Hello, dearies! I here present you with my latest project, and it's long! :D I've seen quite a few Gaius-death fics around Fanfiction, and I know I swore that I myself could never write an actual death fic but... I became massively interested in trying my own hand at this. I don't know why, but I had to. I'm actually really happy with how it turned out too!
But, of course, I have to thank my wonderful beta CaptainOzone for all her support and feedback in this, and if there are any spelling/grammar mistakes left, I apologize. :) Also, big thanks to everyone at the Heart of Camelot for their feedback as well. Thanks all!
And the title itself. As ever, I didn't know what to name it and finally decided upon 'Now and Again' since, in the story, one of the main focuses is that Gaius has protected Merlin/Merlin has protected Arthur now and again. Hence the name... Anyway... just as a quick note, the story itself is constructed rather oddly with the past and present coinciding. The italicized are the memories and the regular is the present, unless it's an emphasized word/phrase. So be careful of when it switches. :)
I really hope you like it!
That's how long it took for Merlin's whole world to change around him.
His ebony hair, ruffled, untidy, and greasy from the lithe fingers continuously snaking through it and pulling on it shone and looked deeply purple in the fading twilight. The warlock's clothing was equally unkempt, though fresher from Guinevere's gentle prodding earlier that morning. He swallowed heavily, cold grief running through his veins as his heart beat too slowly in his chest as if it, too, was mourning. Normally blithe crystalline eyes faded into a light, vulnerable blue, and Merlin let the sorrowful tears fall where they wanted, not bothering to brush them from his long, flushed face.
Merlin leaned forwards, clasping Gaius' hand tightly in his while the other rested on his mentor's shoulder. The long robes he usually wore was gone, and the physician only wore his dingy white nightgown with thick, warm bedclothes that Arthur had been kind enough to provide. Memories flashed in his mind's eye.
"Here," Arthur said numbly, eyes betraying his true concern. He eyed the warlock with a wary eye, taking in his tired and concerned features while biting his tongue to withhold a question.
Merlin took them from his king with shaking hands and thanked him without meeting his eyes before laying the blankets comfortably over Gaius. Gwaine, his 'keeper,' lit a fire in the small hearth, and Guinevere prepared dinner.
The warlock sat on the stool next to the physician's bed and folded his cold hand in his. "Gaius?"
Merlin moved his slim hand from his mentor's shoulder and up to Gaius' head, allowing it to rest on the physician's wrinkled brow. After briefly feeling the heat transfer, Merlin sniffed and let his long hand fall to stroke Gaius' long white hair. The snowy locks bent slowly under his hand before righting themselves again, and Merlin continued to comforting action with a small, tender smile on his face, squeezing the physician's loose hand once more. "Gaius? Gaius?"
With one more stroke of his snow coloured hair, Gaius' soft, grey-blue eyes cracked open. They took a second to focus, and Arthur, who stood a few feet away in respect, knew without needing to see that as soon as they focused on Merlin, they flooded with fatherly love and kindness. "Merlin."
"I'm here, Gaius," Merlin's tear filled voice responded.
Arthur felt himself take a small step forward to comfort the warlock but stopped himself when he realized what he was doing. He knew that his relationship with Merlin was still precarious, regardless of his previous conversations, and that he had yet to speak with the boy about his thoughts. He felt Gwen slip her hand in his, and he clutched it as, together, they watched the scene before them unfold.
The warlock stooped forward and stuffed more pillows behind Gaius, helping him sit up further. "Is there any pain?"
The doors to the throne room were flung open with a loud bang and the wooden fixtures almost flew off their hinges. Council members screamed and ran behind the great stone pillars before most filed out the servants' entrance and time seemed to slow.
In the doorway stood a woman with flowing blonde locks that fell against pale skin and a threadbare brown dress that was nearly completely covered by her dark brown cloak. Her blue eyes held traces of tell-tale gold that spoke of magic, and her features were twisted with fury.
"Emrys!" she screeched. "You and your Once and Future King shall pay for what you have done to our people."
The knight unsheathed their swords and advanced on her, but she threw them back with a passionate wave of her hand.Arthur unsheathed Excalibur and shifted his feet from where he stood protectively in front of Guinevere. The knights regained their footing but were more hesitant and waited for her to make the first move.
Arthur felt Merlin sidle up to him and glanced at him, startled at the cold defiance he saw there. The sorceress's eyes settled on him too, and rigid hatred burned in her eyes. "Emrys," she spat, "you are no better than the Pendragons."
The king felt questions flowing through his head, but he barely had time to register the inquiries before the witch was shouting a spell. A ball of blue fire appeared in her hands and, all too quickly, it seemed, she pulled her arm back, gaining momentum, and threw it at him. One part of his mind told him to raise his sword and pray, but the other half told him to shove Merlin out of the way so that at least only he would be hit.
But before Arthur could do either, Gaius was in front of them, shouting his own spell. Arthur's heart stopped in his chest, and his breath caught as a copper coloured shield sprouted from Gaius' hand, growing and thickening and cutting the sorceress off from the rest of them. The knights and Gwen gasped. Merlin didn't seem to be breathing at all.
...But the glowing shield wasn't strong enough. The blue fire collided with the orange and spread across its boundaries, hissing like water on grease before the fire burned through the shield, hitting Gaius right in the chest. The physician yelled in pain as the spell hit him, making his red robes shudder with blue light and sending him sliding back a few feet to land on his back, unconscious.
The king heard Merlin's panic-filled resound through the council chambers.
