Summary: Merlin didn't really expect it to take five Knights, two old men, a woman and a horseshoe for his plan to work, but then again the extent of his plan had been more along the lines of an adamant 'I'm not in love with Prince Prat (except, really, I am)' than an actual plan.
Pairing: Arthur x Merlin
Genre: Bit of everything, including fluff, h/c and a dash of romance.
Length: 30,000 words [total]
Warnings: Spoilers for S3E13 (The Coming of Arthur pt. Two) – continued directly from the end of the series. (Canon) mentions of Arthur/Gwen and (canon and non-canon) Lancelot/Gwen. Little bit of swearing.
Notes: Written for goss for the merry_merthur fic exchange on lj.
Bucket up, all for Luck.
The Tale of King Uther: The Tenth Day.
Gaius had been called to the lower town when the council had let out, and Gaius had left instructions to Merlin should this happen and Uther call for him. The tincture Gaius had prescribed to help Uther heal was to be taken daily and it was Merlin's task to deliver it (freshly made that morning, due to the nature of the ingredients) should Gaius be absent.
The servant came and Merlin's heart thundered in his chest. He hadn't seen Uther but for a few far-away glances around the castle. He'd looked pale, a shadow of the man who had condemned so many with a level head. He hardly looked like the Uther Merlin knew, and while it was odd to admit it, it unsettled Merlin.
Uther was waiting in his rooms, standing by the window. He was looking over the courtyard, the screams of dying villagers in his head as he remembered watching Morgana order their death. Over and over again he had asked himself, how could she have done it?, but he knew the answer. It was his fault, his mistake.
"My lord?" Merlin asked softly, not wanting to intrude on Uther's thoughts. "I have your medicine, Gaius was called away."
Uther turned to look at Merlin. He wasn't much to look at, too skinny and long-legged, and he supposedly suffered from a grave mental affliction.
But Uther wasn't stupid. Even if Merlin did have some mental condition, he showed outstanding loyalty to his son. He didn't know much about Merlin, except for the fact he stood by Arthur through thick and thin, and was prepared to do anything for Arthur.
Uther took the bottle, swallowing the vile taste and closing his eyes as it hit his stomach. Merlin hovered anxiously, but Uther didn't dismiss him. Instead, he waved a hand to the nearby table, gesturing for Merlin to stay.
He ignored the horrified look on the manservant's face and hid the tiny smile that sprung up at the disobedience. He admired such courage and the lack of courtly manners reminded him oddly of Ygraine.
"Everyone thinks I've gone crazy," Uther said. He was still standing, back turned to Merlin. "I suppose they're right in a way, but if I suggested we hold a parade with decorations all in pink, I suppose they'd all jump at the order."
He could hear Merlin shifting uncomfortably. Arthur trusted this man, so much to risk his life time and time again, and it felt… good, in a way to tell someone what he couldn't tell anyone else.
"I know they cannot respect me as they used to," Uther said softly, turning to look at Merlin. He noticed the way the boy schooled his face into one of blankness and looked away. "But I still have my mind here. It may not be as it was…"
Uther cut himself short. "I don't know why I'm telling you this," he admitted, looking over at Merlin. His eyes were lowered respectfully and Uther wondered what it would take for Arthur's manservant to approach him as he did his master.
That was what Uther wanted right now. Someone to talk to on his own level, just for a moment. He hadn't felt like this since Ygraine had died, but it had been easy to pour his anger into condemning each and every magic user.
"It's a weakness," Uther said, and Merlin's eyes finally met his, full of surprise. "To show this side of myself is a weakness, but Arthur trusts you almost blindingly… and as many differences I have with my son, I trust his judgement."
Merlin nodded at that and Uther was satisfied. The boy understood that he was asking for his confidence, that none of what happened in the room left. Uther just needed someone to listen, but he couldn't share these thoughts with Gaius. Gaius had sacrificed so much for Uther that he couldn't burden his friend with this.
And he needed to see what Arthur saw in Merlin. Just this once, to get a proper look at the man who had saved his son over and over again, without being a King, just a father.
"Ygraine was the only one who saw this side of me," Uther continued. Merlin's gaze never wavered, still looking into Uther's eyes.
Over a week ago, that would have annoyed him beyond belief. Back then he would have ordered punishment on this commoner, for who was he to look a King in the eye directly?
But now… Uther wasn't the King, not really. Arthur had saved them all and, while he may not be by name, he was King now. Uther wouldn't hand the Kingdom over just yet, but he was only a form on a throne. He held no power anymore, having given it willingly to his son.
"She…" Merlin began hesitantly, biting his lip as if to warn himself to stop. Uther saw that it didn't work and the question burst out. "She was Arthur's mother?"
