Title: furor scribendi.
Warnings: none, really.
Summary: Guinevere starts a project of letters to be read in several years' time, and Merlin uses that chance to write down every secret he wanted to tell.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Miru for chasing me on writing this and looking it over for me (Google docs is the best invention ever), and to Kajmere for beta'ing this so amazingly fast! And to the organizers of Merlin Holidays for looking this over for me, like, a bajillion times!
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to Shine and BBC. I make no profit from this endeavor.
It all started with Guinevere's idea after she had heard some of the town girl's gossiping about letters and how appreciative they were to have these feelings of devotion from their beloveds in writing. Of course instead of going to Arthur to ask him to write her a love letter, she had thought it more sensible (and sweet), to write letters to all the people who were important to her.
'It's so we can remember in later years just what we're feeling now,' she tried to explain to Merlin, liberating a thick stack of parchments from his desk. She had explained that the only people she knew with so much paper were Gaius and Geoffrey, and the latter didn't seem keen on giving her something that could be used for the replacement of words, should one of his books ever be damaged. 'And maybe... we'll always remember how much we all mean to each other today.'
'Gwen.' Merlin collected his inks, fumbling with the glass bottles enough that a few drops spilled onto his hands. 'Is this about' — he stumbled over the last word and winced at the slight pitch his voice seemed to have settled into — 'Morgana?'
She smiled sweetly and Merlin couldn't help but wonder as well; wonder that if they had all written of their devotions to each other years ago, Morgana would have found the letters and remembered just how close they all used to be. How they used to be friends, and how often they would come to each other's rescues and stick together when it was most needed. How they had been strong together, before Morgause had whisked her away.
So maybe her idea had merit outside of forcing Arthur to actively acknowledge his feelings for her (in a manner apart from spontaneous actions).
'It's not just that,' Guinevere tried to explain, 'but... there are always things that none of us can say out loud.' She looked deep in thought for a moment, almost sad. 'But if we write things down, and our letters are read years later, maybe then we'll have the courage to face our own words.'
They stood together in silence for a moment; both with their eyes lowered until Merlin finally looked up again and attempted a smile.
'All right,' he agreed, deceptively amiable, 'all right.'
He writes to her first, because it's the easiest thing. The letter is long and recounts their various adventures and laments about not spending more time with her. He spends hours into the night with his quill, putting ink to paper about how she had been his first friend in Camelot, and how much he appreciated her patience and her wisdom. Guiltily, he admits that without her, he probably would have made some terrible mistakes. That he learned so much of forgiveness and understanding from her, and that she is such a precious friend to him. He writes his blessings on her and Arthur's relationship, and how he believed she would become a great queen.
Several pages later, he finally runs out of things to write. Merlin feels somehow liberated as he signs his name at the end and blows on the ink, half satisfied at his improvement in penmanship and mostly relieved at the idea that Guinevere would one day read this. Not today and not the next week, but maybe in a year. Maybe in five.
The letters, he admitted to himself, were a fantastic idea.
He continued on that vein, writing brief letters to Leon and Percival then Elyan, thanking them for their help and their faith in him and how touched he was by their support. How proud he was to call these knights friends. He fell asleep writing those letters and the next morning had to scrub the ink stains off his face.
'Did you stay up all night writing?' Arthur asked with amusement in the morning - after he had regained his good humour with breakfast.
Merlin scrubbed self-consciously at the faint black smear on his face with his palm before bringing his hands down and behind his back quickly as he heard Arthur snort at the sight of his ink-stained fingers.
'Yes. No. Of course not.' Instead, he gestured at the small stack of crumpled up parchments with his chin in an effort to redirect the teasing. 'It looks like you did, though.'
Following his gaze, Arthur scowled and swiped at the stack of papers, shoving them under a pile of books and reports that he still had to sort through. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
If anything, that cheered Merlin up immensely. 'Of course you don't. Because Gwen would come to me first about her project.'
'She would not!' Arthur's scowl grew as Merlin grinned at him. 'I may have... drafted a few things I wanted to say to her. I certainly did not stay up writing.'
Merlin chose to ignore that, taking the few steps needed to attempt a grab at the papers under the books. 'Who are you going to write to, anyway?'
'Merlin!' Arthur slapped his hands away, and Merlin yelped. 'I am obviously writing to Guinevere, and the things I have to say are private!'
'I don't get a letter?' he teased.
At that, Arthur looked shifty. 'Don't be ridiculous.'
'That wasn't a no.'
'That wasn't a yeseither- Merlin!' Arthur snatched at his letter as Merlin attempted a second time to see what had been written there. 'Don't you have other things to be doing right now? Something other than sticking your nose where it doesn't belong?'
