Everything was blue.
Different shades of blue, not just one block of colour. The blue of the sky was a light, dusty, early morning blue, but the sea underneath was darker and deeper and tinted with greens and greys and a host of other colours. Merlin preferred it. There was not a cloud in the sky nor a ship on the horizon, nothing to break up the colour and nothing to break up the peace. All he could see was water and all he could hear was water. It was perfect.
Well, almost perfect.
"Excuse me, my lord," said a voice with an accent almost as tangy as the sea. "Your princess is unwell again."
Merlin sighed inwardly and dragged his eyes away from the hovering blue horizon to the bedraggled sailor standing behind him. His name was Rayard, he was the second in command on their fine vessel The Hope, he had a fantastic sense of humour, a weakness for gambling and two teeth in his entire mouth. Merlin thought he was brilliant straight away. Arthur probably liked him as well, under all the bluster.
"Rayard, don't call me lord," he beseeched. "It's Merlin. Just Merlin."
Rayard grinned, showing his gums. "Got to do it. Princess's orders, my lord." Merlin had, somewhat inadvisably, told Rayard of Gwaine's old nickname for Arthur and he had joyfully taken it up and run with it. Rayard was like Gwaine in a lot of ways actually, but Merlin didn't like to think of Gwaine too much, even these days. It still hurt.
He sighed and pulled away from the railing. So much for the glorious view and the peace and quiet. "Come on then, where is he?" he said.
Rayard beckoned and Merlin followed. He just about had his sea legs, though it had taken two weeks to get them and he still had to cheat in storms and use a bit of magic. He was doing far better than Arthur though.
They approached the bow of the ship. A familiar figure was leaning over the rails, blond hair glinting in the sun, groaning deeply.
Rayard clapped Merlin on the shoulder, grinning. "Good luck," he said, and vanished. Merlin rolled his eyes and sighed again, then went and stood by the hunched figure. It was calmer on this side of the ship, the waves barely rocking them at all, but this didn't seem to make any difference to Arthur, who was still groaning like a stuck pig.
Merlin gave him the once over then said brightly, "Cheer up! Only one week before dry land!"
Arthur moaned. "Merlin," he croaked. "Shut up."
"No, really," Merlin continued blithely. "Should be easy sailing from here. Of course, I said that yesterday and we had that massive storm last night."
"Shut," Arthur said, "Up."
"I myself quite like rough weather," Merlin persisted, as if he hadn't heard him. "All that rocking and swaying and lurching - "
A hand shot out and grabbed Merlin by the collar, dragging him down. A pair of bloodshot eyes met Merlin's.
"This is all your fault," Arthur rasped slowly. "So you are going to shut up now."
Arthur's eyes were blue under his weariness. Not a deep blue like the sea but a light cerulean like the sky. Maybe Merlin had been too rash in his preference for the blue of the sea. Sky blue had its own charm all of its own.
He blinked the thought away hastily before it went any further.
"Me?" he said in response to Arthur's accusation, and extricated himself out of Arthur's grip. "You're the one who's refusing my help."
Arthur looked away and doubled his grip on the railings of the boat. "No magic," he said.
Merlin set his jaw silently. "We're not in Camelot anymore," he said. "I can use it without reprisal. Come on."
"No," Arthur snapped. "Don't you dare." He shuffled away from Merlin a step.
Merlin rolled his eyes and turned back to the view before them, biting back the familiar, sharp pain that came from being rejected. The sea rolled out before them, wave upon wave and nothing more. There were sailors on board who found such blankness boring, but Merlin found it oddly liberating. He felt free here.
"And this is your fault," Arthur continued, as if nothing had happened, "Because you were the one who persuaded me to visit this accursed kingdom."
Merlin snorted. "Denaan is not an accursed kingdom, it's just far away. And you owe their High King a visit. He's been Camelot's friend for decades."
"Oh please." Arthur leant further over the railing. "Don't pretend that's why you want me to go. You want me to go because they've allowed magic over there."
More than that, Merlin thought, thinking of his correspondence with the High King over the last few months. It's not just allowed. It's embraced.
