AN: You all have permission to hate me. I know I said I would be updating every weekend... and then I went and didn't update for like a month and a half. My weak defense, I moved that weekend. And then after that I helped someone else move, moved again, got three jobs. And... yeah, I've had a busy couple of weeks. That's my defense. You may continue to hate me if that makes you feel better.
Anyways... I hope you enjoy this chapter, part of me wishes this was the best chapter I had ever written since it took me so long to write... but it's not. But neither is it the worst chapter in the history of worst chapters (at least I hope it's not!)

And well... here it is.

They had all dutifully followed Merlin into the woods, only to sit there and listen as Merlin tried to convince himself that it was perfectly reasonable to use magic to cut down the tree since he had forgotten the axe back at the house. The argument (if it could be called that when there was only one person) had gone on for several minutes when Merlin had stomped angrily and accidently cut down a tree.

The look on Merlin's face had left the whole group in peals of laughter and Leon reflected that by the time this was over they would have lost any shred of dignity they had once had.

The shocked and confused look on Merlin's face soon disappeared in favor of using more magic.

Merlin was currently using his magic to cut the tree into appropriate sized logs. Of course he wasn't just cutting the logs, he was doing it in the most dramatic way possible. 12 year olds. He wouldn't complain though, even if he were able to get a word in edgewise for all the laughter he was doing.

Merlin had done practically everything from pretending to be a 'stately king' and ordering the wood to chop itself, to taking a stick and whacking the tree and demanding that it break. Leon silently wondered if it was wise to give a 12 year old boy as much power as he seemed to have.

He didn't think so.

A noise behind them made the group stop laughing. "Merlin?"

Merlin froze in the middle of handchopping a tree into submission. "Will?"

"What are you doing?"

"Chopping a tree?"

"Without an axe?"

Merlin glanced around quickly as though hoping an axe would suddenly appear. "No?"

"Well, where's the axe then?"

Merlin once again glanced around anxiously. "I'm not a monster Will! I promise I'm not!"

Will looked surprised. "Of course you're not! You're my best friend."

Merlin didn't seem to be listening. "I don't want to die. I've never hurt anyone, except one time I made Arthur trip and fall in a pile of mud, but I swear I wasn't really trying to hurt him. I've never used magic on you, I swear. Please don't turn me in! I don't want to die! I don't I don't! I promise I'm not a monster."

Will looked confused, "I know you're not a monster. Someone would have to be an idiot to think that you are a monster."

Merlin looked at Will hopefully. "You don't think I'm a monster?"

"You're my friend. Of course you're not a monster."

Merlin looked delighted. "You're my friend too!"

Will suddenly looked excited, "Can you show me more?"

Merlin was practically bouncing, "Yes yes yes!"

The group watched silently as Merlin started showing Will some of the things he could do. Leon watched a little absently, his mind racing. How would he have reacted had he found his best friend using magic? Certainly not the way Will had. Leon thought about what Will had said. 'You're my friend. Of course you're not a monster.' Maybe it was because Will was only 12 and things were much simpler at that age. Merlin was his friend therefore Merlin couldn't be a monster. But the simple acceptance… that was still mindboggling.

Upon the discovery of Merlin's magic Leon had felt slightly betrayed, a little angry, fairly frightened, and a lot confused. Because Magic and Merlin didn't seem to mix. Things had seemed so… wrong.

Of course he had been in more control than Arthur. But he had wondered… wondered if he was wrong about Merlin. He had defended Merlin, but he had still wondered. Now, now he felt like a bit of a Monster for doubting Merlin. He also felt a little grateful for Ariel, if Leon had been faced with Merlin's magic in real life than Leon wasn't sure how he would have reacted. But he was fairly certain it would not have been as well as a young Will.

He frowned as Merlin and Will decided to go to the caves to finish Merlin's magic show. With the rest of the group he followed the two boys, noting absently he wasn't the only one who appeared to be deep in thought.

He felt a small smile grace his lips, 'Someone would have to be an idiot to think that you are a monster.'

It was a little like a slap in the face. Maybe he was an idiot. That he had needed to hear a 12 year old point out the obvious. Merlin was Merlin. The silent arguments that had been waging inside of him were idiotic. How could he help show Arthur the truth if he was inwardly struggling with it? No, Leon understood now, he really was an idiot.

