Spoilers: All of Series 1
Word Count: 16,490 words
Summary: On a hunting trip, Arthur discovers more things about Merlin and himself than he is ready to admit.
Disclaimer : This is a work of fanfiction – none of this ever happened. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is made from this work. Please observe your local laws with regards to the age-limit and content of this work.
Author's Note: First, a big thank you to the mods for running this fest! Then, a second one to L for being a fast, super classy (and strict!) beta. Without you this fic wouldn't be half as good as it is now.
Dear lizardspots, hopefully this fic is what you envisioned when you put up your list of requests. A lot of effort was put in to make it into something you might like and hopefully that's happened. Happy Solstice!
Merlin hadn't felt this good in quite a while. At least, not since leaving his own village and arriving at Camelot. Because, let's face it, he'd had a hard time dealing with Arthur, King Uther's son, and then becoming the Prince’s manservant. Not to mention the Dragon's talk about destinies and the two of them doing great things together.
The only good thing about it had been Gaius, who'd taken him in and had given him a place to stay.
Strangely enough, after a while, Arthur had grown on Merlin and he found himself willing to risk things for the prat. Although, what he had not expected was to be able to risk his life for Arthur as he had repeatedly done. Yes, some things he had done in the heat of the moment and without thinking, but facing Nimueh and stating that he was going to exchange his life for Arthur's was something he would not have expected to do when he met the Prince.
What Merlin could not understand was why, days later after everything was over, he was awake in bed thinking of Arthur instead of sleeping. The last couple of days Merlin had barely slept, thinking of Arthur, of how the Prince had not understood him when he had said goodbye and how Merlin wished he had.
Then, finally, he realised he needed to tell Arthur. He was tired of lying to someone he considered a friend and Arthur knew Merlin would never hurt him, didn't he? Merlin did not like the part about Arthur lying to Uther, but things would be better if he confessed. Maybe he'd even be able to sleep again.
With that in mind, Merlin drifted off.
During breakfast the next morning, Merlin tried to work out a plan on how and when to tell Arthur. It needed to be somewhere out of earshot of the rest of Camelot, as he could not take the risk of someone overhearing and telling Uther. If that happened, he knew he wouldn't live to see Arthur's acceptance nor his next birthday.
Whilst Merlin was thinking it all over, Gaius walked in, already having been on one of his potion delivering trips. "Ah, Merlin, you're up. Good. Can you take this bottle," he held up a small black bottle, "to Lady Morgana? And then, once you've done that, take this one," he held up a larger, green bottle, "to Joseph, the smithy's apprentice? They are both waiting for them and know that you'll deliver them."
Merlin nodded. He'd finished all of his work for Arthur the evening before and had already taken the items he'd washed and cleaned back to the castle before he went to sleep. After finishing his breakfast, he took the bottles and made his way up to Morgana's rooms. Having delivered her potions before, he could find the way without getting lost and this gave him time to look out through the windows over the fields or, like today, think about... things, like what he was planning to do and how he was going to do it.
Standing in front of Morgana's rooms, he knocked firmly and waited for her to call him inside them. Gwen opened the door and smiled when she saw him. Merlin returned the smile and then, handed over the black bottle.
“I’m bringing this for Lady Morgana from Gaius," he said and Gwen nodded.
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Merlin. How are-" Just then, Morgana called out for Gwen to come and help her and with an apologetic smile, Gwen turned away.
“Go. We'll talk later," Merlin said and, with a small wave of his hand, turned to leave. He had another bottle to deliver after all.
“Bye, Merlin," Gwen called before she closed the door.
The smithy's apprentice was a short boy that had been a very ill child, but nowadays, despite his size, was strong and healthy except for some fits he had whenever he overworked himself.
The sound of the forge still reminded Merlin of Tom, Gwen's father and consequently made him both bitter and sad. When he entered the forge, Joseph was nowhere in sight, so he left the bottle with the smith, who promised to give it to him and then headed to Arthur's bedchamber.
When Merlin arrived, Arthur was already dressed in hunting gear and moving restlessly about.
“We’re going hunting."
Merlin almost rolled his eyes.
“Good morning," said Merlin as if he had not heard anything,"Didn't sleep well, did you?"
Arthur threw a murderous look in Merlin's direction.
“Are you done talking? Is my armour ready?"
Merlin did roll his eyes this time.
“Yes, Sire. It's been ready since yesterday when I placed it there," Merlin pointed at the chest where he had left it.
"I should send you to the stocks for being so insolent."
Merlin smirked; lately he spent less and less time in the stocks.
Arthur decided to have breakfast, made Merlin help him put his armour on and told him to grab everything they were going to need, which included bedrolls and food for a couple of days. Merlin didn't know what had happened, but it had made Arthur very angry.
While he was gathering everything Arthur had ordered him to assemble, Merlin quickly looked in on Gaius and told him that he'd be away for as long as Arthur wanted to go hunting. Gaius nodded and warned him to be careful with a meaningful look and then cheerfully sent him on his way.
Meeting Arthur at the stables, Merlin had all their provisions and necessities packed in bags and quickly attached them to the horses' saddles. After Arthur had carefully checked that everything was in order, they were on their way. Arthur's mood only seemed to have worsened during the time Merlin had been away, so he decided it was wisest to just stay behind him and follow in silence. As he walked behind Arthur, Merlin reflected that he usually seemed to walk behind him. At first, it hadn't set well with him, but lately he didn't mind so much. The reason why exactly wasn't clear to him yet and he decided he'd have to think about that one day. When he had a bit of time and Gaius or Arthur weren't bossing him around.
Now that he had opened himself up to his magic, it was as if he saw and felt hints of it everywhere he went. Sometimes it took a lot of effort to not let others in on what was happening, like now when he looked around him and saw magic swirl around flowers, trees and even the animals that scurried about on the forest's floor.
He must've made some noise because Arthur looked around, annoyed. "What?" he snapped.
“Nothing, I think something just flew into my face,” Merlin answered; by now he was rather good at finding something to say whenever this kind of thing happened. "Can I ask where we're going? Just, you know, out of curiosity."
Arthur's glare was answer enough so Merlin satisfied himself with looking around and trying to identify all the animals he saw.
