End of His Rope
Prompts: Don't know if you're in the mood to write some Merthur but if you are, being the hurt/comfort royalty that you are, may I humbly request a little "shatter my soul" misunderstanding? If not that's fine too. - alittletoo-obsessed
So, I've been rereading some of your Merlin fics, and I was wondering if you could maybe write something where Merlin's experienced some sort of trauma before he came to Camelot, and so he's always avoiding things or reacting strangely, but Arthur assumes that's just his personality, but then something seemingly innocuous happens and he just breaks down completely in front of Arthur, & Arthur can't understand why. Cue Arthur trying to help him and Merlin eventually having to explain everything. - anon
Our BOYS i did miss them
Read on Ao3
Warnings: childhood trauma, flashbacks, drowning
Pairings: merthur, platonic or romantic don't care
Word Count: 3682
It’s always the water in his dreams.
Dark. Lapping at the stone walls. Bottomless.
The chain clanks heavily against the sides.
It’s so deep.
The rope is never long enough.
Arthur has no idea why he had to get assigned the weirdest servant in Camelot.
Sure, it’s not like he asked for Merlin to be his servant—and he’ll kill you if you tell him this, but he’s not changing Merlin for the world—but come on, he could’ve at least gotten someone normal.
But no, he has to get this clumsy fool of a bumpkin that insists on tripping over his own feet, stumbling into walls, spending days at a time who knows where—he’s good friends with the tavern owner so he knows Merlin’s not there—and occasionally spouting great wisdom seemingly off the top of his head. And to top it all off, he’s endearing enough that Arthur panics whenever Merlin’s not right next to him.
It’s terribly annoying.
But that—well, most of that—he can forgive. Merlin’s a clumsy fool but he’s a good distraction. He’s a forgetful sod but he’s witty enough to make up for whatever time he’s lost with some sort of solution. He’s a disrespectful clot pole but it’s a welcome relief from all this ‘yes, sire,’ ‘no, sire,’ ‘would you prefer pork or poultry, sire?’ It gets a bit grating every now and then.
And alright, maybe Merlin’s not entirely to blame for how endearing Arthur finds him. Maybe.
But the whole thing about water Arthur will never understand.
The first time he asked Merlin to draw him a bath he thought the man was about to fall over. Merlin had gone pale and stammered out that yes, he would do that, how does he do that? He’d assumed it was because Merlin was shirking from his duties or whatnot but he hadn’t asked any of the other servants to help him, instead drawing the water for Arthur all by himself. Bemused, Arthur had told him he’s allowed to get help, only for Merlin to go on one of those impressive rants about how servants were people too, and interrupting their jobs seemed rude. Which, alright fair enough but it didn’t erase the pale and shaken expression from his face.
The first time he walked in on Merlin trying to clean the floor, he stopped and stared at the bucket sitting in the farthest corner of the room.
“You know it’s more efficient to keep the bucket with you, right?”
Merlin shrugs. “You have an issue with how I clean the floor, you are more than welcome to do it yourself.”
Arthur had scoffed and turned to leave but the tension in Merlin’s shoulders had stayed.
The first time he met Merlin in the courtyard and tries to walk past the well was the first time Merlin had strayed from his side.
“And of course, you’ll need to make sure all of my armor is…” Arthur trails off, looking around for Merlin, only to notice him a few paces away. “What the hell are you doing over there?”
“Get back here,” Arthur barks, “I’m not done.”
“I can hear you perfectly fine over here.”
“Sorry, sire!” A carriage blows right by them, Merlin reaching out to yank Arthur closer by his sleeve as it goes by. “Didn’t see you there!”
Arthur mutters a curse and brushes himself off.
“That’s why,” Merlin says, helping him dust himself off, “don’t want you to get run over by a wagon, now.”
Arthur cuffs him half-heartedly over the head and keeps walking.
He tries again a few times but Merlin studiously avoids the well with a grace that he scarcely applies to anything else.
It hits him when they’re out hunting once that Merlin might just hate getting wet.
So he pushes him into a pond.
Merlin splutters and curses at him and purposefully dumps all the arrows into the pond with him so they’re useless for hunting but he knows how to swim and if the way he slings his sodden neckerchief at Arthur is any indication, he’s not entirely opposed to the water.
And yes, the day was hot and maybe a water fight was the best way to cool off.
It only ever happens when they’re in Camelot. Sometimes Merlin will accidentally kick one of the buckets and it looks like he’s about to jump out of his skin. Arthur chuckles at him and calls him a delicate pansy but it’s only ever that loud noise. Not when the bells are going off—they really need to get better security for the dungeons—not when Merlin drops another tray, only the bucket.
And he still won’t go near the well.
Merlin must just not like it. That’s fine.
Doesn’t mean he’s going to get out of his chores, though.
He watches Merlin go about his day, watches him change the sheets, do up the rest of the room, get the laundry, but he never goes into the courtyard. He frowns when Merlin does ask someone else—Lilian, he thinks her name is—to go get a bucket of water for him, but there’s nothing quite like the way that Merlin lingers at the very edge of the courtyard, his gaze on a constant swivel, trying to see something that isn’t there.
But it’s Merlin, and Merlin is strange, so Arthur just shrugs and moves on.
Merlin wakes up in a cold sweat.
