Merlin shivered slightly and unconsciously leant closer to the warmth beside him, closer to his 'Strength' as the bridge keeper had called him, when the horrid screech broke through the silence of the night and chilled them both through to the bone.
"What was that?" Merlin asked worriedly.
"Pheasant," Gwaine said after a beat making Merlin look at him in disbelief.
"A very big one," Gwaine said seriously already reaching for his sword. He propped it upright keeping hold of it this time as they both looked in the direction the shriek had come from.
"You can turn back if you want," Merlin said slowly, he didn't want Gwaine to leave, and he knew not purely for the fact that he would be left in the Perilous Lands by himself to save Arthur.
"I'm not scared of pheasants," Gwaine laughed weakly laying his sword across his knees, clearly unable to sit still. He got the small laugh from Merlin that he had clearly been looking for though.
"I don't know…" Merlin started to say before asking the question he hadn't wanted to ask before. "Why do you want to do this?"
"Same reason as you," Gwaine answered turning back towards him. "Help a friend,"
"Arthur's lucky to have us," Merlin smiled slightly looking back to the fire, not knowing why he was disappointed.
"Not Arthur," Gwaine laughed making Merlin look back up at him, something rising in his chest as his eyes met Gwaine's.
"I'd do the same for you," Merlin managed to say.
"Well I hope so," Gwaine smiled. "You're the only friend I've got,"
"I'm not surprised," Merlin joked. Gwaine blinked before laughing. They both startled when more shrieking broke through the air. "That sounded like three pheasants…at least," he said weakly. They sat in silence for a little longer before Gwaine nudged Merlin with his shoulder gently.
"So what made you keep writing to me? The chances of your letter finding me the first time were pretty slim," Gwaine asked, no longer meeting Merlin's eyes.
"I…don't know. I thought it would be good to stay in touch with you, in case I needed some strength, and I was right," Merlin managed a weak smile.
"Just for that reason?" Gwaine asked making Merlin look up at him biting his lip.
"What do you want me to say?" Merlin asked quietly.
"Wouldn't be the same if I told you that," Gwaine managed one of his cocky smiles, but it was missing something. Merlin sucked in a breath when Gwaine's fingers came up to brush over his cheek, something burning in his eyes that Merlin couldn't name, but felt sparking in his own body.
He didn't know what made him do it, his body acted without its own consent, but all he knew was that one moment he was looking into Gwaine's eyes, the next he was leaning forward towards Gwaine, close enough that he could feel the man's breath brushing his face. Nervously his eyes flickered from Gwaine's eyes to his lips and back.
Then Gwaine smiled and the fingers that had just been resting on his cheek slipped around to cup the back of Merlin's neck and tugged him closer to close the distance between them and seal their lips together. At the first connection of their lips something electric slipped through Merlin's very blood making his gasp into the kiss and cling onto Gwaine's coat, something the man took advantage of, slipping his tongue into Merlin's mouth and deepening the kiss. The sorcerer let out a small gasp before his eyes flickered shut and he concentrated on the feeling, taste and scent of Gwaine surrounding him, blotting out everything around them until it was just them.
"You have ruined me," Gwaine murmured against Merlin's lips who knew how long later. All Merlin knew was that he was now seated on Gwaine's lap, the man's legs spread to accommodate him, strong hands firm on his hips and his interest making itself known against Merlin's arse. Their breaths were coming in heavy pants which mingled in the small smile between them, their foreheads still pressed together. Merlin opened his eyes to look at Gwaine questioningly and smiled when he was met with small pecking kisses as though Gwaine couldn't get enough of kissing him.
"How?" He managed to ask between kisses.
"I had the wanderer's life and I enjoyed it, roaming from town to town, tavern to tavern and I was not exactly…lonely for company when needed during that time," Merlin flinched slightly at those words, something hurting in his chest. He tried to pull away from the older man but Gwaine gripped him tighter holding him where he was. "But since I have met you, I have not even thought of laying with another, for when someone flirts and makes suggestions all I can see is you. My dreams are filled with you, and my body longs for you. But I wish also merely to be at your side, to go to sleep with you in my arms and wake with you there. For the first time in a long time I wish I could settle down somewhere to stay, and that place is by your side,"
"Gwaine…" Merlin choked, anguish clear in his voice.
"It's ok, I understand, you cannot leave Arthur's side, and I cannot come between that," Gwaine smiled weakly, already withdrawing in front of Merlin's eyes. He was startled therefore when the slighter man gripped his face.
"It's not what you think!" He said firmly.
"Then what is it?" Gwaine sighed. He had told himself he would never allow himself to know what Merlin felt like pressed against him, what his kisses tasted like, he knew letting go would only result in wanting more, not being satisfied with stopping there. But he had done it anyway, just him and Merlin together, in this forsaken land, he had not the strength to resist.
