Disclaimer: I own nothing at all except some new socks. Yay christmas presents!
(A/N: Loved this episode but was so incredibly disapointed when Arthur didn't find out. There is no way Arthur could be conveniently unconscious just long enough to miss everything important so many times. Its so lucky the boy has Merlin or he would be dead ten times over. Anywho, I loved Colin Morgan in this one. Really good acting, and I was happy that the script writers finally acknowledged that all the terrible things that had happened to Merlin lately might have some effect on him. I mean really, he almost loses his mother. then he almost loses Gaius. Then he loses his first love. Then he lost Morgana. Then he loses his father. So I figured it all had to come to a head at some point, hence me writing this. Don't think it'll be continued but I hope you like it anyway! Review and Happy New Year!)
Merlin stiffened as he felt Gaius' arms encircle him in an embrace, feeling unnervingly panicked and claustrophobic all of a sudden.
"Thanks, Gaius," he murmured before gently pulling away while trying not to offend the old man. He cleared his throat as it tightened and felt embarrassingly close to tears again.
"Excuse me," he muttered and trotted off quickly in the direction of the castle, refusing to look at the people behind him despite the confused gazes he could feel burning into his back.
As soon as he got inside, he fled down the dark abandoned corridors. He didn't know where he was going but he needed to be alone. He needed space and time where he didn't have to hold it together.
Merlin brushed roughly at the tears that had escaped, blinking rapidly as they blurred his vision. He was coming apart at the seams, bursting with all these secrets. Having to suppress everything was tearing him apart. He couldn't think, couldn't breathe. He needed to get away.
And at this point, he didn't care where his feet led him, as long as it was far away from here.
"Arthur, what is it?" Gwen asked, when she noticed Arthur's arms had loosened around her and he was craning his neck to look at something behind her.
"Merlin," Arthur replied distractedly, forehead creased with concern.
Gwen released him and turned to see Gaius also looking back at the castle with a bewildered and worried expression on his face.
"What's that matter?" Gwen turned back to Arthur, her voice uncertain. What had happened that Arthur was showing his alarm so openly? While she knew that Arthur and Merlin both cared deeply for each other she also knew that Arthur was never one to admit to them being anything but master and servant, particularly in public.
"Something's wrong," Arthur muttered, pulling his arms away absentmindedly, his attention now fixed on his manservant, "Sorry Gwen, I have to go."
"Of course," Gwen said, frowning anxiously, "Make sure he's alright."
Arthur nodded and smiled quickly at her before taking off after Merlin.
When he entered the castle, he looked around for some clue of where his servant might have gone but there was no indication. Looking more closely at the stone floor though, Arthur spotted some lingering dirt imprinting a scuffed footprint onto the flagstone. It pointed towards the East Wing.
Arthur's brow furrowed. Why was he going to the East Wing? No one stayed there except for guests during the big festivals. But nonetheless he shot off down the corridor at a quick pace.
He didn't know why he was so worried. From what he saw, Merlin had not been injured in the fight. Indeed, Arthur had been more injured than he was. And yet, as soon as he had seen Merlin pull away from Gaius and go running off he'd known something had been terribly wrong. Something had been going on with Merlin for a while, slowly building since that whole episode with the Druid girl and it had been especially bad recently. But what it was, Arthur didn't know. For all his teasing about Merlin's inability to out and out lie, he had to admit that the boy was extremely skilled at avoiding questions.
Often all he had to do was give that charming, disarming grin and make some sort of joke and any suspicion or concern would be immediately forgotten. Arthur didn't know whether to be worried or impressed. What was it that Merlin was hiding?
Reaching another fork, Arthur paused and stood in silence, looking for some sort of sign for which one Merlin had taken. That's when he heard the soft noises echoing down the left hand passage. Setting off after the noise, hoping the boy wasn't injured or sick, Arthur picked up his pace. But as he recognized the sound he stopped dead in his tracks. Someone was crying. No, someone was sobbing.
Approaching much more slowly, Arthur continued along the passage until he caught sight of the shadowed figure, collapsed on the stone floor sobbing uncontrollably.
Arthur hesitated, unsure of whether to make his presence known. He didn't want to intrude on what was obviously a very private moment. But at the same time, he had already followed him this far and something didn't sit right about leaving Merlin weeping alone in a dark, abandoned hallway.
"Merlin?" Arthur called softly.
