AN: Hello, hello!
Okay... you all have every right to be royally ticked off at me. I'm absolutely terrible. It's been almost a month. Aside from being lazy (which yes, that did happen some) I got very sick recently, and I was down with the flu for a whole week; all sorts of fun. I'm still not 100% but I feel a lot better now, so I mudded through the rest of the half-written chapter and got it up for you guys.
So...there's a lot I don't like about this chapter. I felt like it was largely filler. Hopefully it explains a few important things for you such as where did Freya come from and what happened to the other victims of the ambush. But the most important part of this chapter is the character development for Arthur and Merlin.
There's a few shockers in here too... please don't kill me.
Voices carried fairly well down the hall. Arthur kept a hand on the wall, testing his own strength as he padded towards the main room, listening.
"What about Leon? Have we heard anything about Leon?" Arthur's fingers curled in to his palm, and he stopped to lean on the wall. Iseldir had been here earlier. Arthur remembered hearing his voice too, seeing him through the heavy painkiller-induced haze of drowsiness. No doubt the professor would be back.
They weren't in the familiar house in Dartmoor where Merlin had been healed. He didn't know where he was right now. Part of him—drained, weak, and shaken by the last couple of days—wanted to crawl back into the little room and lie in the darkness, seek out another painkiller and wait for the pain to die down. But more than anything, he needed to get out of here. He needed to know where the others were.
"Nothing more than I told you this morning. His body hasn't been found." Gaius' voice spoke this time. Arthur closed his eyes. Gaius knew more than the rest of them. So Leon might be alive… He shuddered. That might not even be a good thing. He couldn't imagine what Leon might be going through were he in the hands of the wrong people.
"Lance's wasn't either."
"Lance was gone the moment Morgause put her spell on him. You couldn't have saved him if you tried."
"Gaius, the book—there are spells that—"
Gaius cut over the protest: "Necromancy, raising the dead, conjuring spirits… You know what happens to those who dabble in such arts. To safe a life, a life must be taken."
"I don't care. I can—"
"Merlin." Gaius cut him short with a sharp, almost angry edge in his tone. A long pause. Arthur stepped noiselessly past the corner.
"Can I at least do something to help? I can look into healing spells." The speaker's head was bowed over a thick book propped on the table before him, and a young woman perched on the couch arm beside him, her back to Arthur as well. Gaius didn't notice him. Yet.
"You've done a lot already. You don't have to do more for now." Gaius rose from the sofa. Arthur gritted his teeth. That he agreed with. He lifted his chin.
"I want him gone."
Two pairs of eyes turned on Arthur as he reached for the back of an armchair—Gaius' in silent disapproval, and the girl's hazel-brown eyes narrowed, wary, and concerned. The third occupant of the room kept his dark head bowed.
"Arthur—" Gaius began.
"It's fine," Merlin interrupted. He quietly put the book down on the table and left the room. Arthur leaned his weight on the chair. There was a time when he would have cringed at the look Gaius leveled on him. But Gaius had known too. Known for a long time by the looks of it. The physician ranked among the ever-growing numbers of people who had lied to Arthur.
"I'm glad you're on your feet again, Arthur." He shifted his eyes to Freya, and his teeth clenched. He knew few things about how Freya came to be here, but he could guess. Certainly her affiliation was clear, if nothing else by the way she braced herself and looked after Merlin's retreating figure. She scanned Arthur from head-to-foot, eyes slightly narrowed. "But you should be careful what you wish for," she added before she turned and left the room, following the dark-haired warlock.
Arthur took a tiny breath, wary of his still-burning ribs. She at least couldn't count as a liar: merely one of the many sorcerers and sorceresses who had crossed paths with him. That too was a rapidly rising number. But there was something else—something slightly more important about Freya—a memory dredged up from the depths of Arthur's tired mind. She'd known Merlin… very well it seemed.
"He is your friend, Arthur." Gaius leaned down and picked up the book Merlin left. "You have no reason to fear him." Friend? Arthur locked a burning gaze on the physician.
