Summary: Something is wrong with Merlin and Arthur can't quite figure out what it is. Until he does
Warnings: enchantments, possession, pining Arthur
Word Count: 5000 total (2500 for pt 1, 2500 pt 2)
Author's Notes: Ah dearest schweet_heart, I'm so glad I got you. You are an amazing creator and I am such a big fan and I hope I did your prompt justice (it was right up my alley, honestly). Hope your holidays are as magical as you <3
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.
Arthur stared at Merlin, unsure what was going on. He wasn’t even sure how he got here let alone where exactly here was. A clearing somewhere? Were they still in Camelot?
But that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered when Merlin was stumbling toward him, arm holding his side and limping from an unseen wound. A large dark bruise cover his left cheek just below his eye and his lip was busted open, a spot of blood dotting the lower lip.
“Merlin?!” Arthur tried not to let the fear and anger at seeing his friend in such a state overtake him. He had to think rationally. “What happened?”
“You need to run!” Merlin shouted as he reached him. His hands landed on Arthur’s shoulders, not pushing or pulling but steadying with an urgency that increased the fear welling up in Arthur. “Get away from me.”
Arthur shook his head, unable to see or understand the threat. “What? You aren’t making any sense Merlin. You need Gaius.”
“No! Just—“ Merlin paused, eyes widening in fright as he looked over his shoulder toward the dark dense forest. Arthur followed his gaze but there was nothing there. No sound or movement from the trees beyond.
Arthur glanced back at Merlin, noticing he was trembling slightly where he stood. “Merlin—“
“GO!” With that, Merlin shoved Arthur hard and everything disappeared.
Arthur woke with a start, eyes flying open, choking on a gasp. A canopy of trees revealed themselves above his head, their leaves highlighted in the first early morning rays of a new day. His heart hammered behind his rib cage, begging to be released from its confines as the image of Merlin’s beaten and bloody face continued to swim through Arthur’s mind.
A dream. It had only been a dream.
Or had it?
He shot up on his bedroll visions of bruises, naked fear, and urgent tones running through his mind, and Arthur began frantically searching for the familiar form of his manservant. For a few agonizing beats, all he could see were the red bundles of his gently snoring knights highlighted against the surrounding dark green forest. But Merlin’s bedroll by the far edge of the clearing, was empty.
Arthur scrambled to his feet, kicking his blanket aside in his haste to ensure his dream wasn’t reality.
He opened his mouth to call out for Merlin, to rouse the knights to search for his missing manservant, anything really, when the crunch of leaves and twigs broke the silence of the morning. Arthur whirled around, pulling his sword free of its sheath to aim at the intruder.
Merlin stumbled into the clearing, pot in hand, completely uninterested in the sword now pointed at his chest. Arthur quickly lowered his sword, hammering heart slowing at the sight of his manservant.
His completely healthy uninjured manservant.
“Merlin.” Arthur looked him over, searching for anything amiss. “Are you alright?”
Merlin met Arthur’s eyes briefly with a cock of his head. “I’m fine.”
But it was his eyes, devoid of the usual spark and gleam Arthur was so accustomed to seeing, that fed the worm of worry in Arthur.
Clearly something had happened, though not Arthur’s original theory of blood and bruises. Merlin was upset about something, that was for sure. Was Arthur at fault?
It had been a fairly standard patrol, as far as Arthur was concerned. They had rode through a few of the outlying villages and talked with the people, ensuring all was well in their parts. A few people at the last village had even handed the knights gifts and trinkets as a token of thanks for keeping their lands clear of bandits. Hell, Merlin had even received a gift of his own.
And to Arthur, just seeing Merlin smile like that had made the whole patrol worth it.
Now however, Merlin’s mood had completely changed. Where before he was his usual chatterbox self, trading insults and banter with Arthur, humming some tavern tune as he worked, and complaining every once in a while about his saddle-sore bum, now he was all but silent, just going through the motions. It was unusual to say the least.
