A/N: Merry Christmas everyone! I'm soooooo sorry for the long wait! I had this chapter typed up less than two weeks after the last chapter, but I have been unable to get it betaed yet. The vast majority voted for me to just post this in all of its flawed glory, so be nice, I know there will be plenty of mistakes. Hopefully, I will be able to repost with a betaed chapter, with maybe a few revisions, but I will have to wait until real life releases my poor beta from captivity :D
Anyway, this is it, the final chapter! I'm not very happy with it, but I needed to end this story and I just hope it works despite my critical eye. My beta used to give me a lot of great advice, and ideas, so without it going through her first, I'm kind of nervous.
Thank you all my loyal readers, and faithful reviewers. I still can't believe this story received over 300 reviews. I'm so happy that I was able to pass the finish line after 3 years, and hope that you are all content with how everything wraps up. This might be my last story, and I'm just glad I was able to complete it. I have come to realize that I seem to do better in the art department of this fandom, so I may be focusing more on drawing our boys than writing about them.
I signed up for the Merlin reverse big bang, and submitted 3 works for it. There were so many great art pieces; I can tell that come March we will have a lot of amazing stories to add to this fandom. I can't wait to read them!
Thank you, EchoRose480 for all your help, dedicated efforts, and for sticking with me all this time. You can't imagine how much it helped just knowing you were there. I don't believe I would have finished without you. *hugs* You're the best beta ever, and I hope life gives you a breather soon! :D
Disclaimer: I still don't own Merlin, if I did, I wouldn't have destroyed half the rain forest via used tissue over 5X13 :P
Chapter - Midnight Discussions
Silence stretches out around them, and Merlin can feel his fingers trembling anxiously. The sweat on his brow is beading anew, each drop gathering until it releases, cascading in tiny rivulets down his pale skin. Quickly it all becomes too much, and unable to bare the quiet for another moment, he spouts, "Sire," his voice a hoarse croak, and he grimaces at the desperation he hears quivering from within its timbre.
Immediately, Arthur interrupts him, stopping any further vocal attempts with a firm wave of his hand.
"Just…just wait," he implores, "for a moment, I need you to wait."
Merlin flounders at the order, but heeds it none-the-less, pursing his lips together in sudden uncharacteristic obedience. Unable to maintain eye contact, he pulls his gaze away from the Prince, and an unbearable stillness falls over the room for a second time.
Arthur stands there, lined face cradled in his palms, fingers massaging his temples as he futilely attempts to make sense of his jumbled thoughts. Once more, an uncomfortable tension settles over his shoulders, the stillness around him disturbed only by the sporadic shifting of his booted feet. With a weary exhalation, Arthur finds himself reaching for the back of a nearby chair, the loud grating noise of the wood as he drags it across the floor has Merlin suddenly looking up, the younger man watching warily as the prince pulls the piece of furniture towards his cot.
Arthur drops into the seat with a loud groan, his long exhalation voicing without words the true extent of his weariness both in body and mind. Rubbing a hand over his pinched face, the prince inhales, pulling in a calming breath before allowing himself to lean forward, the position permitting both men to look evenly into each other's troubled eyes,
"Is it true?" he begins, "Is it true that you were born with magic?"
Merlin swallows hesitantly before nodding,
"Yes" he answers honestly, forcing himself to maintain eye contact, despite the strong temptation to do otherwise. He tries to force as much self-pride as he can into that one word, because he won't let anyone believe that he is ashamed of being who he is, has been, and always will be.
"Then why come to Camelot?" Arthur asks in disbelief, "Why come to the very heart of magical persecution?"
Merlin laughs but the sound isn't jovial, and neither is the wan smile that turns his lips, both expressions are tired and underlined with blatant irony. "You don't seem to understand that I didn't have a choice in the matter."
"What do you mean you didn't have a choice" Arthur snorts incredulously. "Did someone bind your hands and drag you into the city, force you to walk through the gates and into the citadel itself."
"You are a prat." Merlin scoffs, the familiar insult falling instinctively from his lips before he can even think to repress it, and a blush forms high on his cheeks.
"I…No one…I wasn't…ghah!" he shakes his head in frustration, dark locks shifting messily across his forehead. "I wasn't forced to do anything." He states firmly, "but my mother did urge me to go, and I did it, because neither of us knew what else to do."
Merlin could tell by Arthur's dubious expression, that the prince was going to need more of an explanation than that in order to fully grasp the reasons behind his servant's seemingly suicidal decision. So with that in mind, Merlin lets out a calming breath, preparing himself to speak,
"You must understand that my first lessons in life were to hide." He begins, licking his chapped lips nervously. "When other children were playing outdoors, I was watching from the window because mother wouldn't let me go out."
