So, guys, this is the last chapter. I'm kinda torn between 'Oh, this has taken so longggg' and 'Wow, I just started this story.' Yep. ;) But anyways, I really hope you like this last chapter. Oh, and by the way, the song I'm referencing is fantastic. Just... ignore the 'baby' bits, and translate everything to bromance. When you parallel it with Merlin and Arthur's circumstances, what they're going (or have gone) through, like the reveal, it's so perfect. :)
And I've put the epilogue in with this chapter, by the way, because I thought that either, alone, would be pathetically short compared to the other chapters I've posted. :P
Anyway, enough rambling. Enjoy:
Chapter 15: A Touch of Grace
Change the colors of the sky.
And open up to
In ways you made me feel alive,
In ways I loved you.
For all the things that never died,
To make it through the night,
Love will find you.
The sun is breaking in your eyes
To start a new day.
This broken heart can still survive
With a touch of your grace.
Shadows fade into the light.
I am by your side,
Where love will find you
-Daughtry, "What About Now"
Lights burned in their candelabras, candle light flickering and throwing dark, obscure shadows against the wall and floor. A fire burned in the hearth, wood crackling as the tangerine flames licked and spat. Outside, a large moon dangled above the lower town, and the king of Camelot watched as several servants, cloaks trailing behind them, skittered across the blue shaded courtyard and towards their homes.
Arthur twisted his wrist, fisting his hand as he tried to work out the soreness in the joint. Gaius had told him that Merlin's condition had improved little since they found him yesterday, but "it has only been a day, sire. You must give him time." And that had pushed Arthur towards the training grounds, where he'd taken out his worry and frustration on a practice dummy, and, after he'd calmed down a bit, he had aimed it at training the new initiatives. Watching them, fighting them, they showed promise. But with all the swordplay, he'd overworked his wrist.
After that, he'd done some paperwork with Gwen's help, until she went to check on Merlin. Arthur had stayed behind, feeling more guilt and knowing that Merlin wouldn't be awake anyway. Probably. Guinevere hadn't pushed him to come, and he was grateful for that. The king reasoned that he'd see him in the morning anyway.
It had only been an hour later that a servant, who certainly wasn't Merlin, came and served him dinner. Arthur sent him away after he had set the silver platter on the table, thanking the servant for his troubles and serving himself. The anxious feeling in his stomach hadn't settled after he'd eaten, and hours later it still hadn't.
An abrupt click echoed through the room, and Arthur turned towards the door, the words 'Don't you ever knock, Merlin?' on his lips. But of course, Merlin had indeed learned how to knock, especially since Gwen's coronation, and of course, it wasn't Merlin anyway.
One glance, and he knew something was wrong. The pristine blue dress she'd been wearing when she left was wrinkled, and several strands of hair were out of place. As she walked towards him, he, brow furrowed with confusion and concern, saw that her eyes were glazed and her eyelids puffy. Her face was spotted with pink, and there were dried tear tracks on her face.
"Gwen?" he asked again, stepping towards her.
She didn't answer, but reaching him, wrapped her arms around his waist and settled her head against his chest, sniffling. He looked down at her before he returned the embrace, running a hand down her hair comfortingly. She let out a small cry, and Arthur pulled her closer. "It's alright. I'm here." Her arms seemed to tighten around him as if to make sure of that, and Arthur let his hand rest in the middle of her back. "Gwen, what happened?"
The queen pulled away from him and glanced up at him, eyes brimming with moisture. "I can't..."
And suddenly, without her even having to tell him, it all fell into place. She had gone to see her friend, she had been gone for hours, and she had come back crying. What had Merlin told her that would make her so upset? What had happened?
Guinevere avoided his eyes, looking off to the side as she hid her face. "I can't tell you," she said quietly, sadly.
"I can't, Arthur. I promised him. I'm sorry."
Merlin had her promise? What could have been so bad that...? Sighing, Arthur pulled her close again, pressing her head against his chest and intertwining his hand in her hair. "It's alright, Guinevere. You don't have to tell me."
Sounding as if she'd been holding it, Gwen let out a shaky breath against his chest, hugging him tightly as the fire spat in the hearth.
The dreams came again, though this one was with Guinevere, his cheerful friend, looking at him like a lost soul. She asked him where Arthur was, and when he responded that he didn't know, she grew more and more worried and began calling out for him. But he was gone... they both felt it, even in the dream world. The panic that tears at your chest. The pain that sears your heart. The feeling of having no air to breath as pins pierce your lungs.