He wraps his arms around himself and scrambles to the floor. Dust cakes itself over his shins and forearms and he heaves a sob.
The hand on his shoulder that branded him so many years ago hums with the feeling of Arthur’s glove.
“Leave it,” Arthur says, patting Merlin’s shoulder as he walks by, “we’ll get the next one.”
He steers Merlin away from the well toward the castle door, the dropped bucket rolling across the stones. Behind them, Lilian lowers another bucket into the well, the soft splash-thunk of the water and the creak of the handle. Arthur shakes his head.
“Why does it have to be so bloody hot?”
“It’s summer,” Merlin mumbles, clearly feeling the heat too by the sweat beaded on his brow, “it’s supposed to be hot.”
“Not this hot.” Arthur shakes his head, dismayed when his hair sticks to his forehead. “We should be inside.”
“You’re the one that dragged us out here, sire.”
“Enough. Come on. I’m sure there’s somewhere cooler we could be sitting.”
They make their way back into the castle, Merlin immediately going to draw the curtains to block out the hideous light of the sun as Arthur flops down onto his bed and scrubs his hands over his face.
“You’ll get your sheets all sweaty.”
“Everything in this castle is already sweaty,” Arthur mumbles, “what’s a few sheets?”
“Well, when you have to sleep on them tonight, that will be your problem.”
“Please. I’ve slept in worse.”
“Mm.” Merlin swats him with a pillow. “You’ve also complained about your room being too hot more times than I can count. Move.”
“You move,” he manages as he peels himself off the bed and onto the floor. “Why is it so hot, Merlin?”
“I told you, it’s summer.”
Arthur squints. “You’re wearing so many clothes.”
“It is polite to wear clothes, Arthur.”
“But you’re wearing a jacket and long sleeves and a scarf and long trousers! How are you not hot?”
Merlin shrugs. “I run cold.”
“C’mere then.” Arthur holds out his hand. “I’m too hot. Cool me off.”
Merlin rolls his eyes. “You’d have better luck sticking your head in a casket of mead.”
“You would,” Merlin sings, “but then you’d be even stickier than you are now.”
“Fine.” His head falls back against the bed with a thud. “Maybe I’ll just jump in water next time.”
He’s too hot to notice the way that Merlin stiffens.
Merlin pants and heaves and scrabbles at the floor. It’s real, he’s really dry, it’s safe, there’s nowhere to go down.
He shivers on the cold floor and reaches for a blanket, wrapping himself in it tightly and clutching the fabric to his face. It scratches horribly and he rubs his cheek into it.
Rough is safe. Dust is safe. Warm is safe.
There’s nowhere to go.
High above Camelot, dark clouds begin to swirl in the sky, carrying with them the promise of rain.
Arthur sighs as he slumps under the edge of the stable. Really, a rainstorm? Right now? The air had a weight to it, hanging over the courtyard like a dirty rag, right up until the heavens burst open and decided to pour over the city. They’d barely made it to the safety of the stable in time before it looked like the storm was doing its best to wash the courtyard clean.
“Well, there goes the plan for the rest of the day.”
Merlin huddles against the stable, shying away from the gutter. “Are we going to try and make it back inside?”
“Unless you fancy a mad dash through the storm, I’d say we’re better off waiting it out.”
Merlin glares at the water like it’s personally insulted Gaius in front of him. Arthur follows his gaze to watch one of the horses finally drag its cart under an overhanging section of roof.
“Seems everyone wants to get out of this rain.”
Arthur sighs before something hits him in the forehead. He glances up.
A raindrop hits him square in the eye.
Biting back a curse, he glances around and spies a bucket.
“This should show you,” he mutters, shoving the bucket under the leak, “there. Now try it.”
He looks up to reassure Merlin that he’s fine, he just got hit in the eye with a raindrop, only to see Merlin’s face.
Merlin’s face is ash. His mouth hangs open, his lips dry despite the rain and his lower lip starts to wobble.
And Merlin is gone, tearing through the rain like a bat out of hell. Arthur mutters another curse and races after him, barely flinching at the deluge as he tries to keep his eyes on Merlin, Merlin, Merlin, as they dart into the castle and up the stairs.
“Merlin, where are you—slow down, you’re going to—Merlin!”
Merlin trips. He falls.
Arthur reaches out and wraps an arm around Merlin’s waist, just saving him from careening down a staircase.
“Merlin, shh,” he tries, only to have to grunt and struggle to keep a hold of the man as he claws at the air in front of him, “come on—Merlin!”
His room. They need to get to his room.
“Sorry, Merlin,” he mumbles, before swinging the man up—why is he so light?—and making a break for his chambers.
The door slams shut behind him and he lets Merlin go, his chest aching as he watches him fall to the floor, scrabbling madly at the stone until his fingers start to bleed.
“Merlin,” he cries again, dropping to his knees and taking Merlin’s hands in his, “Merlin, look at me!”
Arthur has never seen Merlin look like this. He’s never seen him in so much pain.
“Merlin,” he tries, softer this time, “Merlin, it’s alright. You’re safe, I’m right here.”
Finally, finally, Merlin stills. Though still is almost worse, he looks frozen. He swallows.
“Yes, Merlin, it’s me, I’m right here, it’s alright.” He gives Merlin’s hands a gentle squeeze. “What’s—oh!”
