Every Good Father
He had always assumed it would be a matter of some destiny, a preordained event accompanied with sufficient ritual or supernatural fanfare and signifying a moment of great portent. In fact, the more times the King had missed seeing the obvious, he had seriously begun to wonder if Destiny had not put a hand in herself and was purposely shading the eyes of his oblivious monarch until she deemed the proper time was upon them.
At the very least, he'd always assumed there would be some notice; an announcement or a confession or such-like. He'd considered with some sadness that he might not live long enough to see it, but he had never, ever thought the secret might slip out with him completely missing it altogether.
But Destiny was a capricious sort and that was indeed what happened. Arthur learned of Merlin's magic and Destiny had apparently been so unconcerned that she had not thought to let the warlock or his mentor in on the news.
That is, of course, unless Destiny had taken to shoving people down stairwells, which was certainly not a thing Gaius could rule out. After all, that one little accident brought with it perhaps the moment of his own greatest reckoning, so who could truly say?
Gaius was the Court Physician and as such had seen innumerable emergencies over the course of his life. However, as any parent could have told him, when your child - even your adult child - is brought to you broken and bleeding, your heart leaps into your throat no matter how inured to disaster you are.
He'd just been shuffling wearily off to bed when it happened. He was recovering well enough from his imprisonment at Morgana's hands, but at his age bouncing back required so much more time. Even now, three months later, he had to admit to himself that he still wasn't at full strength. And while he was trying to be patient, the whole ordeal had been filling his mind with morbid thoughts ever since it happened, worry for Merlin being foremost amongst them. If he wasn't around, who could his former ward confide in? Who would advise him about magic? Not that the lad needed so much help anymore, but Gaius knew the young man still relied on him for help in researching each threat or instrument of magic that came their way.
But all thoughts were scattered in an instant when the King kicked the door in and barreled into the room with Gwaine and several of the knights at his heels, carrying a blood-soaked Merlin in his arms.
"Gaius - " Arthur panted.
"Bring him over here!" the physician ordered his King.
Both the concussion and the break to the arm were serious, and bloody enough to secretly frighten Gaius nearly out of his wits for a short while, but in the end neither were as bad as he feared. Still, it was well over a day before Merlin showed any signs of stirring.
On top of everything, Gaius also had to deal with the constant presence of Arthur. Worried loved ones getting in the way was nothing new to the healer, but there was a tension to Arthur, a glaring scowl ghosting occasionally across his countenance that told the older man that Arthur was not just concerned, but angry. However, Gaius had no idea why. Knowing the King since birth as he had, his knowledge of Arthur's moods was fairly fine-tuned, but it was hard to think after a sleepless night as well as a scare like he'd had and at the moment all he could focus on was how Arthur's furious pacing was getting on his nerves.
They were both at Merlin's bedside - Gaius sitting calmly and the King still stomping around the small room - when the man woke suddenly, his stomach revolting and vomit spewing out of his mouth before he'd barely even opened his eyes. Gaius, tipped off a half a second earlier than Arthur by the gulp and convulsive spasm his ward had made, managed to avoid most of the mess, but the King's indignant protest could have been heard in Gaul.
"Gods, Merlin! That's disgusting!"
"It is hardly his fault, Sire," Gaius pointed out as calmly as he could while fetching a cool rag and gently wiping off Merlin's face.
"No, of course not. I'm sorry, Merlin," Arthur apologized. "How do you feel, idiot?" he asked his servant some moments later, when he felt more secure than he wasn't going to be subjected to another spray.
Gaius noted the way Merlin's brow furrowed, even with his eyes closed, at the different strain underlying Arthur's voice. He's picked up on it too, then, he thought. Something about Arthur is… off.
"Wann off this stupid boat, Arrer," Merlin whined.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Rriiiiiggghhhhttt."
"You're not on a boat, Merlin," Gaius said softly and brushed a strand of dark hair from the younger man's forehead. "You're in your bed."
"Whyzzit movin' up n' down then?"
"You're just dizzy, my boy. You've had a bad accident."
Eyes still clenched tightly shut, Merlin nodded and, judging by the pained scrunch of his face, instantly regretted it. "Uggghhh," the younger man moaned. "What happened?"
"You fell down the steps to the wine cellar, you imbecile," Arthur told him and yes, it was very clear this time - there was a definite snappishness in the King's voice.
Merlin blinked. "You were… you were going to show me the wines you'd picked out for Gwen's first feast hosting visiting dignitaries."
Merlin shot a confused look towards Gaius before turning his gaze to the King's again. "Did I break something important? Not that fancy Frankish stuff you got from Olaf last year?" Gaius saw his ward wince at the very thought; that bottle was a very rare and expensive treasure and would have made a wonderful impression for Gwen on the dignitaries from Escetia.
Arthur began to pace again, waving his arms around. "Wine? Wine? Do you really think I give a damn about some stupid wine? You broke your arm and you think I'm worried about wine?"
"I broke my arm?" Merlin repeatedly stupidly, only then looking down at his chest for the first time to see his left arm bound tightly in a heavy splint.
"Yes, you broke your arm, you clumsy oaf! You broke your arm and nearly your skull and you could have easily broken your scrawny, thrice-damned neck!" the King shouted.
"Why are you yelling at me, Arthur?" Merlin demanded as he struggled to sit up, not the easiest thing to do when you were sick and only had the use of one arm. "It's not like I wanted to do it!"
