Title: What If He’d Said Yes
Summary: Merlin told Arthur that there could be no place for magic in Camelot in 5X05 – The Disir, but what if Arthur had been paying attention to the heartache on Merlin’s face and questioned him about it?
Warnings: Canon-era AU
Prompt 238: Unexpected
A/N: In Merlin re-watch yesterday we watched The Desir and lamented the sadness of it all for Merlin. S5 AUs were mentioned. Last night I saw the latest prompt and knew exactly what to write.
The very words Merlin had hoped to hear Arthur say for the past nine years—Perhaps my father was wrong; perhaps the old ways aren’t as evil as we thought.*—would have, at any other time, been welcomed with happiness and all the hope for a bright future for him and others like him, but this wasn’t any other time, was it? This was the time when Arthur had asked him what they should do. Should they allow magic?
And the decision Arthur made wouldn’t merely be the result of a random question asked on a sunny outing on the outskirts of Camelot. What was decided—So what should we do? Allow magic or let Mordred die*—wasn’t going to merely either make Merlin’s life easier or more difficult, it was going to either mean the end of the person who was destined to kill Arthur or the continuation of said life. If Merlin answered yes, to make his life easier, he could very well seal Arthur’s fate, but if he said no and condemned himself and others like him to a future of more of the same, he would most assuredly save the life of Arthur.
It was an impossible question for Merlin to answer in their current situation. He couldn’t possibly have been asked for his opinion, yet he had been.
How was one to choose between the thing that made them who they were and the person they loved?
Really, it was an easy decision—had been from the moment Arthur had asked for his opinion—Merlin would choose Arthur every time (he had kept his secret for nine years and could continue to do the same forever if need be). Without Arthur by his side life would have little meaning.
To deny the one thing he had dreamt of since he’d been a little boy listening to his mother pleading with him to curb his urges to ensure his safety was just about killing him.
If Arthur only knew what he was asking…
But he didn’t, did he?
Merlin tried to speak but couldn’t. Arthur was staring at him questioningly and looked as if he were about to say something, but Merlin didn’t wish to hear Arthur speak; he didn’t think he could get through that without betraying his emotions, which were all over the place.
Merlin needed to get it together and force himself to say the only thing that his heart would allow him to say. He could say it. All he needed to do was open his mouth and let the words out.
That was all he had to do.
“There can be no place for magic in Camelot,”* he forced out, believing with every fiber of his being that he was doing the best thing for him, for Arthur, for everyone. But Arthur continued to scrutinize him with such intensity that it very nearly caused the tear that was hanging on to Merlin's eyelash for dear life to fall.
“Merlin," Arthur said softly as he stood and made his way to Merlin’s side and sat down, much too close, his gloved hand hovering over Merlin’s. “I asked you a simple question. As you are my lackey—your words, not mine—I expected a rather succinct answer. Either you would be in the corner of the downtrodden sorcerers whose lives are lived on the fringes of society or you would be adamant that magic could not be allowed because of your loyalty to me.” (Arthur briefly chuckled at this). “What I did not expect was for you to go through a lifetime of emotions and look as if you were being asked to sacrifice your best friend in the world.” Arthur sighed and looked away.
Merlin cringed. Arthur had no idea, and he never would.
Arthur slowly turned his face back toward Merlin and his face looked shattered. “But you aren’t really my lackey, are you? You never have been. You were going to let me go in there and tell them no,” Arthur said, his voice visibly trembling as he covered Merlin’s hand with his. “You were going to sacrifice the part of you that makes you who you are,” hurt in his voice as he lifted his other hand and cupped the side of Merlin’s face. “Why would you do that, Merlin? Why? I don’t understand.”
“Because Mordred is going to kill you, Arthur,” Merlin responded, his face no doubt pale. Arthur knew he had magic? But how? Merlin wanted to ask, but there would be time for that later. “You asked the Triple Goddess to save Mordred and in return they asked you to make magic legal. If Mordred lives he will kill you and I cannot allow that to happen. I will not allow that to happen. You can’t ask me to allow that to happen,” Merlin said, stoically, no tears, his voice strong. He had no idea how Arthur had fathomed him out—it was unexpected—but the how of it really didn’t matter, did it? All that mattered was keeping the man he loved alive.
“Why would Mordred kill me? He is loyal to me and to Camelot. You’ve seen how he is,” Arthur said, looking perplexed as his face searched Merlin's, looking worried.
“It is destined, Arthur; there's a prophecy,” Merlin said, emotion in his voice. He was worried that everything was going very wrong. “I have seen it. I watched Mordred put a sword through your chest.”
“Merlin,” Arthur said, tenderness in his voice, “dreams, prophecies, whatever they are, are just that. I assure you that I am safe with Mordred. Now get yourself together. We need to go answer the Triple Goddess," Arthur said with a small smile on his face as he gave Merlin’s shoulder a squeeze. “And then we will return to Camelot and do something about you being my oaf of a servant. You have always been far more than that and it is time you were recognized as such.” Arthur then stood and reached for Merlin's hand.
“But Arthur, you don’t unders—" he started to say as he allowed Arthur to help him to his feet.
“Shh,” Arthur said, placing two fingers on Merlin’s lips. “Do you wonder why I asked your opinion on such an important matter? Do you really need me to tell you?”
Merlin was shaking. He was petrified. He opened his mouth but Arthur didn't give him a chance to speak.
“I have not shown my hand for you to have your way, Merlin. I have shown my hand because I was tired of not being able to have what I wanted, which was for you to be truly happy in your life with me in Camelot. For that I would die a million deaths, but I think you need not worry about some prophecy. Mordred has no reason to want me dead. You and I are going to save Mordred, make magic legal, and live happily ever after.”
And they did. Magic once again reigned, Mordred continued to be one of Camelot’s most faithful knights, and Merlin and Arthur ruled Camelot together.
* dialogue from 5X05: the Disir