I started this story ages ago and forgot about it, but I came back to it and realised it would be a shame for it to be wasted, languishing in the depths of my computer. I thought I may as well upload it and in the process hopefully get back into the swing of it so I can finish it.

I hope you enjoy it!

CHAPTER 1.

"Forever"

::Merlin::

Merlin slammed open the twin doors at the end of the hall quite dramatically and, in a moment of distraction, was thankful that they didn't swing back and whack him in the face. But what they revealed drove such triviality from his mind. The King was hunched on his throne and Merlin could feel the magic holding him from the other end of the hall. The knights were writhing in suits of armour that refused to move, and Prince Arthur was on his knees before Mordred.

Arthur had once helped save Mordred from execution by fire, a sorcerer's punishment in a land where King Uther ruled, but apparently Mordred had forgotten or discarded this memory. (Or maybe was remembering it with vindictive, if misplaced, pleasure.)

Held down on his knees Arthur was still almost as tall as the boy but Mordred's magic towered over both of them and filled the room with fury and cruelty. Swords couldn't be held against it; trying to stop magic with a sword was like hoping to stop a river with a stick… hoping to stop a river with a stick without the river noticing.

Because Uther had decreed magic as illegal and tortured and executed every person to the last child even only vaguely associated with it there was no magical defense for Camelot. Any peaceful person who didn't mean Camelot harm, and may have even risen to save it given the need, had fled during the Purge, the genocide, so the only people left willing to use magic in Camelot were those using magic against Camelot. This, of course, only gave evidence to Uther's proclamations that magic was evil. The citizens of Camelot could have used logic to put together Uther's murderous rampages and the presence of only revenge-seeking sorcerers in the midst, but they were too busy being terrified of being mistakenly accused of magic, where an accusation may as well be an order of execution, to question him.

Because of all of these reasons Merlin desperate to get to Arthur. He'd heard of the magical assault, he knew the Prince was both a target and, despite whatever Arthur said to the contrary, could not defend himself against it. The Prince had no chance against the likes of Mordred, no chance except Merlin. Because Merlin was magic and the only sorcerer interested in peace who was willing to fight for it; and he'd fight to the death for peace.

As the Prince's manservant he had the chance to see Arthur's honour and kindness up close. He had realized that Arthur, unlike Uther, could one day grow to understand magic wasn't evil…if he lived long enough. This was where Merlin came in. Keeping his magic secret, because defending one's Prince, Employer and Best Friend was hard enough with his head attached to his body, Merlin had spent years at Arthur's side, acting the fool but being the hero. The day he openly saved Arthur, the day he knew would come (just not so soon, he still had so much left to do) was also the day when life as he knew it would be over.

And it seemed that this day had come.

Upon his rather dramatic entry Merlin caught many of the room's occupant's mid-yell. Arthur was yelling, 'Leave my father alone!' and Uther was yelling 'Leave my son alone!' Mordred was hissing under or maybe over it all, 'I'm going to kill the both of you, Pendragons' with a voice like murder.

Merlin had been doing his usual scrabble for words, but when Mordred took a step towards Arthur he instinctively snarled,

"Don't you touch him, Mordred!"

His chest was heaving from his sudden sprint to the throne room, but his voice came out strong and sharp, like a sword and a snapping bowstring. Like a sword it cut through the air, like an arrow it shot across the room.

Mordred turned, head not held confrontationally high but predatorily low, his expression an animal.

"The man of the hour…Emrys," he said softly to Merlin and himself. His voice was so low Merlin couldn't hear it but the words resonated through his viscous magic and Merlin felt them in his bones, which shuddered.

"Merlin, you moron, get out of here!" Arthur yelled, clenching his fists and struggling with all his might to stand, unsuccessfully. Without looking away from Merlin, Mordred flicked a hand and an invisible force closed Arthur's mouth and held his tongue. Merlin moved forwards; his magic snarling like his voice and Mordred's eyes flicked around the room briefly as he felt it pour along the walls.

"Leave, Mordred," Merlin growled, his hands arching into casting positions.

"You're going to have to make me, Emrys."

Mordred watched Merlin striding forwards for a moment; one corner of his mouth smiled. Spinning fluidly on one foot, conjuring and drawing a knife out of the air beside him, Mordred planted his feet beside Arthur and held the blade to the Prince's throat.

Merlin stopped dead.

Arthur tried to arch his head away from the blade but Mordred's magic caught him and held him down onto it.

"Now what are you going to do?" Mordred asked softly. Merlin's hands trembled slightly.

"Leave them be, Mordred," he said quietly.

"Like he left us be?" Mordred jerked his head in Uther's direction, the movement echoing through his body to his hand which drew a small red dot on Arthur's neck.

