Title: If You Ever Have Need
Rating: T for violence
Pairings: Mostly Merlin/Arthur friendship. There will probably be some Arthur/Gwen romance later on. ABSOLUTELY NO SLASH
Spoilers: Through the end of season 2
Warnings: Slight violence. No beta. All mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters or ideas. I just like to play with them. (Okay...that sounded wrong, but you know what I mean.)
Summary: When yet another creature attacks Camelot, Merlin is forced to reveal his powers. Unable to kill his closest friend, Arthur sends him away. What does that mean for their destiny.
Author’s Note: This is to Mark, who sent me a review on the last chapter. He had a couple of questions that I’d like to answer. I know it’s a little OOC for Gaius to say that Merlin wouldn’t dare use evil magic and I know that it’s a little weird for Arthur to have just let the whole Morgause thing drop after he brought it up, but I thought in both cases that the conversation between Arthur and Gaius had gone on for so long that it needed to end. I just felt that going into all of that in the second chapter was a little too much, not only for the chapter, but for Arthur to deal with. However, all of that will be explained and explored later in the fic.
Chapter 3: Small Steps
“What are you doing here?” Arthur asked in surprise.
Gwen blushed and leapt up from her chair beside the fire, fumbling with the hem of her sleeve as she did. She’d known something was off the moment Arthur had come back to the castle after fighting the wyvern. Normally, he seemed proud and happy after defeating whatever creature happened to be attacking Camelot that week. This time, he’d been oddly subdued, despite the fact that none of his knights had died. Aside from a few minor injuries, everyone had been all right. There had been no reason for Arthur to seem so troubled.
He’d given his report in a monotone, barely displaying any emotion, besides professionalism. The king hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong, but Gwen had. It was when Arthur had mentioned Merlin’s name. There had been a flicker of pain across his face. Something had happened with Merlin and it was bothering him.
In the end, she got her answer. Uther had noticed that Merlin was not present, despite his attachment to Arthur, and had barely been mentioned in the report. It was a little surprising that the king had seen that since he usually cared so little for the servants. Arthur had explained that the events of the past few months had been too hard on Merlin and that the manservant had decided to return to Ealdor.
“He was not sure if he will return,” Arthur had admitted. “Merlin said something about needing to deal with some things. The times have been hard on the best of us and he is not accustomed to the kind of destruction we have seen. I gave him permission to go and told him that if ever thought to return that he would still have a position as my manservant.”
The words had been spoken quietly, but with an authority that could not be challenged. Uther had simply nodded and that had been that as far as he was concerned.
Gwen had seen the tension in Arthur’s shoulders as he walked away. There was something he’d left out, something concerning Merlin and why he’d left. Uther would never talk to him about it. He wouldn’t even notice. As wonderful as Gaius was, she doubted that Arthur would be comfortable enough to talk to him about whatever was going, perhaps because it had everything to do with Merlin. Hopefully, he would talk to her. So she’d followed him out of the throne room and taken a short cut to his chambers, hoping to get there before he had. She had not expected him to be gone for so long.
When she did not answer immediately, Arthur allowed a small smile to tug at his lips. Despite everything that had happened with Merlin, being around Guinevere was enough to help him calm down. He saw that she was obviously embarrassed. She always was when she breached protocol around him, despite that he loved it when she did. He quickly closed the distance between them and captured her hand with his.
“I’m glad you are here,” he whispered. “It has been a hard day.”
Her unease melted away slightly, though her worry did not. “I guessed as much,” Gwen replied. “You seemed troubled in the throne room. What happened?”
Arthur wanted nothing more than to tell her and though he knew that she could be trusted, it was not his secret. It had to be Merlin’s choice to trust her, not his. Given the chance, he had no doubt that Merlin would do just that. But unless he was there to make the decision himself, Arthur was not going to make it for him. Especially considering that he hadn’t yet figured out exactly how he felt about the whole situation.
With a quiet sigh, Arthur dropped his forehead against Gwen’s. “I wish I could tell you,” he murmured. “I truly do. Something happened out there that has changed everything and I don’t know what to do!”
“Then tell me,” Gwen pleaded. “Let me help you, Arthur.”
A thrill ran through him. She rarely let her guard down enough to call him by his name without him having to say something first. He gripped her hand tighter. “I can’t.”
Gwen blinked away the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. Luckily, Arthur’s eyes were closed and he didn’t notice. She fought to keep her voice steady as she spoke. “If you cannot trust me, then you must trust someone. You cannot ignore whatever this is. Perhaps Gaius--”
“I do trust you,” Arthur interrupted, his eyes open wide and staring directly into hers. “I trust you with my life, Guinevere. What happened with the wyvern, what truly happened, is not my story to tell.”
“Then whose...” she trailed off. “Is that why Merlin left? Something happened that forced him to leave.”
