The morning had started out relatively normal, if a bit hectic. Everyone was in preparation for the visit of a neighboring king was due in only a couple days. Merlin had to help with things around the castle as well as shining and cleaning all the things for Arthur. This was the first time the foreign king was visiting since Arthur had been crowned. Thus, everything had to be perfect.
Merlin had barely seen the king all day. He had dropped breakfast off and helped Arthur dress, but he was already in a hurry, even that early in the morning. He wasn’t even sure if he had told Arthur ‘good morning.’
Now midday, Merlin was rushing down the hall with his arms full of table cloths that needed to be washed. He shuddered to a stop though, when he saw one of the servant girls half hidden away in a window cutout.
“Sarah?” Merlin asked, ducking his head a bit to try getting a better look at her face. “Is everything alright?”
“Oh, Merlin!” She gasped in surprise, blinking tear wet eyes at him. “Oh, yes, everything’s fine. I’m sorry.”
Merlin was glad the table cloths were already dirt as he set them down on the floor to face the girl better. Sarah was a young one, only seventeen years, and new to the castle. Her mother had worked in the castle for many years before her. Sarah finally got to work in the castle herself when her youngest sibling turned old enough to look after himself during the day. Her mother, Mary, was one of the favorites in the castle and everyone had taken Sarah under their wing went she came to work.
“Come now, Sarah,” Merlin said, giving her his most reassuring smile. “You’ve been crying. You can tell me what happened.”
She gave him a nervous look and wrinkled her apron between her hands. “It’s nothing, really. I’m sure it’s just all the stress of the visiting king on his way is all.”
“Was someone rude to you, Sarah?” Merlin asked carefully. She didn’t look like she wished to answer, so Merlin grabbed her hands from playing with her apron and added. “You can tell me, I promise.”
“It’s just,” Sarah hesitantly started. “I’m sure it was nothing, really. Just… King Arthur…”
“Arthur?” Merlin asked in surprised. For all that Arthur teased Merlin, he was nothing but kind to the servants of the citadel. Well, at least since he stopped being a prat in general. “What did Arthur do?”
“I was tending to the king and a couple knights while they were discussing things—just refilling their cups is all,” Sarah explained. “Kate was helping me, but she went to go get a snack for everyone. I’ve never served the king on my own before and I was so nervous—“ Merlin smoothed her hands as he saw the tears starting to come back. “I spilled some wine, just barely missing some of the papers. King Arthur… yelled at me is all. Really, I should have been more careful. And there are many kings that would do way worse—“
“Shh, shh,” Merlin eased her. “You’re right, it’s probably just stress. It’s nothing to worry about, I swear. But that was very rude of Arthur and I’ll be sure he apologizes to you—“ Sarah’s eyes going wide and about to protest, but Merlin continued on without letting her argue. “I spill wine all the time. He knows you are new and he shouldn’t have acted that way. But I’m sure he’s not really upset with you and everything’s fine, alright?”
Sarah nodded and squeezed his hands. “I know he didn’t mean it. King Arthur is such a good king. I’ve just never seen him yell like that before…”
“I will make sure that he is getting enough rest,” Merlin assured with a grin. “He does get crabby when he doesn’t get enough sleep.”
That was enough to get Sarah smiling again.
After making sure Sarah was fine, Merlin finally took the table cloths down to the laundry. What Sarah said though, stuck with him all the way there and back up stairs to Gaius’ chambers. He tried to shake the thoughts away. Soon, he will be bringing Arthur his dinner and he could talk to the king then.
As he entered, his greeting to Gaius got stuck in his throat when he saw five knights spread around the room.
“What happened?” Merlin gasped, rushing forward to see how badly the men were injured. “Were you attacked?”
“Only by the king,” Gwaine grumbled.
“What?” Merlin exclaimed.
“The king seems to be on edge today,” Sir Kay said, though his tone hinted to his discontentment.
“As thorough with training as Arthur is,” Gaius said. “I’ve never seen him produce such wounds.”
