The door swung silently on oily hinges as Mordred entered Guinevere's chambers. A cool breeze ruffled his hair from the open window adjacent her bed, bringing with it the faint smell of perfume and fresh linen. He peered into the room from the doorway, watching as the queen rose from her mirror to face him with startled eyes. Her silhouette was somewhat hazy in the flickering, dim glow from the few candelabras lining her walls, displaying her billowing robe and braided hair.

"My liege," he said with a small incline of his head. Not a bow. Guinevere didn't miss it. Her eyes narrowed even as she smiled brightly, dimpling her cheeks. Mordred had to firmly remind himself that this wasn't the sweet girl he had known. This was a puppet with a blackened soul. He would have to remember this if he was going to do what he needed to.

"You won't hurt her," Elyan had asked.

"No, I won't have to."

"Mordred," Gwen said brightly, though Mordred saw her fingers tighten around the top of the chair, "What brings you at such a late hour?"

Mordred took a deep breath through his nose, forcing his heart into a steel trap, and his face into an icy mask. He wasn't sure when he had come to the conclusion that he needed to face the queen in a personal confrontation; probably, somewhere between realizing that they would need her orders to assemble the knights in preparation for an oncoming battle, and deciding that physically restraining her was probably not the best way of getting her to agree.

Which really only left him with one option.

He sighed as he closed the door behind him with a resounding click. He really did hate this kind of nasty business.

"I'm afraid it is an urgent matter, milady. Won't you sit down?" he gestured toward the seat at her vanity as he pulled one away from the dining table for himself. Guinevere remained standing, her frame rigid as she stared with a slight widening of her eyes at Mordred's hand grasping the rungs of the chair. Mordred watched her silently. This was a game, and they were both just pretending. She knew that he knew. Suddenly, her eyes snapped up, cold as ice, and a tight smile curled at her lips,

"Of course, just let me tell my guards that I won't be needing them."

Mordred suppressed another sigh as she walked towards the door. The jig was up at this point. No use in pretending. He deftly caught her wrist in a vice like grip as she brushed his side, and he felt her stiffen,

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he murmured in her ear. He felt it when her demeanor changed, and she flicked the brown orbs of her eyes, without moving a muscle, to meet his own, chilling stare,

"And what…could you possibly do to stop me?" she replied in a thin whisper, a menacing undertone to her words that was so unlike Gwen, it sent a chill down Mordred's spine.

"Nothing," Mordred supplied coolly, "But I wouldn't be expecting too much help from your guards," he snuck in a subtle implication in his words, so that Gwen's eyes grew slightly bigger in what may have been the beginnings of unease, even fear. What did you do to them? They said.

Nothing, actually. What he'd done is slapped the guards' backs and hurrahed them in the direction of the tavern. Percival and Leon now stood where they had outside the door.

But Guinevere didn't need to know that. She wasn't expecting Mordred to have the kind of stomach for darkness that she had. Let her feel unbalanced. Mordred wanted her to believe they were on equal ground.

"Please," he said cordially, hand squeezing her wrist a little harder, "Sit."

Slowly, slowly, she nodded, and he released her. She glided towards the chair and demurely lowered herself into it, maintaining a coy, curious expression to belie the line of tension in her shoulders. Mordred sat across from her, and rested his arms on the armchairs. Guinevere folded her hands in her lap,

"What do you want?" she asked politely. Mordred smiled, tilting his chin forward slightly, so that shadow obscured his eyes,

"I don't want anything. I have a proposition for you." Guinevere sneered,

"I'm not interested in anything you have to give me."

"I have nothing to give you, either."

"Than I must rephrase…you have nothing to offer me," the sneer fell from her lips so abruptly it was startling. Her façade was completely abandoned. A scowl replaced it, twisting her smooth skin in an irksome web of ugly lines, "You're a young knight, an inexperienced child. Still too young to grow a proper beard, just barely old enough to wipe his own ass. Tell me," she leaned forward over he knees, a loathsome smile cranking up the corner of her mouth, "What is it you hope to accomplish? Do you want to save your king? Do you want to prove you're worthy? Because I'll tell you right now, to spare you the unnecessary pain," she bore her eyes into Mordred's, gaze unwavering and cruel, "You never will be."

