One Step Past
Added scene to "The Hunter's Heart". The relationship between Arthur and Merlin is strained until the point that Arthur makes a grave mistake.
By Emiliana Keladry
Author's note: This idea came to me after seeing the scene with Arthur and Merlin, where Merlin kept saying "sire" and "my lord" - it was strained and I couldn't help, but think that something had happened between the two of them. It's just a one-shot of a "missing scene" from 4x11. This story begins shortly after Merlin tries to tell Arthur that Agravaine was betraying him. It takes place later that evening. Hope you like it! It may be slight AU.
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to BBC, not me. If it belonged to me, Arthur would wake up and stop trusting his family. Agravaine really gets on my nerves.
Spoilers: Through all of season 4, including 4x11 "The Hunter's Heart".
"I cannot keep doing this," Merlin muttered, staring down at the bowl of uneaten food. He pushed it away from him, crossing his arms over his chest. "I won't."
"You need to eat something," Gaius stated, pushing the bowl back towards him. "Even if Arthur is being terrible. It's your destiny to protect him and you have to be patient. Arthur has been under a lot of pressure since Gwen was exiled."
"Arthur? He's the one that has been under pressure? It's his damn fault!"
"Merlin," the physician warned.
"No! I am trying to help him, risking my life to save his royal backside and he's the one under pressure? Gwen is my friend and I had to watch her leave. I had to heal her and leave her in the woods, defenseless. I have to hide who I am or Arthur will have me killed because I'm the sorcerer that killed his father! I have lost everyone that I care about; Lancelot, Gwen, Freya, Will, Balinor…"
Gaius put his hand on Merlin's to comfort him. "You still have me."
Merlin shoved back from the table, getting to his feet and throwing his hands up in the air. "I am trying to save Arthur's life! Agravaine is betraying him and all he can tell me is 'shut up Merlin or I'll exile you too'. I'd like to see him try! He would be defenseless without me."
Before Gaius could stop him, Merlin stormed from the room and headed in the direction of Arthur's chambers. The prat would be asking for his dinner soon anyway. He didn't intend on bringing it. As Merlin was heading down the corridor, he saw Gwaine headed in the opposite direction. He smiled at Merlin.
"Where you headed?" Gwaine asked.
"To give Arthur a piece of my mind," the warlock snarled.
Merlin didn't see the look of shock on the knight's face or the fact that he turned around a moment later, quickly running after the servant. The servant arrived at Arthur's chambers and threw open the door without knocking. Arthur was seating at his table, holding Gwen's ring and staring into the flames of the candle. He didn't move at first. The door slammed against the wall, causing him to jump slightly. Arthur quickly stood.
"I told you to leave."
"You listen to me, dollop head. I wouldn't lie to you about this! I don't know how he did it, but I am trying to save your life and you don't trust me!"
"Merlin," Arthur warned; the threat unyielding in his voice.
"He is betraying you, just like Morgana did! He is helping Morgana!"
"Merlin, you are crossing the line. Do not defy me! I am your king!"
A sick laugh came from Merlin's mouth. "You're a coward and you don't deserve Gwen. You act as if you were the only one that was hurt! Gwen was the first friend I had in Camelot. She was kind to me when I was in the stocks because of you. She loved you!"
Unbeknownst to Merlin, Gwaine stood in the doorway and Leon had arrived, hearing the commotion. The two knights waited. Arthur clenched his fists as his side; the ring being pressed painfully into his flesh. He couldn't hit Merlin…
"You are becoming just like Uther, a heartless king."
Arthur lunged at Merlin, knocking him to the ground. He grabbed the younger man's forearms, squeezing as tight as possible to keep Merlin from hitting him and restrain himself slightly. Merlin had no right to treat him like that! He was King. His servant continued to yell insults, fighting Arthur's grasp. Gwaine and Leon jumped in, taking Merlin's arms and hauling him to his feet. The servant didn't stop. He tried to wrench his arms out of their strong hold and still shouted at Arthur. A guard from the hallway attempted to assist and Merlin kicked him. Two other guards approached, one sinking his fist into Merlin's side as the other hit his face and grabbed his hair, keeping his head steady. Gwaine tried to get Merlin to calm down, but he wasn't hearing him.
"Lock him up! I want him in shackles!" Arthur ordered.
"You don't know what you're doing!" Merlin hissed.
Gwaine and Leon dragged Merlin down the flights of stairs to the cells and led him inside. The guard snatched Merlin's wrists and quickly shackled him to the floor. Merlin pulled at the chains, yelling in frustration. There was nothing that Gwaine or Leon could do for him. The door to the cell slammed closed, leaving Merlin alone. He fell to his knees in anguish. Leon couldn't bear to watch the young man, his friend, suffer. He put a hand on Gwaine's shoulder before going to see if the king was alright. The knight couldn't believe what he had witnessed. Merlin had disagreed with Arthur before; the king was a prat, but he had never spoken to him like this before. The chains clinked as Merlin yanked them up with no avail. They wouldn't budge. Gwaine shook his head, leaving Merlin alone in his pain.