"I love Arthur yes. But he is my best friend. And he…he is my destiny," Merlin said not believing that he was really about to do this.
"Oh hell! You two are engaged?! Perfect really just perfect! I thought he hadn't even made a move yet, I might have had a fighting chance if he hadn't but…it's alright Merlin I underst…why are you laughing?" Gwaine refused to accept the fact he was pouting, but he was in fact pouting, quite hard at the giggling man in his arms.
"Oh Gwaine! I'm terrified how you're going to react to what I'm about to tell you and the conclusion you come to is that I'm engaged to Arthur that's just….really gross and a really frightening thought! I love the clot pole but not as a lover, he is in love with Gwen and hopefully intends to make an honest woman of her when Uther dies, and I…my heart lies with someone else," Merlin stopped laughing; instead a fond smile was on his lips.
"Who?" Gwaine asked, a little embarrassed at how breathless he sounded. Instead of answering Merlin took Gwaine's hand and lifted it to his own just so Gwaine could feel the rapid heartbeat under his palm. "Oh…so by destiny you mean?" Gwaine frowned confused but didn't move his hand.
"I…" Merlin winced as his voice failed him, He hadn't actually told anyone about his magic before, they had always found out by accident. This was a first. He also had no idea how Gwaine would take it, he had never given any indication one way or the other how he felt about magic. If Gwaine turned him away, especially now, Merlin was sure his heart would break.
"Merlin?" Gwaine frowned; his other hand coming from Merlin's hip to cup his face.
"Please…don't hate me," Merlin begged closing his eyes as he felt them fill up.
"Hate you? Never! Merlin you're kind of scaring me here, so I need you to explain," Gwaine said, his worry evident in his voice.
"I…I have magic, a sorcerer I was born this way, it's not a choice I…" He yelped when he suddenly found himself dumped on the floor as Gwaine stood quickly, stomping away from him. Merlin lowered his eyes to ground, yes he could feel his heart breaking, and it wasn't nice and neat into a million pieces, now it was jagged and sharp, lodging in his chest and other organs. He couldn't breathe properly and tears were burning his eyes.
"You…you…what do you think you are doing!" Merlin gasped when his shoulders were suddenly grasped in strong hands and squeezed just before being painful before he was shaken. Looking up he was confused when instead of hatred he found…fear. "You are a sorcerer in Camelot! In the castle! Working for the King's son! If they find out they will…you will…no! We rescue Arthur and we send him on his merry way and I get you as far from Camelot as I can take you!" Gwaine snapped, his face changing between worry, anger, fear and pain.
"Gwaine I can't," Merlin shook his head, gripping the arms holding him, the shaking was starting to make him feel a little dizzy.
"What do you mean can't! Like hell you can't!" Gwaine snapped.
"Gwaine listen! My destiny, it is to see that Arthur becomes King of Camelot, to protect him and guide him to the throne. When he takes over…Arthur is the Once and Future King, he is destined to become one of the greatest kings the worlds has ever known and will ever know. He's going to unite the lands of Albion and create a Golden Age. And he will bring magic back. And I am meant to get him there," Merlin smiled softly.
"At the risk of your own life, every day!" Gwaine choked out, his head spinning with what he was being told, His Merlin, his kind, warm, gentle, brave, slightly clumsy, sharp, quick tongued Merlin and the Princess were supposed to create that.
"I've lasted this long without anyone really suspecting what I am. And it's worth the risk. Gwaine, so many people have died, if I get Arthur to the throne, to become the King he is meant to be, I will be free to be who I am, not to have to live in fear," Merlin gripped Gwaine's wrists and begged him with his eyes to understand.
"I cannot be in Camelot to protect you, and you will not come with me to be safe," Gwaine said painfully.
"It is not my destiny to be anywhere but Camelot. And Arthur can't last three days without me; you wouldn't believe some of the magic plots I've stopped!" Merlin smiled weakly.
"So tell me," Gwaine sighed. When Merlin blinked he smiled, not his normal smile, but close before he settled down beside the fire, his sword close to hand and then tugged Merlin down into his arms and against his chest. Merlin froze for a second before wriggling a little to get comfortable, before cautiously he started.
He slowly built in confidence as he spoke when he did not get a negative reaction from Gwaine, the older man rubbed his back soothingly when he sensed Merlin becoming nervous to tell him something, he chuckled and actually laughed hysterically at some of the funnier parts – Merlin should have known he would enjoy the embarrassing ones for Arthur – especially the Goblin one. And he just lay listening to the life the man he was fairly sure he loved lived in secret getting no thanks for.
"You are in danger, so often," Gwaine groaned. "How can you expect me to let you leave me knowing I cannot be there to protect you while you protect him?!"