The stack of papers certainly looked thick enough that Merlin was sure it had taken several hours to write; since he was the one who stayed with Arthur until late at night most days, that meant Arthur had definitely lost a good amount of sleep to that letter. That would certainly explain why it had been so hard to get the prince out of his bed in the morning, too.
Arthur gave his servant a look between aggravated and hurt. 'I'm not asking to read through your letters, am I?'
'Why would you assume that I have more than one letter?' he tried to say nonchalantly as he piled the breakfast plates together, getting ready to take them away back to the kitchens.
'Because you would obviously write me one as well as Guinevere,' Arthur replied smugly, still holding the papers tightly and away from Merlin's gaze. 'And you're such a girl, you probably have one for all the knights, too. And maybe that serving girl from laundry, what was her name?'
'Her name is Clarise, and I do not.' It was probably futile to tell Arthur that he had never really gotten along with the other servants in the castle. They were all polite enough, but seemed to grow quiet when he walked past. He understood when they moved breakables away from him (he had dropped enough plates and pails of boiling water through the years that he couldn't really blame them), but it seemed a bit excessive to get so quiet just because he was the prince's servant. It was really no wonder that he preferred the company of Arthur's knights, who never minded his presence. He might know most of the servants in the castle by name, but it didn't mean that he was particularly close with any of them.
Arthur quirked an eyebrow, moving to shove his papers into the nearest cupboard and giving Merlin a look that claimed in no uncertain terms that there would be consequences if Merlin tried to read them (though Arthur really should have remembered who cleaned his rooms, including his cupboards). 'You're expecting me to believe that you don't at least have a letter for Gwaine?'
Merlin stilled his hands and looked up suspiciously. 'Actually, I haven't.'
'Right.' Arthur didn't sound as if he believed that at all. 'Has Guinevere told you where we're supposed to put these letters? And how long we're supposed to wait before opening the ones given to us?'
It was an obvious change of topic, but a welcomed one.
'She said something about hiding or burying them.' As strange as that seemed. 'Didn't say anything about how long, though. Only about when we're ready.'
Merlin cast one more covert look at the cupboard where Arthur had hid his letters, and met Arthur's glare straight on with a grin. Despite what Arthur thought, he actually wasn't going to leap forward and try to read the letters. He was certain he didn'twant to read Arthur's thoughts toward Guinevere, and even if he did find a letter addressed to him... well, he wouldn't have wanted Arthur to read his letter ahead of time.
While his own letters so far had been light-hearted, Merlin had tried to compose Arthur's letter in his head and it was full of things he didn't want Arthur to know about just yet.
'Yes. I'm sure she'll tell us when she's ready.'
'And when exactly are we supposed to be done with this, anyway?'
'According to her? In four days. She's collecting all the letters and putting it in some kind of box so it can't be opened until we're all ready for the letters to be read.' Merlin hesitated. 'I suppose.'
'Four days,' Arthur echoed, looking dubious. 'Yeah. That should be enough time.'
The rest of the day was relatively quiet, one of the few to be had since they had reclaimed Camelot from Morgana. The heat of summer was cooling down and giving way to autumn, the leaves changing and the fog in the mornings thickening to make the castle look altogether magical.
If only magic wasn't something to be looked down upon.
Arthur called an early night and Merlin gratefully headed back into his room, each step lighter than the last, with thoughts of words and confessions running through his head.
Lancelot's was the first letter Merlin wrote that night, a full three pages organizing his thoughts on how he thought the knight was far too noble but how he was so glad for it because he had never met a more honourable man. You, Merlin scratched carefully onto the parchment, give me hope that things will be all right.
Because Lancelot had kept his secret all this time, and even encouraged Merlin to learn more about his magic. He covered for Merlin when needed and stammered out the worst excuses when he was forced to lie about where Merlin was or what he was doing. Lancelot was the one person outside of Gaius that Merlin could talk to about magic, and he knew that any decisions he ran by Lancelot would come out to be right one. There was no doubt that Lancelot would never do a dishonourable act or willingly inflict pain.
He hoped that by the time Lancelot was able to read the letter, he would find happiness beyond just that of being a knight. Because if there was anyone who deserved to be happy; Merlin wished it most for his dear friend.
His candle sputtered within the pool of wax by the time he was done with the letter and Merlin glanced up at it, wincing as his neck protested the movement after having been stuck in one position for far too long. He put out the flame with a whispered word and created another one, this one far brighter and otherworldly, shimmering white in the air above him to illuminate his writing.