Merlin throws himself at him, all but knocking him over as he wraps his arms tightly around his waist. Arthur catches him with a huff, letting him bury his soaking wet face in his jerkin.
“Easy, Merlin, it’s alright,” he laughs nervously, “you’re—well, alright, you idiot, if you…if you need to…”
He says as if he’s not cuddling Merlin already.
Arthur sighs, the dampness of their clothes making it more than a little uncomfortable but not caring in the slightest when Merlin starts to sob into his shoulder.
“Hey, hey, Merlin, it’s alright, I’m right here. You’ve got me, I’ve got you, we’re not going anywhere.” He rubs Merlin’s back firmly and presses his cheek to his wet hair. “I’ve got you.”
Poor Merlin is still shaking like a leaf. Arthur frowns, glaring at the storm with the intent to stare it down until it tells him why the hell it thinks it can hurt his Merlin like this.
“The rain can’t hurt you anymore,” he growls, “we’re inside. You’re safe. Everything’s alright.”
Merlin hiccups. “We’re—it’s—over?”
“The storm isn’t quite through yet, but we’re out of the rain, yes, Merlin, you’re safe.”
“You can’t fall here, I’ve got you, we’re on the floor.”
“Rope—too short—won’t reach all the way—hurts—“
The roaring protectiveness in his gut starts to give way to confusion, what rope? Where is Merlin trying to go?
“Calm down, Merlin,” he says instead, rubbing his back, “it’s alright, there’s no rope—“
Merlin lets out a howl.
“No, no, no! That’s not—there is a rope,” Arthur tries desperately, “and it’s long enough, we can reach, it’s alright, everyone’s safe, you’re safe, shh, shh…”
The howl buries itself in some soft part of Arthur’s chest. His hands are itching for his sword, something, anything to fight what’s causing Merlin this much pain but he can’t, there’s nothing, so he wraps his arms tighter around Merlin and glares at the storm.
After a long, long time, when their tunics have done their best to meld with their skin, Merlin stills. There’s one more soft hiccup before a cold nose presses itself to Arthur’s neck.
“It’s me, Merlin, I’m right here.”
“Arthur…” Merlin tenses and before Arthur can protest, pulls away. “Sorry.”
“Don’t,” Arthur says sharply, only for Merlin to flinch. He softens his voice and reaches for him. “Don’t pull away, don’t apologize. Are you hurt?”
Merlin lets him wrap an arm around him, thank god. “No. Not hurt.”
Arthur opens his mouth to protest but thinks better of it. “Come on, let’s get you out of these wet clothes. Get dry. Yeah?”
The word ‘dry’ seems to unlock something, Merlin’s limbs flowing looser around his body. “Yeah…”
“Dry it is then,” Arthur says quietly, “come on, there are towels for us to dry off, we can get dry, we’ve got dry clothes here.”
Concern chases its tail around Arthur’s chest as he carefully tousles Merlin’s hair dry as Merlin peels himself out of his soaked clothes. They end up in a sodden heap in the corner, ready to be taken to the laundress’s as Arthur offers Merlin one of his nightshirts.
Merlin looks like a drowned puppy, blinking warily at the proffered shirt.
“Just put it on, Merlin,” Arthur says softly, “it’s dry and warm.”
There’s the magic word again. Merlin tugs on the shirt and wraps his arms around himself. Arthur glances behind him at the bed and prods Merlin’s shoulder.
“Under the covers now,” he murmurs, smiling a little at Merlin’s confusion, “come on, I want to be warm too. And if you still run cold you’re going to need more than that to warm you up.”
Merlin lets him tug them both up to the other end of the bed, under the covers, pulling the sheets up to their chins. Arthur reaches out to take Merlin’s hands and examine them.
“You’re hurt,” he murmurs, “but it shouldn’t last very long. We can go to Gaius if you really need it.”
He glances up to see Merlin’s exhausted little face.
“Hey,” he murmurs, tugging Merlin a little closer, “are you alright?”
“Tired, now,” Merlin mumbles, “and embarrassed.”
“It’s okay.” Arthur pulls him closer. “C’mere.”
“What’re you doing?”
“Warming you up.” And hugging you because you’re still looking like a drowned puppy.
“Oh.” Merlin is all elbows and knees and wet hair, scrunched up under Arthur’s chin, but he relaxes a little. “Thanks.”
“Mm.” Arthur runs a hand over his back. “Want to talk about it?”
Merlin hums. “Not really.”
Arthur bites back a curse and takes his lip between his teeth. “Can I ask what it was that set it off? So it…doesn’t happen again?”
Something warm flares against his neck. “It’s stupid.”
“You just had a breakdown in my arms, Merlin, it’s not stupid.”
“They can both be stupid.”
“Well, they aren’t.”
“You don’t even know what it is yet.”
“It makes you upset,” Arthur says firmly, “it’s not stupid.”
Merlin is quiet for a few moments. Then: “you can ask.”
Good. “Was it the storm?”
“Was it the rain?”
Arthur frowns. Then what could it have been? Merlin had been glaring at the storm like he wanted it to go away.
But he was the one to suggest they make a run for it.
As a matter of fact, he’d been fine up until…
Up until Arthur had moved the bucket.
“Was it the bucket?”
Merlin stiffens. Then he lets out a long sigh and tucks his face deeper into Arthur’s chest. “Yes.”
“…can I ask why?”
