A/N: Thank you all for being so patient during Febuwhump! I should be back to my normal, every two week updating schedule now. I'm so excited to be back to this story. This will finish up "A Remedy to Cure All Ills," but there is so much more to come. If it seems like this "episode" is wrapped up too quickly or doesn't have enough resolution, don't worry – the issues that arise at the end of this episode are going to be through-line for the first season as a whole. Basically, I think that Merlin would have had far more confliction with actually trying to heal Uther with magic, and that conflict will not be confined to one "episode." So any loose threads in this chapter will be picked back up in the next. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this! :)
The Power of Three
Chapter Eleven: A Remedy to Cure All Ills, Part Four
Arthur wasn't there when Merlin was arrested and brought to his father. He didn't want to risk his father getting suspicious and thought it best to make himself scarce. Instead, he let himself into the dungeons and sequestered himself away on a stool in the corner to wait for Merlin's arrival.
Nearly an hour later, the door swung open and three figures appeared, the one in the middle being held by the others. Arthur watched from the shadows as the guards shoved Merlin into the same cell Gwen had been held in. One followed him in and shackled his wrists to the chains in the floor. Metal squealed and clanged as they locked him in, and then they retreated up the stairs. Arthur had no idea if they'd seen him waiting there, nor did he care. There were more important matters to deal with.
Arthur grabbed a torch from a wall sconce and hurried over to the cell, where Merlin was just picking himself up, more than a little ruffled. Arthur noticed with fury when he turned around that there was a red handprint standing out starkly on his left cheek.
"Merlin! Did my father–"
Merlin waved him off, coming as close to the bars as the chains would allow. "No, one of the guards was a bit too enthusiastic when they were arresting me. Apparently, I was impertinent." He gave Arthur a strained half-smile.
Normally, Arthur would have made a snide comment about how Merlin's impertinence didn't surprise him at all and that he wasn't aware that Merlin could be anything but, but instead he demanded, "Which guard? Who was it?"
Merlin shrugged, uncomfortable. "It doesn't matter. We have far more important things to worry about."
Arthur knew he was right and tried to quell the sudden protective energy that had consumed him. Since when had he cared so much about what happened to Merlin? The answer was fairly simple and hard to swallow: Almost since Merlin set foot into Camelot. He drove Arthur mad, never did what he was told, and his very presence was illegal – and yet, absurdly, he had swiftly become an irreplaceable part of Arthur's life, no matter how many times the prince threatened to replace him.
As quickly as he could, he told Merlin all that had happened – about Edwin blackmailing Gaius and then somehow finding out that he had told him and Morgana, and how the king had believed Edwin over them. Merlin was fidgeting nervously, the chains clanking, by the time Arthur had finished. A dark look brewed in his eyes. Arthur understood it for what it was – Merlin felt betrayed, and rightly so. Not only had Edwin pretended to be his friend and then turned against him in an instant, but he was also another sorcerer who had come to Camelot for evil instead of good.
"Right," Arthur transitioned, clapping his hands together once. "Can you magic yourself out of the chains?"
Merlin looked puzzled. "I can, but why?"
Arthur regarded him blankly. "So you can escape. Or do you fancy being executed at first light?"
Merlin winced. "If I escape, that will either just prove that," he lowered his voice to a whisper, "that I do have magic, or your father will think you helped me escape like you did Lancelot, and then you'll be in trouble."
"So you're just going to die for being a sorcerer so that no one will know that you are actually a sorcerer?"
Merlin scoffed. "Not if I can help it, not anytime soon, anyway. We have to find a way to prove that Edwin is lying and that he's plotting to kill the king."
"I agree," Arthur said slowly, "and Morgana's already tailing him, trying to catch him in the act or find some sort of proof that he's using dark magic."
Merlin furrowed his brow. "You said that your father plans to retire Gaius. Did he say when?"
Arthur thought back. "Immediately," he responded apologetically. "But at least he's not being implicated by Edwin's accusations against you – what?" He broke off at the look on Merlin's face.
"Why didn't you mention this before?" Merlin demanded. "If he's taking Gaius's place today, then he'll set his plan into motion now. He's going to kill your father tonight!"
