Arthur opened his eyes to find Merlin staring at him.
"Something is very, very wrong here," Merlin said in a hushed tone.
"I'll say," Arthur grumbled. "You're on my pillow." And then he unceremoniously shoved Merlin out of bed onto the floor, and Merlin yelped and there was some associated racket, but Arthur just pulled the covers over his head and went back to sleep.
Merlin was still watching him warily while Arthur ate breakfast. "What?" Arthur said finally.
"Nothing, sire," Merlin said, shaking his head, but still kept staring.
Arthur looked down at his plate, and then back up at Merlin's steady gaze. "If you're hungry, you should eat," Arthur said, because he wasn't a tyrant and didn't enjoy watching other people go hungry, and besides which, the growls that Merlin's stomach was capable of producing were terrifying. "In fact, eat anyway -- your knees are bony and I think I have bruises."
Merlin made a strangled noise at that, but obediently helped himself to some of the roasted fowl, and even managed a few bites before he said, "Doesn't any of this seem odd to you?"
"You're being annoying, so no, I'd have to say this seems perfectly normal," Arthur said, leaning back in his chair. It was a bright morning, and he was looking forward to talking with the visiting swordmaster. "Attend to the horses today, and see to my saddle. And I want to know why the cobbler isn't done repairing my second favorite pair of boots yet."
"Yes, of course," Merlin said, but he had a pinched look to his face.
Merlin rose from his seat when Arthur did, but Arthur put a hand to his shoulder and pressed him back down again. "Finish that first," Arthur said, nodding toward Merlin's plate, ruffling the hair on the back of his head before heading out. Merlin might be in some sort of bizarre mood, but doubtless he'd feel better after he'd quieted his stomach.
And as for Arthur himself, he was quite prepared to say that he had never felt better.
Arthur came back to his quarters that evening, pleased to see that Merlin was already hanging out his garments for the evening's modest banquet. Then he took a closer look and huffed. "No, not that blue one, the other blue one. And make sure you wear the tunic with the red embroidery."
Merlin looked surprised. "I thought I wasn't going."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Very funny. You always go."
"No, I don't," Merlin said, enunciating. "You don't like having me underfoot at the smaller banquets."
"Have you been hit on the head?" Arthur demanded.
"Have you?" Merlin shot back.
Arthur actually stopped for a moment, genuinely worried. He brought his hand up to Merlin's head, feeling around gently for any tell-tale lumps. Then he tipped Merlin's chin up with his fingers and peered at him. "Is this about Sir Geraint? I told you, he won't make the same mistake twice. At least, I warned him that touching you again would result in a great deal of pain on his part."
Merlin drew in an unsteady breath when Arthur stroked one thumb across his cheek. "Arthur," Merlin said, and it sounded a little breathless and far more surprised than was really good for Arthur's pride.
"I'm the only one who gets to bully you," Arthur said, trying to ease some of that astonished vulnerability off Merlin's face.
It didn't work. Merlin still looked a little dazed. Apparently realizing that some sort of response was desirable, he cleared his throat and said, "Yes, sire."
Arthur gripped his shoulder firmly, and then said, "Let's get on with it -- you know my father hates it when I'm late."
The banquet was quite normal until Uther stopped to exchange pleasantries with Arthur, and by extension, Merlin.
As soon as Uther was out of earshot, Merlin stared after him as though Uther had perhaps sprouted a tail. "The king smiled at me," he said slowly.
"Hm? Oh," Arthur said, taking the goblet of wine Merlin had picked up for him.
"Your father thinks I'm an idiot," Merlin said urgently, his eyes wild.
"Well, you do tend to do a lot of stupid things," Arthur agreed.
Merlin just looked at him.
"Maybe not as many as you used to," Arthur said soothingly.
When they returned to Arthur's chambers, he was feeling warm and just a little bit drunk, and he had his arm wrapped securely around Merlin's shoulders. Merlin helped Arthur out of his finery and turned down the bedcovers, and then just stood around looking lost while Arthur climbed into bed.
"Erm...may I go?" Merlin said eventually.