Uther nodded. He remembered the time Arthur had him at the point of sword, and how it had been Merlin to calm his son. Merlin had lied for Uther, against Arthur, for no reason other than to stop Arthur making a mistake. Uther knew Merlin hadn't done it for his sake, and strangely it had relieved him.
"She was." Uther paused, unsure whether or not he should say the next words. "You remind me a little of her," he said.
Merlin shook his head, "Sire, I'm sure-"
"She was kind and fair, the kind of person who made you want to follow, even if you didn't know why. I trusted her as Arthur trusts you." There. He'd said it.
Merlin's mouth opened and closed a few times, his head still shaking.
"Ygraine died because of my mistakes. I don't regret what she died for, but I regret that I placed my trust in someone else."
Merlin's head stilled and his eyes met Uther's again. While he knew the truth behind Arthur's birth, Uther needed to tell his side.
"I trusted a sorceress, Nimueh. She came to us as a friend, told us she could help. Ygraine became pregnant and though we knew it would cost another their life…" Uther stopped, closing his eyes briefly. Why was he talking about this to Merlin of all people?
It didn't make sense.
"I thought we were invincible. I thought Ygraine would always be by my side, us and our child." Uther needed Merlin to understand. "Never assume, never."
If Merlin assumed he and Arthur were like Ygraine and Uther, tragedy could only repeat itself. If he fooled himself, pulled the cotton over his eyes, Camelot would crumble and all of Arthur's hopes would fall with it.
"Nimueh told Arthur she wasn't to die by his hand, but I do not trust her word. If…" Uther took in a deep breath, confessing his deepest fears to the one person he knew would understand them. "If she should come for him, promise me you'll find a way to stop her, no matter the cost."
Merlin blinked at that, his gaze shifting slightly. Uther narrowed his eyes, catching the shift, and his eyes widened.
"I promise," Merlin said without hesitation, swearing his oath without breaking eye contact.
Uther could feel the power in the words, the feel of magic swirling around him. He hadn't felt magic this strong, this pure, since Nimueh had breathed life for their son. Even so, if he'd never known magic so powerful, Uther could feel it now, tingling against his skin.
It wasn't a promise. Not with this much emotion behind the words. Uther's blood chilled as he realised it was more of a confession and that Merlin couldn't promise him he'd protect Arthur from Nimueh because he already had.
Uther thought of all the times Merlin had showed his loyalty, all the times Merlin had shouldered blame for someone else. By all means, Uther should be ordering his execution, if he was able to stand here and say with such conviction that he'd taken care of Nimueh.
Nimueh – the one sorceress who had evaded everything Uther had done. The one woman who had taken so much and continued to drain him… tried even to take more.
Merlin had stopped her, saved Arthur (again), saved them all…
He nodded. Nothing was said, it didn't need to be. If they spoke the words aloud, then Uther had to do something about it. As it was now, Merlin could stay by Arthur's side and Uther knew his son was safe. With Merlin by his side, Uther could see the greatness Arthur would achieve and the weight of worry slid from his shoulders with ease.
"Thank you," he said with meaning.
Merlin bowed his head, dropping his eyes and standing.
And just like that, Uther was a King again and Merlin just a manservant.
The Tale of Sir Elyan (iv): The Tenth Night.
Elyan hadn't spent too much time in Arthur's company, so when the Prince asked for him one evening, he was a little apprehensive.
It turned to confusion when Arthur handed him a bunch of flowers.
"Sire?" he asked in confusion, looking behind Arthur to Merlin. Merlin looked up from cleaning Arthur's armour to smile and shrug his shoulders.
"For Guinevere. As a thank you," Arthur said, clapping Elyan on the shoulder. "Merlin said she liked purple flowers so…"
Elyan looked to Merlin and nodded to both of them. He took the flowers and left, shaking his head. Why had he thought moving to Camelot would be simple and easy? The people here were clearly mad.
"What are you doing here?"
Elyan turned at the familiar voice and pushed the flowers towards Gwen. "Arthur wanted you to have these, as a thank you he said."
Gwen raised an eyebrow, taking the flowers. They walked back through the castle together, moving into the darkness of the lower town.
"So… why was he thanking you?" Gwen gave him a sharp look.
"It's not my place to say," was all she said, but Elyan grinned instead.
"It doesn't have anything to do with Merlin does it?"
Gwen avoided all eye contact and Elyan knew he'd guessed correctly.
"Maybe. But even so, it's not as if they've done anything about it is it?" Gwen said, sighing slightly.