She leaned back with a look of immense satisfaction, and crossed her arms over her chest.

"What if she doesn't cooperate?"

Several moments of intense silence passed, where the sound of a dust mite brushing the floor would have been deafening. Finally, Mordred blinked, and slowly opened his mouth. He inhaled,

"You asked me," he said, picking at the grain of the wood in his chair, absentmindedly gazing at his fingers, "What it is I could do to you."

The queen looked puzzled, then nodded. Mordred resituated his eyes to meet hers, and felt a small bit of satisfaction at seeing her flinch,

"And I said, nothing."


"That wasn't entirely true,"

"Wasn't it?"

A pause, then Mordred lowered his eyes,

"You see, people have always underestimated me. As a boy, I was small, I seemed vulnerable. To the naked eye, I was a weakling. I still am," he ponderously traced circles on his palm, "The world is largely unforgiving, and the people in it loathe to pass up an opportunity. But misconceptions can be a dangerous thing. People realize their mistakes too late. But by that time, they're already writhing on the ground in front of me. Small mercies, I suppose, for a young boy with nothing to his name, and nothing to lose."

He raised his eyes again. Gwen was taut as a bowstring, her eyes wide and glued to his, her lips pale. Her fingers clutched the chair so hard he thought it might splinter. He stared hard into her eyes,

"But that's not the way it is anymore, is it? I have something to fight for. I have people who will look over my shoulder for me, a place I could trick myself into thinking of as a home. I could even almost convince myself that people care for me," he sniggered scornfully, "Ah, you see, my delusions have finally won me over. Because I find that I care for them too," it was his turn to lean forward, and he watched as Guinevere pressed farther back into her chair, "And that's what's different, isn't it? I have something to protect, now, something that goes beyond my own body, my own survival. Broken bones, simple incapacitation, they just won't be enough anymore. If you harm that which has become most dear to me, I won't take any chances, and I won't hold back."

Gwen swallowed, what was now recognizable as fear shining through her eyes. Mordred smiled, then didn't,

"One of the greatest common desires of all people is that they will go forward into death, heads raised high, willingness in their hearts," he let his voice take in a dark, murderous edge. When he said his next words, they were practically spat, with a cold, undeniable truth lining each syllable, "But I won't give you that. I will drag you backwards into death, blind to the long, dark path it follows, kicking and screaming. And if your mind ever somehow climbs to awareness through the agony, all you will know is the scent of blood on your hands, from where you've clawed out your eyes, just to keep from seeing the damage. And you'll prey for insanity, you'll beg for it."

Guinevere was visibly trembling now, her features fragile as crystal glass.

"But before that time comes, I will lengthen your suffering. I will put you in a place where the light of day and the mercy of death do not penetrate the endless gloom. The earth will savor your pain, and the sky will watch in apathy as the dark thoughts in your mind slowly tear you apart. And when you call out for mercy, there will be none coming. Not because I wouldn't give it. But because there will be none to give," Mordred's hands clenched into tight, shaking fists, "Have you ever been in a world where compassion has run dry, where naught but a withering thread of humanity is left to taunt you, to make you wish you could burn?" he paused, listening to her harsh breathing, studying the glistening sheen over her eyes, "Because that's where I'll keep you, until your days fade into nothing, and the last breath of your pitiful life is only a relief to you as it passes through your lips. Because I promise you, my dark queen, life will not leave you kindly, it will be torn from you, slowly."

Shimmering tracks of tears painted Guinevere's stricken face. Her shoulders shook and her lip trembled. She looked horrified beyond what she seemed able to cope with. Mordred felt guilt well up inside of him, almost making him sick, and had to remind himself sternly that this was not the real Guinevere. Hopefully, the real Gwen wouldn't remember any of this. He took in a deep breath, and finished his task,

"So, what do you decide?" he said, "How much are you willing to lose, to love Morgana…more than you fear me?"

Mordred studied Guinevere intently. And he knew it when she decided, when her shoulders slumped in resignation, and her quivering chin lowered to her chest.