He swallowed. He didn't want to push his luck, but he couldn't ignore it either. "It's been two and a half years," he said. Two and a half years, he thought, since Camlann. Two and a half years since he had revealed his magic to Arthur. And nothing had changed.
Well. A few things had.
He watched Arthur unconsciously grip his ring finger, the one now devoid of a wedding ring. He always did that when they talked about this.
"I've told you," he said. "Camelot is not ready."
"No," Merlin argued. "Camelot is ready. You're not."
There was a heavy silence. Merlin looked back to the view, but his good mood had evaporated. The blues of the sea and the sky were just colours now.
"I'm not having this argument with you again," Arthur said finally, and he was using what Merlin had inwardly labelled as his 'king voice'. It meant the end of any debate. It meant he was pulling rank.
He took a deep breath of sea air and shoved the hurt back down. "Thought that was why you appointed me as your Court Advisor," he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he could.
Arthur snorted. "You don't need a court position to argue with me," he said, and straightaway the strained atmosphere between them lightened. Merlin took another deep breath of the air and tried to think positively. They would go to Denaan and visit the High King and he would show them how magic could be incorporated into a kingdom safely and Arthur would see. He would see.
The ship rocked against a particularly large wave and Arthur groaned anew, almost bent double over the railing.
"Oh, for pity's sake," Merlin tutted. "Here." He grabbed Arthur's wrist and concentrated, reaching into the fire inside of him. "Thurhh - "
"No!" Arthur snatched his wrist out of Merlin's grip and stumbled back.
Merlin froze. The awkward atmosphere swept back between them as if it had never left.
Arthur cleared his throat. "How many times do I have to say it?" he said gruffly. "No magic."
Merlin stared at him. "I wouldn't hurt you," he said quietly.
"I know," Arthur snapped. He flexed his fingers around his wrist, as if Merlin's touch had burned it. "Just…don't."
Merlin clenched his jaw. "Right then," he said. "I won't." And he turned on his heel and left before he lost his temper completely.
He took a place on the stern of the ship, far away from Arthur and perched on the end of the railing, using a shred of magic to keep him in place. The sea breeze was fresher here and the sensation that they were actually going somewhere stronger. Merlin curled his fingers around the railing and tried to forget Arthur's rebuff and concentrate on the hush of the sea instead.
Arthur came crawling back just before dinnertime. Merlin had sat in the same position for most of the day, occasionally chatting with the other sailors but mostly staring out to the sea alone. He had been sitting for so long, salt crystals from the sea spray had formed across his eyelashes, and dusk had fallen, so now the sea was pink and orange under a violet sky.
He could hear Arthur dithering behind him before he actually approached but said nothing. Then he heard Arthur let out a sigh and watched Arthur's hands grip the railing.
"It's not you," he said quietly, so quietly he could barely be heard over the waves. "I'm not rejecting you by rejecting magic, Merlin."
Merlin's stomach clenched. He covered it up by letting out a huff of laughter. "Arthur," he said. "By rejecting my people you are rejecting me. I'm not exempt just because I'm still lying to everyone."
There was a long silence. Merlin did not dare to look at Arthur's face.
"I don't want to hurt you," Arthur said finally, sounding as if the words were being wrenched out of him.
Merlin couldn't even force a laugh this time. "But you are," he said.
Arthur left after that. Merlin waited until he could smell dinner and then he got off the railing and headed to the kitchen, where the sailors had already started babbling.
A week later, one early afternoon, they spotted land. Arthur cheered and threw Rayard's hat into the air in celebration, and Merlin had to do a surreptitious bit of magic to ensure it didn't fall into the sea. The city of Denaan was on the coast, so by the time they had almost reached shore, they could see it. It was a collection of white brick towers, very similar to Camelot in size and design, but the most unusual thing was a collection of podiums or stages complete with collections of seats, floating high in the air above the towers with nothing supporting them. When they got closer, they could see people on them.
"What are those?" asked Arthur.
"They must be the Stages," replied Merlin, remembering the things the High King had been talking about in their letters to each other. "They are held up by magic. People go to them and watch performances or music or debates high in the air. I think every year they have a big summer festival on a huge Stage. It's very prestigious."
