Author's Note: I think that, after writing all that angst, the idea of writing something happy legitimately left me blocked. But! I pushed through that writer's block so that I could publish this for you guys quickly because I've been simply overwhelmed by happiness over the responses to the last few chapters. So ya'll better appreciate this update! Really though, I hope you like it. Thank you so much for all the support and kind reviews.
The next day, Merlin went to Mordred's chambers at the first chance he got, eager simply to be with the younger man. They shared a brief kiss before seating themselves on Mordred's bed and beginning to catch up on everything that had happened to each in recent days.
Mordred was listening to and processing Merlin's words, but he was still left confused.
"So the sorceress-"
"Finna," interrupted Merlin quickly. For some reason, it felt important that her name be remembered, at the very least.
"Finna," Mordred amended, "told you not to trust me?"
"Yeah. Said that I shouldn't make the same mistake as Arthur," Merlin admitted freely. Let it never be said that Merlin didn't practice what he preached. No more lies started here and now.
"I don't understand."
Merlin's head tilted. "You can't really be that surprised," he said, "given how many others have warned me of the same thing. It's spelled out in your destiny and all that."
"No, I… That is not what I meant." Mordred wouldn't meet his eyes. "If she warned you away from me, why would you… why did you-"
"Come back to you?" completed Merlin with a grin. Mordred looked at him and nodded. "I told you. I decided that I don't really care what destiny thinks anymore."
"I know you, Mordred," answered the warlock quietly, leaning forward to peer intently into Mordred's eyes. "Unlike Finna and all the rest, I know the man you are. I trust you."
"I've missed you," was Mordred's honest reply, a delicate, almost disbelieving smile on his lips. Merlin leaned forward, and happily kissed the expression off of him.
Mordred laughed, grinning brightly at Leon's tale. He took another bite of chicken as Gwaine began to object that the older knight was fabricating some of the more colorful details concerning Gwaine's participation in the story's events. According to Gwaine, the attempted arrest that led to a chase through the marketplace had not involved Gwaine tripping over a broom handle and somehow knocking an entire market stall over.
Percival, seated beside Gwaine, caught Mordred's eye across the table and mouthed a big, He's lying, then grinned himself as Mordred laughed even harder. Gwaine quickly caught on and looked from Mordred to his best friend with an accusatory stare.
"All right, what did you say?" he demanded.
"What? Nothing!" protested Percival innocently, pretending mock shock at the suggestion. Gwaine pursed his lips as Percival sent a wink back at Mordred. The younger knight covered his mouth with a hand, trying not to cough on his food as he chuckled.
"Whatever it was he said," said Gwaine, turning back to Mordred, gesturing with his fork for emphasis, "he was lying, I guarantee it. This one just likes to stir up trouble."
Mordred and Percival shared an amused smirk.
"Besides, the damage to the stall wasn't that bad," Gwaine continued casually. "Otherwise, how could I have ended up with her in my bed?" He smiled devilishly. Mordred's eyes flew wide open as he tried to restrain a surprised smile, Leon gaped at him, and Percival merely sighed.
"Please, Gwaine. No one wants to hear about your conquests while we're eating," said Percival.
Gwaine nudged him. "You're just jealous," he mocked, smirking. Percival rolled his eyes, but said nothing more, picking up another roll and eating it instead.
Then it was time for the dessert to be brought out. While the main dinner course was always spread out on large platters across the tables, so that those at the banquet could take what they would, the desserts were carried out on individual plates, one for each person at the table.
Tonight they were being served flan, a treat that Mordred knew Merlin despised, but that the majority of the knights found to be tolerable (apart from Leon, who happened to love them).
So it was a surprise to all when Mordred wasn't served flan, like the others.
The druid knight wasn't the only one whose jaw dropped when he saw the massive piece of strawberry tart being placed in front of him. He was, however, the only one who flushed a bright pink color. It took a conscious effort to keep his eyes from flicking up towards the perpetrator.
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"Well," said Gwaine loudly, "I'll say someone's caught the eye of a rather doting servant. Well done, youngling."
