Summary: from kinkme_merlin prompt: Arthur can ignore a lot of the strange things about Merlin, but when he sees Merlin with his shirt off one day he CAN'T ignore Merlin's scars.
Warnings: Mentions of violence, kidnapping (think Tears of Uther Pendragon), skinning of rabbits, magical reveal.
Notes: All lyrics (title and page breaks) come from Laura Marling's 'Blackberry Stone'.
to the world that never let you be
Evening approached far too quickly for Arthur's liking and he exited yet another council session (thankfully just on the rebuilding of the lower town, something he barely needed to contribute to) as the sun was setting.
Merlin had to have been in his chambers at some point, for the bed covers were thrown back and pillows plumped. The rest of the room was perfectly clean, fire stoked and taking the chill from the air. A jug of water sat in the centre of the table, two goblets at its side, so Arthur took a seat and poured himself a drink.
He was just contemplating what to in this odd moment of spare time - something he hadn't had for ages - when his chamber door opened and Merlin entered, back first and carrying a large platter of food.
"Dinner!" he announced cheerfully, setting the mountain of food on the table before nodding at his handiwork. "I even checked with the kitchens and they said your father's already eaten so I know you won't be called away for dinner."
When was the last time Arthur had taken supper with Uther? They might have shared meals a few times since Morgana's reign, but those times had been strained and Arthur too busy to remember them properly.
The last time they'd had a proper meal, as a family, would have been when Morgana was still in Camelot.
"You don't have to hover," Arthur stated, glancing up at Merlin as he reached for a drumstick. "Sit down and help yourself."
Merlin obeyed, dropping into the chair opposite Arthur's and reaching for the food. They shared the plate in the middle, picking from it in companionable silence.
"I talked to Gwaine earlier," Merlin said around a mouthful of bread. "The knights are settling in well, though apparently they're all missing you."
Arthur snorted, finding it a little hard to believe. While the knights respected him, they were often glad when he wasn't around as Arthur tended to work them hard and relentlessly, while Leon was more willing to stop for short breaks.
"I don't think I'll be back for a while yet," Arthur admitted, lounging back in his chair and stretching his legs. His foot tapped against the edge of Merlin's boot and he shared the smile Merlin shot him in return.
"Gaius says the work on the lower town's reaching its completion?" Merlin asked, wiping away crumbs from his chest absently before turning his attention back to Arthur.
Arthur nodded, licking remnants of a tomato from his lips. "Everything's been going smoothly so far and the lower town seems almost back to normal. It finally looks like everything's settling down now, back to how it should be."
Merlin nodded. "It's going to take time for everything to heal properly though," he said softly. "But Camelot will be better for it."
They fell back to silence, the only background noise the sound of the fire, little flames crackling around small logs. Arthur's mind was drawn back to the night before and how vulnerable they'd both been, out in the open world, alone.
Now though, they were different. They'd both built themselves back up to be who they were, not just Arthur-and-Merlin. They were the prince and his manservant inside of Camelot, but even with the distinguished roles, they'd both changed.
Was it the truth that had changed them or the admittance that they would never just be two friends? Saying that things were simple between them was like saying a boar wouldn't go for the charge when it could, but before the truth and Arthur needing to know, they'd been happy to let questions lie and let everything else just sit without probing.
In their roles at Camelot, the Camelot after Merlin had divulged his secrets, they'd have to pretend, to play a part against the core values Uther had set down. And while that should bother Arthur, it didn't in the slightest.
He'd lied for Merlin before and he'd continue to do so until the day he died.
Despite all that though, there wasn't anything to show for Merlin's trust. Arthur could say he accepted Merlin over and over again, but it was nothing but empty words, and Arthur Pendragon was a man of action.
That was why he'd asked Lancelot to gather the names of supporters so that when the time came, Merlin could slot neatly into the public place by Arthur's side without problem. There would be those who would oppose the change, of course, but if anyone could convince people that magic was good as well as evil, then the job fell solely to Merlin.
"You should get some sleep," Arthur said, hunger satisfied and sleep creeping upon him. He could tell that Merlin was tired too, just what he'd expect from the events of the past day.
"You need it more than I do," Merlin said, but he didn't argue, following Arthur's lead as he stood and walked to the door.
"Bright and early," Arthur said, a hand on the latch to the door, stilling as he waited for Merlin's answer.
A hand covered his own and he looked at Merlin, smiling a little tiredly.
"Bright and early," Merlin repeated, threading his fingers through Arthur's as he placed a small kiss against his lips. It was the barest of touches and yet it sent a shiver through Arthur's body, as if Merlin had poured his magic into him, to bind them together tighter than any destiny ever could.
