At first, he doesn’t notice anything is wrong. The birds are still singing, and the group of knights are still laughing cheerfully, the horses relaxed and eager for a ride. It’s only when the first arrow whistles past that Merlin realises they’re under attack, hearing Arthur shout out a series of commands not a second after. In hindsight, perhaps he should have seen it coming. The day had been too quiet, too calm, and life in Camelot was generally anything but.
“Merlin, you idiot, do something!” he hears Arthur yell, and quickly snaps out of his daze to leap from the saddle, glancing around at the threat they’re facing. Seeing one of the attackers headed for him, he throws his hand out and feels the familiar surge of his magic coursing through his veins as the man is flung backwards. Without checking to see if the man is down for good, Merlin runs towards where he last heard Arthur’s voice.
To his right, he sees Percival taking down one of the men, a cut already dripping steadily from his forearm, but nothing serious to worry about yet. He passes Gwaine and Elyan on the way, the former looking almost gleeful at the action and the latter fully focused on his manoeuvres. He hears Gwaine cheer and a slight smile tugs at his lips, before he remembers that he has yet to see Leon or his husband.
A shout from his left alerts him that another of the band is coming towards him, but he lets his eyes glow gold without a second thought and continues forward, catching a glance of blonde hair up ahead. With a dozen more strides he’s able to see Arthur, sword locked with what looks to be the leader of the attackers, and Leon at his back, pressing against another. With them both distracted, they don’t notice the two coming up from the side, axes poised to strike.
“Hleap on bæc,” Merlin utters, dropping his hand after they fall backwards, right as Leon and Arthur both dispel their own opponents.
For a second, everything is fine. Arthur turns, his eyes catching Merlin’s as a relieved smile spreads across his face, before his features drop and his eyes flicker to just over Merlin’s shoulder.
Confused, Merlin turns to look, just as he feels Arthur grab his shoulder and yank him back, making the spell hit him instead.
As Arthur falls to the forest floor Merlin turns his gaze on the sorcerer in front of him, eyes glowing and voice rising as he shouts, sending the young man flying back into the tree behind him with a sickening crunch. Waiting a second to check if he stirs, and seeing nothing, Merlin turns back to where Arthur lays, Leon already crouched over him.
“Is he alright?” Merlin asks breathlessly, rushing over and dropping to his knees beside his husband’s prone form, grabbing just above his hand to check for a pulse. A steady beat thrums beneath his fingertips and he breathes a sigh of relief, closing his eyes for a second before turning to see Leon watching him.
“He’s alive, and I can’t see any obvious injuries,” the knight reports, glancing at where some of the others have gathered round while the rest deal with the survivors and horses. “But we should get him to Gaius to check for any head trauma.”
Merlin nods, swallowing down the rising panic in his throat. He’s got no idea what the spell did to him, but Arthur is alive and for now, that’s enough. Panicking would not help the situation at all.
“Alright,” Merlin agrees, giving his husband’s hand a quick squeeze before standing and assessing the damage. “He’ll ride with me. We’re only a couple hours out of Camelot, so we should be back before midnight. Send one of the knights ahead to alert Gaius.”
Leon nods slowly, taking their surviving attackers into consideration. “Sir Bedevere will ride ahead,” he decides, beckoning the knight in question over. “Go with haste to the citadel, and alert Gaius that the king will need immediate medical treatment, then come back with extra men to transport these prisoners.” Bedevere gives a nod of assent and rushes back towards his horse, swinging into the saddle and speeding off.
“We don’t have time to wait for a relief force, Leon,” Merlin says sharply, kneeling back down to check Arthur’s breathing again. “He’s alright for now, but we don’t know how quickly that may change.”
“I’m not saying that,” Leon responds quickly. “Gwaine and I will escort you and Arthur back. Elyan, Percival, and the others can watch the prisoners until the rest show up to help.”
Hesitantly, Merlin agrees, turning back to his husband as Leon relays the plan to the knights, beckoning for some horses to be brought over. Grabbing Arthur’s hand again, Merlin raises it to his mouth and holds it there, watching for any sign of movement.
Arthur is still for the moment, the only motions the gentle rise and fall of his chest with each breath and the occasional twitch of his eyes behind closed lids. If Merlin didn’t know better, he would have perhaps thought him to be asleep - his demeanour almost identical to Arthur in the morning before he wakes.
A sharp pain goes through his chest at that and he inhales a shaky breath, the panic he had suppressed earlier starting to bubble back to the surface, bringing with it all the doubts and regret at not noticing the sorcerer sooner.
A hand clapping down on his shoulder makes him aware of Gwaine’s presence before he even hears the man’s words. “It’s not your fault, Merlin.”
“I should have been more careful,” Merlin answers, sliding an arm under Arthur’s shoulders and trying to pull him into a sitting position, no easy feat. Gwaine stoops a little to help, and now it goes much more smoothly with the knight’s superior strength. Merlin lets go as Gwaine picks Arthur up in a bridal hold, following as he carries him to one of the horses.
“How were you to know anything would happen? It was just a regular patrol,” Gwaine argues, waiting as Merlin swings himself into the saddle before helping to hoist Arthur onto the seat just in front of him, checking he’s secure before letting go.
“It’s never regular with Arthur around,” Merlin says dryly, earning a quick grin in response before Gwaine joins him on horseback, Leon already ready on the other side.
Eyes passing over Percival, who’s getting his arm bandaged up by Galahad, Leon turns to Elyan. “Bedevere will be back with support soon enough,” he says, glancing towards Merlin who barely registers the conversation.
Elyan inclines his head. “Get him back safe,” he says, receiving a short nod in response before the three riders head off back towards the citadel.
By the time they reach Camelot, Merlin’s left arm is completely numb from the elbow down. Originally, he’d had both wrapped around Arthur’s chest, but after one too many near-falls Leon had carefully suggested keeping one hand on the pommel in order to maintain their balance, and grudgingly, Merlin had obliged. Now, though, Arthur’s weight had been resting on that arm for over an hour, and even the pins and needles sensation had faded into nothingness.
As they ride through the gates, Merlin catches sight of Gwen standing at the top of the steps, illuminated by the open door to the castle behind her, a figure rushing down from where they had been standing by her side. The figure - upon closer inspection appearing to be Lancelot - reaches Merlin’s mount just as all three riders pull their horses to a standstill, stable boys quickly darting up to hold the reins as they dismount. Quickly, Lancelot lowers Arthur onto a stretcher Merlin had been too preoccupied to notice.
“Gaius is ready upstairs,” Lancelot reports, taking hold of one side of the stretcher as Gwaine grasps the other. Merlin nods, the rest of him feeling almost as numb as his arm, falling into step beside Leon behind the stretcher going up. As he passes, Gwen gives his hand a quick squeeze and offers him a hesitant smile, something he responds to with only a blank look as he continues on his way. She’s worried, he knows this, they all are - but his first priority right now is ensuring that Arthur is alright.
