Title: I'm Here for You
Warning: deals with (previous) character death
Genre: angst, hurt/comfort
Summary: Sequel to "In Spite of Everything." The season finale ended quite differently, and now Arthur must deal with the aftermath and help Merlin cope. Post-reveal fic, deals with character death. More angst as usual, complete with hurt/comfort because I clearly don't know how to write anything else.
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC.
AN: This is the sequel to "In Spite of Everything." You should probably read it first if you haven't, because this won't make a whole lot of sense otherwise (it's short, I promise). I didn't think I was going to write one, but I saw the season 3 finale on SyFy last Friday night, and when I woke up on Saturday I think my brain compensated for lack of new Merlin by flooding me with muse for this sequel. I pretty much spent my Saturday baking cookies and writing fic. It was awesome. Hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)
I'm Here for You
The rain dies off. The wind stops howling, the dark clouds disappear, and the sun comes out.
Arthur continues to hold Merlin.
Birds begin to chirp again.
Arthur just holds Merlin. He holds him until he stops shaking, until his breathing slows and his tears cease.
"Merlin, we should get inside," Arthur says gently.
Merlin sits up and looks at him. He looks wet and cold, his face blotchy and red. He nods slowly.
Arthur grabs Merlin's arm gently and helps him stand.
"You're shivering," Merlin observes quietly, and Arthur realizes that he's right.
"It's okay," Arthur replies.
Merlin puts his hand out and whispers a few words. Arthur feels a warm gust of air blow past him and suddenly they're both dry as can be. Arthur muses to himself that this would have been a useful trick to have on all those long wet trips they've been on, but he doesn't say anything. It's not just a trick, it's magic, and he still can't believe that Merlin can do it.
Merlin looks away sheepishly.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"
"It's fine," Arthur cuts him off, not wanting to hear more apologies. "Let's go."
So Arthur leads Merlin back to Camelot, back onto the grounds and into the castle. It's a much longer walk than he realized, and he's more tired than he thought he was. Exhausted, in fact. He can't even imagine how Merlin feels.
He doesn't notice that they're headed to Gaius' chambers until they're right inside the door.
Since they've been away, Gaius has been dressed in his best clothes and laid out respectfully on his bed. He looks peaceful; he could almost be asleep.
Except that he's not.
"Do you…do you want to be alone with him?" Arthur asks awkwardly. He wants to help Merlin, but he doesn't know what to do.
"Okay," Arthur says lamely. He turns to leave, then pauses. He feels utterly useless and he hates it.
He turns back to Merlin and squeezes his shoulder, gently but firmly.
"I'll be right outside," he offers, and Merlin just nods as Arthur leaves.
But once he's outside the door, he keeps walking. He walks until he finds an empty, quiet hallway, and it's there, where he's completely alone, that Arthur lets everything go.
He screams out his anger, but it's not enough. He kicks the wall, but it doesn't help. He punches it, hard, and there's nothing. He punches it again, harder this time, then again. He feels angry at everyone and everything. Gaius, Morgana, Merlin.
He watches his father die. Watches the light leave his eyes. Sees his dead body laid out, draped in red.
Arthur punches the wall again, but there's no feeling behind it, and he slides down, collapsing on his knees. He leans back, his heart racing as he gasps for air. Tears sting his eyes. The hall starts to spin as he watches his father die over and over, watches Merlin collapse in the clearing. Arthur shuts his eyes, but the tears fall anyway.
His father is still dead, and Gaius is still dead. He watches his mother die. Lancelot dies. Leon. Percival. Gwaine. Elyan. Gwen.
He watches them all die, over and over. The tears continue to fall until he has none left to shed and he's tired, so very tired.
Eventually, the images stop. His heart beats normally and his breathing slows. Then exhaustion overcomes him and he falls into a dreamless sleep.
Arthur opens his eyes to find Sir Leon standing over him with a look of concern on his face. He blinks and looks around.
