Everything Is Never As It Seems
~~Epilogue: You've Got a Friend In Me~~
Ten minutes later, Arthur found himself in Gaius' chambers, asking if he could speak with Merlin.
"Of course, Sire. It's been awhile since you've been by to see him."
"I know. I should have come by sooner. I just…"
"Merlin told me he plans to return to Ealdor when he's better," Gaius stated bluntly.
Arthur flinched. "I know, he told me the same. Only I…well…I think he's only leaving because he believes I still want him to go."
Gaius' eyebrows rose slightly. "And you don't want him to leave, Sire?"
"No," Arthur replied firmly, and he knew now more than ever just how much he meant it. "I don't. I've had time to think things over and I…I trust him, Gaius. I want him to stay."
Gaius smiled. "You should tell him that. Merlin's been…sad since he woke up. He won't say as much to me, but I get the feeling that he's afraid you're upset with him. He thinks you still want him to leave, and he's prepared himself to do so."
Arthur let out a sigh – a sigh of relief – and smiled. "All this time I thought he was upset with me."
Gaius shook his head. "He's not upset, my lord. I believe there's a misunderstanding here, and I think you owe it to yourself and to Merlin to talk things through."
"Have you been talking to Morgana lately?" Arthur asked with a smile.
"Nevermind. Gaius…thank you. Again."
Gaius bowed slightly. "Of course. But may I ask you to do something for me?"
Arthur nodded, not sure what Gaius could want from him.
"Get Merlin to stay. I've grown fond of that boy, and I'm afraid my old heart might miss him too much. Besides, I'll have no one to run my errands for me if he leaves."
"Me neither," Arthur agreed with a smile. "I'll do my best."
Arthur turned and walked to Merlin's door. He paused outside and let out a long, slow breath to steady himself. Then he knocked.
Arthur entered the room to find Merlin sitting up in bed reading.
"Well, it's good to see you still know what to do with a book, Merlin."
Merlin nodded, not looking up. "Yes, Sire."
Okay, no jokes. Arthur would have to try a different approach. If Merlin insisted on calling him "sire," then maybe Merlin would respond to him if he approached this as Prince Arthur, not just Arthur.
He stood up straighter as he approached Merlin's bed.
"I need to talk to you, Merlin."
Merlin picked up on the tone in Arthur's voice, and he put his book down.
"About what, Sire?"
Arthur opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. He sat down on the chair next to Merlin's bed.
He didn't know where to start. He had so much he wanted to say. He didn't want Merlin to leave just because he felt like that was what Arthur wanted. If Merlin truly wanted to go of his own accord, that was fine. But he didn't want Merlin to go without knowing that Arthur had come to accept Merlin's magic. That Arthur trusted him.
That Arthur really wanted him to stay.
"About you going back to Ealdor."
He saw a look of confusion pass over Merlin's face, but it was gone in the blink of an eye.
"Do you remember anything we talked about the other night, Merlin? When you had a fever? Anything at all?"
"No, I don't. I know I was awake and I know we talked about….something. I feel like it was important, but…"
He trailed off, lost in his thoughts.
"Yes, it was important. But we can discuss it another time."
Again, that oddly formal tone. Merlin never talked to him like this. Arthur wanted to say something about it, but he decided against it. He had other things he wanted to discuss first.
"Merlin…the other night you told me that when the wolf attacked you, you didn't use magic to protect yourself."
"No, I didn't."
Merlin seemed to deliberate for a second. Then he said:
"I guess because I…"
When Merlin looked away, and Arthur saw the look of shame on his face, he wanted to kick himself.
"Why?" Arthur asked again, as gently as he could.
Merlin's answer was barely above a whisper.
"I didn't want to disappoint you."
Merlin seemed to shrink against the pillows, and in that moment Arthur hated himself for putting Merlin through this. For making him feel like his magic, which was clearly so much a part of him, was something to be hated and ashamed of. Like he was someone to be ashamed of.
Merlin thought Arthur was disappointed with him?
Arthur felt disappointed with himself right now.
"You don't disappoint me, Merlin."
Merlin looked up at him, and Arthur thought he saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"And I don't want you to feel ashamed, either. Merlin, I don't want you to stop using your magic."
