Well, this is rather painful. Considering I've already finished two(?) major stories, I thought that posting the last chapter/epilogue would get easier. Nope. It still hurts. Anyway, here it is. It took me a full year to write this, and I am so proud of it. As my first full return fic, I think I did pretty well. ;) There'll be more coming for this universe, don't worry. I already have one of the one-shots written and I'm working on the next. Also, I got an idea from Thriving Ivory's "Flowers For A Ghost" for a one-shot about Merlin's past, and since you're all asking for more of that, I may write it as a sort of prequel to RM. :)
This chapter's title is taken from Hurts "Somebody To Die For," which is fantastic. I was obsessed with this song for many weeks, trust me. Some more songs I would highly recommend (because I feel like they go with RM and they're super angsty and may appear later) are "Remember Me" by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, "Leave Out All The Rest" by Linkin Park, "Is This The Day?" by Hoobastank, and "We're Still Here" by Sleeping At Last. The latter is perfect for Arthur talking to Merlin in Camelot, or in RM. CaptainOzone, ErinNovelist, and myself were shooting each other angsty songs last night and were kinda killing each other with feels. ;D
Lastly, since it was a very common question, yes, Gaius will be returning in the sequel, but not in a way you'd expect. I'm slowly laying the foundation for that in my chapters. :)
Chapter 26 - Somebody To Die For
They walked back to the room slowly, Merlin hobbling along. He had made the mistake of uttering a complaint about his throbbing leg, and Arthur's hand had not moved from his elbow since. The warlock, though, ever the fifteen hundred seasoned physician, refused Arthur's offer to call for the doctor, saying that it'd simply fallen asleep and had nothing to do with his wound. Arthur humored him but rolled his eyes, helping him stretch out on his bed to take the weight off his side.
Arthur shut the thick door, making sure that no one would be able to overhear his phone call. Merlin's perception filter thing would be handy right now, but the detective was convinced that it had weakened Merlin more than he would admit, though he was grateful for it when they were in the middle of the cafeteria. His hypothesis was solidified when he turned round to see that his friend's eyelids had slipped shut and his breathing had shallowed.
"'Course," he muttered fondly. "Lazy idiot."
The detective walked towards the window, peering out the heavy curtain and wincing as the sunlight assaulted his eyes. The weather had chilled, and autumn was on its way. As he pulled his phone out, Arthur briefly wondered if they'd see snow this year.
He unlocked the touch screen and called his friend, briefly explaining the situation and "Yes, Gwaine, Merlin's fine. Give Leon the phone back." When he got to the part about destroying the evidence, however, Leon had the same objections he had.
"I know, Leon. Just trust me. Merlin and I talked about this, and we decided it would be best if no one figured out it was Morgana. Better in the long run, anyway."
He reluctantly agreed, saying he, Gwaine, and Gwen would go to the station that afternoon and swing by the hospital to pick them up afterwards. After a brief goodbye, he hung up the phone and slipped it back into his pocket.
Arthur sighed tiredly, eyes wandering towards his sleeping friend. Compassion rolled through him, and he pulled the blanket that was on the end of the bed up to his shoulder, letting him get some much needed rest while the detective gathered his things.
Three hours later, he was watching the telly on low volume, and Merlin's things were packed in his beige canvas bag against the wall. The warlock faded in and out of unconsciousness, only awake to mutter something unintelligible before flipping over, curling in on himself, and pulling his blankets up. Arthur feared he was having nightmares a few times, as Gwen had explained to him and only to him, thankfully, but his face neither showed pain nor a struggle within his mind.
His phone vibrated, and he quickly pulled it out of his pocket, startled out of his thoughts. Gwaine's photo ID popped up, and he unlocked the screen to read the message.
"Done. Be there in ten. -Gwaine"
Arthur breathed a sigh of relief, texting him back that they'd be ready. The evidence was destroyed—no one would know that Morgana was involved; there was no way it could be traced to her magic. That also meant that Merlin was safe from his own fears. A knot formed in Arthur's gut as he thought back to his friend's words earlier that morning... He'd been tortured; manipulated, for someone's personal gain. As much as he wanted to do something about it, Arthur would—he had to—let the warlock bring it up on his terms.
