Author's note: This is all the fault of everyone who suggested I should do a sequel to A Question of Trust. I didn't want to change what happened during the episode so I've set this immediately after the end of the season finale (1x13). This is the bit where Merlin is finally persuaded to come clean. Hope you enjoy…
Arthur, Prince of Camelot, had been staring out of his bedroom window for several hours, despite the insistence of his father that he should be resting. Arthur didn't want to rest. What Arthur wanted was to know where his manservant, Merlin, had gone in such a hurry. Shortly after their last conversation, Merlin had ridden at high speed from the castle, and Arthur just knew he was going to do something stupid.
Memories of the conversation ran through Arthur's mind. There had been something scarily final about the way his manservant had spoken to him. One minute Merlin had been calling him a prat, again, and the next he had been talking about Arthur getting a new servant. The prince wished he had asked more questions at the time, but distracted as he had been by the pain in his shoulder, he hadn't put two and two together until it was too late. Wherever he had been going and whatever he was planning on doing, Merlin had known that there was a good chance that he was not coming back. Now Arthur was worried, not that he would have admitted it to anyone, nor even to himself.
'Come on, Merlin. Just ride back through the gate,' the prince mumbled to himself, probably for the thirtieth time that day. As if on cue, Merlin finally rode into the courtyard, closely followed by Gaius. Arthur heaved a sigh of relief. He hadn't been worried, he told himself. He just really didn't want to have to break in a new servant. Merlin was the only servant he'd ever had who was bold enough to argue with him, and the prince was surprised to note that he valued the young man's opinion. Turning away from the window, he asked a passing servant girl to have Merlin sent to his quarters.
When the young man arrived five minutes later, he was dripping with water, so much so that a puddle began to form on the floor beneath where he was standing. Despite this, he was looking rather pleased with himself.
'You look like hell,' he said by way of greeting. 'You're supposed to be resting, not stomping round your chambers issuing orders.' The prince smirked slightly at his friend's belligerent tone. 'Hello to you to, Merlin,' he thought to himself.
'So my father tells me,' he replied. He was surprised at the young man's vehement response.
'This isn't funny, Arthur. You nearly died! If you had any idea how close you came…'
'Okay, okay,' the prince held up his hands in surrender, aggravating his shoulder injury and causing a stab of pain to shoot through his body. He closed his eyes and focused on getting the pain back under control. He felt a hand on his arm and he was gently guided to a chair.
'Arthur?' He looked up to see a pair of worried green eyes fixed intently on him.
'I'm all right,' he assured his friend. He took the opportunity to really look at the younger man. Merlin's entire being radiated concern. How could one person appear so open yet successfully hide the biggest secret of them all?
'Why am I all right, Merlin?' he asked softly. 'What did you do?'
'I don't know what you mean,' the young man feigned innocence.
'The bite of the questing beast is invariably fatal,' the prince pointed out. 'Gaius said so. Do you know what invariably means, Merlin?' Arthur watched as his young friend lowered his eyes, unable to meet his master's gaze.
'It was fatal,' the young man muttered quietly, 'just not to you.' For Arthur, everything began to fall into place. The prince was alive, but his manservant had expected to die. The idiot had only gone and tried to trade his own life for that of his friend. That had to be the answer. It didn't explain why Merlin had survived, but Arthur knew instinctively that his suspicions were correct.
'You meant what you said before, didn't you? You thought you were going to die! You tried to sacrifice yourself for me again, didn't you?' The prince continued to glare at his servant until the man had the good sense to look suitably contrite.
'Sort of,' he admitted, still refusing to meet his friend's gaze. Arthur's eyes narrowed.
'What do you mean, sort of?' The prince's mind was swimming with exhaustion but he knew that this was the best chance he was going to get to press the issue.
'Well, first it was for you, but then it was for my mother and then it was for Gaius. It all got a bit complicated, but everything's ok now, you don't need to worry about it.' Arthur sighed. His eyes dropped from the young man's face and he noticed for the first time the hastily-concealed scorch mark in his manservant's tunic. He reached out and touched the blackened fabric.