Next, he thought faintly to himself. It was early yet and he felt better after each letter, anyway. Better about himself in general, knowing that his secrets wouldn't be secrets forever. The parchments were solid proof of who he was and he would one day give those parchments to their intended recipients.
Gwaine's letter was simple, it was filled with anecdotes and do you remember?s. He wrote of his gratefulness, for how Gwaine managed to always be there when he needed him, and the pleasant surprise of knowing that someone like Gwaine would consider him to a friend. Gwaine was important to him, and he sincerely hoped that the other would not change too much with his knighthood. It was easy to see, he wrote, the nobility in his heart. Nobility that had little to do with birth but with knowing that Gwaine was honourable and reliable no matter what others might say. Merlin had experienced it, after all, and he would do his best to be a true friend back.
It was there that his quill hesitated, because what could he say about the knight? He wasn't sure how he was supposed to express that Gwaine was able to brighten his day each time they met in the courtyard or in the castle corridors. How he laughed at the bonding antics of the knights and he felt soft whenever Gwaine ran past him with a wink and a flourished bow. How glad he was whenever Gwaine dragged him to the tavern with the other knights, insisting on sitting next to him even when Arthur gave them two of them a withered look.
He had no words for that, Merlin realized after staring blankly at the half written page. Because as much as his destiny belonged to Arthur and he was glad for the chance talk freely of magic with Lancelot, Gwaine was the one who made sure Merlin's day ended with a smile whenever possible. How did anyone express their thanks for that?
By the time he attempted more words, the ink on his quill had long dried and he was too tired to continue.
'Are you writing the letters?' Gwen asked the next day as she settled down to sit next to him in the courtyard, a basket of laundry in her arms. She looked far happier than she had two days ago when she had first brought up her little project. Merlin smiled at her, squinting a little at her silhouetted form in the sunlight. He had been outside for the past half hour enjoying the warm air and the humorous antics of potential knights as he worked on sharpening Arthur's sword.
'Almost done,' he admitted. 'How many people do you have working on this, anyway?'
Her expression turned sheepish. 'I told you, Arthur, and Elyan about it.' She smoothed out her skirts under the basket, and Merlin wondered if somewhere there was a room waiting for clean linens. 'But Mary down in the kitchens heard about it, and it kind of...'
She sputtered for a moment, and Merlin was reminded of the girl he had met when he first came to Camelot; the girl who had a tendency of speaking all of her thoughts, and then correcting herself in the same sentence. It was with a pang that he realized he missed her flustered demeanour. Now, Guinevere dressed much nicer and watched what she said and held herself with a grace that mirrored the prince's interest in her.
'Escalated?' he guessed.
She only nodded to that, pose mournful. 'I'd be surprised if there's someone in the castle who doesn'tknow by now.'
Merlin turned his gaze to the knights again, watching as Arthur rejected another new recruit and Percival fought against Elyan behind him. 'Maybe it's not a bad thing.'
He could see her fuss in his peripheral vision. 'No, no, that's not what I meant, it's a great thing that they all want to participate, but I feel as if everyone would just flood me with letters. Not that it's a bad thing, I just-' She sighed at Merlin's smile. 'Is it selfish of me to not... to not want to be in charge of everyone's letters? I mean, I don't even really know what I'm doing...'
'I understand. I think it's a great idea.' And he did understand. With the lengthy writing and his hand cramping at random intervals around his quill, it had been a cathartic experience to just admit to what he thought. At least he could say how important people were to him without being called a girl for it. 'Maybe... have one for your friends, and then suggest that others have one for their friends as well? Kind of limit it to who they're writing to.'
Gwen brightened. 'That's brilliant!'
They were distracted as laughter broke their conversation. And Merlin looked up to see Gwaine; shirtless, no less, with a sword in each hand, standing over one of Arthur's failed recruits. He was smiling, but it was that closed mouth, mocking-like smile, that didn't feel entirely genuine to Merlin.
It wasn't difficult for him to decipher the situation. Yet another rookie noble had insulted the 'commoner knights' and had challenged one of them to a duel, seeking to prove themselves above the ones that Arthur had knighted.
Gwaine leaned down to say something with a tight grin to the noble, and then backed up without returning the sword he had no doubt won through battle. He didn't take his eyes off the man until he was several paces away and out of arms reach before his eyes met Merlin's, and the smile turned genuine as he flourished his swords outwards and gave a mock bow like a showman.
Merlin grinned back.
He could hear Gwen's amused huff beside him. 'I guess I'll have to include the rest of Arthur's knightsin our circle.'
Merlin turned back toward her, not having heard a word she said as he watched Gwaine laugh with mirth and toss a sword over at Lancelot to catch. 'Sorry?'