Arthur stopped pacing and glared at his servant with a face like thunder. "Well, I don't know, Merlin. If you didn't want it to happen, why didn't you stop it?"
Both Gaius and Merlin stared at their King like he'd lost his wits, which, in fact, is exactly what they thought at that second.
"Stop it, you bloody great dollop-head? Just how in hell's name was I supposed to have stopped falling down the steps?"
"With your MAGIC you… you…" Arthur fumed and then threw his hands up in despair. "I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO CALL YOU ANYMORE BECAUSE IDIOT AND IMBECILE AREN'T ENOUGH!"
Gaius leapt to his feet as he saw Merlin pale dramatically. "You… You know?" his ward finally managed to stammer out.
"I've known for over a year."
"A year!" Merlin gasped and then reeled drunkenly where he sat. Gaius was at his side in an instant. "You know. You… knew," Merlin moaned.
"I started to suspect after you were attacked by the Dorocha."
"The Dorocha…?" Merlin breathed. "Then… you knew… did you know about Agravaine? Did you know what I had to DO to him and then let me… let me be alone after that?"
The King was taken aback and Gaius's own anger surged at the shock and devastation in Merlin's voice, but before either could say anything Merlin gagged and was painfully ill again.
"Arthur, get out!" Gaius heard himself yelling as he bent quickly to help Merlin (and - King or not - came close to giving the young clot-pole a swift kick on the way out for putting such a strain on an injured man). "Wait for me in the main room. We'll discuss things after I'm done here."
"Gaius, Gaius… he knew, Gaius," Merlin fretted piteously. "He knew and he didn't… didn't…"
"Shhh, shhh, my boy," Gaius soothed as he gently pushed Merlin to lie back down. "Just rest now. I'll sort all of this out. Trust me."
When Gaius finally emerged from Merlin's bedchamber he found a tightly-wound Arthur staring at the potions on his shelves.
"So you've known for over a year now?" Gaius asked coldly, startling the other man.
"I've suspected for over a year. He wasn't killed by the Dorocha. He became a marvellous tracker when we were hunting the dragon's egg. He was wounded and yet he escaped an entire troupe of bandits all on his own, and his wound had disappeared. He wasn't affected by the Lamia. He knew about the magic infecting the… the Druid's camp. He stopped Agravaine all by himself."
"But did you actually see him do magic? Is that why you never said anything - because you never had proof?"
"I had no proof, but I did see him."
"Months ago. It doesn't matter."
"Months ago…" Gaius repeated. Arthur's brow furrowed in puzzlement; Gaius could tell that his King found their conversation not going exactly as to expectation. "How could you, Arthur!" the old physician demanded.
"How could I?" Arthur shouted. "How is it you are angry with me, Gaius? I'm not the one who has been lying for heaven only knows how long! You can hardly condemn me for keeping a secret when it's been Merlin - and presumably you as well, I find out now - who's been lying to me all of this time!"
"That is a different matter entirely, Arthur!"
"How, Gaius? How exactly is it different?"
"BECAUSE HIS SECRET COULD HAVE GOTTEN HIM KILLED, YOU BLOODY YOUNG FOOL!" Gaius bellowed.
Both men were stunned by his outburst and for a moment could not say anything. The only sound was of Gaius heaving for breath from the force of his cry.
"But yours…" Gaius finally continued, breaking the silence. "By the Gods, Arthur, when I think of what the telling of yours could have spared him! Of all the times he's agonized over hiding his true self from you, eating himself up with guilt; of all the times he could have been thanked or had the burden of fear lifted from his shoulders or even just have been FREE, if only around you; of all the times he could have had someone to fight alongside him, or been able to protect himself better; of all the extra people he might have saved…" Suddenly Gaius sank onto a nearby chair; he felt as though he could weep. "Why, Arthur? Was it punishment? Did you feel that slighted that you didn't even think to approach him and find out the truth? He might have used magic to protect himself tonight! This fall need never have happened!"
"Why do you think I'm so furious, Gaius!" Arthur roared back. "That damned FOOL! Does he really trust me so little? Would he really rather have died than let me know his secret?"
Gaius's anger surged again and he stood to sternly stare down the younger man. "For pity's sake, Arthur! Are you truly this self-absorbed? Merlin has had to hide who he was for his entire life, because apparently you can be judged a criminal just for being born, and the thing you immediately latch onto, the thing that you think is the worst about this whole mess, is how he didn't trust you?"
"So why didn't he tell me then?" Arthur challenged.
"Arthur, you're a grown man now, not some boy still at his lessons. Think for once! There is more to this than some silly game of prove-your-friendship!"
"I am the KING, Gaius! How dare you dismiss this as just me making some child's demand! My decisions affect the Kingdom and it is vital for the safety of all that I have people around me I can trust, even when it comes to my servants. So I repeat, Gaius: why did Merlin never tell me he was a sorcerer?"
Gaius took a deep breath.
"Because I begged him not to, Sire."
Well, hello again! How are you this evening? Do you mind if I experiment on you just a little bit? This story is giving me trouble and - contrary to all knowledge of my own personality - I thought that posting the first chapter might focus the old mind a touch. (Strangely, this time my problem isn't laziness, it's that I have so many things exploding out of my head for Gaius to say that the ideas are being blown scattered against the wall like buckshot from a rifle in the hands of a lunatic.)
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Keep your fingers crossed that I can get the required medication into my muse so he calms down.