Colin groaned and pushed himself up into a sitting position. “For such an old man, Gaius is bloody strong.”
“Language, Merlin,” Gaius said sharply, and then cut himself off. He pressed his lips into a thin line, looking grim.
“Are you all right?” Bradley asked. He wound an arm around Colin’s shoulders.
“My head hurts. I think I might be concussed. Did Gaius just say you’re not Prince Arthur?”
Bradley’s throat closed, but he nodded and tried to force some words out anyway. “Yeah. I promised you we’d convince him somehow.”
“But...Gaius thinks you’re not Prince Arthur because you have magic, and everyone knows just because Arthur was born of magic doesn’t mean he has magic.” Colin did sound like he was babbling a bit, and he swayed a bit when he finally got to his feet. He rubbed his head, and Bradley could only hang onto his shoulders, listening to his own heart pounding in his ears. “You don’t have magic, Bradley. Real people don’t have magic.”
Bradley said nothing.
Lucidity crept back into Colin’s eyes with alarming speed.
“Do they?” he asked.
Bradley stepped back, glanced around the room. He spotted a candle on a nearby table and picked it up, and he lifted it to his lips, but then he paused, looked up at Colin. Colin’s expression was horribly blank, unreadable, and his eyes were so dark they were almost black. Gaius was staring intently as well, and Bradley felt his breath catch in his chest, and no, he needed to be able to breathe right now, couldn’t lose control, not when the Tapestry was screaming in his ears.
Bradley closed his eyes and exhaled, and golden light blossomed against his eyelids.
He opened his eyes, and Colin was staring at the flickering flame of the candle.
Gaius was staring as well. “What kind of magic was that? You didn’t incant a spell.”
Bradley smiled faintly. “Just like Merlin, I was born with my magic.”
Colin’s gaze remained fixed on the candle. “That’s impossible. People don’t have magic. Not really.”
Bradley felt his chest constrict. “Colin –”
“It’s not possible. Real people don’t have magic, and even if people do have magic, my best friend would have told me years ago, when we first met and started working on Merlin, a show about a boy who has to hide his magic.” Merlin’s accent had dissolved halfway through Colin’s rant, and near the end Bradley was hard-pressed to understand his words at all, but he could read pure and utter fury in every line of Colin’s body.
“Colin, it’s not that simple,” Bradley said.
“Really? What’s so complicated about it? It’s not like anyone would have you killed,” Colin said. “If I’d had a huge secret, like if I was gay or something, I’d have told you as soon as we became proper friends.” His eyes flashed from black to blue, and for the first time in Bradley’s life, he was afraid of Colin, afraid of what Colin could do to him with words alone.
Bradley shook his head helplessly. “What was I supposed to say, Colin? ‘Hi, I’m Bradley. You’re cast as Merlin, but I’m the one who has magic.’ You’d have laughed me off the set.”
“I would have believed you if you showed it to me,” Colin snapped. His hands curled into white-knuckled fists, and he was actually quivering with tension.
“And if I showed it to you, what then? What would you do, knowing that I could set something on fire with a thought or accidentally kill a man by flinging something across the room with a spell?” Bradley cried.
Colin lifted his chin. “Have you ever killed a man accidentally?”
“Then I’d have been fine about it!”
Gaius had moved away from the door and toward Bradley, his steps hesitant, as if he were approaching a skittish colt.
“I’ve known Arthur all his life, and I’d know if he had magic. What you did – only Merlin has ever come close to it.”
Bradley shook his head. “I’m nowhere near as strong as Merlin, but here, in this world, there’s more magic, so everything’s – bigger. Brighter.” He looked at Colin. “I wanted to tell you, I really did, but –”
“But what, you didn’t trust me?”
Bradley felt his stomach twist. “I trust you Colin, I do.”
Colin’s eyes narrowed. “Are you the reason we’re here?”
“What? No! There’s no way – I don’t have nearly that kind of power.”
“And yet you can slam a door or light a candle with a thought.” Then Colin’s eyes went wide. “In the cave, when the lights went out – the candle! You asked for Merlin’s candle, and you –”
“Yes,” Bradley said quietly.
Colin crossed his arms over his chest. “What other magic have you done that I haven’t known about? Don’t tell me that you have some sort of grand destiny to watch over me or whatever, because I can look out for myself. Despite what the fans think, I’m not actually a baby deer.”
Bradley shrugged helplessly. “You don’t understand – magic in our world doesn’t work like magic here. It’s much more difficult. I can’t do anything big.”
“You didn’t answer my questions.”