Gwen just shook her head and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
'So what,' came the disembodied voice as a hand reached around him and snatched a tomato from Arthur's dinner plate, 'did you think?'
Merlin slowed his steps, having gotten used to being ambushed in the corridors in the past several weeks to carry extra food when he made his way up to Arthur's room.
'About your food stealing habits?' he responded innocently as Gwaine swung around to walk beside him, one arm slung over Merlin's shoulder while the other one popped the cherry tomato in his mouth. He was close enough that Merlin fancied he could smell the sharp cleanness of soap and light sweat.
'About the fight today! You were watching, weren't you? Surely you have a few things to say about it- something like "Gwaine, you're so very amazing with a sword. I'm so glad to have you as my dashingly handsome friend who would do anything for me"-' He halted his words as he glanced at the wide silver platter and his expression turned positively wicked. 'Merlin, Is that your beef stew? Did you cook Arthur's dinner?'
He was already reaching for the spoon as Merlin pulled out of his reach reluctantly. 'Yes! And no, you can't have it. I have to take somethingup to Arthur for his dinner, you know.'
'He can have the rest of his tomatoes,' Gwaine offered generously, having already pulled off his gloves with his teeth and once more trying to reach for the stew. Merlin pulled away again, glad for his longer reach, and how Gwaine at least respected the food enough not to give Merlin cause to accidentally tip the tray.
'He specifically asked for stew today,' Merlin protested, still attempting to stay out of reach and trying very hard not to feel Gwaine's breath against his neck or how the other was pressed closely against him in order to grab at the food. It was vaguely... uncomfortable, almost, although he had never before felt truly uncomfortable in Gwaine's presence and doubted he would ever be able to. He could feel the strands of Gwaine's hair as the knight grinned as if accepting a challenge, the brush of the leather glove still clenched between the knight's teeth, and that ever present arm around his shoulder holding him in place so that he couldn't escape too far.
'His highness could do without your cooking for a day,' Gwaine said, or at least tried to around his glove. 'The rest of us plebeians aren't as blessed as he is to have you make our dinner for us whenever we want.'
The soft leather of the glove brushed against the skin of his neck, and Merlin squirmed, nearly yelping at the unexpected pressure. It was Gwaine who had to steady him to ensure he didn't drop the platter altogether.
This halted their progress to Arthur's room.
'Merlin,' Gwaine said as he finally pulled his glove out of his mouth, sounding delighted. 'Are you ticklish?'
'Absolutely not,' Merlin replied instantly, too aware that he sounded much like Arthur at the very moment. Speaking of. 'I really need to get his dinner up to him. I made more than one bowl, you know. There's still a lot left down in the kitchens. You are more then welcome to it. I was going to bring some to Gaius too, so he wouldn't have to make dinner.' Because as much as Merlin loved the man, his cooking left quite a bit to be desired. He had learned rather quickly how to cook for himself.
Gwaine had a scheming look on his face, though, that made Merlin squirm more than the touch of leather against his neck. It was the slow mischievous grin however that had Merlin muttering excuses as he hurried away to bring Arthur his dinner.
He made his excuses to Gaius after dinner when his mentor informed him that Gwaine had been by earlier looking for him.
'Gaius,' he called out before he entered his room, wondering if he should spend the night catching up on sleep, or to continue writing his letters. Surely Arthur would be forgiving if he was late in the morning. Arthur was surely writing his own letters late into the night too, if the numerous balls of wadded parchment littering the floor of his chambers hours earlier meant anything. 'Have you heard of Gwen's, um, letter thing?'
The physician looked up at him with a fond exasperation. 'Yes, Merlin. Of course I've heard. Everyone in the castle knows.'
'Are you going to write, too?'
Gaius waved him away. 'I don't need to. My patients are well aware what I think of them. And you, Merlin, you should already know how important you are to me.'
You are a son to me,Merlin remembered Gaius's words, and beamed. He supposed that unlike the rest of the castle, he and Gaius tended to speak their thoughts freely or at the very least understand each other so there was really nothing that needed to be said.
Still, in the quiet of his own room, Merlin pulled out a blank parchment and wrote a short paragraph to Gaius beginning with how he was grateful for someone who pulled him away from dangerous thoughts and always had time for his problems, and ending with how despite Balinor being his real father... he couldn't have asked for a better father figure than Gaius, because it would be his teachings that Merlin would keep with him always.
Then came the hardest part of all the letters.
Blowing a breath over a new candle, Merlin smiled as it lit obediently under his touch, the flames dancing uncertainly for a moment before steadying and brightening. Words were the crux of spells, he had read in his book, but he had never really needed them before he learned spells. And in quiet moments like these, when he was on his own and there was no danger and no limit of time, he reverted back into his wordless casting.
