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Two Hearts

By sneetchstar

Romance / Drama

Chapter 1

"If I lose her, I lose everything," Arthur whispers. He feels like all the air has been sucked from his lungs. He feels like someone has punched him in the gut with a fist the size of a boulder. He feels like emptying the contents of his stomach onto the ground.

Betrayed. Again. By the person who can hurt him the most.

If Arthur Pendragon harbored any thoughts about possible goodness lingering within his half-sister, Morgana, they have all been quite effectively dashed.

"Arthur, we need to go before we are discovered," Merlin prompts, snapping him from his stupor.

Arthur ignores him, his expression closed off and eyes fixed on the two women. His hand slowly reaches for his sword.

"No," Merlin's hand on his arm stills him. "If you kill Morgana, you won't get Gwen back. Come."

Arthur follows Merlin, his feet stepping one after the other without thought, without purpose, two questions pounding in his head over and over.



He knows the 'why'. He has a pretty good idea about the 'how' as well.

But, knowing these things doesn't make the situation any better. It doesn't erase the pain, which feels like a hundred swords piercing his heart.

His love, his wife, his Guinevere, made into a puppet by Morgana.

"How long have you known?" Arthur quietly asks once they are far enough away from the women.

"Since you were poisoned," Merlin answers.

Arthur stops walking. "That was over a week ago! Why didn't you say anything?"

Merlin levels him with a look. "Would you have believed me? On my word alone?"

Arthur opens his mouth to answer "yes," but a raised eyebrow from Merlin stops the word before it exits his mouth. He frowns. "And that attempt on my life during the Sarrum's visit?" he asks instead.

Merlin nods, confirming Gwen-not-Gwen was behind it. "Come on. We need to talk to Gaius."

Arthur falls into step beside Merlin.

"Every time I've been missing during the last few days…" Merlin starts.

"You've been following Guinevere," Arthur finishes.

"Yes. Learning her patterns. Finding out to where she's been sneaking off when she says she's going to visit a sick citizen or 'just be alone to think about Elyan'. I was watching her every move because I knew you needed proof."

"You're sure she never saw you?" Arthur asks, skeptical. Merlin nods. "Stealth has never been a strong suit of yours," he adds.

"You'd be surprised," Merlin answers. His voice comes out a little more foreboding than he intends, so as a distraction, he intentionally trips.

"Honestly," Arthur huffs.

They walk in silence the rest of the way to the castle.

"Merlin," Arthur says, just outside the doors, "thank you. I know this couldn't have been easy."

"You're welcome, Sire," Merlin says. He quickly ducks his head and goes inside. We'll see just how grateful he truly is.

"What can be done?" Arthur asks, walking with Merlin through the corridors. Merlin grabs his elbow and pulls him in the direction of Gaius' quarters instead of the royal chambers. "Oh... good idea," Arthur mutters. He does not know when Guinevere will return from her rendezvous and is in no frame of mind to see her.

"Gaius and I have been doing some research," Merlin says. He opens the door and Arthur steps inside.

"Ah," Gaius says, hearing them enter. He turns around and sees their grim faces. "So, it is true," he sighs.

Arthur sinks into a chair, covering his face with his hands, exhausted and heartsick. Merlin pours some water into a mug and places it on the table beside Arthur.

A couple of silent, tense minutes later, Arthur lifts his head. "How do we bring her back?" he asks, his voice uncharacteristically weak. "Merlin said you've been doing some research?" He looks hopefully at Gaius.

Gaius purses his lips and exchanges a meaningful look with Merlin. Then, he walks over and sits in the chair situated in front of Arthur. He sighs heavily. "Sire, as you know, Morgana is a High Priestess of the Old Religion," Gaius starts. "And, as such, she is one of only two remaining people who are truly well-versed in the Old Ways. When I was younger, I learned of a... a horrible spell called the Teina Diaga. It was taught only to female practitioners, so my knowledge of it is limited."

"Please. Tell me what you know," Arthur says. He finally reaches over and takes a drink of the water Merlin has poured for him. He glances up and sees his servant hovering in the background, thoughtfully frowning.

"It was an ancient ritual involving the use of mandrake roots to torture the victim's mind until there was almost nothing left. When it was over, the victim's will was not his own. Or, in this case, her own. Guinevere's body has become a nearly-empty vessel, filled with Morgana's will."