He immediately heard Merlin's breath hitch in his throat. The sobs sounded muffled suddenly as though he had put a hand over his mouth to stifle the noise. Arthur saw the shadow scramble away from where he stood but Merlin didn't reply.
"Merlin," Arthur said gently, taking a step closer too him.
He could see Merlin push himself farther away, his breathing becoming quick and panicky. The sobbing was even more muffled now as Merlin pressed his hand down harder on his mouth. Suddenly, he broke out into harsh coughs, choking as he continued to sob uncontrollably.
"Merlin!" Arthur said in alarm, closing the space between them and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder as he struggled to regain his breath, "Calm down. It's okay. Just breathe alright?"
Slowly Merlin settled, taking deep, shuddering breaths and falling back against Arthur for support as he coughed weakly.
Arthur patted his back worriedly, "You alright now?"
Merlin only nodded as he continued to focus on keeping his breathing steady until he had calmed down somewhat.
Arthur placed his hand on his cheeks, to check for a fever, only to find them wet with tears.
"Merlin," Arthur said gently, squatting next to him as his servant struggled to control himself, "What's wrong?"
"N-nothing," he replied, the words barely more that a whisper and Arthur could feel that he was trembling.
"Don't lie to me," Arthur said firmly, "Something's been eating at you for ages. Now tell me what's wrong."
"I-," Merlin hesitated, coughing again as a sob caught in his throat, "I can't."
Arthur frowned, "Merlin, something's been bothering you and I'd really like to help you with it but I can't unless you tell me what's wrong."
Merlin didn't reply but pushed away from him weakly, his breathing picking up again and the sobbing returning uncontrollably.
"Merlin!" Arthur said, shocked by his reaction, "Merlin stop! Calm down. You're making yourself sick."
"I can't tell you!" Merlin choked out breathlessly, his eyes flashing in fear, though fear of what Arthur didn't know, "You-you wouldn't understand."
"Merlin, I promise that whatever it is I will not think any differently of you," Arthur said, bewildered. What on earth was wrong?
"Don't-don't say that," Merlin stuttered, "Don't make promises you can't keep."
"I keep my promises, Merlin," Arthur said seriously, "You know that better than anyone."
"You won't keep that one," Merlin insisted, inching away from him again.
Arthur reached out an arm and grabbed his shoulder to stop him from moving any further away. "I swear, Merlin," Arthur stated solemnly, "That whatever you tell me I will not share with anyone else and I will reserve any judgment until you have explained completely. Does that satisfy you?"
Merlin stared at him wide-eyed, his bright blue irises shining with unshed tears, "I-I can't-"
Arthur sighed in frustration, "Merlin, please, tell me what's going on."
Merlin hesitated, another sob catching in his throat. There was silence.
"I just-," Merlin paused and took a deep breath, blinking his eyes rapidly, "I'm just grieving a bit that's all."
"For whom?" Arthur pressed, although he had a suspicion he knew for whom.
"The knights," Merlin whispered, and Arthur nodded understandingly. Just as he thought, "And the dragon lord."
"The dragon lord?" Arthur repeated, eyes widening in surprise, "You're still upset about that?"
"Of course," Merlin said, frowning as his eyes filled once more with tears, "A man died, Arthur. Is that not something to be upset about?"
"I am not trying to belittle his death, Merlin," Arthur's voice softened as he saw Merlin's distress, "I am merely surprised at how upset you are."
"He was killed saving me," Merlin muttered, averting his eyes, "If I was not so clumsy with a sword perhaps he wouldn't have died. Camelot almost fell to ruin because of me."
"Is that what you're so upset about?" Arthur inquired, trying to catch Merlin's wandering gaze, "You've been blaming yourself for what happened?"
"One of the things," Merlin murmured under his breath, still not looking at Arthur.
"What else is the matter then?" Arthur tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes at his manservant. For someone so simple, Merlin could be incredibly confusing and enigmatic when he wanted to be.
"It's really nothing, sire," Merlin said, trying to push himself to his feet, "I think I'll just go back to-"
He fell back to the ground as Arthur's hands planted themselves on his shoulders, pinning him quite effectively in place.
"Merlin," Arthur said, deadly serious, "You are not going anywhere until we straighten this all out. I refuse to put up with a mopey, distracted manservant any longer. You can't keep things locked up inside you, Merlin. Secrets are not kind to their captors."
