Warnings: The usual mild Arthur swearing
AN: Why in the world do they call these things 'plot bunnies?' Bunnies are sweet and gentle. With the ferociousness that this little 'plot bunny' attacked me, you'd think it would be more like a 'plot-saber-tooth-tiger' or a 'plot-rabid raccoon.' I was in the middle of working on "Heart of Gold" when this story came to me, and it was one of those that you couldn't get out of your head. I just had to write it down, and so, as a result, you have this to read instead of HG. I'm really sorry I'm being so bad with updating it, but my excuse is school *rolls eyes* Good news is that my hard work has paid off. I got a 5 on my AP (Advanced Placement, non-American readers) Practice Calculus test, and I got 100% on the Stormtrooper I had to draw using Java in Computer Science (don't ask... but let me tell ya, it took AGES to do). More good news? Now that this AU is out of my head, I'll get to work on the next chap of HG straight-away.
Now, this is an interesting AU. It's an Arthur-centric Reveal fic set in 4x13 during the Agravaine-Reveal scene. Do I wish that that is where the Reveal should have happened? Not at all. It would totally screw up the rest of the episode and the whole retrieval of Excalibur. Why did I write this then? Because it was fun, and even though I would have no idea how an Arthur-Reveal would work after this scene, I wanted to take advantage of it. I mean, it was WIDE open, and it's a perfect spot to write even MORE bromance and worried!Arthur!
I'm not as pleased with it as I could be, but that's fine by me for now. It's out of my head, and now in your hands.
I kept as close to the episode as possible... meaning that I watched the scene over and over again and studied the facial expressions and acting to the minute detail (at least, I believe so :P). Quotes are taken directly from the episode and other episodes (except for one line of Isolde's).
Scene 1: In the Caves
While the torchlight flickered across the narrow cavern walls, the only sounds pervading the eerie silence were the light snaps of the flames and their soft footsteps, and the faint plops from water droplets dripping from the stalagmites and stalactites had long accompanied the wary, tired group as they marched through the tunnels just outside of Ealdor.
Arthur, not even bothering to care where Merlin was leading them along the twisting, confusing route, was now at the tail end of the party, musing hopelessly to himself and wallowing in a pit of shadows darker than that of the caves they were in.
He always managed to find himself in these kinds of situations, didn't he? Betrayed. Lost. Fearful for the lives and future of his people and friends. Running for his life with a rag-tag team—compromised of his deceptively idiotic manservant, two smugglers, one scornful and reluctant and the other surprisingly loyal, and a woman who brought him both irrepressible joy and unmanageable pain—a team which was his only hope in reclaiming what he had shamefully lost…
There were so many parallels he could draw between this situation and the one he had experienced over a year ago that he felt an overpowering and nauseating sense of déjà vu. The betrayal by Agravaine cut just as deeply as Morgana's had when she and Morgause first overtook Camelot; the desperate hopelessness of their predicament was just as trying, just as emotionally draining, just as tragic and horrible. Merlin was being just as inspiringly wise, interminably brave, and unwaveringly supportive. There were just as many undeniable odds and reasons to lose all hope.
But there was something different this time: the people were at the mercy of Morgana, driven from their homes and in hiding, or dead… because of him and him alone.
He was fleeing from his own kingdom—a kingdom he failed to protect—and deserting the people to Morgana and Helios…
He did not deserve to be their protector or their King. He did not deserve their loyalty, their love, or their trust. He did not deserve the encouragement and the looks of strength, determination, and hope that Gwen and Merlin had been constantly sending him over the course of their journey nor the budding faithfulness of Isolde.
Tristan's thinly veiled insults and accusations of him, on the other hand, were nothing less than true. Every one of them stabbed at him like the blade of a dagger, but he knew that each wound was well deserved.
Self-doubt whirled about in his mind, and guilt gripped his heart. He should have been there; he should have fought and stood by Camelot in her time of need. He understood Merlin's hasty decision and the questionable actions he took to get him out of the castle—he was wounded, and there was little hope that any of them could change the course of the battle. Actually, a part of him was grateful that the idiot had been so resourceful and creative in evading their attackers, but that did not banish any of the dark poison of doubt sliding and squirming into his very core.
