of working as a physician. His mind is still sharp.”
Arthur nodded. “I give no restriction to him being called on as a medical adviser,” he said. “But I think it’s wisest that someone younger come in. Someone who can handle the full day’s work of Court Physician. Neither you nor I could predict when Gaius’s time will come. He refuses to discuss it, I know, but I don’t want Gaius overexerting himself to the very end. It’s better to let him leave now while he’s in good health than later when he’s in poor health.”
Merlin couldn’t stop from frowning. He still wasn’t very happy about the change, but he decided he could warm up to the idea.
Merlin made to leave Arthur’s room, but Arthur’s voice, uncharacteristically tentative, stopped him. “Merlin, about your magic… we haven’t had the chance to properly discuss it. You have been avoiding it, Merlin. Don’t deny that.”
Merlin only turned his head, giving Arthur a small smile that he was sure came out more like a grimace.
“Not now, Your Majesty,” Merlin’s voice adopted a more formal tone.
He wanted to distance himself from this conversation. No matter how inevitable the talk was, for now, Merlin didn’t want it to happen at this point in time. The more questionable acts – such as magically taking away Arthur’s free will – were what concerned Merlin the most. Even if at the time, that spell on Arthur had been done for Arthur’s own safety.
“You have limit on how many times you can refuse me, Merlin,” Arthur said, drawling his name at the end as if inviting Merlin to talk back.
And maybe perhaps be goaded into telling him what Arthur wanted to know.
But Merlin wouldn’t take the bait. At least not this time.
“If that will be all -- good night, Your Highness.”
“If you insist,” Arthur said with a shrug. “Good night.”
To Merlin’s relief, Arthur let the matter go for now.
He returned to working on a letter at his desk. Merlin hoped Arthur would go to sleep soon. He knew the king didn’t do so well under sleep deprivation.
And an Arthur on little sleep would mean a more impatient one. Certainly Arthur would be far less willing to let Merlin delay the talk if he wasn’t in a patient, accommodating mood.
~ * ~
A strange white glow caught Merlin’s eye first when the new Court Physician came to Camelot. Merlin wanted to ask him what it was. He had never seen such a glow before. But with the physician not addressing the glow, Merlin decided to remain quiet about it.
It wasn’t easy at first. Merlin was concerned that maybe he was the only one to see this white glow. What if it was harmful and the physician, Edmund, needed to be warned about it?
Then after a day or two, the desire to warn Edmund subsided and changed into irritation. Edmund wasn’t too happy with Merlin’s intrusion. Even if Merlin was there to assist him, to be helpful, Edmund preferred to work alone.
“Give me that one,” Edmund told him in a curt tone. He looked annoyed when Merlin gave him the vial. “No, that’s not what I wanted.”
Merlin couldn’t keep from frowning. This was the tenth time in the last few hours that Edmund had told him he had done something wrong. It was like he just couldn’t do anything right.
He raised his hands in exasperation. “If you don’t want me here, then just tell me. I have experience in medicine. Don’t treat me like a novice.”
“Maybe you should go,” said Edmund with a shrug.
Merlin waited a moment to see if he would speak further, but he didn’t.
Sighing, Merlin turned around and made to leave. He decided that working on his duties as manservant might be just the distraction he needed.
But the sound of a glass bottle shattering to the ground stopped Merlin’s movement.
He heard Edmund swear. Merlin saw shards of glass on the floor. He looked back up at Edmund and he was alarmed to see one of Edmund’s hands shaking. Was he sick? Could that be why he was short-tempered?
“Are you all right?” Merlin spoke up when Edmund didn’t explain himself.
Edmund’s expression was grim. “Please just get out of my sight.”
Merlin didn’t feel comfortable leaving this discussion unfinished. Though Edmund had mostly irritated him from the moment he’d arrived, Merlin still couldn’t help but be concerned about him. He didn’t deserve to deal with an illness on his own.
“I’m fine,” Edmund said as if in answer to Merlin’s silent question. “You should leave.”
Merlin decided to respect his request. He just had to watch Edmund more carefully to see if his hand trembled again.