The castle is silent as the group moves up the stairs, the doors to Gaius’ rooms already open and the examination bed prepared. Gaius is upon Arthur almost as soon as Lancelot and Gwaine move him to the bed, running a hand along his pulse and checking his breathing, before gently raising Arthur’s head to feel for any bumps or other signs of injury. There are a few tense minutes while everyone looks on silently - Merlin somewhat inconspicuously towards the back until Gwaine drags him to the front – before Gaius straightens up, pulling the blanket on the bed up to Arthur’s chest.
Merlin’s eyes meet his former mentor’s, and almost immediately he’s able to relax a minuscule amount. Over the past decade he’s come to know Gaius better than anyone, and right now he can see that Gaius is not as worried as the situation may suggest.
“There’s good news, at least,” the man says, shuffling over towards his table and starting to put a few ingredients into the mortar to grind up. He looks back up at the four faces watching him anxiously, and sighs. “There’s no sign of any obvious injury that I can see,” he continues, choosing to look at the knights, which is easier than watching Merlin right now. “No head wounds, no trauma. For all intents and purposes, it would seem Arthur is merely sleeping.”
“That’s impossible,” Leon says, the first to take in the words properly. “We’ve tried to snap him out of it. He won’t wake up.”
“I realise that,” Gaius agrees. “I don’t understand it. He’s not comatose, he’s just sleeping. I think for now our best option is to see if he wakes up on his own.”
“You’re just going to leave him?” That’s Gwaine.
Gaius sighs again. “Only for a little while. If he doesn’t wake up by the day after tomorrow, I’ll induce him to myself.”
“By giving him a little of this.” The physician indicates the paste he’s currently making. “He’s just sleeping, remember. And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure Merlin will be able to wake him up with a spell.”
All eyes turn to Merlin, who manages to take a deep breath to steel himself, before giving a quick nod.
“There, see?” Gaius says, waving his arm at his former apprentice. “Now, the king needs rest, and he can’t do that with you lot banging on. So, if you’d just…”
Merlin tunes the rest out, feeling sick to his stomach as he sinks down onto the stool set up next to the examination bed, reaching to clasp Arthur’s hand between his own, fiddling slightly with the ring on his finger that matches his own, hanging from a chain around his neck. He watches his husband’s face, drinking in the peaceful expression, the soft fall of his hair on his forehead. While the feeling of panic has thankfully mostly subsided over the past ten minutes, the empty space it leaves allows the trickles of guilt and doubt to sweep in, filling the cavity. What if Gaius is wrong, what if Arthur isn’t just sleeping? What if he never wakes up? Why didn’t he notice the sorcerer earlier? What if he –
“I can practically hear you spiralling from here, mate.”
Gwaine’s voice cuts through his subconscious and Merlin finally lifts his eyes to see the knight crouched beside him, expression softer than he’s seen it in a while.
“Sorry,” Merlin says, and it’s empty, they both know it.
“It’s not your fault, you know.”
Good old Gwaine, always there when Merlin needs him, always doing his best to cheer him up. He knows, he’s always known, that Gwaine’s always cared for him a bit more than he probably should, and Gwaine knows he knows, but there would never have been any competition. Whether it’s in this lifetime or the next, Merlin would only ever have eyes for Arthur. Still, his unwavering friendship and support are invaluable, and Merlin can’t thank him enough.
“I should have been more careful,” he says, shaking his head and holding Arthur’s hand just a bit tighter. “I should have known something would happen; something always happens –”
“Enough of that,” Gwaine interjects, squeezing Merlin’s upper arm. “You know it wasn’t your fault. You have no control over what other people do.”
He’s right, Merlin’s subconscious knows it, but at the moment he can’t process the words, not while Arthur is still lying prone on the bed in front of him. He turns his gaze back to his husband, not really ready for anything else.
Gwaine sighs, probably realising that at this moment he’s fighting a losing battle. He gives Merlin’s arm a reassuring pat before standing and joining back into the conversation the others are having behind him.
Merlin loses himself in watching Arthur again, foolishly waiting for any sign that he might be waking up soon, despite Gaius’ words saying that it might take time. It’s silly, he knows, that after everything they’ve been through this instance is affecting him so much – Arthur’s been worse off than this so many times over he’s lost count. There’s something about this time, though, that’s setting Merlin more on edge than usual. It might just be the fact that there’s nothing he can do; he just has to sit and wait it out. Even without his magic he’d never felt this useless, there’d always been something he could help with. This time, it’s just sitting and waiting, nothing else.
Vaguely, he hears the others start to take their leave, Lancelot leaving first and Leon soon after him with a promise to station guards outside the door, just in case, as if Merlin wouldn’t be able to hold off just about any attacker. He hears Gwaine murmur something to Gaius, before he too heads out to leave.
“You’ve been conspicuously quiet this whole time,” Gaius says as soon as the door closes behind Gwaine, turning those observant eyes towards Merlin, who, not for the first time when faced with Gaius’ stare, half wishes he were invisible.
“Sorry.” Another empty apology. He regrets it, but it doesn’t really matter as Gaius pulls over another stool, grunting a little as he sits down next to Merlin. There’s a short pause, then he’s being pulled into a hug by his former mentor. Blindly, Merlin hugs back with one arm, refusing to let go of Arthur’s hand with his other.
“He’s going to be fine,” Gaius says soothingly, running his hand over Merlin’s hair before releasing him, holding his head in place so that Merlin is forced to look at him.
“You don’t know that,” Merlin argues, refusing to meet Gaius’ eyes regardless.
“Merlin.” Gaius sounds exasperated, a tone Merlin knows very well indeed. “Look at me.”
It takes a few seconds, but finally, Merlin lifts his gaze just enough to hesitantly look at the physician directly. Gaius dips his head a little so they’re at the same height, staying there for a moment.
“He’s going to be fine. How many things have gotten between you two? You’ve always overcome them, every one.”
“But what if this time we don’t?”
“Merlin.” The exasperation is back full force, along with one carefully raised brow, the one that always makes you feel as if you’ve been found out. Merlin tries to duck his gaze again, only to have his head held firmly back in place.
“Merlin. Listen to me.” He does, reluctantly. “Right now, all we can do is wait for Arthur to wake up. He’s in no danger, he’s got no injuries other than the couple odd nicks and scratches one would usually expect from a skirmish. Once he wakes up, we’ll be able to tell if anything is actually wrong, but there may not even be a cause for concern.”
Merlin nods shakily, taking a deep breath as some of the words sink in. “Alright.”
“Alright,” Gaius repeats, nodding along. “Good. Now, my boy, you should get some rest yourself. It’s been a long day, and you look exhausted.”
Merlin turns back towards Arthur, hand squeezing the one he’s holding. It’s strange, seeing Arthur look so peaceful, but knowing that there’s something wrong.
“I’ll stay here,” he decides, voice surprisingly steady despite the circumstances.
Gaius harrumphs. “That wouldn’t help either of you,” he argues softly. “Go back to your chambers. Get –”
“I ca-” Merlin chokes on the word, before swallowing and trying again. “I can’t. They’re not really my chambers, not without him in them.” He nods at his husband, blinking back a couple tears. He’s slightly embarrassed that this little thing is affecting him so much, only taking solace in the fact that Gaius has seen him in a much worse state before.
