Pairing: Gwaine/Merlin, sort of one-sided Morgana/Merlin.
Summary: It's quite ridiculous really how many mind controlling creatures Morgana manages to find. What did they do when they were not being captured in glass containers and used by evil sorceresses? One might hope to be immune soon. But not today, it seems.
Warnings: Angst, mind control, some physical abuse.
Word Count: Approx. 4000
Authors’s Notes: Dear Amorette, I hope this is at least reminiscent of what you were hoping for. I am terribly nervous.
A million thanks to eaardvark for jumping in on extremely short notice and beta-ing this into shape, and many thanks to my dear man whom I have neglecting a bit (much) while I was battling this fic.
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.
For once Merlin agrees with Arthur's general assessment of him. He is an idiot and a fool. He is an idiot for not choosing a more crowded road, and a fool for thinking Gwaine might actually miss him if he didn't show up today. Perhaps if he had been less preoccupied with himself, then he wouldn't be pressed against the stone wall by an invisible force, while Morgana smirks viciously from under her disguise of an old woman.
“This was unexpected,” she said. “But yes, you will do nicely.”
The glass is cold against his skin. A long, slimy creature slithers from its container and glides over Merlin's exposed neck. Merlin was briefly reminded that he had not yet cleaned the leach tank as he had promised Gaius, having gone to find Gwaine instead. He wondered who Morgana would have caught instead if he had chosen the leach cleaning duty over Gwaine? Then the creature reaches Merlin's hairline and bites and the world goes black for a moment.
It's quite ridiculous really how many mind controlling creatures Morgana manages to find. What did they do when they were not being captured in glass containers and used by evil sorceresses? One might hope to be immune soon. But not today, it seems.
The thing wiggles its way under the skin of his scalp. He can feel it under his shivering fingertips, how it moves and settles down under the skin and hair like a long bump. His breath hitches, but somehow he cannot scream, he cannot dig his nails in and tear the vile thing out of his head. All his will to fight is gone, his magic hides deep within. He drops to his knees and looks at her, feeling dazed and lost.
Morgana recites her spell, focusing on Merlin. The Merlin she knew, the Merlin everybody knows. Stubborn, loyal and powerful only because of the company he keeps. Perhaps if she had known to summon Emrys as well, things would have been different.
Immediately Merlin smiles at her like he's the sun itself on a bright summer day. He would wag his tail is he had one.
“Good boy! Well done. Tell me now, dog. Who is your true love?”
He has a deep desire to tell her, only... he can't. His lips quiver in despair for not being able to answer his mistress. She clips him over his head and he yelps.
“Tell me! I need to know.”
He shakes his head ferociously; he crawls on his knees at her feet. His heart is breaking for not being able to please her and even more because the truth hurts so much.
“Nobody loves me. I have no true love.”
Morgana sees the deep despair in his eyes and understands.
She laughs, with the genuine joy of a corrupted soul.
“Truly so, my dog?”
His lips quiver. He didn't have anyone. He had hoped, but it wasn't so. Gwaine flirted with everyone, that's all there was to it. And the girl he had considered leaving everything for...
“Awww, ha ha! Aren't you a sad puppy! Imagine this, Arthur's loyal little mutt is all mine with no hope of salvation. How easy you make it for me. We are going for a walk, won't that be lovely? Dogs do not ride horses, you know, so try to keep up.”
Morgana turns around and walks. She glances back and sees him following without question. And to think she didn't even have to kill anyone to ensure that he would be hers!
The mood at 'the Rising Sun' is just the way Sir Gwaine likes it. The drinks flow free, the crude jokes as well. The amount of rubbish they say is reaching great heights and it is all very enjoyable indeed! With busty Mildred on one side and a very friendly lad named Edmund on the other there was not much Gwaine had to complain about.
The barman's wife maid laughs and shakes her head at him.
“You are a fine one, sir. A girl in each tavern and a boy in each town, ain't that so, eh, sir Gwaine?”
“You got it, my dear!”
