This was going to be a one shot story, but it's proving itself to be a little more complicated, so there will be more.
Merlin felt quite good about himself as he sent the rest of their assailants rolling off down the hill. Arthur could deal with the two in the cave, the three outside would have just slipped in the mud. Merlin was certain, as always, he could talk his way around it. Grinning he started to turn round and the blur came out of nowhere slamming hard against the back of his skull. The dark blur crawled over him, grabbing at him and he couldn't do anything as he staggered and fell, taking another light blow just on the side of his head. As the darkness took him he hoped that Arthur might get some warning, might realise there was another person, before it all went wrong. Then Merlin sank into darkness.
It seemed like almost no time at all that he woke up, with a bit of a headache. As he rocked his head from side to side he found out it didn't feel so bad, but the blows, he guessed rightly, had been carefully placed. He shifted and then realised he couldn't move. With a grunt he tried again and looked around.
He was in the cave, a fire burning and he was propped up against a boulder. Looking down he realised his ankles had been tied, shifting he twigged that his hands were tied behind his back and as he grunted again he bit down on the material in his mouth. A little careful eye rolling told him that he was now gagged by his own neckerchief. Merlin rolled his eyes around wanting to know where the hell Arthur was.
Merlin stopped wondering as Arthur walked back into the cave holding two rabbits he had caught. He glanced at Merlin and then looked away, Merlin shifted and growled. Arthur didn't bother to acknowledge him and he went about, skinning, gutting and spitting the rabbits to cook. Merlin groaned as he watched them placed over the fire. Breakfast had been a little rushed that morning.
Arthur ignored him again, instead he spent his time faffing about with the rabbit skins. He was clearly going to make something out of them. Normally that rubbish job was left for him, and Merlin watched Arthur with no end of panic. He was gagged and bound in a cave with only Arthur there with him.
In the end Arthur finished what he was doing, putting the rabbit offal aside as if he intended to use it. He sat opposite Merlin, sitting on a nearby boulder, and he picked up his sword and put it across his lap. Merlin frowned and realised Arthur was without his armour. He looked around again and saw it laid over a rock, carefully placed out as it should be.
"You used sorcery?" Arthur said. It was calm but very clear as he spoke. He used the words as a question, but there was too much certainty in it. Merlin realised with a sinking heart, Arthur had hit him, having seen him do the most forbidden thing in Camelot.
There was no other recourse. Merlin met Arthur's gaze, looked down and, very falteringly, nodded. Arthur exhaled heavily, his hand ran over his sword, still in his lap. Merlin watched the action very carefully. He knew why he was bound and gagged. He couldn't speak, he couldn't act. Merlin could have got out of it, but he knew what sorcerers Arthur had seen, they incanted and directed. Arthur had restrained him to make him helpless, but for Merlin it didn't really work like that. The restraints held, because Arthur had put them on him. Merlin was not about to betray that.
"Since when do you know how to use magic?" Arthur asked. It was probably rhetorical, since Merlin couldn't answer, but as he looked up he met Arthur's gaze. Merlin shrugged, rolled his eyes and coughed a little.
"You're kidding!" Arthur snapped, getting the hint. "All right, yes or no answers. Did you learn this?"
Merlin shook his head, meeting Arthur's gaze for a moment before looking down.
"What; it comes naturally?" There was sarcasm in Arthur's voice.
Again, Merlin met his eyes, then lowered them and nodded. Arthur snorted.
"You have got to be kidding me! Does your mother know? Does Gaius know?"
Merlin looked up and nodded, then shook his head, and then under Arthur's steady gaze, which refused to falter, he nodded again.
"I could have him executed for that."
Merlin looked up, eyes widening and Arthur's shape blurred as Merlin felt the tears form in his eyes, he shook his head frantically and shifted a little. Arthur could kill him, but he couldn't do that to Gaius surely. Merlin stopped shifting as he felt the metal of the sword against his neck.
"You'd die for Gaius?"
Merlin nodded, very frantically, he blinked away the tears, seeing the sword as Arthur retracted it and put it back into his lap. He ran his hand over it.
"Do you have any idea what you have done?"
Merlin nodded, meeting Arthur's gaze as he nodded. He had brought magic right into the belly of the beast. There was the argument that he was the only one involved, but he had managed to drag Arthur into more than enough situations. There was the argument that Arthur had never known it, but since when was ignorance of the law a defence.