He stopped his internal conversation in time to hear Will reassure his friend. "I won't tell anyone your secret. I'll take it to the grave." The solemn words spoken by the young boy sent chills down his back.

Leon held back a laugh. Will and Merlin were planning their "Stealth attack" against their bullies, the official name being "Make the clotpoles think twice before picking on people". There were codewords, secret hand gestures (which were even more complicated than the hand gestures that the knights used so why Merlin was unable to learn those was a mystery), an elaborate escape route, and a rehearsed excuse if anyone were to catch them. (Leon thought he might need to give Merlin a lesson on acceptable excuses, because 'teaching each other poetry' wouldn't fool anyone, although Leon gave them bonus points for each having a pre-memorized poem to rehearse if anyone failed to believe them.)

Of course Leon doubted they would be caught. Mostly because they wouldn't do anything… at least not that anyone would see. Oh the wonders of magic.

The plot had been Will's idea. Merlin had merely added the proviso that they wait until the two bullies actually bullied someone before they acted. Will had agreed, after all according to Will they wouldn't have to wait long.

Will was right, the two boys had barely begun their 'poetry lesson' when Arthur and Jonathon started picking on one of the village girls. Leon chortled a little. It wasn't so much picking on the girl as flirting badly, but to two 12 year olds it probably looked like the same thing. It wasn't to long after that Jonathon ended up face first in the mud, somehow managing to 'knock down' the bucket of water the girl was carrying and getting even muddier. The two boys flushed embarrassed. That was barely even the beginning, Leon would have felt bad for them if he didn't remember them throwing rocks at Merlin and Will. The two boys somehow managed to 'trip' into a stack of loose hay, horse manure, and the ground before they managed to get to one of their houses.

It was simple, but terribly effective. Will and Merlin were in peals of laughter. So was the poor girl who had been the subject of the terrible flirting.

After they had finally calmed down Will frowned, "We didn't even get to use our code words." There was a dramatic sigh, "I suppose we'll have to plan something else."

Merlin was happy to agree.

The group was happy to see Merlin happy.

The 'sneak attacks' didn't continue long. Merlin told Will that his mother was starting to get suspicious that someone was 'interfering' so they had to put any further plans on the backburner for now.

That however didn't stop disaster from striking.

Jonathon and Arthur were mad. Over and over again they had looked like fools. Of course common sense told them that there was no one that could possibly be to blame for them tripping and falling all over the place. But teenage boys weren't known for common sense, angry teenage boys less so.

Which is why the small group was forced to watch as the two older boys cornered Merlin alone in the woods nearly a week after Merlin had stopped messing with them.

"It's your fault!"

"What's my fault?" Merlin jutted out his chin stubbornly.

"We looked like idiots!"
"You do that well enough on your own, I don't see how I had anything to do with that."

Leon groaned almost simultaneously with half of the knights. Merlin really needed to learn when the appropriate time to be cheeky was and when to remain silent.

Jonathon was practically spitting. "It's never been like this before, the constant tripping and falling, and you and your friend Will have been in the area every single time."

Leon had to admit that Merlin had a good poker face. "And because we were in the area that means it's our fault you're suddenly clumsy? What sort of reasoning is that!"

"I know you've had something to do with it!" Jonathon's fists were clenched and he had pushed his face into Merlin's. An ugly grin crossed his face. "And I'm going to prove it."

Merlin glared at him. "How?"

"Easy, we're going to teach you a little lesson… and if anything stops us… well, then we know that you made it happen. Then… then we'll tell Old Man Simmons… you know how he feels about unnaturals."

Merlin stiffened. "You're an idiot. What does that prove."

Arthur piped up. "Yeah, Jonathon, that doesn't really prove anything."

"It'll prove plenty." And then Merlin cried out as a fist hit him.

The group stared in shock as Merlin received his beating. Gwen was sobbing into Arthur's shoulder and Gwaine was clenching his fists angrily, probably memorizing every detail of the bullies' faces. Leon wouldn't be surprised if he went to Ealdor after this was all over to have words with them. Leon was highly tempted to join him.

Finally Arthur and Jonathon drew back to show a quivering Merlin. "You tell anyone about that and we'll let Old Man Simmons know that you're one of them freaks."

"I'm not a freak!"

