Arthur didn't get any sleep that night.
That's not to say he didn't try, but after hours of lying in bed, unable to stop thinking, he knew he might as well be up.
He'd thought that he could do this, but now that Merlin was gone, Arthur was no longer feeling the effect of his optimism. And reality was…harsher. Things were different. Difficult, more like. He couldn't just change things. He just…couldn't. Even if he was the king.
He wasn't going to go back on his word—he wouldn't do anything quite yet; he'd still give Merlin some time to explain himself—but he wasn't sure what to do in the meantime.
And he wasn't entirely sure he could face Merlin quite yet, either, and pretend that nothing had changed between them.
Eventually, Arthur walked to the window to try to gauge how far off dawn was in coming. He decided it was near enough to wake Merlin—assuming he had gotten to sleep—and tell him to go home for a few days. He could leave immediately (George would be more than willing to fill in, Arthur was sure), and Arthur would be able to sort things out without worrying about jumping whenever Merlin walked into the room.
He just…. He couldn't look at Merlin without remembering what he was. And he wasn't so sure he could keep his thoughts from showing through on his face, not when it was….
Arthur shook himself and strode quickly across the room and out into the corridor, heading to the quarters Merlin shared with Gaius. He'd send Merlin away, and hopefully, by the time he came back (because he would come back, and Arthur wasn't sure whether or not he really wanted to wish Merlin wouldn't), this would be…. Not easier to deal with, exactly, but somehow…more manageable. Less…less unwieldy and less likely to spiral out of control.
Frankly, Arthur felt less certain about himself and his reign now than he had when he'd first become king, and he didn't like that. He was unwilling to lean too heavily on the advice of others, as such things had not served him well when he'd unwittingly misplaced his trust, but he wasn't sure how well he could tread this path without any guidance.
But he had no one to ask, save Gaius, and Gaius…. Gaius was a bit too close to the entire situation for Arthur to trust him to be unbiased, especially since he knew that Gaius had…. That Gaius had known, all these years, and never given any indication….
Arthur really didn't want to banish Merlin from Camelot, for all that precedent dictated he should, given his actions with Guinevere if nothing else. But Arthur certainly wouldn't do what his father would have undoubtedly done. He wouldn't execute Merlin. He couldn't.
It was Merlin.
Even if he was a sorcerer.
But Arthur knew he had to do something. He'd give Merlin time to explain himself, since he deserved that and he didn't want to make a mistake like he had with Guinevere, but he couldn't…. He couldn't promise to decide to turn a blind eye to all of this. He would do what he felt was best for Camelot, and he knew Merlin knew that. Merlin wouldn't have made a point of insisting that his staying here was the best thing for Camelot otherwise.
Arthur wished he could believe that, but the time of just believing Merlin like that had passed.
The illusion had been irreparably shattered.
A/N: …to be continued, of course, in Shattered, which is now posted.