Summary: Everything had changed, but Arthur knew Merlin still loved him. Now all he had to do was save him.
Warnings: Violence, angst, illusions to magical violence/harm
Word Count: 2218
Author's Notes: Sorry this is late, there was a complete mess of broken wifi, holidays and other stuff. But here it is now!
To dante_s_hell, I hope you enjoy it! I enjoyed writing this, it's a bit different to what I usually write :)
Thanks to inspired_being for the last minute beta!
And thanks to the mods for being wonderful and helpful in my minor panics!!
Have a wonderful Christmas season and New Year everyone :)
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.
The snowflakes built up in mounds against the window. Outside, the world was white and cold. It had been snowing for days; a freak weather storm that had plunged the country into a semi ice age. On the couch by the fire, Merlin's eyes hadn't stopped glowing.
The fever had taken hold not long after Arthur had found him and throughout his eyes had burned golden, bright with magic, under his half-closed eyelids.
Arthur moved to cover him with another blanket and ran his fingers gently through Merlin's hair.
“I'm so sorry, love,” he murmured, dropping to sit next to the couch where Merlin lay curled, taking hold of Merlin's hand – cold, despite the warmth of the fire – and pressing a kiss to the back of his knuckles.
“I should have got there sooner.”
The fire crackled gently, sparks chasing one another up the chimney. Arthur shut his eyes, swallowing the emotions that threatened to break past the barrier he'd so carefully constructed over the past few days. If only he'd …
He threaded his fingers through Merlin's, squeezing tight. “Please wake up, love. Please.”
Holding Merlin's hand was grounding; keeping him away from dangerous thoughts of what had happened, of what they'd done to him.
Merlin stirred and whimpered. Arthur twisted to face him, breath catching in his throat. But there was no change. Sweat still beaded on his brow and the fiery glow of his magic still raged below his eyelids.
This was all his fault.
Four Weeks Earlier
Christmas was in full force on the high-street that afternoon. As the day wound its way towards darkness, the Christmas lights flickered on and people began heading towards the train station or busses as snow began to fall lightly.
Merlin was completely alive with it all; his cheeks flushed, his eyes bright, and a wool hat crammed over those ridiculous ears. Ahead of Arthur on the path, he turned with his smile dazzling. What Arthur wouldn't do for that smile.
“Don't you just love the snow?” Merlin asked as Arthur caught up with him, taking Arthur's hand in his own and tugging him near.
“You're acting like an over excited child,” Arthur said, smirking at Merlin’s pout.
“But it’s snowing, Arthur!”
“An excellent observation, Merlin.”
Merlin dragged him in for a kiss and every rational thought Arthur had died in an instant.
Somewhere, someone wolf-whistled.
“Wait, wait,” Arthur said, because Merlin looked dangerously like he might take this further and they were in the middle of the public park for goodness sake. “How about we head home, have dinner, and then …” He raised an eyebrow suggestively and Merlin blushed.
“I could work with that,” Merlin murmured.
Arthur tucked a curl of Merlin's hair behind his ear and interlocked their fingers before turning to leave the park and head towards home.
Beyond the park gates, the main road was busy and Arthur could feel Merlin's tight hold on his hand as they made it to the edge of the pavement and waited for a break in the traffic.
It all happened so fast.
One moment they were just standing there, watching the cars and trucks stream past them, the next ... bicycle, ice, a shout … Arthur stepped backwards off the pavement, the cyclist skidded past, bus headlights filled his vision, Merlin's hand tightened over his own, a flash of golden eyes …
He was back on the pavement, panting hard, the bus went past, the driver leaning on the horn and slowed to a stop at the end of the road. Merlin was by his side in an instant, his face pale, eyes frantic.
“You – you're ...” Arthur stammered, shock setting in. “You're a sorcerer.”
Merlin bit his lip, his eyes roving Arthur's face, trying to determine what he was feeling.
“I … Arthur, I should have told you … yes, yes I am.”