The physician let out a small chuckle, finding his own strength and gripping Merlin's hand. "No, my boy... You have done well."
Merlin sniffed, smiling. "I had a good teacher."
A proud grin spread across Gaius' weary face and his grey-blue eyes danced.
"I used magic," the warlock said, uncertainly. "For the pain."
Arthur felt something in his chest flutter, and Gwen put pressure on his hand, grasping it tightly.
"I know, Merlin. I can feel it. It's... good."
"Well, I'm glad you approve," Merlin replied cheekily.
The physician laughed again but too soon, those laughs became harsh coughs, and Gwaine rushed forward, fetching a waterskin and handing it to Merlin. He nodded his thanks and raised the physician's head before carefully pressing the nozzle to Gaius' pale lips. He drunk easily enough, and soon Merlin pulled the waterskin away.
"Yes, thank you."
Merlin brushed his slim thumb against Gaius' temple, biting his bottom lip.
Merlin rushed to Gaius side. Gwen and Arthur followed, and the knights backed slowly towards him, eyes still on the sorceress, swords drawn threateningly. The boy collapsed at his mentor's side, immediately grabbing his wrist and taking his pulse. Arthur saw as the panicked worry in Merlin's eyes fade, calm, and then burn with a fire fed by anger and rage.
He made to stand, and Arthur grabbed his arm, stopping him from doing anything rash. "Merlin -"
The servant met his eyes, only briefly, but long enough for that fire to falter, fill with sorrow and regret, flash with protective determination, and then burn as hot as before. He took his arm out of Arthur's hold and ignored Guinevere's openly confused stare as he stood to his full height.
"Merlin," Arthur hissed.
Again, he was ignored, and the servant stepped through the loose line of knights -between Leon and Gwaine- and stopped a few steps from the point of their swords, facing the sorceress defiantly.
Guinevere's shoulder brushed against his, and Arthur broke his hypnotized gaze from Merlin's side to glance at her.
The queen's face was pinched with worry and grief as she looked at the scene. Fresh tears sparkled like dew in her tender chocolate brown eyes. "I can't believe..."
Arthur turned back to the scene, similar thoughts running through his mind. Gwen abruptly pulled her hand out of his grasp and slowly walked to Merlin, placing her hand carefully on his slim shoulder in comfort.
"He's your friend, Arthur."
He considered leaving Gaius' chambers but remembered his conversation with Guinevere. The best time to speak with Gaius, she'd said, was when Merlin was away. He had to face it sooner or later, and if he waited, the situation would only get worse.
Arthur's already weak mask slipped further as his true feelings of hollowness found its way into his voice as he sighed wearily. "He has magic -"
"- so do I," Gaius continued softly, rubbing the rough material of his blankets between his fingers. He knew what was happening, but he wasn't afraid. No, he was more worried about what the future held for his kindred sons. "That doesn't mean I care about you, nor him, any less. I know he's lied, but it's me who has always pressured him to keep his secret. He cares about you. He's always wanted to tell you, Arthur."
"But he didn't," Arthur argued passionately. "He was my best friend -he's like a brother, and he chose to distance himself from me -" He stopped himself and bit his lip, all manner of emotions tearing at him. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't be worrying you with this..."
The physician's lips worked in thought, and his eyes followed non-existent patterns on the ceiling. Something finally flashed in his dull grey eyes, and Gaius turned back to Arthur, sudden conviction and pleading in them. "Arthur, I don't know what's going on between you two - Merlin won't tell me - but please... if our relationship meant anything, think about what I've told you. And please... promise me you won't do anything rash."
It took a moment for Arthur to understand what he meant, and his body tensed as just the very notion of executing Merlin flashed through his mind. Another stab of betrayal pierced his heart - he was used to it as of late - but this wasn't one due to Merlin's lies and secrets. This was Arthur's own betrayal. Because he would be betraying himself if he carried out such a horrible idea.
His azure eyes hardened and darkened as he carefully folded Gaius' hand in his, sincerity flooding them and putting Gaius at rest. "I promise."
Merlin sniffed, but Gwen's hand on his shoulder grounded him enough so that his magic didn't react to his grief. "I'm sorry, Gaius. There's nothing I can do." He felt Guinevere's hand move and settle comfortingly on the nape of his neck and felt her thumb brushing his hairline.
Gaius' eyes briefly flashed gratefully to Gwen, knowing that she was doing her best to comfort him, and he gave Merlin a small smile. "I've told you before, Merlin - I do not fear death. And there is no other way I'd rather go than protecting my family."
A strangled sob escaped Merlin, and he clutched his mentor's hand tightly. "I can't lose you, Gaius."
The physician's smile faltered, and he took his hand out of Merlin's grasp to reach up and cup the side of his ward's face. Merlin leaned into the touch and wrapped his long fingers around his mentor's wrist. "Oh, my boy... I remember the day... you first stumbled through my door." He took a breath. "You were full of boyish wonder and curiosity." He laughed. "Your hair was longer then too... couldn't even see those ears."
Merlin let out a small, watery laugh. "I remember... You fell off your balcony..."
"And you saved me," Gaius smiled. "Using your wonderful gift..."
"You shouldn't have done that."
The anger in Merlin's voice startled everyone, and Gwaine hissed at him to get back but he was ignored.
"He got in my way," the witch sneered.
Merlin's face twisted. "He was innocent in this!"
What the heck was Merlin talking about?
"It's of no consequence now, Emrys," she said, her voice as cold as a glacier. "You and your Once and Future King are soon to join him."
Emrys? Once and Future King?