“Were any of you with Arthur when he yelled at Sarah for spilling some wine today?” Merlin asked curiously, wondering if there was something going on. Even stressed, it seemed a bit much for Arthur.
“Yes,” Elyan said. “Gwaine and I were.”
“That poor girl,” Gwaine added, looking as though he was planning on having another go at the king. “Arthur screamed at her until she cried, just for a couple drops of watered down wine!”
When he throw open the doors of the king’s rooms, he was already start yelling before the doors closed behind him.
“Arthur, honestly!” Merlin yelled. “Everyone is stressed out enough without you yelling at them over petty matters and beating up the knights! You made Sarah cry! I thought you had grown out of being such an arse!”
Merlin always tested his lines when it came to serving Arthur, but he actually doesn’t remember ever yelling at him in such a way before. But he didn’t back down, even with the flitter of doubt when he truly realized that he had just yelled at the king. Because on his way up, he had stopped and asked a couple other people how Arthur seemed today. Many weren’t willing to speak against the king, though their hesitation told Merlin what he needed to know. A few told Merlin how unpleasant Arthur had been acting all day.
Some of the stories were boarding on cruel and Merlin was livid by the time he reached the chambers.
Arthur was quite in shock by the out burst, if his silence and slack jaw was any indication.
Arthur broke out of it, though, and yelled right back.
“You are a mere servant, how dare you speak to me like that!”
Used to being yelled at for not acting like a proper servant, Merlin just rolled his eyes. “King or not, you have no right--!”
Merlin got cut off by a slap across his face.
He was sure he had never been slapped like that in his life.
He had stuttered a step back from the force of the blow. He paused in the position he needed up, not even turning back to face the king as he tried to wrap his head around the matter.
He never imagined that Arthur would ever earnestly slap him. Horse play was a given between them, but those never held any ire.
Merlin realized, delayed, that Arthur had seemed to honestly mean it when he called Merlin a mere servant. He knew Arthur would never admit it, still believing that princes—even now-kings—were not to have friends. But he had to mean more to Arthur, didn’t he? After everything?
He raised his eyes to look at Arthur, properly for the first time since he entered the room. Merlin’s breathe got stuck in his throat, because those eyes didn’t look like the eyes of the king he loved. Dear god, it was as though Uther was staring at him with Arthur’s face.
Merlin was hit with the thought that he must be dreaming. Because he was sure this was his deepest night terror come to life. And he hasn’t even told Arthur of his magic yet!
Merlin noticed Arthur was still talking, but he couldn’t clear his head enough to figure out what he was saying before Arthur went to hit him again. Now that he saw it coming, his magic reacted before he could fully think about it. With only a faction of a thought, as it usually was with his magic, Arthur was quickly yet gently pushed up and pinned against the stone wall.
Arthur’s reaction was immediate.
“A sorcerer! How dare you! Release me at once!”
The rage and hatred on Arthur’s face was enough to make Merlin flinch back, just as much as he did from the slap.
Merlin felt tears stinging his eyes. No, he thought. That’s not Arthur.
He didn’t know what was going on, but there must be a spell or something. Because his Arthur would never act like this. His Arthur wouldn’t act like he had all day to his people. And even if he was upset with Merlin about the magic, Merlin trusted him enough to not actually hate him for it. Besides, Arthur had looked hateful before he even used a spell.
Arthur was still ranting on about ‘evil sorcerers’ and the so on.
“Oh, will you just shut up!” Merlin snapped. “I’m trying to think!”
With a flip of his hand, no more sound came out of Arthur’s mouth. He watched for a moment as Arthur opened and closed his mouth, obviously trying to get some noise to come out of it. Not to mention the responding glares about it.
Merlin turned away from him, though. It didn’t seem right to use his magic like this against Arthur. It made a weird itch, tingly like his magic but more annoying, settle under his skin.
He had to figure out what was happening and quickly. Not only for his peace of mind, but because he couldn’t very well keep the king locked up in his chambers with magic all day. Especially not with how busy the castle was right now.
