This is a sequel to Magician's Assistant. That story deals with suicide, so it's understandable that you wouldn't want to read it. This story can be read on it's own, it does not need Magician's Assistant to understand this one.
I don't own anything, of course.
I've also changed a few things around, like the geography, the names of the five kingdoms, and Galapas (who was from Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave", I've changed him a little bit in this one).
The yellow flowers were no match against the breeze. Their petals floated off the stems and twirled through the air. Then they would get caught on the armour of the knights, roughhousing on the grass. It had started as a regular training session, Arthur patrolling the ranks, before that had all been lost.
Merlin hadn't helped, with his catcalling and shouting earlier.
Some still saw their training through to the end, carrying out their tasks. Shooting at the targets and sparring. But the atmosphere was light, carefree. Laughter filled the air.
Even Gaius was outside, not quite laughing but smiling fondly at the lot of them, as though they were simply children whacking each other with toy swords. And in a way they were.
Merlin sat on the grass, next to Gaius, who had an open book on his lap and a quill in his hand. His expression was soft, fond, watching the way the armour glinted in the sun. Then there was Arthur, that brilliantly beautiful red cape fanning out behind him, his golden hair a mess, spread about his head like it were a crown made of sunlight. Merlin thought he could probably do that, craft a crown for Arthur out of the yellow sun.
He nearly did it, too, as he sat and watched. Arthur was sprawled on his back, gasping with laughter and trying to catch his breath. Then Arthur was tilting his head to the side, locking eyes with Merlin. He felt a little bit warm at the intensity of that look, and found the corner of his lips quirking in a smile.
These were the moments he craved, when Arthur looked at him like that, like he was someone Arthur truly cared about him, not like Merlin was simply a chore.
A stray arrow came racing towards him, then, Merlin didn't even think and the wood stopped short of him, quivering in the air. And he meant to throw it back, toss it good and deep into one of the targets. And he was just about to throw it when Arthur was suddenly on his feet. His voice carried, loud and harsh, through the yard. The atmosphere shifted, as though the sun had dulled, as Arthur shouted at the boy who had missed his target.
Merlin sagged a little bit, watching almost boredly now. Hs enjoyment had faded, as he watched the light fade from Arthur's hair as he berated the poor knight. Merlin let out a soft breath, looked to Gaius and gave him a tiny smile, before he got up.
But he knew, no matter where he went, that someone would be following him. It wouldn't take long before someone would be coming up to him, saying hello and inviting themselves along with him. So Merlin, like a well trained dog, went to find someone instead.
His mother was kneeling on the stone pathways, clearing dead leaves and petals from the rose bushes. When she saw him, she smiled and stood, putting her arms around him in a hug. "Hello." She said, squeezing the life out of him before pulling back, her hands on his cheeks.
"Hey." He replied, giving her a small smile.
"Help me with these roses," she invited, and when Merlin went to lift a hand, "no magic," she scolded. So Merlin knelt beside her and reached into the bushes to pull the dried leaves from the thorny stems. And it was nice to work like this again, use his hands for a tedious task, the repetitive motion was soothing.
He missed being Arthur's servant when he struggled to fill the hours in the day. He'd go to tidy Arthur's chambers, and Arthur would tell him that someone else would take care of it, there was no need. He missed polishing his armour, using his hands until they ached and the metal was shiny enough to see his reflection in. He had always been satisfied with his work, he had rarely done it with magic, preferring to do it by hand unless he was tired.
Even shining Arthur's boots was something he missed, and he couldn't help but notice they didn't look nearly as good as they had when Merlin had been the one to do it. But servant's duties were things that Arthur thought weren't suitable for him anymore. He was stuck in some kind of strange state, floating about in a daze while the world moved around him. He had no purpose, no job, Arthur didn't tell him anything anymore, so Merlin couldn't even offer his advice.
He yearned for it, for some kind of purpose, to be useful. Instead, he had been placed on a pedestal, too high up to get down from, protected as though he were made of glass. And maybe he was, a little bit, because he couldn't quite shake everything. He couldn't quite forget, he couldn't quite move on. He was still tied to the ground, unable to spread his wings and fly.
As he plucked dry roses from the bush, and tossed each one into the basket, he lost himself in thought. He understood why Arthur locked the door at night, why he was never alone, why Arthur needed to know where he was at all times. He really did - he had betrayed their trust, he didn't deserve it.
