Author's Notes: Thanks to the wonderful cindergirlgrimm for the beta, to morbid_sparks, who listened to me prattle on about this over MSN, and pheonix_angel89 for the eternal encouragement.
Summary: In which Gaius and Morgana get an eyeful,The Great Dragon is amused and Uther doesn't behead anybody.
10 People Who Found Out That the Crown Prince of Camelot Is Sleeping With, And Is Possibly In Love With, His Man-Servant
It isn't Gaius' immediate reaction that Merlin finds the most embarrassing, though the cough and curious eyebrow Gaius greeted them both with when he found them snogging in his workroom is definitely in Merlin's Top Five list of Embarrassing Moments: Arthur Centric.
(Merlin has several Top Five lists, including, but not limited to, The Top Five Stupid Things He and Will Did Growing Up, Top Five Most Annoying and Cryptic Conversations He's Had with the Great Dragon, and Arthur's personal favourite, Top Five Reasons for Getting Himself Thrown into the Stocks and/or Jail.)
No, despite catching Merlin with his tongue down Arthur's throat and Arthur groping Merlin's arse, this situation gets a rank of #5, tied with that time Arthur talked Merlin into going skinny-dipping and a load of kids stole their clothes.
Gaius asking if he and Merlin needed to have The Talk later on that evening,causing Merlin to choke on his mouthful of stew, is still leading the list by a long shot.
There are hundreds of things about Morgana that frequently drive Arthur up the castle wall; like the way she always seems to be able to talk him into things he normally wouldn't do for any amount of love or money. That thing with her purple dress when he was sixteen and the reason they were both violently ill- i.e. hungover- the last time the King Alined and his disgusting nephew Percival came for a visit both fall into this category.
Then there's the way she's always convinced she's right and all those times she used to win when they were sparring- not that Arthur admits this, obviously.
However, at this exact moment in time, with Merlin lying half-naked on Arthur's bed and Arthur slowly trailing kisses up and down Merlin's torso, it is the way she always barges into his bedroom without knocking that is really driving him crazy. That and his own inability to remember to lock the door.
Morgana merely raises an eyebrow at Arthur's indignant squawk and the embarrassed mewl Merlin utters while futilely trying to cover himself up and push Arthur away from him at the same time.
"Can I help?" Arthur asks with a sweet smile, that promises pain and vengeance if Morgana doesn't leave right now. Merlin covers his face with a pillow once and continues to make embarrassed noises when it becomes apparent that Arthur is not going to move.
"Yes, actually," Morgana says with a grin of her own and then proceeds to lecture Arthur for twenty minutes about Uther's latest piece of Anti-Magic Legislation.
Palace Kitchen Maid
Though she regrets it the second she utters the sound, she can't help but squeak in surprise when she enters the kitchen. If that wasn't enough to draw their attention, the broom she falls into as she stumbles backwards in shock, which then falls into a haphazardly placed pile of pans, is sure to draw their gazes toward her.
She had expected to find the kitchen either empty or with maybe one or two other servants dotted around, sorting out their own breakfast, now all the royals had been served. What she had not expected was to find Prince Arthur pinning Merlinto one of the kitchen counters, Merlin's hand gripping Arthur's hair while something smoked slightly on the stove behind them.
Running backwards, stuttering apologies and curtsying she hurried out of the kitchen, rushing straight over to the North Tower, where she knew at least three of the other maids would be cleaning.
Arthur sighs as he approaches his knights. They are all standing in a circle, their heads bent together and reminding Arthur strongly of the kitchen maids discussing which visiting noblewoman is currently sleeping with which of the married members of court. The way they all jump apart when they spot Arthur approaching confirms his suspicions; it is him they are talking about.
Bloody kitchen maids. That's the last time he tries to fluster Merlin while he's getting them breakfast.
Arthur's eye roll at the knights' unusual silence goes un-noticed as they are all determinedly looking away from him; some are embarrassed whereas some are merely trying to stifle laughter.
