Disclaimer: IDOM nor do I own the song whose lyrics inspired the title of this oneshot. ("The First of Me" by Hoobastank - lyrics below. I suggest listening to it because it is AWESOME!)
Author's Note: Well...here I am again! And with a new reveal oneshot! Yay! Well, it didn't start out that way. What started out as a flashback in chapter 1 of Holding the World (the title of my new AU multi-chapter, which is in progress) became a prologue. What was a prologue became...this. I decided to post this as a oneshot completely separate from the rest of the fic because it has no effect on the plot but rather helps set up the AU universe. This can and will stand alone until Holding the World is completely written.
Like the Prophesized series, I've decided to name this arc: Of Fathers and Sons. I will give you guys a working summary of the new multichapter at the bottom of this fic.
A big thanks to Estrelle Buscador (aka Realta Cuardach on the Heart of Camelot) for helping me out with the fic and summary!
I hear a voice inside
It's grown into a scream
I'm not the next of them
I am the first of me
'cause I can't live the lie
I am just what you see
I'm not the next of them
I am the first of me
So when the waiting's done
It's time to face the truth
You know you're good enough
Deep down inside of you
You've finally woken up
If only just to prove
You were born to lead the way
And be the first of you
Arthur was feigning sick. Merlin was convinced of it.
The wet, hacking cough, baggy eyes, and clammy, pale skin that had fooled Uther, Gaius, and Merlin alike—and had subsequently postponed yet another patrol to search for Morgana—was nothing compared to the evidence suggesting otherwise.
The first clue wasn't that the coughing had immediately ceased the moment his father and physician left him to Merlin's care, and it wasn't that the prince flopped back onto his upright pillows, lowered his mask, and swiped the sweat from his brow. It wasn't even that he rubbed his glassy eyes in the manner of a man who'd spent a restless night tossing and turning and hardly sleeping a wink as a result of the dreams and thoughts that tormented him. No, if Merlin hadn't been so unnerved by the most obvious clue, he would have seen these signs and guessed immediately, but as it was, it wasn't until he squatted to stoke the fire and started humming that he noticed the silence.
Normal people, when ill, wanted to do nothing more than escape their misery and sleep to their heart's content, and once, not so long ago, Merlin just might have assumed that a spoiled prince would have taken it to the next level by milking the chance to have a lie in. Not Arthur Pendragon. Arthur Pendragon was, apparently, not a stereotypical, spoiled nobleman or much of a normal person at all, and it was a right job keeping him in bed when he believed there were "better things he could be doing with his time."
Whenever his master was confined to bed, he was even more restless, irritable, and obnoxious than usual, and even when he was dreadfully hurt or sick, even when heneeded rest the most, he'd still find the energy to boss Merlin around or complain or tease him about something or other before passing out. Often enough, the young warlock knew it was his way of relieving boredom, and he had learned that when Arthur was bored, he hated silence. Whenever he was sitting at his desk, on the other hand, he treasured it.
In both cases, there was one constant. Ill or healthy, desperate for silence or relief from boredom, Arthur despised humming. He couldn't stand it, and he especially couldn't stand it when it was Merlin doing the humming…
And Merlin had begun to hum, and there was no reprimand or threat from Arthur.
Unnerved, the warlock's uncooperative fingers dropped the metal rod he was using to poke at the logs in the prince's hearth, and hardly flinching at the clatter it made, he flashed his gaze to Arthur, whose eyes bore straight through him. Searching. Contemplating.
Merlin had never seen Arthur so thoughtful, so quiet, so…dare he say…at peace with whatever it was that he was turning over in his mind. His face betrayed none of the frustration, determination, deep concentration, or moodiness Merlin had come to associate with Arthur, who, as a prince, had a lot of responsibilities and stress loaded onto his shoulders that the young warlock was only just beginning to appreciate.
