Author's Note: Yes, you did indeed read that correctly! This oneshot is set about an hour after the last chapter of Only Friend. This idea has been bouncing around in my head for a good year or more, and I finally, finally, decided that it'd been stewing in there long enough. Gwen and Merlin need their big moment too.
This will remain a oneshot for now. We all know how that worked with Only Friend, though, lol. I might just expand this into a multi-chapter someday. ;D
Come Fly With Me
~A Companion Oneshot to Only Friend~
"No more worries
No more fears
You have made them disappear
Sadness tried to steal the show
But now it feels like many years ago
I will be with you every step
I found a friend in you
And I keep you close forever
Come fly with me
Into a fantasy
Where you can be
Whoever you want to be
Come fly with me"
~Into A Fantasy – Alexander Rybak (Written for How to Train Your Dragon 2)~
If Merlin hadn't missed a step while going up one of the citadel's great staircases, he would have thought he was floating on air. The thought of being physically grounded was so ridiculous, though, that he nearly began to laugh when he stumbled forward. Since the unthinkable and the utterly unexpected had happened, he had been doing so much more than floating: he'd been soaring, free-falling, and tumbling high in his personal sky…with hardly a thought of landing.
Because Arthur knew. He knew it all, and it was going to be okay.
Even as he barely managed to catch himself and felt Arthur's hand flinging out to grab him by the scruff of the neck, he couldn't keep the foolish grin from his face. Oddly enough, the prospect of ever grinning again seemed impossible just a few hours ago…seeing as Arthur was an arse and seemed to think it was funny to torture him the way he did. It might have been an unconventional brand of torture, but it was torture nevertheless.
When Arthur began playing his little game, Merlin had felt as though he'd had one foot dangling off a great mountain, perpetually in danger of falling. His heart had pounded in his chest, roaring its beat into his head like steady gusts of a blustering wind, and for all that he had wished he could back away from the edge, he had been trapped, completely mesmerized by the steep drop.
But then—then he had finally gotten the hint, and Arthur had actually hugged him and requested he show him.
He'd never been more terrified or more thrilled to use his magic, and watching Arthur's reaction had sent him off that cliff, no longer afraid of the fall, no longer afraid of change.
There were no more secrets now, and without the weight to send him plummeting to his death, it really wasn't surprising he was feeling like this.
He was still smiling when Arthur hauled him upright and drawled, "Might want to watch your step there, Merlin."
"I've been missing that step since I first arrived in Camelot, Arthur. I don't think any amount of watching is going to change that," Merlin responded. "I'm alright, by the way."
Instead of rising to the bait, the king smirked, and the pair fell back into the companionable silence that characterized most of their walk from Arthur's chambers. Since their talk had given both men a lot to think about and since their plan to go see Gaius and talk some more was underway, the shared silence was nice—comforting, even. There was neither awkwardness nor tension hanging in the air between them, and that alone spoke wonders.
Arthur knew about his magic—had known—and they were alright. Really alright.
Merlin was flying high enough that he didn't even think to consider it was all some sort of elaborate dream. If he did stop to think it was all too good to be true, he'd never want to wake up.
"Merlin?" Arthur asked, moments later.
"I—I really don't want to ask this of you. Actually, I rather loathe to, but—"
"Arthur, you know you can ask me anything."
The king stopped walking and scanned the corridor in front of him, obviously collecting his thoughts, before finally meeting Merlin's eyes. "Until I can arrange a Round Table meeting with the knights and until I can begin looking at the laws…we're going to have to tread lightly if we want to even mentionrepealing the ban on magic to the rest of the council."
He said "we," Merlin realized. Twice. "I understand it won't be easy," he responded, confused by Arthur's hesitation. "It has never been easy."
"And that is why I hate to ask it of you," Arthur explained. "I'm going to need you to continue doing everything in your power to keep your magic secret, and I will have to do the same."
Merlin blinked, now even more thoroughly confused. Did Arthur think he was dumb enough just to gallivant through the castle, blasting spells left and right, because he gained the king of Camelot's favor and respect as a warlock? No, he liked to think he had a little more self-preservation than that. It was almost insulting: he'd only been keeping his secret for—
"Oh," Merlin said, heart swelling with warmth. It struck him that Arthur understood. Truly understood. In a way only a few people ever had.
Arthur interpreted his reaction a different way. "I am sorry, Merlin. I see how happy it makes you," he murmured.
"Oh, no, no, stop that. I am happy," Merlin announced, quick to dispel his friend's misconception. "I don't think I could be happier than I am right now, Arthur. You needn't worry. Truly. We'll take this step by step, and I'll be careful." His grin adopted an impish quirk that probably didn't inspire much confidence. "Always am."
Arthur started to laugh, previously sympathetic eyes now dancing with humor. "I'd sooner believe Gwaine making a vow that he'll stay out of the tavern for a full week."