That's all it took to break through the shock. Mordred ducked his head down out of embarrassment as all the knights roared with laughter. All but Percival, whose hand rubbed against his mouth, trying to smooth away the severely amused and knowing smile there.
Even so, Mordred couldn't help a smile of his own. He was glad that the knights' amusement wasn't cruel, but comradely. He'd never felt more like the 'innocent little brother' of the group than he did at this moment, but he found he didn't mind it, as he once would have. The playful teasing words now ringing through the air made Mordred feel like he had a family again.
His smile broke into a grin. Some asked him who had sent it, but Mordred merely shrugged his shoulders. This in turn led to more teasing, as now everyone assumed that Mordred had a secret admirer. But Mordred, knowing the truth, said silently, Thank you. Though I hope you know how much of a prat you are.
A prat? was Merlin's incredulous response. I don't think I've ever heard you call anyone that before. Does that mean I'm special?
It means that you are a bad influence on my vocabulary, Mordred retorted.
Just be grateful that I spared you that horrific excuse for a dish that the cook calls flan.
I am, answered Mordred, smiling softly. He knew that, even though he couldn't look towards Merlin (as much as he desperately wanted to), Merlin would understand that the smile was meant for him. I'm amazed that you went to all this trouble for me.
Trouble? Please. That was some well-deserved payback for every time you've purposefully made me go red.
You can hardly expect me to resist doing so when it always makes you look so delectable. Now Mordred let his eyes stray briefly from his knight friends to Merlin, where the manservant stood near Arthur. When he caught sight of Merlin's predictable blush, he smirked so hard his face muscles ached. See? You turn red, like these strawberries in my tart. Simply edible.
Well, if Merlin had been just pink before, now he was red.
I… have no response to that, answered Merlin, shaking his head slightly and fighting a smile of his own.
Beaming, Mordred looked back to his other friends as he plunged his fork into the tart and took a bite. It was delicious. Mordred struggled, amid plenty of laughter, to keep his tasty treat away from the other knights, a number of whom had forks diving towards his plate.
Merlin? he called out after another minute.
I love you. It was such a relief to say the words again, without repercussion, that Mordred looked up again and met Merlin's gaze. The corners of the warlock's lips drew up into a tender smile.
I love you too.
The knights all split ways to return to their rooms after the banquet was done. Mordred's eyes glazed over as he walked, smiling absentmindedly as his mind drifted among thoughts of Merlin and strawberry tart.
He jolted with surprise when he felt a large hand clamp down on his shoulder. He looked up into the grinning face of his rather tall friend. He rolled his eyes and kept walking.
"That was quite a lovely banquet, I thought," commented Percival quietly, keeping pace with the younger man.
Mordred chuckled. "Yes, the tart was excellent, if your thoughts happened to be in that vein."
"Oh, I had no doubt it would be. Merlin may be clumsy and silly at times, but he always aims for no less than perfection."
"I can still barely believe he did that," admitted Mordred.
Percival grinned. "Now everyone's convinced there's some kitchen maid who's sweet on you."
"Yes, they do seem to be under that impression."
"You intend on setting the record straight?"
Mordred swallowed. It always seemed so important to keep his relationship with Merlin a secret, but why? Well, it was certainly unconventional, for starters. A knight and a servant? And two men no less.
Mordred reckoned that the gut need for secrecy also tied into the fact that Merlin and Mordred already kept so much secret from their friends that it only felt natural to keep this a secret as well.
"…don't believe that everyone would react as you have."
Percival glanced aside, considering this. "That might be true," he conceded honestly. "But I think you don't give them enough credit." Mordred stared at him. "They're your friends. And Merlin's. They care about both of you."
"I don't think he would have been so bold today if he knew that others would know he'd done it," the druid replied.
"It simply isn't something he would do," answered Mordred, after a pause. "Or that I would, for that matter. We prefer to be private, keep to ourselves, that's all."
"I understand," said Percival, nodding his acceptance. Then he flashed Mordred a bright smile. "Well, I'm happy for you, Mordred."
"Thank you, Percival."
"Told you he'd come round," was added teasingly. Mordred laughed lightly.
