Disclaimer: Merlin is not mine.
There was nothing but darkness, and he couldn't even move his eyes to open them anymore, but Gwaine sure could still hear, and what he heard was enough for him to want to tell Merlin to stop what he was doing, whatever it was, because Arthur was going to come back. And Arthur couldn't see this, not when Merlin must have had so many reasons if he'd kept the secret for this long. But he couldn't speak, and it was killing him. And it might kill Merlin, if Arthur came back.
Although maybe not. Probably not, Gwaine told himself. He knew that Arthur, for all his faults, was a man who loved deeply the people he cared about, and Arthur cared very much about both Gwaine and Merlin. Yet whatever love there was between the king and his servant, whichever confidences had been shared between them, Gwaine knew in his bones that the sharing had been almost entirely one-way. About the important things, anyway. Arthur wouldn't act without thinking. He might act after thinking, which never guaranteed a much better result than a knee-jerk reaction, but Gwaine hoped their mutual concern over him could overshadow Merlin's magic, if Arthur came back and saw.
Still, Merlin knew Arthur better than anybody. If Merlin had known that this was not something he could share with Arthur, then he had to stop before Arthur returned with the help that Gwaine now suspected he very much didn't need when there was a sorcerer handy.
Because that had to be what Merlin was, and Gwaine was surprised at how little the implications of that fact actually bothered him. Even though Gwaine wore the cape of a Camelot knight, he wasn't a knight like Sir Leon or any of the others who had risen to rank under the rule of Uther Pendragon. What was a little sorcery when a man had qualities like honor, bravery, and a loyalty that ran so deep that he dealt with so much? And what was sorcery anyway if a man like Merlin could use it and still hold all those other qualities? What was sorcery when wielded by a good man, if not something good?
Yes, Gwaine could feel all these things as he heard Merlin mutter what had to be spells. A tingling sensation began to return to the tips of the fingers of his dead hand, and he was just fine with Merlin having magic. Even as he enjoyed the receding of the pain, he knew Arthur wouldn't have the benefit of paralysis and magical healing to think over the reveal that Merlin is a sorcerer, and Arthur was very much the son of Uther Pendragon, at least regarding the policies he hadn't changed since taking the throne. And after Morgana and Agravaine, Arthur could see this as the deepest of betrayals.
Merlin had to run, and let Gwaine sort out the mess until he could be absolutely sure Merlin would be safe to come back. Yes, Merlin had to run.
"I'm not running," said Merlin, switching back to language that Gwaine understood before going back to his murmurings, and Gwaine would have fallen over if he wasn't already flat on his back. Could Merlin read-
"Yes, I can read minds," said Merlin, sounding tense, and Gwaine felt Merlin's fingers on his neck, feeling for his pulse. Even paralyzed as he was, Gwaine could feel his pulse quicken at the shock of Merlin's revelation. If Merlin could read minds, then how many other impossible things could he do? Gwaine had never heard of a sorcerer who could just read minds without the aid of a crystal or bones or the entrails of a black cat killed under the light of the full moon on the third Wednesday of an even-numbered month!
Then again, thought Gwaine, maybe some of what he'd heard about sorcerers wasn't entirely accurate. He felt his heart race even faster as it occurred to him that he and the rest of the knights may have spent too long doing too much based on assumptions about magic they didn't even know were true or not.
To his shock, Gwaine heard Merlin laugh. "Thank goodness," said Merlin. "I was starting to fear that you were dying with your pulse so weak."
There was a pause, but only because Gwaine couldn't speak his mind.
"Oh, and I also can't read minds," added Merlin, almost as an afterthought. "I just needed to scare you to test your heart rate."
Then how had he known-
"I just know you, Gwaine," answered Merlin, fond and sad. "Besides, what have I got to lose?"
A lot, Gwaine wanted to say. Everything. If Arthur finds out…
"I won't ask you to lie to Arthur," said Merlin, apparently satisfied enough that Gwaine wasn't knocking on death's door that he stopped feeling his pulse and went back to Gwaine's arm. "There are enough lies and secrets in Camelot already, and I won't ask you to add to them."
Gwaine might have asked how many of those secrets and lies were Merlin's if he had control of his own tongue, but only really in jest, and he sensed that it was far too soon for anything about their current situation to be funny, especially when there was no altogether innocent party in the whole mess. He was uncomfortable for more reasons than his cursed arm when he thought about how his actions in service of Camelot must have made Merlin's life worse, and yet Merlin's hands weren't entirely clean either, nor the king's. What a mess...
How strange it was, though, that it didn't even occur to Gwaine to be angry at Merlin or afraid of his powers. He did know that he was quite probably going to make Merlin angry once he was able to speak again and tell him that he was an idiot if he thought Gwaine was going to start shouting Merlin's secret from the rooftops. Of course Gwaine would lie to Arthur, because the last thing Gwaine ever wanted was for something bad to happen to Merlin, who had been his first real friend long before the king had given him a cape, and he'd committed probably as many treasonous acts in various kingdoms as Merlin in Camelot over the years, so what was a little more-
"-treason between friends anyway-oh, I'm talking!" slurred Gwaine, and he heard Merlin laugh.