But at the same time, he was never alone. And it was getting difficult.
The fire was warm in the grate in Arthur's chambers, after the sun had set, Merlin wasn't even able to dress him anymore, another one of the small things he missed. He sank into the bed, into 'his side' of it, and curled up with his back to the middle. The bed dipped as Arthur got in beside him, shuffling for a moment, the blankets shifting, before he settled. Merlin tensed, waiting for it, the silence ticked by and finally, Arthur let out a breath that sounded like a sigh and rolled towards Merlin, slipping an arm around him.
He remembered those nights, only a few months ago, when Merlin had turned to Arthur and clutched at him, desperate to chase away his demons. And in those moments, Merlin believed that Arthur could battle every dark creature inside of him, that he could fight away the shadows that haunted him with each pass of his warm hand through his hair. But now it seemed like nothing more than a chore to hold Merlin like this, like it was another duty Arthur had as king and not because he truly cared. Merlin knew quite well that Arthur cared, that much was obvious, but his fear of losing Merlin again outranked his desire to care for him, love him, even.
But Merlin had never asked for anything from him, much less something like love. He had wanted to be noticed when they had all been younger, recognized, but he had not needed it. He had been happy to be the reason Arthur thrived. Something had gone sour between them, the passion that kept Arthur close had faded. Merlin had needed him so much in those moments, when he kept thinking and couldn't shake the thoughts, when he wanted the world around him to just stop. And Arthur would be there, strong and solid, helping Merlin through the worst of it.
He woke up in the morning, blankets pulled up to his chin, Arthur was already up, but there was no warmth from his side anymore. He had been up for a long time. Merlin peered ahead of him, at the fire that had died down, he was cold, despite being bundled up with blankets. He craved warmth, and with a thought the fire was warm and crackling again. He closed his eyes, content with the warm glow. He almost wanted to call Arthur to him to use him as a pillow. He craved affection, as he listened to the scratch of Arthur's pen and the snap of the fire.
Maybe it had been too much to think that Arthur had romantic interest in him, perhaps it had just been his desire to help a friend.
Eventually, Merlin did haul himself from bed, getting up and dressing, before walking towards Arthur. He wanted to run his fingers from shoulder to shoulder, he wanted to taste the skin under his ear. He nearly did it too, but withheld because he wasn't so sure Arthur would respond well.
"Breakfast." Arthur said without looking up, Merlin eyed it. Another thought, it was hot and steaming again. He sat down across from him, saying nothing.
It was another day with too many hours to fill while the emptiness ticked away inside of him. Arthur, too, was stuck. Just as Merlin was. He thought about that destiny the dragon spoke about, the great and wonderful things Arthur was supposed to be doing. But if he was supposed to do these things, then why wasn't it happening?
Magic was legal, he could use it freely without worry, but nothing seemed to have changed. Where was the end to all these prophecies? Perhaps it had all been lies.
Arthur looked up at Merlin, and in that moment, Merlin thought he could see into his soul, where Arthur was just as cracked as he was. He wondered if maybe, tonight, he should curl into Arthur again, like he had, see if it changed anything.
The moment was over too soon, Arthur was getting up and motioning for Merlin to follow. So he obeyed, expression blank as they left his chambers, making their way through the corridors.
It was Lancelot, of all people, who noticed. Perhaps because he had lived through his own pain before, he knew how Merlin felt. He had been reckless and stupid with his life, so he knew the signs. They walked together outside in the late afternoon, amongst the flowers and the tall grass. Merlin shoved his hands in his pockets, quietly. "How are you doing, Merlin?" Lancelot asked, his voice smooth and kind, like the sun hanging high above them.
"I'm doing well." Merlin replied automatically.
"Good, now tell me how you are actually feeling." He probed, eyeing Merlin carefully.
Merlin stopped walking, tipping his face to the sky above, peering at the shadows of clouds. He didn't say anything for a long time, contemplating his answer. He wasn't so sure he had one.
"I would have thought," the man continued, "with magic being legal now, that everything would look different. Have you not noticed?"