"What…what time is it?"
"Almost nightfall, Sire. We've been tearing the castle apart looking for you. No one has seen you since…since you went after Merlin."
Suddenly, Arthur remembers where he is and how he got here. How he left Merlin alone with Gaius and told him he'd be outside if he needed him.
Arthur stands up quickly, rubbing at his sore neck. He has to check on Merlin. How long has he been alone?
"He's with Gaius," Leon says. "I thought you might be nearby. Are you all right, Arthur?"
"Fine," Arthur answers shortly. At the look on Leon's face, Arthur lets out a sigh to calm himself. "I'm sorry. It's been a long day. I'll be fine. I want to check on Merlin."
Leon seems skeptical of the idea that Arthur is fine, but in the end he nods. "I understand. Merlin…he needs all the friends he has right now. But if you need anything, if Merlin needs anything, let me know?" Leon asks kindly.
Arthur feels himself smile. "I will. Thank you," he says gratefully.
Leon nods. He puts a hand on Arthur's shoulder and squeezes once and then he's gone.
Arthur makes his way back to Gaius' chambers. It's getting dark, but Arthur can just see the way. He pauses outside the door for a second, then lets himself in.
He finds Merlin seated at Gaius' side. He's not saying a word, just staring at Gaius' lifeless body. How long has Merlin been sitting here, saying nothing?
He doesn't flinch, just continues to stare.
Finally, Merlin turns to him.
Arthur steps closer to him, and he can see tear tracks long dried on Merlin's face.
"You should get some sleep, Merlin."
Merlin glances toward his room, and Arthur realizes that he can't let Merlin sleep here. Even after he's had his men remove Gaius' body, he can't leave Merlin here alone.
"Merlin, I promise you that Gaius will have a proper funeral tomorrow. A knight's funeral. But right now you need to get some sleep. I'll give you my bed. You don't need to stay here."
Merlin tears his gaze away from his room and turns back to Gaius.
Arthur reaches out and puts his hand gently on Merlin's shoulder.
"Merlin…please. Come with me."
Finally, Merlin nods. Arthur squeezes his shoulder once and heads toward the door, hoping Merlin will follow him. He pauses in the doorway and turns back just in time to see Merlin bend over and gently kiss Gaius on the forehead. Arthur turns away, tears springing to his eyes again as memories of his father's death wash over him.
Then he hears Merlin behind him and he pulls himself together. Right now, Arthur needs to be strong.
Once they reach his chambers, Arthur removes his armor. When Merlin moves to help him, Arthur tells him it's okay, that he'll do it himself. Merlin backs off without a fight and begins to set up a fire instead. Once the armor is off, Arthur tells Merlin that he has to leave for a few minutes, but he assures him that he'll be back.
Then he finds Leon, Percival, Elyan, and Gwaine, and he tells them that he wants Gaius' body prepared for a knight's funeral. No one questions him, because none of them thinks that Gaius doesn't deserve it. He finds Gwen and asks her to find a place for Tristan and Isolde to stay. Finally, he goes down into the kitchens to grab some food and water for Merlin.
When he returns to his room, he finds Merlin sitting cross legged on his bed, and Arthur's heart stops when he sees the small flame glowing in Merlin's palm.
His hands clench tightly on the tray he holds, and he almost panics, but then he remembers. Magic. Merlin has magic. He's holding a ball of flame as casually as he would an apple.
Merlin looks up at him, flinching slightly, but he doesn't put out the fire. Arthur lets out a sigh and walks into the room, setting the tray down on the table.
"Are you hungry?" Arthur asks, holding up a plate full of Merlin's favorite food.
Merlin shakes his head, still staring at the tiny fire in his hand. There's an almost childlike gleam in his eyes, and Arthur realizes that, for whatever reason, the fire comforts Merlin.
Arthur puts the plate back down on the table.