He began to wonder if his father had ever done that... manipulated someone with magic like that. In fact, he knew he had with Merlin's own father. Uther had promised him peace, but when Balinor had brought the Great Dragon to discuss just that, he had him captured and locked beneath the castle for two decades! Balinor had been on the run all that time, and he was forced to leave his lover behind, along with his unborn son. Had Merlin's life been like that? How many times had he been on the run from something? How many times had Merlin needed him?
Arthur cut his thoughts short. He couldn't think like that; Merlin wouldn't want him to think like that. Merlin would want him to be in the here and now, not in the past, which he had no control over. Slowly, the detective stood, sliding his phone into his back pocket as he walked to the bed.
"Merlin?" he whispered. Arthur shook his friend's shoulder slowly. "Merlin?"
The warlock, who was facing away from him, groaned and shifted. "Hm?"
"Time to get up," Arthur explained. "The others'll be here soon. Come on."
"Argh. Fine." Slowly, he turned over before wincing and putting a hand on his side. Arthur put his hand on Merlin's arm and helped him sit up before handing him the pills the nurse had left a few hours ago. He took them dry and swallowed thickly, hopping down from the bed.
Merlin nodded silently, yawning. He rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand before looking around. "Did you pack my stuff?"
"Yeah, it's in your pack."
"You didn't have to."
The detective just smirked at his friend. "Come on, we need to check out."
"Who's picking us up?" Merlin asked, slipping on the new hoodie Gwen had bought to replace his other one.
"Um... Leon, Gwen, and Gwaine. They should be here in about ten minutes." The warlock exhaled heavily, lids drooping. "Just how much magic do you need for that perception filter?"
Merlin grinned tiredly. "A lot more than I remembered, apparently."
"Don't you need... words to use that much magic?"
"Arthur, I am magic, remember? And I've had fifteen hundred years to master it. I don't need words at all."
"Because I would totally know that."
The warlock laughed, flicking his wrist and catching his coat with lithe fingers.
"Show off," Arthur teased. He threw his friend's blanket into a bag and hoisted Merlin's pack on his back.
Merlin furrowed his brow, putting his weight on his cane. "You don't have to carry that, you know? I do have arms."
"What did the doctor say?"
"I can use my magic!"
"In the middle of a hospital? That'd be interesting to see. What was the conversation we had this morning about people finding out your magic?"
The warlock grinned. "Fine. You can be the servant this time."
After a short elevator ride down to the first floor, they checked out and picked up a referral paper for physical therapy for Merlin, along with a pain-relieving prescription, and headed out the main door. When Gwen saw them, she squealed and threw her arms around Arthur, kissing his cheek before doing the same with Merlin. Gwaine gave him a tight hug before Arthur snapped at him, reminding him of Merlin's injury. The former knight didn't seem remorseful, though, and just muttered to Merlin something about "girly princesses."
They all piled into the vehicle, Leon still in the driver's seat with Arthur in the passenger seat. Merlin was in the middle between Gwen and Gwaine, who, naturally, talked his ear off throughout the ride. He told him what they'd done since he'd seen him last, including destroying the evidence from the crime scene.
"And then Gwaine burned it."
"He 'accidentally' put it into a lit bunsen burner and replaced the sample with one of his own hairs. When they figure out whose it is, we can just say that he was at the scene before the crime was committed."
Leon dropped them off at the front entrance. Gwaine climbed out first, waiting until Merlin was out to take the lead. Gwen stayed beside the warlock, ever ready to help, with Arthur on his other side. People greeted them as they walked through the lobby, and Merlin, though he had only lived here for a few months, knew everyone by name, and greeted them fondly. They all knew what had happened, of course—it had been on the news—but they had the discretion not to talk about it.
They took the elevator upstairs, and when they reached their floor, Arthur didn't miss the way Merlin took a deep breath, inhaling the lavender air freshener that Gwen was so fond of spraying.
The warlock unlocked his door with a flip of his wrist, pushing it open by brushing his hand sideways.
"Neat trick," Gwaine smiled. The warlock didn't miss the humor and approval in his tone either.
Merlin grinned at him, taking the lead and flicking on the lights. When he noticed the condition of his flat, however, he turned towards Gwen. "You didn't have to clean, you know."
"How'd you know it was me?"
"Because my door only recognizes you, that's why."