"Don't hurt him!" Merlin's voice rose. He was trying to sound determined but there was blood on Arthur's throat and in a moment of madness (or even just mild irritation) on Mordred's behalf there would be a whole lot more.

"Why?"

"Your quarrel is not with Arthur, he saved your life," Merlin took a step forward earnestly and Mordred did not protest.

"The King committed genocide."

"Arthur wasn't even alive!"

"He's alive now but we're still dying!" Mordred looked away from Merlin to Arthur, who was struggling to keep his breath even and looking between the two standing above him in confusion.

"It wouldn't be murder…it would be self defense."

"It would be murder, and if you kill him you kill any chance of…" Merlin swallowed, the truth on his tongue, and finished lamely, "…freedom." Mordred was reading Merlin's intentions in his magic, but looked confused by his words. Nonplussed he raised a sharp eyebrow at Merlin, then a second when he realised.

"You haven't…" He looked at Arthur, then back at Merlin, his breath coming fast with sudden excitement, "he doesn't know?"

Merlin had nothing to say, which wasn't entirely a bad thing. He was feeling so sick he suspected he may just vomit if he opened his mouth. Watching him Mordred gave a sharp back of laughter that sounded like a shrieking crow.

"This is quite the situation," Mordred's voice was horribly cruel and wound tight with happiness, "how are you going to get out of this, Emrys."

Merlin looked at Arthur; Arthur looked at him, confused and scared. As much as he tried to hide it Merlin could see Arthur was afraid. Or maybe he couldn't, maybe he only thought he could because he knew Arthur so well that he knew, for a certainty, that Arthur would be afraid right now. That knowledge did something inside him, something unknown but powerful that hardened his resolve. It kept him standing and helped him look Mordred in the eye.

Do anything, and he'll know you are magic. Mordred's voice said suddenly in his mind. Merlin didn't flinch, but he did blink once in surprise. Do anything other than what I tell you to do, and he'll know you are magic.

I'd rather him know then he be dead! Merlin spat back.

"Say it, then. If you want your precious prince to live, tell him."

Merlin desperately tried to think. Could he knock Mordred away without endangering Arthur? No. What were Mordred's goals? Was he just playing with them until he struck? Probably. Could Merlin take him?

Yes.

Arthur made a sound; Merlin could see his throat vibrate with effort but his teeth wouldn't part, so it just came out a garbled groan.

"It's okay Arthur," Merlin reassured him, "I'll get us out of this."

Arthur tried to speak again, staring at Merlin in desperation. His eyebrows didn't even raise in impatience at Merlin's apparent presumption.

"Say it!" Mordred commanded; he stepped behind Arthur and braced his right hand against the Prince's face, lifting the left to place the knife tip in the hollow at the corner of Arthur's eye. Uther groaned in his throat from the throne.

Arthur closed his eyes and clenched his face for pain.

"I have magic," the words burst out of him before they could be softened or veiled, before they could come too late.

Arthur's eyes snapped open.

Mordred breathed a laugh. He lowered his hand onto Arthur's shoulder; following it Merlin could see Mordred gripping the tensed muscles.

"Say it again," Mordred commanded.

"I…" Merlin lost his courage for a moment. In the moment of silence Uther snarled from the throne and Merlin looked up at him in sorrow then down at his son, where wordless pain rose in his chest.

"I have magic."

All he knew to do was to keep talking because that was the only way to stop the blade in Mordred's hand from drawing anymore blood, from blinding Arthur.

Talk now, think later, Merlin.

"Magic isn't evil, I have it," Merlin addressed Arthur, "I have used it to save you more times than I can count. I saved you from Sigan, Nimeuh. I killed the Afanc and the questing beast and stopped…"

"No!" Mordred yelled furiously, "tell him about all the people you killed, all the mistakes you made! Tell him the whole story!"

Mordred thoughtlessly took the knife from Arthur's eye and pointed it accusatorily at Merlin as he demanded,

"Tell him how…"

But that was as far as he got.

As soon as he had removed the knife from Arthur's throat Merlin struck with the force of a bolt of lightning. His left hand punched out as his right swept sidewards and the two forces slammed into Mordred at the exact same time. The left force flew over Arthur's head and smashed into the boy's face as the right hit his knife wielding arm at an angle, snapping it back and away from Arthur. The druid boy was thrown off his feet, head smacking loudly on the stone floor, magical knife vanishing into nothing as soon as it parted contract with his skin.

