When I'm away from you...
"ARTHUR!" Merlin screamed, his dry throat burning and voice going hoarse, "Arthur, please! ANSWER ME!"
For as far as the warlock could see there was only white fog and empty space. He stretched his arms out before him blindly, striking through the haze desperately. The air was thick and cold so, for a moment, Merlin assumed he was caught in a blizzard, and that perhaps Morgana's magic had gotten away from her. However, there was no snow, no ice, no frost to be seen.
On the other hand, there was no stone, glass windows, ceiling, or floor. If it was possible, Merlin would have to admit he was in the middle absolutely nowhere. The only thing distinguishable was a thick white fog that blew swiftly around him, twisting by his fingers when he reached out to touch it.
"ARTHUR!" Merlin called again, tears pricking in his eyes. Gods, how he hated how easily he cried. His mother had often said it was a quick way to get your feelings free from your system and not to resist the urge if he felt it. She was probably right, like usual, but his vision was blurred by the tears now, panic flooding his system as doubt overtook his thinking.
Why was the world so cruel to them? He and Arthur had one good moment, a glimpse of heaven only to make the pits of hell look that much worse. Was that what this was? Had they died? Was this purgatory? Merlin knew Arthur didn't believe in heaven or hell, but the warlock's mind was not made up. It was so impossible to imagine that people simply ceased to exist forever. That once their hearts stopped beating, their souls just vanished. Was this hell? It was a lot colder than Merlin had imagined. He didn't know where he was. Where anyone was. Where Arthur was.
"Please! Arthur, please, just say something! Anything!" the warlock begged, hugging himself as his body shook. Suddenly, to his left, Merlin heard a muffled voice.
"My boy, is that you?"
Merlin blinked, head swivelling as he searched for the source. Only one person called Merlin that.
A shadowy form grew clearer as it approached, the fog thinning and an anxious familiar figure appearing. Merlin snapped his hand out, wrapping his fingers around Gaius' tightly. Relief washed over the warlock when the physician's concerned face emerged, grey eyes blinking worriedly at him.
"Merlin!" Gaius gasped, searching his ward's troubled face, "Do you know what has happened? I'm afraid there was only so much I could do in the chaos. I'm a bit too old for battle, I suppose, though I tried to help the knights as much as I could."
"Nonsense. You don't look a day over a hundred," Merlin joked weakly, sucking in a ragged breath at Gaius' no-nonsense expression, "I-I don't know. I don't know, Gaius. Arthur - I had him just a moment ago, I had him right in my grasp - I can't find anybody but you, and I lost Arthur-"
"Breathe, my boy," Gaius encouraged, patting Merlin's back as he searched the fog for their companions, "If you and I are here, then maybe the others are, too. I heard your voice coming from the left even though you were to my right, then above me, and below me. This may be hard to believe, but I don't think we are in our world, Merlin."
"So, we really are dead then?" Merlin heaved, clenching his hands into his hair, "Everyone is dead?"
Gaius sputtered, looking back to the warlock's terrified expression, "No, no, not dead! Just... well, I don't think we are-"
The physician stilled, raising a finger to hush the warlock's next question. Closing his eyes to focus, his brow quirked thoughtfully, and his thin mouth pulled into a frown.
"What? That we are what?! Don’t leave me hanging like that! Have some mercy!" Merlin exclaimed as he yanked at the strands of locks still trapped between his fingers.
"I think I can hear Sir Gwaine," Gaius muttered, pointing to the left, "I'm trying to figure out where he is...."
Merlin quieted and nodded, closing his eyes as well and focusing dutifully. Sure enough, Merlin could hear the knight's grumbling voice, muttering something about promising to lay off the ale in exchange for holy assistance. And better yet, Merlin could hear the other knights as well.
“Thank every god and devil known to monsters and men,” Merlin sighed, his body going lax from its tense state as gratefulness filled him.
"I will only eat apples and drink... well... would watered wine suffice?" Gwaine bargained with a muffled voice.