Arthur nodded but said nothing. He eyed the Stages with thinly disguised suspicion. Merlin felt a pang of alarm go through him. He was counting on Arthur to be open-minded during this visit - if he was not, it could make things worse rather than better.
A group of colourfully dressed men were waiting on the jetty when the ship finally came in to dock. Merlin and Arthur had hurriedly dressed into their finery while they were docking and Merlin had used a spell to make Arthur appear less exhausted while his back was turned, so they came off looking quite presentable. Merlin was in a new tunic and cloak which he had not worn before, and was still getting used to dressing smartly after ten years of wearing the same things day in and out.
The assembly that met them were smiling and friendly, and although they looked at Merlin with strangely curious expressions, they were welcoming and chatty. They showed Arthur and Merlin onto a brightly coloured cart drawn by four horses.
"It is tradition in our kingdom," a red-haired woman told Merlin as they got on. "Heroes, celebrities and visitors are drawn through the crowds on these carts. People come to wave and cheer, so be prepared!"
She wasn't wrong. By the time they got to the gates of the city, half the town seemed to have tumbled out to watch them. Brightly coloured flags had been strung between narrow terraced houses, each of which was painted a different colour, and from every window and rooftop people were waving. Occasionally flowers were thrown to them. Merlin and Arthur glanced at each other, shrugged, then threw themselves into the fame, smiling back and waving.
Merlin kept one eye on the crowd and one eye on Arthur, in case anyone was going to jump out and try to attack him. It was a habit that he could not break, nor did he want to. He still woke up from dreams where he was too late to save Arthur at Avalon, where he had died.
There seemed to be no threat to Arthur here, though. The crowd loved him, as crowds always did. He was a young, golden, handsome king, of course all crowds loved him. And Arthur, with each passing moment he spent on dry land, seemed to be regaining some of his old spirit which had deserted him for the past three weeks. He was becoming his old self again, those aspects of his self which would never change no matter how much he aged or what he went through coming to the fore - his charm, his kindness, his authority. He had a presence, something about him which caught the eye and held it. Which was why, although he was in a new city and surrounded by cheering people, Merlin could not tear his eyes away from Arthur.
The palace of Denaan was very similar to Camelot's, with a wide square courtyard open to receive guests. The people followed the cart up to the gates of the courtyard, then stood on the threshold of the gates, watching, and the cart itself clattered up to a long stretch of steps and a gathering of about fifteen men waiting for them. They were all dressed in dark green and gold. The man at the front was tall, taller than Merlin, and heavily built. He had a short dark beard and creases around his eyes that indicated he smiled a lot, and on his head was the heavy, gold elaborate crown of Denaan. It was Machen the High King.
He stepped forward as Arthur and Merlin alighted from the cart and bowed his head to Arthur.
"Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot and friend to Denaan," he said. "Welcome."
Arthur bowed his head to exactly the same level that the High King had. "Machen, High King of Denaan," he replied formally. "We are welcomed."
Machen gestured behind him, and from the gathering stepped a slight man, only a little shorter than Machen himself and dressed in a dark green robe with strange symbols embroidered on it in gold silk. He had tawny hair which fell over his light grey eyes messily, and a flashing smile which he bestowed on Arthur.
"My Court Sorcerer, Dorian," said Machen.
Arthur almost visibly stalled. Merlin glanced at Dorian, who matched his gaze. Their eyes met and Merlin was suddenly lost for words.
Arthur, catching the exchange, said quickly, "My Court Advisor, Merlin."
Merlin stepped forward, ready to bow to the High King, then froze. Because both the High King and Dorian had fallen to their knees in a deep bow to him.
He glanced at Arthur. Arthur looked back at him, utterly bemused.
Merlin looked back down at them. "Um," he said, but at that point the other men behind the High King had dropped to their knees as well and he was so completely flummoxed he didn't know what to say.
Dorian saved him by saying it for him. "We know who you are. You are not merely Merlin the Advisor. You are Emrys. It is we who should bow to you, for you are the greatest sorcerer of us all, and thus we as a magic-loving kingdom honour you above all others."
