Characters: Merlin, Gaius
Spoilers: Yes - for Season 2, Episode 8
Disclaimer: these characters are not mine, I'm just meddling
Summary: an alternative final scene to "Sins of the father"
The door hadn’t quite closed, and Merlin’s heartbeat hadn’t slowed to anywhere near its normal pace, when Gaius appeared.
“Was that Uther I saw leaving?” Merlin said nothing, continuing to stare fixedly at the door, the king’s final words ringing in his head. “What did he want?” Gaius persisted, “And, more’s the point, what did you say to him, Merlin?”
“He came to thank me,” Merlin said dully, “for becoming a trusted ally in the war against magic. And I said nothing,” he paused, his eyes finally meeting his mentor’s, “you taught me better than you knew.”
He didn’t miss the flash of hurt in Gaius’ expression, the slight tightening of the old man’s mouth as he absorbed it, stored it away in that repository of pain and lies and secrets that was Gaius’ soul since he sold it to Uther. Merlin loved Gaius, with a passion he’d never had the opportunity to bestow on a father, but sometimes he thought he hated him in equal measure – he and the master who didn’t deserve such loyalty.
Merlin turned away, dropped bonelessly onto a stool like a puppet with its strings cut. After a moment, Gaius joined him, easing his stiff limbs onto the stool opposite and pushing a goblet into Merlin’s cold hands. Merlin sniffed at it, one eyebrow rising in surprise at the smell of wine. He looked up.
“You looked like you could use it,” Gaius supplied. “Do you think Uther knows, Merlin?”
Merlin took a swig of the wine, shuddering slightly as the bitter liquid hit the still-raw back of his throat. “I don’t know... I don’t think so. Surely, if he did, he would have me hanged now, instead of threatening to do it if I ever breathe a word of what passed between him and Arthur?”
He watched Gaius store that little bit of information away before he spoke. “I’m sure you’re right, but nevertheless you must be even more careful, Merlin. What you know makes you a danger to Uther, and the fact that his son listened to you, not to him, even more so.”
Merlin’s mouth twisted into something between a smile and a grimace. “Listened to my lies instead of his father’s, you mean? I’m no better than the king.”
A gnarled hand closed over his, dry and tight. “Merlin, you are as different from Uther as day is from night. You lied out of love – from the desire to spare Arthur the terrible burden of his father’s murder, to see him become the man, the king, you know he can be. Uther lies for fear of his past mistakes overtaking him, and of losing the only thing of value in his present.”
Merlin shook his head, his vision blurring for what seemed like the hundredth time in these last few empty hours. He wanted to weep, to scream, to hurl fire and thunder until the tissue of deceit and weakness that was Camelot was razed to the ground, and then to build the kingdom anew, into a place that was worthy of Arthur’s goodness. But he could do nothing, was as impotent as the old man before him.
“My motives make no difference,” he forced the words out. “I lied to Arthur...again. I reinforced the prejudices his father wants him to live by. And I...I destroyed the memories of his mother that Arthur has longed for all his life. How can he ever forgive me for everything I have hidden from him?” Merlin looked up at Gaius, his eyes brimful, “How can he ever accept me for who I truly am and still want me at his side?”
Gaius rose slowly and laid a hand on Merlin’s head. “You must believe,” he began, his eyes burning into Merlin’s, and for a moment the younger man glimpsed the sorceror the older must once have been, “that Arthur’s decency and integrity will prevail. That when his eyes are opened, he will see the whole truth and be wise enough to accept it.
“And until that day comes, you must never doubt that he is worthy of your devotion.” The hand in Merlin’s hair tightened, fingernails scraping lightly against his skull, before it withdrew and Gaius shuffled slowly away towards his workbench.
The words were so soft Merlin could never be sure, afterwards, if he had heard them correctly.
“I pray to the gods that, for you, it proves true.”