Arthur nodded sadly. “He had no choice. It was the only way for him to be safe.”
Her heart softened. Now that Gwen could truly look into his eyes, she could see how confused and conflicted he was. It was strange to see Arthur so vulnerable, so human.
“Tell me what you can and I will try to help,” she offered.
He hesitate for a moment before giving in to his need to talk to someone. Gaius had helped answer his questions, but had only increased his confusion in the process. He needed to confide in someone who could help him understand and Gwen had an uncanny ability to see to the heart of things. It was one of the many things that had drawn him to her.
Running a hand through his hair, Arthur stepped away from her. He could feel his body beginning to pulse with nervous energy. As calming as her presence was, he couldn’t stand there any longer. He began to pace.
“Merlin was my best friend,” he burst out, ending the long silence. “I never told him that, but he was the first person to ever talk to me like a person. With Morgana it was always insults, with my father it was thinly veiled condescension, and with everyone else it was respect. Merlin told me what he thought of me simply because he was that honest a person. But tonight I found out that he has been keeping a huge part of himself secret. It is not something I can ignore and I am not sure that things can ever be the same again.”
He paused, struggling to find words, to say what he needed to say without revealing the Merlin had magic. Knowing that he wasn’t finished, Gwen waited patiently.
“I have learned so many things tonight, most of them about Merlin, and I just do not know what to think any more. Is he really the person I thought he was or did I never know him? How do I reconcile my memories of him with the person I now see him as? I just...I have no idea what to do!”
Gwen let out a shaky breath. “I wish that I could I give you an answer, but even if I knew exactly what had happened, I cannot tell you what to think. It must be your choice. That being said,” she went on, walking slowly towards him, “Merlin was my friend as well. Ever since he came into Camelot, he has gone out of his way to help others. Do you not remember that he challenged you before he had even been in the city for a day?”
He let out a quiet laugh at that. That day was something Arthur would never forget. It had been the beginning of an unusual, but strong friendship with an equally unusual young man.
“It never mattered to him what was happening. If he could, Merlin helped. He has always been there for us. He has been a good friend who always did what was right. I have never seen him act otherwise, even when he was unsure of the right course of action.” Her mind drifted back to the day when he had asked if it would be right to let Uther die for the sake of the innocents of the kingdom. Whatever he had been talking about, she knew that he had done the right thing.
Shaking herself from her thoughts, Gwen plowed on, hoping that she was getting through to Arthur. “Whatever you learned, I cannot believe that Merlin is anything but a good person. I have never seen anything to suggest otherwise.You may never have told Merlin that you considered a friend, but I know for a fact that he considered you one. He has often risked everything for you. I do not know the secret, but I know he would not keep it from you, from all of us, if he had not had a good reason.”
He certainly had good reason, Arthur thought ruefully. Merlin has been breaking the laws of Camelot just by breathing since he set foot in the city.
Gwen took the final step toward him, resting her hands on his chest. “I am sure that whatever you learned about Merlin tonight does not change who he truly is. All it has done is show you another side of him.”
“Is it really that simple?” Arthur whispered. He wanted it to be. He wanted to just say that nothing had changed, that Merlin as still the idiot he’d become friends with. But he wasn’t sure that he could.
She wrapped her arms around his waist in an attempt to offer him as much comfort as she could. “You can make it that simple.”
Returning the embrace, he pulled Gwen to the bed and sat with her on his lap. “I don’t know if I can,” he admitted.
“I doubt it will be easy, but since when has that stopped you?”
Arthur let out a single weak laugh. That was true. He only hoped that this time, it wouldn’t stop him.
Sighing softly, he let his mind drift back to all the times he and Merlin had been in danger and began trying to reconcile his memories of the events with what Gaius had told him. Gwen felt some of the tension leave Arthur’s body and realized that he was no longer feeling quite so overwhelmed. Now he was facing the challenge like a knight. She knew that he would do whatever it took to deal with everything that had happened and hopefully it would all turn out well. She just wished that she knew what had so drastically changed the relationship between the prince and his manservant.
The light dissipated and Merlin felt his feet hit the ground at an angle. His ankle gave, sending him tumbling to the ground in an undignified heap. Grumbling under his breath, he quickly righted himself.
He’d landed beside the river, about a mile from Ealdor, in a small copse of trees that had hidden his arrival. He didn’t even want to think about what his mother would do to him if he’d outed himself to the entire village. She’d sent him to Camelot just because Will had found out. He knew she wasn’t going to take it well when he told her what had happened with Arthur.
With a sigh, he shifted the straps of his back higher on his shoulders and began the short trek back to his village. He’d been hoping for a chance to visit his home for some time, but between his duties and the sheer number of times h’d had to step in to save Arthur’s life, there hadn’t been the time. He could never have foreseen returning under the current circumstances.