Merlin's face went abruptly blank as he said this and Arthur watched him in confusion. What was wrong now? But almost as soon as he had the thought, the mask melted and Merlin's expression went back to what it was before. Shaking his head, Arthur thought he might have imagined it.
"Now," Arthur said, releasing Merlin's arms and leaning back against the stone wall behind him, "What else is bothering you?"
"Everything," Merlin whispered, so softly Arthur had to strain to hear, "My mother falling ill. Gaius almost being executed-"
"Your mother?" Arthur asked, surprised and concerned, "Hunith? Is she-"
"She's fine now," Merlin replied, closing his eyes wearily, "But for a while…it wasn't clear whether she'd pull through."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Arthur inquired, a tad hurt. He did care for Merlin's mother after all, and he thought Merlin told him everything.
"It was a long time ago, sire," Merlin answered, giving him a sideways glance, "And you were a bit preoccupied at the time, being at death's door yourself. She fell ill around the same time as the whole debacle with the Questing Beast."
Arthur fell silent, contemplating.
"That must have been terrible for you," he said finally, looking at Merlin sincerely, "If I made it any harder, I apologize."
"You didn't," Merlin assured him, accepting the sympathy with a small, watery smile, "It's fine."
"It's not fine," Arthur insisted, not wanting Merlin to think he had to continue to act unaffected. These were difficult things to deal with and it was clear that Merlin hadn't really dealt with it at all. Instead, it seemed, he had buried it beneath good humor and a cheerful disposition. That wasn't healthy, "And then to almost lose Gaius so soon after…"
"That-," the words caught in Merlin's throat and he cleared it quickly before continuing, "I will admit that it was very difficult to see Gaius suffer for something that was of my own doing."
"What do you mean?" Arthur said, confused, "You did not perform sorcery."
Merlin hesitated before nodding, "Yes, but I told the Witchfinder I did not see the smoke. I implicated myself and, in order to protect me, Gaius took the blame. I caused him great suffering and that is something I must carry with myself for the rest of my life."
"Merlin," Arthur said, his tone gaining a stern edge as he placed a hand upon the boy's shoulder, "You should never have been implicated merely because you did not see the sorcery that only one woman witnessed. There are a multitude of reasons why you might not have noticed the smoke, and almost all of them do not require the use of magic. To make such an unfounded accusation is the responsibility of the Witchfinder and him alone. Likewise, the torture that Aredian inflicted on Gaius is also his responisibility. If I were to take on the sins of everyone who had wronged me or someone I love, I would be the most guilt-ridden wreck to have ever walked the Earth. Do not assume the actions of others, Merlin. You can control no one's decisions but your own and I know that you would do nothing to deliberately cause Gaius any pain."
Merlin trembled under Arthur's hand but gave him a brief nod. Arthur could tell that Merlin did not fully believe him but he hoped with time that Merlin would come to forgive himself.
"Now, what else is wrong?" Arthur continued, removing his hand and instead poking Merlin's arm.
"I just...," Merlin trailed off and Arthur looked at him expectantly, "Morgana going missing. And losing Freya."
The name was whispered with a frailty and tenderness Arthur had never heard from Merlin before.
"Freya?" he asked, brow furrowed, "Who's Freya?"
"She-the Druid girl, sire," Merlin blurted out, "The one who escaped a few months ago."
"You helped her?" Arthur's eyes widened, "But she was killing people in the city."
"She couldn't help it!" Merlin said defensively, eyes burning, "She hated being what she was. A sorceress had cursed her, after she had killed her son in self defense: to kill forevermore."
But then some of the fervor seem to fade from Merlin's eyes, leaving them dim and empty, "I told her I would take care of her. I know what its like to be feared and judged because of something you can't control. But…I couldn't save her."
Arthur looked at Merlin's dejected figure and remembered with a flash of guilt the wound he had managed to inflict upon the Druid girl's deadly other half. That, no doubt, had been the cause of her demise.
"Merlin, I'm sorry," Arthur said quietly after a moment, "I didn't know what she meant to you."
"No," Merlin shook his head, "I don't blame you for what happened. She was attacking you. She couldn't control herself. If you hadn't done something she would have torn you apart. There was nothing you could have done. I only wish I'd been able to heal her. She didn't deserve the life she had."
"Merlin, you must realize," Arthur said slowly, "That there was also nothing you could have done differently."