~ * ~
The next day, Merlin was woken up by Arthur, his hands roughly shaking his shoulder. Merlin opened his eyes, still feeling groggy. He was disoriented, forgetting where he was. But then he looked around, seeing the cot he was sleeping on.
He was in the antechamber of Arthur’s rooms. Due to the unpleasantness between him and Edmund, Merlin had chosen to avoid sleeping in his usual bedchamber so he would have less contact with the new Court Physician. Edmund had taken up Gaius’s old sleeping quarters, so tension had resulted when Merlin came down every morning. To avoid it, Merlin just slept in the antechamber.
“Merlin, wake up!” Arthur’s urgent voice took him out of his thoughts.
After rubbing at his eyes, Merlin peered at Arthur. He grew concerned when Arthur’s face had paled, looking especially grim.
“What? What is it, Arthur?”
“Guinevere… and some of the other knights, they came by early this morning. They say that you need to die,” Arthur told him. He paused, looking uneasy.
“What? Tell me,” Merlin said.
“They know you have magic. And they believe you should be executed for practicing magic while being my manservant.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand. Gwen wanted me dead? Even under a spell, I can’t imagine her hating me so much.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes, Guinevere as well. It has to be a strong spell. Or curse, more like it.”
Merlin moved to leave his bed. “What should I do?”
“You have to leave the castle, Merlin.”
“I can’t leave you, Arthur.”
“You’re not safe, Merlin,” Arthur said firmly. “Maybe you can see Gaius. The two of you could find a solution to whatever is going on. Guinevere didn’t seem like herself at all. The knights too.”
Merlin couldn’t bear to leave Arthur behind, but Arthur was right. He could use Gaius’s help.
“Was Mordred one of the knights?”
Arthur shook his head. He looked at Merlin oddly.
Merlin hadn’t told him yet about the dark prophecy of Mordred being meant to kill Arthur. That was certainly something else that Merlin dreaded discussing.
He wondered if Mordred was behind the spell. Even if Mordred had been trying his best to be Merlin’s friend, Merlin’s suspicion of him still hadn’t completely waned. He couldn’t resist thinking that Mordred was secretly in league with Morgana, despite having seen the young knight denounce her and stab her months ago.
Someone started banging on the door.
Arthur put up his hand, telling Merlin to stop moving. “Stay here. I’ll get the door.”
Minutes later, Merlin found himself being attacked by several of the knights. He was so shocked that one of the knights was Gwaine that he forgot he could fight back with his magic.
After all, if they knew about the magic, then what was the trouble with using it? But then what if they remembered his magic once this spell was lifted? Was defending himself worth the risk?
“Merlin, do something!” Arthur exclaimed, desperation edging its way into his voice.
Percy and Leon were holding Arthur back as the King tried his best to extricate himself from their unyielding grip. It looked like they had restrained Arthur’s hands. The sword Merlin had seen on Arthur when he’d woken up was gone.
“Gwaine, please. You’re under a spell! This isn’t you. Look at me! You’re not thinking clearly.” Merlin tried to get through to his longtime friend.
Gwaine continued to punch him, first in the abdomen and then on his face. Merlin moaned in pain as blood dripped from his lip and the area surrounding left eye ached terribly.
The other two knights kept Merlin’s hands behind him so he couldn’t defend himself. Still, he could say a spell, just a simple spell to throw them off him.
What was stopping him? He might run the risk of his friends knowing his true nature once this spell ended, but if it meant saving his own life, wasn’t it worth it? And Merlin didn’t know what they would do to Arthur. Merlin needed to protect him.
“Don’t, Merlin! It’s futile. Believe me, I’ve tried,” Arthur told him.
Then Leon forced a ball of cloth into Arthur’s mouth. “There’s no need for you to speak,” he said in annoyance.
He didn’t sound like Leon at all, the spell making him sound cold and distant.
Then Mordred charged into the room, his expression one of grim determination. Merlin was sure he glimpsed a hint of worry in his features too.
Mordred didn’t say a word before he swept a hand over the area, his eyes glowing a striking orange-yellow color. All the knights collapsed to the ground, stunned into a magically-induced sleep.
Merlin looked at Mordred in surprise. He was aware that Mordred was powerful, but he was still so young, at least compared to Merlin. Sometimes Merlin still saw him as the small boy he had saved with Arthur and Morgana.
