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Through the Looking-Glass, and What Arthur Found There

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Though Arthur had become accustomed to Camelot as a whole, the Tulgey Forest was as ominous and eerie to him as the first time he had entered it. If anything, it felt more dangerous now, for he knew the face of his foe. He had felt the Jabberwock's sharp claws and the agony of its poison, and was not eager to do so again. And this time, he did not have a dozen knights to aide him. Merlin and Morgana were not fighters, and while Aithusa was powerful, she was still a kitten. As the eldest of them all, it fell to Arthur to keep them safe.

They heard the beast before they saw it: the terrible howl of sixty hounds barking and growling at once.

"Get back behind those trees," he told the others. "And do not come out until the Jabberwock lies dead."

With his vorpal sword and his woolen cloak, facing off alone against a terrible monster, Arthur had never felt so much and so little like the knight of his imagination. But he would not fail a second time, not when so much hung in the balance. He was not fighting for himself this time, but for his friends and for the future of their kingdom.

There was a black shape in the gloom, and there it was: the huge bulk of the Jabberwock, headed straight for him. Its eyes flared with flame, and its snake-tongue licked the air with eager appetite. But having faced it once, Arthur knew something of its methods, and quickly ducked out of sight. He climbed up a Tumtum tree until he was above the monster.

As the Jabberwock reached where he had been, it looked around in confusion, but Arthur had already leapt into action. He jumped down from the tree and landed upon the creature's back. The Jabberwock howled terribly and tried to shake him off, but he held on tightly. The creature's shaking kept him from grabbing his sword, but it could not reach him with its claws, and its tail could not whip him.

The beast howled again and tried to use one of the trees to dislodge him, and Arthur was forced to swing around its long, thick neck to avoid being crushed. The new position endangered him, and he was nearly caught by the poisonous claws -- but out of the gloom came a small patch of white: Aithusa flew at the Jabberwock's head and blasted its eyes with flame.

It was just the distraction that Arthur needed. He pulled himself back onto the creature's back and took the vorpal sword in hand -- then with a mighty swing he cleaved its head from its neck. The Jabberwock gave one last, terrible cry, and then it died, its head rolling to a stop on the leafy ground, and its body slumping onto its side. Arthur leapt away as the body fell, and he was met by Aithusa, who landed on his shoulder and fluttered her wings in satisfaction.

Merlin and Morgana ran out from their hiding place, hugging each other with delight. Merlin jumped into Arthur's arms and Arthur swung him around. When they both had their feet on the ground again, they could not look away from each other, and Arthur looked down at Merlin's lips as Merlin licked them.

"Merlin," Arthur murmured. His heart was racing, and it was from more than just his victory.

Merlin sighed, and leaned closer.

But before anything could come of it, Morgana cried, "Look out!" Arthur turned his head just in time, and he and Merlin leapt to the ground to avoid having their own heads cut off. A knight in gleaming silver armor was standing over them; she had hair so fair it was nearly white, and but her face was flushed with anger.

"Stand and fight, so that I might slay you with honor!" she snarled.

"Morgause, no!" said Morgana. "Don't hurt them!"

"Why should I not?" Morgause said. "They stole you from me with subterfuge, killed my pet, and now they are taking you to our mortal enemy."

"Your pet?" Morgana said. "Then you created the Jabberwock? But why?"

"To keep you safe, my sister," Morgause said. She calmed, but she kept her sword at Arthur's throat.

"You're the White Knight," Merlin realized. "How can you be her sister?"

"It is not by blood, but by marriage," said Morgana. "My mother married her father."

"You are the White King's daughter?" Arthur asked.

"I am," Morgause said. "And I created the Jabberwock to keep Uther from sending his knights against us. But I see that one knight has succeeded at last. No matter, for one man is easily dispatched." She brought back her sword, readying to strike, but Aithusa flew between them, staying her hand.

"He's not one of the Uther's men," Merlin said.

"Why should I believe you?" challenged Morgause.

