A/N: RUN! EVERYBODY RUUUUN! IT'S… IT'S… MEGA-CHAPTER! OH GOD, IT'S HUGE! NOOOOOOOO! But seriously, this is one huge chapter. I didn't want to have to split this story up any further, however, so here's the rest in one giant chunk! I hope it doesn't disappoint! Time to bring on the Merlin wump and hurt/comfort!
Warning: A sickeningly large amount of feels. Brace yourselves.
Disclaimer: Still don't own Merlin.
"Let us out of here right now!" yelled Arthur, banging loudly on the closet door.
"Sorry, princess," came Gwaine's muffled voice through the door. "but not until you have admitted your love for Merlin!"
"What?" Arthur and Merlin shouted simultaneously.
"We're the reason you two got into a fight," began Percival.
"So, now we're fixing it!" finished Gwaine.
"How does this fix anything?" fumed Arthur as he tried for the door handle, only to find that there wasn't one on the inside of the door.
Arthur was trapped. In a small closet. With Merlin.
He was going to kill those knights.
"We'll let both of you out once you two have made up, sire." came Leon's voice.
"Well, you'll be waiting out there for a while then." replied Arthur stubbornly.
"Oh, we have no intention of waiting here."
"What? Where are you going?" shouted Merlin.
"We'll be back in a little while!" called Elyan, his voice growing fainter as the knights walked away. Arthur could have sworn he heard a very muffled "To the tavern!" from Gwaine before no more sounds came from the other side of the door.
"This is absolutely ridiculous." complained Arthur as he sat back and blinked rapidly, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Merlin, for his part, only remained silent. "Merlin?" still no response. "Oh, I see, you're giving me the cold shoulder now. That's real mature, Merlin. I can't believe…"
As Arthur continued his rant about how much of a girl Merlin was being and how much he hated this situation and the knights, Merlin had stopped listening. He hadn't stopped listening because he was tuning out his master's complaints, although, over the years, Merlin had become the master of tuning out Arthur. No, this time it was something different. Merlin suddenly realized how small the closet was.
Merlin felt his heart pump faster and his chest constrict as he was flooded with the overwhelming urge to get out. It felt as if the walls were getting closer, pushing on him from all sides, squeezing… suffocating…
He couldn't breathe.
"What right do those men think they have throwing their king in some closet like I was a mop…"
"Arthur," Merlin gasped out again.
"It's going to be at least a week in the stocks for all of them. And to be thrown in here with you when you're acting all girly and angry-"
"Oh, you're finally going to speak to me now?"
"Arthur," Merlin choked out once more and the king suddenly felt his anger melt away to be quickly replaced by worry.
"Merlin?" Arthur reached a hand out and after a moment of blindly grasping nothing but air in the darkness, finally found his servant's shoulder and gripped is tightly. The king's concern only grew when he felt the violent trembling wracking his friend's frame. "What's wrong?"
"I c-can't-" Merlin's panicked breaths were now coming out in short, quick gasps. "I can't breathe."
"Just calm down, Merlin," Arthur said as if he could simply order his servant's panic away. He was trying to keep his own anxiety out of his voice, which was proving to be a rather difficult task. "Tell me what's wrong."
Arthur's words did little to calm Merlin, however. The raven haired man could barely hear them over the thudding of his own heart and the dull roaring sound in his ears.
"Need to g-get out," Merlin managed to quietly mumble between gasps.
"What did you say?" asked Arthur, leaning closer.
"Need to get out." he repeated louder. Merlin was beyond rational thinking at this point. All he knew was this space was much too small and he needed to get out now.
Arthur quickly withdrew his hand in shock when Merlin suddenly threw himself at the door, kicking it and pounding against it with his fists like a man possessed.
"LET US OUT!" roared the servant. "PLEASE, LET US OUT!" Merlin's tone was bordering on hysterical now and if Arthur wasn't worried before, he definitely was now.
Seeing that the door wasn't going to budge an no one on the outside was going to open it, Merlin's panic doubled. There was only one other thing he could think of.