Confusion flooded Merlin's features.
"I never thought I'd hear you say that."
"I mean it. You didn't use your magic and it almost got you killed. That's just stupid, Merlin. A warrior uses every weapon in his arsenal to protect himself."
"Yes, but I thought you didn't approve of using magic because it's evil." Merlin flinched almost imperceptibly on the word "evil." It was a small, probably unconscious gesture, but it made Arthur feel sick with himself.
"Well, that was before some clodpoll I know said something that actually made sense."
No denying it. There was definitely a glimmer of hope in Merlin's eyes now.
"Yes. He told me that magic by itself is neither good nor evil; that it's how you choose to use it that matters."
Merlin's eyes widened almost comically, and Arthur saw a hint of the old sarcastic Merlin he knew so well when he replied, "You mean you can actually remember something that I said?"
Merlin's eyes were getting watery, and Arthur needed to put a stop to this silly girlishness now.
"Yeah, well, don't get used to it," Arthur replied, and without thinking he punched Merlin on the arm. Merlin gasped in pain and grabbed his shoulder.
Arthur winced. "Sorry."
"No problem," Merlin replied through gritted teeth. "Doesn't hurt at all. Really." Merlin put on the bravest face he could manage, which was unconvincing and unimpressive, as it ended up making Merlin look more constipated than anything.
Arthur laughed. "Sure, Merlin."
They sat quietly for a minute before Arthur broke the silence.
"I meant what I said, you know. You shouldn't stop using your magic. It would be like…giving up a part of yourself. It would be like-"
"Like if you stopped being an insufferable prat?" Merlin asked with a grin.
Arthur couldn't suppress a grin of his own, but he had something important to say and he was going to say it.
"Shut it, Merlin. I'm trying to make a point here."
"Anyway, if magic is a part of who you are, I wouldn't want you to deny it. You denied it this time and it almost got you killed. That can't happen again. I forbid it."
"Are you telling me I can't stop using magic?"
"I'm telling you to use your discretion. I'm telling you that I…well…that I trust you."
"Yes. Just…don't give me a reason to regret that trust, Merlin"
"I won't. And I'm sorry I… I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I really am. I was afraid. Not because I thought you would turn me in, or that your father would have me executed. I just…I guess I just didn't want to disappoint you."
"Merlin…you saved my life. Countless times, apparently. I'd hardly call that disappointing."
Merlin smiled that little boy smile, the annoying one that made him look like he was a five year old boy and Arthur was the dad who had just told him he was proud of him. Normally Arthur would smack that look off his face, but tonight…well, he figured he'd let Merlin have this one.
"There's one thing I don't get, Merlin. Why? Why would you keep protecting me? I do nothing but run you down all the time and call you an idiot. I had no idea you were helping me all this time, so you clearly didn't do it for my approval. So why would you-"
"You really don't get it, do you?"
Arthur frowned. "Get what?"
"How important you are to this kingdom."
Arthur was floored. He didn't know what to say.
"I've been around you long enough to see it. And I'm not the only one. Your knights…they would do anything to protect you. And so would I."
Arthur was touched. He was at a loss for words, and that never happened to him.
"You're a good man, and one day you'll be a great king. And when that day comes I'll consider myself lucky to be your servant."
"Does that mean you want to stay in Camelot?"
"I do. That is…if you still want me to. After everything that's happened, I don't know if…"
Merlin trailed off and looked at the floor, and Arthur could see shame in his eyes again and he hated it. But more than that, he hated himself for being the cause of it. So he did something he rarely ever did: he opened up to Merlin.
"Merlin, I want someone I can rely on to fight next to me and have my back, someone I can depend on…someone I can trust. I need people like you on my side, Merlin. I want you to stay in Camelot."
"You mean that, Sire?"
"Yes, I mean it. And stop calling me 'Sire.' My friends call me 'Arthur'." He hadn't meant to say the F word; it had just kind of slipped out. And now Merlin was smiling that annoying smile again, and the whole situation was getting far too girly for Arthur's tastes. "Besides, who else will I call an idiot if you leave?"