“I –” Bradley threw his hands up. “Sometimes I brew you tea faster than is typically possible and one time I saved you from spilling a glass of wine on a white shirt and – small things. Things that don’t really matter in the end.” But they’d mattered when eventually the paradox of the universe built up and hit Bradley so hard he’d been in bed for a week. Luckily it had been during the hiatus and his mother had just told everyone he was under the weather. (His sister laughed herself sick because his skin had turned green.)
“But you do have magic,” Colin said.
Bradley nodded. “Yes.”
“And you were born with it,” Colin said.
Bradley nodded. “Yes.”
“Just like Merlin?”
“Yes – and no. My magic didn’t awaken until I was fifteen,” Bradley said. “I’m a bit of a late bloomer, actually. Most people in my family awaken by twelve.”
Colin raised his eyebrows. “Your parents have magic?”
Bradley felt his mouth go dry. “No. Just my mum. My sister and I, we got it from her.”
“And your dad?”
“He left when he found out.”
“Oh,” Colin said quietly. He tilted his head to one side curiously. “Do your eyes turn gold, like Merlin’s?”
“No,” Bradley said. “Like I said before – magic is different back home. Harder.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I wanted to tell you, I did, but – it’s just not done. We don’t really tell people, because...”
“Because they leave,” Colin said.
Bradley closed his eyes and nodded. He could remember chasing his father toward the door, screaming and crying and banging his fists on the window, and he could remember the soft spell his mother cast so his father wouldn’t hear his daughter’s sobs as he drove away.
“Did you think I would leave you?” Colin asked.
“I never wanted to risk it,” Bradley said. “Mages go their entire lives among oblivious Sleepers, and it’s not so bad.”
“Sleepers?” Colin echoed. “That sounds a bit more derogatory than Muggles.”
Bradley shook his head. “It’s just a term that developed over time. When we come into our magic, it’s called The Awakening, and –”
“I take it magic is not banned in your home,” Gaius said, and Bradley was reminded, forcefully, of where he was and what was going on.
“It’s not,” Colin said, “because no one believes it exists.”
Gaius nodded and stepped closer. “I take it you two are no longer arguing?”
Bradley cast a hopeful look at Colin. Colin pressed his lips into a thin line for a moment, then said, “I’m still angry –”
“Rightly so,” Bradley said.
“– But we have bigger issues to deal with, so we’ll see if we can figure out how to get everyone back in the right universe, and then Bradley – you and I need to talk.”
Tony stowed his guitar in his room, then led Merlin down the stairs and across the street to a pub. He steered Merlin toward a back table and then ordered both of them some whisky.
“What happened? You and Bradley always get along so well,” Tony said.
They weren’t Bradley and Colin – they were Arthur and Merlin, and they had years of betrayal and secrets between them.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Merlin said. Tony was being nice much nicer than the real Uther would have been had he been the one to run into Merlin.
“All right,” Tony said. “Just – you both seemed odd earlier, when you came by my room. I understand shooting ended early due to a massive electrical failure. Did either of you get hurt?”
“We’re both unharmed,” Merlin said. He was glad of the hood on Colin’s jacket, and he tugged it up, feeling self-conscious. He could feel people staring at him.
The whiskey arrived then. Merlin drank it slowly, because he had no head for strong liquor, and Tony drank his slowly as well.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but is there anything I can do to help?” Tony asked.
Merlin peered at him. The expression the older man wore was warm and fatherly; Merlin wondered if Balinor would ever have looked at him like that, had Merlin come to him with a problem.
“D’you think it’s ever right to lie?”
“That’s a difficult question,” Tony said. “Before starting on this show, I’d have had a definite answer, but watching Merlin save Arthur with magic and knowing that Merlin would likely lose his life as soon as someone found out makes it rather complicated. Lying, I suppose, is like any other number of sins – it depends on the degree.”
“Merlin’s lying about who he is,” Merlin pointed out, and it was so bizarre to talk about himself in the third person.
“Yes and no.” Tony sipped his drink. “He’s never lied about being loyal to Arthur, or being a true friend, or being clumsy and insubordinate. He’s lied about a big part of who he is, don’t get me wrong – but magic is a tool, and Merlin has never lied about the sort of wielder he is.”
“But – Merlin’s killed people.” Sometimes that was what terrified Merlin more – not that he’d die for Arthur, but that he’d kill for him.
“So has Arthur. Neither of them kill wantonly – they kill in self-defense,” Tony said. “These days, at least in this part of the world, people don’t have to kill to defend themselves nearly as often.” He arched an eyebrow. “I take it you told Bradley something about yourself, something important that you’ve kept hidden for a while, and he didn’t take it well?”
