Beta: The forever amazing souleswanderer and silverindie80
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Merlin and no money was made from writing this story.
Summary: Merlin starts having a reoccurring dream, and he realizes he's going to die. How far will he go to save his own life, what happened to his destiny, and where the hell is Arthur?
A/N: This was written for vail_kagami after her generous donation to the Support Stacie April Auction.
This is my first Merlin fic. I'm sure you'll be able to tell.
Merlin woke, his fingers curled around the edge of the tattered blanket. He blinked several times and breathed deeply, holding each measured breath until his lungs ached and his eyes watered, tears finding their way from the corners of his eyes. Merlin abhorred pain, but in this case, the incessant ached served as a reminder – he was still alive.
He never remembered the dream. He didn’t even know if it was the same dream or a variety of nightmares haunting his sleep. What he did remember was the emotions, the bitter feeling of dread and utter hopelessness that slithered down his spine when he finally forced his eyes open. It usually took him several seconds to work out where he was and to verify he was still alive.
Kicking the blanket aside, Merlin rolled out of bed and managed to get dressed without falling flat on his face. Considering the amount of sleep he’d had over the last two weeks, he considered that an accomplishment.
He smoothed down his clothes and ran his hand through his hair, hoping he looked more presentable than he felt. He reminded himself he was a great sorcerer, wise and intelligent beyond his years, and he wouldn’t worry anyone by entertaining the idea his silly dreams meant anything. He wasn’t a seer, after all.
“You look terrible,” Gaius commented when Merlin emerged and plopped down at the table.
Merlin’s eyes widened and he wondered what gave him away. He reminded himself that Gaius was the court physician, and it was his job to notice the minor details.
“Not sleeping well?” Gaius prompted.
Merlin forced a smile that was all teeth and hoped he wasn’t overdoing it. “I’m fine. Arthur kept me out half the night.” After noticing Gaius’ raised eyebrow, he quickly added, “You know, the feast for Sir whatever-his-name-was and, well, Arthur can’t even pour his own wine so I had to stay and…”
“Help the prince drink his wine?” Gaius interjected.
Merlin recognized an out when he saw one. “Yes! That’s exactly what happened.” He pressed his hand to his forehead. “I’m actually not feeling very good this morning.”
Gaius rolled his eyes and dropped several vials on the table. “You’ll get no compassion from me, young man. Take these potions and hurry. You’ve slept through most of the morning.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?” Merlin asked, grabbing the vials and starting for the door. “Arthur’s going to have my head.”
“Oh, if I’d known why you were you sleeping the day away, I certainly would have. And Merlin –“ he tossed an apple across the room causing the young warlock to nearly drop all the potions in the process of catching it – "if Arthur had half as much to drink as you did, I wouldn’t worry about him missing your presence this morning.”
Unfortunately, Merlin knew the feast ended rather early, and Arthur was too preoccupied with whatever his father had said to choke down more than two goblets of wine. He spent the next hour trying to think of a passable excuse for his absence, something that wasn’t purely a lie because, despite his secret, he didn’t enjoy lying to Arthur.
After delivering the vials to the respective patients, Merlin carefully balanced Arthur’s noon meal on his arm and opened the chamber door with his other hand.
Arthur was standing with his hip resting against the wooden table. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
Merlin nearly dropped the serving tray on the floor. “What?”
“Obviously not, then. I’m Arthur Pendragon, Crown Prince of Camelot. And you are –“ Merlin racked his brain trying to remember if he’d been working with any memory dampening spells recently – “the most useless manservant it’s ever been my misfortune to encounter.”
Merlin scowled, relief warring with annoyance. “You’re not funny.”
“Do you know what else isn’t funny?” Arthur asked, snatching the tray away and dropping it on the table. “Missing my morning meal. I’m starving.”
Merlin poured water from the pitcher into the empty goblet after Arthur sat down. He tactfully waited until Arthur had a mouthful of pork before saying, “If you were that hungry, you could have gone to the kitchens. You do remember where they are, don’t you?”
Arthur swallowed and set his fork aside. “No, Merlin. That’s your job.” Merlin was easing himself toward the door when Arthur’s gaze pinned him and he froze. “Last time I checked you were my manservant, and –“ his gaze never wavered, an eyebrow creeping up his forehead – “you look terrible.”
