Disclaimer: IDOM

AN: LAST CHAPTER, EVERYONE, and gosh, what a beast of a chapter it is... :D Overall, I'm feeling so-so. I'm not happy but not upset with it. I know I've written better, but I think there're still a few jewels hidden in this. ;)

And thank you so much for your encouragement and your support. You are all incredible!

Speaking of incredible, if you want to read an awesome fic, read OneDarkandStormyNight's The Voice in the Dream. I was always wary of reading modern fics, but now I regret never trying a modern fic before.

So, with that, I hope you enjoy the final chapter of Only Friend:


"I've heard it said

That people come into our lives

For a reason.

Bringing something we must learn.

And we are led to those,

Who help us most to grow, if we let them.

And we help them in return.

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true.

But I know I'm who I am today

Because I knew you.

So much of me

Is made of what I learned from you.

You'll be with me,

Like a handprint on my heart.

And now whatever way our stories end,

I know you have rewritten mine

By being my friend."

(Song: "For Good" from Broadway's Wicked soundtrack)


Scene 6: Knowing Merlin

Arthur expected Guinevere to be shocked. He expected her to sit back and gape and demand to know how it was possible that Merlin, their clumsy, quirky, bizarre friend, was born to become the most powerful warlock in the world. Or perhaps—the more likely reaction—he expected her to become lightheaded and overwhelmed and to stare at him in flabbergasted silence.

All in all, he expected her to be just as mystified as he was.

And, at first, the King thought he would be perfectly satisfied with Gwen's reaction.

However, after her eyes widened and mouth popped open marginally, she did something that he never would have expected of her.

She started to laugh. Hard. So hard that she hugged herself with one arm and had tears of hilarity gathering at the corners of her brown eyes.

Arthur almost wished that that had been his reaction—laughter—because really, it was absurd, wasn't it? To think that Merlin, his lazy and appallingly manneredmanservant Merlin, who even he had admitted was brave, loyal, a true friend…

A powerful sorcerer humbling himself to scrub floors and muck stables...

A powerful sorcerer using his magic so selflessly and for no reason but for the protection of Camelot and its King…

It was just so Merlin, and that was why even Arthur, whose banter with the younger man had turned into his favorite pastime and whose mockery of him and his quirks became another fond hobby, couldn't even laugh at the irony or the absurdity of it all.

But apparently Gwen could.

Or so he thought.

"Arthur," she gasped when she managed to contain her laughter into small giggles, "you make it sound as though the world's going to end."

The King of Camelot stared at her for a few moments, and after fully realizing that, yes, she had indeed been laughing at him and not at the situation as he had thought, too mentally exhausted and dumbfounded to even blush, he allowed his head to flop down into the pillows again.

"You can't tell me that you're not surprised, Guinevere," Arthur mumbled.

"Arthur," Gwen scolded. He heard the scrape of a chair being pushed backwards, and she came to sit beside him on the bed. "I can't hear you talk if your face is stuffed into a pillow."

Grumbling, Arthur complied with her subtle request that he stop behaving like a child and rolled over to lie on his back.

"You don't seem surprised," he stated again accusingly.

"Of course I am, but… I think a part of me already knew that Merlin was no ordinary—Oh, don't smirk at me like that, Arthur!" she chided, smacking his shoulder and effectively wiping the devious smirk off his lips. "Yes, Merlin's odd—in a good way, of course, despite what you might think—but I didn't mean it like that.

"What I meant was that…he's ridden into battle with you without a single piece of armor to his name and returns without a single scratch or bruise! All the things you two have accomplished together…survived together…" She shook her head. "And when he blasted Morgana the other day, he incanted no spell…He did it with his mind. So, while I am a little…awed, I remembered that I suspected that he wasn't just any sorcerer. And, if I'm not mistaken, so did you."

Arthur opened his mouth to deny it, but realizing that she had completely read his mind for him, he leaned back again and huffed, "Perhaps. But that it's confirmed…Gwen, when I left Gaius' chambers tonight, Merlin bumped into me in the corridor on his way back covered with hay and dirt and god knows what else. Do you know how strange that was? After what I just learned?"

Gwen's brow cocked, and she asked perplexedly, "How was it strange?"

The King blinked in incredulity. "How was it—Gwen!" Arthur exclaimed helplessly, dragging his hands through his golden hair. "Everything I've ever thought about magic—he's changing things, Gwen. He's changing everything. But, no, that's not even it. I can't explain it…and I can't help but compare him to all the others we've faced throughout the years—all the ones that have been corrupted by their thirst for revenge and power…"

Realization dawned on Gwen's face, and she said slowly, "I think I know what you're trying to say, Arthur. You keep expecting him to be different for it, or perhaps it's more that you keep expecting to see something different."

Staring at Gwen, the King uneasily pondered the statement, and before he could accept or deny it, Gwen was rubbing his shoulder and asking gently, "Have you ever wondered why Merlin never told us, Arthur?"

Arthur's brow furrowed, and he said shrugging and hiding a wince, "I just assumed that he thought I wouldn't…" he, carefully avoiding to think about the less than pleasant reactions he might have had (that particular, discomforting list of bad reactions made a nauseating horror grip him), trailed off before finishing, "…understand."

Now, that was a euphemism if he ever heard one.

Gwen pursed her lips and said, "I've been thinking…and I believe it's more than that."

Both eyebrows rising, Arthur gave her an inquisitive, intuitive look, which was prompt enough for her to begin explaining.

"It isn't a matter of trust…it might have been at the beginning, but now, he trusts you more than anyone. Eclipsing all fear of Uther's pyre, of your violent or nonviolent reaction, Arthur, I think what he was truly afraid of, more than anything, was not that you might exile him, imprison him, or condemn him to death but that, in doing so, there would be a moment that youwould look upon him with disgust, contempt, and hatred… that we, his friends—should we accept him or shun him—would see him differently and treat him differently."

In the King's mind's eye, he saw the shattering of Merlin's eyes over and over again…

I am indebted to you, Merlin. I had become...confused. It is once again clear to me that those who practice magic are evil and dangerous. And that is thanks to you.

It is pure evil. I'll never lose sight of that again.

You cannot trust a single word of what a sorcerer says. You'd do well to remember that.

There's no way he's a sorcerer.

Each word, a dagger to his heart. Each syllable, another reason to be afraid that Arthur would never accept who and what he was. He had hurt Merlin enough with those odious words, and yet here he was, behind Merlin's back, doing the very thing Arthur never truly realized his friend was afraid of.

He was trying to see Merlin as a stranger in light of this new information.

With a small smile on her face, she shifted closer to him and said, "It's still Merlin, and shouldn't you be grateful that, of all men to possess such magic, it is Merlin?"

