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: couldn't fit it all in one post apparently, so here's Part 2
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 woke with a start, once more choking on a gasp as he was thrust into the waking world. But unlike last night, the familiar layout of his bedchambers met his bleary eyes, shrouded in the darkness and shadow of mid night.
It was much too early in the morning—or late at night honestly—to start the day. Merlin wouldn’t be in to rouse him for another few candle marks at the very least and after his dream there was no way Arthur would be able to fall back asleep. He was much too awake right now, his mind whirling and heart pounding with the last remnants of his dream.
This one had seemed even more real and vivid than the last.
He knew it was just a dream, that nothing of the sort had happened in the waking world and that, truthfully, Merlin was probably still sound asleep, snoring in his own bed. Perfectly fine and content, if a little annoyed with Arthur still. But he would take that over a hurt, frightened, or beat unconscious Merlin any day.
Arthur sighed, rolling over to face the wall and try to steer his thoughts away from his dream. Unfortunately, they migrated toward the focus of his dream. The focus of most his dreams nowadays.
He was completely and irrevocably lost for his servant. There was no getting around it, he had tried. In the early years, he had tried to deny it, tried to ignore his blossoming affection and dismiss it as nothing more than simple fondness. He had increased the remarks, the insults, the undermining in the hopes that by knocking his servant down a peg and putting him back in his place, Arthur himself would lose interest and move on. But it had the opposite effect. Merlin integrated himself even more, tried harder, smiled more, increased his own teasing and banter until Arthur was so far gone before he even knew it himself. His cutting remarks turned to poorly disguised compliments, insults into flirting banter, and he started encouraging and praising Merlin more than undermining him.
It had become a problem to say the least and Arthur had no one to blame but himself.
Well, and Merlin that is. He was very much to blame, honestly.
Arthur was so lost in his own thoughts that he barely heard the gentle creak of a heavy door on oiled hinges. Someone had entered his chambers.
Immediately Arthur was alert, stilling his breaths to a more even pace and feigning sleep. With his back to the door though, he had no visual on the intruder and just had to rely on his other senses to know if they meant him harm or not. His instincts told him it was the former as everyone in the castle knew not to disturb him unless it was an emergency. And an emergency didn’t involve sneaking around his bedchambers in the middle of the night. No, this person wanted to remain undetected until the last moment. Until they struck.
Ever so slowly, Arthur slid his hand under his pillow and grasped the hilt of the knife he kept hidden there. Thankfully he had the foresight to have Merlin sharpen it just a week prior.
Nearly silent footsteps crept closer in the darkness, rounding the bed to face Arthur. He could hear the person’s breathing, shallow but even, steady. They knew what they were doing and they were ready.
Arthur was ready too.
He felt more than heard the movement and jerked into action, pulling the knife from beneath his pillow and raising it up before he had even fully opened his eyes. There was the deafening sound of metal on metal and Arthur grunted with effort as he blindly deflected the strike aimed for his chest. His attacker nearly fell on top of him as Arthur countered his strike and in the moonlight filtering in through the window, Arthur could just make out the man’s features.
Merlin growled, pulling back to strike again and Arthur rolled across the bed and out of range, his mind frantically trying to comprehend what was happening. He launched himself off the other side, feet hitting the cold stone floor as he poised for another attack.
Another attack from Merlin.
But it wasn’t. Finally, Arthur was able to get a good look at his manservant. Immediately he knew that he had been mistaken. Merlin hadn’t been simply annoyed or angry or upset earlier. It had been something else entirely, something much more concerning.
Enchanted, possesed, cursed.
For the person before him looked like Merlin but was all sharp edges and hardened features that Arthur had never seen before in his bumbling servant. He held himself tall, an air of arrogance and deadly accuracy surrounding him, wielding the knife with skill and ease.
And his eyes, which should have been a comforting blue and dancing with mirth, were now a dark deep red.
Arthur snarled at the faux-Merlin, watching him carefully as he stalked with cat-like grace around the bed and approached him again. No, this wasn’t his Merlin. Far from him.
“Who are you?” Arthur commanded, furious. How dare this person, this being use Merlin’s face, his body, his image?
“Your death,” faux-Merlin growled, voice low and unnatural coming out of Merlin’s mouth. And then he lunged.
He was fast, faster than Merlin himself, that was for sure. And he had such skill with a knife that Arthur could never instill into his Merlin despite his many attempts.
But Arthur was faster. He easily parried, twisting his own knife around faux-Merlin’s and jerking it out of his grasp. The knife clanged against the stone floor, skidding out of reach.
