Fic: Burning Bridges

Characters: Merlin/Arthur/Gwaine

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: This is but an ode to the work of the fabulously talented Merlin creators and writers. Not intended to upset the apple cart. Just borrowing a few fabulous characters for a few, brief moments and returning them unharmed. Well, mostly.

Big thanks go out to finn1013 and serendipity08 for their fabulous help in betaing this little story!

It's a one-shot for now. No slash. Enjoy!

Bit of a blurb:

The pressure has been building for four years now. And Merlin can no longer justify his silence...

Arthur and Gwen had been married, happily married, for almost a month now. Things had been quiet at the borders, quiet on the sorcery front and even quiet in the king's chambers (not that Merlin had been listening, except for occasional sojourns to make sure he wasn't needed.) Quiet was good after four years of struggle and stress. Quiet was nice. But…Merlin wasn't sure exactly where he was needed now.

It was often the case that Gwen wanted to wait on Arthur, instead of having his manservant there. Thus, Merlin found himself at loose ends, doing nothing to really help Arthur, nothing to further Destiny, nothing of any account whatsoever.

Seeing that it bothered him, Gaius had sought to fill those hours with helpful chores. But though the simple work kept him busy physically, it did nothing to fill his mind. Instead, he was free to replay the events of the past. This was not productive. Not productive at all. When, for the third time this week, Arthur decided to stay indoors instead of training and refused Merlin's help, Guilt—Merlin's long-time friend—came to call.

People around Merlin tended to die, usually good people that probably should have lived for years and years longer—like Will…Lancelot…Balinor …Freya. As much as Merlin had faith in his Destiny, and in Arthur's, the price was often a terrible one. Agravaine's recent death— no, murder—weighed even more heavily on Merlin's mind. He'd warned Agravaine. As he had stood in the cave, back to the wall, Merlin could barely hear the man's words for all the magic thrumming inside, ready and willing to defend his life. Yet Merlin hadn't dealt the killing blow, though the certainty of the man's doom soured his stomach. Not until the man had tried to skewer him with a sword had Merlin attacked.

It was shocking, how little control he'd had over it, as if he was a puppet and someone else held the strings. His hands flew out, time stopped, freezing the murderous thrust and then power exploded outward, dashing Agravaine against the hard rock, killing him instantly. Emotion came nearly a minute later, with Guilt hot on its heels. It had been a long walk in the dark back to a concerned Arthur. The less said about that, the better.

And that was the beginning of it, the crux of the matter that swelled up in Merlin whenever he sat still too long. The fact that Arthur constantly trusted him and took him at face value, when, in reality, Merlin was shuffling cards and only showing the king a small part of what he'd been dealt. Yes, he'd gone to great lengths to get Arthur where he was, with his knights around the table, his queen by his side, and a crown on his head, but there were two things Merlin knew for certain.

First, Arthur's implicit trust had to be broken at some point, so that it could heal into something better, something strengthened by the truth. Arthur needed to know that Merlin was the antithesis of the bumbling, useless servant he appeared to be, that he was strong and fierce when needed and able to guide and protect Arthur as he led Camelot. Was that pride to want Arthur to see him as powerful? Was it folly? It might be.

But there was another reason to reveal all. Merlin feared the truth coming to Arthur from any other source, especially from Morgana. He wasn't sure exactly what she knew, but the truth would be a potent weapon in her hands, able to divide Arthur from Merlin in a heartbeat and weaken them both. Whatever piece of the truth she chose to tell, she would be sure to do it in the most painful way possible, something which made Merlin skittish to think about. No, the truth had to come from him and him alone, with nothing held back that could be used against Arthur later.

Thus it was that Merlin stood outside Arthur's door. Not listening, but standing far too long, trying to gauge if now was a good time to talk about The Truth. He swallowed, steeling himself. Behind the door there were low voices, a giggle…and Merlin was already stepping away with a shake of his head when the door suddenly opened. Gwen froze, a surprised smile on her face.

"Merlin!" she exclaimed, putting a hand to her chest. "You startled me." She was resplendent in a royal blue gown with gold accents, looking even more elegant than was her wont.

"You are looking lovely today, if I may say so, my lady," Merlin said, giving her a deferential bow, even if his lips did quirk to the side.

