A/N: I don't own Merlin. If I did, this episode would have turned out like this story! :D
A/N: I am so, so, so sorry for the delay! I have a whole slew of excuses (as usual), but suffice it to say that I really need to stop making promises that I apparently can't keep! Also know, however, that no matter how long of a gap is between updates, I will always come back to my stories. It's just that real life is super-busy, and I don't always have time to update… but I'm sure y'all know exactly what I mean! :) Anyway, that doesn't really matter much anymore for this story, because I'm wrapping it up with this chapter! I want to thank everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited, liked, messaged, prodded, reminded, blackmailed, threatened, etc. for all of your encouragement and support! This was a wonderfully fun story to write, and I hope you enjoy the conclusion! Please review! It's been a great ride! ;)
Of Remorse, Rescue, and Repentance
Part Three: Repentance
Morgana must have been occupied elsewhere, Gaius decided, because otherwise, he, Merlin, Gwaine, and Percival would not have made it back to Camelot so easily without meeting her. He had a feeling that the lack of the dark sorceress had less to do with luck on the travelers' part, and more to do with the chaos that had more than likely gone on in the castle following the company's departure.
Since Arthur had been made aware that the Sarem was a traitor, Gaius knew that he had been true to his word and immediately gathered his council, save for Guinevere, to him in order to decide the best way to deal with his attempted assassination plot. Gaius also knew that the enchanted Gwen was crafty – perhaps almost as crafty as her corrupted counterpart, Morgana – and that despite Arthur's best attempts to keep his knowledge of the discovered plot secret from his wife for her "protection," Gwen would have found out about it fairly quickly, and would have somehow arranged a meeting with Morgana to tell the witch of their failure. Gaius wasn't worried that the plot would continue or reconvene, however, because Arthur would have dealt with the Sarem quickly, efficiently, and firmly before the brainwashed queen could do anything to change it. Morgana must have been meeting with her makeshift ally, and regrouping her forces in order to deal with yet another failure.
This certainly seemed to be the case when they reached Camelot. Gaius and the two knights, with Merlin hanging limply in front of Gwaine on the man's horse, noticed immediately that the lower town was buzzing with excitement, even more so than usual. Gwaine was carrying Merlin on his horse because the long-haired knight had claimed that Merlin was his friend long before he was Percival's, and there was no way that Percival was going to get to do all of the Merlin-carrying in this relationship. This declaration had been made quietly about halfway into their journey to Camelot, much to the amusement of his companions, who each believed that Gwaine was acting very much like a jealous woman flying into a passion about her beloved being in another's presence, although they had the presence of mind not to direct this idea to the now satisfied knight.
They quickly dismounted, leaving their horses and a few gold coins with a beaming stable boy, and, with Merlin now in Gwaine's arms, they began to hasten past the murmuring crowds and toward the castle. Merlin's breathing had been improving steadily since Gaius had given him the cure, which Gaius knew meant that his ward would soon recover, but he still needed to be back in the physician's chambers, in a warm bed, and to be looked after with the utmost care if he were to make a full recovery. He had been inches away from death, and Gaius was going to make sure that he was given everything in Gaius's meager power to give in order for him to recover completely, and that meant he needed to be properly treated as soon as possible.
The first thing that Gaius saw upon entering the courtyard was a brooding queen standing silently at the top of the stairs and to the side of the main doors, her radiant beauty marred considerably by Gaius's knowledge of her part in the near-death of the two most important men in Camelot, and the most important man in Gaius's heart, the man who was like his son. Gwen was glancing around moodily, indicating that something was deeply troubling her, and also confirming that Gaius's suspicions about why the rest of their trip had been so easy. When she caught sight of Gaius, the knights, and Merlin, her eyes narrowed, but then, upon seeing Gwaine's eyebrows furrow slightly at her dark countenance, she seamlessly slipped into the guise of the saintly, caring queen. She smiled warmly at the newcomers – though Gaius could see straight through it by now – and headed their way.
