Title: I Hate to Say I Told You So
Spoilers: all of season 4, including 4.12
Pairings: Arthur/Merlin friendship
Genre: angst, hurt/comfort, bromance
Summary: Merlin tries to convince Arthur that his uncle is a liar, and Arthur owes Merlin an apology. Spoilers for 4.12, but probably not anything you couldn't guess.
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC.
AN: This is basically how I want the first part of the season finale to go. Mostly I was tired of Arthur treating Merlin like dirt, so I wanted to make him apologize, and we all know that Arthur will owe Merlin the world's biggest apology in the next episode.
I Hate to Say I Told You So
In the end, Merlin spends a week trying to convince Arthur that Agravaine has stolen the plans. He does everything he can think of. He reminds Arthur of all the suspicious activity surrounding his uncle in the past year. He tells him that Morgana must have made a copy of the plans and had Agravaine put the originals back. He tries to get him to see reason.
Finally, a week after saving Gwen in the woods, when Merlin is afraid every minute that Morgana will come barging through the door, he makes a final desperate effort: he calls Agravaine out in front of the King. It's a bold move, maybe a bit rash, and most definitely stupid, but Merlin doesn't have time to be afraid for himself. If he can't convince Arthur, it won't matter anyway because they will all end up dead.
It isn't enough. Arthur is unwilling to listen, unwilling to accept that the last of his family would betray him. Merlin fears exile for his actions, knows he's testing Arthur's patience. In the end, for whatever reason, Arthur goes easy on him. He throws Merlin in the dungeons and tells him to spend a week mulling things over and then, if he is willing to apologize to Agravaine and to his King, he might be willing to let him out.
Merlin vows to rot in his cell before he ever apologizes to a snake like Agravaine.
He never gets the chance.
Two nights after he is thrown in jail, he wakes to the warning bells ringing loudly, people screaming and yelling and running on the floors above.
Merlin is just about to use magic to free himself when Arthur unlocks the cell and lets him out. Merlin stares at his friend, sees the fear and uncertainty in Arthur's eyes.
There is so much hidden in the way Arthur says his name. Arthur sounds desperate, lost, and scared, like he doesn't know what to do.
"Let's get out of here," Merlin says firmly, and he grabs Arthur's arm and drags him up and out of the dungeons.
When they reach the main floor, all hell breaks loose. Helios' men are everywhere. Arthur throws himself in front of Merlin and fights. He knocks down the three men they find at the top of the stairs, killing them quickly. He grabs the sword of one of the fallen men and hands it to Merlin.
"Stay behind me," Arthur says, and hidden underneath the stern order Merlin can just make out the fear in Arthur's voice.
They don't even make it down the hallway before three more men turn the corner to meet them. Arthur throws himself into battle once more. Merlin whispers a spell and one man falls over his own feet.
Three more men round the corner.
"Run, Merlin!" Arthur screams at him.
Merlin whispers another spell and two men trip over each other.
"I said RUN!" Arthur yells, and he kills the man in front of him, then reaches behind him and shoves Merlin hard.
"Sire, I can't just-"
"Please, Merlin. Go!"
Merlin hesitates for a second, then runs past the men and turns the corner.
But he doesn't leave. From his hallway, he shoots silent spells at the men attacking Arthur.
Then he hears a roar behind him and turns to find four more men facing him.
The next few minutes are a blur. Merlin shoots spell after spell. At one point, he thinks he vaguely hears someone yell "Agravaine!" but he's too busy to react.
Eight men lie at his feet when he finally runs back to where he left Arthur.
But the King is gone.
Merlin tears through the castle, sending Helios' men flying in his search for Arthur. Bodies liter the floor, men from both sides, but he can't stop to look.
He turns a corner and crashes straight into Leon, who nearly runs Merlin through with his sword before he recognizes him.
"Merlin! The castle's been overrun. Arthur's given the order to retreat to the cave."