Merlin looked up at him in surprise and almost began to protest before Arthur continued, "You saved her from Halig. She spent her last few days free of captivity. You did all you could for her."
"It wasn't enough," Merlin murmured, a tear running down his pale cheek.
"Merlin," Arthur said hesitantly, "about the dragon lord…why are you so distressed?"
"I told you," Merlin said, looking away and bringing up a hand to brush the tear away roughly, "He died to save me. I feel guilty."
"Yes, but that's not it," Arthur pressed, inching a bit closer to him, "Sir Bedevere also died to save you with the Questing Beast, but although you grieved you were no where near this emotional and you knew Bedevere better than you knew Balinor."
"He was a good man," Merlin insisted, still refusing to meet Arthur's eyes, "He was going to save Camelot and I almost ruined that."
"Merlin, stop avoiding the question," Arthur said, now a little frustrated, "Camelot is fine now but you're still upset so I know that's not it. Why were you so attached to him? The man was as good as a sorcerer."
"And that makes him evil does it?!" Merlin burst out, looking at Arthur wildly and leaping to his feet, "Because he was a dragon lord that means he has no conscience, no morals. That means he did not experience love or loss like any other human being. Please stop being so blinded by labels, Arthur! There are plenty who think that because you are a prince you are spoiled and live a life free of responsibility or hardship, but we both know that isn't true! There is more to people than their station or occupation, you of all people should realize that."
"Merlin, I-," Arthur said staring at his manservant in astonishment. But it was true in an odd twisted way. He was so quick to dismiss status nowadays, with both Merlin and Gwen, having recognized their worth beyond their jobs. However, as soon as he heard the word sorcerer, it was like his mind went on autopilot. Evil, fanatical, vengeful, dangerous: a whole litany that had been instilled in him since birth. Magic was everything that was wrong in the world and in order to have peace it must be eradicated. And yet, how many times had he gone against those beliefs when someone took the time to open his eyes? With the Druid boy, with the unicorn, with the Witchfinder, and most recently with Morgause: What made this dragon lord so different from the others?
"You're right," Arthur said, finally, "I should not be so quick to dismiss your feelings. You are a good judge of character and it was wrong of me to speak so. Please forgive me."
Merlin froze, and looked down at Arthur in shock. He clearly had not been expecting that reaction. But slowly he sat back down, "It's alright."
"Now, please," Arthur prompted, "Tell me why you're so broken up about this."
"Oh," Merlin said, as though he had forgotten why they had begun to argue in the first place, "It-there's nothing more to tell, really- it's fi-"
"I will decide when it's fine," Arthur cut him off. Then looked at him sincerely, "Merlin, why wont you tell me what's wrong? Don't you trust me?"
"Of course I do," Merlin replied before dropping his voice and muttering in a manner that suggested Arthur wasn't supposed to hear, "With most things."
Arthur felt more hurt than he'd like to admit by this confession. It seemed that Merlin wasn't completely comfortable sharing things with him. For once, he cursed the fact that he was a prince and the barrier it presented in his friendship with Merlin. Things would be so much simpler if he was a commoner; although, if he was a commoner, they might not be having this conversation.
"Merlin, I won't make you tell me," Arthur said, sighing, "But, saying this not as your prince but as your friend, I want to help you and I can't do that if you don't tell me what's wrong."
"You can't fix it," Merlin murmured, tears once more running down his face, "It's far too late to do anything."
"I know I can't," Arthur said, giving him a small exasperated, but encouraging smile, "But I'm willing to listen. And, sometimes, that's all you really need."
There was a long pause and for a moment Arthur felt sure Merlin was going to say no and he'd never know what had been plaguing him all this time. But then…
"Alright, I'll tell you," Merlin said softly, and Arthur got a feeling of déjà vu from their conversation at the inn, only this time it seemed he was going to find out the truth, "Balinor…he..well..."
Melrin hesitated and Arthur nodded encouragingly, "Balinor…Balinor was my father."
Arthur froze. No, surely he had heard wrong.
"Sorry," Arthur said slowly, "Did you say Balinor was your father?"
Merlin squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.
"Your-your father?" the prince repeated in shock, trying to wrap his mind around this utterly foreign concept that every fiber of his being seemed to reject. It couldn't be true, "The last dragon lord was your father?"
"Apparently?" Merlin replied weakly.