"I…it's not forever. I have been given hints that Arthur's time is not that far off, and I sense…I have a sense that when it comes, your place, as much as Lance's, will be with Arthur. It wasn't coincidence we met; you have a larger part to play in the story. And maybe not just for Arthur," Merlin bit his lip as he raised his head to look at Gwaine again.
Gwaine couldn't stop himself from cupping Merlin's jaw and leaning forwards to kiss him again, softly and yet with a hunger that could not be denied. This amazing man had done so much and no one knew except an old physician and a scattering of people who were spread far from him. He placed gentle kisses over Merlin's jaw when they parted, unable to stop now they had started.
"I cannot leave Arthur and Camelot. Can you wait?" Merlin asked, lowering his eyes to Gwaine's coat where his fingers played with the material nervously.
"Wait?" Gwaine asked, not wanting any misunderstandings for this.
"Will you wait, till it's time for you to play your part in Arthur's destiny…and will you stay?" Merlin knew Gwaine's life and he dreaded the answer.
"Wherever you are is where I want to be, and I will wait a year or I will wait forty, if that is what the fate's decide, though I sincerely hope they have a little more pity than that and Uther pops his clogs next month," He added with a grin getting the laugh from Merlin he wanted, those amazing eyes glittering in happiness as he raised himself over Gwaine and instigated a kiss for the first time. "And you?" Gwaine asked nervously when they parted.
"Me?" Merlin asked confused, his mind a pleasant fog from the long, languid kisses they had just exchanged, if he licked his lips he was sure he was still able to taste Gwaine there.
"Will you wait for me to be allowed to stay in Camelot," Gwaine asked nervously, his heart jerking when Merlin started shaking his head.
"I won't wait, I'll always come and find you," Merlin smiled making himself comfortable on Gwaine's chest.
"We need to get some sleep, tomorrow will be a long day," Gwaine said, grinning like an idiot he knew, as he tightened his arms around Merlin, soaking up the feeling of having him in his arms.
Gwaine felt his heart stopping as he realised that Merlin had triggered a trap, one that was going to crush him. Looking quickly he realised with panic that he didn't have time to grab Merlin and tug him back to him, the only thing he could do was reach out and shove Merlin forwards into the room, the door slamming down between them.
"Merlin!" Gwaine shouted throwing himself against the stone door. Goddesses he knew Merlin had magic and that from his stories he could more than look after himself. But that didn't stop him from thinking the worst. He was suddenly aware of Arthur beside him also trying to break in.
"Hang on I have an idea," Arthur jerked away when it was clear the door wasn't opening and started tapping on the stones beside the door.
"What are you doing? We have to get him out!" Gwaine snapped.
"We aren't going to break through that door, its solid stone. But if we…ah!" Arthur made a triumphant noise and quickly slid a dagger loose from his belt and worked away the mortar around the stone. "If we removed this then the mechanics for the door should be here and we should be able to open it," Arthur tugged at the stone but both of them grimaced in distaste when dozens and dozens of bugs poured, crawled and slithered out from the gap.
"Away you go Princess, this is your quest after all," Gwaine smirked not feeling particularly happy that his lover had come racing across the land and was now in who knows what danger for Arthur and the man hadn't even said thank you! To his credit Arthur met his eyes and tugged his glove on firmer before, after pulling a face, shoving his hand into the gap and started feeling around.
"How do you know about this anyway?" Gwaine asked, more for a distraction than actually interest.
"One of the things my father wanted me to learn while growing up was how best to build a castle, you know in case I ever suddenly sprang the desire to build one," Arthur said sarcastically making Gwaine smirk, this was why he liked the guy. "One part of learning it was secret passages and secret doors and such you could build in, it was one of the few bits I actually listened to," Arthur grinned before making another triumphant noise as his fingers brushed over what he was looking for.
Gwaine quickly moved back to the door, his sword ready for when Arthur nodded and opened the door. They rushed in in time to see Merlin standing up a little shakily by what looked like the throne.
"Merlin?" Arthur and Gwaine both looked around the room for some sign of danger but seeing none lowered the swords a little.
"Hey," Merlin smiled, but his eyes looked sad and as though they were filled with tears worrying Gwaine. Arthur of course just stormed forwards letting out a satisfied laugh.
"Look what I found! Now we can get out of here!" He nudged Merlin's shoulder before storming out the room, trident in hands. Gwaine rolled his eyes at Merlin managing to get a real smile back before he grabbed him when he was close enough and tugged him into his body, pressing their lips together. He knew that Merlin could probably taste his fear in the kiss, but he couldn't stop himself from running his hands over Merlin's body checking he was ok.
His hands finally settle, one on Merlin's hip, the other on the back of his neck and he gentles the kiss which he hadn't realised had turned so desperate, flicking his tongue across Merlin's pouty lower lip in apology. Merlin however doesn't seem to mind as he's pressed as tightly against Gwaine's chest as he can get, his arms wrapped around Gwaine's shoulders and kissing back with no less enthusiasm.