"I truly doubt anyone out there cares about your dietary plans, Gwaine," Leon huffed.
Merlin grinned, rubbing at his watery eyes quickly, and keeping a tight grip on Gaius as he heard the knights get closer.
"Gwaine! I can hear you! Can you hear me?" the warlock shouted into the fog.
Merlin's smile faded as only silence was returned to him. Then, an excited voice called back hopefully, now echoing from behind him.
Merlin spun, searching desperately for any shapes or forms in the fog. Suddenly, the warlock was nearly knocked down by the force of a hug, a broad hand clapping Merlin on the back and knocking the wind from his chest.
"Merlin! What did you do, mate?" Gwaine chuckled, relief clear in his face. Behind him, others appeared from the mist, their hands intertwined to keep them together. Leon’s soft eyes gleamed joyfully when he met Merlin’s, Lancelot and Gwen’s pale and concerned faces tilted away with shame.
"Gods, we've been walking for hours," Gwaine continued, "Did you see Arthur! He had-"
"Wings," Leon whispered, something guilty and worried lurking in his eyes, "Arthur had wings."
Gaius stepped forward beside the warlock, nodding to Leon understandingly, “Yes, quite a medical and magical mystery at that,” Gaius agreed, “For more reasons than you know.”
Merlin opened his mouth, about to ask what the physician had meant by that, but was taken into Lancelot’s arms in a relieved hug. He responded a little stiffly, conflicted. So far, there were only six of them: Gwaine, Gaius, Gwen, Lancelot, Leon, and himself. What had happened to the others in that room? Where were Mordred, Percival, Arthur, Morgana, the guards, Morgana’s henchmen?
Leon dropped Gwaine’s hand, rubbing his palm on his thigh to rid himself of its sweat with a disgusted expression on his face. Gwaine winked exaggeratedly, lifting his shirt cheekily. Leon pushed him away, releasing Gwen’s hand much more gently with an awkward smile. Gwen nodded lightly, tucking farther into Lancelot’s side with her chin raised delicately. The knight glanced at Merlin from beneath his lashes, as if not quite sure what to say. Merlin looked away and instead faced the fog worriedly. He had more important things to think of than the awkwardness mingling between them. Bigger questions to ask than the bitter ones of blame that weighed on his tongue.
“How did you all find each other? Gaius and I appeared here alone. As of yet, there is little more than half of us together… wherever we are,” the warlock muttered, peering into the pale murkiness.
“Lancelot and I were together,” Gwen replied, her light voice deeper than usual, so much louder in silence, “Leon found us, then we found Gwaine - likely in a similar fashion to how you found us. He was shouting something about denouncing clothes and becoming a nudist in exchange for godly intervention. I believe it was ‘it would be a fair trade to see a body like this one without any unfortunate layers.’”
Gwaine snorted, flicking his nose with his thumb and shrugging, “Was worth a shot, wasn’t it? I am quite hard to resist.”
“You’re delusional,” Leon sighed.
“And we’re still lost,” Merlin groaned, “I tried yelling, too. Gaius heard me but… Arthur… I was holding onto him before all of this happened. How could we have been separated? How long has it been? I’ve already asked Gaius, but it seems we are not dead. Not yet, at least.”
“And I have a sneaking suspicion as to where exactly we are,” the physician interjected.
Wide eyes stared at him, begging for answers. His grey hair rustled in the gentle breeze, a cool feeling washing over him like deep waters in a gentle lake. Gaius turned away from the scorching curious eyes that followed him, breathing deeply with his eyes closed, listening quietly.
“Not. Again.” Merlin huffed, dragging his nails down his face, “What now?”
“As I keep trying to tell you, Merlin, just listen…” Gaius whispered.
Merlin blew out a tense and frustrated breath, crossing his arms and closing his eyes mimicking. Leon followed suit, Gwaine next, and Gwen and Lancelot after him. In the silence, they waited.