"Do you think so?" she frowned down at her dress. "It's not a bit comfortable, but for some reason, this is the style and my ladies-in-waiting say that I am supposed to be stylish." Merlin nodded, raising his eyebrows in sympathy. "Arthur likes it as well, but…" she glanced around and closed the door behind her, "I fear they may be making fun of me, you know, dressing me up so ridiculously just so I know I look like a servant playing dress up. What do you think?"

"Well, they may try to make you look ridiculous; I don't know anything about that. But ifthey've tried, they've failed. You look every inch born to be Arthur's queen, which, of course, you were." His grin widened at her blush.

"Oh, Merlin." She leaned over and gave him an impulsive kiss on the cheek, which is, of course, when the door swung open, revealing a startled-looking Arthur.

"I thought I heard your voice, Merlin. Are you, by any chance, flirting with my wife again?"

"No, my lord, of course not," Merlin said cheekily, indicating the room beyond with a gesture. "If I may?"

Arthur gave him a warning look. Then he turned to Gwen. "Save those kisses for me, my Queen."

Her eyes grew soft at his command, and she gave him a special smile, brushing a casual hand across his chest as she left. Arthur's gaze followed her as she walked down the corridor. Merlin watched the King watch the Queen for a moment before clearing his throat. Arthur frowned.

"Is there something you need?'

"Possibly. I mean—yes. Just a moment of your time, if I could…"

Arthur, realizing that he was in the servant's way, took a moment to enjoy his position. "You mean that you want me to move so that you can enter my quarters?"

"Yes, Arthur, how very clever of you to figure that out."

"Kings are often clever."

"So I've heard. And they have the best servants."

"I wouldn't know anything about that. And as it just so happens, I don't want to move. So what will we do now?"

"I guess we'll never have the conversation I had planned." Merlin's formidable will softened. Arthur was so…happy. Surely now wasn't the time? "And, actually, that might not be such a bad thingnevermind." Merlin whipped around and began walking away in earnest.

"Wait—Merlin. Merlin!" That note of command had crept into Arthur's voice and Merlin slowed to a stop. The king gave one of his patented exasperated smiles. "Don't just walk away from me when I'm talking to you. Come here."

"But I—it's nothing—really—"

"Merlin. Come here."

Hesitantly, Merlin's gaze sought out Arthur's. It was the well-hidden smidge of concern hidden among the exasperation that made Merlin remember his resolve. Right. Expose himself. Explain magic. Dodge cups and angry accusations. Explain secrecy. Explain again. Plead. Beg. Hopefully come out on the other side unburdened and on better, more reliable footing with Arthur, many steps closer to being the powerful team they were destined to be. And…there was always the chance that Arthur would take this better than expected…

Merlin led the way into Arthur's room. All too soon, he found himself standing uncomfortably in front of the fireplace as Arthur sat and downed a cup of weak wine. He felt a familiar rush of affection for this man, and another strong temptation to protect him from the pain his words were going to bring. Another betrayal, of sorts. And there was no point in half-measures; Merlin had to tell everything, leave nothing out that might come up later and jeopardize Arthur's trust. But…were there some things Arthur would never forgive? Magic was such a tricky—

"Begin at the beginning," Arthur said, gesturing idly. "I'm sure, whatever it was that you broke, it can be replaced."

Merlin grimaced. "Actually, I'm…not so sure of that." Arthur looked at him curiously. Merlin clasped his hands behind his back and straightened his shoulders. There was only way to do it. "I've been lying to you."

Arthur raised his eyebrows. "About what? That girl, Maegan?" He grinned. "Been kissing in the corner when you should have been polishing my boots? Well, no harm done. Though you might have to put up with some ribbing from Gwaine. I think he's been after her for months."

This was so far and away from where Merlin had been heading toward that he listened to Arthur out of shock. A girl? Lying about a girl?

"No, this isn't about a girl. I couldn't care less about girls."

Arthur studied Merlin a moment. "I've known you long enough to know that's not true. Whenever a new girl comes around, you perk up like a puppy and start tripping over your own feet. Your problem is that you haven't found the right girl yet, Merlin. But don't give up, because I'm telling you right now, marriage is one of the best things I've ever, ever done—"

"Arthur!" Merlin almost shouted, when his quieter protestations were ignored. "Please! This is hard enough without you… Sit back down and just…listen. And don't talk. Please."

Arthur scratched behind one ear. "Fine. Sitting. You have five minutes of my time, Merlin. Make it count." With crossed arms, he fixed his penetrating blue gaze on his servant.

