AN: Warnings: mild Arthur swearing
Hello there, everyone! I wasn't expecting an idea to come this quickly, but here we are! This is my first one-shot...which I have to admit is incredibly long :P. I was inspired by the vast amount of 'scar-revelation' fics out there, and I know that writing one is hardly original, but I hope I added a new spin onto it. It is unrelated in every way to my "A Soul, A Mentality, A Name", but if I ever get around to a sequel, I might readdress this idea in some form or fashion.
Forgive my beginning: its the rantings and ravings of a girl pretending to be more wise than she truly is. I really like it though. :) ENJOY!
Each art tells its own story.
Arthur knew this well.
He was witness to each story every day. Every time he walked through the crowded, bustling Lower Town, filled with shouting, laughing, arguing, gossiping, bartering… and creating, he saw the beginnings of them all, and he was amazed.
He did not always see. He was like the others, the ones who rushed through life, the ones who didn't see the beauty in the simple things. He was a Prince; he was taught not to see such things, and therefore, he had never taken much notice of the glorious events unfolding before him daily.
That is, until he met Merlin.
Merlin used to walk slightly behind Arthur through the streets. It was the ultimate public display of respect and a sign of status. This may be why he never saw Merlin's obvious enthrallment and joy to the scenes around him. But, over time, Merlin's place grew steadily closer and closer to his right side. Not only did the goofy boy find a place walking nextto him, but he also wiggled himself into a spot in Arthur's heart. Only then did Arthur see the subtle awe shining from the boy's blue eyes, his head constantly swiveling from side to side as though this were his first visit to Camelot, and as though he couldn't take in enough of what he was seeing. Everyday, without fail, Merlin saw and watched everything through those unique eyes.
That is when Arthur truly looked, and that is when he saw.
He saw the bards weaving stories with their tongues, with their avid gesticulations and passionate eyes, their varying tones and their swaying movements. Each word carried the essence, the very being, of the bard, and each word seemed to permeate the minds of all, teaching and entertaining alike. Those words were spell-binding. They took you to another time and world, or perhaps, they brought the magic of the imagination to reality.
He saw musicians in the tavern taking their wooden, reed, and metal instruments and playing from the heart—some pieces wailing and romantic, some jovial and bouncy, and some adventurous and riveting. Each note contributed to the story of the music, and each musician added his own flair, his own experiences, to it, making it his own, managing to make it connect with everyone.
It was no different for the craftsmen. He saw the blacksmiths slaving over their burning furnaces, pounding furiously and wiping the sweat from their brows and the soot from their hands. With every pound, a clearer image—a sword, a horseshoe—and another part of its story revealed. He saw artists carefully dipping their brushes and translating their vision of the world for all to see. He saw women weaving and sewing—every deft movement of their hands adding color and meaning to their tapestries and rugs and dresses. Each strand of material captured moment in time—a time of creation, of pricked fingers, of cussing, and of pure creative freedom.
Once finished, the blacksmiths' work, the dressmakers' work, the weavers', the silversmiths', the musicians', the bards', and all others' work—nay, art—holding no more than a humble story of simple creation, would change hands and go on to absorb more—stories of war and peace, births and deaths, painful and wonderful times with friends and loved ones… memories.
There was a story behind each art. Arthur knew that some stories were so subtle that they'd fade in the minds of men within seconds. The others? Those stories would never leave you. They mark you, and they remain.
Arthur was no artist; he was no poet, singer, or—heaven forbid—dressmaker. He could not manipulate words to his choosing, nor could he successfully make anything but a horrible screech erupt from a musical instrument. He could not see simple ingredients and instinctively throw them together to create an edible masterpiece. He could not even begin to understand the careful calculations and measurements that it took to engineer a specialized weapon nor could he begin to understand the gentle, repetitious movements of a weaver.
Arthur was a warrior, and while he could not tell his story through art, he knew that warriors, too, had their own creative way of expressing and revealing their own stories.
The way a man fought exposed his temperament, his ideals, and his past. You could read their style and their facial expressions and see everything.