He smirked.

"What if she doesn't cooperate?"

"…She will."

Arthur's eyes were mainly trained on his manservant as they rode back to Camelot.

He didn't know exactly what he was looking for. It was rather foolish to believe that something should look different about Merlin merely because he'd surprised Arthur with his behavior. But Arthur couldn't help it. He couldn't help but think that there should be something noticeable, something his highly trained eyes could spot that would serve as an explanation as to how Merlin had managed to ruthlessly slay Morgana in such an…unrepentant way.

Of course, seeing Merlin just alive at this point was more than enough to hold Arthur's incredulity at bay, and tide him over with a relief that made his bones weak.

In all honesty, Arthur was rather proud of himself. He was performing admirably in staunching the flow of questions struggling to burst forth. How Merlin had managed to escape a dragon completely unharmed, albeit somewhat singed, he feared he would never know.

But maybe it wasn't just self-control holding Arthur's curiosity at bay. There was something about Merlin's demeanor that was discouraging any of Arthur's urges to ask questions.

Merlin looked…precarious. Though that heavy weight of sorrow, which had plagued him for the past several days, was now conspicuously absent from the young man's shoulders, he still seemed tense, jittery, slightly off kilter. His skin was pale and sallow, his eyes still weighted with a far-away look. He sat silently on his saddle, face impassive and seemingly brighter than it had been, and he didn't seem ready to bolt off in some random direction or snarl at Arthur and Gwaine in a hostile manner. His shoulders were hunched, though, and his hands clenched and released the reins on his mount over and over. He seemed nervous, uncomfortable, even a little guilty, as if there were something he really wanted to do, but was afraid to do it.

He was like a cauterized wound, still throbbing and blistered, but no longer bleeding.

A tense silence was all that accompanied the travelers as they rode home. Gwaine seemed in an unusually good mood because of it, and kept flicking his eyes non-discreetly between Arthur and Merlin, as if gleefully expecting them to collide in some sort of static explosion.

Turns out, that was very similar to what actually happened.

After several more minutes, Arthur started to grow agitated. He squirmed and roved his gaze about in the trees, trying to distract himself from the mounting frustration in his gut. He felt left out of something, something that had happened to save Merlin from a dragon and restore his ability to be in Gwaine and Arthur's presence. What had happened?

When Arthur did speak, it was with a great deal of tact,

"So, you want to tell me what the Hell happened back there?" he demanded suddenly, virtually unaware of the gruff, whining note to his voice.

Merlin spared him an irritated glance and pursed his lips, the leather of the reins creaking as his hands clenched,

"No," he said simply. Arthur snorted in disbelief,

"Seriously?" he whipped his head toward Gwaine for support, but the man had suddenly become intensely fascinated with his horse's mane. Arthur felt anger flash in his chest, and rounded on Merlin,

"You're unbelievable!" he yelled, "You think it's fair to just leave me in the dark?"

Merlin growled and sent Arthur a scathing glare,

"Oh, yes, God forbid anything unfair ever happen to a Pendragon."

"You were kidnapped by a bloody dragon!"

"That's my business!"

After that, Arthur lost track of the argument. He and Merlin engaged in a heated mess of a verbal duel with inconsistent points and burning insults. Neither he nor Merlin were at the top of their game, fueled and made sloppy by the frustrations and battle scars of a long and complicated friendship. It was spittle flying and rage pouring forth and old wounds ripped back open. They said hurtful things, stupid things, things they had never said before but had been tacit faults in their relationship for years. Arthur's mouth worked without his consent, yelling out personal attacks against his manservant in cruel ways that he never had before. This wasn't their usual banter, or even reminiscent of their normal fights. This was bloody and unencumbered and personal. But Merlin gave as good as he got,

"Oh, yes, I'm such a horrible servant. Well, at least I'm not a coward! I don't hide behind my father's legacy so I don't have to deal with making changes. At least, I know what's right and don't need my wife or my knights to tell me what is, cause really I'm still just an arrogant brat who's still basking in the leftover glory of his father's reign."

