Hey ya! First Merlin fic ever, so hopefully I haven't screwed it up. Do tell me if I have.

This is set immediately after 3x12. For anyone who reads this after watching 3x13 (isn't out yet but I CAN'T WAIT!), there is probably a major inconsistancey or two...or three...or..well, you get the point. Obviously I don't work on the show, so I can't predict it to a 'T', but I can guess and hope and add a little of my own perception of the characters while I'm at it.

Hopefully you enjoy. Oh, and if you haven't seen 3x12 yet, you really shouldn't read further than this. MAJOR SPOILERS ARE AFOOT!

Disaclaimer: As I said before, I don't work on the show. I don't own it either. Well...no, I lie. I have the first two series on dvd, so technically, I do own a copy. _ But...oh, you know what I mean. I hate disclaimers. =_=

^_^ Enjoy!


Coping

It was difficult. He didn't know what to say, how to act, what to think – was he even supposed to react? That was a silly question. Of course he was. The problem was how do you react to something, to someone, when you're not supposed to have had any prior knowledge of the situation? Do you act like you're shocked? Or do look grim and do your best to stabilise your companion? Questions be damned. It was difficult. Difficult and sticky and miserable all at once and was quite probably the worst possible situation for them to be in. Camelot would fall –was falling now that Morgana had claimed herself the throne. And he didn't know what to do.

Arthur was in shock. Who could blame him? His entire world had just been ripped out from under him and replaced with a horrible nightmare. Merlin watched him silently as they both sat with their backs against the ledge shielding them from view of those in the hall below. He was pale, sweating, his face buried in his hands as he took in the news, and Merlin could do nothing but watch and wonder what he should do and say when his prince, his friend, finally turned to him. And he would to turn to him. He always did.

Finally, slowly and reluctantly, Arthur lifted his head up, an unreadable expression on his face. Merlin's breath hitched, still unsure of how to act and waiting desperately for Arthur's lead. "Can you believe it?" Arthur murmured so quietly Merlin was hard pressed to hear it. He didn't answer, still not sure how to react but it seemed the prince hadn't expected him to. "Morgana," he choked on the name, struggling to say the words, "my sister. My sister."

Merlin's brow furrowed with worry, regret. He shouldn't have had to find out this way. It was cruel. Incredibly cruel and he cursed Uther for putting them in this situation, for putting Arthur in this situation. And Morgana… He didn't have the words to describe what he thought of her right now. 'Despicable' and 'evil' just didn't seem to do her justice. What he wouldn't give to –but there was little he could do now but try his best to help Arthur through this. To help him get it together enough to get out of the castle and figure out a strategy. They needed help. The problem was where to find it, and Merlin couldn't do it all himself. He needed Arthur on this. Had to have Arthur with him on this.

"Arthur," he said, reaching out to grip his companion's shoulder, but further words failed him in the face of the ultimate betrayal that had been dealt. There was nothing he could say. Absolutely nothing.

Arthur continued to mutter, his words a mixture of disbelief, shock and grief. He didn't seem to notice the firm grip on his shoulder that kept him grounded, kept him from slipping into denial. Thinking back later he would remember it, remember it and be thankful, but for now he could do no more than try to wrap his head around it all.

Morgana. It was unbelievable, so completely inconceivable. His sister. Sister! And she was there, taking the throne from him, from his father –from their father. She had willingly attacked Camelot. Camelot! Oh, his kingdom –his people! Morgana.

Morgana!

He didn't even realise he'd been crying till Merlin's grip tightened on his shoulder and he looked up at the man to find his vision blurred. He reached out, gripping the outstretched arm tightly, needing the anchorage, the reassurance that he wasn't alone more than anything else. Blinking back tears of shame and guilt and utter grief, he focused on the dark haired servant that stared back at him with more understanding and empathy than Arthur thought he could handle. And he found it was what he needed, what he'd come to rely on in the man, and it scared him to think that he could be so utterly dependant. He wanted to look away, deny the need to rely on someone, but couldn't bring himself to break eye contact.

"Arthur," Merlin spoke softly, gently, "we can't stay here."

Arthur shook his head, gripping Merlin's arm tighter still. "No," he rasped, "my father—"

"What can you do for him now?" Merlin demanded, hissing the words and shaking the prince's shoulder. He had, had, to get Arthur to see sense. "They're immortal, you can't kill them. And then…what about her? Arthur, you're in no shape to be doing this now. We need step back, think, plan." It was a low blow, he knew it. He didn't need to see the pain in Arthur's eyes when he'd spoken to know that. But if it were to get him to move… well, it was his job to keep him safe, and if that meant causing him a little pain in the process, then so be it. "Gwain and Elyan are waiting—"

"Elyan—" Arthur's eyes suddenly widened as he spoke and his grip on Merlin's arm tightened painfully. "Guinevere! What if she's been hurt?" he hissed, panic on his face.

"She'll be alright," Merlin said reassuringly, hoping he wasn't lying through his teeth as the words left his mouth.

"But—"

"Gwen's Morgana's maid," he said with as much confidence as he could gather, "that alone should've kept her safe from harm. She's smarter than you, Arthur, she'll keep her head down and stay out of trouble until we can find her." The jibe, for once, went unnoticed.

"Morgana's chambers," Arthur said, releasing his grip on Merlin's arm and starting to struggle to his feet. Merlin looked hesitant for a moment as he considered their chances and Arthur's wound, before nodding and rising to a half crawl, helping Arthur do the same. It was hard work, the arrow wound was making things difficult, but there wasn't anything he could about that just right now.

Slowly, silently, they crept from the balcony, finding the stairs that lead down to the main corridor and eventually to where they hoped to find Gwen. Arthur found himself once again relying on Merlin to keep him steady and upright as they went, and as humiliating as that usually was, he couldn't find it in himself to deny the fact that he was grateful for it. He watched Merlin as they went, hobbling along the corridors. Watched him as the young man kept them out of sight of any soldiers and, strangely, he found he had complete confidence in his ability to do so. Why was that? He found himself thinking as they started up another staircase. Why was it that he could trust Merlin to get him where he needed to be while he was injured, when he wouldn't even trust his knights to do so without him barking out orders?

He thought he knew, and then he thought that maybe he didn't. It was a pattern that was so irritatingly common with the servant. One minute he was utterly reliable and the next he was that clumsy, insolent peasant that showed up in Camelot three years before and somehow became his manservant. But as Arthur looked down, concentrating on just moving, he thanked his lucky stars for bringing that manservant to him. This manservant, for all his faults, had stuck with him through thick and thin, had followed him into danger and out again and was the only man in all of Camelot who had any hope of calling him a clot-pole and get away with it. This was Merlin, his servant.

No, that wasn't right. This was Merlin, his closest friend, and he'd be damned if he couldn't trust the man with his life.

And this, like everything else that he had just witnessed, was an undeniable fact that he was just going to have to cope with. Luckily though, he didn't think he'd have too much trouble coping with this one.