Gaius considers his words for a moment. “Very well,” he concedes. “Your old room is still made up. Go sleep in there tonight. You’ll be close enough to hear if anything happens, but you’ll still be able to get some rest.”
After a couple seconds, Merlin nods. It’s the best compromise he’ll be able to make, and he knows it.
“Fine,” he agrees, eyes never leaving Arthur’s face. “Just a few more minutes.”
It takes a moment, but soon enough he hears Gaius stand, moving over to his table to presumably continue some work on the potion he had started before getting ready to sleep himself. It’s the most privacy he’ll get, for now, so Merlin takes advantage of it while he can.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, leaning in to place a gentle kiss on his husband’s forehead. Arthur doesn’t so much as twitch. “I love you. I’m going to find a way to wake you up, you stubborn arse.”
The harsh words don’t really fall as negatively as their definition would suggest, softened by the loving tone and the other hand coming up to keep Arthur’s hand clasped between Merlin’s own. He stays there a while longer, while Gaius finishes up his work before settling down himself. With another kiss to the forehead, this one lingering a bit more than the last, Merlin pulls himself together and to his feet, giving his husband a last glance before heading to his own bed. He fears he’ll stay up all night, but surprisingly, he’s asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
Arthur hasn’t woken up come morning. Once Merlin is appropriately dressed, he steps back into Gaius’ main room, eyes immediately searching out the bed towards the side. He sits back down onto the stool, still in the same place as the night before, and reaches out to once again grasp Arthur’s hand.
“Ic þe þurhhæle þin licsare,” he whispers, eyes flashing gold as he utters the spell. He waits a few seconds, and when nothing happens, tries again. And again. And again. He tries a couple other healing spells he knows too, with the same infuriating results. It’s not until Gaius slips him a bowl of porridge as breakfast that he stops, and even then, he doesn’t leave Arthur’s side, trying again and again while people stop by and Gaius flits about, but he doesn’t pay them any attention.
Merlin doesn’t exactly know what happens that day. He knows that somehow, miraculously, he doesn’t pass anyone too closely on his way out of the castle. Gaius had sent him to collect herbs, having taken one look at him and decided that he should definitely not sit inside wallowing all day. So he goes, collecting everything Gaius needs, the numb feeling staying spread throughout his limbs the entire time. The only difference he feels in the whole five hours he’s gone is when he uses his magic, the slight tingle overtaking the numbness only to have it come rushing back as soon as he stops. He ignores it, and by the time he makes it back to Gaius’ chambers it’s getting dark and there’s a bowl of stew sitting on the table. Gaius gestures at it, thanking him for the herbs, and all too soon he’s getting into bed and Merlin is left watching Arthur again.
Tonight, he doesn’t fall asleep as quickly, the doubts swirling and forming a little cloud that sits at the edge of his mind, insistently pressing there and demanding attention until he’s finally too exhausted to keep his eyes open any longer, and he falls asleep.
The next morning, the routine is the same. Gaius heads out a little bit before midday, just after the guard outside the door has been changed, and Merlin stays by Arthur’s side. He’s still numb, and he closes his eyes as if it will help against the barrage of doubts and fears that are trying to creep in.
He’s not sure how long he sits there. The sun shines in and warms his back, his hands are still clasped around Arthur’s, and he -
Suddenly, he hears a shaky inhale to his left. Merlin’s eyes snap back open as he swivels to face Arthur’s figure fully, immediately knowing from that one sound what happens next.
Merlin knows what it is to watch Arthur wake up. He’s seen it thousands of times, in different scenarios, in different places, he knows it better than he knows himself. This time, however, there’s something different, the ground has seemingly shifted under his feet. It starts the way every waking moment does – eyes squeezed shut tighter, nose scrunching up against a bite of air, then blinking open, the blue irises shrouded by a thin layer of confusion.
He knows what will happen next: Arthur will blink away that uncertainty, and immediately search out Merlin himself, whether nuzzling into his side if he’s still in bed, or scanning the room to find him, often with the wish to entice Merlin back into the bed he’s inconveniently left.
Arthur blinks again, and Merlin can feel his own sense of unease growing, like when he was still a servant and run off of his feet, too busy to eat or drink or rest properly. The confusion in Arthur’s eyes, instead of lifting, settles there like fog, slightly clouding the brilliant blue.
Merlin’s smile falters. His brow creases as he watches Arthur look him up and down, then glance about the room, before turning back to him. In a split second, Merlin sees what’s wrong. Behind those eyes, there’s no recognition, nothing suggesting that his husband knows where he is.
“Arthur…?” His voice is unsteady, and he hates it, but it makes Arthur’s eyes snap to his which should be enough, since Arthur’s awake. There may be something wrong still, but he’s back, he’s fine, he’s –
“Who?” his husband asks, and just like that the thread of hope Merlin had been clinging to snaps. Even the little frown on Arthur’s lips hurts, because although he’s seen his husband frown before, it’s not been this way, not filled with apprehension. Not even when Merlin revealed his magic had Arthur seemed so blankly confused.
“Arthur, it’s me,” Merlin tries again, the remains of the snapped thread of hope withering inside of him when Arthur’s expression doesn’t change.
“Uh, alright?” His husband blinks, still frowning.
“Stop fooling around.” His voice is desperate, Merlin can hear it in his own words, but somehow, he can’t believe what is happening. Arthur can’t not know who he is, it’s impossible, Arthur’s known him for twelve years, they know each other better than they know themselves.
Finally, the man in front of him – for that’s who he is, his husband isn’t in there – shifts his expression. It’s still confused, there’s uncertainty there, but a tone of annoyance has taken the front seat. “I’m not.”
Merlin’s smile has completely vanished, his face likely openly showing his shell-shocked demeanour. Arthur pushes himself up onto his elbows, once again looking Merlin up and down. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m –” Merlin chokes on the words before he can complete the sentence, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before trying to continue. He’ll get through this, they’ll get through this, they have to. It’s just yet another obstacle they have to face.
Before he can say anything else, the door to Gaius’ rooms slams open and Gwaine rushes in, Leon following behind him with a slightly disapproving look on his face, the one that new recruits to the knights find terrifying. Both of their faces, however, light up at the sight of Arthur awake and two pairs of boots slap across the floor as they rush over.
“Arthur!” Gwaine shouts, pulling his king into a hearty hug that comes as complete shock to the newly-awoken man. “You’re awake!”
“Welcome back,” Leon adds, a bit more composed, but anyone would be able to hear the enthusiasm behind his words.
To both of their credit, they don’t seem too fazed when Arthur looks at them blankly, likely used to their king not being too responsive first thing after being woken up.
“Where am I?” he asks them, and Merlin’s glad it’s not directed at him. The numbness he’d been feeling over the past day is slowly but steadily being retaken by panic and fear, and he’s not sure he’d be able to look at this Arthur who doesn’t know him without breaking down completely.