Merlin felt his magic swirling nervously inside of him and he called it to the surface. He could feel the familiar tingling in his fingertips and the dizzying rush of power as he prepared to raise his hand and blast the damned door off its hinges. He sucked in a deep breath…
And then there were hands on his shoulders, pulling his back and clearing his mind enough for him to realize what he was about to do and quickly slam the lid back down on his rising magic.
"Merlin, I need you to calm down and tell me what is the matter with you right now." Arthur had never seen Merlin this worked up before and if he was honest, it scared him.
"Too small," the servant managed to choke out.
"What's too small?" As a way of answering, Arthur could just make out Merlin's outline in the darkness as the younger man reached his arms out, one pushing on the door, the other pushing against the opposite wall. Arthur thought there couldn't be more than three feet between the two hands and suddenly it clicked. "The closet's too small?"
All Merlin could do was nod, his hitched breathing making it difficult to speak, and continue to push outwards with his hands as if it could somehow make the closet bigger.
"Merlin, are you claustrophobic?" The raven haired man made a sound somewhere between a strangled cough and a snort, and Arthur took it as a "No, I just enjoy breathing like this. Of course I'm claustrophobic, you clotpole!" How the king was able to get so much from one noise, Arthur would never know. "Okay then, just… try and breathe. Try not to think about the fact that you're in a little closet."
"You're n-not helping!" wheezed Merlin. He was having a full blown panic attack now. Had he been thinking a bit more clearly, he might have been embarrassed by the tears that were slipping down his cheeks, but at the moment, he hardly even noticed them.
Arthur hated seeing Merlin like this. The man was like an incessant songbird; he always had something to sing about. As much as Arthur griped and threw things and complained, however, he had come to rely on Merlin's constant optimism. Merlin had always been able to see the good in every person and situation, an endearing quality that Arthur had always teased him about being naïve for having.
Arthur had always thought Merlin's goofy, too wide grin was like a second sun, warm and radiant. Now, the blonde was beginning to see that his servant's smile was like the sun in another way, too. When it was gone, everything seemed colder and darker. Arthur didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit.
So he would just have to fix it.
"Merlin," Arthur said in the most soothing voice he could muster. Arthur wasn't sure about this. He resolutely swallowed his pride, however, reminding himself that this would all be worth it when Merlin smiled again.
Still gripping Merlin's shoulders, Arthur gently pulled the younger man forward and snaked his arms around his back so Arthur now help his servant securely against his chest.
"Just close your eyes and breathe with me." Arthur then concentrated on making his own breaths deep and even, and for once, Merlin did as he was told. After a few minutes, Merlin's sharp gasps started to slow and deepen.
"There you go, that's it." praised Arthur as he rubbed reassuring circles on Merlin's back. He was actually quite proud of himself for finding a solution.
After a few more minutes, Merlin's breathing matched Arthur's and his trembling had all but stopped, but the king couldn't bring himself to let go of the other man quite yet. So, they both simply sat there in silence and Arthur was just beginning to wonder if Merlin had fallen asleep from a post panic attack exhaustion when the servant spoke up.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier." he apologized softly. Arthur let out an airy laugh and gave Merlin a slight squeeze.
"I suppose I did deserve it. It was mean, what we did to you, and I'm sorry."
"It's alright," Merlin replied after a beat of silence. "It wasn't really what you guys did that made me angry. In fact, I wasn't really angry at all. Anger was just easier to feel than…"
"Hurt?" Arthur supplied, though it was phrased more as a statement than a question. Guilt pooled in the king's stomach as he felt Merlin nod against his chest. "If," Arthur began hesitantly, not quite sure he wanted to know the answer. "If it wasn't what we did that hurt you, what was it?" Merlin was silent for a while and Arthur was beginning to think he wasn't going to get an answer when, in a small, quiet voice, Merlin admitted,
"After all these years, after all we've been through, the only time you ever admit to liking me was as a punishment for losing a bet."