"Try opening your eyes," instructed Merlin. Gwaine did, and he saw with some surprise that the sun was low in the sky and shadows were beginning to stretch long on the forest floor. The large, flat stone beneath him - had he always been lying on top of a stone? - was cold and the light was waning. Maybe he hadn't been awake the whole time after all. Merlin looked about as tired and stressed as Gwaine had ever seen him, but he was smiling. Gwaine rubbed his eyes and shivered at the sensation of being able to move.
"So," said Gwaine, a little stronger but not quite strong enough that he was willing to stand up and test if his legs felt like something other than jelly just yet. "You're a sorcerer."
"It's… a long story." Merlin shifted on his feet, looking uncomfortable.
"You're welcome to tell it," said Gwaine, "but right now, thanks for fixing my arm. Are you alright?"
Merlin looked absolutely exhausted, now that Gwaine took a good long look at him. Merlin just shrugged and rolled his eyes.
"My birth was foretold, I can slow time, and I can talk to dragons," muttered Merlin, "but can I do a healing spell without either failing altogether or needing a nap afterward? Nooooooo, of course not! I'm only the mighty Emrys..."
"You can slow time?!"
Merlin opened his mouth to answer, almost smiling at which part of his complaint Gwaine had been stunned by, but stopped at the sound of galloping hooves, which Gwaine was no longer so addled that he didn't realize was strange. They were in the middle of nowhere, and Arthur hadn't been mounted when he left. The galloping sounded like it was more than one horse, and definitely coming in their direction.
It proved to be Arthur indeed, and he wasn't alone. Gwaine didn't recognize the man he arrived with, but he certainly didn't look like a healer. Not with the blade he wore at his hip and the billowing coat that could have and probably did conceal any manner of weapons. Gwaine hadn't lived this long without being able to recognize a dangerous man when he crossed paths with one. Then again, he also had known Merlin as a manservant rather than a secret sorcerer who could apparently slow time for all these years, but he hoped Merlin was an exception rather than the rule
"I couldn't get a physician to come back with me," said Arthur breathlessly, already dismounting his horse as he spoke and nearly falling when Merlin wasn't there to hold his horse steady as usual. Gwaine was touched by the idea that Arthur was so concerned for his health that he didn't even take a moment to yell at Merlin. Instead, Arthur was fumbling with a pouch he wore at his belt.
"But a healer gave me a poultice for his arm that might work," continued Arthur, not looking at either of his friends for more than a moment and therefore spectacularly failing to read the moment. "And I brought help in case more sorcerers arrive."
"Who's your help?" asked Merlin in a low voice, looking at the man in the black coat, who hadn't taken his eyes off Merlin and Gwaine since arriving. After a long moment, Merlin sighed and went to help Arthur with his belt. Thanks to their dual efforts, the poultice was successfully removed from the pouch. Arthur immediately handed it over to Merlin and went to rein his horse before it wandered off. Merlin watched the king through narrowed eyes, which Gwaine assumed was because he existed in a constant state of expecting Arthur to make his job more complicated. Merlin called after him. "Arthur, who is he?"
"There is magic afoot here," said the man, and Gwaine would have fallen over yet again if he wasn't already lying on the rock. He had no idea when the man had even approached him, let alone gotten close enough to get a look at Gwaine's perfectly healed arm. By how Merlin jumped and turned in alarm, Gwaine knew that Merlin hadn't realized either.
"Who are you?"
The man didn't respond, but crouched low over Gwaine and lifted his healed arm with a stick. Arthur huffed and puffed his way back toward the rock after hobbling his reluctant horse, and he gave the answer.
"Can you believe our luck?" asked Arthur proudly. "I found us a witchfinder!"
There was some good luck in that moment, thought Gwaine, although not of the kind that the king was boasting of. The good fortune was in the fact that Arthur was looking at the man, and the man who had known there was magic afoot was looking at Gwaine, so nobody other than Gwaine himself saw the blood drain out of Merlin's face and his head fall down to his chest in such a poignant display of defeat and despair that Gwaine's heart ached for for his friend.
Merlin had just come clean and shown his powers to Gwaine, and Gwaine really believed he might have been able to encourage Merlin enough to take the risk and tell Arthur, if only Arthur hadn't brought back a witchfinder, of all people. Merlin had come so far, and Gwaine could tell that this witchfinder was the real deal. For Merlin to have come this far, seemingly tired himself out to save Gwaine with healing magic, just for this to happen to him...
The witchfinder knew that there was magic afoot, and there was no denying Gwaine's healed arm. Merlin was caught. So really, there was only one thing to be done.
"I'm a sorcerer," said Gwaine brightly.
To be continued!
Apologies again! The one-shot that turned into a two-shot is now officially a three-shot. Way too much would have happened and it would have been way too longer if I finished this in two. It'll definitely be done in three!
Thank you to everybody who is sticking around, and a BIG thank you to everybody who left a review! I always appreciate them.