Scowling, Merlin protested, "Hey! I'm not dead yet, am I?"
"No, you're not," Arthur said, his expression sobering. The king was not nearly this subdued while listening to his story, and it occurred to Merlin that the full weight of what exactly they were trying to accomplish had finally settled onto the king's shoulders. Merlin understood the worries and doubts floating in the king's head nearly as well as he knew his own, but before he could offer any supportive words, the furrow in Arthur's brow disappeared, and he clapped Merlin on the shoulder. "And I'd rather we keep it that way, wouldn't you agree?"
Why would I want that? Arthur's voice echoed in Merlin's head, and the warlock began smiling with enough force to make his cheeks feel numb again. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Concerns for the future could wait another day, he decided. There really was nothing like the present. His best friend knew about his magic, and that was all that mattered right now. Merlin, ducking his head, hummed, "Ye of little faith."
Arthur rolled his eyes and, taking the hand that was still on the warlock's shoulder, spun him around so that they could walk the rest of the way to Gaius' chambers. "Come on. I know you're used to skiving off now and then, but some people actually can't afford to avoid their duties all day. "
Merlin barked a laugh. "Protecting you is a full time job, Sire, but just this once, I suppose you have a point," he conceded. "We have a lot of work to do, don't we?"
Arthur's lips twitched into a smirk, but his eyes were miles away. "Little bit of an understatement there, Merlin."
Right in front of Gaius' chambers, Merlin stopped, hand splayed on the wood of the door. "You can do this, Arthur," he said, catching and holding Arthur's eyes. "Not because it's predestined, not because I—or anyone else—said that it's what you should do or have to do, but because that's who you are. I have faith, and you know I'm with you every step of the way." Absently, he pushed the door open and stepped through. "We're in this togeth—"
Merlin jolted to a halt, and Arthur, who had been close on his heels, rammed right into his back. "Dammit, Merlin!" he cussed, sidestepping around the rooted warlock. "You know, for all the magic you possess, one would think…"
Arthur, having caught sight of what—or rather, who—had caused Merlin to drop anchor so unexpectedly, trailed off and pushed Merlin out of the doorway so that he could close the door behind them. The warlock staggered forward, only half-aware of Arthur's movements, because if there was anything that could clip his wings and send him hurtling toward land again, it was the abrupt reminder that Arthur was not the only one who had learned of his magic.
Guinevere sat alone at one of Gaius' benches, a thick stack of tomes before her. Upon hearing them enter, she raised her eyes over the edge of the book she held and was greeted by his numb stare.
And he thought that he had it bad with Arthur, whose nonchalant prods, hints, and disclosures had probably the most nerve-wracking things he'd ever experienced in his life. At least Arthur had done a pretty good job of distracting him from his overwhelmed astonishment and fear by talking him through it! Staring in dead silence at his oldest friend, by comparison, was worse. Far worse. She didn't speak, Arthur—the helpful prat he was—wasn't saying a word, and Merlin simply wasn't capable of forming words.
She was the first one to move, however. Delicate fingers flipped the cover of the book closed, and gently placing it to the side, she stood. Merlin, in dire need of something to ease his discomfort in the deafening silence, watched her hands move across the book.
Wait. Merlin frowned, and he blurted, "Is that my spell-book?"
"You have a spell-book?" came Arthur's incredulous murmur from behind him.
Gwen startled and flickered her gaze from the warlock, who cautiously shuffled forward and cocked his head toward the book, to the tabletop and back again. "Um, yes," she admitted, "Yes, it is."
Arthur sighed and muttered, "Of course you do."
Merlin tossed an exasperated glance over his shoulder before turning back to Gwen. Unsure if he was more confused or worried about her possession of that book, the warlock pursed his lips and lowered his eyes. "Oh. Okay."
"No, no, I hope you don't think…" Gwen's expression morphed into one of awkward dismay, and she clasped her hands before her. "That is to say, you left it out, and Gaius was just leaving to take over in the infirmary, and he thought it would teach you a lesson if he were to point it out to me and practically order me to look through it if I so chose…I really didn't mean to, Merlin, and I'm sorry, but I was curious, and—"
Dryly, Merlin snorted, interrupting Gwen's rambling. "It's alright, Gwen. Serves me right, I s'pose."
Gwen smiled, and Merlin suddenly remembered a girl who, once upon a time, came up to a scrawny boy with his head locked in the stocks…just to congratulate for standing up to the then-prince of Camelot. He remembered a girl who covered for him and helped him countless times without question, having never required explanation or reason. This girl was there for him when Arthur wasn't, when Gaius didn't understand, when the knights were being too obnoxious, and when it was not enough to see his mother's written words. This girl had comforted him only a few days ago, when the idea of telling his best friend about the Fomorrah was so repugnant he wanted to vomit. The young woman standing before him now, the one who knew, and the girl who became his first friend in Camelot, the one who never knew, were one in the same, and he realized he was being an idiot.
