Gwaine saw Merlin sitting alone on the ruined remains of a rampart, staring out at the night sky. He didn't look lonely, not really, but Gwaine felt there were a few things he wanted to discuss with Merlin, and now was as good a time as any, so he ducked through the crumbling archway from the tower interior to join him. Merlin turned briefly to favour him with a smile before turning back to survey the stars. "So, you're a knight now."
Gwaine settled himself next to Merlin, his legs hanging off the edge of the rampart like a small child's legs would hang off of a stone bench. "I guess I am."
"...and Arthur still thinks you're a commoner."
"You're not going to tell him any different." Gwaine's voice held roughly equal parts confidence and warning.
Merlin grinned at him again. "Wouldn't dream of it."
"Can I ask you something, Merlin?"
Gwaine thought about Arthur, and how he was now a knight of Camelot and had to take orders from the noble prat. "Why do you put up with him? I mean, I know you're his servant, but it's not like you couldn't find another job."
"As a servant?"
"As anything! You're well-educated; you read and write. You're even learning medicine from Gaius."
Merlin shrugged. "Yeah, but where else could I get to go on such adventures?"
Gwaine studied Merlin's expression, and though he saw hints of irony there, they were mixed with sincerity—well, he could understand that; he loved adventure himself, so long as it didn't lead to certain death. Or, maybe he just loved adventure anyway.
"Besides," Merlin continued, "Arthur's a good friend. He's a good man; he'll be a good king one day." Merlin sounded so very certain, as if the sort of king Arthur would be was something he really knew, not just something he hoped were true.
"How can you know that?" Gwaine hadn't really meant to say the words out loud and almost instantly regretted it.
"I-" Merlin had switched entirely to his awkward fishing-for-a-believable-lie mode. Merlin might be a terrible liar, but he was still so much of a mystery—Gwaine imagined few people really knew him, and most likely just assumed they knew him while being terribly wrong. The most telling thing, Gwaine realized, was that Merlin felt the need to lie...about how he could know the future.
Gwaine laughed and shook his head. "You don't have to tell me." Maybe it didn't really matter how Merlin knew.
"A dragon told me?" Merlin's voice and face said he didn't expect Gwaine to believe him, but somehow Gwaine wondered if it really was the truth—if Merlin had conversations with dragons who knew the future. Somehow, it seemed as likely as any explanation.
Gwaine grinned at his friend. "Alright, but how did you know the dragon was telling the truth?"
Merlin looked down, seeming a bit embarrassed. "Sometimes, I guess I can just tell if someone's telling the truth." And somehow, that made far more sense than it should, given the context of talking dragons and prophesies of the future.
"Can you tell I'm telling the truth when I say you can trust me?"
Merlin looked at him for some moments in silence as though considering something. "I never needed you to say it—I do trust you." He signed, looking away. "I'm just so used to keeping some secrets."
Gwaine thought of the secret of his own noble birth. "I can understand that." He picked up a pebble from the ledge beside him and idly tossed it from hand to hand. "Can I ask you something else?"
Merlin nodded with a small smile.
"Have you ever been in love?"
Merlin smiled broadly and his eye shone. "Yes, I have actually." He looked down quickly, seeming suddenly very interested in a spot of dirt on his trousers. "Well, I think so. I mean—" He took a shaky breath. Tears thickened Merlin's voice as he spoke. "It didn't end well—she...died. I couldn't save her." He shook his head, the memory painting misery on his shadowed face.
Merlin nodded, trying to smile through his tears. "I-I don't—" He swallowed thickly. "No one really knew...I don't talk about her—to anyone."
"You don't have to," Gwaine said gently.
"No, I want to. I mean, I think...I wish I could tell everybody, and it hurts not to be able to do that."
Gwaine nodded and tossed the pebble off the rampart into the darkness below.
Merlin continued, "She was a prisoner, sentenced to death for something that wasn't her fault, something she had no control over. I rescued her—I mean, I tried to rescue her. I got her out of the cage anyway, and I hid her from the guards. We were making plans to get her to safety." He made a sound that might have been meant to be a rueful laugh but came out as more of a tearful cough. He looked at Gwaine, blinking at the tears that shimmered in his eyes. "I was going to leave with her—leave all this. We were going to find a safe place, a home...somewhere with a lake..." He pressed the back of his forearm against his eyes, gulping a couple of times. "She was just so beautiful, and I wanted to protect her—forever—I wanted that more than anything. But in the end, I couldn't. There was nothing I could do—and I tried, I really did."
Gwaine put a comforting hand on Merlin's shoulder. "I know you did; of course you did." He felt tears pricking his own eyes and his throat felt tight. "Do you ever regret helping her, getting to know her?"
"No!" Merlin shook his head vigorously. "No, I regret not being able to save her, but I don't regret trying." He sighed. "I'll never forget her—it hurts, but I don't ever want to forget her."
Gwaine pulled him into a hug and Merlin rested his forehead on Gwaine's shoulder. "So," Merlin said after a few moments, pulling back, "now you know one of my secrets." He looked down and away into the darkness. "Even Lancelot doesn't know that one."
Gwaine frowned in thought. With a single finger under Merlin's chin, he tipped his friend's face up to meet his gaze once more. "What secret of yours does Lancelot know?"
Merlin grinned sheepishly, trying to look anywhere but at Gwaine. "Oh, um, just—you know, that I—uh—that I can do magic?" His eyes met Gwaine's then, shining with playful sincerity.
Gwaine couldn't bring himself to even pretend to be upset. He reached out and ruffled Merlin's dark hair with his fingers. "I always knew there was something special about you, Merlin." He looked out into the night again. "Next, you'll be telling me you're a Dragon Lord." The soft sound of Merlin's sharp intake of breath and nearly suppressed giggle drew his attention again; he looked at his friend with shocked disbelief. "You are a Dragon Lord?"
Merlin nodded. "The last," he said, barely above a whisper.
"Well." Gwaine stood and offered a hand to Merlin, who accepted, and the two stood facing each other on the crumbling rampart. "I think that's all the secrets I can handle for one night." His head felt like it was swimming in the flood of new information. "No doubt you have many more secrets you could share with me."
"Not many," Merlin said with a shake of his head. "You know all the important ones."
Gwaine smiled and gave Merlin's bicep an affectionate squeeze. They might all die tomorrow, but he felt happier than he had in a very long time.