Merlin knows the one. It's the same cave they hid out in the first time Morgana took Camelot. After reclaiming Camelot a year ago, Arthur had decided that if the kingdom was ever threatened again, they were to fallback to that cave and regroup.
But there's no way Merlin is leaving now.
"Where's Arthur?" Merlin asks hastily.
"He…I ran into him in the hall. He told me to tell everyone we're running. Then he…"
Leon pauses, as if what he wants to say next pains him.
Merlin answers for him.
"He's gone to find his uncle, hasn't he?"
Leon nods. "I've never seen him like this before. He said he won't leave until he faces his uncle. He's set on it. I'm…he's not in his right mind. He ran before I could stop him. I think he was headed toward the throne room."
Merlin tears off without another word. He hears Leon call his name as he goes, but he's focused on only one thing: finding Arthur.
He runs into a few of Helios' men as he goes, but they are no match for him. His magic flows out of him, spells cast wordlessly.
Merlin passes a few of Arthur's knights in the halls. They all tell him it's pointless, that they're fleeing for the cave. No one has seen Arthur, but it doesn't matter. Merlin can't explain it, but as he runs down the corridors he feels his magic pulling him toward Arthur. He knows exactly where he's going and he doesn't question it.
He takes a corner sharply and runs smack into Gaius.
"Merlin!" Gaius cries happily. He pulls Merlin into a fierce hug.
Merlin hugs him back just as tight. "Gaius, you need to get out of here, get to the cave. I have to find Arthur."
"I know," Gaius says, and it might just be the first time Gaius hasn't argued with him about how it's not safe, about how he's being stupid and it's a bad idea. Merlin, ready to argue with his father figure, is struck speechless.
"Do an old man a favor, Merlin?"
"What?" Merlin blurts out, still in shock.
"Promise me you'll be careful?"
Merlin tries to play it off. "I always am," he says with a smile.
"That's why I worry," Gaius says sadly.
Merlin pulls Gaius in for another hug, tighter this time.
"I'll see you soon, Gaius. I promise."
Neither of them knows for sure that Merlin will be able to keep this promise. Nevertheless, Gaius grasps Merlin's shoulder tightly. "I'm proud of you, Merlin."
And just like that Gaius is gone and Merlin is running once again.
He's close to Arthur, he can feel it. The closer he gets, the stronger the pull is. He turns one last corner and his heart crashes into his stomach at the scene that greets him.
Arthur lies on the floor. He's holding his shoulder, which is bleeding heavily, and his sword is ten feet down the hall. Agravaine stands over his nephew, sword raised, smiling maliciously. Merlin feels his magic boil up and explode out of him without warning. Without a word, Agravaine falls to the ground unconscious. Merlin has no idea how he has done it, if Agravaine is even still alive, and he doesn't care. He only has eyes for Arthur, lying on the floor half unconscious from exhaustion and loss of blood.
Merlin runs over to him, and Arthur turns to face him. He looks tired and beaten, and he doesn't say anything as Merlin picks up his sword, bends down, and heaves the King to his feet. Arthur sways a bit, unsteady, as Merlin sheathes his sword for him. Then Merlin throws Arthur's good arm over his shoulders and together they walk out of the castle.
They almost make it to the stables without being seen, but then a group of Helios' men attacks them. Arthur draws his sword, and Merlin knows for sure that this will be the moment when he has to use magic in front of Arthur.
But then Merlin gets lucky. Percival and Elyan arrive just in time, and with their help, Merlin gets Arthur out of Camelot.
It's nearly morning by the time Merlin, with the help of Percival and Elyan, drags Arthur into the cave. Many of Arthur's most trusted knights are there. Gwaine and Leon are there, and Gaius is already hard at work caring for the wounded. But there are not nearly as many men as anyone would like.
Merlin wonders if Agravaine will know they are here, if Arthur ever let his uncle in on the plan that was formulated before his arrival in Camelot. But when Merlin asks Arthur if Agravaine knows about the cave, Arthur shakes his head. For whatever reason, Arthur never told his uncle about their backup plan, and Merlin is heartened by the news.
