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Talking Books and Burning Sticks (The Excellent Adventure Remix)

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It's another six blocks home after they get off the bus, but Merle's glad to have the chance to move again, to breathe the cool night air, and Jen isn't complaining either. It's a narrow city street and you can't see they stars from here but the universe still feels endless, that breeze slipping over his skin could come from anywhere and carry them back with it.

He's walked this route a hundred times but it's different tonight, with the lights still dancing in crazy patterns when he closes his eyes, with the smooth warm skin of her hand in his, and he thinks he can feel the rush of her blood, just half a heartbeat off from his, and the weird rhythm they make together – even more than the music still pulsing in his ears – makes him want to dance. It also makes him want to run down the street, shouting how much he loves her. It also makes him want to crawl into her bed and stay there forever.

They pause at the door to their building while Jen fumbles for her keys, and Merle suddenly flashes to the dungeon, and an old friend who's been trapped there for weeks, who never should have allowed herself to be captured, only she knew the queen would have clemency. He sees Guinevere looking down at her with fond sadness as she turns the key.

"It's happening," he says, surprised. He's not used to seeing her this way when he's awake.

"What is?" says Jen, and she's just Jen again, in her jean jacket and her black skirt, Jen under the dull yellow light of the landing, reaching to steady him as he follows her up the steps. Her makeup is half rubbed off and her hair's clumping together with sweat.

"Nothing," he says, because it's not happening anymore, but this is just as good, "just noticing how beautiful you are."

Jen smiles indulgently and turns away from him to lead the way up to the flat.

"Is Arthur here?" Merle says once they're inside. "We've got to get Arthur, he's got to see."

"He's at Morgan's place tonight," Jen reminds him. "And it's probably a good thing. Whatever it is you're seeing, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be seeing the same thing. Anyway," she adds, collapsing onto the futon, "he'd be sleeping at this time of night, and I don't feel like keeping quiet."

Merle kneels in front of her and fingers the crinkly black chiffon of her skirt, the hem just above her knees. Jen spreads her legs a few inches wider apart, and the skirt rides up a little higher. He lets his hand follow the fabric and then looks up to her face and, yeah, she might not be seeing what he's seeing, but she's feeling it, at least a little bit.

"I saw you wearing a crown," he says, pushing her skirt up towards her hips. Jen pushes closer to the edge of the futon.

"What was that," she says, even though he's explained it before, "for Halloween or something?"

He shakes his head. "Tonight, when we were dancing, and again just now, out on the steps. You were…you'd gone against Arthur's orders, but the guards wouldn't move against you."

She nods and helps him pull off her knickers. And Merle's used to being close with Jen, to holding her hand, kissing her on the cheek when they say goodbye for a few days, rubbing her back when she's been studying all night. He's not used to feeling her thighs, the thick muscles under his hands. He's used to smelling her sweat, her perfume, her shampoo, but he's not used to smelling her like this, his head between her legs. From far up above him, she muses, "Hope I'm not still wearing it now," she says. "Could get awkward – you know, pointy. Especially if you're going to do this with your wizard hat on."

"I don't wear a pointy hat," he says. "It's just me, I'm like this. I've always done this."

And it's true, at that moment it really does feel like the most natural thing in the world to lean in a few more inches and taste her, and it feels like he's always done this, even though the truth is he never has, not with Jen. They've only even made out a few times, usually when they're like this, a lot drunk or a little bit high. They've fallen asleep in the same bed before, plenty of times, ever since they were kids. Sometimes they woke up on opposite corners of the bed, tugging at the blankets, and other times they woke up with their arms wrapped round each other, and had to apologise because that's not what friends do, not when they're sober, not when they're sane.

Only Merle's starting to think he might not be sane after all, because every day he's surer that there's another truth altogether, one he's only starting to glimpse.

This isn't the time to worry about that though, not with Jen pushing into his mouth, her soft moans gaining a higher pitch, her legs starting to twitch under his hands. He may be mad, thinking this is the way it's always been, but at least he isn't alone in wanting this, exactly this, right now.

It's a dream, he recognises that feeling by now – the slight sense of disorientation, knowing who he is and who these people are to him, but not being entirely sure of how he got here, to this – he looks around – why yes, to this royal bedchamber, where he seems to be completely at ease, despite knowing he's not a royal and never will be.

Merlin hears a noise and looks up to see Arthur and Gwen in the doorway. They're both still wearing their formal robes and their crowns, and Arthur says, "I thought we'd never get out of there."