Arthur tried to stamp down the worm of worry that had taken root in his gut. No, Merlin was fine. He wasn’t bruised or battered and seemed perfectly healthy. No outward injuries to be concerned about.
The knights around him began to stir from their bedrolls as Merlin threw the pot over the fire to start breakfast. The birds overhead chirped in the trees bringing the surrounding forest to life. He hadn’t even noticed how silent the forest had been before.
Arthur shook his head, now annoyed with himself for outwardly displaying such concern for Merlin. He was the crowned prince, he shouldn’t be so overly concerned for a mere servant, let alone showing such affection. It wasn’t proper. It wasn’t done. His father would give him a tongue lashing for such behavior.
And Arthur couldn’t afford to step out of line yet again. Especially where Merlin was concerned. No, he needed to keep his emotions in check. If anyone, especially his father suspected how deep Arthur’s affection for Merlin ran, Merlin would vanish before Arthur could even utter a word of protest.
Because the crowned prince wasn’t supposed to fall in love with another man, least of all his servant.
Arthur scowled, turning away from Merlin and grabbing his belt from where he had left it beside his bedroll. He yanked it roughly about his waist and sheathed his sword with equal anger.
Clearly, Merlin was fine, there was no need to get himself all worked up. Perhaps he was a little annoyed with Arthur for some unknown reason—that Arthur definitely wasn’t at all fretting about—but obviously not hurt.
So why couldn’t Arthur shake the remnants of his dream?
By the time they reached Camelot late that afternoon, Arthur was irritated. Something was wrong with Merlin and he refused to say what. He had been silent and brooding the entire way back, so far from his usual demeanor that even Sir Reginald asked him if he was alright. And if that wasn’t enough of a hint, instead of riding up beside Arthur as was his prerogative, Merlin kept to the back of the patrol.
Arthur had grit his teeth hard to keep his concern from rearing its ugly head in full view of his men.
But it was slowly driving him insane. How was he supposed to right this wrong if he didn’t even know how he had caused the wrong in the first place. Or what the wrong was?! Merlin never did make anything easier for him.
As Arthur dismounted, the clop of his men’s horses fading as the patrol came to a stop in the courtyard, he chanced a glance behind him at his manservant.
And his concern went up tenfold.
There was a brief moment, a mere heartbeat where Merlin’s face was drawn into a grimace. Of focus, of determination, of pain, Arthur wasn’t quite sure and it was gone the next second as Merlin straightened up and dismounted from his horse.
Arthur shook his head, sure his mind was just playing tricks on him. But he had seen it, he knew he had.
Merlin looked up, seeming for all intents and purposes, like his normal self. If he hadn’t just spent a long silent morning with the man, Arthur would have thought nothing was amiss just by looking at him.
Sire? Arthur faltered in his shock, frowning. He never called him sire unless…
“Alright, enough of this,” Arthur said, crossing his arms over his chest. “What’s got your knickers in a twist?”
Merlin cocked his head again which only made Arthur frown harder. Was that a new tick of Merlin’s perhaps? It wasn’t unusual but he tended to veer toward a sarcastic remark or quirk of the eyebrow as a response where Arthur was concerned. “What?
“You’re quiet and brooding,” Arthur pointed out, “which is a nice change of pace, yes, but quite different from your usual self. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say a lass had just rejected your advances. But seeing as there’s no lass to speak of, spill.”
Merlin’s face seemed to change then, smoothing out into a blank mask and Arthur nearly took a step back, unnerved. But he held his ground as Merlin said “Nothing is wrong, sire. Everything is fine.”
Oh that wasn’t convincing in the least.
“Now if you’ll excuse me sire,” and by the gods Merlin truly was unnerving him now, being so polite and respectful. It was dreadful, truly. “I must tend to your things and prepare you a bath.”
“Yes, uh, see that you do,” Arthur stammered out wide-eyed, too shocked to do anything more than watch Merlin gather his saddlebags and head toward Arthur’s chambers.