He flinched back as Arthur reached forward.
"If I take this out can I trust you won't try anything?"
Merlin nodded. If he got the gag out of his mouth he could talk to Arthur, rather than waste his time using magic. He frowned as that through processed through his head and then Arthur leant forward a little further and pulled the gag out. Merlin ran his tongue around his mouth and exercised his jaw a little as Arthur sat back and looked at him carefully.
"See, no magic," Merlin said, he didn't look very innocent. Arthur glared at him.
"I heard you. You sent three men rolling down a hill, I sent them away with a few stern words in case you were wondering, since they woke up before you. How often have you done it?"
"Sending people down hillsides, it was just one little incident."
Arthur eyed him steadily. "Why do I get the feeling that's not the only one? The times someone trips up, or I turn around and someone at my back has a spear in their side, or I look around and branches are coming loose from the trees, just at the right moment." Arthur paused and glared. "Merlin?"
"I didn't think you'd noticed, to be honest." Merlin almost smirked at the look of offence on Arthur's face, but controlled himself in time.
"Yeah, I had. And every time I turn around, what do I see, you cowering somewhere. Why don't you just pick up a sword?"
"Not exactly good at that, and I didn't hear you complaining."
"Over your inability to deal with a sword, have you gone deaf Merlin?"
"Erm, no, that wasn't the area with the lack of complaining."
"I think I complained a bit about you always being sprawled out on the floor during a fight."
"I'm not always sprawled out!"
"Quite often," Arthur snarled. He got up and started to pace, Merlin's wide eyes watched him every step of the way. Arthur went up and down the cave before turning around and yelling.
"You use magic! I can't believe… do you have any idea what you have done!" Arthur bellowed at him. Merlin blinked, staring up at Arthur's wide-eyed, pale face and the expressions that were running across it. Then Merlin yelped and jerked his feet away from the fire as the meat started to sizzle.
The prince paid attention. He moved to the fire and took the meat away from the flame, checking that it was totally cooked. He put the spits to one side and rummaged for the rest of their food. They had brought something to sustain them over lunch, Merlin wondered how late it actually was, it seemed very dark in the cave and the light was fading outside. Arthur started set up the food, and popped a sliver of meat into his mouth as he worked. Merlin squirmed.
"Oh, that is not fair!"
Arthur looked up again, and then back to what he was doing, separating the food into two separate piles. Merlin felt his stomach growl, despite the tension he couldn't help but feel hungry. Then he recoiled as Arthur moved towards him with the skinning knife he had used earlier. Merlin watched warily, leaning away slightly.
"Do not try anything," Arthur warned him.
Merlin nodded, wondering what Arthur thought he might do, but he didn't feel as if he was in any position to argue with him. Merlin felt a quiver of fear as Arthur moved closer to him. Arthur had every right to execute him, who was going to argue with the story. It would be kinder if Arthur did it right here and right now instead of taking him back to Camelot.
But then again, he hadn't so far. And all he did now was slice through the ropes holding his wrists, and then he moved away. Merlin reached down to the ropes around his ankles.
"Leave them," Arthur commanded, making Merlin jump. The prince sat down on the far side of the fire. Merlin looked at him for a moment. "I said leave them."
Merlin watched, utterly confused as Arthur started to eat. He reached for his own food feeling sick and hungry at the same time. Despite his stomach complaining Merlin didn't think he could manage to eat anything, yet he did. He ate everything he had in his share, looking up now and again to regard Arthur carefully. He wasn't paying a blind bit of notice of Merlin, it was as if he had failed to exist. Merlin couldn't remember the last time that happened, he often complained about Arthur treating him dismissively, and then it seemed to stop. Merlin hadn't thought about it that much.
It seemed very significant now.
Arthur finished eating and went out of the cave. Merlin peered round to see him looking around the entrance. Then as he came back, Merlin sat back again. Arthur threw his cloak over his arm.
"We can't get back tonight, we'll have to stay here."
Merlin said nothing, eyes wide as Arthur came over to him and he realised he was carrying a length of twine. As he tried to speak, words failed him and Arthur tied his hands again before laying his cloak down and putting Merlin on it.
"Get some sleep," Arthur said, and then retreated to the other side of the fire.