Gwen says, "I thought I'd never get you alone," and starts shoving the robe off Arthur's shoulders.

"Too late for that," Merlin says, going to them, and Gwen laughs as Merlin reaches for the clasp at her back and starts to undress her in turn.

They make their way over to the bed, shedding their clothes as they go. Arthur's the most passive, but he's also the most impatient of all of them. Impatient to be passive, Merlin knows (somehow). After hours – after years – of telling everyone else what to do, the king looks forward to the time he can be alone with his two best beloved, and let them do what they will with him.

Merlin uses magic to bind his hands to the bedposts, and when the king says, "I can't believe you kept this from me for so long," there's no real anger in it. (Merlin half-remembers him speaking the same words, full of rage, some other night, but that must have been before. This must be later.) Gwen stops him complaining, covering his mouth with kisses, then climbing on top of him and giving his mouth something better to do.

"It wouldn't have been this good," Merlin says, "if you hadn't waited for it."

He's just behind her, pushing Arthur's thighs apart with his hands this time, because magic is all well and good, but in the end there's nothing like skin on skin, flesh pressing into flesh.

"It was worth it," Gwen says, "it was all worth it."

Up until that moment Merle's been on the outside looking in, but when he hears her words he knows she's right, and when he pushes into Arthur the memories slam into place.

This wouldn't be the same if he hadn't wanted it for so many years. It wouldn't be the same, reaching for Gwen's breasts now, if he hadn't held her hand through her grief, if she hadn't hugged him when she told him she knew what he really was. It wouldn't be the same if he hadn't saved Arthur's life a dozen times before Arthur knew he was doing it. If they hadn't been through war and enchantment and imprisonment together.

Merlin remembers all the times Arthur told him he was in love with some girl or other, all the times Uther negotiated marriages with ladies and princesses. He remembers the day Arthur told his father he'd never love any other woman than Gwen. He remembers the day he told Arthur he'd never love another man.

It wouldn't be worth it if this life weren't so precious and short, betrayal and death and future as clear in Merlin's mind as the past. He sees the centuries of separation ahead of him, sees himself, in another life, struggling to convince the others that they are who they are.

All of that's in them. A few moments ago Merlin was flailing, reaching for it, but now he thinks it'll never leave him. Just like the crown never leaves Arthur even when he's naked and keening and begging to be fucked. Merlin and his king and queen, together, once and future, and it was always, always worth the wait.

He wakes up sprawled on the living room floor, aching and content. There's weak sun coming through the window and Jen's sitting up on the futon, looking charmingly dishevelled, and the last thing he expects is to get hit across the chest with the jeans she's thrown at him.

"You should get dressed, and then help me clean up in here," she says, holding out his tee shirt a bit more gently.

"That doesn't sound like much fun," he says, though he takes it from her. "Wouldn't you rather hear about my dream?"

"Wasn't another battle, was it? An execution?"

"No, it was a lot better than that this time. I think because we had such a good lead-in."

Jen chuckles but doesn't meet his eyes, looking pointedly at his clothes instead.

"I'm gonna put on some clean clothes," he says, turning his back on her and heading for his room.

"Hurry," she calls after him. "We shouldn't have fallen asleep here. He could come back at any moment, you know."

"What, Arthur? What if he did?"

"Are you mad?"

"Quite possibly."

"He'd never speak to us again. Between the illicit drug use and the hopping into bed with best friends –"

"Arthur is our best friend. He's not going to move out just because we've….made some different lifestyle choices."

"Of course not. He's the one paying most of the rent – he'll just toss us out."

"He will not, Gwen."

She peers into his room – he hasn't bothered to shut the door. "What did you just call me?"

"Jen, sorry, I… You really think we need to be afraid of him?"

"Not…no. Afraid for him, more like. You're right, he won't throw us out on the street, I know that. I just don't want him to freak. He's not like us, and if we spring something like this on him I'm afraid he's going to get hurt."

Merle considers this. "I think he'll be more hurt if we keep shutting him out of this, don't you? Whatever's been happening, whatever this connection is between us, he's part of that too, I'm sure of it."

She looks at him doubtfully, and he thinks she's going to say something about his orange shirt which, well, happened to be clean, but instead she says, "You're not seriously suggesting we try to include Arthur in a threesome, are you?"

Merle hesitates, looking down at his shirt and remembering the sound of Arthur's moans in his dream.

