This chapter's all talk, but I hope that doesn't put off people! Please do let me know what you think of it.
Arthur was completely silent as he led Merlin through the castle towards his chambers, and Merlin was left to guess how much trouble he was in from the look of Arthur's back. By the tense set of his shoulders, Merlin had a feeling it was heaps.
Merlin really didn't know how this was going to go down. His future self had implied that Arthur wouldn't say anything, but Merlin wasn't so sure. Maybe his future self had just been trying not to worry him. Arthur was mad, madder than Merlin had ever seen him before, and he had a feeling this conversation was going to be the least pleasant of his life.
At least he knew he wasn't going to actually kill him. That was something.
Merlin followed Arthur into his rooms, and Arthur gestured for Merlin to sit at one end of the table. Inviting him to sit was rather strange, but once he'd done so, Merlin knew why he had – Arthur was still standing, and even though he was several feet away he was now towering over him. Merlin sat back in the chair and waited for Arthur to say something.
Arthur made sure the door was closed and started to pace, glaring between the wall, the floor and Merlin. "So," he said after a minute or so. "So." Merlin remained silent and after a moment Arthur stopped and stared at him. "Well?"
Merlin blinked. "Well… what?" He said stupidly.
"What?" Arthur repeated in disbelief. "What do you have to say for yourself?" He demanded.
Merlin frowned. "Say for myself?"
Arthur strode over to the table and stood opposite Merlin, leaning on one hand. He pointed the other at Merlin's face. "You should be in the dungeons right now, Merlin, but I have decided to give you a chance to explain yourself first," he said fiercely. "So. Speak."
Merlin's jaw dropped a little in surprise – Arthur was actually giving him a chance to explain! All Merlin had expected was to be yelled at. "Right'" he said, pulling himself together. "Right. Alright. I'm not… really sure where to start."
That earned an ultra-frosty glare from Arthur, so Merlin quickly carried on. "So you… you've probably guessed I can do magic…"
Arthur folded his arms over his chest, still glaring. "I worked that much out, yes."
"Right," said Merlin. He wished he'd given this moment more thought – decided how he would explain all this to Arthur given the chance. The truth was, he'd never really expected to be given that chance. Not like this, anyway. He hadn't exactly expected Arthur to kill him on the spot if he found out about his magic or anything like that, but Arthur had been raised to believe sorcery was evil, and it would be difficult for him to see past that.
Merlin decided that would be a good place to start.
"I think it's important to know that I'm not a sorcerer," he said. "I don't study magic. Well I do, sort of, but not… like a sorcerer." Merlin rolled his eyes at his lack of eloquence and didn't see Arthur do the same.
"When did you start using magic?" Arthur demanded coldly.
This was good – Merlin could answer questions easier than telling the story himself. "I didn't," he said, looking up at Arthur. He clasped his hands together on the tabletop and leaned forward. "That's what I mean when I say I'm not a sorcerer. Sorcerers learn how to do magic – they study it so they can perform spells. I've always been able to do magic, as far back as I can remember. I didn't learn it."
Merlin paused – at least Arthur seemed to be listening. He wasn't glaring now, but the glare had been replaced by a frown. Words were coming easier now, and Merlin felt a profound sense of relief to finally get this all off his chest.
"My magic, it's… instinctual. A lot of the time I don't even have to say words to do a spell. Like… well, like today. When the tempfera threw you towards that tree I didn't say anything or even really think about what I wanted to happen, I just froze you and put you one the ground and then attacked the tempfera. It just happened."
Merlin stopped again, and this time Arthur spoke up. "I've never heard of magic being performed without words before," he said, his frown deepening.
"I know," said Merlin. "I honestly don't know how I do it. But it's not something I can help, it's just a part of who I am. Gaius calls me a warlock."
Merlin closed his eyes in horror as he realised that he'd just landed Gaius in it too – there was no telling what Arthur's reaction to this all was going to be, and now Gaius might get in trouble too.
There was a short silence. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," said Arthur eventually.
Merlin opened his eyes again. "Thank you," he said emphatically.
Arthur started to pace again, and Merlin watched him silently. He could tell the prince was thinking over what he'd just told him, and decided to just let him work through it. After a little while, he stopped in front of the table again.
"Alright. Let's say, for argument's sake, that I believe you," he said. "If you do magic without really thinking about it, how do you control it?"
"Most of the time I do use words," said Merlin. "It's easier, and when I say the words I know exactly what spell I'm using rather than just hoping it turns out the way I want. Though I can still control my wordless magic if I concentrate. I… do you remember when we first met? You chased me through the town?"
Arthur quirked an eyebrow. "Yes."
"Remember how you… kept tripping over things?" Merlin said, grimacing as he spoke.
Arthur's eyes widened. "That was…?" He gaped at Merlin for a moment before placing both hands on the table and leaning towards him. "Are you insane? You were using magic on the crown prince of Camelot, where magic is forbidden? And in broad daylight?" He practically shouted.
Arthur shook his head. "You know, you being able to do magic is less surprising than the fact you haven't been caught before now," he said.
Merlin had to chuckle at that, but stopped quickly when he realised Arthur didn't find it the least bit funny.
Arthur was glaring again. "So, it was you in Ealdor, wasn't it?"
Merlin nodded sadly. "Will knew," he said. "He was just protecting me."
"And that witch who disguised herself as Lady Helen and tried to kill me?"
