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It takes Hunith a moment to recognize the girl on her doorstep. She's only seen Freya in pictures, the ones Merlin texts her where Freya is laughing and half-turned away from the camera, looking at Merlin or avoiding being photographed. Freya is meant to be coming for the holidays, but they're three months away from those.

“I couldn't think of anywhere else to go,” says Freya, standing on the doorstep, her jeans ripped, Merlin's car parked haphazard at the end of the drive.

Hunith wants to ask where he son is, but the answer can't be anything good. Certainly nothing she wants to hear on her front step. Everything is going to change now, the way it all changed once before, and Hunith wants to hear it in the comfort of her own kitchen. “I think you'd better come in.”

*

Freya doesn't look up from her cup of tea. “Someone at work caught him doing magic, I think. He's not in jail, he came home after people started looking at him wrong and told me we needed to get out of town. We were both going to come here, we'd made the plan just in case, but he ...”

“Merlin is too noble to put us in danger,” Hunith says, when Freya's choked silence lasts too long. “He told you to take care of yourself and disappeared?”

“Yes.” She looks up. “I'm technically non-compliant too, though I'm on a prescription. I had to get out. I won't stay long, but I had to go somewhere first, come up with a plan.”

Hunith wonders if this is how Gaius felt, when she showed up on his doorstep with her eyes burning gold, her baby's magic endangering them both two months before he was even born. “Nonsense. You'll stay as long as you want to.”

*

Freya spends most of a day on Hunith's back step with her legs tucked up under her, staring unseeing out at the little yard. Hunith watches her from the kitchen window, noting with a wince how the neighbors clearly notice that she's there and wishing they'd been able to meet as planned. It's hard to have Freya here and Merlin somewhere else, not here to smooth the way and tell her the way Freya takes her tea.

Hunith brings her a glass of cider twenty minutes before dinner and sets it next to her. “When Balinor left me, I was pregnant. He didn't want Merlin and me in danger.”

“I'm not pregnant.” Freya presses her hand across her stomach like she's reminding herself of that. “How did you survive it?”

“Come in and set the table.” Freya looks up at her with a sudden frown, but Hunith shakes her head. “I don't have an answer. But I can keep you busy.”

“I'd like that.” Freya takes a gulp of her cider and stands up. “Let's begin.”

*

Merlin calls after a week.

“I'm sorry,” he says. It's barely past dawn, and Hunith was doing the crossword, trying to keep up some semblance of normalcy when Freya has been a silent, if useful, ghost in the household. “I was careful, Mum, I promise I was.”

“Of course you were, love.” Merlin hasn't ever been careful, hasn't ever stopped using his magic for little things when he feels he should be able to. She loves how much joy he takes in it, but sometimes she wishes she could have her Merlin without the magic. “You're safe where you are now?”

“I'm with Lancelot right now, he's abroad. I think I'm going to try to find Bali—to find my father.”

Hunith doesn't know what to say to that. “As long as you stay safe. Do you know what you're going to do?”

“I don't know. I've met Nimueh, who's on the lobby for magicians' rights. I might try to work with her.” Merlin's voice starts shaking. “Did Freya make it to you?”

“She did, love. She's not up yet, but she'll want to talk to you. Let me go wake her.”

They talk quietly while she climbs up to the guest room and knocks on the door. Freya calls for her to come in seconds later, and when she sees Hunith has the phone pressed to her ear, she sits up straight, face already crumpling.

“I love you,” Hunith says. “Call back as often as you can. Here she is.”

She hands the phone over, and it's hard, but it's worth it for the way Freya reaches for it and presses it to her ear, says Merlin's name over and over until he must interrupt on the other end. Hunith withdraws. It isn't her conversation to witness.

*

Freya doesn't come down until nearly noon, though the phone hasn't been engaged for hours.

Hunith doesn't say much while Freya makes herself a cup of tea and sits down across from her at the table. There are conversations to have, no doubt, but Hunith isn't sure how to begin them. “He asked me to take care of you,” Freya finally says. “But all you've been doing is taking care of me.”

“If I can't mother him, I can at least mother you.”

“We can at least take care of each other.” Freya's smile is hesitant, but it's the first real one Hunith has seen in a week. “I make a very good sandwich. Maybe I can make you lunch?”

Hunith smiles as well, and finds that she means it. “I'd like that very much.”

*

Freya's magic is dampened, and she leaves her prescription bottle on the bathroom counter like Hunith might be worried about it after raising Merlin with no dampeners at all, but Hunith catches her in the living room one afternoon, staring down at her cupped palms, concentrating until her eyes burn gold and a little rose appears in her hands. Her chest is heaving, effort from the magic when it can't pass along the channels it's meant to, and it goes on for long enough that Hunith is almost ready to ruin her illusion of privacy to ask if she's having an adverse reaction before she realizes that Freya is crying, hands curling up and crushing the flower.

Hunith comes to sit on the couch with her, and after ten minutes, Freya leans against her shoulder. Neither of them has anything to say, but it's good to have company.

*

“Nimueh found him a safe home in Caerleon,” says Freya, sitting down at the kitchen table.

Hunith breathes out. “You'll be going, then?”

“It's not safe here, even if we're over Camelot's borders.” Freya folds her hands. “You could come with me. Merlin won't offer, he knows you love your home, but I'm offering.”

Some bridges have been burned, since Merlin had to go into hiding and Freya turned up on Hunith's doorstep. Hunith has lived safe and quiet in this home since Gaius found it for her when Merlin was barely born, but something is going to change, soon, and Hunith can change with the world. She's done it before. “Give me a week,” she says.

Freya nods, serious, and Hunith has known how much Merlin loves her for months now and cared for her because it, but this is the first time she thinks she loves her on her own merit. “Of course.”

*

Hunith has to close her eyes as they drive out of Ealdor in the grey pre-dawn. It's going to be a long time before she comes back, she knows, and Merlin is worth every day she spends away but it's still a painful thing, leaving the place she found so much contentment. At least she's had time to prepare. She knew the day Freya turned up at her door that she couldn't stay.

She keeps her eyes closed, though she doesn't go to sleep, and after a few turns, Freya reaches across the front seat to grab her hand, lacing their fingers together as she drives away.