"Right, of course, you have such a great reputation for bravery! Cowering behind trees, trying to convince me to let innocent people die so that I can live. You know what I think, Merlin? I think that you're just trying to protect your own skinny ass!"

"Oh, really, is that what you think? Well, I'm not the one who lets my friends suffer with their pain because I'm too uncomfortable to think of anyone but myself."

"You're the one who's been avoiding all of his friends, making them worry and feel sorry for you, just because you're too much of a self-righteous bastard to deal with your problems instead of sulking about them!"

Arthur felt the sting of his own words, heard the cruelty and injustice in them, but couldn't stop them from coming out, even as Merlin's eyes began to shine with angry tears and his face hardened,

"I'm sorry, okay?!" he screamed.

Silence filled the forest. Somewhere, Arthur heard a pinecone hit the underbrush. He viewed Merlin in open, utter shock,

"You're sorry?" he asked incredulously. Merlin blushed, face still flushed and sweaty from his anger, and looked down at his saddle,

"Well," he said after a pause, "Yes. I mean, shouldn't have treated you the way I did. I mean," he ducked his head even further, if that was possible, "you're the one who got me out of that dungeon in the first place," he said almost in a whisper.

Arthur was incredulous. His mouth flapped open and closed like a stranded fish as he struggled to form some sort of coherent response. Merlin noticed the delay, and raised his head,

"You…you do forgive me, don't you?"

Arthur was sure some sort of vein must have ruptured in his head at that point.

"Forgive you? What-how…you bloody moron!"

Merlin flinched, anger overtaking his features. But Arthur was oblivious to the change,

"Forgive you? Me forgive you? After all that I-?"

In a second, Arthur was off his horse, and ignoring Merlin's startled cries as he dragged him off his horse, so that they both landed in the dirt in an awkward stumble. He gripped both sides of Merlin's head and stared hard into his eyes, resisting the urge to shake him,

"No, Merlin, no. You bloody idiot, I'm sorry," he panted, watching Merlin's face change from slightly scared and confused to completely dumbfounded, but Arthur continued, "I'm such a…a prat. All the time," Arthur forcibly swallowed his pride, deciding it was now or never, "I…I never tell you how much I value having you around. And I never say thank you, or sorry. And you're right, I am a coward. I was afraid to-to let you hurt in front of me. After the dungeons I just…I was afraid to see you as anything but alright. I always want you to be strong, to be the same. Because I know that if you break, I'll just…I'll just shatter," he said quietly.

Merlin eyed him with soft eyes, which were partly narrowed in study. Slowly, they opened wider, and a tired smile crept across his face. He lay a hand on Arthur's shoulder, and gripped his shirt tightly,

"You're such a prat," he said quietly, voice choked with tears. Arthur grinned in relief, something inside his chest dematerializing inside of him, suddenly making it easier to breathe. and on a whim that he would later turn red at the thought of, he pulled Merlin into a tight, inexplicable embrace, feeling the young man stiffen, and then relax against him.

"Well, isn't that sweet," Gwaine's voice said condescendingly. Arthur and Merlin released each other in several manly, embarrassed huffs and brushed themselves off as Arthur sent Gwaine an irritated glance. The knight was grinning brightly,

"My turn?"


Morgana's corpse was white and still as snow, save for the dark red blood soaked through her dress, and peppering her flesh. The forest floor beneath her was stained and drowning in the thick liquid. Her arms lay at her sides. The air was silent, and still.

A slight breeze dared to send a strand of hair brushing against her pale cheek. Weakly, so impossibly small it was almost imperceptible, her eye twitched.

And then opened, capturing time in the force of a magic vibration that shuddered through the earth. A pupil swallowed by blackness and hatred, full lips tainted by droplets of sickly red, pulling open into a snarl.

Mordred and Leon stood on Camelot's parapets, the evening breeze rustling their hair as the heavy weight of anticipation clung to the hearts of every man. Knights lined the fortress walls, crossbows resting neatly in rows in every gap along the granite balcony. The air was cool and dry, and Mordred breathed in steadily, trying to quiet the sound of his heart beating in his ears.