Rolling his eyes fondly, Merlin said, "Yes, Gwaine, I'll fix it so it recognizes you too, but don't go rummaging through my things. I still need to organize the magic stuff." The others watched, in awe, as Merlin spread his fingers on the center of the door, projecting his thoughts into the invisible sheet of magic there. He pictured Gwaine in his head, the others, too, rushing through his head and into the ward: Arthur, Leon, Elyan, Percival, Gai—Merlin stopped abruptly, wincing as he pulled his hand back and bit his lip. Gaius wasn't here. He wasn't back.
Why wasn't he back?
The warlock glanced behind him, forcing a small smile. "It's done."
Gwaine steered Merlin towards the couch, despite his protests, and Guinevere went into the kitchen to makelpdinner, ordering Arthur onto the couch too. Smirking, he popped in a movie and settled himself next to the warlock; Gwaine was on Merlin's other side. Twenty minutes later, Gwen came back over with bowls of hot soup on Merlin's age-old serving tray. The warlock's eyes fluttered when Arthur nudged him, and he forced himself awake to eat. The broth went down smooth and warm, and after his bowl empty, Merlin couldn't help himself: he leaned backwards and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Arthur snorted beside him, rolling his eyes fondly before he set his bowl aside. He twisted in his seat, pulling his leg beneath him to use as a fulcrum. He looped an arm behind Merlin's knees and the other behind the warlock's shoulder blades. With a small grunt, he lifted him up, pushing off the couch with his leg until both his feet rested on the ground. Merlin didn't even stir.
"Guys," he whispered, "can you get his door?"
Gwaine hopped up, walking ahead of Arthur down the hallway. He turned the handle and pushed the warlock's bedroom door open. Gwen rushed ahead of him, pulling the covers back before the detective set Merlin down. His shoes were undone and pulled off, discarded at the edge of the bed. Guinevere pulled the blankets up to his chin, tucking them in on either side of him before, and with a tender look in her eye, she brushed a lock of his dark hair behind his ear.
"Gwen, did you—?"
She glanced behind her, smiling. "Yeah. Just before we picked you guys up. Merlin's in for a surprise."
Arthur nodded, grinning broadly before ushering them both out and closing the door behind them as the warlock shifted in his sleep. Merlin slept peacefully through the night.
Something was licking his face. Warm. Wet. Slimey.
What in the...?
Merlin's eyes cracked open, and a small, slobbery tongue crashed into his nose. He yelped with surprise, pulling back and crashing into his headboard as short ebony fur, as dark as his own hair, fluttered in his face. He winced, grabbing his side as he swore. "What in the—? Arthur!"
In only a few moments, the detective flung the ajar door open, a look of alarm on his face. "Merlin, what's—oh."
The warlock wiped his face with the sleeve of his sweater, half-heartedly glaring at his friend. "Oh?"
Gwen appeared behind him, glancing between Merlin and the puppy. Arthur smiled weakly, raising his hands. "Surprise."
The puppy barked, its tail wagging so hard that its back end wiggled. It hopped closer to Merlin, nuzzling his hip with a dark nose. "Surprise?" The warlock's eyes softened, and he reached out, setting his hand on the puppy's head before scratching it behind its floppy ears.
"Well," Gwen started, glancing at her boyfriend, "Arthur and I talked about it, and we decided that... she might help with your... nightmares. Maybe."
The warlock's eyes softened further, and his smile broadened as he cupped the puppy under her muzzle. "Does she have a name?"
"Not yet," Arthur answered. "We thought we'd let you name her."
"The shelter we got her from said she was a little over two months. She's a black lab/retriever mix. "
Merlin leaned into the pup's face, scrunching up his nose playfully and giggling when she vigorously licked his face again. The warlock gently shoved her away; she jumped back and wiggled her rear, staring at Merlin's hand before pouncing on it. Her fur flashed blue and purple in the light, and instantly, the warlock knew her name. "Iris. I'll name her Iris." He looked up at his two friends, smiling gently. "Thank you, guys."
Together, they smiled, looking at each other before gazing at Merlin and the pup. The warlock hooked his finger round Iris's paw, pulling it out from under her. She jumped backwards again, settling herself for a moment before jumping into Merlin's arms. He released a small gasp as his arm hit his side, but he bit the inside of his cheek and lifted her up against his chest. Suddenly, his eyes snapped up to Arthur, and he jumped out of bed and skipped past his friends.