“Do you have to?”
Yes. “No, I don’t, I just…” Arthur takes a deep breath. “I don’t like seeing you like this, Merlin, it…you’re upset and I can’t help and I can’t do anything. It hurts.”
He holds Merlin a little tighter.
“I don’t like seeing you hurt,” he confesses in a whisper, “I want to help.”
Merlin shudders in his arms. “Well that’s not fair,” he says hoarsely, “but…thanks.”
And the story comes spilling out of him.
There is a well on the outskirts of Ealdor. It is old, built before Merlin’s mother can remember, and it has one metal bucket on the end of a long, fraying rope. When there is a drought, the bucket has to be lowered further in order to reach the water.
One year, there was a very bad drought. The well was running dry. So the people of the village decided to build a new well closer to the river with a much longer rope. The old well was not used.
Merlin’s job used to be to fetch the water for the animals at the end of the day. So he would walk to the well. One night, he forgot that the old well wasn’t being used.
He found a pack of the village boys around the old well.
They were laughing and pointing at something inside.
Merlin wandered closer to figure out what was going on.
The bucket sat useless outside the well.
There was a boy inside the well.
Merlin couldn’t see him, it was too dark.
The splashing sounds were getting weaker.
The cries were getting quieter.
The other boys laughed at him when he threw his own bucket down and raced for the other one.
One of them grabbed his arm.
“Don’t, or we’ll throw you in too.”
Merlin had to watch.
The boys left when they couldn’t hear the cries anymore.
Merlin threw down the bucket.
The rope wasn’t long enough.
His mother found him the next morning, the metal bucket by his side long forgotten, his hands all but frozen to the old crank, still peering down into the water.
Arthur’s mouth runs dry as Merlin keeps talking. Unbidden, his arms tighten around the man mumbling into his chest.
He couldn’t have known.
He couldn’t have known.
How cruel those boys must have been, how awful it must be for Merlin to keep seeing that, over and over and over…
“I’m sorry,” he says in a strangled whisper when Merlin’s finished. “I’m so sorry.”
Merlin is quiet.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he continues, “it wasn’t, Merlin, it’s—it’s not your fault.”
“The rope wasn’t long enough,” comes the mumble, “I couldn’t save him.”
“Shh, shh, it wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself for the cruelty of others.” Arthur holds him tighter. “I’m sorry, Merlin, you don’t have to go near the well ever again, I promise, we can get someone else to do it.”
Merlin just curls further into his chest.
“You’re safe, you’re dry, everything’s alright, you’ll be fine—“ Arthur can’t stop blabbering on, trying to reassure the poor man in his arms— “I’ve got you, you’re safe.”
Merlin wraps his arms around Arthur too and holds tight. “Don’t have to go near the well?”
“No, no, Merlin, never.”
“Don’t have to use the buckets?”
“No. Only wooden buckets and only when you need to.”
“Don’t have to be wet?”
“You’re dry, I’ll keep you dry.”
“Is there still rope?”
“The ropes are long enough, they’re always long enough.”
“Good,” Merlin mumbles, the exhaustion finally bleeding into his voice, “good…good…”
When they wake up, they’ll have to talk about what else Merlin needs, how to deal with this. Arthur will have to grit his teeth and resist the urge to storm back to Ealdor and teach those boys a lesson. Merlin will curl his fingers into Arthur’s jacket every time they walk past the well.
But for now, Merlin will drift off to sleep in Arthur’s arms, Arthur will hold him, and they’ll stay safe and dry out of the rain where they don’t need a bucket to stop any leaks.
29 notes · View notes
Prompts: Omg ur twins series has given me the seratonin I didn’t know I needed ;-; love ur fics!!! can I request maybe a one shot where Merlin confronts hunith about his birth parents, and they have a wholesome talk about it? Also bonus points for Merlin coming to terms with the fact that uther is his father and Morgana is his half sister (everyone notices now that they share similar features) - anon
ahhhh i loved the second installment of the twin series, the ending makes me yearn for more no matter how much i reread it *prompt idea* brotherly love pleaseeee, you've built so much hype 😭 some overprotective arthur over his younger brother, maybe some asshole noble treating merlin like shit because he grew up peasant, a merlin-arthur talk about feelings and new revelations, merlin-morgana-arthur talk (maybe?) take as long as you want really, no pressure i know it'll be worth it but a bit longer third installment please 💘 - anon
I have a very simple request oh ruler of the angst town. You've been graciously filling the stomachs of the Sanders Sides fandom but the Merlin fandom requests one thing: More, please, oh good lord. Thank you - alittletoo-obsessed
SO MANY OF YOU WERE SCREAMING FOR A PART THREE SO HERE YOU GO
Read on Ao3
Warnings: none, babes.
Pairings: it's found family hours
Word Count: 4574
The twins come home.
After a long, long time, the twins come home.
For Arthur, home is that empty space just over his shoulder, always there when he turns absentmindedly to talk to someone he never thought he’d see again. Home is someone to curl up with when the nights get cold and lonely, dark hair brushing under the tip of his nose as he wraps them in his arms. Home is someone else to see what’s happening, to stand as a silent vow of I’m here, I see you, I’m with you, I’ve got you.