They rode until lunch, when they stopped to eat some bread and cheese. Afterwards, Arthur tried to hunt while Merlin trailed along and distracted most of the animals just by walking quietly.
After lots of complaints, Arthur managed to kill a couple of rabbits and afterwards, after they had ridden a bit more, Merlin prepared one of them for dinner and roasted it in a roaring fire. The night was not too cold yet, but Merlin placed their bedrolls near the fire, because he knew the morning dew would come with cold. Fortunately, they had camped by a crag that would protect them from the wind.
“Why is my roll by the fire?" asked Arthur. "Do you want me to roast myself?"
“Well, I would have put you on the side of the rock, but you would have complained about hitting the rock in your sleep."
“Are you implying that I'm always complaining?"
“More like saying it," said Merlin as he began to move Arthur's roll by the crag.
“What are you doing?"
“Moving your bedroll..."
"Did I say I wanted my bedroll moved?" Arthur asked haughtily.
Merlin sighed and silently counted to ten. Given Arthur's mood, he'd soon be counting to thirty.
“Okay, just so I don't keep moving the bloody bedroll back and forth," he said, taking a deep breath. "Where would you like it?"
Arthur seemed to give it a lot of thought before eventually saying, "By the fire is fine, Merlin."
Cursing under his breath, Merlin moved the bedroll back to the fire and then checked on the rabbit. He handed a piece of meat to Arthur and then took another for himself. They ate in silence, giving Merlin opportunity to stealthily check on Arthur's facial expression. That usually told him which way his mood was going. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be changing anytime soon. Bugger.
They spent their meal in silence, with Merlin getting increasingly morose with each passing moment. Eventually, it had become too dark to see anything and with a sigh, Merlin lay down on his bedroll. He'd placed them near to each other, with a bit of space in between. They'd be warmer this way, too.
Merlin loved the sounds of the forest and found them soothing. He soon drifted off to sleep, noticing the fact that Arthur was tossing and turning a bit (well, as much as was possible on a mere bedroll) but found he was too tired to give it a lot of thought. He'd find out the next morning.
Merlin opened his eyes and saw Arthur shaking him. It was still dark and Arthur seemed as annoyed as he had been when they had fallen asleep. Fortunately, there was no sign of danger around them.
“What?" he said sleepily.
“Will you move?" said Arthur, sounding exasperated.
Merlin sat up and only then realised that, even though there was a bit of distance between them, his foot was over Arthur's shin.
“Uh... Sorry," said Merlin removing his limb from Arthur's leg, rolled away from him and drifted off to sleep immediately. He barely remembered wondering why Arthur's breathing seemed so agitated.
It seemed as if only two minutes had passed before Arthur woke him up again.
“‘Top shoving me,” a sleepy Merlin managed to complain.
Merlin squinted and saw Arthur's face inches away. Why was he so near? Why was Arthur's shoulder so comfortable?
“Let me sleep," Merlin said rubbing his chin on Arthur's shoulder, which provoked a noise from the prince.
"Oh, no. You're not sleeping like that," said Arthur shoving him and finally getting to wake up an annoyed Merlin.
“You could have asked. There was no need to be so forceful."
Arthur rolled his eyes and turned his back on Merlin. This time it took him longer to fall asleep, and he could tell Arthur was awake too, carefully evening his breath by the sound of it.
The third time Merlin woke that night, Arthur was asleep but tossing, turning and moaning softly. Without thinking, Merlin shook him awake, and was startled by the intensity of those eyes on him.
“Merlin," this time it was a surprised whisper. He was breathing harshly and that led Merlin's eyes to Arthur's lips.
“You were having a nightmare," said Merlin forcing himself to look upwards.
Something flashed in Arthur's eyes and he looked angry again. He stood up in a jerky movement and walked away.
“Wait. Where're you going?"
“To the bushes, Merlin. Do you need every to know detail of my life?"
Merlin stayed awake a long time, but didn't hear Arthur come back. After waiting up too long, he finally lay down again and tried to fall asleep. Sleep didn’t come, however, all kinds of questions bubbled up. Why was Arthur so angry? Why did he, Merlin, seem to move closer and closer towards Arthur in his sleep?
Arthur eventually came back and silently Merlin breathed a relieved sigh. He didn't remember much else so must've fallen asleep quite soon after Arthur's return. When he awoke next, it was due to the sound of a crackling fire and the smell of the rabbit meat that Arthur had hung over it, trying to warm it a bit.
He'd been right, Merlin thought; the morning dew was bloody cold. He shivered and quickly got up to put away his bedroll, hoping the movement about would warm him a bit more.
“Good morning," he tried and received a glare and a pointed look towards the meat from Arthur. Ah, still in the same mood. While he munched on a bit of meat, Merlin though that this mood was already taking longer to go away than any of Arthur's previous moods. He sighed. This was not good.
“When you're done daydreaming, I'd like to move on," Arthur sneered, bringing Merlin back to the here and now.
After quickly finishing his breakfast and, having some more water, Merlin took care to clean everything as best as he could and packed their horses.
“All ready, sire", he said, making Arthur huff while he climbed on his horse.
“We’re going north," Arthur declared and rode off, not looking back to see if Merlin was following.
As they headed north, the day unfolded and the sun started to heat the land. Merlin ended up taking his jacket and neckerchief off and looking curiously at Arthur who, as usual, was wearing several layers of clothes below his chain mail.
“Aren’t you hot?"
Arthur started, threw an unreadable look in Merlin's direction and told him to shut up. If anything, Arthur's mood seemed to have worsened during the night.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" Merlin asked after an hour of silence.
“I'll take that as a no, then... you're behaving like--"
"A prat, yes, I know," Arthur cut in, mocking Merlin.
“No. I was going to say you're behaving like I've done something wrong, or I’ve somehow offended you. And I haven't," Merlin's tone was becoming more heated. "And if I have, I'd like to know what's going on."
Instead of answering right away, Arthur just stared at Merlin and, for the first time since their trip started, he relaxed a bit.
“Nothing," he huffed, "you've done nothing. Apart from being an awful manservant, as usual, of course."
“I can live with that," answered Merlin, and smiled, relieved. "And I've been like this for the past year and a half, so this really shouldn't be a surprise to you. Nor a reason to be this angry."