"But-," Arthur scrambled to find some logical explanation, "But you said you never knew your father."
"I didn't," Merlin agreed, brushing more tears away, "Gaius only told me just before we left."
"Gaius knew your father," Arthur said incredulously, his head reeling.
"Yes," Merlin admitted, "But he didn't tell me about him until the last moment. I didn't mention it because, well- I wasn't sure how you'd react."
"To be honest, I'm still not sure how I'll react," Arthur said slowly, shaking his head, "Sweet heaven. Your father. No wonder you were so emotional. And here I was babbling like an idiot about not crying over a man lost in combat."
"You weren't babbling," Merlin said kindly, "Really, it was a nice thought."
"Merlin, I'm so sorry," Arthur said feeling awful, "That's an absolutely terrible thing to happen and I have been an incredibly insensitive prat about the whole thing."
"Don't worry about it," Merlin replied reassuringly, brushing away a few more tears, "You're always an insensitive prat so I'm used to it."
Arthur gave him a weak smile, his mind still reeling at the very thought. What a terrible chain of events. It was no surprise that Merlin had been so on edge or that he had finally broken down. In fact, he was incredibly impressed at how Merlin had handled the whole thing. Only a few weeks ago, he had had lost his mother all over again and nearly lost his sanity. How Merlin had managed to hold it together, he would never know.
He was broken out of his thoughts by a loud sob and he glanced at Merlin to see tears streaming down his face again, and a hand clapped over his mouth to muffle the sound.
"Merlin, what is it?" Arthur said putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.
"N-nothing," Merlin stuttered, closing his eyes, "It's just- all those people."
Arthur also closed his eyes in remembrance. They had lost a great many people in the course of the Great Dragon's attacks. The sheer amount was staggering.
"Merlin, you can't blame yourself," he said reassuringly, "There was nothing you could have-"
"It was my fault!" Merlin blurted out, suddenly, "It was my fault that the dragon attacked Camelot."
"What?" he asked, astonished.
"I-I set him free," Merlin said, watching him fearfully letting out another sob as tears streamed down his deathly pale cheeks, "I used as sword from one of the Knights of Idirsholas and broke the chain."
"Why on earth would you do that?" Arthur said incredulously.
"I had to!" Merlin said desperately, eyes turbulent as the sea, "We made a deal. I had to honor my end of the bargain or something awful would have happened. I've read about dragon magic. When you make them a promise it is binding. You must fulfill it or terrible things occur."
"You made…a deal with it?" Arthur repeated, slowly. It was ridiculous, "Merlin, how did you even know where it was?"
Merlin hesitated, and Arthur shook his head, "On second thought, don't answer that. What on earth was this deal about?"
"Camelot was going to fall," Merlin said morosely, taking deep shuddering breaths, "I- I didn't know what else to do. Everyone was dying and he knew how to fix it."
"Merlin, what are you talking about?" Arthur asked, fearing for Merlin's sanity. Maybe the incident with his father had addled him more than he'd thought.
"Sigan, Arthur," Merlin said, looking up seriously, "He told me how to defeat Sigan."
"How to defeat Sigan?" Arthur said, eyes wide, "You mean, you defeated him."
"Erm," Merlin said uncertainly, glancing away, "Yes."
"What did you do?" the prince asked, astonished.
Merlin did not reply for a moment and Arthur could see his mind working furiously.
"I forced him back into the crystal," Merlin said finally, his eyes darting around.
"So that's what happened. I had wondered," Arthur murmured to himself, "No one could tell me why he'd gone."
Shaking his head, he refocused on his servant, "But how did you force him back inside the crystal?"
Merlin's expression was one of sheer terror. Arthur had never seen his friend so frightened, "I don't remember."
"You don't remember?" Arthur said incredulously, looking at Merlin like he was an idiot, which he obviously was. Did Merlin actually expect him to believe that?
"Um, no," Merlin muttered in an entirely unconvincing way, not meeting Arthur's eyes.
"Merlin, I have never in my life met a worse liar," Arthur said rolling his eyes in exasperation, "Why won't you tell me?"
"You won't understand," Merlin murmured, still avoiding Arthur's gaze.
"I had no idea you had so little faith in me, Merlin," Arthur replied, raising an eyebrow, but Merlin didn't respond. He furrowed his brow, "What won't I understand?"
"You won't understand that I had to do it," Merlin said, almost to himself, "I had to. If I hadn't, you…."