They'd reached their home by now and they entered, lighting more candles and moving to see what they could eat.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Elyan muttered as he looked for some bread. "Gwaine let slip to Merlin last night that we all know about how he feels, and he thinks he mentioned that Arthur feels for Merlin too."
Without turning around, Elyan imagined the look of disapproval on Gwen's face.
"I suppose he only thinks he mentioned it because he was out drinking?"
Elyan shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. We all worked hard, sleep comes on quick, you know."
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Right," she said. "As long as you don't fall into bad habits either," she continued, moving over to his side and finding the bread in a second.
"Was Merlin there when you visited them?" Gwen asked, cutting a chunk of cheese and laying it on the table.
Elyan bobbed his head, "But they didn't seem any different. He was just cleaning Arthur's armour…"
Gwen reacted differently. Apparently it was a good thing as she smiled. "Arthur usually sends him away to clean his armour, but if Merlin was in there doing it…" she trailed off, a slice of break hovering by her mouth.
"Now I think you're just looking for things. So what if he was cleaning armour in a different place? He still hasn't given Arthur the horseshoe."
Around the mouthful of bread, Gwen questioned him on the horseshoe business.
"Merlin wanted to give Arthur a horseshoe before he was fired. As a good luck token, but he still hasn't given it to him." Elyan wondered if he was just looking into things too deeply before Gwen spoke.
"Which means they're not completely back to normal then," Elyan nodded, thankful someone else thought along the same lines as he. It was just a horseshoe, really, and yet it was much more.
"There's nothing we can do though," Gwen said, breaking into Elyan's thoughts. "We just have to let them deal with it on their own. I've told Arthur to tell Merlin, and Merlin to tell Arthur but… well it's like telling a fish to stop swimming. It's not going to do it unless it decides itself."
Elyan nodded. Gwen was right; there really was nothing they could do.
He reached for a bit of cheese, only for his fingers to close around empty air. Gwen was smiling with her stolen cheese in hand.
"Your reaction times are slow," she teased.
Despite her times of wisdom, Gwen was still his little sister. And it was well within his rights to challenge her to a duel by pillow if he so wished.
The Tale of Sir Lancelot (iv): The Eleventh Day.
Lancelot didn't miss the scan of the training grounds Arthur made before he clapped him on the shoulder, drawing him away from the others. Still, he followed his Prince without questioning, curious as to why he'd be chosen to follow.
"How are you?" was all he asked and Lancelot was a little confused as to why they needed to be alone for this.
"Well, Sire… and yourself?" Maybe Arthur wanted to confess something?
"Good, I'm good. I was just wondering when you're going to show Gwen how much you love her."
Lancelot looked at Arthur sharply, wondering if this was dig. Looking at his friend, though, he could see that the words held no spite. There was a secretive smile on Arthur's face and Lancelot licked his lips slightly, preparing to reply.
"I didn't want to be inconsiderate," he began, but Arthur shook his head.
"You're the least inconsiderate person I know," he said. "And while I'm sure Gwen will be happy to wait for you forever, get a move on would you? The rest of us hate seeing the looks you two share at dinner. Puts a man off his food!"
Lancelot laughed, nodding.
"We could say the same thing of you Sire," he replied. For an awful moment, Lancelot was sure he'd overstepped the boundary between them, as Arthur clenched his jaw, but the moment passed and Arthur – shockingly – nodded.
"Which is why I needed to talk to you. When… when Merlin said he was with you last week…"
Arthur sounded unsure, as if he were treading on eggshells. Lancelot couldn't blame the man and he wanted to tell the truth. Except he didn't know the full truth did he? He didn't know what Merlin had been doing when he'd lied for him, except it had something to do with the mysterious sword.
And why had Arthur come to him instead of Merlin?
"I can't ask Merlin," Arthur said. "There are things that he won't tell me, but I have to know this at least."
Lancelot had sworn allegiance to Arthur, but he'd also sworn himself to Merlin, in private. To tell Arthur what he wanted could do one of two things; harm Merlin, or help him.
"Merlin was with me the second time. He wanted to find something and needed my help," Lancelot said, hoping the answer would be enough.
He knew it wasn't.
"And the first time?" Arthur's voice was strained and Lancelot knew he couldn't lie. He wouldn't betray Merlin, but keeping this from Arthur wouldn't do any good.
"I chose to lie for him. He had this sword, one that he had to get rid of." Lancelot supposed that much was true. Merlin hadn't returned with the sword after all.
"A sword? You lied for him over a sword?" Arthur's expression was pinched in disbelief. "Why on earth would he have to get rid of a sword and lie to me over it?"