“I'm not angry!" Arthur snapped.
“If this isn't you angry, I'd hate to see you when you are," Merlin muttered just loud enough for Arthur to hear. He got another glare in response and, tired of trying to talk to Arthur, sent him a sunny smile. It didn't make Arthur forget his mood, but at least Merlin felt better.
Soon it was time to stop, tie the horses to a sturdy tree and go hunting again. Merlin hoped for something other than rabbit. Not that he minded rabbit, but he was also quite fond of deer. A boar was never bad, but he doubted Arthur would be helping him skin it. On the other hand, a deer would be almost as hard to skin and cut into pieces.
This time, Arthur motioned for him to stay at a bigger distance than the day before and Merlin reluctantly did so. It was easier this time because they had yet to run into other hunters and so the chances of Merlin messing up Arthur's hunt and the both of them ending up without any meat wasn’t as big as it might have been.
Of course, no matter how hard he tried to keep quiet, he kept stepping on twigs and wood sprigs. This didn't stop Arthur from shooting two pheasants and a hare, so Merlin partially got his wish. They kept silent and back on their horses, made their way through the forest. Arthur was riding with purpose and seemed to know exactly where he wanted to go next. Merlin, in turn, was eyeing the forest, trying to see if he could spot some herbs that might enhance the taste of what would be their dinner.
They stopped just before a clearing and Arthur motioned for him to tie their horses, once again, to a tree. He then motioned Merlin and, cautiously, he approached.
“We’re about to run out of water," Arthur whispered. "Behind those bushes is a creek with clear water. Go and get us some water while I go that way," he pointed to the right, "and see if I can hunt up some more meat."
Merlin nodded and tried to walk as quietly as he could towards the bushes Arthur had indicated to.
Merlin was almost done with gathering the water, when he heard a commotion coming from the forest, in the direction Arthur had headed. It was too loud to be just the noise of the hunt; Merlin left the water in a hurry and ran in that direction.
He entered a clearing and found Arthur cornered by an animal the size of a big cow, but that strongly resembled a dragon: it had a body covered in dragon-like scales, even though it had hind legs like an eagle's, with the talons to match, and feline forelegs. It also had a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snakelike tongue and a tuft of hair. It was roaring at Arthur, who was pushed towards a thick bush surrounded by wide trees. The monster was using his right hand to bat at Arthur, as a cat playing with a mouse before eating it.
“Hey you!" shouted Merlin to divert the monster's attention, which he achieved. This allowed Arthur to attack the beast, scraping its neck and infuriating it even more. It turned towards Arthur again and this time, its paw collided with Arthur, knocking him down. Merlin heard his head hit one of the tree trunks and winced.
“Arthur, are you all right?" he shouted, wanting to hear Arthur tell him that yes, he was fine and that he, Merlin, was an idiot for asking. No answer came, however and Merlin turned his attention back to the monstrous animal.
“What are you doing here?" he asked it.
The animal didn't speak but only roared some sort of answer and took a step towards Merlin, making the ground underneath his feet shake. Arthur was still lying near the bushes, motionless and all Merlin wanted to do was rush towards him and see how bad the injuries were. Instead, whenever he took a step towards Arthur, the monster would roar and move towards him, causing him to step back and away from Arthur.
Mind racing, Merlin tried to remember what spell he could use. What happened next was another one of those things that seemed to simply happen to him and that, after, remained inexplicable. Suddenly, as he was trying hard to remember, he found himself taking a firm stand. He reached out with his hand and a spell that he'd read in the book Gaius had given him, rolled off his lips. It was all in the old language but, as he said it, it made perfect sense to him.
A beam of light shot out from his hand and for a moment engulfed both him and the animal.
“You have no business here," he told it. "You had no reason to harm this person."
“But I did," the animal responded. "He tried to kill one of the animals I have in my care. Had you not yet gathered enough to sustain you, I would not have interfered. However, you already have more than enough to feed you until the morning."
Merlin thought it over and then nodded. "All right. I understand what you have told me and I shall try to tell him. I, unfortunately, can’t promise you that he will agree or feel the same."
The animal nodded. "I understand. But, I trust that you will try your best to convince him and that is all I can ask right now. You are powerful, young warlock," it said. "I hope to meet you again, hopefully under better circumstances."
As Merlin nodded, the beast bent its head in silent farewell and then vanished.
Merlin ran to Arthur's side. The prince seemed to have hit his head and was bleeding. Merlin panicked and probed Arthur’s head carefully and found that the wound to be superficial; that calmed him down a bit, but still he called Arthur hoping he would react soon. He did not, instead he broke into a cold sweat and Merlin tried to take off Arthur's armour and wrap him in his jacket. Then, he built a small fire and fetched water to try to make Arthur drink and to clean his forehead with it.
Soon, he ran out of ideas. Maybe he should have listened to Gaius more when he talked about medicine, maybe he should have searched for healing spells in his book, but all that was useless now because he could do nothing. Just wait and hope that Arthur would regain consciousness.
Then something occurred to him, maybe he could lift Arthur with his magic and take him back? They were far from Camelot, Merlin knew, and he would have to be careful in case someone saw them in the roads but... He started to wonder whether he could go on a horse or by foot, since he did not want to hit Arthur around with trees and he was not sure how finely he could control it. He decided to do a test, and see how it worked.
“Ábregdan," Merlin said and Arthur's body lifted slowly until he was about three feet above the ground. Merlin moved his hand and Arthur's body moved around, avoiding the fire and Merlin thought that was a good sign, he seemed to be able to control the body easily.
He had just moved Arthur a bit faster, when the prince moaned and his eyes opened. Merlin was so relieved that he ran by his side, and kissed him without giving a thought to what was he doing.
His first thought was that it felt wonderful, even if Arthur's full lips were slightly cold, they felt wonderful and they were kissing him back. Merlin groaned at the back of his throat happily.
This changed into a frustrated groan as Arthur pushed him way and Merlin stood there panting, the subject of Arthur's glare. It was a bit hard to feel the glare when Arthur's lips were red and a bit swollen from the kiss.
“What do you think you're doing?" Arthur asked in a clipped tone.