He spent a few minutes staring at the blank paper with the flickering light before dipping his quill in the inkwell.
And with those words, it felt like a dam had opened. Page after page of hurried, spidery writing appeared on blank parchment, so fast that the ink blurred as he ran a hand over his words, still damp.
He didn't write praise or relive memories this time, but spent page after page writing about magic. About the feel of fire in his hands; and the knowledge (and feeling) that he could ward off the darkness of the night. He speculated on how different it must seem to most people, but how he couldn't even fathom his life without magic. It was like breathing, something he did without thinking unless he actually wasthinking about it. It was being warm on winter nights and making his mother smile with fairy lights on the darkest nights. It was growing daisies in the snow and feeling the pulse of life even in cold stone walls. It was instinctive, something he had to train out of himself after coming to Camelot.
Before, his magic just reacted whenever he saw something falling. That was how he managed to save all his mother's plates from his clumsiness growing up. Now... now he just let them fall.
I'm sorry, he wrote over and over on the page. I'm sorry for not telling you. But I'm not sorry for the magic.
He wrote about Kilgharrah and destiny and Mordred and Morgana, all without going into events. Just what had been said. Everything Arthur had missed. He wrote about the sword that could kill the dead, and a girl in the lake who had once been cursed to kill at the stroke of midnight. About how she had been his most honest relationship because she had knownof his magic.
Once, he dared to write, riding on the high of his reveal and the feeling of finally coming out with the truth, he had fancied himself in love with Arthur. It was before Arthur had noticed Guinevere, before he had even really known her name. Then, it had seemed like the two of them against the world, and if he was really honest with himself, Merlin would probably always stay a little in love with Arthur. He was genuinely happy that Arthur and Guinevere had found each other and that Arthur should never let Gwen go because there would be no one else in the world that would put up with that pratishness. Not even him.
Besides, he could never be able to start a relationship with someone who didn't know about his magic.
The candle burned through the night as Merlin wrote furiously, revealing every truth and half truth that ran through his mind. Arthur deserved to know, if not in the present, then in the future.
You are, and always will be, my King.
At the end of it, it felt as if even the quill was too heavy to hold. With the weight of the words on paper, Merlin folded up his pages to Arthur and sighed, wondering if it was worth it to go to bed knowing that dawn was only in a few hours. As liberating as the letter had felt, the untold secrets (even though it was now written down) still weighed on his mind.
There was no way he could give that to Arthur, he realized after returning to his senses, mortified. Not now, and possibly not ever.
But he couldn't burn those papers, either. Those were his thoughts, and the things he needed to say to Arthur.
In the end, he left the papers on his desk and readied for bed, only to return to his desk. This time, he bypassed the letter to Arthur and grabbed the single sheet that held the unfinished words he had written to Gwaine.
You're amazing with a sword. He had to bite his lip to hide a smile as he scribbled the words. And I'm glad to have you as my dashingly handsome friend.
After that, he slept well until after the sun rose.
Early morning practice felt painful, and Merlin wasn't even one of the few who had to swing swords around.
It seemed that Guinevere's idea really had taken off, as many of the knights looked tired and grumpy, with faint ink stains on their fingers before they pulled their gloves on. They looked alert to the untrained eye, but Merlin had been watching the practices for years, and each movement had a sleepy slowness to them.
'Keep up!' Arthur was hollering at them, looking tired and grumpy. 'How do you expect to take down the enemy if your blows don't hit hard enough to scratch them?'
That brought about a myriad of grumbles each time Arthur turned away, and Merlin snorted in amusement as Gwaine ended up throwing away his weapon to bodily tackle Elyan, only to have him bump into Percival as well and the three of them ending up in a tumble of limbs and chain-mail. It degenerated from there, much to Arthur's consternation as the rest of his knights decided to try their hand at wrestling rather than swordplay.
'It's an embarrassment,' Arthur proclaimed to Merlin after he gave up trying to call order. He didn't look particularly upset by the interruption, although it looked as if he was making an effort to look affronted.
'It could be useful,' Merlin offered helpfully, 'if they lose their weapons and end up having to fight hand to hand.'
Arthur pointed at the field of knights with his sword. 'That is nothand to hand combat. That is... grappling.'
Merlin hummed an absentminded agreement, knowing that Arthur wouldn't have tolerated anything less than that. 'Sure. But if they're tired, isn't it a good idea to take sharp objects away from them anyway? Better one session of learning to fight without pointy objects than half your knights injured.'
Arthur turned to give him a careful look.
He had to tear his eyes away from the scene on the field when he felt the stare. 'What?'