"He can stay here with Iseldir—or go back with the Druids. He's certainly been friendly enough with them before." Freya too, it seemed. How many of Merlin's friends had been sorcerers, Arthur wondered. How deeply had Merlin been involved with this whole underground Druid community all this time? He curled his fingers into the cushion on the chair-back. Gaius was shrugging his jacket on. He retrieved a bag from the end of the sofa. "I'm going back with you," Arthur said.
"You can't. You're not well enough."
"I'm feel fine," Arthur argued. His fingers strayed down to the bruising across his torso. The swelling had gone down since he'd first arrived. He could almost breathe normally again… almost. "I need to see Guinevere."
"You will," Gaius promised. "We're going to reconnect with the others, but you can't go anywhere right now. You must stay safe until we know where Fox and Cenred have taken General Rodor and what their demands are."
"Fine. Take Merlin with you," Arthur bit out.
"Arthur, you're going to need his help."
"I need a doctor, not a sorcerer."
"There's nothing more I can do for your ribs but leave some pain medication," Gaius answered. "What you need beyond healing is protection that I cannot offer. Your life is in grave danger. I may be able to travel unnoticed and take word to the others, but you would not. You need rest and time to heal. You'll be safe here for now."
"You think Merlincan protect me." He spoke in a flat tone, teeth gritted. He'd seen Merlin's eyes lit gold, the invisible wall that sheltered them from an explosion. He recalled too leaning against the wall inside a building with Merlin standing over him pale and stiff… and then he'd been here. How Merlin had gotten in touch with the Druids, he didn't know. He also didn't care. It was only one more thing on the list of secrets Merlin had kept.
"He can," Gaius answered. He hoisted the bag onto his shoulder and looked back at Arthur. "There are those who say that he is the greatest sorcerer ever to walk this earth."
"Merlin?" The unguarded disbelief came out before Arthur could catch himself. He gritted his teeth and scowled again. "I don't care who or what he is. I'm not staying here with him." Gaius' brows drew down.
"You have every right to be angry, Arthur. You also deserve a full explanation, and you won't get that unless you talk to him."
"Why?" Arthur bit out. "So he can lie to me again?"
"There is a difference between lying and having privacy. Merlin made some mistakes, but he did not owe you full disclosure about his person and life."
"Of course you would side with him," Arthur retorted.
"You were betrayed." Gaius met this accusatory gaze evenly. "But not by Merlin. You can trust him." Gaius turned and retrieved something from the sofa behind him, which he extended to Arthur. "There's been a public statement from Gwaine's family." When Arthur made no move to take the slim laptop, Gaius set it on the table before him. "You'll want to see it." Why… Arthur gritted his teeth. He didn't need to be reminded of the disaster that was two days since. It burned like a persistent ache in his chest, as fierce and inescapable as constant pain in his ribs. "Arthur." Gaius voice coaxed his attention back again. He looked back, jaw clenched, but his flashing eyes met with no challenge from the physician. "You've already lost several friends in this war," he reminded Arthur quietly. "Do you really want to lose another?" Arthur made no response, and the physician straightened up, lifting his bag. "I will send word about Gwen and the others within a day if I can." Arthur nodded. "And Arthur." Gaius stopped in the doorway to look back at him. "I know you're angry, but do not lay the blame for Gwaine's death at Merlin's feet. He's punishing himself enough."Arthur's throat closed. He didn't answer. Gaius had already turned, and he sank into the armchair, teeth clenched, letting the physician leave in silence.
It rankled deep in Arthur's chest—the thought that Gaius might consider him capable of doing that. That injustice settled somewhere amidst the mound of others, trivial as it was. The door down the hall clicked shut. The voices stopped. In the silence they left behind, Arthur raised his head, and with jaw still clenched, pushed the laptop lid open. Gwen was gone from him, somewhere in the nightmarish chaos that was London—she and Percival both. God help them, hopefully they were still with a functioning military that would protect them. Leon and Mithian were heaven only knew where—captured, tortured, killed… Rodor was certainly captured and alive. That little Arthur had gleaned from the Druid-professor at least. And Gwaine… Sick though it was, the only reason a statement like this would be released was to acknowledge the death of a loved one—a loved one from a family of high public standing. Arthur hated it. Gwaine would have hated it too. He hated also the fact that this—the small clip that appeared on the screen of the laptop—was all the news he might get. But he ran his thumb over the touchpad and let the familiar scene play: one punctuated with the flash and click of cameras, populated by microphones, reporters, a crowd of eerily silent listeners: a room of oppressive solemnity. Much like his own statement to the country after his father's death. It made his stomach twist. There had been too many of these lately. This one seemed more backwards, though… because rather than the son speaking at his father's death… Gwaine's relative stood with her chin lifted, her face marked with lines of age and care and framed by dark silver-gray hair. There was something about her that reminded of Uther. Perhaps the grim set of her face and the lift of her chin as she turned to regard the mics and the crowd.