"That sword," Lancelot said, unable to stop himself this time. He'd kept quiet too many times for Merlin; Arthur had to know what he'd done just this once. "That sword is the reason we're standing here now. It's the only weapon that can kill the dead, and it's thanks to Merlin that the immortal army were defeated."
Surprise was clear on Arthur's face, as well as the shadow of betrayal.
"But you two were… the warning bell…"
Lancelot nodded. "Merlin asked me if I could get him near the Cup of Life. He needed an excuse to be away from you."
There. That was as close to the truth as Lancelot would allow himself. Anymore and he would betray Merlin, but Arthur needed to know. Lancelot had wondered how Merlin would know when it was time to tell Arthur, and it felt right now to tell this much to the Prince.
"Merlin did that?" Arthur's voice was hollow.
"He did. Gaius and I helped him, but we owe a great debt to him," Lancelot said. While he feared what Arthur's reaction would be, he needed to tell him. Arthur needed to know about the man he loved, even if Lancelot could only reveal so much.
"But… he hasn't said anything."
Lancelot realised that, for Arthur, such an action didn't make sense unless the person sought a reward. Even though the Prince had learnt that people did things of their own free will, something like oh, saving the whole of Camelot couldn't go unchecked.
"No," Lancelot agreed. "That's not the kind of man Merlin is."
Arthur shook his head softly, eyes still wide. "I thought I knew him."
Unease crawled into Lancelot's belly and he held his breath.
"I thought I knew him, but then I find out he's a much better man than I thought…" Lancelot let the breath out in a small stream. His choice had been the right one, he knew that now.
"I need to talk to him," Arthur said, to himself. "I need to know everything," he said as he walked off.
Lancelot watched and knew he should warn Merlin. His feet remained rooted to the ground though and he considered this.
He'd never been one to believe in signs, but telling Arthur had felt right and warning Merlin felt wrong. He couldn't explain why, it just did. The day was drawing to a close and Lancelot knew exactly where Gwen would be right now.
With a smile, he decided to ask if she wanted him to accompany her home.
(Her answer was, of course, yes, and she invited Lancelot in for dinner, seeing as Elyan was on duty that night. Lancelot left with a smile and wondered why he'd spent so long waiting for this moment.)
The Tale of Sir Percival (iv): The Eleventh Night.
"… and so, there we were, standing by the wall-" Merlin said hurriedly, leaning forwards over the table.
"And then the idea just kind of popped into our heads at the same time," Gwaine continued, looking over at Merlin.
"So we've got these creepy, massive guys coming at us from all angles, and there's only one thing we can do, really." Merlin looked at Gwaine, nudging him with an arm.
"And that is to jump, hoping that we won't break a leg." Gwaine shook his head, grinning as they relayed their tale to Percival.
"Then we nicked a couple of their horses and headed off to save the noble Prince Arthur!"
Percival smiled, enjoying yet another tale of the Gwaine and Merlin chronicles. It was interesting to see how much fun the pair could have while running for their lives, and the jumping was quite inventive really.
"Thanks," Merlin said as Percival commented on it.
It was at this moment that Percival noticed Arthur in the hall. No one had commented on his missing seat at the table as they all knew he had been strained recently, and while Merlin had been determinedly looking anywhere but at the high table, there was no real reason for him to be, unless they'd had a falling out, again?
Except here was Arthur now, expression dark as he moved through the lingering nobles and servants. While it was a formal meal, people mingled around to talk to each other, enjoying the freedom Uther and Arthur's Camelot provided.
Next to him, Gwaine quietened. Percival suspected he too had seen Arthur, but Merlin, on the other side of the table, was none the wiser.
"Merlin," came the low voice of Arthur as he stood behind his manservant. Merlin froze for a second before he turned, smiling.
"I thought you said you wouldn't be done till later, or else I would have been waiting for you." Merlin cocked his head slightly, apparently noticing the dark look on Arthur's face.
"What's wrong with you?" slipped from his lips, and even Percival could tell that was the wrong thing to say to Arthur in this mood.
"I need to talk to you," Arthur bit out, stepping back from the table a little.
"Now?" Merlin asked, looking at his plate of unfinished food. "I'm halfway through dinner, can't I come up after-"
"It's about the sword," Arthur said and Percival watched as Merlin paled.
"Right," he said quietly, looking at the food and then at Percival and Gwaine, forcing a smile. "Duty calls," he muttered quickly, rising from the table and scuttling after Arthur.
"What was that about?" Gwaine asked and Percival shook his head.
"At least I'm not the only one who's confused," he said, looking at Gwaine.
"Do you think we should see if Merlin's okay?" Gwaine said uncertainly. "Arthur looked…"
Percival nodded. "If he can't be found anywhere tomorrow then I think we should raise the alarm. Arthur wouldn't do anything stupid."