"Will you two…Oh…you couldn't wait to do that until we are away from the creepy castle and the man eating wyrvens?" Arthur sighed exasperated as they tug apart to blink at him shocked. "Oh don't look at me like that, neither of you are subtle. Wonderful now I am going to have to put up with him pining worse," Arthur grumbled as they hurried to make their way down the stairs.
"Pining?" Gwaine frowned; feeling confused when Merlin let up bright red to the tips of his ears and seemed to be attempting to shove Arthur down the stairs.
"Whenever a letter would come from you he would go into a pine for a good two or three days, sighing and staring out my windows, he gets even less work done," Arthur complained.
"Arthur!" Merlin hissed, now reverting to seemingly trying to kick Arthur the stairs.
"I dislike not having my room cleaned properly, and his chores not done properly, not to mention he tends to drop things more, I do not want him pining more than he has to. You understand?" And Gwaine does understand. This is about Arthur being worried and phrasing it the only way he seems to know how. Merlin seems to understand as well if his wide blue eyes are anything to go by.
"He won't," Gwaine says firmly.
"We have an understanding then. I'd hate to have to send my best knights after you, some of them are really very fond of Merlin," Arthur says in a nonchalant tone as they finally reach the bottom of the staircase.
"Really?" Huh Gwaine had never pegged himself as the jealous type before.
"Yes, he decided to mother them when they first arrived at Camelot to become knights and they seem to have decided to cling to his metaphorical petticoats even though they are settled in now," Arthur smirked.
"I did not mother them!" Merlin squawked.
"Oh you really did!" Arthur snickered.
"I did not clotpole!" Gwaine shook his head as the two of them started squabbling while they left the castle, though all of them were scanning the skies for Wyverns.
Merlin sighed contently as he breathed in the magic of the forest; it was tingling with it practically with the weight of it. The first time he and Gwaine had been in such a rush to get through it and to Arthur that he hadn't been able to appreciate it. Now, with them settling down to camp here tonight he was able to close his eyes briefly where he was seated in front of the fire cooking their stew and enjoy the presence.
He smiled even more contently when strong arms wrapped themselves around his waist and tugged him backwards against a lovely firm chest that was becoming more and more familiar to him. Equally strong legs came out to rest either side of him, bracing him in.
"You look happy," Gwaine said softly into his ear. Merlin opened his eyes and looked around for Arthur before he settled back against Gwaine's chest.
"I get to be with you, and this forest is full of magic, I can feel it," Merlin grinned.
"What does it feel like?" Gwaine asked curiously, stroking his hand over the wrist and forearm of Merlin's arm.
"Like…a fresh stream flowing over me after a hard days riding, refreshing, soothing," Merlin said thoughtfully.
"What happened back there? In that room?" Gwaine asked softly, not wanting to break Merlin's good mood but he was worried.
"The Fisher King was still alive, in that room waiting," Merlin sighed snuggling further back against Gwaine after giving the stew a good stir. He knew that he had done what the Fisher King wanted more than anything else, but he still felt bad, he felt sympathy for the Fisher King, having to stay there waiting to be released, and for the loss of the great man who had been forgotten to all but a handful of people and legends.
"Waiting for what?" Gwaine's tone was warm and…safe.
"Death. He was waiting for me to release him. He had a gift for me in exchange for the bracelet," Merlin reached into his pocket and held up his gift. "Water from the lake of Avalon,"
"Strange gift," Gwaine hummed.
"He said that I would need it, soon, that Camelot's darkest hour was upon us and when things seems at the darkest this would help me see the way," Merlin explained, slipping the water away and curling a little more into Gwaine's arms.
"Darkest hour. Morgana?" He guessed.
"Probably, her and Morgause are plotting and planning none stop, something is going to have to give one way or the other," Merlin sighed.
"When the time comes, all you need to do is ask. I will be staying close to the boarders, closer than I already have been. I'll be ready," Gwaine promised lifting Merlin's chin. He couldn't get enough of kissing this amazing, brave, warm man. Merlin's taste was probably engrained on his memory but he still wanted more, the feeling of Merlin's lips against his own, the faint tremble that was always in his hands when he first touched Gwaine before they steadied.
"You two are really sickening you know that," Arthur huffed stomping into the clearing with the rest of the firewood they would need for the night.
"Its revenge," Merlin grinned against Gwaine's lips, his blue eyes sparkling when he opened them to meet Gwaine's.
"Revenge?" Arthur frowned.
"I've had to put up with watching you and Gwen do your whole longing, puppy dog looks across rooms, not to mention that every time you are alone together I can practically hear the swelling of violin music coming from somewhere," Merlin laughed as Arthur went bright red and started spluttering before he grabbed one of their cups and chucked it at Merlin.