"Merlin, at some point we need to talk about this," he says, gesturing to the flame in Merlin's palm.
"I'll explain everything to you, Sire. I promise. I just can't-"
"I understand," Arthur replies hastily, not wanting to push him. "Later. It's okay."
Arthur stares at the flame in Merlin's hand, watches as it flickers and dances.
"Doesn't it…hurt?" Arthur asks wonderingly. He can't imagine how sustaining something so hot doesn't hurt.
Merlin shakes his head.
Arthur sits down next to him, transfixed by the fire. He still can't believe that Merlin has magic. Still can't believe that Merlin was able to keep something like this from him for so long. Still can't believe-
"Touch it," Merlin whispers, and Arthur flinches slightly at the idea.
"I don't think I should-"
"It's all right. It isn't hot. Trust me."
Arthur can't think of any reason why he should trust Merlin after everything that has happened.
But he can't stop himself.
He reaches out, tests the air around the flame and finds it warm but not hot. He touches it quickly and yanks his hand back, and he's surprised to find that it doesn't hurt. He reaches out again, slowly this time, and when he touches the flame, he leaves his hand there for a few seconds before pulling away again.
"It's…warm. But it doesn't burn."
"Because I'm in control of it. It doesn't control me, Arthur. Magic is a lot like your sword. By itself, it's just a tool. It's not until you wield it that it becomes a force for good or evil."
Arthur lets that sink in, and he's surprised to find that it makes sense. He glances toward the swords on the rack by his bed. Right now they sit there, dead metal, useless. But if he were to pick one up, he could bend it to his will; make it do what he wants. He could use it for good, to protect his kingdom and his friends from those who would hurt them. The sword's purpose would depend on the man who wielded it. Could it be the same with magic? Could magic really be used for good?
Arthur looks back at Merlin. Merlin, who has just used magic to save Isolde's life. Merlin, who tried to use it to save Gaius' life. Merlin, who had been nothing but loyal and true to Arthur for years, whose only real crime has been keeping his magic a secret from the one man he should have felt like he could share it with.
Arthur wonders if maybe all he's really doing now is proving to Merlin exactly why he was right to not trust him with his secret.
Merlin pulls Arthur out of his thoughts.
"I never wanted to hurt you, Arthur. I could never hurt you. I just…."
Arthur doesn't hesitate this time. He reaches out to touch the flame again. He lets it flicker around his hand, warm and bright but not blistering like it should be. It's a comforting flame.
Merlin smiles, and Arthur thinks it's the first time he's seen Merlin smile all day. It makes Arthur realize how much he appreciates it.
Perhaps spurred on by Arthur's acceptance of it, Merlin moves his hand away from Arthur's and begins to create shapes with the flame. Arthur watches horses gallop, knights fight with gleaming swords, and dragons fly. Then Merlin plays with the colors. The flame turns from brilliant orange to lightest gold to deepest purple and finally settles on icy blue.
Arthur stares at it for a moment and wonders why it looks so familiar. He puts his hand out to touch it again. Despite its color, it still feels warm and comforting, but there's something else…
"I've seen this before," Arthur says quietly, and the memory comes back to him. "When you were poisoned, and I went to get that flower for you. I remember…I was in a cave, and I thought I was done for, but then this strange blue light came out of nowhere, and it…it helped me. It guided me to the flower and lighted my way out. I remember…it felt safe. Just like this…"
Arthur lowers his hand and gently wraps it around Merlin's. The blue flame rises up, wraps itself around their joined hands for a few seconds, then dies out, but Arthur can still feel the warmth of it. Or maybe it's just Merlin.
"That was you?" Arthur asks quietly, unable to keep the awe out of voice and the wonder out of his eyes.
Merlin just nods his head and whispers, "Yes."
Arthur feels like he's in shock. He had no idea magic had been with him for so long. He had no idea that Merlin had been the one to help him that night. How many times had Merlin protected him and helped him without Arthur even knowing?