Some fight with anger, aggressively and rashly, seeking only to harm and conquer. These are the men with no stories of love, no stories of light. They have dark pasts with very little worth living for save revenge, bitterness, and hatred. Their tales are filled with blood. Others fight with simple determination, gracefully and cautiously, thinking only of safety and loyalty. These men know who they stand for; they are prepared to defend their loved ones and their people with their lives and will kill only for that noble cause (if you could look past the irony of murder ever being justified). And yet, they know that killing is not always the answer. Their tales are filled with justice. And then some more are all shades in between.
Some fight intricately with flashing swords, flicks and twists, and others fight simply with swift jabs and clever, energy-saving moves. Some stand before an opponent or enemy with bold cockiness and a mocking grin, and others stand with grim resolve and a pinch of fear.
Not only does each of these contribute to a warrior's style, but they also tell a warrior's story.
However, it is each and every decoration and discoloration from battle, hardship, and pain that tells all. Scars.There is a story behind every scar.
Arthur, too, knew this well. Perhaps he knew this a bit too well.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried, throwing his blood-stained sword to the grass. Eyes, once so bright—bright with magic and with revenge—were now glassy…blank…dead. No longer a threat.
"I'm fine, Arthur, really!" Merlin said, his voice strong, despite appearances. His servant wobbled on his feet. Both of his pale hands pressed to his left side and blood seeped between his long fingers. Each drop of red that hit the ground added to Arthur's panic. His servant's eyes were closed, and his face was twisted with a mixture of determination to stay upright and to keep the true extent of his pain hidden. "I'm just a bit…bloody," Merlin sighed. "And tired…you know, we didn't get a lot of sleep last night, what, with the sorcerer ambushing us throughout the night for a 'bit of fun' as he called it…and the night before, I was—"
Arthur snarled suddenly, cutting off the moron's prattle, and avoiding his enemy's corpse, he rushed to Merlin across the clearing.
What was he going to do with the idiot? First, he uncovers the sorcerer's plot—how he did, Arthur had no idea. Merlin always managed to know these things, and lately, he no longer questioned them. Then, he actually formulates a rather brilliant plan that forces Arthur to realize that appearances are incredibly deceiving. He had seen this intelligence, this bright wisdom, before, but it seemed to strike him even harder every time he saw it in those stormy eyes. But, of course, the next moment, the servant totally destroys that vision of wisdom by doing stupid things like this! The fool obviously had no sense of self-preservation and had no regard for his own life whatsoever. Idiot.
Finally reaching the pale, raven-haired boy, Arthur said, through clenched teeth, "You shouldn't have done that, Merlin!" He gripped Merlin's shoulders and carefully lowered him to the ground. The boy hid a grimace at the pain from his side, and then he released a sigh as he was lain down on the ground. His face became tranquil, and Arthur, in his blind frenzy, feared it was with more than the promise of rest.
Arthur's memory flashed to only moments before: the dark cloaked sorcerer raising his arm toward Arthur, Merlin shouting from the ground where he had been knocked down, the sorcerer's silver jet of light heading straight for his heart, Merlin managing to pick himself up and push aside the Prince, being clipped by the spear of light in the process…
Merlin's eyes flew open, a stormy kaleidoscope, and his infectious grin was obviously uninhibited by the pain and exhaustion because it instantly lit his elfin features. "You're wrong," the young man disagreed, his smile lines deepening. Looking at his face, you could never have imagined him to be so badly wounded, but his trembling limbs, the sheen of sweat covering his face, the amount of blood….
"Merlin, only you would be smiling after being hit by a spell like this," Arthur muttered under his breath with a slight reverence.
"This might scar," Arthur commented dully. "Judging from the blood…"
"What else is new?" Merlin murmured, as though not surprised.
Merlin's eyes closed again, and his hands shifted weakly. When his clutching hands fell away, Arthur winced at the full sight of Merlin's tattered shirt and the long, jagged cut that laced from his bony hip to the base of his ribs. A flood of relief overwhelmed him: it wasn't nearly as bad as he thought—he had assumed the worst: that the wound cut deep into Merlin's internal organs…. Obviously, Merlin was simply exhausted from a combination of the tracking, the stress, the restless nights, the battle, and now the blood loss. He began to cautiously pick away the remains of Merlin's shirt that were sticking to the wound with the intent to clean and bind it before the scrawny servant lost consciousness.