"Come on. Breakfast. Errands."
Arthur huffed, following after his friend with Gwen at his heels. "Merlin, you need to rest; you're still healing."
"My magic'll handle it," he reasoned, shifting the excited puppy in his arms. "Going out for one day won't kill me."
"What errands do you have? It's Saturday," Gwen commented.
The warlock paused, genuine confusion in his eyes. He let Iris down when he entered the living room; she nipped at his heels all the way to the kitchen. "Is it? No matter. Are the others up?"
"Um, most of them, I think," Arthur said. "What's so important, Merlin?"
"Field trip." He grabbed a bowl out of the cabinet, pulling down a box of cereal and grabbing the milk out of the fridge.
Arthur sat down on one of the barstools, across the counter from where Merlin stood. "To where, exactly?"
"The cabin?" Gwen said. "Merlin, slow down; you'll give yourself hiccups."
He nodded, then shook his head.
"Merlin," Arthur said, "we've already been to the cabin. Remember? We helped you move out, idiot." A grin spread across his face. The same cheeky I-know-something-you-don't grin that had always simultaneously frustrated and amused the king to no end spread across the young man's face. "Merlin."
He swallowed his cereal, still grinning as he walked toward the sink to rinse out his bowl. He found a tennis ball on the counter, apparently left there for Iris, and placed it on the floor. Iris immediately went after it. "Are the others up yet?"
The detective rolled his eyes. "I think Gwaine's still conked out. What's the secret, hm?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
Arthur groaned. "I'll get Gwaine. For heaven's sakes, Merlin, you have a mouth for a reason."
"To sass you?"
"Well, that's not its preferred use."
"To annoy you, then?"
A comical smile pulled at Arthur's lips. "That's closer to the truth."
He slipped out the door before Merlin could make another sarcastic remark, and the warlock chuckled. "Prat."
Guinevere grinned with disbelief. "You two certainly are something."
The warlock leaned on the counter, smirking deviously. "So what's it like, then, between you two? Married, or not?"
"It's... complicated," she answered, her eyes sparkling with mirth.
"I should think so, everything considered," he grinned. "Have you talked to him about it?"
"Yes," she nodded. "We both agreed that we wouldn't... do anything until we were properly married in the here and now. New world; new relationship. We just... It would look bad for both of us if we... I mean, it's not like the rest of the world knows we're married.. Or not married. I'm confused."
Merlin laughed aloud, taking her hand in his while his eyes took on a note of sobriety. "Well, I think it's very mature of you two to wait. My goodness, I never thought I'd say I was proud of Arthur."
Guinevere snorted, rolling her eyes. "Yeah. Alright. As if your smiles don't express that anyway."
"Well, I didn't think I'd ever say that out loud, then. Don't give me that look, Guinevere," he grinned.
Half an hour later, Iris was safely pinned into Merlin's kitchen, kept busy by several glowing spheres that Merlin had magic'd up, and they were piled into two cars: Arthur, Gwaine, Gwen, and Merlin in one and Percival, Elyan, and Leon in the other. Guinevere chose the music this time, "Searchlight" by Thousand Foot Krutch coming in clearly through the speakers while Arthur drove. Gwaine was surprisingly quiet, though that could have been because Merlin had his hand resting on his fisted chin, looking out towards the city, the countryside, and eventually, Lake Avalon.
The warlock suppressed a shiver when he thought of everything the Lake entailed. It was a physical reminder of his pain and suffering: from the friends he'd lost and buried there, to all the times he'd simply come there to think through his impossible existence.
Even so, it was also a physical sign of his love and endurance, and it had borne witness to all the times he'd gained strength from imagining Arthur there beside him. Lake Avalon was a double-edged sword: a blessing and a curse.
Merlin turned, a smile spreading across his lips at the weathered house he'd called his home for centuries. Clumsily, he climbed out of the car, sneakers grinding the too-familiar bits of rock underfoot.
"Merlin, don't forget your—"
"Arthur, we're not in public—I don't need the cane."
The detective rolled his eyes but let it go, muttering something about overexerting himself to Guinevere. She just smiled fondly and let him quietly rant.