Merlin. Loyal. Brave. Selfless. Wise. Nosy. Insolent. Cheerful. Intelligent. Friend. Brother. Idiot.

Smiling, laughing, or quarreling, Merlin was Merlin, and the knowledge of his magic and its power, the extremities of his protectiveness, humility, and oddities in both the magical and non-magical worlds…it only made Merlin seem more Merlin.

The fact that Merlin could raze the city to the ground…an unnecessary thought. Because Merlin was Merlin, and Arthur could imagine him laughing in the face of someone who suggested he do so.

The fact that Merlin could have used magic on him at any time…Arthur shrugged and resigned himself to the fact that the servant probably had used magic on him at one point or another. Because Merlin was Merlin, and his lack of self-preservation, his desire to do nothing more than give his life for the King and for Camelot, his compassion, and genuine concern for his wellbeing mandated that.

I'm happy to be your servant. 'Til the day I die.

I'm going to be at your side, like I always am, protecting you.

"You cannot imagine," Arthur said with a bright, broadening smile, "how grateful I am."

"Good," Gwen said. "You're already going to scare the daylights out of him when you tell him you know. Don't need to scare him any further."

Arthur quirked an eyebrow and asked suddenly, "You're going to talk with him with me. Aren't you?"

Gwen shook her head. "No," she said decisively. "I think that this is something that must be settled between the two of you first, and as I said, I don't want to overwhelm him…I'm sure that he's kept the secret for so long—" a worried, suspicious look flitted across her face when a mischievous gleam appeared in his eye (he was suddenly reminded of a promise he had made himself in jest a few days previous), and she said, "You're not going to make this easy for him are you."

Smiling slyly, Arthur said simply, "Not at all."

She gave him a disapproving look, and interpreting her glare correctly, he chuckled with mock-innocence, "Now how is that fair, Guinevere? He dumped a lot onto our heads—"

"You brought that on yourself, Arthur."

He rolled his eyes—that comment had no bearing on his conscience or his decision—and finished with a smirk, "Like hell I'm letting him off easy. He deserves it, and after what he's put us through, I think I deserve to have some fun with this."

"You have a horrid definition of fun, Arthur Pendragon."

But there, at the corners of her lips, she was struggling to restrain a knowing smile, the smile of tolerance, amusement, and affection that she used whenever she saw the strange pair that was Arthur and Merlin interacting.

He won, and she knew it.

"But that's tomorrow." Upon saying that, his gut pricked with apprehension, but he shook the thought away and continued in a more serious tone of voice that captured Gwen's full attention immediately, "Let me tell you what I learned from Gaius."

~…~

It seemed that Fate favored the underdog in this battle.

By the time the warning bells were sounded, there was not a single sign of Morgana but that of a mocking, empty dungeon-cell, still locked and undamaged. And there was no sign of how she escaped.

Except for that of the drugged, sleeping guards outside the dungeons, of course.

This was not how Arthur imagined the morning going.

He imagined actually getting a good nights' sleep, for one, and he sure as hell didn't imagine waking up before the sun rose to the clanging of that damn bell and Merlin, with his bedhead and in his nightshirt, bolting in no less than a few minutes later when Arthur was stumbling around as he tried to pull on a fresh shirt. He imagined that he'd be prepared to have his conversation with Merlin soon after breakfast, which he, in reality, had not had yet…

Weary and hungry, Arthur rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, and trying to ignore the early morning sunlight beginning to filter through the windows of the council chambers and kiss his golden hair and the headache of fatigue beginning to pound in his temples, the King only pretended to listen to Sir Hector's report—there were tracks that suggested she was assisted in her escape (that much, Arthur could've guessed already), but those tracks disappeared suddenly just outside the line of trees bordering the city, and even dogs could not pick up the scent, to which, a carefully composed Merlin, leaning against his usual pillar and speaking out of turn from the shadows without fear of the consequence, blurted that her assistant (for he was confident that her magic was still subdued by the drug) must have used a transportation spell (or some other such spell, he had been hasty to add flippantly) to throw them all off her track.

So, while the other councilors began to argue in their panic and exhaustion about who to blame and how to go about fixing it, Arthur peeked over the hand on his face and inconspicuously studied Merlin.

The servant hadn't been reprimanded for speaking out. Indeed, everyone, including Arthur and Gaius, who was probably seconds away from voicing the same observation, were so surprised that he actually did speak out that when he, clenching his jaw, ducked his head, all they could do was stare at the well-known idiot manservant of the King's. Gaius, of course, was the first to recover, quickly agreed with Merlin's statement, and began listing the signs of magic.

Now, the secret sorcerer was listening to everyone bicker with a strange anger, self-contempt, and shame in his eyes. At first, Arthur thought those particular emotions were a result of Merlin having tried and failed to stop Morgana from escaping, but after watching his crystal clear eyes flicker from man to man, his jaw twitch, and his body posture, Arthur realized that it wasn't that at all.

Merlin had been asleep like the rest of them, and he, having not somehow sensed the magic of the intruder and having had a lapse of vigilance, blamed himself for not having even tried to stop the escape.

"My Lord, what do you think?"

Arthur jolted upright, and as his eyes snapped back to the table of councilors, his gaze flickered to Leon, who had just addressed him.

"Sorry?" he asked sheepishly.

"About sending parties out after her and the intruder," Leon clarified patiently.

Arthur's brow furrowed, and resting his hands on his chin, he considered it. Despite the fact that Arthur knew search parties would hardly benefit anyone, seeing as she and her fellow sorcerer were long gone and left nothing for them to trace, everyone expected him to do so, and also, the people would need reassurance that their King was doing his utmost to protect them, even if it was merely a gesture and not the perfect solution.

What he really needed to do was to talk to Merlin and see if he could find a way to track her through… unconventional means.

In the meantime, however…

"If Merlin and Gaius are correct about their use of magic, there is little we can do. However, I still say we send the parties out to search the forest and the lands of the outlying villages, Leon." He explained his thoughts concerning the people, who were sure to become very frightened at this development, and then added, "Remember, some people this good at what they do are overconfident. We might find something that they carelessly left behind. I expect, however, that she will evade us without difficulty…Soon, we'll need to discuss and predict her next moves, possible allies, and hide-outs and speak about the defense—"

It was at that point that Arthur felt an exhilarating thrill strike him like a bolt of lightning, and he, his eyes wide, unseeing, and distant, cut himself off as the golden epiphany formulated in his mind.

He wondered how it was that no one had ever seen it before, and looking back upon the Purge and what he believed it was that drove all those sorcerers to seek revenge on Camelot and her Pendragon royals and what it was that made Merlin different from them, Arthur was ever more convinced: the only way to fight her—to fight magic—was with magic.