It seemed strange to associate Annis Dunaly with Gwaine. Arthur had briefly resented Gwaine for it—for keeping that facet of his person a secret. Now, he only wondered with a dull ache in his chest how Gwaine would have felt had he known that his grandmother—the 50th president of the United States—would give his eulogy on public broadcast across the entire world. Arthur knew moreover, before she opened her mouth, that there would be a political angle. How could there not be? Gwiane had died in a war, for a war: a man who was neither soldier nor politician.
And he needed wait no longer than her first sentence to feel the lurch in his stomach. He turned his face away from the computer screen and began picking at the arm of his seat.
"My grandson Gwaine was killed in the conflict in England two days since. Little is known of the exact cause of his death due to poor communications. However, I would like to cast some light on the rumors that have circulated regarding his death. Many of them are unworthy, and Gwaine deserves the honor of a good memory.
England is now, as it was during the years of my presidency, a country deeply divided against itself. My grandson grew up himself divided between that world and this, moving often between them as he grew older. His dual citizenship allowed him easy access to the education offered in England. It was Gwaine's choice to attend school in his father's country, and he chose to stay even after his father, my son-in-law Carleon, passed away. It was also Gwaine's choice to stay in England when the conflict escalated, despite multiple offers of safe passage back to his first country of residence. England's conflict captured his interest many years ago. It had become Gwaine's focus in his studies before ever the issue reemerged with the new urgency of the last few years.
When last I spoke with my grandson, he told me of the conflict in his own words: of what misunderstandings had been born and perpetrated within the country regarding people of magic. Of the unspeakable treatment these individuals suffered at the hands of his country's policing forces. Gwaine was neither a rabble-rouser nor a member of the troublemaking factions in England. He had connected with the British military, and he communicated through their channels, acting as an unofficial ambassador to America when his country's embassy had already pulled out. It was to the cause of England and its oppressed minority that Gwaine turned in the last weeks of his life. He had spent a lifetime moving to avoid the attention pursuant on his family ties. Yet to this end, he channeled both his incorrigible enthusiasm and the press attention he had tried so hard to escape.
I would not bring the matter up, were I not aware of how much this meant to Gwaine. The battle that he died fighting—the battle the people of England are fighting now—is not relegated to their country. It is one we all need to consider carefully. England has shown us that those who possess magic can stay hidden for centuries—millennia even. But more importantly, she has reminded us that as far as we have come in the last two centuries, we are still capable of inhuman cruelty and irrational discrimination against those who are different from us: people who through no fault of their own were born of certain parents and have different bearing, face, or gifts from us.
Since the eighteenth century, the United States has seen multiple generations fight for their rights: people of different races, genders, and orientations. Each of these movements has struggled, faced hatred, abuse of verbal and physical nature, and discrimination both overt and discreet. I believe that equality for the magical community will be the next step for justice in our country.
There is an old saying that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it—moreover that those who study history are doomed to watch others repeat it. Among the many things he was, Gwaine was also a scholar of history. He recognized a pattern repeating itself, and he fought. He died for a cause he felt strongly about—for the protection of his country. Let us honor his memory by ensuring that today, as the twenty-first century draws towards an end, we do not repeat history once again. At Arthur Pendragon's encouragement, England has begun to move towards some peace between the peoples of the country. The fight began in England, and she now takes steps to restore peace and justice. But the struggle she faces is ours as well. My grandson was the first to die for this cause. Let us ensure that his death will not have been in vain.
England has fought to restore justice. My grandson died for it. Let us honor him and the others who have died and suffered on this account. We have a chance to make America one country where that battle need not be fought.