And she had burst into tears as she fell to her knees. But she didn't stop there. It was like she kept falling and falling and falling as if into a never ending crevice, the darkness swallowing her whole. And Merlin shouted her name, he ran towards her, reached into the hole, but she was gone too. He couldn't reach her. He couldn't see her. And no matter how loud he shouted, yelled, screamed, or cried, she never replied.
He bolted awake, sitting up on his bed, supported by trembling arms. He let out a small gasp of pain from his wrist and collapsed back on his bed, bringing his broken, wrapped hand to his chest and hugging it against him until the throbbing of pain ebbed. Sweat glinted off his skin, moonlight highlighting a drop of perspiration as it rolled down the side of his nose. His eyes were wild and unfocused, and his mind ran with the power of a thousand war horses, never slowing.
Merlin took in a deep, ragged breath, breathing out through his teeth as he clenched them together, trying to rid his mind of the images he saw. A mantra started to run through his head that Gwen was alright; that he'd only talked to her a few hours ago, and that she was safely in her bed with Arthur. And Arthur would protect her. Like he should have.
No. He couldn't think like that. It was only a dream. Gwen was fine. Arthur was fine. They were both alive and well and healthy and alive.
He turned to the side, letting out a small cry as a tear leaked from his eye and sorrow clawed at his heart.
Arthur was dead.
The other Arthur. He had died in Merlin's arms because of Mordred. Arthur had died...
Merlin's hands went to his ears, trying to block out his own thoughts as he whimpered. Arthur is alive. Arthur is alive. Arthur is alive. Gwen told him so. Repeatedly. Arthur is alive, and Camelot isn't falling, and Morgana isn't attacking, and everything is alright. Please, let everything be alright...
Gaius was just in the other room, Merlin knew. He was alright too. He had given him dinner and Gwen dinner. He had given Merlin some pain medicine before he went to sleep. He had looked at him with sad eyes that begged for answers but never pried, never voiced his inquires.
And Merlin wanted to tell him. He wanted to tell him so badly, but he couldn't. He was too ashamed. He didn't want anyone else but Gwen to know. He couldn't stop himself from telling her, she was Gwen after all, his first friend in Camelot, and she promised she wouldn't tell anyone else. He didn't want anyone to know what had happened: his traveling through time, Morgana, Mordred, Arthur, his failure.
He didn't want their opinions of him to change. He was too afraid.
It wasn't long ago that they had accepted his magic, yes, but could they accept that Merlin had failed in saving their king? Merlin wasn't brave enough to find out. Not yet.
He was supposed to protect Arthur! And he hadn't.
Another tear leaked from his eye, and he took a deep breath to try and calm himself. He tried to recall Kilgharrah's words that that world would have never existed if he got back to his own time - which he had - but he couldn't find comfort in the thought that that Arthur hadn't ever been alive in the first place. He had been flesh and blood, he had a mind, he had a heart, and he had a soul. And no matter what anyone could tell Merlin, Arthur, that Arthur, had been alive. Merlin had talked with him, and Arthur had helped him with his sickness - a feeling that had left him when he'd returned - and he had only wanted to help Merlin. He had been real.
And he was dead.
And there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't even give him a burial, or a memorial of some kind, let alone mourn the loss of his best friend. People would notice. So he would hide it, like he'd hidden his feelings towards Balinor and Freya's death.
It wouldn't be easy-because this was Arthur-but he would do it.
He sniffed, running his good hand under his nose as he sat up once more, shifting his weight to his right arm before he swung his legs over the bed. Moonlight streamed across his back, throwing shadows where his nightshirt crinkled from sleep. His room was quiet except for the creaking of his bed and the swirl of troubled thoughts inside his pounding head. He ran a hand through his hair before carefully, and with one hand, slipping his boots over his socks and tentatively standing. The bruises on his legs were still there, but the abused muscles had healed enough for him to walk without too much pain echoing through his limbs.
He draped his Court Sorcerer's cloak around his shoulder, sure of the chill that would be in the air this hour, and meticulously opened his door, aware of how much the hinges could protest. There was only a small squeak though, and Merlin carefully made his way down the stairs and into the quiet main chamber of the physician's quarters. As always, things were strewn about the place and the air smelled of cooking potions, but Merlin took a deep breath through his nose, letting the scents stabilize him and anchor him. Of all the many things that had changed between this world and the future one, Gaius' chambers: the look, the smell, the feel, had stayed the same.
