Arthur was just getting ready to walk out of his room when Merlin barged in. The manservant had been holding a jug of wine. It knocked into Arthur, covering his shirt with dark liquid.

Arthur snatched the pitcher away from him. "You idiot! Can't you get through a single day without displaying your incompetence? I've got to go listen to petitions in five minutes, and thanks to your laziness, this was my last clean - "

"I'm done." The quiet words cut neatly through his tirade.

"What?" Arthur stared at him. "Done with what, the laundry?"

Merlin's head had been bowed, but he raised it now, and he was angry in a way Arthur had never seen before. It wasn't the blustering, exaggerated irritation he displayed when the knights had hidden his food or Arthur had piled on chores. It was quiet and fierce, and it ignited instincts in Arthur's mind that wanted nothing more than for him to run.

But this was Merlin for crying out loud, not a dragon, and he hadn't backed away from the dragon in any case, so he raised an eyebrow and waited for an answer. "Done with what?"

"With you."

The words fell small, heavy, and cold and dropped between them like a thrown gauntlet.

He licked his lips, wet shirt forgotten. He set the pitcher down on the table with exaggerated caution. "What do you mean, exactly?" Because there was no way Merlin meant that the way it sounded. He couldn't. It was one thing for his father to dismiss him, for Morgana to turn, but Merlin - He couldn't.

"I'm done with you, Arthur Pendragon. I give up. I quit. I'm leaving. Is that clear enough for you, or do you need a written proclamation?"

Arthur froze. "You can't," he said immediately.

Merlin laughed bitterly. "Of course not. Because according to you I'm an idiotic, useless, talentless, cowardly servant. Except when you need something. Then I'm your 'friend'. Or, more commonly, I almost am. Almost good enough, Merlin, have another crumb of hope. Maybe if you drink poison for me one more time, you'll be good enough. Maybe if you reveal one more traitor, I'll finally trust you -"

"If this is about Agravaine -"

Merlin laughed again. How it be so different from his usual happy one? "Why on earth would this be about Agravaine? I mean, he was the one to convince you to kill Caerleon, to mistrust Gaius, to not look into Gwen -"

"Don't say her name!" he roared.

"Or what, you'll exile me? After I faced Morgana for you? After I threw myself at the Dorocha for you? After everything? Grow up Arthur! Your feelings got hurt, you made her leave, and now you miss her. And you call me a girl! Well, I'm sorry, sire, sine of us don't have the luxury of blocking all mention of our beloved when thing things go sour. Mine's dead. You killed her, and to make up for it, you put me in a headlock."

Arthur gaped at him. "What?"

"You really are oblivious, aren't you? You don't even notice that Elyan would have gone after Gwen by now if she didn't keep sending him letters begging him to stay. You don't even notice when Gwaine gets that feeling of wanderlust, and I have to talk him out of wandering off. You actually thought I was happy, didn't you? Happy with your threats. Happy with the bruises from all those goblets. Happy being told I was worthless. I'm done. Gaius and I are leaving. We're going to Catha. Gwaine said he always wanted to see it. I think he might come too."

Merlin left. The door swung shut behind him.

Arthur threw the pitcher against it.

Then he sank into a chair and wept.

. . . . . .

Gwen was gone.

Elyan was gone.

Gwaine was gone.

Gaius was gone.

Merlin. Was. Gone.

He had to break the sentence up. It was the only way that it made sense.

Where was Merlin? He needed Merlin.

He'd gone to talk to him. Tried to convince him to stay.

. . . . . .

"Look, if this is all some trick so I'll give you a raise -"

Please, Merlin, please stay, I can't do this alone, please -

"How can I get this through your thick skull? I stayed, despite everything, because I believed in you."

He had, Arthur realized. It was that faith that had kept him going.

"I don't believe in you anymore."

And those words that had crushed him.

. . . . . .

Ygraine was gone.

Morgana was gone.

Lancelot was gone.

Uther was gone.

Agravaine was there. Whispering words that felt like poison. Trying to blame the leaks on Percival. On Leon.

Arthur let him and banished them both. Not because he believed, but because he didn't know what else to do.

This was wrong. This was all wrong.

Please, Merlin, I need you, I trust you, please Merlin, please -


"Arthur. How delightful to see you again. I'll admit though, I was hoping to see your manservant while I was here. Where is he?"

For the first time in a year, Arthur laughed.

"Gone. They're all gone."

Because I didn't deserve them.

"Surprised at your dear uncle's treachery?"


He had known ever since Merlin left. But he had fought, always, to protect his people. To provide what was best for them. People, he realized now, who would be better off without him.

If Merlin didn't believe, then no one did.

"I wish you luck, Morgana. Truly."

. . . . . .

Arthur was gone.

. . . . . .

Arthur jerked upright. Sweat soaked the sheets twisted around him. He stared into the dark for a moment, panting desperately.

"I don't believe in you anymore."

He shoved the covers off, or tried to. They tangled around his legs, trapping him.

Wrong, all wrong, they were still here -

Gwen wasn't. His father wasn't. Morgana wasn't. Lancelot wasn't.

He shoved the covers off at last and bolted out the door, not even bothering to grab a shirt. His bare feet slapped the stone passageways as he ran to Gaius's chambers.

He hadn't even paused to think about how late it must be, but when he threw open the door, Gaius was still up, grinding herbs by candlelight.

"Merlin, you're back."

"Back?" Arthur demanded. "Where is he?"