For Merlin, home is someone who knows he’s not crazy, who catches him when he flies too high on the wings of his magic. Home is someone who wraps firm, solid arms around him, smelling of slightly spiced fruit and afternoon sun. Home is the space the magic curls about, searching for something to hold onto like an anchor as the world spins faster, faster, faster.
They leave the hall where Uther still sits, thunderstruck on his hollow throne, back to Arthur’s chambers. They don’t part when they get inside, stumbling across the room to the bed, somewhere they can sit and look and look at each other where there is no one else can see. Arthur reaches out to run his hand through Merlin’s hair.
“I always thought your hair would be dark,” he mumbles, losing himself in the way his fingers card through the strands. “Just had a feeling.”
“Mum’s hair was never dark enough to be mine.” Merlin closes his eyes as he feels Arthur’s hand go through it. “And—and Balinor, he—he wasn’t the right magic.”
Arthur’s hand stills. “Balinor was your father?”
“He was married to Hunith, he—but—“
Arthur’s arms are suddenly around him, warm and perfect and real and it feels like something else slots into place. Arthur’s breath warms the top of his head and Merlin feels his fingertips start to buzz.
“I’m sorry,” he realizes Arthur’s saying, “I didn’t—if I’d’ve known, I would’ve—“
They will come to find that they don’t need words. Merlin just buries his nose in the crook of Arthur’s neck and breathes in the smell of home.
“I kept the blanket I was taken in,” he mumbles, “and it smelled like this.”
Merlin nods. “Fruit. Sunlight. Warm.”
“Warm doesn’t have a smell, Merlin.”
“Sure it does.”
“What does it smell like, then?”
“Warm! You don’t explain what apples smell like, they just smell like apple.”
“Sure you can, they smell tart, a little sweet, but it’s a thin smell, it’s not rich.”
“Where and why do you know how to describe smells so well?”
“Morgana went through an alchemy phase, dragged me into being her test subject.”
Merlin snorts, nuzzling deeper into Arthur’s warmth. “I imagine you reeked of an awful assortment of perfumes.”
“Oh, it was an excellent way to get out of court duty.”
They laugh together. Then Merlin quiets, burying his nose in the smell of home and willing his magic to help him come up with something.
“…it’s barely noticeable,” he says quietly, “but it’s…it’s there. It’s slightly, um, it smells a bit like old leather, or old wood, but it’s…it’s earthier.”
Arthur’s quiet for a moment, then Merlin feels his head turn and bury into Merlin’s hair.
“I always thought you’d be colder.” His arms tighten slightly, as if he can feel how Merlin’s magic is trying to pull him closer—and hey, maybe he can. “I—you used to get really strong on winter nights. I used to imagine that you’d—you’d be cold and it was my job to keep you warm and if you were warm, you’d—you’d stay.”
“I’ll stay,” Merlin says immediately, “I’ll stay.”
For Arthur, it’s finally seeing that figure sprinting ahead of him, goading him to chase faster and faster. It’s hearing about how cruel bullies were and sternly promising that if anyone ever tries anything like that again, he’ll kick their arse. It’s hearing a mumbles admission of crying while angry and promising that he’ll never judge Merlin for crying, not when he’s here to protect him.
For Merlin, it’s his magic finally having both of them to wrap its blanket around, someone else to hold him firmly when it can’t do the job itself. It’s hearing about how lonely life as a prince can be and vowing that he’s just going to sit next to Arthur and damn all the customs. It’s hearing about the cruelty of a king that didn’t know how to be a father first and muttering that Uther would see what the bloody hell he was doing wrong.
News that Uther has another son spreads like a sickness in the castle. Servants whisper that the long-lost boy has returned, that the curse of the dead queen has lifted because her son is back, that finally, finally, Uther will stop the hell-path he’s wrought upon the kingdom.
Servants whisper that the nobles won’t like this. That they’re sick of having to put up with Arthur already, that if there’s another son, they’ll have another obstacle in their path.
Some nobles are clever.
They know that if Uther has a peasant son, he’ll have to make the boy a noble or denounce him completely. Or, and this is not a very likely option, he’ll have to accept that he has one royal son and one peasant son.
Some nobles aren’t clever.
They think that if Uther has another son, it doesn’t matter.
The nobles that know the knights know that they won’t be able to get within ten feet of Merlin. Many of them don’t want to. They’re not quite sure what position Merlin holds in court, but it’s not a manservant’s. They know that the boy who came to Camelot and managed to get the prince to shut up for once is a good one. Some of them hold the opinion that if Uther is what he made his son into, he might actually listen to the boy as well.
The nobles that don’t know the knights are stupid.
One such noble decides that it doesn’t matter whether or not the boy is of royal blood, the king hasn’t claimed him, and thus he is still a peasant.
He decides, in his infinite wisdom, to humiliate the boy by dousing him with wine for forgetting to thank him for giving him an order.
Merlin has been covered with wine before, this isn’t new to him. What is new is that he has a brother that takes great pleasure in dragging the unsuspecting noble to the front of the room and publicly shaming him.
“Have you so little sense of yourself that you must stoop to the humiliation of others for your own amusement? Perhaps if you spent more time thinking of what to do with your words you wouldn’t be so intimidated by the confidence of someone else. I would be surprised to learn if you had a mind since your only defense is to sling wine all over someone’s front. You are a disgrace to everything you proclaim to be and I would be ashamed of you if you were one of my men.”