Gwaine snorts. “Where are you? Nice one. Got you back to the castle safe and sound.”
When Arthur doesn’t respond, just tilts his head a bit more in confusion, realisation dawns on Leon’s face as he takes in the scene: Merlin looking distraught and Arthur unrecognising. He puts a hand on Gwaine’s arm and draws him back, stepping forward a bit himself.
“Arthur?” he starts, forgoing all etiquette and titles. “Do you know who I am?”
Gwaine’s head snaps towards him, mouth falling open to say something.
“No.” Arthur beats him to it, and now Gwaine’s head is swivelling back to the king. Arthur takes the weight off of his arms and sits up fully, frowning at Leon. “Should I?”
At that, Merlin breaks. “I can’t,” he says, pushing himself up off of the chair and wringing his hands together. All three sets of eyes lock on him, including Arthur’s. Merlin swallows, taking a step back. “I’m sorry, I just… I can’t.”
Without a second glance, he turns on his heel and rushes out of the room.
Gwen tries to talk to him a few hours later. He assumes everyone knows by now, and while the servants and lesser nobles likely only know the basics, he’s sure that the counselors and most trusted circle know the whole story, which of course includes Gwen herself. Briefly, he wonders if Lancelot told her, or if she went to check in on Arthur and found out herself.
When she finds him deep within the library, her gaze is sympathetic as she moves towards him, but Merlin doesn’t have the patience to deal with that right now. He flips another page in the ancient book he’s poring over, desperate to find any spell or potion that could possibly cure Arthur.
“Hey,” she starts, softly, which doesn’t help matters. Merlin flinches, and she seems to notice, because she takes a second to choose her next words carefully. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Merlin sighs, composing himself. He knows she’s just trying to help, he really does, but he’s not fully come to terms with the fact that the man he loves, who he’s known for over a decade and been married to for two years, doesn’t recognise him. He feels alone, and then immediately guilty. It’s not just him Arthur doesn’t remember, it’s everyone. Gwen’s known Arthur almost as long as he has.
“No, I think I’m…” he trails off, a sob working its way out of his throat. Quick as a flash, Gwen has her arms around him, giving him a hug, the kind he’s always thought her children will adore, once she and Lancelot get around to having them. He knows she’ll make a wonderful mother.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” she says soothingly, just rocking him as he sobs a bit more. Her hand rises to stroke his hair, something a lot of people have been doing recently. Not that he wants her to stop, it’s just another flash to him of how pitifully he’s acting.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, extracting himself from her arms and wiping his eyes. “I know it’s pathetic, I just…”
“Oh, no, Merlin. No,” Gwen admonishes, keeping one hand on his hair as she sits in the chair next to him. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I love Arthur as my family, you know that, but I don’t think I’d be able to hold myself together if I was in your shoes.”
Despite the circumstances, Merlin grins. “I’m not sure it would be physically possible. Lancelot thinks the world of you. I don’t think he’d ever be able to forget you existed.”
Gwen chuckles a little, reaching up to wipe away some moisture from her own eye. “Merlin, I know how Lancelot thinks of me, but honestly, even he can’t hold a torch to how Arthur feels for you.” Merlin looks away, blushing a little. “Trust me. He once offered to give up the kingdom, his titles, everything. Just because someone asked if he would consider giving you half.”
Merlin remembers hearing about that, remembers Gwaine telling him and violently teasing him for weeks afterwards, remembers Arthur stammering out a half-arsed excuse that it was all about tactics and confusing the enemy. He also remembers kissing Arthur senseless not long afterwards.
The memory turns bittersweet, the realisation that he may never be able to do that again floating through his head. His smile drops.
Catching on in a split second, Gwen reaches for his hand. “We’ll figure out a way to fix it,” she says, and she sounds so sure that Merlin can’t help but turn to look at her. Determination pours out of her eyes and she squeezes his hand. “We will, just you wait and see.”
“I’d like to take a walk.”
Leon and Gwaine glance at each other, faces unsure as they look back to the blonde man in front of them, who rolls his eyes.
“I feel fine! I should be able to walk around at least, unless I’m being kept as a prisoner.” He frowns. “ Am I being kept as a prisoner?”
“Of course not,” Gaius answers quickly, glaring daggers at the knights. “If you want to go for a walk, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to.”
“Thank you.” Arthur’s shoulders slump in relief, but now it’s Gaius’ turn to be on the receiving end of two glares.
“It’s not going to do him any good cooped up here,” he says, supporting his decision. “Just take him for a walk. What harm will it do? He’s been here nearly four hours already.”
Leon nods slowly. “Would it… would it maybe help him remember something?”
“It may,” Gaius concedes. “We don’t know what exactly we’re dealing with, so I can’t say for certain.”
That seems to be enough for Leon, who nods once before turning to Gwaine. “Make sure the halls are clear. We don’t need to overwhelm him, or,” he lowers his voice a notch. “To cause a panic. Enough people already know something is up, we don’t need to make that any worse than it already is.”
Surprisingly, Gwaine doesn’t hesitate. He slips out the door, and by the time Leon has turned back around, Arthur is standing and watching him expectantly. He looks so eager it seems like he’s playacting, and Leon has to resist rolling his eyes before he remembers that this is the first time the new Arthur will be seeing the castle.
Turning, he heads towards the door, Arthur following behind him like an excited puppy. It’s disconcerting – in all the time Leon’s seen his king, he’s never acted this way. It’s hard to see, especially when usually he’d be able to make some kind of crack about it. Once they’ve exited, Bedevere quickly comes up to flank Arthur’s other side, flashing him a nervous smile which Arthur returns with the same amount of anxiety. The situation is new to all of them.
The walk through the castle is surprisingly quiet, though this may have something to do with the quiet orders and even quieter threats Gwaine muttered to the guards just before they left Gaius’ rooms. It’s just Leon and Bedevere with Arthur now, keeping a close eye on him as they walk on either side through the corridors, their expressions somewhat pained as they watch Arthur take everything in as if it’s the first time. Which, in a way, it is.
“How big is this place?” Arthur asks when they round the first corner, his eyes moving up the length of a column. His expression is open, innocent, and secretly Leon wishes he’d be able to see that look more often. It’s easy to forget sometimes that his king has not even reached thirty yet.
“It has over two hundred rooms,” Bedevere responds helpfully, shooting Leon an inquisitive glance. “And there’s a courtyard and stables too.” Arthur looks in awe, trying to take it all in. As they pass rooms, he asks what they are, and Bedevere continues to answer cheerfully, his demeanour at least being unaffected by the circumstances.
It’s not until Arthur freezes in front of an open door that Leon really focusses again, and sees his king staring almost wistfully into the room. Leon follows his gaze, and… ah. Inside, Merlin stands having what appears to be a rather heated discussion with some counselors.
Arthur appears entranced. “That man,” he begins, gesturing. “He was there when I woke up today.”
Leon swallows. “Yes.”
“Who is he?”