"You are," the High King echoed, his head still bowed, "The greatest of us all."
Merlin realised his mouth had dropped open. He looked over at Arthur again, but Arthur only glanced at him before looking aside, a strange, closed off expression passing across his face.
He had no help there.
He turned back to the bowed men. "Right," he said. "Um. Thank you. I am…honoured? Yes. I am honoured. Um. Please stand up now?"
The High King rose, and with him everyone else. Dorian met Merlin's gaze again and he could see the corners of the man's mouth were twitching with the effort not to laugh. Merlin felt suddenly like he wanted to laugh too, and he had to look away from Dorian to stop himself.
"You must be tired," Machen said. "The journey across the waters is a long one."
"Indeed it is," Arthur replied a little wryly, and Merlin couldn't help grinning at that.
The High King smiled too, the creases at his eyes crinkling.
"Then we shall show you to your rooms," he said. "Where you can rest and refresh yourselves. And tonight we shall have a great feast to honour your arrival. This way, gentlemen."
They were halfway across the courtyard when the random cheering of the crowds at the courtyard gates changed its pace. Whereas before it had been a meaningless noise, there was now a rhythm to it, and a word.
"Emrys!" the crowd was shouting. "Em-rys! Em-rys!"
Merlin paused in his tracks, Arthur with him.
"Well," Arthur said, after a difficult pause. "Looks like you have some admirers, Merlin."
Merlin glanced at him. Arthur smiled, but it was forced, the smile did not quite reach his eyes, and he turned away from Merlin a little too quickly.
Merlin looked back at the crowd. It roared to him. He waved a hand and followed the rest into the palace.
The palace was bigger than Camelot's castle, but it was also more brightly decorated. Everywhere there hung tapestries of mixed colours, or bright pictures of beautiful landscapes, or murals on the walls. Merlin was so overwhelmed by it all that he had no idea where he was going until they stopped at a white painted door.
"These will be your chambers, Arthur," said the High King. "Let me show you around them."
"Your rooms are just down the hall," said Dorian to Merlin. "Come with me, I'll show you."
Merlin glanced at Arthur, but he had already gone into his room. He followed Dorian obediently. They walked in a slightly awkward silence until Dorian stopped outside a green door with gold spirals and symbols on it, not dissimilar to the ones on his robe.
Dorian caught Merlin gazing at them. "They are ancient magical symbols of our land," he explained. "Some of them, placed in the right order and invoked with the right words, can become talismans for luck, or courage, or love. We do not know who created them, but they are very effective."
Merlin nodded, running his hand over a particularly nicely worked spiral in the door. "I've heard of such things," he said. "They're beautiful."
Dorian beamed, and Merlin caught the full force of his smile for the first time, and was momentarily dazzled. It was an unexpectedly warming smile, like sunlight. "I'll teach you some time," promised Dorian. "If you'd like?"
Merlin smiled back, as charmingly as he could. "That would be nice," he said.
Dorian's own smile flickered slightly, and he looked briefly flustered. "Right," he said. "Um. What was I doing? Room. Yes. Shall I show you your room?"
Merlin laughed, won over despite himself. "Yes please!"
Dorian opened the doors. The room was just bigger than Arthur's chambers back in Camelot and far surpassing Merlin's room in Gaius's chambers. On one wall stood a great fireplace with a crackling fire in its grate, and around it was painted a magnificent mural of different woodland animals, with a border of the same golden symbols around it. The windows were floor length and latticed, and out of them Merlin could see an array of beautifully manicured gardens and rolling hills beyond. The rest of the room was decorated with either dark green or gold furnishings, with a long table, a desk, several trunks for clothes and a large comfortable bed.
"I'm sorry if it isn't what you're used to," Dorian was saying, as Merlin stepped inside, numb with wonderment.
"Are you joking?" Merlin blurted out. "This is the best room I've ever seen!"
Dorian became flustered again. He shuffled around, prettily embarrassed. "I'd have thought you'd be used to more grandeur than this."
Merlin snorted. "Maybe Arthur is, but not me."