“I’m so tired…”
Merlin’s eyes snapped open as a whisper trickled past his ear. It was the voice of a child, nearly slipping away before Merlin could understand its words. Leon’s hand tightened from where it had fallen on his shoulder, his eyes scrunched tightly. Merlin let his eyes fall closed again, his mind spinning. How could a child be here with them? What wasteland were they lost in - was this child trapped in?
A second voice answered the child's, older and deeper, a voice Merlin recognised.
“Rest is for the wicked and the weak. If you stop, you’ll fall behind...”
“Arthur?” The warlock straightened hopefully, stepping forward toward the voice.
Leon pulled him back sharply.
“What?” Merlin snapped, “I can hear Arthur - he’s right there! Can’t you hear him?”
“If you walk too far away, we could lose you again. I hear him, I - but he can’t be. Both… both voices are Arthur,” Leon called to him, “When we were young, he had a lisp because of his twisted front tooth. His r’s wouldn’t come out right until he was nearly eight. I remember him…”
“I won’t, I promise. I just need a minute. I can’t breathe. I can’t feel my fingers. My back, please. Am I going to die?”
Merlin gasped, leaning farther forward into the fog, “I’m going. He needs me. If you want to stay together, then come with me.”
He stepped out, smiling with relief when he felt the knight take a step with him.
The sounds of more footsteps followed. Some light like gentle rain and other’s shuffled like harsh winds. They walked blindly together through the mist. It began to get thicker the farther in they went, pushing against them until their feet slid against the ground with every step. It became colder and denser, punishing them like a cruel winter storm until suddenly it disappeared with the sharp cut of a scream. Merlin opened his eyes.
“ARTHUR! ARTHUR, WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”
Morgana clung to Arthur’s still form, her dirty, smudged hands clasping his face. The King was kneeling on the ground, his body blue and solid of ice, and his hands placed palms up on his knees like a prayer. Arthur’s wings stretched out behind him, each feather glinting in the pale light, patterns of frost twisting over them like painstakingly detailed lace.
Morgana’s face was sharp and pale with horror, the dark makeup around her eyes dripping down her cheeks as she tugged on her brother’s frozen hands. Her eyes flickered gold like a dying flame, desperate as she struggled to summon her magic, to find a way to reverse what she had done.
She didn’t notice the people gathering behind her until Gwen’s shaking voice spilt from her lips thoughtlessly, “Morgana..."
The witch whirled around, her gaze catching her watcher’s fearful faces. Instinctively, the knights reached for their swords and Merlin raised his hands quickly for defence. Terror clawed into Merlin’s mind, a million fears screaming at him as he begged and pleaded for Arthur to move or blink or breathe.
Morgana shrieked, her voice resounding into hollowness like the cry of a banshee, flinging her hands up before her. But her eyes stayed blue and tear-filled, and her hands remained trembling, pale, and flesh. Merlin watched her fearfully, doubt churning in his own mind. Morgana could not summon her magic.
The warlock gazed at the knights at the sides of him. They stood struggling with their swords, unable to draw them from their sheaths. Merlin’s breath quickened and he focused deeply, searching for the lifelong companion of magic that welled in his veins. He could feel it, rippling under the surface, but he could not pour it out. Merlin was powerless, truly disconnected from his magic, for the first time in his life. And as he saw his terror reflecting in Morgana’s eyes, who had backed against Arthur like a cornered wolf with foaming teeth, he understood her. She had the same look on her face when Merlin had poisoned her. It seems fate never quit playing games.
“What is this?” Gwaine bit out, yanking uselessly at his sword’s hilt. Bravado dripped from every mocking word that fell from his mouth, no doubt an attempt to suffocate the panic thrumming in his chest, “You, Morgana. You did this? We all believe you to be a coward, but a cheater, milady. How far you have fallen-”
“Stop,” Gaius demanded suddenly. The knights halted unsurely, their hands hovering over their immovable weapons, “Any attempt to pull your swords from their sheaths is as useless as drawing one from stone. Unless you were Arthur himself, it is not a feat you could achieve.”