Arthur's relief and concern morphed into a false anger for the unnecessary panic he had just been put through. "Why the hell did you have to endanger your life?" he scolded.
"Why can't you ever just say 'thanks'?" Merlin sighed, semi-acridly and semi-teasingly.
Arthur ignored him. "Are you completely suicidal?" he exclaimed.
Merlin's eyes remained closed, but a little smile played on the edges of his lips. "You call it suicide," Merlin breathed tiredly. "I call it destiny." Arthur froze, uncertain if he heard correctly.
"Merlin," he began slowly, deciding to dismiss it and hovering slightly over his servant. "I know you really don't feel like moving right now, but I need you to help me. You need to sit up, and we need to get this shirt off—"
Merlin's eyes snapped open, suddenly wide awake. He slipped out from under Arthur before he could even process what was happening. He blinked, and the next thing he knew, Merlin was sitting up against a tree a few meters away, his chest rising and falling more rapidly than normal, his grey-blue eyes piercing straight into Arthur's…though beyond him at the same time, wide with… panic?
Stunned, Arthur felt a brief flash of confusion. It was almost as though Merlin was afraid to take off his shirt, he realized. The idea was so ludicrous that he started to laugh.
Merlin's eyes flicked back to reality, and he thought he saw a sudden spark of annoyance and hurt light his eye before becoming wild again.
"Come on, Merlin," Arthur laughed, getting up and coming closer to Merlin. "Stop messing around. This could be serious if you don't let me help you."
Merlin inched backwards on his backside, and he smiled his usual cheeky smile. "No, I think I'm alright. Really, Arthur. There's no need to—"
"Merlin!" Arthur groaned exasperatedly. "What is your problem?"
Arthur didn't understand. Was he embarrassed of something? Ashamed? Arthur wondered, that being the only explanation that came to his mind as he watched the servant. But why would he?
He tried to recall a time when Merlin was ever shirtless. With a jolt, Arthur realized that never, in the history of his relationship with the boy, had Merlin once removed the long-sleeved shirt he wore day after day in Arthur's presence. Arthur frowned…No. Never: no matter the sticky heat during a long day of hunting or training, no matter how soaking wet or wounded—he never has.
It was peculiar to him. Well, he told himself, Merlin is a peculiar person. Normally, he would accept that, but, he found this, even though apparently petty and so small, significant. He wanted to know.
"Stop being such a—!"
"Don't you dare say, 'girl'," Merlin interrupted with a deadly whisper. Arthur stopped in his tracks, staring at Merlin. His voice, though calm, was loaded with warning and severity, and his eyes burned dangerously. There was none of his goofy friend anywhere in his features, and there was no sign of his buffoon-like jokes and teases. His face was guarded, closed off… almost cold. 'Merlin' and 'cold' was simply… wrong. Arthur could not ever imagine seeing those two words, those two concepts, ever associating with the other, and suddenly, he became fully aware of the depth of the darkness he sometimes caught in his sunny servant.
There was far more there than met the eye.
Merlin must've seen Arthur's look of disbelief and shock because a sudden pain filtered into his face, and he turned his eyes away to stare at his blood-stained hands contemplatively. "You cannot begin to understand," he said, with a deep voice, weighted by experience and pain.
With a sudden look of disgust, he wiped his hands on the grass, and with wobbly legs, he slowly began to stand up.
"Of course I don't understand!" Arthur retorted sarcastically. He suddenly shivered, unable to get the sudden notion out of his head that Merlin's words were far more laden with meaning than he made them out to be. "I never understand you! Now, get out of the damn shirt," he ordered.
He could see in Merlin's eyes that this was going to be a test of wills.
"See?" Merlin said, ignoring his command. "It's not even that bad. I'm not going to die." He took a peek at the wound. "And look at that! The flow's nearly staunched! Gaius will—"
"Exactly! I may not be dead now, because of you, but I will be if you don't cooperate!" Arthur shouted, having lost patience with this quirk.
Merlin rolled his eyes and barked a laugh. "You honestly think that Gaius would—?"