This was Gwen. He took a deep breath and quelled the fear threatening to choke him.
"I think," Arthur mused, "you two have a lot to talk about. Merlin, come fetch me when Gaius returns. Guinevere, if you have nothing to attend to, I'd like you to be with us when we speak to Gaius."
Merlin nodded vaguely in the king's direction, and Gwen murmured, "Of course, Arthur."
The king of Camelot left the two friends alone, the door clicking into place behind him. For a few heartbeats, the silence pervaded once again, but it did not last long. Gwen, smiling fondly, brushed her fingers along the spine of the spell-book. "Can you really read this?" she asked, flipping to a random page and gesturing toward a spell that was hidden amongst a mess of handwritten notes.
Even from across the room, Merlin knew which spell it was. He knew that book front to back, after all, but still, he took it as an opportunity to come forward. She did not flinch when he came up behind her and read over her shoulder.
"Yeah," Merlin stated. He could see she was asking for more than a simple confirmation, so he conceded to her silent request. "It's strange. Before I had this book…I had neither heard the tongue nor seen it written like this. I didn't learn it; it just…spoke to me."
"It's beautiful," Gwen murmured, tracing over the inked strokes. "I never thought I'd think of it as beautiful—not after all that I'd seen from other sorcerers—but I truly do." Her fingers stopped at one particular point, and she grinned teasingly, tapping on the parchment. "I do have to ask about these, though…"
She was pointing to a sketch of a dog. It wasn't the only sketch in the book, and he withdrew a little, his emotions running rampant. "Oh, um…"
Too late, Gwen seemed to realize his uneasiness. "Oh, dear, Merlin, I'm sorry. I—I really shouldn't have even considered looking at your notes on top of everything else. It was wrong of me. I can imagine…some of it might be quite personal."
Merlin was quick to say, "No, no, it's okay, Gwen. Really. They're just scribbles. Reminders, really. I'm just…surprised. I never thought I'd be asked to explain any of them."
"Well," Gwen said with a soft smile, "it was a breach of privacy all the same. I want to know you, Merlin. All of you. But if—if you're not ready… then that's okay too."
Merlin stared at her, and as she slid over, inviting him to take a seat next to her on the bench, a cautious smile touched his lips. He accepted her invitation, and sitting down, he mused aloud, "I think I prefer your method over Arthur's."
Gwen trilled a laugh and agreed, "I can imagine so. He wasn't too difficult, was he?"
Merlin didn't acknowledge the question and instead replaced Gwen's fingers with his own on the page. It was curious that she would choose to fixate on this particular spell, this particular sketch in his book, and for some reason, he felt the incredible urge to explain it to her. To be free with her, as he had been with Arthur only an hour or so ago. "This was years ago," he whispered. His penmanship was proof of that, and he smiled again, memories washing over him. "Do you remember the man who entered one of our tournaments and used an enchanted shield to cheat?"
"Valiant," Gwen recalled. "Of course, I do. You were right about those snakes after all."
"Yes," Merlin said. "And I suppose you remember me becoming fixated on a certain dog statue…"
Gwen's gentle brown eyes flickered to the drawing of the dog, and she giggled, "I thought you were so strange, asking for that wheelbarrow."
Merlin snorted. "I can't imagine why."
"What—what did you end up doing with it?" she asked gently. "That statue?"
"I believe," he mused absentmindedly, "I gave it to the kennel master. It was a nasty dog, quite befitting for that brute of a man."
Alarm flashed across her face. "You did what?"
"Well, as nasty as it was, I wasn't just about to go turning it back to stone!" he defended.
There was a beat of silence, and Merlin became quite aware that he probably sounded mad to her. "Merlin," Gwen breathed, awe clear in her eyes. "You gave it life?"
"Not…exactly. With this—" he gestured to the spell written in the Old Tongue "—I can only bring to life those objects that have already…been alive."
Her brow furrowed. "…I don't understand. Are you saying the dog statue…?"
"Yes, I am. Some of the statues in the castle were once living," Merlin said. At the horrified look on her face, he hastily reassured, "Not all of them! I discovered it quite by accident, by pulling the stunt I did to reveal Valiant's plot, and when I talked to Gaius about it, it turns out that there is actually an urban legend about an insane mate of Cornelius Sigan's who—"
"I'm not sure I want to think about it," Gwen interrupted weakly, shaking her head. "I know the tale, and—just…let's just talk about you, Merlin. Just you and your magic, for now."