Merlin shivered in the cold cell. His body ached where the guard had punched him and he suspected that there were bruises on his arms where Arthur had restrained him. Idiot. He had pushed Arthur too far and deserved his punishment. He looked at the bloody welts on his wrists from the metal cuffs. Merlin shouldn't have yelled at Arthur, but he didn't want to take those words back. Time had passed slowly and the warlock wasn't sure how long he'd been in the cell. His stomach grumbled and he remembered that he hadn't eaten anything all day, not since before he went to find Gwen in the forest. He licked his parched lips and lay down on the floor, curling into a ball to conserve any heat he had. Gaius was going to be furious with him if he ever got out.
The cell door opened and someone entered the room. Merlin didn't bother to look. He knew that he would come.
"I brought you something to eat," Gwaine said, sitting down in front of his friend.
He set the kitchen plate down and Merlin refused to look at it.
"Why are you here?" Merlin whispered.
"I thought you might be hungry. I can't let my only good friend go hungry."
"No… why are you here after what I did?"
Gwaine sighed, pushing the plate towards Merlin. The young man groaned as he tried to sit up and Gwaine quickly helped him sit up. Merlin picked up the bread from the plate and the chunk of cheese. It was all that Gwaine could bring him, but it was something. Merlin quickly started to eat.
"Slow down, you don't wanna choke," Gwaine laughed softly.
He nodded, taking a smaller bite and savoring the taste. The knight looked down at the dirt on the stone floor, moving his finger around to distract himself. Merlin waited for his answer. Gwaine ran his fingers through his hair and looked at his friend.
"You are my friend, Merlin. I don't abandon my friends and I'm sorry that the princess treated you that way. You don't deserve that. I've seen the way that you've been treated lately and the angrier that Arthur gets – the more he takes it out on you. You are not just a servant. You're a friend, to me and Arthur."
"Thank you, Gwaine. I don't think Arthur wants anything to do with me."
"I'll try to talk to him and get him to calm down."
"Who chains up their friend? I pushed him too far this time."
Gwaine groaned. "Merlin, I'll get you out."
The warlock nodded. Gwaine pulled a cup of water from behind his back and got a small smile from his friend. Merlin grabbed the cup and took a drink, very grateful for the water. There was a knock on the door and one of the guards opened it, informing Gwaine that Sir Leon wished to speak to him. Gwaine nodded and dismissed him. He stood up and took one last look at Merlin before taking a step towards the door. Merlin's hand quickly grabbed his, startling the knight. The chain pulled tight on Merlin's wrists.
"Gwaine, do not trust Agravaine… he is no friend of Arthur's. Please."
Gwaine knelt beside Merlin, easing him back to the ground. "Don't worry, Merlin. I don't trust him. Try to get some rest, you look awful."
Merlin gave a half smile before sinking onto the floor and taking a few uneven breaths as he tried to compose himself. Gwaine couldn't let this stand. He left the dungeons and headed to Leon's chambers, throwing open the door without knocking. Leon was standing by his window, not wearing a shirt and looking tired. It was early in the morning and he should have been asleep. It appeared that he was bothered with Arthur's actions also.
"Throw on a shirt. We're going to talk some sense into the princess. I won't stand by and let Merlin suffer for nothing."
Leon didn't protest, he simply pulled on his shirt and followed Gwaine into the corridor to go speak with the king. Surprisingly, Gwaine actually knocked once before bursting into King Arthur's chambers. Arthur was sitting at the edge of his bed, still fully dressed and holding a ring in his hands. It was the ring that he gave to Gwen; both men recognized it. Arthur didn't yell at them or demand that they leave.
"I know why you're here," the king mumbled.
"You can't leave Merlin there," Gwaine spoke.
"He doesn't deserve this!"
"Leon… have the guards release him. You're both dismissed."
Gwaine started to protect, but Leon quickly silenced him and the two left the room, closing the door behind them. The younger knight wanted to throw open the door and give Arthur a piece of his mind, not caring if he was exiled. Arthur deserved to be yelled at. Leon calmed him down.
"Go inform Gaius what has happened and I'll get Merlin. You stay there and I'll bring him to you. Don't do anything stupid that you'll regret."
Gwaine nodded, rushing off towards the court physician's chambers. Leon took a deep breath and headed to the dungeons. He stood before the cell, looking in upon his friend. Merlin was lying on the cold floor with his hands wrapped in his neckerchief and tucked beneath his head as a pillow. He looked so small and not like the violent man he'd been six hours before. His blue eyes were staring off into nothingness. Leon nodded to the guard and he unlocked the door. He followed the guard inside. Merlin didn't move to sit or even acknowledge that Sir Leon was in the room with him. His face was a mask.