It’s not the most direct way to banish someone and strip them of their place in court, but it is one of the more entertaining.
Of course, when a noble is demoted to a knight, he ends up at the mercy of the elder knights on the training field. It’s one of the only times Gwaine shows up promptly for a training session.
Merlin mumbles that Arthur didn’t have to do that, that he’s had worse, but later in the privacy of their rooms, Arthur says that he’s making up for the years where he wasn’t there.
“And it wasn’t just for you, it was for the knights too.”
It’s in the way Arthur still tries to turn into the tower corridor that first tips Merlin off. It’s the way his hands still twitch toward an old sword hanging on the wall. It’s the way he turns to his other side, not where Merlin always stands, expecting someone to be there. It’s the way he looks at the other side of Uther’s throne, expecting there to be another one.
It’s the way Merlin knows what feels like to miss another half of yourself.
“I want to find her,” he says quietly after a long day, “she’s your sister.”
Arthur pauses, fingers faltering on the edge of a cabinet. His head bows low.
“She is, Arthur,” Merlin says, standing, “and she’s mine too.”
“There’s still good in her, Arthur, I know there is.”
“I—“ Merlin swallows. “I’m to blame for what she’s become, I’m the one who poisoned her.”
“I’m the one who drove her away from the start,” Arthur says, a rueful smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “I’m not blameless either.”
There’s a pause.
Arthur glances at Merlin. “There was a time when I thought you were her. That the—the person I was missing was her.”
“She’s magic too, it makes sense.”
Arthur nods, staring into space. “But she wasn’t you. Her—I guess I didn’t know it was magic, then, but her—her magic never felt right.”
He turns to take a hunting satchel down from the hook.
“Do you know how to find her?”
“Yes,” Merlin says, “but you’re not coming.”
Merlin holds his hands up. “She’ll try to kill you, you know it. She won’t listen to you. Not at first.”
“And she won’t try to kill you? You poisoned her!”
“I have magic. She can’t beat me.”
“I’ll be safe!”
“When have you ever been safe in your life?”
“Like you’re in any position to judge!”
The bickering continues until Merlin grabs Arthur’s arm and tells him that he needs to do this. That it has to be him, only him, that he knows how to reach Morgana in a way that Arthur can’t.
Arthur lets him go with a strict promise to be back in a fortnight, no more.
Merlin knows how to find Morgana. Arthur’s connection to magic isn’t like his, but he is born of the stuff. And so is Morgana.
There’s a tingle in Merlin’s fingertips non-stop when he’s in Camelot, his magic tugging him towards Arthur and the magic in him. But Uther’s blood flows in both of their veins, so if he focuses, he can find Morgana.
His travels lead him to a forest home, modest and slight, but secure enough that he knows he can’t just walk in. There are half a dozen places where she could be hiding nearby, half a dozen more where traps could be. So he picks his way carefully through the undergrowth and knocks on her door.
He expects to be knocked out and strung up. He doesn’t expect her to raise an eyebrow and try and bind him with a curse.
He bats the curse away without trying to hide the way his eyes glow gold.
Morgana’s eyes widen and she stumbles back. He raises his hands and weathers the spitting, the curses—just cusses, this time—of his betrayal, how dare he, and apologizes.
“You were the vessel,” he says as his only defense, “I didn’t think there was any other way.”
“And what if you told me?” She draws herself up, looking every bit the queen she was born to be. “I could’ve helped! Perhaps I would’ve taken it of my own free will, you had no right to strip me of that choice.”
“I know. And I am sorry. For all of it. For not telling you, for trying to kill you, for—for everything.”
She evaluates him cooly. “Well, I suppose that’s that, then? You want me to accept your apology and toddle back to Camelot?”
And the thing is…he can see it now.
He and Arthur don’t share that many features, but he and Morgana…
It’s the angular jaw. The way the nose slopes slightly to the right instead of the left. The way one eye is a little bit longer than the other. The dark hair, wavy but not too wavy. The slender build, the sharp shoulders.
The way their magic curls about their fingertips before the spell is cast.
Morgana seems to notice him staring and frowns, snapping her fingers in front of his face.
“Sorry,” he manages, still marveling at how he never noticed, “sorry, I just…”
His magic thrums in his hands, telling him to let it go, reach out to their sister, help her see. He obeys, opening his hand and letting the magic swirl up, into the air. Morgana’s eyes widen and she takes a step back, preparing a defensive spell of her own only for her jaw to drop as her magic touches Merlin’s.
It doesn’t feel like coming home, not like finding Arthur did, but it feels like something.
“What…how is this possible?”
“I’m your brother,” Merlin whispers, peering through the lattice of magic, “I—you’re my sister.”
At the word ‘sister,’ something in Morgana’s magic flinches. Merlin frowns, peering closer, eyes widening when he notices a dark patch, almost as if the magic is bruised from being constrained. His own magic touches it carefully, recoiling in shock.
“What is that? Morgana, what happened to you?”
She rubs her wrist absent-mindedly, her face contorting into a scowl. “The last person to call me ‘sister.’”
Merlin’s eyes widen. Morgana retracts her magic, burying it deep inside herself and taking a deep breath. When she looks at Merlin again, she looks almost like the woman Merlin met in Camelot.
“So. That means Arthur’s your brother too.”
Merlin nods. “I was…we were born of the same magic.”
