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The carriage pulled up to The Red Lion. It was well into the evening and the only light in the Inn was a sole candle in the front window. George ran from the carriage and called to the servant of the house, who arrived shortly after. The Inn Keeper and his wife were awoken and hurriedly prepared for their esteemed and unexpected guests.

Lord Pendragon and the other gentleman stepped out of the carriage, looking weary of travel.

“My apologies for the late hour, ma’am” said his lordship as he removed his hat and bowed politely to the Inn Keeper and his wife. “Yours is the nearest Inn and we’ve been travelling all day. My friend and I would be much obliged if you would spare us some room in your Inn.”

“Of course, my lord” The Inn Keeper nodded. “We have only one room to spare, with all the travelers moving into London for the season, but I’m sure his lordship would find it suitable to himself, though I am sure it is not to his usual standard, my lord.” The Inn Keeper stumbled, obviously not accustomed to speaking with a Lord.

“I’m sure it is quite fine.” His lordship said with a wave of his hand. “And what of my friend?”

“Well, as I said before we are full except for the one room. He is welcome to stay with your servant in the servant quarters-“

“Absolutely not” His lordship snapped.

The gentleman behind him coughed quietly, “My lord, I do not mind-“

“Mr. Emrys will stay with me.” Lord Pendragon said, with a finality that no one would ever contradict. The Inn Keeper nodded and led the gentlemen to their room as his wife led George to his own quarters.

Once inside the room, the door shut and the candle lit, his lordship let out an annoyed scoff.

After a few mumbled curses, Mr. Emrys heard his lordship say, “-as if you were just some servant and I would leave you to sleep on the floor.”

“Lord Pendragon, I would not have minded the servants’ quarters. You did not have to share the room.”

“It’s the principle of the thing, Mr. Emrys.” Lrod Pendragn said as he started to remove his tie and waistcoat. Mr. Emrys quickly turned around and shuffled through his own clothes. Lord Pendragon continued. “He should not have assumed you were any less than me; that I deserved the room and you did not.”

“Have you forgotten that you are more than me?” Mr. Emrys asked with a laugh, looking over his shoulder to see his lordship stripping out of his shirt and donning his night clothes. He turned back quickly.

There was a long pause as Mr. Emrys stripped and dressed into his own night clothes. He was grateful for it, because in the dark with the knowledge that Lord Pendragon was right behind him, he would not have been able to stumble through such a simple task.

When he turned, dressed in his night clothes, Lord Pendragon was near the bed with the covered turned down. He was watching Mr. Emrys.

“I am not.” Lord Pendragon said.

Mr. Emrys had forgotten what they had been saying before. As he crossed the room and turned down his own side of the bed, he tried to remember what he had said last and whether or not he could focus on much of anything with his lordship in nothing but a thin night shirt.

“I am not more than you. He should not have treated you as such.” Lord Pendragon repeated, reminding Mr. Emrys of their conversation. He slipped beneath the covered and tried not to think as Lord Pendragon mirrored him, their body heat noticeable in the small bed.

Lord Pendragon blew out the candle leaving them in darkness. Mr. Emrys huffed and pretended to be put upon as he said, “So you told him as much and forced me to spend the night here because the servants’ quarters are beneath me.”

There was another pause as Mr. Emrys felt his lordship shift in the bed.

“I did not- I would never-” Lord Pendragon stumbled, rarely so inelegant. “If you would prefer the servants’ quarters than sharing my bed, then I will not stop you. I only wished for you to be comfortable.”

Mr. Emrys felt his heart pick up pace. Sometimes, the thought of sharing Lord Pendragon’s bed was all he could think of. Now that he was here, in the most innocent way, he was having trouble even speaking.

“I do not mind sharing your bed.” Mr. Emrys said, knowing that his voice was too hushed and his words too stained. His meaning was all too clear.

“Merlin.”

His given name caught Mr. Emrys off guard. He swallowed thickly and turned his head to the voice, still trapped in the darkness of the room. He felt a hand run over the covers of the bed, as if searching blindly. Lord Pendragon’s hand ran from the thin sheets of the bed, to Merlin’s shoulder, running along the hemming of his nightshirt, until it skimmed across Merlin’s neck. He must have felt the quicken pulse in his neck because he paused and his fingers laid there for a moment.

“Do not stop.” Merlin breathed out. He squeezed his eyes shut, praying this was what he believed it to be. Merlin felt himself want to shake apart, feeling those hands on him. “Arthur- please.”

With the sound of his name, Arthur crashed forward until his lips met Merlin’s.

Chapter Text

As many in the kingdom understood it, the Prince of Camelot had only the best. In the five kingdoms it was rumored that he had the finest horse, the bravest knights, and the highest of luxuries. He did not want for anything. Or so the people believed.

Arthur Pendragon was not as high and mighty as his subjects might have believed, of course. His horse was fine but it could be just as stubborn as its owner, his knights were more a group of friends than loyal guards, and his luxuries were more of a glamor, since his highness would rather wear an old tunic than a new one.

With that being known, the Prince also understood that he did not want for anything and should never wish for anything more, lest he turn greedy like other princes.

But there was one thing he desired, that he knew he could never ask for, even if he were like other lecherous princes. Because love could not be asked for and given as easily as a fine cloak or a good horse. Because Prince Arthur may not lack for anything, but his heart longed anyway.

Who would think that the Prince of Camelot was in love? When he hunted with other nobles, ran patrols with his knights, and dined with the King, there wasn’t a soul who would figure out that the Prince was in love, let alone who. The fact that the serving boy, the graceless and talkative manservant, was the object of his affections probably would astonish someone even more.

But then, if someone were to watch, they would also notice that the servant, Merlin, was also an atrocious manservant and should have been relieved of his job many months ago. Except the Prince kept him around despite his inability. Then, they would also notice that there wasn’t a more loyal servant than Merlin, and that the Prince was hardly ever without his servant by his side.

Other princes may have bedded their servants as soon as the urge overcame them, but when it came to Merlin, the Prince’s desire were more than that. Although the Prince would not deny that he wanted his servant in his bed, he wished for the return of Merlin’s affections so much more. But the Prince would never use his position to make Merlin believe he had to sleep in his bed. So the Prince watched from a distance, his heart longing for something even the Prince of Camelot could not have.

Chapter Text

In Camelot, the connection between souls was deemed too close to magic to be permitted. King Uther had banned magic and soulmates as soon as Queen Igraine had died. Although the Purge outlawed finding one’s soulmate, but destiny could never be stopped.

Despite the law, soulmates found each other, whether intentionally or not. Sometimes it was a mere touch of a hand that sparked the soul’s magic, erupting into a joyous burst of energy between two people. Maybe even a long look between strangers, where they wondered where they had seen the other before, until their souls connected and they realized this was the moment they had been waiting for. Other times it took years for soulmates to understand the energy that passed between them.

Unfortunately in Camelot once soulmates found each other they had to keep it a secret. If there was a soulmark, a small symbol on one’s body that appeared after the souls connected, it must be hidden at all times. Usually the mark was small, no bigger than a fingernail, and easily concealed under clothing, but some were unable to hide their marks, and had to move out of Camelot for fear of being found by the King.

The Prince of Camelot, although wary of magic, did not agree with his father’s ban on soulmates. Despite outward appearances, Arthur was a romantic and did not like to think that soulmates would spend lifetimes apart or be condemned to death once they had found each other. As soon as he was King, things would change. But until then, Arthur had to protect his people, even from his own laws.

Arthur had been known to smuggle soulmates out of Camelot. There was the young squire and kitchen maid, whose marks were easily seen on their hands, between their index finger and thumb. They could not hide it, though they had tried. Arthur had found out about the pair when Merlin had been sneaking off (like usual) with a bag of supplies and food. Eventually Arthur figured out what he was doing, and was a bit appalled that Merlin had tried to hide it from him because he thought Arthur would condemn them, like his father would have. After that, he and Merlin helped anyone who needed aid, although there were few people seeking the Prince’s help in this matter.

Arthur wondered why Merlin had been so keen to help soulmates, until one night while they were sitting in Arthur’s chambers that he finally understood.

“You have a soulmate, don’t you?”

What? No!” Merlin jerked in surprise, before composing himself again. “Well, yes, obviously. But I haven’t found them. Soulmates are against the law.” Merlin said, as if that wasn’t painfully obvious.

“Merlin, you and I both know that neither of us agrees with that law.” Arthur said, thinking of the people they had helped, including their friends Gwen and Lancelot.

Merlin bit his lip nervously as he dragged the cleaning cloth across Arthur’s armor, “Yes, I know. But I don’t know who my soulmate is.” Merlin said as his eyes avoided Arthur’s, his hands uneasy and his shoulders tight. He was lying.

“Merlin, it’s alright. You can tell me. We’re friends, are we?” Arthur said tentatively, knowing that he was treading on uneasy ground. Despite his fondness, maybe even affection for Merlin, Arthur wanted Merlin to be happy with his soulmate, whoever they were.

“It’s why you run off sometimes? To see them. You don’t take off your shirt because you have a soulmark that you don’t want me to see.” Arthur said, knowing it to be true rather than asking.

Merlin set down the armor, his eyes closed and brows pulled together. He couldn’t deny it any longer and both of them knew it.

“Arthur, if I tell you…You’ll have to lie to your father. You’ll have to protect me, and that’s too much to ask.” Merlin lifted his eyes to Arthur’s, “Just let me give you this plausible deniability.”

Arthur shook his head, “No, Merlin. I’ve already lied to my father, and I don’t have any problem doing it again. Especially for you.”

Merlin took in a deep breath and stepped away from where he was working. Standing in front of Arthur, face-to-face, he lifted his hands to untie his neckerchief, laying the fabric on the table before reaching for his tunic.

Merlin had a soulmark, and it must be certainly hard to hide. Unlike most soulmarks, which were rarely larger than a coin, Merlin’s was the size of his palm. In the center of his chest there was a large black Pendragon crest.

Arthur felt himself gape, his eyes wide and his pulse fast. Unintentionally, he reached forward, his fingers pressing to the dragon across Merlin’s chest.

Merlin gasped and Arthur felt it a second later, the sharp and heavy energy that surged between them. Arthur cried out as he felt Merlin’s soul connect with his own, the zing of magic followed by a fading burn across his chest. He watched Merlin’s mark as it turned from black to bright gold, and when Arthur looked up, Merlin’s eyes were molten gold.

“Merlin.” Arthur said, suddenly understanding. Merlin had been protecting Arthur from so much more, his soulmate and who he was to Arthur, but he had also held back the one last piece of the puzzle: his magic.

The mark faded back to black, and Merlin’s eyes were blue once again. Without a word, Merlin reached out to drag the low collar of Arthur’s tunic aside. A black triskelion, the same size as Merlin’s soulmark, was emblazed on his chest. Merlin pressed his fingers over it and Arthur looked down in disbelief.

Arthur didn’t speak, not now when his and Merlin’s souls were connected. Instead, he pulled Merlin’s arm until their chests were pressed together. Merlin was the one to lean forward, grabbing Arthur’s jaw and pressing a demanding kiss to Arthur’s lips.

Chapter Text

When the apocalypse came, it didn’t come in the form of hellfire or even the sky crumbling down around them. It came in the form of an invisible virus, a disease that no one could fight. That was what frustrated Arthur the most: the fact that he couldn’t punch his way out of the apocalypse. People were dying, and he couldn’t do anything about it. Merlin, on the other hand, was a doctor and was fighting in the only way he could.

“Arthur, can I talk to you?” Merlin had said in the hospital break room. He had looked haggard and pale. Arthur had thought he had been overworked. He should have known.

Arthur had patted the seat next to him on the couch. Arthur wasn’t a doctor, but he had been running supply runs and the heavy lifting. The least he could do. But now that the dead were rising, sickly pale and with a hunger for human flesh, Arthur knew he was going to have to start fighting in a different way.

Merlin hadn’t sat down, he stayed standing and a few feet away. They had always been close friends, so Arthur was confused by Merlin’s standoffish behavior. That should have been his first clue.

“Arthur, I need…I need you to…” Merlin had said, his hands shaking and his brow shining with sweat.

“Do you want me to go on a supply run? Are you out of morphine again?” Arthur had asked, completely lost.

Merlin had shaken his head and he had to lean against the nearby chair to hold himself up. Arthur had stood up, with the intention of running over and making Merlin rest, but Merlin had pushed him away.

He had finally spoken up. “God, Arthur- Can’t you see? I’ve contracted the virus.”

“What?” Arthur remembered not being able to breathe, as if he were the one dying instead of Merlin.

“I need you,” Merlin had said, his voice rough and his eyes determined despite the grey already forming around his eyes. “I need you to stay safe. I need you to find a cure and save these people.”

“Wait, Merlin, no. You’re just tired.” Arthur had been in denial, barely understanding, but Merlin was far past any of that. He had accepted it already.

“Arthur.” Merlin’s hands came up to Arthur’s face, already cold and clammy. He looked afraid to touch Arthur, but also afraid not to. “Please, do what you can. Gaius and I have been taking notes. We know it’s contagious but we don’t know how. We think it’s only after you die that it spreads, but we’re- he’s still figuring it out. Do what you can and be careful, okay?”

“No, Merlin…” Arthur had said, feeling his life sucking out of him and his eyes tearing up.

Merlin had pressed him into a kiss, rough and too brief. “Just know that I love you, even if we can’t have this.”

Arthur had tried to argue, but death wasn’t debatable. Merlin was dying and Arthur couldn’t do anything about it. When Merlin died, he locked himself away. Arthur wasn’t even there with him in his last moments. Merlin had refused because he didn’t want Arthur to get sick. Only a few hours later Merlin had risen and broken out of the hospital. Arthur thought that maybe some part of him had fled, knowing that he was a danger to the people inside. That’s what Arthur hoped.

After that, Arthur did as Merlin had ordered. Find the cure. Save these people. Save Merlin.

Chapter Text

Here at The Daily Camelot, we bring you the latest updates on what is happening in Downtown Camelot. Keep up-to-date here and on our twitter (found here). Please keep safe and stay inside until more information can be given.

9pm. #Knave attacks citizens at Lake Avalon.

9:30pm. #Knave appears to be trying to provoke superheroes.

9:45pm. #Knave gets his wish: #Excalibur arrives at Avalon with the #Knights of R.T.

10pm. Most citizens have been taken out of the fray. Local police aid superheroes.

10:20pm. Green and Yellow Knights are down, unknown injuries. Ambulances arrive for citizens. Knights seem well enough to continue.

10:30pm #Knave has brought backup, #Faerie and #Nimueh arrive. Ex and Knights are looking wary.