Merlin yanked his magic in, shattering the bonds holding Arthur, who lunged forwards and away from his former captor, scrambling on his knees as his hand instinctively flew to his side to draw his sword. Merlin raced forwards and putting himself between Mordred and Arthur just as the druid boy was sitting up, blood streaming from his clearly broken nose, eyes wide with fury. His magic rose and thickened to the point where it was almost visible, making the air ripple with heat and malice like an exhaling creature opening its wide, hot maw to devour them all. With a wordless snarl Merlin threw up his hands and a brilliant white light flashed through the room as Mordred's magic descended onto his. There was a great CRACK and both Mordred and Merlin were forced back a pace, their feet leaving scorched skid marks on the stone. Merlin's foot was forced into Arthur, who was still on the ground, and out of the corner of his eye Merlin saw a familiar line of silver and he threw himself out of the way.

With no opposing force Mordred's magic cleaved into the floor and Merlin just escaped the full force of Arthur's blade as it snaked past him to try and get to Mordred. He couldn't get fully out of range though and the tip he'd sharpened only yesterday tore through his pants and the flesh of his calf. Merlin yelled and his leg nearly gave out from under him but he sensed through his magic Mordred gathering himself for a second attack. Merlin threw out another brilliant white shield between the Druid and the occupants of the room a split-second before they were all incinerated.

"You idiot, Arthur, I can handle this," Merlin yelled, trying to hold off Mordred whilst seeking balance on his wounded leg. He looked across at Arthur, who was still on his knees.

"Just keep out of the…Arthur?"

Arthur rose up from his knees, pushing off the ground with one hand, sweaty blonde hair falling into eyes that were fixed on Merlin.

"What are you doing?" Merlin asked stupidly, the world outside going quiet and distant for a moment; Mordred raging against his shield becoming a distant, insignificant speck in the wake of Arthur's expression. Arthur had layers on his face, there was hurt there, disbelief as well, but above it was determination and the sort of focus Merlin had seen so often on his face during battle. There was also the manic look in his eyes Arthur had seen once before when Arthur had tried to murder his own father…

Arthur stepped forwards and Merlin felt a thrill of fear.

"Arthur!"

Arthur lunged, sword flashing out, and Merlin skipped back wildly; he didn't want to use magic against Arthur, that would only make things worse…and it was Arthur. He retreated further from Arthur and a lash of heat scalded his shoulder as his attempted duel focus weakened; his head whipped around.

Mordred was laughing, watching Arthur attack Merlin with an almost childlike glee,

"See what you're fighting for, Emrys?" He yelled over the angry rumbling and buzzing of their magic, "You're fighting for a world where magic is free. Well there it is, look out. Freedom looks angry."

Merlin's eyebrows peaked in anguish. He didn't know where to look; he didn't know what to do.

"I TRUSTED YOU!" Arthur screamed and lunged at Merlin again; Merlin's blood stood out on the end of the blade Pendragon-red.

"You can trust me!" Merlin replied. His injured leg slid beneath him as Mordred's magic bore down on the both of them. Sensing his weakness Mordred struck out, but Merlin's shield held.

"I TRUSTED YOU! AND YOU'RE ONE OF THEM!"

"Arthur, no, it's not like that, I'm not evil," Merlin's voice went high and desperate. It couldn't be like this, it wasn't supposed to be like this, Arthur was supposed to understand. Merlin couldn't even summon up his arguments because all of his concentration was going into stopping Mordred.

"You betrayed me," Arthur said both angry and lost; his sword still between them. Merlin looked in his eyes; saw the pain, but then,

"NO!"

He span as, once again, he sensed Mordred's intentions through his magic. Both hands flashed out as Mordred whipped around like a rat and tried to sink his magic into Uther who was stilled pinned to his throne. The empty Queen's throne beside the king exploded into shrapnel and the stone floor at his feet cracked. Uther gave a yell of fear that was strangled by Mordred's hold but Merlin protected him from harm.

Frustrated, Mordred shot arrows of solidified fire at the knights but the fire vanished in the air as Merlin's shield held true, though his magic whined high out of hearing with effort.

"You cannot hurt anyone in this room, Mordred," Merlin's voice seared through the air and the druid boy flinched back as though physically burnt. Mordred lifted his hands but Merlin slashed one hand down and broke the back of the forming spell.

"You cannot hurt anyone in Camelot."

Mordred's eyes flicked to the side and something in his gaze prompted an instinct Merlin didn't recognize that made him leap, again, out of the reach of Arthur's blade. It caught him, again. This time the blade opened a searing line across his neck that an inch or so deeper would have severed more than just skin and muscle. Merlin put his hand to it and brought it away, his fingertips were running red. He looked at them for a moment, not believing, not understanding (when really, he did.)

"Fine," Mordred spat in an ugly voice as he realized his magic couldn't match against Merlin's, "Keep your Camelot and your Prince. He doesn't seem to want you anyway."

