Arthur stood abruptly, fidgeting on his feet in an awkward fashion. "And that's that," he said, having decalred his vow. He felt distinctly uncomfortable with the moisture building in Merlin's eyes, and he could feel his own starting to prickle. Best leave before something truly mortifying occurred, he figured.
"Just remember," he said as he walked towards the door. "You're going to tell me everything I've missed over the years. Just…not now. Because I have things to do. Stately, important things. So," he cleared his throat. "I expect you to be back to work as soon as you've recovered to Gaius's satisfaction."
Merlin grinned, knowing quite well that Arthur was ducking the awkwardness of actually having to talk about feelings. Arthur quickly opened the door.
And Gwaine actually fell forward a step before catching himself.
Arthur, instantly alleviated of awkwardness, put his hands on his hips. "Gwaine," he said shortly.
"Princess." Gwaine mimicked his posture.
"I trust you weren't eavesdropping."
"Now why would I do that? Of course I have the utmost respect for all important, stately conversations of the king."
Arthur couldn't even think of an answer. So he didn't bother. He simply rolled his eyes and walked straight on by. Gwaine watched him go, then turned to face the laughter from the other side of the room.
Merlin's laugh grew, and soon became hysterical. Tears of mirth leaked out of his eyes and he tipped over sideways, collapsing on the cot and holding his sides.
Gwaine crossed the room and took the vacated stool, smiling at the shere idiocy. "Went well, then?" he asked pleasantly.
And just as suddenly Merlin's laughter turned to sobs, which caught Gwaine completely off guard. He stood up hastily, staring at Merlin with his brain numb as to what to do. Slowly, he sat again, and just waited.
Gradually, Merlin's sobbed petered out, his face turned away from Gwaine. His body continued to shake long into the silence.
At last, Gwaine swallowed around what felt like a really thick tongue. "That bad, huh?" he asked. But it hasn't sounded bad. He hadn't been able to hear much, but he hadn't heard shouting, or threats, or anything of that nature.
Becaues yes. Of course he had been eavesdropping.
Merlin shook his head, but he didn't sit up. "No," he got out. "It was…great."
And Gwaine's shoulders dropped their tension a little.
"I'm…" Merlin began, but he stopped. "This is…" he stopped again.
He covered his face in his hands, taking deep, purposeful breaths. Then he tried again. "Everything I ever dared hope for."
Gwaine put a hand on Merlin's shoulder, who looked up tiredly at him through his red eyes.
"Hate to say I told you so."
Merlin snorted. "You love to say that."
Gwaine laughed. "True."
Merlin's hands fell to his sides again. Then with great effort, he pushed himself up into a sitting position once more. Gwaine let him do it on his own.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I was just…"
"It's been an intense week," Merlin confirmed, with a slight upturn of his lip at the massive understatement.
"So what did he say?"
Merlin gave him a skeptical look.
"What! It's not like I could actually hear through that thick door. Not much anyway…"
Merlin laughed. "He's going to legalize magic," he said. And oh how those words sounded strange. Gwaine's eyes opened quite wide. "Not yet," Merlin answered the silent question. "It will take a long time—years, probably. But, we're going to work towards it, in a way that won't cause civil war. Hopefully…"
Gwaine nodded slowly. "And you're ok with this? Waiting?"
Merlin smiled. "Yes. Yes I am."
Gwaine returned his smile. "Good. Cause I don't fancy a war. That would be far too much work, and this week has been enough work to last me all month, maybe even all year." He sat back as much as he was able, since his stool didn't have a backrest.
Merlin's smile slowly dipped into a frown as a puzzled look crossed his face. "Gwaine," he said slowly, "how did you manage to free me?" he asked.
"Got the amulet away from Daneir," Gwaine answered immediately. "You and he both went a bit wonky after that, though."
But Merlin shook his head. "No, I remember that. But the void…"
"Daneir and I were stuck in that amulet for a while. Then suddenly, there was a void—a crack—that sucked all the souls out. Daneir went to Avolon, I came back here. But…how? How did you manage to destroy the amulet?"
Gwaine shifted uncomfortably, which did not go unnoticed by the warlock. But really, what was the point in keeping it from him? He didn't even know if it would really upset him, although he had his suspicions.
"We didn't," Gwaine said at last. "We…gave it to someone."
"A woman that Kilgharrah sent us to."
"Wait, wait, wait. Kilgharrah?"
Gwaine winced. He'd forgotten Merlin didn't know that part, either. "Yes," he confirmed. "He was a bit concerned for you, so he made an appearance and startled…quite a lot of people."
"Yes," Gwaine confirmed. "We know you're a dragonlord." He paused. "And also about Balinore."
Merlin sighed tiredly, then shrugged. "Well, I guess it was only a matter of time, at this point."
"So Kilgharrah sent us to someone who could…take the amulet out of the equation."
Merlin frowned. "How?"
Again, Gwaine hesitated. He really didn't want to bring up more painful memories Merlin might have buried if he could avoid it. But then again, he was also awfully curious about the mysterious Lady of the Lake.
"She took it to Avalon." He waited and watched Merlin carefully, gauging his reaction. Merlin's eyes widened ever so slightly, and he went quiet.
"Freya," he said at last. Cautiously, Gwaine nodded. Merlin closed his eyes. "I knew I heard her voice."
Merlin laughed softly, opening his eyes again. "Yes. Very."
"How long did you know her?"
Another laugh, every bit as soft, and he looked away, a sad smile just pulling at his mouth. "Only a few days, believe it or not. But…"
"You fell in love?"
"Quite instantly," Merlin confirmed. "She was…beautiful. And I didn't have to hide from her. We…were even going to run away together. Leave Camelot, leave…everything."
