"Of Dreams and Memories"
Holly felt as though she were being suffocated. The darkness was heavy, and the air around her felt thick with smoke. Opening her eyes feebly, Holly looked out at the stone and realized that she was lying on the ground of the courtyard. As she began to regain consciousness, she finally became aware of someone saying her name quietly, but urgently. And why was her shoulder shaking?
Holly slowly rolled over to see Merlin crouched above her.
Oh, she thought, That's what was shaking me. As Holly continued to regain her faculties, she realized that Merlin's blue eyes were shining, brimming with tears, but a hesitant smile had begun to stretch across his face.
"Holly?" he repeated softly, seeing that she was waking up now.
"Merlin..." she mumbled, "What happened?"
"Come on," he said gently, "Let's get you inside first. There'll be plenty of time to talk about it later." Holly accepted his guidance as he brought her to her feet. Stumbling, Holly relied heavily on Merlin as they made their way across the stone.
Suddenly a new figure appeared in their path. Squinting through the fog, Holly was able to make out Gaius' form.
"Merlin?" asked Gaius hesitantly.
"Gaius," breathed Merlin in relief, "It's alright. Everything. It's all... right. But we need to get Lady Holly inside, quickly. I think she's alright, just in shock. She fainted."
Gaius nodded, obviously pleased that everything was ok, but also concerned for Holly. Together, the trio made their way back into the castle.
"Holly!" exclaimed a voice immediately. Holly looked up quickly to see her friend, Morgana, rushing over to her. "My God, are you alright? We were so worried! Why did you dash out there like that?"
"I couldn't... leave Arthur alone," replied Holly, wincing as she was seated by Morgana. When she'd passed out, she must have hit the pavement pretty hard, because her body sure was hurting. Especially that ringing headache...
"Well, we're all glad that you and Arthur are alright," continued Morgana as she placed a damp towel across Holly's forehead. "Looks like the attack has stopped too."
"How?" asked Holly confusedly. "What happened?" Morgana's brow crinkled.
"Well I don't know. I thought you might have seen it since you were out there." Holly grimaced.
"Nope. I fainted. Apparently I'm pretty much a coward."
"Oh don't be so hard on yourself," Morgana reprimanded gently, squeezing her friend's hand kindly. "You did more than most people would, just by running out there. You really must care for Arthur a lot."
"Yes, I..." Suddenly Holly looked around. In her daze, she had failed to notice something rather important.
"Where did Merlin go?" she asked sadly.
"Merlin?" repeated Morgana in surprise. "What, Arthur's servant? He's still in the dungeons."
"No he isn't, I..." Holly drifted off as the thoughts began swimming about in her mind. "I'm sure I..."
But now Holly wasn't sure. Had Merlin truly been there, or had she imagined it? Perhaps she had actually fainted before Merlin ever arrived, and Arthur had been the one to defeat the devils? Speaking of which, how were they defeated? Could it have been Merlin? But no, Merlin was in a cell. Besides which, he was no fighter. Even if he truly had been there, and she hadn't been hallucinating, he wouldn't have been able to fight off the monsters.
It must have all been a hallucination then. That would explain the holes in her memory. Because after seeing Cedric in the mist, Holly couldn't remember a thing before Merlin waking her. So it was all a dream then... She'd only imagined Merlin being there.
"Holly," an insistent voice broke through her thoughts. Holly's head snapped up and her eyes met Morgana's.
"Are you alright Holly?" Morgana asked, obviously very concerned.
"Yes, I'm fine," assured Holly, not wanting anyone to worry about her. "I just have a slight headache, that's all."
"Come," said Morgana strongly, extending a hand with a friendly smile, "We'll go see Gaius. He can help you with that."
Obediently, Holly took Morgana's hand and allowed herself to be led away through the crowded room.
"Uh, so what do you remember from last night?" asked Merlin hesitantly, glancing over at Holly. "I hear that you hit your head pretty hard."
Currently they were in Arthur's chambers, though Arthur himself was not present. Due to Arthur's injuries from the battle, Gaius had insisted on keeping the Prince overnight to care for him. So Merlin, ever the faithful servant, was spending his morning preparing the room for Arthur's return: mundane chores like sweeping, changing the bedsheets, etc. were all on the list.
Holly, feeling rather lonely and forlorn for some reason, had sought out her friend in order to pass the time with him.
"Well, not much," she admitted. Convinced that her recollections with Merlin in them were false, Holly was resolved to keep her silence. She didn't want him thinking that she was dreaming about him! How inappropriate. "I ran out after Arthur and... passed out I suppose. Then I woke up, made my way back inside, and Morgana cared for me."
"And that's... all you remember?" checked Merlin.
"Yes, that's all." A silence fell over the two momentarily.