“And that makes Uther your father.”
Merlin's face contorts in rage and Morgana snorts.
“Yes, that was my reaction too.”
“Balinor was my father,” Merlin says firmly, curling his hands into fists, “Uther is not.”
“But you have his blood,” Morgana says quietly, not meaning to hurt, just to inform, “and you are bound to him. Just as I am.”
Now it is Merlin that has to look desperately at Morgana, hoping for it to be anything other than the truth.
“You can’t have Arthur without Uther, Merlin,” she murmurs, “you have to accept that. You can’t have Arthur without Camelot. You can’t have your brother without your father.”
“And what about my sister?”
Her smile is sad. “I had neither for a long time.”
“I just got my sister,” Merlin says firmly, “I’m not letting her go again.”
“Oh, and that’s your decision, is it?”
Merlin blinks. “Um—well, I mean—if—if that’s okay with you—“
Her laugh is high, like pealing bells, and it makes him smile to hear it. “How you manage to switch between those two will always astound me. No wonder no one else ever figured out you had magic.”
“Excuse you, I did a perfectly good job at hiding my magic.”
“Gaius used to scream about it with the door open, Merlin, that’s not exactly subtle.”
“How is that my fault?”
She giggles and oh, is this what it’s like to have a sister?
Their laughter ends and Morgana crosses her arms, head bowed as she thinks. Merlin lets his magic flutter around the room, cleaning up, until she raises her head again.
“Do you think Uther can change?”
Merlin sighs. “I don’t know. But I do know we can change the minds of everyone else.”
“Starting with Arthur, I presume?”
“Arthur. The knights. Most of the council. The servants.”
“Got a plan for this, do you?”
“…not really good at plans.”
“Well, no, not if most of them involve poisoning sisters.”
Morgana laughs again, then her smile softens and she rushes forward to wrap her arms around Merlin.
“Your magic feels warm,” she mumbles, “not like Morgause’s. Maybe I’ll enjoy being your sister.”
“If he can pull his head out of his arse, we’ll see.” She lets him go and walks toward the front of the house.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“To see if we can both pull his head out of his arse, it’s so big we’ll need the two of us.”
“Unless you think I should wait?” There it is. The tiniest hint of vulnerability in the way her voice wobbles at the end.
A question of whether Morgana would actually be welcomed back into Camelot, a question of whether Arthur would want her back. A question of how true this fantasy really is.
Merlin straightens. “No,” he says firmly, “let’s just hope the two of us can do it together.”
Arthur never thought he’d see his sister again.
But the instant Morgana walks into his chambers, looking as if she’d never left, she barely has time to open her mouth to deliver a snappy remark before he’s rushing across the room and wrapping her in a hug so fierce it makes Merlin laugh.
Morgana laughs at him with some incredibly clever quip but he isn’t listening. He’s too busy hugging his sister. Who’s finally home, who’s finally here.
“…oh, alright, you big softy,” she mumbles, wrapping her arms around him too, “there. Are you happy now?”
“Yes, that’s me. Is your head alright? Merlin, what did you do to him?”
“He’s happy to see his sister, Morgana.”
She sighs dramatically. “Oh, don’t both of you go all sappy on me.”
Arthur just pulls her closer, burying his nose in her neck. “‘Gana.”
There’s a pause. Then: “Oh, Arthur, I missed you too.”
It’s too much. He sticks out his arm and grabs Merlin’s tunic, yanking him closer. Merlin makes a noise of surprise as Arthur bundles them both into the hug. Morgana makes a slightly affronted gesture as she makes room for the two of them, pulling her hair out of the way as Arthur buries his nose between their shoulders.
“I certainly don’t remember him being this clingy, are you sure this is the same Arthur?”
“His head’s certainly big enough.”
“Well, yes, but that’s not exactly the most reliable thing to go on. He’s always been utterly obnoxious.”
“Don’t have to tell me.”
And they’re bickering like siblings and it’s right and it feels right and their magic is here now and he can feel both of them and it’s warm and it makes his chest tingle and—and—
“Oh, oh dear,” he hears Morgana murmur, “Arthur, are you—are you crying?”
“Shh, shh, it’s okay, Arthur, it’s okay.”
“Come, let’s sit down, if you fall over you’ll take the two of us with you.”
“Just try and breathe, it’s okay, we’re not going anywhere.”
Arthur can’t bear to let them go. Not even for an instant. Morgana stays with him, her arms wound tightly around his neck, her fingers scratching lightly through his hair. Merlin sits at his back, his chest warm.
“Come now, you silly man,” Morgana says, trying to keep the tears out of her own voice, “there’s no use crying over this. No man is worth your tears, remember?”
“You’re not a man,” he mumbles, “you’re my sis’er.”
“He’s got a point.”
Morgana sighs. “Oh, Arthur…”
He registers how long’s been crying only when he feels his head start to ring from how stuffy his nose feels. He hooks his chin over Morgana’s shoulder.
“Go on,” he mumbles, “tease me. I know you want to.”
“…I’m not going to tease you, Arthur.”
“Really? All this material and you won’t?”
“Not today,” she murmurs, sounding a little hoarse herself, “not—not today.”
She holds him tighter.
“Not when I’ve just learned I have two brothers.”
He can live with that.