"Dammit, Merlin!" Arthur shouted. "I'm not blind! I see that you're about ready to collapse and that the wound has hardly stopped bleeding. I don't know if you're trying to be brave or if you're just plain stupid!"
Arthur and Merlin had a stare off. If there had been any watching, they would have either backed off, consciously aware of the danger of approaching, or they would have watched with awe at the strength of the sparks, daggers, and flames of will that the two men shot at each other. It was a powerful, though extremely well-balanced battle. Arthur knew that Merlin's willpower was equal, if not more unyielding, than his own, and Merlin knew likewise for Arthur's. Neither was going to back down.
Finally, Arthur, his sapphire eyes only softening a fraction, said, with more kindness than previously, "Merlin, I don't want you to be hurting, and I most certainly don't want to bring you back to Gaius damaged because whether you believe it or not, he will kill me. He's still going to kill me, even if I stop the bleeding."
Merlin's eyes grew sad but amused at the same time, obviously thinking about his mentor and the possible scolding that he and-or Arthur may or may not receive.
"I don't understand why the hell you won't let me help you when I'm the one who should've been in your place. The least I can do to thank you for saving my life and to rid myself of this damn guilt is to help you. Please?"
Merlin's brow scrunched momentarily and then rose in astonishment. His eyes lost their manic refusal and determination and melted to one of fondness. Arthur blinked, also taken aback by his own words. Finally, he had sorted through his emotional turmoil. He was guilty. He was to blame for Merlin's pain. He should have been quicker on his feet and in his mind. He should have kept Merlin safe.
He wasn't good with emotions, so it came as a surprise to him that his adamant desire to keep Merlin safe, to help him with his wounds, stemmed not only from his friendship with him, but from his guilt. It should have been me, the whisper repeated over and over. It echoed through his memories. Oh, Merlin…
Hardening his steely eyes once again, Merlin shook his head in the slightest, his jaw clenched, still refusing.
Arthur felt a flash of disbelief and anger, and he reverted to slightly more normal tactics. Throwing up his hands in a gesture of defeat, he said nonchalantly, "Fine, then. I'll just wait for you to bleed yourself into unconsciousness." Not helping but feeling smug at Merlin's look of revelation and horror, he continued, "Then I can do whatever I please."
Merlin gave him a pained look. "Arthur…please. Just let me be. We're less than an hour's ride from Camelot. I don't—I don't…" his voice wavered and his eyelids flickered.
"You're not far from it, I see," Arthur pointed out. "I just thought I'd give you the chance to actually be awake to see Gaius tell me off." He sighed in mocking disappointment, fighting off a smile. "Shame. I bet you would've enjoyed that."
Merlin scowled at Arthur's poorly disguised attempt at manipulation, but it had the desired result. Arthur saw the new battle raging on his face. Arthur wanted to grasp the idiot by the shoulders and shake him and to demand for him to spill what was really going on…what it was he was hiding. He recognized that an internal battle that strong signified a closely guarded secret.
Finally, Merlin, with now indecipherable eyes, slowly grasped at the hem of his shirt and pulled it off, wincing as the rough material dragged across his new wound.
Arthur's eyes immediately went to Merlin's cut side. The uneven, twisting line of red was still spewing a little too much blood for Arthur's comfort, and his nose wrinkled at the sight of it collecting at the skinny boy's waistband, soaking through.
He raised his eyes to smile comfortingly at Merlin, who was silent with caution and expectation, but then he stopped, his gaze falling on something…and then taking in the whole of Merlin's bare torso for the first time. His jaw dropped open.
Merlin was covered with scars.
White lines, both long cuts and small nicks, both thick and thin, laced up his entire chest and stomach and upper arms, forming a grotesque map of scattered, twisted trails on his skin. Some looked like forgotten, trivial little injuries—like those of only just managing to avoid a sword stroke or the typical ones of klutziness, and then there were others…
Like the one over his heart. No matter how hard he tried, he could not avoid staring at its brutal place on the web of Merlin's scars. It was a circular burn, ragged and angry around the edges. The skin was slightly pink, wrinkled, and misshapen in vast contrast to the smooth skin around it from the heat of whatever fire had struck him there, lingering forever and etched permanently. This was not a scar of clumsiness and idiotic mistakes; this was a scar of utmost loathing and hatred.