Everyone spends the next day resting, gathering firewood and food, bandaging wounds and helping the hurt. The men whisper quietly amongst themselves. No one knows what to do or what to say.
Arthur doesn't say a word. He quietly allows Merlin to bandage his shoulder, avoiding his gaze the entire time. The wound isn't as bad as Merlin feared. More then anything, Arthur just seems tired, beat down, broken. Merlin tries to get Arthur to eat something, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. Eventually, Arthur falls into a fitful rest. An hour later, he tosses in his sleep, mumbling. When the screaming starts, Merlin rushes over to him and shakes him out of the nightmare. Arthur wakes up, panting heavily.
It's the first thing Arthur has said in nearly a day, and his voice is hoarse.
"You were having a nightmare, Sire."
"I…I need to be alone."
Arthur gets to his feet rather unsteadily and Merlin stands to catch him.
"I'm fine. Please. I just…I need to be alone."
Arthur walks out of the cave into the late afternoon sun, and Merlin watches as he sits on a fallen tree in the clearing outside.
Merlin doesn't follow him. At first. But then the sun sets and it gets cold. Fires are stoked in the cave, and Merlin can't just let Arthur sit outside in the cold alone. Even from here he can see Arthur shivering.
Merlin grabs a blanket from a small pile next to Gaius. They've had this cave stocked with necessary supplies and medicine since Arthur first decided it should be their fallback point. Arthur never seemed to believe they would ever have to use it, but Merlin had assured him that it was a good idea, that it made sense to plan for worst case scenarios. In truth, Merlin had known that as long as Morgana was still alive, an attack on Camelot was imminent.
Merlin takes the blanket out into the night with him. Wordlessly, he drapes it over Arthur's shoulders. Arthur pulls the blanket closer, wrapping himself up in it tightly.
Neither of them says a word for what feels like forever. Arthur had said he wanted to be alone, but he's not making Merlin go. Merlin knows he should just leave Arthur to his thoughts, but something makes him stay.
Eventually, he can't stand the silence anymore. He has to say something.
"Sire…is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. You can tell me I'm a fool."
Merlin stares at Arthur in shock. This was the last thing he had expected to hear.
"Merlin, you have every right to say 'I told you so.' I deserve it."
Merlin feels like he does deserve it. A few days ago, he would have thrown this all back in Arthur's face. He would have said "I told you so" and "I've always had your back but you're an idiot and you never noticed me." But now all he can see is the slump in Arthur's shoulders, how defeated his best friend looks, and Merlin deflates as the bitterness leaves him. Arthur might have deserved to hear those things before, but now….
"No, you don't," Merlin says, and he is surprised to find that he means it. "He was your uncle. The only family you had left. I can't blame you for wanting to believe he was still on your side. After everything Morgana's done-
"Please, don't say her name. I just can't…"
Arthur goes quiet for a minute, lets the blanket fall from his shoulders, and buries his face in his hands. Merlin doesn't say anything, waiting for Arthur to break the silence.
Finally, Arthur sighs and looks up at him, and the pain in Arthur's eyes makes Merlin want to hurt someone.
"Merlin…you're the only one I have left. You're the one I've always had, and here I've been a fool not to notice it."
Gods, Merlin can't bear to see Arthur like this. He had wanted so badly to tell Arthur he's a jerk, to tell him he told him so, and now all he wants to do is tell him that everything's going to be okay.
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Arthur. Being King…it can't be easy."
It's the first time Merlin has called him "Arthur" in nearly two weeks, and it feels so damn good it makes his heart ache.
"No, it's not. Especially when I brush off the only real help I've ever had."
"I'm an idiot, Merlin. I'm a prat, and a moron, and I have no right to be King."
Arthur is starting to ramble, and Merlin desperately wants to put a stop to it because it's killing him to watch Arthur berate himself like this.