It was deathly quiet. Camelot seemed to be holding her breath, the cool gray of the sky causing her to portray an ashen pallor. The streets were empty, citizens hiding inside their homes. Wind blew through the trees, a snaking chill wafting over Camelot's borders, causing a shiver to tickle his extremities.

Where was she? Had Morgana caught wind of the fact that they knew? But if she had, would she really have called off the entire battle? Or, was it not to be so brazen as an army marching upon the city? Maybe, she had put into place some sly, covert operation to dismantle Camelot in a matter of minutes. Maybe, Arthur's bloody corpse was lying somewhere in the woods, eyes staring unseeingly into the clouded sky. Maybe, Merlin was with him, stabbed through the chest by some killing curse…

Mordred shook his head, trying to dissipate the dark thoughts before they wreaked irrevocable havoc on his nerves.

"Are you alright?" Leon asked with a slight concerned glance in his direction.

Mordred turned to him with a start, and opened his mouth to answer.

"Someone's approaching!" a knight yelled, and the creaking of a hundred crossbows raising and aiming followed.

Mordred ran to the wall and pressed his hands into the cold granite, leaning far over the edge as he stared hard into the trees, pulse pounding in his ears,

"Wait," he said quietly. Leon yelled, holding up his hand,

"Hold your fire!"

Sure enough, three vague figures came trotting in from the fog, first blurry, but Mordred saw as their outlines became clearer. A broad smile broke across his face,

"It's the king!"

Leon's shoulders slumped in relief and he smiled,

"Stand down, stand down!" he ordered his men, and all the knights lowered their bows.

As the silhouettes became even clearer, Arthur's blonde head was easily discernible atop his steed. He raised his hand to the sky, hailing his men,

"Lower the gates!" Mordred was able to make out his words the second time he yelled them, and relayed the order to Leon.

"Lower the gates!" Leon repeated, and a few knights ran to do the job.

Mordred stared with giddy relief and triumph as his king and Emrys came trotting farther from the trees, still about a hundred feet away from the gate. They were alive. Finally, they could-

His jubilation disappeared and was replaced by a cold, arresting dread and his insides twisted into an icy heap,

"SIRE!" Mordred screamed, pointing frantically into the trees behind the king. Arthur and Merlin and Gwaine had dismounted and were leading their horses forward, but at Mordred's panicked cries, they turned as one to see the horrific sight which had sent Mordred's hope into oblivion, and drew their swords.

A dark figure was stumbling wretchedly from the trees, bathed in a curtain of black shadow, long, scraggly hair whipping wildly about her head. She had both arms clutched about her torso, where a splatter of red stood out against the white and black visage of her skin and clothes. Her body twitched and seized with a mad, scattered energy as she weakly hobbled into the clearing. She looked like a walking corpse, hunched and convulsing and her legs almost folding beneath her torn, ragged skirts every time she sporadically moved.

This was not a human being any longer. This was a creature, fueled by the leftover remnants of a dark and powerful spell, no longer defined by any clarity of the mind and heart, but of an animalistic desire for blood, leftover from the last minutes before death.

Mordred raised his hand instinctively, but then realized that none of his spells would work from this distance. He cursed violently, and started in the direction of the stairs, but was frozen in place as horror seized his insides.

With an animalistic howl, a wrenching shriek like that of a banshee tearing through the air, and stealing the breath from Mordred's lungs, Morgana's wraith lifted a claw like hand into the air, and sent a dark, roiling mass of black, lashing magic straight at Arthur, before collapsing to the ground in a heap. Dead once again.

Mordred couldn't breathe, he couldn't even think as he watched what unfolded before him.

He saw almost in slow motion as Arthur stumbled backward and raise a hand up to futilely protect himself. He waited, knowing that it wouldn't miss, knowing that Arthur would die without a chance.

But the curse never reached him. Instead, it hit a figure who jumped in front of him in a flying leap, jacket flapping in the gale.

The black magic exploded against Merlin's exposed chest, sending him backward with a shockwave of cataclysmic force that vibrated up into the parapets, making Mordred stumble and almost fall.