“That’s Prince Merlin.” Bedevere jumps in to answer, voice proud and eyes shining. Leon shakes his head a little. All the younger knights - well, all the knights really – are for some reason exceedingly attached to Merlin. Not that Leon can blame them, really. It’s Merlin.
“He’s gorgeous,” Arthur breathes, and this time Leon can’t resist the urge to roll his eyes. He’d been dealing with this for the past decade, and had foolishly hoped for a moment’s reprieve, but it seemed that both regular Arthur and this Arthur were utterly besotted with the court sorcerer.
“He’s a prince?” Arthur’s voice raises slightly, eyes growing wide. He shifts to watch Merlin again, following his movements as he talks with two of the counsel members.
“Yes.” Bedevere nods enthusiastically. “He married y- er, the king about two years ago now. Although,” he pauses, flashing Arthur a wink, and Leon briefly thinks that the young knight might be enjoying this a bit too much. “They were making eyes at each other for years before that. We even had bets going on about how long it would take for them to finally fall into bed to-”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Leon intervenes, shooting Bedevere a look. He just receives a shrug and a grin in return. Arthur, however, doesn’t seem to have noticed.
Over the top of Arthur’s head, Leon and Bedevere exchange a few looks, culminating in Leon’s sigh – really, he’s been doing that a lot today – and him tapping his king’s shoulder.
“What?” He doesn’t turn fully, his eyes still locked on Merlin. “What is it?”
“There’s something you should know,” Leon starts, then stops, unsure on how to go about phrasing his next words properly. Bedevere just watches without assisting.
That sentence catches Arthur’s attention more fully, and he finally turns back to face the knight, his forehead creased and a frown on his lips. “What?”
Leon takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a second. “It’s you,” he says finally, which does nothing to clear up Arthur’s confusion. He shakes his head and tries again. “It’s you. You’re the king.”
Arthur’s eyes widen before he lets out a shocked laugh, breathy and high. “You’re joking,” he laughs, only for his face to immediately fall at the sight of Leon’s expression. “Right. You’re not joking.” His brow furrows again and he turns back towards the room. “Wait a second, does that mean he and I…”
“Yes,” Leon grits out, watching as Merlin notices them, especially Arthur, and sees the hurt look that passes over his features. “You two are married.”
Inside the room, the counselors notice Arthur and attempt to make their way over, before Merlin stops them with a stern word, waiting until they turn to leave before gathering himself and walking over to where Leon and Bedevere stand with his husband.
“We’re married,” Arthur repeats, still sounding wondrous as he stares at Merlin, who looks pained.
“Yes,” he manages to choke out, voice strangled, before tearing his eyes away, blinking rapidly. He turns to look at Leon. “He knows, then.”
It’s not a question, but Leon finds himself compelled to answer anyways. “Yes,” he confirms simply.
Merlin nods once, the motion jerky. “Alright.” His voice is still a bit quieter, a bit harsher than normal, but he seems to have it more or less under control. “When he’s done wandering around, take him to our – his – chambers. I’ll come around later with some spells I found to try.”
“Merlin-” Leon starts, but a raised hand cuts him off. “Yes, Sire.”
Oh, that was a mistake. He sees the sudden panic rise behind Merlin’s eyes and realises that he’s never actually called him that before, not outside of a ceremonial setting. Still, it fits given the circumstances, and regardless, he thinks it probably has done for a while. So, he stands firm, looking Merlin dead in the eye.
“Sire.” Bedevere repeats the word and Merlin’s eyes snap to him, but like Leon, the younger knight holds his ground. Together, they incline their heads, before turning to leave, taking Arthur with them – who’s just been watching Merlin the whole time.
Merlin stays, too shocked to move, the panic rising in him now not only from worry over Arthur.
“He called me ‘sire’,” Merlin says, head held in his hands with elbows on the table as Gaius shuffles around, finishing up one of the potions he had made to help Arthur regain his memories.
Gaius hums in acknowledgment, pouring the potion from the mortar into a small jar. “Interesting.”
Merlin looks up in disbelief. “Gaius, are you even listening? Leon called me ‘sire’!”
“Yes, you said.” The physician doesn’t seem too surprised, a notion Merlin can’t even begin to fathom.
“Well, don’t you think that’s strange?” he asks incredulously, hoping that the man will back him up.
There’s a brief pause. “No, not really.”
“No. In all honesty, my boy, I’m surprised they didn’t start doing that years ago.”
“But I’m just Merlin!” he protests, giving up on any pretense his arms had that he’ll let his head drop back down into his hands. “I’m not a ruler!”
Gaius just gives him an unimpressed look. “Merlin, your official title is Prince Consort. You’re legally obliged to oversee royal affairs if the king is unable.”
Merlin looks a bit desperate. “But I’ve never had to do it before!” It’s maybe a good thing, he thinks, that at least the overwhelming numbness isn’t all-encompassing anymore, though he doesn’t quite like all the panic it’s actively being replaced with. His only wish is for all of this to be over, but just as the last hundred times he’s thought it, that wish remains stubbornly unfulfilled.
Gaius clicks his tongue, watching him just long enough to make him squirm and look away. It’s almost scary how good he is at that look.
“Alright,” Gaius says, breaking the silence a few seconds later. “I’ve finished. Let’s go try these out, and perhaps you’ll see you needn’t have worried in the first place.”
Resigned, Merlin nods, clambering to his feet and following a few paces behind as they make their way through the corridors. They pass a few people, some whispering violently amongst themselves as they pass and others staring at them. Merlin doesn’t know which he finds worst. At long last, they arrive at the doors to the rooms that up until recently, Merlin had been happy to call his, shared with his husband. Now, however, they’re just Arthur’s. There’s no way Merlin would be able to sleep in that big bed by himself now, he’s far too used to there being another occupant.
Gaius enters first, leaving Merlin in the corridor a moment longer. The panic is rising again, swirling in the pit of his stomach and not dissipating. He knows it’s stupid, they’ve been through worse, but the niggling doubt still lingers at the front of his mind.
Soon enough, it would seem the people inside the room had gotten impatient, as someone steps out into the hall.
It’s Lancelot. Merlin is grateful that they’ve chosen him to come out, he’s not sure he’d be able to stomach Gwaine’s cavalier attitude or Leon’s unwavering faith just yet. Lancelot doesn’t ask him how he’s doing, just stands and waits for Merlin to speak first.
“What if it doesn’t work?” he breathes out eventually, and his friend’s eyes soften a little.
“Then we keep trying,” he responds, waiting for Merlin to pull himself together a bit more. He does, and with a nod and a deep breath, Lancelot opens the doors and follows him into the room.
Immediately, Merlin feels all the eyes turn to him. He pauses uncertainly, before deciding to make his way over to where Gaius has just stopped talking to Arthur, likely explaining to him what’s going to happen.
Arthur’s expression takes him aback, those blue eyes shining not with the love that Merlin’s used to, but with what can only be described as wonder. It’s intense, and he has to look away.
“You can do magic?”
The question is open, curious, and not at all similar to the tone he remembers when he first revealed it – though in hindsight, it hadn’t been posed as a question, then. Somehow, Arthur had known, had always known.