There was a beat. People were staring. The traffic was moving on. Time seemed to slow.
“You've been lying to me all this time?” Almost as soon as he'd spoken, he regretted it. But the shock was too deep, the betrayal caught in his throat.
“No, no, Arthur … please.”
Merlin reached for him but Arthur snatched his hand away.
“Don't,” he warned through gritted teeth.
He didn't know what to do. Merlin was silently pleading with him and Arthur had to look away.
Maybe it would be different if he weren't Arthur Pendragon. If his father hadn't practically made every law against magic there was. If he didn't love Merlin oh so much…
The bus driver appeared, looking pale and unsteady. He stepped between Arthur and Merlin, asking Arthur questions he couldn't hear because when he next looked, Merlin was gone.
A week without Merlin and he told himself he didn't care. Merlin not coming back meant they had obviously reached a shared agreement that it was over.
Two weeks and he ached. Too tired to think, to function, but unable to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Merlin's eyes, glowing gold.
Three weeks and he worried. Because no matter what, Arthur knew deep down Merlin would always come back. Merlin was just like that. No matter how many times people brushed him off he kept coming back. Determined, stubborn, loyal.
And deep down, Arthur knew Merlin loved him. He wondered how many times he'd properly been thankful for that.
Three weeks and five days and he went to find him.
It wasn't hard in the end. He'd found Merlin's old flat completely wrecked. Amongst the carnage had been a note.
We know how much he means to you.
The price of his life is our freedom.
The other side bore an address.
Arthur was shaking.
When he reached the address, all was in darkness. It was an abandoned office block; the windows were broken and graffiti splattering the walls. As he crossed the threshold, he felt strange shivers down his spine. Magic.
So they were sorcerers.
He took the stairs, pausing on each landing and investigated each room he passed trying to shake off the feeling he was being watched.
When he reached the top floor, he was met by a girl at the top of the stairs. She wore tatty clothes and her brown hair was scraped back in a simple bun.
“Are you Arthur?” she asked.
He nodded. “Where's Merlin?”
She lifted her chin, but something in the way she stood told Arthur she was afraid.
“We demand our freedom first.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes.
“What do you mean, freedom?” He already had an idea but needed to waste time until he figured out a way to get past her. He didn't know if she had magic or not, she could be dangerous.
“The freedom of our kind. Our right to live as we chose without being persecuted for how we were born.”
“You mean sorcerers?”
“And you would abduct one of your own to secure your freedom?”
She faltered, frowning a little. “Merlin doesn't have magic,” she said, uncertainty plain in her tone.
Arthur's eyes widened. They didn't know …
She seemed to realise Arthur was telling the truth and turned to run from the stairwell into the offices.
Arthur grabbed hold of her, covering her mouth with his hand when she tried to shout.
After a moment of desperate struggling, Arthur realised she was crying. He lowered his hand to let her speak and it came out in a rush.
“Please, please don't hurt me. I'm just here to help my father. They told me to wait for you. I didn't want to hurt him I swear. My father and Mordred--”
Arthur cut her off. “Have they hurt him?”
Arthur clenched his jaw. “What's your name?” he asked, making his hold gentler.
“Sefa,” he said.
“Sefa, please, tell me where they're keeping him and I swear no harm will come to you.” She seemed to think for a moment but then she spoke.
“Go down the corridor to the office at the end. They're keeping him there.”
Muttering his thanks, Arthur let her go and pushed her towards the stairs. “Leave,” he said firmly.
When he found Merlin, he was unconscious and Arthur felt his knees go weak. His mouth felt dry as he placed shaking fingertips to Merlin's neck. A rush of warm relief filled him when he felt a pulse.
There was no outward sign of physical injury but Merlin was so pale and so cold. It must be sorcery.
“I'm sorry, Merlin. I'm so, so sorry.”
“We were wondering when you'd arrive.”
