"How's your head?" Gwen asked.
Merlin shrugged, glancing both ways before crossing the street against the light.
"Should we stop for tea?" she suggested.
"I thought you said we had an appointment." Merlin glanced over his shoulder at where Gwen was trailing slightly behind him. She was bundled up against the cold and the wind, and he could barely see her face through her scarf and hat.
"We could get it to go."
Merlin shrugged again and went into a coffee shop at the next corner. He ordered an herbal tea—it was too late in the evening to have caffeine—and waited while Gwen took her usual time to make a decision on what she wanted.
In the end, she ordered a coffee and dumped several heaping spoonfuls of sugar into it. They loitered by the door for a moment, savouring the warmth of the coffee shop and the cups in their hands.
"Ready?" Gwen asked, and Merlin followed her back outside.
They arrived at the address, and Merlin frowned up at the sign.
"Yoga?" he asked, thinking that he was very wrongly dressed for any physical activity.
"Second floor," Gwen said, pointing to another sign.
"A psychic?" Merlin groaned. "Gwen, what—"
"Promise me you'll keep an open mind," she said, giving him an imploring look as she opened the door.
"I'm not promising anything." Merlin followed her inside and up the stairs. She knocked on an unmarked door at the top and then opened it to peek inside.
"Come in," someone said.
Gwen pushed Merlin in first, and he was hit with the overwhelming fumes of incense or too many candles or some kind of ungodly perfume. He was also hit with heat, and he hurried to unwrap his scarf.
"Have a seat," the voice said. Merlin looked around but couldn't see anyone.
He shrugged out of his jacket and sat down on a small yet overstuffed armchair. Gwen sat in the one next to his and looked around, smiling.
"Isn't this cool?" she asked in a whisper.
Merlin sighed and glanced at all the posters of moon phases. There were tapestries hung up as well and fairy lights draped across the ceiling.
His head started to throb, probably from the smells and the poor lighting. He took a sip of his tea and closed his eyes, trying to relax his muscles. He had a tendency to clench his jaw when he was in pain, and that only ever served to make his headaches worse.
Part of him wished he hadn’t taken up Gwen’s invitation to spend the evening together. He’d gotten another invite, from his other best friend Arthur, and surely Arthur wouldn’t have put him to anything like this. They probably would have just ended up on Arthur’s sofa, watching whatever series Arthur was into at the moment, sitting a little too close.
A crying woman appeared from behind one of the tapestries, and she hurried past them and out the door. Merlin could feel her footsteps on the stairs pounding through the floor.
"Now," the voice's owner finally appeared from behind that same tapestry. It was an old man—a very old man. He had countless wrinkles, and his skin hung loose off his face, emphasising that he was really a skeleton underneath it all. He was wearing an impressive array of colours across his trousers and his jumper and the several shawls draped over his shoulders. Merlin didn't know how he wasn't sweating to death under all that.
"How can I help you?" the man asked, settling behind an old wooden desk.
"I booked an appointment," Gwen said, getting up and going over to him. "For my friend here, Merlin. It's for his birthday."
The man looked over at Merlin, and it felt like he was judging Merlin's worth.
Gwen said something else in a low voice, and Merlin watched her handing over some bills. He couldn't believe she was spending her money on this. He couldn't believe this was her gift to him. He couldn't believe she thought he would want this.
"Follow me," the man said, standing up and pulling back the edge of a tapestry.
Gwen smiled encouragingly, and Merlin glared at her as he followed the man to another room. The room was small—stiflingly small considering all the scents—and there was a round table in the centre with two rickety-looking chairs on either side.
Merlin sat down and looked around, but this room wasn't decorated. There was just a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. He got the distinct impression they were in a cupboard.
"I am Kilgharrah," the old man said as he sat down. "And you are Merlin."
"That's what they tell me."
Kilgharrah gave him an indulgent smile. "Good. What would you like to know?"
"I… I don't know," Merlin admitted. "I didn't know what this place was until about five minutes ago. My friend set this up. I have no idea what you do." And I'm not particularly interested to find out, Merlin finished in his head.
Kilgharrah's smile widened like he could read Merlin's mind. "What I do is help people sort through their lives. We can go over your past, sift through the present, or look towards the future—although I am not a fortune teller. If you'd like, we can start with something simple. Here."