“I... kissed...you," Merlin finally said.
“I know that," Arthur spat and rolled his eyes. "Why did you think you could do that?"
“You were unconscious," Merlin said and soon he realised how that had sounded. Panic was soon back in his voice, "and you didn't wake up and you had a fever and you wouldn't drink when I tried to give you water and then you did wake up and…"
“And you kissed me, Merlin," Arthur said, taking a step closer, looking at him intently. "Why?"
“Because I was so happy you weren't dead," Merlin whispered, unable to look away.
“Really," Arthur drawled and all Merlin could think was that Arthur didn't seem as angry about it as he had seemed to be. Then he realised Arthur was still hovering a few inches over the ground and Merlin lowered him slowly, knowing there was no way Arthur would not notice it. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he looked down, startled and then up at Merlin's hand. "What was that?" Arthur's voice was cold and unforgiving.
“Magic," said Merlin who was glad that they were far from Camelot and free to have this conversation openly.
“You know that magic is evil, how do you dare betray me like that?"
Arthur's self-righteousness made Merlin very angry in turn. "Evil? Arthur, I've been saving your arse since we met. I was levitating you to see if I could take you back to Camelot without any harm, and the only thing you can think off is that magic is evil? Should I remind you that you helped ‘scape that druid boy?"
Arthur stepped towards him and Merlin flinched, unsure of what Arthur was going to do.
“That doesn't change the fact that you've lied to me, been doing that since we met. What were your plans? Get into my service gain my trust and now seduce me so that I'd be vulnerable to your will? Or was that a spell?"
There were so many things wrong in Arthur's words that Merlin did not know where to begin. He ended up answering what had hurt the most. "I never planned to seduce you or make you kiss me or put a spell on you. I'd never do that! If you kissed me back, it was because you wanted to--"
"I'd never kiss a man willingly."
“Now who's the liar?" Merlin asked all fight gone out of him. "And here I thought we had formed some kind of friendship and that you'd understand why I'd kept this hidden from you." He shook his head, only feeling a deep sadness.
“I suppose we were both wrong."
Something in Arthur's face showed Merlin that his words hadn’t entirely convinced the Prince. However, Merlin knew that once they were back and Arthur shared his new knowledge with Uther things would only get worse; being banned from Camelot would be the least of his worries.
“We’ll head back to Camelot," Arthur said, sounding like the Arthur that Merlin had met when he first got to Camelot.
Nodding, Merlin went about gathering their things and loading them on the horses. Since Arthur was taking his time getting to where the horses were, Merlin quickly went back to retrieve and fill the water bags he'd left by the creek.
Arthur only nodded when he handed him his and then mounted his horse and rode off, never once looking back to see if Merlin was following.
It was late at night when Arthur decided to stop for the night. Merlin dismounted when Arthur did and prepared camp for the night without a word. They were in a clearing, protected from the wind by trees and Merlin placed his roll on the opposite side of the fire, since he doubted Arthur would like to sleep near him. Maybe he did not trust a sorcerer and was not planning to sleep at all. Merlin prepared the meat and cooked it, all the while expecting Arthur to tell him to stop, or to do something differently. They ended up eating in silence until Merlin decided he couldn’t bear it any longer.
“What are you planning to do once we reach Camelot?"
At first, Arthur did not answer; he did not even acknowledge that he’d heard the question. When Merlin was thinking about speaking up again, Arthur finally spoke:
"Are you worried about being beheaded?" Arthur did not even look up to ask the question.
“Yes. But I'm also worried I won't be there to fulfil my destiny."
That made Arthur look him in the eye.
“And what's this destiny of yours about? Destroying Camelot? Ruling over the kingdom through me?"
Merlin wanted to hit Arthur in the head. Hard.
“My destiny is to help you become a great king! I'll admit that I like my position here but what you are accusing me of is not true! If that's what I wanted, I imagine I could've done any number of things differently..." Merlin looked at Arthur.
“And how, pray tell, you know that's your destiny," said Arthur, mocking him.
“The dragon told me," said Merlin steadfastly.
“What dragon? One you see in your sleep and tells you what you have to--"
"It doesn't matter what I say, does it?" Merlin shouted. "You've already made up your mind and you were angry with me to begin with..."
"I was," Arthur nodded in a very cold voice. "But what I was feeling before doesn't even come close to what I'm feeling now. I feel betrayed, Merlin, and I don't know what to think."
Merlin nodded, not knowing what else to say that might help. Arthur was right, of course, and he didn't know about the Dragon, what it had told Merlin or the conversation it'd had with Gaius.
Silence once again fell and it seemed to be even worse than before.
“I don't know what I'm going to do," Arthur said suddenly. "I'll have to think it over very carefully."
“All right." Merlin knew his fate was in Arthur's hands and the irony didn't escape him for one minute.
Merlin tried to finish his meal, but his appetite wasn't as big as it normally was. Finally, after an uncomfortably long silence, they cleaned up and went to bed. Merlin felt miserable and it took a long time before he fell asleep.
He woke up to a dagger against his throat.
“Stop it!" shouted Arthur.
“Stop what?" Merlin did not know what Arthur was talking about and it had nothing to do with sleepiness; nothing like sharp metal to wake you up quickly.
“Don’t act stupid, Merlin. You've been putting dreams in my head for a while."
“What are you talking about?" Arthur was not only dim, but also thought Merlin was responsible for his dreams?
Maybe Arthur had seen something in Merlin's eyes, because his eyes flickered with doubt and he moved his dagger inches away from Merlin.
“Arthur, what are you dreaming about?" Merlin thought they couldn’t be regular nightmares, but it would be too big a coincidence if Morgana and Arthur were both seers, wouldn't it? "You're not having visions, are you?"
Arthur pressed his lips together, tightly, and went back to his bedroll without a word.
“What was that about?" asked Merlin angrily.
Arthur, who had lain down to sleep with his back to Merlin, just said, "If I ever find you've used your magic on me to--"
Merlin did not let Arthur finish the sentence. He jumped up and strode to Arthur's side.
“I have used magic on you. You know when? When the Questing Beast attacked you. You want to know what I did? I offered my life to the Old Religion in exchange of yours." Merlin's voice rose with his anger.