But this—this was something else. The way the prince stared…He was calm and unembarrassed by the obvious attention he was giving his servant, which was something that made said servant very, very afraid because Arthur, having been raised by his stern father without a mother to teach him that emotions weren't a bad thing, did notsimply do things like this unless he was enchanted or completely delusional…
This stare made a frigid numbness seep into Merlin's skin and bones, locking them in place. He couldn't even chuckle it off and consequently tease his friend for pretending to be sick to protect his knights from the brutal winter weather and from his less-than-logical father, who had insisted that they ride out despite these dangerous conditions in the first place. He couldn't move, not to relieve the burning in his calves from crouching in such an awkward position or to twitch his lips into a nervous smile, and he surely couldn't even think to ask if Arthur was truly alright.
It was as though time had stopped, and neither of the young men seemed to be willing or able to make it start again by averting their eyes or breaking the silence…
"He was your father."
The thoughtful statement had come from nowhere, and it was spoken in such a sensitive, soft tone that Merlin violently flinched because that was not Arthur. However, when he cautiously prodded with his magic, he sensed no foreign power within the room, so there really was no other explanation: he must have misheard. Blinking owlishly, he finally blurted, "What?"
Arthur regarded him calmly before flipping over the duvet and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
Despite the fact that Merlin had come to the realization Arthur was hardly sick, he felt the desperate need to keep the prince in bed. He had to keep the prince in bed. He had to. Because something felt wrong, off, and…tense. Something…something was—
With every rapid flutter of his heart—No. It—he couldn't have...There was no way…
Evade. Merlin had to evade it, but he couldn't, not with Arthur getting out of bed and never once removing his eyes from him.
"You—" The resulting flash of an admonitory glare at the very first word of Merlin's protest nearly made everything feel normal again. That was normal Arthur behavior, and naturally, it encouraged him to fall back to the effortlessness of their banter and therefore ignore the prince and continue to scold, "If you were wise, you might not want to do that. Gaius ordered you to your bed, and you know how he—"
Arthur scowled lightly, and with a hint of the usual ridicule and haughtiness in his voice, he stood and said, "Don't be ridiculous, Merlin. I faked the cough. I think you know as much."
"And the clammy skin?" Merlin found himself retorting immediately, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the prince as he padded across the room towards his dining table. When Arthur stiffened, he smirked—because he had misheard and of course he was overreacting—and added smugly, "You can't fake that."
It was the first time Arthur's eyes left Merlin, and after tracing the grain of the wood of one of the chairs, he gripped it firmly and pulled it out, murmuring, "Sit with me, Merlin."
"Sit with you," Merlin repeated slowly as he stood to his feet. "You're asking me, your servant, to sit with you. At your table."
"It wasn't a question, but yes, Merlin, I suppose I am."
With a mildly quivering voice, the warlock asked, "Alright, what's going on?"
Arthur didn't respond, and despite himself, Merlin pursed his lips and hesitantly approached. With a quirked eyebrow at his servant's poorly hidden uneasiness, the prince retreated from the chair he'd offered Merlin and claimed another one directly across the table.
Uncomfortable, Merlin couldn't help but wait until his master sat first (as he felt protocol demanded) and didn't sit himself until the prince nodded meaningfully at the still-vacant chair. "Sit, Merlin."
It was as though Arthur had kicked his legs out from under him, and his body flopped rather unceremoniously into the chair. While his fingers immediately began picking at themselves, his eyes settled on the wooden tabletop in front of him.
"Gods, Merlin," Arthur teased lightly, "it's not as though I'm questioning you for murder. I just want to talk."
For a moment, Merlin was stunned into silence, and more certain than ever that he was missing something and that magic was indeed involved, the servant flickered his gaze upward to stare at his master. His powers, which he trusted and depended upon more than any mortal instincts and impulses he could ever have, rolled and flared within him and once again sensed nothing unusual. Putting aside that theory for the second time, the servant wondered if maybe the last injury to Arthur's head had finally destroyed what remained of his brain.
"Since when did you ever want to talk?" Merlin asked. "And since when did you ever fool Gaius andyour father just to take the opportunity to do so?"