"Well, I'm glad you-"
"It's good that-"
they began to say simultaneously. Stopping short, Merlin and Holly both paused awkwardly, and a blush crept out onto Holly's cheek. Clearing his throat, Merlin waved his hand invitingly.
"Go ahead, sorry. What were you going to say?"
"I was just going to say that it's good that you've been released from your cell," she said in a rush. "What were you going to say?"
"Uh, simply that... I'm glad that you aren't hurt in any way Holly," he said sincerely, smiling that characteristic smile of his, though it held a tinge of shyness, as though he had something to be embarrassed for.
"Thank you," she replied graciously, smiling back at him.
Averting his eyes from her gaze, Merlin scolded himself internally for being such an idiot. Why was he so flustered? Well... ok, he knew why, but why couldn't he control it? He was going to end up looking like a fool in front of her! Heaven knows there were already enough people who thought he was just a simple-minded idiot. He didn't want her to be one of them.
Remembering back to the previous night, Merlin thought of how she had clung to him in fright. Didn't that mean something? But she didn't remember doing it... But she'd still done it, hadn't she? So maybe, just maybe there was-
A loud clanging filled Merlin's ears, breaking through his thoughts. Having been lost in his own mind, Merlin had bumped into Arthur's food tray that had been abandoned there the previous night. In doing so, the goblet of wine (along with everyone else) had tumbled to the ground, of course splattering Holly's gown in red wine on its way down.
Merlin's mouth gaped open in horror as Holly's jaw dropped as well.
Idiot idiot idiot! he berated himself despairingly.
"Holly I am so sorry. I'll pay for it, I will. I'm sorry. I'm such a klutz," he said hurriedly. Hearing a familiar bright tone, Merlin met Holly's eyes in surprise. She was giggling.
"It's alright Merlin," she said kindly, "It isn't one of my favorites anyways."
"I'll still pay-"
"You will not pay for it," she cut him off, "What, out of your wages? Don't be silly. I can afford it much better than you can. I mean, well, no offense."
Merlin chuckled a bit, though he still felt awful.
"No offense taken," he assured her. "It's only the truth, I don't mind. I still feel awful though. Are you sure...?"
"Yes. Absolutely," said Holly firmly.
"At least let me help you clean it off as best I can," he insisted, now grinning. Holly rolled her eyes but she was grinning as well.
"Well alright then."
Taking a seat on Arthur's bed, Holly allowed Merlin to dab at the stain on her dress.
"At least it only got on the bottom of the dress," she commented, "Otherwise I'd have to go change! Now that would be a nuisance." Merlin laughed heartily.
"If you say so my lady."
When he'd finished cleaning off the dress as much as possible, Merlin sat beside Holly on the bed, releasing a tired sigh. Holly found herself blushing as she realized that their thighs were practically touching.
Why is that? she wondered. That's silly; I've no reason to be blushing. Stop it Holly!
Suddenly Merlin turned to her with a small smile. When his sparkling blue eyes locked with her own, Holly found herself breathless. Such spirit behind those eyes, such kindness behind that smile. Had she truly never noticed before?
No, she had, she simply had tried not to pay it any mind. After all, Merlin was her friend! Arthur was the one she was supposed to be chasing, not Merlin.
So why was the one she dreamt of not the handsome prince but the kind servant boy? Why did his smile light up her heart so? Why did she wish to feel his arms wrapped around her again?
Why had she fallen in love with him?
Holly became worried as these realizations swept upon her, one after another. It wasn't right! Merlin was a servant, and she was a lady. But no, more importantly, Merlin was the best friend that she had in Camelot. What if her feelings hindered, or even destroyed, that friendship? Holly didn't think she could bear it.
I'll hide it, she thought desperately. I'll never speak a word of it. Not to anyone. Not to Morgana, nor my mother, nor Arthur... and most certainly not to Merlin!
"Holly..." Holly's eyes flashed up at Merlin and their eyes met again. Holly felt her resolve crumbling. To feel loved... that was something she wanted with all her heart, something she needed. In her life there was so little left, so few people that were close to her... That's why she always felt so lonely. But with Merlin, she never did.
"Holly, what are you thinking about?" he asked her. Merlin seemed very curious and a bit concerned, but not forceful.
"Nothing!" responded Holly immediately. "I just... I'm sorry I must have zoned out. That was terribly rude of me."
"What's wrong?" asked Merlin quietly, his blue eyes shining with determination. He wasn't going to let this go easy. Holly bit her lip nervously.
"Nothing Merlin." Merlin looked a bit dejected.
"You can't tell me? I thought that I was your closest friend in Camelot?" His voice was not accusatory, more confused and sad. It fair broke Holly's heart to hear that. "But I suppose now that you have Arthur..."
"No, that's not it!" she cried.