“Then why are you not dead?" Arthur clearly did not believe a word of it, and he stood up, probably feeling that otherwise he would be in a defenceless position.
“Because Nimueh decided killing my mother would be funnier. Long story short, I ended up killing Nimueh for you. I exchanged her life for yours."
“Nimueh?" Arthur's voice dripped with doubt.
“Who on earth is Nimueh?" Arthur asked, looking at him like he'd completely lost his mind.
“She was one of the Priestesses of the Old Religion and she used to try to ki- meddle with Camelot. And when she told me that you would die unless another life was offered, I offered mine. Only she has a serious mean streak and decided that instead of mine, she'd take the life of my mother." Merlin was panting, from rushing this all out in one go.
“Right," Arthur sneered. "And where would one find this Nimueh?"
“The last time I saw her was on the Isle of the Blessed, but that's where I killed her," Merlin told him.
“And how did you do that?" Arthur demanded, obviously eager to know.
“I conjured a thunderstorm and the lightning hit her," Merlin said, closing his eyes in memory. "I hated doing it, but I highly doubt you'll believe me."
“I already have problems believing you killed someone when you can hardly hit a target with a sword," Arthur said with a huff.
“Oh, really? I've lost count, Arthur," Merlin felt like kicking him. "When I entered your service I killed a witch..."
"A chandelier fell on her!" As he said it, Arthur seemed to realise what had actually happened.
Merlin glared at him, “Edwin, Sophia and her father..."
"You did what? What had she done to you? Were you jealous?"
Merlin actually pushed Arthur, but it didn’t seem to affect Arthur much.
“They were Sidhe. They would have drowned you!" Merlin ran a hand over his hair, exasperated. "I don't know why I bother."
This time, it was Arthur's turn to push Merlin who, caught unaware, tripped and fell backwards. Arthur was soon straddling him and pinning Merlin's arms to the floor.
“Either you explain yourself very carefully and make me believe that what you're saying is the truth, or I'm turning you in to my father. Do you understand? You've been lying to me, pretending you were my friend, so either you give me a good reason to spare you or..." The threat was left unspoken.
“Arthur," Merlin whispered, at his wits’ end trying to think of things that'd make Arthur believe he hadn't intended anything bad.
Arthur's face was coming closer and closer and Merlin couldn't help but focus on Arthur's lips. Again. Remember how they felt against his. Again.
“Look, if I had wanted to hurt you, I had ample opportunity while you were out cold just now," he said, hoping Arthur would see the logic.
“True, but how do I know you didn't do anything else?" Arthur asked, eyes narrowing.
“What would I have done to you, Arthur?" Merlin was exasperated and Arthur's closeness only added to his uneasiness.
“I don't know!" Arthur almost shouted. "I didn't even know you could do magic, so I have no clue as to what you could do with it. You may very well have put an enchantment on me!"
“Like what?" Merlin asked.
“Like... like... these dreams! I didn't use the have them." Arthur growled.
“What kind of dreams?"
“Like you don't know!" Arthur accused him with flashing eyes.
“I don't know. I have no idea why they make you put your dagger to my throat or have you behave like this!" Merlin shouted back.
Arthur's kiss was hard and punishing and lacked any of the passion their first kiss had. Almost involuntarily, Merlin returned the kiss, knowing it probably wasn't the cleverest thing to do but he didn't seem to be able to stop himself. Arthur's kiss grew softer after a while and when it did it was as if the idea of what Arthur's dreams were about wriggled its way into Merlin's mind... Surely he didn't mean to imply that Merlin had made him dream about...
Merlin's train of thought was soon forgotten as Arthur shifted and the pressure on his groin increased, making him take a deep breath. Arthur was staring at him with dark eyes. Merlin lunged up and kissed him, while he arched looking for more friction. A moan from Arthur was his reward, and the blond pushed himself against Merlin, rubbing their cocks through layers of cloth. Merlin kissed and nibbled, feeling the heat grow in his belly, both their heated pants mixing, their tongues licking everywhere and he was so close to coming...
But suddenly Arthur froze and looked at him in shock.
“What?" moaned Merlin, moving restlessly.
Arthur rolled off him.
“Don’t-" he said with a warning gesture of his hand. "Don't you come near me."
“Arthur, what's-" Merlin said sitting up and trying to reach Arthur.
“Don’t Merlin. Your... deceiving ways will not work with me."
“Are you saying you didn’t want what just happened?" Merlin could not believe Arthur's degree of denial.
“You made me, Merlin."
“I DIDN'T! You were the one kissing me and rubbing your cock with mine. You wanted it as much as I did."
“That was your magic."
“If you believe I'd do something like that, especially to you," said Merlin, angry and sad. The quietness with which he spoke felt even louder to his ears than the shouts from before. "If you think so, you've never known me."
“That's what I've realised today," said Arthur, who went back to his bedroll and laid down stiffly.
Merlin gave up and laid down as well, feeling miserable and alone.
The trip back to Camelot was just as miserable and tense as that night. Arthur hardly spoke to him, only ordering him about when it was absolutely necessary and Merlin was continuously aware of the fact that Arthur was watching him with eagle eyes.
Arthur did shoot another pheasant and a hare. Merlin only wished he were able to enjoy it more. He ate, knowing he had to, but the food had none of the taste the rabbits had had. He could now only hope Gaius might have some advice, but he wasn't counting on it. What could Gaius do about this?
Thoughts of this nature circled through his mind, a gloom settling around him. By the time he spotted Camelot castle’s towers, he had several scenarios all worked out each even worse than the last.
At the stables, Arthur dismounted, shot Merlin another of his accusing glares and stalked away. Merlin took this as Arthur’s way of telling him to take care of the horses, which he did. One of the stable hands took over Arthur's horse for him after Merlin had taken down their things. With a deep sigh, he left his things at the stables and took Arthur's things to this room.
The room was empty and Merlin made quick work of returning everything to its place. He then collected Arthur's clothes that were in need of a wash.
Only then did he go back, picked up his own bag and walked to Gaius' rooms, hoping the physician was there and wanting him to be off on some errand at the same time. He knew Gaius was going to be angry and disappointed with him now that he'd told Arthur about his magic, especially as Arthur was taking it this badly. He didn't need Gaius to tell him 'I told you so'. He needed advice.