"And I am glad you were right."
Merlin gave a yawn, running a hand through his raven hair as he tromped down the few steps from his room into Gaius' larger chambers, as he did every morning upon waking. Even in his only half-awake state, Merlin stopped dead at the bottom of the stairs as his eyes took in the picture in front of him. He blinked rapidly, quickly becoming fully conscious. A sense of amazement was rising within him more and more with each second.
Gaius stood in the middle of the room, also facing the door, frozen in place with shock. He turned his head over his shoulder to look at his apprentice.
"Merlin," he said calmly, face revealing nothing whatsoever, "I believe there's been a delivery for you."
Heat rushed to Merlin's cheeks. The blush only increased when Gaius quirked one eyebrow, before giving what looked like the beginnings of a knowing smirk and turning back around.
Breaking free from his initial shock, Merlin walked forward again until he was standing beside the physician. "How many do you think there are?" he murmured, the warmth inside of him starting to outweigh the warmth that had gathered on his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Gaius' head bouncing slightly as he swept his eyes slowly from one side to the other, counting. Merlin could even hear the numbers being whispered under Gaius' breath.
"Each has a dozen, it would seem," Gaius announced, as if delivering the prognosis of a patient. "So, nine dozen." Merlin and his mentor spent another quiet moment simply looking. Then Gaius pointed towards the basket in the middle of the row. "I believe there's a note for you as well."
Merlin saw that he was right. Slowly, still overcome with wonder, Merlin approached one of the nine baskets that contained a dozen red roses each. Reaching down, he picked up one rose, the most perfect, to which was tied a folded piece of parchment.
A dozen for each year that has passed since we met, the note read. And one, that which you hold in your hands, that will never die, for the eternity that I will love you.
"Merlin?" He looked up, heart thumping, slightly startled by the sound of Gaius' voice. There was an odd look on the old man's face, one that Merlin couldn't decipher. "Who sent these?"
Merlin shrugged, smiling deviously, trying to ignore the misty sheen over his eyes. "Secret admirer?" he replied sassily. Gaius seemed unimpressed by this answer, but merely shook his head fondly, and turned away to set about his own work. Merlin's eyes flashed back to the note. The beautiful, heartwarming note. He turned it over, to find that there were words scribbled on the back as well, along with a strange circular design that meant nothing to him.
Intrigued, Merlin read, Away from prying eyes, burn this note, and watch.
A spark of excitement tingled in the pit of Merlin's stomach. He quickly spun around and raced up the stairs and back to his room, rose and note still in hand. He shut the door behind him.
First, he delicately laid the enchanted rose on his bedside table, smiling softly at the thought of waking every morning to see its beauty. Then, his curiosity overtaking him, Merlin sat down on his bed. Using his magic, he levitated the paper in front of him. With then another flash of his golden eyes, flames consumed the note.
Merlin watched in utter amazement as the fire changed the nature of the object. The transformation was so quick that one could easily miss it, but Merlin's attention had been fixed, so he saw every detail. Where the flames touched the note, the light tan parchment changed into a light, gentle blue, like the blue of the sky, with specks of other colors, greens, purples, and oranges, mixed in. Once the entire note had burned, in its place remained something completely different.
A beautiful blue butterfly flapped lazily in the place where the paper had been levitating. The sun streaming in through the window bounced off its wings, giving even more variety to its shades of color. Merlin was in awe, both of the exquisite creature before him, and the extraordinary piece of magic he had just witnessed. He'd never seen such a thing before. How on earth had Mordred done it?
However he had, Merlin was grateful. He was choked up at the gesture, and felt happier than he could describe. When he watched the butterfly take off and fly out his open window, Merlin rushed over to the window after it, beaming, feeling the cool air caress his face, and keeping his eyes on the magical creation until it was no more than a tiny spot of blue far away.
"I'm getting the feeling that subtlety isn't your strong suit," remarked Merlin lightly, helping the other man off with his uniform later that day. Mordred smirked.
"Need I remind you that I was not in fact the one to begin this?" he pointed out. "Besides, my romantic gesture had a much smaller audience than yours did."