He left then, their hands moving as one to open the door, and it was a long while before Arthur drifted off to sleep, thinking that it wouldn't be so bad if he was bound to Merlin for the rest of eternity. Nonsensical thoughts, of course, but if it had to be anyone... he'd choose Merlin.
but I'd understand that I'd never let it go
If he'd been expecting everything to change, Arthur was sorely disappointed. Merlin still greeted the day with an overly-cheery phrase while flinging back the curtains and Arthur still rolled over, not quite ready to wake. Merlin still moved about the room, tidying automatically where he could, and he'd still brought up breakfast.
"You know," Arthur muttered, still half asleep and the words thick as they came out. "You could just... just..." He blinked blearily, finally sitting up and stretching his arms above his head.
"Just what?" Merlin prodded gently, pouring out a goblet of water and turning to face Arthur, beaming.
"Magic it," Arthur replied, the word 'magic' lowered in tone as if he could be punished for merely saying the word now that they were back in Camelot.
Merlin took a sip from the goblet, not at all minding that it was supposed to be Arthur's breakfast and, consequently, his drink. Arthur didn't mind though, edging off the bed and moving to pour his own drink before sitting down and tucking in. He gestured for Merlin to sit too, rolling an apple across the table.
"Well," Merlin began, picking the apple up and palming it. "I guess old habits."
Pausing from tearing up a slice of ham, Arthur quirked an eyebrow and Merlin conceeded.
"Even though you know," Merlin began, looking down to the apple in his hands, "Doesn't mean that doing magic in Camelot is suddenly okay."
Arthur frowned and opened his mouth to argue the point, but Merlin shook his head slightly.
"Your father still has the death penalty for it and anyone who sees magic is almost certainly going to report it. Remember the incident with the Witch Finder?" Merlin shook his head. "Gaius almost died because of what I did, I can't let that happen to anyone else, lest of all you."
They sat in silence for a few moments and Arthur understood. It was partly why he had to find out whether his knights were behind his future plans (and how annoyed was he that he couldn't give Merlin what he needed right now, but with Uther how he was, nothing good would come of Arthur even suggesting a more open policy on magic), and find out soon. If he could at least tell Merlin that, one day, he could be his own man, then Arthur would feel somewhat happier. Not brilliant, but better than having done nothing.
Instead, knowing that he couldn't tell Merlin just yet, he chose to focus on the other snippet Merlin had let slip.
"Aredian?" he questioned lightly, just as Merlin bit into his apple.
Flushing slightly, Merlin nodded, chewing slowly. "In his defence," he muttered around the apple, "He wasn't too bad at his job."
Arthur shook his head in disbelief. Just how many times was Merlin going to stand (or sit) before him and list off another time he'd brushed shoulders with death? How many times was Arthur going to be surprised, again and again and again, just when he'd thought there couldn't be more.
"I don't think I want to know much more, do I?" he said instead, picking up another slice of ham as Merlin half-snorted into his apple, grin spreading across his face.
"Probably not," he admitted, basking in the renewed strength of their relationship.
He would be lying to himself, Arthur thought, if he said that he hadn't noticed the distance growing between Merlin and himself lately. Even before Morgana had betrayed them, Merlin had been drifting away, crushed under his secrets and the people he'd silently lost.
Now that Arthur knew the stakes, now that he knew how much Merlin meant, how much Merlin needed him, he wasn't about to let go. There would be times when they clashed and times when they needed their own solitude, but Arthur wasn't going to let Merlin fade away. Even if he had to fight for it, Merlin would remain by his side, despite anything anyone thought or did. Things weren't going to be easy, not even when Arthur would change Camelot's view on magic, but they'd both fight for it, together.
"Take the morning off," Arthur said suddenly, rising from the table and moving to his wardrobe. "I need to speak to Lancelot about a few things so you might as well see if Gaius or someone needs help."
For a moment, Merlin looked crestfallen, as if Arthur had kicked a puppy. It was gone when Arthur amended his sentence with a small smile.
"I'll need you back for lunch though. I want to talk about the knights' training scheme and I wanted to know what you thought about a few things, considering you spent more time with Gwaine and Elyan back in the caves." Small, white lies, but Arthur wanted the news to be a surprise.
Merlin nodded slowly. "Of course. Shall I bring lunch too?"
Shaking his head, Arthur pulled out clothes suitable for training and moved behind the dressing screen, changing quickly. He stepped out and Merlin handed him his sword and belt, almost instinctively.