'Everything?' he questioned, raising an eyebrow. His manservant offered a genuine smile in return.
'Everything,' he replied. 'Trust me.' Arthur considered for a moment.
'I do trust you, Merlin,' he responded. 'I trust you with my confidences and with my life, but sometimes I wonder if you trust me at all.' He managed not to smirk in satisfaction as the young man's eyes widened in shock.
'Of course I trust you, Arthur,' Merlin answered indignantly. 'How could you think...?'
'Then tell me what it is you're keeping from me,' the prince interjected.
'It's not that simple.'
'It's as simple as you want it to be. Last time we spoke you said I needed to listen more. Well, I'm listening now Merlin, talk to me.' Arthur continued to watch as a host of emotions flickered across his friend's face. 'Come on Merlin, show me you trust me,' he mentally pleaded. Finally, with a look of resignation on his face, the young man began to speak.
'I had to kill someone.' Arthur's eyes widened in shock. Whatever he had been expecting, it hadn't been that. Not from the sweet, innocent Merlin who got distressed every time Arthur went hunting. The prince knew that his friend had killed in battle, but this seemed different somehow. 'A woman,' Merlin continued, causing Arthur's eyes to widen even more. 'A high priestess of the old religion. She tried to take more than the life that was owed. I couldn't let her do that. I used magic, because that's what I do. It's what I am. Arthur, I'm a warlock.' As the prince continued to gape, in awe of how far his friend was prepared to go to protect him and to pursue justice, his silence was misinterpreted by Merlin.
'I know you're going to have to arrest me and have me executed now,' the warlock babbled, 'but I want you to know that I would never have done anything to harm you or Camelot. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but protecting you is a lot easier when I'm alive and I really didn't want anything to happen to you. You have to believe that I never intended to betray your trust. I'm sorry, Arthur.' The prince rolled his eyes in exasperation and shook his head. The truth had been easier to extract than Arthur had imagined, but Merlin really could be incredibly dense sometimes.
'Stop talking, Merlin,' he ordered. 'I've done enough listening for one week. If I hear you mention execution to me one more time, I may have to have you put in the stocks. I find your lack of faith in my discretion quite disturbing,' he added.
'But…' the warlock stammered. Arthur grinned. It was rare to see the young man looking so nonplussed.
'Do you want me to have you executed?' he teased.
'Good,' the prince smirked, 'because I wouldn't have done it anyway.' 'Thank you for your trust, Merlin,' he added silently. 'Are you sure you're all right?' he asked, gesturing again towards the damage to his friend's tunic.
'I'm fine,' the young man smiled sheepishly, 'but while we're on the subject, you're not.' At Arthur's glare, his smile widened. 'Don't look at me like that, I already know you're not going to have me executed. You need to go back to bed. Come on, I'll give you a hand.' Briefly contemplating the folly of trying to argue with Camelot's most powerful warlock, the prince stood, surprised to find that he needed his friend's support to make it all the way to his bed. As he leaned heavily on his friend's shoulder, Arthur noticed that Merlin's clothing was suddenly bone dry. 'He couldn't have done that before he dripped all over my chambers, could he?' the prince's inner voice complained loudly.
Arthur sank gratefully down into the blankets, wincing as the movement once again caused pain to shoot through his shoulder.
'Here,' Merlin murmured. Arthur felt a hand softly touch his shoulder and a comfortable warmth slowly spread through his body. Within moments the pain had receded. 'Get some rest,' he heard the warlock instruct him as the blankets were pulled up to cover his torso.
'Thanks, Merlin,' he murmured sleepily. 'Looks like we will get to do all those things we were meant to do after all.' He managed to keep his eyes open long enough to see the stunned look of accusation on his friend's face before exhaustion overcame him. As Arthur finally fell asleep, a smile remained plastered across his face.