What Gaius said the night before suddenly seemed all the more meaningful to him. In that one moment, the words were invaluable because they directed his half-formed epiphany and its significance directly to his heart and then to the logic gears spinning and churning in his head.

When he looked back years later, he would recognize that it was in those words that he finally became fully aware and conscious of what Merlin having magic meant for the future of Camelot.

It is said that Emrys will protect the Once and Future King and help him realize his destiny, which is to unite the land of Albion…and create peace for all her peoples.

All her peoples.

It wasn't the cries of "Sire? Sire!" that dragged Arthur from his thoughts but the familiar feeling of stormy blue eyes on him, and after flashing his eyes to meet Merlin's, he, feeling exposed and completely vulnerable under the piercing gaze, looked hurriedly away.

"Are you alright, Sire?" Gaius asked worriedly.

The King brushed off the concerns easily with the excuse of fatigue, and looking at Merlin from his peripheral vision, he said, "Yes, we'll definitely have to discuss new defense strategies and patrol schedules at a later date. We must be prepared for whatever she might plan for us next because, whether we like it or not, she will be back. Eventually."

With that, Arthur gave some final orders to Leon for the search parties, and after dismissing them and making eye contact with Merlin, he soon found himself walking side-by-side with the younger man, who was lost in his own thoughts, on the way back to his chambers.

Outside of the chambers, the problem and threat that Morgana posed—her hatred, ambition, and ruthlessness must have increased tenfold in her defeat—hit him with renewed force, and he, wanting nothing more than to hear Merlin's opinions, sighed, "It'll be as it was last year…another manhunt."

"She's not going to be found until she either makes a move or wants to be found," Merlin agreed seriously.

"D'you suppose it will take her so long to recover from this defeat as it did the last?"

Stormy blue eyes darkened and deepened, and with an insightful frown, Merlin said sagely, "It depends. This time she does not have her sister to nurse nor does she have to spend a lot of her time learning magic or increasing her own skill."

A shudder ran down Arthur's spine at Merlin's unintentional slip…it suggested he knew far more about magic than he let on, and knowing that he did indeed know about magic, Arthur wasn't comforted by the fact that Merlin seemed to think she was near her full power.

"On the other hand," Merlin mused, "she has few friends now, and it will take time to summon another force to take Camelot…or to plan her next, significant moves. Whatever they may be."

Merlin looked to his King with flashing, wise eyes. "All we can do is try to keep one step ahead of her and wait for what the next few weeks bring."

The King scowled suddenly at the words and growled in annoyance, "I feel as though we're waiting for her to make the first move again. It gives her an advantage and makes me feel vulnerable."

"I'd like to see uscatch her unawares for once just as much as you do, Arthur," Merlin said, "But isn't it more wise to play off a powerful enemy's first moves than to go charging into battle without a clue of what the enemy has planned and what it is we exactly have to fight against?"

Arthur didn't hesitate to admit, "Yes." Dragging his hand through his hair, he added, "I just want to have something new to throw her way. This strategy cannot last forever. She knows us too well, and we are beginning to lose sight of her as she dabbles in Darker and Darker magic."

"You're right," Merlin agreed. "Do you have an idea of how to change it? The strategy, I mean?"

With a prick of apprehension, Arthur refrained from rolling his eyes, hid a knowing smirk, and asked softly, "Don't you?"

Merlin's unreadable, expressive eyes flickered to him, and with a forced impassiveness on his face, he shook his head slowly to indicate he and the King probably weren't thinking in sync.

Liar, Arthur said to himself almost fondly. Honestly, Merlin...

"I think I do."

Dark eyebrows rose, and with eyes glistening with curiosity, he asked, "Oh? And what d'you propose?"

His answer was simple, though he knew that the repercussions of answering with such would definitely not be, and he said it bluntly.

"Magic."

Merlin, his cerulean eyes widening comically, jerked to a stumbling stop in the middle of the corridor outside Arthur's rooms, and the King, with his hand on the door handle, turned back to look at his friend.

The silence between them was unbearably heavy as Merlin, shocked to the core, stared at him, and all the confidence that Arthur had, the rehearsals he had done, the visualizations of how this moment would go…disappeared. Flew out the window. What remained was nothing more than an uneasy feeling of nervousness that made his insides drop like a stone into a pond.

Suddenly, he became angry at himself. Surely a man who stood before a whole manner of nightmarish monsters without wavering shouldn't find it so nerve-wracking to start a bloody conversation? Surely he wasn't afraid to talk to Merlin?

That was ridiculous. He was King. Kings don't fear trivial things like that.

But then again, kings normally didn't befriend servants and have wit-battles with them and have to talk to them about their secret, illegal magic that they had apparently been born with or about their destiny as foretold in the Druid prophecies, which proclaimed them to be the most powerful warlock to exist, or about how they've used their magic these past few years and how said King found out or about what was going to happen now since said king has learned about their secret, illegal magic or about how said King needed to thank them and then smack them upside the head for being so idiotic about it all or about their supposed-to-be-dead dragon friend that can talk…

Arthur came to the miraculous realization that absolutely nothing about said King's life was remotely normal.

And he, whose internal ranting cheered him up significantly, eased his frazzled nerves, and reminded him that this was Merlin, blamed Merlin for that.

Besides, the time for secrets was over, and Arthur was more than ready to take the next step forward, to recognize Merlin for his sacrifices and talents, and to see him free of fear and able to use his magic out of the shadows.

For not only Merlin's benefit, but for the benefit of all of Albion's peoples.

So it was with the look of a man hardly daring to hope that Merlin finally managed, "What?"

Priceless. Already, Arthur was finding it hard to force back a smile, but having learned under the tutelage of his father, he was well accustomed to hiding his true emotions behind a mask.

"Well, for now, not so much magic in general as Emrys specifically," Arthur explained casually, pulling open his door.

He stepped in and left the door open for Merlin to enter, but when the servant, who was frozen in place and forcing calm, didn't move, Arthur leaned lazily against the threshold and smirked, "Are you going to come in?"

When Merlin started and began to hide his unease behind a scowl, Arthur's smirk deepened, and he jabbed mockingly, "Or are you going to stand in the hallway all day?"

The servant's blue eyes glinted at Arthur's tone of voice, but instead of retorting, he stepped into his chambers, closed the door behind him, and asked carefully in a voice tight with unnatural composure, "What made you change your mind?"