He gave both his companions a good squeeze, so they were both flattened against him, laughing and blushing and hands getting a bit wayward. Laughter rose from the others around the table. Gwaine was the stuff of legends. And though most were nothing more than legends, Gwaine would be the last to correct you about it. And here is where this evening starts to go wrong.
Now the thing is; Merlin is hardly ever at the tavern, regardless of what Arthur says. He is there when all the knights and the prince are gathered to celebrate, and when Gwaine is able to drag him along. Gwaine likes spending time with Merlin. Sometimes they have time for a stealthy adventure to steal roast chicken from Cook. Sometimes he simply helps Merlin carry something, braving the disapproving frown he would receive from the crown prince or the snickers he would received from carrying laundry. Merlin is very busy. If he is not running around for Prince Arthur, then he is running around for Gaius. When he is doing neither, he is – according to Arthur and Gaius - in the tavern. Gwaine wished that were true, then he would have a tipsy, warm, ticklish and sparkly eyed Merlin by his side far more often. And then, maybe...
Still, Gwaine shouldn't have been surprised to see him there tonight. He really should have realized that Merlin would remember his friend's birthday and find a way to see him no matter what he was meant to do instead. Now Merlin stood there, in the doorway to the tavern, making everybody seem dull and crude in comparison. He smiled, but it was a pale imitation of the real thing. Merlin looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. Gwaine still lights up at the sight of him.
“Merlin! Hey, come join us!”
He tries to get free from Mildred and Ed-whatever-d's clingy hands and stand up. He was a bit unsteady on his feet and they pulled him back easily, laughing. Merlin smiled again, taking a step back.
“No no, don't get up, you are having fun, I was just passing by. Just thought I'd come say hello. That's all. Got lots of things to do.”
He backs away and nearly runs out. Gwaine blinked, but leaned back. It was probably best not to draw too much attention to Merlin's visit, Arthur would probably cause a lot of trouble if Merlin was supposed to be somewhere else. Maybe he was imagining things. Maybe Merlin would have sat down if he had the time. They could speak tomorrow. If something was wrong he would fix it tomorrow.
But the day after he was awoken by a furious Arthur demanding to know where Merlin was. And he had not been seen since.
He bows his head reverently. Her long black dress swishes by him as she walks past and out.
He sits alone in her small cottage for hours. Cold and moist from the dirt floor seep through his clothes. His hands are folded in his lap, pressed together for a small fraction of warmth, waiting for his mistress to return. It's the only thing in the world that matters.
It's the dead of night and the moon shines just enough for the crown prince of Camelot to see where he puts his feet. He keeps close to the walls, making his way to the stables. His wide eyed manservant is waiting there with a horse carrying saddlebags and a bedroll. It is not Arthur's regular choice of horse of course. It would look suspicious if someone came and found the prince’s favourite was gone. As he comes closer he sees that there are two horses standing ready.
The stupidity! This was something he would have expected from Merlin, but this youth had been given a strict order and had never tried to disobey before. The reason for this unusual behaviour became apparent when Arthur came closer.
Gwaine. Sir Gwaine, he corrects himself.
That would indeed account for the stupidity.
The servant's eyes were like glowing orbs in the night, wide with worry.
“I swear I didn't tell anyone.”
Gwaine swaggers over and gives the youth a good slap on the back, making him squawk and nearly loose balance.
“You didn't need to. The Princess here is an open book.”
Arthur glares at the man. It was quite easy to forget he was a knight. Especially when the knight himself has trouble remembering who he had sworn to serve. He dismisses his servant with a nod, the young man was so worried his eyes looked like they might fall out if they grew any wider.
“Go. Do as we agreed. I will deal with Sir Gwaine.”
The youth scurries away, far more efficient and stealthy than Merlin had never been.
Arthur pulls his best royal scowl.
“What do you think you are doing?
Gwaine just grins, but there is no joy. He runs his eyes over Arthur's clothes, dark and discrete, like his own.
“Same as you. Going to bring him back.”