Gaius looked up. "Sire! Forgive me."

"Where is he?" he repeated.

"I believe he said something about the tavern, sire."

"The Rising Sun?" Of course it was, it was the only tavern in the city.

"Sire, perhaps you should wait."

"No. It can't wait."

"At least put on some boots." It was plain Gaius hoped this would deter him.

Arthur hesitated before a thought hit him. "Merlin took a pair of mine with him to clean. I'll get them from his room."

He ran in, still half hoping he'd find Merlin asleep in bed.

But the only thing in the bed was a thick book of some sort. He didn't bother examining it. He just grabbed his still muddy boots, shoved them on his feet, and ran. He stopped at the door and turned back to grab one of Merlin's shirts. It itched like mad, but he couldn't exactly go running into town without a shirt, and a sense of panic he refused to acknowledge wouldn't let him backtrack to find his own.

He flew out the door, past a startled Gaius, and out into the courtyard. He slowed just enough to order the guards to let him pass. Most of the city was quiet, but there was still plenty of life in the tavern. Arthur barged in, door swinging shut behind him. A few people looked up, but most were too deep in.

None of them were Merlin.

One of them, however, was Gwaine.

Arthur stormed over to him. "Gwaine! Where's Merlin?" He would have thought they'd drink together.

Gwaine looked up at him, eyebrows scrunched together. "Mer'in?" he slurred. "'Scuse me gents." He nodded to his drinking partners and threw an arm over Arthur's shoulders. He steered him towards a corner with surprising strength.

"Now, what's this about Merlin?" Gwaine asked. Concern was thick in his voice.

Arthur gaped at him. "I thought you were drunk!"

"Yeah, so do they. Keep your voice down, will you? Where's Merlin?"

"Gaius said he was at the tavern again."

Gwaine frowned. "Again? He only ever comes down here to drag me out of it. I've never seen him drink a drop."


Arthur felt cold.

"Never mind," he choked out. He pushed his way out of the tavern, ignoring Gwaine's calls.



"Merlin wasn't there. According to Gwaine, he's never there."

"Ah." Gaius said. He hesitated.

Arthur waited expectantly.

"I must have been mistaken."

The door banged open. "Agravaine gave Morgana the plans to the siege tunnels. Gaius, we've got to hurry."

Gaius shot to his feet. "Merlin, you're bleeding. What happened?"

Merlin waved a hand. "Agravaine caught me from behind. Got me on the shoulder. Don't worry, he didn't see my face." He finally turned and saw Arthur. "Oh. Ah. Um."

"Eloquent as ever, Merlin." He grabbed his good shoulder and looked him over. "What happened to your head?"

"I . . . tripped and fell on the way home from the tavern?"

Arthur resisted the urge to smack him. "I was in the room, Merlin. I'm not a complete idiot. So unless my uncle," he swallowed hard, "unless my uncle was meeting Morgana at the tavern, I really doubt it."

Merlin glanced at Gaius for help.

"Eyes on me, Merlin. I just learned Gaius is a much better liar than you are. I don't want him giving you any hints."

"Sire," Gaius protested.

Merlin was clearly uncomfortable with the subject of Gaius lying so soon after the kidnapping incident. "Morgana . . . might have thrown me into a tree."

Arthur closed his eyes. "How - exactly - are you still alive?" He could break down over his uncle later. Merlin was priority.

"I run really fast?"

"Not this time, id-Merlin. I mean in general. You're supposed to be doing my laundry, not following traitors. You've done this before, haven't you?"

Merlin's eyes narrowed. "Speaking of laundry, you're wearing my shirt. Why are you wearing my shirt?"

"Answer the question, Merlin."

"Sire, if I may, I'd like to treat his arm."

"Of course." He backed away.

Gaius led Merlin to the bed. Arthur had never really noticed before how beaten up it was.


Merlin looked down. "I'm a servant, Arthur. I can go places other people can't, and no one notices me, but I notice them. I see things. Valiant. Nimueh. Morgana. Agravaine. Others. So many others. But you don't believe me. You never believed me after Valiant. I'm just a servant, and it's their word against mine."

Until you want something. Then I'm your friend.

Merlin was looking at him now, eyes begging Arthur to trust him. "Normally I just handle it on my own, but Agravaine was important to you. I tried to tell you, but you were being your pratlike self, and you needed proof. So went closer tonight to try and get you some."

What could he possibly say to that? "Why?"

Merlin frowned. "I just told you -"

"No. Why bother? Why not tell one of the knights? Why risk your life for a king who wouldn't believe you?"

"Because I believe in you, Arthur. I always will."

Something settled in Arthur that had been roiling ever since the dream. "Thank you. For everything."

Merlin beamed at him like he'd just been told he had a whole week off.

"I'll let Gaius get you cleaned up. I'll take care of Agravaine." He headed for the door.

"Oh, sire. What was it you wanted earlier?"

Earlier? Oh, right. "It doesn't matter now. Just, Merlin . . . Despite what you seem to believe, you're not actually expendable." There should have been a jibe in there somewhere, but he couldn't quite manage it. Not now. "No more midnight escapades, all right?"

"Sure. I'll stop when magic's legal in Camelot."

Arthur rolled his eyes. "Merlin."


"I was being serious."

The sorceress watched invisibly from the shadows. She shook her head.

So was he.

It seemed she still had some work to do.

She went to go change the poultice under the king's pillow.

No one noticed servants.