Arthur pales and hangs his head, sick with the thought of the torture his beloved wife had endured at the hands of his sister. They were friends once. How could she do this? "Do you know how to reverse this?" he asks, not looking up. His tone is bleak.

Gaius says nothing for a long minute. "I do not."

The three men sit in silence, hopelessness hanging heavily in the air. Without warning, Arthur slams his fist on the tabletop, causing some water to leap out of his mug.

"What if I told you I can help Gwen?" Merlin says. His voice is low, but it rings out in the quiet room.

Gaius suddenly turns and looks at Merlin, shocked. "Merlin, no..."

"This is no time for jokes, Merlin," Arthur snaps.

"I'm not joking."

"What are you talking about then?" Arthur asks.

"Merlin..." Gaius pleads, standing and crossing to him. "This is the worst possible time," he whispers.

"I know. But, you know as well as I do I'm the only one who can do this... I just have to figure out how," Merlin says. He steps around Gaius and moves to sit in front of Arthur.

"Merlin, what nonsense are you talking about? You can help Guinevere?"

"Yes, Arthur, I think I can. I have to find out exactly how, but... I may be the only person who can help her."

Arthur's brow knits in confusion. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"I know this is an awful time to tell you, but... I no longer have a choice. I can help Gwen. I can bring her back. I'm the only one who can..."

"Merlin!" Arthur yells, frustrated. "Get to the point!"

"I'm a sorcerer, all right?" Merlin yells back. It is deathly silent for a few seconds. Then, he continues in a softer tone, looking at his feet. "I have magic, Arthur. I was born with it." Merlin takes a deep breath. "And, I've been using it for years, always to help you."

Gaius walks over. Merlin is still looking down. Gaius hears him quietly sniffle and sees his hand come up to swipe his face. Arthur's face is a mask of disbelief and confusion, his eyes flicking between Merlin and Gaius.

"Sire, what Merlin says is—"

"You knew," Arthur says incredulously, looking at Gaius.

"Yes, Sire. I am sorry, but... I made a promise to his mother, and..."

"So, both of you have been lying to me for close to ten years now." Arthur's voice wavers slightly as he struggles to absorb the second bomb dropped on him tonight.

"What would you have us do, Arthur?" Merlin asks, looking up. "Magic is against the laws of this land. So, you can throw me in the dungeons if you wish, execute me if you must, but I'll be of no help to you if you do," Merlin's voice is steady, but his face is pained and Gaius fully realizes exactly how heavy this years-long burden has been for Merlin to bear.

Arthur finally looks at him and Merlin almost wishes he hadn't. "Show me," he says, his voice cold, emotionless.

"Sh-show you?"

Arthur leans back in his chair, his face distant, almost arrogant. "Yes. If you're a sorcerer, which I'm only choosing to consider because I know you wouldn't joke about something this serious involving my wife, I still want proof. Show me something."

Merlin looks at Gaius, who simply shrugs. Then, he looks around and sees the spilled water on the table. He fixes the small puddle in his gaze, his eyes flash, and the water rises from the table. It is a transparent orb shimmering in the candlelight, hovering in the air. Then, the liquid pours back into the mug, delicately trickling in like an inverted teardrop.

Arthur stares at the mug. Then, he looks at Merlin. His face is like stone, but his eyes are filled with pain. Merlin swallows, waiting for the explosion. The last time I saw Arthur this upset was when he banished Gwen.

"Arthur," he calmly says, "I'm still the same person I've always b—"

Arthur leaps out of his chair with a roar and flips the table over on its side. Pots and vials crash to the floor and his mug flies in a trajectory across the room. Water, herbs and the gods only know what else are everywhere. Merlin jumps to his feet and Gaius steps back, eyes wide with surprise and concern.

"Don't!" he yells. "Just— don't." Arthur holds his hand up. "Don't you dare tell me you're the same person! I don't... I can't... Lies, Merlin! All around me, all the time! Morgana, Agravaine, my father, Guinevere... now, you? You, Merlin? And you, Gaius?" He turns his gaze to Gaius, who simply drops his head. He knows there is nothing he can say in his defense that hasn't already been stated.

Arthur picks up the chair in which he was sitting and throws it hard on the ground. It splinters into several pieces.

A knock sounds at the door. Gaius rushes to answer, only opening the door as much as necessary.

"Is all well, Gaius? I heard a crash. And just now, another," Sir Percival asks, trying to peek through the opening.