"He's not dead!" Merlin protested.
The blonde ignored him, conjuring another ball of flames in her hand, and throwing it at the group. They scrambled back and raised their swords, knowing that dodging would only expose the king and queen, but they didn't have to...
Suddenly there was a light blue shield spreading from Merlin's hand. Arthur's mind locked, and again, his breath caught in his throat. Gwaine dropped his sword in shock, and Leon gripped his pommel tighter. Elyan and Percival only stared on with eyes as wide as saucers while behind them, Guinevere's lips parted with a soundless gasp.
The glowing blue flames impacted with the shield, and Arthur felt a yell of 'Merlin' on his lips, fearing the same thing that happened to Gaius would happen to him. It didn't though, and when Merlin's feet shifted and the blue flames spread rapidly across his shield with a soft hiss, Arthur felt his shock first and foremost in his mind. The witch threw two more spheres at the shield -with the same effect.
Face showing true fear, the sorceress stumbled backwards a few feet. "You... but you can't have! That was my most powerful spell!"
Arthur saw Merlin's shield fall in unison with his hands before the servant balled his hands into tight fists at his side, protective defiance rolling off him in waves.
Merlin breathed out a laugh. "I was scared to death -"
"- because you'd just seen an execution...," Gaius smirked understandingly.
Arthur's brow furrowed. Was that really the first thing Merlin had seen coming into Camelot? His mind churned and traveled back to around the time Merlin came to Camelot. The king's mind fit the puzzle pieces together, and Arthur remembered the execution that had started the 'festivities' of magic having been banned for twenty years. He felt a small ache of guilt in his heart -also something he'd been used to as of late- and thought about how that might have affected someone as young as Merlin had been, how that might have affected someone with magic...
"...and you still saved me," Gaius finished. He brushed his thumb along Merlin's sharp cheekbone. "Oh, my brave boy... How you've grown..."
"Gaius, please," Merlin's voice cracked as he frowned as Gaius' hold weakened and his hand began slipping. He grabbed it and folded both of his hands over Gaius'. "I need you to guide me. My powers are nothing -"
"Merlin, you've long surpassed me... And you've got your friends now..."
"You lied to me, Merlin!" Arthur's shout echoed around his chambers, and his hurt eyes emphasized his manic gestures. He looked at Merlin for the first time since he'd walked in, and suddenly weariness and regret washed over him from his outburst. "I thought I knew you... but... but..."
Merlin's face fell further. "I'm sorry."
With sudden guilt piercing his heart, Arthur raised his hand as if to set it on Merlin's shoulder. The man had been put through so much these past two days... first with the attack and now with no news of Gaius' improvement. But Arthur stopped himself as his mind reminded him that Merlin had betrayed him... but this was still Merlin, right? The same Merlin who had woken him up each morning with a too cheery, almost irritating, call; the same Merlin who never failed to put himself in harm's way for his king; the same Merlin who had always been at his side, even when Arthur himself didn't know he needed a friend's help. He would have to speak to Gaius later...
His voice softened. "How long...?"
The servant's face rose cautiously, and the hollowness in his eyes scared Arthur more than any sorcery ever could. "What?"
"Merlin, how long…?" Arthur swallowed, Gaius on his mind. The physician had always had magic, Arthur knew, but Arthur had always thought that he'd given it up, as his father had presumed. It was obvious that he was out of practice anyways, so he was still the same Gaius that had practically raised Arthur. He wondered what Gaius would do if he were in his place... "How long have you studied magic?"
"I -" the warlock's Adam's apple bobbed as his lips parted, swallowing nervously as he seemed to struggle for an answer. "I was born with magic, Arth -sire... I've always had it."
Arthur, tight lipped, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against his bedpost, thinking. Merlin sniffed and turned away, looking around the room as if it held the answers Arthur sought. After a few minutes, Arthur raised his head again and set his sky colored eyes on Merlin's charcoal shaded hair.
The servant turned.
"If I ask you to tell me the truth, the whole truth... will you?"
Merlin bit his lip and dropped his head. Arthur felt disappointment swelter up in him, and he clenched his jaw against the rising hurt, bowing his head again until Merlin's sudden answer brought his gaze up again.
"I swear it."
Gwen squeezed his shoulder as if to remind Merlin that she, personally, was always there for him while her other hand remained on Merlin's neck. Her brown curls shifted as she knelt beside Merlin's stool. She reached up and wiped the perspiration from the physician's brow with the cloth beside Gaius' head. Merlin himself remained silent.
"Thank you, Guinevere," Gaius offered kindly.
The queen nodded, smiling weakly and knowing that he was talking more of the comfort she was offering to Merlin than of the nursing she was providing him. She glanced at Merlin, crushed at the sorrow and grief in his eyes. Once she set the rag back down, she grasped her friend's knee and gave it a stabling squeeze. The warlock's now guarded eyes flashed to her, and as the cloud behind his eyes dissipated, Merlin gave her a small, grateful smile. Gwen smiled back at him and stood again, putting her hand on Merlin's shoulder once more in support.
The warlock let one of his hands wander from Gaius' weak hand to Gwen's on his shoulder. He let his hand rest on hers, and Gwen moved her hand to fold Merlin's in hers. Still looking at Gaius, Merlin responded to Gaius' earlier words. "I know."
Gaius' eyes widened as if he was stuck by a sudden thought. "My ring... Merlin, what've you done with my ring?"