How much had Merlin really done for him?
"Merlin…." Arthur doesn't know what to say, so he sits in silence. He doesn't realize he's still holding Merlin's hand until a knock on the door brings him back to the present.
"Come in," Arthur says loudly, and he pulls his hand from Merlin's.
It's Isolde, and Tristan. They are the last people Arthur expected to see. Isolde walks into the room, Tristan's arms wrapped tight around her as he helps her walk. She seems weak, unsteady, but she's alive.
Arthur walks over to them and pulls a chair out from his table, gesturing for her to sit, but Isolde shakes her head.
"I won't be long. I just wanted to talk to Merlin."
Arthur nods and steps aside so she can approach Merlin, who is still sitting on the bed, looking tired and lost, and a bit confused.
Isolde stands next to Merlin, and Tristan releases her, standing close behind her.
"I wanted to thank you, Merlin. For saving my life."
Arthur could swear that Merlin perks up a bit, but then he blinks and the gleam in Merlin's eyes is gone.
"You're welcome," Merlin replies quietly.
"I'm sorry about Gaius. I hear you two were close."
Arthur watches Merlin bow his head in response, and he can see the weight of loss bearing down harder on his friend.
Isolde bends over and kisses Merlin gently on the forehead, and Merlin turns his face up to look at her. "You're a good man, Merlin. Your king is lucky to have a friend like you at his side."
She looks at Arthur, and he can tell exactly what she's thinking; her eyes say it all.
Don't hurt him.
Then she smiles and the look is gone.
"Gwen was kind enough to find us a place to sleep."
Arthur nods. "You can stay as long as you need. It's the least I can do."
"Thank you." Isolde heads for the door, and Tristan goes to follow her, but before he leaves he reaches out a hand to Arthur.
Arthur looks at it in confusion before Tristan speaks up.
"It was an honor," he says simply.
Arthur smiles and shakes Tristan's hand.
"The honor was mine."
Tristan smiles back at him, then puts his arm around Isolde and walks her out of the room.
Arthur's still smiling when he turns back to Merlin.
Then he sees that Merlin is crying, silent tears falling down his face.
"It's my fault Gaius is dead."
Arthur finds himself shocked into silence again. How can Merlin possibly blame himself for this?
"I saved Isolde…and then Gaius died. A life for a life. For someone to live, someone else has to die."
Arthur doesn't want to think about how Merlin could possibly know these things.
"Merlin…you can't have known that Gaius would die if you saved Isolde."
"I should have seen this coming," Merlin continues, ignoring him. "The balance has to be maintained, that's how it's always been. I should have seen that saving Isolde would have other consequences. But I didn't think. I just…I knew I had to save her. This is all my fault."
Merlin puts his head in his hands, and Arthur doesn't know what to say. Even if it's true that saving Isolde meant Gaius had to die, Merlin can't blame himself for doing what he had to in order to help someone.
"You can't blame yourself for his death, Merlin," Arthur states, and the ferocity in his own voice surprises him.
Merlin jerks his head up. "That's rich coming from a man who still blames himself for his father's death," he scoffs. It's bitter and harsh, and Arthur can see that Merlin regrets it instantly.
"I'm sorry," Merlin apologizes, hanging his head again. "I didn't mean-"
"No, you did mean it. But I think…I think I finally get it." Arthur shakes his head and starts to pace the room as he thinks out loud.
"I can't blame magic for killing my father any more than you can blame magic for killing Gaius. Maybe…maybe we just can't expect magic to solve everything. Maybe magic isn't evil just because it couldn't save my father. He was dying. Maybe…maybe it was his time. And Gaius…maybe it was just his time, too."
"I can't accept that," Merlin says fiercely.
"I can't just accept that!" He screams it this time, and Arthur stops pacing and turns back to him. "I can't just accept that he's…that he's gone. I mean…how am I supposed to…I miss him so much."
