La Belle au bois dormant
Summary: Morgana returns and 'Emrys' is forced to make an appearance. But as Gwen falls prey to magic, friendships are tested and secrets revealed. Are Merlin and Arthur strong enough to endure it?
Timeline: Set after season 4
Spoilers: Up to and including season 4
A/N: Huge, HUGE, thanks to everyone for reading and for the encouraging reviews I've received throughout. Here is the final chapter. I'm posting it now because I'm going to be busy over the next few days so I might not get a chance then, and I did promise that this chapter would be up shortly. And here it is. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this, so thank you for taking the time to read it - it means a lot.
The journey back to Camelot had been almost as quiet as the journey to the Castle of Havlor. The only time the pair rested long enough to make camp was when they had finally reached the other side of the Forest of Brégnes, pure exhaustion winning out and making it impossible to go on any further. After all, they both knew they couldn't risk remaining in the forest for too long, not with the creatures there, constantly watching them, waiting for an opening.
Both Merlin and Arthur refused to give them one, pushing themselves on despite each heavy footstep that weighed them down.
So once they were out of the forest, the sky dark overhead, they rested uneasily until the morning came and brought the sun with it. Then they were moving again, back on the horses and racing off towards Camelot – back to Gwen.
"We need to get these straight to Gaius," Merlin voiced, tugging at his satchel a little. Inside the satchel was the key to everything, several of the Cwealm, along with the small vial containing what remained of the cure.
Arthur nodded as the two rode through the open gates and on into Camelot. After that, everything was a rush, no time to pause or think. They brought their horses to a halt within the courtyard outside of the castle and several servants rushed forward to take care of the tired animals as both Arthur and Merlin jumped down.
"Sire!" Sir Leon called from the stone steps to the castle. He was rushed down to them, followed by several others knights – though Merlin noticed Elyan was missing, no doubt watching over his sister.
"Gaius," Arthur commanded straight away, heading back up the steps to meet the knights halfway before moving on passed and on into the castle. "Have him meet us at his chambers immediately."
"I believe he's already there, Sire," Leon answered, coming to stop to allow Merlin to pass also.
"Is there anything else we can do, Sire?" Gwaine questioned, falling in step beside Merlin.
Arthur shook his head, strides long as he continued on. "Just return to your duties and be sure to be on guard." At that, he turned his head a little, meeting Merlin's eyes. "Hurry up, Merlin – we don't have time for your dillydallying."
Merlin let go of a heavy sigh and shot an exhausted smile to Gwaine briefly before quickening his pace to catch up with Arthur. The knights fell behind, doing as Arthur had ordered and returning to what they had been doing before the pair had returned.
"Are you sure about this, Merlin?" Arthur asked, his voice hushed, almost conspiratorial.
"Gaius is the best physician you'll find anywhere," Merlin answered. "If anyone can recreate the cure, he can."
Again, Arthur nodded, returning to his stoic silence once more, his lips thinned and brow burrowed in deep thought. Merlin watched him, knowing it was pure faith that kept the young king moving. Merlin just hoped he was right, if not, then he truly feared the consequences of his actions. He could already feel the pit forming in his stomach, the same pit that had formed upon Uther's death.
The door to Gaius' chambers was open and Gaius looked up from his potions as they entered, his glasses poised on the end of his nose.
"My Lord! Merlin..." he greeted, pushing up immediately and moving around the table to meet the pair as they entered the room. "Did you find it?"
Arthur remained silent, so Merlin spoke for him, digging into his bag to pull out the red bugs he had stored there, along with the vial. "I had to use it on Arthur," he explained, placing all the items on the table. "But we know that these insects were used to make the poison."
Gaius nodded, considering the insects. "The missing ingredient."
"I'm sorry?" Arthur questioned, his head cocking to the side.
"I've been studying the poison, Sire, trying to identify its components," Gaius answered, moving back to his table and the several bits of paper and potions that sat there. "However, there was one component I could not identify and without knowing what it was, I had no way of making a cure."
"And now?" Arthur pried. "Is it possible now?"
Gaius nodded, thoughtful and careful. "I should think so – though..."
The old physician's eyes met Merlin's briefly before moving to meet Arthur's, hesitation lining his features. "If the poison used on Gwen was enhanced with magic, then I fear magic may also be needed for the cure..."
Arthur nodded, his gaze finding Merlin. "Merlin?"
Merlin understood clearly and bobbed his head in answer. "I'll bring it to you as soon as it's ready."
Inclining his head in acknowledge, Arthur turned and swept from the room, leaving to return to Gwen's side once more. Merlin watched him go before turning to Gaius, awaiting instructions.
"What can I do to help?" he questioned, but received a puzzled expression in return.
"Did I miss something?" Gaius asked instead, brow burrowed and eyes narrowed on Merlin as he studied him carefully, almost suspiciously.
"Let's just say you were right," Merlin answered, bright and impish.
"Right? Right about what?"
But Merlin just smiled and moved toward the table. "I'll explain it later, but first we need to cure Gwen."