At the thought of Merlin, a sudden, golden warmth made his chest swell, and it allowed him to briefly overcome the darkness he was drowning in. The image of the lanky young man's compassionate and stubborn eyes shone behind Arthur's eyelids, and his soft, sure assurances and the passionate confidence of his advice rang in his ears.
Sometimes, he wondered what it was that Merlin saw in him, what it was that made him so loyal, so keen to die and risk everything for him, what it was that made him…Merlin.
Arthur was royalty; he was used to having people bow before him and obey his will. His subjects were bound to him in this way. Camelot itself was formed on intense morals of loyalty, responsibility to duty, chivalry, and the knights and subjects were all based around such morals. All of his life, he had learned, acted, and grew to fit and epitomize those beliefs to the best of his ability and character. His father had never expected anything less than those high values to shine from his son and his men, after all.
But Merlin was different.
Hell, no servant had ever been trusted enough or brave enough to follow him or any other Knight into battle. Servants couldn't defend themselves, seeing as their job is to clean, sew, and courtesy or bow (not that Merlin ever showed him that amount of respect anyway). They were a liability if they were ever forced out onto the field, but Merlin…
Merlin was anything but weak. Though the servant was nearly useless with a sword, he had proved to him only days before that he was an astoundingly damn good shot with a crossbow, and Arthur had recently noticed how fast the clumsy fool could move when he wasn't tripping over his feet. He was courageous and kept his head in the face of danger. He was dependable, selfless, resourceful, and even—when he wasn't being a complete idiot, that is—smart.
It had always seemed so natural and so right for Merlin to be at his side that only now did he realize how strange and unconventional it was. Merlin, he suddenly remembered with shock, hadn't even been born in Camelot, and he had never asked for the job to become Arthur's servant.
Yet, there he was, with his unique, deep eyes, his sunny, goofy smile, and all of his annoying and endearing quirks and mannerisms, with his wicked humor and sharp tongue, with his notorious habit for discovering every plot against the kingdom and managing to be the one to know how to fix every wrong, and most importantly, with all of the qualities that Arthur admired in a man. Merlin had always been there.
Unbidden, the memory of the rock-fall in which he thought he lost Merlin forever and then the memory of his frosty, pale, stone-cold face when the Dorocha touched him flashed across Arthur's mind, and he shuddered.
Arthur raised his eyes from the rocky tunnel floor to contemplate the back of Merlin's raven, tousle-haired head, which bobbed rhythmically with his familiar, gawky gait at the head of their line. He found himself feeling a rush of affection for the young man.
Despite his peasant status, Merlin was the noblest man Arthur knew. He might make mistakes, he might insult and tease him to no end, he might irritate him to distraction, but there was no one Arthur trusted more, and there was no one Arthur preferred to have at his side. Agravaine's betrayal had proved that to him once and for all; there was no hiding or denying it any longer.
There was something more there. It wasn't loyalty and duty alone that made Merlin remain at his side through the horrible events and dangerous missions, through the days dealing with his supercilious mockery and bad temper, and Arthur felt that he had known for a long time now…No, what drove Merlin was something far more precious and binding: friendship.
Yes, a servant was the King's friend, and even after all that he had put the thin young man through, it was a miracle that Merlin considered him a friend at all in return.
What kind of friend was he anyway? Merlin knew—well, he insisted that he and Gaius suspected, but Arthur knew the truth—that Agravaine was betraying him (sometimes, he even had reason to believe that Merlin had known of Morgana's betrayal far before he had), but what did Arthur do? Time and time again, he scoffed at his wisdom, ignored his advice, and yelled at him to leave him be. He pushed Merlin away, growling and fuming with intense infuriation at the idiot who just had to stick his nose into everything, and had instead embraced his uncle, who turned out to be the man working against him and everything he stood for. Then there were all the times Merlin was both physically and emotionally hurt because of him and his mistakes….
