Disclaimer: I own nothing. Arthur Pendragon, Merlin, and Gaius belong to the BBC, their respective actors, and the original Arthurian legends.
There were times, reflected Arthur Pendragon, when Merlin was, really, quite a dingbat. Quite often the other said something that made no sense, or did something that was controversy to every piece of sensible knowledge known to them. But the King was also - somewhat unwillingly - able to admit that sometimes his best friend and manservant had some rather superb ideas.
Or at least, that was what the King had thought at the time. Which was why he had - willingly, he'd admit - followed a happy Merlin and already slightly drunken Gwaine to the local tavern, after they insisted he needed to take his "mind off Kingly duties"? As the evening had gone by, the idea had begun to seem like a [i]fantastic[/i] one. His head slightly buzzing in a comfortable way, the blonde had been able to relax in a way that he hadn't since... well, for quite a long time. All in all, it was rather a splendid idea.
Up until Merlin started drinking, and then things went rather downhill from there on.
The blonde bit back a curse as he shifted his best friend slightly into a more… adequate… spot against his shoulder, climbing the stairs up to Gaius' rooms, and moving inside, grateful to see the physician wasn't there. He rolled his eyes as he moved through to Merlin's room, the manservant still muttering something about "dancing pixies in dresses", even as Arthur placed him on the bed. The Pendragon shook his head, smirking a little, making a note to remind his manservant of his idiocy in the morning – assuming Merlin didn't have the world's biggest hangover, of course – and turned, only to face Gaius, raising an eyebrow at the King curiously.
Shrugging a little, the King opened his mouth, glancing down at his friend, then up at Gaius. "Too much work, Gaius. Needed a little ale to de-stress," The physician nodded, wisely, as though he knew exactly what Arthur was referring to. The Pendragon hesitated, then shook his head, changing his mind. "He has the morning off to recover. But I want him up and running tomorrow evening." He added, in a firmer, sterner voice. Gaius nodded, eyes flickering to Merlin, then back to the King.
"Of course, sire." The older man opened his mouth, hesitating, before glancing at Arthur once more, frowning slightly. "Was it really completely necessary to get him drunk, though?"
"Sometimes, Gaius, it takes extremities to make a man forget his destiny, even if it is only for a few minutes. And a man such as Merlin must be in greater need of the grace of forgetfulness more than most." The King smiled knowingly at the man he saw as a grandfather, seeing an understanding twinkle come to light in Gaius' eyes. "I trust you not to breathe a word of this to him, Gaius."
"You mean not to tell him, sire?"
"...When the time is right." The King paused, turning to face Gaius, his features serious. When we are both ready, he will tell me himself. It would do no good for me to spring upon him with this at this time." Arthur smiled, a little sadly. "Meanwhile, I will carry on being oblivious. And Merlin…
"Merlin will carry on feeling he is alone and threatened by the knowledge that if you knew, then you would execute him." Gaius finished, gentle remonstration in his voice.
"I would never do that." The King's voice was final, sure. "How could I condemn him, Gaius, when I have used magic? When he has… guided me more than any other person has or will? When he is the first true friend I made in Camelot?" Arthur laid a hand gently, firmly upon the old physician's shoulder. "Don't worry, Gaius. Whilst I'm King, I'll make sure to keep Merlin safe."
"I will hold you to your word, Arthur." The blonde nodded, with a smile.
"Do." He glanced over at Merlin, snoring softly with one hand covering his face as though to chase away the oncoming light of morning. "One day he and I will be able to be honest with each other, Gaius. But for now, we must be patient. For now, we must both have our secrets; for the sake of the other."
With a last smile, Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot, nodded to his friend and physician, before quietly exiting the Physician's Chambers. The next afternoon, when Merlin came to wait upon him, as normal, the King made no mention of his talk with Gaius, and Merlin tried to act as though he had not been drunk the night before.
Over the next few months, the King tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that with his silence, he was keeping his best friend, his manservant; safe from those who might harm him - both inside the Castle and out. He promised himself that one day, one day, he would have 'the talk' with Merlin, and everything would finally be out in the open.
Here and now, Arthur Pendragon, last of his line, reflects upon the past with a tired smile and bittersweet thoughts, wishing and wishing he had had the courage which has come too late. Even as Merlin lays, dying in his arms, the King knows with a guilty conscious that threatens to choke him, that if only he had been honest, if only he had admitted to knowing the truth, then Merlin might still be alive.
Fate, it seems, is a tricksome friend indeed.