"It's um..." Merlin's watery eyes glanced around and he swiped at his eyes. His sluggish mind ran through what they'd done with Gaius' things, namely the ring he always wore on his pinkie finger. "By the hearth. It's by the hearth."
"Can you fetch it for me?"
"O-of course," Merlin answered, carefully dropping Gaius' hand on the warm maroon bedclothes.
The servant stood shakily and walked past Guinevere to the fireplace. He felt Arthur and the knight's eyes on him the whole way and glanced hesitantly at them. They averted their eyes when his gaze met them, as if little children caught doing something wrong, and Merlin plucked Gaius' large stone ring in his hand and went to sit back on the stool.
Arthur was then shaken to the core as a blue ball of fire appeared in Merlin's hand. It seemed to envelope his slim, curled fingers, and the thought of the servant burning himself briefly flashed across his mind. But Merlin held it with seemingly no effort, and the sorceress took another few steps back, cowering.
"N-no... you won't kill me... you're merciful... you're Emrys..."
Merlin took a step towards her. "You hurt my friend."
"Please, Emrys, I was only doing what I thought was right..."
"Right? How is coming in there to kill myself and the king doing something right?"
Arthur was stunned at bitterness in Merlin's tone. The king? So he was this Once and Future King? Merlin had called him that before... but Arthur passed it off as some title Merlin had heard and randomly given to him.
"Arthur is a great king," Merlin continued. "And I will protect him with my life, even if it means killing you."
The king's breath caught. Surely Merlin couldn't kill? The boy could barely stand on his own two feet... but after everything Arthur had seen in the last few minutes, was it really that unbelievable?
Merlin's voice softened. "But I take no pleasure in killing... Which is why I'm going to offer you a deal."
The woman looked at him hopefully, fear still threaded in her sapphire eyes. How could anyone be afraid of his servant? Arthur began to feel his own thread of fear. Was this really Merlin? His Merlin?
"Leave Camelot," Merlin said plainly. "And if you ever try to hurt Camelot, its king, or her peoples again, I will kill you."
The sorceress began nodding vigorously, bidding her thanks before a whirlwind abruptly carried her away. But... how could Merlin let her go?
Arthur watched as the fire in Merlin's hand dissipated to a small yellow flame before completely disappearing. The king would be a fool not to see the trembling in his form as he turned back to their stunned and shocked expressions, but he rushed back to Gaius' side and examined him again, everyone else too stunned to move.
"He needs treatment," Merlin offered in a weak voice. The sound, though, reverberated through the eerily silent council chambers. "We need to get him back to his chambers."
Still, no one moved. The warlock's eyes flashed to the strongest among them, formerly hardened voice breaking and tender eyes strangely pleading.
He lifted Gaius' hand and turned it over, placing the ring in his palm before folding the physician's thick fingers over the deeply green stone. "Here..."
Merlin smiled softly and nodded, about to draw his hand back when Gaius other hand stopped him.
The physician carefully opened his ward's hand and placed the ring in it before folding the warlock's long fingers over the green stone and silver band. The bright green flakes caught in the stone reflected the candle light and made the stone shine.
A strangled noise escaped Merlin's throat as he realized what he was doing. "Gaius, I can't -"
"This ring..." Gaius interrupted softly, "was given to me by my father... and his father gifted it to him..."
The physician smiled proudly. "And now I'm giving it to you, my boy." He reached up again and cupped Merlin's face. "You are the son I never had and I..." Tears budded in his tender grey eyes as he swallowed thickly. "I am so proud of you... of everything you've done..."
Things between them were still broken - shattered really - but Arthur took a deep breath, knowing that there was still hope for them to mend their friendship.An uncountable number of things ran across the king's mind, and he took a drink of the wine Merlin had poured him.
He briefly wondered how he'd trusted the boy, the sorcerer, enough to drink something he'd served him, and felt another wave of guilt. If Merlin had wanted him dead, he would have had plenty of opportunities over the years: poisonings, random bandit attacks, Morgana... Merlin didn't even need to do anything...
But he had done something... he'd protected him... all this time... all these years...
The warlock, who sat across from him at the table, scratched tiredly at the dark wood, blue eyes vacant and thoughtful at the same time. He'd been doing the same thing intermittently all night as he told his long tale.
Arthur opened his mouth to say something, but his voice caught in his throat. Merlin pretended not to notice, but Arthur saw his eyes grow more aware. The king's lips worked and finally, the words came. "Thank you... for telling me, Merlin."
Surprise shone on the servant's face as if he was genuinely confused. But after a moment of thought, there was a hint of gratitude in Merlin's understanding calcite eyes, and the warlock nodded. His full lips parted, and Arthur already knew what he was going to say.
"I should get back to Gaius..."
The king took in Merlin's wrinkled clothing, noting the way his shoulders slumped as if in defeat and the way his were glazed and dulled. "You need sleep, Merlin. Guinevere is watching over Gaius."
"But I need to be there -"
"Merlin, please, you'll run yourself into the ground if you keep this up... We will wake you if there is any change."
The warlock's jaw clenched, and his shoulders dropped even more. Arthur swore he saw tears pushing against his glazed blue eyes. "Promise?"
Arthur felt a rush of sympathy, fighting the urge to stand and embrace Merlin in remembrance of their fractured relationship. "I promise."
"...Of everything you will do," Gaius continued. Merlin brought his free hand up and placed it on top of Gaius', the other still clutching the ring. "You have such a great destiny ahead of you... and... my only regret... is that I won't be there to see it..."