"Go where?" Arthur asked, wrinkling his brow in confusion. Then he realized what Merlin must have meant, and waved him toward the curtain shielding the chamberpot. "I've told you before, you don't have to ask."
Merlin's face went an attractive, girly pink, and he said, "No, I meant -- you know. To Gaius' quarters."
"Oh," Arthur said, and then yawned. "Did you forget something?"
Merlin was giving him the strangest look. "Well, nothing in particular."
"Then stop dawdling and come to bed."
"Bed?" Merlin repeated, his voice actually cracking.
"Now," Arthur clarified, his growing irritation overtaking his post-banquet lassitude.
Merlin was still looking utterly confused, but he disrobed and hesitantly walked on bare feet over to the bed. He might have stood there forever if Arthur hadn't grabbed his hand and given one solid yank. Merlin landed in an untidy sprawl of limbs, half on Arthur and his bony knees in uncomfortable proximity to important parts of Arthur's anatomy.
Arthur rearranged Merlin to his liking with a few judicious pushes, and reached over with one lazy hand to extinguish the last candle. But still, Merlin was stiff and unyielding against him, and Arthur brushed his fingertips down Merlin's spine. "What's the matter with you today?" he muttered against Merlin's temple.
He could hear the click in Merlin's throat as he swallowed. "I don't -- I don't know," Merlin whispered back.
Arthur frowned in the darkness. Merlin professed not to know about a great many things, usually when something horrendously stupid happened, but this was obviously not one of those times, and Arthur didn't like it. So he rolled Merlin onto his back and kissed him, but Merlin's lips were unresponsive beneath his. So Arthur kissed him a little more gently, then a little more gently still, and Merlin finally began to clumsily kiss him back.
Merlin's breath was uneven and stuttery as Arthur licked and bit at his neck, and he couldn't seem to make up his mind about what to do with his hands. Arthur eventually took pity and moved down Merlin's body, his hands stroking across Merlin's nipples and ribs and settling at his hips to hold him down while Arthur took Merlin into his mouth.
The noises Merlin made were helpless and surprised, and his hips attempted to buck in Arthur's grip but gravity and years of strengthening his muscles were on Arthur's side, and he held Merlin still while he licked and sucked. Merlin came sooner than Arthur had really expected, a whimper escaping him while his body tensed, and afterward, his breathing finally calmed.
Arthur crawled back up, fitting himself against Merlin's body. "Honestly," he said, a little amused. "I'm not an ogre. If you needed it so badly, you could have just asked instead of being all weird about it."
And then he realized that Merlin wasn't just relaxed -- he was asleep, the little bastard. "Typical," Arthur muttered, and resolved to get his in the morning.
Arthur woke up to find Merlin staring at him again, but thankfully not from the same pillow. He could hear the drum of rain against the windows, and he felt disinclined altogether to get out of bed.
"Arthur," Merlin said quietly. "I think --"
"Ugh," Arthur said, rolling over onto his stomach and burying his face in his pillow. "Bring back some of those cheese tarts," he mumbled as he felt Merlin get up from the bed.
"Cheese tarts," Merlin repeated obediently. And then he muttered, "Maybe I really have hit my head."
And then everything seemed quite normal until a hunting party a few days later, when Arthur realized the wild boar he was hunting wasn't a boar at all, or at least he'd never seen one with glowing eyes and strange protuberances along its spine before.
"Merlin," he said, very quietly. "I think that thing is a bit...you know."
"Not a boar," Merlin concluded.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Yes, I can see that. Can't you..."
Merlin frowned. "You're the one with a sword."
"Yes, I know that," Arthur snapped. "I meant, can't you--" he wiggled his fingers and raised his eyebrows significantly.
Merlin looked blank, then startled, and then attempted to look dumb, which was rather shockingly unsuccessful. "What?"
"Oh, for--" Arthur only narrowly kept from raising his voice. "Just don't let it gore me," he said. "Or spit fire or whatever other hellish nonsense this thing is probably capable of."