Not for one moment did Merlin blame Arthur. Gwen also—well, he'd rather not think about her.
He still loved her. Oh gods, did he love her! But, with an image of Lancelot kissing her and her tear-streaked face reappearing in his mind, he'd remember what it was that prevented them from being husband and wife, and he had to push away the undeniable love and the unbearable pain as they battled for dominance.
When he awoke to see her in Ealdor…it hadn't mattered. For one blissful moment, it was as though nothing had happened, but he could not deny the fact that it did happen. Nothing could change that, but then again, nothing could change what he felt for her.
They were both here with him: Merlin and Gwen. The two people he loved most—the ones who tugged at his heartstrings more than any other, the ones he'd die a thousand times over for, the ones he owed the most to—were the ones that were risking their lives for him and were the ones he couldn't live without.
He was unworthy of them. Merlin, the best friend he could ever hope for, and Gwen, the love of his life… He was failing them just as miserably as he had failed his people.
Which brought him to a full circle: how in hell were they going to get out of this mess?
Suddenly, Arthur was violently jerked from his dark pool of thoughts by a gasp from either Isolde or Gwen, and each of them, hearing the echoes from the footfalls of multiple pairs of boots behind them, froze and whirled to face the direction they had come from.
They were coming.
With a pounding heart and a twinge of fear, Arthur said gruffly to Merlin, "I thought you said we lost them."
"I thought I had."
If it had been any other time, Arthur might have had one or two sarcastic comments; he might have rolled his eyes at Merlin's uselessness, but the tone of surety in his manservant's low voice, paired with the approaching danger, ridded him of any such silly pleasure. Instead, his mind scrambled for a hold on an idea, any idea, to get them all out of there safely.
"It won't take long for them to catch us," Tristan growled in a whisper.
Arthur felt hope draining from him, but immediately, Merlin offered, "I'll go back."
The fugitive King looked at Merlin, who was determinately striding forward. The forcefulness of his lanky manservant's assertion left him reeling with shock, and the speed at which events were moving as well as the speed of Merlin's second selfless choice to try to lose their followers left him slightly disoriented. "What're you going to do?"
Merlin's reply was instant, simple, and serious. "Create a diversion."
Arthur put a hand out to stop him. "That's too risky," he immediately protested, his chest lurching. Too many things could go awry. His eyes flashed nervously back down the tunnels.
"I know these tunnels and Agravaine doesn't," Merlin said quickly.
For some odd reason, Arthur didn't take that statement as a consolation.
Thrusting his torch into his King's gloved hands, Merlin commanded, "You keep going."
"Merlin," Arthur began. He paused suddenly, studying his friend's face vigilantly. Those stormy blue eyes held nothing but absolute determination, conviction, and hardened stubborn will, and as Merlin's eyes, now glinting with a small curiosity at Arthur's concerned tone and long hesitation, skipped around his King's face, Arthur prevented himself from sighing.
Understanding that there was no talking the pig-headed servant out of his idea, and with a little of his old humor, which hid his true concern, returning to him, Arthur finally ordered, "Don't do anything stupid."
Merlin's unyielding eyes flashed towards the approaching noises. Eyebrows suddenly quirking, a lopsided, impish grin spread across his face, and he asked both innocently and mischievously, "Me?"
Arthur watched helplessly and worriedly as Merlin dashed off, his shadow disappearing around a turn in the tunnel after its master.
"C'mon, Arthur," Isolde said softly.
Seeing that the King had neither moved nor responded, Tristan whispered, "What're you doing?"
Arthur continued to stare at where he last saw Merlin's shadow. "Merlin," he repeated hoarsely.
"He knows the tunnels; he'll find his way," Tristan tried to say.
Before Tristan had even finished his statement, Arthur was moving around him. "I'm going after him," Arthur said in a voice that suggested no argument was to be made.
He didn't go more than a few steps before Tristan said under his breath, "For a servant?"
