Sorry the last three weeks didn't go as smoothly as planned and so this took a lot longer than hoped. And no, I don't own 'Merlin'.
WARNINGS: (1) Gwaine may seem a bit OCC in this but remember tempers are running high and he just reverts back to what he knows and part of that is his prejudice against royalty (2) some mild swearing (3) This chapter contains a LOT of angst, sorry for those who wanted less, couldn't be helped (4) This story IS NOT slash (though I do have a soft spot for Merthur) however this chapter does border on the edge – The Merlin/Arthur in this is friendship – pure, extreme bromance that does not have any romance, however if you wish to wear slash goggles feel free (it is extremely easy for this chap).
Arthur was getting frustrated; they'd been riding for only a few hours and now that the sun had set, their pace had become slow and careful. While normally he would have set up camp long ago, Idle had seemed certain that they should keep moving and Arthur couldn't blame her, he wanted as much distance between them and that cave as possible.
But now he could no longer see anything except the small ball of light that guided them forward on a safe path. Idle hadn't made the ball too bright in hopes that it wouldn't arise too much attention and Arthur had to push his huge doubts on magic aside to trust that the ball wasn't placing them in danger – by attracting it or leading them to it.
An arm stayed wrapped around Merlin's waist as he sat in front of Arthur. It was the only thing keeping Merlin from falling forward, his head bobbing loosely every time the horse trotted forward. The hold assured himself Merlin was alive and seemed to keep the boy calm.
"Aren't you supposed to be really powerful?"
The ride had been deadly silent and Gwaine's sudden voice nearly made Arthur flinch, as if the rouge had shouted.
"Yes, I am one of the last remaining Priestess' of the Old Religion, I have a large amount of power at my disposable," replied Idle, "Why do you ask? I have already told you I won't harm you or the Prince, especially not Emrys."
Arthur tensed at the name, about to remind her of Merlin's real name when Gwaine spoke first.
"Bit late for that" Gwaine muttered to the side, and Arthur couldn't help but agree completely. Idle, though tensing, did not comment.
"So," continued Gwaine "Why not just magic us to this castle?"
The old witch sighed, "For two reasons, one, you barely trust me to be in your company, I doubt you would let me use a transportation spell." Arthur had to admit she did have a point, "Two, to use magic like that on Em-"
"How many times do I need to remind you, his name's not Emrys, its Merlin."
They all turned to looked at him then, annoyance on both Gwaine and Dawson's faces, probably for interrupting and not understanding his need for the name 'Emrys' not to be motioned. Idle got that stupid sympathy on her face again, as if she knew, could feel too what he was going through – ha, like she had a clue – no one could understand it because even he didn't understand it.
"To use magic like that on Merlin would have dangerous side effects."
"Well, it could cause a..." She hesitated for a moment, as if trying to phrase it better, "...a violent reaction."
Gwaine scoffed, "Merlin couldn't hurt a fly."
At that Arthur chuckled slightly, only to have Gwaine round on him.
"What? You think Merlin's a mass murderer, his only purpose in life – to kill as many things as possible?" Gwaine gave a bitter laugh. "You've followed your father so blindingly, for so many years; I bet you're incapable of thinking of anything on your own. Let me guess, you resolved that he was pure evil the moment we discovered his magic."
Arthur barely had the strength to stop himself from attacking him there and then. The only thing stopping him was Merlin's harsh breath against his chest, reminding him of his priorities.
"Actually," the Prince responded through gritted teeth, "I was just remembering the hunts I've dragged Merlin on and how he would protest against shooting the 'cute, fluffy bunnies'."
At Gwaine's taken aback expression, Idle continued. "Like I was saying, if you would let me continue for once, he would respond in a violent reaction due to another's magic being forced on to his...turbulent magic." When Gwaine looked ready to argue again, she quickly continued. "He would be unaware of his actions, even on a subconscious level."
They continued on in silence for a little longer until Idle finally gave in, admitting defeat to the night, tiredness and her age.