Merlin froze before he started laughing so hard he feared he would wet himself at the look on Arthur's face when Gwaine easily caught the missile one handed and without missing a beat threw it straight back at the Prince, catching him squarely on the forehead. Gwaine just smirked at the stunned looking prince as he held onto his Sorcerer as Merlin fell apart in hysterics in his arms.
"M…m…my hero!" Merlin managed to choke out patting Gwaine's chest before he started laughing again at the look on Arthur's face.
"I don't think it's a good idea for you two to be together, you're both forgetful enough of my title separately, never mind when you are together," Arthur huffed, but Gwaine could see the humour in his eyes.
"You wouldn't have us any other way Princess," Gwaine snorted.
"I don't know, this or respectful servants, hmm let me see," Arthur feigned thoughtfulness.
"Hate to break it to you Princess but I aint your servant," Gwaine smirked.
"I'll just have to take it out on Merlin more then, perhaps the hat should come back out again," Arthur said smugly as Merlin's laughter stopped and he stared at Arthur horrified.
"What hat?" Gwaine asked confused.
"Don't you dare!" Merlin glared darkly at Arthur as he opened his mouth. Arthur just smirked at him before describing the servant's hat.
"You are supposed to be on my side!" Merlin glared at Gwaine who had cracked up laughing at the thought of Merlin in the feathered monstrosity Arthur had described, before he turned his glare to Arthur. "And you! I'm telling Gwen…"
"Yes Merlin, what are you telling Gwen?" Arthur smirked.
"I'm telling her you like to fart in the mornings and then lift the blanket to smell it," Merlin smirked right back, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrow at Arthur.
"You…you….you wouldn't!" Arthur spluttered looking horrified.
"Oh I'm going to," Merlin shrugged.
"I'll have you locked in the stock if you do!" Arthur said triumphantly.
"That will give me plenty of time to remember all the little things I can tell her then. Like that time you got blinding drunk before King Hedrick came to the castle and I spent fifteen minutes chasing you around the castle while you ran stark naked singing the most lewd songs I have ever heard about bar girls?" Merlin said mock thoughtfully.
"Try me! Oh maybe I should tell her about the time we had to sneak into that castle and you dressed as a woman and got hit on by about ten men? I'm sure she'll enjoy that one,"
"Oh…y….y…you're g…g...g…going to k…kill me!" Gwaine gasped out between laughter.
"You're evil, I don't know why I put up with you," Arthur muttered mournfully as Merlin leant forwards to give the stew a stir before deciding it was done and started serving it out.
"You would miss me," Merlin said cheerfully.
"I wouldn't bet on it," Arthur huffed.
"Don't pout it's not princely," Merlin mock scolded.
"Thank you," Gwaine managed to say between laughter as he took the bowl of stew from Merlin, kissing his cheek getting a wide smile from the man.
"What's wrong?" Gwaine whispered into the night concerned startling Merlin slightly. They were lying curled up together on Merlin's bed roll, arms wrapped tightly around each other. Merlin had thought that Gwaine was asleep, but clearly not considering his hand started stroking up and down Merlin's back soothingly.
"I just…realised that we are going to have to leave each other tomorrow," Merlin scowled at Gwaine's chest.
"Hey, it won't be for long yeah?" Gwaine tried to smile but it came out as more of a grimace as the thought he had been trying to avoid was brought up.
"Perhaps," Merlin sighed.
"Hey it won't be for long, think positive," Gwaine stroked Merlin's cheek with a gentle thumb.
"I just…I know I want to be with you, for the rest of my life, and I don't want to have to be separated from you. Not so soon," Merlin blurted out before freezing. Gwaine had feelings for him sure, but the man was notorious for running from laying down roots and never staying in one place, saying words like forever? He didn't know how Gwaine would react to that. Honestly a part of him was expecting the man to throw him off and run screaming as far away from Merlin as he could.
"Merlin, I don't know which part of me wanting to settle down wherever you are and stay with you hasn't told you that I want to be with you forever as well. I wish there was some way I could prove that to you, but I give you my promise that this is forever," Gwaine said firmly, knowing what was bothering Merlin.
"I really would rather you didn't seal that promise with sex while I am lying right here trying to sleep. However if you wanted I could marry you in the more traditional way to seal a promise of forever considering I am a prince, even if I am a tired one," Arthur huffed interrupting them when their kiss started to become heavy. He grimaced when he saw Gwaine trying to sneak his hand out of the back of Merlin's trousers without Arthur seeing.
"Marriage!" Merlin gasped sitting up on Gwaine's lap blinking, missing Gwaine's wince as he suppressed his groan when Merlin wriggled right over his…interest.