Arthur looked at him in mock-disbelief. "Merlin, you're my servant. You're allowed in my room whether I like it or not—not that you would listen anyway if I decided to forbid you from entering—and I did make it clear I wished to speak with you in—"

"No, not about that, Arthur," Merlin exclaimed impatiently and exasperatedly with a wild gesture of his hands. As if suddenly aware of how loud he had been, he winced sheepishly, his voice became deeper, and he, now unconsciously playing with his fingers, almost whispered, "I meant…about—about…him."

The fact that Merlin seemed reluctant to say his Druid name amused Arthur to no end, and after cocking a brow and pulling a frown, he stated, "You don't agree."

"Yes!" A confused look passed over his face, and then, unnerved, he shook his head. "Wait, no."

Arthur blinked and asked, "So…you do or do not agree with me?"

Merlin's brow furrowed, and he seemed to choose his words very carefully as he admitted with a sheepish grin, "I'm not exactly sure what it is I'm agreeing or disagreeing to."

Of course Merlin would be the one to notice that Arthur didn't say anything about his plans for 'Emrys,' but the small burst of pride for his friend's intuition was quickly overtaken by a pinprick of fond annoyance.

You know, you're too clever for your own good sometimes, Merlin.

"It's just that…" Merlin stumbled over his words. "I thought you hated mag—him, I mean—the old man."

The mask that Arthur had formed nearly crumpled like a piece of parchment underneath a boot as the words drove his greatest regret—that Merlin should feel that he was hated by him, his friend—to the surface, and after swallowing harshly, he responded, "I thought so too…but I think…even before you caught that slip of Morgana's, I was starting to see, thanks to you and Gaius, that it was not Emrys to blame for my father's death."

A wry smile worked its way onto Arthur's lips, and he finished, "No, Merlin. I don't hate him. I would like to think that he and I could be allies one day—friends even," he threw in mercilessly, his sapphire eyes scanning Merlin's face for his reaction.

He wasn't disappointed. Merlin's face paled and then flushed, and his breath caught in his throat. To his credit, he hid it quite well, and Arthur only saw it because he was searching for it.

"You see," Arthur began to explain slowly, "After our visit with Morgana, I think I saw just how invaluable he could be to us. She's so terrified of him, and from what she said, it seems that he knows how to foresee her plans and has prevented her from succeeding in her plots against us time and time again."

Merlin's eyes were shining with something akin to hopeful, incredulous, awed happiness, and Arthur, averting his face to hide a smile, sat heavily at his dining table, unsheathed his sword, and laid in front of him on the table.

"I didn't fully understand it—I didn't understand him," the King said, rubbing his chin. "A sorcerer using his magic for Camelot and not against it? No, I didn't understand…until I spoke to Gaius."

Suddenly a suspicious gleam entered Merlin's stormy eyes, and he, trying to subdue what looked like panic, surprise, and irritation, asked, "You spoke with Gaius about m—him?"

Judging by the accusing edginess in his voice, Gaius hadn't told Merlin that Arthur had been nosing around the other night.

But…why wouldn't Gaius—?

It hit Arthur like a mace to the stomach. Either Gaius didn't want to worry Merlin…or he knew.

Recalling the look on the physician's face when he left, Arthur suspected the latter.

You wily old man, Arthur thought to himself with a mixture of fondness and surprise.

"Yes, I did. I was curious."

"Curious?" Merlin blurted in shock. "You…curious about magic?"

Arthur scowled, "Is it really that hard to wrap your mind around it, Merlin?"

The question must have made Merlin aware of how strange he was acting, and to Arthur's amusement, he, off the top of his head and true to his nature, joked insolently, "Is that you challenging my intellect, Arthur?"

"Heaven forbid I insult your intellect, Merlin," Arthur scoffed sarcastically. "I would expect that you're used to it by now."

"Well, forgive me for being a little baffled by your sudden change in mentality," Merlin said a little shakily, finally pulling out a chair and sitting for himself.

"Trust me," Arthur sniffed, sitting back and folding his arms, "I was even more baffled. It's not everyday the realization that magic's not wholly evil is forcibly knocked into your head."

Merlin closed his eyes, which did flash with humor before he hid them from Arthur, briefly, and when they, glowing with a poignant light, flew open, he asked quietly, "Do you really believe that?"

Arthur locked his eyes with Merlin and said with the utmost seriousness, "Yes. I think I always unconsciously knew…when I defended the Druids during my father's reign, but it was Emrys who proved my father and me exactly how wrong we were about it. Magic…I now believe in such a thing as good magic." Unable to keep a pinch of irony from his voice, he added nonchalantly, "And, forgive me if I'm wrong: you do too, don't you?"

Merlin's eyes, which were becoming less innocently shocked and more intense with each passing second, probed Arthur's, and after taking a deep breath—Gods, is he…? Arthur, who, while hoping to mess with Merlin, also hoped he would be encouraged enough to tell him of his own volition, thought eagerly—the secret sorcerer said, "Arthur…"

Suddenly the courage that Arthur had noticed in his posture fled, nervousness flashed through his eyes, and, deflating, he said humbly in a slightly pained tone, "In this, I can't imagine my opinion would matter to you."

Arthur could hear the unsaid words 'I'd be biased, and I want you to make this decision yourself' in Merlin's response, and he said, "It does matter, Merlin. I want to know what you think."

When he didn't respond, Arthur continued, "I was a fool, and I would expect that you're dying to say it."

With a lopsided, cheeky smile playing at the corners of his mouth and his eyes crinkling, Merlin, rolling his eyes, indirectly admitted under his breath, "Not dying" before he craftily avoided the topic again and breathed, "This is huge, Arthur."

"No kidding."

The kaleidoscopic eyes flickered to Arthur, who took care to meet Merlin's gaze, and he asked, "What did Gaius tell you?"

"He told me…that Emrys' loyalty lies with Camelot, and though he didn't give any specifics, he said that Emrys has done even more for us than hinder Morgana."

It didn't go unnoticed by Arthur that Merlin, restless in his seat, jostled his legs under the table, and he said with the lightest tint of worry coloring his tone, "I sense a 'but' or 'however' somewhere in there."

A smile pulled at Arthur's lips, and he, feeling no remorse for the suspense that was no doubt building in Merlin's gut (serves him right), said thoughtfully, "Well, there was one major specific he did give me. No, that's a lie. Make that two."

"Two," Merlin repeated.

"Yes. Apparently, Emrys is meant to be the most powerful sorcerer to exist."

Arthur couldn't help but cock his head lightly as Merlin paled and failed to imperceptivity clear his throat before he quickly avoided any further discussion on that by asking, "And?"

"Ah, that's where it gets interesting. I wonder if you don't know already, Merlin," Arthur said, placing his chin on his folded hands.

Merlin shifted, but his eyes were unreadable and deceptively ignorant as he cocked an eyebrow in an 'I-really-don't-think-so' manner.

