Man, I wish you guys could see the "behind the scenes" of writing this chapter. I can only imagine the horrors ffnet will do to my scene changes, but that's a risk I have to take.
Oblivious to the fact that he was being tracked, Merlin rode onwards. He had changed horses after he had conveniently met a group of knights heading for Camelot. The knights had promised to make sure the horse made it safely back to the royal stables. The horse he had gotten in the exchange was not as fast, but well-rested. Considering that the rain had rendered all roads into mush, speed was hardly of the essence here. He had checked most of the nearby inns only to discover that Gwaine hadn't been seen in any of them. In fact the dangerous south had been rather quiet these past few weeks. According to Merlin, wherever Gwaine went, trouble was sure to follow, so if he hadn't been noticed, it meant he had been there.
This time, however, Merlin was mistaken. Due to their last encounter, Gwaine had come to terms with him being the son of a knight, and that more than anything he wanted to help people. Becoming one of Uther's knight was hardly something that could help anyone, but he could help others, title or not.
Of course, he wouldn't have been Gwaine if he hadn't made it a little fun too.
For instance, this time having stumbled upon a village menaced by a group of thieves, Gwaine had been sent off (well, he volunteered and they gave him food: same difference) to disband the group. The village maidens danced for him as he left. I've missed the south. People here are relaxed, they enjoy their life even if they don't have much. Camelot, on the other hand, is filled with rules and regulations. The only thing I really miss about it is Merlin. Merlin. The boy had a natural talent of believing in people's kindness. He brought out the best in people. As most people like him, he wasn't exactly appreciated by his loved ones either. Spending a couple of months away from the court would do wonders to the boy. Maybe I should ask him the next time I see him. Although, the kiss from last time might cause his invitation to be taken as an invitation to elope or something. How and why do I always get into these situations?
His thoughts were interrupted when he realized he had reached the outskirts of the villains' camp. The large stones which covered it brought them shelter, but also gave others the opportunity to spy on them with relative ease. He peeked to get a general view of the enemies' positions. Roughly estimating there were about ten thieves and they also had a prisoner. The prisoner was a slender young man, with raven hair..Oh no. Had Gwaine lived in the 21st century, he'd been delighted to know that the odds of this scenario were slim to none, more specifically 'no way in hell'.
He was just about to charge to Merlin's rescue, when he heard him yell "I'm looking for someone, and you're in my way. Let me go or you'll regret it."
Not too surprisingly, the leader of the group answered: "And what're you going to do to us?"
"This." Gwaine heard Merlin say something incomprehensible, his eyes glowing. The thieves fell to the ground. They weren't dead, that much Gwaine could see. They were just..asleep. Merlin went to get his horse that had been tied to one of the rocks. Gwaine wasn't sure what to do. What he had just witnessed had been a surprise. Merlin, a sorcerer? Gwaine's relationship with magic was rather on the basis of 'sometimes it helps me, sometimes it tries to kill me'. Merlin was always kind to others so his magic would naturally be good, wouldn't it? Although, the men lying unconscious didn't seem like very good arguments for his case. Gwaine figured it was best to flee for now and think about this later. Unfortunately, witnessing your best friend doing magic doesn't exactly help you to be stealth, so, as he left, he stumbled upon a fallen tree. Merlin heard this, and for once, he had the advantage: he had a horse, Gwaine only had his feet to carry him. Well, competition is just healthy, isn't it?
Gwaine ran as fast as he could, storming through leaves and bushes in front of him. Uncharacteristically, Merlin shouted "Stop!" and started chasing him with his horse. The hunt finally stopped when Merlin, still not recognizing him, had backed Gwaine to a corner, more specifically against a rock wall that wouldn't budge, despite Gwaine's best efforts. "Are you one of the thieves?" Merlin asked. Gwaine let his head drop. "No." He turned to face Merlin, who finally saw his face. "Gwaine!"
Meanwhile, Arthur and his group of oblivious knights were still looking for Merlin/sorcerers. They came across the knights Merlin had changed horses with, who showed them which way to travel to reach the servant. After half a day of traveling, Arthur decided it was time to rest and they went to a near-by village to get some food and water for the horses. Arthur asked the barkeep how things were in the village. He was going to be king one day: he wanted to know how his subjects were.
"Well, we've had some trouble with this band of thieves, but it's being taken care of as we speak."
"Really? By whom?"
"This rugged old fellow called Gwaine, methinks. He may not look it but he's actually pretty handy with the sword."
Arthur thanked his good fortune that he had bothered to talk to the man. Then he thought what was the likelihood of Merlin heading this way and Gwaine being here not being related. Not high enough, he decided. "Where are these thieves now?"
Merlin got down from his horse. He didn't even need to ask, it was written all over Gwaine's face. He had seen him put the thieves to sleep. He seemed calm, but he had his sword raised, ready to defend himself. "It's not what you think", Merlin tried.
"Then what is it?" Gwaine asked. "I know magic when I see it. Or at least I thought I did."
"I'm not evil." Merlin looked like a child that was being rebuked by his father. Gwaine didn't particularly like that look on him.
"I know that, Merlin! I was just surprised." Gwaine lowered his sword and Merlin seemed to cheer up at that.