"Yes marriage Merlin, you know the normal way that people declare that they are going to spend the rest of their lives together?" Arthur raised his eyebrow at them.
"Marriage," Merlin said again, hope in his eyes but doubt in his voice when he turned to look back at Gwaine.
"Got anything we can use to officiate and seal this wedding? If it's what you want Merlin?" Gwaine smiled widely at Merlin sitting up himself.
"You want to marry me?" Merlin asked hesitantly, his bright blue eyes scanning Gwaine's face as he worried his bottom lip. Arthur stood and moved to search through his bags to give them some privacy.
"Yes Merlin. We're going to have to be separated, we know that. You can't come with me and I can't come to Camelot, I would much rather that we part with a promise to each other that our lives are going to be spent together and we are bound to each other. Merlin I want to marry you," Gwaine laughed happily. "Besides that I want people to know that you belong to me when I can't be with you, can't have some poncy knight thinking that you're free and available," he added with a smirk.
"So you'll marry me just to make sure some knight doesn't run off with me?" Merlin laughed amused.
"And because I love you, but mainly for the first reason yeah," Gwaine said in his normal tone, meaning it took Merlin a moment for what Gwaine had said to sink in. Gwaine let out a startled noise, his body hitting the ground with a loud thump when Merlin launched himself at the older man, knocking him to the ground as he smothered his face in kisses before attached their lips together.
"Oh come on! If we want to get this done then you need to get to work," Arthur complained stomping back into their little camp. When they parted he threw some strips of something at them. "We're going to have to improvise, I'll strip these fabrics for binding your hands, you two get to work on making bracelets for each other," Arthur rolled his eyes at them.
Beaming Merlin sat up and picked up the strips, seeing a fair amount of leather strips, thin enough that they would be able to make bonding bracelets out of them. Rings were more in fashion now, but they were limited and didn't have to options to be picky right now.
"I'll get you a ring, if you want one, when I can," Gwaine said softly as they rummaged through the pile for the strips they wanted.
"I don't know, this is more us don't you think," Merlin grinned as he snatched a slightly thicker piece of leather from Gwaine's fingers.
"Cheap?" Gwaine raised an eyebrow.
"Don't go getting your pride in a knot. I was thinking more unique and personal," Merlin rolled his eyes bumping his shoulder with Gwaine's.
"I was thinking more sappy and spur of the moment," Arthur snorted across from them where he was trying to shred some fabrics into neat strips.
"You're the one who suggested marriage in the first place Princess," Gwaine smirked.
"I'm just making sure you do right by my…." Arthur cut himself off, his eyes amusingly wide.
"Go on, finish that sentence," Merlin grinned.
"You know you want to, come on Arthur,"
"No! I would rather poke my eyes out,"
"Come on, it's my wedding….night, think of it as a gift," Merlin applied his best puppy dog eyes which he knew Arthur couldn't resist.
"Gwaine! That look right there! Beware of it!" Arthur cautioned pointing dramatically at Merlin's face, who quickly rearranged his features to look innocent. "Fine, I am just making you do right by my friend. There you're wedding present. Though you should know I was planning on giving you the day off as a present," Arthur chuckled when Merlin pouted at him.
They all worked in silence, all of them concentrating on the work they were doing. Merlin had to borrow Gwaine's dagger to cut off the required lock of hair to weave into the bracelet, but after that they all worked quickly and quietly until Merlin looked up from knotting together the five pieces of leather he had weaved his bracelet from in time to Gwaine inspecting his own and Arthur watching them.
"Are we ready?" He asked seeing they had both finished. Merlin nodded playing with the bracelet in his hands to look nervously at Gwaine. But the man was merely smiling and looking as relaxed as Merlin had ever seen him, and happier.
"Ready when you are Princess," Gwaine grinned.
"Right then, where do you want to do this?" Arthur asked looking around.
"There!" Merlin pointed to a spot underneath two beech trees, he could feel the humming of magic and power there.
"Wherever my fiancé leads," Gwaine laughed reaching down to help Merlin to his feet.
They all moved to under the tree and then seemed to take their places automatically, Arthur stood in front while Merlin and Gwaine stood side by side facing him. Merlin could feel the excitement trembling through him and he couldn't believe he was here. He had known about his feelings for Gwaine for a long time now and each letter made them grow stronger. But he thought that this, love, marriage was something that he was going to have to sacrifice for his destiny, especially when he couldn't see how Gwaine could feel for him this way. The man was so carefree and seemed such a natural wanderer that Merlin had been sure that he would never want to be pinned down in marriage. But here they were, and while it might seem fast to some, to Merlin it was just right, if they had not had to be parted so soon perhaps they would be waiting, but they did have to leave each other, and Merlin wanted to do so knowing that the man standing next to him was his husband.