This time, it was Arthur's turn to be silent. He wracked his brain for a time when he had told Merlin how he felt, but he came up empty. Arthur realized with a heavy heart that he really never had let Merlin know how much he meant to him.
"And even then," continued Merlin in a voice so quiet, Arthur could barely hear it. "you only said it because you had to."
"Merlin, listen to me." Arthur demanded in a firm voice. He wouldn't let Merlin believe that any longer. He leaned back and grasped his servant by the shoulders, looking him in the eye as best as he could in the darkness. "There are people in my life who I love. I love my father, I love Guinevere, I love Gaius, I even love those idiots who insist on calling themselves the knights of the Round Table. And for the life of me, I can't figure out how you've done it, but my love for them pales in comparison to my love for you, Merlin. You're my brother. My little brother who I may yell, and scream, and throw things at, but in all honesty, I cherish as the person I keep nearest and dearest to my heart." A small smile graced the king's features. It felt oddly gratifying to tell the younger man this. "So, you're right, I don't like you. Merlin, I adore you."
All was still for a few seconds following this confession, but then, like the morning sun rising to brighten a new day, a radiant smile split Merlin's face and Arthur felt a wave of warmth wash over him.
The blonde chuckled lightly and ruffled his servant's hair before both men sat back against the wall, shoulder to shoulder.
After a few minutes, a sudden thought occurred to Arthur and he felt his previous warmth drain out of him, leaving behind a cold, hollow feeling.
"I'm sorry, Merlin."
"Arthur," Merlin said with a slight smile. "You've already apologized for what you and the knights did. It's fine, I forgive you."
"No, no, it's not that," Arthur replied as he brought up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "It's just… you were right. What you said earlier… I haven't changed, and for that I am deeply sorry and… ashamed."
"Arthur Pendragon, you listen to me." demanded Merlin in a firm, confident voice. Arthur turned to face his servant, unable to deny his surprise at the younger man's commanding tone. "Everything I said before I said out of anger because I was hurt. I was wrong, so wrong. You've changed so much, Arthur." When the king still didn't look convinced, Merlin plowed on, his voice strong and radiating conviction. "Arthur, over the years, I've had the pleasure of watching you grow and change into the man I knew you would someday become. You're following your heart and becoming a strong and compassionate king who will someday become the greatest leader Albion has ever known. In complete honesty, I couldn't be more proud of you."
And there it was again, that brilliant smile turning up the corners of Merlin's lips and blasting away any doubts Arthur may have had left. Arthur smiled back.
"Thank you, Merlin. That means a lot, especially coming from you." And it was true. Arthur never felt like he was truly doing the right thing unless Merlin approved of it, too. If his friend thought he had changed for the better, then he really must have.
The two men returned to sitting and waiting for the return of the knights, but now that all was silent and still again, Merlin's mind wandered once again to the incredibly small space he was in, causing panic to spark a bit in his chest. So, ever so slowly, as if he was afraid moving too fast would cause him to be rejected, Merlin leaned into Arthur.
"Merlin," Arthur sighed with a roll of his eyes because, seeing as the only other thing in the closet besides Arthur was Merlin, the younger man's attempts at having his movements go unnoticed were failing horribly. "what are you doing?"
Merlin felt his face flush at being caught and he stumbled over his words as he tried to explain. "Well, it was… earlier when you… um, it really helped when you… what I mean is, this closet is still quite small and it was nice when we were…"
"Shut up." Despite his harsh words, there was undeniable affection in Arthur's voice. He knew what his servant was trying- and failing- to ask for, so Arthur decided to take pity on the man and not make him trip over his words any longer. "Honestly, Merlin, the things I do for you." the king said sarcastically as he flung an arm around Merlin's shoulders and pulled him close.
The younger man sighed in contentment and scooted himself a bit closer. He felt completely and wonderfully safe in Arthur's arms, as if the king could physically stop the walls from closing in on them. Also, being this close to Arthur, Merlin could feel his even breathing and hear the steady thrum of his pulse which served for two unbelievably calming reminders that his friend was, in that moment, perfectly alive and well.