"So you won't tell?"
"And get my only friend killed? You overestimate my ability to get another one."
Despite himself, Merlin chuckled, breaking the tension of the moment. Gwaine smiled and felt better seeing Merlin act like himself. A moment ago, he had seemed like the great and powerful wizard that Gwaine had barely recognized. Now he was back to his old self. In the future, Gwaine would have to get used to both Merlins, but for now.. "Well, if nothing else, then this 'my destiny is to protect Arthur'-thing that you have makes much more sense now." He spoke before he could catch himself.
"Yes. Long story short, I've seen the future and I will protect Arthur, who in turn will turn Camelot into something very special." Merlin gaze was fixed, as if he saw the future in front of him, instead of bushes and trees.
"But you're still not soulmates or anything, right?" Gwaine asked, just to make him smile and shake that expression from his face. He succeeded and the boy smirked. "Right."
"So, who is it?"
"Who is what?"
"Your future mate. Or who is going to be king after Arthur? How am I going to die?"
"I don't know anything about your future. I don't know the answers to any of those questions."
"Lot of good that did, then. Seeing the future", Gwaine remarked, almost to himself. They were quiet for a while. Merlin broke the silence by asking him what he was doing there.
"Me? Some villagers asked me to take out these bandits. I guess you took care of that. Impressive."
"I'm not usually that powerful. I got lucky, I guess." Merlin eyed the other man when he wasn't looking. Before with the thieves, he'd felt a surge of power when he had gotten angry, and the source of that anger..
"Why are you here? Shouldn't you be in Camelot, looking after Arthur?" Gwaine asked him, bringing him back to reality.
"I was looking for you." Merlin tried to look angry, but ended up looking rather goofy.
"Really? Well, here I am." Gwaine tapped his chest and opened his arms wide, as if he had absolutely no secrets in this world or the next.
Suddenly, Merlin felt shy. "Well..Could we talk somewhere alone?"
Gwaine looked at him incredulously. "Merlin, we're in the middle of nowhere." Merlin glanced around him, seeing that Gwaine was right. "Oh."
"You're so used to sneaking around in Camelot that you don't remember what it's like when there's nobody who cares what you have to say", Gwaine grinned.
Merlin grimaced. Then he stretched out his right hand, as if to grab the other man. "Why did you kiss me?"
He saw Gwaine's face fall. "Oh. That."
"Yes, 'that'. 'That''s all I've been able to think about these past few weeks. So was it a joke? Did you mistake me for a woman? What?"
"I definitely knew it was you, Merlin."
Merlin's stern look stopped Gwaine from attempting to joke his way out of this. He took the boy's hands in his and looked him earnestly in the eyes. "I think you know."
Merlin was taken aback, but unlike before, Gwaine didn't push him to the ground, simply waited patiently for him to reply. Merlin gave him a sad, wry smile. "I don't think you know what being a friend means." He faced the other man's gaze and moved his right hand to Gwaine's chest. "You're just confused."
Gwaine covered his hand with his own. "I don't care what you call it. I just know.." he tried to explain, but couldn't quite put what he was feeling into words.
"You're just confused", Merlin repeated. He let go of him, and created some distance between himself and the older man. He hugged himself, his jaw resting on his left hand.
"You said that was all you could think about since then. Aren't you just as confused?" Gwaine asked. He knew he boardered sounding desperate, but didn't care.
At that, Merlin caught himself, realizing his fingers were once again creeping up to his lips. He tried to defend himself. "It's only natural to be freaked out if another man kisses you."
He was almost sorry that his weak excuse seemed to work. Gwaine looked away. "Oh. Well I'm sorry then."
"I didn't mean.. It's alright." Merlin sighed. "I couldn't even think of a relationship. There's always another catastrophy with Arthur and besides, you can't even live in the same town as me. It's geographically not every ideal. I mean I do like you, but we never see each other and what do we even really know about each other?" He realized he was rambling and Gwaine was staring at him, so he shut up. "Merlin, you are giving me mixed signals here."
"I know. I. Alright. You were honest with me, I'll be honest with you. I came here because Gwen told me we should spend time together."
"Gwen wants us to spend..Merlin, I think you skipped some chapters there."
"Right, that I did. I asked Gwen's advice on what to do with you. I don't know if you're just a friend or potentially more because we haven't spent much time together. Gwen told me we should spend time together to find out."
"And Gwen's of course delirious about the two of us being together?" Gwaine asked him incredulously.
"Well, she doesn't know it's you, obviously. I just said 'somebody' kissed me and 'somebody' doesn't live very close-by.."
"Ah. The old 'he/she'-rouge. Smooth."
"Thank you. So, I intend to follow you around for a while to essentially see if you're just nuts or could this be something."
"I'm flattered. Really." Gwaine couldn't help a sarcastic reply. "Then what was that before, this whole 'you're confused'-thing back there? You trying to hurt my feelings?"
"Well, the last time, you kissed me even though I didn't invite you to. Now I basically said I'm giving you a chance, so I was protecting myself!"
"You wound me. I've become much more chivalrous. I wouldn't just jump you and have a quick romp. That kiss was just a relapse."
Further away from them, on a hill, Arthur was keenly looking at their distant figures. "Gotcha."