They all dismounted, Arthur carefully carrying Merlin to the area they decided to set up camp. As the others removed supplies from their 'borrowed' horses, Arthur tightened the blanket around his friend, were they still friends? The prince shook his head to clear the unwelcome thoughts; he had no answer to what they were anymore.
Merlin's fever had turned cold during the ride here, yet his skin was still clammy. His whole body was shaking erratically and Arthur started rubbing his hands over Merlin's sides, trying his hardest to get some warmth to the man, anything to rid him of blue tinge that had overcome his skin.
"How nice of you to warm him up for that pyre I bet you've got all lined up for him, back in Camelot."
Arthur went still at Gwaine's snide comment, forcing himself to not look over his shoulder at the bastard. Instead he went back to rubbing Merlin's sides, unable to answer the remark, because...well...how would he answer?
When he turned back to the others he finally noticed the fire, producing far too much heat for flames so small.
Dawson must have seen Arthur's slight confusion for he quickly explained, "It's a spell, a rather useful one. It'll certainly help Emrys warm up."
At Arthur's glare he rolled his eyes, "Fine, it'll help Merlin. You know, I don't understand your need for him to be called that."
Arthur scoffed at that, but moved Merlin closer to the fire and propped him up on a log, hoping that it would help with the man's breathing, before sitting on the log himself. He took the blanket Dawson offered and wrapped it around the warlock's thin frame. Arthur rested a hand on Merlin's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze, before turning back to Dawson.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand."
Arthur thought for a second before asking, "Do you know how long I've known Merlin?"
Dawson shook his head.
"Close to four years. Four years! And in those years I spent every day with him, morning till night, and now I've found out he's lied to me. All that time. Everything's changed, and I can't do a damn thing. So forgive me, but I'd at least like his name to stay the same, if that's alight with you?"
Dawson nodded apologetically before turning back to the fire.
Soon after that Gwaine and Idle joined them, passing out some half stale bread and old meat. They ate in silence for a bit, all of them just starring in to the fire.
"So, where we're heading...is it to remove the power?" Gwaine asked, not sure how he felt on the subject but needing to know just the same.
"No." Idle responded, "You must understand that his magic and the magic from the cave have bonded to become one. The only way to remove the power is to remove all of his magic."
"Would that be such a bad thing?" Arthur muttered quietly, but everyone around still heard.
Gwaine's eyes narrowed, his body subconsciously angling toward Merlin as if to protect him from the prince. Idle stiffened, her eyes flashing with disapproval and anger, but also pity.
"I realise you were raised since birth to despise magic and that you grew hearing lies from all around, on both sides, and with that hatred of magic comes a misunderstanding of it. Magic is in Emr-Merlin's soul, woven into his very being, to remove it – an act I'm not entirely sure is possible in the first place – would most certainly kill him."
Arthur didn't know how to respond to that, surprised yet deep, deep down was a feeling that he knew this all along.
"So, Brotec?" Questioned Gwaine.
Idle's brow rose, "What would you like to know?"
"Who was he?"
Before Idle could respond Dawson interrupted, "A misguided, pompous, egotistical, delusional idiot."
Gwaine smirked "Yeah, I got the impression u weren't a fan."
Dawson huffed, "Brotec was always a bully, wanting everyone to worship him. I don't think he ever even considered that he wasn't Emrys."
"And," Arthur started, his tone distant as he stared in to the flickering flames "if he had been, would he have been so badly affected?"
Idle's brow creased in thought, "I don't know, it's not like there's been another Emrys...well... ever, however Brotec did meditate for a long time before going to that cave, in preparation."
Arthur's head snapped up as both him and Gwaine stared at her in shock "Seriously?"
Idle just nodded
"But if that's true then this trial would have been heard about long before it was." Arthur asked in confusion.
"Oh, he started meditating before he told us of his plans and even then it took awhile before it started circulating around the magical community and months before anyone started to believe the rumour." Idle stated as if it were common knowledge.
"And that's why he's so bad?" Gwaine asked worriedly as he looked toward his unconscious friend.
