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Notes: Sequel to "Enough for Now." Takes place after the events of the first season but does not take into account the new episodes of the second season.
"Merlin—Merlin, you're supposed to be—"
Merlin silenced Arthur with another kiss, pressing him against the wall of the armory. Arthur gripped Merlin's hair with one hand, his other running up Merlin's back.
"—supposed to be putting on my armor," Arthur finished, breathless, as they pulled apart.
"Does this not please you, my lord?" Merlin murmured, running kisses along Arthur's jaw.
"Yes," Arthur gasped, "but I'm supposed to be out there on the practice field. Someone will come looking."
Reluctantly, Merlin stopped and picked up Arthur's chainmail. He paused. "We could lock the door."
"And explain it, how?"
"You're the prince—you don't have to explain anything!"
Arthur twisted his fingers in the laces of Merlin's shirt and pulled him closer. He pressed his lips against Merlin's cheek. "Tonight," he promised in a whisper. "Not now."
"I'll hold you to it."
"I expect you to."
Merlin leaned against the wall and watched Arthur batter away at some poor knight with his sword. Releasing sexual tension, probably. He wished he could do the same. At least no one thought twice about his spending all his time with Arthur—the unanticipated benefit of being Arthur's servant.
Everything would be perfect—except that Arthur still didn't know about his magic. A sense of dread smothered Merlin whenever he thought about it. Even at best, Arthur would be furiously angry that Merlin had kept his magic secret. At worst—well, Merlin didn't like to ponder those possibilities.
It seemed wrong, though, to not tell Arthur. He was keeping part of himself back—Merlin knew so many of Arthur's hidden cares and worries, but Arthur knew nothing of his. And it would be wonderful to be able to talk about it—to admit to the fears and joys that the magic inspired in him. Besides, how long could he really keep it a secret? The way Arthur attracted trouble, it was inevitable that he would have to do magic in front of him at some point.
So many times he had almost worked up the courage to tell Arthur. So many times he had walked through Arthur's door, intending to say it. But then Arthur smiled upon seeing him, and Merlin couldn't do it. Couldn't stand the thought of destroying the love that he saw there. If he lost Arthur's love and friendship—he huddled into his coat, trying to ward off the chill that accompanied that thought.
It snowed all afternoon, turning the streets of Camelot into white avenues and muffling people's footsteps. Merlin dashed up the stairs to Arthur's chambers, carrying an armful of wood, his breath coming in white puffs. He quickly laid the fire and attempted to start it, shivering from the cold. Unfortunately, fire starting was not one of his best skills—not without using magic at any rate. After several attempts he had produced nothing more than clouds of smoke.
"Merlin, what are you doing?" Arthur asked, coming in the door. He coughed, eyes watering. "Trying to suffocate us?" He pushed Merlin aside. "Here, let me."
Soon, a welcome heat was spreading through the room. Even more welcome, Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin and took Merlin's cold hands in his own. "Stay with me tonight," Arthur whispered. "Keep me warm."
Merlin's breath caught. Was Arthur suggesting what he thought he was? Merlin had often stayed late, holding Arthur in his arms in front of the fire, softly talking or just enjoying a companionable silence, but he had always left to sleep in his own bed. "I will," he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Good." Arthur released him and went to look out the window. "If it stops snowing by tomorrow, we'll go hunting."
"It will be freezing!" Merlin protested.
"It is winter, Merlin," Arthur said. "A good hunt will warm your blood."
"I can think of other ways to do that."
"Oh?" Arthur smiled and started removing his jacket. "Perhaps you'd better show me."
They were both stripped down to the waist, and Merlin's fingers were dipping lower when Arthur caught his hands.
"Merlin—stop a moment."
"What's wrong? Do you not want to do this?" Merlin started to pull back.
"No. No, I do." Arthur took a deep breath. "I just want to make sure you do as well."
"Of course." Merlin's mouth crooked in a smile. "Can't you tell?"