'Nothing,' Arthur finally consented, unknowingly echoing Gwen's tone from the day before. 'But don't think that I don't know you just like watching him.'
Merlin shot him an amused look. 'I just don't want to deal with getting them down to Gaius for superfluous injuries. I'm tired, and they're tired. Don't pretend you didn't stay up all night writing, too.'
Arthur gave him an incredulous look as if he didn't believe a word of what Merlin said, but let the matter drop.
Lancelot must have taken pity on him, seeing as his expression changed from 'I've been looking for you everywhere!' to something much more sympathetic once he caught sight of Merlin struggling with two large pails of water.
'Here,' his friend offered, tugging one of the pails away. 'Let me help.'
What was nice was that Lancelot would have been the only person Merlin would have allowed to help him, seeing as he had lightened the weight considerably with magic, but even light as a feather, the large buckets proved to be tricky when it was filled to the brim with somewhat boiling water. Somewhat boiling because while he had left the kitchens with it boiling, by the time he managed a set of stairs, it was merely steaming gently.
'Thanks,' Merlin said gratefully, raising his free arm to wipe at his forehead where the steam from the water slicked his skin. 'Did you need me for anything?'
'I just wanted to warn you that Gwaine's completely taken with Guinevere's letters idea.' Lancelot said, his tone slightly apologetic for some reason. 'Not so much writing it as wanting to read what everyone else has written. He wants to know if anyone's written something for him.'
Merlin thinks to the letter on his desk, folded carefully and under a stack with the rest of the knights, and thinks he doesn't really have anything to worry about. Gwaine knows very well the things that Merlin has written, and while he might grin and get an ego boost from it, nothing he wrote in that letter had been very incriminating.
'I wrote him a letter,' Merlin offered up the information lightly. 'Gwen wants to bury all the letters, but if he really wants, he can have mine.'
Lancelot looked relieved. 'Thanks. That should get him off everyone's backs.'
Merlin tried his best to look supportive. 'Has he really been that bad?'
'Merlin, he actually went and asked Utherif the king had some terrible secret he'd like to share, even if it's just about how much he must hate the knights that Arthur managed to bring back with him.'
The warlock had to choke back a laugh, trying to pass it off as coughing.
'Well,' he said after another flight of stairs (why did Arthur's rooms have to be up so high, anyway?), 'I have his letter on my desk. You can tell him he can read it if he likes.'
Lancelot had not been joking about how eager Gwaine was to read someone's true opinions about him, seeing as Gwaine was waiting for him back in his room after Merlin finally finished his day with Arthur.
(The crown prince had looked suitably panicked when Merlin reminded him that Gwen was looking forward to the letters by the day after next, and had spent that evening pretending to be irritated and throwing stuff about before finally ordering Merlin out and saying that he could prepare for bed himself. Not that Merlin was buying it; because he was sure those words just meant that Arthur would be staying up late in the night trying to perfect his sonnets to Gwen or something.)
Gwaine was lounging shirtless on Merlin's bed, an apple in his mouth as he held the letter that Merlin had written him in his hands, looking far too pleased with himself.
'Gwaine,' Merlin greeted fondly, if a bit befuddled as to why the knight was on his bed. And half dressed. But then, Gwaine had a fondness for being half dressed at every given opportunity. It wasn't something that Merlin disapproved of by any standard.
'You forgot,' Gwaine said, after an enthusiastic greeting that involved a muffled version of his name and some arm waving before he designated to pull the half eaten apple from his mouth. 'After the part about me being amazing and perfect and stunningly, dashingly, devilishlyhandsome-'
'I didn't write that.' Merlin couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips.
'-that I am also that wonderful friend who would do anything for you.' Gwaine waved the papers in his hand mockingly. 'That part is very important, Merlin.'
And while it could have been overlooked the first time because he had been busy trying to save Arthur's dinner, Merlin felt his ears flush at those words now. Now that he was alone in his room with Gwaine, it felt much more meaningful. (And that had nothing to do with the fact that he was shirtless, really.)
'You see' — with those words, Gwaine pushed himself off Merlin's bed with a pleased expression — 'I've had all afternoon to think after Lancelot told me that I was allowed to read your letter, because I wouldn't have read them unless you said it was all right, and I might have been here for a while.'
Merlin gave the sheet of paper he had managed to fit all his words a dubious look. Surely that could not have occupied Gwaine's entire afternoon and evening.
'You see, Merlin, I have a few confessions of my own.' And Gwaine guided Merlin into the seat at the desk, pulling up a stool that had previously served as a place to throw clothes over. 'One, I think you really need to think more about what I tell you. Because I like to think that I've been quite blunt for a while now. And two, you completely forgot to label all your letters with who they're addressed to.'