She does tease him later, when he says that he hasn’t missed her at all—a blatant lie, that, and they all know it—or that he’s always been a model of a knight. Of course, she doesn’t have to train with him alone, anymore, she has her pick of the knights. And Merlin.
Because Morgana has magic.
Merlin has magic. Is magic, if the stories are to be believed. And Morgana has always been a quick study.
So sometimes, Arthur will just…watch them. But it’s always that. Just watching.
Merlin is the greatest sorcerer to ever walk the earth. Morgana is a High Priestess of the Old Religion.
What is Arthur?
“You’re pouting, Princess.”
Arthur barely flinches as Gwaine plops down beside him. He does raise an eyebrow as he feels the rest of the knights sit down around him.
“I’m not pouting, Gwaine.”
“Sure you are.” He flicks Arthur’s arm. “You’re pouting.”
Arthur sighs. “And what is it you think I’m pouting over?”
“The fact that you now have to share Merlin with Morgana.”
“You’re bright red, Princess, you know I’m right.”
Lancelot lays a hand on Gwaine’s arm. Gwaine hushes. Percival glances around to make sure there aren’t any other knights near and nods.
“What’s troubling you,” Lancelot asks quietly, “and how can we help?”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.” Elyan sits up a little more. “There’s always something we can do.”
“Not with this,” Arthur mumbles, still watching the two magic users train, “not with this.”
Leon follows his gaze. “Impressive, aren’t they?”
“Do you wish you had magic too?”
Damn you, Leon. Damn you.
Leon chuckles softly. “Come now, sire, no need to lie to us.”
“I just—“ Arthur sighs, scrubbing his face with his hands. “It’s fine.”
Leon lays a hand on his shoulder.
“…they’re both…incredible—don’t tell them I said that,” Arthur says sharply.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Gwaine lies.
Arthur sighs again. “I just…I know I was born of magic, but…”
“You don’t have any,” Leon guesses, “not like they do.”
He shakes his head.
“Eh, you don’t need it,” Gwaine says, leaning up against Arthur’s side, “you’re plenty fine without it.”
Arthur’s head whips around to stare at him in shock. Gwaine raises an eyebrow.
“What? You are.”
“Since when do you give me compliments?”
Gwaine shrugs. “’S not about compliments, it’s about the truth. You’re able to do a shit load of things perfectly fine on your own, you don’t need to have magic for it.”
“He’s right, sire,” Lancelot adds, “your skills are a testament to you, not to whatever magic brought you into this world.”
“I’d follow you with or without magic.” Percival stands tall. “Just so happens you don’t have it. Doesn’t make a difference to me.”
“You’re our commander,” Elyan agrees, “that’s that.”
Leon’s hand on his shoulder rubs soft circles, brushing away his protests. He’s not sure if he believes them entirely, not just yet, but maybe…
Maybe one day he will. After all, he thinks with a smile, he’s got some people to help him with that.
He never thought he’d see his sister again.
Hunith turns around and smiles.
“Merlin, come here.”
Merlin rushes forward, wrapping his arms around her in a warm hug.
“Why didn’t you send word you were coming,” she scolds gently, “I would’ve gotten everything ready.”
“I wanted to surprise you!”
“Well, I am surprised. Sit, sit, tell me everything.”
Her son sits, idly toying with his hands. She frowns.
“What’s the matter?”
“I, um…I have a question for you.”
“What is it?”
“Where…where am I from?”
Hunith smiles and tells him the story. Tells him of how Balinor arrived one night, a little babe clutched in his arms. How he told her how the queen had two children, one that had to be kept safe away from Camelot. How his magic had reached out to her once she held him, wrapped around them as he fell asleep against her breast.
Merlin listens, tears in his eyes, as she tells him that she loved him from the moment she saw him, that he would always have a home here.
“You’re my mum,” he mumbles, wiping away tears, “and I—you’re always gonna be my mum.”
“Oh, Merlin, come here—“
She holds her son in her arms and thanks the magic of the world that gave him to her.
Uther responds about as well as you’d expect.
As in, not at all.
At least, not until he realizes that there are three children who are about to make sure he does what he promised Ygraine he would, and if he doesn’t, they’ll do it for him.
He tries to deny having another son, one that was raised as a peasant, no less, only for Arthur to stand up in court and publicly acknowledge Merlin as his brother.
He tries to deny that Morgana is his daughter, only for Morgana to stand tall and proud by Arthur’s side as they declare their intent to rule as brother and sister.
He tries to deny that not one but two of his children have magic, only for Arthur to open talks with the druids by using his brother and sister with magic as ambassadors.
He wants to think that he still has his loyal knights, but Gwaine and Percival decide that they’re Merlin’s bodyguards, and Leon and Lancelot won’t leave Arthur’s side. Morgana doesn’t need her own bodyguards, but Elyan and Gwen are never far from her.
He wants to think he still has the support of the Council, but Gaius had stood and given a speech about being so happy to see Ygraine’s children home again and his words had been frozen before he could say anything.
He wants to think he’s still the king. But everyone is starting to look to Arthur, to Morgana, not to him.
Once, and only once, he considers getting rid of the boy.
When he wakes from a terrible nightmare of drowned children, burned houses, and Ygraine’s immortal disappointment, he doesn’t think of it again.
Uther isn’t dragged kicking and screaming from his throne, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many who’d love to if he gave them the opportunity.
He’s not worth lingering on.
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