"Thank you." Merlin smiled in return, his hand warm against Arthur's as he lingered after taking the sword, pressed between the cold metal of the blade's hilt and Merlin.
"I'll see you later," Merlin said softly before moving back, collecting the breakfast platter and moving off, away and out of the room. And while, as a servant, Merlin should have waited for Arthur's dismissal, laden him with 'sire's and 'my lord's, Arthur smiled stupidly at the door, a small smile, one seemingly reserved for Merlin.
With their lunch confirmed, it was easy for Arthur to go about his day, patrolling the lower town for a few hours before returning to the training grounds, singling out Lancelot easily. Arthur nodded to his other knights, drawing Lancelot away from the grounds and over to one of the tents set up just off the grounds.
"I know I haven't given you much time," Arthur began, only to be cut short by Lancelot.
"It was enough time, Sire," he said, nodding his head slightly. "And while there still may be a few prejudices to overcome, your knights will support you, no matter what."
Without realising it had been there, a huge part of Arthur relaxed and he smiled at Lancelot, thanking him.
"And if they realised that it was Merlin, and also knew about what he'd done, I know that they'd support you even more." Lancelot stood firm, every bit as noble as he'd tricked them into believing, years back now.
"Thank you," Arthur said quietly, facing a man who had avoided him for so long.
He wasn't fooled into thinking their relationship was that of the easy camaraderie they had shared when Lancelot had professed himself to be a nobleman's son. Too many things had changed in their lives with one issue they hadn't touched; Guinevere. Now, though, Arthur knew what he had to do.
"You need to speak to Gwen," he said softly, drawing away a little. Even though he had Merlin (always had, always would), Arthur couldn't deny the fact that he loved Gwen, had loved her in the way he thought he would always be able to, the way a husband loved his wife.
He didn't know what his relation was or could be with Merlin. They had kissed, pledged their lives to each other, but whether that meant they would be romantically linked for the rest of their lives... Arthur couldn't say. He wanted that, but he couldn't expect it. Still, he couldn't pledge his love or life to Gwen knowing she wasn't all that he wanted. He wanted Merlin, needed him, for Merlin was something Gwen never could be, at least for him.
But she could be everything Lancelot needed. Lancelot was everything she needed and Arthur couldn't stand in the way of that anymore. Gwen might love him and Lancelot may respect him, but enough was enough.
Lancelot looked as if he was about to dismiss what Arthur had said, but he lay a hand on his knight's shoulder, looking him dead in the eye.
"I'm not denying that she loves me or that I love her, but I'm not what she needs and she can never be what I need." Arthur hoped Lancelot understood what he was trying to say because this was as close as he's stretch himself to saying it in black and white.
"I've seen how you look at each other and we both know that if you had stayed with us after rescuing Gwen..." Arthur shook his head with a curl to his lips, open and honest. "Well we both know that I would never have stood a chance."
He could have stayed, could have marched Lancelot to Guinevere that very moment or he could have fetched Gwen here, but instead Arthur left. He was so used to being in control, so used to having people do what he wanted, it was strange to think that Lancelot might not take his advice. Merlin had made him realise, though, that sometimes he couldn't control everything and his place was not inbetween Lancelot and Gwen anymore.
His place was where it should have been years ago, acknowledged properly for all to see; beside Merlin.
With the support of his knights, Arthur drew himself up and left the training grounds, waving across the grass to the men milling around. On another day he would have stopped to talk and train, but today he had a lunch appointment, one far too important to miss.
Arthur caught a few servants milling about, asking them to spare some time. They nodded and rushed to do his bidding, some picking their way to the kitchens and others heading in another direction.
Satisfied, Arthur walked through the castle, heading for his chambers and Merlin. He was already there, sitting at the table and staring blankly at the wall, lost in his own little world. Arthur saw him start slightly as the door shut behind him, turning with a smile before looking past Arthur.
"Sorry, did you want me to get lunch?" he asked, rising to his feet as Arthur shook his head.
"I have a surprise. Come with me," Arthur said mysteriously, smirking as Merlin looked doubtful.
As they moved through the castle, Merlin kept up a stream of conversation, interjected every now and then with Arthur's replies. It mainly focused on how annoying Arthur could be at times, but extended to how they weren't having lunch at all, rather some ridiculous quest around the castle for one ridiculous reason or another.
"You do talk a lot of nonsense, you know?" Arthur said conversationally as they reached a curved staircase, the one Arthur knew led to the highest peak of the castle. "Right, do you trust me?"
Merlin's eyes widened before he drew in on himself, serious. "Of course I do," he responded, questioningly.