He pulled out a deck of cards from under the table and handed them over.
"Shuffle them, cut the deck, and choose one card."
Thinking that Gwen was just as out of her mind as Kilgharrah was if she really thought he would enjoy this, Merlin shuffled the cards, cut the deck, and then chose the top card. The cards were smooth in his hands, sort of matte, and a bit larger than the usual size.
The card he'd chosen read 'Concentric Cirlces' and, above that, there was an illustration of the same.
"Ah," Kilgharrah said as if it made perfect sense. "She said it's your birthday, correct?"
"Mhm. Well, next week.”
"Another year older, another ring around the tree. You have the wisdom of the ages inside of you. You hold memories close to your heart."
"Sure," Merlin said. "Who doesn't?"
"Those who cannot remember or who do not cherish their own past."
Merlin tried to parse some deeper meaning from Kilgharrah's words—everything he said felt so heavy—but it was just nothing. His head throbbed agin, and he drank some more of his tea.
"Now. Is there anything you'd like advice on, anything going on in your life you are struggling with, any choices you are having trouble making?"
The past year of Merlin's life had been focused almost entirely on his headaches, but there was nothing this old man could say that a team of doctors hadn't said already. There was no new wisdom to be gained outside of more scans, more blood tests, more trial medications. There were no decisions to be made without consulting new specialists.
"Or we could do a general reading," Kilgharrah suggestion when Merlin said nothing. "I can tell you where you are right now, what influences from the past are at work, and what may—may—be in store for you next."
Merlin shrugged, and Kilgharrah pulled out a second deck. He handed it over and Merlin shuffled it again. These cards were slicker and he almost dropped a few as he shuffled them. He righted the deck awkwardly, tapping it against the table to even everything out, and then cut the deck into three stacks.
"Pick three cards from a single stack."
Merlin chose the middle stack and picked up the top three cards. He handed them over to Kilgharrah, who closed his eyes as he took them. He went still, holding the cards to his chest, and it looked like he was praying.
Merlin was so uncomfortable. He was sweating, his head was aching, and he had never before been in a situation anywhere close to this before. He had no idea why Gwen had thought this would be a good idea. All he could think of was how much he’d rather be sitting on Arthur’s sofa.
"All right," Kilgharrah said, laying out the cards. He flipped over the one in the middle.
Merlin leaned down to see it better. It depicted a man with eight arms working on some sort of magic trick, or several magic tricks. It was labelled, 'The Magician'.
"You are in control," Kilgharrah said, resting his fingers on the card. "But you lack clarity."
"Clarity about what?" Merlin asked, thinking this whole thing ridiculous. He was very clear in what he wanted—he wanted to be healthy. He wanted to get through a week without a debilitating headache. He wanted to go back to feeling normal.
"What you want," Kilgharrah said, and Merlin fought not to roll his eyes. "You think you know, but you need to go deeper. You need to find the real cause of your current distress and handle that, not the symptoms."
Merlin bit his tongue, wanting to argue the point but not wanting to get into his private life, not wanting to be rude, not wanting to drag this on any longer than it needed to be.
Kilgharrah flipped over the next card. It showed a kindly-looking old man pouring some liquid from a kettle into a cup. It read, 'King of Cups'.
Kilgharrah was silent for a long moment, and Merlin sipped at his tea, wondering what nonsense he going to spout next.
"You've been working to master your emotions," he said. "Have you taken up meditation?"
Merlin had, but it was for his headaches. A side effect was that he often felt calmer, less on edge, less likely to snap.
"Or," Kilgharrah said suddenly. Then, "No. Meditation, yes?"
Merlin nodded begrudgingly.
"Yes. And you are generous to others. Make sure you are getting what you need in return. Your relationships may have been lopsided in the past."
Merlin's last relationship had ended because his partner had been too greedy, too needy, too unwilling to compromise, too ready to accept what Merlin had to offer, too eager to take even more than that.
Merlin sipped at his tea, unwilling to give Kilgharrah any signs that he was close to the truth.
Kilgharrah eyed him for a moment, a smile playing at his lips, and then he flipped over the last card.
It was another Magician. Kilgharrah tilted his head a little.
"Ah. That's from another deck. Must have gotten shuffled in by accident." He plucked the card off the table and put it into his pocket. "Pick another," he said, indicating the middle stack of cards still in front of Merlin.