Arthur looks at him. There's the same worry written in his face as Arthur sees in the mirror. Arthur doesn't say anything. He can’t approve of a knight sneaking off against the King's orders, but he was hardly in a place to chastise him for it. There is also the distinct possibility of Gwaine lobbing Arthur's head clear off if he tries to send him away, and where would that leave them?
So Arthur doesn't say anything, giving his silent understanding. Nothing more is said for the next few hours. Arthur takes lead and Gwaine follows.
They ride in the cover of darkness for as longs as there is open spaces and moonlight to see by. They need to put some space between them and the city before they stop to sleep and wait for dawn. Arthur rapidly falls asleep, while Gwaine stares up into the night sky and faint shadows of branches above. He remembers his first morning in Camelot, when he realized that Merlin had given up his bed and slept on the cold stone floor. Merlin had smiled that bright smile at him, brushing off Gwaine’s concerns.
“I don’t mind, really. I’m used to sleeping on the floor. In a way it reminds me of home, so you might say you are doing me a favour!”
Gwaine adored that smile. Gwaine would do most anything to make it appear and for it to be aimed at him.
They were kindred spirits, perhaps. Merlin might come of as a naïve peasant with his head in the clouds. But he had a strong spirit. When something needed to be done, he was there. Unarmed, ready to jump in. If he sometimes acted before thinking... well, that wasn't Gwaine's strong suit either.
Merlin was the reason he had a good life now. He had friends, a home, his talents were welcomed and he had an honourable job. Merlin was his beacon. His first true friend. He would have followed Merlin anywhere. He should have followed Merlin anywhere.
Perhaps he had found the one thing he was too cowardly to gamble with. And cowards always loose.
“Shut up and sleep, Gwaine!”
“What? Gwaine replied with indignation. -I didn't say anything.”
“You were thinking too loud.”
“I beg your forgiveness, Sire. I should have taken more care, I’m aware that you aren’t accustomed to thinking.”
Arthur grabbed a fist full of whatever was on the ground underneath his hand and threw it in Gwaine's general direction.
After a bit of spitting and a short chuckle they both fell asleep.
They woke with the sun and shared a rushed breakfast before riding on.
It was noon before Gwaine asked where they were going.
“There have been reports from a small valley where they see smoke, as if from a chimney, rising high and straight up over the trees regardless of wind and weather.”
Gwaine swallows and nods.
Sorcery. Of course.
Gwaine appreciated a good fight and an honourable duel. Face to face, man to man. Or man to men, as was Gwaine’s usual approach. Where was the honour in flipping your wrist and snapping a man’s neck? It was like an arrow in the dark, a dagger in the back. It was not the way he wished to leave this world.
“Can we be certain he is there?”
“I’ve talked to the villagers here. He has been seen. The description fits. He was… wearing a collar. Like a dog.”
Gwaine cursed under his breath.
The small cottage blatantly advertised its location within the forest and the sorcery contained inside, the constant rise of smoke serving as a warning and a challenge. But the smoke could not be seen from the forest floor and the exact location among the trees was not so easily found. But some tree climbing and good fortune brought them to a clearing where a cottage stood, sandwiched between four tall firs. They took the time to circle the building, but with windows on either side they had no way of moving close without being seen and it was hard to tell if anyone was there.
“Well Princess, I imagine you had a plan when you left Camelot. Or were you going to burst through the door and demand his release?”
Arthur squared his shoulders and that was answer enough to make Gwaine snicker.
“Tell me then, sir Gwaine, what were your intentions?”
“Much the same, I must admit. But I can’t allow you to charge head first into a potential death trap.”
“And I can’t allow you to do the same.”
Some of the tension seems to drain from Arthur’s shoulders. They were allies and equals in this. They were not so unlike, Merlin and Gwaine. Both were immensely annoying, stubborn, contrary, unruly and fiercely loyal if they found you worthy.
“Well then, sir knight, we should acquire a new plan. What would Merlin do?”