Tony was far more perceptive to the human condition that Uther was. Then again, as far as Uther was concerned most of the people in his household were barely more than intelligent animals. Time to attempt a distraction.
“I’m a bit hungry,” Merlin said. “D’you think I could have some food? I ate earlier, but it wasn’t nearly enough.”
Tony nodded. “What would you like?”
“Ye gods – something with meat and cheese. I love cheese.” Merlin sat up straighter, eager for food. He’d pay Tony back, conjure a few gold coins when no one was looking.
Tony, who’d lifted a hand to summon a serving girl, paused. “You want meat? And cheese?”
“Yes please,” Merlin said slowly, but he remembered how he’d had none of the sort at supper, and had he just gone and done something terribly, terribly wrong?
“Colin, are you feeling all right? Please tell me you’re not trying to top yourself with your lactose intolerance,” Tony said.
“Lactose...?” Merlin echoed, puzzled.
Tony reached out and wrenched Merlin’s hood back. “You’re not Colin, are you?” He peered closely at Merlin.
“Yes I am,” Merlin said, and he felt his palms begin to sweat.
“You haven’t spoken in your true accent once since I’ve seen you today,” Tony said. “Even if you were running lines, the emotional dust-up you had with Bradley back there would certainly have kicked you back into your true brogue.”
“I really am Colin,” Merlin said, and Tony reached into his jacket, likely for a weapon. Panic spread through Merlin’s veins, and he said, “Please don’t.”
“I’m going to call Colin right now,” Tony said, “and if he answers –”
“Please, don’t say anything,” Merlin begged. “I can explain.”
Tony stood up. “You’d bloody well better.” His brow was furrowed, and Merlin was afraid he was seeing Uther underneath after all. “Let’s go somewhere private.” He threw down some colored pieces of parchment – was that what they used for money here? – and strode to the door.
Merlin scurried to follow. Tony led him back to the hotel and up into his room. He closed the door, and Merlin wished he’d had the warrior’s instinct to not let Tony get between him and the door.
“Now tell me who you are and exactly what’s going on,” Tony said.
Merlin shivered under Tony’s gaze – that was Uther’s gaze, the one that had damned a hundred like Merlin to the pyres. “Promise me – promise that you’re not King Uther.”
Tony raised his eyebrows. “What?” Some of the anger in his gaze dissipated.
“Do you promise?” Merlin asked. Maybe he could make Uther forget with some sort of spell.
“I promise,” Tony said. “Are you a mental patient of some sort, son? Merlin isn’t real. Magic isn’t real, and I’m not King Uther. Were you trying to pretend to be Colin for Bradley? Is that why he’s upset with you?”
Merlin reached for his magic – and felt it, for the first time, resist. He reached for it again, stretched out his hand, and Tony flung his hands up.
“Look, you clearly need help, you’re obviously delusional –”
Merlin said, “Forbaerne,” and flames danced across his palm.
Tony swore. He swore again and fell back a step. “You – your eyes turned golden. You have magic.”
“I’m very sorry. We didn’t mean to lie to you. We thought we would be safer if we pretended to be Bradley and Colin –”
Tony yanked his gaze away from the flicker of flames on Merlin’s outstretched hand. “We who? You – you have magic!”
Merlin closed his hand, let the flames die. “Please, not so loud. Arthur’s so angry right now –”
Tony made a choking sound. “That oddness earlier – that was Arthur? Arthur Pendragon?”
“So you’re Merlin?”
Tony pressed a hand to his head. “This is madness. I knew you couldn’t be Colin as soon as you asked for cheese. Colin’s lactose intolerant. I know eating it makes him terribly ill. But – you’re Merlin. And that boy who looks like Bradley is Arthur. And you – you thought I was King Uther?”
“You’re much nicer than he is,” Merlin blurted out. “Just – you look exactly like him, especially when you’re angry.”
Tony studied him for a long moment. Then he said, “This is a prank, isn’t it? You and Bradley are having me on. I know you can cry on command, Colin. Where’s the special effects team? That thing with the fire was pretty good.”
“It’s not a prank,” Merlin said. “Please – you must believe us. We just want to get home.”
“Then why were you crying in the hallway? Why weren’t you off questing your way home or whatever?” Tony raised his eyebrows.
“Magic brought us here,” Merlin said, “and only magic can take us home. I – I had to tell Arthur, because it’s the only way for us to get home, and he –”
“This is some weird long-form improv off The Big Reveal, isn’t it?” Tony demanded.