"Tell me though, honestly, how did you do it?" asked the warlock, voice dripping with insatiable curiosity. "The butterfly, I mean."
"Did you see the mark I drew?" Merlin nodded. "That was a rune." Understanding lit Merlin's features. "A very very small one, obviously, so it wasn't very powerful. But enough to get the job done."
"It was amazing."
Mordred looked towards Merlin with surprise. The older man was still smiling, and his eyes, as he gazed back at Mordred, were filled with wonder. Mordred nearly blushed. "Do you really think so?"
"Of course!" was the immediate response. "I've never seen anything like that before. It's incredible that you know how to do it. You're incredible."
Mordred smiled at the praise. It wasn't often (essentially never) that anyone expressed admiration for his abilities as a sorcerer. As a result, Mordred tended to completely forget that his powers were anything special. But Merlin's obviously genuine compliments reminded him that he had reason to be proud.
By this time, Mordred had been completely stripped of his uniform, remaining in his breeches and white shirt. For a moment, he and Merlin simply stood still, staring at each other, their undeniable chemistry sizzling between them.
Mordred made the first move. He stepped one foot closer, eliminating the gap between them. Quickly, his hands went out to hold Merlin's waist as his lips found Merlin's, pressing against them like they were made to fit together that way. The warlock responded immediately, kissing back passionately, his fingers running through Mordred's dark, wavy locks. A delighted shiver echoed through both men simultaneously.
Merlin pressed the other man backwards until his back struck one of the bedposts, and kept him pinned there. Merlin's lips abandoned Mordred's in favor of licking, kissing, nipping down Mordred's neck, causing Mordred to groan and dig his fingers sharply into Merlin's sides.
Quickly frustrated with the scarcity of bare skin available to him, Merlin dropped his hands from Mordred's hair and slid them beneath the hem of his shirt. In one swift move, Merlin grabbed the piece of clothing and, with Mordred's willing assistance, shoved it up and off of the knight.
Heat rushed through Merlin as he ran his hands over every inch of Mordred's bare chest. The skin was smooth, and warm, and soft, and perfect. Everything was just as the manservant had remembered, except that, in their time apart, Mordred had grown slightly more muscled.
Mordred smiled, struggling to control his breathing as Merlin planted loving kisses all over his torso. His head leaned back against the post as he focused on each and every touch. The sensation of his skin burning happily in each spot where Merlin's lips made contact. The slide of delicate fingers as they explored his naked upper body, becoming reacquainted with him. The tantalizing, almost tickling, moments when Merlin's nose would gently brush against his stomach.
Then Merlin was standing up straight again, and their blue eyes, dilating with lust, locked together. Heat radiated from their bodies, and both chests visibly moved up and down with each quick breath in and out.
Merlin raised his left hand from where it had settled on Mordred's hips. His eyes flicking downwards, his index finger began to gently trace the Triskelion design on the right side of Mordred's chest, the touch as reverent as it had been on the first occasion he'd done it.
Mordred could not help the smile or mist of tears that came to him then, as he was once more made to feel special and worthy. Leaning forward, he gave Merlin a gentle Thank you kiss, his hand holding the back of Merlin's head to keep him close.
When Mordred leaned back against the post, Merlin followed him, keeping their lips attached. Mordred succumbed quickly to the touch of Merlin's tongue against his lips, allowing his lover access. He moaned as Merlin pressed himself flush against his body, but knew that something had to be done, and quickly, about Merlin's state of being completely clothed.
The druid's hands made swift work of the red neckerchief around Merlin's neck, tossing it onto the floor. He then made to push Merlin's jacket off of his arms, which would be followed, of course, by his shirt.
Rap rap rap! A knock came at the door.
Merlin and Mordred froze absolutely still, eyes wide with fear and shock.
"Mordred, are you in there?" called out Sir Leon.
There was a quiet flurry of frantic movements. Mordred pushed Merlin back, Merlin spun around to find a place to hide, Mordred called out, "One moment!", Mordred made large gestures for Merlin to hide behind the wardrobe on the side closest to the bed, where the knight at the door would be unable to see him, Mordred swiped his shirt off the floor and tugged it on, checked that Merlin was in place, ran his hands through his hair to try and calm it down, and finally approached the door with an attempt at steady footsteps.