"I don't want you doing it because you're my servant," Arthur went on in a rush. He gripped Merlin's arms. "You're far more than that to me—you know that, right?"
Merlin nodded, his smile softening.
"I will never order you to do anything you don't want to do," Arthur whispered. "I want you to be with me because it's your choice."
"It is," Merlin whispered back. "It is."
Later—much later—Arthur lay propped on one arm, studying Merlin's face in the firelight. Merlin had added a few logs to the fire before slipping back under the blankets, curling up against Arthur, and falling asleep.
It frightened him sometimes, how much he loved Merlin. He couldn't bear the thought of ever losing him. To lose the one person he trusted, the one person who truly cared for him. He knew Merlin would give up his own life in a second, to save his. But more than that, Merlin believed in him—believed he could be a good king and would be there every step of the way to help him in becoming one.
And yet—Arthur tightened his hold on Merlin—if his father ever found out about this—he wouldn't hesitate to exile Merlin or worse. The crown prince of Camelot in bed with a servant! Because that was all Merlin would ever be to Uther. His father would never be able to see past that. Not to mention the problem of producing another heir to the throne.
Arthur swallowed against a tight throat. Who were they kidding? This could never last. But he wanted it to—wanted it to so much.
Afterwards, Merlin reflected bitterly that he should have known trouble would find them on the hunting expedition. Didn't Arthur always get in some predicament when he went hunting? Merlin should have refused to go along. Pointed out that, based on the last few months, they had about a ninety-five percent chance of encountering some monster or life threatening situation.
But he hadn't. He had awoken, wrapped in Arthur's arms, to a still, white morning. The new snow began sparkling as the sun rose over the hills. Arthur had been eager and cheerful, as he always was when faced with the prospect of getting to go out and shoot something.
They had set out, along with three of Arthur's knights, for the forest. There were plenty of fresh tracks in the snow, and soon they were on the trail of a deer. He and Arthur kept exchanging glances and hiding smiles. Merlin still felt giddy over the night before and looked forward to a repeat experience that evening. His mind was happily engaged in remembering the feeling of Arthur's skin under his fingers when the arrows sped out of the trees ahead of them.
There had been reports of outlaws in the woods, of course. Just the week before, Arthur and his knights had ridden out searching for them but returned empty handed. Outlaws—men who had been condemned to prison or death by Uther and thus had every reason to hate Uther's son and want to see him dead.
Merlin slowed the arrows without thinking. No one would notice that. He could push Arthur out of the way. But not the other knights. He wouldn't be able to reach them in time.
There wasn't a choice. He spoke the words, and the arrows turned into leaves, drifting down onto the astonished faces of Arthur and the others.
Arthur turned. Their eyes met. Merlin's anguished, and Arthur's disbelieving. Then Arthur was drawing his sword and shouting for the knights to charge ahead and capture the outlaws. They ran through the trees, Merlin's heart pounding. All he could think was Please don't let him hate me. They clattered to a halt in a small clearing. The outlaws had fled.
"My lord!" It was Sir Bors. "My lord—did you hear, did you see what he did?"
Arthur was staring out into the forest.
"My lord, he's a sorcerer!" The knights were looking at Merlin, fear in their eyes.
Arthur still said nothing.
"I saved your life!" Merlin cried. "Arthur—" He reached out a hesitant hand and touched Arthur's shoulder. Arthur jerked away. "Arthur, please," Merlin whispered. "Please."
Slowly, Arthur turned around to face Merlin. His eyes were cold, and Merlin's stomach twisted, despair flooding through him.
"My lord, we must arrest him," Sir Bors said.
"Arthur—I would never hurt Camelot," Merlin pleaded desperately. "I wouldn't hurt anyone!"
Arthur raised his sword and pointed it at Merlin. "Will you come quietly?"
Merlin looked at the sword, then up at Arthur. He took a deep breath and willed the tears not to come. "Yes," he said.