Merlin shook his head. “No! I’m telling the truth! I saw the book, the one left for Colin Morgan, and I read it, and I came across the scene, The Big Reveal, and Arthur said we should run lines so we can do what Jeremy wants tomorrow and then go off and get the shield, find our way home, but I couldn’t let him see the book because then he would know I have magic, only he couldn’t think of a way home, so I had to tell him the truth and –”
Tony looked alarmed. “Son, slow down, remember to breathe.”
“When we get back to Camelot, he’s going to watch me burn,” Merlin said. He was fully aware when he started crying this time.
Tony sighed. “Colin, really, this has gone on long enough –”
“I’m not Colin!” Merlin shouted.
The glass rattled in the window. Merlin jumped, startled, and fought to drag his magic back under control. Tony stared at the window, and he looked afraid.
“You’re – you really are –”
Merlin nodded miserably.
Tony sank down on the bed. He reached for the bottle of wine, then set it aside. “This calls for something stronger. I don’t think I can – I’m calling Angel. And Katie. Now.”
That was how Merlin learned that the white brick-like devices actually allowed people to talk when they weren’t in each other’s physical presence, some sort of voice transmission system. He sat down in one of Tony’s chairs and thought, of all the ways he’d been afraid he would give himself away, cheese was the last one he expected.
Angel and Katie arrived, still a little drunk and looking tired. Tony told them what was going on, but they too were skeptical, suspecting some sort of prank, so Merlin froze a spill of wine in mid-air when they demanded to see magic as proof.
“This is so bizarre,” Angel said. She was looking at Merlin as if he were a particularly fascinating piece of art. “So earlier, when I bumped into Bradley, he was all weird because he’s actually Arthur?”
Katie looked at him sympathetically. “Then it must have been such a shock to see me.” She patted his knee. “I promise I’m not as evil as Morgana is.” To Merlin’s surprise, she pulled him into a hug and patted his hair.
“So...Arthur knows you have magic now,” Angel said. She hummed thoughtfully. “Well, at least you can work on finding a way home.”
Tony said, “When they get back, Arthur will have him executed.”
“I really don’t think so,” Katie said. “I’m sure he’s feeling hurt and betrayed, yes, but he’ll come around. Remember? He almost died for Merlin, trying to get the Mortaeus flower.”
“That was before he knew I have magic.” Merlin scrubbed at his face. He hadn’t cried this much since he was a child and Will had crawled in through the window, bearing the news that his father was dead. They’d cried together all night.
Angel patted him on the shoulder. “Look, just give him some time to cool off. Maybe – maybe I should go talk to him. He doesn’t know that I know who he really is, and since apparently I look exactly like Gwen, maybe it’ll soften him up a bit.”
Katie grinned. “That’s quite devious of you.”
“I’m not going to do anything horrible and mean like kiss him,” Angel said. “Just...talk to him. In the meantime, you lot should figure out how you got here and how best to get home.” She pushed herself up and headed for the door. “Right. I’m Angel, and I’m going to talk to Bradley because Colin is very upset, but he won’t say about what. And...action.” And she stepped out of the room.
Merlin was puzzled at the way she was talking to herself, but Tony and Katie just laughed softly.
“So,” Tony said, “tell us what happened this morning.”
Merlin did. Tony and Katie nodded and asked questions occasionally. They seemed quite familiar with the quest for the shield, and Merlin ended up asking them questions about why people were running around pretending to be his friends and family.
That people in this world considered Merlin’s life – his constant struggle and his daily peril – entertainment was disconcerting, and Katie was actually quite apologetic about it all.
“So you were in the cave looking for the shield, there was an explosion of light, and then you were here,” Tony said. He frowned thoughtfully.
“Since we’re working on the assumption that films and books have some truth to them, we should consider how this would happen in a film,” Katie said. “Did you encounter any sort of wise man who said cryptic things?”
“No, unless you count Kilgarrah, but it’s been a while,” Merlin said.
Tony blinked. “Right. Dragons. Real. Er...did either of you touch something you weren’t supposed to? Something unusual?”
Merlin shook his head.
Katie sighed. “Did either of you make a wish?”
“Why a wish?” Tony asked.
Katie cast him a look. “You know, wish magic – a character wishes for something really hard and it comes true, but in a really bizarre fashion?”
Tony looked puzzled.
“Like...in 17 Again or 13 Going on 30,” Katie said.
Merlin was puzzled too.
“I’ve never heard of those,” Tony said.
Katie rolled her eyes. “For heaven’s sake – you have a daughter. But that doesn’t matter. Merlin, did you or Arthur make a wish?”
Merlin started to shake his head, then paused.
Tony raised his eyebrows. “You made a wish?”