Gaius was preparing some kind of potion when Merlin arrived, dragging his stuff to his room, with barely a "hello".
“Merlin?" said Gaius as Merlin threw his pack into a corner of his room and flopped on the bed. The physician went to the threshold of Merlin's room and knocked. "What's wrong, my boy?"
Merlin lifted his head and looked at Gaius, and then let it fall back on the mattress.
Gaius entered the room and sat by Merlin on the bed.
“What does he exactly know about, Merlin?" asked Gaius, voice worried but alert.
Merlin sat up and tried to look strong for Gaius' sake.
“He knows what I am," Merlin looked at Gaius meaningfully, trying to make him understand Arthur about his magic.
“Pack, Merlin. You have to leave Camelot." As if to emphasise his point, Gaius started picking up clothes but Merlin stopped him.
“He doesn't trust me but I'm not in the dungeons, so I have to stay here as long as possible. Whether he likes it or not, I have to protect him."
“It's not safe, Merlin. If Uther finds out..." Gaius tried his standard glare with his eyebrow raised high.
“Gaius," said Merlin, placing his hand over Gaius'. "I promise I'll leave Camelot as soon as I'm certain Arthur is not going to protect me."
“But then it might be too late."
“I think I’ll have to run the risk, for Arthur's sake." Merlin said and looked away.
“This is not just about destiny," said Gaius after a pause, "You love him, I should have guessed sooner."
“Gaius." There was pleading in Merlin's voice and a silent request to keep this secret.
Gaius nodded, "Until you know what Arthur's going to do you'll have to limit your time at the castle. Don't go unless you're specifically requested to."
Merlin nodded, understanding perfectly.
“It’s already dark. Have you eaten yet?"
“We had something whilst coming back to Camelot but I couldn't eat a lot of it," Merlin confessed, "But if you have something to eat, I'd gladly take it."
Gaius smiled and went about fixing Merlin something. They spent the rest of the evening discussing the possibilities. Merlin promised Gaius that he'd keep a packed bag ready with essential items. He knew it was only sensible but hoped at the same time that he'd never have to use it.
He also told Gaius of his encounter with the animal, trying to figure out what it meant. They agreed that it was a warning, but Gaius was a bit suspicious why such a grand animal would come to warn them about not hunting more than they needed.
Eventually though, it was time to go bed, although it took a long time for Merlin to actually fall asleep.
For the few next days, Arthur didn't call on Merlin and he didn't show up, as if he knew that that was a bad idea. At first, Arthur was only glad to not see him since he was angry enough all by himself. However, the last days he found he would turn to give Merlin instruction and only then to remember he was not there and why.
Arthur paced the floor of his room for most nights, going from angry to hurt to indignant and past disappointed back to angry again. He'd grown to like the sod, damn him, despite being the worst manservant any prince could have.
He was usually late, was as clumsy as humanly possible, could not keep quiet and wore really strange clothes. Arthur ignored his mind that whispered that he was a rather good kisser.
How was he supposed to believe that Merlin had nothing to do with the dreams? He'd been sure they'd been caused by magic, most specifically by Merlin's magic now he knew. Surely there was no other way he could have been having them...
Then that annoying voice was back, saying that he knew Merlin too well to know when he was lying.
Accepting that Merlin hadn't put the dreams in his mind with magic meant accepting that he, himself, was somehow responsible for them and accepting that meant accepting something else. It meant accepting that the feelings these dreams caused weren't forced upon him, but came from within. Cursing, he'd start another round of pacing
This went on most nights, until one night the king called Arthur to discuss some small robberies that had taken place in the lower town. Once they had discussed measures to stop it from happening again Arthur turned around to go back to his rooms, but Uther stopped him.
“Arthur, I'm curious... What has happened to that manservant of yours? Have you got rid of him?"
Arthur froze. He had not imagined his father would notice Merlin's absence and of course, he could not tell him about what had happened.
“No,” Arthur lied quickly, “He's just taken ill."
Uther made a humming noise and then said, "I know I put him at your service, but he seems to be a terrible servant. Maybe we should consider handing him out to one of the other knights and get you someone better."
The thought of Merlin serving someone else soon led to the thought of him kissing someone else and Arthur was certain he did not want that.
“No, father." There must have been something wrong with his tone, because Uther stared at him, surprised. "He's a terrible manservant, but he amuses me, father."
“He amuses you." It sounded more like a question, so Arthur felt he should elaborate.
“After a long day of training the knights, it's good to laugh at him. Besides, he ends up doing most of his chores."
Uther nodded as if he could understand that.
“Besides, I've finally grown used to him and his...odd...ways," Arthur said, "He has some... surprising skills and I'm not sure what would happen if he were to bestow them on someone else."
“Not sure others would be able to keep him in line?" Uther said with an understanding smirk.
“Exactly." With a bow, Arthur left his father's chambers only to be pulled into an alcove by Morgana.
“What are you doing here?" he asked her, startled by her actions and the fierce look on her face.
“I...overheard you talking to Uther," she said.
“You mean you eavesdropped," Arthur corrected her. Morgana's twitching mouth was answer enough.
“Anyway, what's wrong with Merlin? You said he was ill.” She sounded genuinely worried.”I've seen him walking about, delivering things for Gaius and around the stables. If he's truly ill he shouldn't be in the stables, Arthur!"
“The stables?" Arthur frowned. He knew he'd stayed far away from Merlin in order to deal with his disappointment and anger, but this would not do. He knew he'd given Merlin no reason to be around him, but somehow Merlin working in the stables didn't feel like anything his manservant should be doing (at least when it was not Arthur who had commanded it).
“Yes!" Morgana sounded exasperated and angry. "Honestly, Arthur, he's your servant; you should know if something's wrong with him."
"You're right," he agreed and nodded, "I'll think of a solution for this."
When Morgana looked at him suspiciously, he added, "Really," before walking back to his rooms to think of something to do.
The next week nothing seemed to change: Arthur was still not talking to him, but it didn’t look like he’d told Uther about Merlin's magic, which Merlin supposed was a good sign.
One day, as he folded Arthur's clothes, the prince finally talked to him.