Not wanting the contaminated queen to be anywhere near Merlin, Gaius quietly requested that Gwaine and Percival go ahead with Merlin to the chambers, and make the poor boy comfortable, and Gaius himself would be along shortly after he checked in with the queen. Eager to help their fallen friend, both men hurried off after bowing slightly in the direction of the approaching Guinevere, and the it was just Gaius and Guinevere. There was plenty of bustling about by others in the courtyard around them, of course, but Gaius could see nothing but the traitorous royal. He knew that it wasn't her fault – not really, since she had been enchanted by Morgana – but it still hurt – deeply – that she had nearly killed her husband and Merlin through her actions and alliance with Morgana.
"Gaius," she said kindly, keeping up the pretense just in case, he assumed, that he didn't know about the part she had played, and also to keep up appearances for the others in the yard, "what happened? Is Merlin okay?"
Gaius fought the rare surge of rage that was trying its hardest to burst forth from his old, aching heart and answered, "He has been gravely injured after an unfortunate run-in with some bandits." He decided not to mention Morgana so that Gwen might still believe that he was ignorant of her ways, if she even believed that now. "He should, in time, make a full recovery, though."
The flash of anger in Gwen's dark eyes was so slight and disappeared so quickly that if Gaius hadn't been expecting it, he wouldn't have seen it at all. "Oh, that's wonderful that he'll be all right!" Gwen cooed. "And it's horrible that anyone would be so cruel as to hurt such an innocent soul as Merlin!"
Gaius's hands were shaking slightly, and for the first time in over twenty years, he felt the magic within him rise vindictively due to the anger he felt at Guinevere's awful betrayal and the cruelty with which she played it off, but he scolded himself mentally and responded with nothing more than a curt, "Indeed." He held Gwen's gaze, and to his immense satisfaction, she seemed to be no longer capable of holding it, and she dropped her eyes slightly. Slightly emboldened, Gaius attempted to soften his voice and asked, "What is going on here, my lady?"
Gwen scowled for a split second, but she used anger at the Sarem's betrayal of her husband as an excuse for her frustration. "Arthur called the council together early this morning. He somehow gained intelligence that the Sarem was planning to assassinate him today. And so they quickly devised a plan. Arthur, along with his most trusted of knights, burst into the Sarem's chambers in the small hours of the morning. From what I was able to discover, my the king held his sword to the traitor's throat and questioned him mercilessly, and threatened him so terribly, that the man finally relented. Arthur had his knights produce a scroll that they had put together earlier. On it was an apparently disturbingly detailed description of everything that they would do to the Sarem and his men, rich and powerful or not, if they ever dared to show their faces in Camelot again. It also had other legal matters on it, and the Sarem signed it, lest he suffer unimaginably for his treachery. He and his people were then immediately tossed out of the castle and sent on their way without a shred of dignity left, with Arthur's promise that they if any of them, or anyone associated with them, ever so much as slip one toe into Camelot, they'd be dead." Gwen said all of this with a resigned, automatic air, and despite the forced softness in her voice, Gaius could tell that she was thoroughly flustered and disappointed by this turn of events.
"Oh my," said Gaius. "I am very glad the king was able to put a stop to the assassination before it happened, and that he was able to still have his treaty signed and the assassin punished as well. He truly is a wise king that looks out for the good of his people, my lady. You are lucky to have such a wise man, not only as your king, but as your husband as well."
Gwen looked at Gaius and smiled, but this time, she wasn't able to completely disguise her distaste for his words. "Indeed I am, Gaius. Thank you." Without another utterance, the enchanted queen of Camelot strode away, doubtlessly to begin devising other plans of her husband's destruction.
Arthur didn't make it to Gaius's chambers until nearly midnight. Upon entering the physician's quarters, he seemed to be utterly exhausted but much more at peace than he had been when Gaius had seen him last. Still, there was a worried gleam in his eyes, and the physician knew that the king would not be satisfied in the slightest until he saw that his servant and friend was truly on the path to recovering from his harrowing ordeal.
"Gaius," said the king warmly, clasping his old friend kindly on the stooped shoulder. "I am sorry for coming so late. I hope I didn't wake you?"
Gaius smiled compassionately. Arthur had come as soon as he could, and Gaius knew that there was no way he was willing to wait until more proper hours to check on his friend. That just wouldn't do at all. "No, Sire. If Merlin requires me, I am determined to be readily available by his side at a moment's notice. And I honestly do not think that I could sleep as it is, Sire, with all the excitement that has passed."