Nothing magical had happened lately. Things had been pleasantly peaceful.
Truthfully, that should have been Merlin’s first sign that something big was going to happen soon. Camelot was never quiet, least of all from magic.
The only thing to even mention magic in the past fortnight was an old sorceress that was brought in two days ago.
Merlin hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, believing her to be harmless. But she was the only possibility right now.
An old lady had been brought before the king in suspicion of using witch craft. As was the laws Uther had put forth, all who suspected that someone was using magic was to tell the king immediately.
Though Arthur hadn’t lifted the ban on magic, he didn’t hunt it down as Uther did. And he made no hint of pressing the laws. It was really the first time a suspected sorcerer or sorceress was brought before Arthur since his crowning.
The neighbors of the old lady hadn’t even seen her use magic, though. They were just made nervous because, despite her age, she never seemed to need help. Apparently never needing a leaky roof fixed meant you were a witch. The kids living near her would try to dare each other into nearing her house, telling high tales about her. But that was easily because she was creepy and seemed a bit insane.
But she had yelled ill things to Arthur—some of which made it hard for Merlin to keep quiet. He was silently raging at the old woman when Arthur finally ordered, with a heavy sigh, for her to be put in a (clean and warm, due to her age) cell until she could calm down.
Two days later and the guards reported that she had not, in fact, calmed down in the slightest.
Merlin figured she was rude and insane, but he didn’t get any hints that she could do any serious magical harm. Maybe she could really fix roofs, but not much more.
Or so he thought before now.
“Arthur,” Merlin said to the magically (literally) silent and red faced king. “I’m going to go look into why you’re not acting like yourself—“ Merlin could see Arthur trying to argue against this, but since he couldn’t actually hear him, it was easy to continue. “I need to leave you like this, but I will be back as soon as I can.”
Half way to the door, Merlin paused and added. “For what it’s worth, I hate using my magic against you. I wouldn’t do this if I could think of another way. I’m so sorry.”
With that, he rushed off to find the old sorceress.
He was able to get to the cells—the nicer ones that of course he was never sent to—without too many people stopping him. Anyone that would try, he would quickly excuse himself, saying that he was on an errand for Arthur.
Being the king’s manservant did have a couple plus sides.
Including, like when he got to the cells, all it took to see the sorceress was him explaining that Arthur wanted him to see if she was willing to behave long enough to be released. The guards merely wished him luck with dealing with the old woman before waving him past.
Merlin barely checked that everything was clear before he put up another sound barrier and magicked the lock to the cell open.
“What did you do to my king?” Merlin growled as he marched into the cell.
It had shaken Merlin more than he wanted to admit; not only the slap, but seeing Arthur looking so much like Uther. Merlin knew there were some ways in which Arthur was like his father, a stubborn Pendragon through and through. But he always liked to believe that Arthur had gotten his mother’s heart, despite never properly meeting the woman.
The old sorceress didn’t seem too worried about him. She sat calming on the hay in a corner, smiling at him. There was an insane edge to it that was likely the reason why her neighbors had feared her.
“I placed a spell on him to show his true colours!” She pretty much cheered.
Merlin could actually feel his eyes flicker gold with anger.
“You should be happy to see the true king inside of the boy,” She continued. “A sorcerer listening to a Pendragon like a lap dog? You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“You don’t know anything, old woman,” Merlin said. “Arthur is nothing like his father. And I am not his lap dog—I am the one helping him untie Albion.”
The woman shook her head, “No, no. You see, my spell is a lovely one. You will thank me for it someday.”
“I will never thank you for harming my king,” Merlin argued. “There is something wrong with your spell.”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” She said, waving her hand at him as in dismissal. “My spell shows what is inside of a person, the parts of them they try to hide. People under my spell can’t act like anything but themselves.”
“That is not who Arthur is,” Merlin said. “Arthur would never hurt his people as he has been doing today.”
“Oh, you are so sure you know him so well!” She replied. “Who are you, to think you know this king so well, boy?”