Arthur smiled in return, unsheathing the small knife he kept at his hip. Merlin jerked back slightly in response, but he relaxed when Arthur cut a large strip off the bottom of his tunic before resheathing his knife.
"You do know even with magic that's going to take time to mend, right?" Merlin said dryly, lips pressed together.
"Can't you just magic up a new one?" Merlin shrugged, narrowing his eyes incredulously. "Well you're a little bit useless then. Look, come here."
And perhaps Arthur couldn't blame him for being a little sceptical about the whole thing, but Merlin did eventually shuffle forwards, looking between the material in Arthur's hand and the stairs behind them.
"You're going to blindfold me, aren't you?" he muttered as Arthur spun him around, tying the makeshift blindfold tightly and grasping Merlin's hand.
"You did say you trusted me and I promise you won't be disappointed," Arthur said lowly, stroking a thumb over the back of Merlin's palm.
Merlin tightened his grip briefly, smiling even though he was looking away from Arthur.
"I might rethink what I agree to in the future then," Merlin muttered as he was pulled forward, Arthur slowly leading their way up the stairs.
The walk was slow, with Arthur moving around until he was practically pushing Merlin up the stairs. Merlin himself was wary, taking small steps and testing the stone before he put all his weight down, clearly uneasy about Arthur's plans. He'd already mentioned that he didn't think it was a good idea, but Arthur had laughed off his worries, shaking his head.
"But it's old and un-used," Merlin protested, slowing his pace down even further and referring to the tower.
Although he wouldn't be able to see it, Arthur rolled his eyes and squeezed Merlin's shoulders gently. While that much was true - it was the highest tower in the castle and took a while to get up there and though offered grand sights, it was otherwise useless to Uther and that was what made it perfect for what Arthur had planned.
"That's the point," he whispered in Merlin's ear. "It's a secret, our secret."
Merlin scoffed, but he also softened under the words and picked his feet up, a little more confident now.
They reached the top a while later, both slightly breathless. Arthur pushed Merlin out past the doorway and wind whipped through their hair for just a moment, before dropping. Sunlight rushed to fill the gap the wind had left and the warmth was pleasing, tingling on their skin and welcoming.
This particular tower opened out in a larger space on one side, one large enough to accomodate the little table and chairs Arthur had requested to be set up. Platters of food lined the table, mostly Merlin's favourites, but a few of Arthur's too. Where the table had been set up, there was a gap in the wall, a large segment of it cut out so that you could see out at the views without standing.
Arthur steered Merlin over to the table, carefully seating him before he removed the blindfold, taking his own seat and handing Merlin a plate.
"Help yourself," he commented simply, beginning to pick at the platters for his own lunch, waiting to hear what Merlin thought of it all. As he did so, his fingers brushed Merlin's and they shared a smile, a small moment just for themselves.
He was silent after that, so Arthur waited patiently. While he could have simply blurted out his plans to Merlin in his room, told him how magic would be legal again and Merlin could be free once Arthur was king, it was less than Merlin deserved. If Arthur could, then he'd have simply repealed the ban already, no matter how unwise that might have been.
There was still food left when they'd finished, so Arthur pushed it to one side, aware that they'd have to take it back down if they didn't want it to spoil too quickly. He then stood, offering a hand to Merlin, to lead them over to the wall of the tower, to look past the stone turrets and down at the kingdom Arthur had grown up in.
"You can see everything," he began, shifting so that Merlin was between the wall and himself, able to see everything Arthur wanted to point out.
There was the citadel, with the portcullis and drawbridge just in view, slightly overshadowed by another section of the castle. People milled about the castle, content in their day-to-day activities with no idea of the monumental move Arthur was making high above their heads.
He then pointed out the lower town to Merlin, the markets set up and the people there too. Life was simple for them, just out of poverty. Arthur remembered stories of the time his father had conquered Camelot, of how the people never wanted for anything. Magic had made the land prosperous and no one had ever felt the sting of an empty belly.
That much was almost true for all subjects in Camelot as the poorest were never left to die, but they were still subject to much squalor and poverty, thousands dying each year from plague or starvation, to name just two, from all over the kingdom. Magic had been able to help, Arthur had read in old stories, tomes hidden away and that Arthur had merely assumed were all fairy tales.
Merlin had opened his eyes to the truth, that good magic wasn't just a story.
As Arthur told little stories of his childhood - there, over out on the east, can you see? that's where I got my first true wound from a hunt - Merlin laughed, living through the moments. Arthur could feel the happiness practically radiating from him, but whether that had anything to do with his magic or Arthur just wanted to feel everything that Merlin did, he wasn't sure.