Gwaine muttered something offensive to that and Percival smiled. It was still a little worried; he hadn't seen such a dark look on Arthur's face, not even during their battle upon Morgana's Camelot.
And as much as he believed Merlin could hold his own, once you grew to know the man, it was hard not to want to protect him.
The Tale of Prince Arthur.
Between Lancelot's confession (could it be called that? It was what Arthur had labelled it in his mind) and seeing Merlin's face in the hall, he had had time to think over what was said.
Somehow, Merlin – of all people – had acquired a sword that could slay the dead and been the sole reason they won over Morgana.
It made sense in the way that the army had suddenly vanished, as had Morgana, but it didn't make an inch of sense in the fact that, well, it was Merlin. Merlin who washed his clothes and polished his armour… who complained about mucking out the stable and did it anyway, even when there were stable hands to do that, because Arthur asked.
The Merlin he had come to love, and yet it seemed he hardly knew him.
There was no lie when he'd mentioned the sword at the table, that much was clear in Merlin's face. And yes, Arthur had seen the worried looks Gwaine and Percival had shot their way. He wasn't going to hurt Merlin for pity's sake, but he needed to know the truth.
At least Merlin hadn't lied this time, hadn't tried to laugh it off and say 'What sword?' or ask if it was about the sharpening he'd done earlier that day. Merlin at least had sense to deal with an angered Arthur properly and tell the truth.
Arthur took Merlin back to his room and shut the door, using the bolt for a rare occasion. He didn't want to be interrupted during this or give Merlin the opportunity to escape. They both needed this.
"I asked Lancelot why he lied for you. He told me that the second time you were telling the truth." Arthur paused. He didn't want to outright attack Merlin, but he needed the truth. Too many lies had surrounded his life and he couldn't take any more.
"He told me what you did," was all he could manage, and even then he couldn't look Merlin in the eye.
Silence stretched between them until Arthur almost couldn't bear it anymore. He was about to turn to face Merlin when he spoke.
"Excalibur is the only weapon that can slay the dead," Merlin began, softly as if beginning a story. In a way, Arthur supposed that he was.
"I took the best sword Gwen's father had made and asked the great dragon to bathe it in fire." Merlin's voice lacked any emotion. Arthur wanted to ask how he'd managed to get the dragon to bow to his command, but he couldn't find his voice to interrupt.
"It was supposed to be for you, when you took up Sir Tristan's challenge. I didn't know they were going to drug you." Arthur heard Merlin's sigh. "Your father used Excalibur, even though Kilgharrah told me it was only supposed to be wielded by your hand."
Arthur had no idea who Kilgharrah was, but Merlin was talking again before he could question him.
"I took Excalibur to a lake and cast the sword away. I never planned on seeing the sword again unless it was in your hand, but then… someone told me I had to take the sword up. I had to use Excalibur against Morgana's army." Merlin's voice dipped unhappily and Arthur knew there was so much more to this than he was letting on.
"I was told to look after the Cup of Life and I failed. I had to stop her and the only weapon I could use was yours." Merlin paused again, taking a deep breath in.
Arthur wondered how far away he was from breaking down. He didn't feel as if it would be long before he broke down and he wasn't the one saying all of this.
"I asked Lancelot to help me and managed to get to the cup. I think… I think Gaius and I killed Morgause, but we got to the cup and I emptied it of the blood." Merlin was rushing through his story now and as much as Arthur wanted to ask him to slow down (and explain why Gaius was there, and how you don't know if you've killed someone), he couldn't.
"And then Morgana was there… and she was screaming and…" Merlin stopped. "I wanted to help her, but I had to get Gaius and Lancelot out. I had to check if you were alright, I had to…"
Merlin stopped, taking a juddering breath in.
So that was the story. A story of how Merlin had used a sword of dragon's breath to defeat an immortal army, and how he had asked Lancelot to help him.
"I had to put the sword somewhere no one but you would ever be able to wield it. That was what I was doing that night," Merlin said, but Arthur didn't care anymore.
"Why Lancelot?" He didn't care if his voice was bitter. Why had Merlin chosen Lancelot over him?
"Sorry?" Merlin asked, confusion clear in his tone.
"Why did you ask Lancelot to go with you? Why didn't you ask me?" And if Arthur's voice broke slightly at his second question, he no longer cared.
Merlin didn't answer. Arthur waited, and waited, but Merlin still didn't answer.
He turned around, expecting to see Merlin with his head down, turned away or with his arms crossed. Looking as he did when he was defying Arthur's orders yet again, with that look that only Merlin could pull off.