Someone had tried to kill him.
Arthur shivered with the horror of it. He could not fully put his horror to words, knowing that he had not ever seen a scar like it, and looking at it now, he could not believe that Merlin had never once revealed the excruciating pain it must have caused when it was still fresh nor could he even understand how it was that Merlin had survived the injury. Fury began to erupt through his confusion and utter incredulousness. How? How did you get such scars? Why? Why were there people trying to kill you, Merlin?
The blue fabric of Merlin's blood-stained shirt fluttered to the ground. Arthur pulled his eyes from that horrid scarred burn, and he saw the resolute steel of Merlin's blue eyes as he carefully knelt, flinching as he did so, to recover the fallen garment. He lowered his eyes, as though ashamed.
That is when Arthur caught sight of his back and shoulders.
Even more! On the right shoulder, which was surprisingly more muscled than Arthur could ever have imagined, he saw a speckle of very old scars. Immediately recognizing it as a mace wound, he placed that one immediately. He gave Merlin those scars when they first met.
And another horrifying sight! Starting from slightly to the left of the nape of his neck, a long, knotted, bulging, rope-like scar twisted down the length of his back and finally curved to a stop around Merlin's right hip. Another lethal injury, another miraculous recovery.
He was speechless. None of his scars—even the one from the Questing Beast and from the disguised assassin's hidden spiked lance—compared to these.
A hint of pride and loyalty slipping into his features, Merlin stood straight-backed. He tried and failed miserably to hide the strong embarrassment and discomfort that crept over him under the length of Arthur's stare.
"Are you done?" Merlin asked, twitching and fiddling with the fabric in his hands. He began to tear at the shirt, making strips.
Arthur was jolted back to reality. Merlin avoided his gaze as he ripped the shirt again.
"What—" Arthur choked. "What the hell happened to you, Merlin?"
Merlin's brilliant eyes shot back up at him, and he was surprised to see the glint of amusement. "Could you perhaps be a bit more specific? Many things have happened to me in the course of my life."
Arthur shook his head. "There is a story behind each scar, Merlin. I know this from my own. You know this from both my own and...yours," he whispered. "Where—how—why—?"
Merlin avoided the questions very obviously. "Aren't you the one who wanted to do this?" he asked, holding up his makeshift bandage. "I won't be able to tie it tight eno—ARTHUR, GET DOWN!"
The lanky, tousle-haired boy hardly finished saying his name, before he launched himself at Arthur and knocked him to the ground. A bolt of red, fiery light sailed over his head.
Merlin rolled off of Arthur quickly and leapt to his feet, swaying with the effort. Instinctively, Arthur heaved himself up and searched for the threat, reaching for his sword…which he saw was now in the hands of a crazed woman.
She had dashed from the shadows of the trees and was now standing above the dead sorcerer, tears streaking her ruddy cheeks and her light green eyes wild with grief and rage. The tip of Arthur's sword was pointed directly towards the Prince.
The sorceress released a heart-wrenching wail. "You killed him, Pendragon!" she shrieked. "You murdered my husband!"
She twirled the sword experimentally, not removing her eyes from the cornered, defenseless Prince. "I will enjoy finishing his work," she hissed.
Merlin pushed himself in front of Arthur, whose heart thudded painfully at the sight of his weakening state and the close-up of the scars zig-zagging across his back. "Merlin!" he hissed into his ear. "What're you—?"
Merlin barely turned, and Arthur saw a gleam of seriousness and wisdom in his eyes before he faced the vengeful sorceress again. "I won't let that happen," Merlin declared calmly and steadily, his voice ringing with strength.
The woman blinked in surprise and started to laugh. "You? You're nothing but a servant, and you are weak from the wound my love had so graciously given you." She giggled and, cocking her head, said with a mocking contemplation, "It looks good. Matches the rest of the….damage."
The scorn, the disgust, and the uttermost disrespect for Merlin made Arthur snap. Rage burned through him, and he wanted to make her pay for saying things to make Merlin seem less than he was…and what he truly was: possibly the most loyal, the most brave, and most true friend he had ever had.