Merlin chose the top card and handed it over. Kilgharrah held it to his forehead for a moment before placing it next to the others. The card had two naked figures on it, intertwined and close and clutching. It was called, 'The Lovers'.
"This is interesting," Kilgharrah said, smiling. "It speaks to a more balanced relationship than your past ones. A relationship where you are equals. It could be with a friend, it could be with your community, it could even be with yourself… most likely it's with, as the name suggests, a lover. This card is in the future position, so keep it in mind when you look for your next partner. You want someone who doesn't make you choose between your values and the relationship."
Merlin did want that, but he couldn't think of why anyone wouldn't.
"Thoughts?" Kilgharrah prompted.
Merlin had none that he wanted to share. At least not about his love life. Not that he had much of one to speak of. He’d been prioritising his health, and romance had fallen by the wayside. He had his friends, Gwen and Arthur—although sometimes the lines got a little blurred with Arthur. But it was nothing Merlin was planning to pursue. He was just…
He was just lonely. He missed being in a relationship, and Arthur was in close proximity, so of course Merlin’s feelings got carried away. It was simple enough, and once he had his headaches back under control, he would be able to move on and jump back into the dating pool.
And who knows, maybe he’d end up finding someone like Kilgharrah said. Someone who treated Merlin more like an equal, someone who gave as much as he got, someone who didn’t make Merlin feel like he was always being forced to make an active choice to either stay in the relationship or have some inner peace.
"All right." Kilgharrah held out his hand for Merlin to shake, and Merlin shook it, coming out of his thoughts. The room really was very warm. "Then thank you for coming. I hope this has been helpful or at least given you something to think about."
"Sure." Merlin followed Kilgharrah back out to the waiting room where Gwen was doing something on her mobile. "Ready?" he asked, wanting to get out into the fresh air as soon as possible.
"Thank you," Gwen said, giving Kilgharrah a wave as he sat down at the desk.
"Good night," Kilgharrah said.
Merlin gave Gwen a gentle push out the door. He followed her down the stairs and took a gulp of non-scented air as soon as they were back outside.
"Christ, I don't know how he breathes in that all day."
"It wasn't so bad. It was kind of pleasant. Calming, even.” Gwen said. “How was it?"
"Strange. I mean—thank you for the gift. It was very thoughtful."
"I thought it would be fun," she said, frowning a little. "I thought something to keep your mind off everything for a while would be good for you."
Merlin smiled, a genuine one because Gwen had put real thought into his gift, and pulled her in for a hug.
"It was fun," he lied. "Thank you." He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Gwen grinned and began leading the way back to the Tube. "So," she said, knocking her elbow against his, "what did he say? What's in your future?"
"The usual. Tall, dark, and handsome strangers."
"I thought you liked blonds," she teased, and Merlin laughed.
In the morning, Merlin woke up on the sofa. His head had hurt so much by the time he’d got home the night before that he hadn’t even made it into the bedroom.
Sitting up with a groan, Merlin scrubbed his hands over his face. His neck hurt from whatever position he’d slept in. His head didn’t feel great, but it rarely ever did, and it wasn’t so bad as to keep him from getting up and starting his day.
He reached into his pocket for his mobile, thinking it probably needed to be charged, and pulled it out along with a card.
It was the extra Magician card from the psychic’s. The one that had been in the future position before being replaced by the Lovers.
How in the hell had it gotten in Merlin’s pocket?
For a moment, Merlin considered phoning Gwen and getting Kilgharrah’s number so he could return it.
Then he decided to give himself the gift of not worrying about it. He dropped it on his dining room table with all the rest of his important papers and set about getting breakfast.
That night, Arthur came over for another early birthday celebration. Merlin’s head was tense. It felt like his skull was squeezing his brain, or like his brain was growing too large for his skull. Whatever it felt like, it wasn’t good.
But Merlin didn’t want to cancel. He’d cancelled so many plans lately, and he just wanted to try to have a normal night.
“Happy Early Birthday,” Arthur said when he burst into Merlin’s flat. He held his arms out wide, a bottle of wine in one hand and a DVD case in the other. “Fuck, it’s warm in here.”
“It’s perfectly cozy,” Merlin said. “You’ve just been out in the cold.”