Merlin knew that was a lie. A bit of an exaggeration at least. But nonetheless, Gaius’ everso mystic words settled silence over the group.
“It was not Morgana, but rather Arthur, who has stripped you of your various methods of violence,” the physician continued, “I have dragged it on long enough. I am nearly certain now of where we are. I only have one more question for you, Merlin.”
The warlock shot Gaius a look of disbelief. An arched brow and stubborn silence were all Gaius reciprocated. How could someone so old have such terrible timing? Every. Single. Time. Thank the gods that Merlin loved Gaius dearly, as the temptation to turn him into a toad was growing steadily. Not that he ever would, of course, if he wanted to continue his time in this life.
“What?” Merlin asked, "Gaius? What is it? Do you know where we are? What's wrong with us?"
The old man squeezed his eyes shut tightly for a moment, then opened them to fix Merlin with a worried look, "I-Is it possible that you may have done something, my boy? Did you cast anything that could have-"
"No!" Merlin denied, frustration pushing him into a harsh shout, "No, Gaius- I barely even got to use my magic, I've been so useless, there was hardly a thing I could do before Arthur-"
“Merlin, I fear this was far beyond what even your powers are capable of stopping,” Gaius muttered, “Somethings were set in motion far beyond our understanding. A reckoning of sorts, for things that can no longer be ignored. From what evidence I can find, I believe Arthur has brought us here, likely unintentionally. As with any other magic, it can become uncontrollable under emotional circumstances.”
The physician looked pained for a moment, his eyes haunted with memories and sadness. Then he blinked, a soft smile just barely slipping onto his lips.
Gaius continued, a gentle fondness merging with the hollow sadness in his voice, “I knew another with Arthur’s gift, many years ago. With it comes a power that nearly rivals yours, Merlin. Battle Angels are the gods’ most sacred people. Or they were before they disappeared. I suppose what is most important to know is… that none of this is real.”
The words tumbled round in Merlin's head like an unsolvable riddle.
‘None of this is real?’ He wondered to himself. Around him time seemed to lose meaning, he looked to the others in a daze. Every feature and expression in their faces suddenly felt breakable. The warlock searched every freckle, lash, and wrinkle - looking for a flaw or tell - a crack in the facade.
Lancelot snorted - a rather undistinguished noise from a quite distinguished gentleman - turning his face into Gwen’s neck as he chuckled tiredly. Gwen smacked him gently, her other hand sliding up his side to rub his back. They looked exhausted, their clothes torn and Lancelot’s head still bloody. Merlin realised they had no idea how long they’d been with Morgana, when they’d last eaten, last slept, or last felt safe. The witch eyed them both angrily, her own accusations hanging unspoken but well known.
He could see Gwen’s uncomfortable posture - her anxiety - unable to discern her standing with the men she once called great friends. She clung closely to Lancelot, who also carried great shame but the same charming humility that made him so approachable. If Merlin was being honest with himself, he wasn’t entirely sure how to feel either. After all, it was Gwen and Lancelot - two of the purest kindest people Merlin had ever met. He wanted to feel overjoyed to see them, as he always had before. But they’d hurt Arthur.
Well, so had Merlin… but it was complicated. He was just as bad, yes, but… could he excuse them when he so badly wanted to defend Arthur? He’d probably have to wait for the King to decide, but Arthur was nothing but a statue of ice now. How did that happen? A part of Merlin remembered, but the memories were so distorted by the chaos that he could only summon flashes before they slipped away again.
Merlin shook his head, time speeding up again as he snapped out of his thoughts and back to reality. Or not reality, apparently, where Arthur was an angel, they were stuck in a blizzard, half of them were missing, and Merlin felt closer to a nervous breakdown than he ever had in his life, which was pretty impressive. His only consolation was the equally distraught expressions on Gwaine and Leon’s faces. Even Morgana looked more mental than usual.
