Notes: Much love to everyone who reviewed Part I. This part somehow turned out to be a lot more cutesy/fluffy than intended, but I'm pretty happy with the end result. Please enjoy and review.
"There is a time for everything; a season for everything under heaven."
There comes a time when Gaius finally decides to follow in Uther's footsteps. Perhaps he feels like his purposes has passed now, and Merlin wonders if Gaius' destiny was the same as his, to serve and protect his king. Now that the Uther Pendragon has passed, it is inevitable that Gaius would follow.
Gaius is blind and bent because his bones are old. Merlin scarcely leaves his side, except to fetch water, or small nibbles in the kitchen. King Arthur moves Gaius to a large chamber in the castle. It is both a gift for Merlin, and Gaius, and it holds a selfish motive for Arthur.
"You can't die." Merlin says insistently, "I'm not ready for you to go yet. There's still things you must teach me, lessons I can learn only from you. You can't be so selfish and leave me."
A wrinkled finger traces his jaw and Gaius' smile is most serene. "In these times, you don't need me. The rule of Uther Pendragon is over, this is a shining new age of Camelot. It's a Golden Age. I must die, and you know it."
True, Gaius must pass, to seal the last remnant of Uther's reign. It is up to Merlin to look after Arthur, to guide the new age. For days, he refuses to eat, and Arthur lets him be, Arthur, in a surprising gesture, hasn't made him do anything either. Except at night, Arthur calls him to his chambers.
"I don't want you to stay in the Apothecary's house." He has to phrase it like an order, perhaps because Arthur knows it is too much to point out that Gaius' previous dwelling place holds ghosts for his manservant. And how right he was.
Merlin pauses in the doorway, "Then where am I supposed to sleep, sire?"
"Right here. I have a bed set up for you." And indeed, against the far wall by the window, is a bed, it looks much more comfortable than the bed in the attic. "Besides, it's a pain to call for you if you're so far away." Arthur throws himself down on his bed, "Just go to sleep and don't ask anymore questions."
Secrets cannot be kept forever, Merlin knows that. He knows that better than anyone else. He knows that the guards that dragged in a woman accused of sorcery will one day be dragging him too. The woman is charged with the poisoning of her own child with a magic potion. The woman sobs and kneels at Arthur's feet and tells him that her child was dying. The potion was her last chance. She really doesn't mean to use magic, she had to.
Arthur is regal and untouchable on his throne. Yet his eyes are not like Uther's, harsh and unbelieving. He rises up after a moment of thought and offers his hand to the woman, who stands, trembling in what Merlin thinks is fear and relief at the same time.
"I am truly sorry for your loss." His eyes show that he is sincere, "Go in peace and bury your child."
That night, Merlin lies in bed and listens to Arthur's breathing, his breathing is too loud, which means he is probably still awake.
Merlin takes a deep breath. "I know magic. I'm a sorcerer. I'm sorry to have lied to you."
In the dark, Arthur does not answer, and Merlin wonders if he will be executed in the morning.
He is still alive in the morning, he wakes Arthur, and they go about their morning routine without Arthur's usual fuss about the water drawn for his bath being too cold, he doesn't complain that the clothes that Merlin has laid out for him are not clean enough. In fact, Arthur doesn't say anything to him at all.
Except: "Thank you, Merlin."
Merlin lives out the next week in dire trepidation. Arthur barely speaks to him, and maybe he has just been hit with an overdose of paranoia, but no one has been speaking to him, even Gwen and Morgana go through great lengths to avoid him. Merlin listen, straining for whispers of, "He's a sorcerer, he will be put to death for sure." But he does not hear anything.
But he still sleeps in Arthur's chambers, and Arthur never says a word. Perhaps he is watching, to see if Merlin will betray his magic again. Perhaps he hopes it is not true.
It is a clear warm day as Arthur calls together all of Camelot. Merlin has no idea what it could possibly be about, except that Morgana presents him with a new tunic, and new trousers. "Made especially for you, Merlin," she says, "Arthur's orders."
Perhaps he is to be executed presentably dressed, Merlin thinks gloomily. He doesn't just think, he knows. Merlin stands quietly at Arthur's side, only half listening until Arthur looks at him:
"I believe that in order for Camelot to flourish into a Golden Age, we'll need magic. We'll need faith in the phenomenal and what we cannot see or explain. I've called you all here today, to witness the appointment of the Court's royal magician—Merlin."
It is all he can do to keep his jaw from dropping. Merlin is relieved when Arthur orders him down on his knees, so that no one but his king can see the tears of joy welling in his eyes.
"Henceforth, you'll be Merlin, my magician, to guide me until the end of my days and yours." It is a promise for the future, a future that Merlin has not ever dreamed possible.