It took a moment, it really did.
Merlin couldn't figure out for a moment why Gwaine would point that out, since he seemed to have no problem locating his own letter, and really, most of them had Dear _on the top of the letters so it was really easy to tell who they were meant for, anyway. Merlin was quite careful to start most of his letters with a name. All of his letters, in fact, except for Arthur's where he had started with an apology.
His terror must have shown, as Gwaine dropped both the letter and the apple core to grip tightly on Merlin's arms.
'Merlin! Merlin. I won't tell. I promise. Not until you're ready to say something. I just wanted to say. I know. And it's okay.' The grip tightened as Gwaine leaned his forehead against Merlin's, staring at wide blue eyes. 'It's okay.'
'You-' There was a million things that Merlin wanted to say, and if it felt hard to write those letters, it was nothing compared to what he felt now. He had to force his throat to work as he swallowed again and again, trying to rid his mouth of a sudden and painful dryness. 'It's. You're- how are you okay with it?'
Gwaine loosened his grip when Merlin finally replied, and quirked his lips. 'What did I just say? You need to think more about what I tell you, because I've told you for a very long time that you're my friend. And I would do anything for you. I mean the words I say, Merlin. My word is solid. I wouldn't back out of it, even if you had secretly been plotting to bring down Camelot.'
The knight paused for dramatic effect. 'But, I might have to stop you in that case. Merlin. You're not plotting to bring down Camelot, and you're not plotting anything evil at all. So what if you're magic? Do you want to know the only difference it makes to me?'
Merlin made a noise in his throat.
Gwaine grinned. 'I'll probably bug you a lot more about if you can turn water into ale.'
It wasn't the response Merlin had expected. It was nowhere near the screaming and accusations of treachery and sorcery that he had mentally prepared himself for. He had always prepared himself for the worst, for the idea that he would be imprisoned and then sentenced to burn at the stake. That he would have to escape somehow and then stay away from Camelot, doing his best to look after Arthur even if the prince hated him for the lies.
He had expected to be cursed and spat upon, not for Gwaine to running his hands soothingly up and down Merlin's arms.
'Every sorcerer that's come to Camelot in the past twenty years has been trying to kill the king and prince,' Merlin said, his voice quiet but firm. 'It's not a joking matter.'
'No, it's not,' Gwaine agreed. 'If you were like all the other ones, it wouldn't be. But you're not. Merlin, you're- you're the reason why Camelot is still here, aren't you? With that sword. With Queen Morgana. You didn't write anything about when we were faced with the immortal army, but considering that they all exploded and disappeared... you had something to do with that, didn't you?'
Merlin tried to duck his head, rather unsuccessfully considering how close Gwaine was. He hadn't written to Arthur to take any of the credit of the things that had happened the past few years, but he had been tempted. It was hard staying in the shadows all the time. (Almost as if he had truly forgotten who he was, a traitorous part of his mind whispered.)
Gwaine took the sheepish look as consent and smiled. 'You see? Look, I'm not as good with words as you are, all right? I don't think I'd be able to write letters to everyone like you did, not without insulting most of the people I'm writing to, anyway. But I wanted to say, because I've been thinking about what to say all evening. Merlin. You're amazing. I wouldn't have been able to put up with half as much crap as you. You're everything.'
Then he pulled back, looking embarrassed for the first time. 'I know that doesn't really make sense, but it made- well, it made a lot more sense in my head.'
Slowly, Merlin nodded, feeling his face flush with the way Gwaine was looking at him.
'Now,' Gwaine continued when they both had a few moments to digest the conversation. 'I was wondering if I could keep my letter. I'd rather not bury it in the ground. I just needed to tell you I know about, you know, your magic. I didn't exactly want to keep that a secret, the fact that I know.'
It was almost funny how Gwaine sounded at that moment, like he was imitating Guinevere, and Merlin couldn't help the hesitant smile. 'You just wanted to tell me that you know.'
Gwaine shrugged. 'It was important. You wrote about it.'
'I did not,' Merlin denied.
'You did,' Gwaine confirmed. 'Where you wrote that you wouldn't be able to start a relationship with someone who didn't know about your magic.' He looked inordinately pleased with himself as Merlin's eyes widened. 'I did notice, you know. The way you stare, like you don't even know that you're staring. And I had hoped that you would notice, that seeing you happy at the end of the day is what pleased me the most.'
That knowledge now that it was more solid than the whimsical thoughts in Merlin's head, felt deliciously heavy.
'Is that why you always walk around without a shirt?' he asked. 'Because I stare?'