The boar did not gore him, but it did attempt to spit something green at him, which stopped mid-air and fell to the forest floor. He beheaded the creature with one smooth stroke and turned to give Merlin a victorious smile, but Merlin didn't look happy.
He looked terrified.
"What?" Arthur called. "Come on now, it's dead. What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Merlin said, and Lord above, he was such a rotten liar.
"I don't see why you couldn't have just held it still in the first place," Arthur groused. He took a look at the forest floor, which was actually smoking where the green fluid had landed. "I mean, stopping that stuff was good, but really, Merlin."
Merlin gaped at him. "You know? I mean, about me?"
"Of course I know, you idiot, you told me a year ago," Arthur yelled.
"Don't be angry with him, Arthur, he's a little confused," he heard Merlin say, except that Merlin hadn't moved his mouth and the sound had come from behind Arthur.
He whipped around to see Merlin standing behind him, which made no sense because that would mean there were two Merlins with him, and that would mean --
"Something is very, very wrong here," Arthur said.
"It's my fault," Merlin said. "I accidentally switched places with myself."
"Yourself from a year ago," Arthur said for clarification's sake, looking at Merlin-from-last-year, who still looked completely dumbfounded. "I didn't know you could do that."
"Well, neither did I," Merlin said. "Hence the 'accidentally'."
Arthur frowned. "A whole year ago?" he said. "What happened this time last year?"
Merlin-from-now coughed meaningfully.
"Oh," Arthur said with a rush of realization. He'd always thought that first kiss from Merlin had come out of nowhere, but apparently it had just come from a year in the future. And then the implications of that sank in. He turned to Merlin-from-last-year. "You idiot, I deflowered you and you didn't even mention it?"
Merlin-from-last-year turned scarlet. "Well, I -- I wasn't sure you'd believe me, and it wasn't like I didn't want to, and then I thought you'd been enchanted, and then I really thought maybe I'd. You know. Hit my head."
"That does happen to you a lot," Arthur conceded.
Merlin-from-now gave him a look, and then turned to his past self. "I have to send you back now. You can't tell Arthur what's happened -- well, you can tell him a year from now after this is all over. By which time you'll be me."
"This is making my head hurt," Arthur told him.
Merlin-from-now smiled, and he whispered some words and his eyes glowed, and then Merlin-from-last-year was gone.
"It really was an accident," Merlin said after a moment. "It took me a week to work out what I'd done wrong."
"Well, don't do it again," Arthur said. "It's too confusing. And didn't you eat anything last year? I thought you were going to gouge me with your elbows."
Merlin ducked his head and smiled at that, and even though he'd told Arthur time and again that his armor was extraordinarily uncomfortable, Arthur threw one arm around Merlin's shoulders and drew him close.
"Ow," Merlin said, but he didn't pull away. "You know, I can't believe you didn't notice."
Arthur narrowed his eyes and then kissed Merlin, and this was right, this was familiar -- Merlin didn't just yield, he kissed back and threaded his fingers through Arthur's hair. "Well, old you is pretty much like new you. I'm the one who changed," Arthur said softly, his lips brushing Merlin's as he spoke.
"You really aren't as much of a prat as you used to be," Merlin agreed.
Arthur should have frowned, but instead he smiled and said, "I could still have you put in the stocks for talking to me like that."
"Mmm-hmm," Merlin said and kissed him again.
It had been a week since Merlin had first surprised him with a lush, thorough kiss that had effectively obliterated all of his intellect and common sense, but Arthur still wasn't used to waking up with Merlin in bed.
This morning, Merlin was awake first. He was watching Arthur with a strange look of wonderment on his face, as though he'd never seen Arthur before.
"What?" Arthur said, and he meant for it to sound grumpy but it didn't come out that way.
Merlin just grinned and then pounced, kissing Arthur, and it was clumsy and teeth-clacking and joyful and not at all like any of Merlin's kisses of the last week, but incredible, just the same. It would be another year before he'd realize that this had been their first kiss, all things considered.
"Well, all right then," Arthur said, and tumbled Merlin back into the sheets in a flurry of sharp knees and messy hair and gorgeous, smiling mouth.