"You can say it," Arthur says with an exasperated wave of his hands, wanting the questions and ridicule over with as soon as possible.
The knights all exchange glances, some of them nudging their neighbours with their elbows, like excited school children. In the end, Sir Kay responds, laughter choking his words.
"So, which of you wears the dress in your relationship?"
Arthur runs his hand over his face as the other knights fall about laughing.
It's going to be a long morning.
Merlin is standing behind Arthur, not trying to hide, thank you very much, no matter what Arthur- or Gaius, or Morgana, or those knights standing guard at the door- will say afterwards. Uther regards the two of them in complete silence. Morgana is standing behind Uther looking entirely too amused at the situation for Merlin's comfort.
"So," Uther drawls, his eyes slowly darting between Arthur and Merlin before turning to face his son once more. "You and Merlin."
"Yes," Arthur says defiantly, his arms across his chest and mentally readying himself for a fight.
"...You and Merlin?"
"Yes," Arthur replies through clenched teeth, as Uther continues to stare incredulously at Merlin, trying to work out just what it is, exactly, Arthur sees in him.
"Look on the bright-side, Uther," Morgana says, resting a hand on Uther's shoulder, a smirk plastered across her face. "At least now you don't have to worry about Arthur getting anybody pregnant."
The Great Dragon
Merlin has been down in the cold, dark and damp cave for almost half an hour now and he's really starting to get bored. You would think that after all his preaching about destiny and his plethora of cryptic metaphors that the context surrounding Merlin's question shouldn't have been that much of a surprise.
Several minutes after blurting out "Is it really an abuse of my power to use magic to stop Arthur snoring like a warthog or is Gaius being overcautious?" all in one breath, Merlin is still standing there, holding a burning torch and wishing it wasn't always so bloody cold down here.
He also wishes he knew just what, exactly, the Dragon finds so hilarious about that sentence that he has somehow managed to set his tail on fire.
Gwen hovers in the doorway to Gaius' room, hidden in the dawn break shadows. Gaius is nowhere to be seen, but judging from the soft snores she can hear coming from Merlin's room, she assumes he isn't far away.
Merlin is lying asleep on Gaius' bed, his face still as ghostly pale as it was a few hours ago. The infection has ravaged its way through Camelot, but it seems to of hit Merlin harder than most. Gwen knows, having been assigned the position of nursemaid as soon as it became apparent that Merlin was seriously ill, that Merlin has been running a fever for the last few days, and he's barely been able to keep anything down, be it food, soup or even water.
Gwen knows she should probably be in bed herself, catching up on much needed sleep, but she cannot draw herself away. She needs to see that Merlin is okay, that the nightmare of the last few days is almost over. Gwen doesn't realise Arthur is asleep in the large chair beside Merlin's bed- it's back is facing the doorway where she is standing- until he utters a soft sigh and mumbles something in his sleep.
She moves further into the room now, taking care to keep her footfalls silent. It is not until she is halfway across the stone floor that she realises she is no longer the only person awake. Merlin's glassy eyes have opened and he is staring at Arthur in bewilderment and wonder, as if he is truly surprised to find Arthur by his side.
This adds support to Gaius' theory that Merlin wasn't taking in much, if any, of his surroundings during the worst parts of the fever, otherwise he would have realised that Arthur hasn't left his side since he collapsed in the middle of a feast three days ago.
Merlin slowly reaches a hand out to touch Arthur's knee, as if to make sure he is actually there. Arthur jerks awake at the contact. Gwen slinks back into the shadows feeling uncomfortable; she is intruding on her best friend and her Prince, but there is no way for her to escape without drawing their eyes away from each other.
Arthur removes Merlin's hand from his knee and squeezes it, bringing it up to rest against his cheek as he slides out of his chair onto a kneeling position on the floor, so his head is now level with Merlin's. Gwen can't hear the entirety of their whispered conversation from her place next to the curtains, only the odd word that comes drifting over on a sigh or a particularly heart-felt breath.