Merlin shrugged, the abrupt shift in conversation leaving his exhausted brain struggling to catch up. “You say I always look terrible. Barely presentable, hardly passable, poor excuse for a –"
“Merlin, shut up.”
“What? I was agreeing with you.”
Arthur fiddled with his goblet, two fingers running over the rim of the cup. “Not that I care, but are you all right? If there’s something that’s keeping you from performing your duties, I need to know about it.”
“I’m fine.” Merlin shrugged again, searching his mind for an answer that Arthur would find acceptable. “Long night, that’s all.”
“Oh, were you with Gaius?” Arthur asked before popping a grape in his mouth.
“Gaius? You know he can barely stay up to watch the sunset,” Merlin said. “Unless he has a patient which he didn’t. It was just a long night.”
Out of all the answers his mind deemed acceptable, that definitely wasn’t one that Arthur seemed pleased with. “Long night?” Arthur snapped. “Well, far be it for me to keep you from whatever it is you’re doing that’s keeping you up so late.”
Merlin stepped back, surprised by Arthur’s sudden agitation. “Wait, I didn’t mean –"
“I want my armor cleaned. All of it. The stables cleaned. All of them. And hopefully when you’re finished with that, you won’t have so much energy for your nightly pursuits.”
Merlin opened his mouth to argue, but he couldn’t force the words past his lips. He’d need his waning energy if he was going to accomplish all of Arthur’s tasks.
“Sire,” Merlin said, inclining his head and leaving Arthur to his meal.
With the aid of magic, Merlin managed to clean all of Arthur’s armor until it shined like new. He’d tried polishing Arthur’s armor by hand when he didn’t feel safe using his magic and realized he could never obtain the same sparkling gleam. Since Arthur deserved the very best - not that he’d ever tell him that - he recanted the simple spell, his eyes flashing gold, and watched the armor transform before his eyes.
He opted not to use magic to muck out the stables. No, he wanted to work, needed to, in fact. He wanted to be exhausted by physical means, to have his body ache and his mind encompassed with the simplicity of a hard day’s labor so when he fell into bed tonight, he would know nothing beyond sweet, dreamless sleep.
The stables were unusually quiet. Normally other servants would stop to chat and complain, but today everyone hurried by, muttering quietly to themselves. Being used to avoidance and entertaining himself, Merlin paid them no mind. He lost himself in the motions, ignoring the ache in his shoulders and the sweat burning his eyes.
The sun had long since descended behind the horizon when Merlin finally finished. His hands trembled, and he pressed his back against one of the wooden stalls. Sliding down, he collapsed in the hay. He thought of nothing as his eyes drifted closed.
Destruction. Pain. Death.
Merlin jerked awake, his head slamming against the wooden wall, his mouth forming a silent scream. It was the same emotions that haunted his sleep previously and forced him to wake prematurely. He blinked several times and struggled to control his breathing as his heart pounded against his chest.
There was something new, a need – he had to see Arthur. It wasn’t the normal desire he had to be close to the prince. It was bigger than that, deeper. He had to know Arthur was okay.
He forced himself to his feet, ignoring his quivering muscles that were protesting the quick, jarring movements, and started for the castle. It was late, and hopefully he’d be able to catch a glimpse of Arthur sleeping soundly before retiring to his own bed to – stay awake for the rest of the night.
The stone corridors were lit by torches that cast an eerie glow on the walls. Merlin didn’t notice, his feet retracing the familiar steps to Arthur’s chambers. He knocked once and eased open the door, poking his head halfway through so he could see the bed.
“Come to beg leniency since you couldn’t finish your assigned duties?” Arthur asked, his tone flat.
Merlin’s eyes closed, Arthur’s strong voice reverberating in his mind as his hand gripped the door. “Well?” Arthur prompted, sounding annoyed.
“Um…I – what did you say?” Merlin asked.
“I asked if you had come to beg leniency since you couldn’t finish assigned duties,” Arthur repeated very slowly. He was sitting close to the fire, an open book resting on his knee.
“Oh, no, I finished everything,” Merlin replied, allowing himself one more visible confirmation that Arthur was fine, albeit rather annoyed. “I just – yeah, good night, then.”