"I didn't have very much control then. My magic would simply react instinctively to my emotions or desires, and it was too much of a risk to let me run amuck with the other children."
"I began to wonder if maybe I was a monster." He admitted his eyes saddening in remembrance. "I knew that people were scared of those who were like me-that we were hated. Some of my earliest memories are having my mother ingrain it into my very being that I was never to reveal myself, that death was what awaited me should I slip up. She would always do everything she could to make me feel like I was special and that it was the people's ignorance that was wrong and not me, but she didn't always succeed. Most of the time I just felt shunned, like an outcast, a bastard child." A brief flood of grief fills him, his eyes glazing slightly as his words continue to stir up long buried emotions. He lowers his head further and rubs a trembling hand over his face in a vain effort to compose himself. Inhaling deeply, Merlin glances up and sees that despite his efforts, the Prince is very much aware of his moment of weakness, and Merlin looks away flushing faintly, but finds himself no less deterred.
"As I got older," he continues shakily, "I… my powers grew with me, but at the same time, I also gained more control over them. I never had a problem until I reached the age of around eighteen winters, and that was when I started to find it increasingly more difficult to refrain from doing sudden bursts of magic." He explained, "and it was because of this lack of control, that my mother sent me to Camelot."
Merlin pauses, his teeth biting at his lips worryingly. "She uhmm, she had an old friend," he shares hesitantly. "and she had hoped that he would be able to help me - to teach me to control my powers so that I could live as normal of a life as one could bearing such gifts as mine."
"Gaius," Arthur knowingly voices, and a lie instinctively leaps to the tip of Merlin's tongue, but he quickly suppresses it. If there was any hope for reconciliation, he was going to have to be truthful, there could be no more lies between them,
"Yes," he trustingly admits, "it was Gaius who I sought help from."
Arthur doesn't ask anything more despite the confirmation, he simply nods, and motions for his servant to continue.
"Well when it came down to it, I was nervous to leave my village," Merlin says. "But I did it. I had too."
"The fear of what would become of me or my mother if I couldn't reign in my magic, far outweighed any fear I may have had about going to Camelot. To be honest, I didn't even know the true extent to which my kind were being persecuted there, nor did I know that according to Camelot I had been committing treason from the time I'd been born."
"But I did learn, I learned the moment I walked through the castle gates and I saw a man die for sorcery, beheaded amidst a crowd of ignorant people."
Merlin falls silent and waits; he can literally feel the weight of Arthur's scrutiny, and with a burst of courage he lifts his gaze to meet the prince's.
"I believe you" Arthur breathes, and Merlin can see the sincerity in his friend's eyes. The relief he feels his so intense, that he swears he may end up crying at the Prince's feet, becoming the girls petticoat he's so often accused of being.
"I think I understand why you came now," Arthur admits, "but what would make you stay? Why not leave after knowing what the consequences of being caught using magic would be?"
Merlin can see the need for understanding reflecting deep from within Arthur's gaze, the prince clearly desiring to understand his servant's motive, while Merlin wholly yearns for the other man's acceptance. In the end Merlin can't help but give the man a genuine smile "You" he replies with honest conviction.
"Me!?" Arthur splutters, obviously taken back, having not expected the answer. "What do you mean me?"
"After I arrived, I met Gaius and he promised to help me, and then I met you. To be honest I thought you were terrible, and I told Gaius as much, but even after our fight in marketplace and all our differences, I still couldn't let you die, and so that night at the feast I used my magic to save you."
"Pulling me out from the path of an oncoming dagger is hardly magic" Arthur points out.
Merlin snorts, "It is if you're too far away and had to slow down time to get there."
Arthur blanches, while Merlin grins victoriously,
"So you saved me with magic," the prince concedes after a pause, "What does that have to do with staying in Camelot?"
"After that a…friend told me that maybe that was what my magic was for. That maybe I was meant to protect you, and so I lied, I lied every day to survive, lied to you and everyone else countless times while in Camelot. The only truth I can give you is that I may have broken your laws by living, and I may have betrayed your trust by lying, but I have never betrayed Camelot or you where it matters most. I have always been loyal to you sire, and I have stood with you, beside you-all of you. I have done everything in my power to protect both you and the city in secret, hiding amidst the shadows battling magic with magic, when your swords could not hope to prevail alone, and I did it all because you're a good man Arthur, and I know you will be an even greater king - the once and future king."
And with those words, the same one's Gaylen had spoken, Arthurs face drains of all color, expression going from awe struck to utter shock.