“Shut your face,” Arthur said, putting his things down on the table and working to get out of his winter gear. He dropped his coat on the back of a chair and plopped down next to Merlin on the sofa. He sat a little too close, as he always did. “How was it with Gwen?”
“She took me to a psychic.”
Arthur snorted. “Why’d she do that?”
“Honestly? No idea. I think she—” Merlin cut himself off when pain shot across his eye and he briefly lost vision.
“You all right?” Arthur asked quietly.
Merlin closed his eyes and unclenched his jaw. “Fine,” he said, looking over at Arthur with blurry vision. “Sorry. What were you saying?”
“You were—it’s not important. Want to watch Terminator?”
Merlin groaned, and Arthur laughed. They both knew Arthur was the only person Merlin would tolerate Terminator films for, and they both knew Arthur was taking advantage of that, and they both knew Merlin was letting him.
“Do we always have to watch that? There’s plenty of other films out there.”
“It’s tradition,” Arthur said, grinning. Merlin’s vision cleared a little. “Terminator to herald your birthday, Alien to herald mine. It’s the perfect combination.”
Merlin chuckled and let Arthur put in the DVD.
In the morning, Merlin woke up on the sofa, again. Arthur was there with him, his feet disgustingly close to Merlin’s face—although Merlin’s were even closer to Arthur’s. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he was snoring impressively.
He was warm, his body pressed all along Merlin’s, and Merlin would have liked to snuggle closer and appreciate the warmth.
But his head was—
He bolted to the kitchen sink, the closest thing he could think of, and vomited. His head pounded as he did, making it worse, making it much worse, and he clutched the countertops as he tried to stay conscious.
He ran the taps when he was finished, panting, and then sank down to the floor, trying to catch his breath. He could barely think from how much his head hurt.
“Hey,” Arthur said, crouching down and offering Merlin a glass of water.
Merlin shook his head, which was a mistake, and he fought back another round of vomiting.
“Sorry,” he managed.
Arthur stood and turned off the taps. Merlin stayed where he was, rubbing his temples, pressing on his eyes, trying to find some relief.
A minute later, there was an ice pack being pressed to the back of his neck. Merlin sighed and reached up to hold it in place, his fingers brushing against Arthur’s.
“Do you want to get into bed?”
“No,” Merlin said even though he probably should lie down. He just didn’t want to move.
“All right.” Arthur sat down on the floor. “Did I ever tell you about the time I went to a psychic?”
Merlin had to force himself not to laugh. “No. Why’d you go?”
“I’ll give you one guess.”
“Gwen,” Merlin said.
“Bingo. She thought it would be ‘fun’. It was… it was awkward.”
“Because the psychic predicted we’d break up. I mean, obviously she was right, but who actually goes around telling people that?”
“Did she predict your turn to the dark side?”
“If you’re referring to me coming out as gay—no. She did say that Gwen would meet someone new.”
Merlin took a deep breath and looked up. His head throbbed when he blinked.
“Sofa?” Arthur asked.
Arthur grabbed Merlin’s sides and raised him gently until he was standing, then guided him over to the sofa.
“Bin?” Arthur asked.
Arthur grabbed the bin out of the kitchen and set it up next to the sofa.
Merlin let out a weak chuckle. “No.”
“Want me to stay?”
“You don’t have to. You’ve done enough.”
“I don’t mind.”
Merlin shrugged and curled up on his side, closing his eyes against the light coming in through the living room windows. He needed to sleep this off, it was the only thing that would help.
Arthur sat on the other end of the sofa and, massaging Merlin’s feet, hummed him to sleep.
The next week, on a suggestion from one of his doctors, Merlin visited an acupuncturist. He had never tried any ‘alternative’ medicine, and he wasn’t really looking forward to it, but he was getting desperate. He was sick of his headaches ruling his life, ruining his life, and he was willing to try something new.
The practitioner, Gaius, insisted on being called by his first name and had an easy demeanour. He guided Merlin into his office with a smile and explained his business, the aim of his treatment, and what Merlin could expect.
Merlin barely listened. His head was tight, pulling at all his muscles, and all he could hope for was a little bit of relief. He didn’t love the ideas of a bunch of needles being stuck into his face, but he lay down on the table, anyway, ready to see if it would help.
