Notes:: So yep, the last chapter! Writing this was extremely tedious because it's not the kind of plot that I usually deal with, but thanks so much for reading and sticking with me until the end. This ending wasn't the ending that I originally planned, it was supposed to be much more angsty...but it sort of drifted into the land of fluff instead. I seem inclined to fluff. Enjoy anyway~
(P.S. Kudoes to anyone who can figure out where I nicked the ending from haha.)
Arthur/Merlin: While guarding the village of Ealdor, Prince Arthur finds himself smitten with the town medic, Merlin. Years later, these feelings inevitably resurface when Arthur finds out that the very same Merlin is in Camelot, on trial for being a warlock.
Chapter V: With Love, Now and Forever
Arthur spent the better part of the day feigning illness in his room. It was the only suitable option left to him, since a full investigation was underway regarding the two dungeon guards that he had left unconscious and beaten. Thomas stayed with him, and Arthur vehemently refused to let Gaius see him. The hours drifted by, and the call from Uther never came. For that, perhaps he was grateful.
Although Arthur wished he had one of those vials. And he wished that he had had enough sense to sneak Merlin some herbs or some other means of relieving his pain, although in retrospect, that was a bad idea--Arthur had no idea what any of the herbs did. He couldn't very well send Thomas down there, as the dungeons swarmed with new guards, the knights that Arthur personally trained among them.
But he did send Thomas out for news, and Thomas did not return alone. He peeked his head in, "Sire...you have a visitor wanting to see you. Will you recieve him?"
"I told you not to let anyone in." Arthur turned from the window, "No, I will not."
"He says he knows the medic, Merlin." Thomas said, "He says he's journeyed a long way to see you, days. On foot."
Arthur bit his lip, "Is his name Will?"
"Let him in." Arthur said, what Will was doing in Camelot, he didn't know, but given how protective of Merlin, he supposed it was inevitable that Will was stick his nose in this somehow. "Go check on Guinevere, won't you? Attend to her needs, if she needs anything. I leave her to you."
Thomas scurried out and Will walked in. Dressed in peasant clothing, and over his shoulder, he slung a satchel much like the one that had been found on Merlin's person when they had found him in the square. Will looked grim, and it was clear that he didn't know how to behave in front of royalty either. For one thing, he sat down without asking and began speaking without so much of a greeting.
"I always knew this would happen."
Good to see you too, Arthur thought, "...Knew what would happen?" He prompted tersely.
"I'm not stupid, sire. I know Merlin better than he knows himself." Will said, clasping his workman's hands in front of him, "Six years ago you left him. And six years he remembered you. He built you a shrine in a hard heart, a heart that he promised never to let anyone have. He told me that once, you know. That he'd never love, because it doesn't pay for a--warlock to have such ties to people. He promised me that the day he told me he'd never love me."
Arthur said nothing.
"You came, with your knights. You lay dying and Merlin gave his heart to you to hold, the moment he carried you unconscious to his bed. I saw it." Will's voice was wrought with the bitterness not befitting for a man that was still young in his years, although in this world, Arthur supposed they couldn't afford to be boys any longer. "You have a kingdom, all the noble women and servant boys you could have to share your bed and your affections. You just had to--"
"Six years, and all it's been, is Arthur. I hope he's all right, I hope the epidemic doesn't spread to Camelot, he's probably bedding his servants and pretty girls, he won't be lonely. He won't miss me, he won't give me a second thought." Will gave a snort, "You couldn't have kept your royal claws to yourself. Merlin is the pride of Ealdor, he's the pride of the common people, it's not enough for you to have everything in the world...you really are fit to be king."
And under any other circumstances, Arthur would have had Will flogged until kingdom come, and then executed for a good measure. What bitter irony it was that his Merlin shared the same fate for being born with a wondrous gift and saving lives. Arthur bit his tongue until he tasted blood.
"I have not been unfaithful to Merlin." He said quietly, "I hold his heart as he holds mine."
"If you hold his heart so dearly, why is he decreed to be executed at dawn?" Will demanded, and rightfully so.
Agony bit at him, like an angry, poisonous snake. Arthur stood up, "He...chose to pay the price, for the sake of saving my wife and my child. Perhaps it was my fault to begin with, should I have stopped him, William?"
Arthur supposed that no one called Will 'William', but it had its desired effects as Will did shut his mouth and stare at him with mournful eyes. "You...couldn't have stopped him, even if you wanted to. Even if you tried."
It was a hollow victory. Merlin was still set to be beheaded when morning came. Uther was doing this best not to receive an audience, because the people were angry. He wouldn't even see Arthur, who suspected that his due scolding would come only when the king had Merlin's head right where he wanted it--on a silver platter. Arthur went over to his window and the curtains revealed night. "Would you like to see him?"