My grandson declared his loyalties. I do so now. For my own country's sake, I stand with Arthur Pendragon." Arthur's throat closed. He snapped the laptop lid shut before he could hear any chatter of response from reporters and leaned his forehead down on the top of the computer with a slow breath. People were dying. People had disappeared, been captured, been tortured, injured, exiled… and his name was irrevocably tangled up right in the thick of it.
Crash. Arthur jerked his head up, and the shock of pain it sent through his body made him nearly curl up again. He cradled his ribs, recovering his shaky breathing rhythm. Gaius had left, he guessed… no one had returned from the kitchen. He hadn't noticed anyone else arriving. He climbed painstakingly to his feet, teeth clenched tightly over a little hiss of pain, and followed the direction of the sound.
Merlin had his back to the doorway. The man crouched on his hands and knees, clumsily gathering up the shards of ceramic from a pool of murky-brown liquid. For God's sake… Arthur bit back an exasperated sigh. A broken handle lay some inches away, and several large pieces in the midst of the steaming tea.
"Merlin." The warlock froze. Arthur breathed out quietly through his nose. Idiot. "Leave it. You'll burn your hand." Merlin's shoulders went stiff, but Arthur heard the soft clinking of broken ceramic slipping back onto the linoleum. He gritted his teeth yet again and braced his hands on the counter as he watched. "Can't you just use magic?" he asked tersely.
"That your idea of a joke?" Merlin's voice faltered. Arthur stepped around the counter, and his shoes crunched softly on the small shards. Merlin kept his head down. He rocked back on his heels and threaded his fingers through his hair. "Leave me alone, Arthur. You're the one who wanted me gone." Arthur ignored him. His eyes were fixed on the fine tendrils of red swirling through the murky puddle. It was creeping across the floor, now almost reaching Merlin's feet.
"Get up," he ordered.
"Think I'd rather sit, thanks." Merlin didn't even lift his face from his knees.
"Sorry, are we doing conversation now?" Merlin raised his head a fraction. "Because earlier, I got this subtle impression you didn't want to talk to me." The bitter sarcasm fell painfully flat. Merlin's face was drawn to match his strained voice. Arthur ignored the attempt at bravado—or whatever Merlin was trying for.
"Get up," he repeated. "Or you'll track tea all over the carpet."
"Would you prefer that I drip blood all over it?" Merlin muttered. Arthur reached down, and Merlin flinched when the blond's hand clamped around his arm. But he rose, pale and shaking, and lifted his chin. "It's a mug," he bit out roughly. "I'm sorry, alright? I'll clean it up—"
"Shut up," Arthur cut him short. His voice was clipped and cool. Merlin fell silent. He stayed quiet while Arthur steered him out into the living room and pushed him down into the armchair. Arthur didn't bother ordering the man to stay and strode out of the room to round the corner and return to his own temporary room. It was there on the bedside table, right where Gaius had left it. He retrieved the white box and returned to crouch in front of the armchair.
"Let me see it." Merlin, hunched resignedly in the chair, lifted his head.
"Your hand. Let me see it," Arthur repeated. Merlin blinked then extended a hand. "The other one," Arthur clarified, an edge of impatience creeping into his voice. Merlin stretched out his right hand, and Arthur took it by the wrist.
"It's fine… Arthur, I can—"
"Shut up," Arthur repeated flatly. Twice in a row, he thought. It seemed to work, because Merlin kept quiet now, and he cleaned away the blood, keeping a careful grip when Merlin hissed and tried to pull it back. How the hell did you even manage that? It wasn't a deep cut, but a long one, slanting from the top of his palm down across to his thumb. He finished a quick clean of the hand down to the wrist where the blood had trickled then passed the warlock a gauze pad and straightened up. "Stop the bleeding. And clean your face," he instructed. Merlin blinked at him, like as not entirely unaware of the smear he'd left across his forehead when he ran his hand through his hair. Arthur flicked another disinfectant wipe into Merlin's lap and stood. He couldn't stay here with the silent warlock any longer. He left Merlin huddled in the chair and stalked through the living room to return to the mess.
A thousand aches washed over Arthur's battered body when he knelt on the kitchen floor He breathed out cautiously and leaned against a cabinet door, waiting for the throb in his ribs to settle again. Then he shifted away, gritting his teeth over the stab of hot pain that every movement brought. He leaned forward and corralled the shards with a dishcloth, scooping them up carefully.