Suddenly Merlin moves and Gwen hopes he's not about to do something rash after spending three days in bed. Fortunately, Merlin doesn't attempt to jump up. Instead, he lifts up the thin cover that is draped across his chest and Arthur slides in next to him, still fully dressed, and tucks the sheet up around their shoulders. They move towards each other immediately, Merlin tucking his head under Arthur's chin as Arthur wraps his arms around Merlin's skinny frame, their moves so in sync with each other that suggests to Gwen they have done this many a time before.
Gwen stays in her hiding place for several more minutes, keeping her silent vigil over the pair. No more words- whispered or otherwise- drift across to her now. Merlin is asleep again before Arthur is even settled and it is merely minutes before Gwen can hear Arthur's deep, restful breaths mingling with Merlin's own.
The sunlight is slowly streaking across the room when she finally moves, the light bouncing off Arthur's golden hair and Merlin's even-paler-than-normal skin. She crosses the room towards the bed, freezing in her tracks when a particularly loud snore from Gaius causes Arthur to twitch in his sleep. Once she is sure that both Merlin and Arthur are still asleep, Gwen continues, bending down once she has reached the bed to pull the sheet further up around their shoulders, from where it has slowly started to fall.
She watches with a small smile on her face as Merlin buries further into Arthur's embrace, and Arthur's grip tightens instinctively in his sleep. Gwen shuffles quietly back towards the still open door, only turning around once she is at the threshold. Merlin and Arthur are still resting peacefully, and if it is possible, they appear to have moved even closer together.
For the first time since Merlin collapsed, Gwen feels relaxed, her shoulders no longer tense with fear and worry, safe in the knowledge that both Merlin and Arthur are going to get through this just fine.
Even if they weren't both stopping in her house, spending their nights huddled together on her floor, Hunith thinks she would have spotted the signs anyway.
It is little things mostly; like the way Merlin plays with Arthur's hair when straightening his collar, or the way Arthur goes out of his way to make contact with Merlin when walking past him. A hand on Merlin's back, a brush of their shoulders, their fingers lingering when Merlin hands over Arthur's sword/mug of tea/anything.
Then there is the way they look at each other. Currently, Arthur is sitting on a log in the middle of all the houses, every single child from the village looking up at him with rapturous eyes. He's regaling them all with stories about his and Merlin's adventures; stories about unicorns and shields that come alive and trolls disguising themselves as beautiful women.
Arthur is obviously enjoying the attention; his eyes are bright and his face is flushed from the enthusiastic re-enactments he is carrying out. His sword has morphed into a stick, presented to him by the son of Hunith's next-door neighbour, and he is jumping around, prodding, fending and attacking some invisible foe.
Hunith smiles as she watches, the children cheering as Arthur finally slays his nemesis. Merlin is watching them also, standing at the back of the group, a pile of dripping clothes in his arms. Arthur finally spots Merlin just as he is taking an elaborate bow to his adoring audience. Arthur's smile gets wider, his eyes that little bit brighter.
Hunith's own smile stretches as she watches Merlin clap, almost dropping the pile of clothes into the mud, while Arthur continues to bow. Merlin is skinnier than when he first went to Camelot and when he and Arthur first arrived they were both carrying a sense of weariness that was not just due to the three-day ride. She knows not everybody will approve of their relationship, knows that some people won't be able to see past their gender or status, but all she sees is the way their eyes light up when they're together, and how she's never before seen Merlin this happy or content.
Arthur prides himself on a lot of things; he's undisputedly the best soldier in the kingdom, he's generous to his subjects and he's become an expert at not throwing things at Morgana when she is being particularly annoying and/or smug about something.
One of the things he isn't very good at, however, is lying. Morgana has always been able to see straight through him in a way that is almost unnerving, and Arthur doesn't even attempt to lie to Merlin anymore, not even small ones about just how much his shoulders ache after a particularly hard-fought tournament or training session with his knights. Every small glance from Merlin's hurt-filled eyes strikes him harder than a blow from even the largest and strongest of knights.