10:40pm BREAKING NEWS: #Emrys has arrived and has brought a few friends: #Bastet and #Priestess

11:45pm. Ex+Knights have never been on Emrys’ side but w/ #Knave making alliances w/ #Faerie & #Nimueh there seems to be a steady ally system

11:00pm. Thanks to everyone tweeting us & keeping us updated. Pls tweet @DailyCamelot if you have news on what is occurring down at #Battleof Avalon

11:30pm. We are receiving mixed reports on what is happened at #Battleof Avalon. Please be patient as we figure out what has happened.

11:40pm. We’ve lost track of some of the players at #BattleofAvalon. Some Knights are down. #Emrys and #Knave are currently fighting above Isle Avalon

11:50pm. There are unconfirmed reports of #Excalibur’s injuries, please standby.

12:00am. #Excalibur is missing. Photographer @smugTristan claims #Excalibur fell 100ft into lake from where #Knave had been attacking

@smugTristan’s video Reminder: #Excalibur (unlike #Emrys) cannot fly. Appears to be unconscious as he falls 100ft. Has not surfaced since.

12:30am. Accounts are adding up and although not confirmed, it appears that #Knave has killed #Excalibur at the #BattleofAvalon

1am. #Knave is captured! Reports of him saying: “He’s gone. Not even Emrys can save him now.” #BattleofAvalon

1:30am. #BattleofAvalon is over. Clean up & investigations start. Police have declared #Excalibur missing. Witnesses claim he is dead.

***

The morning headline screams at Merlin.

“Excalibur Dead! Knave Captured! Emrys Missing!”

He curls the newspaper in his hand until it’s illegible, or maybe it’s the tears in his eyes. He’s tired and sore from last night’s fray. He can barely feel his shoulders and he has burns all over his body. But the worst of his pain is not physical. He couldn’t save Arthur.

He remembers seeing Arthur fall, Knave holding him back, burning his entire side to stop him from moving. All three of them: Knave, Faerie, and Nimueh had made sure he wasn’t able to save Arthur. The Knights had been distracted and a few people didn’t even see the superhero fall from the sky. Sometimes people really did forget that only a few of them could fly.

Walking into a darkened alley, Merlin changed to Emrys, almost feeling too weak to perform the simple spell. Flying would tire him, but he needed to go to the Avalon and find Arthur’s body.

When he arrived the police were shocked to see him, but they didn’t stop him when he asked to skim the lake for Excalibur. They nodded with wide eyes. Merlin didn’t blame them for being surprised. Emrys had never spoken to anyone beside the few superheroes and supervillains that he ran into. Even then, superheroes like the beloved Excalibur and Knights hadn’t been Emrys’ ally.

If only Arthur had known Emrys’ identity. Merlin had kept it a secret from his friend because magic and undocumented superheroes were strictly outlawed in Camelot. Now Merlin wished he had gathered his courage to tell Arthur who he was.

Merlin dove into the lake, using a witch’s light to search the darkened waters of Avalon. He tried not to think too hard about what he was looking for as he skimmed the bottom. He focused on his spells instead.

Merlin was thinking of giving up, his body and mind at its last reserves, when he ran into something unusual. It was a spell Merlin had been known to cast, a golden shield in the shape of an oval. He used it every once and a while, but he didn’t remember casting one the night before and definitely not one at the bottom of the lake. He hurried toward it, tapping the magic with his own, and finding that it was indeed his own magic. He cast the reverse spell.

The shield disappeared and revealed Excalibur, not even a drop of water on him, the shield keeping him dry and unharmed. Quickly, Merlin created the shield again before the lake would swallow him up, and he dragged Arthur to the surface. He burst out of the water, hovering above the lake with Excalibur in his arms. He flew to the shore, only a few feet away from the police and news crews.

He was exhausted, at his wits end, and holding his best friend’s body. Merlin didn’t care if they taped it all for the world to see.

Merlin felt a sob wrack his chest as he laid Excalibur down. He was still and unmoving. Merlin prayed as he pressed his hands to Arthur’s throat and his chest. There was something there. He incanted a spell, praying more than chanting the words. Suddenly Arthur coughed awake, grabbing his side in pain, but clearly alive.

Merlin cried out, pressing his face to Arthur’s and wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

“I thought you were dead. Fuck, Arthur. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I should have saved you. Arthur. Oh thank god. You’re alive.” Merlin breathed, feeling Arthur’s breath against his cheek and his heart beat beneath his palm.

Arthur looked up, his brows pulled together and his hand gripping Merlin’s arm tightly.

“Emrys? What are you doing? How do you know my-” Arthur’s eyes latched onto Merlin’s. Merlin saw the moment he recognized him. All Merlin could do was give him a sheepish smile.

“Never scare me like that again, okay?” Merlin said, knowing his face was covered in tears and he was still breathing heavily from his earlier sobs.

Arthur’s hand ran to Merlin’s face, as if seeing if he was real. “It’s you…Merlin…You’re Emrys?”

“Yes. I’m sorry…But god Arthur, I’m just so happy you’re alive.” Merlin said with a wet smile.

“Emrys saved me. His magic- your magic.” Arthur said, his voice was rough and it was obvious he was a few seconds from passing out again.

Merlin leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Arthur’s forehead. “I’ll watch over you. Rest.”

“Merlin…” Arthur’s eyes closed and his hand went slack.

When Emrys looked up all eyes were on him. Ignoring them, he hefted Excalibur into his arms and flew to the nearest hospital, before Arthur’s injuries worsened. They would deal with their consequences later, for now Merlin had to save Arthur.

Chapter Text

It was a Very Bad Plan, but to be fair, there weren’t Good Plans when it came to the Zombie Apocalypse. Merlin and Arthur had cornered a horde of zombies into an alley. The buildings were crumbling down, and had made a perfect wall of debris that the zombies couldn’t escape from. Now the only thing to do was to close off both ends. While one of them was inside the alley. A Very Bad Plan.

The plan was bad but it was as simple as this: a system of pulleys would close the far end of the alley with the pull of the rope. The other end, where a small hole in the debris was the only exit out of the alley, would be closed by a rope on the outside. Therefore, someone needed to be inside the alley to pull one rope, and someone needed to be on the outside to pull the closing rope.

The problem was, Merlin never did as he was told.

“Why do I have to go?” Merlin shouted above the noise of the zombies. “You go! I’ll fend them off!” His rifle fired off and a zombie that had gotten far too close to him fell to the ground.

“No! Merlin, for once do as I say!” Arthur shouted. His pulse was racing, the noise was overwhelming, and Arthur had already known this was a bad plan, but it was starting to become more and more evident.

“I can handle this! Why won’t you let me handle this?” Merlin shouted, more and more zombies creeping in. The cut on his head was bleeding from last week’s injury. Arthur needed him safe, and like usual, Merlin wanted to argue with him right when a horde of zombies was about to attack them.

 “Because everyone else I love is dead! I can’t lose you too!” Arthur shouted above the noise. He shot the nearest zombie, the rifle shot sounding louder than normal.

When Arthur turned back to him, Merlin was frozen. Their eyes locked for a moment; Arthur’s desperate gaze with Merlin’s shocked widened eyes.

“You…” Merlin gaped.

Arthur grabbed Merlin by the collar and pushed him through the hole in the debris.

“Arthur, wait-!” Merlin shouted but it was too late. The zombies were closing in and the only way to finish this would be to pull the rope from this side of the debris. Arthur just needed to get over there and back without dying. Not probable, but worth a shot.

“Keep them from getting through the exit and everything will be fine.” Arthur said to Merlin with a harsh glare and then headed over to the rope, shooting off his rifle as he went.

The zombies were slow, but there were a lot of them and they were closing in. He only had a few minutes before this horde became too much for two people. He pulled the rope and the debris on the other end of the alleyway closed off. Some of the zombies became distracted by the noise and vibration, which was lucky for Arthur. He ran through the horde, only stopping to shoot when he needed to.

With a zombie on his tail and three closing in, Arthur jumped through the hole and yelled, “Close it!” hoping that Merlin was already positioned to pull the rope on this side of the wall.

Something crashed and when Arthur looked up, more debris was falling and Merlin was standing by the rope.

Arthur laid his head on the ground and let out a relieved huff of breathe. “Thank god. We are not doing that again.” Arthur said, before picking himself up and dusting himself off. “Let’s get back to the safe-house.”

Merlin grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Don’t do that again.”

Arthur’s heart pounded, and frankly it was quicker than when he had been in a horde of zombies.  “What?” he asked.

“Don’t make me do the safe job. We can switch off if this is going to be a problem, but Arthur you can’t just…you’re not the only one…You’re so frustrating!” Merlin snapped, before he grabbed onto Arthur and pulled him into a rough kiss. Arthur gasped, but it only took a second for him to grab onto Merlin’s hips and hold him as close as he could. Merlin pressed Arthur up against the debris, hard and uneven on his back, but he didn’t mind because Merlin was warm and pliable, right in front of him. Alive.

Chapter Text

“You are aware you’re dating, right?” Morgana said, sipping on her soda.

“No we’re not.” Arthur responded, poking at his salad. He didn’t know why he ordered salad. He didn’t like salad. He was trying to be healthy. Which was dumb, his job contained shooting guns and explosions. Salads were dumb when he might explode in the next hour.

“You’re salad isn’t going to bite you.” Morgana said. “Come on, we all know what this is about.”

“What?” Arthur asked, wondering if she knew about the bomb in his salad.

“Merlin.”

Arthur let out a groan. “I told you, we’re just…” Arthur let his hand wave a bit to indicate their friendship.

She mocked his gesture with her tongue sticking out, “You’re just- whatever that is. But you and the Tech Spy from the basement have been-” she wiggled her hand again, “for the last five months. So obviously it’s something.”

Merlin was Britain’s best hacker, and most, if not all his missions, were through the internet. Unlike Arthur, he only went abroad every once and a while. The first time he did though, about five months ago, Arthur had been the one to protect him. The entire mission had been the most frustrating and impossibly perfect thing Arthur had ever done. Merlin was a great hacker but a clumsy spy. Arthur had to make sure he didn’t get his head shot off, and Merlin managed to wrangle Arthur out of a few tough spots too.

After that, Arthur had spent time with Merlin outside work, because they had become friends, but that didn’t mean he was dating him. Morgana just didn’t get it.

“You spend all your free time with him. You won’t stop talking about him. You bought him an expense-paid vacation to Iceland because- and I quote: ‘It’s where he’s wanted to go since he was a child.’ And then you went with him.”

“It was his birthday.” Arthur said, trying to think why is sounded weird when Morgana said it out loud.

“You bought his mom flowers.” Morgana added.

“She made me dinner.”

“You’re not helping your case.”

“There isn’t a case to be made. We’re not dating.” Arthur said, pointing his fork at his sister.

“Look, Arthur.” Morgana said with an exasperated huff, “Let me put it this way: If Merlin started dating someone, how would you feel?”

“What?” Arthur cocked his head to the side, feeling utterly confused. “But why would he date anyone?”

Morgana just let out a frustrated noise. “I give up.” She must have moved on because she asked, “When’s your next mission?”

“I leave tomorrow, why?” Arthur asked. She didn’t usually ask about work, since it really was Top Secret.

“Just wondering- Oh hello Merlin, So glad you could make it, I’ll just be leaving now.” Morgana said and Arthur choked on a piece of lettuce as Morgana stood up and Merlin took her spot. She waved her hand at him and Arthur glared at her.

“That was a bit weird.” Merlin said, picking off a tomato from Arthur’s salad and popping it into his mouth. “She texted me to meet her for lunch or else I was sacked. Can I have this?” Merlin popped the crouton into his mouth without getting permission.

Arthur just pushed his salad over to him and decided that salads were just dumb and he didn’t know why he ordered them in the first place. Merlin happily picked off all the good bits of the salad, munching on the croutons and such.

“Are you going to the gala tomorrow?” Merlin asked. “Oh no, you’ve got that mission, never mind. I was thinking we could just go as a pair of bachelors so we wouldn’t look weird, but you’re ditching me. Hm… Oh I know! Sefa and I can go together.”

Sefa?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah, she’s the other tech spy, remember? She’s really nice. I think we would be able to make it through the night together. Those galas are a pain.”

“We didn’t have a bad time last time.” Arthur said as he thought of last month’s gala. He and Merlin had stumbled back to his flat, drunkenly falling on the couch and sleeping until noon the next day.

“Yeah, but you’re not going this time.” Merlin pointed out. “I have to survive it on my own. Or in this case, with Sefa.”

“Yeah, but-” Arthur stumbled to think why he suddenly wanted to go to the gala. “I can go.” Arthur suddenly said. “My flight doesn’t leave until Sunday.” It didn’t. It was supposed to leave tomorrow morning. He didn’t know why he lied, but he did.

“Oh, really? Are you sure, I heard Morgana say-”

“No.” Arthur said hurriedly. “My flight changed.” You would think for a spy he would be better at on-the-spot lying. “I can go to the gala with you. We can go together.”

“Oh okay.” Merlin said, looking confused. “I guess I don’t have to have a date then.”

“No.” Arthur said again.

“Huh?” Merlin asked.

“I’ll be your date.” Arthur clarified.

“I’m sorry, are you asking me out, or did you just make yourself my date?” Merlin was smiling, not looking at all disturbed by Arthur’s horrible romantics.

“Er…” Arthur said, wondering what he was really doing. This is why he couldn’t eat salads for lunch; he needed protein to think properly.

“You still have a mission tomorrow don’t you?” Merlin smiled and Arthur felt a little pathetic.

“Yeah” Arthur sighed.

“Alright, then. How about this, since you’re missing the gala tomorrow we’ll have a date tonight? I’ll be by your flat at seven.” Merlin stood up and walked around the table so that he was standing over Arthur. He bent down and kissed Arthur’s cheek. Whispering in his ear, Merlin’s lips skipped his cheek as he said, “I’ll bring the wine. I suggest you don’t wear pants.”

Then he pulled back and left, as if he didn’t just make Arthur melt in his chair. Arthur made a little bit of a pathetic noise, watching Merlin leave the restaurant a flirty swing to his hips.

“Oh, Jesus, I’m so fucked.” Arthur whined and the waiter set down the check with a sympathetic nod.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there lived a young Prince in the good kingdom of Camelot.

In his kingdom, Prince Arthur was beloved. The Prince was young, handsome, and strong; qualities all befitting a good Prince. Unfortunately, the Prince was also spoiled, wanting for nothing, and arrogant, believing himself to be superior in all capacities.

It was during a hunt one day, when the Prince began to learn the true traits of a good Prince.

Deep in the woods beside Camelot’s citadel, there was a sacred clearing. Unbeknownst to anyone not possessing magic, it appeared to most as a simple opening in the woods. It was here that the young Prince stumbled unknowingly as he chased a stag, with a sword at his side and a crossbow in his hand.