Gaius turned on some soothing music and lit a candle, and Merlin tried not to feel too much like he was visiting a witch doctor or back in the psychic’s shop.
“Ready?” Gaius asked, holding the first needle.
“I guess.” Merlin closed his eyes and ran through his to-do list for the week as Gaius set the needles in place.
When he was done, Gaius held his head in place, rubbing his temples for him. His hands were warm, and it almost felt like he was transferring something from himself into Merlin. The tension in Merlin’s head was easing, leaving behind a gentle feeling of calm.
“Wow,” Merlin said after a few minutes. He felt light. He felt airy. He felt good.
“I’ll leave you for a bit,” Gaius said, setting a small bell in Merlin’s hand. “Ring if you need me.”
Merlin closed his eyes and ran through a meditation, focusing on his breathing, keeping his jaw loose, marvelling in the sensation of floating.
“Merlin,” Gaius said, and Merlin jerked awake. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m…” Merlin paused to take stock. His head didn’t hurt. His head didn’t hurt.. “I’m good. I’m… great?”
“Glad to hear it.” Gaius set about pulling the needles out, then he helped Merlin sit and offered him a glass of water.
“How long will this last?” Merlin asked.
“Impossible to say,” Gaius said with sad smile. “You’re welcome back, of course. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this. Bodies are mysterious creatures.”
“Yeah.” Merlin sipped at his water. He couldn’t believe how normal he felt.
It lasted the rest of the day, but in the morning, Merlin woke up with the usual pain behind his eyes. He sighed up at his bedroom ceiling, wondering what else he could possibly do.
Arthur smoked him up the next weekend, and that usually gave Merlin a reasonable amount of relief. It relaxed him deeply, relaxed all his muscles to the point where he could barely tense them even if he tried, and made him feel like everything would be okay.
Underneath the high, though, he knew that it wasn’t going to be okay. Every doctor he’d seen had been stumped by his headaches. No specialists had the right cocktail to offer him relief. Even the acupuncturist could only offer temporary relief from the pain.
Apparently he didn’t have a tumour, but that didn’t make him feel any better. At least then there would be a known cause and known next steps. As it was, no one knew why he had developed chronic headaches as soon as he’d turned 30, and no one knew how to cure them.
He tried not to think about it, though. He tried to enjoy the weed and Arthur’s company and the fact that he’d made it another year to 31.
“What time were you born?” Arthur asked, taking another hit off the joint. He passed it over to Merlin.
“At night,” Merlin said. “After 9, I think.” He stared down at the joint and watched it burn a little before taking a hit and handing it back to Arthur.
“That’s soon,” Arthur said, checking his watch. “We should do something special.”
“Like go up on the roof.”
Merlin snorted. “We’re not going up there after last time.”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
“No? Whose fault was it, then?”
Arthur sniggered, and Merlin grabbed the joint back to take another hit. He let his fingers brush against Arthur’s, enjoying the sparks that shot through him at the simple touch.
“This is dying,” he said, handing the joint back over. It was barely big enough to hold.
Arthur sucked on it and then stubbed it out on his jeans. “I need a piss,” he said.
“Please don’t do it on my sofa.”
Arthur let out a dramatic sigh. “Okay, fine. Only because you asked so nicely.” He got up with a grunt and disappeared down the hall.
Merlin blinked up at the ceiling, thinking that Arthur really was the best kind of friend. He noticed a particular crack in the ceiling and the way it looked like one of the lines on his palm. He held his hand up to compare, and his hand seemed to be trembling.
He made a fist and then stretched his fingers back out. He’d never developed a tremor from smoking before.
There was a loud crash from the direction of the loo, and Arthur called out, “I’LL FIX IT.”
Merlin opened his mouth to laugh, but then pain slammed into him and he lurched forward, off the sofa and onto his hands and knees. He gasped, pressing his forehead to the floor and trying to breath through it. He opened his mouth again, expecting to be sick, but light poured out of it instead. A bright, warm, blinding light cascading out of his mouth like he was a fountain.
Then it came out of his ears, his nose, then every pore until he was surrounded and overwhelmed and nothing but light. He lost himself in it, letting it take control, until he heard screaming.
Merlin blinked and the light was gone. He was on the floor, curled up on his side, shaking. No, Arthur was shaking him.
“Merlin! Thank Christ, what the hell happened?”