"The royal decree changed, you know. Two hours ago, I was there." Will said, "If anyone's caught near Merlin, will also be dead by morning."
"And if that doesn't matter to me, it should matter even less to you." Arthur hooked his sword onto his belt. "Besides, Uther is not the only one that knows the ways of his castle." He paused to scribble on a piece of parchment, instructions for Thomas for safety's sake. And then the bit of bread that he purposely saved, "Are you coming or not?"
Merlin looked like a ghost, he'd grown even paler than when Arthur had left him, and that was only hours ago. Merlin stared at them both with gaunt, almost unseeing eyes. It was not until Arthur called his name softly that the medic came to his senses and blinked slowly. "Arthur? Will?"
"Merlin!" Will was by his friend's side the moment Arthur unlocked the heavy iron door, "...What have they done to you?"
"My father...had him flogged this morning." Arthur forced himself to say in order to spare Merlin from answering.
"He's doing what his law decrees that he should do." Merlin said. "Why are you here? I told you not to come back."
"I sent ahead of me, wine for the guards, compliments of the Crown Prince for the mess he caused this morning." Arthur said, "They're so drunk they'll hardly notice."
Will glared at Arthur, as if this whole affair really was his fault, he soothed Merlin's hair with a motion that Arthur forced himself to see as merely brotherly. "One of these days, you'll need to stop that. Doing such rash things...falling in love with a Crown Prince, using magic to save his wife--"
"And it looks like it really is going to be the death of me, this time." Merlin finished humorlessly with a dry laugh.
"You. Really are morbid." Will sighed.
"So you've told me."
Arthur couldn't stop the sprout of jealousy growing in his chest. He approached the two of them, and sat beside them. He could see love in Will's hands, but couldn't see any in Merlin's eyes. And then he was ashamed of himself, there were times for jealousy, now was not one of those times. He unwrapped the piece of bread and broke off a piece of it.
"I brought this for you, it's not much but try to eat it."
Merlin did, with surprising obedience, Arthur kept his fingers there on Merlin's lips longer than they need to be, but he reluctantly drew back. Merlin was reluctant too. "...This is not much of a last supper, is it, Arthur?"
Arthur felt like hitting him. For once he agreed with Will, Merlin was morbid. But maybe it was simply his way of doing things. After all, he was set to die in the morning. "You won't die." He said firmly, although he doubted his certainty for the first time when Merlin looked at him like that. "I won't let you die."
"Arthur." Merlin said his name, with the same sort of exasperation that took over his eyes, "You cannot save me, you may be Crown Prince, and Uther Pendragon's own flesh and blood, but your father flogged you as well this morning. How are you going to save me?"
There was nothing to say. Seemingly satisfied with this, Merlin waved them both away with a limp hand.
"Please, Will, if you truly do love me, do not come to the square tomorrow trying to do something noble. Go back to Ealdor, where the people need you." A pause, Arthur felt a very cold hand on his cheek, stroking it, as if memorizing its essence. "The same goes for you, Arthur. No going to the square, I'll never forgive you if you do." There was a second pause, this one seemed tortured. Merlin took in a long breath. "Might I ask something else selfish of you, sire?"
"Ask." The word caught in his throat. "Whatever you want of me will be yours."
"I lied." Merlin said simply, "I didn't have many lovers. There was only you. Don't be angry. I just wanted you to know."
Arthur's tears were threatening to break through and betray him again. "Is that it?"
"Yes, that's it. I don't want to die with you being angry at me."
"I'm...not angry." Arthur leaned down and kissed him, keeping it short and chaste because even with the circumstances as they were, it was awkward kissing Merlin when he lay on Will's lap. He stood, and after a moment, Will followed suit.
"So that's it then." Will said gloomily as he stretched out on Arthur's floor. "We are really going to just let him die."
Arthur himself lay brooding in his bed. It suddenly seemed a bed too large for one person, since he had grown to having Merlin in it. "There's nothing else left to do, Will. Merlin made us promise that we wouldn't go to the square."
"Trying to be noble?"
"I think Merlin does that well enough for all of us."Arthur responded tonelessly.
Will snorted and turned on his side. A moment later, Thomas entered with two vials, "You requested these, sire?"
"I did." Arthur nodded, "You may leave now. Spend the night in Guinevere's room, make sure she doesn't go to the square tomorrow."
Thomas bowed and left. "As you wish."
"You trust the boy with your wife?" Will said.
Arthur glared at him, opened his mouth, and then closed it. Instead, he downed both of the vials in a vicious gulp.