Again, it surprised the King that Merlin was so good an actor. Had he not been looking…

He fingered at his sword, an action which Merlin watched warily, and, leaning forward, said in a serious voice, "It's prophesized, according to Gaius, that I'm destined to unite Albion with him at my side. Emrys and—what was it?" Arthur pretended to ponder. "The Once and Future King, I believe."

Ocean blue bored down on stormy blue, and Arthur, playing absently with the hilt of his sword again, said with a mock-thoughtfulness, "Now doesn't that sound familiar? I swear that was the first time I've ever heard the prophecy, but I do seem to recall you saying such things to me."

Clearly unsettled, Merlin forced out a weak chuckle. "I don't recall, but then, you know how forgetful I am," he said flippantly. "In fact, you frequently remind me of it."

Playing the idiot, Merlin? Seriously?

"Indeed," Arthur drawled in a skeptical tone.

This was starting become obnoxious. Weren't his hints enough for the idiot? Did he seriously have to get any more obnoxious?

Merlin awkwardly averted his eyes, and when the silence between them became unbearable, he asked, "What're you going to do now?"

More obnoxious it was, then… that opening was far too good to go to waste.

"Well, I'm going to find Emrys, of course," Arthur answered immediately with a bright smile. "I think I owe him a few apologies and many more thanks...though I'm sure he knows that he owes me a few explanations. We need to talk."

Stretching and feeling a rush of warmth at the sight of the small smile on Merlin's face, Arthur picked up his sword again and stood with leisurely ease.

Merlin, however, flew to his feet, and with his smile dropping, he yelped, "What now?"

"Yes, Merlin. Now. Do you have somewhere to be?"

"No," he said with wide eyes. "It's just that—are you really going to ride out to his hut?"

Arthur rolled his eyes and smirked, "Don't be stupid, Merlin."

Allowing Merlin to have a moment of relief, he shrugged and said, "He doesn't live in that hut."

Merlin froze and asked suspiciously, "What d'you mean? That's where we found him…before."

"Ah, but," the blonde King disagreed, "if he's as loyal to Camelot as Gaius and Morgana suggest, I highly doubt he'd be able to know of the 'going-on's of the city living so far away—let alone be able to protect us from magical threats."

A strange emotion sparked deep in Merlin's eyes, and he said carefully, "You think he lives in the city."

"Better," Arthur said with an astute smile. "I think he's also in disguise."

After averting his eyes, the King was about to slide his sword into its leather scabbard when a gentle hand shot out, gripped his upper arm, and prevented him from doing so.

Arthur looked from the hand to Merlin, whose multifaceted eyes skipped across his face and stared straight through his body to read his thoughts and soul. They were impossibly unfathomable, somehow looking more endless than any sea and more tumultuous than any whirlwind.

"You know," Merlin Emrys softly said, eyes remaining locked with his King's, "don't you?"

"Know what?" Arthur asked convincingly. However, he thought that the smugness beginning to creep into his posture and face gave him away.

Merlin studied him for a few more moments with his unusual eyes before he nodded once or twice to himself, released Arthur and backed away, closed his eyes, and exhaled a slow gust of breath. "You know," he whispered shakily with a bit of a giddy giggle.

Arthur held his breath in expectation, and when Merlin's eyes, shining with a strong confidence, resolve, and willfulness, opened again, the warlock said, his voice wavering, "You know…that I'm Emrys—that I'm…magic."

In the years following, Arthur Pendragon would never be able to exactly explain in words how he felt in that one moment. Everything he ever knew—the very air, it seemed—shifted. One second, the world was one way, and then the next…it was new. A place, an age, still recognizable, but different. Gilded in gold. In friendship. In magic.Every false thing…every old thing shattered, and there was a light, a warmth. A promise. A chance.

It wasn't a beginning or even an end. Not the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. It was something more.

It was for this moment that they had been destined to become friends, and Arthur knew it with every fiber in his body.

And so, after the Emrys and the Once and Future King, both fully aware of their shared destines, their bonded one's part in their destiny, and the strength of faith both of them held for their other, looked upon each other for what felt like the first time as the significance of the moment dawned upon the pair of them, with dancing sapphire eyes, Arthur did the only thing he could do.

He beamed, and he pulled Merlin into a fierce embrace.

"There," the King said to his warlock as he pulled away. Finally feeling as though Merlin had had enough mockery for today, he said it sympathetically and gently, "Now was that really so hard?"

There was one lone tear streaking down his cheek as he, grinning sheepishly, said a bit dazedly, "I didn't—I didn't expect it to be that easy."

"I can't say I blame you," Arthur said with a wince.

Merlin's eyes, losing their misty glint, flashed back to reality and hardened. "Don't," he warned.

Suddenly, the ferocity slipped off his face, and as the look was transfigured into one of surreal disbelief, he stumbled backwards away from Arthur and stared again. "But—why—when—" he stuttered.

"Might want to try putting one thought into a sentence before trying another, Merlin," Arthur suggested teasingly.

"I thought you'd be furious," Merlin whispered with wide eyes. "After everything Morgana's done—after all the attacks Camelot has suffered… me having magic?" He barked a humorless laugh, and his eyes softened sympathetically, "You must have felt betrayed."

"At first," Arthur admitted. "But then I—"

Merlin suddenly tensed up, and he interrupted with blazing eyes, "Dammit, Arthur! You knew! And were you trying to scare the hell out of me by tinkering with your sword as you questioned me or did you just want to get a good laugh out of it all?"

Arthur smiled wickedly and rolled his eyes "Well, it was pretty funny, and after what I've gone through, I think it's well deserved, you idiot."

Merlin's eyes might have narrowed, but Arthur saw the smallest trace of humor in his eyes. "Just how long have you known, Arthur?"

The King scowled and demanded sarcastically, "Are you seriously frustrated at me for not telling you that I knew about your bloody secret magic? That's rich, Merlin."

The warlock blinked, and to Arthur's satisfaction, he pursed his lips and said, "Alright, that was unfair."

"Thank you," Arthur, who was pleased with Merlin's admittance, jabbed with a smirk.

Slate blue eyes, losing their impish gleam, shimmered with a sea of emotion and unshed tears. "I'm sorry, Arthur. I should have told you. I—you know about me…more than I expected…you know that I'm Emrys, and we've got this destiny, but that's not why I fight with you, Arthur. That's not why I stand by you and support you. It's never been. I believe in you and the world you will build.