“I would not cross this clearing with weapons, young man.” said a voice to the Prince. “The gods would not be happy to see weapons on their hallowed ground.”

The Prince looked up, but could not find the source of the voice. “I am the Prince of Camelot. These woods are mine.” He said with a proud tilt of his chin. “I will cross here if I please.”

He stepped into the clearing, chasing after the stag that had again disappeared into the woods. Suddenly, in the center of the clearing, there was a spark of magic. The Prince, who was unaccustomed to magic, jumped in surprise at the sight magic lighting a fire which circled him. Despite the fire being small, easily stepped over, the Prince’s heart raced and he dropped his weapons.

“Who did this?” Prince Arthur shouted.

“I told you the gods would not be happy.” said the voice again. “Now you must apologize for your actions.”

What?” shouted the Prince in disbelief as he searched for the voice. He looked around the clearing, and only found a merlin falcon perched upon a nearby boulder.

The falcon’s clicked and the voice sounded again, “You have insulted the gods by bringing your weapons on their hallowed ground. You must apologize. A good Prince would know this.”

“I will not apologize for hunting in my own woods!” spluttered the Prince, confused as to why he was explaining himself to a bird.

The falcon seemed to ignore Prince Arthur’s statement and flew around his head as the fire continued to burn. “In atonement to the gods, you must prove you are a good Prince: noble, strong, and humble. Three tasks will be set before you. Beware, as anything could be a test. I suggest you heed my warning Prince Arthur, since you did not before.”

“I am not taking warnings from a bird.” said the arrogant Prince.

The bird swooped to the circle of fire, the flames extinguishing as he skimmed them. Standing in the ashes of the fire, the falcon looked up to the Prince. “Listen to me, or not. You will be tested.” With a flap of its wings, the falcon flew off, leaving the Prince in the circle of ashes.

The first task was not long after that, although the Prince was unaware of it. That evening, at a feast of the royal court, the Prince encountered a young woman. She was a princess of another kingdom, and the King had secretly intended Prince Arthur and the Princess to marry. The princess, who knew of these plans, cornered Arthur in an alcove and told him of these plans.

“Your highness, it is not that I dread being married to you, but I am in love with another. A lord in my own kingdom. Please, if you understand love at all, you will speak with your father.”

The Prince nodded his head. “Do not worry, princess. I will not force anyone into marriage. I hope you and your lord are happy.”

With a smile and a kiss on his cheek, the princess thanked him and ran off to speak with her father.

“A Prince is noble. Kind-hearted. Understanding.” said a voice, and when the Prince looked up, the falcon was settled on the alcove’s window. The Prince gaped at it.

“I will not lie,” said the falcon, “I did not believe you would even be able to pass the first task. But you surprise me.”

“Everyone deserves a happy marriage- I would never force her- What the hell are you doing here?” Arthur hissed as he looked around to make sure no one could see him speaking with a bird.

“Your first task is complete. Two more to go, Arthur.” said the falcon.

“Are you just going to appear when I least expect it?” asked the Prince. “Am I supposed to get used to talking with a falcon?”

The bird seemed to make a laughing noise, a series of chirps. Then he flew away, leaving Arthur to return to the feast far more distracted than before.

By the next morning, the falcon and its tasks were like an odd dream to the Prince. He awoke and went about his princely duties. The second task, came to him just as unexpectedly as the first.

In the throne room, the King of Camelot sat before an old peasant. The King explained to the Prince that the elderly man had committed the crime of sorcery. Witnesses had claimed that he had used magic.

“Has it been proven?” asked the prince. He had always been wary of his father’s laws on magic, and did not like to see innocent people executed for a simple thing like magic. His mind strayed to the hallowed ground in the woods and the magical falcon.

“It does not matter, there are witnesses.” said the King.

Normally the prince would hold back his words, but today he held his head high and said, “My lord, I do not believe we should condemn a man unless his crime was to hurt another. We do not even know if he performed sorcery.”

The King yelled, berating his son. Through it all, even as the King insulted his son in front of the court, the Prince held his shoulders tight and his head high. The King refused to hear his son, but the Prince continued, thinking of the falcon and his tasks. “Sire, I cannot agree with you. This man is innocent. I will not see him executed.”

“Fine.” said the King, “Guards, escort the Prince to his chambers and make sure he does not leave.”

In his chambers with guards posted at his door, the Prince felt all the fight leave him. He sat on his bed, and hung his head low. He felt drained, thinking of how little his father thought of him.

“A good prince is strong.”

Arthur did not look up, knowing that the falcon was sitting on his window sill.

“He stands strong in his own beliefs.” said the falcon. Arthur heard wings flapping and the falcon perched on the Prince’s knee. Head in his hands, the prince looked over at the falcon with solemn eyes. The falcon pecked lightly on the prince’s tunic, a gesture of comfort. “Do not worry, Arthur. You are strong.”

“I do not feel it.” replied the prince.

The falcon made a series of comforting chirps, like a clucking purr. “That is why you are strong. A good Prince fights even when he feels weak.”

The prince looked at the falcon. Tentatively he reached out a hand and ran his fingers over its wing. The feathers were softer than he thought. “Thank you- I’m sorry, I don’t know what to call you.”

“You may call me, Merlin.” said the falcon. “You have one more task, Arthur. This one will not be as easy as the first two.” With a flutter of his wings, the falcon flew to the window and then swooped down and across the citadel.

The third task did not come the next day. Prince Arthur wondered what had happened to his friend, Merlin the falcon. Sometimes he wondered if the next task was right around the corner and he would see Merlin, but he did not appear. It was not until a fortnight later that the task appeared before Arthur.

The Prince was given a quest. Somewhere in the woods there was an enchanted sword, which the Prince must return to his kingdom in order to prove himself. The night before, he packed up his own things, refusing the aid of his servant. He chose his own weapon, declining the gifts of his knights.  Then he set out on his own, as sole figure crossing the citadel in the morning light.

As he passed the lower town, someone offered him food and good luck on his quest. He politely declined the offer. As he rode into the woods in search of the sword, he came across a group of travelers. They offered to give him directions to the sword, but he declined again.

That night as he laid alone in the woods, shivering beneath his cloak, the Prince’s mind wandered to Merlin. The prince found that he missed the falcon, and wondered if maybe he had failed his tasks. He did not wish to disappoint Merlin.

The next morning the Prince continued on his quest, declining any help along the way. He needed to complete his quest alone. By the third day, the Prince was tired, hungry, and lost. He had hoped to finish his quest quickly, but he seemed to be failing.

Weary from his quest, without food or water for days, the Prince laid down in a meadow. He did not wake. Even as night came and went, he did not stir from his grass bed. He had exhausted himself.

The falcon, who had been keeping a close eye on the Prince for the last few weeks, flew over the meadow. As Merlin swooped down, his body transformed from falcon to man. His wings expanded, cascading into a long feather cloak. His eyes were kind, his lips soft, and his hair was black against pale skin.

“My prince, you were doing so well.” said Merlin softly to himself. The Prince of the Woods knelt down to the sleeping prince, pushing the golden hair from his eyes.

Merlin whispered, “A good prince is humble. He accepts help and trusts in his friends.”

Leaning down, the Prince of the Woods tenderly kissed Prince Arthur’s lips. “Awake, my prince.”

Arthur’s eyes fluttered open, looking up into the gold and blue eyes of his friend.

“Merlin?” he asked dazedly.

“You should have listened to me.” Merlin said with a soft smile, still leaning over Arthur.

Arthur’s hand skimmed over Merlin’s cheek, “What are you doing here?”

“Helping you.” Merlin said in a hushed voice. “I will aid in any way you wish. But you must ask.”

“Ask?”

Merlin nodded.

Arthur swallowed and looked up into Merlin’s eyes. “Stay with me.”

Merlin smiled, letting out a small laugh. “Close enough.” He leaned down and kissed Arthur again, who returned the chaste kiss with a soft press of his lips. With an offered hand, Merlin helped Arthur onto his feet, and together they finished the quest.

When Prince Arthur returned to the fair kingdom of Camelot, he was beloved as a noble, strong, and humble prince.

Chapter Text

Arthur didn’t want to admit that Morgana was right, but this time, she really was right. After Merlin and Arthur officially started dating, not a lot had changed. Because yeah, they might have been spies but they hadn’t even noticed that they had been dating. The only different now was that they slept over at each other’s places and their intimacy level went from a quick hug to… um, well, a long and rough hug. Without clothes.

But now that they were dating, Arthur wondered how he managed to live in his flat without Merlin. They went grocery shopping together, and for some reason Merlin had most of his food at Arthur’s place. And Arthur wasn’t sure where half his ties went, but he might have left them at Merlin’s place. In a month or so it was going to get too confusing, whose stuff was where, and Arthur really should tell Merlin just to move in with him.

That could come later though, because it was a Sunday afternoon and both of them had the day off. They had woken up in bed, warm and content, with not a thing to do. They made breakfast (two sad bowls of cereal and toast) and complained about their lack of culinary skills (seriously how did they survive). Arthur put on music and started a load of laundry (because Merlin said he always ended up doing it, and Arthur wasn’t really sure when they started doing their laundry together.)

Merlin sat at the kitchen table, typing on his laptop, pressing his glasses up his nose every once and a while. With a cup of coffee in hand, Arthur leaned over Merlin’s shoulder to look at what he was doing.

“Are you hacking the Kremlin and playing that kid’s dragon game at the same time? In just your pants?” Arthur asked, looking down at Merlin’s mostly naked body.

“I can multi-task.” Merlin said, clicking on the gold icon that fed the dragons before going back to the code he was writing on the other side of the screen.

“Tech spies are so weird.” Arthur said, leaning down and kissing Merlin’s hair.

Merlin snorted as he continued to type. “Please, you were cleaning your gun this morning. Because that’s normal.”

Arthur thought about arguing that, but then he had to admit that was probably a little weird. Instead Arthur decided to take another tactic, “We said no work today.” Arthur said as he shut Merlin’s laptop.

“Arthur- I wasn’t done!” Merlin’s protest was cut off as Arthur roughly tugged the chair Merlin was sitting on, pulling him away from the table. Putting down his coffee, Arthur straddled Merlin’s lap with a determined glare in his eyes and kissed him.

When Arthur pulled back, Merlin pushed his glasses up his nose again, the glass slightly fogged. He was breathless when he replied, “Oh, well. When you put it like that.”

Chapter Text

Princess Arthur was the strongest and bravest knight of Camelot. Donned in chainmail and armor with a sword in her hand, not many knights would be willing to face her. The people of Camelot were accustomed to their warrior princess, knowing that one day Arthur would lead their kingdom as a great Queen.

Not everyone had always been used to Arthur though. When she was younger she had had a maidservant, but she had only lasted up to Arthur’s teen years. Princess Arthur needed a servant who was trained to know armor, battle wounds, and men’s trousers. Therefore she usually employed a manservant over a maidservant. Of course when Merlin came around, they didn’t know any of these things, but then again, Merlin didn’t know how to be a servant at all.

Not that being a maidservant or manservant mattered to Merlin. Sometimes Merlin wore maidservant’s skirts, smiling to themselves as they admired the soft fabric, and other days they wore the practical trousers of a manservant. Princess Arthur didn’t mind it either way, as long as Merlin finished their chores on time and polished her armor sufficiently.

In her first few years of being crown princess of Camelot, Arthur’s skill with the sword was put to the test. A war was rising between Camelot and a neighboring kingdom, and it was Arthur’s job to quell the conflict before a few battles erupted into war.

Steady on her horse and her sword in hand, Princess Arthur looked down to Merlin, “Do me a favor, and stay in the camp. I don’t need you running around the battlefield and getting yourself killed. Make bandages and ready the physician’s tent for knights.”

“Well, do me a favor and don’t rip your chainmail. It’s a pain to fix.” Merlin replied with a roll of their eyes, but there was a tightness in their jaw that betrayed their fear.

Hours passed and the battle continued. It wasn’t until dusk that the Princess returned, with Leon on her shoulders, a man so much taller than herself that he dwarfed her. “Merlin, get him to Gaius.” Arthur said between gritted teeth, even with all her strength she was weary and seemed to be struggling to hold Leon. A few knights lifted Leon off Arthur’s shoulder and Merlin directed them to Gaius.

Before Arthur could hide herself, Merlin was by her side. “Arthur.” they said with a worried brow. In an instant Merlin’s hands were on Arthur’s shoulders, steadying her.

“It’s fine, Merlin.” Arthur promised with a weak smile.

Merlin couldn’t see the wound, but they didn’t stop to ask where it was. They wrapped an arm around Arthur’s waist and helped her back to her tent. Once inside, Arthur seemed to deflate, finally acknowledging the injury.

“Damn…” Arthur hissed out as Merlin pulled off the armor and chainmail.

“Told you not to rip this.” Merlin said, as they inspected the chainmail, though their voice was more soft than reprimanding.

“Didn’t do it on purpose.” Arthur said, pushing back wisps of blonde hair. Sometime during the battle it must have come out of its neat bun, now lying down her back in a long braid.

Merlin moved closer, inspecting the wounds and bruises on Arthur’s body. “Here, let me…” Merlin said as they grabbed a bowl of water and a cloth. Merlin ran the cloth over the bloody wound on Arthur’s upper arm, and then the tender bruises of her sides and chest.

Arthur’s skin prickled with goosebumps as Merlin touched her wounds, but she didn’t speak. Merlin silently wrapped a bandage over the Princess’ arm and spreading a healing potion over her bruises. Arthur’s eyelids lowered and her muscles started to relax as Merlin continued their work.

Carefully, Merlin lifted the Princess’ hands and removed the cloth that had protected Arthur’s hands from the sword hilt. Underneath the princess’ hands were rough with callouses and red from holding her sword all day. Merlin rubbed ointment over her hands, and Arthur let out a contented sigh.

“Thank you, Merlin.” Arthur said, squeezing Merlin’s hands as they continued their work on Arthur’s.

“Anything else I can do for you, my lady?” Merlin asked, looking up with soft blue eyes and a worried look on their face. Almost absentmindedly, Merlin’s fingers ran lightly over Arthur’s wrist.

Arthur’s eyes ran over Merlin’s face, and her hands twitched involuntarily over Merlin’s. “I’ve had a long day…” Arthur began, but there was a long pause as she thought of her words. “Stay the night with me? I’d like…the company.”

Merlin’s lips twitched, as if they wanted to smile. But they only gave a short nod. “Of course, your highness.”

Arthur stretched out on her bed in only her trousers, allowing the ointment on her upper body to dry. Merlin blew out the candle before lying on their side next to Arthur. Tentatively, Arthur took Merlin’s arm and laid it across her middle. Merlin tightened their hold and laid their head on Arthur’s shoulder, careful of her wounds.

“Sleep well, my lady.” Merlin said.

“Goodnight, Merlin.” Arthur whispered back.