A flicker of rage swept through Arthur, and he faltered, nearly ready to turn around and punch Tristan to the floor for thinking so condescendingly of Merlin, who was, once again, selflessly trying to make their trackers lose their trail so that they might escape unnoticed and untried.
But after hearing Gwen's gentle voice say with pride, "You're wrong about him", he continued on rapidly, realizing that he had misinterpreted Tristan's question.
The smuggler had not been questioning the fact that he was going after a servant, but the fact he was going after Merlin at all. Strangely enough, this did not bother him nearly half as much as his previous interpretation did, and it was forgotten in an instant.
Merlin was more than a servant. He was an idiot, and if he didn't catch up with him soon, Arthur had the feeling that he would do something far more than stupid.
He wasn't wrong.
Abruptly, from a short distance away, he heard a loud, obnoxious, and overtly cheerful shout of: "OH, HELLO!"
Arthur recoiled at the volume of Merlin's voice, and cursing under his breath, he backtracked himself into a dead-end and snuffed out the flame of his torch in the hopes that he wouldn't get in Merlin's way or unnecessarily distract him as he led the group of Southrons on a chase through the twisting passages.
Sliding behind a convenient, jutting boulder just outside of the room formed by the dead-end, Arthur hid and grasped at the hilt of his sword, ready to listen for or possibly even see where Merlin led the tracking party and ready to jump into action if he perceived that he was in great danger.
Almost immediately, as usually expected of Merlin's more stupid ideas, everything went terribly wrong.
With firelight leaping violently behind him, Merlin sprinted into the same room he was hiding outside of, and he skidded to a stop in front of the wall blocking further access into the tunnels.
Arthur's heart fell to his knees as Merlin frantically scanned the dead-end wall and as he sensed a group of six men pass his hideout. The worry sitting in his chest was so deep and large that he felt as though he were going to be sick. With half-mad fantasies of slaying the traitors, he itched to reveal himself and to support Merlin against his uncle and nearly half a dozen soldiers, but the logical hunter and defender in him meticulously calmed his frantic thoughts.
He would do Merlin no good if he lost the element of surprise, and he made himself promise he would not move unless they were about to attack. Carefully, he raised his eyes so that he could see over the boulder.
"Merlin," Agravaine called sharply. "Merlin!"
When Merlin finally turned away from the wall to face Agravaine, Arthur hardly recognized him. His grimy face was set with indifference, guarded, and very, very cold; his eyes were hard and almost merciless, but Arthur knew Merlin well enough to see a small edginess behind the mask he had put on. However, even deeper than the mask, even deeper than the edginess, Arthur saw anger festering like a tempest.
It was then that Arthur realized that Merlin was not putting on an air of bravado; his anger was real—as real as the King had never seen it before—and an involuntary shiver crept down his spine at the message in those eyes. Merlin's anger was always trifling—to both the King and the servant himself—and it never exceeded beyond frustration (as far as Arthur knew). He had thought it was almost impossible for the servant to bear ill-will or hatred of this depth towards anyone. Here, he was proved wrong, and he hoped he'd never have to see that anger, as hidden as it was, directed at him.
"Where's Arthur?" Agravaine demanded.
Arthur instinctively froze, and silently begged for Merlin to say something, anything, even the truth… It doesn't matter, his mind screamed in vain, save yourself, Merlin! Get the hell out of there!
He should have known better not to underestimate Merlin, but if he expected anything, he sure didn't expect what he said next.
"Be careful," Merlin warned softly.
Agravaine appeared taken aback for just a moment, but Arthur's incredulity lasted longer before he was finally overtaken by disbelief. What the hell are you playing at Merlin? Have you gone mad?
"What are you talking about?" his uncle asked suspiciously, eyes darting from side to side. Apparently he decided and realized that Merlin was obviously bluffing, and his dark eyes locked onto the cornered servant once again with a look of impatience. "Where's Arthur?" he repeated severely.
Merlin avoided Agravaine's eyes, shuffled, and huffed a sigh, the corner of his mouth twitching up with stubborn reluctance.