"Arthur Pendragon," Jen clarifies, "the boy who still holds the door open for me after sharing a flat with us for the last six months."

"Ha!" He points his finger at her. "See, he'd never throw you out, he's obviously in love with you already…"

"The boy who made a point of telling you he's 'tolerant of all lifestyles' when he found out about Lance?"

"Right! He's fine with it."

"If he actually has to tell you that he's tolerant, he's still got some issues to work out."

"He's working them out," says Merle. "He wants to try new things."

"Sure he does. Remember the time I gave him that Red Bull to help him stay up and he argued with me for half an hour before he'd actually drink it?"

Merle can't help giggling a little.

"He did finish the paper."

"He couldn't look his father in the eye for months!"

"He loved it though. He loves keeping secrets from his father. We're helping him individuate, see? He's just coming to it later than we did."

"Right, so…" She leads him back to the living room and they start tidying up – starting with the futon. "Let's give him some other options, let's invite him to smoke a joint with us one of these nights, or start telling him about these dreams you've been having. Let's let him argue with us and choose whether he wants to join in or not. I'd just rather not start out with 'We got high on e last night and ended up fucking in the living room, and that's why we're here naked this morning.'"

"Okay," says Merle, "okay. I got dressed didn't I?"

Jen frowns, at him or his shirt, he's not quite sure.

"I just don't want to shut him out any more than we have already. But you're right, we shouldn't spring this on him this morning. I'm…let's talk to him about the dreams, maybe later today. There's no reason we should keep that from him."

Jennifer nods firmly and Merle can't help but grin and add, "Last night was brilliant though."

She smiles back at him rather than pretend she doesn't agree.

Arthur doesn't freak out when they tell him Merle's been dreaming about a castle, that Arthur and Jen are always there, and often Morgan and their other friends. He doesn't ask if Merle is feeling all right, the way Jen did when he first brought it up.

"I'm in charge of all of it, right?" he says approvingly.

"Eventually," says Merle, who sometimes dreams he's a little boy in a village, sometimes a prince's terrified servant, sometimes sorcerer and intimate of the most powerful king and queen the world has ever known. "I sort of…I drop in and out, I haven't really figured out any pattern to it yet. When I'm there it just makes sense, even if it's years before or after the last thing I saw.

"And you think it's…you think it's more than just your head messing with you?"

Merle bites his lip. He really hadn't expected Arthur to take it this seriously, not at first. "I know it sounds mad," he says, "especially when I try to put it into words. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense. It's not so much that I think it's real, it's that I feel it."

Arthur nods, as if to show that he doesn't understand yet, but he's trying to.

"So I want to find out more, and the first thing I wanted was to ask you – and Jen – is if you've ever felt the same way, if you've had dreams like that or if you…when you met us, or as you've gotten to know us, if you've ever felt like there was more to it than that, more than just the last year that we've known each other."

They both look at Jen, who's looking at her tea. Arthur shrugs. "Can't say I have. I always liked you, but it's always been, just that, these strange people I met in my course, who have terrible manners a lot of inside jokes they never bother to explain…" Merle carefully avoids sharing a glance with Jen. "…And who somehow turned out to be my best friends all the same. Oh, and I never remember what I've dreamt about once I'm awake."

Jen nods. "I don't either, even when whatever it is frightens me enough that I wake up screaming."

Arthur looks at Jen sympathetically. It's something she and his sister have in common, and he's always acted protective about it. When Jen's had a nightmare Merle's always pressing her to try to say what it was about, and what it might mean, whereas Arthur's more likely just to give her a hug and tell her everything will be all right.

"It's…weird," Arthur says, and then quickly adds, "but that doesn't mean there's nothing to it. It could be… This could be excellent, actually. We could do some sort of past life regression hypnosis or…something. Have you ever tried that? Maybe that's really what Jen's nightmares are about too."

"That's what I've been trying to tell her," Merle says, ready to pounce on Arthur with a hug. He knew this was a good idea.

"I'm not especially eager to find out more about what's going on there," Jen says warily.

"Even if knowing could make them stop?"

She twists her cup around on the table. "I really don't think that's how it works."

"Won't know until you try though, will you?" says Arthur, and Merle tries not to look too happy, considering Jen's looking like she's been betrayed.

Arthur's the one who finds the Enlightenment Centre, and even pays for Merle to take the course on guiding past life regression. It's his way of ending the discussion when Merle tries to say he doesn't think this is quite the right fit, that what's going on with him – with them – is different from the interests of a hundred other New Age dabblers.

