AN: Hey everyone! Realized that I've had this written for a while so finally decided to post it. Gwaine and Merlin talk about the Lamia incident and why Merlin did not realize that something was wrong with the knights in the first place. Just an angsty whumpy one-shot. Hope you guys enjoy!
Merlin had been dreading this conversation ever since the whole Lamia incident had ended. He knew eventually he would not be able to avoid Gwaine any longer, and it was not that he was avoiding Gwaine because he was angry or hurt, in all honesty he just did not want to have this conversation. He had managed to avoid the housing where the knights were resting throughout their entire stay. Percival and Elyan had been the first to awaken and had both come and apologized to Merlin. Merlin had accepted their apologies graciously and let them know that he did not blame them at all and that no harm was done. He had a few minor bruises from being shoved around, but nothing that would not heal and he honestly had already completely forgiven them all.
The hardest scars of course were the more mental ones. Even if he did not hold the knights responsible there were times when he would flinch when they came near or would approach them more timidly to speak to them, or hold his breath as he waited for their response, hoping it would not be a scathing one, it never was. The knights held him in the highest respect, higher than almost anyone else in the kingdom. He was not about to let them know about his minor struggles that were already starting to fade. He knew they would fade faster if he did not have the previous memories to feed them… he shook his head. It was better not to remember the past.
Merlin had managed to keep busy enough to avoid Gwaine while they were there so it was not until Merlin was saddling the horses that he first approached. Merlin looked around eagerly for an escape, he hated awkward conversations. Luckily the others followed him so Merlin was able to brush it off and climb on his horse without Gwaine saying anything to personal or awkward.
During the horse ride Leon had rode up next to Merlin and made his apology. Merlin accepted it the same as the others. He knew Leon had not meant what he said… not now… He would never admit that he had believed it for a moment, just a moment when Leon had first said it, after all Leon was a knight of noble blood and Merlin was not at all… he had been treated that way many times before…
Merlin shook his head. Why was it so hard to chase those memories away?
Gwaine had tried to follow up after Leon had fallen back but Merlin quickly rode up next to Arthur and made some quip to change the subject. It was not that he was avoiding talking to Gwaine he just did not want to have that specific conversation. It was unnecessary, Gwaine had nothing to be sorry about and Merlin in turn had nothing to forgive. He had been enchanted, Merlin could not hold that against him.
As Merlin rode next to Arthur he joked with the whole group, including Gwaine, he didn't know if Gwaine could tell that he was avoiding the conversation but he hoped Gwaine would just let it go and they would move on.
After a while the group fell into comfortable silence, Merlin and Arthur were a few feet ahead, far enough that when Arthur spoke quietly the rest of the group could not hear. "Why are you avoiding him?" Arthur asked.
Merlin raised his eyes from the ground and glanced at Arthur in surprise. "I'm not." he stated stubbornly, but the fact that he knew who Arthur was talking about immediately disproved his point and Arthur just gave him a look. Merlin glanced away uncomfortably. He had no problem pointing out when Arthur had something he had to deal with but when the tables were turned it was a lot harder for him to listen.
"You let the other knights apologize. Why not Gwaine? He probably needs it more than the rest. You are his friend." Arthur stated wisely and it was at times like these that Merlin remembered that Arthur could be more than just a prat, even to Merlin.
Merlin shrugged. "He doesn't have anything to apologize for, I wish he'd just forget it."
But Arthur seemed to have started to figure something out and continued to follow his train of thought. "But you let the other knights apologize. What's so different about Gwaine?" Arthur repeated. "It's not because there's nothing to apologize for." Arthur said definitively, Merlin didn't say anything not wanting to hint at anything. "You just want to forget it ever happened." Arthur stated.
Merlin finally looked up at Arthur's searching gaze and nodded, still uncomfortable. "You're thinking about the… incident." Arthur said cryptically but Merlin knew exactly what he was talking about, he didn't say anything in response which was as good as confirming that Arthur's suspicions were true.
"Things have changed since then, you know that, and you should know that these knights are not the same as the ones who treated you horribly." Arthur chastised gently.
Merlin nodded. "I do."
"Do you?" Arthur asked.
Merlin frowned at him. "What do you mean?"
Arthur sighed. "How long before you realized the knights were enchanted?"
"How long?" Arthur prompted.
"At least a day." Merlin muttered.
Arthur nodded. "If you really knew, you would have realized immediately that something was wrong, more than just a little wrong but a lot wrong. They would never treat you the way they treated you. For some reason, which I cannot fathom," Arthur scoffed, "You have gained their respect." Merlin smirked. "What happened before…" Arthur hesitated, "It will never happen again."