"Tell me," the traitor ordered with the air and tolerance of a bratty, spoiled child. He spoke to Merlin as though the younger man was…a complete simpleton and a mentally challenged fool. "Now!"
Merlin's face had not faltered from the mask of indifference even once, and Agravaine added, with a hint of a smile in his voice, "Or I'll have to kill you."
While Arthur's heart raced like a sprinting horse, Merlin stoically scanned the men surrounding him, as though counting them…or possibly sizing them up for legitimate threat.
The King, trembling with worry and anticipation, was just slipping his sword out of his scabbard in preparation when Merlin began to shake his head.
Arthur's jaw dropped as Merlin met Agravaine's eyes head on and said—not boastfully or even overconfidently— but in that same soft, dark tone, "I don't think so."
Agravaine's eyebrows raised, no doubt thinking of Merlin as nothing more than insolent, and he exhaled a very short laugh of amusement. Oh, really? his eyes seemed to verbalize without words.
His uncle stepped forward, intending to take up Merlin's challenge…Arthur muscles tensed, and sweat beaded at his temple…
Before his uncle's first footstep touched the floor, Merlin's eyes flared gold, and all six men were sent flying through the air and crashing to the rock floor.
Arthur's hand released his sword to clamp over his mouth, and chest heaving, he scrabbled away from the scene, only stopping when his back hit the wall only a few meters behind him.
Merlin—Merlin had magic.
It took what felt like an interminable amount of time for Arthur to fully process it. Merlin, his Merlin, his manservant, his idiot, his friend…. asorcerer. A sorcerer who, without a single word, tossed six men twice his size into the air…and killed them. The display of power by his manservant was completely baffling.
A rush of bitter anger swept through him. Magic was dangerous; magic was evil. Magic had killed both of his parents and had turned Morgana against them all. It was illegal and treasonous. His teeth clenched together so tightly it hurt his jaw. What a fool he had been! How long had this sorcerer been hiding under his nose? How long had he practiced those hated Dark Arts? What the hell was he doing in Camelot, and why the hell was he his servant?
Suddenly, all the anger was washed away by heart-crushing sadness. This was Merlin.
If Morgana's or Agravaine's betrayal had been painful, this—this was agony.
Dammit, why, Merlin? Arthur whispered to himself. How long have you been betraying me? How long have you been playing me? He felt a few tears leak from the corners of his eyes, and he squeezed them shut, trying to force away the roaring waves of hurt that crashed upon him over and over and over again.
His only, most trusted friend…a traitor. Was everything that Merlin was…a lie? Was all their laughter and were all their conversations false? Was there anything about their relationship that was real or true? Was there some ulterior motive, some hidden plot…?
No. It couldn't be…could it?
He recalled memories of Merlin: everything that they had been through together, everything that Merlin had done for him, every bit and piece of their adventures and history, all of his earlier musings…
His refusal was more confident this time, and with each passing millisecond, he became surer and surer.
Merlin had never once betrayed him, never once failed him or stopped believing in him. All I know, he had said both wisely and playfully when Arthur first voiced his self-doubts days ago, is that for all your many faults, you are honest and brave and true-hearted. And one day you will be the greatest King this land has ever known… and both the wise, soft voice and insolent, goofy tones of the younger man carried, continued, and echoed throughout his memory.
Even as more and more evidence of magic now came to light, Arthur knew in his heart of hearts, no matter how much he may or may not have disapproved of and even feared and hated Merlin's magic, that Merlin himself was no traitor.
But—but nothing made sense, he realized confusedly. Magic—he knew—was evil, and by that logic, Merlin was evil. He knew well the deceptiveness and crafty evil of sorcerers, having seen Morgana's and plenty of others' first-hand, but Merlin... he felt a strong pang of shame for even thinking that Merlin was evil, not after all that he had risked for him and Camelot.
Merlin was almost the antithesis of evil. Just now, he may have used his magic to take lives, but it was in defense of his own life and protection of his friends' lives that he used it to take theirs. Was a knight, swordsman, or King any different in that respect?