Merlin shook his head. It was heavy, dull, sort of numb, but it didn’t hurt.
“I… I don’t know.” He sat up slowly and leaned against the sofa.
“Was it your head?” Arthur asked, brushing Merlin’s hair off his face and looking into his eyes like he’d find the answer there.
“Yeah. Yeah. What… what did you see when you came in?”
“You on the floor. I thought you were having a seizure.”
“Maybe I did,” Merlin said slowly. “Maybe I should go to hospital.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll drive. Can you get up?”
Merlin nodded but let Arthur pull him up. Arthur wrapped an arm around his waist and guided him out of his flat, down the stairs, and into his car.
“You can’t drive,” Merlin muttered. He felt drunk. He could still feel where Arthur’s hands had been on him. “You’re high.”
“I am extremely sober after that,” Arthur said. He drove quickly, perhaps too quickly, and helped Merlin check in when they arrived.
Merlin woke up the next morning in a hospital bed. He was in a gown, the news was playing on the telly, and Arthur was asleep in the chair next to him.
“There you are,” someone said, and Merlin looked up to see a nurse checking his pulse. “How are you feeling?”
Merlin paused. He felt… he felt fine. His head didn’t hurt, he didn’t feel any residual effects of the pot, he felt exceptionally normal for someone in a hospital bed.
“Good,” he said. “What happened?”
“Your boyfriend said you collapsed.”
Merlin thought back to the night before and remembered the light exploding out of him.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I must have collapsed. I feel fine now, though, can I go back home?”
“We’re waiting on word from your doctor. You have a history of headaches?”
“Yeah. Nothing like this though.”
“We might need to run some tests. It doesn’t seem like there was any lasting damage, though. I’ll get the doctor.”
“You’re awake,” Arthur said as soon as the nurse left.
“So are you,” Merlin said, wondering if he’d overheard Merlin not correcting the nurse on the status of their relationship. “How long have we been here?”
Arthur checked his watch. “About ten hours.”
“Ten hours,” Merlin repeated. “And you’ve just been sitting there this whole time.”
“Like I was going to leave.”
“You could have.”
“I wouldn’t do that. How are you feeling?”
“Exceedingly fine,” Merlin said. “I’d like to go home.”
It took several more hours, some blood tests and a scan, but eventually Arthur was allowed to drive Merlin home.
“Can I get you anything?” Arthur asked as he deposited Merlin into his bed.
“I’m fine,” Merlin insisted. “I’m just tired.”
He wasn’t, but he wanted to be left alone.
“Okay.” Arthur covered Merlin with the covers and brushed his hair off his face again. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
Merlin flushed at the gentle attention. “I’m fine,” he said again. “Honestly. I’m sorry to scare you.”
“Don’t apologise. I’m glad I was there.”
Arthur gazed down at Merlin for a moment, and Merlin fought to keep breathing. Something in Arthur’s gaze made him feel warm all over.
“All right,” Arthur said, the moment broken. “I’ll leave you to rest. Call me as soon as you need anything, okay? I mean it.”
Merlin nodded. “I will. I promise.”
Arthur looked at him again, nodded, and left.
As soon as Merlin heard the front door close, he flung back the covers and got up. He went straight for the living room and sat on the floor where he’d collapsed the night before.
What the hell had happened?
He brushed his fingers over the floorboards, trying to remember what had triggered the attack, trying to think if there was some other memory buried under the light, trying to find some kind of rational explanation.
“Well,” he finally said, “that wasn’t the world’s best birthday.” He wished he could do it over. At the very least, he wished he had a cake.
A cake manifested itself on the floor, and Merlin yelped. He scrambled away from it, his heart pounding.
“What the fuck?” he asked the room. “What the fuck is that?”
The cake just sat there, looking innocent and delicious.
Merlin reached out hesitantly. The cake didn’t move. He touched it, and icing came off on his finger.
“What the actual shit,” he muttered, bringing his finger to his nose and sniffing. It smelled like sugar.
“Fuck it,” he said before licking his finger.
It tasted like icing. For some reason he had expected it to taste like poison.
He picked up the cake and dumped it in the bin.
When Merlin woke up the next morning, it looked like a tornado had come through his room. All his bureau drawers were open, there were clothes and books flung everywhere on the floor, and there was a sheet hanging off the lamp on the bedside table.