Dread poured over the prince like cold water. "What – no – you think he's going to try now, after he's just been accused? Even if my father sided with him, that's too brash–"
"Don't you see?" Merlin asked desperately. "He doesn't care about the little details like that. If he's as bitter and vengeful as you say, then he's going to take the first opportunity he gets to take his revenge. And anyway, do you really want to risk it?"
Arthur felt a sudden, strange swell of gratitude toward Merlin, paired with something akin to affection. It was an unusual, almost uncomfortable feeling, but it came with the realization that Merlin had nothing at all to gain from stopping the king's death. In fact, he would gain more from letting him die. But because Uther was Arthur's father, and because he cared about Arthur, he was doing everything he could to save the life of a man who would see him dead – who had just sentenced him to hang an hour ago!
"What should we do, then?"
Merlin responded with a question. "Did you say that Morgana was following him?"
"Yes." His eyes widened. "If he's really as desperate as you believe, and he's already this close to his goal, then he won't hesitate to hurt her to get to my father. If he sees her–"
Merlin's eyes flashed gold. Without uttering a single word, he'd cracked the shackles off of his wrists and nearly blew the cell door off its hinges. Arthur dove to the side just in time to avoid being bludgeoned.
Arthur had gone from being grateful for the loyalty of his manservant to wanting to strangle him in seconds. "What happened to breaking out causing us more trouble in the long run?"
"If Edwin is acting tonight, we don't have time to play it safe," Merlin answered, rubbing his raw wrists. "If you and Morgana are going to face Edwin to save your father, you're going to need someone with magic. You're going to need me."
Arthur scoffed. "I've faced sorcerers in battle before and won, Merlin. Just because you've been protecting me magically doesn't mean that I cannot look out for myself."
"I know," Merlin said earnestly, "and Morgana is more than capable of standing up for herself, too. But this is a sorcerer, and neither of you have magic, and we don't even know just how powerful he is. It's better not to take the chance."
Arthur finally saw to the heart of Merlin's decision to join them, despite the increased risk to himself if he were to be caught: He was worried about them. Merlin couldn't stand the thought of sitting around, waiting, while his friends put themselves in danger. Arthur didn't argue with Merlin further after that. It was exactly what he would have done, too.
Morgana was rather adept at sneaking around the castle. Having grown up within its walls, she had developed early on an intricate knowledge of the maze of hallways, the many floors and staircases, and array of rooms. She knew where to avoid and how to get in and out of the kitchen without being seen. The servants' passages were a personal favorite of hers, because they allowed her to move about silently and invisibly as the rest of the bustle of the castle passed her by.
Nowadays, she didn't sneak around as much – Uther had caught her hiding in a secret passage when she was fourteen eavesdropping on a council meeting and had given her a stern but indulgent talking to about how sneaking around like a common thief was not appropriate behavior for the king's ward. The king's reprimand hadn't been what stopped her secret escapades, but rather the realization as she grew into a woman how much more those in the open hallways respected her. Crowds would part when they saw her approaching, her heels clicking imperiously on the cold stone floor. She no longer needed to sneak, because no one questioned her presence in any part of the castle now that she was no longer a troublemaking child. If only they had realized that she had, in fact, only morphed into a troublemaking adult who was just very adept at hiding said troublemaking.
Even if she no longer routinely employed her knowledge of the ins and outs of the castle, the secret passages and servants' hallways and hiding places, it didn't mean that she had lost the mental map she had forged so long ago. This is how Morgana followed Edwin now, watching him from the shadows, following him from adjacent, hidden passageways. The conniving physician marched with great confidence, a nauseating sort of prideful strut, and it was apparent that he assumed he had already won.
Arrogance, Morgana reflected testily, is both one of the most obnoxious and useful vices nature imparts on men. It was because of this arrogance that she was able to follow him so easily.
Morgana had spotted Edwin going into the chambers he was using as his laboratory, where he stayed for quite some time. She got bored waiting on him to emerge, but she knew that there was no alternate way out of the room, so she just had to wait in the shadows until he finished whatever he was doing. Finally, when the chill of dusk had settled into the air and on her bare arms, he eased the door open and set out on his way, not even bothering to check if he was being watched.