Instead, he met Merlin's eyes, clear and flickering with light. He looked down into Merlin's cupped hands and saw a small Pendragon crest, burning with fire. The dragon uncoiled itself, lengthening and twisting around Merlin's hands as the distance between them closed.
Arthur was frozen to the spot as Merlin approached him, holding the little flame-dragon in one hand and reaching for Arthur's hand with the other.
When Arthur flinched, Merlin simply whispered, "Trust me."
And he did, letting Merlin manoeuvre the dragon onto his own palm, the warmth of the little fire creation spreading through his body. The dragon curled up on Arthur's palm, as if sleeping, before it began to fade.
Arthur wanted it to stay, and the warmth in his body faded as Merlin's magic did. He wanted to ask Merlin to bring the dragon back, to show him what else he could do, but his voice was swallowed and too far down to recover.
"I wanted to tell you so many times," Merlin was whispering, hovering just by Arthur's ear. "I'm sorry," he continued and Arthur wanted to tell him he was an idiot, to shout at him, to send him to the prison, to hug him… too many things that conflicted each other.
"I'll go now," Merlin said sadly, stepping away. Arthur wanted to reach out, tell Merlin that he loved him… but the distance only got longer and longer, and before he quite realised, Merlin was gone.
Arthur stood still in his rooms, barely thinking anything other than he now knew everything of Merlin. There were reactions that he should have displayed, and would have were he around anyone else.
But there hadn't been anyone else. All there had been in this room was Arthur, Merlin, and Merlin confessing his secrets.
And the worst part? Merlin had left before Arthur had recovered his voice. And by the time Arthur was ready to tell Merlin that he still loved him, even with the weight of magic (they could think about that another day), Merlin was long gone and the embers in his fire were half-heartedly lingering, watching their Prince with stunted disappointment.
The Tale of Sir Leon (iv): The Twelfth Day.
Leon spent the morning looking for Arthur. Merlin had come to him on the training grounds and asked if Leon would go and check on Arthur, not explaining why, and Leon had agreed. He'd set off for Arthur's chambers then suspecting that the Prince was taking a rare opportunity to lie in bed for a little longer, only to find them empty and devoid of any signs of life. Even the fire had burnt itself out, which showed he hadn't been there for a while.
He'd then looked around the main areas of the castle, the council rooms (empty), the dining hall (devoid of Arthur, but still bustling), the armoury (he'd be having words with a few servants so that they'd organise that particular room), and even tried the stables, where he'd simply received haughty looks from Arthur's horses.
It had taken a further hour until Leon had located Arthur, tucked away in a corner up on the roof. He was looking over the battlements, down at the market place with shadowed eyes.
"Sire?" Leon questioned gently. "Merlin wanted me to check on you, is everything okay?"
Arthur smiled as soon as Leon mentioned Merlin's name and nodded, turning to the Knight.
"It is, strangely it is."
Leon frowned at the relief in Arthur's voice, wondering what had made him act like this. He wore an odd smile, and his shoulders were lifted slightly. Had he told Merlin how he felt? Had Merlin told him how he felt?
"Sire?" Leon questioned instead, hoping Arthur would fill in the blanks.
"You think you know someone," Arthur began, looking back over Camelot, the small, silly smile on his face. "And then they turn around and do something that completely surprised you. You should be angry, you should do a million things and none of them good… but what does it mean if the only thing you can think of is how much you want to tell them that you love them?"
Arthur shook his head, the smile dropping as he looked at Leon. "Does that make me a madman?"
Leon felt himself under Arthur's scrutiny and dropped his gaze to the floor. He didn't know what had happened since he'd last seen Arthur yesterday, but whatever it was, it was big.
"A madman if you're in love? That you'll accept that person with all their faults and still love them? I don't think that makes you a madman at all," Leon said and he looked at Arthur.
"It's strange how things change in such little time," Arthur said, changing topic. Leon could only watch as Arthur shifted through conversations, hoping to grasp onto the ends and come to the same conclusion as his Prince.
"If you told me two weeks ago that I'd realise I'm hopelessly in love with my manservant, I would have laughed. I suppose immortal armies bring out the best in us all."
There was no chuckle to accompany the words and Leon knew them to be sincere. Whatever Arthur was saying, it was something he needed to say.
"And the worst part of it all," he continued, "Is that I wanted to say it. It was there; ready to come out, but… I couldn't."
Leon nodded, not saying anything as he didn't want to break the trail of thought Arthur had gripped loosely. He wasn't sure that Arthur knew he was still there, but he waited, patiently, for his Prince to finish.
"I think I can say it now though. I know I can say it now," he corrected, and the little grin was back.