"Mhmm, doesn't help that he was forced into that cave against his will. But I think it would have been hard on Merlin no matter the circumstances." Dawson stated.
"Merlin's not weak." Gwaine defended through gritted teeth, forcing Idle to sigh in frustration.
"It is commendable that you're defending a friend in need, young man, but please stop jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding everything we say or do."
Arthur silently thanked her, having known what Dawson meant and too tired for another argument. That cave would have made the strongest, bravest man in Albion cry for his mother, and Arthur knew his dreams would be haunted by those screams for years to come.
"It's amazing he didn't run head first in to it if you ask me." Dawson muttered under his breath.
Arthur looked at him confused, about to ask for an explanation before Gwaine beat him to it.
"Why would he?"
"Because the cave would have wanted him, calling to its other half and they would have been drawn to it. He must be truly strong willed to have resisted." Explained Idle
Dawson nodded, adding "It was one of the things that made me certain Brotec wasn't Emrys, he seemed too...calm and collected."
Arthur and Gwaine shared a look, "It makes sense."
It was Idle and Dawson's turn to look curiously at them, making Gwaine continue.
"Well, when we got here Merlin started acting...odd...nightmares and such. And when the trial was happening he seemed to be in his own little world."
After a moment's thought Arthur asked, "Why was there a cave to begin with?"
Everyone looked at him rather strangely, not understanding his question.
"Well, why not just let Merlin be born with the power."
Idle sighed, "he was, just not all of it and I'm sure it was a difficult childhood for him, growing up with the power he already had and probably not understanding any of it."
That sentence struck a chord with Arthur, he hadn't thought of Merlin's childhood, of how the man had coped as a boy in a society that had learned to hate magic and all those who practiced it. Would he have been like Rose? Scared of the 'bad man'? Had he lost ones he loved to his father or worse him? Arthur shuddered, perhaps Merlin had been worse, maybe he hadn't just been terrified of those around him but of himself too. Arthur just shook his head once again, losing his trail of thought and turning back to Idle.
"The cave," she continued, "also had knowledge remember, if-when he recovers he'll understand the Old Religion and the ground we stand on far better than anyone else. Now imagine all that power and knowledge in one, small boy, it would have been horrific for him and his parents...I would have feared for his mental health. Not to mention the possibility of all of the plans of the Old Religion's being ruined, you see Emr-Merlin has two paths he could take, to create Albion or destroy it. Magic isn't the thing that poisons the soul, it's power. You, my lord, must understand that better than anyone, for haven't you seen kings turn to the darkness in greed of power. No, the more power Merlin had for longer, the more chance of him turning into our damnation instead of our saviour."
Arthur nodded, beginning to understand, "Does he still have the ability to turn down that path?" Because he needed to know, needed to be prepared for the worst, but he knew the second the question left his lips that it was the wrong thing to ask.
"You still think him evil?"
Arthur gritted his teeth, biting back the retort that he didn't know what to think but he did need to know if there was a possibility. He could feel his temper coming back and a part of his subconscious brain could see the glint in Gwaine's eye grow as the rogue watched him clench his fist till his knuckles turned white. Part of him knew what Gwaine was doing, how he was looking for a fight because he needed to vent, how they both needed to fight something, even if it was each other.
"How about you shut up and let us grownups talk? There are matters, Gwaine, that need to be sorted and if you can't deal with that, leave."
Gwaine snarled, "Oh I bet you would love that, for me to leave so you can deal with these matters. You just want me out of the way don't you? So you can just execute an innocent man without anyone in your way, but I shouldn't be all that surprised, your daddy does it all the time. Like father like son."
Before Gwaine had even finished, Arthur had jumped to his feet, drawn his sword and pointed it directly at his heart. Idle and Dawson just sat there, staring at them in bewilderment.
"You have no idea what you're talking about! You're just a simpleton Gwaine, in a situation that's way over your head!"