Merlin opened his mouth and tears pricked the corners of his eyes. His throat closed up. That fast. After four years…

He cleared his throat, found a spot on the floor and blindly started talking. "I've been lying to you since I got to Camelot. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to." A glance up showed that Arthur was frowning, the beginnings of anger stirring. Merlin swallowed hard, and decided not to look again. "I have a secret that I've hidden all my life. One that, by law, here in Camelot, could get me executed. I didn't come here with the purpose of becoming your servant. I was sent to live with Gaius because he was an old family friend, someone who could teach me about plants and herbs and…"

He switched sentences midway through. "It was an accident that I saved your life at that banquet that night, but not a surprising one. The magic that put everyone in a deep sleep didn't affect me the same way it affected everyone else. There's a reason for that."

"I-I decided to stay here, to be your servant, because someone told me it was my Destiny. That I could and should use my abilities to protect you because so many people wanted to see Camelot fall—so many magical people. They were all against your father because of the Great Purge and—"


The one word pierced through Merlin's babbling like a sharp blade. Merlin closed his eyes at the dark hint of warning in Arthur's voice. He was not going to take this well. Merlin swallowed and stared at the floor again. He couldn't keep his hands still. He had to keep talking—tell it all in one fell swoop or it would never get done.

"I have magic, Arthur. I was born with it; I didn't choose it. Since coming here, I have found over and over again the reason for my magic i—"

Merlin slammed to a halt. Arthur had jumped to his feet, his blue eyes churning with fury and cloudy with uncertainty. That face—he looked like he had when Morgana had shown her true colors—a combination of wretched pain and confusion slashed through with anger. Merlin slid back a step, but Arthur didn't move a muscle.

"The reason for my magic is to protect you."

After a loud, screaming silence, he continued. "And I have. All those times—I mean, many of the times you thought I was off ditching work, I was running around trying to fix things, using my magic to stop whoever or whatever was trying to kill you."

"Why are you saying this?" Arthur whispered, his eyes begging, his jaw working.

"Because I must," Merlin swiped at his eyes and continued doggedly. "I can no longer serve you and lie anymore. It was right in the beginning, if only to protect my life in order to be here to protect yours. But now…"

Arthur had turned away, was running a trembling hand over his mouth, his mind ticking away, trying to put the pieces together. Merlin rushed to fill in all the blanks, quickly before Arthur shut him out.

"I know Uther taught you that magic is evil. But it's like any talent or ability, it can be used for good or evil. I swear that I have always tried to use it for good—"

"You saved Gwen's father that time," Arthur shot out, turning to pierce Merlin with his eyes, "with that magical poultice."

"Yes! I…I wasn't sure if I should, but I just couldn't let him die. And when Gwen was accused—"

"You told us the truth? I thought you were being an idiot, so I excused you."

"Yes, you did. I was grateful, because I didn't think I was supposed to die that day. Your destiny still lay so far in the future and—"

"Who told you that you had a destiny to protect me?" Merlin hesitated. Arthur gave him a warning. "Merlin…"

"Kilgarrah, the dragon who attacked Camelot."

Arthur was dumbfounded. "What?"

Merlin turned slightly away, unable to face that gaze longer. "He called to me from the first night I was here. He is a magical creature—"


Merlin simply nodded. "It took me days to go to him, but one night, I finally gave in. I was sure the voice belonged to someone who knew more about magic than I did. I knew I needed help. I was in way over my head."

"Wait." Merlin started trembling at the grimness in Arthur's voice. "Did…did you release that dragon from the dungeon? No, Merlin—wait. Don't you dare say yes. Don't."

Merlin kept his face away. "I went to him many times that year, always asking for help, for a spell to save you from the illness in the city, from Nimueh, from the Questing Beast, and finally, from Morgause and her sleeping sickness. He was always willing to help, however reluctantly, but that day he said that there would be a price." Merlin took a deep breath. "I didn't know what to do. The whole city was going to fall…"

"What was the price, Merlin?"

Merlin turned, looking into the feverish eyes for understanding. "If he helped me, he made me promise…to free him."

"No!" Arthur jerked away, striding over to the table.

"I gave my word. I tried to get him to promise in return not to raze Camelot to the ground, but there was too much bad blood between him and Uther. Kilgarrah wanted revenge, but I swear I didn't know that at the time!"