Merlin's gentle hand stopped him from, and with one look of disapproval, Arthur was stopped in his tracks. What was going on? Both of us are unarmed, and she has magic! How were they going to escape this? Arthur then saw the satisfaction, the pain, and then the amusement in Merlin's calm face. He wasn't afraid or concerned. But wha—?"
"You know," Merlin said wonderingly. He grinned, and it reached his eyes, peace radiating from it. "I'm getting sick of this. I'm not an idiot; I'm not a fool. I'm done. No more. I will not hide anymore. Just as these scars…" His voice became icy and biting. "I'll give you a choice: leave now, while you still can, or attack and die where you stand."
"Merlin, what are you doing?" Arthur hissed through his teeth.
The woman laughed again. "You will die alongside your master! You cannot touch me, scrawny weakling! I have his sword, and I have my magic. You have nothing!" she gloated, smirking with triumph. "Who are you to threaten me? You are a nobody."
"You are wrong," Merlin said with a frightening quiet anger. "I am Emrys."
Arthur mind reeled. What? He had never heard of such a name. What is Merlin playing at? he thought desperately.
To Arthur's intense surprise, the sorceress's smirk slipped off her face, and it was replaced by a look of disbelief, anger, and…fear?
"I don't believe you!" she cried in denial, unconsciously stepping backwards. "LIAR! You cannot be Emrys! He does not exist, and if he did, he would bring Camelot to its knees! He would never side with the Pendragons, and he would not humble himself nor place himself so low."
Arthur looked from Merlin to the sorceress and back again, totally forgotten by the pair.
Merlin smiled, and he shook his head. "You have a perverted vision of low and an even more perverted vision of magic. You are wrong again," he muttered. "Arthur Pendragon has the friendship and loyalty of Emrys—now and always." Merlin's eyes twitched to Arthur, a silent plea in his eyes. "And that will never change."
Arthur could see that something was going to happen, something big, but he was far more concerned about the woman to think much of Merlin's implied promises. When he saw her frigid eyes narrow coldly, he was overcome by the desire to slap the boy upside the head Merlin obviously went too far. Why did he always try for the last word? It was going to get him killed one of these days…and perhaps today was the day.
Arthur prepared himself to die, and he allowed fond memories of Merlin, of Gwen, of his Knights and his father to fully occupy his every thought. Surprisingly, it was Merlin who showed up the most. Merlin's laughter, Merlin's banter, Merlin's disrespect, Merlin's sunny disposition, Merlin's eyes, Merlin's quiet loyalty, Merlin's bravery, Merlin's gawky stride, Merlin's goofy grins… his friend, who sacrificed his life on countless occasions (and possibly more) and who went beyond the call of duty.
His mental remembrance of his life flashed by in milliseconds, and he was brought back by the woman's chopped words. "I. Will. Not. Be. Told. That. By. A. Mere. BOY!"
Merlin gave Arthur a shove, and he fell onto the ground just as the woman threw the sword in her temperamental anger.
Arthur saw everything as though in slow motion.
The sword tumbled over itself in the air, flying directly for Merlin, who moved into the spot previously occupied by the Prince, but suddenly, the sword halted in midair and dropped. He saw Merlin, standing tall, his arm held straight in front of him, his palm facing outwards, and he saw the tell-tale lingering glimmer of gold in his eye as it morphed back to blue…
Magic. Merlin—Merlin had magic.
The sorceress's eyes widened, and she screeched something in a tongue unknown to Arthur. Her eyes burned evilly, and flames erupted from her fingertips, dancing and spiraling directly for the servant.
Merlin did not speak; he bent his elbow just slightly and pushed outward forcefully. The flames struck an invisible wall and with a simple wave of his hand, Merlin made the flames dissipate. His golden eyes glowed with a fierce determination.
In the heat of the moment, all Arthur could think was that his magic was nothing like hers. He saw it in the gold. His was pure, good, light. Hers was the polar opposite: corrupted, evil, dark.