Merlin gives a shaky nod, still not looking up at the sound of the fascinated noise that escapes his husband’s mouth.
Somewhere behind him, Gwaine snorts.
Merlin finally looks up as Gaius hands Arthur the first of the potions to try, watching until he feels someone watching him instead of the goings on. He raises his eyes to meet Gwen’s, the determination from earlier still blazing fiercely as she sends him a tight-lipped smile. At least one of them still has faith, Merlin thinks.
The first potion doesn’t work. Neither does the second. The third one is reported to give off some sort of tingle, and the whole room collectively holds breath, before it too is discarded. The fourth and fifth are as equally unhelpful.
Soon, too soon, it’s Merlin’s turn to try. He steps forward, trying to still the shaking in his hands, before reaching out to take the hand that Arthur is inquisitively offering him. For one heartbeat, two, there’s silence, while Arthur gazes with that same wonder displayed in his eyes and Merlin trying to force his words to be even.
“Eftgemyndge,” Merlin tries, repeating it when nothing happens. “Eftgemyndge!” Arthur is openly staring at Merlin’s eyes, and with a start, Merlin remembers that this version of Arthur can’t recall the way his irises glow gold.
He tries again, and again, and switches to other spells, none of them taking hold. It’s been almost half an hour by the time Gaius puts his hand on Merlin’s arm to get him to stop.
“I tried,” he manages to choke out. No one says anything. Merlin drops his husband’s hand as if it were burning him, closing his eyes and feeling the first tear trickle out beneath his lashes.
Behind him, Gaius starts to whisper, shooing the others out and following himself, and then it’s just Merlin and Arthur, alone in the rooms that should belong to them.
Arthur puts his hand on Merlin’s knee in what he thinks is supposed to be a consolatory gesture, but it only serves the opposite purpose. Merlin jumps up, backing away, as his husband watches him with confusion and some pity. It takes all that he has in him to walk away slowly, and not flee the room.
It’s painful. Merlin has been avoiding Arthur as much as he can. It’s cowardly, he knows it, but right now it’s about all he can do to keep himself from collapsing from the weight of running a kingdom, to have to face his husband who doesn’t remember him on top of that would be too much.
It’s during the sixth day that Gaius informs Merlin of no advances in regaining Arthur’s memories that Merlin breaks down. He’s lucky, no one is there in the room with him, Gaius gone back to check on Arthur and the knights all off doing their duties or asleep, Gwen likely doing something along the same lines as well.
It’s bad news, not that he had been expecting anything good. Six days of seeing Arthur, only to get attention in the way he doesn’t want. He doesn’t want Arthur to be in awe of him, he never has. He just wants him to go back to at the end of the day, to throw stupid insults at and to crawl in bed next to when he’s worn out from the day’s activities.
He sinks to the floor, hands clutching at the back of his head from where it’s tucked between his knees as he rocks back and forth. He can’t do this indefinitely, he’d never been the one to be in charge all the time, and now he doesn’t even have Arthur to support him along the way. The others are trying, they really are, but they don’t connect with him in the same way Arthur does.
Oh, he’s spiralling again. All of his panic over the past week boils back down to this: he’s not sure what he’ll do if he doesn’t get Arthur back. Some days, the guilt is the worst, other times the fear, but mostly it’s just the pain. He had never even imagined how it could feel to look someone he loves desperately straight in the eye, and have them not even know who he is. Not even when he had finally revealed his magic had there been an utterance of ‘I don’t know who you are’.
Slowly, once his sobbing has subsided somewhat, Merlin shifts into a proper sitting position, staring blankly at the wall in front of him. He’ll have to get through this somehow, on the small chance that maybe a piece of Arthur is still in there. It’s only a piece of bad news, he’s dealt with bad news before.
The worse news arrives not long after. The sorcerer who had attacked Arthur, the one in their dungeons, has a brother, because of course he does. And he’s on his way to the castle with an army, because of course he is. Merlin had been a fool to think his week couldn’t get any worse.
“Sound the alarm,” he says, voice weary but already jumping up and beckoning Leon and another knight, Lamorak, over. “Get the people out of the town and into the citadel. They’ll be easier to protect there.”
“Sire,” Lamorak nods, rushing off to spread the message. Leon falls into step beside Merlin as he heads towards the great hall.
“Get the knights mobilised, and have Arthur guarded in our…” he pauses, swallowing. “In his chambers. For his safety.”
Leon looks at him for a second, before inclining his head. “Sire.” Then he too, is off.
As he walks, Merlin pulls on a hauberk thoughtfully brought to him by George, finishing with the laces right as he makes it to the Great Hall. Already, servants are milling about nervously, having been summoned. Overhead the warning bells start to ring out.
“Merlin,” says Gwaine, beckoning him over, and he can’t quite figure out what the tone is. “The army is approaching from the north. It’s not big, but all of our patrols are still out. Bors isn’t due back with his until tomorrow, and Kay is a full three days away. The rest are even farther.”
Merlin nods once. “So, we’re on our own.”
Gwaine runs a hand over his face, townsfolk starting to trickle into the hall as he speaks. “Basically. Elyan took a group down to help Lamorak get the people to safety, and Bedevere and Galahad are going to guard Arthur. Leon’s got the knights in the courtyard already.”
“What about the walls?” Merlin asks, glancing up sharply. “Lancelot, go up and get the archers ready. You’ll have to be the first line of defence.”
The man nods, shooting Gwaine an indecipherable look that Merlin doesn’t have the time to understand. He goes, giving Merlin’s arm a quick squeeze and glancing towards Gwen, who’s busy helping sort out who’s going where inside the hall.
Merlin looks at her, eyes travelling around the civilians all looking towards him. “Percival,” he says, and the tall knight comes closer. “Stay here with some of the men. Keep the people safe.” Percival nods, immediately turning to order some of the men into position.
The warlock turns back to Gwaine, who’s watching him oddly, and finally his patience is worn thin.
“What?” he snaps, startling Gwaine out of his staring. He half expects Gwaine to deny even looking at him, and as such is surprised when the usual shrug and grin don’t immediately follow the question.
“You’re good at this,” he says simply, eyes more serious than Merlin’s seen them recently.
Gwaine’s grin returns at the beginnings of a protest, but both are cut off when Tristan, the newest recruit to the knights, runs up to them.
“They’re in the vaults,” he whispers, looking scared as his eyes dart between Merlin, Gwaine, and the people in the hall. “They got… they… they got…” he pants, and despite the panic starting to rise back up in Merlin, he lays a hand on the boy’s shoulder to try and calm him. It seems to work, his next works coming out in a jumble, but at least they’re understandable. “They got through one of the water grates. They’re past the walls.”
Gwaine sucks in a breath. “How many?”
Tristan shakes his head. “Not more than fifty. Sir Degore sent me right away.”
“Shit,” Gwaine whistles, but Merlin realises there’s a piece still missing.
“Was the sorcerer with them?” he asks, and both Gwaine and Tristan blink. Merlin sighs. “A man in some sort of cloak or robe. He likely won’t be wearing armour.”