All of a sudden, the world seemed to stop spinning, and time, which was already crawling, stood perfectly still.
Just after Gaius had regained enough strength to speak to him after his kidnapping a few weeks prior, he had admitted that he protected the old sorcerer—the old sorcerer with all too familiar eyes—whose magic had accidentally killed his father. I chose to protect him, he had whispered in explanation. I feared you would seek him out and execute him. That would've been a grave mistake. The sorcerer did not kill your father. Uther was dying. He tried everything in his power to save him.
Arthur had been confused and slightly disturbed to hear this, and it had occupied his mind more often than he'd care to admit, but nothing had perplexed him more than Gaius's next words.
Contained within this great kingdom is a rich variety of people, with a range of different beliefs. I am not the only one seeking to protect you. There are many more who believe in the world you are trying to create. One day you will learn, Arthur. One day you will understand... just how much they've done for you.
Today was the day. He understood, and he knew. He understood, and he wondered why it was he had never seen it before.
For one, if that touching and powerful speech hadn't been dedicated to and for Merlin, Arthur would eat his socks, but more notably, if Merlin was not evil because of magic, then, by that logic, magic itself was not unchangeably evil…
This discovery and revelation did not change a single thing. Merlin was still Merlin and still the man he had grown so fraternally fond of.
Sure, Merlin had lied about his secret, but Arthur could see why and didn't blame him in the slightest for his wariness and fear. No one, Arthur least of all, had ever given him the chance to tell the truth.
It was a wonderful epiphany. It was new and fresh, tasting like the first spring rain, and feeling like…magic—the very same force that had always been with him. He had always felt its presence, but he could never describe it. It was golden, a protective, safe shield, a secret guardian angel, and he now knew what it truly was to be. Merlin and his magic.
Suddenly, Arthur was overcome with the strangest urge to burst into giddy laughter. He had never figured Merlin out, and even now, that everything was revealed and nearly every question he ever had concerning Merlin answered, he acknowledged he'd never would, even though an interested curiosity and thirst to learn more had now taken hold of him.
How, when, and why Merlin began to study magic was a mystery to him, but it was no mystery that only he would be idiotic enough to do so in Camelot right under his nose.
Time caught up with him when one of the enemies whom Merlin had thrown spectacularly with his magic, stirred and gasped loudly for air.
Eyelids flying open, Agravaine stared with a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief at Merlin. Merlin's stormy blue eyes shone with genuine panic, but after closing them briefly, Arthur saw Merlin gather his courage and level his careful gaze to Agravaine, who had rolled to his feet.
His uncle pointed at Merlin, and with a bizarre glee, he exclaimed, "You have magic!"
Arthur couldn't help but roll his eyes at the obvious statement.
Merlin's face, now hiding that initial panic, was hardened once again with seriousness. "I was born with it," he specified unemotionally.
Born with it? Arthur wondered in awe. Was that even possible? He had never heard of such a thing. He'd always assumed that magic was something that you chose, that you accepted of your own free will.
But it was true. Merlin's eyes spoke volumes, and in those eyes, Arthur discerned even larger meaning behind the words: what it meant to beborn with magic…it was part of him—just as much as the blood that flowed through his veins—a part that would never fade, and a part that could never be removed or destroyed without ultimately killing his spirit.
His whole life! Arthur thought. Imagine having to live with that secret and burden your whole life! Imagine having to hide who you were and what you could do. Imagine having to fear for yourself day by day. Imagine feeling the hatred and fear directed towards everything that you were. All this time… He was in awe of the secret sorcerer's strength, and a part of him was deeply sympathetic towards Merlin, who, forced to lead a lonely life, had never known anything different.
Why did you leave? Arthur had once asked Merlin years and years ago about his home village.
I…just didn't fit in anymore; I wanted to find somewhere that I did.
Had any luck?
I'm not sure yet.
Agravaine's smile abruptly dropped from his face, a look of revelation taking its place. "So it's you," he whispered. "You're Emrys."