Arthur didn't even have the decency to look discomforted by the fact that he'd lied to his father and physician, and Merlin's apprehension was momentarily eclipsed by a flash of pride, for there was nothing greater than seeing his prince becoming more and more willing to step out of the shadow of his father. "Since now."
Merlin had always been the instigator of their more serious conversations. Until now, it would seem, because there was no doubt that this was starting to sound like a very serious conversation, and Merlin was uncertain if he should be happy that Arthur was willing to talk to him as a friend rather than a servant or if…he should be worried. The prince didn't necessarily like serious conversations with Merlin because they happened to be centered more on feelings than on…manly topics along the lines of battle strategy and sieges, and Merlin was sure that Arthur would rather stick his head in the gutter than have his pride marred by asking for advice or comfort from anyone, let alone an insolent servant. However, the tough exterior and other abrasive masks Arthur wanted others to see never scared Merlin away.
But now, Merlin felt his grip tightening over his magic, and he nudged it away into a remote corner of his body, as was his custom whenever he felt his magic was apparent and his lies and sins were laid out for all to see, because for the first time since knowing the prince—without preamble or any amount of subtle prompting on Merlin's part—Arthur had forgone those masks, the masks of his father and the masks spawned by the heavy expectations of those who called him their prince. They were completely gone, and without those restraints, the Arthur who Merlin only saw small glimpses of from time to time, the one that would one day be the greatest king and best friend the warlock could ask for—the real Arthur—was free. He wasn't the prince. He wasn't a Pendragon. He was simply Arthur.
And all he could do was ask: "Why now?"
"Because," Arthur said, "we need to."
"I wasn't aware we needed to talk about anything," Merlin muttered, attempting a joke.
Arthur sighed and rubbed the heel of his hand into his eye. "And neither was I, not until last night."
Recalling the clammy skin that had been a part of the prince's ruse, Merlin guessed, "Dreams?"
"Just one. It's been recurring, I know, but it wasn't until tonight that I remembered it fully."
"Why are you telling me this?"
At first Arthur didn't answer, but after clearing his throat, he admitted, "Because I need to know. I've been thinking a lot, Merlin, about certain things…"
It was too easy for Merlin to deadpan, "I would hope that your head was filled with thoughts about 'things' all the time, my Lord."
Arthur completely ignored the jab and continued as though he hadn't heard Merlin speak. "…and I can't believe that it took me three weeks to see it, to connect it all together." His eyes softened with sympathy and understanding. "Balinor. He was your father, wasn't he?"
No wonder the prince didn't bother to tell him to shut up; those words knocked the ability to speak, breathe, and blink right out of him. All moisture in Merlin's mouth vanished, and with his stomach suddenly dropping into an endless pit, he worked his jaw muscles, pulled on a sarcastic smile, and attempted to calm himself as his mind raced for an excuse, anything but the truth.
His reaction, however quickly hidden, was enough to verify Arthur's question. "Don't try to deny it, Merlin. I understand why you didn't tell me." Merlin swallowed convulsively and dropped his act, and Arthur surveyed him carefully before asking, "Aren't you going to say anything?"
"What is there to say?" Merlin finally croaked. "I'm the son of a Dragonlord…and I could only call him my father for a few days before he died protecting me…I hardly knew him."
Arthur's eyes hardened. "Because of my father," he said angrily, his fists clenching before him. "My father hunted him and all of your people—" the ease with which the prince acknowledged his Dragonlord brethren surprised Merlin, but it did nothing to soothe the rising lump in his throat "—down and only saw it fit to seek Balinor's help and excuse his powers when it suited him to do so."
Merlin winced, bit his lip, and averted his eyes, which were beginning to become glassy with tears. The memory of Balinor's death was still a sore, throbbing wound, and being reminded of Uther's part in his fatherless childhood did not help matters much. Resentment and pain were not kind companions, and he tried to shove them away with little success.
"And you're not going to tell him?" Merlin choked out.
"Of course not. It's sick—what he's done to you and countless others—and knowing what he would do if he found out… No. I see that he was wrong now." The significance of Arthur's words was lost upon the warlock, who was still trying to compose himself. Seeing Merlin struggling, Arthur added quietly, "And I'm sorry."