She trailed him down five corridors, up two flights of steps, and down the dome-ceilinged, guarded hallway that led to Uther's chambers. Her heartbeat quickened as she realized that the man was wasting no time in executing his revenge. The moment he had stolen Gaius's job as Court Physician, he had put the remainder of his plan in motion. Morgana hesitated for the briefest of moments before steeling herself, wrenching a sconce from the wall of the servants' alcove she lurked in, and holding it before her to use as a weapon if it came down to it. She had no idea where Arthur was – probably trying to free Merlin or at the very least make a plan with him. Not that it mattered. She didn't need him to confront Edwin. She was perfectly capable of doing so herself.
And so she did.
She stepped out of the shadows, and in the clear, cold voice she had learned as a beautiful woman often approached by undesirable men, said simply, "Edwin."
Edwin froze, then spun around in one fluid motion. His eyes changed from cruel to surprised, and then melted into a tense indulgence when he saw who had snuck up on him. "Lady Morgana," he exclaimed sweetly, his voice hushed. Morgana narrowed her eyes, disgusted by how obviously he thought he could manipulate her so easily. His candied words may have fooled Uther, but they had never worked on her.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in a level tone. Her heart pounded, and she tried not to think about how a show of bravery would mean ultimately nothing in the face of his magic. The sconce she held before her was no more a weapon against a sorcerer than a needle against a knight. Still, she stood firm, back straight, chin held high, eyes cold and haughty. Morgana was used to fighting until she got what she wanted. This time was no different.
"I could ask you the same question," Edwin evaded, taking a step closer to her, arms held out placatingly at his sides. When she said nothing, merely fixed him with an impatient stare, he yielded. "Lady Morgana, I am merely bringing the king his medicine. I am the new Court Physician, after all, and the king is waiting."
It was Morgana's turn to move closer to him. She put every ounce of ferocity into her next words. "If you get what you want, the only thing the king will be waiting on is his death."
She watched the short-lived battle flash behind Edwin's eyes and knew that he was trying to decide whether he should continue playing his part or drop the act. Finally, he sighed, rolling his eyes to the ceiling in an over-dramatized air of annoyance. "Okay, fine, you've got me," he said, still in the same good-natured tone as before, but this time, there was a slide edge to his voice. "I should have known you would have figured me out, my lady. You are, after all, much more intelligent than the men who rule this stupid kingdom."
She raised an eyebrow menacingly. "Flattery is trite, and will get you nowhere, Edwin. And I believe Gaius discovered your plan before anyone else."
Edwin shrugged, unimpressed. "Only because he remembered me from when I was a child. That's basically cheating."
She tilted her head to the side contemplating him. "You are in an awfully good humor for someone who has just been caught committing treason," she remarked dryly.
Edwin's smile took on a strained quality. "Lady Morgana," he said, and she curled her lip at the patronizing tone. "Please try to understand that I am not a bad person. I'm not evil." Her other eyebrow rose to join the first, but she did not speak, so he continued. "I am not doing this out of greed, or cruelty. I only wish to avenge my mother and father. Surely you can understand that?"
"I understand that you came into my home, used me as a pawn in your revenge and nearly killed me with a terrible illness. I understand that you forced a kind, competent man and great friend out of the job he has held for decades. I understand that you accused a close friend of magic, that you got him thrown into the dungeon and slated to be executed. And I understand that even now, you are marching to deceive and destroy my guardian, the man who took me in after my father died. These are not the marks of a good person."
The smile had turned to a sort of grimace now. "My lady, I only did what I had to do in order to achieve my revenge. I took no pleasure in making Gaius look like a fool–" a brief pause, "–okay, so I felt a little pleasure in that. The man sat back and watched my parents – his friends – burn! But I did take no pleasure in betraying one of my own." His eyes glittered. "Interesting that you are aware of the servant's secrets and that you not only keep them but refer to him as a close friend. Perhaps your loyalties are not as easily defined as you would like me to believe."
The hand of uncertainty clenched around her heart. Her loyalty to her guardian had come into question in her own mind many times before, especially since she had learned Merlin's secret. Certainly, she had never approved of the king's reckless hatred of magic, his harsh sentencing of any and all who possessed it. She didn't know much about the Purge, for Uther had sealed those records up as tightly as his own heart, but what she had heard, in fearful whispers or the dying curses of the accused, sickened her, and she found a growing disgust rising within her when she found herself alone with the king. She fought against him, rebelled, did anything she could to prove that he had no control over her. She tried to force him to change, to help him see the truth, and she was tossed aside, like she was nothing.
No, not like she was nothing. Like she was a girl in a council room full of self-important old men – less than nothing.