"I would imagine not," Arthur said, and Gaius noticed with amusement that the prince's eyes strayed distractedly to the slightly cracked open door to Merlin's bedroom. He tore his eyes away from the room in which his servant was sleeping and reluctantly turned his attention back to Gaius. "And I want to thank you again, Gaius, for putting yourself in danger in order to reveal to me the betrayal of the Sarem. And as you requested, I have not told a soul that it was you who revealed the plot to me, though why you do not wish to be rewarded for such an act of bravery is still beyond me."
"I am an old man, my lord. I do not wish to be regaled as any sort of hero; I simply want to live in peace and be nothing more than the strange old physician who houses the even stranger servant of our king. Is that too much for an old, tired man like me to ask?"
Arthur chuckled. "Certainly not, Gaius. I also want to let you know that the boy, Daegal, has been taken care of under house arrest until you decide what to do with him, for I agree that he is young and that he can be led to a better life if given a chance. I am giving his wellbeing over to you, if you don't mind, and hopefully you will be able to find someone to continue to help him find his way. I'll have him brought to your chambers tomorrow morning, and when you have an idea, simply let me know, and my resources will be at your disposal to find him a good home." Gaius nodded, but Arthur wasn't quite finished "And thank you, as well, for taking care of Merlin, as I knew you would. And for getting him back safely. I feared—" He broke off, suddenly looking very self-conscious, and Gaius dipped his head slightly in understanding.
"So did I, Sire, but I assure you, he will be all right in a week or so. Speaking of the boy, I suppose you didn't just come to chat with me, did you, Sire? Merlin is sleeping at the moment, but he has been waking periodically, and I am sure he would be glad to see you next time he wakes, if you wish to stay for a while."
Arthur glanced at the door and nodded, not even attempting to come up with a sarcastic remark about how he didn't have anything better to do, or how Merlin was lazy for not being awake and alert to his master's beck and call, which really served to show Gaius yet again what had been at stake this time, and that the king fully understood what a true friend they had almost lost. Gaius knowingly went back to his business, smiling to himself, as Arthur mounted the few stairs to Merlin's room, ready to be there for his friend the moment he woke up again.
When Merlin opened his eyes, his vision was so blurry that he couldn't tell at first if he was looking at a person hovering over him, or a very large bee with bright blue eyes. He blinked, and the movement took so much energy from his drained body that he almost didn't open them back up again until he heard an all-too-familiar voice intone, "Merlin. Wake up, will you? It's been nearly an hour and you are terrible company." Merlin blinked again, but felt his eyes sliding shut again. "Merlin," said Arthur's voice, this time much softer than before. "Open your eyes. Come on, you've slept long enough."
At the strange, worried tone in his master's voice, Merlin finally obliged, opening his eyes for good. Slowly, his vision cleared, and he saw King Arthur leaning over him expectantly, his eyes brimming with badly concealed worry. "Arthur?" Merlin tried to say, but only ended up whispering it in a ragged croak. Arthur gave him some water from the end table, which helped sooth Merlin's throat a little, but he still didn't have the strength to talk. So for once, he was quiet and let Arthur do the talking.
"No, Merlin, shut up – Gaius said you're not to talk. Merlin, you almost died. You idiot, what were you thinking? Going to heal an imaginary girl is all very noble and all, but haven't you learned by now that you can't trust just anyone? And either way, you should have come to me first. It's how these things work, you know – I'm your master, and you're supposed to tell me before you go off to your death, you know." Merlin smirked slightly, and Arthur chortled weakly, but then he dropped his head in his hands and muttered, "You're too kind for your own good, Merlin. You've got to start thinking of yourself first – except," he amended, apparently seeing the mischievous gleam that was starting to appear in his servant's eyes, "when I am involved of course." Had Merlin been able to talk, he would have been making a snarky comment about how he would make sure to put himself first at all times, and next time that Arthur ordered him to do some demeaning chore, he would think of himself first, and then decide that it was not in his best interests to perform that task. Even when Merlin couldn't talk, however, Arthur was able to see right through him.
"I mean it, Merlin. You are a true friend, and a loyal servant. I wouldn't quite know what to do if you… well," he broke off awkwardly, his face coloring slightly.