Arthur’s shock quickly morphed into an all-out scowl. This was far from over. Once Arthur had reported to his father and seen to his other duties, he was going to sit Merlin down and have a long hard talk about odd behavior and alarming your crowned prince.
Of course Merlin expertly avoided him for the rest of the day. Arthur should have known better. If there was one thing Merlin knew how to do, and do well, it was avoid Arthur and troubling topics about himself. Revealing secrets was not his strong suit.
Arthur knew that all too well.
So it was after a nice long bath—during which Merlin was conveniently absent despite his duty to be present and assist his prince—and dressing down for the night that Arthur turned in early. He suddenly felt exhausted from the day. Fretting over your manservant while trying not to outwardly show it took a lot of a person, it seemed. Honestly, it was a miracle he was even able to fall asleep, what with the gaping hole of worry in his stomach.
But as soon as his head hit the pillow, he found himself drifting off into darkness.
The forest opened up around him, familiar and yet, not at all. Had he been here before?
“No no no no no what are you doing? You can’t sleep now?!”
Arthur turned toward the sound of his manservant, unsettled by the tone of his voice and the raw ache that lingered on it’s edges. “Clearly I’m not sleeping, Merlin, as I am talking to you.” But come to think of it, Arthur couldn’t remember how he had gotten here. Or where here even was. And there was something oddly familiar about-
A shiver ran through Arthur as his memory returned. He had dreamt of this place last night.
And he his heart nearly stopped as he finally took in Merlin. Blood and startling bruises, cuts and contusions, Merlin looked even more worse for wear, like he was about to keel over where he stood. His face was even more battered and a steady stream of blood oozed out of a large cut in his hairline. And if Arthur wasn’t mistaken, his right arm hung at an odd angle, balanced out by a pronounced limp on his left side.
Arthur reached for his manservant, eyes wide as fear for Merlin’s life overtook all else. What the hell—
“There’s no time, Arthur he’s coming,” Merlin frantically said, cutting off Arthur’s concerned rambling. He reached for Arthur, wincing as his arm moved and he aborted the action altogether. Then he sobered, face hardening into one of seriousness as he locked eyes with Arthur.“You need to kill me.”
“What?” Arthur felt like all the air had been punched out of his lungs.
“There’s no time,” Merlin continued, eyes suddenly swimming with tears as he begged Arthur to do the impossible. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I tried but I wasn’t strong enough. Just know that I would never hurt you, Arthur. But you must kill me. Promise me, Arthur!” And now he did reach for Arthur, grabbing his hand in both of his despite the obvious pain that caused him. Arthur couldn’t even manage to find comfort in it, so frightened by Merlin’s words, appearance, and frantic manner. “It’s the only way.”
Arthur felt suddenly numb, like he had jumped head first into a lake in the middle of winter. “You really need to lay off the cups, Merlin.” He chuckled, trying desperately to right the wrong with humor he didn’t feel. “This is absurd, even for you.”
“I’m being serious!” Merlin roared, eyes suddenly wild. Arthur was alarmed by the intensity he found in them.
Merlin’s head whipped to the side then, startled and his eyes went wide with fear. Just like before, he began pushing at Arthur, trying to get him to move away. “Shit. You need to wake up, Arthur! Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!”
Arthur could feel his consciousness pulling him toward the waking world but he held on desperately, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that Merlin was so frightened of.
Merlin’s eyes widened further with realization and fear, his mouth opening to say something.
And then a mass, black and indiscernible rammed hard into Merlin from the right, overpowering and relentless, encompassing Merlin until all Arthur could see was a blur of inky blackness. It was over in a second. The blackness retreated, pulling off Merlin’s unconscious body like smoke from a fire. But it didn’t vanish like Arthur expected it to. Instead, it drew toward him, coalescing into a vague humanoid shape in front of Arthur.
And despite the being having no distinguishable features to speak of, Arthur could tell it was grinning.
Then it rushed toward him and with a last frantic glance over at Merlin’s unmoving form, Arthur desperately pulled at his consciousness
[Continues on Part 2...]