She hated it. Sometimes she hated Uther. The kindness and indulgence he had bestowed upon her as a child were few and far between. Lately, she found herself contemplating what she would do, how she would feel, if a bitter sorcerer succeeded in their plot to kill the king. Would she mourn? Or would she breathe a sigh of relief for the oppressed and abused?
A small part of her was tempted, very briefly, to turn and walk away, especially when Edwin wheedled, "I have seen your heart through your actions, my lady. I have seen how you have embraced those like me, how you have become loyal to a sorcerer. You have empathy. You cannot bear to see innocents suffer. Just think of how many lives you will be saving if you just turn around and pretend you never saw me."
His words struck her deeply, and she found herself thinking of all the times that Uther had belittled her, executed someone without a trial, hated those with magic indiscriminately. Edwin was right in that her heart ached for those like Merlin who had lived in terror their entire lives because of something they were born with. Then she remembered growing up in the castle, the way Uther would ruffle her hair, how he would always take her side over Arthur's, and the tender way he had kissed her forehead when she had woken from her illness. As completely as she knew she hated the king of Camelot for the atrocities he had committed, she knew that her guardian truly loved her.
And besides, he was Arthur's father. Merlin would be determined, she knew, to save the king even though letting him die would make his life easier. He would save Uther for Arthur's sake. And even though Arthur was obnoxious and thick-headed and proud, he had also grown remarkably since Merlin came into his life. And she had grown up with him, seen him at his highs and at his lows. She knew how much it hurt him that he never got to meet his mother. She could not be responsible for taking his father away, too.
She chose her next words carefully, for she could feel the hurt and the sorrow and the rage bubbling just beneath the surface of the man before her. In a way, she pitied him, and all that he had lost. But he had hurt her friends, and she would not allow it to happen again. Perhaps, if she could just reach him… "Edwin, you of all people should know that revenge is never this simple. Think of all the people that Uther has killed in his quest for vengeance. Think of how Gaius and Merlin – Merlin, a sorcerer, like you – have already suffered because of your hatred for the king. And if you do kill him, that will only continue the cycle. Don't you see? Arthur will seek vengeance for his father's death, and people will continue to get hurt."
"The cycle stops with my death," Edwin said, and he sounded haunted, fragile. "I have no one left to fight for me."
Morgana hesitated for a fraction of a second, then vowed, "If you stop this now, I will fight for you. Arthur and Merlin will fight for you. You are hurting, I know. And you have a right to be angry. But can you not see how different Arthur already is from his father? He knows about Merlin's magic, and he supports him. He hides it from his father. If you stop the cycle here, then Arthur and Merlin can work to build a better, safer Camelot for magic-users like you. Change – good change – can only come from time, and patience."
A tear trickled down his face, nesting in a divot of his scar. "I watched my parents burn. I tried to run into the flames to save them. I don't have time, or patience. I want to see him die."
Morgana took another step forward. "If I let you walk away, how am I better than Uther?" she asked softly. "If you kill him, how are you better than Uther?"
Edwin shook his head, something like pity in his eyes. "Someday, my lady, you will see that your moral high ground means nothing in the face of tragedy." He studied her closely, his eyes boring into hers, and she fought the urge to back away or avert her gaze. If he was trying to intimidate her, it wouldn't work. She put all of her frustration, all of her passion, all of herself into her glare, felt the rush of emotions build up behind her eyes as she met his gaze. Abruptly, Edwin took a step back, as if she had slapped him.
"Perhaps we are more alike than either of us thought," he said cryptically.
"What are you talking about?" Morgana demanded. For reasons she could not explain, her heart was thrumming madly, and she felt alive, exhilarated – powerful.
Edwin hesitated for the fraction of a second, then murmured, "Your eyes…"
He trailed off, eyes catching on something over her shoulder. Approaching from behind, Morgana heard sound of ecchoing footfalls and knew without having to turn around that the rest of her party had arrived… at exactly the wrong moment.
"Edwin!" Merlin's voice resounded, pinging off the high walls and domed ceiling. He didn't sound like himself – the one name he called radiated power, deeper than his usual tones, serious and cold. A warning. Chills arced down Morgana's spine.
And then, Arthur's voice, as irritating and dripping with male bravado as ever, followed, and the spell of Merlin's voice was broken immediately. "Morgana! Look out!"