Merlin wanted to assure him that he would always be around, and that he wouldn't leave Arthur's side for the world, but Arthur wouldn't even let him try to say a word. Instead, he leaned forward, ruffled Merlin's hair, causing the latter to weakly try to squirm away indignantly. Arthur laughed and then stood, yawning. "I'd stay longer, Merlin, but I've had to deal with an attempted assassination – I'll tell you about it later, I promise – but as for now, I'm going to bed. And don't you dare to set foot in my chambers for at least a week, or even longer, if Gaius says you need longer to heal. Understood?"
Merlin rolled his eyes as best he could with the impending sleepiness descending upon him again, but he managed to nod slightly as he began to drift off. The last thing he saw before he slipped into sleep was a relieved and contented smile spread over Arthur's face when he thought Merlin wasn't looking. Merlin fell asleep feeling more protected than he had in a long time. Despite the bitter betrayals of Morgana and her puppet, Merlin felt secure in the knowledge that he would always have Arthur and Gaius looking out for him, no matter what.
The next time Merlin woke up, light was streaming through his window, and it wasn't Arthur that was sitting next to him, but a dark-haired, dark-eyed boy that he didn't recognize at first. Then it hit him – Daegal.
Daegal? he mouthed, miffed that he still didn't have the strength to speak. Daegal smiled sympathetically, but held up a hand to silence him. "Don't talk," he said. "You're too weak."
Merlin rolled his eyes, wanting to remind Daegal that he had indeed been the one poisoned, and so he did actually know how weak he was at the moment, but, because of said weakness, he couldn't, so he just had to lie back once again and be the listener rather than the speaker. Merlin really didn't know how he felt about this complete change of pace, to be perfectly honest.
Daegal took a deep breath, scratched the back of his neck, blew a strand of hair out of his forehead, and then finally said, "I want to say, first of all, Merlin… I'm sorry. Gods, I'm so sorry for what I did to you. You showed me nothing but kindness, and I still betrayed you. You almost died."
Merlin opened his mouth to try and tell Daegal that he forgave him, that the boy had done more than enough to show that he was repentant – he had saved Merlin's life, after all – but Daegal shook his head.
"Please. I need to say this." Merlin pursed his lips, and then nodded, understanding all too well the kinds of emotions that were going through his young savior at this very moment. "I was misguided, I know, but still, I betrayed a friend for money, and for that I am deeply ashamed. I only hope that you will one day be able to forgive me, and maybe even think upon me as a friend. You are a good – no, a great! – man, Merlin, and I swear to you, I will never allow myself to forget what I did to you, and this kind of betrayal will never happen again by my doing, not to you or to anyone else in my life. I promise.
"But I want you to know that I'm starting over. I've been alone all my life, like I told you, and I've had a hard time of it. That's no excuse for what I did to you, but thanks to your kindness, and the king's, and Gaius's, I'm going to be able to start over! Gaius knows some kind people that are actually willing to take me in! I'm going to work for them, and they are going to treat me like a member of their family, and I will finally know what it's like to—"
He broke off. "But it's not about me. It's about you. And what you've done for me. You showed me that kindness still exists in a world gone mad, when even the most trustworthy people turn their backs. You proved that there will always be someone worth trusting, even if you have to learn the hard way. And thanks for that."
He beamed warmly at Merlin, reached out almost hesitantly and squeezed the young warlock's limp hand, and then, nodding once more in thanks, bowed out of the room. Merlin smiled after him, noting the change that had overcome the boy. He had truly reformed, and his repentance had made him so much the better.
Merlin grinned weakly at Gaius as the old man appeared at his doorway, his eyes smiling with pride. "Don't worry, my boy," the physician said as he saw his charge's eyes begin to droop in exhaustion. "This will be over soon, and you will be fine."
"I know," Merlin murmured, stealing one last glance toward the main chambers that Daegal had disappeared into. With a look of contentment on his face, he added, "Thanks to you, we'll both be fine."
And he dropped into the deepest and most rested sleep he'd had in days.
A/N: Wow, it's over! Hopefully you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it, and you felt that the ending was more satisfactory! I accept that there could have been more action and delays, but I really wanted Merlin to get back to Camelot so that the bromance could ensue, and besides, this really wasn't meant to be an action-oriented tag at all, but rather a bromantic, dramatic, even fluffy one. :) Hope you enjoyed! Please review, and be looking for more from me in the near future! XD
Thanks once again for all of the support, everyone! You are the best! Love you all! :)