'Every chance,' Gwaine confirmed with a lift of his brows. 'I like you staring.'
He leaned in closer until they were nose to nose, and Merlin could feel each exhalation on his lips.
'You seem very confident I won't say no,' Merlin said, although it was more of a whisper. No need to be any louder when Gwaine was already so close, close enough that he could feel the heat of his skin, bared so that only Merlin's shirt stayed between them.
'You might not have noticed you're so used to looking after the princess all the time, but the same reason why you keep him safe may be the same reason I want to keep you safe.' Gwaine's smile this time was wide and carefree. 'Without the dragon and destiny bit. No destiny here. Just choice. And my choice also happens to mean I'm very good at getting people I want, to want me.'
Merlin narrowed his eyes as he thought of what he had written in Arthur's letter, and quirked his lips. 'Prove it.'
Gwaine leaned in, clearly waiting for Merlin to say something affirmative before pressing his lips against the warlock's, warm as Merlin closed his eyes to better feel it. His lips were slightly chapped, and as Gwaine pressed in closer, his scruff tickled the edges of his mouth just enough that Merlin opened his mouth slightly in surprise. That was all the invitation Gwaine needed to deepen the kiss, pushing into Merlin's mouth and tasting sweet like apples.
He had, Merlin thought dizzily minutes later with Gwaine's warm breath against his cheek, not been lying about getting people to want him. Warm fingers were making their way under his shirt, skimming lightly against his flank as Gwaine smiled against the curve of Merlin's jaw, beard scratching ticklishly against his neck. Merlin shivered lightly at the touch.
There was a huff of soft laughter. 'Are you sure you're not ticklish?'
'I'm not,' Merlin denied somewhat petulantly. He was almost sure he wasn't, seeing as he was very used to the scratch of fabrics against his neck, or even the occasional flower given to him by Gwen tucked into his kerchief. Really, it was just Gwaine that made his skin tingle in such a way. Still, he chuckled as Gwaine made a noise of disbelief into his neck, pulling him closer to the edge of his seat and so they had their knees pressed between each other's legs. 'It's just when you do that.'
Merlin met his eyes with a teasing smile. 'That I know of.'
It was enough for Gwaine to pull back and bring them back to eye level again. 'Merlin?'
This time, it was Merlin who leaned in for the kiss, just a wet press of his mouth against the knight's and a brief taste of sweetness. 'You say that I stare at you, and I don't even know it. How do I stare at you?'
Gwaine halted the movement of his hands, thumbs moving in circles against Merlin's skin, and he shivered at the thought of those hands, light and teasing against other parts of him. It was a fleeting thought, but a thought that warmed his face considerably.
'Like that.' Merlin's breath caught as he met Gwaine's dark brown eyes. 'Like you're ready to do things that wouldn't have been proper in the middle of the knights' training. Like you wouldn't notice if a burning wagon rolled next to you. And you have this smile' — Gwaine brought one hand up away from Merlin's side to trace his thumb against his lips — 'like you're pleased with what you see. And Merlin. You don't look at Arthur like that.'
Merlin drew a sharp breath against Gwaine's finger, and brought up his own hands to his wrist. 'You read the letter.'
'By accident at first, but yes, I continued reading. I know, and I'm telling you: you're not the only one who stays here because of someone else.'
'No, no. You read the letter. You know that I, well.'
'Yeah. Destiny. But I like to think of myself as very persuasive and' — with this, Gwaine waggling his brow — 'alluring. And I don't give up easy. Even if you don't notice it, I'm fairly certain you feel something for me. Or else you wouldn't be sitting here so close right now.'
It was true, Merlin thought distantly, finally feeling like things were clicking into place. Gwen's sly looks and Arthur's comments... they were subtle enough, but they had never made it a secret that they thought he had feelings for Gwaine. They had somehow knownwhile he fumbled though it all, now sitting here in the dark and coming to the realization that perhaps his eyes strayed toward the knights rather than staying on Arthur to ensure his safety because he had been drawn to one person in particular.
He had always sought Gwaine out when he needed help; when he felt like there was no one else he could turn to. Why had he not just told Gwaine about his magic before? While a part of him constantly feared the reactions from those he loved, a larger part knew that Gwaine (who fought for him and had never once let him down) would have taken it in stride.
Because Gwaine genuinely cared about Merlin, and never made a secret of it.
Feeling more confident, Merlin confided, 'Maybe I want to be here.'
Gwaine leaned in to whispered against the upturned curve of Merlin's lips. 'Then I want to be closer as well.'
Merlin got up later that night for just a few minutes to dip his quill and write at the very bottom of Gwaine's letter.
I think I may be a little bit in love with you, too.