Chapter Text

“Ah!” Arthur yelped, “Merlin, your feet are freezing!”

“Well you’re the one who insisted on this quest in the middle of a snowstorm!” Merlin said.

“Well you weren’t supposed to follow!” Arthur said, pulling the blankets away from Merlin, just to make a point.

“Well you’d be dead without me, so stop complaining.” Merlin gave the blankets a tug.

“I was doing just fine!” Arthur sounded completely insulted.

“You hadn’t even made a fire when I found you.” Merlin glared at the wall of the tent, since his back was to Arthur.

“I was working on it.” Arthur added grumpily, “I do it by hand, unlike some people.”

In response to that, Merlin ‘accidentally’ kicked Arthur. The king yelped again and turned around to glare at Merlin. “Are you quite done being childish?”

Childish?” Merlin turned over to glare right back, “You’re the one who’s been ignoring me for weeks! You’re the one that insisted on leaving the citadel on your own!” Merlin said, probably not looking very serious as he flailed his hands, his hair ruffled beneath the blankets.

Arthur flapped the blankets so that they hit Merlin in the face. Merlin retaliated with a flick of his fingers to Arthur’s forehead. “Ow!” The King of Camelot yelped. Again.

“It’s been weeks since-” Merlin made a flapping motion to indicate his magic. “If you’re not going to banish me, at least let me enchant your socks to stay dry before you go traipsing through the snow like the Mad King of Camelot.”

Arthur paused, mid-flick to Merlin’s ear.

“You can do that?”

Merlin scoffed “Of course.” He batted away Arthur’s hand. “How do you think I stayed warm in just my tunic and jacket all these years?”

“Well, I probably didn’t think it was magic.” Arthur said.

“That’s because you’re thick.” Merlin grumbled.

Arthur glared at Merlin before turning back over, his arms in front of himself like a cross child.

“Where are we even going?” Merlin asked, thinking of all the snow they had to push through tomorrow morning.

Arthur didn’t respond.

“Are you even going to tell me?” Merlin glared at the back of Arthur’s head. “Or are you too angry with me?”

“I’m not angry with you.” Arthur said. “Well I am, but it’s because you keep taking the blankets, and not because you’re a sorcerer.” Arthur tugged on the blankets again, taking more than he needed.

“You’ve got enough padding to keep warm, I need the blankets.” Merlin tugged it back.

“Stop calling your King fat.” Arthur grumbled.

“If you’re not angry why are you not talking with me?”

“I’m talking with you right now.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I have been talking to you.” Arthur said.

“No you haven’t.” Merlin elbowed Arthur in the ribs.

“Would you stop that?” Arthur kicked Merlin’s leg. “I just don’t know what to say. What do you want me to do?”

“To give your opinion!” Merlin said, “It’s not like you haven’t told me what you’ve thought of me before now.”

“Nothing’s changed! I feel the same about you!” Arthur said, before his shoulders stiffened and he seemed to lay in the blankets, stock still.

Merlin felt the pause and change in mood as much as Arthur did.

“Arthur.” Merlin asked, his voice softer this time, “Where are we going?”

Arthur left out a long breath. “The northern Druid camp” Arthur said. “I’ve negotiated a peace treaty. An official one.”

Merlin leaned up on his elbow, pushing on Arthur’s shoulder so that he was lying on his back and Merlin was looking down at him. “You’ve made an agreement with the Druids?”

“I’ve always left them alone, but after what you told me…I just thought they deserved an agreement that I wouldn’t harm them for the practice of magic.” Arthur said, not looking at Merlin but more at the scarf that was still around neck.

“You…” Merlin felt his heart pick up pace. “You’ve made an agreement not to condemn magic.”

Arthur nodded slowly. “It’s the first in a number of treaties that I’ve convinced the council to make.”

“You’re lifting the ban.” Merlin said, not believing the words out of his mouth.

Arthur finally looked up at him. “It’s not just because of you. I’ve thought about my father’s reign and about Morgana…but it’s also because I can piece together all that you’ve done for me and well…It’s something I needed to think about on my own.”

“You’re not angry with me?”

“When am I ever angry with you?” Arthur asked, and when Merlin raised a brow at him, he rolled his eyes. “I mean, when are we actually angry with each other? You yelled at me for having wet socks. We fight, but it’s not out of malice. In the end we still lo-love each other.”

Arthur stumbled and his eyes widened. The words had already come out. It was too late.

A small giggle burst out of Merlin. He couldn’t help it. He had to cover his mouth with his hand as another giggle escaped him.

“Oh for the gods’ sakes! Don’t laugh!” Arthur turned bright red and turned over.

“No, Arthur, don’t do that!” Merlin pushed him back over so that Merlin could look at him. “It’s just that you’re lifting the ban for me and I never thought I’d hear you actually admit that we were friends and that we- well, that we care about each other- all at once.”

“After seeing each other every day for seven years, you’d think we at least admit we like each other.” Arthur said.

“Well, I’m not the one who doesn’t like talking about their feelings.” Merlin pointed out.

“Fine. I’m not angry with you, you’re my friend, and I love you. Happy?”

Merlin grinned, ear to ear. “Kinda, yeah.”

Arthur groaned and turned back over, “You’re insufferable.”

“Yeah, but you love me.” Merlin poked Arthur in the side.

“Oh, you know what!” Arthur turned over and grabbed Merlin in a head lock. Merlin squawked, batting at the King. Arthur ruffled his hair and Merlin kicked at his legs.

By the time they settled down, they were both laughing too hard to even flick each other in the nose.

“I absolutely hate you.” Arthur said between fits of laughter.

“Oh my gods- You’re a thick and emotionally repressed dollophead.” Merlin said as he snorted out a laugh.

Arthur huffed, taking Merlin’s shoulders and pushing him onto his side. He wrapped his arms around Merlin’s waist and pointedly poked him in the side, “Shut up and just go to sleep, idiot.”

“What? Are you going to cuddle me into submission?”

“Will you be quiet? I am keeping us warm so we can both get some rest.”

“Mm-hm.” Merlin hummed with a roll of his eyes. He tucked Arthur’s arm near his chest and pulled the blankets evenly over both of them. “Goodnight, then.”

“Go to sleep.” Arthur grumbled into the back of his neck.

Chapter Text

As a doctor, and the head physical therapist for the Camelot Knights, Merlin was allowed to be concerned about the players. Football wasn’t the most dangerous sport, but it had its fair share of bruises and twisted ankles. Not to mention pulled muscles and overworked joints. It was Merlin’s job to make sure the Knights could run out onto the pitch every match, healthy and ready to play football.

Which was why Merlin was concerned about Arthur Pendragon. He was the star of the Camelot Knights, and one of the most famous footballers in England. His face was plastered across milk adverts and his body across cologne posters all over Britain. But for being so recognizable, in the last year of working with Arthur, Merlin didn’t have the impression that Arthur spent a lot of time outside of work.

At first Merlin had just thought that Arthur was an arrogant superstar, too caught up in the glamor of his lifestyle to talk with Merlin. But it hadn’t taken long for Merlin to notice that Arthur didn’t seem to have any friends. He talked a bit with his teammates, but he didn’t go out for drinks with them. Merlin had overheard some of the Knights say that Arthur went home to his girlfriend. They said he was ‘whipped.’ Merlin had thought it was a joke, but Arthur never seemed to laugh much at it.

In the end, Merlin was ashamed at how long it took him to figure it out. Arthur’s girlfriend of over a year, Sophia, was a model and although Arthur sometimes mentioned her, he didn’t seem enamored. Especially for a bloke who seemed to go home to her after every practice and every game, without ever taking a break to socialize with his teammates.

The isolation should have been his first clue. But Merlin hadn’t recognized the signs, because Arthur was rich and famous and a man. Merlin should have known better. It was the bruises on Arthur’s arms that tipped off Merlin that something was wrong.

He was giving Arthur a massage after a rough practice. He really needed to relax, and Merlin didn’t want Camelot’s best player on the sidelines just because he was too sore. He had the regular bruises, a few on his legs and such, but nothing too big or out of place. It was the bruises on Arthur’s arms that clued in Merlin.

“Where’d you get these?” Merlin had asked, dumbly.

“Hm?” Arthur had looked down. “Oh. Must’ve fallen on the pitch or something.”

It had been a blatant lie. Arthur hadn’t fallen at practice, or so much as to have been shoved in the last match. Some of the bruises were curled around his wrist. Another was on his elbow, as if he had fallen directly on it. Not bruises he would have gotten on a football pitch.

It wasn’t much of a clue, but putting it all together, Merlin figured it out. Because Arthur wasn’t the arrogant footballer Merlin had first thought. In fact, he seemed rather insecure especially for a famous footballer. Behind the scenes, when he thought no one was watching, Merlin could see the Arthur behind the footballer. None of his practices were good enough. His body wasn’t fit enough. The goals he scored weren’t enough. Arthur tore himself up over everything.

After seeing all that, Merlin did his best to help his friend. Slowly but surely. Merlin chatted with him. Offered massages after practice. Listened to what Arthur had to say. Or what he didn’t.  Invited Arthur to have a drink after work. At first Arthur had declined all of Merlin’s attempts at being friendly, but after a while, he came around.

They had been friends before, but after a month or so, Merlin became closer with Arthur than anyone on the team. They talked after practice and Arthur started taking up Merlin’s offer for a massage. Then it became a habit to have drinks every Thursday night. Arthur even went to a celebratory party with his teammates after a win. He seemed to be opening up. Improving.

In all their time together though, Arthur didn’t talk much about his girlfriend. If the papers and his teammates had anything to say about it, they thought Sophia was the love of Arthur’s life. Sometimes Merlin wondered if he imagined all of it and then he remembered the way Arthur hesitated to go back to his flat, how he avoided Merlin’s eyes when he mentioned his girlfriend, or the bruises that appeared every once and a while.

After a couple months, everything seemed to be improving. But then one week… Arthur hadn’t been talking with Merlin. He skipped his session with Merlin after practice, ignored his calls, and canceled their plans on Thursday evening.  Something was wrong, but Merlin felt helpless to do anything. Then, on the morning before a match while Merlin was looking over some reports, it came out in the open.

Merlin heard a knock and looked up to see Arthur tentatively standing in his doorway. He didn’t usually knock.

“Hey, come on in.” Merlin said, putting away his papers. Arthur closed the door behind himself, something he didn’t usually do, and settled in the chair across from Merlin.

“Can I talk to you?” Arthur asked.

“Of course.” Merlin said, “Want some tea?” The water was already hot from Merlin’s first cup that morning. He set the cup in front of Arthur, who cradled it in his hands.

“Are you going to the party tonight?” Arthur asked, before adding, “Well, assuming we win.”

“Probably” Merlin said, “And we’ll win. We’re the Camelot Knights after all.”

Arthur gave a quick smile, “Ha, yeah I’m sure we will.”

He looked down at his tea, seeming to have forgotten his original question.

“Arthur, what about the party tonight?” Merlin prompted.

“Oh, yeah.” Arthur said, looking up from his tea. “Well I was wondering if I could crash at your place afterwards. It’s at Gwaine’s and if there’s as much alcohol as there was last time, I just wanted to know if you’d let me crash on your couch.”

“Sure. That’s not a problem.” Merlin said. He pressed his luck with his next question. “But why can’t you go back to your place?”

“Eh...” Arthur tried to think of an excuse, for why he couldn’t or didn’t want to go back to his own flat, but his mind seemed too slow. Something was drawing him thin. The pause was too long, and Merlin could see how tired Arthur was. Merlin wondered how much sleep he was getting and if he should even clear Arthur to play in that night’s match.

Carefully, Merlin took a breath before asking, “Arthur, is this about Sophia?”

Arthur looked up at him, his eyes a little too wide and his lips worried thin. “Sophia?”

Merlin nodded. Arthur looked like a deer in the headlights, scrambling for an excuse. Then, it must have clicked for Arthur.

“You know, don’t you?” Arthur asked. Merlin gave a sympathetic nod. In that moment, Arthur’s face crumpled, looking devastated, and he set down the tea with shaking hands. “Oh god- Of course you know. I’m such an idiot.” He put his head in his hands. “You’ve known for a while, haven’t you?”

Merlin came around the desk, not getting too close, but close enough to show support. “Arthur, I don’t know what’s been going on, but I know it’s something. You can always talk to me, you know that. I want you to talk about it. I want you to feel safe.”

“I’m such a fucking idiot- Merlin, it’s not that bad- It’s not- She’s not-” Arthur looked up, his hands still shaking, before taking a quick breath, like he had forgotten to breathe. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let me help?” Merlin offered.

Arthur paused, taking a long steadying breath. He nodded.

“Okay.” Merlin said, letting out a sigh of relief, “Okay. It’ll be okay, Arthur.”

Chapter Text

There were several types of tiredness, Arthur decided. There was drowsy, like sitting by a fireplace with a glass of wine. There was worn-out, like after a long run and morning workout. There was fatigue, like he had forgotten to eat and maybe didn’t have enough sleep the night before. Then there was exhaustion, which felt like all three of these things, with a dash of irritability and smattering of foolishness.

 Arthur was far past exhausted. It was seven in the morning on a Friday, and he had been awake since 6am yesterday morning.

Friday was Arthur’s huge annual presentation to the board of the company. He had been working on it slowly but surely for the last two months. Anything could have gone wrong, but everything went wrong.

The day before the presentation, Arthur found out that the last few pieces of his report were missing. He called in his PA, Merlin, who seemed to have thought Arthur was done with the presentation. He said Eira had dropped by the last bits yesterday. Apparently, Eira’s papers- her letter saying that she was quitting- was buried under the files on Arthur’s desk. She hadn’t even started on the statistics for Arthur’s project. Arthur had thought it was a good thing she had quit because she would have been sacked as soon as he saw her. Without the statistics, his report was nothing but empty words.  

Thank god for Merlin, Arthur thought as he sipped on what had to be his twentieth cup of coffee in 24 hours. His PA heard what had happened, left the room and only fifteen minutes later came back with a huge pot of coffee, two donuts, and a seemingly terrified Daegal- who promised that he had the rough numbers of Arthur’s reports.

Not only did Merlin help Arthur analyze the data, he stayed with Arthur all night. There was something to be said about staying up late with a friend and stressing over a terribly close deadline. They definitely bonded, that was for sure. Arthur and Merlin had known each other fairly well before, but after that night Arthur found out that Merlin was the loopy kind of tired (evident by the snorting laughter at midnight when he was watching cat videos), only ran on candy and crisps after 2am (he seemed to have a stash in his desk), and didn’t seem to mind rolling on the ground as he looked over sheets and sheets of numbers, not that Merlin ever minded propriety.