Arthur leveled his own knife at faux-Merlin. “Let him go.”
“Or what?” Faux-Merlin smirked as he called Arthur’s bluff. “You can’t hurt me. Not without hurting him.”
And with perfect clarity, Arthur finally understood.
You need to kill me.
It hadn’t been a dream, at least, not entirely. Merlin’s battered face flashed in Arthur’s mind, the fear, the pain. He had been fighting this thing off with all that he had but it hadn’t been enough. Whatever or whoever it was that had enchanted or possessed Merlin had been beating him down into submission for two days.
And the being had finally won.
The dream hadn’t been a dream at all. It had been a glimpse into the battle waging inside Merlin’s own mind. It had been a warning. Merlin had been warning him, trying to protect Arthur this whole time.
From himself. And Arthur had dismissed it as nothing more than a dream until Merlin could see no other way to save Arthur, to save the kingdom, than to beg Arthur for death.
He had known something was wrong with his servant, had seen the change but he had done nothing about it. Granted, he hadn’t fully understood what was happening and how could he have, but still he couldn’t help but see all his faults over the past few days. He should have known. He should have done something. Anything.
But what? What could he have possibly done? This was magic, a curse of some sort, something he didn’t have any defence against. Despite the abundance of run-ins with magic or sorcerers he had had over the years, he was never the one to know how to counteract them. That wasn’t his area of expertise. The person who knew best, the one he could count on to help him most where magic was involved was—
“Merlin?” Arthur called out, hoping, pleading that his hunch was correct. “Merlin are you still there?”
Faux-Merlin smirked, eyes growing darker as he pulled himself up to his full height. “Oh he’s here all right. You should hear his pleas. They are quite….delicious.”
Arthur saw red, wanting nothing more than to yank the being out of Merlin’s body and slice it up into a million tiny pieces. But he couldn’t. Not without hurting Merlin and they both knew it. He was truly trapped.
Either way, only one of them was making it out of this alive.
“Come on Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice coming out more as a plea than the encouragement he had been aiming for. “You can fight this. I know you are stronger than him.”
Faux-Merlin cocked his head, red eyes boring into Arthur’s own as though contemplating Arthur’s words. “Touching,” he said finally, voice low and deadly. “But you’re wrong.”
Then faux-Merlin’s eyes shifted from red to brilliant gold and Arthur found himself weightless as though pushed by an invisible force. A very familiar invisible force.
Arthur would love to say he was surprised. He would love to say he was gloriously ignorant to Merlin’s magical talents, what he got up to in the dead of night or when he thought no one was watching, that all his excuses for being absent or missing were truthful. He would love the say he was just as unobservant and oblivious to the goings on of his own servant as Merlin had always claimed he was.
But that would be a lie.
Arthur slammed into the wall beside the door, pain lancing up his spine as all the breath left his lungs. He crumpled to the floor, choking on air that refused to fill his aching body. But even hunched as he was, coughing and sputtering, his eyes still rose, locking onto Merlin’s face.
Magic or no, Arthur had accepted a long time ago that he would do anything for Merlin. Seemed like now that personal promise was going to be put to the test in the worst way possible.
“I know what you want me to do,” Arthur said, eyes finding faux-Merlin’s as he made his choice. He looked into the dark red depths, beyond them, hoping to see a glimpse of the Merlin he knew. Of the Merlin he loved. “And I’m sorry Merlin, I can’t.”
He released the knife still held in his grasp, and pushed it away from them both to skid across the stone floor.
Faux-Merlin’s eyes flashed gold again with nothing but a malicious grin and Arthur was lifted off the ground with such speed he couldn’t even register which direction. He flew through the air until his left shoulder cracked against stone and he felt something in it give. Arthur cried out as white hot pain flooded the limb and he collapsed to the floor once again, cradling the limb.
“I knew of your magic long before this, Merlin,” Arthur admitted suddenly, an urgent need to explain himself overcoming him. After all, he may never get another chance. Damn the laws, damn society, damn everything. If these were to be his last few moments with Merlin, possessed or not, he needed him to know the truth. Before it was too late. “And I accepted it. I accepted you.”
Arthur was lifted once again by the invisible force only to be dropped back to the floor hard. His head cracked against the stone, pain exploding behind his eyes and his vision blacked out for a moment.
Slowly, it returned and Arthur blinked a few times to clear it.
A sharp intake of breath caught his attention then. He looked over toward faux-Merlin surprised to see him hunched over, hands to his head, his breaths uneven. He looked pained.