“He would have listed the errors in our plan and chafed us for bickering. We would ignore him and he would do something unexpected...”
“Hush! Look, the door!”
Both men crouched down and watched as Merlin came out and walked over to the wood pile across the clearing. Gwaine is half way there before Arthur can stop him.
Merlin spins around and looks confused.
He takes a few steps towards Gwaine, but Gwaine's joy of being reunited is not reciprocated. Merlin gapes and steps back again.
“Merlin. It really is me, I’ve come to take you home!”
His smile falters as Merlin shakes his head and takes a step back, still clinging to the fire wood.
“No, I have work to do. You must leave. You are needed in Camelot!”
He walks backwards towards the cottage. Gwaine reaches for him and puts his hand on his arm. Merlin looks exhausted. He has dark circles under his eyes, the dog collar hangs around his neck, doing nothing to hide the bruises on him.
“It truly is me, please, leave this place with me.”
Merlin is nearly back by the door now, and Arthur emerges from the woods, hoping another familiar face might help. He tries to smile and be nonchalant, but fails as Merlin's eyes fill with tears at the sight of him.
“No, no, no! What have you done? Go home! Go before she comes back!”
He sniffles and runs inside. Gwaine sticks his head through the door while Arthur watches their surroundings. It's a small place, one bed, a table and a chair with warm skins. A hearth for cooking and warmth with a worn rug beside it. A lot of bottles and dried herbs on the walls, but nobody there but Merlin. He signals Arthur and moves inside. Merlin is organising the wood pile by the fire, Gwaine goes over and sits down besides him.
“Merlin, why won’t you come with us?”
He adds with a whisper;
“Are you angry with me?”
Merlin laughs, as if the question was amusing.
“I must keep the fire burning and be ready for when my mistress returns.”
Then his face turned serious.
“You should leave. She doesn't like visitors. If she finds you here, you will die.”
Arthur is checking the area and makes a note of how much they can see from the windows. He doesn't want to stay there for long.
“Why does the smoke rise so high if she doesn't want visitors?”
“I was lighting the fire my first day, and my mistress was most unhappy when the smoke filled the room rather than rise through the chimney. It does not bother my mistress anymore.”
There's a flicker of fear in Merlin's eyes, Gwaine decides not to mention the smoke again and rather ask what was on both his and Arthur's minds.
“May I require your mistress name?”
Merlin adds wood to the fire and leans precariously near the flames. Too close for Gwaine’s liking, almost like he wants to fall in.
“The lady Morgana of course. Who else would find me of value?”
Arthur pales and kept a closer look out the windows, half expecting her to emerge out of thin air.
Gwaine grabs Merlin’s shirt and pulls him back.
“We value you! I value you! I... You have to come with us.”
Merlin was looking right at him. It was like he was not entirely there, but his eyes filled with tears.
“I cannot go with you. Please, don't make me go. I don't want to do... what I have to do to stay. Stay near the house. Mind the fire. Don't go anywhere.”
The two other men exchanged a worried glance. Gwaine tries to soothe Merlin by stroking his arms, but it doesn't seem to do much good.
“What value do you have for Morgana?”
“My mistress requires information from within the castle. She wants someone on the inside. I told her lord Garreth had sent his wife and daughter to his father's to keep them out of harms way. She seemed to appreciate that. I didn't have to sit on the floor and wait.”
He smiles briefly, then tugs his collar and shudders at the memory.
“It got really cold. It is better to watch the fire.”
Arthur is puzzled and so is Gwaine. It is true what Merlin said, but it was also known that they were not going to stay with the old lord, but travel on to other relatives quite rapidly. Gwaine thought it might best to keep talking.
“Are you well?”
Merlin's lips twitch, and he shrugs.
“My head hurts.”
“Have you eaten at all?”
“I get food when I've been good.”
Gwaine suddenly wraps his arms around him and pulls him close.
“I will kill her. This isn't you. This isn't right. I will kill her and you will be yourself again.”
“I would still be hers, but all alone.”