It was like a weird sleepover- except they were in Arthur’s office, there was a looming deadline, and they didn’t actually get to sleep (even if the couch in Arthur’s office had tempted him and Merlin more than once. They ended up putting a sign on the couch that read ‘Don’t you fucking dare’ which just led to more giggling on Merlin’s end.)

It could have been worse, Arthur thought with a smile as he watched Merlin, who was staring off into space with his mouth hung open (he might have been sleeping with his eyes open). Merlin made it bearable. Then Arthur remembered that he had to give the year’s most important presentation while he was exhausted and he decided it definitely could not have been any worse.

“What time is it?” Arthur asked, stretching out in his desk chair. Merlin jerked up a bit from where he was sitting across the desk (he had definitely been sleeping). He looked at his watch and the last remnants of adrenaline must have kicked in.

“Jesus! We have ten minutes!” Merlin scrambled to get the papers from the floor and piled them onto Arthur’s desk. He tripped a little bit as he dashed to the other side of the room, muttering to himself about numbers and graphs.

Arthur had known they had ten minutes. He had his presentation on his flashdrive, and he knew what he was going to say. He just wanted to know the time, but apparently Merlin was too tired to function properly.

“Do you have your- the thing? You know, the thing?” Merlin asked, trying to loosen his tie, but he must have forgotten that he had taken it off hours ago. Instead he ran his hands through his extremely messy and fluffy hair.

“The flashdrive?” Arthur asked, holding it up and trying not to sound too bemused.

Good.” Merlin clapped his hands together and then flinched at the loud noise. Arthur had to hold in a laugh, Merlin was really cute when he was tired. Wait- what?

Arthur shook himself, standing up and pushing everything he needed into his briefcase.

“Alright,” Merlin said, pulling Arthur close so that he could inspect him. He pulled on Arthur’s suit jacket and straightened his tie. It wasn’t really necessary, but Arthur didn’t find that he minded Merlin fussing over him.

Merlin continued muttering about the reports, “You know the third slide has the numbers from October. Make sure that…” Merlin continued, but Arthur was distracted as Merlin turned him around, pulling off flecks of lint and adjusting Arthur’s shirt and trousers unexpectedly. Merlin didn’t seem to think it odd that he was manhandling his boss while he lectured him on his own presentation.

“Don’t worry, Arthur.” Merlin said, sounding like he was giving a pep talk. He tutted at Arthur’s hair, “You’ve got this. You’re the best CEO this company has ever had. You worked your ass off to get here and worked twice as hard to have the board respect you.” He ran his fingers through Arthur’s hair, pressing it down where it stuck up. “Hell, you stayed up all night to do this work because you knew it needed to be done. You didn’t ask Daegal or anyone else to do it. You know the numbers like the back of your hand, and you know your company and you care about your employees.” He ruffled Arthur’s hair, the final touch.

Arthur wasn’t sure where Merlin was going with his speech, or if Merlin really knew. He seemed to be rambling, and to be honest, Merlin had stopped making sense around 4 am.

“You’re going to kick this presentation’s ass. You’re going to make everyone proud. I’m already proud of you.” Merlin said, sounding so earnest as he grabbed Arthur’s face and looked deeply into Arthur’s eyes. “You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it. Good luck, I love you, and kick ass!” He dragged Arthur forward by his face and smacked a kiss to Arthur’s lips.

To say Arthur was surprised would be putting it mildly.

Merlin didn’t seem to have noticed what he had done until a second after he pulled away.

“Oh…” Merlin said. His eyes widened like a spooked owl.

Arthur thought his brain might have stopped functioning.

“Oh shit- Just ignore- just ignore all of that.” Merlin said, “You have a presentation to go to- Oh my god. Please tell me I fell asleep on the Forbidden Couch and that did not just happen.”

Arthur didn’t respond. Yeah, his brain definitely combusted.

“Fuck, Arthur. Say something.” Merlin clamped his hands onto Arthur’s face again, seeming to check his pupils for dilation.

“Merlin?” Arthur said, slowly.

“Yes?” Merlin sounded tentative.

Arthur grabbed Merlin by his collar and kissed him, capturing Merlin’s lips and pressing his hands roughly along Merlin’s back. Merlin kissed back with open eagerness, licking into Arthur’s mouth without hesitation. When Arthur pulled away, Merlin let out a whine of protest.

“I have to go to the presentation.” Arthur said, panting slightly as he pressed his lips again to Merlin’s.

“O-okay” Merlin stuttered against Arthur’s kiss. “I’m slightly afraid this is a fatigue-induced hallucination, so I’m just going to have a lie-down on the couch.”

“Good. Don’t you dare move until I get back.” Arthur said against Merlin’s lips. “I’m not done with you.”

“Oh god.” Merlin said, trying to move away from Arthur’s lips. “Fuck, Arthur you have to go.”

Arthur groaned out his annoyance. He put space between himself and Merlin, who made the smart decision to move to the couch. Arthur pointed a finger at him. “Stay right there.”

Merlin nodded and gave a weak, “Good luck.”

Arthur gave him a playful smile. “Love you.”  He winked when Merlin gaped at him, hurrying to the presentation with more energy than before.

Chapter Text

Looking back, there were at three times when Arthur knew he was gay. Most people thought it was one single defining moment, but for Arthur, he had a couple that just added up into one revelation. 

The first was when he was a teenager, when he was obsessed with Camelot's best footballer. Looking back, he might have had a crush on the man more than just his skill on the pitch. The second was when he dated Gwen in the first year of uni. He used the term "dated" loosely, because they went on a few dates and kissed once, but all same, he remembered that there hadn't been much of a spark beyond friendship. The third time was when he was sitting around the common room with his friends, a bunch of blokes talking about girls, and for the life of him Arthur could not participate in the conversation. He didn't have anything to say. 

All these things added up, a subtle clue in the back of Arthur's mind until one day it all clicked together. He had been walking to the library when saw the LGBT+ booth. Merlin, a friend of Lance's and a classmate in Arthur's history class, was sitting behind the rainbow colored booth. His long legs stuck out under the table, his dark hair was curled around his ears, and he had a wide smile as he talked with the girl next to him. When he saw Arthur, he waved and gave him a smile. Arthur's heart had pounded for no reason, and maybe it was the rainbow balloons and pink cupcakes that sent some kind of message to Arthur, but he just kind of stopped, and thought "I'm gay" and had the urge to walk over to booth. Because all of sudden, he felt like he could. Like that was what would make everything click. 

Instead he waved at Merlin and hurried on his way, the subtle thought no longer avoidable as he thought "I'm gay" over and over again.

It took him a while to arrange his thoughts, to finally comprehend all those little clues that finally made sense. But once it did, it felt like it had always been there. All there was to do next was tell everyone. Arthur was aware that coming out wouldn't be easy, and he had no immediate plans to tell his father, but he had a list of the people he wanted to tell. 

Leon was the first on the list. As his closest and oldest friend, it felt right to tell him first. They were at Leon's flat, watching football and making dinner. Somehow they had gotten to the subject of rights, which wasn't uncommon since they were both studying to become lawyers. Before Arthur knew it, they were discussing LGBT+ rights and the opportunity was directly in front of him. There wasn't any kind of preparing, but he didn’t feel like he had to make a speech. Not with Leon, his loyal friend.

Leon gestured with his hands as he continued to speak, "...and now that America's made same-sex marriage legal, it's going to open up more discussion about other rights for the community. It's something we're going to have to look into if we end up defending someone in a LGBT case."

"Would you defend me, if it came to it?" Arthur asked all of a sudden. "Since I can't defend myself..."

Leon paused and crooked his head to the side as he looked at Arthur.

"Since I'm gay." Arthur added a bit more strained than he expected himself to be.

Leon gave him a small smile that spread into a grin. He ended up giving Arthur a crushing hug and Arthur might have heard a sniffle in there somewhere, to which Arthur couldn't help but laugh at. "You're a big sap, you know that?"

Leon clapped him on the back, a tender expression on his face. "I'll defend you if you get caught up in a mess, no doubt about that. And if you get married, I better be your best man."

"You have a deal." Arthur said, smiling wide at his friend. "Now stop gushing over me and let's eat."

The next person he told was his sister, to which Morgana looked him over for a moment before saying, "Huh. That makes sense." Then interrogated him on 'his type' to which they ended up arguing over what traits were attractive in a man.

The third person was probably the first person Arthur should have gone to, because she was the only practical and level headed person Arthur knew. Gwen and Arthur were eating at university when he brought it up.

"Can I tell you something?" Arthur asked as he pushed his food around his plate.

"Sure.” Gwen said, “What is it?"

"I'm gay." Arthur said, not really letting anything else be said before that was out.

"Oh." Gwen set down her spoon as she looked at him. "Oh."

He talked with Gwen, and their lunch lasted much longer than planned. Gwen listened, and for once it all came out, and it finally felt like Arthur was out of the closet.

After lunch, when Arthur let out a long sigh, Gwen gave him a smile, “Feel better?”

“A bit” Arthur consented. “Thank you, Gwen. You’re the best.”

“Don’t say that yet, I still haven’t asked if you have a crush on anyone.”

Arthur’s mind strayed to one man, and he couldn’t help the heat running up his neck.

“Oh, you can’t back out now, Arthur Pendragon.” She grinned evilly, showing Morgana’s influence on her.

“Never mind,” Arthur rolled his eyes playfully, “I changed my mind. You’re actually the worst.”

She prodded him until he finally gave in. “You know him.” Arthur said reluctantly. After that it wasn’t too hard to figure it out, since there weren’t too many queer blokes to choose from.

“No way…” Gwen said, a glint in her eyes. “Merlin? Like, Lance’s friend Merlin?”

Arthur covered his face in his hands. “Half of our conversations are just us arguing but he’s so cute, you can’t blame me.”

“Oh, I’m not blaming you at all. Merlin’s fit as hell.”

Arthur groaned a bit because he was well aware of how fit Merlin was. Gwen patted his hand in sympathy. Which was how Arthur ended up in front of Merlin after class, planning on asking him out, with Gwen twenty yards away trying to be subtle moral support.

Merlin leaned against a nearby brick wall as he chatted with Arthur about class. Arthur tried to keep his heart beat at a normal pace as he tried to figure out how to ask him. Arthur looked over Merlin’s shoulder to where Gwen was pretending not to see them. She gave him a slight nod of encouragement.

Arthur took a breath and turned back to Merlin. “If you’re not busy, would you want to grab a coffee sometime?”

 “Sure, I don’t have class for another hour. Want to go now?” Merlin asked.

“No, well yeah,” Arthur stumbled, “But I meant- I meant as a date.”

Merlin seemed to pause in surprise. “Wait, I didn’t know you were-“

“Gay?” Arthur filled in. “Yeah, I am. Kinda a new thing.”

“Oh” Merlin said before looking over Arthur, looking a bit stunned, “Oh wow, the queer gods are smiling down on me. Hell yeah I’ll go out with you.”

Arthur couldn’t help the laugh that burst out of him, and preened at Merlin’s compliment. Merlin smacked him upside the head, but Arthur didn’t care because he got a date! He turned back to Gwen as he and Merlin walked to the coffee shop and gave her a grin, she held up two thumbs up.

Chapter Text

 “Excalibur! Excalibur!” called out the reporters that surrounded Camelot’s favorite superhero.

“Excalibur! Vivian Olson, heiress of the O&V Corporation, claims that after saving her life for the third time that you and her are now a couple. Is this true?”

“What?” Arthur blanched.

Arthur had had the misfortune over the last three months to have saved Vivian Olson from several supervillain attacks. He didn’t know why she was always there when these things happened, but he was getting the suspicion that she was purposefully getting in trouble just to run into Excalibur. She had tried to ‘thank’ him multiple times, grabbing his shoulders, leaning into him, and all around making him uncomfortable. He was starting to see why.

“Is this news to you, or are you just surprised your engagement has been revealed?” called out a reporter.

Engagement!?” Arthur all but roared. He had to hold in a few choice curse words. He took a deep breath. “I am not engaged with Vivian Olson, nor am I in a relationship with her of any kind.” He said diplomatically. “I have only met her three times, and all of those times I was saving her from certain doom. So no, I am not in a relationship with Vivian Olson.”

A flurry of more questions: “Why not?” “Are you sure, Vivian Olson says…” “Excalibur, are you seeing anyone?” “Did you deny Vivian Olson’s approaches for a reason?” “Is there someone else in your life?” “Would you date a fan?” “Are you dating another superhero?” “Is your significant other’s identity a secret?”

Arthur’s mind was reeling. He had a headache, he was exhausted from a long day of work, and the reporters wouldn’t listen when he said he wasn’t seeing anyone. The next thing out of his mouth wasn’t his fault. Really, it wasn’t.

“Well, you see…”

***

“You did what!?” Merlin screamed. He was hovering above the hospital rooftop in his Emrys suit, the blue and gold glinting in the setting sun. He’d just gotten off his shift and they were about to do a night patrol of Camelot when Arthur broke the bad news to his best friend. Merlin rose a little higher as he heard the news, hovering dangerously over Arthur.

“I didn’t know what else to say!” Arthur said, not feeling the least bit safe in his armor. “They wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave them something! They’re like vultures! Circling until they get their scrap of meat!” Arthur said, watching out for Merlin’s hands, which were known to shoot out fire and lightening with a blink of an eye. Arthur might have been quick and strong, but Merlin had always been an equal match.

Merlin let out an angry huff and lowered himself a bit, though he still floated above the ground. (Not much could keep Merlin firmly planted on the ground for very long.) Without a pause, Merlin knocked Arthur upside the head. “Don’t blame this on the press, you dollophead! You’re the one that said Excalibur is dating Emrys!”

“Ems, please” Arthur begged, clasping his hands in front of himself.  “Vivian is making a scene. The press is hounding me. You’re the first person that came to mind. Pleeaasseee.”

Merlin glared at him for a long while before he deflated. His feet settled on the ground and he put his hands on his hips. “Fine. But as soon as the press has something else to write about besides your love life, I’m breaking up with you.”

“Fair enough.”

***

The international superhero conference was more and more elaborate with each year. This time, someone let photographers crowd around the entrance, which meant Emrys and Excalibur (E&E or E2 as the Press called them) had to keep up appearances. Arthur took Merlin’s hand as they walked the long path from the car to the conference entrance. Photographers swamped them in a second.

Only a minute later, someone called out “Kiss!” Then all of the photographers were chanting it.

“Oh for fuck’s sake…” Arthur hissed under his breath, catching a side look at Merlin.

“I really hate you right now” Merlin said between his fake public smile. He turned to hover a little bit closer to Arthur.

“Just one. It won’t kill us.” Arthur said, keeping his smile plastered on for the cameras.

“I’m killing you in your sleep tonight.” Merlin threatened, pretending for the cameras that it was a joke and laughing as if Arthur had said something funny.