"The once and future king is just a druid's tale, you can't possibly believe all that stuff the Physician was spouting off about earlier."
"I do," Merlin admits, "and that was not the first time I have heard the prophecies either. You are him, you will be that King sire. You have a great destiny, and you will bring the time of peace and prosperity that has long been awaited and foretold."
"So that's why you stayed then, because of some tale spoken of by the druids, because I'm supposed to be some great king that unites lands and lets you practice magic?"
Before Merlin can even blink, Arthur abruptly stands, the sudden force overturning his chair. The wood loudly impacts the floor, but the prince doesn't even flinch as he swiftly moves towards the door.
"Arthur no!" Merlin pleads, diving forward in an attempt to follow. An agonized cry tears from his lips as he lands in a tangled heap on the floor, his body instinctively curling into a fetal position. He tucks his arms in, pressing them to his sides, his breath coming out in short strangled gasps, as black spots hover in front of his eyes. His ears are ringing, and it takes a moment to realize that Arthur hasn't left the room, but is actually there beside him, his strong arms sliding up and under his damaged body as they work to lift him back onto the cot.
"You idiot!" he hears when his hearing begins to clear, and he forces his eyes to open. Arthur's face is right there, expression both concerned and anxious, and Merlin feels an inexplicable amount of relief. He reaches out and grasps the front of the Prince's tunic with a trembling hand, "That's not why" he gasps, desperately wanting Arthur to understand, "That's not why I stay." He insists.
Arthur's worried eyes crinkle as his expression shifts, and Merlin finds himself holding on to the man's tunic a little bit tighter. "At first it was because I was told it was my destiny, but that's not why I stay-I swear it!" he hisses, "I stay for you Arthur, I stay because of the man you are, not who you will be. I stay because I see greatness in you, and I know you will bring that greatness to Camelot. More than that though, above all else, I stay because you are my friend." Merlin's face crumples, tears filling his eyes, and he tries to choke back the desperate sob that wants to escape. His vision is blurring, and he can't make out the Prince's expression, but he doesn't need to, not when Arthur's hands carefully ease them into an awkward embrace, not when calloused fingers thread gently through the hairs at his nape.
Overwhelmed, he cries then, giant heaving sobs that shake his lithe frame. "I'm sorry" he gasps, tucking himself closer as if trying to disappear. "I'm so sorry."
"I know you are," Arthur murmurs, "I forgive you"
The prince holds the body in his arms tighter, "I want you to know that I'm sorry too, I'm sorry that you've had to hide, that you've suffered, I'm just sorry…my friend."
Merlin nods in acknowledgement, his head still tucked into the prince's shoulder. Moments ticks by, marked only by the falling wax from nearby candles, before Merlin sniffles softly. He quickly composes himself, while continuing to bask in the peace that has begun to settle over him.
"What will you do?" he mumbles, face still hidden within the folds of the princes tunic.
"Nothing" Arthur replies, pulling back so that he can properly look into his servants red-rimmed eyes. "This changes everything, yet nothing at all." He continues, "However, I want the truth. I don't want to feel like a fool anymore."
"You were never a fool," Merlin insists, "Never. But I can do that for you, I can give you the truth. I promise."
Arthur smiles thankfully, "That's all I would ask from you" he says, and then his fond expression slowly turns thoughtful, "Do you really believe I'm the Once and Future King?" he asks curiously.
Merlin beams, his eyes brimming with honest admiration. "Yes," he answers fervently, "I know you are."
Arthur seems to accept the response and leans back, looking at the man before him, his eyes revealing the true depths of his inner reflections. "Gaylen said…I mean, are you…" with a frustrated sigh, Arthur shakes his head.
"No" Merlin asserts forcefully, curling his fingers into the other man's shoulder with a reassuring squeeze. "What do you want to know?" he asks, "I'll answer…anything."
Arthur nods, and with a lick of his lips he voices his inner suspicions. "You're him aren't you; you're Emrys, the powerful sorcerer that stands by the king… by me?"
Merlin's eyes widen in surprise, and he has to push down the instinctual panic that tries to rear up within him at the utterance of his prophesied name, because it's ok now, and Arthur needs to know.
"Yes" he answers, his voice calm and sure. "Yes, I am." He repeats.
Arthur smiles and clasps his arm as if greeting a fellow knight, and it's as though for the first time they are truly seeing each other for what they truly are, maybe even for what they will be.
"If this destiny lark is true then, it looks like I'm stuck with you." Arthur teases.
"That's not so bad is it?" Merlin asks, eyes twinkling cheekily.
"No, it's not actually," Arthur says with surprising honesty. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather do this with."
Merlin's responding smile is blinding.