Arthur was hunched over the table, his hands gripping the sides as he spoke through gritted teeth. "That was not your decision to make. My people died because—"

"I know, Arthur, I know," Merlin cried, taking a few steps toward him, before forcing himself to stop. "I carry that guilt with me to this day! All I could do was try to stop him."

Arthur whirled around, furious. "Istopped him! I killed him!"

Merlin began to speak, then froze. Slowly, he shook his head.

"You lied to me about that, too?"

Merlin, growing pale, nodded. Arthur looked away, shaking his head, his fury mounting. With a loud, agonized yell, he gripped the table and threw it over on its side, spilling his wine, plate and documents in a flurry of paper and loud thumps. Merlin flinched and backed up until his back hit the mantle. He had to keep talking so they could get to the good parts.

"I banished Kilgarrah, kept him from killing you and attacking Camelot ever again. I…am the last dragonlord." Arthur, his back still to Merlin, grew still. "The man we met, Balinor …was my father. I'd never even met him until that day, and he died right after, leaving his power with me. Kilgarrah became my servant, in a way, but also my friend. He has helped me many times with his magic."

Arthur was listening, Merlin could tell by the tilt of his head. "I got into trouble one night following Morgana out of the castle. Turned out that she was meeting Morgause. I overheard them talking about their plans to invade Camelot with Cenred. I had every intention of stopping them, but they found me and captured me. Morgause tied me up with a chain I couldn't magic myself out of and left me in the forest to die. I was attacked by serkets, and stung in the back by one venomous barb. I called for Kilgarrah and he rescued me, killing the other creatures before they could do me more harm. He took me to his lair and healed me with magic. I was gone from Camelot for—"

"Nearly two days," Arthur was looking at him again, his expression unreadable. "Do you have a scar?"

Merlin paused. "Yes. Arthur—"

"Show me. Show me!"

Merlin could see Arthur was dead set on seeing proof. He couldn't blame him. Reluctantly, the boy turned his back on his king and took a deep breath. He shrugged off his jacket and unbuckled his belt. "I've never seen it. Gaius says it's quite …spectacular." Slowly, he reached over his shoulders and tugged his tunic up until the material bunched up over his head and he could feel the cool air on his lower back.

Arthur moved closer. "My god," he breathed. The seconds ticked by, and then Arthur turned away again. Merlin swiftly pulled his tunic back down. "You don't have any more of those anywhere else, do you? Any other…life-threatening injuries I was completely unaware of?"

Merlin could hear the recrimination in his voice. "Arthur, I couldn't tell you because at that time, you didn't know about Morgana and you weren't—"

"Do you have other injuries?" Arthur barked out.


Arthur glared at him. "Tell me."

"Nimueh, the witch who poisoned me, took Gaius and was going to kill him. I went to the Isle of the Blessed, found her, and battled her. And I got this." Merlin pulled up his tunic and showed Arthur the perfect circle of white, puckered skin in the middle of his chest. "She tried to kill me with a fireball, but I survived. And then I struck back and she… disintegrated."

Arthur's face showed several warring emotions as Merlin pulled his tunic down and rebelted it. "Disintegrated? You can…kill?"

"Yes," Merlin said, his voice nearly a whisper. He pulled his jacket back on. "But why is that so different from you using your sword? She was going to kill Gaius."

"Is she the only person you've killed with magic?"

"No." Merlin clamped his lips shut. Oh god…

Arthur narrowed his eyes. "Who else?"

"Only one directly. Agravaine."

Arthur's eyebrows rose and he took two steps nearer. "You…when did you kill my uncle?"

"In the…in the caves. When I went back to mislead him, I ran into a dead end and he trapped me."

"Did he hurt you?"

Merlin shook his head. "He threatened to. He was going to kill me if I didn't tell him where you were hiding. He had his men with him."

"So you just…made him disintegrate?"

"No, I tried first to knock them all out, but Agravaine came to almost immediately. And then he knew about my magic. He tried to kill me. I had no choice. If he survived, he was going to keep going until he found you and killed you."

"So did you kill him to save me or to save yourself?"

The question hurt. "Honestly? Maybe a bit of both, I think. I also—and I really don't want to tell you about this, because I didn't want to do it. I also…tried to poison Morgana." Merlin rushed on, not even trying to look at Arthur's face. The story came out in halting sentences and stutters, surely as hard to listen to as it was to speak. But this wasn't the hardest story to tell…

"So then…you knew where she was that whole time we were searching." Arthur was shaking his head, looking off bitterly, away from Merlin. There was really nothing to say about that.