Irritation flared up in her chest, and now she turned to meet her approaching friends with a withering glare. "What are you doing?" she hissed. "I'd nearly gotten through to him!"
Arthur and Merlin – whom she was relieved to see looked relatively unhurt, though with a bruise adorning one cheek – skidded to a stop in her ire, eyes wide, slightly out of breath. Merlin's eyes widened in alarm. "Morgana–"
His warning, for that was what it had been, came too late. Or perhaps Edwin was simply too fast. One moment, she was reprimanding two of the most powerful men in the kingdom like they were naughty children, and the next, she was airborne, propelled from the ground with an invisible hit that knocked the breath out of her lungs and sent her crashing into Merlin and Arthur.
Well, she would have crashed had it not been for Merlin's magic. Instinctively – it had to be instinct, for though his eyes flared gold, no spell passed his lips – he caught her with magic. The feel of his power being used on her was like nothing she had ever imagined. She had watched him do magic plenty of times before, in the secret of Gaius's chambers. But he had never performed magic on her.
She'd wondered what it might feel like, and suddenly, she knew: Merlin's magic was just like him, gentle, good-natured, but steadfast and real, like the feel of sun-warmed grass underneath your back on a breeze-kissed summer day. It was also duplicitous, with another, almost invisible layer resting just beneath the surface. This part was unyielding, shivering with power, and a little bit terrifying, like the lightning-charged sky in the moments after a great storm. It made her want to laugh and weep at the same time, to wrap her arms around him and to run as far and fast as she could. The top layer, she knew – it was Merlin. But something far more powerful and foreign – not evil, just strange, almost old, somehow – lay beneath. And yet she knew – this was Merlin, too.
All this ran through her head in a matter of seconds, and then Merlin's magic had deposited her gently on her feet. She staggered, pain flaring in her middle back, as the magic left her. Edwin's spell had hit her hard. Merlin reached out and steadied her, and though Morgana did not enjoy being "rescued" by anyone, she had to admit that in this situation his hand wrapped loosely around her upper arm was actually helpful. She regained her footing moments later, and Merlin, as if realizing he'd been holding a poisonous serpent, sprang back, and his hands disappeared behind his back, almost as if he were a good, obedient servant.
Morgana could tell with one glance at Arthur's face that he'd watched the whole exchange, but he had no time to contemplate what it meant – nor did Morgana, for that matter. Edwin had used the distraction to disappear, and Morgana knew that he hadn't taken the opportunity to simply make his escape. She'd almost broken through to him, but a bloodlust had still tinted his eyes.
"Are you okay?" Arthur asked in a terse voice. She nodded, said a quick, "Thanks" to Merlin for keeping her from further injury, and then the three of them rushed to Uther's chambers, hoping they would be there in time, but all knowing already that they would be too late.
Edwin was gone when they burst into the room. Merlin swore under his breath, an anger most unlike him sizzling just under his skin. The rage swelled as his eyes alighted to the open window. The king's chambers should have been too high for anyone to escape from without serious injury, but when Merlin leaned out, toes barely brushing the surface of the floor as he tilted forward, peering into the darkness below for any sign of Edwin, the courtyard was empty. Edwin had escaped. A heavy weight settled directly onto his heart at this realization – and he came to the sudden, jarring understanding that he was not angry at all.
He felt betrayed, lost, and alone, but the rage had dissipated as quickly as it had come upon him.
He was wrenched from his thoughts, and from the cool night air blowing gently against his face, with a desperate shout from Arthur. "Merlin!"
Merlin knew at once what was the matter, and what Arthur would want him to do. A pang of anxiety joined the aching betrayal consuming him, followed quickly by fear, then an intense, deep-seated guilt. It was one thing for Merlin to stop Edwin before he could work his dark magic on the king. It was another entirely to play an active role in saving the life of the man who had driven Edwin and so many others into the reapers of death and hatred they had become.
Yes – Arthur was going to ask him to heal the king who had arrested him, thrown him in the dungeon, and sentenced him to a horrific death without a trial. Worse yet, the man who had killed so many like Merlin, who only used their magic for good, or to get by, or because it was the only thing they knew how to do. The thought of performing magic on a grief-torn, vengeance-born husk of a man such as this stirred something deeply uncomfortable inside of the warlock, and for an insane, panicked moment, he was half-tempted to follow Edwin out of the window and into the night, away from the dangerous and impossible thing that Arthur was about to request.
