Established Merlin/Nimueh, hints of (one-sided?) Merlin/Arthur. Set during season one, sometime after 1x03.

Disclaimer: I don't own BBC's Merlin, I don't own the characters, I just borrow them for fun and no profit.

Lakeside Conversation

They were lying side by side by the lake without touching, and, again, he thought: I shouldn't be here.

But oh, it felt so right and so peaceful. The sky was half-covered above them, some stars visible, most hidden by gentle early summer clouds that held in the warmth throughout the night. The sounds of night-birds carried over to them from the nearby trees, and the grass and the earth were soft beneath them and full of sweets scents, and if he lied down completely, if he was very still, he could feel the earth's power throb through him like a constant beat, and he took the feeling with him even when he rose, acutely aware of the ties between his magic (him) and – everything, everything.

Her as well. The water of the lake reflected the faint moonlight back up at them, and even in the semi-darkness he could see her clearly. She was naked, as he was, sprawled over the ground, and it didn't make her look any less regal and mysterious. It seemed as if he could never get close enough to her, even when they were joined completely, there was a sense of control in her to the very last, even as she gave herself up to passion – and yet. He was close to her as he had never been to anyone else: she alone knew, she alone understood what he was, the power that lived inside him, that was part of himself more than a limb, more than his heart, his breath.

He knew that because she had laid her fingers on his forehead and said that she could feel the tingle of his magic; he knew because he has known her answering power as they kissed, something dark and endless tearing through him, and it was terrifying and he didn't want to stop; he knew because he has lost himself completely in her, his spirit thorn through space by hers, flapping and expanding in the wind, her body as if melting into his, sparks flying from his fingers.

And after days and days of being overlooked, Arthur's affectionate but condescending teasing, the dragon's cryptic distance, Uther's horrible power that he must bear, even Gaius' friendly incomprehension and down to Gwen's and Morgana's very lack of knowledge... after all this, he needed to be known and appreciated for what he truly was, and answered in kind, he needed...

"Regrets, again," she said, pulling him out of his thought; he looked up at her face; there was a mocking, knowing smile on her lips, as so often.

It wasn't voiced as a question, so he gave no answer, and she seemed content to just look at him.

She was right though. He shouldn't have come. She'd tried to kill him, though she had later said that had been before she learned of his importance. She'd tried to kill Arthur, though she had claimed that had never been her purpose. She'd poisoned Camelot's water, and it had almost lead to Gwen's death. He should hate her. He should distrust her too much to come, again and again, to this spot that she had chosen.

He didn't though. He thought that he could help her, change her, turn her around; she raised absurd thoughts inside him, ideas of heroics and seduction, like part of him truly believed her to be the frightened servant girl that had first charmed him. He thought that it was grief that drove her mad, that she lashed out at Camelot for Uther's actions because she didn't know its people like he did, because she didn't know Arthur like he did...

"And thoughts of your prince, again," she added.

She was lying on her back, upper body held up by her elbows, and now threw her head back, exposing her pale throat. She looked beautiful like that, her fine, long limbs, her exposed stomach, her bare breasts, nipples still hard, and he thought embarrassedly that maybe that was the only reason why he kept coming back.

She turned to look at him.

"Should I be jealous?" she asked, and the mocking tone was back in her voice now.

He just shook his head. He knew better than to talk to her lightly: it always left him feeling raw and uncertain, like life held so many other options for him than his destiny with Arthur, and the thought (just the thought of it, indulging in turning the very possibility of it around in his mind) shouldn't be so, so tempting, so freeing.

She smiled. He loved her dark lips, every tilt and expression to them, and their feel on his skin. She raised a hand to caress his brow, briefly, almost motherly.

"Don't do this," she said.

He knew what she meant; she'd said things like that before, and maybe he shouldn't feel flattered that she tried, that she cared. She'd stopped attacking them since their meetings started, and he thought maybe that was the reason, her hope to make him switch sides, though he wasn't certain there was more to hers than herself. See, I'm doing good in coming...

"Don't," he answered her at last, and raised a hand as if to hold off her words. "Just – don't."

"But you need to know," she said and sounded almost joyous. She sat up now, without taking her eyes off him. She could look so light and so intense both at once. Maybe that was one way of dealing with rage and grief: anger and distance from the very anger. She looked him up and down now; he'd stopped feeling self-conscious under her gaze, and he even dared smile up at her teasingly, in an attempt to ward off her words. She returned his smile; but she spoke on all the same: "You don't tell him your secret, and you are right."

"You don't know him," he said, and lied down completely; he shouldn't be feeling so relaxed either, but...

"I know what princes and kings are."

"I trust him," he said, and when he said it, it was true, though he knew even as he spoke that when confronted with the reality of Arthur embedded in his princely duties and privileges and the reality of Camelot and Uther's kingship, the trust in the strength of their friendship and Arthur's independency would waver again. Everything felt so free and easy here, under the starlit sky, by her side, especially the truth of magic. "I trust him," he repeated. "The time just isn't right yet."

"He won't cast you away," she said; he jumped, both at her words and her tone, and pushed himself back up.

"What are you –"

"Oh, it will be much for him to overcome. But once he is past this, he will react with awe and desire."

Merlin blinked in the darkness; she had a harsh, concentrated look on her; he wondered if that was how she looked when she did magic, the difficult kind, not the small tricks they'd played at showing each other.

"Are you saying I should tell him?" He felt something inside him clench; maybe that was how she had decided to destroy him.

She shook her head and looked him square in the eyes; he voice was still silkily soft:

"He will court you and ask miracles of you." She paused. "And when you bend the very path of destiny for him... he will blame youfor the results he didn't want to see before, and destroy everything you hold dear."

Merlin was silent for a moment; she looked so young; it was hard to remember that she was Uther's age.

Well, he wasn't stupid.

"That's something Uther did," he guessed.

She balanced backwards faintly in the grass.

"That's something kings do when the world doesn't bend to their will – or when it does so much it frightens them."

"You could just tell me what happened."

She smiled faintly at him, then turned away, towards the lake, with a light shrug.

"What for? You don't trust me," she said.

He snorted.

"I'd trust you more if you told me things." I want to trust you.Or maybe part of him didn't, enjoyed the danger, the forbidden nature of their meetings.

"You can trust me in this, Merlin: don't tell him. Help him in secret, if you must protect Uther's heir. Refuse to do anything he asks of you, if you must tell him. Demand his allegiance instead of giving him yours, if you must tie yourself to him."

He sat up and laid a hand on her shoulder timidly from behind.

"Did you ever swear allegiance to Uther?" he asked.

She turned around and looked at him for a long moment.

"No," she said. "I came to him a friend. We were equals, he and I."

Merlin drew back his hand as if burnt.

They were silent after that. After a while, Nimueh rose to recollect her discarded clothes. She put on her dress, and untangled her hair, and eventually he followed her example and got dressed, feeling clumsy all the sudden, like he was a mere servant again and not – what had she said? – the most powerful warlock Albion had ever seen. As if she sucked out some of his magic from him by putting back on that wall between them, that distance. They weren't friends. They weren't even allies, and it hurt.

"Are you coming?" she asked, like she did every time, offering to take him with her, down to her secret cave, and he knew she meant forever, like a king in a castle and a prisoner.

"No," he said, like every time, and she accepted it with a smile and a shrug.

He left first, walking down the path back to Camelot with his feet still bare, shoes in his hand. He didn't look back, and, like every time, he swore he wouldn't come to the next meeting, if only because he knew that one day he would not be able not to say "yes".

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