"Right," he said, his tone cheery. She had said the word 'magic' so casually, so naturally, without fear or judgment. All previous nervousness had all but been forgotten in the face of her obvious curiosity, kindness, and desire to learn. This—magic, its theories, its mysteries…this is what he was born to do. Teaching his oldest friend about this part of his life, a part once so well concealed, was somewhat exhilarating, and that she seemed as eager to listen about it as he was to speak about it only encouraged him on. "That is why I drew this." His attention returned to the dog sketch. "It not only memorializes the reason I practiced it in the first place but also warns me of its limitations." Before Gwen could ask him to elaborate, an idea came to him. "Here, hang on."
Gwen watched with wide eyes as Merlin stood and reached upward, toward the bundles of herbs and other materials hanging from Gaius' ceiling. Deftly, he plucked at the straw left over from Gaius' new mattress, and with the ingenuity and skill only a farm boy could muster, he twisted and knotted the thin stalks until a distinctive bird-like form emerged.
Merlin paused to look up at Gwen, who was enraptured by the clever movements of his fingers, and without thinking of the consequences, without considering she might be uncomfortable with this, he smiled, cupped both hands around his straw bird, and breathed into his palms, "Bebiede þe arisan cwicum."
With a tender smile, he released the bird he'd made from the cradle of his hands. Gwen gasped with delight, and after a few moments of watching it flutter around the room, he turned to share the moment with his friend, whose brown eyes were alight with wonder.
"You see," he explained. "I animated it to behave as a bird would, infused it with my intention to make it fly—" The bird he "brought to life" chose at that moment to nestle itself in Gwen's curly hair, and Merlin laughed, carefully extracting it and sending it into the air again. "But it isn't a real bird. It takes a life to create new life, and I don't go so far as that. Ever. That," he specified, nodding toward his creation, "is the purpose of the spell. The dog, the snakes…they were enchanted into their inanimate forms, so the very same spell affected them differently."
"Merlin, it's…it's..." She unlatched her gaze from the straw-bird and gave him a dazzling smile. "It's amazing."
Bolstered by her reaction, he excitedly pulled the spell book onto his lap and began flipping through it. "I'm only bound by the limits of my imagination, Gwen. There's so much more I can do—that magic can do. It's not…it's not what people make it out to be." Dusky blue eyes peeked out from beneath his fringe of dark hair. "But you know that. Arthur knows that… and I…"
He just showed her some magic. He…he just shared his magic with her, and he felt just as giddy as he did when he shared it with Arthur.
I am so happy, Gwen, he wanted to say. I'm flying again, and I can't thank you enough.
Her shrewd brown eyes studied him as he floundered for a way to express his joy in words, and he hardly felt her shift closer to him and place a hand on his shoulder.
"Merlin," she began, "I can't begin to imagine what you have been through, and I just want to say…whatever you told Arthur this morning about your magic…that can wait. I have so many things I want to ask you, to talk about with you, but yes, I will wait. I will wait because whatever you couldn't tell Arthur, everything that you can't say or wouldn't want to share with him…that's what I'm here for right now." Brown eyes gleamed compassionately. "And I'll always be here for you, Merlin. Don't forget that."
The warlock blinked at Gwen, the delayed impact of her words striking him, swift and true. His shoulders began quaking without his permission, and he struggled to breathe. Whatever it was constricting his heart and lungs squeezed tighter as he tried to laugh, to show her just how much glee was contained within…
No laugh was voiced. Instead, a choked sob erupted from his throat, and he burrowed his face into Gwen's shoulder. Now that one sob escaped, there was no stopping the tears that slid down his cheeks and into the fabric of her dress, and his whole body shuddered with the force of his sobs.
Gwen brought her arms around him, and he blubbered, "I—I'm…"
"Sshhh," she soothed. "Sshhh."
She was right. This…He could not do this with Arthur. He couldn't let himself break. Though a life's-worth of secrets, carefully interwoven into a web that he had always depended on to keep him safe, had unraveled, though its absence left vulnerable and unsure, he needed to tell her that. He needed to tell her why. "I—I always…I never imagined…My whole life, Gwen. My whole life."
And somehow, that was enough. Gwen and Merlin remained locked in an embrace that seemed to last lifetimes, but he didn't let go until well after his tears and sobs had slowed. Emotionally exhausted, his arms slipped from around his oldest friend, and Gwen maneuvered them into a more comfortable position.
"Gwen?" Merlin asked, his words slurred.
His bird, formed of humble straw and powerful magic, dove and swooped amongst the bundles tied to the ceiling. Its movements blurred before his eyes. "I don't have to be afraid anymore, do I?"
He was asleep before he could see her first tear fall.
AN: I actually can't tell you how much the dog/snake thing bothered me. As powerful as Merlin is, I still think there are rules, and the "life for a life" rule is kinda important (and totally makes the episode "Valiant" a little bit of an inconsistency), so…hooray for headcanons about Medusa-ified animals in the citadel! :D
Apologizes for any mistakes! Thank you all so much for reading! *hugs*