"Thank you," he said, clasping Leon's arm as he passed. "I'll meet you back at the training field," Arthur said, and then he was gone.
Leon was left on the roof of Camelot's castle, wondering exactly what had just happened. He looked down before looking to the door and shaking his head. Maybe Arthur had turned into a madman, but after all they'd been through, he deserved happiness.
And it seemed that being a madman in love suited Arthur's happiness.
Leon left the battlements then, his cloak sweeping behind him as he moved down the stairs. He felt it in his bones, in his blood, with certainty. Arthur was going to tell Merlin tonight, and it brought a smile to his face. He didn't know how he knew, or why he was so certain it was tonight, but he was happy for them.
Leon entered the training grounds to see Arthur watching a fight, correcting the knights' positions gently, with a calm Leon hadn't seen for weeks. Whatever had happened between them last night, it had helped Arthur regain control of himself, regain the peace that made him more than just a good warrior.
He was more than just a Prince now, but padded with human flesh and a human heart. Merlin had caused this, most likely without realising it.
He hadn't really acknowledged how great a man Merlin was before now, but it had to be said; Merlin deserved his happiness more than any other man Leon knew.
The Tale of Sir Gwaine (iv): The Twelfth Night.
Gwaine waited for Merlin to stop pacing before he threw an apple at him. Merlin frowned in his direction, setting the apple on the table and returning to pacing around Gaius' workroom.
"Oh would you just sit down? Your pacing's driving me up the wall," Gwaine complained, receiving a jerky shake of the head in return.
"Come on then," he said, leaning his elbows on the table. "Out with it; what's eating you?"
Merlin looked at him with round eyes.
"Nothing," he said quickly, far too quickly for there to actually be nothing bothering him.
"Liar," Gwaine hissed, grabbing for the apple Merlin had discarded and biting into it. He looked at Merlin, staring at him, until Merlin looked back.
"So, go on then," Gwaine said, chewing on the mouthful of fruit.
"I told you, nothing's wrong." Merlin looked away and Gwaine nodded.
"Ah, of course. So, if this nothing had a name, would it begin with an 'A' and end with an 'R'?" He smiled as Merlin turned, a glare shooting in his direction.
"Fine," Merlin nodded a moment later. "So what if it is something to do with Arthur? Isn't it always? It's either about saving him, or running after him, or doing his bidding, or cleaning up his messes. Or it's about lying to him, or following him as he saves the world, or being completely fixed on him that I can't think straight for the rest of the day." Merlin took a deep breath in.
"Do you know when I first realised I loved him?" Gwaine shook his head, silent for once. "He was sitting at his table, as he does every day. Sunlight shone in the window and it hit me. Sunlight. That was it."
Merlin gave a strangled laugh. "I realised I loved Arthur when sunlight shone through his window. It ridiculous, doesn't even make sense!"
Merlin closed his eyes and stood in the centre of the room, hands by his side.
"Sure it doesn't," Gwaine said, and Merlin's eyes snapped open. "But what about love does?"
Merlin was silent then, the air around him calming. Gwaine offered him the half-eaten apple and he took it, biting into the flesh slowly.
"I suppose that makes sense," Merlin said with a smile, nodding to Gwaine.
"I have to go," Merlin said and Gwaine only just hid his smile.
"Of course you do," he said, meeting Merlin's eyes with a fully-fledged smile. "Good luck," he whispered as Merlin fled the room.
There was nothing left to do but inform the others now and argue over who exactly had the privilege of escaping the drink's pay.
(It ended up that none of them won, really, and they ended up the last people in the tavern, creating stories of what Arthur and Merlin were up to at the moment, until the tavern owner grew sick of the sudden bursts of laughter and whispers and threw them out, Knights of Camelot or not.)
The Tale of Merlin (ii).
Ignoring the looks he got, Merlin ran through the castle until he was standing outside of Arthur's door. It had seemed so easy before he had actually reached Arthur's door, and he'd imagine barging in, shouting that he loved Arthur, or even knocking before throwing himself in Arthur's arms… or maybe just slipping in and then turning around suddenly, proclaiming his love.
Except it was far easier to imagine these scenarios than it was to carry them out, and Merlin remained with a door separating them, staring at the wood.
Merlin jumped, moving away from the door and spinning around to face the person who had called his name. His eyes widened as he saw Arthur, an arm's length away, and he took a step back.
This wasn't how it was supposed to be; why wasn't Arthur hidden away in his chambers? It was supposed to be up to Merlin to decide, up to Merlin to keep things in his control.
He was an idiot. Why did he think that Arthur would forgive him for the magic? Why had he come here after what he'd done the night before? Just because Uther hadn't sent him away for execution after silently realising didn't mean Arthur wouldn't.