So Merlin stopped, planting his feet into the grass and tried to look, tried to see. But he wasn't seeing anything, he wasn't even.. feeling anything. It felt the same as it always had. "That can't be right." Merlin murmured, looking around him intently, as if the magic would suddenly open up all around him. He had heard, that in times where magic prospered, crops were thicker, grass was greener, everything was just that much brighter. But nothing looked different, how had he not noticed it?
Lancelot was looking at Merlin when he had stopped examining the area, the knight smiled. "You are looking for something, you have not healed yet either." Merlin's belly squirmed uncomfortably, it wasn't that he was hiding it, but he wasn't so sure what to do now that he had it figured out. "You need to do what is best for you. Regardless of what anyone else says. I will support you." With that, Lancelot was bowing his head just slightly, before he was walking through the grass. Away from Merlin.
At first, Merlin didn't realize what Lancelot was doing, not until the silence of the air descended on him. He was alone. He sat in the grass, obviously Lancelot had figured it out, he had seen that he was never given a moment of silence, and here it was.
Something tight in his belly, something that had been constricting him before, seemed to loosen. It was easier to breathe, now, as he lay in the soft grasses and closed his eyes. He was smiling, because this was all he wanted. Time to be alone, time to think, time to sort himself out.
He had fallen asleep before he had come up with a solution. It couldn't have been very long, he was groggy when Arthur was shaking him awake. Merlin tried to keep his eyes open, looking up at Arthur who looked kind of wrecked. He almost reached out to him, put a hand on his face to soothe him but he didn't have the strength to. He didn't want Arthur to pull away.
"I'm sorry?" Merlin murmured, Arthur had been talking but he had been half asleep. Now that he was sitting up, he felt more awake.
"I didn't know where you were." Arthur confessed, sitting beside him. Maybe this was the breakthrough Merlin needed. "I was worried, I just can't relax if you're not around. Knowing that I could lose you again.." He broke off, staring ahead of him, not at Merlin. He understood, the last time Merlin had gone off alone Arthur had found him dead, he knew that now. He knew that he had worried him.
But how could he tell Arthur that he needed to be alone sometimes? How did he tell him that he didn't want to make Arthur so uncomfortable, unhappy, by sharing a bed with him? "Gaius still has that bed," Merlin started.
"No." Arthur interrupted, his voice the slightest bit shaky. "I couldn't lose you again." This time Merlin did reach out, he couldn't stop the urge to, his hand folded over Arthur's slowly, fingers curling to his palm. Arthur sighed softly, getting up abruptly, their hands falling apart. Merlin's hand left hanging in the air. "Let's get back inside." The other invited, Merlin closed his mouth and nodded, getting up and following his king back inside.
He couldn't understand why Arthur was so abrupt, unless he was only his friend, no more. So Merlin resigned himself, walking a few steps behind him. He had begun to feel again, slowly, the emotions that had been suffocated by pain and guilt were returning to his life now. Like the way he had felt about Arthur, those budding feelings he had tried to deny. He supposed that, while everything else had changed, Arthur still knew he was king. Regardless of how he felt, he could not have feelings for someone like Merlin.
That thought brought a spark of pain that was entirely new, it wasn't that deadened feeling, the one that left him feeling so bleak. It was active inside him, like a living thing, that stung and hurt because he cared in a way that wasn't returned. It was almost refreshing, this pain, and he cherished it. If he could hurt like this, if it wasn't killing his insides again, then he knew he could recover. For so long he had been living in a daze, unable to understand how he could fit in again. It was like the sun had broken through the clouds for the first time, like the storm had lifted.
Everything would be okay, but as they walked through the doors of Camelot, into the softly lit staircase, he felt the greyness settle back inside of him. He knew, then, that he would not heal here, he would not find what he was looking for. He had to leave.
He thought back to what Lancelot said, as they closed the door to Arthur's chambers behind them. There was a tray of food left on the table, still hot, and the two of them sat down. Lancelot had told him that he needed to do what was best for him, and perhaps now, what was best for him was to leave. He tried not to let Arthur think anything was different, but Arthur seemed to know anyway.
That night, when they slept, Merlin reached out for him first, drawing him close and pillowing his head on Arthur's shoulder. His hand began to stroke his hair, moving through it over and over. It was soothing, and if Merlin was leaving when the day broke he was going to enjoy this night with Arthur.