Merlin flinched and tensed, tears falling freely from his tumultuous eyes, rolling down his cheekbone and wetting Gaius' hand before gravity pulled them further downwards. "Gaius... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
The physician shushed him, affectionately wiping the tears from his ward's eye. "You... have nothing to be sorry for, my boy... It's my time..."
"No," Merlin begged.
"How is he?" Arthur asked now that Leon, Percival, and Elyan were gone.
After the attack, Percival had carried the physician to his chambers, Merlin running ahead anxiously the entire time before doubling back. When they'd finally arrived, the knight had set Gaius down on his bed, and Merlin had rifled through all kinds of vials and bottles before choosing specific ones and rushing back to his bedside. Arthur, Gwen, and the knights had taken it all in stride, still unbelieving of what they'd just witnessed, and watched as Merlin frantically gave Gaius potions, even whispering something under his breath -a spell, Arthur assumed.
It had been hours now, and Merlin adjusted Gaius' blankets before running a hand through his hair. Arthur's mind wondered briefly why he hadn't had Merlin carted off to the dungeons, but Gwaine, who Arthur had assigned to 'keep an eye' on Merlin, glanced at him, as if to remind him of the conversation they'd had.
Merlin released a shaky breath, putting his head in his hands and pulling at his dark locks. "I-I don't know. The spell seems to have burnt through him... I mean, not physically, but... he's d-dying -and there's no reason for it... His body's shutting down... I don't know how long he has."
Gaius looked up towards Gwen, taking in her beautiful features as his hand fell lightly from Merlin's grief-stricken face. "Oh, my little Gwennie," he said affectionately, using a nickname she hadn't heard since she was eight. "Take care... will you? ...And please take care of Merlin. I'm afraid he doesn't do a very good job of it."
Arthur sat at a table a few feet from Gaius' bed, watching with blank eyes as Gwen stirred the stew. Merlin was there too, sitting on a stool next to Gaius as usual with his elbow resting on his knee and his face cupped in his hand. He wasn't sure if the boy was even awake or not...
"Gwen," he whispered.
She turned towards him and followed his gaze to the servant and physician. Her eyes softened, and she set the ladle down on the table and walked to Merlin. Arthur watched her put her hand over her lip in thought before she crouched down and cupped Merlin's chin in her hand, setting the other carefully on his shoulder.
By the way Merlin started, Arthur guessed that he had, in fact, been asleep. Guinevere whispered something to him, eyes soft and almost pleading, and Merlin shook his head, dark hair flashing a deep blue in the pale candle light, reminding Arthur of his glowing blue shield from the attack. Guinevere said something else to him, and the warlock shook his head once more, less passionate this time, and Gwen's hand moved to the back of Merlin's tousled head. She pulled it forward and pulled him into a brief but tight hug before standing once more and planting a soft kiss in his ebony hair.
She walked back towards the hearth and threw a few more logs onto the fire. It hissed and spat at her but accepted the offering, and Gwen moved to sit across from Arthur, eyes on Merlin's back.
"I'm worried about him, Arthur."
The king's brow furrowed, and he glanced between Merlin and his wife.
"He doesn't sleep... barely eats... I don't know what to do."
Guinevere gave him a watery, understanding smile, and squeezed Merlin's shoulder before bending down and planting a tender kiss on Gaius snow coloured brow. "Of course, Gaius... I promise."
Gaius smiled softly. "Thank you, my dear."
His voice was weakening, and they all knew he didn't have much time left.
"Merlin, I... don't have to tell you to... take care of our king and queen."
The servant let out a small breath of laughter, tears rolling freely down his face. "Nope."
Gaius smiled and nodded approvingly. "Good... and the knights too... they can't... can't do everything themselves..."
"Darn it, Arthur," Gwaine whispered passionately outside the physician's chambers. "I trust Merlin with my life, and his little display back there did nothing to change that."
"He used magic, Gwaine -"
"- Yes, to protect us -"
"- I don't care. I want him watched."
Gwaine threw his hands up in exasperation. "Fine! I'll do it! I'll allow this because I know that you're feeling betrayed and hurt, but I will not allow Merlin to be guarded by a complete stranger that would probably run him through if he so much as talked to him." After a moment, Gwaine's voice softened as brown his eyes lost their fire. "But, Arthur, Merlin isn't another Agravaine... or Morgana."
Arthur ran his hand through his hair, not meeting the knight's almost pleading eyes. "We'll see."
Merlin squeezed Gaius' hand, fear flashing across his eyes when Gaius made no sign of feeling the pressure. "I promise."
"Too... pigheaded, I suppose," Gaius offered with a grin.
Arthur smirked and bowed his head. Gwaine flashed him a small smile while Leon, Percival, and Elyan all shuffled their feet mournfully.
Merlin grinned softly, feeling the stone of the ring pressing into his skin. "They're nobles."
Gaius laughed weakly. "I-I wouldn't say that... Merlin... your father was... almost a noble... once."
Gwen's brow furrowed in confusion, and she looked to Arthur, as did the other knights. Their eyes met, and Arthur nodded in confirmation.
"He was a Dragonlord," Merlin smiled proudly.
"But he didn't want... a knighthood." Gaius laughed. "You should... have seen, Merlin... some of the crazy things your... father did... Worse than Gwaine."
Gwaine smiled softly, fresh tears sparkling in his auburn eyes.
The physician's eyes softened and his smile weakened. "You look... so much like him..."
Arthur saw Merlin's shaking hand tighten on Gaius' hand until his knuckles were white. "Yeah?"
"It's uncanny..." Gaius continued. His voice weakened further, and Arthur could barely hear his soft whisper. "Merlin..."