Before he could be seized and held captive by Merlin's magic Mordred vanished where he stood in a shriek of sound and sudden tumult of wind.

His magical grip suddenly empty Merlin staggered; his leg protested and he very nearly fell to one knee. But he kept his boots beneath him and he looked up to Arthur. Arthur was looking at where Mordred had vanished, confirming that he was really gone, then his eyes turned on Merlin.

If looks could kill Merlin would have died then and there.

"Arthur, listen to me, please, I've never tried to hurt you."

But Arthur was advancing and Merlin, for all his belief in Arthur's justice and honour, was retreating.

"You lied to me," Arthur snarled in a voice uglier than Mordred's.

"Guards, arrest that sorcerer!" Uther yelled, standing up amongst the wreckage that surrounded his throne with Mordred's spell broken at his feet.

"That's why!" Merlin said earnestly, imploringly, pointing with a flattened palm at Uther. Arthur inhaled in shock as his eyes followed Merlin's palm, entire body tensing up as he jerked it between Merlin and Uther. Watching Arthur, Merlin felt the first trickles of anything other than desperation; irritation.

"Arthur, I'm not going to hurt him. I just spent about ten minutes saving him! Saving both of you!" Merlin gestured even wider, "saving all of you."

The knights were gathering themselves, some already appeared to be sufficiently gathered for they were approaching Merlin, but when Merlin gestured they all flinched like a fleet of arrows had flown over their heads.

"I just saved you!" Merlin yelled, angrily now, at the knights. "Stop flinching!"

"Why?" Arthur yelled, retaking Merlin's attention. By the tone of his voice Merlin could tell he wasn't referring to his most recent comment. However he wasn't exactly sure what he was referring to and, not sure what he could say that wouldn't initiate another attempt at murd…no…attack, he stayed silent.

Angry at Merlin's lack of response Arthur took a step forwards that Merlin determinedly did not retreat from.

"Why did you do it?"

"Save you?" Merlin couldn't help it, he needed specification.

"Why?" Arthur spat again in confirmation.

Merlin trembled; adrenalin was racing through his veins, his instincts were screaming at him to fight, to run, but his heart wouldn't let him raise his hands or move his feet…and he still didn't understand what Arthur was referring to.

"Which time?" he said, voice wobbling slightly. Arthur growled and closed the gap between Merlin and his outstretched sword. The tip pressed against his shoulder and not moving his feet Merlin swivelled his shoulders away from the pressure.

"I'm asking because I have saved you so many times that I don't know which time you are referring too!" Merlin said in anguished irritation (he hadn't even know such an emotional state existed.)

Arthur glared at him, saying nothing. Uther was barking more orders along the vain of 'Arrest him!' with wild gestures at Merlin, but that wasn't important. All that mattered was Arthur and the sword that was still between them and getting him to understand.

"I saved you just now for the same reason I always have. You're my friend ," Merlin said softly, honestly, feeling intensely vulnerable as he lowered his hands and let Arthur stand there holding a sword against him that had already tasted his blood.

"You're a sorcerer," Arthur snarled, but he was crying and not-crying and trying not to cry, so it wasn't his usual sort of snarl, "Why would you save me, a Pendragon?"

"Because you're my friend and you are going to make a brilliant King someday, as long as you live to see it," Merlin lowered his voice, his words for Arthur and Arthur alone, "you've saved men and women with magic before…You don't really think magic is evil, do you?" Merlin threw his whole world into question.

Arthur didn't respond. He didn't lower his sword but Merlin was too tenacious would not accept that as denial. He reached up slowly, so as not to appear a threat and tried to pushed Arthur's sword away. Renewing his glare with still gritted teeth Arthur held the sword still so tightly that it wobbled against Merlin's shoulder and cut a hole in his old, blue shirt.

"Arthur?" Merlin blinked back tears, his throat closing up and a wild, wild feeling rising in his chest that everything was going wrong. His hand dropped from the blade.

But then there was a second sword rising at his throat at Merlin was reeling backwards away from the knights' blade and away from Arthur. The knights had surrounded them and were closing their circle around Merlin, excluding Arthur, now that he was standing apart. Merlin looked around like a cornered wolf, but neither Gwaine nor Lancelot nor Leon, none of the knights Merlin knew, stood before him. There were only strangers and swords and murder hung in the air. He'd known they didn't before he'd looked, he knew they were on patrol, but he'd had to look all the same. One doesn't stand amongst enemies without searching for friends.

Merlin felt strangely vulnerable without Arthur's sword pointed at him.

"Merlin, I charge you with the crime of sorcery," Uther shouted from his throne. His fists were bunched at his side and actually shaking with the effort of his yell. "Execute him!"

