Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Gwen, Merlin; mentions of Uther, Gaius and Morgana
Rating/Genre: G, flangst. (AKA: fluff/angst, with a side portion of humour.)
Warnings/Spoilers: Up to 2.13 is fair game.
Summary: When Arthur finds out about Merlin's magic, and Merlin confides in Gwen, there are things to be discussed.
Author's note: Written for _autumncolours for her prompt, Arthur finds out about Merlin's magic, and is depressed to find that he hasn't ever killed a dragon or really done anything else amazing - it's actually been Merlin saving the day all along. Gwen cheers him up (take that however you want!) :D at the Camelot loves Haiti thing-a-thon from... A while ago now. And in that vein, I really appreciate your patience in waiting for this, and I am still so, so grateful for your generosity. I sincerely hope this lives up to your expectations. My unending thanks go to imigination for her mad beta skills and epic amounts of support ♥♥♥
"Well," Arthur said slowly, in an attempt to inject levity into the stifling air of confession and shock. "At least the Dragon's defeat was my doing."
Merlin was silent for a while until, "Since we're telling secrets and things -
Arthur groaned. "No."
The cavern walls echoed the low rumble of a second, far more dismayed groan, mingled uncomfortably with an uncertain chuckle.
With no idea of who to expect on the other side of her door, Gwen warily answered the frantic knocking.
"Merlin? What are you doing here?"
"There's something I have to tell you. Although..." He paused for a moment, and a slight quirk of his lips belied his anxiety. "I don't think you'll be very surprised."
Hesitating only so long as it took to consider her bed and dismiss the prospect of sleep for several hours yet, Gwen tilted her head, took a step back, and motioned Merlin inside.
Familiar as she was with his routines, Gwen slipped into Arthur's chambers without announcing herself. His head turned at her entrance, lips twisting briefly in welcome before his gaze was drawn back towards the fire.
Taking her seat next to him - wondering for the hundredth time whether anyone had questioned his desire for a new chair to fit two people or if they simply waved it off as the whimsy of a prince - Gwen crossed her ankles and rested her hands on her knees. Arthur lounged beside her, one leg outstretched and his elbow on the arm of the seat as his fist supported his head, looking the picture of an unconcerned royal.
Gwen knew better.
A minute or two passed, where the only sound was the gentle crack of the fire, before Arthur said, "I take it Merlin's told you."
"Yes," Gwen confirmed with a nod.
"Did you know?"
Gwen took a deep breath, trying to judge his tone. Deciding that he didn't sound angry, only curious and perhaps a little resigned, she tipped her head from side to side. "I can't say that I knew," Gwen murmured slowly. "But I also can't say that I was exactly surprised..."
Arthur gave a small jerk of his head, not quite a nod, and snorted his understanding.
Undesiring of another extended silence, Gwen let her feet slide forwards, leaning back a little stiffly against the seat. "Merlin believes you nurse a bruised ego," she said offhandedly, watching Arthur carefully from the corner of her eye.
She saw as he straightened and turned towards her, and let herself smile as he scoffed. "He told you that?"
"Not exactly..." Gwen said slowly, letting her smile widen as Arthur's hand snaked between hers clasped on her lap.
Arthur hesitated only a moment before sliding over so that his shoulder nudged beneath hers. "What exactly did he say then?"
Shrugging and clamping down on her smile, she said, "He said, You know Arthur and his..."
"He left off there," Gwen said lightly. "It was enough for me to know what he was talking about, though."
"Are you calling me egotistical, Guinevere?" Arthur asked in a tone so falsely stern that Gwen nearly rolled her eyes at his poor performance.
But, in staying true to her own role, Gwen shook her head, responding sincerely, "Not at all, sire."
"Though, I do wonder, if you're no egoist, why I've found you brooding in the firelight."
Arthur fell silent again, and Gwen waited as patiently as she could, managing just to prevent herself from twisting her hands in anxiety, wrapped as they were around his. She had no fear that Arthur would betray Merlin; they needed one another in ways far beyond secrets, in things that took them to the future.
Much as this revelation would, Gwen thought, rueful.
But Arthur's loyalty would not be enough if ever Uther discovered Merlin's secret. Gwen wondered vaguely if there would be enough time between Uther's discovery and the order for arrest to smuggle Merlin from the kingdom... Not that it would prevent Uther from looking. Bad as he had been previously, since Morgana's kidnap seven-months-two-weeks-and-six-days ago, he had only become ever worse.
And Uther would see the betrayal of Arthur's servant as more reason to claim Arthur ill-prepared for becoming king, as the rift between them seemed sometimes to widen daily. Much to Arthur's unconfessed heartache and Uther's apparent nonchalance.
"What do you think of magic?" Arthur asked abruptly into the quiet.
Gwen shook her head and licked her lips before answering. "I haven't been sure for some time now," she admitted quietly. She took a half breath, hesitating again, before adding resolutely, "I do know that Merlin could never act cruelly with it."
"I've always been told that magic is a corrupting force," Arthur said sombrely after a moment, sounding almost as though he hadn't heard her. "That any person who practises it is evil, and their deeds criminal."
"That their actions, no matter how apparently good, are based on misguided morality. That any use of magic is an abuse of a power not shared by all people, and certainly not governable by those without it."
"I've always been told the same."
"And last week, Merlin spilled porridge all over my armour. After just having finished polishing it."
It took a beat for Arthur's words, so familiar in their perpetually exasperated tone, to sink in before Gwen laughed despite herself. "Clearly the act of a power-blinded man," she concluded affectionately.