Arthur didn't look at him on the trip back to Camelot. Merlin tried to speak to him, but Arthur ignored him. Sir Bors slapped him across the mouth, telling him to keep quiet or else. No spells or tricks. When they reached the castle, Arthur told the guards to take Merlin to a cell, then walked off in the direction of Uther's chambers. Merlin stared after Arthur until the guards hauled him away. They tied his hands and shoved him into a cell. He tripped, falling heavily onto his face. By the time he had managed to climb back to his feet, he was alone. It would be an easy matter, of course, to speak the spell that would sever the ropes, blast the door from its hinges. He wouldn't, though. If he did, Arthur would never believe that he meant no harm.
It hadn't been too long—just long enough for Merlin to curse the fates thoroughly and berate himself for being a coward—when the guards reappeared. "King Uther summons you to appear before the court on charges of sorcery," they announced and marched Merlin to the throne room. Uther acted expediently, Merlin had to give him that.
Morgana, Gaius, Gwen—they were all there, varying looks of disbelief and worry on their faces. Arthur stood next to his father's throne, but his face was impassive. Merlin stumbled into the middle of the room. He felt horribly frightened but tried to stand straight and meet Uther's furious gaze.
"Three knights of my court have accused you of sorcery," Uther said. "The crown prince supports their stories."
Merlin shut his eyes against the pain those words caused.
"Do you deny this? Or do you admit to being a sorcerer?"
"I—" Merlin swallowed against a dry throat. "I do not deny it."
Uther's face clouded over with fury. "How long have you been secretly practicing magic? Saving Arthur, getting yourself a place as his servant—what was your plan? To kill him or perhaps bewitch him into following your commands?"
"No! I would never hurt Arthur! I have only used my magic to help him, never to harm him." Merlin glanced at Arthur. Did he believe Uther's paranoid accusations? Oh gods, what if he thought their love was the result of a spell, that Merlin had tricked him? Merlin tried to tell Arthur with his eyes that it was all real, but Arthur refused to look at him directly.
"You expect me to believe that? When you have been lying to us, hiding your true nature since the moment you arrived here?" Uther's mouth twisted in disgust. "You know the sentence for practicing magic. You will die at dawn, two days hence."
"No—not all magic is evil! I have done nothing to hurt Camelot. I—" One of the guards slammed his fist into Merlin's stomach, and he collapsed on the ground, gasping. They dragged him from the room before he could regain enough breath to speak again.
Gaius came down to the cells that afternoon. He drew a stool over to the bars and sat down, sighing. "Merlin, what happened?"
Merlin looked up from where he was sitting in the straw. They had shackled him to the wall but the chains were long enough to allow some movement. "Outlaws. If I didn't use magic, they all would have died—Arthur and the others." He shrugged. "What could I do?"
Gaius sighed heavily. "Nothing else, of course." He glanced behind him. The guards were all in the adjoining room, but Gaius lowered his voice anyway. "And now you must use magic again. Escape from here! Uther has sentenced you to death."
Merlin shook his head. "I can't. I have to make Arthur see that I am his friend—his—" He took a deep breath. "I can't do that if I run away."
"No, Gaius." He sighed. "I should have told him. I should have trusted him."
Gaius tried to change his mind, but Merlin held firm, although the memory of the execution he had witnessed on his first day in Camelot rose vividly in his mind. At last, Gaius left. The slow hours passed. And then Arthur came.
He stood well back from the bars, half hidden in shadow. "It was you, wasn't it?" he said. "You drove back the raiders from your village. You did something to save me when I was dying."
"I've saved you many times," Merlin said softly. "And I will again. If you'll let me."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Merlin looked at the floor. "I was afraid."
Arthur suddenly stepped forward and grabbed the bars. "I trusted you!" he shouted. Merlin could see tears shining on his face in the torchlight. "I loved you," Arthur continued, his voice sinking to a whisper. "Was that a lie, too?"
Loved. Merlin fought back his own tears. "No. I would never do that to you."
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"I swear to you, I am. Arthur—magic is only wrong if people put it to evil uses. Can't you see that? Can't you see past Uther's blind hatred?"