“That’s impossible,” Arthur snapped. “And would you close the door?”
“Sorry,” Merlin said, starting to pull the door closed.
“Merlin,” Arthur said through gritted teeth. “With you on this side of the door.”
“Right, sorry.” Merlin stepped through the doorway, pushing the door closed behind him. He didn’t move from the entryway.
“You said you finished everything,” Arthur prompted.
“Yes, that’s what I said. I know because I was there, you see, and it was actually –“
“What is wrong with you? You’re even more mentally deficient than usual, and that’s saying a lot,” Arthur said, watching Merlin closely before closing the book he was reading and setting it on the floor.
Merlin shrugged, his palms outstretched. “I’m fine.”
Arthur was on his feet, striding across the room, and Merlin was wondering what he had said. “What happened to your hands?”
“I don’t –“ Merlin looked down at his palms, the sensitive skin on the underside of his knuckles was abraded and dried blood covered the abused area. “Oh.”
“You idiot,” Arthur said, taking Merlin’s arm and jerking him across the room towards the bright firelight. He examined the remains of what were blisters that formed, been split then shredded, and now left open sores. “What did you do?”
“It must have happened while I was cleaning the stables,” Merlin said, wincing as the pain from his hands finally registered in his brain.
“You didn’t get that from mucking out a few stalls,” Arthur replied, releasing Merlin’s hand and collecting the water basin and a clean square cloth from the corner of the room.
“Not a few stalls,” Merlin corrected. “All the stables, like you said.”
Arthur passed him a damp cloth, his eyes never leaving Merlin’s hands. “Why in the world would you go something stupid like that?”
“Um…because you told me to?”
Arthur shook his head. “And when did you start listening to me? Honestly, Merlin, I’m beginning to get concerned.” When Merlin didn’t respond or do anything besides stand there like a fish out of water, Arthur snatched the damp cloth away and started cleaning the blood off his hands. “Obviously I didn’t make myself clear: you were supposed to see to your injuries. Really, Merlin, must I do everything myself?”
Merlin winced and he forced himself to remain still. After years of treating injuries received in battle, Arthur wasn’t exactly known for his gentle sensitivity.
Arthur dropped the soiled cloth in the water basin. “Didn’t you notice while you were working? There’s probably a trail of blood from the stables to my chambers.”
Merlin shrugged, wiggling his fingers in front of his face. He actually felt better. “No, it didn’t hurt, at least not until you said something.” He scowled because blaming Arthur was definitely the easiest thing to do.
“I expect you to use better discretion next time,” Arthur said, resting his hand on the back of the chair and fixing Merlin with his best authoritative look.
“You do realize I was just doing what you ordered me to do,” Merlin pointed out.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you pay attention when you start bleeding. It’s common sense, Merlin. Have you ever heard of it?” Arthur asked.
Being the sole subject of Arthur’s attention definitely had its low points, and Merlin opted to change the subject. “Is there anything else you need tonight?”
Arthur glanced around his chambers, but eventually said, “No.” As Merlin turned to leave, Arthur added, “Get some sleep. I expect you to be on time in the morning. You’re going to accompany me on patrol.”
“Of course,” Merlin said, rolling his eyes as he reached for the door. “Good night, sire.”
Merlin slipped passed Gaius who was snoring loudly and quietly closed the door to his room. Not that he’d wish sickness on anyone, but Merlin had hoped Gaius would be awake. At least it would have been a distraction.
He eyed his bed warily. It was deceptive, offering comfort and peace, when in reality, it provided neither of those. He pulled his magic book out from beneath the floorboard and settled on the floor, his back pressed against the bed.
The worn pages turned easily and the enchantments rolled of his tongue with practiced ease. Soon the words blurred in front of his eyes, his chin nearly hitting his chest before he forced his eyes open and continued reading.
It was close to dawn when exhaustion eventually prevailed and the book slid off his lap forgotten.
Destruction. Pain. Death.
Merlin kept his eyes belligerently closed, forcing himself past desperate emotions, past the feelings of hopelessness and loss, past the knowledge that he was going to die.
It was like someone had thrown a bucket of freezing water over his head. He was going to die. If Merlin knew nothing else, he knew that.
And now he was going to have to find a way to stop it.