Mordred went to Merlin. He put out his hand for Merlin to grab, but Merlin remained sitting on the ground, not taking the offered hand. He frowned up at Mordred, wanting answers.
“You need to leave now, Merlin. There’s no easy way to end this curse. Everyone in the castle seeks to kill you,” Mordred said.
“You have to listen to Mordred,” Arthur spoke up. He was rubbing his wrists that red and swollen from being restrained with rough rope.
“Do you know if Morgana is behind this?” Merlin asked Mordred.
Mordred bit his lip. He shook his head. “I don’t think she is.”
Arthur went over to Merlin and taking his hand, he pulled Merlin up without waiting for Merlin to accept or decline.
He put both hands on Merlin’s shoulders. His blue eyes pierced Merlin’s own. “You must leave. Now. Like Mordred said: everyone wants to kill you. You are in danger.”
Merlin peered at Arthur in confusion. “But why not you?”
Arthur looked bewildered, just as puzzled as Merlin was.
“The spell is not perfect.” Mordred said with a shrug.
Merlin’s eyes narrowed. “You say that as if you know who is behind the spell.”
Someone was pounding on the door. “I know you’re in there!” The person shouted in anger.
“Merlin, go with Mordred. Don’t make me tell you again,” Arthur commanded, his eyes seeming to bore holes into Merlin, as if willing him to disappear.
With their magic working together, Merlin and Mordred departed from the room, leaving plumes of blue and grey smoke in their wake. Merlin was worried about how Arthur would handle that very displeased visitor. Who knew what they do when they failed to find Merlin in the room.
~ * ~
They landed just outside the entrance to the castle.
Merlin glared at Mordred, pushing him up against the wall.
“What do you know? How is it that you and Arthur weren’t affected?”
Mordred looked around the area. People were milling about around the courtyard. Some were staring very intently in their direction, having noticed Merlin.
“Not here. Some people here are under the spell too,” Mordred warned.
“Then explain quickly,” Merlin said, unconcerned.
“I’m not sure about the King, but as for me, I think it was due to being in close proximity to the man who initiated the curse.”
“Who was he?”
“It’s the new Court Physician, Edmund… he dropped this vial and the liquid inside it turned into smoke. The smoke soon became invisible, but before it did I saw it traveling out of the room. The smoke seems to have permeated every corner of the castle. I had suspected something wasn’t right about him the moment I saw him. That’s why I went to visit him early this morning.”
“Why is that?” Merlin demanded to know.
“You saw it too, didn’t you, Merlin? The white glow surrounding him. The man and his kind are natural-born enemies of all who possess magic. For some reason, he has chosen to target you.”
“I saw the glow. But why haven’t I heard about this before? What is his kind?”
Mordred looked uneasy. He looked everywhere but at Merlin. “It’s not something that’s talked about a lot. It makes even the most peaceful Druids fearful enough that they’d be willing to kill those like Edmund.”
“Am I interrupting?”
Edmund had come up behind them. Merlin saw Mordred jump a little upon seeing the Court Physician.
Edmund smiled at each of them in turn. “I am dying, Sir Mordred. I have nothing left to lose,” he said. “You know how to end this little trick I started. I won’t stop you.”
He raised his hand, the left one which Merlin had seen shaking the previous day. Edmund had cut open the palm of his hand so that blood slowly dripped down from his hand down his arm.
Mordred stepped back and Merlin saw him flinch momentarily. For some reason, the sight of Edmund’s blood seemed to unnerve him.
“Or maybe I can stop you,” Edmund said, appearing pleased to see Mordred’s reaction.
Mordred shot him a dark look. He took hold of Merlin’s arm, steering him away from Edmund and the courtyard.
“What is it with his blood?” Merlin asked.
“When someone like you or me touches it with their bare hands, then we suffer great pain. Consuming the blood leads to the risk of dying.”
“You’re saying I’ve been working with someone who could kill me?”
“You have to go. I’m sure King Arthur will find a way to end this.”
“Edmund has to die, doesn’t he? To stop what he started.”
“What else do I need to know about him? You still haven’t told me everything, Mordred.”