"I can take care of that." Arthur sucked in a breath through his teeth. Damn it… He hadn't turned when he heard the door. He hadn't really even registered the footsteps approaching. The pain left him dizzy. He caught a cabinet handle and gripped it tight before he looked up. "Are you supposed to be up?" Freya asked. Her brows were drawn down, her eyes narrowed in anxious scrutiny.
"I'm fine," he grunted. "I've got it." Freya rounded the counter and stepped delicately over the pool of tea.
"I fractured a rib once. It took a few weeks before I felt 'fine'." Arthur didn't respond. He swept his gathered shards into his dustpan and picked up the mug's handle, staring at the rivulet of red that had trickled crosswise over it. He shuffled back to leave room for Freya to move past him and heard dishware shifting above his head where she stood. "What happened?" she asked. Seems bloody obvious.
"A mug broke," Arthur responded flatly. Freya's lips thinned to a line, and he turned back to wiping up the rest of the puddle.
"Merlin was in here last I saw." She turned around and retrieved the bloodstained handle from the trash bin, eyes narrowed.
"I didn't stab him with the shards if that's what you're thinking," Arthur muttered. She raised an eyebrow, and a small smile quirked at her lips.
"Merlin's not graceful at the best of times." How much do you know about him, Arthur wondered. He picked up the soaked cloth and climbed to his feet where he stopped to lean on the counter again and take small careful breaths. "Does it really bother you?" Freya said.
"You've always been interested in magic. I remember you and I used to be the last ones waiting after class to speak with Professor Sellers." She slipped her hands into her pockets. "And… I saw you at Dartmoor. Twice. You even came on your own the second time… you brought Merlin and asked for their help."
"What were you doing at Dartmoor?" Arthur asked, stubbornly ignoring Freya's question. A shadow flitted across her face. She turned away to take a mug from the cabinet by her head.
"You probably know," she said quietly. He did. He could put two and two together. She'd always been a quiet, withdrawn type, rarely exchanging more than two or three words with him at a time. Yet she'd known Sellers very well… and then she'd disappeared. Just like Brigid had disappeared after her run in with Arthur back in Camelot. Just like Mordred had disappeared after Iseldir Sellers came to retrieve him. Freya had taken asylum with the Druids.
"Are you a sorcerer?" He turned on Freya. "Sorceress," he corrected slowly, at once self-conscious. Freya flicked the switch on the electric kettle and pursed her lips as she regarded him.
"And he knew." Arthur gritted his teeth. Freya tilted her head.
"Merlin found out on his own. By accident… like you did with him. I didn't mean to show him. I didn't mean to show anyone."
"But you knew about him too." Arthur's eyes narrowed. She tucked her arms across her chest.
"When I first met Merlin, neither of us knew about the other. I had learned not to trust anyone with my secrets. In the past, people who found out had either tried to kill me, turn me in, or worse use it as leverage… to make me use it for them." Arthur's heart clenched. She seemed almost resigned to it, even now speaking of it in the past. And her words reminded him of Morgause's story about his birth. Of how Nimueh Hierea had been a friend of his parents. How his father had turned on her and used his knowledge of her magic against her. He shivered and bowed his head, fighting down a wave of nausea—as much from the stab of pain in his ribs as his uneasiness. Freya was watching him. She paused a moment biting her lip before speaking again; "Merlin found me cornered by another student late at night and came to help. He didn't know anything about me—of my past, my magic… He helped because he saw someone in trouble. That's who he is. The only reason he told me of his own magic was because he learned later about mine." She turned and retrieved the now-boiling kettle from its stand. "I don't know much of what happened in Merlin's past, but all of us have reasons for keeping our secrets. His may be as dark as mine… or more difficult to explain. I can't tell you that. I can tell you that Merlin would never betray you."
I never thought he would… Arthur dropped his gaze to the floor, still glossy where he'd wiped up the liquid. He heard the clink of ceramic and the quiet trickle of liquid into a cup.
"It's not my place to say." Freya crossed the kitchen, and he raised his head. "But I think it'll help both of you if you talk to him." She held out a hand, and Arthur slowly took the offering from her.