"She put everyone to sleep, but it didn't work on me," Merlin explained. "I dropped the chandelier on her. Then I slowed everything down to get over to you and push you out of the way of her dagger…"
Arthur snorted. "I always did wonder how you got there so fast," he said. He shook his head and sat down opposite Merlin, though he wasn't looking at him. He was staring at the wall, apparently deep in thought. Merlin stayed silent.
Eventually, Arthur spoke again. "How often do you use magic around me?" He asked. "Is it all the time, or just every now and then to stop me getting killed?"
Merlin grinned. "Well your life does need saving more often than the average person.." He said jokingly. Arthur just glared at him again, and Merlin thought about the question.
"It's not that often," Merlin said. "Most of the time." He amended. "Some of the time – only when necessary."
"I dread to think what your definition of necessary is," said Arthur dryly.
They lapsed into silence again, and this time Merlin broke it.
"Are you going to turn me in?" He asked quietly.
Arthur held his gaze for a moment, assessing him coolly, but then shook his head. "No."
Merlin grinned. "Really?! Wow, Arthur, thank you –"
"I have some conditions," Arthur interrupted, wiping the grin off Merlin's face.
"Oh." Who knew what crazy conditions Arthur might come up with? Merlin shifted uncomfortably. "What are they?'
Arthur sat up straight in his chair as if it were a throne. "Number one – if you have to use magic again to save my life or prevent an attack on Camelot, or something of that sort again, tell me. I don't like being in the dark about things like that," he said.
Well that was simple enough. "Alright," said Merlin.
"Two. Do not perform magic in front of me. Unless it is a matter of life and death. Just don't," said Arthur.
Merlin smiled a bit at that one. "Done. Is there a third?"
Arthur nodded sagely. "Yes, and this one is the most important," he said, leaning forward again. "Do not get caught."
Merlin smirked. "That one I can do," he said cheekily.
Arthur glared. "I mean it Merlin," he said. "I do not want anyone else to find out about this. Both our necks are on the line."
Merlin nodded. "Fine. Absolutely fine," he said, trying to sound reassuring.
Arthur didn't look reassured. "Not another soul."
Merlin nodded some more. "Right," he agreed. "Except for maybe Gwen…"
Arthur's face was a picture of anger and exasperation. "What?"
Merlin gave him a small smile. "Well, when we were at Gaius', as we were leaving, I sensed Gwen in the other room and… I think she heard us. Talking to our other selves," he said. Arthur dropped his head onto one of his hands, and Merlin leant forward over the table. "For what it's worth I trust Gwen and I know she won't say anything to anyone. She's my friend," he said. As he said it he realised that it was true – he didn't have to worry about Gwen telling anyone. In fact, it would be quite nice to talk to her about it all.
Arthur looked up. "Are you certain she knows?" He asked.
Merlin thought about it. "No…" He said after a moment. "Well, the other me said that he would talk to her, and I think he meant try to explain things…"
Arthur frowned. "I didn't hear him say anything."
Merlin grimaced slightly. "He didn't say it out loud," he explained. "We can talk in our heads."
Arthur stared at him for a moment. "I could have lived without knowing that," he said drily. "Wait, you said you sensed Guinevere?"
Merlin sighed. "Yes. It's part of my… ability. I can sense people. Usually I can only sense people with a magical ability… anyone can do magic if they try hard enough and know the right words and have the proper training, but some people have a natural ability – not like mine, but just a… talent for it, I guess. I can sense that in people."
Arthur was gaping at Merlin in dismay. "Are you saying that… that Guinevere…?"
Merlin realised belatedly what that must have sounded like to Arthur. "No – no!" He exclaimed. "No no no. Gwen doesn't have that magical talent – I can sense Gwen because we spend a lot of time together, and I've got used to the feel of her… personality? Character? I don't really know what it is…"
Arthur looked at him suspiciously for a moment more but seemed happy to accept that Gwen didn't have magic. Or at least happy not to know about it if she did.
"Is that what you were talking about in the forest?" He said after a few moments. "You and the other you… you said you couldn't sense him?"
"But you could sense the other me?"
Oh dear. Merlin could see where this was going. "Yes."
"You can sense me like you sense Guinevere?"
Merlin looked away. "Yes…"
Arthur closed his eyes and shook his head. "Don't say it…"
"It's really small," Merlin insisted. "Barely there at all, really…"
Arthur stood up suddenly, and Merlin shut up. "I. Am. Not. A. Sorcerer."
"No!" Merlin said, shaking his head. "You're right, you're not. There's a difference between having a magical talent and actually using it. You never have to do magic in your life. Ever."
Arthur glared at the wall above the fireplace – Merlin figured that at least it was an improvement from Arthur glaring at him.
Merlin cleared his throat. "But… if you ever decided to try, you'd find it easier than some other people…" He said quietly.
Ah, the glare was back on him again. Excellent.
"I think I've had enough of this discussion for tonight," Arthur said coldly. "You should go and make sure that our… other selves are hidden away."
Merlin stood up. "Alright." He started to walk for the door.
"And make sure that Guinevere is alright, I suppose," Arthur added after a moment.
Merlin nodded. "I will," he said. He reached for the door handle but stopped with his hand on it. He looked back – the prince had his back to him, and was staring down at the flames dancing in the fireplace.
"Arthur – thank you," Merlin said. "For letting me explain."
Arthur didn't look back at him. "Don't get caught."