“Sorry, what?” Gwaine sputtered, his charming grin as bright as always - like Gaius had told a particularly good joke, but it didn’t quite meet his eyes, “Are you taking the piss? So, you’re saying we’ve collectively gone mad? As dearly as I love our Princess, last I checked he was no angel.”
Gaius glowered at the knight’s language, his brow arching and his mouth twisted into a frown. He tutted, gesturing loosely to the void around them, “It seems to be a recent development for him too, judging by the level of harm summoning his wings inflicted on his body. Not to mention the mess Arthur has gotten us all into now. So, no, Sir Gwaine, we are not mad. This world surrounding us and the bodies we currently inhabit are simply figments. Arthur has cast a rare spell called Altamemoria . Simply put, we are in the King’s mind. You cannot cause harm, whether by steel or magic, as you are not actually here. Only your minds are present.”
Leon stepped forward, his eyes wide and posture stiff with alarm, “How… how could he do that?”
Merlin, finding his voice again, moved beside the knights, his own demands begging to be heard, “If you could be as blunt as possible, that would be ideal.”
They crowded the physician, leering over him like a group of curious toddlers until he cleared his throat and pushed them back. Lancelot wrapped an arm around each of the knight’s shoulders, Gwen’s hand hesitantly grasping at Merlin’s. Morgana sneered, the effect dampened by the tears that dripped down her cheeks, but she could not curb her curiosity any more than they could.
Gaius sighed, pinching his nose thoughtfully, “Arthur wanted you to understand. He… he harbours nearly as many secrets as you do, Merlin. I know of some… but I was not his confidant. Sometimes, when a person of magic desires something greatly their gifts cannot help but obey them - even if it was something they had never learned to do. Magic - strong magic - just passes along to different people - chosen ones. Some fragments break away or are shared with others, but all magic has a deep history that it never forgets.”
Morgana’s face twisted first with anger, then faded to an expression of shame and guilt, “I hate him. I hate him. But I thought- Is he like me? I- I don’t understand, how could he… how could he possibly have magic!” she wailed brokenly, banging her fists against Arthur’s chest. A hollow sound echoed throughout the void with every hit, “The entire time? You liar! You could have told me! I- how could I- YOU LIAR! Wake up! Please… I didn’t mean to… not really...maybe a little, but - WHY is it always been so complicated with you, you stupid - stupid man. I HATE YOU! Wake up... ”
Merlin could have died at that moment. It felt like a part of him did, staring at Arthur - frozen and still, not a single cloud of breath slipping from his blue lips. Merlin wanted to yank Morgana away from him, wanted to cry again, wanted to summon all of his magic like he never had before and make the world explode. Merlin had thought about it before… what he would do if he failed and Arthur died…
He would make the world explode then, really. If Arthur wasn’t there, Merlin couldn’t bear for anything else to be left either. He’d lose hope that the corruption in the world could ever be beaten, that it wouldn’t just get worse and worse. If the Once and Future King couldn’t save this earth, then maybe it didn’t deserve to be saved at all.
But Merlin fought the unrelenting opponent that was his fear. He pushed down the anger and horror that beat at him. If Gaius was right, then Arthur had to be alive. They couldn’t be in Arthur’s mind if he was dead. But as Merlin watched Morgana cling to Arthur’s shoulders - her head pressed to his still chest - he mourned another piece of his sanity that crumbled away.
“He’s not breathing… he’s not breathing!” Morgana sobbed.
Gaius broke away from the group, stepping towards her gently as though she were a frightened doe in a meadow, “It wasn’t you, my lady. At least, not you alone. Arthur is alive, simply trapped. This was caused by his magic.”
“Which he shouldn’t have!” the witch shouted, her blue eyes stinging and punishing like the ice that coated the King’s skin.
“Arthur has as much right to his magic as you do, Morgana. Do not divide yourself from him so greatly that you cannot recognise yourself in him,” Gaius replied sagely.