"Merlin's my friend, he wouldn't lie to you," said Morgana.

"Arthur's not even from Wonderland," Merlin continued. "He's trying to help us stop the Red King."

"Arthur?" Morgause said, and she gave Arthur a thoughtful look. "Very well. I will spare him. But Morgana, you must not go with them. Uther will never accept you back. He will have your head!"

"He will not have my head as long as I have this," Morgana said, hoisting up the Jabberwock's head. "My father issued a challenge: whoever brings him the head of the Jabberwock becomes heir to the throne. He will have no choice but to restore me to my rightful position."

Morgause gave a bitter laugh. "And you trust him to keep his word? After what he did to you?"

"That no longer matters. Merlin was able to cure me of the poison."

"Where I was not," Morgause said, and looked away. "And so you turn to them and away from me?"

"I have to try," Morgana said. "Merlin has told me of the destruction the Jabberwock has wrought, and not just upon my father's knights. I know that you were trying to keep me safe, but this is not the way." She gestured to the Jabberwock's body. "Let it rest. Forget revenge and come with us. When I am Queen, I will need my champion."

But Morgause refused to turn back to her. "I will not help you march towards your death."

"If she will not, then let me be your champion," Arthur said, and he knelt before Morgana, presenting her with the vorpal sword.

Morgana looked pleadingly to Morgause, but Morgause refused her. Morgana nodded, accepting, and took up the vorpal blade. "From this day forth, you shall be my knight," she said, and touched the blade to Arthur's shoulders. He stood, and accepted the sword again.

"Camelot awaits," Morgana said, and Merlin, Arthur, and Aithusa followed her, leaving Morgause behind.

§

It would be an understatement to say that Morgana's return caused a stir amongst the citizens of Camelot. Arthur felt as though they were on a parade as everyone came out to see them -- to point and chatter to each other excitedly about both Morgana and the Jabberwock head in her arms. Her white clothes had been stained by the Jabberwock's blood, making her even more astonishing a sight. There was even excitement spared for Merlin, for he was also a lost child of Camelot, and long-awaited.

No one paid much mind to Arthur, which was fine with him. Aithusa was perched on his shoulder, but she had turned herself invisible -- which Arthur thought was rather wise of her, especially given her tender age. He was content to act as their bodyguard, watching for any sign of attack from the crowd or from Uther's knights.

But the knights and the crowd let them through, and they passed up into the castle unhindered. The King met them from his balcony, and the grey rabbit was at his side. Arthur, Morgana, and Merlin stood below, and it struck Arthur how similar this was to his first time in the castle, and that they were standing where Thomas Collins had lost his head.

Morgana hefted the Jabberwock's head into the air, and proclaimed: "Whoever brings to you the head of the Jabberwocky shall be made heir to Camelot!"

"So you have returned for your punishment at last," said the King.

"I return for my throne," said Morgana, undaunted. "And by your own words I have won it. Do you deny them?"

The grey rabbit whispered in the King's ear, and they spoke to each other in soft but urgent tones. The King turned back to his audience.

"A challenge was made, and you have answered it," he said. "But I have no proof that you were the one to slay the Jabberwock."

"That was not part of the challenge," Morgana countered.

"Then you admit that the beast was killed by your own hand?"

"I killed the Jabberwock," Arthur said, stepping forward. "But I acted as Princess Morgana's champion."

"Who are you, stranger?" said the King. "If your hand slayed the Jabberwock, then the reward is yours."

"I am no one," said Arthur humbly. "And I will not accept what is not mine."

"Very well, No One," the King said, with evident reluctance. "The Princess Morgana is restore as my heir. But she must still pay for your crimes. Off with her--!"

"Sire," said the grey rabbit, interrupting. "If you recall, Morgana escaped before she could be put on trial. She must have a proper trial or she cannot be sentenced."

"Very well," said the King, as if the whole matter was intolerably dull. Then he brightened. "But first we must have a game. To the croquet grounds! Get to your places!" he shouted in a voice of thunder, and people began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other. This being Camelot, everyone but Arthur took this as perfectly normal.