Gwain's actually jerked in his surprise. He recovered. "Why couldn't you just stay here with her?"
"She was a druid. She was brought to Camelot by bounty hunters for execution. I helped her escape and kept her hidden in the tunnels. But…it wasn't meant to be."
Gwaine went quiet again for a long moment. "She died," he said at last. It wasn't a question, after all. Freya herself had said as much.
"Arthur killed her." Merlin's eyes snapped to him. "Freya told us," he explained, "also about her curse. Arthur was…quite upset about it."
"He didn't have a choice," Merlin countered, voice quite defensive, despite the fact that there was no actual accusation in Gwaine's words. "He couldn't have done any differently."
Gwaine sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Golly, Merlin. Your love died, your father died, and no one knew about any of this?"
Merlin's eyes were sad. "Gaius did," he said. "He helped me through it."
"We all should have helped you through it."
"I hadn't even met you yet," Merlin countered.
"Still," Gwaine argued, "there have been other times, haven't there?" At Merlin's grim silence, Gwaine knew that he was right. "And all that time, you were alone."
But Merlin actually smiled again. "Not anymore."
"No," Gwaine agreed, "not anymore. Never again. You've got me. And the princess, I suppose. And Percival's got your back, too, by the way. As does Elyan. And Guinevere. Am I forgetting anyone? Leon! Leon, too. All of us."
"All of you know the truth?" There was no fear in Merlin's eyes anymore, merely a question and a quiet acceptance. "You didn't fall for Arthur's 'it's-not-me' charade?"
"Nope!" Gwaine said proudly. "Not for an instant! Well…they might have. But then they came with me after Daneir, and we got the amulet away, and all that happened. There really was no explaining things away after that."
A chuckle. "No, I suppose not."
Gwaine hesitated again, but only for a moment. "Well, are you totally completely exhausted yet?" he asked, knowing that was kind of a ridiculous question. "Or are you up for telling me some of those really long stories?"
Merlin laughed out loud. The bags under his eyes clearly indicated his fatigue, but his whole face brightened at the prospect. It flickered again, though. "Better now than later, I suppose. As soon as I can walk, I need to go repair some of the damage I caused to the land."
"How bad is it?" Merlin asked, eyebrows knitting together. "I remember…well. Best just tell me."
"Pretty bad," Gwaine confirmed. "Although after you stopped the…demonstration, the storm you brought drenched everything in rain. So the fire was put out, at least."
Merlin breathed a slight note of relief. "That's good."
"Don't suppose you can restore the grain fields?"
Merlin tapped his thumb against his knee, staring off into space. "I can sink those hills again," he said, "and seal the chasm. Though I'm not sure I can regrow the grain. If there are still seeds in the area, I can probably speed their growth. Or maybe we'll need to take some grain from storage for replanting." He rubbed his face. "I'll have to do it all without being seen, which will be interesting. It'll be impossible to hide the fact that magic was used."
Gwaine waved that aside. "Please. For all we know, the magic 'wore off' after the 'intruder' was killed. And everything sunk back to normal. People will believe anything."
"True. The amount of ridiculous excuses I've used over the years to hide my magic…I really am surprised that none of you realized sooner."
"Which brings us back to…. stories?"
Merlin laughed again. "Where would you like me to start?"
"That's really a long story, then."
"So?" Gwaine asked innocently. "You can't even walk! It's not like you have anywhere to be."
Merlin thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, then. I told you I'm a bit of an anomaly when it comes to magic."
"See, I never had to study magic to learn it. I was spinning things around without touching them before I could say my first words, much to my mother's horror."
Gwaine's eyes widened again. "You were born with magic?"
"Yes. Although that's not exactly unheard of, it is rare."
And he told of how Will had found out about his magic, and his mother—further terrified—had sent him to Camelot for Gaius to mentor. He told Gwaine of first meeting Kilgharrah, and about this grand destiny that seemed so ludicrous when he first heard it.
And then, then the real stories began. The adventures, the dangers, the joys and the sufferings.
A long story it was. Ultimately, it took weeks to tell. With many, many interruptions. And even after that, Merlin had to keep backtracking to fill in parts he'd missed the first time around.
But Gwaine hooked onto every word. And as the stories kept coming, he grew more and more amazed at everything that had happened, and everything they had all missed. And above all in Gwaine's mind was a single, ever-strengthening truth that dwarfed all others.
"We've all been bloody idiots!"
When he finally said it out loud, Merlin and Arthur were both been present. Merlin laughed out loud, and Arthur crossed his arms with an irritated glare shot in the warlock's direction.
A/N: And there you have it! I know I mentioned the possibility of an epilogue, but I honestly don't think that's gonna happen. Not this time. Although who knows. Perhaps I'll do a sequel of this someday. Currently that's not in the works, but you never know.
In the meantime, I am working on something new. I'm having trouble deciding if the fic I'm working on should just stay a one-shot, or if I should make it into my next long fic. I have a killer idea (in my opinion) for how to make a long story from it, but it would significantly alter what I was originally going for and it would be a lot longer before I put it out there. Plus, if it stays a one-shot, then it's almost done. Maybe I'll split the difference and do a few chapters. (Although we all know how that tends to work out for me. This fic, after all, was only supposed to be about 10 chapters, ASG was originally meant to be a stand-alone and it turned into a trilogy, and CF was supposed to be a one-shot. Blaaa!)
In any case, we shall see.
Please drop me a final review for Iron Grip! This fic turned out much differently than originally intended, and I am eager to hear your responses.
In the meantime, HAPPY DAYLIGHT SAVINGS! I shall celebrate by sleeping. A lot.
Until next time,