But Merlin hadn't been carried off, had he? No guards had come looking for him all day, and Arthur hadn't come with his sword to kill Merlin. His head wasn't on the executioner's block, not was his pyre being built.
"Are you okay?"
Arthur was – Merlin almost shuddered at the thought – looking concerned. He opened his door, stepping over the threshold and looking back at Merlin.
"Do you want to come in?"
The question was hesitant, but Merlin nodded, slowly following Arthur in.
It looked exactly like it did yesterday, and the day before that. It looked the same as it had a few days ago, with maybe a few exceptions. Different clothes on the floor, different plates on the table perhaps. It was the same room, nothing had changed.
Merlin didn't know why he'd expected it to change, but for some reason he had. Arthur hadn't gone into a rage, hadn't destroyed his room in a fit of anger at knowing Merlin's secret.
Arthur held up a hand, shaking his head. "I need to say something," he said, voice low.
This is it, Merlin thought. Why had it been a good idea to come here? Did Arthur really need to know he was in love with him?
Was it worth the price of his death? Or rather, could Merlin die without telling Arthur how he really felt?
No. He couldn't.
"After you- you showed me what you could do, I wanted to say something." Arthur was talking now and Merlin looked at him, waiting for the moment he'd call in his guards. "I've never felt anything like that."
"Not that I really know much about magic it seems," Arthur continued, pointedly avoiding looking at Merlin. "But…" Arthur paused and Merlin saw his jaw clench as he struggled for his next words.
"I should have done what I've been told to from birth, lock you up and tell my father. I should order you to bow to me, to confess the evil you've done." Merlin felt as if something had stabbed him in the stomach and he began to shake his head, denial springing to his lips. He'd never done anything to hurt Arthur, was only there to protect him.
"And all I could think, as you were leaving, was how much I love you."
The last words were twisted a little, forced out before Arthur's throat closed them off completely. They struggled out, pinning Merlin where he stood.
Arthur loved him? Even knowing about his magic, Arthur still loved him? He wasn't scared or disgusted, wasn't pushing him down to the cells or avoiding him, but opening his arms and telling Merlin he loved him?
For a moment, Merlin forgot how to breathe. Inside of him he could feel the flutter of his magic, alive and singing at the thought of Arthur loving him back, and he managed a fleeting smiled before he was forced to breathe again.
Arthur stood stock-still in the room, watching Merlin with guarded eyes. Merlin met his gaze equally, smiling as he reached Arthur, until he was a step away from touching him.
"I came here thinking I could burst in and shout it out, or that I'd spring it up on you randomly." A glint of hope crept into Arthur's eyes and Merlin nodded a little, his smile growing and growing.
"I don't think there is a right way," he said, "Only that the best way to do it is just to say it."
Arthur reached a hand out, fingers slipping over Merlin's neck as Merlin moved forward a little, until his mouth was pressed to Arthur's cheek, by his ear.
"I love you," he whispered, before Arthur twisted his grip and kissed him awkwardly, pressed too far to one side of his mouth. Merlin shifted, wrapping one of his arms over Arthur's shoulders and smiled.
Arthur broke away lazily, meeting Merlin's gaze with softened eyes.
"Stay the night?" Arthur asked and Merlin nodded, lying beside Arthur, limbs tangled as if they'd never slept any other way.
The morning came and Merlin had vanished by the time Arthur woke, to the sound of knocking. He moved to the door with a frown, annoyed that Merlin had gone and then further annoyed by whoever was outside the door.
He opened it and Merlin fell onto him, innocent look instantly plastered on his face as Arthur pushed him back so he was standing upright once more.
"What are you doing?" he asked, noticing the hammer Merlin held.
With a smile, Merlin nodded to the door. "Lancelot's horse threw its shoe. Elyan told me it was a good luck charm and I figured that it wouldn't hurt to put it on your door."
Arthur looked at the horseshoe, nailed to his chambers door as if it had been there for years.
"We all know you're the one who needs all the good luck he can get," Merlin said with a smile, closing the door behind himself as he entered.
It took one step to press Merlin against his door and Arthur took advantage of the fact he trained religiously to kiss his manservant senseless, regardless of whether said manservant really didn't mind the man handling.
There was a lot to sort out, between his added responsibilities and rebuilding Camelot, dealing with what Morgana had left from her rule and what was to come in the future. But as Merlin let his magic dance along Arthur's skin, he knew anything was possible.
Thank you for all your feedback, it's been lovely to hear. And also, thank you for reading!
In case anyone was wondering, I will be writing these two more often, yes. I love them too much!