Do you really want to lose another? Gaius' words echoed again and again in his head long after Freya left, and he stared down at the steaming tea.
Merlin's palm throbbed—a little twinge-ache feeling that came back now and again, a little fiercer when he curled his fingers in to the palm. Please walk by. Please just walk by… His shoulders tensed. The footsteps didn't pass by, of course.
"Merlin." Merlin turned and pressed his face against his arm. You would pick now to finally decide to talk. He breathed in slowly and laid still. Perhaps if he didn't answer, Arthur would leave. "Sit up. I know you're awake." Always has to be on your terms, doesn't it? Merlin gritted his teeth. He sat up slowly, careful to keep his eyes fixed on his knees, and he brushed a hand across his face to brush away the telltale moisture there.
An object scuffed against the table beside him, and fingers wrapped gently around his wrist, pulling his hand away from his face. Something warm was pressed into it. He lifted his head. "Don't drop that one. I won't get you another," It was the most words he'd spoken to Merlin at once since Freya found them. Merlin stared uncomprehendingly at the cream-colored mug in his hand. His eyes slid over to the table. A sandwich.
The crease between Arthur's brows deepened when Merlin strayed a look up at his face. "And you can stop starving yourself. I don't want you dead," he said in a stiff voice. Thanks. The sarcastic retort died on Merlin's lips. Arthur was trying. Or at least so it seemed. Merlin mutely nodded his head, and there followed a long moment of stillness. Arthur's arms were tucked around himself; he looked better than the day before. He'd hardly stirred then, and Merlin hadn't dared venture into his room. Yet he was hardly one hundred percent.
"Arthur…" He bit his lip. "I'm sorry."
"Why did you never tell me?" Arthur asked. Merlin curled his fingers tight around the mug.
"I wanted to, but…"
"But what?" Arthur's voice sharpened.
"Turned you over to the Patroni? Watched you be executed?" Merlin bowed his head over the cup. "Did you think I would do that to you? After I helped Mordred escape Camelot? After I sought out Iseldir's help and promised to keep the Druid refuge a secret? I protected a boy I'd never met before, a man I'd known for a few months, and a bunch of strangers—people with magic." Arthur's voice rose in angry emphasis. "Did you really think I would turn a friend over to be…" Merlin looked up. Arthur's hand had traveled down to his ribs again. "To be killed?" he finished in a voice so quiet and breathless it was almost inaudible. Merlin was on his feet in a heartbeat, leaving his mug aside on the table.
"Arthur—" He reached for Arthur's shoulder, but Arthur brushed his hand sharply away.
"Don't." Arthur kept a white-knuckled grip on the chair by the wall. He sank into it then wrapped both arms around himself again. Merlin took a step back.
"I'll get some painkillers."
"No." Merlin stopped in the doorway, fingers tracing a knot in the wood. Without looking, he cold imagine how Arthur looked, head tipped back against the wall, eyes half closed as he fought for air. He listened as Arthur's breathing steadied again. "I don't want your help," Arthur muttered at last. "I trusted you." Merlin shifted his head enough to look through the corner of his eye and swallowed. "I had thought," Arthur said, "that you might trust me too."
"Arthur, if you'd known, you would've been harboring a sorcerer in your home. It's one thing to protect a Druid at a chance meeting, but that… it would've gone against everything your father ever told you. I didn't want to put you in that position."
"My father's gone, Merlin" Arthur retorted harshly. Merlin flinched. "If I'm not mistaken, you were there." Merlin's head snapped up and his eyes stretched wide.
"I would never—"
"Shut up." There was no venom in the order this time. Merlin's shoulders slumped.
"I'm sorry," he repeated. "It just never seemed like the right time." The soft shift of fabric indicated Arthur's movement. He'd sat up, one hand still tucked gingerly over his ribs, but he sat a little steadier than before. The look in his eye was different. Not angry this time… but sharp, determined.