There’s a beat of silence, and Merlin hopes he’s wrong, hopes that the true threat isn’t already inside, when –
“Yes.” Tristan’s voice has gotten even softer. “Yes, one wasn’t wearing armour, I didn’t know, I swear, I didn’t realise -”
“It’s alright,” Merlin reassures him, straightening up and shooting Gwaine a look. “Take us to where it happened.”
Arthur feels a bit useless. He knows he can’t remember anything, and he’s not much use in a fight, but he could still help. Carrying buckets or weapons or something. Merlin, the man he’s supposedly married to – not that Arthur minds, he’s developed a bit of a crush on the man – is out there right now, trying to protect the kingdom that Arthur is apparently the king of.
Groaning, he stands from his seat. He feels agitated, cooped up here in these rooms as if he were a prisoner. ‘For his own protection’ his arse.
At some point during his pacing, his eyes land on the ring set on the bedside table. He’s not really had time to look at it, it had been taken off when he was first brought to these rooms. It’s his wedding ring, he knows, and he steps closer to inspect it.
It’s silver, likely solid silver if he knows anything about the wealth of royalty, and when he picks it up it’s a bit heavier than what he was expecting. Turning the band, he sees that what he first thought was a reflection of the light is actually a series of shallow engravings, the words unfamiliar to him but somehow feeling… right. Safe. Like home.
Sliding the ring onto its rightful place on his finger, he chuckles a little wistfully, thinking back to when Merlin had undertaken that action on their wedding day, his eyes sparkling beautifully like stars.
Oh... He freezes, the realisation of what just happened hitting him. He’s remembering, little pieces coming back first – Merlin’s smile first thing in the morning, the feel of a sword gripped in his hand, the earthy tones to Merlin’s scent. It’s not how memory is often portrayed in the songs, there’s no great revelation or sinking to his knees, he just blinks and it’s there. All of his memories, all of his thoughts, he had been someone else and now he’s himself again. He laughs a little at the absurdity of it, fingers playing with the ring he’s just put on.
His smile falls, eyes hardening as he looks for Excalibur, which is beside the bed in the place it always is. Grabbing it, he slides the sheath into his belt before hastening towards the door, flinging it open only to have the guards outside stare at him in surprise.
“Sire, you shouldn’t-” One of them starts, only to be immediately cut off by Arthur.
“Oh, shut up, Bedevere,” he snaps, rolling his eyes as the knight’s eyebrows raise. “Yes, I bloody well know who you are. Now get out of my way so I can find my husband, who’s apparently fighting a fucking battle on his own.”
He pushes past, the two knights scrambling to catch up to his pace stalking down the hallways towards the castle walls, where he knows Merlin will be fighting at the front lines, the absolute idiot.
“It’s good to have yuo back, sire,” Bedevere says, Galahad behind him nodding enthusiastically.
“Good to be back,” Arthur agrees, before setting his mind completely on the task ahead.
The vaults are a bloodbath. It’s awful, Merlin thinks, feeling sick to his stomach as he surveys the scene in front of him. There are unknown men mixed in with their own, and even with these losses, it still appears that the sorcerer and about three dozen of his men got through. He’s too shocked to speak, so Gwaine takes the lead, barking out orders for the men who came with them to check for all survivors. Tristan lets out a yell when he finds Sir Degore still breathing, it’s shallow, but steady.
“We’re too late,” Gwaine says, saying what everyone is thinking.
Merlin nods, turning away from the scene to look at his friend, a cold slice of fear ripping through him. “If they’re not here,” he starts slowly, watching Gwaine adjust his grip on his sword. “Then where are they?”
Silence reigns for a few moments as they consider his words, when the faint noise of a scream pierces through the open door at the top of the stairs. The warlock and the knight share a quick look of dread.
“The people,” Gwaine breathes, and then they’re both running at top speed, barrelling down the corridors as fast as they can until they make it to the Great Hall, the doors already open and waiting.
Some thirty soldiers have cleared a path to the throne, holding the people back on either side. Merlin swallows, they’re his people, all looking to him with a silent plea for help. Not for the first time this week, Merlin wonders how Arthur handles all this pressure.
His chest contracts a little at the thought of Arthur, but he pushes it away. His husband is still safe, still locked in his chambers. Merlin needs to deal with this first.
He starts walking down the aisle, Gwaine warily following behind him, shifting his grip on the hilt of his sword every so often. As they advance, Merlin takes in all he can – Gwen and Elyan to the righthand side, bent over an unconscious Percival with several enemy knights around them, not taking any chances. To the left, Lamorak stands in front of the rest of the surviving knights, eyes glaring daggers at the dais.
Finally, Merlin looks straight ahead, halfway down the path at this point, and sees a man dressed in a brown cloak perched on his husband’s – Arthur’s – throne. Surprisingly, as they advance, the man starts to clap.
Merlin raises an eyebrow as he stops at the foot of the dais, practically feeling the anger simmering off of Gwaine behind him. The clapping continues for a couple seconds before stopping, the sorcerer leaning forward from his seated position to send Merlin a cocky grin.
“Well, if it isn’t the Pendragon’s whore,” he drawls, eyes flicking over to Gwaine who scowls, and starts to unsheathe his sword, before a flick of the sorcerer’s wrist has him frozen. Two of the soldiers drag him back to where Gwen, Elyan, and Percival are, disarming him in the process. Now, Merlin stands alone in front of the stolen throne, face set and refusing to rise to the bait.
“What do you want?” he asks, a slight tone of weariness creeping into his voice. He’s done this so many times, with so many people, that he knows how to deal with this new threat – the one who thinks he’s won just by sitting in the throne. Soon, very soon, Merlin will show him just how wrong he is.
“My name is Alwin,” the sorcerer says. “And first, I’d like for my brother to be released from your dungeons.”
“Your brother,” Merlin starts, voice firm and eyes never leaving the man in front of him. “Attacked the king of Camelot. He will stay in the dungeons until he stands trial.”
“’The king of Camelot’,” Alwin repeats, spitting the words out as if they physically pain him to say. “Your precious master doesn’t deserve to be king of anything.”
Sounds of unease and anger ripple through the hall, but are soon silenced by the soldiers stepping closer, weapons raised. Merlin checks from the corner of his eye, making sure no one is getting hurt.
“The Pendragons took everything from us,” Alwin continues, and Merlin’s eyes snap back to him. “Do you really think one pet warlock and shoddy speeches about freedom will give us back all we’ve lost?” There’s fire in his eyes, and Merlin already knows that it’s a lost cause before he even opens his mouth.
“Let these people go,” he tries anyways, holding out his hands, palms up, placating. “Your quarrel doesn’t concern them.”
“Hmm,” Alwin pretends to consider it, tapping his chin as if in thought. “Hmm… no. I think I’d prefer it if they watch as I eradicate the Pendragon line from the face of the earth. Since your dear king hasn’t bothered to show up himself, I think I’ll start with you.”