He tries to get up but Gwaine pulls him back down.
“Can you not rest for a moment?”
Gwaine cups Merlin’s chin and let his thumb run over those impossible cheek bones. Merlin’s eyes darts worriedly around the room, before he closes them and leans a fraction closer.
“Maybe just a little. While the fire is good.”
“Yes, the fire is good. You can rest.”
“My head hurts.”
Gwaine wraps his arms around him and holds him tight. He wants to cry, he wants to scream, he really really wants to kill someone! A chill down his spine as he strokes Merlin's hair. Merlin hums softly and closes his eyes as he does it, so Gwaine keeps stroking with one hand, but he signals Arthur to come closer. There is a partly healed cut just below the hair line and what Arthur guesses is a swelling above it. But Gwaine shows how far it goes and Arthur has to turn away and check the windows again while trying not to punch something. She put something in his head!
“Shall I kiss and make it better?”
He cringes at himself and Arthur gives him a weird look. This was not a time for stupid jokes. Merlin is a grown man. He might be a few years his junior, but not a child. Merlin's reply makes his eyes tear up.
Ignoring Arthur completely, Gwaine puts a shaking kiss on his temple.
Arthur's arms drops. He had not imagined that. Merlin had leaned into that kiss. Very subtly, but Arthur saw it.
“Merlin, why did you not tell your mistress that the Garreth's family would not be staying with the lord?”
“She did not ask.”
Could it be this simple? I had been this simple before, when Gwen...
“Gwaine! Kiss him.”
Gwaine looked at him scandalized. What had gotten into Arthur?
“Kiss him, properly! Now, you idiot!”
He hesitated, Merlin was barely even awake. He was not himself, it's not right.
“If you don't then I will!”
Gwaine's fierce scowl simply made Arthur more certain. Now that he knew what to look for it was just too obvious. He added more kindly;
“He needs you.”
Gwaine looked at those lovely plump lips. He could perhaps claim it was an accident, like the time when he accidentally forgot himself and nibbled – nibbled! - on Merlin's ear.
It was fast, barely a peck on the lips. Merlin drew a sharp breath of air and Gwaine jerked back.
Arthur throws his hands in the air. This was not the time for Gwaine to turn into a blushing maiden! Gwen certainly had not... Well, that is a story for another time. Then Merlin grabs Gwaine by the shirt and smash their lips together and Gwaine finally remembers what proper kissing is. Gwaine pulls back when his hand bumps into Merlin's collar, remembering that Merlin is not himself. Arthur lets out a sigh of relief as Merlin rolls his eyes, removes the collar and throws it into the flames.
Arthur glows with pride at his own superior problem solving skills. This is quickly followed by a glow of embarrassment and the need to explain that there is a time and place for everything before they get too carried away.
This would be a good place to end. We could have a close up of Morgana cursing in anger and being unable to punish her 'dog' for not sharing the whole story. Then the image could pan out and glide over the roof where the thin remains of smoke from a dying fire rise from the chimney to float east with the breeze and disapear. Then finally we would see Arthur, Gwaine and Merlin riding home victorious and happy.
But it does not end there of course. While the besotted looks and kissing by the camp fire was nauseating enough for Arthur, it was nothing compared to witnessing Gaius extracting the disgusting creature from Merlin's scalp, inch by inch. It was now kept in a closed jar submerged in stinky liquid pending further research. Arthur had asked Gaius three times to make sure it was truly dead.
Coming to terms with the ring on Gwaine's necklace now hanging around Merlin's neck was not nearly as difficult as ordering the entire court, castle staff, knights and guests to have their heads examined under the pretence of battling a nasty lice infestation. And so life went on much as it had with assassins and banquets, battles and banter.
The next time Arthur tried to sneak away on a daring adventure he found three horses by the stable, two men with smug smiles and a despairing, weeping servant. He gave the youth a pitying pat on the head, took the reins from his hands and mounted his horse of the day. Some things are simply meant to be, whether you like it or not.