"I'd rather die than betray you, and I'd rather diethan use my magic selfishly. It's yours, Arthur." He swallowed hardly, and his voice adopted a fluctuating timbre with the power of his honesty and his vows. "It's always been yours. In Ealdor, there was no purpose for it. Even though my mother tried to convince me otherwise…and succeeded on most days, I thought myself a freak…a monster. But here? Despite the prejudice and loathing pressing me on all sides, I found myself. I found Gwen, the Knights, you—and I finally found a purpose for my magic."

For a moment, Arthur was struck speechless, and after seeing the familiar loyalty shining from those eyes, he choked, "I—Merlin, there's no need to tell me."

"There's every need."

"Merlin…" Arthur trailed off and then, with a renewed confidence, he inquired impulsively, "Will you do something for me?" When the warlock nodded confusedly, he suggested gently, "Show me."

It took Merlin a moment to understand what Arthur wanted, but when he did, the smile that spread across his face was at first hesitant and then indescribably gleeful.

And so, without taking his eyes off of Arthur, he slowly raised his hand, palm up. The King, wanting nothing more than to prove to Merlin that he didn't care about the magic and that he shouldn't be afraid to do magic in front of him, smiled reassuringly and stood at ease as, without a word, Merlin's blue eyes flooded with gold that contrasted so greatly with his dark, tousled hair and white skin.

Having only seen Merlin use his powers to fight—well, if you'd call tossing people around through the air fighting—in the name of Camelot, Arthur was shocked to come to the realization that magic really was beautiful.

In Merlin's palm, an orb, glowing with a glorious, ethereal blue, silver, and white light, swirled into being.

With sapphire eyes widening in recognition, Arthur's gaze alternated from the orb to Merlin's face and back again, and moving slowly, the King walked directly in front of his warlock, who was watching Arthur with vigilant eyes, and tentatively and curiously reached out a hand to brush at the edges of the orb of light.

A pleasant tingling spread up through his hand and shot through the length of his arm when his fingers came in contact with the ball of pure magic.

He had felt this magic before. All the time, it was there. Like an ever-present guardian angel.

"I can't believe I never saw, never guessed…I—I was so wrong, Merlin. It seems so obvious to me now," Arthur whispered, removing his hand from the orb and looking up to Merlin's face, which was eerily defined by the glowing light. "It was shocking…when I learned. I was angry, upset, when I saw you and Agravaine in the caves—"

The warlock's face drained of color—it was so white that Arthur was horribly reminded of Merlin's near-death experience with the Dorocha—and after staring sightlessly at Arthur, his expression of horror crumbled to one of pain, guilt, and shame, and he, shaking his head and trembling, placed his head in his hands.

Avoiding Arthur's eyes, he said in a rough, raspy voice, "You saw—you saw me...kill him?"

"Yes, but Merlin—"

Merlin's eyes shot up, and Arthur almost took a step back at furiousness and darkness there as his friend repeated, "You saw me kill your uncle, and you—"

"Yes, Merlin, I did," Arthur interrupted with an exasperated glower. "No, listen to me. I should have listened to you long before, and I'm sorry for that. You thwarted of a treasonous, evil threat to us all. One who took countless lives in the name of Morgana. I should award you for disposing of such a key player in the battle. I saw how much you regretted having to resort to killing him, but know this—I wouldn't have been so merciful."

Merlin gaped at him and said in utter awe, "Even after seeing that, you still saw magic…saw me…"

"Yes, Merlin, that's exactly what I'm trying to say. I think no less of you."

"Why? I told you about the Fomorroh, I told you about poisoning Morgana… and I have plenty of blood on my hands, Arthur! Why didn't you—?"

"Because it was you!" Arthur exclaimed. "You, my only friend. Merlin, it didn't matter to me. Don't think I'm cruel enough or stupid enough to forget everything we've been through together, and it mattered even less after you turned the tide of this battle by helping me find my spirit again and subduing Morgana's magic and after I decided to learn about who exactly Emrys was.

"I want you to know that I understand and that I believe just as much as you do in our destiny. You're a good friend—the most loyal man I've ever known and ever could have or want—and magic won't change that. Ever. I meant what I said earlier. I trust you. More than any man."

Truer words had never been said.

"And it pains me that I never gave you the chance to be your whole self…especially when you never had that chance in the first place. It is wrong, and I think—those with magic deserve to be as free as those without."

Slate blue eyes shone, and Merlin, his voice thick and deep, released his hold on the magic—or so Arthur guessed when the orb faded into nonexistence—and said, "Thank you, Arthur. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you. I never…I was always so afraid that you would—"

"Look at you differently?" Arthur finished knowingly with a smile. "Never. You're still that insolent idiot that stood up to me and called me an ass all those years ago."

The younger man brushed away a few more tears with the heel of his hand, and after a moment of silence, Arthur, reaching his hand out to squeeze the warlock's shoulder, said concernedly, "How're you holding up?"

"You're asking me?" Merlin asked in astonishment, laughing. "This is backwards. So, so backwards."

"I've had time to get over it," Arthur said dismissively. "You, on the other hand…It's been a secret your whole life."

"My heart's just returned to its normal pace," Merlin joked in agreement, a smile lighting his elfin features. "That wasn't very nice, what you did," he chided lightly.

Arthur snorted. "Perhaps not, but it was amusing. Gwen thought simi—"

Merlin paled, and he yelped in shock, "Gwen knows?"

Arthur nodded and gestured to the sword. "She was suspicious when she saw the sword, but she fully realized it when you captured Morgana for us—" Merlin bit his lower lip "—thank you, by the way, for preventing her from escaping."

"A lot of good it did," Merlin grumbled to himself darkly.

"We can talk about what we need to do about her later, Merlin," Arthur said. "She can wait. This, however, can't wait any longer. I seem to have a lot to thank you for, my friend."

"You have no idea," Merlin muttered with a cheeky grin beginning to twitch at his lips.

Arthur sat on a chair directly across from Merlin and said, "Well, I'm listening. Are you ready to talk about it?"

An impish light flashed through his eyes, and he challenged brightly, "Are you?"

For a moment, the King wondered just what he was getting himself into, but after the slightest hesitation, he grinned and said, "It's about time. No more secrets between us."

"None, I promise. I'll answer everything truthfully." Humor still played in Merlin's eyes as he said modestly, "But…I don't really know where to start."

An image of a bronze dragon immediately came to mind.

"I know where you could start."

"Hm?"

"Perhaps," Arthur said slowly, "you could explain to me about the dragon you're so chummy with."

Merlin didn't look particularly surprised, and he asked, "What dragon?"

"Merlin," Arthur sighed in annoyance, "after revealing to you that I've learned of you magic and of how you've been lying to me for years, do you really think you're going to get away with sitting here and lying some more to me? I've seen—"

Arthur didn't know whether it annoyed him or pleased him that Merlin laughed his first true laugh that day.