Mordred sighed, not looking too happy with talking about Edmund. “His kind don’t possess magic, but they can’t be affected by magic – either to help or to harm them. So if a sorcerer goes to attack one with magic, that person will be unharmed. It leaves a sorcerer no better off than someone who has no magic. And if we fight them hand to hand or by sword, we can accidentally make contact with their blood. Blood that will leave us in unimaginable pain, lowering the chance of defeating them.”
“You should have told me your suspicions the moment he arrived, Mordred,” Merlin said, frustrated with his omission.
“I thought you knew… that you would be careful around him. There aren’t many like Edmund left these days. Decades ago, there were groups of paranoid sorcerers who found ways to subdue those of his kind and kill them. The white glow helped with identifying them, which made the sorcerers’ work easier.”
“They were targeted for just being who they were? I can’t imagine every single one going on the attack against sorcerers.”
Mordred looked a bit ill. “It was indiscriminate from the stories I was told. Even the ones who didn’t hurt a sorcerer were killed.”
“Just for existing?” Merlin concluded, frowning. “I can see why Edmund would want to hurt me. Considering our history.”
Mordred was at a loss for words. “I don’t think this is a conflict we can fix.”
Merlin had nothing to add to that.
He decided to leave Camelot, heading into the forest. The cold hit him hard then especially since he had no warm coat on to keep away the biting chill. The whistling wind picked up around him then, the fast-moving breeze making the winter weather even harder to bear.
~ * ~
Arthur managed to apprehend Edmund. Mordred had told him that he was the culprit behind the curse that had forced Merlin away from Arthur’s side.
Arthur was glad of Mordred’s help. It wasn’t easy taking out those who should be his allies.
The knights and Guinevere believed Arthur was working with Merlin, as it seemed inconceivable Merlin could be his manservant all these years without Arthur knowing about his magic. Arthur could understand that logic. Admittedly he felt like a fool for not seeing the truth about Merlin much sooner.
The hardest to subdue was Guinevere, as she was his wife, and was rather impressive with a sword. Arthur wasn’t proud of himself for it, but he punched her in the face to knock her out. He apologized to her unconscious form. He made sure to lay her down on the bed in her chambers so she wouldn’t be alarmed waking up in the corridor.
“It’s over, Edmund. Mordred told me how to end the potion’s effects.”
“Kill me if you wish. I won’t stop you.”
Arthur didn’t like the too-calm tone in Edmund’s voice. What was he planning? Did he have a way to prevent Arthur from killing him? Or was he planning something else Arthur couldn’t foresee?
Arthur dismissed those thoughts. He wanted Merlin back, and he needed to end the spell to accomplish that.
Edmund had to die.
He turned the physician around so that he would face him. He stuck his sword in him without another word.
“Feel… better?” Edmund choked out in a whisper. Blood came out of his mouth.
“Slightly,” Arthur said.
He had to admit he wasn’t too happy with killing him. Especially when in that moment, Edmund hadn’t attacked him… hadn’t aimed to stab him with a hidden dagger or a knife.
All Arthur had was Mordred’s word that Edmund was the one to stop.
But the word of a loyal knight was good enough, wasn’t it?
Arthur had to think so.
Arthur watched Edmund die, collapsing to the ground as he lost his balance. Arthur put his hand behind Edmund’s head, supporting it, so it wouldn’t hit the hard ground. A small apology for striking a man who hadn’t physically attacked him.
Arthur swore he saw a white glow surrounding Edmund’s body as the man took his final breaths. The glow vanished the moment Arthur checked Edmund’s pulse and found there was none.
~ * ~
Merlin smiled when he saw Arthur approach him in the depths of the forest.
Then his smile turned to a frown and maybe a little fear when he saw Arthur surrounded by a white glow. A white glow not unlike the one Edmund had.
“It’s all right, Merlin. Edmund’s gone. I killed him. No one is intent on killing you within the castle. You can return.”
Arthur smiled at him, not seeming to notice Merlin’s frown, at least at first.
Then Arthur reached out to Merlin. He looked concerned.
“Merlin, are you unhappy to see me? What’s wrong? Everything is returned to how it should be,” Arthur said.
Merlin shrugged, flashing him a quick smile as if to make Arthur forget his odd reaction.