“I am Emrys,” Merlin said. “I am the greatest sorcerer to have ever lived and King Arthur’s best friend. I know him better than anyone.”
The sorceress blinked at him curiously, not seeming nearly as surprised as Merlin thought she should be. He was a little insulted actually. He didn’t like throwing the name Emrys around and she barely reacted to it.
“Nonsense, nonsense!” She finally said. “My spell is true.”
Merlin got a sudden urge to hit his head against the wall. This woman was of no help at all.
“Fine,” He sighed. “Prove it to me, then. Tell me this spell.”
“Nonsense, nonsense! It is my spell! You can’t have it!”
“I don’t want it!” Merlin yelled. “I want to know just what kind of spell you put on Arthur, you annoying old woman!”
She hesitated, but with a shrug, she repeated the words for him.
Now he really felt like hitting his head against the wall.
“You’re saying the spell wrong,” Merlin sighed.
“You’re saying ‘feared darkness’,” Merlin explained. “You probably meant to say ‘darkness feared’. The spell isn’t for showing the darkness inside of someone—it is to show what the person is afraid of being coming!”
Merlin slowly said the different words for her to compare, the woman even squinted as she listened to the difference.
“Hmm,” She sat back, thinking it over. The sorceress mumbled the words to her self as she silently argued in her own head, even waving her hands about.
Merlin let her have her moment as he felt a weight lift from him. He could suddenly breathe better now.
The look he saw on Arthur’s face took a whole new meaning. He was right; it wasn’t his Arthur at all. Arthur was scared of be coming like his father. Merlin hadn’t realized Arthur had worried about that before.
“Just fix him,” Merlin told her, feeling incredibly tired now.
“Why would I do that?” She questioned.
Merlin’s jaw dropped. “What do you mean?! You messed up the spell! Fix my king!”
“Nonsense, nonsense!” The woman denied him easily. “You must give me something to break the spell.”
“I shouldn’t have to pay you when you’re the one who can’t even say the spell right!” Merlin raged. This whole thing was nonsense—Great, now he was using her word, if only in his head. “Break the spell and you won’t spend the rest of your life in this cell. Though, I worry about leading you loose among other people…”
The sorceress studied the room around her, as if it was truly a difficult choice. He doubted her old bones had enjoyed sleeping on the hard floor for the past two nights. Surely she would want to return to the comfort of her own home.
Though, Merlin wasn’t sure he should put it past her to want to live out her life here—if only to annoy the bloody hell out of him.
With a heavy sigh, like it pained her greatly, the woman finally said: “Fine, fine. I suppose we have a deal.”
Merlin rushed back up through the castle to where the king’s chambers lay. He didn’t really trust the woman when she said the spell was undone. Besides, if it was, Arthur was still magically pined to the wall.
When Merlin burst into the rooms, Arthur was glaring at him, making his heart freeze up.
Until he realized that it was a very familiar glare.
“Arthur…?” Merlin asked carefully.
He could see Arthur’s mouth moving, as if he was yelling. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to remove the silence spell just yet.
He squared his shoulders before he lifted the spell, knowing that if the spell was gone or not, Arthur would still have a lot to say.
“Merlin,” Arthur growled. He was obviously angered, but he was calmer then Merlin expected. “Release me. Now.”
Any remaining doubt Merlin had left him when he realized that that was the first time Arthur had used his name all day.
“Arthur—“ Merlin started the spell holding Arthur to the wall dropped.
“Start by explaining what just happened,” Arthur ordered with a sigh as he heavily sat down at the table.
“That old woman that was accused of being a sorceress the other day—turns out she really is one. Though a crappy one,” Merlin explained. “She was trying to make you show your true colours but she messed the spell up.”
“Messed it up? How?”
“She mixed up one of the words. Instead of saying ‘darkness feared’, she used ‘feared darkness’.”
“…What’s the difference?”
“She was trying to cast it so the darkness inside of you, that other people would fear, would shine through,” Merlin tried to explain, though he wasn’t sure he was doing any good, judging by the crease in Arthur’s brow. “Instead, it brought out… what you were scared of becoming.”