"How did it go?" Arthur asks eagerly at the end of the second the second day.

"Okay, I guess, they've got a lot of extra ritualistic business I don't really think we need, but there's stuff I can adapt there. It's… What are you carrying?"

"I came in a couple hours early, so I could look over some of their other materials and –"

"You went to the gift shop, didn't you?"

"I just think it's important we create the right atmosphere to set the mood," Arthur explains as Merle grabs the bag and starts taking out his purchases.

"Look," says Merle, "if Jen's got these memories, if you do, you're going to reach them with my help because we were in this together, not because you're breathing essence of sandalwood or because you're listening to…music that will gently sooth your spirit by stimulating your brain's alpha rhythms," he reads off the CD cover.

"Come on, Merle," Arthur says quietly, "it's all a bit of fun."

"No, Arthur, it's not. This isn't a game. It's not about buying accessories and dressing up in velvet robes and taking Jen out to a Ren Faire or something. This is my life, this is –"

Then Arthur's got a hand on Merle's shoulder and he realises they're stopped in the middle of the sidewalk where he's been ranting about past lives.

Arthur gives him another moment to breathe. Then he says, "I get that this is a big deal for you, but Jen's not really looking forward to it, in case you hadn't noticed. She's doing it because you asked her to and she cares about you, and I just figure anything we can do to make her more comfortable is a good idea.

"Okay," Merle says, swallowing. "Okay, you're right. Buy whatever you want, I guess."

"Thank you for your permission to do what I want with my money."

"Except for these crystals," Merle adds. "That's just ridiculous, we're taking them back."

They have more negotiations over the next few days – Jen's the one who convinces Arthur she does not want a black light lamp in the flat, and he's not allowed to use her well-being as an excuse to buy one. Arthur wins on having the regression take place in the living room – which he calls "neutral territory" – and Merle and Jen are too embarrassed to argue with him there. But Merle won't back down when Jen tries to say he should be the one to meditate while she asks him questions.

"I've seen this already," he says. "What I want is to share it with you. There's more to it than reading from a book…and there's more to it than what they taught me at the Centre.

"What do you mean?" says Arthur.

"I mean…they make it out like it's something anyone can do if they pay for the course and the incense…"

"But you think you're special?"

Merle straightens his spine, pushes his shoulders back.

"In my dreams," he says, "it's the three of us, but I'm not like you two. You're the – you've got your power, but I've got mine too. I can do things. I think I can do a lot more than any of the people at the Enlightenment Centre, all right?"

"All right, fine," says Jen, placating "but we've got to start somewhere, so if that's with me on the couch while you read from a book, let's go ahead with it." Which is completely missing everything he just said about how there's more to this than reading from a book, but then again, he knows she's scared and she's doing this for him, so he'll leave that alone.

"Sit still, could you?" Jen says to Arthur, who's bouncing a little, sitting next to her. "Your job is to tell Merle to stop if I look like I'm having a nightmare, okay? Not to stare at me intensely or…loom over me like you're doing right now."

"Sorry. I just. This could actually be something, you know? Anyway, don't worry, I promise I won't let you have a bad trip."

He's close to giggling, and Jen rolls her eyes but lies back down, and Merle thinks Arthur's probably done a good thing, annoying her out of her nervousness. She shoots Merle another quick look as if to say, I do trust you, just don't fuck this up, and closes her eyes.

Arthur holds her hand, and even though that wasn't one of his assigned duties, Merle can tell right away that it's helping. Her face softens and she follows Merle's instructions easily, breathing deeply (and apparently not bothered, as Merle is, by the incense), and though he's got his eyes on the book he can already tell her mind's starting to drift.

He keeps on with the script, but when he glances over at them again and sees that Arthur's gone back to his intense staring…well, he can't help himself, it's all so familiar. He forgets about the book and the Enlightenment Centre and the alpha wave music. He's their guide but he's in the vision himself again, and Arthur loves Gwen, and Merlin's talking to them again, helping them, because no matter what problems they have the three of them can work them out together. Soon enough Merlin isn't sure what he's saying or even what language he's saying it in. He just knows that he's talking to Arthur and Gwen, and that's just as it should be.

Except that then Gwen is sitting up and staring at him, and from the look on her face he knows it isn't all right with her at all.