Though he didn't know how long they were there for (perhaps Merlin had stopped time itself, shrinking the world down to just the two of them), Arthur never wanted the moment to end. He wanted Merlin to see Camelot how he did, see how much he loved his kingdom and so, knowing all of that, understand why Arthur was going to bring magic back.
He made sure that Merlin had seen everything before he rested his mouth next to Merlin's ear, voice low.
"This is our Camelot," he said, feeling Merlin shudder under the touch. When he tried to turn and face Arthur, Arthur simply pressed against him and lay a kiss on his cheek.
"You need to look, promise me?" Merlin sucked in a shaky breath before he nodded, so Arthur relaxed his grip a little, still pressed to Merlin's back as they looked out over the turrets.
"I can't give you anything now," Arthur began, tilting his head until his forehead rested against Merlin's shoulder. "But when I become king, I'm going to remove the restrictions my father placed on magic."
Merlin made to move again, but Arthur stilled him by turning his head and shifting slightly, reminding Merlin of the promise he'd made.
"I can't show you how much to you mean to me right now, but one day you'll be able to look upon our kingdom and see people who have had to hide their whole lives be free. You'll be able to see how much magic means to our kingdom and how we've all suffered without knowing it." Arthur took a deep breath, hands shaking slightly with the need to tell Merlin how much he meant, how Arthur would shape a new world for Merlin if he had to.
Arthur had once said that he would leave Camelot and relinquish his entitlement to the throne for Gwen. He had meant his words, or thought he'd meant them, at least until now. For Merlin, he wouldn't abandon his kingdom, but forge a new one of peace and prosperity. For Merlin and the love that was growing, he'd stay and defy his father no matter the cost, because he understood what was right and what was wrong.
"Arthur," Merlin whispered, voice full of want and need and he half-turned. Arthur let him, shuffling forwards at the change in position until he had Merlin against one of the turrets, back against the stone.
"I can't prove anything right now," Arthur said, voice husky as he moved forward. "Despite how much I want to, to show you how much you mean to me, to Camelot-"
He was cut short by a kiss against his lips, Merlin moving forwards suddenly, hands moving from where they'd been resting against cool stone to grip Arthur's head. Where his hands lay sent a chill through Arthur's body, though it was less because of their temperature and more for the fact that they were Merlin's hands.
"Think of this as a promise," Arthur gasped as Merlin pulled back, nose against Arthur's cheek and mouth slick with their shared saliva. While Arthur couldn't see him, he knew that Merlin would be flushed, a pink tinge to his wet lips and eyes wild with emotion.
"A promise," Merlin whispered, kissing Arthur again, sloppily yet controlled, dragging down every barrier of Arthur's self control.
"That I'll return magic to the land," Arthur said when Merlin drew back again, hands tilting his head back so that Merlin could move down to his neck. As his tongue smoothed down over his Adam's apple, teeth slightly grazing the skin before he moved back up Arthur's neck, Merlin's lips curled in a grin, something secretive meant for Arthur alone.
"I never wanted for anything," Merlin admitted a moment later, pulling back fully and with a sigh. His tongue rested on his lower lip, jaw slackened slightly and eyes fixed on Arthur as though he was the only force in the world.
"I know," Arthur replied softly, closing the space between them for a series of small kisses. "Which is why I have to show you in something outside of the two of us."
Merlin seemed to understand, for he let Arthur turn him back to face Camelot once more.
"I want them to know how much you mean to me, about how much you had to sacrifice." Merlin nodded at Arthur's words. "I want the people who live in fear to be able to look at Camelot with hope, not with anguish at those they've lost."
"I understand," Merlin whispered, looking back at Arthur over his shoulder. "And thank you," he whispered, kissing the hand Arthur had lain on his shoulder gently.
They shifted again, Merlin cradling Arthur's head with both of his hands. His eyes were full of warmth and Arthur knew, with more conviction than he'd ever felt, that this was right, this was where they were meant to be, shaping the future of their Camelot.
"It's almost like a destiny," Arthur said lightly, a smile on his lips as Merlin's eyes crinkled.
There was still so much standing between them and their Albion, and their bond still so fledgling and new to the world that Merlin simply nodded, understanding what Arthur couldn't bring himself to say just yet.
"Almost," he mumbled, hands moving down until he could link his fingers with Arthur's. "We'll just have to see."
The laughter that bubbled from Arthur's chest was genuine and free, something only Merlin could have brought from him. And no matter how it ended - they all had to die someday after all, that much was something that he had to accept - and no matter what obstacles they all had to face, he had Merlin at his side, now and for forever.
and I couldn't turn my back on sweet smelling Blackberry stone
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