Morgana faltered, her lips trembling and brows pinched. Gaius reached for her, gently pulling her nails from the grooves they’d left in Arthur’s skin, leading her to her feet. Morgana obeyed, her face reflecting disbelief rivalling that of her audience, and watched them tensely. Gwen, Merlin, and Leon had so much history with Morgana - Gwaine and Lancelot less so but still significant. Morgana backed away from them, hunched and tense like a feral cat.
As soon as there was enough space between them, Merlin rushed to Arthur. There was nothing he could do, his magic locked away from him and rendering him powerless, but he pressed his hands to Arthur's chest and searched for a pulse. He found none.
"I told you," Morgana muttered, wiping her running nose with the back of her hand and sniffling, "Where are the others?"
"Others?" Gaius asked.
"My men. The rest of the knights. The servants. Whoever else there may have been."
Gaius pursed his lips and searched the group, his eyes passing over Merlin, Leon, Gwaine, Gwen, Lancelot, and back to Morgana. He sighed, thinking, then nodded with understanding, "This is everyone that was at the front of the room, in Arthur's view. I believe the spell was pushed forward by Arthur's wings. Everyone behind him is still in the throne room. Technically, we are all in the throne room, trapped the same way Arthur is here."
Gwaine looked to Gwen and Lancelot, still clinging to each other unsurely, "So, Percy isn't here? Mordred? What about-"
"It's just us," Leon interrupted, hushing Gwaine before he could list every servant, knight, and citizen within Camelot's walls.
Silence fell over the group, an awkwardness blanketing them as seconds ticked by.
"Well, in the meantime, should we arrest Morgana? Who's in charge now that Arthur's... unavailable?" Gwaine coughed, gesturing vaguely towards Arthur's frozen figure, keeping his eyes trained on the witch.
Leon replied quickly, as though the question were a stupid one to ask, "Merlin, obviously. And Morgana can't leave any more than we can, so arrested she already is, don't you think?"
"Me? Why not you?! You're Arthur's first knight. Or Gaius - he knows everything! I -" Merlin sputtered,
Morgana scoffed, the sharp noise cutting the warlock off, six pairs of eyes snapping towards her. She tilted her chin defiantly, her expression clearly meant to intimidate them, but the tear tracks on her face simply made her look pitiful.
"Why were you screaming?" Morgana asked suddenly, "I heard you, that's how I found Arthur."
"Screaming?" Gwaine huffed, "You were the one screaming your bloody head off. We were calling to each other in a calm and dignified manner."
"You definitely screamed. Directly in my ear, unfortunately," Lancelot interjected shyly.
"I was yelling, too," Merlin added.
Morgana rolled her eyes, "Not you, morons. I was speaking to Gwen. Unless you've all suddenly developed female voices."
Gwaine's face contorted as a snide reply started to sprout from his mouth, but Gwen lay a hand firmly on his arm and stepped forward.
"I didn't scream. Why?"
"Well, you must have," Morgana answered disbelievingly.
"She didn't," Lancelot insisted, "We woke up here together. Found Gwaine easily since he's so loud, then Leon. Gwaine was the only one being noisy."
"I heard her. Unless Gaius is wrong and we're not alone, I heard a woman screaming. With only Gwen and I here, who else could it possibly be?" Morgana snapped.
"Morgana- " Merlin began, falling silent when a faint sound caught his ear. He held up a hand at his comrades' confused faces, closing his eyes and listening intently. There it was, a loud pained shriek, piercing like a banshee's, "I hear it, too. Listen..."
Another shriek and then total silence. The knights looked to Merlin for direction, sending uneasy glares to Morgana.
"Alright, so we're not alone. Can't expect Gaius to know everything, after all - how often exactly does he get abducted into the mind of winged royals?" Leon shrugged stiffly, sending an apologetic smile to the physician.
Merlin listened carefully, waiting for further explanation from the physician. But Gaius stayed silent, glued to his spot, his eyes dark and far away.
"I see something," Lancelot called, the warlock's head whipping towards him. Getting louder, another scream echoed around them, haunting and deeply in pain.
