The battle at Camlann had ended, and somehow, they were still miraculously alive. Merlin stumbled into the camp some hours after the battle had ended, once again wearing his young form.
"Ah, Merlin, there you are," Arthur said, seemingly unsurprised by Merlin's belated appearance. In fact, Merlin thought, he hardly seemed to remember Merlin had been gone at all. "I wanted to thank you."
Merlin blinked. "For what?" he asked. He tried to remember what he had done that would have made Arthur wish to thank him, and came up blank. The last time they had talked, Arthur had called him a coward.
Arthur looked at him with that condescending glance he used when he thought Merlin was being slow. "For your warning. If you hadn't told us about the path Morgana discovered, our troops would have been caught in an ambush."
Merlin stumbled over his feet, which was incredible, as he was standing still. "Oh!" he said, rather loudly. "Warning? Are you sure it wasn't just a lucky guess, your subconscious telling you something in a dream?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Merlin, don't be an idiot. I know what you did."
"Ah," Merlin said. "So… you're not going to kill me?"
"Why would I kill you?" Arthur asked. "You saved our lives, remember?"
"You're not going to banish me?" Merlin asked.
"No, I'm not going to banish you."
"I was the old man," Merlin blurted out. "The one in the battle, that called down the lightning."
"I thought he looked familiar," Arthur muttered to himself.
"So, does that mean you're going to un-ban magic?" Merlin said at last.
"I thought you said there was no place for magic in Camelot," Arthur said.
"Well, yeah, I did, but… I changed my mind." Merlin hesitated. "I think, now… the time is right," he said. He would have mentioned that it hardly mattered anymore since both Morgana and Mordred were dead, but he thought that was a bit insensitive, and would require a lot of explaining about prophecies that he wasn't exactly looking forward to.
Of course, it wasn't as easy as that, but when Arthur had decided something, things tended to happen eventually. Merlin had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Arthur to come to him demanding questions or explanations about his sorcery, and was both relieved and rather annoyed to find that Arthur acted as though nothing had happened. How long, Merlin wondered, had he known? He hadn't seemed surprised at all. A thought hit him with a horrible sinking feeling. Had Arthur known when Merlin became the Dolma? It would explain the way he "forgot" about his manservant, leaving Merlin to remind him. It was horribly embarrassing. How long had he been pretending and lying to Arthur with Arthur just playing along?
The upside of all this was that Merlin didn't even have to try to hide his magic anymore. It made warning Arthur about magical threats much easier.
Everything seemed to have settled down, which was just when something would go wrong. Of course it would.
There was a visit from a neighbouring kingdom, and someone happened to mention Merlin being the court sorcerer. Merlin was rather flattered, seeing as he hadn't actually been promoted, but it was technically true. What surprised him, was Arthur's answer. "Merlin? He's not a court sorcerer. He's … just an advisor," Arthur said, sounding perturbed.
When the meeting was over and they were in Arthur's room, Merlin brought the subject up. "I know you haven't exactly given me a title, but don't you think it's a little strange to be denying you have a court sorcerer? I mean you could have told me if you wanted to keep it a little more quiet." Arthur was changing his clothes behind a screen, handing his discarded shirt over the top where it shook itself out in the air, folded itself neatly, and floated away. On the other side of the room, Merlin was sitting by Arthur's armour, reading a book on magic as they polished themselves around him, and glancing up occasionally to see that everything was going smoothly.
"I'm not denying anything," Arthur said. "It's just not true." He walked out from behind the screen. "You missed a spot on the helmet," he called.
Merlin gave the helmet a glare, and the rag stopped slacking off guiltily.
"I mean, honestly, I don't know where people get these ideas from," Arthur continued. "There's no one else less likely to be a sorcerer than you."
Merlin looked over at Arthur, wondering if he was joking.
"You, having magic? It's ridiculous," Arthur said.
"Um…" Merlin said. "You realize I'm doing magic right now, don't you? You don't think your armour cleaning itself like this is a bit suspicious?"
"Don't be silly, Merlin," Arthur said dismissively. "You always clean the armour like that."
"My eyes are gold," Merlin said.
"Well, I know they do that sometimes," Arthur said.
"Last week I told you I had a premonition, and you sent out all the knights," Merlin added.
"Well, you were right, weren't you? It doesn't have to be magic. I mean honestly Merlin. If you had magic, I would know."
"I thought you did know," Merlin said, rather desperately. "I've been telling you all about magic for years. All the knights have seen me do it."
Arthur stared at him blankly.
"I think I have to go talk to Gaius," Merlin said, dropping the levitating armour with a crash that had Arthur wince.
"I didn't tell you you could go," Arthur complained.
"It's important magical business!" Merlin said.
"Well, in that case."
Merlin ran out the door.
"Gaius," Merlin said. "Arthur doesn't know I have magic!"
Gaius stared at him with raised eyebrows. "Whatever do you mean, Merlin?"
"It's like he's in denial or something. He said, it was impossible that I could have magic, because if I did, he would know. I think something's very wrong. I just thought he didn't like to talk about it!"
Some time later, having dragged Arthur into the physician's chambers, protesting that there was nothing wrong with him, Merlin tried a few spells and Gaius a number of potions to determine what was going on. At first, Arthur didn't seem to react. Finally, after a number of hours of Arthur complaining and Merlin making objects accidentally trip him, Merlin's eyes widened.
"Oh, no." he said. "Gaius, I think this is all my fault."
There was a spell on Arthur, it turned out. Though not of the kind Merlin was familiar with. The curse didn't contain any incantations, it wasn't a single entity, it didn't have a definable moment it was placed. It was more like layers upon layers of a single wish, repeated every moment, day after day for years: don't notice I have magic.
"How long has this spell been in effect?" Gaius asked.
"I don't know," said Merlin. "I'm not sure how to get rid of it."
When he finally managed to pull apart the whole construction, the result was instantaneous. A weight seemed to lift from Merlin, some constant draining of his energy that he hadn't noticed in effect until it was gone. Arthur blinked, stared around him, started to fall over (a chair helpfully moved to catch him) and said, "Merlin… what have you done?"
"Um…" Merlin said.
"I've been under a spell. You put me under a spell!" Arthur said.
"I didn't try to!" Merlin said.
Arthur didn't talk to Merlin for two weeks, until Gwen, having been told the story, convinced him to, and he was angry with Merlin for even longer, but on the next anniversary of the battle that had united Albion and been the source of the decision to accept magic in Camelot once and for all, he officially named Merlin Court Sorcerer.
"After all," he said, "We wouldn't want anyone to think I didn't value your abilities. Or your friendship."
And if Merlin didn't already know there wasn't such a thing as happily ever after, he might have thought he'd found it after all, and for all the years to come.