"Way over my head? What about yours, sire? This is the most powerful sorcerer to ever live that has been scrubbing your boots and washing your dirty socks! I ask you, my lord, did you ever even suspect?"
His finally words dug deep because Arthur hadn't suspected, not for one second, who his servant really was. And what hurt more was how much Merlin had managed to make a fool of him, because the amount of times he was accused...the amount of times he confessed, and all Arthur had done was laugh and think how mentally challenged that person was to think Merlin was a sorcerer .
So in the end Arthur did the one thing he could, he attacked.
Gwaine unsheathed his sword before Arthur's had time to connect with flesh, the sound of clashing metal reverberating through the trees.
Their swords were brought down heavily on each other, as Arthur blocked a blow form Gwaine, forcing him against a tree. Without thinking, his rage still bubbling, Arthur swung his sword, nearly striking the other man had he not ducked out of the way just in time. But before Gwaine could completely escape, Arthur brought his knee up, connecting with the rouge's stomach, forcing all the air out of Gwaine's lungs.
In that one vulnerable second Arthur acted quickly, bringing down his elbow fast on to Gwaine's wrist, forcing the man to drop his sword. However, the prince's upper hand didn't last long as Gwaine drove his shoulder into Arthur's own stomach, forcing him back. Gwaine quickly punched him full force in the jaw, the prince falling to the floor from the impact.
As Arthur's sword was soon forgotten too, Gwaine followed Arthur down, straddling the prince's thighs as he rained blow after blow on to the man that would harm his friend. Arthur soon rolled them over, bringing his own fist down on Gwaine's face, finding pleasure when he felt the man's nose break under his hand. Gwaine soon pushed him off, dragging themselves to their feet, before the rogue lunged at Arthur, throwing them both against another tree, Arthur's side rebounding off of the trunk as his head smashed against the bark, creating a resounding crack. But Gwaine didn't stop as his fist collided with Arthur's gut, forcing a cry from him.
As the world spun in and out of focus, Arthur retreated to his instincts, throwing Gwaine to the ground with a hard kick, while forcing himself to stay standing.
Before Gwaine could pick himself up for another punch, Idle shouted, "STOP!"
Both of their heads snapped to her, although Arthur wished he hadn't as his vision swam once again, to find Idle and Dawson starring at them open mouthed.
"You two are despicable! How in the name of the Old Religion do you think this is going to help? Beating yourselves bloody for no apparent reason?"
"No apparent reason?" scoffed Gwaine as he scrambled up from the floor, clutching his nose as it streamed with blood. "There is a reason! I'm trying to protect my friend from this cold blooded murderer, who will cut him down without a moment's hesitation."
Arthur had to laugh at that, a deep, humourless, bitter laugh.
"Is that what I'm going to do?"
Gwaine turned to him, unbelieving as he threw up his arms, "It's what you were trained to do since birth! You're going to throw him to the wolves, and daddy's going to pat you on the back for such a good job well done."
There was silence for seconds, minutes, hours, days, Arthur wasn't really sure as he just stood there starring at Gwaine. No one dared speak, not knowing what to say, as Arthur felt something snap inside of him and suddenly it was if a dam had broken.
"Well, at least someone's sure of themselves, at least someone knows what I'm doing." He took a few steps forward, swaying slightly as he left the support of the tree, forcing tears back. "Because, Gwaine? I have no bloody idea. You see you're right; this is what has been engraved into my brain since I was a child, to hate sorcerers, to see them as pure evil and to hunt them down and kill them without one single thought.
"But as I look at him...I just...my mind goes blank and I have this need to hold him, to save him, to make sure he's okay. I couldn't stand him when we first met, and now...now not to have him there, by my side, for me not to lean on and tell my deepest secrets and darkest fears to, to not have his...wisdom, is unthinkable and now I see he didn't trust me, didn't see fit to share his deepest secrets and darkest fears, not like I trust him...trusted because, God, I don't know if I'll ever be able look at him without suspicion ever again.
