A/N: Here we go then: the final instalment. This is meant to kind of bring it back in line with season 4, with the obvious addition that Arthur knows about Merlin's magic.
I can't believe this is the end of Hidden Motives, I've had so much fun writing it and it's grown so much from the initial idea. You know, the whole thing started with me deciding I wanted to write a story where Arthur is genuinely accusing Merlin of trying to murder him. That's all I had at the beginning! And then all this was the result. Believe it or not, this was never intended to be a reveal fic; I actually remember thinking at the start that I didn't want the magic revealed. Oh well!
There is one mini idea going round my head for a new story, but I think it might have been done a lot before. And I don't know if I'll have much chance to write anyway, so we'll see. It involves Merlin and memory loss. Would you be interested?
Anyway, enough from me. I just wanted to say a big thank you to all of you who have reviewed, especially those of you who have done it so regularly; it really meant a lot to me and was very encouraging. So now, I'll ask for the final time to let me know what you think; if you haven't reviewed before, I'd really appreciate it.
Well, I'm glad you've enjoyed the story. Hopefully this will be a fitting end!
x x x
'Merlin,' Arthur called as he walked into his chambers. An almighty crash of metal made Arthur jump –much to his annoyance- as he came in. He looked around, half expecting some sort of masked invader, but was met only with the sight of Merlin looking at him sheepishly, surrounded by a vast quantity of armour, which was evidently what had caused the noise. 'What…?' he began, but he quickly noticed the polishing clothes that were also strewn amongst the metal debris, several of them. 'Merlin!' he said through gritted teeth as he slammed the door shut. 'I remember several conversations where we agreed that just because I know about your…' he lowered his voice, '…magic, it doesn't mean you can get careless.'
'This isn't careless,' he protested, waving his hand and causing all the items to stack up neatly. Arthur rolled his eyes. 'No-one else comes in here without knocking except me and you.'
'What about my uncle?' Arthur pointed out.
'You're keeping him way too busy. Besides; he knows he should knock, even if you are his nephew.'
'The way you know that you should knock?' Arthur asked him pointedly.
'Yes it is; you have even less right to just walk in.'
'Well if you didn't give me so much work to do I'd have time to knock, but as it is…' he muttered a few words and the armour began polishing itself once again, 'I'm too swamped.'
'It looks like really hard work, Merlin; you sitting there and saying a few words so that your jobs do themselves.'
'This is taking a lot of concentration, I'll have you know,' Merlin protested. 'I just happen to be able to do more than one thing at once.'
Arthur considered arguing further, but decided that he was fighting a losing battle. Instead, he gave Merlin what he hoped was a scornful look and then sat down on his bed, watching his chainmail swish back and forth while the silver cloth made it shine.
He still couldn't quite believe the speed at which he'd become accustomed to seeing magic used in his chambers; it had only been a fortnight since he had been willingly swayed by Merlin's argument to keep him as a manservant and work at rebuilding the trust that had been lost. The first thing he'd done on returning to his quarters was burn the letter he'd written to ensure that Merlin never saw it.
Since then, his magical education had been swift and intense, despite Merlin's assurances that he would introduce Arthur to the magical world slowly. To be fair, the majority of the time it had been Arthur's questioning or requests for demonstrations that had made his learning curve so steep, and Merlin always seemed so delighted to show him anything that Arthur was quite happy to carry on asking things.
It hadn't been completely smooth, however. Merlin had filled Arthur in on an awful lot of happenings in Camelot that he had been unaware of. The Great Dragon being the one that had caused Arthur the most problems, along with Merlin's early knowledge of Morgana's betrayal. That had involved several hours of Arthur shouting and Merlin trying to explain, but what made Arthur more and more angry was the fact that with every explanation, it became clearer and clearer that Merlin had only ever done what he thought was for the best, even if sometimes things hadn't gone as he had hoped. Arthur could sympathise with that; in fact, by the end, he found himself filling Merlin in on a few of the terrible decisions he had made in his past. Merlin, of course, had accepted Arthur's confessions with infinitely more grace.
And the more Arthur heard of Merlin's magical exploits over the last few years, the more he came to regret all the times that he'd called Merlin a coward or made fun of him for his sentimentality or passivity. He had been fighting his own battle the whole time.
That, too, caused Arthur some problems; the idea of Merlin fighting, of him being such a powerful defence against the numerous attacks that Camelot had come under. Arthur had struggled immensely to integrate that person -the powerful warrior and defender of the Kingdom- with the manservant –mending clothes, cleaning his room, mucking out the stables- that he had known all along. He had found himself hesitating before asking Merlin to do a job, or questioning what his manservant thought about such menial tasks. It had become so difficult for Arthur to combine the two that he had taken to avoiding Merlin at the times when he usually dished out his list of chores.