"There's another instance I have to explain, another death on my conscience… although that one wasn't really my fault." He saw, out of the corner of his eye, that Arthur stiffened. "I have, several times, had to intervene with magic without anyone knowing who I am. I created an alter ego, an old magician who—"

"No." Arthur was pointing at him, forbidding him to speak more. "Don't!"

"Arthur, I was able to help many, many times as Dragoon," Merlin said, his voice hitching and soft now. "Except for once…when Morgana knew I was going to try to heal Uther."

"No," Arthur repeated, striding forward until he crowded Merlin against the mantle, his body radiating heat, something terrifying in his eyes. "That wasn't you."

"It was, Arthur."

"Then you killed my father!" Arthur's voice shook with rage.

"No, no, Arthur—"

Arthur seized Merlin by the arms, shaking him so violently so that his thoughts flew apart as his neck snapped back and forth. Then he was hitting the stone floor, sprawled out painfully. Time seemed to slow down; noises stretched out until they made no sense. Arthur was yelling. Merlin had no voice to answer. Someone jerked at him and he found himself hauled upright and in a chair. His hands were tied behind his back and his ears were ringing. There was blood in the corner of his mouth and his face was numb, like someone had struck him. Had he passed out? This was not going at all like he'd hoped.

He was still in the king's chambers. Blurrily, he could see a guard stationed nearby. Someone was in the hallway, pounding on the door and yelling. Gwaine?

After a few long moments, Merlin realized that Arthur was standing back, studying him with a detached air. Merlin frowned. "Why am I tied up? I wasn't trying to escape. I just want a chance to explain."

"You just confessed to killing my father," Arthur said, his voice cold and formal. "Did you really think I could ignore that?"

"Please listen: I was trying to help Uther."

Arthur took in a deep breath, his face a mask of indifference. "Your spell killed him. I was there. I saw it."

Merlin shook his head, which really hurt until he stopped. "Morgana knew I was going to try to save him with magic. Agravaine likely told her. However it happened, Uther ended up with a charm around his neck that not only reversed my magic, but multiplied its effect as well. It was her charm that killed him."

Arthur laughed bitterly. "Of course. Then why didn't we see the charm?"

"Gaius found it afterward. He thought you wouldn't believe him…or that maybe we shouldn't even try to tell you. You would not hear that Agravaine was plotting against you and the damage had already been done; the king was dead. There was nothing we could do."

"Indeed. And yet you felt no guilt for your actions, no need to tell me that you had a role to play in my father's death, even while you stood by my side and watched me grieve?" Arthur's façade of indifference crumbled as he strode toward Merlin, furious again.

"Of course I felt guilt, Arthur," Merlin cried, tears pooling in his eyes, but angry for the first time. "Just like you, I didn't sleep that night! I agonized over it again and again, calling myself a fool for going on too fast and pushing too hard. I so desperately wanted you to see magic as something other than evil."

"And yet, you failed," Arthur spat at him before walking away, "failed to help my father, failed to convince me you weren't an evil wretch—you attacked me on your way out!—and…vigil or no, you failed to be the friend you had pretended to be all along. So don't sit there and tell me you've always tried to use your magic for good!"

Those last, hissed words were Merlin's undoing. In the face of so much hatred, he was helpless. Arthur would never understand; his faith in Merlin was completely decimated. Merlin bowed his head until his chest nearly touched his knees. The agony tore him open like a knife to his gut.

"Merlin?" Gwaine yelled. "Are you all right in there?"

"Is there anything else you want to confess to as long as we're here?" Arthur's voice came from over at the window, sounding as if he were merely inquiring about the weather. "Did you give away any city secrets to Cenred before he died? Bed Morgana at any point? Any assassination attempts on my life that went wrong?"

Words failed Merlin completely. Tears blurred his vision further. There was some stirring in the hallway and yelling from behind the door, but he didn't pay attention until, suddenly, the door was being thrown open.

"What did you just call me?" Arthur was standing beside the door, his back to Merlin, his voice dangerously low.

"You heard me, Princess," Gwaine said, pushing past him, the other guard following him in. Gwaine swore an oath and appeared at Merlin's side in an instant. "Are you all right?"