“I’m all right. I’m glad to see you, Arthur.”
Then Merlin noticed a cut on Arthur’s brow. The wound was still actively bleeding. The bleeding was very slow, but still the blood trickled down from the small wound.
Nervously, Merlin stepped forward and raised his hand. He said an incantation to heal the wound with his magic.
But nothing happened. His healing magic had no effect on Arthur. As Merlin had feared upon seeing the white glow surround his King.
Mordred had been right. Even magic with the aim to heal could not be used for people like Edmund, and now, it seemed, for Arthur as well.
While Merlin knew he should be glad that Arthur couldn’t be hurt by magic now, he still felt sad. After all, what did Arthur need him for now if he didn’t require protection against magic?
Had Edmund planned this in advance? Had he known Arthur would kill him and that he would be the unknowing recipient of his abilities? In that way, Merlin would continue to suffer beyond Edmund’s death.
Merlin couldn’t believe it. If Edmund was his natural-born enemy, and now Arthur carried the same abilities – his blood might even be harmful to Merlin now too – then would this make Arthur his enemy too?
No. Merlin refused to believe that. It didn’t matter. Arthur was Arthur. Merlin wouldn’t let this change divide them as it was their destiny to work together.
Arthur had a question in his eyes. Merlin could tell he wasn’t aware that a white glow surrounded him. Or if Arthur did know, then he wasn’t privy to its significance.
“What is it, Merlin? You said a spell, I heard you. Did it not work? I didn’t see anything happen.”
Merlin gave Arthur a tight smile. He felt tears well up in his eyes. “I was trying to heal the cut on your brow. I must have not remembered the right words.”
Merlin tried to dismiss the subject. He turned away from Arthur and began walking back in the direction of the castle.
Arthur reached out, grabbing Merlin’s arm and forcing him to face Arthur once again.
“What are you keeping from me this time, Merlin?” Arthur was insistent.
Merlin couldn’t look away from Arthur’s eyes. Arthur was on a mission and Merlin couldn’t deny him.
But Merlin couldn’t bear to confide in him about this. It was all too new to him. He needed time to accept the change.
Now Merlin could truly understand what Arthur had gone through, was still going through, upon learning of his magic.
“I’m sorry,” was all Merlin could say.
He fell to the forest floor. Arthur wrapped his arms around him in a firm embrace.
Merlin was a little afraid, not sure if the blood on Arthur’s wounds would touch him and leave him in pain.
“I care for you a great deal, Merlin,” Arthur said quietly. “We can talk about this another time. But I don’t want to have any secrets between us. Especially ones that cause you sadness.”
Merlin took a deep, shuddering breath. He swiped at his wet eyes.
“I think Edmund gave you something… before he died.”
“What did he give me, Merlin?” Arthur asked him in a whisper.
Merlin could feel Arthur’s breath against his cheek.
Merlin gave his King a smile, though it was a small one and half-hearted if he was honest. Arthur gave him a strange look, but he smiled back all the same.
Removing himself from Arthur’s hold, Merlin tried as subtly as he could to increase the distance by at least a foot away from Arthur.
“I still wonder why you weren’t affected by Edmund’s mind-controlling potion,” Merlin said, feeling earnest to change the subject.
“Well I remember you told me that we were connected. That we shared a destiny, united in ensuring Camelot thrives. Something like that must be stronger than any magic.”
Merlin smiled at him weakly. “Yes, it has to be."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
End Note: The idea of what Edmund (and now Arthur…) is from the TV series, Legend of the Seeker. These sort of people are known as Pristinely Ungifted. The white glow and the danger of their blood to magic users are made up by me. The idea that Pristinely Ungifted people don’t possess magic and magic can’t help or harm them is from Legend of the Seeker though.
The fear magic users have of them is from the show too – but I made up the bit about sorcerers killing them in the past simply for being Pristinely Ungifted. But since Legend of the Seeker is based on a book series, there’s a chance that it’s brought up in the books (haven’t read them, so not sure).
But being Pristinely Ungifted is rare in the TV series. Even just one has the villain in the series unnerved. He's determined to keep the Pristinely Ungifted person from messing with his plan, which involves magic.