"Don't you dare say goodbye, Gaius."
"No... I just..." His eyes closed, Merlin tensed, and Gaius' grey eyes opened again. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief and clenched his fist at his side, feeling a pang of sorrow.
The king stroked Gaius' hair, though careful not to wake the sleeping physician. "I don't know if you can hear me," he whispered to the sleeping physician. "But Merlin seems to think you can if his talking to you meant anything..." Arthur glanced up towards Merlin's room, seeing the bottoms of his feet and feeling relieved to see the boy motionless and finally sleeping.
Arthur let a small tear roll down his face, grateful for the emptiness in the room. "I guess I have you to thank for helping him, Gaius. Some of the things he told me about... I don't know what I'd have done in his place."
The king ran his hand beneath his nose, a sudden longing for Gaius to just openhis eyes pulling at his heart, and his next words, meant to fight what he knew was the inevitable, came without filter, "Please, Gaius... You're like a father to me. You have to get through this... If not for me or Camelot... then for him."
Arthur stopped, taking a breath and clenching his jaw. "I'm not sure what's going to happen between us... but I could never execute him though, Gaius... no matter what he'd done. I just... it's... I can't get past the lies... I wish you were awake...
"He says there's nothing that can be done," Arthur sniffed. "I even let him try a few healing spells... and he asked me first. He asked me if he could use his magic... God, Gaius, even when you're - you're still right... He's still Merlin."
Merlin groped for the physician's wrist, frantically placing his index and middle finger on Gaius' artery. "Gaius?"
He blinked slowly, looking as if he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. But nevertheless, his soft, blue-grey eyes met with Merlin's kaleidoscope ones, and every memory, every exchange, every heartfelt talk, decision, every emotion: fondness, hope, kindness, but first and foremost, love, swam in them. He smiled softly. "Thank you, Merlin... For... everything..."
And finally, Gaius' eyes closed for the last time, and he let out a long breath as his body relaxed. He looked to all the world to be sleeping, but Arthur knew that wasn't the case and choked back a sob.
The warlock remained stock still in his chair, one shaking hand still holding Gaius' wrist while the other remained in a tight fist, holding the ring. After a few moments he shifted, rising from his seat as it creaked and pulling away from where Gwen clenched his shoulder to get closer to Gaius. He stood beside his bed and set his hand on the crown of Gaius' head, leaning down to softly kiss his brow and reminding Arthur of when he'd done the same thing at his father's vigil.
After he'd done that, he turned towards the general room, head lowered to hide his face. His efforts were in vain, however, and the torment in Merlin's watery eyes sent daggers of cold ice through Arthur's heart. The boy fiddled with his hands in front of him at his abdomen, and it was easy to see the trembling of the servant's frame.
"I-I..." he tried, voice fluctuating. "I'm going for a walk."
And before anyone could respond, Merlin rushed for the door, releasing a strangled choking noise as he left. The door banged close behind him, and the air in the room suddenly lost a little of its tenseness.
"Sire, what about Merlin?"
"Gaius needs treatment, Leon..."
"But his magic, Arthur -"
"-I know, but if Gaius has any chance... I have Gwaine keeping an eye on him anyway."
Leon wiped his red eyes. "I can't believe..."
"I know..." Elyan said, already knowing his thoughts.
Gwaine swallowed audibly, sniffing and clearing his throat. "I can't even think about what Merlin's going through. Gaius was... everything to him..."
And the king felt another stab of sorrow, and Arthur's head whipped to Gwen, who was turning her gaze from the door to his own. Their eyes met, and Guinevere nodded, chocolate eyes accepting and encouraging.
"Go after him, Arthur. We'll take care of things here."
Arthur's gaze flickered over his knights, and they all gave him small, even proud, smiles, and Arthur rushed out after Merlin.
"Maybe you should speak with him?" Guinevere suggested. "He's been shut up in his room since the attack two days ago -scared to death, I'm sure- about Gaius' state and what you'll think of him..."
"Why should he care what I think about him?" Arthur retorted. "He's a sorcerer."
Gwen bit her lip and walked forward, folding Arthur's hands in hers. Her eyes burned with gently pleading and her voice was soft, but firm. "He's your friend, Arthur... If he didn't tell any of us about his magic, thenI'm sure he had good reasons for it. But you cannot learn what they are if you continue to avoid him."
"I'm not avoiding him," he protested.
"For as long as he's been shut in Gaius' chambers, you've shut yourself up in this room, Arthur. Don't try to tell me you're not avoiding him! Go talk to him!"
Arthur finally breathed a sigh of defeat, feeling his spirit wane as he gave in.He felt a rush of worry and anxiety at the thought of broaching the subject of magic with Merlin and carefully brought Gwen's hands up to kiss her knuckles. "Let me speak with Gaius first... Tomorrow, I promise."
A list of places where Merlin would go ran through his head, and Arthur stopped by his own chambers first. They were eerily empty and chilly this late at night and the king, letting out a small breath of worry for his servant, closed his chamber door and moved on. The next place he checked were the kitchens, after that the armoury and every corridor in between. Arthur ran his hand through his hair, moving on.
All in all, it took Arthur a little over half an hour to find Merlin standing on the battlements, looking hollowly towards the waning moon and the darkened lower town. Arthur clenched and unclenched his hands nervously at his side before walking towards his friend and, in like manner with the warlock, setting his elbows on the battlements and leaning on it. From this vantage point, he saw more of Merlin's face, and more concern wove his way into his heart.