The warlock exhaled a watery, humorless chuckle. "Thank you, Arthur, truly, but I don't see why you're apologizing. It wasn't your fault."
"Maybe not, but I am sorry for all that you and Hunith have suffered at my father's hand and…I'm sorry for my own negligence and insensitivity. I should have known…should have been someone you trusted to tell, at least, and of course all I tell you is that 'no man is worth your tears' and give you no time to mourn properly. I'm sorry for that too." Eyes scanning his servant's pale face, he asked, "Are you alright?"
No, no, he wasn't alright. While he was certainly relieved to have one secret off his chest and to see Arthur accepting that he'd kept secrets from him at all…that Arthur had discovered that Balinor was his father would only open doors to questions about the abilities a Dragonlord's son may have, which will undoubtedly trace back to his magic in the end.
Brushing a tear away, he said, "I will be."
"I didn't mean to alarm you by confronting you about this."
"I've never heard you say 'sorry' so many times in my life," Merlin teased weakly in his own defense. "Of course I'm a bit shocked."
"That's not it."
Merlin's small smile faded, and he murmured to himself, "When did you become so observant, Sire?"
Smiling lightly, Arthur answered, "The moment I decided to open my eyes and actually think about what I've seen. Too much has happened to ignore the fact that there is something more in this world than black and white. It was surprisingly easy to figure it out for myself after that. Now, tell me."
"You're just…" Merlin trailed off and ran his fingers through his hair. "You're taking this well. Your servant, a member of the Pendragon household…a Dragonlord's son? I didn't think you would…"
"You thought I'd be upset," Arthur finished, knowing that had been the answer all along. "For keeping this from me? No. You were protecting yourself and your mother from scrutiny, and no decent man can blame you for that. I wouldn't have said anything either, not when we both know what would happen if my father discovered your parentage and your powers."
And there it was.
Sitting straight as a pillar, Merlin's muscles locked into place. His body was ready to bolt at any second, but any thought of fleeing was drowned by the sound of his heartbeats roaring in his ears. Arthur, much like his common sense and awareness of just how hard he was gripping the table, suddenly seemed far, far away.
Because though he expected it, he hadn't been prepared for it, and it was worse than he could have imagined.
"P-powers," Merlin stuttered.
For the first time, Arthur's calm shattered, and looking overwhelmed, he muttered, "I expected you to give yourself away when I sprung that on you, and I expected that would be enough. But…it's not. It's not enough. I need confirmation I'm not completely mad, Merlin. It's been…" He chuckled a little hysterically and continued, "I was exhausted and exhilarated after that fight, but I hardly remember anything about it. I remember that you rode out with me, that we lost good men, and that there was nothing sweeter than the utter relief I felt when the dragon was gone. After celebrating, I fell asleep without undressing, and you didn't bother going back to Gaius' chambers for the night and stayed in the antechamber. I remember that too. But since that night, I've been dreaming about it—the attack and the aftermath. The attack is hazy, and it bothered me for the longest time, but then I realized…that it wasn't necessarily the attack that held the answers I needed. Do you remember it, Merlin? All of it?"
Merlin was struck by how lost Arthur looked. Unanswered questions and doubts were etched into his very skin, apparent by the heavy, dark marks under his bright eyes, yet there was patience, acceptance, and a fierce desire for the truth and only the truth. It was clear that he wasn't necessarily sure what to do when he heard that truth, despite what he had already guessed and prepared himself to hear, but there was something in his eyes that indicated that he wanted nothing more than to hear Merlin admit it himself, just so that there were no secrets between them.
The prospect of it all was beautiful—no more secrets, no more lies—and weary of all the acting, Merlin found himself relaxing and smiling. His response to Arthur's question was barely more than the whisper of a summer breeze across the sea. "I remember."
Arthur noticed the change that had come over his servant, and he prompted, "When I woke up and found you standing alone… there was no body in that field, and yet you told me I struck the dragon a mortal blow."
