A/N: Welcome one and all! So this is one of those Arthur-finds-out-about-Merlin's-magic fics that you've probably all read before. Kind of. But I happen to really like fics where Arthur finds out, so I tend to use the concept in different ways. This particular one-shot turned out angstier than I had intended, but oh well! I wrote it with a slash Arthur/Merlin relationship in mind, but it can be read perfectly well as just friendship. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I hate these things. No, Merlin is not mine. It has never been mine. It will never be mine. (Unless, by a stroke of luck, I take over the world. Which is doubtful, so I'll probably continue to not own it.)
It's summer, but from the cold chill that hold them in sway and the dark brooding sky one could mistake it for the depths of winter. There is silence between them, heavy as he helps Arthur into his armor, the movements practiced but slower than usual. He's holding back, lingering, and Arthur isn't rushing him, just staring at the wall as though he doesn't see it at all.
He notices the trembling of his fingers as he lifts the armor and sets it in place. He hopes that Arthur doesn't see it.
"Are you going to take all day, Merlin?" Arthur says, finally pulling his gaze away from the wall. He ducks his head and fastens clips, securing the metal plating. There isn't the same kind of amused, prattish teasing that is usually there in Arthur's voice; it's heavier and somber and missing something vital. It's winter versus summer again.
He raps his knuckles on the armor once and it rings. "Done," he says and is sure that his voice rings just as much.
Arthur looks at him, for the first time in a while. "It'll be fine, Merlin."
He's not sure whether to be angry or frustrated. Maybe they're both the same emotion when it comes down to it. He raises his eyebrows. "With all due respect, your highness, that's bullshit." Arthur raises his own eyebrows in return, taking a step back.
"You worry too much." Arthur says, in that dismissive tone that warns him: watch what you say or I'll stick you in the stocks. Normally when that tone comes out he backs down, but not this time. (Okay, let's be honest, he never bloody backs down.) But this time he straightens up, meets Arthur's gaze, reaches out and grabs the prince's arm, holding it tight. Arthur glances down at the grip, half amused, half irritated. "Merlin—."
"For once, great and magnificent prince, shut up." And for once in his life, Arthur is absolutely speechless. He forges on, because who knows how long that silence will last? "I need to say something, before you go and get yourself killed or something equally stupid."
Arthur rolls his eyes. "You're such a girl. Are you going to try and have some meaningful emotional exchange with me again? It's not necessary every time, Merlin."
He tightens his grip. "You're an insufferable prat. You don't listen."
"I've heard this before. Would you like to make a list of my flaws for me before I ride out into battle?"
He tightens his grip even more, almost instinctively. "If we had time I'd be glad to list them all for you. But we don't have time." He looks away. "Arthur, I will do anything to protect you. You know that, right? You understand? Anything."
Arthur looks at him, and that heavy somberness comes into his expression. His eyebrows knit together and his lips are tight and there's something like anger in those bright blue eyes. Arthur shakes his grip loose and then advances on him, taking step by silent step forward, pressing him back. He almost stumbles, trying to keep his balance and keep the gaze at the same time. He's not backing down until he knows that Arthur understands what he's trying to say. He's not going to look away and bow his head and bend under the weighty pressure of the prince.
His back hits the wall, but Arthur keeps advancing, keeps coming until he is effectively pinned beneath the hard bricks and the barely softer planes of Arthur's body. (Which, considering all the armor and the chainmail and the layers of clothing beneath, is not softer at all.) Arthur puts a hand against the wall, right at his neck level and leans in. Up close it's so much easier to smell the metallic, oiled tang of the armor and the fainter mint-cinnamon scent that he associates with Arthur.
"Merlin," Arthur says, his voice pitched low, "do I look stupid?"
He instantly thrown by this turn of conversation. Of all things, this is least expected.
"Do you presume that I am ignorant of what goes on around me? Do you think I'm blind?"
Well…, he thinks, and apparently it reads all over his face, because Arthur looks distinctly unamused and presses impossibly closer. Then Arthur says: "I didn't defeat the damn dragon. I was unconscious."