"And it tears at me, to see him like that, so weak, because no matter what I said, the one thing I never saw Merlin as was weak...never weak. And perhaps I knew it all along, in the back of my mind that my bumbling servant wasn't normal, there was always whisper I ignored...so many whispers about so many things. I got so used to it, you know, casting a blind eye; I didn't want to see it, none of it. Merlin was never the coward, no, that title is for me and me alone because had we been in Camelot, had Merlin told me or had I discovered accidently, then I don't know...I just don't know who I would have folded to, Merlin or my father. It comes down to that you see, that one simple question, 'Merlin or my father...my King?' and I hate him for it, for making me question in the first place.
"And what I hate more? I think I might just choose him, Merlin, over my own King, my own flesh and blood and I have no idea why...for all reason tells me to send him to the gallows and yet here I am, trying to save him, and I have no idea why."
By now he couldn't stop the tears as they swiftly, yet silently, fell down his from his eyes. His strength having left him, he fell to the ground, drawing his knees up as he dropped his head in his hands. When he found the energy to look up he found the teary, shameful eyes of Gwaine, who too seemed to have lost all will power and was barely able to keep standing. Dawson had his head cast down, his face hidden from Arthur's gaze, but Arthur knew he finally understood...that they all finally understood why he was so lost.
When Arthur finally turned to Idle he felt the anger flood his veins, boiling once again.
"Why do you keep doing that?"
She just tilted her head, unable to understand his question.
"You keep looking at me like that, with pity and understanding, sorrow like you know what's going on in my head, don't you see, even I don't know what's going on in there so how on Albion would you?"
Idle stared at him hard, Arthur just looked back at her – he had already bared his heart, her searching eyes would find no more.
"Because, I grew up learning of magic and hearing the tales. Emrys has been foretold for so long no one really knows where the prophecy originated, it is one of the oldest of my people, and the prophecy that soon followed his was of the 'Once and Future King'. Emrys was meant to look after and help this king so that he became the greatest king Albion would ever know, he would unite the lands and bring peace."
Arthur stared at her, astonished and unbelieving, "And you think I'm him?"
Idle allowed herself the barest of smiles, "I'm sure of it."
"Because, the tales speak of a connection between the two, a friendship unmatched by any other that will go down in history. You see, their loyalty to each other is unbreakable. The reason only you can touch him is because his magic is attuned to you, destiny has entwined your lives and his whole purpose in life is to save and nurture you, and by that, saving the Old Religion and the whole of Albion. His magic would never be able to hurt you because you are connected, as you have been though out both your lives, and destiny has forced you together. Do you think it coincidence that the most powerful sorcerer to ever live travelled to Camelot, met you and then somehow became you're manservant? A perfect position to look after you."
Arthur was about to respond, until a groan interrupted. All heads suddenly snapped to the subject of their fights and discussions, who they had somehow forgotten was actually there.
Arthur reached him first, the others crowding round but careful not to get too close. The prince kneeled down before his servant, cupping the man's face gently to tilt him so that Arthur could get a better look.
He quickly pressed the back of his hand to Merlin's forehead, sighing when he felt the heat; it looked like they were back to the high fever.
Arthur started to remove the blanket and then move him further from the fire, when he heard it.
Arthur froze, looking back up at Merlin's face.
When there was no response and so Arthur thought he had just imagined it. Knowing it would have been too quiet for the others to hear anyway, he went back to removing the blanket.
Arthur stopped again, knowing he hadn't imagined that.
"Merlin, can you hear me? Merlin?"
When there was no reply Arthur moved the blanket again, trying to coax another response.
"P-please, no, cold, so c-cold."
Not knowing it was possible, Arthur felt relief and worry suddenly flood him. His voice was horrible, scratchy and barely discernible.
"Merlin, you've got a fever, we have to get it down."
Arthur allowed himself a little smile; he had forgotten how stubborn his servant could be.