Merlin sat up slightly, trying to force out words that adequately excused Arthur's behavior. "Yes, yes, fine, Gwaine. Don't—"

Gwaine stood up and turned to Arthur. "What the hell are you thinking?" There was an implied threat in his voice, something Merlin hadn't heard many times from his free-spirited friend. "Why are you interrogating Merlin?"

Arthur shifted his weight so that he was facing Gwaine head-on. "I'll thank you to remember, Sir Knight, that I am your King and your life rests in my hands. Both of your lives!"

Gwaine unsheathed his sword and the guards stepped forward until Arthur motioned them back. "And I'll thank you to remember that you're threatening a man who's done nothing but help you time and time again with little reward, who's been more loyal to you than your own wife and who's saved your life on more than one occasion."

"Put your sword away. You are my knight and I can strip you of that honor if I choose!"

"Oh, I beg of you to take away that dubious honor. I'm only here because Merlin had me convinced that you were worth it. But then, he likes to think the best of people. Obviously, this time, he was mistaken. Any king who turns his back on his best friend is no king of mine."

Arthur, keeping his eyes on Gwaine, motioned to one of his guards. In moments, his own sword, the sword Merlin had gotten for him, lay unsheathed in his hand. "That 'best friend' has, by his own admission, betrayed me more times than I can count and I hold him merely out of fear that his true intentions are not yet known."

"True intentions? Are you really that blinded by fear? Is this about Merlin being magic?"

"Yes. You… you knew?"

Merlin lifted his head.

"Oh, come on," Gwaine said with exasperation. "What did the midget tell us at the bridge, on that blasted, ridiculous quest of yours? 'Courage, strength and magic' were what it would take to survive. We both know who was the strength element, and you were the idiot who went off by himself to the Perilous Lands, so we know where the courage came in, but what about magic? Not you and certainly not me. Who else? I asked myself that and came up with my own answer. Merlin never told me, but he didn't need to." A small smile curved Merlin's lips. "He kept his secret because he knew you'd pitch a royal hissy fit and turn on him. Just like you're doing now, Princess."

"The man did say that, on the bridge," Arthur said slowly, "but I didn't know you two were coming. I'd assumed maybe it had something to do with my mother and the story of my birth. That magic."

"Not interested. What I want to know is, am I going to have to fight you to get out of here?" Gwaine said, his voice gravelly. "Because I'm not leaving Merlin here with you. You've done quite enough."

"If you fight me, you'll never make it outside the city walls."

Gwaine backed up until his feet were touching Merlin's. "Then we are at an impasse. Release Merlin and we'll go quietly. Otherwise, I'll defend him to the death. Your choice." Arthur was quiet, his gaze flicking back and forth between Merlin and Gwaine.

"Leave us," he barked to the two guards at the door.


"It's okay, Jasper," Gwaine told him, "I'm not going to hurt the king. He's going to let us go."

"Shut up, Gwaine," Arthur said levelly, but he put his sword down.

The guards left, giving Merlin one last glance.

Gwaine, sword still pointed at Arthur, gave him a sardonic smile. "So, you've tortured Merlin long enough, then? Going to let him go?"

Arthur turned away, furious. "I could still have both of you killed—both of you! And I would be well within my rights."

"Come down off your high horse, your majesty. You know this isn't right. I'm taking Merlin away before you do something you'll regret. But not for your sake." He sheathed his sword and turned his back on the monarch. Grabbing a dagger out of his boot, he sliced through the ropes holding Merlin and helped him out of the chair. "All right?"

Merlin stood, swaying a bit. "Dizzy."

"Grab on," Gwaine told him and turned back to Arthur. "So, we'll be going then."

Arthur walked over to the window and crossed his arms. "Go, and… don't ever return. If you do…God help you both."

Merlin staggered, and Gwaine caught at his elbow. "Ignore him. He has to have his drama. Why do you think I call him Princess?" Gwaine wasn't sure if the boy heard him or not. He was paler than pale, eyes wide and unfocused. Though there didn't look to be any injuries beside Merlin's busted lip, he moved like part of his insides had been carved out. Arthur held still, pouting. Gwaine would have loved to give him a fat lip to pay for Merlin's pain. But at this point, getting out alive was going to have to be good enough.

Suddenly, as they were at the door, Merlin came back to life. He spun around and Gwaine had to work to hold him back. "Wait! Arthur, the blue light."