The croquet ground was surrounded by tiers of seating, which surrounded it in a wide oval. It was just the sort of space that would be used for a tournament in Arthur's books -- but here it was covered with grass instead of bare soil and sawdust; and instead of being neat and flat, it was all ridges and furrows. Arthur didn't see how anyone could be expected to play the game properly. But 'properly' was a concept with a different meaning here. Instead of hoops to mark where the ball must be struck through, there were knights in full armor, bent over in the grass, forming arches with their bodies. Instead of balls, there were curled-up hedgehogs, and instead of mallets, they were to take their strokes using live flamingoes!

"Is this some sort of trick?" Arthur asked Merlin, though given that Morgana had already been threatened with execution, he could not see the point of trying to entrap her.

Merlin just hushed him -- he was visibly eager to see the game begin. "Morgana's an ace at croquet. She used to beat the King at it all the time."

The grey rabbit cleared his throat. "The King shall only play against the strongest opponent."

"Then he shall play against me," declared Morgana, stepping forward.

"Is No One better than you, my dear?" asked the King.

"No one is better than me," agreed Morgana.

"Then step aside, and we'll see what he can do!" said the King. He grabbed a flamingo and thrust it at Arthur.

"What?" Arthur said, as everyone turned to stare at him. He stared at the flamingo, and it stuck its tongue out at him. He did not have a good feeling about this.

"You did say you were No One, did you not?" the King said.

"Well, yes, but--"

"Then let the games begin!" shouted the King, so loudly that Aithusa leapt from Arthur's shoulder in alarm, and hid against Merlin's back.

Morgana did not look pleased with this turn of events, and Arthur gave her an apologetic look. But he had no choice but to step up to take his strike.

The chief difficulty that Arthur found at first was in managing his flamingo. He succeeded in getting its body tucked away, comfortably enough, under his arm, with its legs hanging down, but just as he had got its neck nicely straightened out, and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, the flamingo would go completely limp, making it impossible to hit the hedgehog at all -- and even when he could keep the flamingo in line, the hedgehog would invariably have unrolled itself and begun to crawl away. This went on for several minutes.

"I'll show you how it's done," said the King, pushing Arthur aside. He rolled up his sleeves and drew out a flamingo, and it immediately went stiff as a board. The King tapped its head upon the ground behind the curled-up hedgehog, lining up his shot. He drew back his flamingo, then gave the hedgehog a great thwack! The little creature went flying across the pitch -- and it was a very impressive shot indeed, except that it went nowhere near the knights. The bent-over knights saw with alarm that the ball was going the wrong way, and they frantically scurried to meet it, almost throwing themselves onto the poor creature as it barrelled along. By some miracle, they all managed to arch themselves over the hedgehog in time -- all except the last, who immediately looked up in fear.

"Off with his head!" raged the King, and to Arthur's horror the poor knight was hauled off the pitch.

The King rounded on Arthur. "You're next!" he shouted, then gestured to the starting position.

Arthur looked over to Morgana and Merlin for help, and they gave him inexplicably encouraging looks. They must have some trick up their sleeves, but Arthur didn't know what it was. All he could do was try and get his hedgehog rolling and hope for the best.

The doomed knight was replaced and the field was put back in order, and Arthur once again tried to get his flamingo and hedgehog to cooperate. "Do you want us both to lose our heads?" he hissed at the flamingo, and it nodded stupidly at him. Arthur supposed that it wouldn't be the smarter birds that ended up as croquet mallets.

"You want to play rough?" he muttered to the flamingo. "Let's play rough." He grabbed the bird by its ankles and flung it around like a bolo until it had gained some serious momentum, and then with a might thwack he hit the hedgehog, which had been just about to crawl away again. This time it went flying towards the first knight, and Arthur was certain it was going to go through -- until the knight saw what was about to happen and leapt aside!