Letting it out slowly, Merlin crossed over to the workdesk, plucking a vial full of navy blue liquid from the patch and swallowing it quickly so as to avoid the foul taste. Painkillers. It should help with his headache and his stiff joints. Morgana having the ceiling crash down on him had done more damage than he'd thought, and he knew that it was only pure emotion and adrenaline that had kept him going then. Now, the soreness and stiffness had caught up to him, but Gaius said - without Merlin giving him any specific details - that that would pass in a few days, and that he'd be fine.
He turned, finding Gaius in the darkness, and Merlin smiled softly. Gaius, his guardian, his surrogate father... The only one who had always known about him and tried to be there for him through his troubles and trials. Merlin once again considered telling him. But in a second, as Merlin's fantasies of the physician's reactions ran through his head, that thought was gone once more, and the warlock frowned. When had he stopped telling Gaius everything? When had he stopped confiding all his problems with his only father figure? Why?
Mind buzzing once more, Merlin turned and walked away, not even trusting himself to answer the questions. He grabbed the latch on the door, twisted it, and opened it with his other hand, trying not to use too much pressure. Closing it behind him, he found that the hallway was barren except for a candelabra down the corridor, and Merlin felt a little of his anxiety leave him. Turning left, he headed to one of the places he always went when he wanted to clear his head.
Reds and yellows dappled the sky, mixing into orange here and there as if fingers had smeared paints over a canvas. Sunlight broke over the lower town, brightening rooftops and sending alleyways into light shadows. Blues and purples stretched from the other side of the sky, lightening as the colors were conquered by daylight. Random streaks of color smeared across the landscape, almost leading the warlock to believe that a toddler had painted the picture.
The sound of footsteps broke Merlin from his thoughts, but he didn't turn towards the sound. He had spent years in Arthur's company, and he knew the king's gait as well as he did his own.
"Have you been up here all night?"
Merlin bowed his head and found a small, melancholy smile pulling at his lips at the subtle concern in Arthur's voice. "A few hours."
The king stepped closer, and Merlin could almost sense his hesitance. "Gaius' been worried about you, Merlin. You shouldn't wander off like that."
This time, Merlin did turn around, offering Arthur a small, placating smile. "I'm alright."
Arthur came up beside him, leaning against the battlement so he could at least see Merlin's profile as the warlock turned back towards the lower town. "Are you? Truly?" It took a moment, but soon Merlin snapped his gaze towards his king, eyes trying to hide his alarm and concern. "No, don't worry, Guinevere didn't tell me anything."
Merlin let out a slow breath of relief, closing his eyes as a cool breeze snaked past them. He huddled further into his cloak.
"She was in a right state when she came back, though," Arthur continued, almost absent-mindedly. The warlock glanced at him once more, jaw set as if preparing himself. He opened his mouth to speak, but Arthur put a gentle hand on his arm to stop him, their eyes locking, blue on blue, as Arthur spoke. "I'm not going to ask you to tell me what happened, Merlin." Even though that had been his first choice. But it was clear that Merlin wouldn't tell him. Not yet. "I'm not going to yell at you, or demand that you tell me how you got so hurt and bruised and... I just want you to know... I'm here-when you do want to talk. I promise I'll listen, and I'll do my very best to make it right."
Again, second thoughts raced through his head, making him feel like he was arguing with himself over whether or not to tell Arthur about his magic. He felt tears of frustration pushing against his eyes-frustration that he couldn't tell him, frustration that he didn't trust Arthur, or himself, enough, frustration that Arthur wasn't pushing him because he had been prepared for the yelling and arguing, but this... This was worse.
"I can-" he tried, voice breaking. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and blinked, glancing away from his king - his best friend. "I can't, Arthur. Not yet. It's just... something I have to deal with right now."
Arthur let his hand fall from Merlin's arm, lips tightening into an accepting frown. He gave a curt nod. "Alright," he said simply. "Just remember that I'm here."
The warlock smirked at him, a genuine glint of gratitude in his eye. "Thank you."
Arthur gave him a small smile and nodded again. "I am glad that you told someone, though. I'm not sure what happened, but I know that it was serious if your condition and Guinevere's being upset has anything to say about it."
Merlin bowed his head, pressing his lips together before letting them peel apart with his warm breath as sorrow crawled its way towards his heart again. The king saw this and, eyes softening, he set his hand lightly on Merlin's shoulder, his voice filling with mild concern and forced steadiness as he gave the warlock's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Come on, let's get you back to Gaius' chambers."
The only fixtures of light in the eerie room were two candelabras set on either side of the tarnished throne. Cobwebs decorated the room, along decade old, moth eaten banners that gave the room a perverted sense of regality. Emerald eyes flashed impatiently as a woman clothed in dark robes waited for her prisoners to be delivered to her. It had taken days to prepare this, and even longer for everything to come together in her favor, but now she was ready. The frightening grin on her face broadened just as a knock resounded around the room.