Merlin squinted through the fog, following the knight's pointed finger into the distance. Slowly, a shadowy shape became visible. It was a door. A giant heavy door, with large brass handles and skilful carving on its polished wood. A royal chamber door, like Arthur's. It seemed to get larger every time Merlin blinked. No, not larger... it was getting closer.
"How on earth did Arthur bring that, and not Percival?" Gwaine exclaimed, walking towards it curiously. He reaches for the handle, but Gaius's shout made him freeze.
"Don't!" Gaius called, anxiously, "Once we open that door, we can not leave until it is finished."
"Until what is finished?" Gwen whispered, her eyes set determinedly as she joined Gwaine. Another scream bellowed, coming from behind the door.
"Someone could be hurt!" Lancelot exclaimed, reaching for the handle and beginning to twist.
"Arthur's memories!" Gaius cried, rushing forward, his robes billowing behind him, "This is what Altamemoria does. We are memory-watchers. It- I'm not certain which memories we'll be seeing - in the past this spell was used in magical trials to prove innocence or guilt - but I have theories. If what Arthur wants is to be understood, then likely we'll be seeing moments that defined him - made him the way he is. There is no telling what is in store for us if we go through that door. You'd be unlocking the darkest corners of the King's mind!"
"It's what he wants, right?" Merlin whispered. He stood, his hand slipping away from Arthur and immediately wishing to go back. The warlock crept forward, the horrid screeches still calling to them from behind the tall wood, "We can't leave until the spell is complete, can we? I- I will always stand by Arthur's side. Nothing I see could change that."
Gaius stared at Merlin, a thousand worries and thoughts whirling behind his eyes.
"Arthur has been in a lot of pain in his life. Can you bear to witness that? I'm not sure I can. Not again," the physician's voice cracked guiltily.
Merlin tried to understand Gaius, he really did. But in the end, his answer was the same. Merlin joined the others at the door, leaving only Gaius and Morgana in the fog.
"Arthur deserves to be seen. No matter how ugly the past is, I will not deny him that," Merlin replied.
Another loud pained shriek erupted from behind the door. Instinctually, Merlin lunged forward, fingers wrapping around the handle with the others only to be halted by Gaius. Merlin turned back to him, confused and desperate to help whoever was hurt. Gaius's face paled and he shook his head, terror spreading through his body as he muttered to himself. Merlin reached for him, placing a hand on his shoulder, his eyes darting from the door before them to the physician's apprehensive expression.
Gaius's shoulders dropped and he nodded. Morgana's eyes narrowed, looking tensely between Arthur, still frozen behind them, and the door before her.
"Are we just going to leave him then?" she asked. Nobody responded, but the answer was clear. What other choice did they have?
"Come on, Merlin," Gwaine huffed, grasping the warlock's shoulder, "Let's not pretend there's any possibility we'll be walking away from danger. Can't be that bad, right? No worse than anything we've faced before. Some posh prince doing princely things in a princely castle. Maybe his chicken was cold some ten years ago and that's why he's so grumpy. We can handle that. Together?"
Merlin nodded, calling the others to grasp the handle as well. Gwen, Lancelot, and Gwaine all tightened their grips, determination grim on their faces. Slowly, Gaius joined him. Morgana swayed unsurely, about to back away when Leon’s hand suddenly reached out towards her, face-up in invitation. She stared at it, his palm calloused from years of swordwork, hanging trustingly for her to accept.
“I doubt he wants me here,” the witch whispered, “I’m his enemy.”
“You’re his sister. He’s never hated you, Morgana,” Leon assured her. His eyes were kind and pleading, despite their history - despite everything Morgana had done, “ For now… a truce? There are no enemies here.”
Finally - finally - Morgana lay her hand in Leon’s, letting him pull her into the group. He rested her hand on the door handle, wrapping his own around it right above her.
"On the count of three," Leon muttered, clenching his fingers until his knuckles went white, "One... two...three!"
Together, they pulled open the door.
I'm happier than ever...