There was a shocked silence from Dorian's corner. Merlin glanced at him to find he was staring at him with wide eyes. "You mean," Dorian said, "You don't have rooms like Arthur's?"
Merlin smiled and shook his head. "I live with Gaius. Oh - Gaius is the Court Physician and my friend. He tutored me and kept my secret before Arthur knew. He's like a father to me. Anyway, he has a small room attached to his chambers, I live in it."
"A small room with the Court Physician?" Dorian's eyes were going to fall out of his head if they stretched any wider. "Oh, no, no." He shook his head. "Our great magicians are treated with more respect here."
Merlin faltered. "It's not - " he said. "I mean, Arthur does treat me with respect, it's just - I don't know, I've never considered it. I like living with Gaius, he needs my help often, with medical things…"
"It is a symbol of respect and authority to have chambers befitting your station," Dorian replied, somewhat formally. "It is not materialism. It is a show of trust, to be allowed to live in such close quarters with the King. It is payment for your hard work." He hesitated. "But perhaps the King pays you for your loyalty in other ways."
Merlin snorted. "That'll be the day. But look," he said, when Dorian opened his mouth to protest again. "Let's not talk about that. Let's talk about you."
Dorian stared at him. "Me?"
"You're Court Sorcerer," said Merlin, "In a city full of magicians. You must have great magic to have such a good position."
Dorian shrugged. "I'm the lead Court Sorcerer. The High King actually has a separate assembly of about fourteen from whom he gets advice. I'm sure you could beat any magic I could do."
Merlin laughed, sitting down at the table. "Please! You should hear the sort of things I've had trouble with."
Dorian smiled his full beaming smile again. "Like what?"
Merlin waved him into a seat opposite him, and they leaned across the table to each other, as if in conspiracy. "Well," he started, "There was this time when I had only very recently become Arthur's manservant. I needed to make these enchanted snakes come out of a knight's shield - do not ask, long story - so I was trying to learn the spell 'Berbay odothay arisan quicken' - have you heard of it?"
"Yes." Dorian was smiling, his grey eyes twinkling, and giving his entire attention to Merlin - something which hadn't happened to Merlin for a good while.
"Well," Merlin said, "I was trying the spell out on a stone dog and I just couldn't get it right, meanwhile Arthur is about to face Valiant - that's the knight - in tournament and I was running out of time…"
Arthur peeked into Merlin's rooms later that evening just before the feast, dressed gloriously in the Camelot colours of red and gold while Merlin was wrestling with what to wear.
"Your room," he said peevishly, after entering without knocking in blatant revenge for all the times Merlin hadn't done it, "Is bigger than mine."
Merlin grinned at him from his bed, where he had laid out the different options for his outfit that night. "That's because I'm an almighty sorcerer," he teased. "Didn't you hear?"
Arthur rolled his eyes, peering out of the window at the candlelit gardens outside. "Some fools will idolise anyone."
Merlin simply smiled. He had spent most of the afternoon talking with Dorian and was in an unexpectedly good mood. "What do I wear?" he asked.
Arthur sighed, approached the bed and leaned casually against it, and the position was so familiar to Merlin that he was momentarily homesick for Camelot.
He pushed the feeling aside and turned his attention to the clothes. "I can't decide," he said.
"That's because you're a great big girl," Arthur said. "Wear the blue, it matches your eyes."
Merlin blinked at him. "It does?"
He could almost capture the exact moment Arthur had realised what he said. "No," he blustered. And then, "Yes. Whatever. Just choose something Merlin, or we'll miss the entire feast."
Merlin smiled to himself and chose the blue.
The Denaans feasted like they did everything else – colourfully. With Camelot, it was usually the tradition to have entertainment after the meal, although they often had minstrels playing in the background. But the Denaans separated each course with an entertainer – singers, dancers, acrobatics, jugglers, and quite a few magicians. Merlin was so enthralled by them, he was almost disappointed when the next meal arrived and they had to finish. This was, Arthur decided, a definite first.