And yet, it was because Arthur needed it that Merlin stayed. It was because it was Arthur's father who was dying that he gathered the strength to turn away from the fear and self-loathing and nameless voices of the magical dead that screamed traitor! in his mind and agreed to use his magic to save a man who hated it. Who hated him, and wanted him dead.
Now that he understood Edwin's magic, it would be relatively simple to heal the king. He'd just need the box, which the sorcerer had, in his haste to escape, left on the end table beside an unconscious, death-pale Uther. "I can heal him," Merlin said, his voice rough and uncertain, and he could tell from the looks on both Arthur's and Morgana's faces that they understood his struggle.
Morgana took a step forward, green eyes softening in sympathy. "Merlin, you don't have to–"
Merlin shook his head, cutting her off without uttering a word. When Morgana had spoken, Merlin had looked to Arthur and saw something wonderful and terrible on his face – resignation. Wonderful, because it meant that he had never intended to force Merlin to use his magic to save the king. Terrible, because he doubted for a moment that Merlin would refuse to help his closest friend's dying father.
I'm not doing it for a king, Merlin told himself firmly, I am doing it for a father and his son. In the back of his mind, he heard those same voices, those of the damned, the oppressed, the executed, the slain, whisper their vile insults and curses. Traitor! they spat. Traitor to magic! Traitor to your kind!
The battle waged fiercely for a few seconds more. Merlin squared his shoulders, took the box of dark magic from Morgana's pale, slender fingers, and stopped trying to justify his choice. He leaned over the magic-hating king who wanted him dead, and used magic to make him whole once more.
As soon as Uther stirred, Arthur grabbed Merlin and shoved him out of the king's chambers, escorting his servant quickly but silently, through the empty corridors of a sleeping Camelot, and back into the dungeons. The guards were still sleeping by the door, having been knocked out from behind by a sleeping spell upon Merlin's jailbreak. Merlin had assured the prince that these men would remember nothing when they woke up – probably. Merlin's astounding confidence aside, Arthur hadn't felt particularly reassured, but knew he needed to check on his father.
Soon, he knew, the king would learn the true story of Edwin's betrayal, and Merlin would be released, though Arthur knew an apology from his father was far too much to expect. Gaius's position would be restored, and life in Camelot would resume in some facsimile of normal. Except normal, Arthur knew, didn't exist anymore. It couldn't, not with threats like the griffin and Valiant and Edwin surfacing seemingly every week; a heavy fog of dread and death had descended upon Camelot, and Arthur had thought his servant untouched by that darkness. Until now. He knew how hard it must have been for Merlin to willingly use his magic to save a king who wanted him dead because of said magic. He knew Merlin felt betrayed by Edwin. Did he now feel betrayed by himself? The question twirled a sickening dance of uncertainty in Arthur's mind as he escorted Merlin back into his cell.
Reluctantly, Arthur secured the shackles around his friend's wrists, as Merlin almost sheepishly magicked the cell door back into place. The sorcerer smiled reassuringly at Arthur, but the prince was anything but. He was unsettled by the way Merlin's smile barely touched his eyes, and Arthur's skin crawled in unease at the choice he had forced upon his friend as he made his way up the stairs, away from the friend he had just locked in a dark, damp dungeon. The man who had saved the king, the killer of so many of his kind, with magic. The King of Camelot was alive, the prince was still a prince and not a king, and Arthur still had a father.
But at what cost to Merlin himself, Arthur feared but did not know.
He went to his father, but his mind stayed on his servant.
A/N: Hopefully you caught the nod to Morgana's magic - I don't state it explicitly, but it's meant to be implied that Edwin saw her eyes flash with power. I wanted to bring this aspect in earlier, and even though I don't address it again in this particular chapter, it absolutely will be coming into play in the next one. :)
Remember, this "episode" doesn't have much resolution because I'm picking these ideas back up in the next chapter. I really hope you enjoyed, and I would love to hear your thoughts! Also, a huge thank you to everyone who reviewed, favorited, and followed since I last posted. You guys are AMAZING, and if I didn't have a billion things to grade when I'm now writing fanfic, I would absolutely be thanking you individually! :) As it is, I read every comment, and I am beyond grateful to everyone who has supported this story! :)