Arthur sat upon Gwen's bed, one hand clasping hers as he used his other to brush away the strands of hair from her face. Elyan had excused himself not long before, choosing to allow Arthur some time alone with Gwen. Arthur was grateful. He was grateful for the chance to allow his defences to fall, to not have to be the King, the strong leader who didn't falter, didn't give in to weaknesses and always stood tall and proud.
Tears stung at his eyes and he tried to swallow them back but they slipped free to roll down his cheeks regardless.
"Guinevere," he breathed out, leaning down to place his lips upon her forehead, placing a gentle kiss on her skin before pulling back. "Merlin will be here any moment with the cure... So live for me, Gwen. I can't lose you."
He waited with her, watching over her until Merlin did come, with a clatter and a bang – the door colliding with the wall as it was thrown open.
"I've got it," the manservant announced, glass vial in his hand. He moved forward and held the vial out.
Arthur looked to him, met his eyes, a plea in his own. He didn't say anything, didn't ask for anymore reassurances, and Merlin gave him none, at least not out loud. But it was written in his eyes, pure determination and confidence. It was a look Arthur had come to know well on Merlin, one Merlin always seemed to wear even when Arthur felt himself gripped by doubt – like Merlin knew something Arthur didn't. And maybe he did.
Taking the vial, Arthur removed the cork and turned back to Gwen. He slipped his free hand behind her head to raise it gently, then held the vial to Gwen's lips. Slowly, the liquid slipped into her mouth and Arthur watched, waiting for a reaction.
For the longest time, there was nothing. Even when the last drop had gone, there was no reaction from Gwen. She remained as still as she had been, as peaceful and at rest. Arthur lifted his gaze to Merlin, helpless.
"It's not working," he whispered, the words hoarse in his throat.
Merlin shook his head and took a step forward, his eyes never leaving Gwen. "Just give it a moment. It has to work." Then he moved his gaze to Arthur, his tone pleading and desperate as Arthur saw the first tiny glimmer of doubt in his friend's eyes. "Arthur..."
"I can't lose her, Merlin," Arthur answered, turning his attention back to Gwen and looking down at her all too delicate features, so fragile. He stroked her cheek gently with his thumb, another tear slipping from his eye to run down his cheek and fall onto hers. With the same tenderness, he closed his eyes and pushed his lips to hers, leaving a plea upon them when he pulled away. "Guinevere, please..."
Silence followed, thick and heavy, until it was broken by the smallest of noises. A gentle cough and groan.
Arthur looked to Gwen, meeting her eyes just as she opened them. A frown began to form at her lips as she looked up to him, questioning. "Arthur?" she breathed out, before pushing up a little to take in the room and Merlin also. "Merlin? What's going on?"
A smile broke out onto Arthur's features and he pulled Gwen into an embrace, burying his face into her soft hair and breathing her in. He couldn't answer her, not just yet, he was far too busy basking in the fact that she was alive. He would explain it all later; tell her everything... at least, almost everything. There were still some things he needed to sort out first, though that too would wait until later, when Arthur could bring himself to let go of Gwen once more.
"Arthur?" she questioned, surprise filling her voice, along with a light laugh.
He pulled back, if only to see the smile that he knew would be gracing her lips, to memorise each line and curve of her features.
"I'll leave you two alone," Merlin spoke up from behind and Arthur turned to thank him with a nod.
Yes, he thought to himself as he watched Merlin leave, all business would wait until later. For now, he would just enjoy the fact that Gwen was alive and in his arms.
After leaving Gwen and Arthur alone, giving them some space and time, Merlin found his way to the castle steps. He took a seat on them and looked out across the courtyard. Everything had died down since the feast and the incident, everything seemed quieter but the people still milled about, moving from place to place, getting on with things, just like before. Merlin watched them idly but paid no particular attention, his mind elsewhere.
Many thoughts washed over his mind, refusing to settle long enough for him to truly think them through. Morgana was among them, as was Arthur. Both knew now, who Merlin was. It made him wonder if things would change and if so, how much?
He kept wondering and thinking things over until the sun began to set and the orange and pink of dusk began to tinge the sky. The lack of sun, as the shadows grew longer, brought a chill to the air and Merlin shivered and pushed himself up, knowing it was time to return indoors.
He made it halfway toward his chambers before he was stopped, Gwaine calling out to him.
"Merlin!" the roughish knight shouted, setting off at a brief run to catch up. "I've been looking for you."
Merlin paused in his steps and narrowed his eyes, questioning. "No..." he answered, cautiously, already thinking of what it was that Gwaine was about to ask of him.
"You don't even know what I was about to say," Gwaine replied, mock offence playing on his tone.
"You want a drinking buddy for the tavern," Merlin hazarded a guess, raising his eyebrows at the knight.
A sly smile slipped onto Gwaine's features. "I've already got that covered – made a bet with Percival that I could drink him under the table. Poor guy doesn't know what he's letting himself in for."
"Then why are you looking for me?" Merlin asked, still cautious as he considered the knight.
"Arthur," Gwaine answered immediately. "He sent me to fetch you, probably wants a nice hot bath or something."