The boy had tear stains trailing his face, and his nose and usually spirited eyes were red from crying. His lips were relaxed and parted as though he was breathing through his mouth rather than his nose, and his body was tense but still shaking. Arthur guessed he had known he was coming and had perhaps tried to compose himself. It didn't work though; Arthur could see the shining tears that still pushed against the warlock's eyes, willing to be let out.
"I've never seen him so stressed, Arthur," Gwaine said with worry. "He's even worse than when Gaius was kidnapped."
Gwen nodded in agreement. "He doesn't have anything to work towards. When Gaius was kidnapped, Merlin had a goal -find Gaius, and he worked at it, but now..." She glanced at the dozing warlock. "He just feels helpless."
"He's going to wear himself out if he's not careful," Gwaine added, following her gaze.
Arthur bobbed his head, biting his lip with silent worry. He eyed the servant, noting the dark shadows beneath his dull blue eyes and the hard lines around his mouth. "Has he slept at all these past few days?"
"Only snatches -two hours at the most."
The boy sniffed and let his head hang, staring at something in his hands. The object shifted, and, in the moonlight, Arthur recognized Gaius' ring. Merlin ran his thumb across the sparkling green stone, other hand fingering the large band of silver. There was a moment of silence as Merlin's Adam's apple bobbed with a swallow and what the servant said back to him was far from something he'd expected.
"I'll leave if you want me to."
The king's brow scrunched in confusion. Leave...? Oh...
Merlin expected himself to be banished. But how could he think that? Arthur knew that they hadn't talked very much over the past week, with the exception of the night Merlin told his story, but then again, Arthur himself hadn't talked much then- but did Merlin really think that Arthur would banish him now that Gaius was gone? After everything Merlin had done for them all?
"Arthur, did you speak with Merlin?" Guinevere asked, moving her hand along her husband's bare chest.
Arthur turned his head to look at her, hair becoming tousled as it pressed against the pillow. He pulled her closer to his side, fresh sorrow making its way through his heart. Her eyes were curious and questioning. "Yes."
He felt her soft breath on his bare chest. "And?"
"He told me..." Arthur answered numbly, vacant eyes looking towards the canopy of the bed. "He told me everything. All of it. Some of the things he said, Guinevere –what he's been through... I can't even..."
"I know," Gwen said with a small, pleased smile lighting her eyes. Then the smile faded and was replaced by keen interest and concern. "What're you going to do?"
Arthur knew what she was talking about-the law. For the love of Camelot, it was all he could think about. "I don't know... I can't execute him though. Only 'cause I promised Gaius -"
The king smiled and hugged her tighter against him until a small grin lit her face. "I was only joking." Shortly afterward though, his eyes hardened, and his mouth set itself into a hard line as his voice grew emotionless. "But I never could, Guinevere. Not Merlin. Not ever."
"No, I want... I want you to stay, Merlin," he fumbled. He thought he saw the servant heave a shaky inwards sigh of relief, and some of his body lost its tenseness. His guard, as well, dropped ever so slightly, and a small tear fell out of the pit of his eye, and his body began visibly shaking again.
"But that's not what I came here for," Arthur continued, clearing his throat thoughtfully. "I came to see how you were doing."
Merlin's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, still not meeting Arthur's eyes. "F-fine..." he said, voice cracking from his abused throat. "I'm fine..."
"Yeah, I can see that," Arthur replied with gentle sarcasm, narrowing his eyes with concern.
Merlin flinched ever so slightly, leaning more heavily on the stone wall as his body shook with a choked sob. That was all it took for Arthur's light blue eyes to soften even further and for him to drape his arm carefully across the warlock's shoulder blades.
At the small offering of comfort, Merlin finally broke. He turned, Arthur's arm falling slightly, and finally met Arthur's gaze. Time slowed, and the king felt like he'd been punched in the gut -twice, at the pure and unrelenting agony in Merlin's tear-filled eyes.
"What happened in Ealdor -that whirlwind - it was you, wasn't it? Not Will?"
Merlin, tight-lipped, nodded. "Will died protecting my secret."
Arthur felt his own fresh grief swelter up in him, pity right there along with it, and he put his hand gently on Merlin's shoulder again.
"I killed Freya?" Arthur asked, astounded even as a rush of guilt flowed through him.
Merlin's eyes softened. "You were only doing what you thought was best for Camelot."
The servant's hands were clenched at his sides, and a fat tear made its way out of his pale blue eye. His body trembled and Arthur put his other hand on Merlin's other shoulder.
"Balinor..." Arthur fumbled, not knowing how he could still be surprised at the things Merlin told him. "Balinor was your father?"
"Yes... and... he died protecting me."
"He's gone, Arthur," Merlin cried, more tears building on the rim of his lower eyelid and falling down off his long black eyelashes to his porcelain cheekbone.
Arthur pulled him towards him, wrapping his arms around the boy's shoulders and holding him tight as the floodgate broke. He buried his face in Merlin's shoulder and laid his hand on the back of the servant's head, pushing the warlock's face into the crook of his neck as hot tears fell against Arthur's neck.
"Gaius is gone," Merlin choked, breath hitching erratically. "He's gone, Arthur. He's gone..."
The king hugged him tighter, short fingers tangling in Merlin's ebony locks as he too, felt a tear finally roll down his face. "I know, Merlin, I know, and I'm so sorry."
"Wait, Gaius tried to give his life for yours?"
Merlin nodded sadly, eyes heavy with guilt. "He said that I had my whole life ahead of me... so he went to the Isle of the Blessed in my stead."