They were seated in a similar way to Camelot, on a high table on a dais overlooking the rest of the hall. Merlin and Arthur were seated together, with the High King and his fourteen knights on Arthur's right and Dorian and his fourteen magicians on Merlin's left. The hall was crammed full of people but it was all colourfully decorated, with a different cloth over each table and many royal banners hanging from the high ceiling. There was laughter and chatter everywhere, and a sense of celebration that Camelot only really tapped into on feast days like Beltane.
They were watching a magician make shapes in flames when the High King turned to Arthur. "You did not arrive with knights, Arthur," he said, but his tone was more curious than offended. "We would have happily accommodated them."
Arthur took a sip of his wine. "Of that I never had a doubt," he replied, "But all my knights are too preoccupied to take a long trip away at the moment. When Morgana fell, she left many allies who tried to carry on her work. We have managed to reach an accord with most of them, but there is still a lot to do. I myself would have stayed at Camelot, but Merlin persuaded me otherwise."
"He needed a holiday," put in Merlin, and grinned at Machen. Machen smiled back – he seemed quite taken with Merlin.
"Anyway, I trust my knights," Arthur continued, nudging Merlin surreptitiously in the ribs to shut him up. "They have been with me a long time, they have fought many battles with me. They know what Camelot stands for and how we can create peace."
"Of course," said Machen. "I myself would trust my knights with such a task. But why did you not bring your wife?"
Arthur felt Merlin stiffen beside him. He gritted his teeth against the pain and tried not to grasp at his empty ring finger. "My wife is dead," he said.
Machen blinked, then regarded Arthur with quick sympathy. "I did not know," he said. "My condolences."
"It's fine," said Arthur, although it wasn't. "She died two years ago. We have communicated so infrequently that you could not have known."
Machen smiled, and clapped Arthur on the shoulder. "A problem that we shall solve," he said. He raised his goblet. "To Camelot."
"To Denaan," said Arthur and clinked his goblet against Machen's own.
After the main meals, there was more entertainment by a range of different magicians. Arthur sat back lazily and pretended to be watching, exchanging a few comments with Machen, but his attention was all on Merlin. Merlin and Dorian had huddled together, Dorian scratching out a few symbols on a napkin and the two of them discussing them in low, rapid tones.
"This is a transformation symbol," Dorian was saying. "For instance – the magician we just had, the one who created the swathe of butterflies. He could have done it by invoking the symbol."
"How?" Merlin asked. He was flushed, either with wine or excitement, and couldn't seem to take his eyes off Dorian. This didn't appear to be a problem for Dorian, who was doing exactly the same thing.
"Well..." Dorian sat back and drew the symbol in the air with his finger. It glowed a little and then vanished, and then Dorian concentrated and said an unfamiliar word under his breath and a cloud of red butterflies appeared in front of him.
"That's astonishing!" Merlin caught one of the butterflies on his finger. "Arthur, look at this, did you see what he did?"
Arthur tried, he really tried, to sound encouraging. "I did," he said, but the words sounded flat in his mouth.
Merlin didn't seem to notice; he nudged the butterfly onto Arthur's shoulder with his finger. "Camelot red," he said, and smiled at him. It was a wider, more open smile than Merlin usually bestowed on him, which probably meant he was a bit drunk.
Arthur looked away sharply. The butterfly flapped off his shoulder and then disappeared in a little flash of light. By the time he had mustered the courage to look round at Merlin again, he was back in rapid conversation with Dorian.
"That's amazing," he was saying. "Dorian, this is really inspired. You're terribly clever."
Dorian flushed bright red. Arthur swallowed down his bitterness and turned back to the performances in front of him.
Merlin and Dorian left the feast not long after the last entertainer had finished, leaving Arthur in a long conversation about politics with Machen. The corridors were hushed and quiet, most of the court being still inside the hall, and Merlin felt content and happier than he had for a while, though he thought he could possibly blame that on the wine.
"Did you see that last magician?" he said. "What he did with the ribbons in the air, that knot-work – that's wonderfully skilled magic, it must have taken him years to learn it."
"Bet you could do it with your eyes closed," Dorian said. His speech was a little run together but he was walking with a spring in his step.
Merlin laughed. "Of course."