Without thinking, Holly reached out to raise his head from where he had dropped it down. Merlin's head snapped up at her touch and Holly immediately withdrew, her heart beating madly. Merlin's eyes looked into hers with such intensity that she was afraid she might stop breathing if she didn't remind herself to. Slowly, Merlin's hand reached out towards her own cheek. Holly did not move as his fingers flinched for a moment, showing his hesitation, but then he scooted slightly closer to her and his hand gently cupped her cheek. Merlin stroked her cheek softly with his thumb, and began to lean in towards her. Holly watched as his lips got ever closer to hers...
Softly, oh so softly, Merlin kissed her. Holly's eyes fluttered shut as her heart soared. But the kiss was not long-lived.
"Merlin!" A loud and furious voice interrupted them harshly.
Merlin and Holly burst apart in shock to see Arthur standing just inside the door. Arthur slammed the door behind him and strutted into the room, looking rather frightening.
"Arthur!" cried Merlin, leaping to his feet, his blue eyes open wide. Arthur walked slowly towards his servant, a dangerous look in his eyes. Steeling her nerves and ignoring the blush on her cheeks, Holly proudly strode over to Merlin's side and grabbed his hand. In her peripheral vision she could see Merlin turn to her with a surprised expression, but Holly had zeroed in on Arthur. His stormy expression had not faltered, though he looked a bit more confused now, surprised by her actions.
"Arthur, relax," she said firmly. "None of his attentions were forced upon me." Arthur took a moment to process this declaration.
"What on earth are you two thinking?" demanded Arthur. "Holly how could you... why Merlin?"
"That's none of your business." The features of Arthur's face hardened at her words.
"Merlin, do you even know what my father would do to you if he found out?"
"I'm sorry Arthur," responded Merlin quietly. "I wasn't thinking."
"You're damn right you weren't thinking. The Lady Holly is a noble guest in this house." Arthur pointed aggressively at Holly to accentuate his point. "You Merlin... are a servant."
"And what does that matter?" snapped Holly. "Who I choose to kiss is my own business, and no one else's. Think of Gwen. What if I said that you aren't allowed to kiss her because she's only a servant?"
"Will you let the Gwen thing go?" exclaimed Arthur. "I do not have feelings for her! Even if I did, I wouldn't act in the manner that you two have."
"That, Arthur Pendragon, is bullocks."
Arthur looked between Merlin and Holly, still obviously quite upset. Once more, he pointed his finger at them fiercely and he raised his brows for emphasis.
"I won't tell anyone what happened today. But don't let it happen again."
Merlin bowed his head at his master, but Holly merely stared stubbornly at him, wondering where on earth he had gotten the idea that he was allowed to order her around. Regardless, Arthur then strode out of the room, closing the door loudly behind him.
As soon as Arthur was gone, Merlin turned to Holly shyly, loosening his grip on her hand (which had been rather tight due to his annoyance at Arthur).
"Um..." he said nervously, unsure what to say.
"Did you mean it?" she asked quietly, staring embarrassedly into his chest. Merlin cocked his head a bit in confusion.
"The kiss." Merlin smiled softly.
"Of course I meant it. I meant it with every ounce of my being. Did you mean what you said to Arthur?"
Merlin grinned broadly and his free hand flew up to brush through his floppy hair in amazement.
"Wow," he said simply, chuckling a bit. Holly's head snapped up and her eyes met his. Merlin's look of pure amazement and ecstasy brought a grin to her face as well. Laughing brightly, she squeezed his hand tightly.
She laughed again, causing Merlin to laugh with her. Neither of them knew what they were laughing about, but they knew that they liked it.
Their laughs became heartier as they continued, as they did for some time. Holly felt like a child again as she found herself doubling over, holding her stomach, gasping for breath. She grabbed at Merlin's shirt, making him laugh harder as well, which in turn made Holly erupt in another burst of merriment. A minute later saw Holly sprawled out on the floor- where she had collapsed when her knees had begun to shake too much to support her- still laughing, eyes shut tight, body quaking. Merlin stood above her, laughing at her childish antics, brushing tears of amusement from his own eyes.
As her laughs calmed, Holly opened her eyes to see Merlin smiling lovingly down at her. Grinning devilishly, Holly reached up and yanked the bottom of his shirt, making him fall to the floor beside her. Merlin merely grinned and brushed her crimson hair out of her face. Holly smiled and quickly leaned in, boldly giving Merlin a peck on the lips.
Becoming more serious, Merlin gently stroked her cheek before leaning in to kiss her again. Their lips moved together softly, and Holly could feel her heartbeat begin to accelerate quickly. Merlin pulled away after a moment and rested his forehead against hers.
"I love you Holly," he said finally. Holly's stomach fluttered and a huge smile lit her face.
"I love you too Merlin."