"Who are you?" she says. "What are you doing, do you - what have you done with Merlin, and with Prince Arthur?"

Arthur is still trying to stroke her hand and calm her down. She knocks him away but he takes hold of her wrist again. "Jen, what is it, what are you saying?"

"What are you saying?" Gwen says back to him, only it doesn't sound the same, and it's only at that moment that Merlin realises they're speaking two different languages. This is...this is not what he was expecting. This is not the way it goes in his dreams.

"Merle," says Arthur, "Merle, you've got to stop this."

But he doesn't want to stop this. This is his Guinevere, right here on the ratty old futon where he knelt in front of her last month, and this is Guinevere who ruled over Camelot with the man who's holding her hand, even if she doesn't understand that yet.

"I know you are a sorcerer," she says, "but you won't be able to keep me. I may look like just a servant girl, or I..." she looks down at her tee shirt and jeans and grimaces with fear and confusion, but she sets her jaw and continues, "I may look like a person of no importance, but I have friends who won't let you get away with this. Release me from this enchantment at once."

"Stop it, Merle, she's scared, this isn't working!" Arthur shouts. And he's wrong, because it is working, much better than Merle could have hoped, but he's right that this needs to end. He's lost track of the script but he pages through, finds the words that are supposed to convince Jennifer's spirit to find its place again. "You've been on a journey, and it's time to come home," he reads without feeling, and then looks up again and says it to Gwen in her language. Go home, Morgana's waiting for you. You have nothing to fear.

Jen slumps on the futon, as if she's lost consciousness, but a moment later she's sitting up again and letting Arthur bring her into a tight hug.

"It's all right," he says, "I've got you."

"Ah! Oh, Arthur, thank you for waking me." She snuggles eagerly into his arms, still shaking, but smiling at him. And Merle wants to be there in Arthur's place, whispering soothing words into her hair, only he probably doesn't deserve it.

"What happened, Jen?" says Arthur. "You went completely grey,"

"I am so sorry," Merle says with feeling. "Really very, extremely, sorry."

"As well he should be," Arthur tells Gwen. "We are never experimenting with the alternative again."

"I'm sorry," says Merle, though he thinks Arthur ought to take a little bit of responsibility for this too, "I was selfish and I got carried away. I thought you'd see it the way I do, but I should have stopped, once you started talking and I knew it wasn't the same for you, I shouldn't have –"

"I guess I must have really scared you guys," Jen says easily. "I've had nightmares before though, and honestly, this was really nothing special. Come here and give me a hug." She means come over join her and Arthur in their hug, and Merle complies at once. Jen can't get out of Arthur's tight hold but she smiles at him warmly, and lets Merle put his arms around them both.

"You're not angry? You're not going to prohibit me from ever talking about my dreams again?"

"What, why should I? I might go ahead and say no more visits to the Enlightenment Centre…"

Merlin shrugs. "I won't argue with that."

"But for now I think I'm just gonna make you pay for dinner," she adds, digging around in Arthur's pockets for his mobile. Arthur doesn't pull away.

He's still so focused on making her feel safe, and the sight of them, the feel of them together like this makes Merle so happy he can't help laying a gentle kiss to the back of Arthur's neck. Arthur turns and kisses Merle's forehead, and they stay like for a moment, until Jen says, "Aha!" and pulls out of the hug to order two large pizzas.

Over dinner they talk about the differences between dreams and visions, the differences between Old English and Dutch, the differences between New Age and the Middle Ages. They don't talk about the difference between friends and soulmates and lovers, but Merle's never been more certain that they'll find their way eventually. He's glad Jen seems to have forgiven him already, and Arthur's at least considering it.

Jen's interested in inviting Morgan to try regression hypnosis, something Merle had never considered. Arthur immediately declares this is a Bad Idea, and Jen insists that whatever just happened, weird as it was, was really and truly not a Big Deal.

"If you ask me she's as much a part of it as the three of us," she says, "otherwise why would I end up seeing her when I went under?"

"We should talk to her at least," Merlin agrees, and after some hesitation Arthur nods.

"Let's just not put you in charge of it," he says.

"Yeah," Merle agrees, "that's probably wise."