"One of the other servants?"
Arthur shook his head. "Not the same. No one's as big an idiot as you are, Merlin."
Merlin grinned his most idiotic grin and Arthur smiled. Merlin stayed quiet for a whole ten seconds before he answered him.
"All right, I'll be your servant again, Arthur. But I have one condition."
Arthur crossed his arms in mock annoyance.
"Setting the conditions yourself now, are you? All right, what is it?"
"Don't make me wash your socks again. Ever."
"My socks?" Arthur uncrossed his arms, and his voice rose an octave as he went on the defensive. "What's wrong with my socks, Merlin?"
"Please, Arthur. I mean it. Your feet smell terrible."
Arthur couldn't help it.
He burst out laughing.
Honest, body-wracking, tear-inducing laughter that made his chest hurt and his sides ache. He knew he must look like an idiot, but he couldn't help it.
It had just been such a long time since he'd laughed this hard.
Merlin grinned and started to laugh, too, but the motion jarred his bruised and sore body, and he groaned in pain.
Arthur wiped tears from his eyes, put a hand on Merlin's shoulder, and squeezed gently.
"All right, that's enough. You need to get some rest. I want you fit as a fiddle in two weeks. That should give me enough time to compile a list of chores for you to do."
Merlin groaned again, but it clearly wasn't from any physical pain.
"Fine. I won't make you wash my socks anymore."
Merlin grinned toothily.
"Really. Now get some sleep."
Arthur got up and headed for the door.
He turned around to face Merlin.
"Did you mean what you said?"
"About you and me…about…fighting together?"
"Yes, Merlin. I meant it. Someday, when things are different… someday you won't have to hide your magic anymore."
Merlin smiled. Arthur's words had just had a profound impact on Merlin: they had given him hope. Hope that, not only would things be like they used to be but that maybe, just maybe, they could be even better.
But Arthur couldn't know that.
"That's good. Because you know you couldn't save yourself without my help, right?"
Arthur rolled his eyes.
"You know, if you keep that up, I might rescind the offer about my socks."
"You're a great and powerful warrior, Arthur. Truly. The best there's ever been."
Merlin was lucky he was hurt, because otherwise Arthur would have lobbed the nearest object at his servant's head. Instead he replied:
"Get some sleep, you idiot."
"My friends call me 'Merlin,' you know."
Arthur found himself smiling again as he nodded.
"Get some sleep, Merlin."
The prince left the room and closed the door quietly behind him.
There was still a lot that he and Merlin needed to discuss. What had really happened with the wolf? Who had it out for Merlin? Were they still alive? And what were they to make of Merlin's mysterious connection to Arthur: his ability to call out to him, to guide him, while he lay dying?
Arthur had a long road ahead of him. Keeping Merlin's magic secret from his father wasn't going to be easy. It was going to take some effort. But it was an effort he would expend gladly to protect Merlin.
As Arthur walked back to his chambers, he brooded over what life would be like when he was king. Merlin had said he would be a great king. Arthur didn't know how much he believed that. But one thing he was sure of was that, in the end, position didn't matter so much. Not to him, anyway. It never had, really. It was why he treated every knight, every servant, and every citizen of Camelot like they mattered.
Because they did.
A king would be nothing without his kingdom, after all.
And so Arthur decided on what his first act would be when he was crowned King of Camelot. When Arthur was made king and he could do what he wanted, Merlin would no longer be his manservant. Merlin would be his advisor, his confidante.
His closest friend.
Maybe Merlin was right. Maybe Arthur could be a great king.
He would just need a little help.
AN: I actually wrote this chapter a few weeks ago – before I wrote the two before it –because I knew everything I wanted to say in the end. I love that the new season has actually hit on a lot of the same points that I hit on in this chapter. It means the series is finally getting around to going where I want it to, lol. The idea that Arthur can call Merlin friend and will look to him for advice, and the idea that Merlin and the knights are willing to do anything to protect Arthur because they believe in the kind of king he will be for Camelot are my two favorite concepts for this show. That's what I wanted to get across in this fic more than anything. Hope you all enjoyed it, and thanks to everyone who stuck around and everyone who reviewed! :-)