"Arthur, as flattered as I am that you think me stupid enough to lie now of all times," the warlock said sarcastically, "I wasn't lying."

The King recoiled in utter confusion, and he demanded irritably, "Then what the hell—?"

"Poorly worded question," Merlin explained. "I should have asked which dragon you were referring to."

At first, the King, slow on the uptake, could see little difference in 'which dragon' over 'what dragon,' and he was about to lay it on Merlin how absolutely idiotic he was when he suddenly froze.

It had just occurred to his poor over-weary mind that 'which' usually implied 'more than one.'

"Which?" he hissed. "Don't tell me that there's more than one dragon roaming the lands!"

"Alright, I won't."

"Merlin—"

"You just told me not to!"

As nice as it was that their relationship hadn't changed, Arthur wished that just this once Merlin wouldn't be so irritating.

Groaning, the King passed his hand over his face and said with forced patience, "How many are there, Merlin?"

"Just two."

"Just two?" Arthur repeated through his teeth. "Where the hell did the second one come from? And what the hell is the first doing alive?"

"In order…Yes, there are two. There's the Great Dragon, Kilgharrah, the one that you must've seen me talking to, otherwise you wouldn't know he was alive, and then there's Aithusa. She (1) just hatched."

Hatched. Hatched from an egg. The dragon's egg, which was supposedly destroyed amongst the rubble of the tomb that once housed it…

"You didn't," Arthur groaned.

"I did," Merlin said.

"Why?"

Merlin rolled his eyes and asked playfully, "How is it that you can swallow the magic concept so easily, but the moment dragons get thrown into the mix—?"

"Merlin," Arthur warned in his 'I'm-going-to-bloody-throw-you-into-the-stocks-right-now' tone.

The warlock smirked and crossed his arms. "I couldn't let the dragon race die. It was my duty as a Dragon-lord, Arthur."

See, there was a good reason for Arthur's repression of the subject earlier that week.

His mind probably would have exploded if he had learned that Merlin was a sorcerer and had subsequently learned that he was also a Dragon-lord.

"A Dragon-lord," he breathed aloud, and after sitting back and feeling a violent nudge in his memory, he asked, "When the dragon escaped, why in the world did we travel to find Balinor—?" he cut himself off as the image of Merlin's face when he talked with Balinor…his tears when the man died protecting him…

His father had died doing the same.

"I didn't have the ability yet," Merlin answered quietly. "It is a gift passed from father to son…and it's only inherited by the son when the father is dead."

No man is worth your tears.

The King met Merlin's eyes, and if the suggestion behind Merlin's words weren't enough, the answer was clear in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," the King whispered.

"No need to be," Merlin said practically. "It was a long time ago, and even though I didn't know him as well as I might have liked, I'm proud to be his son."

Balinor. His father. After everything, it was rather pathetic that Arthur couldn't fully wrap his mind around it, and he wondered why it was so hard for him to. But then he realized what Merlin's parentage meant…in the grand scheme of things…

Arthur, eyes wild, swore under his breath. "Dammit, Merlin, my father ruined your father's life. Your father brought the Great Dragon to Camelot. His actions left you fatherless just as much as magic left me motherless. My father's Purge nearly condemned you to live in fear your whole life, and I was taught to fear magic…What the hell is Fate playing at?"

"Don't try to think about it," Merlin suggested. "It makes my head spin, too. Such a twisted, twisted story…"

"I hate irony."

"And to think that we would end up friends after all that history—"

Let alone our vastly different social standings, Arthur added to himself.

"It is just—it defies all laws of traditional social conduct," Merlin mused, making Arthur snort. "By that right, we should be enemies."

Arthur shuddered and quickly changed his previous statement. "I love irony."

Merlin's eyes danced, and he teased, "I should hope so. We wouldn't be here otherwise, would we?"

Despite the darker suggestion, Merlin's joke made him laugh, and deciding to drop it (as Merlin had wisely suggested), he prompted, "Alright. You saved the egg, but that doesn't explain the other one. What happened that night, Merlin?"

"After you were knocked out, I was going to kill him. He took so many lives, but…" Merlin faltered. "I remembered how often his advice had helped me save Camelot—I would visit him in the caverns for help. He even burnished your sword—"

"The one I pulled from the stone?"

Merlin nodded, and with wise eyes, he said, "It has the power to slay the dead, Arthur, and if it can do that, it can even pierce the flesh of magical beasts that cannot be slayed by mortal weapons. Be sure to never let it fall into another's hands."

There was an omen in Merlin's powerful command, and Arthur knew he had better heed those words. "I promise."

Satisfied, the foreign power left Merlin's eyes, and he continued, "So, while he did help Camelot time and time again, he also was the last dragon at the time, and I the last Dragon-lord. I showed him mercy and told him to never return or attack Camelot again. In the last few years, he's repented for his deed…and has truly become a worthy ally of Camelot."

Arthur pursed his lips as a weary sadness dulled Merlin's eyes, and with a twinge of fear passing through his chest, he said, "That's not all, is it?"

Merlin closed his eyes, and with remorse and dread dripping from every word, he said, "In exchange for his knowledge—in particular, a spell to stop Sigan's spirit from destroying Camelot…among others—I made a promise….to set him free. Otherwise, he wouldn't give me the information I needed and would have cheerfully let Camelot burn."

Bowing his head, Arthur schooled his expression. He wasn't angry, per se—in fact, he had almost unconsciously known it before Merlin had spoke—and as much as he resented the dragon for its attack on Camelot, he did not blame Merlin. He was trying to help, and the dragon…

Merlin flinched suddenly. "Even so, his flames haunt my nightmares more than Uther's ever did."

I'm sorry you're having to do this.

Why? You're not to blame.

"I said it that night in the parapets, Merlin. I don't blame you, and you shouldn't blame yourself."

"All those lives, Arthur—they're still on my hands."

"But if his advice has saved Camelot time and time again, it was a matter of the worse of two evils…as horrible as that sounds, and after all that we've faced, I think I'd make the same decision you did."

The words seem to do Merlin, who had far more guilt on his conscience than Arthur could have ever believed (how he managed to hide it…he was a stronger man than he was in many ways), wonders, and he smiled weakly.

"Why did it change?" Arthur asked suddenly.

"What?"

"Why did the dragon become friend, enemy, and friend again? Vengeance against my father can't have been his only motive (though I'm sure that was part of it), and since I believe you—that his advice was for the benefit of the kingdom—I don't understand why…"

"Well, he was a little miffed atme for some time as well for once refusing to ever free him, but I—I think he acted in the name of destiny," Merlin said. "I always wondered why he would dare attack the city he treasured as the heart of Albion and breathe fire at you and I when he was the one who told me about our destiny in the first place and used his wisdom to help fight with me to make our destiny a reality…He knew that his actions would force Balinor and I together…that he would die and that I would take his title. And that Camelot would come out stronger for it."