Arthur threw his flamingo down in outrage, but before he could protest this blatant act of cheating -- and before the second knight could also leap out of the way -- the hedgehog stopped rolling; it lifted an inch off the ground and began to fly! It flew directly through the second knight's arch, and then the third, and no matter how the knights tried to escape, the hedgehog made it through -- even if it had to fly through their legs as they ran!

Aithusa, Arthur realized. It had to be her. He watched as she went so far as to double back through the hoops to get extra points, ensuring that he would win. But before Arthur could celebrate his victory, the King turned on him in fury.

"Someone's head will roll for this!" the King snarled. "Yours! Off with your--"

The grey rabbit cleared his throat again. "Sire, would you not agree that it is not possible to execute no one? That is, if there is to be an execution, someone must be executed."

The King scratched his head in confused. "Well, yes, I suppose."

"Have some more wine," said the grey rabbit, handing him a full goblet. "And you agree that an execution must take place."

"Of course!" agreed the King, and took a hearty swig.

"Then I suggest, sire, that if you want someone to be executed instead of no one, that we move on to the trial of Princess Morgana."

"Very sensible, Gaius," the King said, and slapped the grey rabbit on the back. "To the main hall! Get to your places!"

And just like that, people began running about in all directions again, tumbling up against each other as they rushed back the other way, towards the castle again.

"I don't know how you did that," said Arthur, as he pulled Gaius aside. "But thank you."

"I have no idea what you mean," said Gaius, but he winked at him before he hurried along after the King.

"How on earth did Morgana ever win against him?" Arthur asked Merlin, as they joined the crowd.

Merlin smiled. "She saved the crumbs from her tarts and fed the hedgehogs with them."

"Bribery!" Arthur whispered, and despite the fact that they were about to face Morgana's possible execution, he was relieved to know that they had a friend in high places. There was a real chance they could all make it out of this alive.

§

The King was seated on his throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled before him, filling the hall with humans and all sorts of birds and beasts, as well as all the knights. Gaius stood beside the King, with a scroll of parchment in his hands. A jury had been assembled, and they were all writing very busily on slates.

"What are they doing?" Arthur whispered to Merlin, as they found a spot at the front of the crowd. "They can't have anything to put down yet, before the trial's begun."

"They're putting down their names," Merlin whispered in reply, "for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial."

"That's absurd!" Arthur said -- and too loudly, because all the jurors looked at him and then furiously wrote down what he had said.

"Silence in the court!" cried Gaius.

Morgana walked right up to the King and sat down in the empty seat beside him -- but then, she was the Princess again, after all, even if she was on trial. There was a smile floating just above her shoulder, and Arthur realized that Aithusa was guarding her.

"Let the accusation be read!" said the King.

Gaius opened the scroll and read from it: "The King of Hearts stored jam for tarts, beneath his castle white. But these Morgana tried to steal, which gave him quite a fright."

"Consider your verdict," the King said to the jury.

"Not yet, not yet!" Gaius hastily interrupted. "There's a great deal to come before that!"

"Call the first witness," said the King.

Gaius called out, "First witness!"

The first witness was Morgana's former maid, a girl named Guinevere. She came in with a teacup in one hand and a piece of bread-and-butter in the other. "I beg pardon, your Majesty," she began, "for bringing these in, but I hadn't quite finished my tea when I was sent for."

"You ought to have finished," said the King. "When did you begin?"

Guinevere looked at Morgana and winked at her. "Fourteenth of March, I think it was," she said. "Three years ago."

"That's the day before the crime!" said the King. He turned to the jury. "Write that down." They scribbled obligingly. He turned back to Guinevere. "On the fifteenth of March, you saw the Princess Morgana leave her chambers and go down to the jam vaults."

"Oh, no, sire," Guinevere said. "I couldn't have seen her do that, because I was still having my afternoon tea."

"It was the middle of the night," said the King, looking down his nose at her.

"It was a very long afternoon," Guinevere sighed. She took a tiny sip of tea, and nibbled a single crumb from her toast. "It was so long, it hasn't ended yet."