Merlin woke up first this time, and tucked in closer to him, tightening an arm around his waist and closing his eyes. It was peaceful, and maybe Merlin would have changed his mind about leaving if Arthur had stayed. But instead, he got up and made his way towards the table, it didn't take long for someone to knock at the door with breakfast. Merlin buried himself deeper into the comfortable blankets, rolling to where Arthur had been sleeping to soak up his warmth, to breathe in the smell of him on the pillows.
He met up with Lancelot later that day, and while Arthur was in a council meeting, he and Lancelot packed a bag. It was small, only a few changes of clothes, his magic book, little things he might need. As they were leaving, bag over his shoulder, Gwen spotted them in the halls. "Merlin? Lancelot?" She asked curiously, looking at the two of them almost suspiciously. "Where are you two off to?"
Lancelot met Merlin's gaze for a moment, Merlin gave a quick, jerky nod, and he turned to her. "Would you pack a bag of supplies, please? I am afraid Merlin and I would starve if we did it ourselves. We would not know what to pack."
She stared at them for a moment, before smiling. "Going on a trip then? What's the occasion?"
"Meet us outside," Merlin stated. "We'll tell you everything." With that, he gave her a grin. "Give us an hour."
They went to see his mother first.
"Merlin?" She asked, softly, as she saw the bag hanging at his hip.
"I can't stay here, mum." He said, walking over to her. "I promise I'll come back, but I need to leave." She frowned, but pulled his head in and kissed his forehead.
"Fine, but be safe. Write to me." She said, trusting him to return.
Gaius gave him the Eyebrow when he told him, but then he smiled and pulled Merlin gruffly into a hug. "Good boy." He praised, "you figure yourself out. It'll be good for you."
So, laden down with various salves and bandages from both Hunith and Gaius, they went outside. Guinevere was there, sitting by the steps with a bag over her shoulder. She stood when she saw the two of them. "You're leaving Merlin, aren't you?" She asked. He only nodded as she flung her arms around him. "You're not going to do anything stupid are you?" She asked, her voice muffled by his shoulder. Merlin wrapped his arms around her, knowing that he could only expect that kind of reaction, he deserved it. But it didn't make it any easier to hear.
"Come with us." Merlin invited, he could see Lancelot's shy grin. "I won't stay with you for long, but we can all go together."
She pulled away, looking between the two of them, before sighing. "Alright, I'm coming." She said, grinning. Then she paused, "have you told Arthur?"
"No. Someone will have seen the three of us, they're going to know we're going somewhere. He'll understand." Merlin wasn't so sure he would, but if he told Arthur, he would make him stay and that wasn't happening, not if he wanted to recover.
So the three of them set off, Lancelot was a little more charming than usual and he made sure Gwen walked beside him, while Merlin tagged along. He had thought, when he had died, that she and Arthur would find each other. That hadn't happened, but perhaps there was still hope left for her, if she could find Lancelot. Maybe he could play a little bit of matchmaker here.
With the towers of Camelot fading into the distance, he felt lighter with each step. Less grey inside. He walked slowly, savouring the sweet smelling air, the pattern of sunlight streaming through the leaves. Gwen's laughter in his ears, Lancelot's fond grin. He would make sure they were far enough away from Camelot before he left them, then perhaps something good could come of this. Merlin had been the one, in part, to ruin Arthur's potential romance with Gwen, though he could do little for Arthur now, he could help her.
As for Arthur, Merlin didn't know what to say. But Arthur could use time to himself, to sort himself out. Because Arthur was suffering in his own quiet way. If he wasn't around the person that had caused him so much grief, maybe he could heal? But he had written Arthur a letter, telling him he would return to him when he found himself, and that he vowed he would never take a blade to his skin.
They travelled for three days, Merlin kept using his magic to give them a little push. The root of the tree that snaked its way across the path, so Lancelot had to catch her. A falling branch (just a small one) caught a tiny scratch across Lancelot's jaw, and they stopped so she could carefully patch him up again. Merlin watched as the two of them stared deep into each other's eyes. It was that moment, after numerous little pushes, that he knew he needed to part ways from them. They would hold off until he was gone.
Satisfied, the next morning he handed Lancelot the tightly rolled parchment. "Bring this to Arthur." He said, "and tell him I truly am sorry to leave like this, I would love nothing more than to stay, but he needs this too. I'm only bringing him down now, help him see that if he can't see it on his own."
He hugged them both tightly, before taking off down the path.