"Magic almost destroyed Camelot! My father fights against it. I will fight against it." Arthur turned away. "How could you do this to me?" he whispered.
"Arthur!" Merlin flung himself forward, trying to reach the bars, tugging at the chains holding him back. Arthur was walking away. "Arthur, please, don't go!" Don't leave me! Arthur disappeared, his footsteps receding up the stairs until they faded away altogether.
Merlin slid down to the floor, buried his head in his arms, and let the tears come.
Merlin started awake. Straw clung to his hair and clothes. He was numb from the cold, his wrists rubbed raw from the shackles. The weak light of dawn filtered through the window far above his head.
Merlin. Use your magic. Escape.
The dragon. No, Merlin thought back, I will not abandon Arthur.
You cannot help him if you are dead.
I will lose him forever if I leave now.
He could sense the dragon's growing impatience and anger. You must escape. And then you must free me.
Not waiting until Arthur is king now, are we? You never cared about him.
The dragon roared. Merlin felt the stones shake underneath him. Free yourself and free me! Your time has come, Merlin!
You have revealed your true self—now show them your true power!
My magic—it means nothing without Arthur.
You will die if you do nothing!
Merlin shut the dragon from his mind.
Gwen came later, and Morgana, too. Both of them in tears. Morgana had somehow gotten hold of the key, but Merlin refused to let her use it.
"Your death will prove nothing," Morgana said, reaching for his hand between the bars.
"Perhaps it will show Arthur that his father is wrong."
"If Arthur doesn't realize that by now, he's a bigger fool than I took him for." Morgana gripped his hand tightly. "But if he cannot find the will to stand against Uther, then you must do so."
"We know you are not evil, Merlin," Gwen put in. "Please—I have already lost my father to this madness. I couldn't bear to lose you, too."
"Gwen." Merlin took a deep breath. "Morgana. If—When I am gone, promise me that you will look after Arthur. Help him to become a great king."
"No—Merlin, you cannot go through with this!" Gwen cried.
"Promise me!" Merlin held her eyes with his. "Promise me you will protect him."
"I promise," Gwen said, voice choked with tears.
Morgana nodded. "Of course, Merlin. You—you do not need to be worried about Arthur. We will watch over him."
Merlin sighed. "Thank you. And will you," he paused, gaining control of his voice, "will you tell him that I love him?"
Arthur sat in his room, staring at the untouched meal in front of him. He pushed his chair back abruptly and went over to the window, leaning his forehead against the cool glass. Part of him still couldn't believe it—that Merlin, his Merlin, was a sorcerer. But he had heard Merlin speak those strange, awful words. He had seen the arrows turn into falling leaves even as they hurtled towards him. And Merlin hadn't denied it. Hadn't tried to profess his innocence, just looked at Arthur with eyes that pleaded for understanding.
Understanding! Arthur smashed his fist into the wall. How could he tell if Merlin's gestures, Merlin's words were the truth? What if Merlin had put a spell on him?
Feverishly, Arthur paced the length of the floor. It must be a spell—how else to explain that even after finding out that Merlin could use magic, Arthur still wanted to hold Merlin in his arms, wanted to caress him and whisper that he loved him?
No—it had all been a lie. Merlin had used him, played with his emotions. And yet—Merlin had saved his life—saved him more times than he had realized. All those times that he had credited his good fortune to others, Merlin had stood silent. With a pang of remorse, Arthur remembered how he had treated Merlin before they became lovers. Calling him an idiot, ordering him about—and all that time, Merlin had been secretly helping him.
Helping him by using magic. Arthur sank down into his chair and buried his head in his hands. Why? Why did you do this to me?
And tomorrow—tomorrow he would have to stand there and watch. Watch while Merlin died. The thought made him wild with pain—he could hardly breathe, could feel tears burning his eyes. How could feelings like this be a lie? All those times Merlin had begged him for his trust, to believe what Merlin told him. Often he hadn't listened—could he now? Could he believe that magic changed nothing? That the Merlin he loved was the same person now locked in a cell, waiting for death? Merlin could have escaped easily by now, using his magic. And yet he hadn't.