"So you deny your previous evidence?" the King asked, angrily.

"Oh, no, sire," Guinevere said, politely. "It's only that I was so busy buttering my toast, and the toast was so crunchy, that if anyone walked by, I couldn't have heard them at all!"

The King gave up. "If that's all you know about it, you may stand down."

"I can't go any lower, sire,' said Guinevere. "I'm on the floor, as it is."

"Then you may sit down," the King replied.

"I'd rather finish my tea."

"Then you may go!" said the King, pointing the way out. "Call the next witness!"

The next witness was the royal baker -- none other than Hunith herself! When she saw Merlin, she nearly broke into tears of joy -- but she gathered herself and marched up to give her statement.

"Give your evidence," said the King.

"I will not," said Hunith.

The King looked anxiously to Gaius, who refilled his goblet.

"Your Majesty must cross-examine this witness," Gaius told him.

"Well, if I must, I must," the King said, with a melancholy -- and somewhat drunken -- air, and, after folding his arms and frowning at Hunith till his eyes were nearly out of sight, he said in a deep voice, "What are tarts made of?"

"Pepper, mostly," said Hunith.

The audience snickered.

The King rounded on them, furious. "I'll have all your heads for that!" he warned. "Call next witness!"

"Next witness," Gaius called. Hunith walked directly to Merlin and pulled him into a hug, squeezing him so tight that he nearly popped -- but he didn't seem to mind at all.

"Ahem," Gaius said, looking at Arthur. "Next witness."

"Who, me?" Arthur asked, and Gaius nodded. Confused as to what he could possibly contribute, Arthur walked up and stood before the King.

"What do you know about this business?" the King asked.

"Well, nothing," said Arthur.

"Nothing whatever?" persisted the King.

"Nothing whatever," agreed Arthur.

"That's very important," the King said, turning to the jury.

They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when Gaius interrupted. "Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course," he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

"Unimportant, of course, I meant," the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, "Important -- unimportant -- unimportant -- important --," as if he were trying which word sounded best. And then as if he had suddenly reached an epiphany, he stood up from his throne. "Of course! Rule forty-two. All persons without a name must leave the court."

Everybody looked at Arthur.

"But I do have a name," said Arthur. "It's Arthur."

A sudden silence came upon the hall, and the King stared at him.

"That is not a name we speak of," said the King, angrily.

"Well, I can't help it," said Arthur. "It's my name. And I have no intention of leaving this room."

"And has it always been your name?" asked Gaius, with sudden interest.

"As long as I can remember," Arthur said. "My father -- my adoptive father -- said he it was the only name I would respond to after he found me. So it must be my name."

The King had gone quite pale. "And do you -- Are you quite fond of tarts?"

Arthur thought of Merlin's tarts, and realized that he had never had the chance to try them. "I don't know," he said. "I've never had any tarts."

The King rounded on Hunith. "A tart! Bring me a tart at once! Your very best!"

Hunith and Merlin hurried off to the kitchen, and in no time at all they returned with a silver platter, and upon the platter was a perfect, gleaming tart. Hunith presented it to the King, and he took it reverently.

"Take a bite," said the King, his hands trembling as he handed over the tart.

Arthur brought the tart to his lips, and took a cautious bite. The soft pastry crumbled on his tongue, and the sweet jam danced upon his tastebuds. He chewed slowly, savoring the delicacy, and as he did he suddenly remembered: A warm summer day, chasing after butterflies with a half-crushed raspberry tart in his hand, and then one wrong step and a sudden plunge into the darkness of a bottomless rabbit hole.

The entire hall held its breath.

Arthur opened his eyes, and looked at the King, and saw a man almost twenty years younger and happier. He closed his eyes again, and when he opened them, he saw his father.

"Father?" he said.

The King was beside himself, and his eyes filled with tears of joy. "Come to my arms, my beamish boy!" he cried, and pulled Arthur into a hug so tight he nearly popped. But he didn't mind it very much. Uther might be mad, he might be an awful king, but here at last was his father, his real father.

