The ride back from Ealdor passed mostly in uncomfortable silence for Arthur. He could hear Merlin and Gwen talking and laughing behind him, but he could also feel Merlin’s eyes boring a hole in the back of his skull. Of course, it was entirely possible that was only Arthur’s imagination. Morgana cleared her throat next to him and Arthur glanced over at her. “What?”
She looked over her shoulder at where Merlin and Gwen were riding along, a few feet behind, and then back at Arthur. She smiled infuriatingly and said, “Nothing.”
Arthur avoided making eye contact for the remainder of the day.
That night they stopped to make camp, and Arthur sat sullenly ripping chunks out of a loaf of bread. He watched Merlin, resting with his back against a tree, and he watched Gwen stop there for a moment before moving off. “It would make things a lot easier if you’d just talk to him.”
Arthur closed his eyes. “There’s nothing to say.”
If she’d been any other person, Arthur would have said Morgana snorted, but then, it was Morgana, and the word simply didn’t apply. “Right. Of course, Arthur, that’s why you’re over here sulking and staring.”
“I do not sulk.” He paused. “And I certainly was not staring.”
Morgana had the audacity to laugh at him. “Talk to him, or don’t. It’s your decision, but remember, it’s only yourself you’re hurting.”
While Morgana walked away, Merlin’s blue eyes met Arthur’s and held for an instant, and Arthur rolled onto his back. He wasn’t staring.
Arthur watched Merlin fold his clothes and place them carefully in the cupboard, Arthur’s room kept far more tidy than Merlin’s own. Merlin had been diligent at his tasks since they’d returned from Ealdor that morning, his complaints minimal and his work done with a skill Arthur could only grudgingly give him credit for. He kept giving Arthur sly glances out of the corner of his eye, as though to see if Arthur was actually watching. God, he was so careless. Merlin must think Arthur is truly stupid if he thought Arthur had no suspicions.
Arthur could easily remember the rage that had bloomed inside him when he’d demanded to know who is the sorcerer? Because… because, Merlin, how could you lie to me?
Then William had said, it’s me. I’m the sorcerer, and Merlin hadn’t said anything.
But Arthur knew. William had not been there with the afanc, William had not been there when Arthur had found a blue light to guide him out of the caves, William had never been there. But Merlin had. Merlin had warned him about a magic shield, Merlin had dragged him drowning and enchanted from the lake, Merlin had given his father a sword that could defeat a wraith.
“Do you think I’m an idiot?”
Merlin grinned. “No, I think you’re a prat. I’m the idiot, remember?”
“This isn’t a joke, Merlin,” Arthur said, and the grin slid off Merlin’s face.
Arthur had given him a chance to say it himself, to say, no, Arthur, it wasn’t William. It was me. I’m the sorcerer. Arthur had thought Merlin would take the opportunity by William’s pyre. So this is what you were going to tell me?
Arthur closed the distance between them and rested his hand on Merlin’s arm, over the torn old brown coat. “It must have been difficult, keeping William’s secret.”
Arthur could feel Merlin’s flinch underneath his hand, and he could see Merlin’s eyes flicker downwards before resting on Arthur’s face again. “Yeah. But I couldn’t let Uther know, not that he was a sorcerer,” here Merlin’s voice cracked, “and not that I was friends with him. I was afraid for him. He wasn’t hurting anybody.”
Trust me, Arthur willed Merlin to hear. Why can’t you trust me? You only make it worse the longer you keep this from me. Stop lying to me.
“If that’s all, then I’ll retire for the night.”
Inexplicably Arthur felt anger bubbling up inside, and his fingers clenched around Merlin’s arm. Merlin winced and started to move away, and Arthur released him. You should have told me, the words echoed back in Arthur’s mind, and he willed Merlin to understand what he wasn’t saying. Let me help you.
But all Arthur could see in Merlin’s face was, I don’t know what you’ll do.
“Good night, Arthur,” Merlin said, and closed the door.
Arthur sat down and put his head in his hands, his fingers sliding up into his hair. He longed for a time when things had been simple, when his father had been perfect and all-knowing, when sorcerers deserved to die no matter what. Arthur had spent his whole life believing that magic was evil, and he had plenty of experiences to back that claim up. But the light, in the cave, had saved his life. It had been warm and somehow loving, and in no way evil.
It should have been easier this way, Merlin leaving and everything the same, no secrets to keep from his father, no proof that Merlin really was a sorcerer. No choice between his duty and his desires, between his father and his-- Merlin.
The problem was, nothing was the same and it didn’t feel easy at all.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.