"Merlin," Arthur said softly, but firmly, "What did you do?"
"Nothing," Merlin said suddenly, seeming to snap out of his reverie and began to stand, "I didn't do anything, sire. I didn't defeat Sigan. That's just my mental affliction talking."
"Merlin," Arthur said, grabbing his wrist, "I made up that mental affliction. Don't think you can use that against me."
"My apologies, sire," Merlin said, expression stubbornly blank though tear tracks still stained his face, "I won't do it again."
"Merlin, c'mon," Arthur protested, thoroughly confused by this sudden change, "Whatever it is, it can't be that bad."
"I didn't do anything, sire," Merlin said, trying but failing to get Arthur to release his wrist, "Now I must return to Gaius-"
"Return to Gaius, my foot," Arthur snapped, "You are not going anywhere until you explain this to me. I already told you I will hear you out and that is what I will do. So start talking, idiot."
"Arthur, please," Merlin said, mask cracking as a pathetic pleading expression took over his face but his eyes were fearful, "Just let me go."
"No," Arthur said simply.
"Please," Merlin begged, and Arthur felt a pang of pity in his chest despite the fact he knew he would not let this go, "I'll tell you someday but not-"
"No, Merlin," Arthur said firmly, "I've had enough with secrets. Now tell me what you did."
Merlin looked around desperately, like an animal trapped by a hunter. But he knew there was no escaping this. He just hoped that it was the right time to tell him.
"But-" Merlin paused and then he sank to floor in defeat, Arthur's hand never releasing his wrist, "Ok, fine. I'll tell you."
Arthur waited patiently.
"I-" Merlin hesitated and nearly lost his nerve, before he shut his eyes tightly and steeled himself, "I used magic. I'm a sorcerer."
There was a long silence, where Merlin tensed himself waiting for the blow either physical or verbal, but none came. Cracking an eye open he saw Arthur watching him with a deceptively calm expression on his face.
"You're a sorcerer?" Arthur repeated, completely unruffled.
Merlin stared at him, not sure what to make of this reaction or lack there of, "Er, yes?"
Another silent before Arthur's mouth began to twitch. Merlin watched in somewhat morbid fascination, wondering what virulent words he might be holding back. But then Arthur began to laugh.
Merlin watched him in shock and confusion as the prince almost rolled around on the floor in his mirth, not at all sure how to respond.
Finally, after a few minutes, Arthur calmed. He wiped his streaming eyes still chuckling slightly as Merlin watched him warily, not quite sure of the man's sanity anymore. Did he not understand what he just said?
"That was funny, Merlin," Arthur said, grinning, "Now really, what did you do?"
Merlin looked at him incredulously. Of course, he would confess his deepest, darkest secret and have Arthur think it was a joke. That was just his luck.
"No really!" Merlin argued, trying not to feel offended, "I'm a sorcerer!"
Arthur laughed again and patted him on the head condescendingly, "Sure you are, Merlin."
Merlin jerked away from Arthur's hand and sent him a scathing glare.
"No, I can prove it," the black-haired boy said adamantly.
The prince gave him a patronizing smile, "Oh you can? Go ahead then."
Glaring at the blonde heatedly, Merlin held out his hand, "Flomam fio giftum fietere perme."
A small ball of glowing white light appeared, hovering directly above his palm. Merlin looked at Arthur expectantly, only to see him staring openmouthed at the light, his eyes wide with shock.
"It was you!" he exclaimed suddenly, making Merlin jump, "That's the light from the cave. You-"
He stopped suddenly and stared at him wildly, "But you were dying. How on earth did you do that?"
Merlin was looking at him wide-eyed. He hadn't thought Arthur remembered.
"Um," Merlin stuttered, "I don't- I don't know really. I don't remember much of it. Just that I wanted to help you."
Arthur looked heavenward before fixing his eyes on the light again.
"It was you all this time," he said incredulously, "All those times that I live when I should have died. My guardian angel. It was you all along. You're actually a sorcerer."
Merlin's face burned at the guardian angel comment but Arthur hardly seemed to notice.
"It was you, wasn't it?" Arthur said accusingly, "You're the one who made Valiant's shield come to life."
"Um, yes," Merlin nodded slowly.
"And the afanc," Arthur muttered mostly to himself, "The wind."
"That was me too," Merlin supplied helpfully.