Arthur sat back in his chair as he tried to make sense of Merlin’s explanation.
“Do you…” Merlin asked carefully. “Do you remember today?”
Arthur glanced up at Merlin, his face carefully blank.
“I’m sorry—“ Merlin tried again, but Arthur held up his hand.
“We will talk, Merlin,” Arthur assured him. “But it only took you a few moments to realize that something was wrong with me. I spent the entire day with people and no one seemed to question my well being.” Arthur stood up and looked Merlin head on. “Hell, you were coming in here to yell at me for how I was acting. You know me well, Merlin. And I know you. I have words to say about you lying to me for years, but you have saved my life countless times. And had many more opportunities to harm me or Camelot, if you so wished it. All I need to know right now is that you are not a threat and I already know that.”
Merlin had no idea how to reply to that. He wasn’t sure if he was crying or not—it felt like he was, between the relief and happiness he felt. He expected Arthur to be angry, of course, but the only way he figured not to get any questions, was if Arthur moved straight to the killing part. If he knew Arthur would accept this part of him without even blinking, he would have told him long ago.
“Thank you, Sire,” Merlin was able to stumble out.
“Come on,” Arthur said. “I want to talk to this old woman.”
Merlin wasn’t eager to have Arthur near the sorceress again. He felt his magic tingling at this finger tips as they entered the sorceress’ cell.
“Ah, the young king,” She greeted; smiling the same slight insane looking smile she had given Merlin earlier.
“I heard you cursed me, sorceress,” Arthur accused bluntly.
“Oh, just a simple spell,” The woman said offhandedly. “No harm was done.”
“I dislike being cursed,” Arthur said. “And there was harm done.”
“Hmm, the boy seems pretty sure you weren’t yourself,” The woman said then suddenly sat up a bit straighter. Like flipping a switch, she didn’t look insane anymore. She held herself tall, even from her place on the ground. “I, however, am not convinced that how you were acting is not truly possibly of you.”
“It is possible,” Arthur said. “After all, I am Uther’s son.”
Merlin’s head snapped towards Arthur, gasping at him. Certainly he didn’t really mean that.
“But,” Arthur continued, glaring at the sorceress. “I am my own man. My father is no longer here and I will not rule my kingdom in the shadows nor in the fears of a dead man. I hurt people of my kingdom today. That is no who I am—that is not the king I will allow myself to be.”
“Then what will you do with the boy?” The sorceress asked. “He has magic. Will you kill him? After everything he has done for you? This is not the first time he has risked himself to save you.”
“Even without knowing of his magic, I knew he would protect me with his life,” Arthur said. “Out of everyone, not matter what he has done, I could never kill Merlin.”
Arthur turned and headed towards the opening of the cell. “Merlin, we’re leaving.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, sire,” Merlin answered hastily, stumbling to follow. He had still thinking of Arthur’s words and didn’t think to move towards the exit.
“I’m sorry for forcing your hand in such a way,” The sorceress said, making Arthur pause that the door and Merlin to look back at her. “But it was time, young sorcerer, for your king to know you.”
She smiled kindly.
“You wanted this?” Merlin asked.
She didn’t say anything, just disappeared.
“I think I greatly underestimated the amount of magic she has,” Merlin admitted, staring at the place she stood.
“You think, Merlin?” Arthur said.
That night, as Merlin served Arthur dinner, the air was heavy with the memories of the day.
After the sorceress disappeared, Arthur went to apologize to Sarah and the knights. All were shocked, but greatly pleased by the gesture.
Merlin wasn’t sure what he should be doing, though. Arthur hadn’t mentioned anything about his magic yet. The waiting was putting Merlin on edge.
“Merlin, will you relax?” Arthur sighed, letting his head tiredly rest on his hand.
“I’m not going to kill you,” Arthur assured, half joking.
“Not really what I was worrying about,” Merlin admitted softly to himself.