A time has come for King Arthur to descend into madness. Madness courses through his very veins like a raging fever and a dark curse. He suffers from sleepless nights, and how fitting, that the curse is placed on him by his own royal magician Merlin? There is name for his madness, its name is Desire.
Nothing else has changed, Arthur supposes, Merlin certainly hasn't, he wears a title around his neck now, but he wears it humbly. And the fact that Arthur's madness is ever growing does not change either. He sits in the bath, forcing himself to breathe calmly, think rationally, while Merlin's nonchalant hands work to distract him to everything otherwise.
"Merlin." He speaks his servant's name in a whisper, "Merlin."
I'm going mad, he wants so badly to say, it's all because of you. You've reduced me to this, you've made mockery of your King. You're such an idiot you don't even know what you're doing.
Merlin's hands stop rubbing soothing circles on his bare back. His palms are still and cool on Arthur's skin, "Yes, sire?"
I want you. The madness is insistently gnawing at him, not unlike a venomous poison. "Merlin, I gave you so much. I've given you a bed in my chambers, a title, I've given you the freedom to practice magic whenever you choose, I..."
Merlin is silent, and then he speaks Arthur's name, "Arthur. We cannot. You are a king, you have a responsibility to your people to be respectable and upstanding, you can't possibly--"
The madness in his veins quicken when Arthur feels the warm weight of Merlin's head against his shoulder. He bites his lips, "I never knew my servant to be so ungrateful. I do not ask for much. I give you all that I have. All that I am. All you need to do is receive my gifts and offering."
"You're mad, Arthur." Merlin says, unmoving, "It's not in your power to give me these things. You don't even own these things. These things belong to your people. You should know."
"Yes, I am mad." Arthur whirls around and one of his hands clamp forcefully down on Merlin's chin, so Merlin cannot move. Those green eyes flicker and Arthur thinks that they are mocking him---again. They are mocking because the eyes want him too, "You've drove me to it, you want this as much as I do! And yet, of course you won't allow me to be selfish."
"I have no power to decree what the King of Camelot can and cannot do, even if you wish to give me such a power. But kings cannot be selfish. You should know that too." Merlin's eyes are green and bright and burning. Arthur can hardly breathe. They are entirely too close and Arthur's bath water is suddenly much, much too warm.
"But you're driving me mad." Desperation seeps into Arthur's expression as Merlin easily breaks his hold and stands. "I want you. You're the one that is selfish—where are you going?"
"Arthur," When Merlin is standing, Arthur thinks that his manservant looks strangely imposing and old. "In time you will not want me. You'll have yourself a queen and a happy life. You will not give me a second thought." He smiles bravely, "For me, it might not be so easy. I'm leaving so you can dress. I'm sure you can manage this once."
The promise of what is all that Arthur wants. This madness will plague him even after once, since he's selfish and unrelenting (which Merlin points out, even if his lowly servant has no right.) but he doesn't care. He rises from the tub, naked and golden, and somehow manages to get to Merlin before his servant can get away.
"You're not going anywhere." Arthur kisses Merlin, the way he has always dreamed of and indulges his madness.
There is never a time for them. There never will be. The once is something that Arthur greedily steals from the destiny that haunts and bounds both of them to what they are really meant to be. The once is a fleeting moment in the passing of time, the once is over too quickly, since the once is not supposed to take place.
"Get in. The water will be cold, but I can't help that."
Merlin waits a few moments before rousing himself from the floor. His dark hair is beautifully mussed and there are marks all over his skin. Marks that will fade with time, but Arthur secretly hopes they keep.
"Get in," Arthur repeats wearily, "I hope you're not planning to make disobedience a habit because I find it distasteful and unbecoming on you."
After a moment's hesitation, Merlin gives in to Arthur's pointed glare and hauls himself into the tub. The water is cold, but Arthur's hands are warm. He closes his eyes, "This is scandalous, Arthur. It really is." A king washing his manservant, both indecent.
"I don't care." Arthur grins at him, although his eyes are still dark with the thought of times to come. "A little self-indulgence is good for you. Believe me."
"You would know." Merlin glances at him. "You're a prat." and if anyone knows the pleasures of self-indulgence, it would be Arthur Pendragon.
"That is no way to speak to your king." Arthur remands him, with a little water splash to his face. "Apologize."
"I'm sorry, sire."
"Good, as long as you know your place."
Arthur leans in to kiss him, once more. Because he is greedy, because once has always been stolen, and perhaps if he steals once more, it would hardly seem to matter. Time has little patience for these interludes. But Arthur wants to believe something else, and so does Merlin. There is time for everything, maybe even moments for them.
Part II End:: 4/25/09 ~ Complete