"As the witness here as well as the officiator I'm not going to ask if anyone here knows why you shouldn't marry, because if I did I wouldn't be marrying you. So do either of you have a reason not to wed the other?" Arthur asked. Stupidly Merlin felt his heart begin to pound and he looked to Gwaine to see if he was going to say something. He grinned when he found Gwaine looking at him with what he was sure was an identical expression to his own.
"Nope!" Gwaine grinned back.
"Yes, yes you loved up fools let's get this one then, Merlin do you come here of your own free will and choosing to marry this man?"
"Do you promise to be faithful to him and honest, to be caring in times of need and supportive during hardships?"
"Do you promise to laugh in times of joy and share your life with him? To show a light when he may get lost in the dark and be a flame for him when cold in the world?"
"Do you give your body, heart and soul to him until the end of your lives?"
"I do," Merlin was smiling so wide he was shocked his face wasn't hurting.
"Then tie the proof of your loyalty and love to Gwaine," Gwaine held his hand up to Merlin so quickly that Merlin startled. So it was with both of them laughing and Arthur rolling his eyes that Merlin tied his bracelet to Gwaine's wrist.
"Gwaine, do you come here of your own free will and choosing to marry this man?"
"Do you promise to be faithful to him and honest, to be caring in times of need and supportive during hardships?"
"Do you promise to laugh in times of joy and share your life with him? To show a light when he may get lost in the dark and be a flame for him when cold in the world?"
"Do you give your body, heart and soul to him until the end of your lives?"
"Always," Gwaine's smile had Arthur rolling his eyes again, but the smile of his face spoke otherwise.
"Then tie the proof of your loyalty and love to Merlin," Arthur instructed as Merlin and Gwaine were already moving. Gwaine closed his hand over the bracelet on Merlin's wrist once he had tied it, smiling at the other man warmly and with everything he felt in his eyes.
Then they stepped back slightly and clasped hands facing each other. Arthur took the first of the strips of fabric he had made and started winding it around Merlin's wrist, over their hands and then to Gwaine's. He did this several times with different coloured strips before he stepped back slightly himself, keeping his hand on top of their bound ones.
"These symbolise how your lives are now intertwined and bound together, you belong to each other from now till the ends of your lives, whatever the fates may decide for you you walk this pathway together. May you share each other's delights and may you shoulder each other's burdens, may you lives together be blessed with happiness and joy, may your love remain strong and burning like a flame. By the power vested in me as Prince of Camelot I pronounce you bonded. You may kiss," Arthur smiled as the two men pressed their lips together chastely. Awe clear on their faces as they parted enough to look before Gwaine's unbound hand gripped the back on Merlin's neck and he crushed their lips together.
Arthur turned and slipped away giving them the time in privacy to celebrate their…incredibly surprising bonding. He had not expected Gwaine to agree to the marriage when he had thrown it out there. He liked the man well enough, but he wasn't sure of him because he had seen how attached Merlin had become to him and how much it hurt to not see him. He hadn't been lying earlier he could correspond letters from Gwaine to times when Merlin was quiet and clearly a little upset. He was worried that the man was going to break Merlin's heart, though this marriage would ease some of those worries. He just hoped this connection helped Merlin instead of making their partings worse.
"What are you doing?" Gwaine asked tiredly once they had settled back down onto their bed role, Merlin was wrapped up tightly in his arms, his back pressed to Gwaine's chest, as much of their body pressed against the other as they could manage. Arthur was already fast asleep across from them. Merlin had taken Gwaine's wrist and covered his bonding bracelet with his hand and started muttering. Gwaine watched fascinated as Merlin's eyes glowed a golden yellow.
"Protecting you the only way I can when we aren't together," Merlin murmured.
"I wish I could be there to protect you when you need it," Gwaine sighed.
"You already have," Merlin turned Gwaine's hand and pressed it against his chest over his heart. "There is a spell I know…." He tried off biting his lip.
"Go on," Gwaine lifted his head again.
"If I cast this spell it can't be removed from the item. It allows us to feel what the other is feeling, and it allows for thousands of miles between us before it stops working. It's not exact feelings, just if we're happy, sad, angry, excited those sorts of things, but mainly it allows us to know the other is still there," Merlin explained.
"Cast it," Gwaine said firmly, his hand clenching down on the fabric of Merlin's top, the thought of having the comfort of knowing Merlin was still there, that was something he would never pass up on.
"It means you will likely know when I am in danger, if I am hurt," Merlin bit his lip.
"You're going to make me promise not to come racing into Camelot to rescue you aren't you?" Gwaine sighed. Merlin merely nodded his head biting his lip. "Very well, I promise I will not come to rescue you unless you feel as though you are in pain or danger for longer than two days, then if you have not sent me a message to let me know you are fine, I will come to you!" Gwaine said firmly holding Merlin tighter against his chest.