That…is not what expects to hear, and it's certainly not a good sign. His heart pounds a little faster. "Head trauma, Arthur. It's not unusual to lose your memory when you have a concussion—," he explains in a patient, almost condescending voice, hoping to distract Arthur.
"Shut. Up," Arthur commands, pressing him harderagainst the wall. "I didn't willingly run away with Sophie, nor did you hit me in the back of the head and knock me out in order to bring me back. I could list a hundred other things that I did not do, Merlin. You did them."
"You're talking crazy—." This is not good, he thinks almost absently.
"God, you're such an idiot. You've been dancing around trying to tell me about your magic—," it's there that his mind goes completely blank. Arthur's lips keep moving and he keeps talking, but he doesn't hear a single word. Arthur seems to realize, because he stops talking and shakes his head and eases up on the pressure a little.
He blinks, trying to formulate a reaction. This has gotten way out of hand.
"Merlin, breathe." He does, barely. "You were trying to tell me, weren't you?"
"I—not exactly." He has been meaning to, but that's not exactly what he was driving at this time. "Why am I not in the dungeon?"
Arthur eases up on the pressure still more, pulling back slightly but keeping him pinned between body and wall. He finds that it is still hard to breathe, that his lungs won't inflate properly, that the air sticks in his throat like mud sticks to his skin. "Should you be?" Arthur asks, and there's no humor in his voice but there isn't hatred either.
"I—," he attempts, and then the words stick and he just falls silent.
"I'm glad to see that you're as articulate as ever." Arthur says, and he would glare if he his brain wasn't malfunctioning. Then Arthur sighs. "Merlin, if I thought you were dangerous you would be in the dungeons and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"But I am a sorceror." Speaking those words—the truth at last—is surprisingly easy. Arthur's mouth quirks a little and he knows that it's the suppression of smile. "Your father would have me executed."
"He would," Arthur agrees, holding his gaze. "Because he distrusts magic and fears it and believes that it is evil. Perhaps he's right." He flinches, but Arthur keeps him in place. "I don't trust magic, Merlin. But neither do I fear it. And whether or not it is evil…well you have used it to save my life. And even if I do not trust magic I do trust you."
Then Arthur finally pulls back, looking a little chargrined; he runs a hand through his hair and sighs loudly. "Dammit Merlin, you just had to go and get all mushy on me, didn't you?"
He grins a little, folding his arms. "You're the one who went mushy."
Arthur glares. "Sure. Oh Arthur, I'll do anything to protect you," he says in a high falsetto. "You girl."
He gives him a sharp look, raising an eyebrow. "And even if I don't trust magic, Merlin, I do trust youuu." He mimics, also pitching his voice high.
They scowl at each other, but he can feel his expression softening and he sees the lines of Arthur's face as they ease. "Arthur…," he says, soft.
"I swear to god, Merlin, if you do it again—."
There is a knock on the door and they both jump, trading expressions. He crosses to the door and opens it, to find a servant there. "The king says that the company rides in twenty minutes, my lord," the servant says, and then bows his way out. He closes the door and turns to look at Arthur, who scoops up his sword and attaches it at his waist.
"I will do anything to protect you," he finally says.
Arthur rolls his eyes. "Honestly, I don't know how you managed to keep your sorcery a secret this long, going around saying things like that." The prince turns to face him fully. "I've fought in battles before, Merlin."
"And you've almost died before."
Arthur shrugs. "Then we won't let that happen, now shall we?" The prince makes for the door and then pauses next to him, leaning in. "Don't get caught," he says in a low voice, and then he opens the door and stalks away.
He leans against the wall for a moment, closing his eyes. He clenches his hand into a fist and then relaxes it. He can feel the magic beneath his skin, waiting to heed his commands. Waiting to protect Arthur. He's stopped trembling now, so that's a good sign. And the chill seems a little less and the sky seems a little brighter and winter's presence in summer receeds.
It will be okay.
It must be okay.
He straightens and follows Arthur.
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