The cold voice came from the corner of the room and Arthur spun around, placing his hand on Merlin's chest. Protecting him.
“You hurt him,” Arthur stated.
“You and your father have persecuted my kind for years. An eye for an eye?”
The man stepped into one of the faint patches of light in the office. He was young, his hair curly and his eyes an icy blue.
“And you think this will mean you’ll get your freedom?” Arthur spat. “How dare you harm him!”
The man, Arthur guessed he was Mordred since he seemed too young to be the girl's father, smirked.
“So brave, Arthur, aren't you? So bold.”
“Get on with it, Mordred,” came another voice and Arthur turned to see another man enter the room. “Kill the boy and restrain Pendragon. Uther will listen to reason if his son's life is on the line.”
Mordred scowled at the intrusion and swiftly moved across the room until only Arthur stood between him and Merlin.
“Step aside and I'll make it quick,” he said.
“You think I would so easily leave the man I love?” Arthur spat, but his words caught in his throat because that was exactly what he had done.
He may have imagined it but he thought he felt Merlin's heartbeat speed up under his hand.
Mordred rolled his eyes and with a wave of his hand simply threw Arthur out of the way.
Arthur yelled with pain as he landed, his head smacking an office desk and the next moment, Merlin's arm shot out and the world around him exploded.
After that, it was a bit of a blur. The only thing Arthur really knew was he had somehow gotten himself and Merlin home. He didn't know what had happened to Mordred and the other two, he couldn't find it in himself to care.
Now all that mattered was Merlin getting better.
He added another log to the fire, dully watching the flames roar up its side.
“I love you, you know,” he said to the unconscious Merlin, “and I'm so very sorry.”
He fell asleep next to the couch, Merlin's hand clasped in his own.
When he woke, bright sunlight was streaming through the window. Blinking a little, he finally squinted. It had stopped snowing.
Beside him, Merlin murmured in his sleep, but it wasn't in pain like it had been over the past few days. And his eyes had stopped glowing.
Scrambling up, Arthur took both of Merlin's hands in his own. They were warm and as he proceeded to lift Merlin into a hug, his eyes flickered open.
“Yes, yes, love, it's me. I'm here.”
He held Merlin, biting his lip as he felt Merlin trembling and hugged him tighter.
“I will never, never turn you away again,” he promised fiercely.
“Why's it so snowy outside?” Merlin murmured blearily.
Arthur pulled back and looked Merlin in the eye.
“Do you … do you remember what happened?” he asked.
Merlin bit his lip and then nodded.
Merlin put his finger to Arthur's lips, silencing him for a moment.
“I know you love me, that's all that matters.”
Arthur leaned forward and they shared a long, lingering kiss.
When they broke, Arthur rested his head against Merlin's.
“I'm going to help you get better,” he promised.
“Keep going like that last kiss and you won't need to,” Merlin responded, his breathy laugh tickling Arthur's face.
“I just … Merlin, let me say this,” he pulled away for a moment because Merlin looked like he might be about to stop him again and he needed to say this.
“I am so, so sorry for what happened and for what I did to you. It was my fault you were caught and I should have got there sooner, should have-”
This time, Merlin silenced him with a kiss.
“I forgive you,” he said.
Arthur dragged him back in for another hug and they stayed that way, wrapped around one another for a long while until Merlin's quiet voice at his ear broke the silence.
“Is it nearly Christmas?”
It wasn't their usual Christmas by any means. Merlin was quieter and most of the time they stayed on the couch, Arthur's arms wrapped around him.
Gwaine, Percival, Morgana, Gwen and Lancelot came round after Christmas lunch and they talked and laughed. Merlin seemed to brighten and Arthur found himself feeling happier too.
By evening, when the others had left, Merlin was tired again and Arthur too couldn't find much motivation to move from their couch so they simply found more blankets and cuddled close to one another.
“Merry Christmas, Arthur,” Merlin whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Merlin,” Arthur replied and together, they fell asleep.