And yes, Arthur does see the irony in this considering the secret Merlin kept from him.
Arthur smiles and nods his head at all those around him on the two-day ride to Cathays when they tell him that this two-week trip to his Uncle's is going to be fun and that the hunting there is always splendid. He agrees absentmindedly with his father when Uther corners him on the first night, an almost apologetic look on his face as he explains, for the fifteenth time at least, why he forbade Merlin from accompanying them. Following the unfortunate incident at Christmas involving Merlin, a lit-candle and Lord Ector's best robe, it seemed like the safest decision, even if Lord Ector had seen the funny side. Arthur even laughs and vehemently denies that he is pining when Morgana tries to console him with a small, and what appears to be sincere, smile.
Arthur knows his actions are fooling nobody, least of all himself. His body may be on the road to Cathays, but his mind, and his heart, is still in Camelot.
Merlin isn't too sure how this happened.
Sure, he remembers how it happened, everything from their first, slightly-drunken kiss to the previous evening, when they had tumbled into bed a tangle of limbs and half-discarded clothing, both of them eager to show the other how much they had been missed during their two-week separation.
What Merlin isn't too sure of is when all of this became the norm. He doesn't even remember the last time a perplexed Gaius asked, "Can I help you, Sire?" upon finding Arthur in his workroom yet again.
The summer sun has already risen and is a warm and comforting presence on Merlin's back, Arthur just as warm and comforting in front of him. He turns to face the window, moving slowly so as not to wake Arthur- and wouldn't Merlin love to remember when it stopped being weird to wake up with Arthur's arms still wrapped around him, as though he were Arthur's overgrown, slightly skinny teddy-bear?
Merlin knows he should get up now he's awake- one of the things that hasn't changed is his long list of duties as Arthur's man-servant –but removing himself from the warm cocoon made up of Arthur and his ridiculously expensive and very soft quilt requires more energy that he currently possess.
From his position on the bed, Merlin can see two birds are sitting on the windowsill, their backs to the window as they ruffle their feathers. Merlin wonders what they are chirping about, wondering if it is something important, like where their next meal is coming from or if they are discussing the last place they saw the lean, black cat the palace cook keeps to keep the kitchens free off rodents. Perhaps they are gossiping about which of the birds in the neighbouring nests are stealing twigs and food from the others, or which of the young chicks recently hatched are keeping all the other birds awake at night.
Or perhaps, a voice in Merlin's head that sounds an awful lot like Arthur says, Merlin has been spending too much time in the sun recently, if he is really that interested in conversations two pigeons may or may not be having.
The birds take off suddenly, their chirping fading with each beat of their wings until Merlin can no longer hear or see them. He takes this as a sign for him to get up and find them breakfast before starting on the long list of his duties. He carefully peels Arthur's arm away from his waist and sits upright.
Merlin's feet have barely touched the sun-warmed stone floor, and he's not even begun to start trying to locate his clothes, when Arthur's arm is once again wrapped around his waist, tugging him back into bed. "Not going anywhere today," Arthur mutters sleepily, his eyes closed and already more than halfway back to sleep.
Merlin knows that this is not true, that either Morgana or one of Uther's servants will come looking for them in the end if they don't make at least a brief appearance before lunch, but he allows himself to be pulled back under the cover anyway. He knows he has made the right choice when Arthur pulls him closer, his arm slung over Merlin's waist and his fingers splayed across Merlin's bare stomach.
It is at this moment that Merlin decides that his long list of duties is not very important. Neither is learning to speak pigeon or remembering what finally convinced him that Uther wasn't going to have beheaded for seducing- or being seduced by, same difference really- Uther's only son.
At this moment in time, in an expensively furbished room, in a large and imposing castle, there is he, and there is Arthur; and really, that's all that matters in the end.
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