Though the name meant nothing to Arthur (he'd never heard it in his life), a thrilling chill laced down his body, but obviously, it meant something to Merlin.
He looked troubled, and his voice wavered as he replied, "That is what the Druids call me."
The Druids had a special name for him? But—how—why…? Merlin, you sure have a hell of a lot of explaining to do.
Grinning like a fox, Agravaine gestured absentmindedly with his hand, and he asked rhetorically, "And you've been at court, all this time?" When Merlin swallowed convulsively, his uncle released a humorless chuckle and continued, "At Arthur's side?"
Arthur frowned. The way Agravaine spoke reminded him of the time when Morgana hid the Druid boy Mordred in her own chambers and managed to trick him into not searching for him there. He could imagine that he sounded exactly the same when he realized that Morgana had fooled him.
His uncle sounded like a frustrated man who, having searched for something precious for a long time, had finally found it right under his nose. Arthur guessed without doubt that Agravaine, under orders from Morgana, most likely, without knowing of Merlin's identity, had been looking for 'Emrys.'
'Emrys' must have had a very prestigious reputation to have the Druids' reverence and to have caught Morgana's eye. But why she was looking for him—that was something else entirely. Perhaps she had sought him as an ally? That, or she was intimidated and even afraid of the threat he posed...
And wanted him dead.
Arthur's mind reeled in mind-numbing shock as he realized what these observations meant for this 'Emrys'...for Merlin...
What else has he done? And just how powerful is he?
Agravaine's darkening chuckles drew Arthur from his state of numb bewilderment, and he heard the biting accusation in the older man's voice as he exclaimed, "How you've managed to deceive him!"
The words hit Merlin directly in the right spot, and in the dim firelight, Arthur saw Merlin's eyes melt with tortured guilt and freeze once again with fierce determination and anger.
The message was clear: Merlin believed he was doing the right thing.
Nodding his head with a false smile plastered on his face, the older man praised, "I am impressed, Merlin. Perhaps we're more alike than you think."
Arthur gnashed his teeth at the insult, and the urge to cut down his treasonous family member then and there for even suggesting what he had sang through his inflamed blood.
Merlin was more than Agravaine and Arthur together could ever hope to be.
The traitor stepped forward and offered his hand to Merlin, but Merlin's hand flew up in defense, palm facing outward and eyes heavily suspicious.
It was no deadly sword, but the grace in which Merlin held his hand, arm, and body proved how dangerous he truly was. Arthur was impressed that Agravaine didn't turn tail and run right there because it was obvious that his uncle saw exactly what he saw.
It was rather frightening.
The traitor's grin fell, and he turned his palm out in a gesture of peace and cautiously shifted his weight away from Merlin.
Slate blue eyes still tight with suspicion, Merlin lowered his hand slowly, and Arthur's hand went reassuringly to his sword hilt once again. Agravaine's new, sheepish smile was too forced for his liking; he was probably trying to lull Merlin into a false sense of secur—
With the speed of a viper, Agravaine thrust himself towards Merlin, a gleaming dagger in hand, but Merlin, moving even faster, threw both arms up. With eyes of burning gold, Merlin threw Agravaine into the air once again, and the traitor crashed into the rocks as before.
This time, however, he grew still and did not move again.
And Merlin stood, unharmed.
Relief blossomed in Arthur's chest, and he closed his eyes in gratitude. Agravaine was dead, killed in a far more merciful way than he deserved; Morgana had just lost an ally; Merlin was safe.
They were all safe…for now.
And, dammit, they were probably worried sick about them.
Merlin remained in his defensive stance for a moment longer, and he looked down at his hands with a curiously unreadable gleam in his eye before jerkily lowering them to his sides.
With a furrow appearing between his eyebrows, Merlin paced forward and stared at Agravaine's body, perhaps for assurance that he really was dead this time.
The crease on Merlin's forehead deepened with pity, and he turned away from the traitor he killed, having done his home and King a good service, but still feeling pain and guilt for it all the same.