The warlock sobbed, and Arthur tried to pull him closer. Merlin finally raised his limp arms to wrap around his friend's chest to the center of his back, and he fisted the material of Arthur's shirt in his hands. "He's gone..."
"Gaius knew who my father was the entire time... But he and my mother were trying to protect me. They knew that it would only make my life more difficult."
"But weren't you angry at him?"
"At first... but how could I stay angry at him if he was only trying to keep me safe?"
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Merlin."
"No," Merlin stated passionately, "Gaius has nothing to do with this. It was my decision."
"But he knew about your secret, and he chose to -"
"Protect me. He was only trying to protect me."
Merlin's cries grew, and one of Arthur' hands rubbed small circles into the boy's back while the other stayed entangled comfortingly in his hair. The warlock trembled violently in his hold, and Arthur felt a sudden rush of hot tears against his neck as Merlin clung to him like a bur. The raw emotions, Arthur knew, were not helped with Merlin's lack of sleep, nor with his negligence of his health recently.
"Okay..." Arthur said slowly, trying to process the information. "So Gaius was kidnapped because Morgana wanted Emrys -you?"
"Yes. He endured torture to protect me."
A sob forced its way from Merlin's tender throat, and he coughed raggedly, lungs begging for air. Arthur rubbed his back more vigorously until his breathing was less crude, fear shooting through his heart in regards to the boy's own health.
"I'm here, Merlin. I'm here."
Merlin whimpered brokenly and pulled on Arthur's shirt, digging his face further into his best friend's neck. "H-he's g-gone."
Arthur finally let his own guard down, and his body shook in unison with Merlin's.
"I'm not mad at Gaius, Merlin," Arthur protested gently. "He did what he thought was right and that's all I can ask from any of my people. He's like a father to me too, remember."
The protective fire died from Merlin's eyes to be replaced by tired weariness. "I know. I'm sorry."
"It will be alright, Merlin. It will. I promise," Arthur offered weakly.
Merlin didn't answer but continued crying into Arthur's shoulder as the king allowed himself to cry into Merlin's. Gaius had been a father to everyone; What would they do without him?
"Gwen... can we talk?"
Immediately the queen's brow scrunched, and her lips hardened with concern as she took Arthur's hands carefully in hers. "Of course, Arthur. What is it?"
"I've been thinking..."
"Merlin would say that's dangerous," Gwen quipped.
Arthur chuckled and softly grasped her chin, kissing her forehead with a smile and gaining confidence from Guinevere's purposeful jab. "I'm considering legalizing magic."
A smile suddenly graced the queen's face, and she reached up to cup Arthur's face lovingly. "Oh, Arthur, that's wonderful!"
"So you like the idea?"
Gwen's smile widened. "Of course I do. Merlin will be so happy. Gaius too."
"Merlin, listen to me," Arthur said, placing his hands on the boy's biceps and gently pushing him backwards. Merlin reluctantly let go but didn't seem to have the strength to keep his head up. "I'm going to bring magic back -we're going to bring magic back. Together."
The warlock's sapphire eyes suddenly met his, startled and confused. The tears still gathered in his eyes sparkled in the moonlight as did the tear-tracks on his face. "W-what?"
Arthur's hands worked as he picked at his fingernails nervously. "The sorceress - when she was talking about Emrys... that's you? You're Emrys?"
Merlin swallowed, evidently uncomfortable with the tense air. "That's what the druid's call me. It's a title really, rather than an actual name..."
"And this 'Once and Future King'... You've called me that before. Am I...?"
The warlock met his eyes, blue orbs suddenly filled with calm conviction and pride. "Yes, Arthur. You're the Once and Future King."
"We're bringing back magic, Merlin -you and me. Together. Like we're supposed to. The Once and Future King and Emrys." And Arthur didn't care is his eyes shone with excited tears, or if his own weariness was making him emotional. Merlin needed this. "For Gaius. We'll have it dedicated to Gaius and you and everything either of you have ever done for this kingdom -for me. How does that sound?"
Abruptly, Merlin jumped forward, wrapping his long arms tightly around his king again and crying into his shoulder -this time, both tears of sorrowful grief and heartfelt gratitude. Arthur hugged him just as tightly back as more tears fell from his eyelashes, and after he felt Merlin shift to bury his head into his neck, Arthur heard him mumble something like 'thank you' against his damp skin.
Arthur knew he didn't deserve it - he was only righting a very ill wrong - but Merlin's gratitude sent a rush of brotherly affection through his heart where it spread throughout the rest of his body. He smiled and pulled Merlin closer, stroking the boy's shining hair placatingly as he cried himself dry in his arms.
Tomorrow, he knew, would come all too soon. And things would change for the both of them -for the entire kingdom, but they would stand beside each other as equals, as brothers, and face it with courage and anticipation because tomorrow would begin a new day: The time of the Once and Future King and Emrys.
I know, sappy ending, but it's me, and I always have to have a sappy ending. :') *virtual tissues to anyone who needs them* Thank you all for reading and please drop a review if you want to. I always love hearing feedback. :)
Also, on a random note, I watched Rise of the Guardians and absolutely fell in love with Jack. And I can't help but draw parallels between Jack and Merlin: the feelings of being unseen, of trying but not being good enough, the angst of wanting to know who you are and why you were put in the position you're in, and just... GAH. It was so good, and I was fangirling over it while my eyes watered. *sheepish grin* I might watch it again... ;)
Anyway, please review, and thanks again for reading! :D