“Good luck with that, floaty.” Arthur said, holding Merlin’s cheek with one hand. They pressed forward, and Arthur felt his heart race as Merlin’s lips slid across his.

When Merlin pulled back, he had real amusement in his eyes and a cheeky grin on his lips, “Not bad, Excalibur.”

“You just wish you were getting more, Emrys.” Arthur snorted out and moved down the walk, ignoring the catcalls and the shouts of the photographers. Heat in his stomach and his a bit lightheaded, Arthur thought that this really was his worst idea yet.

***

Arthur skidded his motorcycle to a stop as the debris feel from the sky. He shouted for all the citizens to step back, but too many people were watching the fight between Nimueh and Emrys, flying between the skyscrapers.

Excalibur ran forward with his sword in hand, pressing a hand to his ear and alerting his knights of Nimueh’s location and their next line of attack. Right now, Merlin seemed to be handling her.

Then, it all went to hell.

Nimueh screamed, a fireball flew from her hands and struck Emrys straight in the chest. They were a hundred stories in the air and Nimueh’s magic hurled him around as if he was just a ragdoll. When he fell, there was nothing but the air beneath him.

Emrys!” Excalibur called out, and his voice was echoed by everyone on the street. Arthur rushed forward, but there wasn’t anything he could do. Emrys was falling through the sky and he wasn’t stopping.

“No…” Arthur breathed out, rushing over, looking around the scene and trying to think of a way to stop this: to stop Merlin from dying and to stop Arthur from seeing his best friend’s broken body on the street.

A scream pierced the air and Arthur’s eyes immediately looked up to Emrys. His magic had exploded. As he fell the golden magic slowed his speed, catching him like a series of nets. By the time he was ten feet from the street, his magic gently lowered him to the ground. The entire city seemed to pause. Emrys didn’t move.

Arthur ran forward, his steps and breathing sounding so loud in the hushed street. Merlin’s head was bleeding and his suit was burned away around his chest. He wasn’t waking, even when Arthur choked out his name over and over again. He cradled his head, feeling his pulse, and pressing his forehead to Merlin’s.

“Emrys, you have to wake up. Come on…Ems, we need you. I need you.” Arthur held him and tried to wake him, to no avail. He heard shouts from the public and hurried footsteps but he didn’t look up from Merlin’s limp body until he heard a voice.

“Excuse me, Excalibur…”

Arthur looked up to see a paramedic. Lance.

“May I have a look at his wounds?” Lance asked, keeping up the pretense that they didn’t know each other. All around them there were police, paramedics, and citizens. Anyone could hear, and all of them had watched as Excalibur held Emrys in his arms. He needed to pull himself together.

“His magic won’t work with the medicine…” Arthur said, clutching onto Merlin’s frame as he remembered how Merlin had once tried to explain why his magic never liked to work with technology or medicine. It was too powerful, apparently.

“I know, but his head needs something…” Lance said.

Arthur took in a breath, remembering where they were and grateful Lance was being so gentle. Not only with Merlin’s health, but with Arthur’s sanity. He pulled away and let Lance do what little he could for Merlin. Arthur felt like he was going to shake apart, his adrenaline pumping and his nerves tense as he watched Lance clean Merlin’s head wound.

“Take care of him.” Excalibur said and Lance nodded firmly.

Arthur ran to his abandoned motorcycle, hopping on and pulling out his sword. He needed to end this fight with Nimueh. Things had just gotten personal.

***

When Arthur entered his flat from the secret entrance, his body was aching from the fight and his head was filled with worry. Stepping into the hall from the hidden door, the first thing he heard was Merlin’s voice.

“Lance, I swear to all the magic in the Earth- If you don’t let me get up right now-! Let go I have to see Arthur! He needs my help- I’m fine- Would you stop that!?”

Arthur’s breath left him and he had to lean against the wall, clutching his bruised ribs and wincing a bit. Merlin was alive and well enough to complain. Arthur couldn’t help but smile a little as he heard Lance reprimand Merlin for moving.

“You’re a doctor! You should know better than to get up! You have a concussion and who knows what else! Let me-! Merlin don’t you dare!”

Arthur hurriedly walked into the room where Lance was struggling to hold Merlin down. Merlin was half out of his Emrys suit, his head bandaged, and his arms flailing as he tried to get out of Lance’s grip.

“Arthur!” Merlin gasped as he saw him. Distracted, Lance took his chance and pushed Merlin back into the bed.

“See! He’s fine, now sit down and let me heal you!” Lance said, pressing his hands to Merlin’s shoulders and feeling out his wounds with his own powers.

Merlin crossed his arms and seemed resigned to being an invalid. Soon enough Lance had examined Merlin and told him to get some rest, knowing Merlin would probably ignore it.

“I’ll leave him with you.” Lance said to Arthur, “Good luck.”

Arthur stepped further into the room and Merlin sat up and reached for him.

“Arthur, what happened? Are you hurt?” His hands ran to Arthur’s arm, where he was cradling his ribs.

“Nimueh’s gone. Dead. And I’m fine.” Arthur said, knowing Merlin wouldn’t believe for a second that he wasn’t injured. He knew his was face was clearly bruised along the left side after a nasty spell from one of Nimueh’s henchmen.

Merlin ran his hand over the bruise, looking up at him with concerned eyes. “I woke up and I thought something had gone terribly wrong.” Merlin swallowed, “I thought she killed you.”

Arthur took Merlin’s hand and kept it pressed close to his face. “No. But she almost killed you.” Arthur said, he couldn’t help but press a kiss to Merlin’s palm. “Your magic saved you.”

Arthur didn’t say how he felt useless and terrified as he watched Merlin plummet through the air. That he couldn’t save Merlin and that was eating him up inside.

Merlin pulled Arthur down, cradling his face. His eyelashes skimmed Arthur’s cheek before he pressed closer and kissed his lips softly.

“That one was for real.” Merlin whispered over Arthur’s lips.

Arthur leaned close, feeling Merlin’s warmth and his magic prickle over Arthur’s skin.  “The other one was real. Or at least for me it was.” Arthur brushed his nose with Merlin’s. He whispered, “I’m head over heels for you, Ems.”

Merlin smiled, his other hand cradling Arthur’s jaw and cupping his face.  “Me too.”

***

“Excalibur!”

“Emrys!”

“How about a kiss for the cameras?” “What’s the plan now that Nimueh is gone?” “Are you still a couple?” “How long until there are wedding bells ringing?” “Did Nimueh damage your relationship?” “Excalibur you were very emotional after Emrys fell, what was going through your mind?”

Arthur and Merlin ignored all the questions, this time not faking their smiles so much. They made faces at the cameras, answering only the most absurd questions with just as outrageous answers. Merlin hovered over Arthur and playfully knocked into him, which made Arthur nag about flying about.

“But you love when I fly about.” Emrys said with a cheeky grin.

“You’re an idiot” Excalibur said, pulling Emrys down onto the ground so that he was walking next to him.

Merlin hovered a bit, just so he could kiss Arthur’s temple. “But you love me anyways.”

“God help me- I do.”

Chapter Text

As his chamber door shut behind him, Arthur felt the stress of his day drain from his body. He unclasped his cloak and draped it over a nearby chair. At the table, Merlin was pouring over a book and hadn't even looked up when Arthur entered. To the right of him, Arthur's armor was polishing itself.

"Evening." Arthur said, as he bent over and pressed a kiss to Merlin's hair. Merlin hummed, continuing to study, and Arthur read over Merlin's shoulder as he unbuckled his vambraces, placing them on the table next to Merlin. 

"Any reasons I should be concerned that you’re reading about deadly poisons?" Arthur asked, walking over to his privacy screen to shed his chain mail and daily clothes.

"I'm going to lace your favorite stew." Merlin said nonchalantly, as the only man alive who could directly threaten the king and get away with it.

"Oh good." Arthur said, coming from around the privacy screen, holding his white shirt and crossing his arms to properly glare at Merlin. 

Merlin looked up and gave him a cheeky grin. Arthur huffed and donned his shirt as Merlin closed the book.

"Where's Aithusa?" Arthur asked. 

"Where do you think?" Merlin said with an amused tone. He nodded toward the fireplace where the furs and blankets were piled.

"Well, she does know how to enjoy a nice fire." Arthur said, taking the wine from the center of the table and pouring two goblets for himself and Merlin.

"Come on let's join her." Arthur pulled Merlin up from his seat and Merlin didn't object to being pulled away from the last of his chores.

The fire was at its ends, mostly coals with only a few flames. Aithusa was happily curled up in the red coals, snoozing in their blazing heat. Her tail was tucked around her body, close to her chest and when she sighed with contentment, ashes and smoke exhaled from her nostrils.

"How long has she been in there?" Arthur asked.

"I made the fire when the sun set this evening." Merlin said as he propped himself against the pillows. "She waited until it was warm enough, so probably only an hour or so. You know she likes the coals the best."

"Of course." Arthur said with a roll of his eyes, "What else would a dragon wish for?" Arthur kneeled down and settled so that his back was resting against Merlin's chest. Merlin covered their legs in furs.

Magic was returned to the kingdom and Camelot once again had a Court Sorcerer, but Arthur was still learning the ways of magic. Although Aithusa had been living with them for a few years, Arthur was not as used to her nature as Merlin. Aithusa was free to roam Camelot as she wished, but because Aithusa was like kin to Merlin (and since they were the last of their kind) she often stayed in the castle.

As Arthur rested his head on Merlin’s shoulder, Merlin's hand went to the king's hair to run an absentminded pattern as they watched the flames curl around Airhusa's pearly scales. They laid there and drank their wine, speaking softly of their day and what was to happen in the next few days. They stayed there until the fire went cold and Aithusa woke. She stood and shuffled her wings, shaking off the ashes and embers. Then she stepped out of the hearth and blearily looked up at Merlin and Arthur. She whined a bit as she looked at them curled up in the furs.

Merlin spoke softly in dragon tongue "Use your words, little one." She was still learning to speak, with help from Merlin and Kilgharrah.

"Sleep" Aithusa slurred drowsily, still not awake from her nap in the fire.

Merlin smiled as he stood up, making Arthur grumble in annoyance at having his pillow moved away.

"Hush. It's time for bed. For all of us." Merlin said as he pulled out Aithusa's fur-lined leather bag and opened it for her. She slipped inside and curled around until her head was poking out of the inner furs. She was still blazing hot from the fire and the leather bag was the only way Merlin could hold her without getting burned. Even in the leather bag cradled against his chest, she was still very hot.

Merlin carried Aithusa to bed, Arthur trailing behind him. Merlin tucked Aithusa into the blankets and she warmed the bed as easily as a warming pan. Arthur and he crawled in next with Aithusa in the middle. Eventually she would cool down from the fire and seek out warmth from Arthur, spreading her wings across his back and tucking her snout into his neck. She said Arthur was always warm, and although Arthur had initially been surprised at having a dragon cuddle him, now Arthur didn't even stir in his sleep as the little dragon climbed on top of him. 

"Good night." Merlin leaned over and kissed Arthur softly.

"Mm, g'night, Merlin. Aithusa." Arthur mumbled, his eyes already closed. Aithusa purred happily in response, already half asleep.

Chapter Text

Merlin Emrys was not fond of Arthur Pendragon.

In fact, Merlin thought that the football-playing, arrogant sixth former was an all-around jerk. Not that Merlin talked with him a lot, since they only had one class together. Merlin saw him every day during history class with Mr. Gaius, where Merlin and Arthur were notorious for debating throughout the entire class period. 

In the beginning the debates were mostly Merlin making sly remarks at Arthur's answers, followed by Arthur shooting back a response. But the remarks soon developed into discussion where it was less like taunting and more like debates. Mr. Gaius encouraged the discussions and often pulled other students into the discussion to aid his lesson.

One day after class, Gaius asked them to stay after and asked them if they were interested in joining the debate team (which was rather lacking at Camelot and the two could really add something to it). Merlin was interested but Arthur didn't sound too keen.

"Why in the world would I want to do that?” Arthur said, “I already debate enough with Merlin in class.”

Merlin glared at him, "No one is forcing you to debate, you know."

"Yeah, and if not me, who would you argue with?" Arthur gave him a grin and Merlin had to tamper down the idea that it made him look handsome.

Eventually Gaius convinced both of them to join, and Merlin thought that might have been the moment everything turned upside down. The next week, Gaius offered to couch Merlin and Arthur a little before their official debate meeting. It was going well, the debate heating up and Merlin was really enjoying himself. Then Merlin and Arthur’s souls connected.

When someone finds their soulmate, usually sometime after the age of twenty, their soul glows. Starting in their chest and spreading throughout their body, the soul would light up until it covered them in a soft aura. There were cases of soul mates connecting at a young  age. Rare, and often confusing, but  it had happened. For Merlin, aged 17, and Arthur, aged 18, the entire situation was alarming.

In that moment, Merlin and Arthur had been standing toe to toe in a heated debate. It wasn't necessarily that they were passionate about their discussion, but rather that it was more of a game of smart comebacks and remarks. Gaius was monitoring their debate, giving them tips, but he wasn't paying too close attention because they were both doing so well. 

"You're not too bad at this, Pendragon." Merlin said with a cheeky smile.

"And you're rather smart when you put the effort into it, Emrys." Arthur consented, giving Merlin a small smile that made his eyes crinkle.

It was when Arthur bumped shoulder's with Merlin, in the most innocent of ways, that their souls lit. Merlin felt his chest warm and he saw Arthur’s chest glow red, before looking down to see his own glowing blue.

He stared at it in confusion, the idea of his soul glowing not even computing at that moment. He looked up when he heard Arthur gasp. Arthur grabbed Medlin's shoulder as if for support and the warmth spread across Merlin’s body until it covered him, and Merlin could see his blue mix with Arthur's red, mixing purple in between them. They stared at each other, and it didn't make sense to Merlin until he locked eyes with Arthur and saw the realization in his wide eyed expression. 

"Merlin. Arthur."

Both boys snapped apart when they heard their names, the aura breaking and the colors dispersing into the air. Gaius was standing by his desk, looking just as shocked to have seen what he had. "Boys, are you alright?"

Merlin managed a nod but Arthur wouldn't look up, his jaw tight.

"You know what that was." Gaius’ words sounded less like a question and more like a statement, as he looked between them. They must have looked shocked and pale as sheets.

"Our souls..." Merlin said, his voice coming out oddly.

Next to him, Merlin barely heard Arthur mumble, "soulmate" as if in disbelief.

"I think..." Gaius took a breath, "I think I'll give you two a minute. I'll be right outside if you need me." Gaius closed the door on his way out.

"You okay?" Merlin asked, turning to look at Arthur.

Arthur nodded and held his arms close to himself, looking more awkward than he had ever before, in the center of the room as he avoided Merlin's eyes.