Sidling out of his hiding place, quietly slipping away without the now- known sorcerer noticing, Arthur, for the first time since losing Camelot, smiled genuinely and proudly, and affection for the guileless, selfless, and compassionate buffoon of a sorcerer before him spread across him like a soft blanket before a different sort of anxiousness overtook him.
What the hell was he going to do? Should he reveal to Merlin that he had been there the whole time? That he had seen everything? Should he keep this to himself and wait?
While it would be easy to deny that he saw anything, it would be hard to forget, but, at this time, when Chaos was running rampant, when he had his own demons to fight, it would be far harder to reveal and far harder to pull through.
No, now was not the time. As curious and eager as Arthur was to hear Merlin's tale, they both hadn't the time or the energy to tell or listen to it now.
Besides, Merlin was obviously not ready to tell him, and even though Arthur had come to the conclusion that he didn't give a damn about his magic, he had the feeling even he wasn't ready.
He had to think on the entire subject more—it was a huge change in beliefs he had just made, after all. He also wanted to learn more about this indescribably significant second name of Merlin's, and above and beyond that, he felt he had to prove himself. He had to somehow recall all of his unjust denunciations of magic, begin to change things…perhaps prove to Merlin that he now has the chance to tell him the truth.
He couldn't help but feel a twinge of wicked satisfaction and hope as he thought of how Merlin's gifts might be of use…and how he might use them for this task...
A sudden chill of fear gripped his gut: from what he'd seen, he guessed and assumed that Morgana's magic matched, if not acceded, Merlin's, and she, unlike Merlin, was far more ruthless, had no fear of consequence, and had had time to master her magic. And Merlin's advantages? Were there any? He didn't know. Could Merlin...was he even...?
Upon hearing his servant approaching fast behind him, the young fugitive shook his worries and hopes from his head and then doubled back. Hoping that his impromptu acting was up to par and taking a deep breath, he slipped his sword out of its scabbard, and he pretended to cautiously peek around a wall…
"Merlin!" Arthur called with authentic relief as Merlin, with confused eyes, saw his King waiting for him. "Where've you been?" he added for a nice cover-up.
For a moment, Arthur was afraid that Merlin would see right through him, and he was even more afraid that now that he knew, things would not be the same…that it would be extraordinarily difficult not to see him, treat him, or look at him any differently and therefore reveal what it was he saw. Merlin couldn't know he knew. Not yet anyway.
"Were you worried about me?" Merlin asked, his eyes dancing.
Well, it appeared very little acting would be needed at all. "…No," he denied, easily and effortlessly falling back into the timeless relationship that the two shared. "I was making sure we weren't being followed."
Even Arthur wasn't convinced by his excuse, and Merlin, still looking pleased and puzzled, stated, "You came back to look for me." It wasn't a question.
Arthur paused and admitted, "Alright. It's true. I came back because you're the only friend I have, and I couldn't bear to lose you."
Merlin's face slowly lit with a sunny smile. "Really?" he asked, touched.
With a small smirk on his lips, Arthur turned and began to lead the way back, and with humor that only Merlin and Merlin alone would understand, true to his more natural demeanor, he scoffed, "Don't be stupid."
He heard Merlin exhale a laugh behind him and follow him.
Because, magic or no magic, Merlin would follow him to the ends of the earth…just as Arthur would him.
Because while Arthur might not be able to do or say anything about Merlin's magic just yet, there was a chance that he could do so in the shaky and uncertain future.
That is, if there was a worthy enough King to lead them there.
AN: I didn't edit this so well, so I hope it was alright.
This is complete, and I will not write the rest of the episode because, as I mentioned above, the sword in the stone scene would lose all of its meaning with a Reveal here. If anyone has any ideas on how to continue this fic, and if at all wants to continue it themselves, feel free to pm me. :)
Oz out. :D
Edit 06/12: Thanks to bluespiritgal and servant123, this fic is now no longer complete and will be extended into a multi-chapter fic. :) I have made very, very small changes to make this chapter more compatible with how I envision the rest. It may undergo some more changes the further along I get.