The large, heavy doors to the throne room opened, and one of her hired followers, decked in black and dark brown leather, appeared at the threshold and gave a subservient bow of his head. "My lady, the prisoners are here."
Morgana gripped the throne as pleasure coursed through her. "Wonderful," she purred sweetly, "bring them in."
The mercenary nodded in compliance as he backed away, letting six others, all of whom were in pairs holding a knight, stepped forward through the doors. The knights struggled against the captives, but were nevertheless forced to their knees once they reached the throne. At the sight of Morgana, each of the paled, and their eyes widened in surprise.
Morgana smirked. "Hello, Sir Knights."
The knight in the middle was the only one brave enough to respond. "Morgana," he said coldly.
She tilted her head. "Oh don't sound so put off," she simpered. "Now, we are quite familiar with each other, but who are your handsome companions, Sir Knight?"
His mouth remained shut, so Morgana turned to the knights themselves, and with a hesitant glance toward their superior, they complied.
"Sir Alyon," the young man replied, voice trembling.
And the other, in the same condition, said, "Sir Birwyr."
"Good," Morgana smiled, "now we're all acquainted."
"You are sick, Morgana," the middle knight spat. "What do you want with us?"
After a moment of silence as the woman inspected the knights, her eyes narrowed and she slouched further in her throne. Her eyes glinted with madness and her hand curled around the armrest again. "Not 'us'," she clarified, "just you."
"Me? What do you want me for?"
Slowly, she stood, taking in a breath. "I want to rule Camelot-"
"-not while Arthur is alive."
Suddenly, anger darkened her eyes. "Do not interrupt me!" A moments pause, another breath, and she forced her voice to soften. "It would not be wise."
The knight, though, didn't look apologetic.
"Now," she continued, "as I was saying: I want to rule Camelot, and you're going to help me do it."
The knight narrowed his steely eyes. "Not with a single breath in my body."
Morgana laughed. "I could arrange that, but no, you need to be yourself. I need Arthur and his pet to believe that you are his loyal knight. Loyal to the end."
"And all the while, I'd be working for you?"
"I said 'no.' I will not help you."
Despite the knight's rebelliousness, her gaze did not falter, but she walked over to him and knelt down, grabbing his chin in her hand as he struggled. "You misunderstand me, Sir Knight, it is not your compliance or loyalty I require. Only your body, and your mind."
She released his chin with a jerk, and the knight, fear coursing through him at her words, struggled again. "Merlin will know. He always knows."
Morgana's smirk faltered, and her anger bled through her once more as she turned back to him. "Emrys is a traitor to his own kind, and by the time he realizes that something is wrong, it will be too late."
"Why are you doing this?" the knight asked. "Magic is free. That's what you wanted, isn't it?"
"I will have justice for what Arthur and Merlin have done to me."
"He will stop you. He-"
Morgana's eyes flashed, and the knight was immediately muted, his lips still working but voice lost. Panic lighted his eyes, and he struggled even more, the knights on either side of him mimicking his movements. "Take him to the dungeons," she said, sounding bored. Walking towards the door, her hand curled around the latch. "I'll deal with him later."
"My lady," the original mercenary called over the knight's struggling, "and what of the other two knights?"
She eyed the two young men as they jerked away from their captors, with no result. They trembled with fear, and sweat glinted off their skin. "Oh," she said, as if she had forgotten about them. Morgana frowned with boredom, and her fingers pulled on the latch as the door squeaked open. Her dress dragged behind her as she walked through, the walls echoing her order of, "Kill them."
Okay, so I hope that that epilogue answers any questions of: Is there going to be another one? I've gotten a few of those, and yes, I planned this to be a trilogy. :D There will be one more story, which I'm thinking will be called "The Approaching Storm" as I finally complete the arc I started in "What Happens". If you don't remember, re-read the Merlin/Freya meeting, and you'll soon remember. ;) The new one should be up in the next few weeks, hopefully. But please keep in mind that I have a few other stories running.
Alright, so also going with the epilogue, Morgana has control of one of the knights... and I'm not saying which one. :D You're welcome to guess, but I'm not telling you which one. That'll be a mystery to work out as the next story progresses. :)
Last thing: Thank you all so much for reading. I really, really appreciate all the reviews, and all the encouragement I've received through them. I don't think I'd still be writing stories if I hadn't gotten feedback. Thanks a ton.
Thanks for reading.