He turned his head to grin at Dorian, and their eyes met, and for a moment Merlin forgot how to walk altogether. He looked away quickly before he tripped over anything, and a slightly awkward silence fell between them.
"What happened to the queen?" Dorian asked at last. "I overheard Arthur say..."
"She died," Merlin interrupted. "Two years ago. In a magical attack." He thought of Gwen suddenly, saw her face starkly in his mind, and his good mood seemed to desert him altogether. "I was foolish," he heard himself say, and the words stuck in his throat. "I was so relieved that Morgana was gone, I thought we were safe. I wasn't paying attention. And Gwen paid for it."
They walked in silence for a bit longer. "That's why Arthur still doesn't allow magic in Camelot," Dorian said, suddenly realising.
Merlin nodded. The same combination of resentment, grief and frustration he felt whenever he thought about it twisted inside him. "He's lost everyone he loved to magic," he said. "His mother, his father, his wife. Even Morgana – she was his sister and it was magic that corrupted her in his eyes."
"But what about you?" Dorian asked. "Everything you've done for him...you've used magic to save him multiple times."
"Apparently not enough to cancel out the past," Merlin said, then stopped before he went any further.
They had finally reached the corridor where Merlin's chambers were. It was dark and deserted.
"Well," Dorian said as they slowed down. "I think you're wonderful. Everything you did for him – I think it's wonderful. Just in case that helps."
Merlin glanced at Dorian. He had never been so appreciated in his entire life. "It helps," he said.
They stopped outside his door. "Right," Merlin said. "Well, I should probably – "
Which was when Dorian kissed him.
It was only a dry press of lips on lips, the most chaste kiss in existence, but it had been so long since Merlin had been kissed and it was such a surprise, he had to stop himself from leaping away immediately. He forced himself to relax instead, then found himself closing his eyes and leaning into it.
Dorian pulled away far quicker than Merlin liked. "Sorry," he babbled. "Oh my – I'm so – I can't believe I – I'm so sorry, it's just – I – I really like – I mean I really admire you and you were just sort of standing there and I've had quite a bit of wine and I'm so sorry – "
"Hey!" Merlin held up his hands. "Wait a minute – don't – I mean it's – "
" – Really didn't mean – well I did mean – I mean it's just – I think you're amazing and – "
"Dorian!" Merlin said. "Shut up."
Oh hell, he thought, when Dorian did just that. I've turned into Arthur.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that to sound – it's just – you don't need to apologise."
Dorian stared at him. "I don't?"
"No." Merlin found himself smiling. "It was nice."
"Right," Dorian drawled, a bit sardonically. "Nice."
"No, I mean it was – " Merlin started, then didn't really know how to continue. It was nice. This whole day had been nice. It was nice to be respected and it was nice to be able to sit and talk about magic with other intelligent, peaceful people. It was nice to be here in Denaan. "Really nice," he found himself saying.
Dorian relaxed a bit. However Merlin had sounded, it must have worked. "Right," he said. "Well. Good."
"Good," Merlin echoed.
They looked at each other. Dorian was a little taller than Merlin, and he had ridiculously, eternally scruffy hair, and his eyes were very grey in the light and were looking at Merlin with such admiration...
"Oh," said Merlin, accidentally out loud, except it came out more breathless than he would have liked.
"I'd better go," said Dorian. The words before we do something too hasty hung in the air between them. Merlin took a measured step towards his door.
"Right," he said. "Yes. Uh. See you tomorrow."
Dorian beamed at him. It was like the sun had come out. "Tomorrow," he said, and walked away.
Merlin dived into his room and shut the door behind him. Someone had lit candles and a fire and turned down his bed for him. The room glowed in the light, looking, although it was almost impossible, ten times more beautiful than it had in the daylight.
Merlin smiled to himself. "A nice day," he said dreamily, and got ready for bed.
A/N: Welcome! I hope you enjoyed the chapter. I am several chapters ahead on this piece so will be updating every few days/a week. If you're wondering what's going on with my other story 'Merlin's Resurrection', do not ye fret, the finishing chapter is being slowly but steadily completed. If you haven't read my other story...go check it out! ...Yes, that was blatant self advertising. Thanks for reading :)