“It’s not?” Arthur asked, his brows knotting in confusion. “You weren’t worried about death? Honestly, Merlin. What are you worried about then?”
Merlin hesitated, refusing to look at the king.
“Tell me, Merlin,” Arthur ordered lightly. “I believe you owe me some answers.”
“I’m not scared of dying,” Merlin answered. “If I was, there’s no way I could have been during this—using magic to protect you—for this long. I accepted that long ago.”
“If you don’t fear death,” Arthur asked. “What do you fear?”
“My fear,” Merlin said. He paused, not really wanting to answer. But what did he have to lose right now. “My greatest fear has always been you hating me for what I am.”
Arthur was quiet for a long time and Merlin couldn’t bring himself to look up at him. He was scared to see his fear come to life.
“I think your priorities are a bit messed up, Merlin.”
Merlin shook his head, “I don’t really have much else to live for.”
“What about your mother? Or Gaius?” Arthur asked. “Don’t they matter?”
“Of course they matter!” Merlin insisted. “I love them, but… It’s not the same.”
He heard Arthur stand up and Merlin tensed.
“Why not?” Arthur asked, his voice surprisingly soft.
“A parent’s love,” Merlin said slowly and tried to keep calm. “It’s not…”
“Yes?” Arthur pushed gently.
“I’m in love with you,” Merlin said before he could stop the words from flooding out.
Merlin closed his eyes and waited, perhaps for laughter or maybe more yelling. But all he got was a gentle hand under his chin, lifting his head up slowly.
“And I you,” Arthur said.
Merlin’s eyes snapped open. He gapped at his king in shock.
“And that,” Arthur continued, “Is why I could never kill you.”
Before Merlin could answer, Arthur bent his head to lightly brush his lips against Merlin’s.
“Arthur,” Merlin breathed, his eyes fluttering closed. This couldn’t be happening. He always figured Arthur being angry at him for a couple months would be the easiest he would get off. A love confession wasn’t something to hope for.
“I love you, Merlin,” Arthur said fully, making Merlin’s heart skip.
His breath caught when Arthur properly pressed their lips together. The kiss was slow and gentle, as if they were using it to apologize for the day with the action.
“I’m so sorry,” Arthur said when the hesitantly pulled their lips apart.
“What?” Merlin said, trying to think straight. Arthur was a really good kisser. And he could feel Arthur’s breath on his face. It was all very distracting. “Why?”
“For hitting you,” Arthur said, smoothing his cheek and Merlin realized it was where he had been slapped earlier. “Even if I was under an enchantment, I shouldn’t have done that.”
Merlin shook his head and wrapped his arms around Arthur’s neck.
“I know you would never hurt me while in your right mind,” Merlin smiled reassuringly at him. “That’s how I knew you were under a spell.”
Arthur kissed his cheek in apology then continued down to his neck.
“Crazy old woman,” Arthur mumbled against his neck, making Merlin laugh.
Merlin tugged his face up, pecking his lips once before saying: “The most annoying sorceress I have had to ever deal with.”
Then Merlin kissed him fully, licking into his mouth. This kiss was full of hunger, their bodies pressing together and finger tips exploring each other’s curves. Arthur reached down, without releasing Merlin’s lips, to grab his hips and lift him up onto the table.
Merlin yelped a startled laugh against Arthur’s lips.
“I have been wanting to kiss you for too long,” Arthur admitted between quick kisses.
“I have been wanting to do much more than that,” Merlin said, kissing him hard. Merlin wrapped his legs around Arthur’s hips, pulling him closer. “So much more.”
Arthur groaned into his mouth and rolled his hips into Merlin’s, making their hardening pricks rub against each other through their trousers.
“You’re going to be the end of me,” Arthur said with certainty. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Merlin’s.
“I hope not,” Merlin laughed. “That would make all my hard work useless.”
Arthur rolled his eyes at him, but Merlin could see the fondness there. His chest swelled with happiness and pulled Arthur into another kiss, because he sure wasn’t about to stop doing that any time soon.