No trial, no formalities; just 'Off with his head!' Classic Uther.

Merlin glared at Uther and flexed his hands. Ready.

"No."

Nobody seemed to know what he meant. Arthur was still watching him from over the knights' shoulders.

Not one of the knights moved.

"Execute him," Uther commanded with narrowed eyes. A knight stepped forward, Merlin didn't know who he was, and raised his sword. The circle tensed around him, sure of imminent retaliation, and the knight paused with his sword held above his.

The whole world was watching Merlin.

Arthur straightened; expression somewhere between unreadable and confusing.

Merlin lowered his head, glaring at the floor, and clenched his fists.

He.

Was.

Not.

A.

Threat.

The sword descended, flashing in the daylight (was the sun still shining?) coming in through the windows, aimed at his arched, exposed neck. Arthur moved and made a soft noise that Merlin's heart heard that was drowned out when, with a terrific metal screech, the sword was diverted from its path by the magic Merlin held around him.

Everybody looked at Merlin, stunned. Merlin felt rebellious and angry and oddly insulted. After he'd held off Mordred, who must've been about five thousand times more dangerous than these knights, did Uther think he would just let them kill him? With no fight and no protest?

"Execute him!" Uther yelled for the third time. His voice had gotten distinctly higher pitched.

"They can't..." Merlin paused, chewing for words, and finished with the feeling like he was betraying murdered strangers with, "sire."

Resentful and regretful, seemingly disrespectful, but for all Uther had done, the fact that Merlin had addressed him as 'sire' spoke volumes to anyone who cared to listen. (Though of course no one did.)

"Execute him!" Uther yelled shrilly, "Kill him! Somebody kill him!"

A second knight struck at Merlin. Merlin flinched ever so minutely, but his shield diverted the blade once again. A third lifted and felled his sword. A fourth. A fifth.

Uther strode down the stairs too quickly to be determined, but just quickly enough to be desperate. Yanking a sword from the hands of one of his knights without even looking to see whose sword he was taking Uther strode across to the circle of knights who parted before him, raised the sword and brought it slashing down.

If the sword had struck true it would've been a messy kill. It would've cut through the front half of Merlin's skull and face and open him up to the naval without cutting through him entirely. He might've even needed a second stroke for a merciful death, though knowing Uther at that point he would've denied a blade being brought against a sorcerer for the only time, ever.

But of course it did not fall because Merlin did not let it. The sword struck sparks in mid-air but would descend no further and Uther glared beneath his raised arms at Merlin, who looked back. Merlin forced himself to look calm; determined yet not threatening. His palms were sweating and his spine felt like water but the pain from his leg and neck was helping him focus. (The pain in his heart, however, would be distracting if he let himself feel it, so he closed that part of him out.)

Then Uther's glare changed, faltered, and he was stepping back and dropping the sword and staring with growing horror at a sorcerer he could not kill.

"Get out," he ordered in a weak and fearful voice, "get away. You…you're…I banish you from Camelot!"

Merlin wouldn't accept execution and he wouldn't settle for banishment, not when he could taste freedom ever so faintly on the air.

"I'm not leaving. You'll die if I leave," Merlin responded. "If I hadn't been here Mordred would've finished you all off easier than putting on a pair of boots. And there are about a hundred other sorcerers who would do the same."

Uther opened his mouth furiously but Merlin overrode him,

"And if you're about to say that this proves all sorcerers are evil, leave it. There are also hundreds of people who would try to finish you off with a blade and I don't see you labelling all knights evil. The fact that I am here, a sorcerer, using magic to protect you when you cannot proves that you are wrong. Magic is not evil. Magic does not corrupt. The love of power corrupts, be that power from magic, swords or the crown," Merlin glared at this man, this terrified man, who had hurt and killed so many. He was breathing hard but not as hard as Uther.

"How much do you love your crown, sire?"

"I want him dead! I want him gone!" Uther yelled hysterically as he backed away faster from Merlin. He was thoroughly unnerved.

"I'm not dying and I am not leaving," Merlin stated loudly and clearly for the entire hall to hear. Uther's eyes rolled in his sockets, seeking and finding Arthur.

"Arthur!"

The sound of his name snapped Arthur to attention from where he'd been staring, dumbstruck, thunderstruck, at Merlin.

"You…you went to the sorcerer's village a few years ago. Go and find his mother and bring her back as a hostage," Uther's cruel eyes met Merlin's shocked expression, "maybe that will convince him."

Fear and fury rippled up Merlin's spine, making him giddy, and for a moment he wondered if this was how Uther was feeling.