"Arthur...?" Merlin asked, stepping forward. He knew that they weren't friends, and that they didn't even particularly like each other, but their souls connected, and maybe one day they would be each other's second half. Thinking of it was too big all at once. Merlin was suddenly afraid Arthur didn't want to be his soulmate. 

"I..." Arthur looked up, and Merlin had never seen him so afraid. The boy who was known as the charming prince of the entire school looked awkward and terrified in that history classroom. Arthur turned on his heel and fled. Merlin ran after him, calling out for him to stop, but Arthur was gone and if he didn't want to be followed, Merlin wasn't going to chase after him.

He turned to Gaius, who was shaking his head at them. "It's a shock. Give him time. You both need time."

Merlin felt his throat close and tears well in his eyes. 

"Oh my boy..." Gaius rubbed Merlin's shoulder comfortingly, "Come sit down. I'll call your mother to pick you up."

Seeing his mum helped Merlin a bit. She hugged him, pet his hair, and told him all the emotions were part of the soul connection. He felt jumbled up, like he needed a nice long cry and maybe a day to sort out everything. He hadn't even been sure on his sexuality, let alone who he would like as a soulmate and all of a sound it was thrust on him. He didn't blame Arthur for running away. It was far more than either of them could handle in such a sudden situation.

The next time Merlin saw Arthur, it was a week later. Merlin had taken the week off and so had Arthur according to Will, who went to school that week. When they went back to school, it was Arthur who initiated their conversation.

During lunch Arthur walked up to him, all eyes on them. Merlin wondered if a lot of people knew or if they were just shocked to see Arthur willingly talking with Merlin.

"Can we talk?" Arthur asked.

Merlin nodded and let himself be dragged away until they were in a bathroom. Arthur locked the door behind them, and seemed to relax once they were alone.

"I wanted to...”Arthur started, leaning against the sink, looking at Merlin for a moment before looking at his shoes. “I'm sorry for how I acted last Friday. I shouldn't have left. I'm sure you were feeling just as odd as I was."

Merlin nodded, "Odd would be one word for it." They both let out a small laugh. Even being in the same room as Arthur felt different than before, but they would figure what that feeling was before long.

"I don't really blame you, you know?” Merlin said, “It was a bit terrifying. I was a mess too."

"God, is this really happening?" Arthur said, running a hand through his hair.

"There have been reports of young soul connections. If they're strong." Merlin felt himself flush as he said it.

Arthur was looking at him, with maybe a slight blush in his cheeks. "I didn't even know I was...I thought maybe I was gay but I didn't put much thought into it... And now..."

"I wasn't sure either..." Merlin said. "Well, I knew you were fit, but anyone with eyes knows that." Merlin said, blushing a bit but feeling a little bit free as he said it, because Arthur was his soulmate and he could admit something like that.

"Not bad yourself, Merlin." Arthur said, looking down at the ground as he said it, a smile on his lips.

"So you don't hate that I'm your soulmate?"

"No.” Arthur said quickly. “Not at all. In fact, I kind of like you. Despite being a smart ass. Or Maybe because if it."

Merlin felt his heart race and it reminded him of the warmth of his soul and how it connected with Arthur's. He stepped forward and took Arthur's hand tentatively.

What are you-?”

Merlin opened up Arthur’s arms and pulled him into a hug. Merlin rested his cheek on Arthur's shoulder and Arthur stiffened in surprise before he felt Arthur tighten his arms around Merlin's waist and press his cheek to Merlin's hair. 

Chapter Text

“I would understand if you hated me.”

“Arthur, don’t.” Merlin said with an irritated sigh. “I’m not going to be angry with you. It is not your fault.”

Arthur held himself tall, his chin high, and his jaw tight with unease. Despite the fact that they were crowded in the alleyway behind the school, Arthur still looked regal and proud.

The alleyway was the only place they could meet during school without anyone seeing. Arthur had his friends and Merlin had his. Their circles never intersected, the jock and the nerd weren’t supposed to be friends. But even if they were, if Arthur’s father ever found out that they were anything more than friends they would face more than just discrimination from their peers.

“It’s my fault we’re in this damned alleyway.” Arthur said tersely. “It’s my father who is homophobic. My friends who are dickheads. It’s me who’s in the closet. So really Merlin, let’s put the blame where it’s due, shall we?”

“You’re the dickhead, here.” Merlin said. “Val isn’t your friend. He’s just someone on the football team. I don’t care what he said to me, Arthur. Really. And you’re in the closet because your father is a homophobic asshole who would disown you. So this still isn’t your fault.”

“Feels like it.” Arthur said, crossing his arms across his chest. Merlin didn’t know if he wanted to smack him upside the head or kiss him until he felt better. Maybe both.

“Look,” Merlin said with a sigh, “There are going to be people like Val, and I can handle it.”

“I can’t even defend you when Val calls you a f-“ Arthur stopped, his eyes catching Merlin’s before looking away quickly. He looked guilty as he added, “He shouldn’t have said that.”

“I know.” Merlin said, reaching out to comfort Arthur. “But you told him to keep his mouth shut, and that’s enough. Arthur…” Merlin reached out and cupped Arthur’s face. “One day, yeah? Remember one day you can kick the shit out of all those idiots. Just for me. Yeah?”

That put a smile on Arthur’s face, and he reached out for Merlin’s waist. He pressed kisses along Merlin’s temple and rested his cheek against Merlin’s.

“You know I love you?” Merlin asked, his lips pressed close to Arthur’s neck.

“Yeah, I do. Me too.” Arthur said with a sigh. “Thanks, Merlin.”

“Not a problem.” Merlin said, pressing a small kiss to Arthur’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

Mr. Merlin Emrys, the only son of Lord Balinor Emrys, did not believe that his marriage would be perfect. His father's title was nothing but words and as the once a powerful line of dragon lords, the Emrys' family faced hesitation from their peers and disgust from the rich. Without land or money the Emrys family looked for a proper connection in the only way they could: an arranged marriage through Merlin.

When Merlin heard that he was to marry Arthur Pendragon, the only son of the Lord of Camelot, he knew two things instantly. The first was that this marriage was the best connection the Emrys family could have hoped for. The second was that marrying Arthur Pendragon would be a challenge from the first day.

Merlin turned out to be right on both these counts.

The first time that Merlin met Arthur, they were at a dinner party and did not know that they were intended. Merlin ran into him and when the wine spilled, apologizing profusely would not seem to satisfy Arthur. Discovering that this was the man to be his husband did seem to quell Arthur's glare and tight lips. Merlin must not have been to Arthur's satisfaction, and the feeling must have stayed with him because on their wedding night Arthur made a point of sleeping in a seperate bedroom.

Merlin did not expect a kiss goodnight, and especially didn't not expect falling into bed with Arthur but maybe... He had hoped for something, but Arthur appeared to be hesitant around him. It stayed that way too. For weeks they skirted around each other, talking only over meals and enjoying themselves when they were due to attend parties. At least Merlin was optimistic, because if they were not spouses yet, by the end of the month they were at least friends.

One evening after supper, Arthur joined Merlin in the drawing room. Merlin usually read a book by the fireplace while Arthur retreated to his study, but something must have compelled Arthur to change his routine. 

When he entered, Arthur walked over to the desk and Merlin watched him over his newspaper in surprise. 

"Sherry?" Arthur asked, pouring one for himself and looking over his shoulder for Merlin's answer. He nodded and Arthur poured a second glass.

"You are aware that that newspaper is old?" Arthur said as he sat down on the couch across from Merlin's armchair.

"It has my favorite short story." Merlin said, slightly distracted by Arthur's presence and the way he lounged along the couch, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his shirt collar loose.

Arthur leaned forward so that he could read the words along the top of the newspaper. "A Study in Scarlett?" He said before leaning back. "I prefer The Speckled Band."

"You read Holmes?" Merlin asked, a bit surprised.

"Who doesn't? I would be astonished if the Queen herself doesn't read them." 

This conversation, Merlin was sure of it, was what led them to truly being spouses. Because after talking of Holmes they moved on to other topics. They spoke until it was late in the night, the fire was only a pile of coals, and their voices were rough with use. They had laughed and discussed, with more meaningful conversation than Merlin had ever had with Arthur. He looked forward to more of it.

The grandfather clock in the drawing room struck midnight. Merlin looked up, surprised that it was so late, so quickly. 

"I suppose I should be heading off to bed." Merlin said, standing up and straightening his shirt and cuffs. "Good night, Arthur."

Merlin was a little surprised when Arthur grabbed his wrist to stop him from leaving. But a part of him saw it coming and was praying for it.

"Will you come to bed with me?" Arthur asked, hesitant and maybe even shyly.

"Do you want that?" Merlin asked before he could hold his tongue. He wanted to sleep in their bed together, to know Arthur's mind and body, but he hadn't thought that was what Arthur wanted.

"Of course." Arthur said, standing up, face to face with Merlin. "I will be frank when I say that I led you to believe that I did not want you. It's anything but the truth. I was afraid you didn't wish to be married to me, and had no desire to make you think I would use you. But after being with you over this month, I don't think I am wrong in saying that perhaps we are better suited than I first thought."

"I believe you are correct." Merlin said, his heart racing with Arthur's confessions. He wanted to reach out and touch Arthur. The gentle kiss after their vows had not been enough.

"Then if you don't wish... Than may I ask for just a kiss?" Arthur asked, hesitating as if they were still courting and not already married.

Merlin didn't wait, he took Arthur's face in his hands and kissed him, chaste before slowly taking Arthur's lips and kissing him with an open fervor.

"Merlin." Arthur breathed against his lips, sounding breathless and surprised. 

Merlin felt excitement in his veins as he pulled Arthur from the drawing room and to the master bedroom that they had left unattended for the last month.

Merlin pressed Arthur against the door as he stripped his jacket and kissed his mouth, their breathing loud in the silent room. They had waited, and Merlin now realized the tension that had been building since the wedding night was overflowing. As they fell into bed Arthur held him close and pressed his weight against Merlin's until they sunk into the bed. They kissed and lost themselves in the haze, as Arthur's fingers ran down Merlin's thighs and over the small of his back. Merlin moaned out 'yes' so many times while Arthur pressed into him that Arthur laughed in good humor, kissing Merlin with panting breathes.

When they lay in the sheets afterward, sweat cooling on their skin, Merlin rested his head on Arthur's shoulder and Arthur ran his fingers through his hair.

"Well Mr. Emrys-Pendragon, have we fulfilled our marital duties?" Arthur asked with a smile.

Merlin rested his chin on Arthur's chest and looked up at Arthur with a cheeky grin. "I am not certain Mr. Pendragon-Emrys. I think we will need to look into this situation further."

Arthur laughed, full-fledged and without any hesitation. "I married a rascal." Arthur bent down and kissed Merlin, not at all seeming to mind.

Chapter Text

“Arthur! No!” Merlin shouted dramatically as Arthur drank from the rainbow mug labeled ‘Wizard Pride.’

“What?” Arthur said after he had taken a drink from the mug. Merlin felt the blood rush out of his face as he looked at Arthur and the mug.

“What?” Arthur repeated.

“Arthur…” Merlin said slowly, “That mug had a potion in it.”

What!?” Arthur ran to the sink and quickly spit and washed his mouth, but the damage was already done.

“Jesus Christ- Merlin!” Arthur yelled as he looked at the innocent looking mug. “Put a damned label on it- Why would you put it in just a mug!?”

“I didn’t think anyone would drink out of my mug!” Merlin said. “I was practicing for class with Professor Gaius!”

“What was in it?” Arthur asked, holding his throat as if it might close up.

“It was a veritas potion.” Merlin said.

“And what does that do?”

Merlin couldn’t even hesitate, the words spilled out of his mouth as if forced, “Everyone who talks to you must tell you the truth.”

Arthur brows pulled together. “That’s all? For fuck’s sake I thought I was going to die or grow a tail.”

Merlin didn’t want to tell Arthur that it wasn’t as nice a potion as he thought, but he figured Arthur would find that out very quickly.

“How long does it last?” Arthur asked as he looked at his watch.

“How much did you drink?” Merlin asked.

Arthur showed him the half drunken mug.

Merlin gave Arthur a sympathetic look “Maybe a day or so?”

Arthur looked down at the mug and back at Merlin, probably wondering if this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to magical mishaps. There had been the incident with the floating toaster, the talking dog, and not to forget the baby dragon…

“One day, Merlin. One day you’re going to kill me and then you’ll be sorry.” Arthur pointed an accusing finger at Merlin.

“Then don’t drink out of my mug.” Merlin said, taking the mug from his roommate’s hand and storming away. He might need to avoid Arthur for the next 24 hours. Merlin had a few secrets he wanted to keep from Arthur if he wanted them to stay friends.

*

Arthur left for class and it was only a couple hours later that Merlin got a call from Arthur.

“Arthur?” Merlin answered, probably more confused than normal because Arthur hardly ever called him. They were friends, but Arthur was more of a texter than a call-person.

“Are you sure this potion lasts all day?” Arthur said without a greeting.

Merlin felt a little pang of sympathy for Arthur. “I’m positive. The whole potion was for 2-3 days, depending on how much you drank. It’s going to be about a day, maybe a day and a half.

Arthur groaned. “I really hate you right now.”

“What happened?” Merlin asked nervously.

Arthur hesitated. “It was going okay…Professor Kilgharrah told me that my essay was the best in the class. I’ve never heard him be so straight forward in my entire life. And you know Kilgharrah, he never has favorites. Then a girl next to me in class told me I was hot, which that was a bit weird for her but I was having a great time.”

“And then…?” Merlin asked, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Then…” Arthur sighed. “I had lunch with Gwen and she said something… I think she’s more upset than I am, but…”

“Arthur. What was it?”

Arthur sighed. “She told me that she fell out of love with me over a month before we even talked about breaking up.” Arthur said, his tone stiff and uncomfortable. Gwen and Arthur had broken up a year ago and Gwen was dating Lance now. Arthur had moved on ages ago, but it must have been upsetting for Gwen to be forced to admit and for Arthur to hear.

Merlin had to hold in a sympathetic noise. Arthur wouldn’t want the sympathy. Merlin felt bad for Gwen, who was usually so kind and cool headed, even when she was angry or sad.

“I told her about the potion and I think she’s okay. I told her its fine. But… Now I’m kind of terrified to talk to anyone else.” Arthur sighed, “I think I’m coming back to the apartment for the day.”

“Going to hide away for the next day or so?” Merlin asked.

“God, yes. If we could just have take-away and watch a couple films for the next 24 hours, that would be perfect.”

“Arthur, you know the potion is going to work on me too, right?” Merlin said, feeling a bit worried.

“Yeah, but it’s you, Merlin.” Arthur said, and before Merlin could protest Arthur said “See you then” and hung up.