Arthur looked over his shoulder. "What blue light?" he snapped.

"In the cave, when Nimueh had you trapped. The blue globe of light, remember?"

Arthur's expression softened. "That was you? But how could you have generated magic that far away? You were poisoned, at death's door." Arthur's face grew dark again. "Lying about that too, were you? I suppose you were fine all along, and there I was risking my life for you. Get out!"

Gwaine watched Merlin shut back down again as Arthur again turned away, intent on believing the worst. Merlin sagged so that Gwaine had to grip both of his arms to keep him upright. He cursed under his breath.

"Well, at least when you turn your back on someone, Princess, you don't do it in half measures. Have a great life. And when you start to feel guilty for this little inquisition, don't bother looking for us. We won't be anywhere you can find. You can just stay in your precious little city and rot."

Arthur said nothing, only clenched his jaw as he exercised ultimate restraint. But suddenly, there was a stir in the air. Gwaine paused. Something had changed. He watched in apprehension as Merlin stood up straight and turned once more to face Arthur, his hand raised and fixed. Gwaine's gaze flicked between Merlin's face and Arthur's as they stared at one another. Arthur started to speak, but the words died on his lips.

Merlin's familiar face was transformed into something otherworldly. His eyes glowed an unnatural, bright blue, resplendent with power and that uncanny focus Arthur had glimpsed before. Merlin was not smiling, but the light curve of his lips suggested a dark, shadowed knowledge that came from beyond the mortal world. The thrumming of deep magic that radiated out from the boy was so unnerving that Gwaine was staggering back, keeping a healthy distance away.

Then Merlin spoke, his voice darker and mysterious. "I told you that I would be glad to be your servant until the day I die. You are turning your back on a pledge from the most powerful warlock who has ever lived, who ever will live. I never sought to harm you. If I had, be sure that I would have succeeded. You know nothing of my power." With that, his eyes shifted from blue into gold and Gwaine couldn't hold back a gasp as the light flared forth in the room.

Merlin's expression didn't change, nor did he move a muscle, but in the room, everything loose shot upward and hit the roof in a tremendous cacophony before tumbling to the floor. Ink wells, discarded paper, scrolls, gauntlets, goblets—all these things began to stir on the floor as a mighty rush of wind began to swirl around the room. The lighter objects lifted and became projectiles. Arthur ducked behind the table, peering out with wide eyes to watch the destruction.

Merlin's fierce gaze drifted upward and a sky of rain clouds appeared—just underneath the ceiling. Thunder boomed, lightning flashed and rain began to fall. Arthur gaped. This was impossible. The driving rain became so loud that it covered all attempts at speech. The room began to fill with inches of water and still Merlin stood, stone dry, one hand outstretched. When he grimaced, the rain became icy sleet, tapping against the walls and the windows, from the inside.

Arthur chanced standing to his feet, blocking the rain from his face with one hand. "Merlin!" he shouted over the noise. "Stop this!"

The wind and rain died instantly. Merlin's heated glare at Arthur gave him warning only seconds before the next demonstration. The boy took a few steps forward, fixed his narrowed eyes on Arthur's sodden bed and said, "Forbearne." In an instant, flames erupted all over the bedclothes.

Gwaine backed up another step, hitting the wall as the room filled with steam. The fire was drying the material and then, an instant later, was burning it. Fiery licks of flame shot toward the ceiling. The King scrambled away to the corner of the room, where his gaze locked on Merlin.

Merlin turned to him and shouted, "You know nothing about my power!" His hand made a fist and all the glass in the windows exploded. Arthur flinched and ducked down to the floor. None of the glass even came close, but with that dark look on Merlin's face, it was impossible to tell whether he was pleased with that fact or not.

"Merlin, that's enough!" Gwaine shouted. He froze as the wizard whipped around and fixed glowing eyes on him. "I mean…it's not enough. It'll never be enough; I get it. But we need to leave if we ever expect to get out the castle in one piece. Right, mate?"

The gold in Merlin's eyes faded and the blue returned, dismal and hopeless. He looked down at Arthur and dropped his hand. When he turned back to Gwaine, the knight thought he'd never seen such pain before. "Well, at least you gave him something to remember you by." Gwaine glanced over at Arthur, surprised at his silence. The king was moving to stand now, watching Merlin warily. Was that fear in his eyes? "Got him for all those times he made you clean his room, right? Poetic justice."