He could stop them, oh how easily he could stop them. He wouldn't even have to kill him (his mind tingled at the edges at this thought.) But to do so he'd have to use magic against Arthur and his heart rebelled because his heart knew how much Arthur would loathe that, knew how it would drive Arthur into believing his father's ignorant spiels about the terrible nature of magic.

But maybe…Merlin looked at Uther, then quickly at the knights. These men did not look courageous enough to call his bluff (he was trying to not to think about whether or not Arthur was.)

"I'd like to see you try."

The threat hung in the air and Uther trembled, once, with his whole body.

"Send…" he began but stopped at Merlin's sudden movement. Gold light rippled down Merlin's fingers and he bent swiftly and touched the ground with one hand. He straightened.

"Like I said, I'd like to see you try," Merlin said with narrowed eyes, feeling the charm that would alert him to anybody approaching Ealdor race away through the earth. His threat was as palpable as the sword in Arthur's hand but Merlin prayed no one would test hit, for he didn't know what he would do if Camelot marched on Ealdor…he didn't know what he would allow himself to do…

"I…Arthur…I…Knights!" Uther turned from person to person desperately, but no-one could help him. His whole life he'd spent painting himself into this corner. He'd dug himself into a hole, he'd made his bed and now had to lie in it, but the bolts were loose and it would fall apart if he put his whole weight on it.

Arthur looked stricken and angry and confused, and a lot of other things that Merlin felt at the moment. Merlin desperately, desperately, desperately wanted to just go somewhere calm and quiet with Arthur and let him rage and cry. Arthur was the sort of person who needed to shout before they would listen, but Merlin didn't think Arthur hadn't gotten all of his rage out of his system yet, even with his two wounds and the multiple attempts Arthur had made at making more.

An honest part of Merlin's heart didn't know if Arthur would ever get his rage out of his system.

Uther knew he couldn't hurt Merlin, knew he couldn't make him leave. Without those options he didn't know what to do. Everybody was standing around, terrified, aimless and leaderless. Everyone in the room, except hopefully Arthur (please) seemed to be anticipating being struck down and punished for the presumption of being present. Merlin didn't want to see their fear of him anymore. It hurt him in ways hatred never could.

Merlin had to leave. He needed to give these threatened-feeling people (and it broke his heart that these people he had known and laughed with and fought for feared him) time and space to feel safe and feel some measure of control, because only then did he have a chance at convincing them that they were safe, that magic wasn't evil. At the moment his arguments and any further points he might make were futile, these people were too afraid to not fear him. They were too busy feeling like victims of a tyrant to realise Merlin was trying to free them from one.

He knew where he would go of course, to Gaius'. Only it would not be prudent to say it (though Gaius was already in up to his neck, over his head, with his young sorcerer ward.)

"Now," he said, drawing himself up and away from his bleeding leg (and bleeding heart,) "I must go and place some protective spells on the castle I could not cast in secret. I'll be seeing you later."

And…there was nothing left to say; no goodbyes: he wasn't leaving, no explanations: they wouldn't listen, so Merlin said 'Sire' stiffly to Uther, 'Sire' hesitantly to Arthur who was determinedly not looking at him, turned and left the hall; trying all the while not to limp. Walking through the doors he took one look back; no one had moved, but Uther was staring at the spots of blood Merlin had dripped on the stones like he was wondering if it was realistic to replace the entire floor.

Then Merlin took three steps and was out of sight.

It was halfway to Gaius' that he let himself stop, lean against a wall, and take a deep, shuddering breath to try and stabilize his soul.

"Everyone knows."

Gaius looked up from his work bench. It wasn't a cursory glance; Merlin's voice was thick with emotion and heavy with meaning, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

Merlin looked back at his adopted-uncle (a.k.a uncle) and leant against the door. One hand was pressed against his neck that was slippery with blood and the other still rested on the door handle he needed for balance. He could barely put any weight on his leg without falling and could barely touch the memory of Arthur without feeling like he'd already fallen over (the edge of a cliff in the dark with only a cold ocean drown him at the bottom.)

Gaius did his usual exclamation of, 'Merlin!' and hurried over; snatching up a large clean cloth as he came to press gently against Merlin's bleeding neck.

"What happened?"

"Everybody knows."

"I take it you don't mean that everybody knows I've run out of blue ink," Gaius said gently, easing Merlin's hand off the door and leading him over to the dinner table. They'd had breakfast there only this morning. Merlin stared at the breakfast bowls, cleaned and stacked, until he couldn't see them anymore.

"I…" Merlin could barely breath, he felt completely disconnected from the world, "I…I…"

"Hush, my boy," Gaius bustled around, placing a kettle over the fire and bringing his medical kit to Merlin's side, "it will be okay."