With her breast heaving, the sorceress panted while Merlin did not seem any worse off than he had been a moment ago. Arthur knew that she had done extremely advanced, powerful magic, and Merlin was hardly trying to shield himself from such attacks. Arthur shivered. He was more powerful than she…and far more than any of the likes of which he had ever seen. And he was only defending! Imagine what he could do on the offensive! He did not doubt that Merlin could flatten Camelot with a twitch of an eyebrow.
Merlin went on the offensive, and he raised his wide-spread hand to the sky. Thunder rumbled, and a bolt of lightning came streaking down, down, down…
"Merlin, no!" Arthur whispered, so softly he knew that the raven-haired boy could not hear. Merlin was no killer…he was already a sorcerer; he couldn't be a killer too. He wasn't...he couldn't be...
Arthur's heart dropped in amazement. The bolt did not touch her. It hit the ground near her, and the sorceress yelped in fear. "I warned you once," Merlin said severely. "And now again. Flee now! I will protect him to my death."
Finally, after a few tense seconds, the sorceress began to smile. "My work here is done," she announced, eyes glinting maliciously at Merlin. "For now."
Merlin's eyes narrowed. Arthur, too, heard her promise for revenge.
"Good luck surviving the wrath of the Pendragon, Emrys," she sneered. "I fear you may need it, and even if you do survive, many more will try for your life."
With an ominous chuckle, more rasping, lilting words, and a loud uproar of swirling wind, the sorceress took up the dead body of her husband and disappeared.
Merlin's posture immediately slackened, and every ounce of his magical strength and power retreated from his features and was replaced by the face Arthur was used to seeing. He avoided Arthur's wide-eyed gaze, and he cursed under his breath, his hand going to his wounded side.
"Gaheale," Merlin said in a strange, deep tone. His hand hovered over the wound.
Arthur watched with awe as the lips of the wound began to close. Merlin flinched with discomfort, and when he let his hand fall, all that remained was a scar to match and mix with the rest.
His legs suddenly buckled, and he fell to his knees. He placed both hands on them and tried to calm his breathing. He clenched at the fabric of his trousers, and finally he drew an unsteady, deep breath. Only then, did Merlin look into Arthur's eyes.
Nearly five years…five years a sorcerer has been hidden among the people of Camelot, a place where magic was illegal and thought of as horrifically evil…A sorcerer at his right side—to boot! His father's teachings made him think: he has magic; he is evil; he has betrayed me; he lied.
But, the stronger side of his conscious told him, never once did Merlin ever sway in his loyalties to me. Only just moments ago, when he was certain he was going to die, did Arthur remember every instance that involved the boy…and now others, the little things, were all coming back to him with a sharp light. Pieces of dreams, snapshots of forgotten, dazed, and hazy half-hallucinations of overheard conversations… Yes, Merlin may have lied, but he lied to protect himself from death…and to protect his destiny from failing.
Arthur didn't know what to think, what to do. He couldn't remember how to move or how to breathe. He only saw Merlin's blue eyes welling with tears—tears of fear and resolution, tears of fierce belief and righteousness. Arthur could read everything in those unique eyes: his mistakes, his pains, his loves, his reasons, his excuses, his truths, his light. He felt he finally understood Merlin. Everything that confused him about his servant—no, friend—was now clear. He was magic epitomized. He was magic, and tearing that away from him—Merlin's eyes made it painfully understandable—would be like tearing away his purpose, his soul.
His throat suddenly felt thick. He was proud to have Merlin, the only sorcerer who was strong enough to look past the hatred, the only man known to best the corruption of power, at his side. He was proud to know someone as miraculous as the man in front of him…powerful enough to shake the skies, to move the very earth, to blast Arthur into dust and humble enough to kneel before him now and be a servant.
He was more than a servant.
"You asked about my scars, Arthur?" the boy asked seriously, suddenly hugging himself. "Every secret I've ever kept from you is written there. I have lied to protect these secrets. I have lied so, so many times," he said wearily. His voice and eyes both strengthened with truth and loyalty. "But if you are to never believe a word I say again, believe this: I only ever use my power to protect you."
He didn't speak another word. He didn't explain. He didn't need to…because that was the last push that Arthur needed.