"Arthur! Sire!" A pair of rough worked hands were shaking him, "Get up!! Please, get up!"
Drug-induced sleep was heavy, but Arthur forced himself to open his eyes. The instant he opened his eyes, he felt a dark wave of dread washed over him. Today was the day, the day where--
Will and Thomas stood over him, awake. Arthur rubbed his eyes, "...What is it? I"m not going to the square."
"You'll have to!" Thomas leaned over him urgently, "Guinevere...she was gone this morning when I woke up! She went to the square..."
Arthur was a bit drugged and unsteady on his feet, but Will gripped one arm and Thomas gripped the other and somehow, the three of them made it to the square with Arthur only tripping once. The crowd was in an uproar, and Arthur thought he could hear a woman sobbing.
There was thunder in Arthur's ears as Thomas dragged him through the crowd, Will cleared the way with his elbows ahead. When they finally cleared the crowd, Arthur blinked blearily and saw Guinevere, lovely in her morning gown, with the baby Merlin pressed close to her breast. His Merlin was there, not five feet away, chained, looking as pale as death itself. The baby Merlin was crying, and Guinevere was beside herself.
"If you are going to execute this man, you might as well take our lives too." She declared boldly to Uther, who really looked quite confused and more than a bit annoyed. "Guinevere--"
Arthur hated the way his father said her name. Harsh, cold, as if she was just another subject. Even if Arthur's heart was held by another, he still found it in his heart to be kind and decent to her. Suddenly, he hated his father, more than he'd ever did.
"He used magic to save our lives!" Guinevere said, as the baby Merlin wailed loudly in agreement with his mother, "So in way...the magic was our fault. We might as well be warlocks, everyone who was saved by Merlin's magic, aren't they all warlocks?"
"Stop talking nonsense." Uther snapped. When he saw Arthur, there was misplaced relief in his eyes, "Arthur, escort her back to the castle."
Arthur didn't hesitate, he walked a few steps until he was beside Guinevere, "No. If you execute Merlin, then have me executed too. I stand with Guinevere."
"And I." said a very old man who ambled out from the crowd, "Nice young lad gave me a potion for a headache."
"And I." Said a young girl who looked to be a merchant's daughter.
"Arthur..." Uther fairly growled at his son. Execution was different from flogging
But the damage was already done. The crowd raised their voices anew, but Arthur heard nothing, except the wailing of his son, and the beating of Merlin's heart. Merlin looked at him, in wondrous wonder, and love. Perhaps Merlin was like that...he hadn't really set out to do anything noble.
Gaius went forward, Arthur was as surprised as the next person. He bowed low, and even though the crowd was loud and unrelenting, Arthur heard every word.
"And I. Uther." The court physician looked like he had aged years overnight. "You knew it from long ago."
Uther Pendragon dropped his sword.
Arthur watched his wife rock their sleeping son. "...I don't know what possessed me to do that this morning." She said softly, "I know that is what you came to ask me, and I don't have an answer for you, Arthur."
"Arthur, I"m not stupid. Merlin shared your chambers more often than I ever did." She shook her head, "If he'd been executed today, I would have lost you too. Do you think I don't know that? I would have never forgiven myself." She laughed a dry laugh, the kind of laugh that really was unbecoming on a woman. "Please don't ask why I saved your life today, Arthur. I don't have an answer to give you."
Arthur could not quite bring himself to hold his wife. "...Thank you."
Merlin lay on Arthur's bed, deathly pale, but alive. Gaius was bent over him, brows knitted in concern.
"How is he?" Arthur asked.
"He wasn't physically strong to begin with. But I suppose he has taught himself to endure pain...a man of his caliber, I expected the flogging to kill him. But I think he'll be all right." He straightened, older than ever, and gestured to an assortment of potions on Arthur's table. "Give him these at an hour's intervals. They'll help him regain his strength." He bowed deeply, "...I take my leave, sire."
"Why did you..." Arthur bit his lip, he could understand why Guinevere didn't have an answer for him, but for Gaius it wasn't the same. "What changed your mind from saving him?"
After a very long silence, Gaius spoke, "Arthur, forgive an old man of his many transgressions." For a moment, he almost sounded like Uther, although much kinder. It was the sort of confession that Gaius would make though, on Uther's behalf, "I forgot..that you weren't your father."
Arthur left the reverent silence hang after Gaius' exit. With heavy steps, he crawled into bed and nestled in the covers next to Merlin, careful not to wake him. But he couldn't help himself and cupped one pale cheek, kissed the pale forehead.
And then Arthur slept, for the first time since he could remember, a dreamless, pleasant sleep. He would be right here beside Merlin in the morning, when he woke up.
Chapter V End:: 5/10/09 ~ Complete