He saw as Merlin's body collided with Arthur's, sending them both in a messy crash to the grass, where they both rolled to a sudden stop. He saw Gwaine rush to their side in a panicked frenzy. He watched how Arthur sat up in a daze, clutching his head…and how Merlin didn't.

He was aware as his world suddenly crashed down around him, but it was Arthur who screamed.

Merlin didn't need to think when he saw the spell coming towards Arthur. But he did exactly as he would have done if he'd contemplated the decision for days.

He jumped.

The spell hit him straight in the chest.

It didn't quite hurt the way he thought it would. He was distantly aware of some kind of molten agony stabbing into his heart and lungs, then rupturing in a spray of burning tendrils into his limbs, seizing in his veins and lapping at his flesh. It was like ice and white fire, black poison and boiling water splashing against the insides of his body. He was also aware of hitting the ground, of being unable to stop himself as his bones slapped against the dirt in a misshapen tumble.

But this was all distant, numb, vague, like the faded echoes of someone else's unbearable pain.

He had somehow landed with his face toward the sky, and he felt sad to see it was covered in clouds. There was a thumping in his ears, but growing fainter and fainter…

Someone was yelling his name. Shaking arms lifted him and cushioned his head against something soft.

He tried to speak, but found that there was no breath left in his lungs, nothing but suffocating emptiness. He felt his lips were parted, but he couldn't move them. A weak shudder ran through him, before his body lost all of its tension, relaxing gently downward. The beats in his ears were getting farther and farther apart…they stuttered, and stopped, then restarted. Merlin wished for a sip of air…just a small sip…

Someone was yelling at him to breathe, desperately begging him. Merlin wanted to, he really did. But he didn't think he had the strength.

He could no longer hear any beats.

Please, Merlin

The voice sounded so pained. Merlin looked for strength, something that seemed so far away, a pinprick of tawny light behind him, weak against the black horizon of oblivion drawing him forward. But he grasped it. Somehow, he gained a hold, a small bit of purchase…

Air reluctantly seeped into his chest, though Merlin could barely feel it.

He only had a moment to think that it wouldn't be enough, before darkness claimed him.


Turns out, he was wrong.

When Merlin rose to consciousness, it was with an agonizing slowness, and due in no part to Merlin's desires. He would have much preferred to remain in the bliss of unawareness. He knew the further and further he got to consciousness, the more he was going to hurt.

But the voice was there again, imploring and relentless. They wanted him to wake up. Well, Merlin was willing to go through the agony of surviving for the voice, so maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

He was wrong. Again. So very, very wrong.

Yes, Merlin was definitely not dead. There was no way that being dead could hurt this much. Everything ached, like his whole body had been dunked in boiling water, then wrung out and hung up to dry like the skinned carcass of one of Arthur's animals.

Arthur. Morgana. The spell.

Merlin's eyes would have flown open if they weren't seemingly attached to lead weights. Instead, they fluttered lazily into thin slits, revealing a world of blurred colors smeared into each other.

He was able to discern several figures surrounding him, each looking vaguely familiar in coloring and proportion. He opened his mouth, and naught but a thin, pained croak came out.


Merlin shut his eyes tightly, and winced at the pain it caused, then opened them again to find his vision was somewhat clearer. He swallowed passed a dry throat,

"Arthur?" he whispered at recognizing the king's face above his, brow furrowed in worry, "Am I…dead?" he asked dumbly.

Arthur seemed to deflate in relief, and blew out a sigh as he smiled down at his friend,

"No, but you sure as hell gave it your best shot."

Merlin rolled his eyes about dazedly, feeling too weak to even move his head. All the knights were there: Leon, Percival, Elyan, Gwaine, even Mordred, watching him with various looks of concern and relief. Mordred seemed particularly happy to see him awake.

It would have been embarrassing, but Merlin couldn't seem to muster up the energy.

"Go back to sleep, mate," Gwaine said softly as Merlin felt the tug of exhaustion pulling at his eyes, "We'll be here for you when you wake up."

Merlin let his eyes slip closed, feeling surprised that he actually, for the first time in a long time, believed his friend.


The next few weeks were long ones. Gaius explained to Merlin that his magic (and a goodly amount of strong will power) had managed to drive away Morgana's curse, leaving him alive, but extremely weak.