Merlin turns his gaze away, and Arthur lets out a long heavy sigh. He walks over to the bed and sits down next to Merlin.
"Do you want the truth, Merlin?"
Merlin looks back at him, and while he doesn't say yes he doesn't protest, so Arthur continues.
"The truth is that it will never stop hurting. Never. You'll always miss him. But there are ways you can deal with that pain. Use it to your advantage. There are people who'll help you through this, people who care about you."
And there it is again. All Merlin has to say is his name, and Arthur can feel the helplessness and the loss and the agony that Merlin is going through, and he would do anything to make it go away.
Arthur closes the distance between them, moves closer to Merlin and grasps his hand tightly in his own.
"You've always been there for me, Merlin. Let me be here for you."
Merlin stares at him in wonder, and Arthur feels his heart clench at the strength of emotion he can see in Merlin's eyes. He knows how Merlin feels, he's been there himself, and he knows exactly what Merlin needs.
And Arthur wants to give it to him. Because despite everything he has just learned about Merlin and his magic, Arthur realizes that he trusts him. He can't explain why, but he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can trust Merlin.
Merlin lowers his head as tears spring to his eyes. Arthur uses his free hand and gently lifts Merlin's chin, forces Merlin to look at him. He wipes away Merlin's tears, catches a drop as it falls and brushes it away.
"Arthur." Merlin's voice breaks and Arthur's heart follows it.
"I'm here," Arthur whispers. "I'm right here."
Merlin's breath hitches as he starts to sob, and Arthur lets go of Merlin's hand and wraps his arms around him and holds him close.
They sit there for ages, or so it seems. Arthur just holds him, stroking his back, running his hands through his hair, whispering quietly in his ear.
"I know, I know. It's going to be okay."
"Don't send me away. Please, Arthur. Don't leave me."
And Arthur tells him that he never could.
Eventually, Merlin tires himself out. He stops shaking and rubs the tears from his eyes. Arthur feels his heart ache as he pulls back the covers and tucks Merlin in, telling him to get some sleep. Arthur gets up to leave, but Merlin grabs his hand.
"Stay with me. Please."
And so Arthur crawls into bed next to him. He settles down and pulls Merlin close to him, and he promises that he will be there when Merlin wakes up.
They spend the night together. Merlin rests, and Arthur watches over him. When Merlin screams and thrashes in his sleep, caught in a nightmare so terrible that Arthur swears he can feel the bed quaking beneath him, he shakes Merlin awake. Merlin opens his eyes, and Arthur watches them turn from gold to blue when he finds Arthur next to him. Arthur kisses Merlin's face gently until he stops shaking. They fall asleep in a tangle of limbs and bed sheets.
When they wake in the morning, still dressed, Merlin kisses Arthur gently and apologizes. And when Arthur tells him he has nothing to apologize for, Merlin kisses him again, harder this time. Arthur kisses him back, and Merlin feels some of the pain in his heart lessen as a feeling of hope washes over him. Things are far from perfect, but with Arthur's help, Merlin knows he can heal.
As for the magic…
When Arthur asks Merlin if he can see that ball of blue light again, Merlin knows that, with time, their relationship can heal, too.
AN: As I was writing this piece, I started to notice that the same themes from my other story ("In My Weakest Moment, You Make Me Strong") were mirrored in this one. What I said in that story was very much like what I wanted to say in this story, and I feel like this ended up a very good companion to that piece. Now that this one is done, I truly feel like they could have happened in the same universe. Here's a link if anyone wants to read it.
Also, I wanted to play with the idea of the "palm full of fire revelation" that's a common theme in reveal stories, but I wanted to put a twist on it. I loved the idea of Merlin showing Arthur the blue flames to remind him that he's been helping him from the start. I wanted the blue ball of magic to become their thing, something that symbolized their relationship.
Thanks for reading, and as always, reviews are love. :)