A/N : Hiya! Yes, it's another bromance story. Another oneshot. I know I'm being horrible not finishing my other stories, but honestly - blame the muse! : ) Anyway, I hope you like it! I know it's kind of sad; I wrote it yesterday and I'm usually a happy bunny at christmas eve - - so I don't really know what happened either. (ponders) Oh, well.

Let me know what you think, eh? It'd mean the world to me, it really would!

Merry christmas, everybody;
xo, as always
Mae'side


Arthur

The harsh winter had begun its triumph over Camelot, the white snow claiming the ground and covering the castle with its beauty. Despite the fact that it was bloody freezing out there and there really was no point in doing it, Arthur opened his window, wincing as the hinges screeched, cutting the blessed silence. The courtyard lay abandoned before him, the imprint of feet evident in the blanket of snow. There was laughter in the air, somewhere. At first Arthur couldn't pinpoint the source of it, until the two men ran into view.

An outraged cry of "Merlin!" was followed by the younger man's screams of delight as he ran in front of Lancelot, while he, in turn, tried to catch up and make Merlin pay for whatever it is that he'd done by tackling him to the floor. After a while they simply stopped their little game of tag and pressed the palms of their freezing hands to their knees, desperately trying to regain their breath. Suddenly Lancelot started forward and Merlin cried foul while he tumbled down into the snow.

A stupidly painful spike of jealousy shot through his heart as he watched the two of them down there. Try as he might, he couldn't even recall the last time he'd made Merlin laugh like that – all he knew was that it must have been ages ago. Certainly since before the great battle; before Gwaine, and Lancelot, and the lot of them had returned to Camelot with him – the new and fresh and honourable knights. He was grateful for them, he was. But sometimes…

It was like that a lot these days; Lancelot and Merlin. The two of them – sometimes three, when Gwaine decided to tag along – hanging out whenever Arthur didn't 'require Merlin's services' and the knights didn't have the obligatory training sessions with the crown prince. Like friends.

And Merlin would come back in afterwards with the silliest grin on his face. He never spoke to Arthur about his playdates with Lance from just around the corner; maybe because he thought Arthur had no desire to hear about it, or maybe because it was their little secret. Arthur always hoped it was the first that caused Merlin's silence on the matter.

When he started his chores, the happiness would gradually fade. Oh, he still smiled – but it wasn't the same anymore, not the same as before, when it had been the two of them against the world, going off on adventures together. When Merlin would hang around even after his chores were done as if there were no place he'd rather be than here, by Arthur's side.

Things had changed so fundamentally. Of course, not everything was worse off than it had been in the past : there was Guinevere now, faithfully and in plain view resting beside him. Lancelot had loved her first, and now she was was as if they'd swapped their favourite toys. And he didn't want to be selfish (all right, maybe a little) but somehow Arthur felt that he'd been wronged. Why couldn't he have both the sidekick and the girl? The best friend and the girlfriend? It seemed hardly fair for the crown prince to have to chose.

But these were people, he reasoned. They had every right to decide who they wanted to spend their time with; and he couldn't force them to like him better. Could he?

Merlin

It was cold – too cold – and he was definitely not resistant to this kind of temperature, but despite all of that, he was decidedly happy. After magically causing a heap of snow to fall off the roof and onto Lancelot, his friend had decided to make things even. If he hadn't played dirty, he'd never been able to (alright, maybe using his magic had been a cheap trick too, but that didn't count).

It felt so great to laugh like this. To be happy…and free. Be himself again, completely, the way it'd been when he was a kid, running around with Will and getting into mischief of all sorts. The first time he'd knocked on Lancelot's door, he'd received a raised eyebrow in return. "Won't the prince miss you?"

Merlin had shrugged, not wanting to show the pain that he made him ache so badly, sometimes he just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. "Don't think so. He's got Gwen now."

Lancelot hadn't replied to that (Merlin was grateful) but he'd looked worried for a split second. Then he'd smiled, reached around for his cloak and followed Merlin, wherever he may lead. Sometimes Gwaine came with them, as well. For a long, long time, Merlin had wondered whether or not to tell him about … everything; and in the end he'd decided to. Gwaine was more loyal to him than he was to Arthur – it secretly made Merlin's chest swell with pride and love and warm fuzzy feelings – and Gwaine would understand. Now he was still waiting for the right time, sometime in between his frequent tavern visits and the numerous battle training sessions with Arthur.

Today seemed like a good day; so Lancelot and he (still dead tired after their little game in the courtyard) went to fetch him. The three of them walked, side by side, until deep into the forest where the knights came on their hunting trips. Gwaine complained about the cold ("Merlin, my friend, I'm freezing by backside into a sorry state"), Lancelot gave him a hard stare ("There is a point to all of this.") and Merlin just shot them his sad little smile before taking a deep breath. Here goes.

Gwaine was…surprised, to say the least. Oh, not about the fact that Merlin had magic, or that he was pretty powerful and skilled, but in the same way Lancelot was : why on earth would Merlin stay in Camelot and stand beside a man who – let's face it – wasn't the nicest bloke to him?

"It's my destiny," Merlin told him. "I need to protect him…help him."

Gwaine just grunted in reply. "Your destiny's a pain in the ass."

Merlin laughed. Only Gwaine would say something like that, then lay down his life for the same stupid prat.

"I know," Merlin said. "Believe me."

Lancelot

He glanced at Merlin out of the corner of his eye, noticing the way he looked more at ease than he had a minute ago. He was happier now that he'd been able to tell someone else – grateful for the friendship that the two of them bestowed on him. The friendship he deserved more than anything else in the world. In all his life, Lancelot had never met anyone like this – the fierce loyalty (though unevenly returned) and the horrible weight that rested on his shoulders, combined with all that kindness balled up in one person… it was a wonder to behold.

Merlin lived by the tenets Lancelot himself held in high esteem; but the young man seemed even more. He was a living miracle, Lancelot thought to himself; the falling snowflakes now gently resting on every inch of their bodies. In this forest, Merlin was sheltered from Uther's reign of terror, safe from the fear that Arthur would never understand.

Gwaine did, though. Understand, that is. There was something akin to pride that flashed in his eyes whenever he looked at Merlin now. Well, that – and the same fascination that held him captive as well. Who was this idiot who sacrificed his entire life to keep it a secret?

Deep inside, he knew Merlin needed to fix his relationship with Arthur (soon!), but honestly, he couldn't bear to ask anymore. Merlin hurt where Arthur was concerned these days : mostly because he felt there was no longer a place for him now that the prince had found his princess; but also because Arthur didn't understand who he was, not really.

Not that you could blame him. Not about the magic, the secret that stood in between them like a sky high wall of bricks. What Lancelot didn't get (not in a million years) was the way Arthur seemingly hadn't realized the value of Merlin's friendship yet.

They would not make the same mistake.
Merlin would know he'd never walk alone again.


What did you think? Oh, please tell me you liked it?

xo, as always
Mae'side