The first few days, it was a colossal effort just to raise his arm two inches off his bed. The knights came to see him every day, first in groups, then by themselves.

Something inside of Merlin still shied away and felt angry when they came. Though Morgana's magic had been purged from him by Kilgarrah, he still felt the original hurt and betrayal his friends had instilled. But, by and by, he slowly began to realize that they had truly realized their mistakes, and truly wanted to change.

It was a long process, both the physical recovery, and the emotional one. They were both some of the best and worst weeks of Merlin's life. Everyday he was spoon fed and helped to exercise his stagnant limbs. Arthur and the knights displayed a devotion and patience that, more than any of the apologetic looks and encouraging promises of friendship, displayed to Merlin how much they really cared for him.

The knights came to him one on one. They apologized, they asked forgiveness. Merlin gave it with an agonizing reluctance, everything in his gut screaming at him not to let his heart be broken again. He was putting his faith in them one last time, hoping it wouldn't be for nothing. And something, deep inside, told him it wasn't.

It was arduous and mundane. Being unable to feel most parts of his body, and then only pain when he did, while still being unable to move hardly at all, left Merlin in something of a bad mood. Gaius ordered plenty of bed rest.

By the end of the first week, he could stand with some help. By the end of the second, he could walk on his own.

That was when he went with Arthur to see Gwen.

Morgana's death, apparently, hadn't broken the curse on her. In fact, Morgana's death had only set her into a terrible state of feral depression, like a dog who'd lost its master. The puppet queen had been under house arrest in her chambers since the day Morgana was slain. She was forced to eat, and under constant guard in case she decided she wanted to end the pain herself.

It was especially hard on Arthur. On top of the usual duties of running his kingdom, he was also trying to keep alive a wife who was no longer the woman he loved, and assist in the recovery of his temporarily paralyzed manservant.

Merlin had seen with plenty of concern and strife, the dark circles under Arthur's eyes, the heavy weight to his shoulders, the winsome exhaustion to his smile.

It was only when he saw Gwen for the first time in two weeks, that he truly understood it.

When Merlin entered her chambers, it was to a dark and dismal atmosphere. She hardly resembled herself anymore. Gwen sat upon her chair, gnarled hands clutching the sides so hard the veins popped from her knuckles. Her eyes stared obstinately forward into nothing, sunken into her skull, darkened by hatred and misery. Her hair fell unkempt and dirty into her twisted, loathing face, and made her seem even smaller than she was. Her flimsy nightgown showed in harsh clarity the pointed protrusion of her shoulders, the dangerous thinness to her wrists and neck, and the hollowness of her stomach. Arthur said that they had been forcibly feeding her, but Merlin had to wonder how much good it was actually doing.

He watched with a profound sadness as Arthur knelt before her, and tenderly took one skeletal hand in both of his,

Silently, he lovingly brushed a strand of hair out of Guinevere's eyes. She flinched away from him, eyes flashing with disgust and fury. Merlin felt his heart break at the sight of Arthur's expression.

Quietly, Arthur stood from his kneeled position, and kissed Gwen atop her head,

"Soon, my love, soon," he whispered, then kissed her again and subtly beckoned Merlin from the shadowy room.

Once they left, Merlin weakly hobbling into place next to his king, Arthur closed the door and fell silent, pressing his forehead against the door,

"I can't lose her, Merlin," his eyes filled with unfallen tears. He turned to Merlin with a stricken expression, "I just can't."

Merlin reached forward and placed a hand on Arthur's shoulder, he squeezed, and looked him straight in the eyes,

"You won't."





Okay, I realize this was probably not the ideal ending for most of you. In fact, I think it's pretty sucky myself. But honestly, I'm just really, really, really glad it's over. I'd like to thank all of you for your continued support and immense patience throughout this story. (And yes, any potential flamers, I know that the thing with Merlin forgiving the knights rather quickly seemed kinda small compared to all the angst before, but I stand by it.)

I LOVE ALL YOU GUYS! Thank you so so so much for all your kind words and encouragement, it really makes my life all that much better.