While Arthur was quite prepared to pretend that nothing was wrong, Merlin had not been of the same opinion. He had taken to appearing in whatever rooms or areas Arthur was scheduled to be in just to ask for jobs; something that had definitely never happened before. When Arthur still continued to be uncharacteristically vague, Merlin had demanded to know what the problem was. Much to Arthur's mortification, he had been forced to explain that he thought Merlin too powerful to be doing things as mundane as chores –he hadn't used those words of course; his explanation had taken a good fifteen minutes where he went round and round in circles trying to think of a better way of getting his point across; he was trying to keep his awe and disbelief at Merlin's abilities to himself for fear of the teasing that would follow from said sorcerer.
Merlin, though, after initially grinning at him like an idiot, had explained –much more succinctly than Arthur's preceding explanation-, that he really didn't care whether he was using his magic to save lives or using his hands clean clothes. They were all part of his life; they were all part of who he was and his role within the Kingdom. Arthur realised most tangibly, at that moment, that the phrase 'power corrupts' would never apply to someone with Merlin's humility.
There was no doubt that they were moving forward, but Arthur knew it would be a long road ahead of them. A road that would be made much shorter if Merlin was stupid enough to get caught doing magic.
'You just need to be a little more subtle,' Arthur told him.
'I've managed to avoid getting caught for the last few years; I don't think I need advice from you.'
'I don't know Merlin; I'm assuming that before I knew, you didn't use magic to complete your chores while you were in the Prince of Camelot's chambers.'
'Don't refer to yourself in the third person; it makes you sound so arrogant,' Merlin chided. 'And, no, maybe, I didn't use it in here…much, but,' he continued hastily, 'like I said, no-one will come in without knocking.'
'You don't know that.'
'Yes I do. But I appreciate the concern. I didn't know you cared,' he said with a grin.
'I've told you before, Merlin; it would be a huge inconvenience for me to have to find a new manservant if my old one gets executed for sorcery.'
Merlin grinned at him, but then shrugged.
'Well, you're the Prince; you could probably get me off the hook.'
'Have you met my father?' Arthur asked him, although even as he said it, he found it hard to believe that his father would come out of himself enough to sentence Merlin to death; he had sunk further and further into his darkness since the events with Sythe. It was why Agravaine was here; to try and help Arthur make the decisions that should really be under the jurisdiction of the King. And Arthur was glad for his help; the whole prospect of leading the Kingdom daunted him.
'Good point,' Merlin told him jovially, evidently trying to deflect the darker thoughts. 'I'll be careful, don't worry. Be a shame to get myself killed when you don't actually want me dead. Maybe one day…' he tailed off and shook his head.
'What?' Arthur asked him.
'No, don't worry.'
'Merlin,' Arthur told him, reaching for one of his pillows and throwing it in the direction of his friend. Merlin's eyes glowed gold and the pillow stopped in mid-air. The smug satisfaction on his face made Arthur glare; that was one element of Merlin's magic that really did annoy him.
'Oh, the good old days,' Merlin mused, 'when I had to put up with you flinging things at me.' Instantly, Arthur found the pillow flying back at him, before it veered off at the last second and landed back on the bed neatly. 'I've already made the bed; stop messing it up.'
He set to stacking the armour, which was now gleaming, and said nothing else, but Arthur was not so easily dissuaded.
'Maybe one day what?' he prompted. Merlin shrugged and then sighed.
'There's a prophecy that I haven't told you about.'
Arthur resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation. This had happened a lot over the last few weeks. There's a magical creature I haven't told you about; there's a time when I enchanted you that I haven't told you about; there's a curse that I haven't told you about.
'What? I'm trying to introduce you to things slowly,' he protested. 'You asked me to.'
'How much more can there possibly be?'
Merlin just looked at him. Arthur decided that he didn't want to know the answer to the question. It was, however, another element that he struggled with now that he and Merlin knew each so much more and so much less. The idea that Merlin was more clued up than him about…well, everything, had hit his pride very hard. Gone were the days when he could dismiss Merlin's words of wisdom with disdain. That wasn't a possibility anymore. He found that now, everything that Merlin said got stored away in his mind, even the utter rubbish that the man spouted half the time. It annoyed Arthur no end that he suddenly held Merlin's opinions and ideas in much higher esteem than his own; what did that say about him as a future King? He was supposed to be able to trust his own judgement, not just use Merlin's. Of course, he had heeded Merlin's council in the past, but then it had always seemed like a choice that he could make; now it felt like he just had to assume that Merlin was right. Something he wasn't very good at doing.