Arthur snorted, "Of course you're not, someone like you? Have magic? No, but that doesn't matter to Old Man Simmons. He won't care."

Merlin looked up at the boys. "You're the monsters."

Jonathon laughed, while Arthur just looked uncomfortable. "Remember, mums the word." Then the two boys left Merlin curled up on the ground.

Merlin snuck into his own home quietly. He scratched out a short message for his Mother. "Sleeping in caves tonight, feeling rather itchy." The group watched as he looked through his mother's cabinets for some herbs and then snuck back out of the house.

They followed him to some caves outside the village.

He walked through them until he was a good distance inside. The group watched as he sat there, curled up on himself. Suddenly the room grew lighter and Leon watched as Merlin's eyes glowed gold. "I'm not a freak."

Wind started blowing. "I'm not a monster."

The light separated into different shapes that danced around the cavern. "I'm not unnatural."

The wind stopped and the lights dimmed and Merlin curled tighter around himself. "Please, oh please, don't let me be a monster."

There were tears running down his face. "Why? Why? Why? Why am I monster? Why am I like this? I don't want to be a freak! I never asked for this! Why? What did I do? Why do they hate me? They don't even know me! I'm not a monster! I never did anything!" The young boy was practically screaming. "I never did anything! I'm not a monster!"

The boy collapsed into sobs. As Gwen threw her arms around Arthur and began to sob into his shirt. Leon turned away from the scene, his own throat felt tight. He wondered how much of the Merlin he knew still felt that way. He could still see the twelve year old boy looking up at his two bullies 'you're the monsters.' Did Merlin ever think that about them? Did he ever look at them and call them monsters for killing his kind indiscriminately. Did he ever curl up on his bed and whisper that he wasn't a monster after any of the innumerable executions?

The boy finally fell asleep and Leon watched in awe as a soft light seemed to glow around him healing the forming bruises and wiping away the tear stains. He watched as the light swirled around the cave, he thought he could hear it whisper to him "He is strong." "He cares about all of you." "He hates hiding from you." "He doesn't think you're monsters." "He just wants you to understand." "He believes in you." Different whispers, some he couldn't hear, but he had a feeling that every whisper was meant for each of them specifically. He took heart at the promise, he doesn't think you're monsters. As the thought crossed his mind he watched as the world went white.

They all took seats around the fire silently. Finally Arthur sighed, "Does that happen every where? Threatening people that they'll be exposed if they don't do as they're told." Leon shrugged and looked at some of the others.

Gwaine sighed, "Everywhere? Probably not. But it happens. Your father tended to execute first and ask questions later, if ever. And his fear spread, other people began to fear magic and would take equally drastic measures."

Percival spoke up. "Ealdor isn't part of Camelot, but Uther's fear and his cruelty spread. I grew up farther afield from Camelot, and the fear was not as bad. The farther from Camelot you were the less feared Magic was. There are a few kingdoms that dislike sorcery, but none nearly so much as Camelot under Uther's reign."

Arthur sighed and bent his head.

It was silent for a minute. "What happened at the end?" Leon looked up and blinked at Gwen's question and shrugged again.

A soft voice spoke from behind him. "That was magic."

He turned to face Ariel. "Well, yes, we guessed that that was magic. But who caused it? How come we could hear it?" Gwaine sounded tired and frustrated.

"You misunderstand me, that was Magic. It acted of it's own accord, Merlin needed comfort, he was to young to truly work through his grief and pain, to frightened to go for help. Magic has helped him this way very rarely. As he grew older magic expected him to be able to help himself through his pain more and more. It has comforted him of it's own accord only a few other times."

"How come we heard it? We're watching the past, why would it have whispered those things in the past?"

"It's magic, perhaps it knew that someday you would hear those words, perhaps it whispered them this time only. It's Magic, it can't always be explained or understood." She paused, "Perhaps that is one reason it is feared. But not by any means the only one."

They sat in silence again before Ariel spoke up again. "There's some dinner, and then you all look like you could use some sleep."

Leon didn't argue. He desperately needed some sleep.

AN: There's your chapter!
I'll be faster this time.

But... as a side note, there is a Poll on my profile about how you want me to do the seasons when I get to that point. :D So... it would be nice if you'd go and answer that poll for me so I know how you'd all like to see it!