Whatever happens out there today, please don't think any differently of me.
Merlin's words. Arthur knew, now, why he had said them. Could he do what Merlin had asked? Did magic matter when it came to such things as trust and love? He was angry with Merlin—confused and frightened by this sudden revelation—but did that make him love Merlin any less?
Merlin sat with his back against the wall of the cell, staring at the door. The hours of the day passed, night drawing ever closer. Slow they seemed—each minute weighted down with sadness, with recriminations, with wishing that things had happened differently. And yet the hours went swiftly, too. Hurrying towards another dawn—the last dawn, for him. Merlin clenched his hands and fought down the terror, fought not to use his magic to escape. He kept picturing the courtyard, the headman's block, the feel of the cold stone against his cheek.
And every second, he kept hoping that he would hear Arthur's footsteps, that he would see Arthur one last time. Not to beg or to plead. Just to study his face, hear his voice, so that he could hold that vision in his mind at the end. But Arthur didn't come.
Gaius visited him one last time. They sat silently for awhile, each caught up in his own thoughts. "I'm sorry, Merlin," Gaius said at last. "I should never have allowed you to stay here—should have sent you somewhere safe."
"I wouldn't have gone." Merlin managed a smile. "I've been happy here—happier than I ever thought possible. And I've used my magic for good. I've made a difference in people's lives, in Arthur's life. A person can't ask more than that, can they?"
"I suppose not." Gaius looked away, and when he next spoke, his voice was thick with tears. "I can't be there tomorrow morning, Merlin. I can't watch. I'm sorry."
"I wouldn't want you to. Don't let Gwen or Morgana see it either. I don't want you to remember me like that."
Gaius promised to keep them away and slowly left, bent with grief. It pained Merlin to see him like that. He almost spoke the spell to shatter his chains. No. He wouldn't run away from this. Besides, if Arthur didn't believe him, didn't love him anymore—Merlin wasn't sure he wanted to live a life consumed by the pain of losing Arthur.
Finally he lay down, curling into a ball and trying to stay warm. He shut his eyes, but all he could see was the axe that would take his life in the morning. Desperately, he tried to drive the image away. Arthur. He would think of Arthur. How Arthur looked when Merlin kissed him, how he smelled and tasted. Holding Arthur in his arms, listening to him as he talked. Laughing as they wrestled each other; Arthur finally pinning him down, breathless and smiling. Arthur being a prat, then reaching over and taking Merlin's hand to show he hadn't really meant it.
Merlin lost himself in a dream. They were standing next to a lake, the lake he had thrown Excalibur into. Arthur was staring at the water. "Is this truly my destiny?" he asked softly.
"Our destiny," Merlin replied. He reached out and grasped Arthur's shoulder. "Don't be afraid."
"Never," Arthur said, although his voice shook.
"I'll be here for you—always."
Arthur smiled. Then, suddenly, he turned and gripped Merlin's shoulders and began shaking him roughly. "Merlin. Merlin, wake up!" he cried.
With a start, Merlin jolted back into awareness. He opened his eyes and saw the bars of the cell, the stone walls, and— "Arthur!"
Arthur was kneeling next to him, unlocking the shackles around Merlin's wrists. "There isn't much time," he said. "It's almost dawn. I have a horse waiting for you by the south wall."
Merlin struggled to his knees. "You—you—" He struggled to form a coherent sentence. All he could think was that Arthur had come for him, hadn't abandoned him.
Arthur met his eyes. "If I lost you—it would destroy me.
"Then you believe me?"
"Yes," Arthur said, and then he grabbed Merlin, pulling him into his arms, burying his face in Merlin's neck. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you. The magic—it doesn't matter." He pulled back enough to press his lips to Merlin's. "I love you."
Merlin held him tightly. "It wasn't a spell—isn't a spell."