"I want you to explain everything to me: where you learnt magic, why you came here... everything."
Merlin had started to protest and say that he had not learnt magic anywhere, but decided that maybe he should take Arthur talking to him as a peace offering. He could try to explain about magic and the amount of times he had used it to save Arthur's life. He did not expect the prat to be grateful but he might just believe him.
He sat on the table, on the opposite side of Arthur and started to explain how he moved things without touching them and didn’t realise other children did not have that ability or how, when his mother had discovered that Will knew about his magic, she had sent him to Camelot.
"Why did she do that? She had to know magic was forbidden here."
"She expected me to be able to control it here."
Arthur seemed to think about this and then gaped at Merlin with a sceptical expression.
"Someone is teaching you to do it?" Merlin averted his gaze. "Who would take such a... Gaius? No, he's an ally--" Arthur probably read something in Merlin's face because he stared at him. "It's him?" he asked surprised.
Merlin nodded slowly. "Only because when I got here it would happen unexpectedly and I would have been discovered easily and put him into danger. He then decided that it would be better to teach me how to control it before I did something that would get someone else hurt or myself killed. Then I became your manservant and things... happened."
“Things happened," Arthur repeated, his voice toneless.
“Yes," Merlin said, trying very hard not to fidget or, you know, force Arthur to sit down, stop arguing and actually listen to him. "Like a woman out for revenge on Uther and making you her target, or Valiant intent on winning by killing his opponents with his enchanted snake shield. What about that creature in the well, Arthur? How did your flame turn that big and powerful? There are more examples I could give you about what I did and why. None of it was to hurt you or anyone else, but the exact opposite."
“So you are telling me that all the magic you've done has been for good and not evil and you claim to have saved me all those times," Arthur said with a sneer.
Well, at least he wasn't accusing, Merlin thought.
“More or less. I wanted to help you, Uther and Gwen those times and all the non-magic ways didn't help or couldn't be done."
“Hmmm." Arthur didn't say anything for a while and Merlin finished his work.
“Was there anything else?" Merlin eventually asked, wondering if Arthur's silence was good or bad.
“Not for now. Except, where are you when you aren't here?" Arthur's eyes were staring intently into Merlin's.
“When I'm not being your manservant, Gaius is keeping me very busy with helping him fetching or delivering things for him. If he doesn't have anything to do, I help out in the stables," Merlin said.
“What you do for fun, then?"
“Fun? Arthur, the most fun I have is watching you beat the other knights when you're practising."
“No wonder you're so confused."
“Confused? About what?"
“Oh, I don't know Merlin. Let me think... You kissed me."
“Do you think I was confused then? I was relieved you were fine. Not thinking clearly, maybe but... definitely not confused. I like men."
Arthur's jaw tightened and he glared at Merlin.
“You don't like men; you just don't go out and meet enough girls."
“Arthur, I do like men." Merlin stepped forward towards Arthur and saw Arthur hesitate before standing his ground. "And you seemed to like the kiss."
“I did not. I was barely conscious at the time."
Merlin made a gesture with his hands, not sure if he wanted to strangle Arthur, slap him or try to use his hands to explain how stupid the prince was being. He ended up spluttering: "And when you woke me up with a dagger to my throat just to end up rubbing yourself on me?"
Arthur stepped forward this time and grabbed Merlin's tunic in his fist.
“That was magic."
“It was not and you know it. Keep telling yourself you don't want it, but leave me out of it."
“It was magic," Arthur repeated and Merlin thought he had sounded like Uther.
“This is magic," said Merlin and pushed Arthur away and towards the wall, where he trapped the prince, making it impossible for him to move. He walked up to Arthur and kissed him. When, after a short struggle, Arthur kissed him back, Merlin released him. He maintained the kiss for a bit longer and then broke it. "That," he panted, "was just you and me. No magic. By claiming it is, you are only giving yourself excuses."
“I don't like men," Arthur maintained, staying with his back against the wall.
“So you just like me," Merlin said, shrugging. "That works for me. Not everyone is the same. And I can understand you not being comfortable with it. I do, but don't go and blame everything on magic when you know it wasn't."
Arthur glared at him, but remained silent.
“Well then, if you don't have anything else for me to do, I'll be off then. I'm sure Gaius has some chores for me to do." Merlin turned around and left Arthur's room, a lot of the gloom that had surrounded him now gone.
A couple of days passed, with Arthur still not saying much to him and keeping a safe distance between them, but at least he had more things for Merlin to do and so they spent more time together. That way he had managed to stop Morgana's questions about Merlin's "health" (and whenever she pronounced the word, Arthur was sure she knew something was off, and hoped she did not know what).
Arthur had decided that they might as well go back to Merlin's sword fighting lessons and seemed more than happy to release whatever it was that was still bothering him on Merlin. This made Merlin walk backwards fast and ended with him lying on the ground. During one of these sessions, they found Morgana and Gwen watching them.
“Arthur go easy on him!" Morgana shouted. "You know he's not up to that level yet!"
“I'm fine." Merlin said, trying to sound like he completely meant it.
“See? He's fine," Arthur said before attacking Merlin again.
Merlin barely managed to duck it and for the first time could block Arthur's attack with his own sword. They went on for a bit and Merlin was just getting the hang of it when Arthur stopped mid sequence, turned and asked, "Why are you here? Don't you have...other things to do?"
“Actually, I don't," Morgana said. "Besides, I wanted to know what it is you two do out here all afternoon. Gwen told me you were teaching Merlin, but I didn't quite believe her. Turns out she's right."
“Of course I'm teaching Merlin!" Arthur bristled.
“Clearly," Morgana nodded. "I also have a request."
“A request," Arthur repeated and he narrowed his eyes. "What is it?"
“So suspicious," Morgana chided and laughed. "There's a fair out in Bossiney and Gwen and I would like to go. However, the King has decided that we can only go if we have a proper escort. You two," she looked pointedly at Arthur and then Merlin, "are a very proper escort. Plus, it'll do you good to get out of Camelot for a bit, Arthur."
“Can't you just take a couple of knights?"
“Oh, Arthur, don't be so boring. It's a fair; have some fun. Live a little!" When Arthur did not seem convinced in the slightest, she added, "I've already told Uther and he told me it was a great idea."