"Yes, yes, just a little accident, Percival, thank you for your concern. No one is injured. All is well," Gaius answers.

"Are you certain? Shall I send someone to assist you in cleaning up?" the knight asks.

"No, no, it's fine. Merlin's here," Gaius says.

"Ah. Very well. Good evening, then."

"Good night," Gaius says.

As he closes the door, he clearly hears Percival muttering to himself, "Strange night..."

When Gaius turns around, he sees Arthur and Merlin have not moved, still standing about ten feet apart, facing each other. Arthur is red-faced and trembling, regarding Merlin with the wary anger of a cornered predator. Merlin is breathing hard, but stands his ground, holding Arthur's murderous gaze.

"All..." Arthur's glare intensifies, and Merlin briefly falters, then soldiers on. "All I want is to bring her back to you. Restore her to herself. I love Gwen like a sister, you know that, and it's killing me almost as much as it's killing you to know she's under Morgana's control," Merlin says. His heart is pounding, but he knows he must stand his ground or Gwen is lost to them forever. And, he cannot allow that to happen to Arthur, or to Gwen. Not when he can do something to make it right again.

"You have no idea how I feel," Arthur growls. He isn't yelling anymore, but his voice is low and tremulous, as though he's just barely hanging on to his self-control.

"I know exactly how you feel and you know it," Merlin snaps, taking a step forward. "I may be your servant, but I'm also the closest thing you have to a friend, a brother, even. At least, I was up to about five minutes ago," he sighs. "Gwen is your compass, Arthur, and now that you know she's not herself, you feel lost. Adrift in a sea of pain with no one to show you the way. You also feel like you've been stabbed in the heart."

For a moment, Arthur says nothing, not acknowledging Merlin is precisely correct. "You are not my brother," he spits. "My brother would not betray me this way. My brother would not stomp on my heart after it's just been torn from my chest," he growls, gathering a head of steam. He starts moving forward. "My brother would not have spent the last ten years of his life constantly lying to me!" he roars, hurtling towards Merlin.

"Damn it, Arthur, throw me in the dungeon if you must, but let me do what I must to bring Guinevere back to you!" Merlin sharply says, holding his ground. He doesn't budge. Does not even flinch as the king charges at him.

Arthur stops abruptly, almost physically struck by Merlin's words. Guinevere. This is about Guinevere. His face is still tight with anger, only now, a tear slips out and rolls down his cheek. He furiously swipes it away.

"Arthur," Merlin continues, "I know how angry you are. But, think of Gwen. Your Guinevere. You can't lose her, not again."

Gaius' eyes widen in surprise at Merlin's audacity. The queen's banishment is the one topic that is never discussed. Ever.

"You are already on extremely thin ice, Merlin..." Arthur warns.

"So, kill me then," Merlin says, stepping even closer to Arthur. "Kill me and you won't get your wife back. When you lost her last time, it nearly broke you. No one knows that more than me. You can deny it all you want, but you know perfectly well that I'm right. You need Guinevere. We all do. Like we said when we went to rescue her: she's our queen, our friend, our sister." A few tears slip from Merlin's eyes now and he allows them to fall unchecked. He doesn't care. "Until we lift this curse, you need me, too."

"Don't you dare ask me to trust you, Merlin. Not now," Arthur says. "You know how much pain the use of magic has caused in my life. How many lives it has taken from me."

"I do know, Arthur, and I hate to say this, but you don't really have a choice. You're going to lose Gwen because of magic as well if you don't let me use my magic to save her. Sorcery must be fought with sorcery. I am the only person strong enough to bring her back to you who is also willing to help you."

Arthur ponders his words, conflicted. Merlin's right. I'll be breaking my own laws, but without Guinevere... His skepticism returning, Arthur asks, "You're that powerful? You?"

"Arthur," Gaius quietly says, stepping over, "you know my history. I'm an old man and have experienced many things. Believe me when I say Merlin is, without question, the most powerful sorcerer I have ever seen."

Arthur stares at Merlin a moment, then looks at Gaius. "More powerful than Morgana?"

"I believe so," Gaius says. "Merlin doesn't always believe in his own abilities, but... the things I have seen him accomplish, Sire..."

Arthur holds his hands up, walking away from them. "Enough. Enough... I can't... I can't take any more... secrets tonight."