It was an issue that he had yet to share with Merlin and which his manservant seemed blissfully unaware of. For that, Arthur grateful; he wanted to leave it until he had found away of balancing his own views with those of Merlin, but he knew that would be a long time coming. Years of believing himself to be right the majority of the time and Merlin to be completely wrong were working against him and it was taking all his effort to try and find a way of turning the two around so that they met in the middle. For now, it meant gritting his teeth and forcing himself to accept what Merlin was saying as correct rather than dismissing it as had been his instinctual response for years.
'Fine; never mind. Just tell me about this prophecy.'
'Well, it's about you and me.'
'It's nice to be included,' Arthur told him sarcastically. He still wasn't completely convinced by Merlin's Emry's prophecy.
'You're going to have to get used to the fact that you and I are linked.'
'Trust me: I'm trying to come to terms with it.'
'Anyway, this prophecy say that Emrys –that's me-,' Arthur gave him a withering look, 'and the Once and Future King –that's you,' –Arthur had to admit that he'd like that title from the moment Merlin had mentioned it-, 'are destined to work together to unite the lands of Albion.'
'You've told me this before.'
'I may have left something out.'
'You seem to be doing that a lot.' He tried to find it in himself to be annoyed at Merlin for it, but he understood what his friend was doing. Merlin had said from the start that he wouldn't explain everything at once, much to Arthur's annoyance, but he had backed down quickly; Merlin, of all people, knew how much Arthur could cope with at a time. 'What is it?'
'The prophecy says that you'll bring magic back to the Kingdom.'
Arthur just looked at him, stunned into silence and fully understanding why Merlin had kept that piece of information to himself for a while longer.
'Me?' he asked; his scepticism more than evident, but the voice in his head telling him that Merlin was right whispered away relentlessly.
'Unless there's another Once and Future King, and I hope not, because I really don't want to have to put up with another royal prat,' Merlin told him wryly.
Arthur ignored the jibe and considered –as he had to with everything Merlin said nowaydays- the idea of bringing magic back to Camelot. Would that even be possible? Not while his father was alive. The thought made him go cold. He'd tried many times not to think about what was happening to his father now, but something deep within him told him that the time of his reign was not too far away. The thought sent grief sweeping through him, but he couldn't deny the feeling.
But even when he was King, would bringing back magic be a possibility? The whole of Camelot had lived in fear of it for so many years. It would take more than a few well meaning gestures from Merlin to convince everyone that magic was anything other than a terrible evil. But then, if Merlin had been using magic for good, what was to say that there weren't other people all over the Kingdom who had been doing the same or who would do the same if there wasn't a ban? He could, however, say the same for those who would use magic for less noble purposes than people like Merlin.
'It would have to be regulated,' he said, almost to himself.
'What?' Merlin asked, his head snapping round in surprise.
'Well it will. There's no guarantee that everyone practicing magic will use it for household chores,' he said, gesturing towards his polished armour.
'You mean you would?' Merlin asked. 'You'd bring magic back to the Kingdom?'
'You've just told me I will,' he said, enjoying seeing Merlin almost at a loss for words. 'That's what a prophecy is Merlin. You of all people should know that. Most of them are about you, apparently.'
'Merlin,' Arthur said gently, deciding he should probably put the man out of his misery. 'I have seen a lot of things in the last few weeks that I never would have thought possible. A manservant who is apparently the most powerful sorcerer of the age, being one of them. So if you say I'm going to bring magic back to the kingdom, then who am I to argue? A lot of good could come of it.'
'It could,' Merlin nodded enthusiastically, seemingly beginning to believe that Arthur was actually being serious. 'I mean it would, Arthur. There are so many things that it could help with.'
'But it would take time. It can't happen until I'm King.'
'I know. But…' Merlin shook his head and laughed, '…just like that? You'll bring magic back?'
'Perhaps Camelot is ready for a change.'
Arthur couldn't help but smile at the childlike enthusiasm on Merlin's face.
'I think you're right,' he nodded.
'I always am.'
'If you say so.' He shook his head again. 'You're going to bring magic back to Camelot,' he said with more certainty, a faraway look coming into his eyes.
Well, not just me,' Arthur said. 'As much as I hate to admit it, I could probably use some help. You know: someone who knows about magic; someone who isn't afraid to speak out; someone who can make sure that magic is used only for good.' He gave Merlin a wry smile. 'Know anybody?'
Merlin grinned at him, but then, with difficulty, smoothed out his expression to one of deep thought. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, shaking his head at the same time.
'Can't think of anyone,' he said seriously.
'Don't worry,' Arthur told him. 'I've got someone in mind.'