Arthur glared at her and sent Merlin to prepare the horses. As he left for the stables, Merlin heard Morgana tell Arthur they would be leaving after lunch.
The trip to Bossiney was a short one, as it was near to Camelot. It was early evening when they arrived there and several market stalls were selling food and drink. There were some random street musicians, but Morgana informed them that a famous bard, Taliesin, would be playing later. Arthur teased her about it, saying that she probably fancied the bard and that was why she wanted to go to the fair so badly.
“Really, Arthur. I just want to enjoy a day out of court."
“Sure, whilst watching this bard sing love poems."
Both Morgana and Gwen rolled their eyes.
“I’m going to look at some fabric I've seen on one of the stalls over there," said Morgana, clearly wanting to get rid of Arthur. "Can you meet us here in an hour?"
“We're supposed to be your escort, Morgana."
“Yes, but you know I can take care of myself." She was wearing an overcoat over her dress (that was not as fancy as usual since they had decided they did not want to be recognised), and she moved it backwards a little, showing that she had a dagger to protect herself.
“Fancy dagger," Arthur said, not at all impressed. "We'll wander around and will catch up with you now and then."
“If you must," Morgana sighed.
“I must," Arthur nodded.
They watched Morgana and Gwen walk off to their right and Arthur turned to go left, clearly waiting for Merlin to follow.
“Anything you want to look at while we're here?" Arthur asked, surprising Merlin with the question.
“Not really. Walking around and looking is fun enough."
“Don't you want anything?" Arthur asked, surprised by his answer.
“There are plenty of things that I want," Merlin nodded, "but I know I'll never have them because I have nothing to buy them with. It's very simple."
“Nothing to pay them with..." Arthur had a bit of trouble with the concept, "But you work at the castle."
“That I do," Merlin agreed. "And in return I am fed, have a roof over my head and am clothed if I need it. I get to use a horse if I have need for one."
When Arthur just looked at him, Merlin rolled his eyes. "Don't look at me like that. It's how it works, especially since I had no specific skills when I came here."
“That's very true," Arthur said, and Merlin thought he saw a hint of a smile. "Very well, then. We'll just wander around and keep an eye out for Morgana."
Humming at the back of throat in answer, Merlin happily walked with Arthur and looked at everything that was put on show.
After a while, Arthur grew bored of looking around (Merlin didn't; there were plenty of things he had never seen before, like an animal called a 'monkey') and dragged Merlin to a stall where he ordered mead and cheese. They sat on a wooden table that, with many others, had been placed by the stalls.
“What happened to "I can't be seen buying a drink for my servant"," asked Merlin, honestly curious; it was as if Arthur had gone from not talking to him, to being almost nice. Not that Arthur could ever really be nice... more like tolerable.
“Nobody knows who we are." From the look Arthur gave him, Merlin knew there was more meaning to those words than what it seemed.
“What does that mean?" And though Merlin had a (crazy) idea about what it could be, he wanted Arthur to tell him clearly.
“It means that... there are no expectations and almost no rules if I'm just another peasant in the fair." Arthur took a gulp of his mead while Merlin waited for him to explain himself.
When he didn't, Merlin finally asked, "What do you want?"
It sounded more open than he intended; as if Merlin would do anything for Arthur--which was probably true--but after all those fights Merlin wasn't sure that was something he wanted Arthur to know about.
Another gulp of mead, and Merlin realised Arthur looked like he did before a tournament, like a taut wire about to snap.
“I want... I want to be sure that magic has nothing to do with it." The "with what" was left unspoken.
Merlin sighed and looked Arthur straight in the eye. "And how do you plan to do that? You can't bind my magic. There's no way..."
"I'll accept your word, if you swear you'll do nothing..."
"Arthur, we've been through this..." Merlin started to say but by the look Arthur was giving him, he realised Arthur was giving him a chance--giving him a chance to be himself--and that maybe he had stopped lying to himself. The promise part would be just an excuse. "All right. I swear to you I'll not use my magic on you to force you to do anything."
Merlin saw Arthur's lips curve upwards while he tried to hide it by drinking a bit more.
“There’s an inn nearby," he said casually, as he grabbed a piece of cheese and stood up.
Merlin followed him, more hopeful than he'd dared be in the past few days. Merlin's mind teased him with possibilities; things he desperately wanted to do to Arthur but didn't dare mention yet. An indication of how badly they both wanted this was the determination with which they both crossed through the fair, Merlin often walking behind Arthur. Arthur had dressed himself in a pair of brown breeches, a cream coloured shirt and brown jacket. Merlin personally would have preferred the red leather jacket but figured that at least with this outfit they could walk about more freely. He liked the view. A lot. He had to force himself to keep his head up straight and to not glance down too often.
Suddenly, Arthur had stopped walking and Merlin barely avoided colliding with him.
“The inn is right over there. I'll go in first and secure a room. When I come back we'll have to buy something that you can then carry to the room," Arthur said and Merlin nodded. It would not do to cause any speculation.
Just as they were agreeing on the order of things and where they would go and buy something, Morgana and Gwen spotted them.
“Ah, there you are," Morgana said cheerfully, "And in better spirits than before, I see." This clearly pleased her and Merlin smiled.
“Well, we were," Arthur said, sounding a tad bit sour now that he realised things wouldn't go as planned.
“Where are you headed?" Morgana asked, ignoring Arthur.
“Over there," Merlin said and pointed in the direction they had just agreed on. "Not sure yet if we'll get anything..."
"They have lovely things in the second row," Morgana offered. "Don't they, Gwen?"
Gwen only nodded and smiled. She was carrying some parcels. "Did you get anything nice?" Merlin asked her, not wanting to ignore her.
“Yes we did," Gwen nodded. "Lady Morgana bought some lovely fabric for dresses."
“Not just for me," Morgana said. "There's also some for you, Gwen."
“You know you don't have to," Gwen said, but it was clear to see she was pleased.
“I know, but I wanted to," Morgana stated, ending the conversation. "All right, boys, we'll be heading over there." She pointed in the other direction.
“Come on, Merlin," Arthur ordered and, as he started walking, said. "Let's go and see what they sell here."