"Arthur?" asked Merlin after a few moments of silence.
"I love you, too."
Arthur's heart swelled so much from those four little words, he was surprised it didn't burst out of his chest. He felt a golden warmth rush through him, the likes of which he had never felt before. It was a wonderful feeling. He pulled Merlin a bit closer and pressed his lips to the top of his friend's raven haired head in a brief kiss, before returning to his former position of leaning up against the back wall with Merlin tucked up against his side.
The two sat in a comfortable silence after that, just being in each other's presence was enough for the time being.
When the knights returned to Gaius's chambers, all was silent. Worryingly so.
"You don't think we've killed them, do you?" whispered Elyan nervously.
"Only one way to find out." answered Gwaine as he walked cautiously over to the closet door. "Hello? Princess? Merlin? You two still alive in there?"
"You have exactly five seconds to open this door, or I'm executing you." came Arthur's muffled reply.
"Did you admit your love for Merlin?" Gwaine questioned in a sing-songy voice. The king's large sigh of frustration could be heard through the door.
"Yes, now open this door!"
"Alright, alright." chucked Gwaine as he reached for the door handle. He was still chuckling as he swung open the door, but was abruptly cut off when he suddenly found himself flat on his back, having been tackled to the ground by one extremely angry king.
"How dare you keep us locked up in there?" bellowed Arthur. Although Gwaine was the one he was currently glaring at, the question was directed at all four knights.
"Calm down, it was just a bit of fun." insisted Gwaine as he picked himself up off the floor.
"Just a bit of fun?" fumed Arthur. "Tell me, were any of you aware of the fact that Merlin is claustrophobic?"
All four knights paled and immediately sobered up. Their wide eyes shifted to Merlin, who had shot out of the closet the second the door had been opened and was now sitting on the bench at the table, looking a little pale himself.
"We're so sorry, Merlin." began Leon earnestly.
"Yeah, mate," continued Gwaine, who sounded uncharacteristically apologetic. "Had we known, we never would have thrown you in there." the other knights nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
"It's fine. No harm done." Merlin said with a shaky smile, always being one to quickly forgive when it came to his friends.
Arthur, however, was a different story.
"No, no it is not fine." the king seethed. "All of you complete and utter dollop heads threw a man with a fear of small spaces into a very small space without even thinking about the consequences! What part of that is fine?"
"Careful, Arthur, your affection is showing." smirked Gwaine. Arthur sputtered for a moment, fully realizing what he just said and that Gwaine was right. "Don't worry, princess, we won't judge! Now that you and Merlin are out of the closet, you're free to openly show your love!"
The knights all fought to contain their laughter and Merlin face palmed while Arthur only glared.
"I'll give you a three second head start." warned Arthur in a low voice.
"Oh, come on, princess-"
"It had to be said!"
"Arthur, you're not seriously going to-"
With a yelp, Gwaine took off, sprinting out of the physician's chambers and down the hall with the king hot on his tail and the knights and Merlin laughing loudly behind them.
The next day…
"Well, gents, it's been an honor serving with you." Gwaine proclaimed solemnly. The other three knights nodded as best as they could given their awkward position before they all looked up, bravely facing the oncoming assault head on.
Rotten fruit and vegetables rained down on the four stock bound knights from all directions. As the four men took their punishment, none of them could stop the smile or the feeling of satisfaction that spread through them as they saw their king and his manservant walk by, side by side, with Arthur nudging Merlin and pointing at the knights with a laugh and a goofy smile lighting up Merlin's face.
Seeing that sight and knowing that they had helped not only fix, but strengthen, a friendship as special as Arthur and Merlin's made the knights more than happy to bear one day in the stocks.
It was worth it.
A/N: Woo, that baby was looooong! And I know that "out of the closet" joke from Gwaine was probably a bit too modern, but let's be honest. We were all thinking it. It couldn't not be said. Thanks for reading and all the favorites/follows/reviews! You guys are the best!