"Merlin," Arthur began. The boy winced at his name and lowered his eyes. "Thank you."
Merlin's eyes snapped back to Arthur. "What?" he breathed in disbelief.
Arthur grinned weakly. "I see that that was not what you were expecting."
"No," Merlin muttered slowly, his cautious eyes trained on Arthur. "You're not…angry?"
Arthur's eyes flashed to his scarred flesh, memories assailing him. Which time belonged to which scar? Which of his memories matched with Merlin's truths?
"I see the proof of your loyalty, and how much you believe in me, in your very skin, Merlin. I see it in your eyes, your actions…Merlin, how could I be angry with my guardian angel? You make it pretty damn difficult."
Merlin's eyes overflowed with tears, making the blue seem even brighter than usual.
"And your magic…" Arthur began in disbelief, running his hands through his hair. "…is incredible. Beautiful, even. I didn't know magic could be that way."
"It was what I was born to do," Merlin said humbly.
Arthur's brow scrunched. "You were born with magic?"
"Yes. It chose me, but I have to take credit for what I decided to use it for."
Arthur's lips twitched into a smile as some of Merlin's goofy teasing manner reappeared. "I don't understand…"
"Why?" Merlin finished for him.
Arthur nodded. "I would have expected you to hate me, just like the rest."
"You are my friend, my Prince, and my destiny. A wise friend once told me 'a half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole.' And I am not the rest."
"You are Emrys?" Arthur asked.
Merlin flinched. "In the Druid prophecies, that is my name. I didn't mean to use it. I don't like being reminded of it. It—it—frankly, it scares me."
"Why would it?"
"Destinies are troublesome things," Merlin muttered.
Arthur recognized the words, and the following speech Merlin had given… "I had a feeling it wasn't just a book," Arthur muttered, beaming.
Merlin smiled weakly, recalling the moment, and he continued, "Yes...There is a weight on my shoulders that I find hard to bear alone."
Arthur gripped Merlin's shoulder, a sudden feeling arising in him. It was their shared, connected destiny reaching her arms for him "Will you tell me? Maybe I can…take some of this weight?"
Merlin smiled brilliantly. "We are linked in these prophecies, so I will tell you. I have no more secrets from you…just not now. Not yet. One step at a time."
Arthur's head was still spinning, "You healed yourself!" he exclaimed.
"Astute observation," Merlin said sarcastically. "Actually, I was surprised it worked so well. I'm usually rubbish at healing, but I've been practicing and…" he trailed off, knowing that he was blabbering.
"What I mean is…since you healed yourself, is there anyway to…?" Arthur began awkwardly.
"Of course. But why would I do that? Would you? There is a story behind each scar. They remind me of who I am and what I have done. They remind me of the necessity of sacrifice, of love, and of loyalty."
"You're right. I wouldn't…" Arthur smiled. "Why didn't you trust me?" Arthur asked. "You were brilliant, just now, Merlin! And I see that there have been more times like this than I could count. Didn't you want any credit for what you've done?"
Merlin bit his lip. "I may be magic, but I'm also human. I trust you more than any man, but still, I was afraid—not only for my life, but for your reaction." Merlin swallowed. "I would not be able to bear it if you couldn't accept me for who I am, if you couldn't accept my magic…and if you treated me any differently for it. I was afraid."
"You are still Merlin, and you will always be the same Merlin. Magic or not," Arthur stated with a broad smile. "Idiot," he said fondly, "Only you would have magic in a kingdom that hates everything that you are."
"You don't hate me. Gaius doesn't hate me, and I'm sure that Gwen and the Knights will not hate me. That is all that matters now."
There was a long, contemplative and companionable silence, and then Arthur asked, "Will you tell me everything, Merlin? I want to know the truth of your magic and your scars."
Merlin beamed. "You haven't a clue as to how long I have waited to hear you say those words."
By the time Merlin was done speaking, the clearing was aglow and bathed in the golden, peachy light of the sunset, and Arthur would never forget the story told there that day nor would he look upon the gold of the sunset without ever thinking of the warmth and safety of Merlin's golden eyes.
AN: I'm not so sure I like one-shots... I write too much. :P