"Please, Merli-" He stopped when he felt his shoulder being nudged. He turned to find Gwaine there, an apologetic smile on his face with a bowl of water and a rag in his hand. Arthur's brow creased as he looked at it, wondering where the bowl and rag had come from, and knowing that they hadn't replenished their water supply for a while and had run out (no one had thought it a good idea to search for a stream in the middle of the night and so they had all agreed to find some at sun rise). Gwaine just nodded his head in the direction Idle. Ah, magic.
"I won't suggest drinking it, natural water is always best for consumption," she whispered, "but it's cold so it should help."
Arthur nodded in thanks and took the bowl from Gwaine, squeezing the rag before placing it on Merlin's forehead, only to have his hand thrown off by an invisible force.
"I thought you said he wouldn't use magic on me." Arthur said through gritted teeth, turning to Idle.
"I said his magic wouldn't harm you, forcing your arm away is hardly harming you."
Arthur huffed, dipping the rag back into the bowl, squeezing it and then hovering his hand a foot from Merlin's head.
"Please, Merlin, let me get your temperature down, I swear it won't hurt."
When he got no response he moved his hand to Merlin's forehead, only to get it forced away again. He was starting to get fed up and before he could stop himself he felt his frustration rise.
"Merlin, will you for once do what your told!"
The whole of Merlin's body stiffened and Arthur mentally scolded himself.
That shocked him, had Merlin not realised it was him?
"Yeah, Merlin, it's me."
"Arthur." This time it was filled with relief, too much relief for what had happened and what Arthur had seen, and Arthur knew then that Merlin didn't remember the cave.
"Merlin, what is the last thing you remember?"
There was a pause before, "Arthur."
Merlin hadn't understood the question, could only repeat his name with pure, unadulterated relief. Arthur had to wonder how much that cave had scrambled the warlock's head.
"It's okay Merlin, just let me help you." With a more pratty voice, hoping Merlin would find it more familiar.
This time Merlin nodded and as Arthur put the rag once again to his forehead he felt no force stopping him. Arthur sighed in relief, and soon he felt the others behind him move away, probably to get some rest.
Arthur allowed himself the barest of smiles, because the first time in the last 24 hours he had a little hope, and maybe, just maybe, Merlin trusted him more than he thought.
"Arthur...why so d-dark?"
When he glanced up at Merlin's face, ready to retort with 'because it's night you idiot', his blood froze.
Merlin had opened his eyes, just barely, and it seemed like it was taking all Merlin had to keep them open. Arthur had thought he would be met with ocean blue or maybe even the molten gold, for his eyes at the cave still haunted the prince. What he didn't expect was the pure white that covered the unseeing eyes.
"W-why so dark?"
Sorry, but I had to stop somewhere and if I don't now...well you'ld probable have gotten another 5000 words...which would have taken another month.
Okay so that was a long chap with a hell of a lot of talking, hope you didn't mind. And I hope this chap lived up to the wait (which it probably didn't cause 4 months is a bloody long time). Btw I tried to make this as original as possible as sometimes reveal fics can become repetitive, and I'm sorta curious to see if I've succeeded. But oh well, I hope you enjoyed it and to those who read Fail Safe I'll be updating that next, ch2 is nearly finished, so expect that hopefully within a week.
REVIEWS: I've unfortunately gotten behind on replying to reviews...like over 100 behind, and I thought you would prefer to get another chapter than me to spend hours trying to catch up, especially as I can't remember how many I had already done (cause it had been more like 180). So I've decided to wipe the slate clean and start new this chapter, I'm really sorry, I love every review I get so THANK YOU so, so much, I don't think I need to tell you that it means a hell of a lot to me.
Ps I really wish I had started this after series 4 truthfully, as I think perhaps Arthur's meltdown was a little too strong for series 3, and 6 years is quite a bit longer than 4 and their friendship made huge leaps in s4 but oh well. I would have also loved to include Morgana's and Agravaine's betrayal, cause I think finding out about Merlin would send our dear Arthur flying off an emotional cliff, and all of his speech just applied more to S4 than S3 – so if that's how you feel too, I completely understand, but I didn't really want to make it any less powerful so I didn't change it.