Her smile faded as quickly as it had come, and Gwen took a deep breath. She and Arthur were still finding their way in a half-courtship of innocent caresses and whispered secrets, but to the best of their ability - and in all ways, in contrast to Gwen's socially imposed sensibilities - they strove to strike a balance between them where possible. So in this, Gwen thought she knew her place well enough. Merlin was her best friend too, after all.
"There's really nothing we can do," she said quietly, turning slightly in order to see Arthur's face. "Only... Try to keep an eye on him and hope he won't do anything -
"Idiotic," Arthur finished sourly, expression grim.
"I was going to say rash," Gwen corrected primly. Arthur's eyes crinkled as his lips eased into a smile, and Gwen let herself puff out a breath of amusement. "To be fair, he has lived with the secret for this long."
"And how he did that is a mystery," Arthur muttered. Gwen's fingers tightened around his briefly and he rolled his eyes. Biting her lip, Gwen frowned slightly as Arthur's expression clouded, frown of irritated bewilderment darkening, his eyes shifting to something she couldn't see.
"What is it?" she asked quietly, twisting slightly to face him more squarely. Arthur looked at her in surprise, and Gwen worried her bottom lip. "It just seems like there's something else bothering you," she added uncertainly.
He stared at her blankly for a moment before the corner of his lips twitched and he snorted. "Nothing gets past you," he said softly, and Gwen's cheeks heated at the affection in his voice. "I am worried about Merlin, but..." Arthur took a deep breath and glanced towards the fire again. "I wonder what hope we have."
Anxiety banished all the bashful heat from her cheeks as Gwen felt herself as though doused in ice water. The future was unknown, certainly, but what she had always believed, and had thought Arthur was slowly coming to realise, was that Arthur had the ability and guarantee of his position to ensure a better future for Camelot. Decisions needn't be made that night regarding magic and the future, but surely Arthur thought only of the possibilities of creating a spot for Merlin in his kingdom, and not -
"According to Merlin," he continued, oblivious to the frantic turn of her thoughts. "Every time magic has been used against the kingdom, and each time it was apparently... overcome by..."
"You," Gwen supplied. Arthur met her gaze and nodded, expression wry. Under other circumstances, Arthur's unexpected show of humility would have caused Gwen to smile, eyes following as his expression turned a little embarrassed, his cheeks turning a light pink.
"But it was actually Merlin, using his magic to defeat the attacker." It was Gwen's turn to nod, and Arthur sighed. "I trust Merlin not to misuse his power, but... if there is no chance for non-magical people to defend themselves against a magical attack..."
"Your father is not right, Arthur," Gwen said carefully, her hand tightening on his as she angled herself against him the better to see his face and emphasise her point. "Merlin proves that those with magic can be just like anyone else. Some may be blinded by their abilities, but others can be good. It means that... magic itself is not necessarily the corrupting force."
Arthur hesitated, then said, "I understand that. But Merlin is one man and we have faced how many attacks from sorcerers and sorceresses... magical creatures?"
"The numbers are slanted against Camelot," Gwen said quietly, attempting to quell her anxiety and find a way to speak tactfully about Uther's actions. "Many magical people have cause to hate Camelot and its - people."
Her words were met with a short pause in which Gwen assumed Arthur was organising a further argument.
Instead, he sighed, "I know," and deflated back against the seat. Gwen also eased herself back, resting against his shoulder again.
After a moment of shifting to get comfortable, somewhat hopeful for a hitherto unconsidered avenue of action, Gwen hazarded, "What will you do?"
His answer, when it came, was frustrated, with a thread of hope that mirrored hers. "Is there anything we can do right now?"
She took a deep breath, letting it fill and expand in her chest fully, willing the breath to bring with it some insight. None came, and she breathed out slowly.
"No," she said simply. There could be very little constructive discussion or negotiation with Uther as king. But it did give them the time to think and the space to learn. And now they knew, they could lend aid to magical people who found themselves in trouble within Camelot's borders. Merlin was not alone with that responsibility anymore.
"Not yet," she added resolutely.
His lips, when they ghosted against the back of her neck, were warm and damp.
He was anxious. He was trying not to show it, and for once a history of clumsiness was in his favour, as Gaius thought nothing of his spilling a cup of water and breaking all the pipettes. It was just that for all he knew that Arthur wouldn't betray him, there were still many things he could do instead.
Such as dismiss him or turn him out of Camelot.
Not that Merlin really thought that would happen either. But Arthur was sometimes prone to doing what he thought was best for others; he may think Merlin out of Camelot was safer for Merlin than Merlin in Camelot. If that were the case, though, Gwen may support him in opposing Arthur... Maybe.
Of course, there was also the very slim possibility that Arthur's show of nonchalance two nights previous had been just that: a show. He could be furious.
It did not ease the knot in Merlin's stomach when he entered Arthur's chambers to find him with sword in hand.
But Arthur looked up and said, "Ah. Merlin," as he had done on any number of occasions previously. And continued with, "I've got training so we'll talk later. But while I'm gone, here's what I need you to do," before proceeding to outline a list of tasks the length of which Merlin was all too painfully familiar.
When finally Arthur had finally finished, Merlin muttered a sour, "Of course, sire," and went to collect the laundry as Arthur made his way to the door.
"Oh, and Merlin."
Merlin turned to find Arthur watching him suspiciously with narrowed eyes.
"No cheating," he said and left.