"I know." Arthur sat back on his knees, staring at the floor. "If you truly meant to use magic for your own gain, to harm me or Camelot—I can't believe you would have spent all those months as my servant, letting me treat you the way I did. You would have put a spell on me—on all of us—from the start." He glanced up at Merlin. "I'm sorry, by the way. For how I treated you."
"And I'm sorry. I should have trusted you, should have told you about my magic."
Arthur nodded and fumbled for Merlin's fingers. "We're all right, then?"
"Yes." Merlin gripped Arthur's hand tightly. "I'll never leave you, Arthur."
"But for now you must." Arthur stood up, dragging Merlin to his feet. "You know my father will not listen to reason. You have to run, Merlin. Far away from here."
"But I have to protect you!"
Arthur shook his head. "It's my turn to save you," he said, trying to smile. "Now come on—we have to leave or it will be too late!"
Feeling torn between relief and sadness, Merlin followed Arthur into the next room. The guard was lying face down on the floor, still knocked out from the blow Arthur had given him. No one else was in sight. "How will you explain my escape?" Merlin whispered. "I don't want you or Morgana or Gwen getting blamed for this."
"Magic—what else?" Arthur gave him an exasperated look. "You really can be an idiot sometimes, Merlin."
"I haven't eaten in two days," Merlin muttered. "You wouldn't be thinking too well, either."
It was still early enough that few people were stirring about the castle or out in the streets. They made it to the south wall without being seen. A small gate opened into the forest. Arthur slipped through, gesturing for Merlin to follow. The horse was standing there, several bundles of food and blankets tied to the saddle. Merlin started to pass through the gate, but then stopped, hanging back.
"Go, Merlin. Quickly," Arthur urged, glancing around. "Before your escape is noticed."
Merlin shook his head. "I can't leave you."
"Please." Arthur grabbed Merlin's hand, tugging him forward. "You must."
"Come with me." The words came out unbidden. Merlin knew it was a vain wish and yet every part of him yearned for Arthur to agree.
Arthur dropped his hand. "You know I cannot." He turned his eyes up to the walls and towers of Camelot. "My place is here."
Merlin nodded, unable to speak. He pulled himself up into the saddle. Arthur stood watching him. His face was red from the cold, and his eyes looked tired. Merlin could read the silent hurt there. He started to turn his horse away, knowing that if he hesitated much longer, he would lose the will to depart.
His horse had taken a few steps, hoofs crunching in the snow, when Arthur called out to him. "Merlin!" Merlin halted but didn't turn around. "Promise me you'll come back," Arthur said. "When I'm king. Promise me."
"I promise," Merlin said, throat tight. "I promise I'll be there."
The bells suddenly tolled out, loud and harsh in the dim light of dawn. "Go. Now!" Arthur cried out. Merlin heard him run back towards the gate.
Merlin couldn't help himself—he twisted in the saddle. Arthur wrenched the gate open, but then he hesitated and turned as well. For a second, Merlin thought Arthur was going to run back to him, climb onto the horse, and they would ride off together, forgetting Camelot and destiny. But Arthur shook his head. "Take care—don't be an idiot," he said and disappeared inside the walls.
"Try not to be a prat," Merlin said softly to the empty air. He sighed and sat still a moment longer, then spurred the horse forward, galloping into the forest. Branches whipped against his face, but he hardly felt them. They were nothing compared to the pain that felt like it was ripping his heart to pieces.
When he reached the top of a small hill, he reined in his horse and looked back at Camelot. Birds circled its towers, disturbed by the noise of the bells. Arthur was probably leading the search for Merlin by now, disassembling, lying to Uther. Alone.
Merlin sat there for a long time, until the sun had softened Camelot's stone towers in the clear morning light, setting the snow flashing with sparks of red and green and blue. He blinked and pretended that the tears in his eyes came from the brightness of the sun on the snow.
At last, he urged his horse onwards, and Camelot slowly dwindled behind him. "One day, Arthur" he whispered. "One day."