Merlin brushed past them like a young child, throwing them a grin when he opened the wooden gate. "Come on," he urged. He unlocked his door with a flick of his wrist and hopped into the cottage. The others followed shortly, and soon, all of them were piled into Merlin's small kitchen.
"So... what're we doing here?" Elyan asked.
"I'm showing you my basement."
"I'm going to put in that this probably isn't a normal basement, huh?"
Merlin grinned. "Not at all." He turned towards the door which, on their last visit, hadn't been touched because there was "nothing important" in it. He twisted the handle and flung the door open...
...And a broom, a mop, and several other odd items showed.
"Wow," Arthur said sarcastically. "That certainly is something, Merlin."
That stupid, I-know-something-you-don't smile was back. "Just a sec..." He turned back towards the door, closing it before spreading his fingers across it's center. Merlin took a deep breath and bowed his head, his voice lowering several decibels as he growled, "Drws agored i le arall: Vaults."(1) He could feel his eyes burning beneath his lids, that familiar warmth rushing through him like hot chocolate on a cold day.
"Well, that was..." Gwaine trailed off. "I feel like 'brilliant' doesn't cover it."
Merlin smiled broadly at him, putting his hand back on the door's handle. Casually, he opened the door. This time, however, there were old, rickety steps heading downwards. "Come on."
Eagerly, they followed him down, an air of anticipation running through the group. When they became engulfed in darkness, Merlin whispered something under his breath, and several torches on the side of the instantly wall lit up, lighting the rest of the way down.
"Very medieval," Gwen commented.
Merlin smirked as they came to rest at a dirt-floor landing. "Well, it was my favorite time period. Okay, now, you have to be careful. Don't break anything, Gwaine."
"And don't touch anything that looks even remotely magical. Got it?" They all nodded their agreement, though Gwaine felt the need for an indignant huff beforehand. "Alright then." He twisted the doorknob and threw the door open, letting them peek inside before he lead them through.
Arthur soundlessly gasped. It was... He didn't know how to describe it. The floor was hardened dirt, and the walls looked the same, as though carved out by man or, most likely in this case, magic. There were swords hanging off the wall, and if the detective had to guess, they probably dated back to the eighteenth century. More swords—from medieval longswords to Japanese samurai swords—poked out from an umbrella holder. Paintings hung everywhere: Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, their colors and styles all fabulously characterized and their brushstrokes forever marked the canvas. Pictures, black and white and in vivid color, also helped decorate the walls. Chests of who-knows-what were spotted along the baseboard, something like clothing poking out of one. As they walked further in, Arthur saw more relics, more artifacts, more of Merlin's memories, lining the walls. Every wall. Every time period he had ever lived in and more, it seemed, were chronicled within this place. Merlin's personal museum.
"Good gravy, Merlin," he voiced, wonder and awe filling his voice. "How big is this place?"
The warlock pursed his lips. "Um... I think, from where we're standing, it's a half-mile in each direction."
"It's a full mile?" Leon gasped.
Merlin grinned. "It runs under the Lake and then back into the mountains. Fifteen hundred years of history, mind you. There's actually... Through the years, I saved some things... Um..." He looked around, peering down the two adjacent hallways on either side of them and also the one before them. "Erm... Leon, check the first room two turns to your right. El, check the third room two turns to your left. Perce, um, first door—one right, one left. Gwaine, third door—two rights, one left. Arthur, second door—three rights. Gwen... three lefts, one right, first door."
Leon looked skeptical. "You remembered all that?"
"I should," Merlin smirked. "I've been stocking them for centuries."
They all stood there for several heartbeats before Gwaine started bouncing on his feet. "Well, I'm gonna go see what presents you got me, mate." With a short wink, he was off, and, just as quickly, the others were heading towards their rooms too.
"Wait, Arthur, Gwen," Merlin said quickly. "Just a sec." They looked questioningly at him, and he reached into his hoodie, fishing out two glimmering objects and pulling a leather string over his head. "Here. You both remember now. There's no use in me holding onto them." He opened his hand to show them their rings—their fifteen-hundred-some year old wedding rings from Camelot. "I put some spells on them to keep them from rusting or wearing down," he explained, setting them in Arthur's hand.