Mordred took in a deep breath and opened the door with a smile.
"Leon! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Merlin's heart pounded in his ears as his body pressed stiffly against the wooden surface. He heard Mordred and Leon greeting one another, and turned his head slightly to the side, turning his gaze towards the center of the room.
His neckerchief was still lying on the floor in plain sight.
Cursing in his mind, Merlin took a deep breath and prayed that Leon was being entirely distracted by Mordred. With a flash of golden eyes, the neckerchief flew underneath the bed.
When no one exclaimed loudly, Merlin let out a sigh of relief, resting his head back against the wardrobe again. Leon and Mordred were still talking, but the conversation concluded soon after, and Merlin heard the sound of a door clicking shut.
The relieved man sagged against the wardrobe. After another silent minute, he heard the footsteps indicating that Mordred was walking over to check on him.
Mordred came to stand directly beside Merlin. Merlin turned his head towards him and met his eyes. Neither man said a word.
Exuberant laughter exploded from them both. The two men practically fell onto each other, grasping at one another's arms for support, and gasping for air. Tears of laughter sprang to their eyes. It took a good minute for them to settle down again. When they did, the two sorcerers were grinning at each other and wiping at their eyes.
"That was ridiculous," Merlin commented.
"Says the man who, in the guise of an old woman, flirted with his king."
Still giddy, Merlin erupted into giggles, and Mordred chuckled along with him, unable to help himself. The bright expression on Merlin's face truly sent his heart aflutter.
"That's true," agreed Merlin. "I suppose this doesn't even begin to compare with that."
"I'd say not."
"You know, actually, it reminded me of, uh… this time that Arthur and I were walking about the castle late at night, in places one would think we had no reason to be, and Leon just waltzed right in and saw us," Merlin recalled with a grin. Mordred raised an eyebrow high. "I think we both panicked for a second."
Now Merlin noticed the look. "What?" he asked, confused. Then his brain made the connection. "Oh, no, the situation wasn't anything like this at all, we aren't- I didn't mean that we were- I just meant how Leon- The panic, you know, at being caught? That's all I meant, I swear."
Mordred suppressed an amused grin at Merlin's typical fumbling of words. "And what were you and Arthur doing then?"
"It was the night we went looking for Uther's ghost."
"Ah." Now he understood. "Then, how did you explain yourselves to Leon?"
Merlin ducked his head sheepishly. He chuckled. "Well, uh, I just gave the first excuse that popped into my head."
"That I was teaching Arthur poetry."
Mordred let out a bright laugh, his head thrown back. "Oh, I imagine the king must have truly appreciated that. Well done, Merlin. How have I never heard of this before? I'm amazed that Leon kept such knowledge to himself!"
"So why was Leon here?" Merlin asked.
"He was apparently under orders from Gwaine to invite me to the pub tonight," he explained.
"Sounds like a fun way to spend an evening."
"I'd rather spend it with you," admitted Mordred. Merlin smiled tenderly. Reaching out, he took Mordred's hand in his, locking their fingers together.
"Go out with the knights," encouraged Merlin. "We've got all the time in the world. All right? But I'll come see you tomorrow night, if you want."
Swallowing, Mordred nodded. He was a bit disappointed, but he knew that Merlin was right. He didn't want to just abandon his friends now that he had Merlin back. "Very well. Tomorrow then."
Merlin retracted his hand, only to place it against Mordred's neck, his thumb brushing Mordred's cheek. Mordred met him in a kiss.
"'Til then," Merlin promised. With one last kiss, the manservant drew away and headed for the door. Pulling the door open, he turned back and shot Mordred a wink. "Try not to miss me too much."
"I won't succeed," answered Mordred. Merlin's sassy grin softened. Now Mordred grinned cheekily. "But I suppose I shall merely pass the time devising my next plot to embarrass you." Merlin rolled his eyes. With one last shared smile, he was out the door and away.