It wasn’t long before he was striding into his village. The sun was just beginning to set. Merlin paused for a moment to consider just how much things had changed in the course of a single afternoon.
He turned at the sound of his name and saw his mother hurrying toward him. Grinning broadly, he quickened his pace again, meeting her halfway.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, pulling her son into her arms for a crushing hug. “Why didn’t you send word that you were coming?”
Merlin returned the embrace. “It was a bit of a last minute decision,” he said, attempting to keep his voice light.
He obviously failed when Hunith pulled away to gaze at him carefully. “What happened?”
Biting his lip, he gently steered her toward their small home and closed the door behind them. His mother watched him worriedly, but didn’t press for information. She knew he would tell her as soon as he was ready.
Merlin dropped his pack in the corner and stood awkwardly in front of Hunith. “Arthur knows. He saw me use magic to stop a wyvern that was attacking the city. It was the only to stop it from killing him and half of Camelot. He took it better than I thought he would,” he added, hoping that would somehow make the situation better. “Instead of killing me, he told me to leave.”
There was pain in his voice as he spoke. Hunith stepped closer to her son, laying a hand on his arm as he continued.
“I hoped that he would understand when he found out,” Merlin admitted. “At least Arthur didn’t hate me instantly.”
“He could never hate you,” Hunith assured her son. “I saw the way you two interacted when he came to help Ealdor. He values you as a friend. Give him some time to come to terms with your gifts and I am sure that everything will turn out all right.”
Merlin smile sadly. “I know. I just wish I hadn’t had to leave. Camelot has become my home. I am going to miss my life there.”
“Do you plan to stay here?” his mother asked hesitantly, despite feeling sure that she already knew that answer.
There was a slight pause before he answered. “I don’t think so. Arthur may have sent my from Camelot, but I still have to protect him. He can’t go a week without being attacked by something.”
“Then what will you do?” Once more, she knew that answer before her son gave it.
“I’ll go back,” Merlin shrugged. “I know that it’s dangerous, but someone has to protect Arthur from himself. I can find someplace just outside the city and keep my ear out for any danger. I’ll continue to study and do whatever I can to help people, not just Arthur.”
Hunith smile proudly. “You have become a great man,” she whispered. “Arthur should be proud to call you a friend. I am sure that he will be safe so long as you are looking after him.”
“You’d be surprised,” he chuckled. “If anyone can get himself into trouble, it’s Arthur. Anyway, I’m not leaving immediately. It’s been too long since we spent some time together. Arthur will be fine for a few days while I take a well deserved break.”
Merlin did not get a well deserved break. He spent a week in Ealdor, helping his mother with the chores he had done before he left. They went a lot quicker now that he had more control over his magic. There was no need to worry about flattening old man Simmons now that he knew what he was doing. With his help, the little cottage was repaired and wood was stacked for the swiftly approaching winter. He helped others in the village as well. It seemed that since he’d come charging in with the prince of Camelot to stop Kanan, the other villagers were more keen to accept him than before.
He swiftly learned that though Ealdor had once been his home, it was no longer that. Camelot was. He felt out of place. He missed the hustle and bustle of the busy city. He missed seeing Gwen. Her smile was always enough to brighten his day. As much as he would deny it should someone think to ask him, Merlin actually missed Arthur’s yelling, long lists of ridiculous chores, and name calling. He missed the strange smells of Gaius’ various medicines. He missed the old man’s wise counsel. He missed his old life.
In the evenings, he and his mother talked of all that had happened since they’d last seen each other. Hunith told him stories of Balinor and of the day to day happenings of their neighbors while Merlin told her of his many adventures with Arthur. It was pleasant and reassuring to feel as if nothing was depending on him to be don. But by the time a week passed, he was getting restless. There were so many things he had to do if he was going to be able to protect Arthur from a distance.
The grey light of early morning saw Merlin and Hunith standing beside the horse Merlin had purchased with some of his savings. Traveling by magic was great, but it took a lot of out of him and he only knew spells to take him to places he had already been. HE couldn’t depend on it as a method of travel.
Hunith wrapped her arms around her son. “Be careful,” she whispered. “You may no longer live under the king’s roof, but using your powers will still be dangerous. There will be those who would be more than glad to take you to him for a reward.”
Her words reminded Merlin of Freya. He bit back a grimace and pulled his mother tighter.
“I will be,” he promised, knowing even as he spoke the words that they were empty. Try as he might, danger just seemed to find him. Pulling away, Merlin fixed a reassuring smile on his face. “I’ll write to you all the time. If you ever need anything, just let me know and I’ll be back here in a flash, literally,” he added, thinking of how he had arrived.
Hunith hugged him again, then stepped back. With another smile, Merlin easily mounted the horse, something he’d had trouble with until Arthur had forced him to learn. He waved one last time, tapped the horse’s sides with his heels and galloped away.