After he'd saved Merlin's life, after he'd brought him to recovery, Merlin started to feel better about Daegal, who he'd set out to help. He felt like he... trusted him. Even after the boy had so recently betrayed him to Morgana, it felt like they were partners in crime.
"Tell me I've done good," he said. "For once in my life..."
"You've done good," said Merlin. You saved my life. You brought me back to health. "You've done good."
In the end, he didn't mind that, although he charged to Camelot to save Arthur's life, although Merlin had seen himself as the hero, that Daegal took the credit. He deserved to be the hero. For once.
Merlin stared at him, slumped on the wall, knife in his chest. He could be sleeping were not for that. "You've done good," he answered his question. You're a hero now. You deserve to be. You should be loved.
And Merlin thought, if he kissed him now, while the heart was still beating, it wouldn't be necrophilia. He put his fingers over the pulse, and he felt it, beating faintly, slowly. Merlin didn't know where this desire came from. He watched the face for several moments before touching his lips over the Deagal's. They were growing cold, but there was still a fading warmth to them.
It was such a relief to do. It felt so right, were it not for the fact he was dying. Oh, why did all his great loves end up dying?
Except one. Wary of the knights that would soon find their way here, he finally broke away, whispered good night, and ran off.
Arthur was the one love who couldn't die. He was also the only one who didn't feel the same way back to him. Oh, he knew there were little moments, and he knew Arthur cared dearly for him. But it wasn't the same. Arthur only liked girls. Merlin personally couldn't see how he had the heart to discriminate.
"So, you have a girl."
"Girl," Arthur sounded the word out, ridiculously.
He turned back to the table, the only girl he ever loved, Freya, swimming before his vision. "I have no girl."
"That's not what Guinevere said."
As Merlin turned back to pour the drinks, Arthur began asking after her. Merlin only stared at Guinevere. Oh yes, there was once a time he could have fancied her. Back when he was only a boy himself, in fact. But he suspected she had liked him more than he had ever liked her.
He was glad now that he didn't. He couldn't imagine being in love with a girl who would turn her back on him like Gwen had obviously done to Arthur. To want him dead... now that was a deep betrayal, the heaviest you could ever wish on a person. And this was from someone who he had once confided in regarding Morgana, and who had told him that wishing someone dead was never worth what they'd done to you. Back when Morgana had originally sought to kill Uther, before everything else...
What had happened to Gwen?
"Well...?" said Arthur. "Come on, tell us the whole tale. About your girl, and about your leg?"
"Yes, Merlin," Arthur ground, "Leg."
The limp. Of course. "Right," he said.
Merlin had lied before. He could do it again. But how could he possibly describe this girl who he didn't even have? Maybe he should work with what he already knew. "She had golden -- brown... hair," he said. Where had that come from?
There was an awkward silence. Merlin put the jug back down on the table, leaning his back heavily against it, heaving a sigh. What could he possibly say...?
"And...?" urged Arthur in irritation.
Merlin sighed again.
"Merlin, will you just get on with it?" cried Arthur.
"Right," said Merlin again. "She had golden brown hair. She was beautiful. I mean, I didn't think so at first..." He tried to keep going, tried to think of something to go on with from there, but he was caught between Arthur and Daegal.
"Yeah," he continued, "as I was saying, I didn't think so at first..."
He stalled again.
"You already said that, Merlin."
"Of course I did. So, right, we... when we met, she was asking for help. She was demanding." What else? He looked at Arthur. "Sort of... overbearing."
"Right," said Merlin. "So, at first, I wanted to refuse her..." But she had a sister... she was a druid...?
"But you couldn't resist her," said Arthur, finishing his sentence. It wasn't stated as a question; it was stated as fact.
"Right," said Merlin. "There was... something about her. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery."
"How romantic," said Gwen.
"How... very familiar. She sounds a little like you, Merlin."
"I'm not overbearing."
"Good point. Go on."
"Right," said Merlin again. "So she told me to meet her on the edge of the forest."
"Sorry," Arthur interrupted, "what did she need help with?"
"Well," said Merlin. "She told me she needed a treatment, for her little sister. But that turned out to be a lie. All she wanted was me."
"So she went after you," Arthur concluded. "That would figure. You're such a girl that you need another girl to play the man."
"Hey," argued Merlin, "I'm plenty manly, thank you very much."
"Sure, whatever you say."
"You know, I can't tell my story if you keep interrupting."
"Right, of course, sorry. Go on," said Arthur.
"Right," repeated Merlin, sighing again, straightening his back against the table. "We went deep into the forest together. It was dark by then, no one was around... and then we started... well..." The story needed something, after all. Give the audience what it wants.
"Wow, you move fast."
Merlin only wished. "What can I say? I guess I... kind of liked her too. It's funny how it's never the one you suspect," he said, the words heavy as he looked at Arthur. After all, from the start, he would never have known he'd fall in love with Arthur. Which kind of made him feel guilty over Daegal. But Arthur would never love him back, and he should be happy, right? If he could ever manage to love somebody who doesn't die.
"What about the leg?" Arthur asked. "And the two days you were gone."
"Well, after the two of us... made love," Merlin blushed, simply at the thought of him with someone else, no matter what the truth of the matter, "we spent the night lying in each other's arms. And then the next day... we sort of got a little lost." None of this was true. Where did he ever come up with it? At least it seemed plausible enough.
"Of course. Rash and incompetent."
"And the leg?" asked Gwen.
"Took a nasty fall. I told her what to gather, and she nursed me back to health."
"Competent and practical," commented Arthur. "She's a keeper, Merlin. You need someone like her to take care of you."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Will we get to meet her sometime?"
That was the flaw in Gwen's lie. Now he had to think of lie why she could never come back. "She lives... very far away. Beyond Camelot. She didn't tell me until after we returned to the castle. She had come with her family to visit an old friend, they were just passing through. She never intended to stay." He did his best to put on a sad face.
"Oh, how horrible," said Gwen. "I'm so sorry, Merlin, I had no idea."
"Well, I suppose you won't have any excuse in the future to go missing like that again, then," said Arthur. "But, may I ask, how did you come to tell Guinevere about this girl?"
"He... told me that he really liked her. That he was going to try to woo her," Gwen said.
"Ah," said Arthur, "I see. And it didn't turn out. I'm sorry, Merlin. Well, there will always be other girls..."
Or boys, thought Merlin, looking at Arthur. Daegal didn't deserve to die. He should've still lived. "I hope so."