He didn't even asked what happened, Merlin knew Gaius would be curious but that his care for him came first. He closed his eyes and hunched away as Gaius began wiping away the blood on his neck.

Gaius had probably guessed, Merlin had never been so unhinged before. But he still had to explain…

"Mordred was there, I had to stop him. Everyone knows."

"Merlin…Merlin, this is very important," Gaius said firmly, hands still on Merlin's neck apart. He looked up.

"Are they coming?"

"No," Merlin replied.

"Are you sure?"

"They can't come, I placed a protective ward on the door; they can't come. Oh, no, I've lead them right to you Gaius, no, I have to leave!"

Showing life for the first time since entering the room, and quite a lot of it, Merlin stood and tried to extricate him from Gaius who was now using the bandages to restrain him.

"No, Merlin, they know I, sit down, they know I'm involved anyway, sit down, leaving will serve no purpose. And I don't want you to leave, I wish to be involved."

Merlin stilled, one arm twisted in front of him from where he'd been wriggling from Gaius' hold.

"If they know about you, my boy, then it is time for me to openly declare my loyalties, and they are to magic, to you."

Merlin didn't move and fresh blood ran from his neck across where the old blood had been smeared away.

"Now sit down!" Gaius ordered in his physician voice, Merlin did the wise thing and sat. As Gaius removed the kettle from the fire and used the boiled water to wash his neck and leg he haltingly told Gaius what had happened. He couldn't verbalize Arthur's reaction, Arthur's expression, but Gaius heard it in the words Merlin didn't say and read it on the expression Merlin tried to hide.

When Merlin was cleaned and bandaged Gaius gave him a cup of tea (for the nerves, he said) and sat back, eyeing the boy who eyed his tea which eyed no-one…as it tea.

"What are you going to do now?" He asked hesitantly.

Merlin replied around the rim of his cup, which he held to his face for warmth even though he wasn't cold,

"Stay."

His voice was not firm but it wasn't weak either.

"Stay? I'm not sure that's exactly wise, Merlin…or safe for that matter."

"They can't hurt me," Merlin flicked a finger and his eyes flashed gold for a moment, "and now they can't hurt you either. They can't hurt my mother…they cannot touch me in any way."

"Yes but…Merlin, what do you hope to achieve by staying? You can't change anybody's minds by force."

"I can't change anybody's minds by running away, either. Now more than ever Mordred and Morgana and probably the rest of the magical community who wants to take over Camelot will target Arthur. They'll think I am cowed by Uther or in some way restrained magically in order to still be alive and they'll take their chances at the throne. I'll simply do what I have always done; I'll protect Camelot, only now everyone will know I am doing it." Merlin looked towards the window, the sky was bright and sun was high.

"And when people see that I, a sorcerer, am saving Camelot, they'll have to question whether or not magic is evil. I'll show them it's not, I'll show them all."

The 'I'll show Arthur' went unsaid.

"It might not be that easy, Merlin," Gaius said warningly.

"I don't think it's going to be easy, but it has to be done. Enough is enough, Gaius. Uther has been persecuting sorcerers and sorceress' for too long. It ends now!"

Gaius looked at Merlin sympathetically.

"I didn't mean it wouldn't be easy defending yourself or fighting for magical rights. You have a big heart Merlin. You wear it on your sleeve where it can be easily hurt. You need to prepare yourself for how people will treat you."

Merlin looked at Gaius,

"I know," he said in a small voice, "but this is bigger than I am, Gaius. I can't just give up because I'm afraid of getting hurt. There are people out there, everywhere, druids and magicians and warlocks, all of them are depending on me."

"I know, I know," Gaius leant forwards and hugged Merlin who returned the gesture somewhat painfully, due to his neck, "just...try to remember that and not take what people say and do to heart."

"You know me Gaius, heart of stone," Merlin feebly joked into the rolls of cloth on Gaius' shoulders.

Gaius laughed but shook his head,

"Not you, my boy. Never you."

::Arthur::

The vase exploded against his door. It was followed by an inkpot which left a trail of its lifeblood across the room until it splattered into the wall. Then there was a goblet, a candle and a thick wooden paper weight, each thudding into the door like arrows, but falling down without the sharpened point to spearhead their charge.

Arthur tried to lift his chair to hurl it across the room as well, what it would achieve he had not yet decided, but it was too heavy and he merely succeeded in tipping it over… unsatisfactorily tipping it over…it didn't even crash when it hit the floor.

He sat, suddenly exhausted and braced his fists against the stone to try, once again, to get a handle on himself. His thoughts were jagged, primal things and he was having considerable difficulty not crying.

A guard hammered on the door yelling through in concern and trying to rattle it open but Arthur had jammed a second chair beneath the door handle.