He looked like he was at war with himself.
Then just like that, faux-Merlin straightened up and his dark red eyes bore into Arthur’s with a new level of malice that hadn’t been there before.
“No, still me,” he growled. He let loose a string of ancient words then and Arthur’s whole world exploded.
It was unlike any pain he had ever felt before. The very blood that coursed through his veins was on fire, racing through his body and setting each bone and muscle alight. Distantly, he could hear someone screaming and it wasn’t until he began choking on his own breath that he realized it was coming from him. With an enormous effort he clamped his mouth shut, vowing to endure whatever the being had in store for him with the dignity and courage Merlin had always believed he had.
It could have mere moments or days for all of Arthur’s awareness, but soon enough the pain vanished, leaving only hollowed memories and weak muscles in its wake. Arthur lay there, panting, nerves still tingling with the remnants of fire and limbs too weak to do more than twitch.
But he didn’t need to move to use his words. And those were the only weapons he could wield right now. The truth.
Because the real Merlin was listening. The real Merlin was fighting back.
“I know I never told you this but you were never just a servant to me,” Arthur said, voice cracking a little on the first words before gaining strength. He turned his head toward Merlin, and found those deep red eyes once more. “Even in those early days when we traded insults and I treated you like dirt, it was only because I was scared. I had never had a true friend before and it frightened me. My father always told me to care was to be weak and I didn’t want a weakness.”
Faux-Merlin’s face hardened and he opened his mouth. Arthur recognized the first few words of the spell and hastily clamped his jaw shut and braced himself for another onslaught of pain.
If anything, it only made the pain worse. Arthur tried to keep as quiet and as still as possible, now more for Merlin’s sake than in an effort to save his dignity. It didn’t matter anymore, none of it did. All that matter was that Arthur survived long enough to help Merlin break the being’s hold on him.
Arthur just needed to keep talking. Just hold out for a bit longer, until Merlin could fight his way out. Then he could finally let go and be at peace.
But the torment didn’t seem to be ending. It continued on for longer than before until Arthur was sure his jaw was breaking under the strain. Until he was sure his body would burn up to nothing more than ashes.
Then finally the spell evaporated and he collapsed onto the hard stone. His vision wavered, blackness encroaching at the edges but he pushed it away, knowing he couldn't pass out now. If he passed out now, it was all over and Merlin would be lost.
With an enormous effort, Arthur met Merlin’s eyes once more and sucked in a breath through his aching lungs. “But you aren’t my weakness, Merlin,” he said, voice no more than a mere exhale. “You are my strength.”
Faux-Merlin cried out then, falling to his knees by the bed, hands scrabbling and yanking at Merlin’s dark locks. He thrashed, head whipping around, the war waging inside painting evidence on the outside.
“Enough!” Faux-Merlin shouted, staggering to his feet. His head shot up and Arthur could see his eyes were no longer just the dark red from before but flickering ever so slightly between dark red and something a little more blue.
That was all the encouragement Arthur needed. There was just one more thing he had to tell Merlin, one more thing he had to say before he could fall into death’s welcoming arms.
“I love you, Merlin.”
A stillness fell over the chambers with his words, like fresh snow over a forest clearing as the two men stared at each other.
And then Merlin’s eyes flashed the brightest pure gold Arthur had ever seen, so beautiful Arthur couldn’t help but stare at Merlin in awe. He was about to meet death head on and what better way to go than shrouded in a brilliant gold.
But no pain came. Instead, Merlin let out an ear splitting scream, falling to his knees once more before hunching over the stone floor. He heaved and cried and panted, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the polish stone, white knuckled and straining.
With the last of his waning energy, Arthur grit his teeth and pulled himself up, feeling the ghost of fiery veins and very real aching pains as he managing to crawl over toward Merlin.
“Merlin?” he asked, voice no more than a whisper now. But he didn’t care, nothing else mattered but Merlin and right now he was in in agony. “Merlin?! Talk to me, Merlin!”
Merlin’s head shot up suddenly toward the ceiling, eyes still a brilliant pure gold. He opened his mouth as if to let out another scream but instead a black inky darkness spewed out and up into the air, filling the space above their heads with an ominous threatening presence. Arthur could only stare, wide-eyed and fearful until the black torrent came to an abrupt end and the entire inky cloud dispersed into thin air as though it had never existed in the first place.
Arthur looked back at Merlin just as his servant raised his head, his beautiful clear blue eyes staring back at Arthur’s own
“I love you too, prat,” Merlin breathed. And then he collapsed, unconscious.