"I thought I would never see you again," said the King, his voice tight with tears.

"I'm here now," soothed Arthur. Perhaps this would be the end of it: no more beheadings, no more cruelty. The King would not have to jealously guard all the tarts now that his son was restored to him. "We'll have tea and tarts together, and you can tell me about my mother. I've always wondered--"

But the King had gone quite stiff. "Your mother?" he said, and released Arthur from his hold.

"Yes," Arthur said. "What was she like? Merlin said--" He turned to look at Merlin, who was shaking his head in alarm, and then at Morgana, who looked as stunned as he felt as they both realized that this meant they were siblings! He was the eldest -- did that mean he was to inherit the throne? He didn't know if he wanted that at all.

Arthur turned back to the King, but instead of the peace that Arthur had hoped their reunion would bring them, it seemed to have pushed Uther over the edge at last -- and until now, he had barely been clinging on by his fingernails.

"Off with her head!" the King yelled, pointing at Morgana. "Off with his head!" he yelled, pointing at Merlin. "Off with all their heads!" he yelled, spreading his arms wide.

The knights all looked to each other, uncertain if they were meant to arrest the crowd or each other. They each reached for their necks in alarm, and then seemed to decide that it was better to be on the side that was doing the arresting than be arrested themselves. The headed straight for Merlin, Arthur, Hunith, and Gwen, and grabbed them, ready to haul them off.

"All I need is you now, my darling boy," the King said, quite madly.

"You can't!" Arthur protested, and tried to stop the knights, but they pushed him away. He drew his sword, only to be surrounded by the rest of the knights, who had drawn their own swords. With the vorpal sword, he could probably cut most of them down, but the odds were not in his favor overall.

"Father, please!" Arthur pleaded, hoping that there was some spark of sanity left in the King. But the King had not taken his resistance well.

"You," he growled, accusingly. "You are not my son. My son would never stand against me. You are a thief! You tricked me into giving up one of my precious tarts! Off with your head! Off with your head!"

The knights began to close in, and Arthur braced himself for a nasty fight. But a sudden commotion made everyone stop and turn. Riding into the hall was none other than Morgause, her silver armor gleaming as she charged into the hall, and behind her came the knights that had survived the failed attack upon the Jabberwock! Sir Leon and Sir Lancelot, Sir Elyan and Sir Percival, and even Gwaine had come along. It was an unlikely but very welcome rescue party. From their mounts, they quickly drove away the King's knights, rescued Arthur and his friends, and captured the King, who by now was practically frothing in his madness.

"Shall I dispatch him for you, sister?" Morgause asked, a dark gleam in her eye.

"Tempting," Morgana said, "But no. I know of a better place for him to live out his days." She took the crown from his head and marched up to the throne, and handed the crown to Gaius.

"Long live the Queen!" declared Gaius, and he placed the crown upon her head.

"Long live the Queen!" answered the crowd, and the people cheered.

§

After that, there was a grand party to celebrate Morgana's inauguration. Merlin and Hunith worked frantically all afternoon to bake enough tarts for everyone, while Morgana, Arthur, and Gaius took care of the matters of state -- from now on, there was to be no more painting of flowers. Morgause took charge of the knights, and Guinevere, who was quite the expert at tea parties by now, made the arrangements for the banquet.

"Things are going to be different now," Morgana said, as she looked out from the balcony and surveyed her kingdom.

"What will become of Uther?" Arthur asked. The man might be stark raving mad, but he was still their father.

"There is a quiet little cottage on the other side of the Tulgey Forest," Morgana said. "It should be perfect for him."

"You're going to make a fine Queen," Arthur decided, feeling rather proud of his new sister. Revenge would have been easy and justified, but she had taken the better path.

"I think you'll find that I'm already a fine Queen," she replied, smiling. Then she sobered. "Will you stay? I have sent an invitation to mother. I'm certain that she will return to us, now."