Gaius can see Merlin is getting as frustrated with Arthur as Arthur is with him and decides to try a different approach. "Know this, my lord: if not for Merlin, you would have been killed many times by now," Gaius says.

"I've only ever used my magic to help you, Arthur. To protect you. Every time I've said I was protecting you or would protect you, you always laughed it off, but... you have no idea how true those words really were." Merlin walks over to Arthur, standing behind him. "This is my destiny, just as it is your destiny to be a great king. I didn't choose this path any more than you chose yours. I have devoted my life to your service, Arthur. That includes protecting those you love. Like Guinevere."

Arthur turns around and looks at Merlin. Most of the anger has melted, but the hurt is still very much present. He sighs heavily, as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders. I cannot process all of this right now. Guinevere. We need to help Guinevere. "What do we need to do?" he asks, his face grim.

Merlin looks at Gaius, then back at Arthur. "I don't know... yet."

Arthur makes an exasperated sound, throws his hands up, and stalks away.

"But, he can find out," Gaius chimes in. "As I said, Morgana is one of two women well-versed in the old ways. Merlin knows where the other can be found."

Merlin looks up. "I do?"

"You do. And she will not be pleased to see you, I'm afraid."

"Who?" asks Arthur, turning around. "Who is this sorceress?"

Merlin sighs. "The Dochraid. She's a... Gaius, what is she?"

"She is a powerful witch and supporter of the return of the Old Ways. She will not give her help willingly."

"Of course," Arthur says, slumping into the unbroken chair.

"I'll do what I have to in order to save Gwen, Arthur," Merlin says. "I do not fear the Dochraid. I will leave at first light and not return until I know how to break the spell holding Gwen captive."

Arthur contemplates Merlin another moment, then stands, walking to the door. He pauses and turns. "So we're clear: I'm doing this for Guinevere. The topic of your deceit – and yours," he says, raising an eyebrow at Gaius, "will be addressed. After my wife is safely returned to herself."

"Understood," Merlin says and Gaius nods.

Arthur strides to the door, then turns back. "Merlin."

"Yes, my lord?"

"If you fail, it's your head."

"Yes, my lord."

Arthur takes the longest route possible back to the royal chambers, heartsick and reeling from all that he has learned tonight.

He mindlessly walks until he faces a dead end, not realizing his feet have carried him there. He turns and continues walking, no longer with a destination, but avoiding everyone, turning down empty corridors whenever he hears footsteps.

When he finally reaches his rooms, he quietly slips inside, praying Guinevere is already in bed. He doesn't much care if she's actually sleeping or feigning sleep, so long as he doesn't have to face her. He's so distressed right now he wouldn't be able to keep it from her. Even enchanted, she can still read me like a book.

The room is silent apart from the soft crackle of dying embers in the fireplace. He sees Guinevere's still shape in bed and softly exhales, relieved. He slides his feet out of his boots and quietly changes into his sleepwear.

I won't rest much. How can I sleep beside someone who wants me dead? She could smother me with a pillow while I sleep.

He pauses at the bedside, gazing down at her, his chest tight. His heart feels like it is knotted together with his stomach. She looks so innocent, so perfect. I cannot believe... no, remember it's not truly her. Morgana is ruling her mind. He thumbs away another errant tear and slips into bed as gently as he can, trying not to jostle her.

"Arthur?" her soft voice interrupts his thoughts. "Where were you?" She sounds like she has just woken, but Arthur now knows she is an excellent actress. He has no way of knowing if she was actually asleep or not.

"There was a matter with a prisoner that needed attention," Arthur lies. "Nothing with which you need to be concerned." He tries to keep his voice gentle, to not give away the deep hurt he is feeling.

"At this hour?"

"Unfortunately, I don't get to stop being king because the sun goes down," he answers.

Guinevere rolls over and cuddles against his side, resting her head on his shoulder. Arthur tries not to stiffen, willing his body to be relaxed, as if his wife isn't the soulless puppet of his evil half-sister. After a moment's hesitation, he even wraps his arm around her small shoulders, like he always does.

"All right," she mumbles sleepily. "Love you," she says.

Her words cut him deeper than any blade, but he answers, "I love you, too, Guinevere."

Guinevere's words may be false right now, but Arthur's are as true as ever.

Arthur spends the rest of the night pondering the canopy over their bed, wide awake, one thought playing over and over in his head.

I need her back. Whatever the cost.

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