The day Arthur legalizes sorcery in Camelot, Merlin cries. He swears he sees Gaius cry, too, but the older man refuses to admit it.
There's a feast and, of course, Merlin is there. Merlin has to be there. For the first time in decades, Druid leaders share the table with Camelot's king. When a man dressed in ceremonial druid robes approaches Merlin, he stops him with a tiny shake of his head and a look of warning. The others seem to get the message after that.
Halfway through the feast and the speeches, Merlin slips out into the courtyard and sits on the steps. He's almost died in this courtyard. Gaius has, too. He remembers his first day in Camelot, remembers walking into the city and seeing Thomas Collins executed for sorcery. Now, the courtyard is filled with Druid people dancing, celebrating. One woman makes glowing butterflies appear while a group of younger kids watch.
"Emrys! Emrys!" a little girl runs across the courtyard. There are daisies in her red hair and a wide grin on her face. The skirt of her blue dress threatens to get tangled in her legs as she climbs into Merlin's lap. "Emrys!" She tugs on his scarf.
"Hello," he says, adjusting her so she's more balanced on his lap. The little girl hides her face. "No, don't do that. What's your name?"
"Amice," she says shyly. "Sir."
"It's very nice to meet you, Amice. Are you having a good time?"
"Can you show me some magic, sir?" Amice asks, and when Merlin hesitates, she quickly adds, "Mother says you work for the king and that's why you can't dance with us, but you're here now."
Merlin eyes the crowd of druids milling about and can tell they're watching him. He knows they're waiting for him to do something, and he knows the second he does anything, he'll have their full attention. Amice's mother glances over and bows slightly in Merlin's direction. "How about a dragon?"
He conjures a small fire in the palm of his hand and blows on it so it hovers in front of them. With another flash of his eyes, he turns it into a dragon, a miniature figure of Kilgharrah made of flames and sparks. It swoops past the playing children, who scream in delight as they chase it. Merlin laughs with them and produces another. Amice squeals happily and runs down the steps. Merlin doesn't hesitate to follow.
The children crowd around him, tugging on his clothes as he walks toward the center of the courtyard. His magic fights to be released, so he lets it go. He can now. He creates lights that burst above their heads, chirping faeries that sit in the girls' hair. The dragons made of sparks fly around the courtyard in a mock battle. His skin emits strands of golden light, light that swirls in the air around him, and Merlin hears music more beautiful than he could have ever imagined.
Then he turns and sees the knights and Arthur standing among the Druid leaders on the steps leading into the castle, and the music dies. Merlin's smile fades as Arthur turns and storms into the castle. The children keep laughing and chasing the magic, but Merlin feels as if he's been plunged into a freezing lake.
"Emrys, can you do another?" a little boy asks. Merlin squats down so he's eye level with the boy.
"Right now, King Arthur needs help in the castle. I'll come back down later. Go be with your family."
Among the glares from the knights, Gwaine grins when Merlin approaches. "I knew there was something about you, Merlin." Merlin rolls his eyes, but he flushes as the Druids drop into low bows as he passes. Gwaine smirks at Merlin's insistence that they don't need to bow, really.
The doors of Arthur's chambers are closed when Merlin gets upstairs. He knocks hesitantly, but when there's no reply, he pushes the door open slowly. "Arthur?" The door slams shut and Merlin feels Excalibur's blade press against his throat. Arthur glares at him, and the first thing Merlin can think to say is, "Are you going to kill me?"
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't."
"You'd be breaking your own law, sire, assuming you're killing me for magic, of course. It's only been twelve hours."
Arthur lowers his sword, and Merlin watches Arthur's calm expression dissolve little by little. "How could you keep this from me, all these years?"
Merlin stays against the door, watches Arthur deliberately place the sword into its sheath at his side, and sighs. "It was the law. You gave me no choice."
"This has nothing to do with the law and everything to do with trusting me, Merlin!" Arthur shouts. "You stood by and watched time and time again as friends betrayed me, and you couldn't find a moment to tell me the truth. How long?"
And Merlin repeats the words he'd said to Agravaine, only he's more apologetic this time; he's afraid. "I was born with it."
"Magic is taught, Merlin—"
"I am living proof that's not always true. I nearly set fire to my house when I was six months old because I couldn't see my mother." Merlin begins clearing the table just so he has something to do with his hands. "Morgana was born with magic. I didn't know how to help her. Well, I did. I just…didn't."
"You lied to me. You betrayed me."
"You betrayed me, Arthur. Me and every innocent person you killed because they had magic. You're no more innocent than I am." Even as Merlin calmly clears the table, the air crackles with energy, with the magic angry at Merlin for being reigned in. With a lazy wave of his hand, the dishes vanish. "I have given so much for you, so do not play the betrayal card with me."
"I had no choice. My father—"
"This is why Morgana hates you, sire. You play the victim; you hide behind your father to get out of making difficult decisions. You could go against your father. Especially now. You are king, Arthur. You could have changed the law before this. Instead, I had to do things behind your back. I had to play the fool and let you call me idiot when all I did is save your life. I had to watch you kill innocent people for no reason other than sorcery. Yes, this is about the law, and about trust, but the truth is I couldn't trust you not to kill me."
"Then why did you come to Camelot?"
