A/N: As promised, some of Gwaine's POV. Also, most fun I've had with a chapter in ages : )
From the Heart
. . .
Merlin sods through the gates, shoulders hunched, mind scattered. It's the beginning of the second week, eight long days since their secret pact - or that awful gamble, as Gaius puts it - and things... things have been weird. Inside the palace and outside.
Every day something new pops up. Half the council meetings have been dismissed, while the rest are spent on calming the folk that do turn up. Paranoia has reached its all time high, turning every shadow a threat, every mishap a curse.
Not to mention the time and effort spent on quelling the rumours circulating the lower town that the young King has finally lost his marbles... Either that or Morgana has put on him some great enchantment to keep the King wrapped around her finger.
Merlin sighs, tired of it all. And yet, there's no rest in sight.
He's been trying to see her, every now and again. At times she complains about him following her - yet skip a day and she's back on your track, demanding the reason for your absence.
It's as if he's again torn between three masters - Morgana, Arthur, and his Destiny. Kilgharrah and Gaius don't even come close. There's just too much on his plate right now...
And all the while, he also has a daily job - advising the King.
Well, more like tagging along wherever he goes, which is pretty much what he was doing before except now he is expected to stay informed about it.
Which wouldn't be so hard without so many distractions...
Across the courtyard, several knights are returning from the patrol, Gwaine among them.
Passing through the arches, he nods vaguely, attempting to follow Arthur's monologue on the bright side of all that's been happening lately.
"- can see we're doing the right thing. I mean..." he reasons on their way back to the palace. "Things are bound to settle down in a matter of weeks. Right, Merlin?"
He's yet to talk to Gwaine, after... well, after he blabbed out his big secret. Their secret, that is. Will she be furious or just mock him? Possibly both.
And, as if by chance, the Lady Morgana herself makes her appearance in the colonnade, hair glistening like some dark gold, jaw set in bold determination. And, to make matters worse, Gwaine is walking straight towards her.
The knight bows low, his grin unmistakable. Morgana stops, staring down at him as if he were a bug. One about to get crushed.
Arthur follows his eyeline and frowns. "You're worried, I see."
"A bit," Merlin admits, his task forgotten.
"Relax. She's not going to turn him into a toad." Arthur pauses. "Unless provoked."
Merlin grins. "Have you met Gwaine?"
Arthur laughs, then contemplates on the sight.
Gwaine does not appear to be holding himself back. Morgana's smile grows positively lethal.
"He'll be fine." The King has lost his interest. "Let's go..."
The knight keeps talking, leaning casually on his sword. Any minute now, he'll burst into flames.
Morgana turns on her heel... Then. Nothing. Extending his arm, the knight walks with her to the gates.
And what on earth are they talking about?
"We can't be late again, Merlin." Arthur shouts, already ten paces ahead.
"I thought that was one of the royal prerogatives." Merlin manages, tearing his eyes away from the two. Distancing slowly.
A sharp glare.
"Keep talking and you'll lose the one you have."
"Well, if it isn't Morgana Le Fey. The jewel of the night."
Gwaine bows deep enough to touch his toes. The royalty eyes him with equal amounts of scorn.
"Last time I checked, I was still Pendragon. Or have you forgotten?"
"Oh. I wish, My Lady." Gwaine chuckles, catching a glimpse of Merlin's panic-stricken face. "But you're exceedingly hard to forget."
Lifting her chin, she brushes past him, blue satins and silks billowing at her wake. With three long strides, he's back at her side, proffering his arm, like a true gentleman that he is.
Morgana stares at it in surprise.
"I don't need an escort, least of all from a knight of Camelot, to see my followers."
"I was not always a knight," he amends, turning to her. "As you weren't always a Pendragon."
Flecks of gold haunt the depths of her eyes, underneath the green calm. Gently, he lifts her arm, studies the engravings on the bracelet. The fire dies in an instant.
"Gorlois, is it not his crest?"
She says nothing. Both can feel the stares of the courtyard on them. For the lack of anything better, they begin to move.
"He was a man of honour, or so they said. Unlike many others..."
"Did Arthur put you up to this," Morgana interrupts, cutting through his charm, "guard my every move, make sure I won't run off?"
"I'm afraid it's beyond my prowess, My Lady," he counters, chuckling.
They walk down the gravel path, while the workers cast them alternatingly sacred and curious glares.
"Besides, does it matter? Even you must admit it's more amusing this way. And with me by your side it's only half as likely you'll get pelted by rotten fruit."
Morgana laughs, teeth exposed.
"If that were the case, Merlin would suffice. After all, he's had years of practise as a one-man-shield."
Gwaine grins, having struck gold.
"Merlin is held up by Arthur at the moment." He adds, mock-sympathetic, "I'm afraid my skills will have to do."
Morgana's smile falters for a moment, but she continues, nonplussed.
"With some training, who knows? You might yet learn some manners."
"Perhaps." He stops, disentangling their arms. "But not today. My day ends here."
Then, with another ridiculous bow, he disappears through the doors of the tavern.
Merlin darts past the drunk soldiers, up the steps and into the shady halls of The Rising Sun. It's already late afternoon and knowing his habits, this is the only possible place to find...
The knight turns at the bar and pats him on the shoulder. "Merlin! My best mate and the unsung hero."
"Luckily enough," Merlin mumbles under his breath.
Gwaine snaps his fingers for two more pitchers of ale.
"Listen, Gwaine," Merlin leans closer to whisper, "I need to talk to you."
"And there's no one else I'd rather hear. Sit down old friend."
Carrying the ale he directs him towards the remaining free table.