Merlin nodded and let go of a lengthy breath, retracing his steps to head back toward Arthur's rooms. "Looks like food will have to wait then."
"Hey, Merlin," Gwaine called once more, stopping Merlin in his tracks. "Is everything okay?"
A grin lit up Merlin's face. "I'll let you know once I've found out what Arthur wants."
At that, he turned away once more, leaving Gwaine to find Percival and attempt to win his bet.
The closer he got to Arthur's rooms, the more Merlin's pace slowed. He was hesitant, almost reluctant, to find out what it was that the young king wanted with him – not because he didn't want to be presented with chores, but because he knew what was coming. He and Arthur hadn't truly had a chance to discuss the consequences of the revelation, the 'what would happen next', and that was why Merlin took a deep breath before entering Arthur's room.
"Sire," he greeted, closing the door behind him and coming to a stop in the centre of the floor. He looked out, toward Arthur as the young king turned away from the window to regard him.
"Merlin," Arthur answered, his features heavy in the way they always were when he had been thinking things over.
"What can I do for you?"
Arthur moved to stand beside his table, his gaze searching over the parchments and various other items that lay there as he spoke. "We need to talk."
Merlin swallowed thickly, then nodded. "About my magic..."
Arthur didn't need to answer, they both already knew that was exactly it. So instead, he raised his eyes and met Merlin's, holding his gaze. "For as long as I have known, magic has been banned in Camelot. I... I can't just lift a ban that has been in place for years and allow magic to suddenly be permitted again, too many would take advantage of such an action – Morgana certainly would."
Merlin nodded once more, hanging his head. "I understand," he answered, forcing the words out as his heart tightened within his chest. "I'll leave Camelot tonight... return to Ealdor."
"What are you talking about?" Arthur spat out, and when Merlin raised his gaze, it was to see puzzlement on Arthur's features.
But really, it was Merlin who was confused. "You're banishing me... aren't you?" he asked, uncertain.
"You, Merlin, are a complete idiot." Arthur shook his head and rounded the table before leaning back against is. "Tell me, what good would it do to banish the only good sorcerer in the whole of Camelot?"
"You're not banishing me then?"
"No, Merlin, I'm not banishing you." Arthur let go of a breath and ran his hands across his face before continuing on. "I can't just change the law, not overnight, but I can make it fairer. I can make it so that those who use magic for good are not punished. In time, I hope this will bring freedom back to magic and those who use it. In time... I hope it will atone for my father's sins... and my own."
Arthur's eyes found Merlin wounded side, lingering there for a moment before meeting Merlin's eyes once more. "Merlin, I'm sorry... if I had known..."
"But you didn't," Merlin answered simply, offering up a smile. After a moment he cleared his throat and bowed his head. "Will that be all, Sire?"
"Well, there is one last thing," Arthur answered, an air of loftiness returning to his voice as his eyes shone with mischief and teasing. "If I ever find out that you have used magic on me, and if you ever do, I will have you in the stocks for week."
"Use magic on you, Sire?" Merlin answered, innocent, a grin spreading across his face. "I would never!"
Arthur narrowed his eyes, suspicious. "Merlin, if I find out you're lying to me..."
"You'll have me strung up and flogged?"
"I was going to say I'd have you thrown in the cells, but I think I like that idea better."
"Then it's probably best that I go before I give you anymore ideas." Before Arthur could reply, Merlin spun on his heels and moved toward the door. He paused there for a moment, and looked back toward the blond. "Arthur... thank you."
A smile played at Arthur's lips, even as he rolled his eyes and let go of a light scoff. "Just remember, Merlin – now you have no excuse for slacking in your duties."
"Of course not, Sire," Merlin answered, lips thinning into a tight smile as he turned back to the door once more.
But apparently, Arthur wasn't quite done yet. "Oh... and Merlin, don't even think of running away to Ealdor. I am making myself responsible for you and your magic, and I would rather not have to hunt you down and bring you back to Camelot."
At that, Merlin smiled, not so much at the words themselves, but at the deeper meaning beneath them, hidden in the depths of Arthur's eyes. "I wouldn't dream of it, Sire."
"Good, because Camelot could use someone with your talents," Arthur answered, clearing his throat a little and bobbing his head. "Now... you are dismissed. Go rest, you have a busy day ahead of you tomorrow."
"So no day off then?"
"Don't push it, Merlin."
Merlin shrugged. "I'm just saying, I mean I can't remember the last day off I had and we have just got back from that really, really long journey – I still can't feel my legs properly."
"If you're even one second late," Arthur began to answer, his tone far too sweet and his smile deadly, "I'll make it so it's not just your legs that you can't feel properly, sorcerer or not."
Merlin bowed his head, mischief playing across his own features, and took his leave.
The smile stayed on his lips all the way to his chambers, the weight on his shoulders lighter than it had felt in a long time. Everything was falling into place, everything the dragon had told him. Arthur was king, and a good one at that, and he had accepted Merlin for who he was, and in part, had accepted magic.
Though perhaps, Merlin thought to himself, it would probably be too soon to introduce Arthur to the dragon... That would take a little more time.
Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot - hope you have enjoyed!