Title: Nothing Without You [prequel to the prequel]
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Arthur has a dream. Or perhaps, a nightmare
Warnings: human experimentation themes, hints of kidnapping, held against will, nightmare, Modern AU with magic
Word Count: 1400
Prompt: #342: Cold
Author's Notes: I'm clearly terrible at posting things in a reliable order so here, have a prequel to a prequel to...some one shots. So basically, the usual for me.
[Prequel] / [Part 1] / [Part 2]
“Merlin?” Arthur called out, his voice echoing back at him down the long white hallway. The tile sent chills up his bare feet as he looked left and right, passing closed doors, hearing nothing but the buzzing from the overhead fluorescent lights.
He couldn’t remember how he got here, where here was, or why in the hell he was in nothing but his pants. Nothing felt right about this place, about any of this. Something was wrong. He needed to find—
A muffled shout sounded from the the door at the end of the hallway followed by a crash.
“Merlin?” Arthur picked up his pace, dread worming its way into his lungs.
By the time he reached the door, he was sprinting and the shouts were no longer muffled, shaking Arthur to his core. No, it wasn’t Merlin, it couldn’t be. He was fine, he was at home, waiting for Arthur, blissfully aware of the night he had planned for them. Of the velvet box he had stashed in his briefcase.
He tore open the door, a shout of his own on the tip of his tongue but he never got it out, instead choking on the words at the sight that greeted him.
The room was in shambles. An exam table was pushed haphazardly to the side, straps hanging by a thread from the arm rests, the surgical light above it askew and aimed at the wall. A metal tray lay overturned in the middle of the room, instruments both sharp and electrical strewn about the floor beside an unconscious woman in full scrubs and mask. The counter on the far wall had drawers open, contents spilling out as though someone had riffled through them in a hurry, unable to find what they needed.
But it was the figure in the corner that caught Arthur’s eye.
He was dressed in nothing but a pair of thin cotton shorts, his body littered with needle marks, bruises and the occasional incision in various states of healing. His hand was shaking as he brandished a scalpel at the person across from him—a nurse or doctor Arthur guessed based on the man’s scrubs and surgical mask—his eyes wild and full of fear. The man looked unperturbed, merely going through the motions as if this sort of thing had happened before and all they needed to do was weather the storm until it died out. Until Merlin wore himself out.
“Merlin?” Arthur whispered, his voice swallowed up by shock. What was happening? Where were they and why the hell was Merlin here?
Merlin’s head whipped to the side, eyes going wide with shock and relief. “Arthur,” he breathed.
Then he was on the floor, the man having taken advantage of Merlin’s momentary distraction to tackle Merlin, knocking the scalpel out of his hand. Arthur shouted in alarm, rushing forward to pulling the man off of Merlin.
His hand went right through the man, as though Arthur was nothing more than smoke. As though he wasn’t there at all.
“No.” Arthur tried to pull at Merlin but he was merely a spirit, feeling nothing as his hands sunk through his boyfriend. “No no no, Merlin!”
Merlin struggled beneath the man, reaching out to Arthur, his eyes wide, staring, pleading begging. “Help me. Your father, Arthur, look into your father!”
“What? What are you saying? Use your magic Merlin?! I can’t touch you!” He growled in frustration, tears distorting his vision and carving tracks down his cheeks as he tried again and again to grab Merlin, to help him, to get him away from the man pinning him down.
But Merlin just continued to struggle, briefly managing to push the man off before he was struck in the head by a well aimed punch. The force knocked his head into the floor and he lay still for a moment, sluggish and disoriented.
Neither of them noticed the needle in the man’s hands until Merlin shouted in pain.
“Arthur,” Merlin gasped, his voice fading as the drugs started to take effect. Arthur fell to his knees beside his prone form. He cupped his hands around Merlin face, his tears falling freely now, helpless to do anything but watch the light fade from Merlin’s eyes.
Arthur startled awake with Merlin’s name on his tongue. He jerked upright, heart pounding, eyes wide and searching as fear clogged his throat. But all around him sat the familiar bedroom, his suit from yesterday still piled on the floor by the closet, his phone on the bedside table dark and silent, and the gentle glow from the nightlight in the bathroom spilling out onto the carpet to disrupt the night.
His eyes fell onto the other side of the bed, expecting to see Merlin’s form curled up beneath the covers.
The empty cold space knocked him back into the present.
Reality was like a physical blow stabbing through Arthur’s heart. For the last two months he had awoken, rolled over, reaching for Merlin, wanting nothing more than to curl up around him and feel the warmth of his skin. To kiss him awake, soft and slow, see his sleepy grin as he turned in Arthur’s arms, his dark hair mussed and tousled, blue eyes sparkling beneath heavy lids.
And every morning Arthur was met by nothing but empty space. Cold, lonely, aching space.
At first, Arthur had thought Merlin had up and left him without warning. Merlin had been called out on a last minute business trip to Paris a few days before and had been scheduled to arrive back that day on a morning flight. But when Arthur arrived home from work, the flat was just as he had left it that morning. No suitcase, no unpacked clothes, no Merlin. Merlin had sent him a text earlier that day that he had landed safe and sound but now his phone went straight to voicemail when Arthur called. Gaius said he hadn’t seen nor heard from him and that Merlin had the day off of course. So there had been no reason Merlin shouldn’t be home or had left a note or something.
Except he hadn’t. And he wasn’t.
Arthur had filed a missing persons report the next day but that was quickly dismissed when Merlin’s card pinged in France. He was told the cameras showed it was indeed a dark-haired man matching Merlin’s description withdrawing funds but Arthur hadn’t been permitted to see the footage so he hadn’t been able to confirm it. It just didn’t make sense.
They were happy. Merlin had never expressed any sort of displeasure or anger or desire to end things, not once. They talked about everything, were open and honest with each other. Every once in a while they fought, but nothing to the point of wanting to end things or leaving. Arthur had been planning to propose.
For a while, Arthur’s broken heart hadn’t let him think clearly, only wallow and sort through his life with Merlin the past few years to figure out where he went wrong. He called Merlin’s phone every day, sometimes twice or three times a day, leaving pleading voicemail messages and begging for at the very least an explanation. But all too soon the line was disconnected entirely. He had thought that was that, the end of them. The final connection, lost.
Arthur leaned forward, running his hands through his hair, grasping onto the last vestiges of his dream. It had felt so real, like he had been there in that hospital or lab or whatever that place was. Like he had been called there without being physically present. Merlin had explained once, during one of their many talks about his magic after he had come out to Arthur a year ago, that projecting yourself into dreams was entirely possible. That he had done it once some time ago to try and soothe Arthur when he was suffering from another bout nightmares. Arthur, though, didn’t have magic so how could he have been there?
But Merlin did. And it hadn’t felt like a dream. Far from it.
“Look into your father.”
It had felt like a plea.