"It's about our secret..."
"Which one?" Gwaine asks with a twinkle in his eye... Merlin stares at him, puzzled.
Is he drunk already? Or merely joking. The problem is, you can never tell. Not outside the training grounds at least. Luckily, he is a loyal friend and by far one of the best swordsmen Merlin has ever met, so it hardly makes a difference.
"The one about Morgana," he clarifies, voice half-whisper. Around them, the room roars with laughter and merriment. Gwain gulps at his drink.
"Let's have it." The knight pushes the other one at him.
The ale smells inviting.
. . .
Two hours later.
"I love her," Merlin slurs, drunkenly. "You made me see that, Gwaine, you did that to me."
"Hey, don't blame it all on me." The rogue knight holds up his palms, laughing.
"No. No blaming," he agrees, "You're a good friend. The best I've got." He hiccups. "Don't tell Arthur."
"I'll add it to the list," the scruffier man laughs, amused to no end. Yet another side to Merlin he'd never seen. While he feels eternally sorry for the guy, the hilarity of it all is undeniable. Another pitcher of ale and the boy will sing with the bards of fated love.
"This... tune is so beautiful. She, she is beautiful." Merlin rambles, inbetween the flute and the drum, tapping the rhythm under the table. "Like magic."
Gwaine chuckles, "If you mean pretty scary, then yea. Just like magic."
Another hiccup, and his companion stills for a while, panicking a bit. "No, pretty like magic, like..." A chorus of cheers... the minstrel bows.
The tune changes and Merlin's line of thoughts with it.
. . .
Three pints later... Even Gwaine has trouble staying on track, but poor Merlin... is plastered. Definitely not the best thing in his delicate condition.
"I love her..."
"Have you ever told her?"
"No. Never," Merlin states, all business-like. Gwaine already prevented him from drinking any more, but his lanky friend shows no signs of improvement.
"Why the hell not?"
"Because..." A pause. "I can't."
"You make no sense, friend," Gwaine smiles, and for a moment, he gets a distinct impression that tables have turned. "Perhaps we should go home now."
Merlin nods eagerly.
Walking back is going to be a feat.
. . .
And to make matters worse, the man has another epiphany along the way, one he can't stop talking about. It's one thing to speak of it in a noisy tavern, yet quite another whilst passing the guards.
With the right door in sight, Gwaine rushes to the rescue, distracting yet another patrol with his drunken act.
When he turns around, moments later, the hallway is empty: the lovelorn bard has gone to sleep. He can only hope the poor guy's got nothing important planned for the morning. - For there's almost every chance he'll miss it.
Gwaine shakes his head and turns around, whistling as he goes. Merlin was right. - It is a great tune.
A loud knocking. Some strange rhythm, like something being dragged along the wood. Cautiously, Morgana opens the door.
He must be insane.
"Merlin? What is this?" she demands, glancing around. No guards.
"I- was... careful," he assures, haltingly.
"There's a first time for everything, I see."
Merlin nods with a shrug. Leaning against the door jamb, he's wearing a strange kind of smile. An open-mouthed adoration. Something's off.
Then, it dawns on her.
"Have you been to the tavern?"
She's heard Arthur complaining about him spending his time there, but she always assumed it was some misunderstanding. A cover-up, perhaps.
"Morgana-..." he begins anyhow, but is interrupted by the loud noise in the stairwell.
The tell-tale booted footsteps, the shrill whisper of the chain mail.
Merlin turns, the panic too slow to reach his eyes.
He's going to get caught unless she does something.
- Oh for Goddess' sake...
Rolling her eyes, she pulls him in with one decisive shove.
. . .
"Lady Morgana?" A deep voice. "Open up, please."
Her hand on Merlin's mouth, Morgana casts a warning look. The warlock blinks, nodding slowly. Removing her hand, she watches her stumble away from the doorway, while she musses up her hair, and kills the lights in a glance.
Unlatching the door in her nightdress, she is wearing her iciest glare.
"What is the meaning of this?"
The first guard hesitates, but the other one speaks up.
"There were noises, My Lady. We think there might be an intruder."
"The only intruders here are you. You think this is a good cause to wake me from my sleep?"
"My Lady, we were only doing our job."
"Then do it elsewhere. Interrupt me again and your King will hear about this."
Without waiting for a reply she shuts the door.
. . .
"Since when did our agreement include me saving your sorry skin?" Morgana growls when the guards have left.
Merlin has made his way away from the door and stumbled onto her bed. Smiling happily, he stares at her, gaze hooded, limbs hanging limply over the floor.
"Sorry," he manages.
He sounds sincere.
No lies, no disguises.
Returning to her bed she towers over him, his eyes still on her, but not quite awake. Now what?
Somehow, she can't muster herself to kick him out of her room, not like this. Unguarded, almost vulnerable. With the guards lurking around the corner.
If he betrays himself because of this, it will be his own fault. Not hers. The deal will stand, regardless.
Pulling back the sheets, she lies down on the other side. There's more than enough room for the three of them. Besides, they're way past formalities by now.
Yes. This can work.
With the last look Merlin's sleepy face, she blows out the candle.
In the darkness, there's just the two of them, breathing. Two patches of dark against the paleness of her bed. Relaxed, she closes her eyes. Dreams come.
Turning towards her, on the verge of sleep, he sighs...
"I love you."
Morgana's eyes snap open.
A/N: Hee... Consider this the pay-off for the earlier angstiness, and though there may be more later, I'm happy to have reached this part of the story.
Up next: The morning after. And yes, more Merlin/Morgana scenes headed your way. Thank you for sticking with the story so far and reviewing!