Merlin nodded. "I know. I just ... forget…sometimes." Merlin stated.
Arthur nodded and then turned his head to look in the distance and made the face that Merlin knew meant he was about to say something jokingly insulting. "Well that's not much of a surprise Merlin, considering how very little brain resides in that head of yours."
"At least I have a brain." Merlin quipped back and they smirked at each other.
Arthur's smile faded slightly. "You should talk to him." He stated and Merlin nodded glancing back at Gwaine who was arguing with Percival over something. He still wasn't looking forward to the conversation, but it was time to stop running away from it.
It was later, after the knights had eaten dinner and Merlin was by the stream washing the dishes when Gwaine approached him again. Merlin smiled a greeting and Gwaine smiled uncomfortably back before sitting down and taking a dish from Merlin.
It wasn't exactly a normal thing for Gwaine to do but he had done it in the past when he thought something was bothering Merlin, or when he was just being friendly and wanted to spend time with Merlin over the knights, which Merlin couldn't help but notice was becoming less and less frequent. The bond that Gwaine shared with the knights was stronger than the bond he had with Merlin. They would always be friends but it was different than it used to be. Merlin saw this and understood it and, while it hurt a little, he didn't let it get him down too much. Gwaine was still his friend. He couldn't allow himself to be jealous because Gwaine had other stronger friendships now.
They were silent for awhile. "Merlin… I wanted to say I'm sorry."
Merlin glanced up. "You don't need too." he said lightly.
Gwaine shook his head. "I do." He responded gravely. "I don't remember what happened clearly, but I know I said some things that if I remembered fully I would be ashamed of now."
Merlin didn't respond, he stared down at the water running over his fingers as he held a plate underneath the flow. He began to scrub vigorously. "But you had to know, Merlin." Gwaine spoke again. "You had to know something was wrong…" He hesitated. "You had to know that I… I wouldn't treat you like that. You know that you're more than just a servant… you're my friend."
Merlin hesitated. "Not at first, but eventually I knew you could never be like that." He admitted.
Gwaine looked hurt. "How could you believe that?" He asked.
Merlin didn't say anything, his eyes drifted about looking anywhere but at Gwaine. He swore he would never tell anyone this, never bring it up again, but Gwaine needed to hear something. "You're not the first knight that's treated me badly." Merlin stated. He was staring so hard at the plate he didn't see Gwaine's sudden protective glare.
"Who?" Gwaine asked and there was such a dangerous quality in his tone that Merlin's eyes shot up. He stared at Gwaine instead of responding. "What did they do to you?" He asked.
Merlin shook his head and looked away. "It was a long time ago." He muttered. "Arthur straightened them out."
Gwaine, who had thought that this was a simple respect issue, suddenly got worried. If Arthur had had to step in then it was more serious than Merlin was letting on. He reached a hand out to place on Merlin's arm, surprised when the younger man flinched. Gwaine pulled his hand away and Merlin look ashamed. "Sorry." He said blushing.
"Merlin?" Gwaine said gently and though he did not say anything else, Merlin knew what he was asking.
Merlin could tell that he wasn't going to let this go either. He sighed stacking the plates and sitting back. Gwaine settled as well realizing that Merlin was about to start a story that Gwaine wasn't completely sure he wanted to hear.
"Back when I first came to Camelot and became Arthur's servant many of the knights didn't like me." Merlin started, he looked sheepishly up at Gwaine. "You see how I talk to Arthur, I wasn't much different then. They didn't think that I respected Arthur so they in turn didn't show me any respect." Gwaine was practically holding his breath. "At first it was just name calling, yelling, stuff that I could handle." Gwaine remembered vaguely how they had treated Merlin the past few days and imagined it was very similar to how these knights had treated him 'at first.' Merlin took a deep breath. "But Arthur started to change soon after that. He… matured… became responsible and noble, more than just a bully. He started treating those around him better and started becoming the leader that we know him now to be." Merlin stated. "Arthur started spending less time with those knights, I think he recognized how cruel they could be." At Gwaine's questioning look Merlin rolled his eyes. "They were bullies, they would pick on servants and the people in the lower town, they would never seriously hurt someone… not like…" Merlin trailed off glancing up at Gwaine and then cleared his throat. "Anyway, Arthur realized he couldn't act that way, nor wanted too. He stopped spending time with them. He started to spend more time by himself… well… I was there… but he started going on hunts more often, spending time training, immersing himself in political affairs." Merlin was staring at his hands. "I guess they blamed me, or were jealous that I was always with him, they also saw how he treated me better than they did. They saw that he respected me more than they did, how he let me speak to him. I guess they were jealous." Merlin laughed. "And me, I could never keep my big mouth shut." Merlin said regretfully.