"I don't know," Arthur said. He had never intended to come here, and never intended to stay. He could not disappear on Lord Ector and Kay as he had on Uther and Ygraine -- it would not be fair. And yet here was his family -- the family that had been lost to him for so long.

"Well, you know what they say," said Aithusa, from her roost on the ledge. "It's no use going back to yesterday, because you were a different person then."

"Easy for you to say -- you're not even the same species anymore!" Arthur said, but in his heart he wondered if she might be right.

§

The party was as joyous and chaotic as would be expected for a kingdom that had just been freed from a terrible tyrant. Tea and tarts flowed freely, as did wine, and everyone had a delightful time. Arthur was properly introduced to Guinevere -- who turned out to be the sister of Sir Elyan -- and discovered that in fact she had aided Morgana in her attempt to steal the jam from the vaults. He also talked to Hunith, and saw so much of Merlin in her, even though she had been separated from him for so long. Without Uther, Camelot was a happy land, yet it made Arthur feel more apart from it than ever before.

As the evening wore on, he quietly made his goodbyes and snuck away. But he had not said goodbye to Merlin, and therefore it was little surprise when Merlin caught up with him on the path.

"I thought you said you wanted me to be less mad," Merlin said, not hiding his anger. "You saw what happened to Uther after you vanished on him without a word."

"That's not fair," Arthur protested, but he knew Merlin was right. It was cruel of him to leave Merlin like that, and yet he had forced himself to do it. Because -- it was because -- "I didn't go to you, because if I did I knew I might not be able to leave at all."

"And that's a bad thing?" Merlin asked.

"It's a wonderful thing," Arthur said. "And that's what makes it so terrible."

"I think you're starting to fit in at last, because that made no sense at all."

Arthur looked at the sleeping flowers beside the path, their petals curled up for the night, and ahead he saw the cottage that contained the magic looking-glass. He wondered who had put it there, and suspected that it had something to do with a certain raggedy old cat.

"I have to go back," he said, needing Merlin to understand. "The people on the other side of the mirror, they're my family, too. I belong there as much as I belong here."

"Oh," Merlin said, and wiped at his eyes. "I understand."

"No, I don't think you do," Arthur said, fondly. He stopped and turned to Merlin and took hold of his hands. "I won't leave them behind forever. I can't, because I care about them, even if it hasn't always been easy. Even though there were times that I didn't want to care about them. But I care about the people here, too. The kingdom, the people I've met, the family I thought I would never find. And you."

Merlin looked up, his eyes shining with unshed tears and hope. "Me?"

Until then, Arthur had not been certain if Merlin felt the same attraction to him -- the attraction that had nearly led to a kiss in the Tuley Forest. That kiss needed to be completed for that certainty to be reached. Arthur took Merlin into his arms and kissed him. Merlin stiffened in surprise, then melted against him, and kissed him sweetly back.

"I think I know the answer to your riddle," Arthur murmured.

"When do a head and a tail make a whole?" Merlin asked.

Arthur nodded. "But I'm not going to tell you until I get back."

Merlin scowled and stepped away, but Arthur pulled him back, and kissed him again -- an apology and a promise in one.

"That's to hold you over," Arthur said. "Wait for me, and you'll never be mad again."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

Merlin pulled Arthur back and kissed him again, like a starving man who had finally found a plate of tarts. When he stepped back, he was blushing but proud.

"If you don't come back soon, I'll come and get you myself," Merlin said. "You're not the only one who's brave enough for an adventure."

"When I return, we will go on all the adventures we want," Arthur promised. "And we will go together."

"Together," Merlin promised, and the night-blooming flowers sighed around them.

Arthur left Merlin outside as he went into the house that was so alike the one he had grown up in. He went up to the attic and marvelled at all that had happened to him, and all that he had learned. And just before he stepped through the mirror, he left a coin on the other side, just in case Merlin wanted a hint. Because Kilgharrah had told the truth: when they had found each other, they had found the answer to the riddle -- for the two sides of a coin, head and tail, made a whole.

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