The detective took a moment to examine them, grinning with memories, before handing them to Gwen. She ran her hand over the simple gold bands, lost in memories. After a moment, she passed them back to her boyfriend, smiling softly before she turned her tender eyes towards Merlin.
"Merlin, when... When Arthur remembered, I told him what you had done with his ring, about how you gave it to me and I let you keep it, and then how, later, I entrusted you with my own when... Well, we talked about it and..."
"And we decided that you should keep them," Arthur finished for her.
The warlock looked honestly stunned. "What?"
"Gwen," the detective said, glancing down at his girlfriend. "Could you give us a minute?"
She grinned knowingly, nodding as she stepped forward to give Merlin a chaste peck on the cheek. "Three lefts, one right, first door?"
Merlin nodded, barely glancing at her before his attention switched back to Arthur.
Arthur smiled, setting a firm hand on his friend's shoulder. "You said that there was no use in you holding onto them. Well, Merlin, there is. I was never able to... I mean... I was never able to properly show my gratitude for everything you'd done. Have done. And, Merlin, I trust you more than anyone else. You were always by my side—from the beginning—and I don't feel that I could ever repay you for your loyalty or your friendship. Keep them. As a symbol of my gratitude and trust. I don't think it's enough, considering everything—"
"Arthur," Merlin interrupted in a more than watery voice, "i-it's perfect. Thank you."
The detective smiled, pulling his friend into a tight embrace and whispering, "Thank you. For everything you've done. For as long as you've waited. For putting up with me everytime I acted like a complete... prat. I'll never forget it, Merlin." He pulled back, pressing the golden rings into his friend's hand and closing his fist. "Keep them. Now, um, you said... second door, three rights?"
Merlin nodded, letting his fingers curl tightly around the rings. When Arthur disappeared around the corner, the warlock opened his fist, letting his eyes trace every imperfection on the rings, markings he already knew by heart, and a fuzzy warmth filled him. A single warm tear fell from his dark lashes, and he smiled, pulling the leather string round his neck until the cool metal of the rings settled against his chest. Merlin brushed away the tear before it could fall to the floor, glancing down the corridor Arthur had walked down.
Fifteen hundred and twenty seven years he waited for Arthur.
For the Once and Future King.
For his best friend.
And though, throughout the years, Merlin had questioned himself, his magic, his motives, his destiny... He had no doubt now. This is the way it was meant to be.
And it had all been worth it.
Sky blue eyes flashed in the sunlight, narrowed against the brisk wind that howled through the trees. His dark coat brushed the foliage, dry leaves rustling behind him as he walked purposefully towards the mountain's dip. He set his hands on one of the tree trunks, glancing down at the steep hill below him and at Avalon, before him. His eyes locked on the warlock's house, though, and the young man felt a smile flicker on his lips.
He'd met Emrys as a boy—twice now, actually. The warlock hadn't seen him, however, and the young man intended to keep it that way. At least for now.
An too familiar tug resounded through his body, and he looked around, watching as the once clear air seemed to sparkle and mist. It was time. The portal sharpened, showing green pastures beyond its blurred threshold, and the young man reluctantly stepped towards it.
It was time to set things in motion, and the boy knew exactly where to start.
He stepped through the portal, gritting his teeth at the jerking feeling he knew would come, and in a flash of light and a swirl of wind, Mordred disappeared from the long-forgotten forest.
(1) Welsh: "Open door to another place: Vaults"
I still can't believe this is over. It's a weird feeling, posting the last chapter. I hope you all liked it. :)
Also, I thought I'd tell you guys that after three grueling days of Snow Sculpting in below zero temperatures, we finished. Whoop! Whoop! We were all slap happy having only gotten a few hours of sleep each night, but it was a lot of fun. And we won an award! We got the Committee's Choice Award, which I was very happy with. We might not have placed in the actual numbering thing, but I was just really happy to have won something, and the people who did place totally deserved it. Their sculptures were amazing. :) In the State Division, the first place winner was a thing called "The Dragon Whisperer," and it was pretty much Dragoon with a small dragon on his arm. Safe to say, I was fangirling so much. *rolls eyes at self*
Okay, that's all I have to say. I really hope you guys like how I ended it. There's more to come, I promise, but I can't settle on a posting date. I want to get ahead a bit, so I'll be posting the one-shots with plenty of time between them. :) See you all soon! Have a good day. :)