He raises his hand almost lazily, and two of the swords that had been removed from the knights earlier float up to each point at Merlin’s throat. A few gasps ring out, a couple cries, but Merlin just holds Alwin’s gaze defiantly.
“Not going to beg, then?” the sorcerer asks, sounding a touch disappointed. “Very well, then, it’s your choice.” He flicks his wrist and the room erupts with sounds of protest, Gwen and Elyan and Gwaine all leaping forward, a few of the civilians and other knights as well, before they’re wrestled back by the enemy soldiers and waves of magic.
It’s Lamorak who gets the farthest, grabbing one of the soldier’s swords and running him through, slashing at another as he leaps towards the dais, arm outstretched to deal Alwin a mortal blow.
Merlin barely has time to shout or reach out before one of the swords aimed at him changes direction, flying through the air to land in Lamorak’s back with a sickening thud.
The room goes silent as the knight drops to the floor, dead even before he hits the ground. Gwen sobs behind him, but Merlin can barely hear over the buzzing in his ears as takes in the sight in front of him, Lamorak’s unseeing eyes looking just past his shoulder.
The sword still clasped in his hand twitches, then flies into Alwin’s grip. “Now,” the sorcerer starts, looking sickeningly giddy. “Where were we?”
Merlin turns back to him, the gears in his mind turning frantically to come up with some sort of plan.
When he reaches the courtyard, Arthur is relieved to find that it looks like they’re winning. Up on the walls he hears Lancelot shouting orders to the archers, and ahead of him he catches sight of Leon leading the attack. He rushes forward, just as his first knight straightens up from finishing his last fight, looking around and eyes widening as he catches sight of his king outside of his rooms, holding a sword no less.
“You’re supposed to be in your chambers!” he shouts, voice raised to carry over the sounds of the fighting still going on around him.
“I got bored!” Arthur yells back, and can see that Leon doesn’t realise that he’s regained his memories. “I can’t have you and my self-sacrificing idiot of a husband have all the fun! This is still my kingdom!”
Leon looks confused for a second, but soon enough understanding washes over his features and he grins, reaching out to clasp Arthur’s arm.
“It’s good to see you again, sire,” he says, voice lowered now that they’re closer together.
“Likewise, Sir Knight,” Arthur responds, in the same light tone.
“Merlin was with Gwaine in the hall when I last saw him,” Leon tells him, answering the unasked question in his king’s eyes. “We moved the people there, for their safety, and –”
“They’re in the Great Hall!” A voice shouts, and Arthur’s blood runs cold. Not only for the people, who he’s certainly concerned about, but also because that’s the last place Merlin was reported. He glances at Leon, who reflects the same worried expression.
“I’ve got it covered here,” he says reassuringly, waving a hand. “Go!”
Arthur does, Bedevere and Galahad hot on his heels.
Merlin sees Gwen standing to the side, her fist clutching a knife as murder spits from her eyes. He shakes his head imperceptibly, watching as she looks confused for a moment, then annoyed. Thankfully, she does as he wishes, letting her hand fall back to her side and taking a step back. He won’t risk her, not when Lamorak is already lying dead on the flagstones in front of the dais.
Instead, he turns his attention back to Alwin, who’s watching him with a feral smile, still holding Lamorak’s sword. He looks too smug, too self-satisfied, and it’s with great satisfaction that Merlin lets his plan unfold.
Releasing his magic, he feels the energy surging through his veins as he sidesteps the sword still aimed at his neck, grabbing the handle for himself and pulling it into his grasp. Alwin’s smile falters for a moment, before he brings his own weapon up and throws out his hand, sending a wave of magic towards Merlin.
He’s fast, Merlin has to hand it to him, but nowhere near as powerful as himself. He holds up his own hand and stops the blast, flicking his wrist to send the wave back towards its caster.
Alwin’s sneer drops fully this time, and Merlin is aware that he’s probably glowing slightly, the gold in his eyes likely having taken over, but at the moment he doesn’t care. He advances up the steps of the dais, eyes trained on the sorcerer in front of him who’s frantically sending spell after spell at Merlin to no avail, eyes growing wider as Merlin reaches the top of the stairs. His face is set in grim determination, and the numbness he’s been feeling all week has been replaced by the buzz of his magic.
Giving up on the spells, Alwin tries to raise his sword, standing up to swing at the warlock, but the time Merlin is quicker than him. Stopping Alwin’s lunge with a wave of his hand, he pushes his blade under the man’s outstretched arms, up and slotting between the ribcage into his chest.
Once again, the hall is silent as Alwin drops his sword, eyes shocked as he bows his head to look at the blade impaled in his chest. He sinks to his knees as the sword slips out, still held in Merlin’s hand.
The warlock watches on as the sorcerer coughs up blood, hands raised to clutch at his chest, before his stare turns glassy and collapses fully to the floor.
A second later, Merlin turns as the hall erupts in cheers, sending them a grim smile as he falls back onto the throne behind him, desperate for a quick rest.
He’s not given long, however, as the jubilant cheers around him turn into a collective shout, all the voices joining together to utter a pair of words that stops Merlin’s heart.
His eyes snap open, and there, about ten yards away, stands Arthur.
Merlin jumps up off of the throne, the sword in his hand clattering to the ground as he looks at his husband at the foot of the dais, Bedevere and Galahad grinning behind him.
For about thirty seconds, he thinks Arthur may still be enchanted. He’s still got the slightly confused, hugely in awe, and massively enamoured expression on his face, but behind his eyes there’s recognition.
“Glad to see you could manage without me,” he says, a bit breathless and his grin veering more towards adoration than teasing. “Though, you were always pretty good at cleaning up messes. Most of which you created on your own, mind.”
There’s a beat of silence, two, three - and then Merlin is rushing forward, colliding with his husband who remembers him again as if he’s the only thing that matters in the world, and, for a while, he is. Vaguely, in the back of his mind, Merlin thinks that perhaps he should be acting a bit more composed, a bit more dignified what with half of the city looking on, but he finds in that moment he doesn’t care.
“I thought I’d never see you again. The real you,” he whispers, clinging to the body in front of him.
Arthur exhales softly, one hand coming up to rest on the back of Merlin’s head, pulling him into the crook of his neck. It’s sticky, some dirt and blood still scattered over his person, but for right now that doesn’t matter.
“Idiot,” Arthur murmurs quietly, and oh, that word should not sound nearly as good as it does. Merlin squeezes his eyes shut, trying to hold back the flow of tears that would make this public display even more unprofessional.
He doesn’t want to let go, ever, but by the third time Arthur tries to pull back he realises that just maybe he’s being a little bit silly. He loosens his grip enough for Arthur to move a little, but is unwilling to let him go all the way away. Not yet.
“I love you,” Arthur says then, his blue eyes swimming with unshed tears to match Merlin’s, and his hands come up to frame the sides of Merlin’s face, sweeping his thumbs across sharp cheekbones.
It’s Merlin’s turn to mutter. “Idiot,” he repeats, and both of their grins widen. “I love you, too.”
Arthur pulls him back in, slots their lips together, and this, oh, and this.
It feels like coming back home.