Taking a deep breath, Merlin said, "A Dragonlord's power is passed from father to son…upon the death of the father. I—I couldn't kill him, Arthur, but I did order him away. He won't attack Camelot again, and I don't intend on calling for him ever again. Not after what he did. There's…there's more, but I can't…not yet."
Arthur took a moment to digest Merlin's words before affirming, "You are a Dragonlord."
It was a statement of fact, and even though there was no spite or disappointment or betrayal in Arthur's voice, Merlin hid his eyes regretfully.
"Despite what people have been taught since the Purge, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Arthur said gently, incorrectly interpreting his reaction.
With wide eyes, Merlin was quick to say, "No, no. I am proud. I'm proud of who I am, and I'm proud of my heritage. It's that…I lied to you. I lied to everyone."
"What you did was save Camelot from being destroyed," Arthur said, folding his arms in front of him.
Merlin closed his eyes in a vain attempt to block the guilt that threatened to overwhelm him. It was his fault that the dragon-fire still burned bright in the minds of the people. Camelot had only just finished rebuilding itself after his attack, so the wounds inflicted were still fresh… and the mourning had only just begun.
It was his fault, and he didn't deserve the praise or recognition.
All that the warlock wanted to do was tell Arthur that he shouldn't congratulate him, but the words caught in his throat. He couldn't—not now, not yet—and he felt disgusting and cowardly when he, as he was trained since birth to do, gave his prince a noncommittal answer that was both modest and only half truthful. "Not completely. I just wish…that I could have done something to prevent it."
"The dragon had been locked up for twenty years," Arthur said reasonably. "I don't think there was very much that could have stopped him from enacting his wrath. Not even magic."
The prince's gaze was unyielding, and when Merlin did not even flinch at the word 'magic,' Arthur sighed sheepishly, "That was the only thing I wasn't sure about. There is little proof, but I—" He shook his head and chewed on his inner cheek. "I don't know, Merlin."
But he did know.
The conflict and confusion raging in Arthur's eyes suggested otherwise, but the idea was there. Even though Merlin felt he could easily persuade the prince to believe that there was no connection between him and magic, he wanted to… let go, to take his destiny into his on hands and shape it for himself for once. Besides, if he denied it now, he would only dig a deeper hole for himself when Arthur found out, and the changes that Merlin had seen in the prince within this conversation alone made him feel that it would be no time before Arthur caught him.
There had been enough lies already, and this was Arthur, his other half. It was time.
There was no denying his inherent fear and inner voice, which was coached to keep the secret at all costs, but with a fluttering heart and trembling voice, he quelled the teachings of his mother, the wisdom of Gaius, and his own doubts and asked gently, "Did you see it in your dream?"
"Yes," Arthur admitted awkwardly, "and it—you didn't look like the others."
"The other sorcerers? The ones you've seen…and killed?"
Arthur's lack of response was answer enough, and Merlin took a leap of faith and added with a hint of bitterness in his voice, "I'm not like them."
The truth was out, and both men realized it. Arthur's eyes widened at the confirmation, and running a hand through his blond hair, he whispered, "That means it's true. You're—"
Merlin realized what the prince needed and flipped his hand over, revealing his palm, and when his eyes blazed gold and a single flame danced before them, Arthur gasped but did not flinch away, and he watched the conjured fire with a mixture of awe and disbelief.
"I can't believe…All this time, Merlin? Even before gaining the Dragonlord powers?"
He winced at the hurt in the prince's voice. "Yes. Before it all."
"Did…you never trust me?"
"I trusted you with my life the moment I woke up after drinking the poison and Gaius told me that it was only thanks to you that the Mortaeus flower antidote was made in time."
"Obviously you did not trust me enough for this."
"It was never an issue of trust," Merlin insisted again. "Why is it that you could accept that I'm a Dragonlord so easily when the powers I used to command the dragon were no less magical than my ability to do this?" He lifted his hand for emphasis, and Arthur's eyes followed the flame.