Merlin got up slowly and checked that all his important and valuable things were still where they were meant to be. It didn’t look like anything had been stolen. The rest of the flat was untouched.
Wondering if he had somehow done some sleepwalking, Merlin went into the bathroom, and—
He caught his reflection in the mirror, and his eyes were glowing.
They were yellow, like the flames of a fire, and they were definitely glowing.
Merlin squeezed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. When he dared to open them again, they were back to their normal shade of blue.
Merlin sat on the edge of his bathtub and tried to think.
Light had exploded out of him. His room was a mess. His eyes had been glowing.
None of it added up to anything.
His headaches had stopped as well. Maybe the acupuncture had a delayed effect.
Or maybe his non-existent tumour was driving him mad.
Merlin spent the week writing a list of all the strange things happening around him, hoping it would all congeal into something that made a lick of sense.
There was the cake. There was the bedroom tornado. There were the glowing eyes.
After that, there was the casserole in the oven, the living room tornado when he’d fallen asleep on the sofa, the stain suddenly removed from his favourite tie, the flirty text from Arthur.
That last one he wasn’t sure about. It could just be Arthur being Arthur. It could be a fluke. Or it could be Merlin’s desires manifesting themselves again.
“Can I give you some advice you might not want to hear?” Gwen asked.
She looked concerned. Merlin couldn’t blame her. He’d just confided everything—everything—to her. The light, the cake, the tornados, the text from Arthur.
“Do you think I need to get my head checked again?”
“I think you need to realign yourself.”
Merlin frowned. “What, like, visit a chiropractor?”
Gwen smiled and looked around Merlin’s kitchen.
“Sugar’s over there,” Merlin said, pointing towards the counter.
Gwen got up to add sugar to her tea, and then she sat back down with a very business-like expression on her face.
“I think you should go see Kilgharrah again.”
“Who the fuck is Kilgharrah?”
Gwen scoffed. “The tarot reading? Have you completely forgotten?”
“No,” Merlin said, although he had. “What the hell would that accomplish, though?”
“Maybe he can help clarify things.”
“Gwen, he barely made any sense when I was there for my birthday. What makes you think he’ll make any better sense now?”
Gwen shrugged. “What better ideas do you have, then?”
Merlin had none, but he still wasn’t going to go back to see the psychic.
Another week later and Merlin found himself outside of Kilgharrah’s shop, swearing at himself for listening to Gwen, for failing to get his life in order, for even remembering the address of this place.
He walked up the stairs and knocked.
Merlin opened the door and was hit with those smells and that heat. He did his best not to recoil.
“Ah,” Kilgharrah said pleasantly. He was sitting at his desk. “You’re back.”
Merlin pulled the Magician card out of his pocket. “Yes, I… I found this somehow after I was here last time. I wanted to give it back.”
“It’s yours,” Kilgharrah said dismissively.
“I don’t need it.”
Merlin looked down at the card. This magician was simply illustrated. He held one hand up in the air, holding something, and his other hand pointed at the floor. He stood by a table with various instruments of his magic on it, and there was an infinity symbol above his head. He looked powerful. He looked in control.
“You said I needed balance,” Merlin said, remembering.
“Clarity,” Kilgharrah corrected him. “Do you feel you’ve gained any?”
“No,” Merlin said honestly. “I’ve never been this confused before.”
“You’ve gone deeper,” Kilgharrah noted. “You’re sorting through it. You’ll get there.”
“Get where?” Merlin asked, wondering what he was doing, why he was having this conversation, why he thought Kilgharrah could possibly help him.
Kilgharrah stood and led Merlin back in the cupboard. He handed Merlin some cards as they sat, and Merlin shuffled it quickly. He cut the deck and handed over three cards.
Kilgharrah laid them out and took a deep breath before flipping over the middle card.
It was the Magician again. Kilgharrah smiled.
“Do you see?” he asked.
Merlin shook his head. He had no idea what it meant. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to know.
“Clarity will only come when you accept it,” Kilgharrah said as if he had read Merlin’s mind. “You have to want it. You have to want to know.”
“Know what?” Merlin asked, his voice barely there. “That I’m…”
“Yes,” Kilgharrah said like it was the easiest thing in the world.
“I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Kilgharrah said confidently. “It takes time to master.”