Merlin gave him a watery half-smile and Gwaine counted it a victory. "Let's get you out of here." The boy grabbed hold of Gwaine again, suddenly every bit as dizzy and damaged as before. They turned and found a pair of guards looking into the ruined room with stunned expressions. "You'd better check on his majesty. He's very bravely hiding in the corner. I've got Merlin." The two idiots moved inside the room and over to Arthur's side.

Gwaine didn't wait to see how that conversation was going to go. He drew Merlin out the door and down the hallway, quickly this time. It wasn't easy getting him to go all the way to the front of the castle. Supposedly, goodbyes were the sort of thing one should do when leaving a place for good, but Gwaine had never held with that theory. Especially when you were leaving somewhere as badly as this.

So, they took nothing and said not a word to anyone. By the time they reached the stables, word had gotten around. Knights were gathering in the courtyard, looking earnest and concerned, discussing something. Gwaine was glad Elyan and Percival had been out on patrol this afternoon and weren't due back until later. He had no idea which way the wind blew, who the knights would side with if it came down to it. They needed to get out of town before it could blow south and end them up in the dungeons for Gwaine's impertinence.

He all but shoved Merlin up on his usual mount, tossing a small bag of gold to a stable boy to pay for the horses and tack they were going to ride off with. Couldn't be helped. He leapt on his horse's back and grabbed the reins for Merlin's mount as well. Merlin was hollow-eyed and hopeless, slumped on his horse's back. It reminded Gwaine uncomfortably of the boy's run-in with the Dorochas. But as the horses began to move toward the street, Merlin hung on, showing some signs of life.

"Hyah!" Gwaine yelled, kicking his horse into a canter and pulling Merlin along. As they reached the city gates, he slowed the horses and handed Merlin his reins. "Can you follow me?"

"Of course," he said, managing a small smile. "Thanks for getting me out of there."

"Yeah, any time you need to escape, I'm your man. Let's go."

Keeping to lesser known paths, the two wound their way through the woods until they were sure no one had followed. They camped far off the path and ate only what Gwaine could find in the woods. It was hardly filling, but Merlin didn't seem to care. He was nearly silent, even as the long night turned into an even longer day of travelling. They took only short sleeping breaks, trying to get away as far as they could as fast as they could. And as the days passed with no sign of patrols or pursuit, Gwaine began to relax. He enjoyed being his own man again, with no schedules, no training and no nobles breathing down his neck.

But it was nearly a week before Merlin was back to even a shadow of his old self again. That morning, Gwaine awoke to find Merlin up and fixing breakfast. He didn't say much, but handed a full plate to Gwaine with a smile.

Gwaine took it, and paused. "Thanks, but…you're not my servant, you know. I think we've had enough of that."

Merlin looked slightly lost. "I know. I just, made it to say thanks."

"Feeling better?"

"Yes. I think…I know it sounds crazy, but I think that Arthur will change his mind. I think he had to say all those things, to get past it. He was hurt. But in the end, he'll remember who I am and know why I did what I did." The hope in Merlin's eyes made Gwaine's heart bleed.

"Maybe, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Listen, Merlin. There's a whole big world out there waiting for you to explore. Don't be in too much of a hurry to give it up. Why limit yourself to one small city with a clotpole of a king?" Gwaine grinned.

Merlin tried to smile in return. "I need you to understand…I will be going back…some day, but you don't have to go with me. You've done enough."

Gwaine poked at the fire idly. "Let's just take it one day at a time, eh? Try it my way for a while. If it doesn't work, after a bit, we'll come back and try to re-educate that bloke they call King. What do you say?"

"Sounds great."

Gwaine nodded, feeling better until he saw the smile slide off Merlin's face as he moved away. This wasn't going to be easy. Gwaine had said everything he'd said to Arthur assuming they'd never return. And hadn't Merlin burned his bridges a bit as well? He'd torched the king's bed, after all. Oh, well. Gwaine worry about that tomorrow. He took a great, big forkful of wild onion greens with duck fat and chopped water chestnuts, chewing thoughtfully. Not bad, but for the tenth time, he wished he'd grabbed salt on their way out of the castle.

"So…ever try any cooking magic, Merlin?"

AN: Thanks for reading! As always, comments are welcome, encouraged and loved! What do you think about this scenario? I'm a huge Merlin fan and always ready to talk series 5! :D