"Because I didn't know for sure about the magic until now, and I admit it—I don't know what to think. It's—I feel hypocritical as all hell, so don't say it, but it's too much to add magic on top of everything that I did manage to wrap my mind around…Merlin, you have magic. It's punishable by death. It's banned, yet you practice it here in Camelot."
"I'm still the same person."
"I know," Arthur sighed. "I know you are. Only an idiot would practice magic under my father's nose. Just…tell me something: would you have ever told me if I hadn't told you about that dream?"
"Would you if you had magic, Arthur?" The warlock turned his eyes to the flame and began to weave it through his fingers. "As human beings, our greatest fears reside in the unknown and in the prospect of being forsaken, forgotten, left behind, or hated by those we love, and I—I don't know what I would have done if you, Morgana, or Gwen turned me away.
"I'm already an oddity even in the magical community. I was born with magic, Arthur, and I—it's my calling. Before I came to Camelot, there was nothing for me. It…it was just useless—my magic—and I didn't know what I was or why I was here if I couldn't use it for something." A brilliant smile lit Merlin's face, and now that he started, he couldn't stop. "But then I pulled you from that dagger with the help of my powers, and I used it countless other times to protect you and to help you preserve your kingdom because that's what my magic was waiting for—something, no, someone worth fighting for.
"Because you, Arthur Pendragon, are my king and my friend, and I will give life, limb, and magic...for you and for Camelot. Your father has already taken too much from me—from my mother and Gaius and all the other sorcerers out there who hide in fear of what might happen to them if they're discovered… I could never call him 'king.' I will never respect him, obey him, fight for him, or care for him, and yet I saved his life multiple times—just as I have yours—and after becoming your servant, I've learned to…not necessarily forgive…but I'm not afraid of him anymore.
"And you know what? I had been afraid for so long…so long, Arthur, but even though I still feel like I'm going to vomit right now I'm so anxious, I realize that I'm not ashamed to say that I have magic, and I know better than to doubt my humanity now because he would have me believe that my gifts make me a monster, someone who's life is worth less and who's skills are apparently far more evil than the blacksmith, swordsman, weaver, or seamstress, whose gifts were given to them just as mine were given to me.
"But I know who and what I am, and I'm proud of that. I'm proud of what I've accomplished and all that I have become. I'm proud to be your servant, warlock, and friend. And now—now you know." The passion died from Merlin's voice, and he was made quite aware of how oddly Arthur was staring at him. "I can only hope that you'll—you'll understand and…forgive me. Because I know I've betrayed your trust, but you should know that I believe in you and the kingdom you will build, that I am me and always have been nothing less than me. I'm not one of the others—never will be—and no matter what you do or say, you'll probably never get rid of me because believe it or not, you wouldn't last an hour without someone to save your skin or tell you off for being a prat."
Merlin's lips twitched into a small smile, but no longer able to hold his prince's gaze, the flame in his palm fizzled and died.
They sat for a long time. With memories of Ealdor and Camelot alike swirling before his eyes, Merlin watched the meager winter sunbeams move as, second by second, minute by minute, time passed. It was only after Arthur, who had been lost in memories of his own, finally stated, "Well, that was some speech, Merlin. No wonder you can write mine so well."
In response, the warlock joked weakly, "And you haven't even heard all my stories yet."
"It's a lot to take in," Arthur began, an apologetic expression appearing on his face, "And I don't think I'll ever understand fully, Merlin, but I am confined to my bed the rest of the day. I think I'm willing to try."
AN: I hope you guys liked it!
Working summary for Holding the World: Merlin gets sent back seventeen years into the past, and naturally, he finds himself befriending a five-year-old Arthur Pendragon. All is not well, however, and two Emryses in one time can spell disaster. Merlin has to get back to his own time before the timestream is destroyed, but not before giving Uther Pendragon a piece of his mind. Post reveal. AU post-s2/pre-s3.
In other news, I'm back on campus getting ready for my sophomore year! I start up on Wednesday. :D Best wishes to all those new college students out there, and good luck to all returning students! Hope you guys have a great year.
Hopefully you'll see me again with a new Heart of Gold update in the next few weeks.
Thanks for reading everyone!