"If you're right, dragon logic makes little sense to me."

Merlin chuckled. "Wait until you meet him—"

"Meet him?" Arthur yelped.

"Sure. Why not? He and Aithusa—"

Feeling a little ill at ease, Arthur put up a hand. "Magic first. Dragons later. I probably shouldn't have gotten on the topic of dragons at all. One step at a time."

Merlin looked as though there was a wisecrack at the tip of his tongue, but after one glower from Arthur, he, grinning impishly, bit it off. "Magic first then…"

It amazed Arthur at how comfortable they were saying the word to each other already.

"Should I start at the beginning, perhaps?"

"The beginning in Ealdor? Or when you moved to Camelot?"

"You seem to already know that I was born with magic, so I'm sure that we can save those—erm—stories for a later time."

Embarrassing stories about experimenting with magic, Arthur was sure. Judging by the blush creeping up his cheeks and the tone of voice, that is. "Instinctive magic and an insolent tongue? I bet you gave your mother a job raising you."

Merlin grinned sheepishly. "I probably wasn't any worse than a spoiled Prince."

"So, the beginning," Arthur prompted, ignoring Merlin's taunt with a roll of his eyes.

"Yes…the beginning…I tried to punch you."

"Not a very smart idea," he smirked.

Merlin shrugged, and with a smirk of his own, he said, "It was better that I stupidly landed myself in the cells and the stocks. I did warn you I could take you apart with less than one blow."

"Is that what you meant?" Arthur laughed. "Good gods."

"I got severely scolded by Gaius for using magic against you in the mace-fight. I'll have you know."

Arthur's jaw dropped as he recalled his unfortunate, uncharacteristic clumsiness on that day, but then he said smugly, "I still beat you."

"Only because I wasn't trying," Merlin retorted. "All I wanted was to deflate your head a little, but if Gaius hadn't distracted me…"

Childishly, the King chanted, "Excuses get you no where in life, Merlin."

Merlin scowled, but there was no malice in it. "D'you remember what you said to me when you let me go?"

He may be an idiot, but he's a brave one. There's something about you, Merlin. I can't quite put my finger on it.

It was about that time that Merlin first called him 'prat,' and it was the first time he called Merlin an idiot…and the first time he had ever felt a connection and an honest and powerful respect for the fool.

"Yes…" Arthur mused to himself.

"Not too long after that," Merlin said quietly, "I saved you with my magic for the first time."

A fond smile spread across the King's face as he remembered his shock when he found it to be Merlin who pushed him out of the dagger's path and then his horror when his father appointed him as his manservant.

Even then Merlin was humble, insolent, trustworthy…

He had always felt he could trust Merlin, who became his truest friend...one who wasn't afraid of his title or of speaking his mind, one who wasn't afraid to fight alongside him.

Some things never change.

"The first time," Arthur echoed. "The other times?"

Eyes shining, Merlin said, "That'd take hours, and we—" his eyes rose over the top of Arthur's head to peer at the sun "—don't have hours."

"The little details can come in time," Arthur said. "Now's your time to brag, Merlin. Tell me your greatest accomplishments."

And with that, the Once and Future King was taken on a trip to the past as seen through the unusual eyes of his servant. He was a good storyteller, Arthur had to admit, and images of fire, lightning, smirking sorceresses, and beasts of nightmare were recreated before his eyes. Merlin's every emotion relived through him.

Nimueh—Merlin had killed her.

Cornelius Sigan and his animated gargoyles—Merlin had once again been offered power but had turned it down.

Two immortal armies—one of bones, which Morgana had falsely claimed to have stopped, and one of flesh and of the Cup of Life, which Merlin had emptied of blood with the very sword he held…

His sword's interesting history was told in full, and though Merlin seemed to avoid speaking much about this mysterious "Lady of the Lake," Arthur did not press. For now, it was enough, and it would soon be all revealed to him.

After speaking of his part in Morgause's slow death (another powerful foe that Merlin had slayed) and the Dorocha, a dark enough topic, Merlin, feeling the need to lighten the mood, referenced the numerous times that Arthur had fallen under love spells or that Camelot had been plagued by an assortment of strange creatures (goblins, pixies, and trolls, for example), and they shared plenty of laughter when Merlin found it fit to talk about his adventures as "Dragoon the Great" and when Arthur told him about his past few days dealing with Merlin's secret.

Once the pair knew they could hide away from the outside world no longer, Arthur clapped Merlin on the shoulder and said, "'Thank you' isn't enough, is it?"

"Arthur, that you've accepted me…It's already more than I could've hoped for."

"I have yet to make good of my promise," the Once and Future King reminded him.

"What promise?"

"Freedom from fear, but that…we have to talk about it. With everyone."

Merlin's eyes, glowing in his joy, hardened determinedly, and he said in the sagacious voice of the Emrys, "It is time. The shadows will have me no longer."

Gratitude and brotherly love shone from those multidimensional eyes of both wisdom and absolute goofiness, and Arthur regarded his incredible friend.

An equal. The young man who changed his very life. Standing by him, being the steady boulder, smiling in encouragement, frowning in disapproval, brave, loyal, selfless, and modest to a fault…

"I feel as though I know everything about you," Arthur said suddenly with a sweep of déjà vu rushing over him, "And yet nothing at all."

Merlin grinned his lopsided grin and held out a hand. "Perhaps we should start over then?"

Arthur looked at the hand extended in friendship, peace, and eagerness for the future, and with Merlin's insolent tones and laughter ringing in his ears, the sight of his eyes morphing from blue to gold, playful to powerful, playing before his eyes, and the memories…

"Why would I want that?" the King asked, ignoring the hand and wrapping one arm around Merlin's narrow shoulders. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."


(1) Series 5 spoilers have revealed that Aithusa's a 'she,' if I'm not mistaken. I'm trying to stay away from them, but I did catch that one.

AN: And it's over! :') Please let me know of any horrible mistakes. It's late, and I got lazy. :P

Sequel? Not planned at the moment. You guys have all learned that I'm a liar, and seeing as after 6 months, this fic transformed from a one-shot to an 8-chapter fic, it's not impossible. Indeed, it's totally possible an idea might jump on me. However, please don't get your hopes up. :) I'm leaving for college next week *bites nails* and I have NO clue how my fanfic writing is going to fit in with everything just yet.

Heart of Gold fans - I'm going to try my absolute hardest to update again before I leave. :)

Oz out.