"I wasn't safe in Ealdor, either," Merlin snaps. Arthur remembers the suspicious looks Merlin had gotten, remembers the way Merlin's friend—Will?—had glared at Arthur. The way Merlin had seemed more on edge than happy to be home. "I'm not really safe anywhere, not even now."
"I would have kept you safe."
"Maybe now, but those first couple of years, when you were afraid to go against your father? I would have been dead in a second."
"I trusted you with my life. I fought my father for you. I nearly died in a bloody cave for you. You should have trusted me. I should have known before all those druid kids in the courtyard. The Druids, they know, don't they?"
"They can feel my magic. A little girl asked for a demonstration. I have duties, you know."
"They called you Emrys."
"Morgana is terrified of me. The Great Dragon forged your sword because I asked him to, because I am Emrys."
"The dragon? The one who destroyed Camelot? The one I killed?"
"He's alive," Merlin says, sitting at the table. "I sent him away."
"Only Dragonlords can control dragons, and we both watched Balinor die."
"The Dragonlord magic is passed from father to son, did you know that?" Merlin tries to sound casual, but his voice shakes just so, and Arthur crosses to the table. He must move too quickly, though, because Merlin raises his hand slightly in warning.
"I'm not going to hurt you."
"You held a sword to my throat only moments ago."
"Fine," Arthur sits in the chair opposite Merlin, who's sitting in the chair that's usually Arthur's. "Who else knows, besides Gaius?"
"My mother, obviously. Will knew; he lied to you to keep me safe. Lancelot saw me enchant the lance he used to kill the griffin. Freya knew; she was the only one who really knew." Arthur waits, but Merlin doesn't elaborate. "Agravaine figured it out, but—"
"He asked me to join him." Merlin won't meet Arthur's gaze. "He said I could have it all, that I could have so much more than I have now. I was nothing but a weapon to him. He wanted you dead, and I couldn't allow that." Merlin closes his eyes, pictures the oddly victorious look on Agravaine's face once he'd put the pieces together. "I killed him."
"I've killed people, Merlin. It's war. He betrayed us in the worst way; it couldn't be helped."
"I killed Nimueh. I poisoned Morgana. I watched Freya die. I watched Will die. Lancelot died for me. I couldn't save your father. Are you seeing the pattern here?"
"You know the sorcerer who killed my father?"
Merlin pauses while he tries to figure out how to phrase his answer. "It was an accident, Arthur. I need you to understand that. There was an amulet, planted by Morgana. Everything I tried to do had the opposite effect. By the time Gaius and I figured it out, it was already too late."
Something like fury passes briefly over Arthur's face. "I deserved to know, Merlin."
Merlin leans forward and pressing his hands against the tabletop, "And I deserved so much more than that! I was afraid you would hate me, that you would look at me like I was a disease. I should have told you sooner, I know, but my magic wants you. It longs for you. It's tied into your life, into your future." Merlin's eyes flash gold and Arthur can see him fighting for control. "Our destinies have been linked since the beginning of time. Dying by your hand was never an option. I had to be close to you, but you would never have trusted me if I told you the truth."
"I'm having a hard time trusting you now."
"Then don't," Merlin sighs, and it's like a switch has been flipped, all of the rage he'd shown only moments before disappearing until he simply looks exhausted. "But I will be by your side whether or not you want me there." Merlin stands and walks toward the door. Arthur grabs his wrist.
"Could you show me something?" He's not as excited as the little druid girl. He's nervous, but he remembers the joy he saw on Merlin's face when he played with the children in the courtyard. Merlin looks surprised, but pulls his wrist from Arthur's grasp. For a moment, Arthur thinks he's going to refuse, but Merlin begins muttering something in a language Arthur has never heard.
His eyes flash gold and a small, white ball of light forms in Merlin's hand. It grows larger, until it's the size of a small pumpkin. With another word, the ball of light begins to float toward Arthur. "That was you." He remembers following an identical ball of light from a dark cave only weeks after meeting Merlin.
"Even when I'm dying, I'm saving your life." Merlin smiles the first genuine smile Arthur's seen from him since they began this conversation. It's strange, because he can feel the power—the magic—rolling off of Merlin in waves, but it's the same smile Merlin's always given him. "Everything I did—everything I do—was for you, Arthur. Even if I couldn't trust you enough to tell you about my magic over the years, I knew one day I'd be able to."
"Can I touch it?" Arthur asks, because he's never willingly been this close to magic before. He's never wanted to be this close to magic. Merlin nods hesitantly—people don't usually touch his magic—and watches Arthur reach out slowly.
The sphere is warm and surprisingly solid under Arthur's touch. Merlin closes his eyes as his magic surges, mixing with the druid magic surrounding the castle and the small amount of magic inside of Arthur. When he opens his eyes, the silver sphere has turned gold, bathing the room in a vibrant light. Arthur meets Merlin's eyes and beams.
The sphere fades slowly. Arthur stares at Merlin, at the man who had so much more power than anyone could have ever imagined. He knows, now, that he isn't looking at Merlin anymore. He's looking at Emrys. He's looking at a king.
Tomorrow, they will talk. Merlin will tell him everything he's done, in detail. They'll shout and insult each other and for a moment, they'll think they hate each other. Tonight, Arthur hears the druid celebrations outside of the walls of the city, feels Merlin's magic humming happily between them, and knows this is what trust feels like.