In Merlin's dream he's tired at the end of a very long day, but he doesn't want to go to bed until he can get this spell to work. Merlin has the workroom to himself this evening, and thinks Gaius would be proud of him for being so methodical. He's got a bundle of twigs to practise with, and each time he says the spell over one of them he makes a note of what he did differently – inflection, emotion, position, etc. Unfortunately, each time he tries putting it in the fire, it burns just the same as all the others, never mind Merlin's words of protection. Strange that this should be so much more complicated than the more dramatic spells he's learned to use already – lighting a fire when there is none, transforming a rock into a rose, or sending a weapon flying across a room. The world around him wants to change, he thinks, and it takes skill, subtlety, to bind it up, keep it still and safe for a while longer.

"What's all this then?" says Gwen, waving her hand in front of her face and coughing a little as she comes down the steps. Merlin slams his book shut and does his best to wave away some more of the smoke.

"Nothing," he says quickly. "Just some, um, it's this fragrant wood, Gaius needs the…the ashes of it for one of his…" He looks up and Gwen is smiling at him, so he doesn't bother to finish the lie that doesn't even make sense. "That's a lovely dress," he says instead.

"Thank you. Morgana had it made for me after my old one – the yellow one – got torn, when I…"

Merlin nods eagerly. They still haven't found the words to talk about what happened to her. "It turned out really nice. Good luck in the end then."

"You know, it was, actually, and not just because of the dress. I've been wanting to talk to you about that."

Merlin nods more slowly. He's been wanting to avoid talking to her about it, and done pretty well so far, though he's spent hours discussing the incident with Gaius.

Gwen sits down next to him, and Merlin moves the book off the table and onto the floor, as if he just wants to clear the space for them. Gwen pays no attention to the book.

"In my…when I was in that other place, and you and Arthur were talking to me…"

"Right, or, someone who looked like me and someone else who looked like Arthur, but didn't act anything like us," says Merlin, who, after months of feeling guilty for who he is, for the last few weeks has also been feeling guilty over something he has no memory of. As far as he can tell, he wasn't involved at all. But as far as Gwen can tell he was there, and Gwen wouldn't lie.

Gwen nods to acknowledge him but continues undeterred. "The one who looked like Arthur was sitting right next to me, had his hand on my arm and he was squeezing, like he was frightened and needed to hold on to something, only the reason he was frightened was he was worried for me. And that isn't something Arthur would do. I mean, not that he wouldn't want to protect me, but he wouldn't –"

"Right," says Merlin.

"Touch me like that. Except that it was him, even if he wouldn't. Yet. And you, Merlin, you were reading from a book, and you were speaking in that other language, almost just like him, except that you…your voice…"

Gwen's voice cracks a little, and Merlin wants to reach out and hug her, but he's a little bit too scared to move.

"It's over now," he says, "and we won't let it happen again. Whoever did that to you…"

"But it was you, Merlin."

"No, it was –"

"I didn't think so at first either. And I'm not…I'm not accusing you. It was frightening then, of course it was frightening, I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know if I'd ever get back. But I'm here now, I'm all right and I've had time to think about it, and I realised it wasn't so bad. If I could go back there again, even if I couldn't understand what you two were saying, I'd grab Arthur back, and I'd know that whatever spell you were casting you were doing it for me. Because you're my friend, Merlin, and you're Arthur's.

"But it wasn't –"

"Yes it was. You were the sorcerer in my dream, and I know you weren't trying to hurt me."

She takes his hand gently, but Merlin still can't move, can't think. "I don't –"

"It's all right," she says, very quietly. "I promise I won't tell him."

"You can tell him whatever you want. That wasn't me. I was with Arthur when it happened, there's no way –"

"And ever since I understood that," she says, back to her normal tone of voice, "I've been thinking back to other things I've seen. Everything that's happened since you came to Camelot, none of it made sense before, but now that I know you're a sorcerer, that you're using your magic to help us, I feel so much safer. I don't have to worry anymore when someone's sick but you say you'll take care of it, or when I walk into Gaius's rooms and you're burning sticks and reading funny words out of a book for no reason. It's better now, you see? I know Arthur's going to be all right, and Morgana, all of us."

Merlin just sits there, still not knowing what to do or say. It feels like the world is falling apart and all he can do is sit there and watch it. The nice thing is that Gwen, having said her piece, seems content now to sit with him, quiet and still. And the longer they stay there the more Merlin understands their world was never meant to fit together that way in the first place.

"I didn't want to lie to you," he says after a very long time, "to any of you."

"Of course not," says Gwen, "and you won't have to anymore."

She hugs him, and after a moment of tension he relaxes and hugs her back. She's warm and solid and not about to turn away, and it's a moment he won't forget for a lifetime.