“Well, I didn’t say anything out loud,” Merlin said. “Just – this morning, Gaius insisted I tell Arthur and not to come back until I had, and I thought it would be perfect, if I were in a place where Arthur couldn’t have me or my loved ones arrested or killed after I confessed.”
“How hard were you thinking it?” Katie asked.
“Well, quite hard, I suppose. I was a bit distracted from the task at hand in the cave.” Merlin bit his lip. “You think I’m the reason we’re here?”
“Wish magic,” Katie said wisely. “In the films, usually once the wish is fulfilled and the wisher has learned his lesson, everything goes back to normal.”
“So...now that I’ve confessed to Arthur, we should just wait and we’ll get back home?”
“Maybe,” Tony said. “But what about Bradley and Colin? It’s not as if one of them could have triggered this. Will they be pulled back home automatically as well? Are they all right?”
“I suppose they’re safer than ever, as neither of them have magic,” Katie said.
Merlin nodded. “But if they act odd – if someone thinks they’re impostors –”
“Bradley and Colin know the way things work in Camelot,” Tony said. “And they’re both excellent actors. Chances are, they’ve gone to Gaius and he’s none the wiser.”
There was a knock at the door, and the three of them turned.
“Who is it?” Tony asked.
“Angel and Arthur.”
Merlin raised his eyebrows at the sound of his prince’s real name.
Katie stood up and pulled the door open. Angel and Arthur stood in the doorway, Angel smiling tentatively, Arthur looking stiff and tense, as if he were about to face an uncomfortable audience with his father.
“Please, come in,” Tony said.
Arthur gestured for Angel to precede him, then closed the door. He remained standing in front of it, ready to bolt at any moment.
“So now they all know, Merlin.”
His voice cracked like a whip.
Merlin flinched. “They’ll help us get home.”
Arthur stared at him for a long moment. Merlin couldn’t read the look in his eyes, but he had to say something, anything. He remembered the pain in Arthur’s eyes when he’d reminded Arthur that his very existence was the result of magic.
Merlin said, “I’m sorry I lied to you,” at the same time as Arthur said, “I understand why you lied to me.” They both stopped and stared at each other.
Angel hid a smile behind her hand.
“I know you’re not your father,” Merlin said, “and just because you’re born of magic doesn’t make you evil.”
“I was angry,” Arthur said, “after the events with Morgause, but...I know, Merlin, that you are not evil. Angel assured me of that.” He sighed and swiped a hand over his face. “My entire life, I’ve learnt to fear and hate magic. And I can’t just make that go away.”
“I know,” Merlin said. “But I can teach you – show you how magic is good.”
Katie nudged Merlin and said, “Show him something small.”
Merlin glanced at Arthur, who blanched at the thought of seeing magic up close. “I don’t think he’s comfortable –”
Katie glanced at Angel, and something unspoken passed between them. Even Tony caught on.
“Can you conjure a light?” he asked.
Merlin nodded. “Fire. I use it for torches all the time, and to keep Arthur’s room warm in the winter.”
“A different sort of light,” Angel suggested.
Merlin wracked his memory. “Er. All right.” And he stretched forth a hand. He murmured a spell, and a ball of blue light blossomed over his palm. “Like this?”
“Yes,” Katie said, and she sounded delighted.
Merlin glanced up at Arthur, who had gone very still.
“Is this the first time you’ve cast that spell?” he asked.
“Probably not. Why?”
“It’s just – in the caves. When I was searching for that flower, a light guided me out, one that looked just like that. Did you cast it?”
“Gaius did say I was muttering in my sleep. Maybe?” Merlin glanced at the girls; they must have known the light would mean something to Arthur.
Arthur sighed. “Just how many times have you saved me?”
“He’s lost count,” Katie said, and she smiled, pleased.
“I see.” Arthur pressed a hand to his eyes and took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about how we’re getting home, and then – then Merlin and I need to have a long chat.”
“Excellent,” Tony said. “Should I order in?”
“Chinese take-out sounds great right about now,” Angel said. She glanced at Merlin. “What would you like to eat?”
“Get the boy a sandwich – with meat and cheese,” Tony said, and Merlin broke into a wide grin.
Arthur sat down beside him, and he was wearing that expression he wore right before he did something stupid to try to cheer Merlin up, like wrestle him into a headlock or punch him in the shoulder.
“I’m still angry,” Arthur said quietly. “And I suppose you are too. I’m angry, Merlin, but I – I won’t let you die. Sometimes I have to do what’s right and damn the consequences.”
“Thanks,” Merlin said. He reached out with the hand that was balancing the ball of light. “Would you like to hold it?”
“Let’s find out.”