"Leave me alone," Arthur hissed to the floor.

The guard banged again, louder.

"Leave me!" Arthur bellowed, twisting up onto his knees to glare furiously at the ink-splattered door. There was a pause before the guard knocked again, slightly timidly, yelling that the King wanted him.

Arthur saw red-white-gold-(Merlin) and in one clean and silent motion drew his hunting knife from its scabbard in the small of his back and flung it at the wooden door. It slammed into the door half way up the blade and the guard outside gave a startled squawk, presumably from having a few inches of naked steel appear a hands width from their face. The guard scurried off and Arthur made a growling noise of rage and satisfaction. But it was a noise of pain as well, because now, ringing alone in his ears was Merlin's admission of being a sorcerer.

"Damn you!" Arthur yelled, hurling himself to his feet and wrenching his sword from its scabbard. He swung it in front of him, muscles yanking on the bone, watching the dried blood on the end with vindictive pleasure.

"GOOD!" He yelled, swinging his sword at the table, embedding the bloodied blade into the wood. Bracing one foot against the table he pulled the blade free with such force the desk overturned. "GOOD!" He yelled again, "I hope you die you lying traitor!"

He lashed at the candle holder on his bed side table and sent it skittering across the room. He swung his sword at his bed post, once, twice, and then did a big looping overhead twist with his blade he'd never use in combat and brought the sword slamming down into the floor. If there hadn't been the thick carpet right next to his bed he probably would've chipped the blade. As it was his arms jarred and he dropped the sword. Arthur lifted his aching hands to hold them in front of his face to see if they were vibrating.

"Why did you do this?" He asked his empty room. Outside he could hear the sounds of Camelot drifting in through the window. The sounds of birds and people and wind.

His voice fell empty into the room like an open book, meaningless without somebody to read it.

"Why did you lie?"

::Merlin::

"I need to see him!"

"Merlin."

"Get out of the way, Gaius."

"No, Merlin, stop it!" Gaius stood between Merlin and the door, one hand out placating (threateningly?) the other holding the door handle, as if Merlin could've turned it with his mind. Which he could've.

"I have to explain!"

It was dark outside and the room was lit by the fire and the candles. The shadows flickered and wavered, dancing in agitation along with Merlin.

"Merlin, listen…no, listen to me, I'm not letting you go! The last time you were near him the Prince nearly took your head off!" Gaius said firmly; Merlin glared.

"That's because I haven't explained to him! Once I explain he won't try to hurt me!"

"We don't know you'll live long enough to convince him!"

"I'll defend myself!"

"And what will you do then? Stand behind your magic and preach at him? Give it time Merlin, stopping being so impatient before you cause irreparable damage!"

The warlock shuddered with his entire body, once, like ice water had suddenly been poured down his back, but when he saw Gaius' sympathetic, understanding (how dare he?) expression he span on one heel and marched across the room to his own. He had slammed his door before Gaius had taken one step away from his.

Merlin stood with his back to the door, magic growling, fury, hurt and fear prowling through it. He went to go to his shelf, to tear apart his books as if they might help answer the giant, ambiguous question mark in his chest, but switched mid-step and went to his window. However the sight of Camelot at night did little to calm him because when he could see multiple guards positioned to watch his window, one of them even dashing away at the sight of him to, undoubtable, report to Uther that the sorcerer was doing something as dastardly as look out of his window.

Merlin felt angry at the guards, and Uther, and tried to focus on this anger because it was so much easier to feel then the anguish over Arthur, which was a gaping chasm at his mind's feet. He felt so alone, Gaius didn't understand him, for all of his love Merlin sometimes felt that the physician hardly knew him. The only other people he could've talked to were Gwen, Lancelot or Gwaine. Lancelot and Gwaine were out of reach on patrol, though no doubt Uther would be sending messages to the knights on rotation to call them back to Camelot, as though if he could somehow get enough knights at his side he would be able to slay Merlin. And he couldn't talk Gwen, it would implicate her with his 'crimes,' at least in the eyes of Uther. And though he knew she would have heard about…well...him…by now, and would want to talk to him, he wouldn't do that to her.

Pulling himself from his window Merlin fell back onto his bed and lay for a moment, staring at the ceiling. After a few more minutes he pulled his legs up, rolled onto his side, and curled into what was definitely not the foetal position. The side he is lying on was warm, his other side was cold. Merlin looked at his hand, flexed it open, and stared at the lifeline. The further point, the beginning, of the lifeline was in clear focus, but it curved too close to his eyes and was rendered a blur before it disappeared beneath his face altogether.

And so he lay there to wait out whatever it was he was supposed to be waiting out and remembered, only a few days past, when he had made Arthur laugh.