Gwaine was seriously afraid of where this story was going.
"I caught them bullying some people in the lower town and confronted them." Merlin looked at his hands. "I was never afraid of bullies, I'd even taken on Arthur and survived, but he was different than them. They were cruel and cold hearted and they didn't like me ruining their… sport." Merlin said the word with disgust, spitting it off his tongue like one of Gaius' foul tasting potions. "I guess they got fed up… they gained up on me and there wasn't much I could do." Merlin knew this was a lie, he could have easily taken them all out with magic but just as Arthur had grown and matured so had Merlin, and he couldn't risk revealing his magic to deal with a couple of bullies, he had used it a little, enough to keep himself from being too badly hurt but he knew at that point that his magic was about more than himself. He had grown fond of Arthur even if he would never admit it and he believed in the king Arthur would become and he couldn't risk their destiny on a couple of thugs.
Meanwhile Gwaine was sitting there barely controlling his anger. His fists were clenched tightly making his knuckles turn white and there was a fury in his eyes. He had always said that nobility was measured by what you do, not who you are, those knights proved it, just not in the way he would have liked.
"What happened?" He asked through barely controlled rage.
Merlin tensed. "Arthur happened." He said. "He found them… and me… he was angry, I could tell, but he controlled his anger, he didn't let them get him riled up. He was a true leader in that moment and I respected him for it."
The details were vague, Merlin knew that, he didn't want to tell Gwaine how his face was so swollen that he was nearly unrecognizable, how he had limped around for days after and wasn't able to perform his duties for weeks due to a dislocated shoulder, how Arthur had practically dragged him to Gaius' chambers, or how he had woken with nightmares for nearly a year after that.
Gwaine was silent for awhile. "What did he do to them?" he asked.
Merlin sighed. "Unfortunately there wasn't much he could do. Uther was still king. You saw how it was when a commoner is put against a knight." Gwaine didn't say anything but clenched his jaw, he had spent a year banished because of those rules. "But he did move to pass a law protecting the citizens of Camelot from damages done by knights. It wasn't much at the time but it grew. As for the knights themselves they lost respect in his eyes and eventually, one by one, they left. Not one of them lives in Camelot anymore. It's hard to stay when the Crown Prince detests who you are, let alone the king."
"I want to know who they are." Gwaine said tersely.
Merlin's eyes swam with emotion as he looked at Gwaine, there was shame and embarrassment, a whole broken man that Merlin had long ago hid from the world. "I appreciate that Gwaine, but it happened a long time ago and I'd really it rather just stay that way." He picked up a stick and poked at some mud in the stream, Gwaine was still trying to hold in his own emotions. "I've seen some of them recently, they've changed, taken responsibility of their own lands and become better people. One of them even apologized, the rest just try not to look at me but I can see a bit of regret in their eyes, even if their pride won't let them apologize." It wasn't enough for Gwaine. He wanted to see those men punished, to get revenge for what happened to his friend.
At the same time he saw how much doing that would hurt Merlin, like dredging up old terrible memories all over again. He took his hand and laid it gently on Merlin's shoulder, feeling the younger man tense as he did so, but he didn't flinch away and soon relaxed under the grip.
"Merlin." He called softly and Merlin turned to look him in the eye. "What happened to you then will never happen again." He promised. "You may only have the rank of a servant, but you know that you have friends amongst us knights. We may have treated you badly, but we were enchanted and we would never treat you that way if we were in our right minds."
Merlin smiled lightly and Gwaine gripped his shoulder a little tighter. "And I promise that from now on, nothing, no magic or enchantment, will ever cause me to treat you that way again."
He smiled at Merlin whose smile grew bigger until he laughed. "I believe you." He said. If anyone could do it Gwaine could. Gwaine chuckled and picked up another dish.
"Now come on, we better get these cleaned and get back to the princess before he throws a fit." Merlin nodded still smiling, feeling more at peace than he had in years. It was as though something that had been broken in him for a long time was finally righting itself and Merlin felt better than he had in a long time.
The knights that had attacked him all those years ago were Uther's knights, and while they had all become relatively good men they were nothing compared to Arthur's knights. Arthur chose men that were brave and noble rather than just the sons of men who were considered to have special blood. It was just one of the many things Arthur had changed in the short time he had been king.
Merlin smiled, Camelot was a much better place thanks to Arthur and his knights and Merlin knew he didn't have to be afraid anymore with friends like them at his side.
AN: So sounds like there's a whole other story that comes before this one eh? Well there just might be… who knows?
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