He crosses his arms over his chest in mock anger and says, "Look here, that's my best friend you're talking about."
But Arthur is too far gone is his rambling to notice the sentiment hidden in the sarcasm.
"I'm such a fool. All this time you've been trying to tell me something important, and I refused to listen to you. Now look where it's gotten us."
Arthur gestures at the woods around him as he stands.
"It's my fault we're stuck here. My fault Morgana took Camelot away from me. Again. My fault that-"
"Arthur, please. Just calm down."
But Arthur can't calm down. He's started and now he can't stop.
"We're all just lucky I never told my uncle about this place. He arrived in Camelot long after we came up with this plan. I've been telling myself that I just forgot to mention it, but maybe…maybe I could tell, even from the beginning. I hadn't seen him in years, hadn't heard from him at all in ages, and he finally shows up when my father gets sick."
Without warning, Arthur picks up a rock and hurls it as far away from him as he can with a yell of rage. He starts pacing, and when he starts talking again Merlin can hear a growing hysteria replacing the anger in his voice.
"I should have known better, but I let denial cloud my judgment. I should have believed you. The truth is I trust you, Merlin. More than anyone. I rely on you to tell me what to do, to tell me that I'm wrong even when…even when I threaten to exile you for defying me. No one else will tell me what I need to hear even when I'm too stubborn to listen. I need you, Merlin. Now more than ever. And I wish so badly that it hadn't taken this for me to realize it. It shouldn't have taken the loss of Camelot for me to see that you've had my back all this time."
Merlin is floored. He's never seen Arthur like this, never heard Arthur admit to so much, and it scares him a little.
"I'm sorry, Merlin. I really am."
This can't be happening. The Great King Arthur apologizing to his lowly manservant?
"Can you…is there any way…"
Arthur stumbles over his words and looks away, and suddenly Merlin realizes what Arthur wants, what he's been trying to ask of him since Merlin first came outside: Arthur wants Merlin's forgiveness.
Merlin doesn't hesitate for a second.
"It's all right, Arthur. I forgive you…but you need to do something for me."
Arthur looks back at Merlin, confused.
"Stop being so hard on yourself," Merlin says emphatically. "You screwed up; we all do it from time to time. But if we're going to get Camelot back, we can't have you sitting around wallowing. You might be a prat, but I forgive you, because you're my prat. Now get your royal arse back in that cave so we can figure out how to get your kingdom back."
And then Arthur laughs, the first genuine laugh Merlin has heard out of his King in the longest time, and Merlin finds himself joining in. Once they start, they can't stop. They laugh until their sides hurt and all the tension that was between them melts away like it never was.
Eventually, when their laughter is spent, Arthur walks over to Merlin and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, old friend."
Merlin smiles. Arthur, his Arthur, is back. And between the two of them, Morgana doesn't stand a chance.
"You're welcome," Merlin replies. Arthur pulls his hand away, and Merlin continues. "Besides, it's going to take more than a few threats of exile to get rid of me. You're not that lucky."
Arthur laughs again, and before Merlin knows what's happening, Arthur pulls him into a quick, fierce hug. Merlin has just enough time to hug Arthur back before the King pulls away.
"You're a good friend, Merlin. I'm grateful to have you at my side. Of course, if you tell anyone I said any of this I will have you exiled from my kingdom."
Merlin sees that twinkle in Arthur's eye, the one that has been missing for so long, and Merlin knows they are going to be all right again.
"So you're going to exile me from…this cave? You forget we have to take back your kingdom before you can threaten to exile me from it."
"Good point," Arthur replies thoughtfully. "Don't worry, Merlin. I'll get Camelot back. But I could use your help."
"You'll have it. Always."
Arthur smiles back as he puts his arm around Merlin's shoulder and leads him back into the cave.
They will win back Camelot. Together.
AN: Reviews are love! :) Also, Happy Merlin Day tomorrow! Here's hoping the finale isn't as much of a letdown as they seem to building it up to be...