"Agreed," Merlin said softly, pressing his hand over Gwaine's bonding bracelet again he murmured the words he needed before repeating his actions with his own bracelet. He gasped as pure joy, happiness and contentment, mixed with a light background of sadness washed over him like a tingle from his bracelet letting him know it was Gwaine. Behind him Gwaine had pressed his face into Merlin's neck holding him just as firmly.
"Thank you," he sighed before jerking as he recognised the feeling swelling to the forefront of Merlin's emotions. "So you do love me huh?" Merlin blinked confused before laughing quietly.
"I didn't say it did I? With everything that's happened…I love you Gwaine," Merlin smiled turning so he could see Gwaine's face.
"I love you too, my husband," Gwaine grinned the widest Merlin had seen, his eyes crinkling in the way Merlin loved. They both scared a chuckle as the waves of love, happiness; contentment and rightness were echoed back to each other.
Merlin and Gwaine rode as close as they could to each other the next day, their hands joined between them when they could ride that way, Gwaine's fingers stroking continuously over the woven leather band on Merlin's wrist. They could both feel the matching growing emotions of knowing with every step Camelot grew closer and they would be parted so soon. All three of them seemed to have reached an unspoken agreement to ride as slowly as possible, Arthur slightly ahead with some pompous words about it being his quest and him leading the way, but even Gwaine could see he was allowing them as much privacy as possible.
They talked about nothing and everything, they talked about how they could keep in touch more, Gwaine planned on staying longer in one place so that Merlin didn't have to wait to hear where he had settled next, Merlin teased him telling him that meant he would have to get into less tavern brawls. But basically they spent the whole time soaking up the presence of their husband of not even a day, not know when it was they were going to get to see each other again, and if their grips got tighter on each other the closer and closer they got to Camelot neither of them said anything.
Arthur nudged his horse on when they reached the boarder, stopping far enough away once he had said his goodbyes and thanks to Gwaine to allow them time. Merlin clung tightly onto Gwaine as the reality of the separation burst through him.
"Hey, hey sweetheart, don't do that or you'll have me trailing you like a puppy back into Camelot," Gwaine teased lightly brushing the tears from Merlin's cheek gently. Merlin managed a small, if not watery smile.
"I'm going to miss you," He sniffed placing his hands on Gwaine's chest and tried to pull himself together.
"I would hope so, would feel terrible if I was the only one throwing clouds of misery down these," Gwaine held up his wrist. Merlin caught it between his hands and pressed a light kiss to Gwaine's bracelet, before squeaking surprised when Gwaine let out what honestly sounded like a growl before he found himself caught around the waist and pinned to a nearby tree, the breath being firmly kissed out of him. It only took him a second to catch on and latch onto Gwaine, kissing back with equal force.
"You keep the Princess alive, and if you can slip the old goat some poison even better," Gwaine grinned.
"Don't tempt me!" Merlin laughed weakly.
"You keep yourself safe you hear me, and write as often as you can. And I will see you real soon Merlin," Gwaine said seriously cupping Merlin's face.
"The exact same back to you," Merlin nodded. Gwaine groaned before smashing their lips together in a kiss that left Merlin's mind spinning, before he shoved himself away from the tree and forced himself away from Merlin. Merlin watched as he lifted himself onto his horse before looking back to Merlin.
"I love you,"
"I love you too," Merlin said weakly. Gwaine looked at him one last time before he grit his teeth and forced himself to nudge the horse on, in the opposite direction of Camelot and Merlin. Merlin watched until he could no longer make out the features of his husband before he made his way to his own horse and pulled himself on. He felt as though his heart was breaking in two, and for a minute he considered turning his horse and riding after Gwaine. But when he turned and looked to where Arthur was waiting for him he knew he wouldn't be the man Gwaine loved if he left his best friend in danger like that. Not the he was sure he could anyway. Sighing and trying to pull himself together he trotted over to Arthur who scanned his face with concern clear in his eyes to any who knew him, before he nodded and nudged his horse on.
"You were quiet last night, I had resigned myself to an entire night of sounds I never in my life wanted to hear and then extreme awkwardness for us this morning. Well myself and you, your husband I believe has no shame," Arthur said after a good hour of riding silently. Merlin's face lit up bright red and he muttered something Arthur didn't catch. "What was that?"
"He said he wanted to wait until we could be together in a room of our own, on a bed," Merlin admitted. "What?!" He said defensively when he saw Arthur's face.
"I did not expect Gwaine to be so…"
"Yeah I know!" Merlin huffed clearly annoyed startling a laugh from Arthur.
"So cockblocked by your own husband,"
"Arthur!" Merlin shouted horrified throwing the wet skin at the laughing prince and hurrying on, knowing his face was a blinding red.