“It’s completely outside of my control.”
“You’ll learn in time. You’ll find your purpose.”
“My purpose?” Merlin asked, alarmed. He hadn’t meant for this to turn so deep.
“Its purpose, then.” Kilgharrah turned over another card.
“You’ve had a change,” Kilgharrah said, unperturbed by the dead woman depicted on the card. “I think we both know what that change was. It was a big one. This is a Major Arcana card. That means it relates to the big picture. The Magician as well. They paint a broader picture of your life. You’re the Magician. A change has led to you this place.”
Merlin had a hard time hearing the recent strangeness described as a simple ‘change’.
Kilgharrah flipped over the last card, and it showed a woman looking down, holding two swords crossed over her face.
“You have a decision to make.”
“About what? I haven’t been able to make any decisions thus far. Suddenly I get a say in this?”
Kilgharrah hummed thoughtfully and then picked up another card from the deck.
“Ah,” he said happily. He set the card down. It read, ‘Two of Cups’ and had two hands on it, the pinkies linked in an intimate moment. “Your decision is about love. Remember last time, when the future position held the Lovers?”
“The time has come to make the choice. Act or do not act, but make the choice. Do not let indecision make it for you.”
Merlin thought about the text from Arthur, the looks from Arthur, the everything from Arthur that he had been sweeping under the rug for so long.
“What should I do?” he asked, staring down at the cards. “What’s going to happen?”
“The cards won’t tell you that. They are simply telling you to act. What you do is up to you. The outcome can’t be predicted. You need to follow your instincts.”
“My instincts are telling me I’m this,” Merlin said, pointing to the Magician, unwilling to say it out loud yet.
“You are. You know you are.”
“I don’t know anything,” Merlin insisted.
Kilgharrah gave him an indulgent smile. “You do. You will. These things take time. In the meanwhile,” he tapped on the last two cards, “there are other things you can focus on.”
Merlin sighed and looked down at the spread of cards again.
He had magic. His headaches had come and gone, changing his life, bringing him the magic, leaving him to figure it out on his own. And Arthur. Always there in the background, tugging at Merlin’s mind, making him think, making him want.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Kilgharrah chuckled. “No one is ever sure, Merlin. That’s life.”
Merlin sighed but had to accept that as the answer. “How much do I owe you?”
Kilgharrah shook his head. “Nothing. Consider it a late birthday present.”
“I can’t let you do that.” Merlin reached for his wallet. “How much?”
Kilgharrah waved his hand dismissively. “I won’t accept your money, Merlin. Just promise me you’ll make your decision.”
“I’ve made it.”
“Good. Then go.”
Merlin bit his lip as he stood outside Arthur’s building, waiting to be buzzed in. He tried not to think about what he was about to do, tried not think about the outcome he wanted, tried not to manifest his desires in this way.
Arthur buzzed him in. He took the stairs two at a time up to the third floor and knocked on the door to Arthur’s flat.
“Hey,” Arthur said when he opened the door. “What’s the occasion?”
“I wanted to check something,” Merlin said as he stepped inside.
Arthur closed the door. “Check what?”
“Check—that text you sent…”
Arthur went red. “I was drunk. I’m sorry. That was out of line.”
Arthur avoided his gaze. “It was.”
“Because I was—“ Merlin paused, almost losing his nerve. “I was hoping you meant it.”
Arthur looked up slowly, his face still flushed. “You… were?”
Merlin licked his lips, his heart racing. “I’ve been having a strange couple of weeks. But… I can’t stop thinking about that text, about you, about the possibility of… this isn’t new since my birthday, right?”
Merlin gestured between them, hoping. “Whatever this is. It’s been going on a while, yeah?”
“Then I think we should act on it.”
Arthur let out a nervous chuckle. “You do.”
“Yes. Unless… unless you don’t want to.”
Arthur shook his head quickly. “No, I do. I do.”
They stood there awkwardly, gazing at each other and letting the moment grow.
Then Merlin stepped forward and kissed Arthur. Arthur’s breath hitched, and he brought one hand up to cup Merlin’s cheek.
“Merlin,” he whispered, and Merlin pulled back. “What are your eyes doing?”
“I don’t know,” Merlin said. “It’s…”
“It’s beautiful,” Arthur said, and he pulled Merlin in for another kiss.