"Release him," Leon commanded.
The guard knelt down and pulled Merlin's hands from beneath his head, using the key to unlock the shackles and dropped them to the floor. Leon dismissed him. He knelt down and helped Merlin to his feet.
"I'm sorry Merlin. I'll take you to Gaius."
Merlin didn't speak. He accepted Leon's assistance as they walked up the stairs and to the main floor. He froze at the top of the stairs and the knight couldn't get him to take a step further. Merlin's face was pale and Leon feared he was going to be sick.
"Merlin, are you alright?"
"I have to tend to the king." His voice sounded hollow.
"You don't have to. I can send another servant to –"
"No," the servant interrupted. "I'll be quick and I'll meet you in Gaius's chambers."
"You don't have to do this."
"I do. I am a servant."
Merlin slowly walked to Arthur's chambers and took a deep breath before opening the door. He wiped all emotion from his face and walked towards the king, who was still seated on his bed and holding Gwen's ring. The moonlight coming in from the window was the only light in the room and it cast shadows around the king's face. Arthur didn't even look at Merlin as he approached the bed.
"Have you not slept, Sire?" Merlin kept his voice impassive and held his hands in front of him and waited. "Is there anything you need?"
"How can I love someone who's betrayed me? Doesn't make any sense."
Merlin's eyes looked him over, but he did not answer. Arthur didn't even apologize for what he had done. He was still thinking about himself.
"How can I make myself love another? Tell me that."
"If there is nothing else that you require perhaps I could –"
"I don't know what to do," Arthur interrupted. "I have no idea what to do." Moisture formed in his eyes as he finally turned to look upon his servant. "What should I do, Merlin?"
"All I know, my lord, is that no one would sacrifice more for Camelot or you than Gwen."
"If that were so."
"You must do what your heart tells you, sire," Merlin stated, not feeling his own words. Did Arthur's heart really want his friend shackled and broken?
"What if I don't know what that is?"
Merlin paused for a moment. "I think you do."
Arthur's gaze fell to the ring and he rolled it between his fingers.
"Is there anything else, sire?" Sire; the word fell from his lips without emotion and concealed contempt for whom he spoke the name to.
"You may go."
Merlin lowered his head in obedience and turned to walk towards the door.
"Merlin, wait," Arthur called.
The warlock froze and cautiously turned around to face his king.
"I'm sorry, Merlin. I should not have done that. You were right." He stood up and moved towards Merlin. "I was acting exactly like my father, throwing you in shackles for disobeying me. He did the same to Morgana once. I should have stopped him, but I said nothing. No one should be treated like that. Especially a friend. I'm sorry that I treated you like that. You're my friend… well, I hope you are still my friend."
Merlin let the words melt the ice that had been forming around his heart. Arthur put a hand on his arm, causing Merlin to hiss in pain and the king remembered that he had injured his friend. He walked back to the bed and sat down in his spot. He had no right to ask Merlin for forgiveness.
"You're right. I accept your apology, sire."
Merlin bowed again and grasped the door handle.
"Thank you, Merlin. I don't deserve it."
"You are the future king of Camelot. I will serve you and be your friend… until death takes one of us."
Merlin couldn't speak anymore. He exited Arthur's chambers and went straight to Gaius's chambers, almost stumbling once in the corridor and falling. Gaius was waiting at the door when he arrived and ushered him in. The physician helped him sit down on the patient bed and remove his shirt, revealing hand shaped bruises on his arms and a dark purple mark below his ribs where the guard had struck him. At least he didn't break any ribs. Leon assisted Gaius as they bandaged his wrists, putting on honey to prevent infection. The sight of the wounds almost made Gwaine sick and he had to look away. The physician gave his ward a little more to eat before having him lie down. Gaius had him drink something for the pain. Merlin tried to fight it, but the potion was putting him to sleep. He glanced over at Gwaine.
"Arthur apologized," he stated before drifting to sleep.
"Will he be alright?" Gwaine asked the physician, not taking his eyes off Merlin.
"In time. Merlin is strong and he believes in Arthur, despite the king acting foolishly," Gaius reassured.
Leon frowned. "I almost hope Merlin isn't right about Agravaine. But I fear he is. Things are only going to get worse around here. We need to be strong for Merlin and for Arthur."
A cold wind whistled around the slightly ajar window, drawing the attention of the three men. The wooden shutter banged into the window again and again, but no one moved to close it at first. Gwaine stood up and went to close the latch. He glanced at the sky as dark clouds loomed at the edge of the city. A storm was brewing and it was moving quickly. Gwaine closed the window and returned to his seat next to Merlin. He made sure that the young man was still breathing and okay.
"We can only hope that they are both strong enough to fight what is coming," Leon whispered.
Hope was all that they had and it wasn't very resilient.
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