"There is no right time," he said quietly. "Morgause Fox has taken Rodor captive. She and Cenred are holding the better part of the city. Gwen, Percival, and Mithian are in there somewhere and… possibly Leon too. They could all be captured, injured, dying… maybe even dead already. We don't have time for lies or hesitation. We don't even really have time for this. But I don't have a choice right now. We're stuck here until Gaius comes back with some news and a safe route for both of us… all of us. So if you're going to talk… do me the courtesy of telling me the truth. All of it. I want to trust you, but right now… I can't. And I don't think I can finish this without you." His blue eyes shifted to lock piercingly on Merlin's. "So do me a favor. Eat the damn sandwich. And come talk to me again when you're ready to tell the whole story."
The whole story. Merlin sank onto the bed again and picked up the mug, cradling it between his palms. He'd never told anyone the whole story. Not Gaius, who hadn't heard much of what he'd done in Camelot—would no doubt have disapproved of his plan to consult Kilgarrah for a spell. Not his mother from whom he'd been so long cut off. Not Freya, whom he'd scarcely known long enough to have a chance… He'd used his magic both on and around Arthur—to protect, yes, but sometimes against others to hurt, burn… even kill. No one knew he was the one who'd released Kilgarrah. Those deaths were on his hands too.
But Gwen, Percival, Mithian, Rodor, Gaius, Freya, Aithusa… they were all still alive, and Arthur was still alive… All of it hung in a delicate balance; Arthur's relations with the Druids, their chances of reaching out to the military again, Rodor's life. Arthur needed Merlin here, now, and Merlin needed his trust. He needed it just as much as he wanted it. He rubbed the pad of his thumb slowly back and forth over the ceramic, staring at the little tendrils of steam curling up from inside, then raised his head.
"Emrys."Arthur's head came up. His blue eyes held a guarded expression. Perhaps he recognized the name. He might have been conscious enough to hear when Morgause addressed Merlin by it two days since. "It's what the Druids call me," he said. Arthur's arms unfolded, and his hands slid down to rest over his knees. The words stuck in Merlin's throat, and now the silence ached worse than before. Merlin traced the edge of the cup again and again, then quietly set it down. "Wait here." He turned around the corner and back into the main room where he'd left the soft leather book some time ago with Gaius ad Freya.
It was there where Gaius moved it, lying on the table. Gaius had retrieved it from the military base and later brought it from the Druids' refuge when Arthur was injured… but Merlin had found nothing by way of a good healing spell for damaged ribs. He returned, tracing the spine with a finger before opening the book and placing it gently in Arthur's lap. Azure eyes flitted up to him in silent challenge.
"It's mine… Gaius gave it to me when I first came to Camelot."
"Even back then?" Arthur's tone stung. Merlin swallowed.
"Always. I was born with magic. It was… just part of me. Mum said I moved things around with it before I could even talk." He chewed his lip. Arthur's gaze was moving slowly between him and the book. "There's… a lot in there. I wrote in the margins for most of the spells I used, and… there are notes in the back on the blank pages there—like journal entries. It should explain a lot." He curled his right hand around his opposite wrist to keep his hands from trembling and stared down at the book on Arthur's knees. It closed with a soft thump.
"I want to hear it from you." The dragon. The men he'd killed that night Arthur's father was fatally wounded. The deception he'd practiced that led to Aredian's death.
"You won't like it."
"You could let me judge that for myself. I haven't tried to kill you yet." The anger was still there, simmering beneath the surface of Arthur's narrowed eyes. Merlin maintained eye contact, still silent and guilty.
"It's… a long story." A beat of silence. Merlin watched with baited breath, then Arthur inclined his head the smallest touch.
"We've got time." Merlin closed his eyes and sank onto the bed again, letting his mind turn back, seeking for a starting point—in Armagh, at home with his mother… back to a time when he'd known what it meant to have a friendship built entirely on trust and honestly…
"Will." Merlin bit his lip again and slowly raised his eyes to meet Arthur's again. Because that was where it began. Where one friend was lost and another friendship had begun. One he'd never quite allowed to grow, as perhaps he ought. "He knew."
AN2: To wit, there's an easter egg for you all that NO ONE NOTICED in Chapter 9.
Arthur: "You look like you've seen a ghost."
Merlin: "I think I did."
So yes, Freya has been at Dartmoor the whole time. Go look! It's there.
Anyways... there's my offering.
I'm gonna run now before you arrive with the pitchforks, cuz at least one thing in here probably made y'all very, very angry at me. ENJOY. *flees*