"The windstorm in Ealdor," Arthur said, "That was actually you. Not Will."
"Yes," Merlin admitted, feeling the guilt of Will's death wash over him again. He would never forget that day, "It was."
"And the questing beast," Arthur murmured, "And the troll. And with the knights of idirsholas…the ceiling."
Merlin only nodded silently.
"Good Lord, Merlin," Arthur breathed out, staring at him, "Are you suicidal? What were you thinking coming here?"
"I didn't know at first," Merlin said, a little defensively. He wasn't suicidal, he was just…far too loyal, "I only found out when I saw the execution of the son of that hag who impersonated Lady Helen. And after that, well…I don't know. I just felt like I belonged here. And with you almost getting yourself killed every other week I knew I couldn't leave you unprotected."
"Just how many times have you saved my life?" Arthur asked, glancing down at the floor.
"Um," Merlin squinted his eyes, "You know, I actually think I lost count. As least thirty though."
Arthur let out a low whistle, "And you never got caught? Man, you may be an idiot, but you're a lucky idiot."
Merlin fell silent and then looked at him hesitantly, "So you're not mad are you?"
Arthur glanced up, "Why would I be?"
"I lied to you," Merlin said, not entirely sure why he was suggesting this to him. He just couldn't believe he'd get off this easily, "I used magic behind your back."
"You never used it on me did you?" Arthur asked, raising his eyebrows.
"No!" Merlin protested, before he hesitated, knowing this wasn't completely true, "Well, that one time in the market. But, really, that was self defense."
"HA!" Arthur exclaimed, "I knew something strange was going on. I've never stumbled that much in my life."
"It was your own fault," Merlin shot back, "I wouldn't have done it if you weren't such a prat."
"Nor I, if you weren't such an idiot," Arthur replied smugly, "But no, Merlin. I'm not angry."
"So you won't tell the king?" Merlin asked hopefully.
"After all the work I've put into trying to keep you alive?" Arthur said, scoffing, "Hardly."
Merlin grinned in relief, "You really don't mind?"
"No," Arthur shook his head, "Although if you think this suddenly gives you permission to start using it on your chores and the like, you better think again. I won't have you shirking your duties just because you can wave a stick and magic it done. You're still in Camelot. You can still get caught."
"Oh, I already use magic on my chores," Merlin replied nonchalantly and Arthur looked at him aghast, "Well really, Arthur. They're ridiculous. Who can polish all your armor, sharpen all your swords, and wash all your clothes in one night?"
"Any other competent servant," Arthur said defensively, whacking him around the head, "Though, apparently, not an idiot like you."
Merlin smiled softly, glad that Arthur was so okay with all this. He hadn't even had to defend himself!
"Are you alright though?" Arthur asked, looking at him kindly.
"Yeah," Merlin replied, and he was surprised to find it was true. Maybe Arthur was right. Maybe having someone listen is all you really need.
"Good," Arthur said, standing up and brushing himself off before holding out a hand to help Merlin to his feet, "Now c'mon. I think Gaius will be worried."
"Oh yeah," Merlin said guiltily, as he remembered how he had treated the old physician, "I hope he isn't angry with me."
"He isn't," Arthur reassured him, "just concerned."
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Arthur stopped suddenly, something seeming to occur to him.
"Wait, Merlin," Arthur said and Merlin looked around at him in confusion, "Was I actually the one who killed the dragon?"
Merlin stared at him and then grinned, "Ha! You think you're actually strong enough to slay a dragon by yourself? Arthur, there's no way in hell you could have done that without my help."
"Oi!" Arthur glared at him, deeply offended, "Who says I even needed your idiotic help?"
"Well you obviously didn't," Merlin rolled his eyes, "As you were too busy snoozing away to ask."
"I was not snoozing," Arthur said scathingly, "I was unconscious."
"Exactly," Merlin said smartly, smirking at him in an irritatingly self-satisfied way, "And I had to save your royal backside again."
"Which you were only too happy to do," Arthur said, smirking back at him, "As I happen to have a particularly nice royal backside."
"Is that what Gwen told you?" Merlin teased, "'Cause boy, was she lying."
With that parting shot he took off running down the hall, nearly tripping on the rough stone floor.
Arthur stared after him, mouth open, before his eyes narrowed.
"Merlin!" he yelled, chasing after him, "You are so going to pay for that!"