*

They were sitting on the couch, surrounded by take-away containers as they started their movie marathon. Merlin was less focused on the food and what film they were to watch, and more on not taking.

“You’re not talking.” Arthur said as he took a bite of his noodles. “Are you ill?”

Merlin shook his head.

“Oh my god- You’re scared of the potion!”

Merlin wanted to say no, but instead he said. “Yes, I’m terrified I’ll say something that will ruin our friendship.” Merlin slapped a hand over his mouth, already feeling the words bubble up. He was lucky he could hold back the flood of truths at all.

Arthur laughed, “Merlin!” taking Merlin’s hand and pulling it back. Merlin jumped up and ran away, Arthur scrambling to follow him, laughing as he went.

Merlin ran into the kitchen, pulling open all the drawers with his magic and searched until he found what he was looking for. He ripped the duct tape and placed it over his mouth.

“Was that really necessary?” Arthur asked as he stepped forward.

Merlin nodded his head and crossed his arms. A millisecond later, Arthur tackled him. Merlin fell to the floor and a small spell flew out of him, but Arthur soon took the upper hand. They grappled for a bit before Arthur pulled the tape off Merlin’s mouth.

“Jesus fucking Christ that hurts like a motherfucker!” Merlin shouted, rubbing his face as he leaned against the cabinet and Arthur crouched in front of him.

“That’s what you get for putting duct tape on your mouth, now come on. What in the world could you possibly have to hide form me, Merlin? We’re best friends. I’m surprised you have anything to hide with the way you ramble on.”

“I’ve wanked to the thought of you.” Merlin blurted out, followed by “Jesus Christ, brain!  Of all the fucking things to say that’s what you came up with? You could have told him about the time you stayed up all night to save him from that fairy attack. Or told him about the time you carried him back from the pub and tucked him into bed. Or told him that you cried when he left for summer holiday because you already missed him.”

Merlin smacked a hand over his mouth.

Arthur’s eyes were wide.

There was a long and painful silence.

Arthur cleared his throat “Anything else?”

“I stole apples from Mr. Simmons tree when I was ten and told my mum that I bought them for her at the store.” Merlin said, unable to stop himself.

A laugh burst out of Arthur, but he still looked thrown off.

“I’m sorry.” Merlin tried and failed to stop the truth from coming out, “I’d hate it if we weren’t friends, but I can’t help but want something more.”

Arthur took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. He shifted so that he was sitting on the floor across from Merlin. Arthur was watching him, and Merlin tucked his knees close to his chest and avoided his gaze.

“Well at least I know that you don’t secretly hate me.”

Merlin made a whining noise and buried his face in his arms.

“It’s alright, Merlin.” Arthur slid over the floor until he was next to Merlin with his back against the cabinets. Merlin turned his head and looked at Arthur. He was smiling a little and his eyes were soft, looking amused but sympathetic.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Merlin asked. He thought Arthur might be shocked or maybe uncomfortable, but Arthur just looked at Merlin as if it wasn’t a big deal to admit he was sort of in love with his best friend.

“It’s just…” Arthur said slowly, looking down, “I don’t know… I never thought to ask you out because I thought I’d never be good enough for you.”

What?” Merlin stared, certain his eyes were wide as saucers.

“It’s you, Merlin.” Arthur said with a gesture, as if that explained everything. “You really meant that? It was all true wasn’t it?”

Merlin nodded, feeling the words come of his own free will this time. “I’m kinda head over heels for you.”

Arthur smiled.

“Don’t look so pleased, you’re still a dollophead.” Merlin grumbled, the smile already spreading across his lips.

Arthur leaned forward, their foreheads touching. His blue eyes were focused on Merlin’s, silently watching him. Their noses brushed as Merlin moved a little closer. When their lips finally pressed into a kiss, Merlin’s magic sung happily under his skin.  

Chapter Text

Arthur felt his heart beat wildly in his chest. He pulled on his tie and high collar, but the tight feeling didn’t leave his throat. The men on stage walked around each other, words flinging back and forth between them. The argument on stage might have started like a duel, two men facing off, but it soon dissolved into them circling each other like predators. Now they were nose to nose, and Arthur couldn’t stop the blush running up his neck and the fidgeting of his hands.

Arthur had anticipated this play to be boring, and he would have been less invested in the actors on stage if it wasn’t for the fact that he saw Merlin Emerson walk into the playhouse. When Arthur had taken his seat in his box above the stage it had taken him less than a minute to find his friend in the crowd below. He was with his mother, and by God, Arthur hated himself because he wished the lovely and kind Mrs. Emerson was anywhere but in the audience.

To the untrained eye the play was a comedy, with a bit of drama and underlining criticism of society. It was clever and Arthur was more intrigued than he normally would have been. The gentlemen on stage circled each other. They were too close to each other, it made Arthur skin crawl, made him want to yell out to tell them they weren’t being subtle, that they would be caught. It scared him and thrilled him. Arthur looked down to Merlin. He wasn’t looking at the stage. He was looking up at Arthur’s box. When they’re eyes caught Merlin looked back to the stage.

Arthur hesitated as the play ended, the actors taking their last bows. He saw Merlin and Mrs. Emerson leave. Arthur couldn’t leave the box, looking at the actors picking up the flowers that scattered the stage. A knock on his door caught his attention. Merlin walked in and Arthur had to put on his best face.

“Mr. Emerson!” Arthur said, as i surprised. “How good it is to see you. Did you enjoy the play?” Arthur’s throat was tight and the words stuck. He couldn’t stop thinking of the last time he had seen Merlin, only a fortnight ago when they had snuck off in the middle of Leon Knightley's party. Merlin closed the door and locked it. Arthur swallowed, trying to think practically. “Where is your mother?”

“She took the carriage back home.” Merlin said simply, looking Arthur in the eye and stepping forward.

“Merlin, this isn’t a good idea-” Arthur’s voice caught as Merlin stepped even closer, making Arthur stumble back into the wall of the theater box.

Merlin ran a hand into Arthur’s hair, leaning so close to Arthur that their noses brushed and Arthur could feel the warmth of Merlin’s chest.

Merlin’s eyes were closed, his breath as ragged as Arthur’s. “Do you know how torturous it was to watch those bastards on the stage, knowing you were all alone in this box?” Merlin leaned in and ran his lips over Arthur’s jaw.

“Merlin” Arthur hissed out as he grabbed the back of Merlin’s jacket, pressing him against his front.

“To watch them, knowing that they wanted what I wanted.” Merlin looked up at him, his hands tight on Arthur’s lapels. “To be with the man I can’t love.”

Arthur kissed him, mostly to shut him up because the words hurt too much and because the tightness in his throat was only lessened when Merlin kissed him, held him close, and made him feel like he was whole.

Chapter Text

Merlin had a bad feeling about this place.

“You worry too much.” Arthur said as he plucked an apple from the tree. It was the sole tree in the clearing and the hairs on Merlin’s arms stood on end.

“Yeah, but you know I’m usually right.” Merlin shot back quickly, rubbing his arm nervously as he looked around the deserted forest.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “One of your weird feelings again?” He took a large bite of the apple and cocked a brow at Merlin as he chewed.

“My feelings save your royal ass.” Merlin said, and both of them knew they were referring to his magic.

Arthur shrugged and continued munching on his apple. Merlin should have known. It only took Arthur another bite before he fell to the ground, the apple rolling along the forest floor.

“Arthur!” Merlin ran to him, but he was already unconscious. Merlin checked his breathing, but he seemed to be fine. Just asleep. Merlin groaned, looking down at his prince. He looked so innocent and so much less annoying while asleep. Merlin grunted as he lifted Arthur up and hefted him over his shoulder and then onto his horse.

As he quickly rode back to Camelot, Merlin prayed to the gods that Arthur would be alright. For all Merlin complained about his prince, he was truly grateful Arthur had forgiven him for lying about his magic. They had just gotten used to each other again, and now there was the question of where they stood now. Not because of the magic, but because after last week’s feast Arthur had kissed Merlin. They hadn’t talked about it. Thinking about it made Merlin’s heart tighten, anxious and hopeful, even as his horse galloped into the courtyard and he called for the guards to take Arthur to Gaius.

That evening Arthur was laid in his own chambers. Gaius said nothing was wrong with him. He suggested exhaustion, but the prickling feeling at the back of Merlin’s neck didn’t go away.

The next day Arthur woke up as if nothing had happened. He said he didn’t remember the clearing or an apple, but he seemed to remember taking a ride that morning which was a small miracle. Merlin waited for the other shoe to drop.

Arthur seemed to be fine the whole day, and maybe even a bit annoyed that Merlin expected him to keel over at any moment. It wasn’t until the evening that Arthur started to act oddly. He looked nervous, and he dismissed Merlin early, but nothing too noticeable. Then, the next day Arthur wouldn’t stop looking at Merlin. He was twitching every moment, and he seemed to be more and more frustrated. Merlin asked what was wrong, but Arthur just snapped at him.

It was on the third day that Arthur’s symptoms became apparent. By evening, when Merlin served him dinner, Arthur seemed to be sweating and shaking with nerves. When Merlin poured Arthur wine, he knocked it off the table, spilling it across the floor in a pool of dark red. He grabbed Merlin by his jacket and kissed him until they both were out of breath.

Merlin didn’t pull back, mostly because his mind hadn’t registered something was wrong. He was so caught up with the feel of Arthur against him that he forgot how odd Arthur had been acting. He shoved him back and Arthur seemed to shake out of whatever haze he was in. He covered his mouth and stepped away from Merlin until his chair was between them.

“My apologies. I don’t...I don’t know what came over me.” Arthur’s voice shook.

“Arthur, what’s wrong?” Merlin stepped forward, but Arthur was as skittish as a rabbit, jumping back from Merlin’s outstretched hand.

“You’re dismissed.” Arthur snapped, and turned his back.

The next morning, it was more than obvious that something was very wrong. When Merlin walked into the prince’s chambers, Arthur was awake but he wasn’t well. He was lying in bed, pale and restless.

Merlin touched his forehead tentatively, feeling for a fever. Arthur’s eyes shot open and he grabbed Merlin’s wrist.

“The apple. You mentioned an apple.” Arthur swallowed thickly. His pupils were dilated as he looked over Merlin.

“I told you it was a bad idea.” Merlin said, with more sympathy than before. Arthur let go of Merlin’s wrist, his hand shaking. He looked desperate for some kind of relief.

“I’m sure you did…” Arthur groaned as pain wracked his body. “Merlin, please...Find something…”

When Merlin returned to the Prince’s chambers with his magic book in hand, Arthur hadn’t moved at all. Merlin sat by Arthur’s bed and read through the book, but it was hard to focus when Arthur was in obvious pain in front of him.

“Merlin…” Arthur took Merlin’s hand, catching his attention. “You know.”

Merlin tapped his fingers against the page that he had been pouring over for the last five minutes. It matched Arthur’s symptoms, but he didn’t know if he could provide the cure.

“The Forbidden Fruit.” Merlin said, and then couldn’t bring himself to read the rest outloud to Arthur.

“I can’t stop thinking about you. The pain only stops when you’re touching me.” Arthur held onto Merlin’s hand, and it was obvious that he wasn’t in pain. If he were to let go, Merlin was sure he would be moaning in pain once again.

“Arthur…” Merlin hesitated.

“It has just amplified my feelings. Taken my lust and made it unbearable.” Arthur said, his voice rough and his cheeks flushed with the confession. “If you can’t...I don’t ask you to do this.”

Merlin swallowed. Without letting go of Arthur’s hand Merlin closed the magic book and set it on the floor. He climbed onto the bed and cupped Arthur’s face. “I want to, and I will.” He kissed Arthur, deeply and without hesitation. He shivered as Arthur clawed at his back and surged up into his kiss.

Merlin stripped off his clothes, and crawled under the blankets, making sure as much of his skin was touching Arthur’s. He took care of his prince, kissing everywhere he could and running his fingers over every inch of his body. It was drawn out, even as they scrambled to move faster, to feel more of each other. When Merlin settled between Arthur’s legs, he kissed him as Arthur shuddered out a long moan. Afterwards, Merlin rested his forehead against Arthur’s, and they panted against each other’s cheeks.

Merlin looked down to Arthur’s eyes, happy, content, and without a bit of pain in them. Then Arthur kissed him slowly, like a token of his thanks and a promise of the future.

Chapter Text

The feast was slowing down. Men and women lounged on pillows and sheets, lazy from the food and wine. Even the serving maids and cup bearers seemed to laze where they laid by their masters. The wine had been passed to everyone, and favorite cup bearers were sipping out of their lover’s cups. Outside the window the sea stretched out and the moon cast blue light across the rocky hillside of the Isle.

In the personal chambers of the prince, Arthur laid across his lounge. The doors were opened, letting in the sea’s breeze and cooling off his skin, warm with the excitement of the feast and relaxed with the wine. His head was thrown back and the cup of wine was on the floor next to his hand, his finger lazily skimming the edge.

“More wine, Arthur?” asked the Prince’s cup bearer, Merlin. The question was less spoken out of servitude, and more out of mocking, since the prince was very much into his cups and needed no more wine.

“Merlin, my love, come here.” Arthur reached out for his servant. Merlin set down the pitcher and laid across Arthur’s body, looking down at Arthur’s prone body. He playfully fixed Arthur’s tunic, which had fallen off his shoulder and exposed his chest.

Arthur hummed as Merlin’s fingers grazed his shoulder. He took Merlin’s chin in his hand, tilting his face down, looking over him with hooded eyes.  “More beautiful than Ganymede.”

“Shush.” Merlin smiled softly down at Arthur, blushing and liking the compliment despite himself. “Zeus will smite you, and then where will you be?”

“It’s the truth.” Arthur said, “I have the most beautiful man in my bed. I dare Zeus to take him from me.”

“Your arrogance will get you killed. Or worse, get me killed.” Arthur tried to kiss him, but Merlin held a finger over his lips to stop him. Arthur whined and Merlin grinned. “Balinor will not come to my aid, as you so like to imagine.”

“The feast and sacrifices we just burned for your father says otherwise.” Arthur said as he ran his fingers over Merlin’s jaw. “And may he be happy from where he watches over you on Olympus.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Arrogant, arrogant man.” Merlin leaned down, capturing Arthur’s lips and tasting the wine off his lips.

Chapter Text

“Enough.” Uther boomed, his voice slightly echoing in the empty throne room. Arthur bit his tongue to keep from responding to Uther’s words, even as the King continued. “I won’t hear it anymore. You have a duty to this kingdom as Crowned Prince. An alliance with the Princess can assure Camelot’s connections. You will marry her, and that is final.”

Arthur’s mind played those words over and over again as he left the throne room, stomped through the corridors, and slammed the door to his chambers. He couldn’t wipe away the anger at his father for forcing him into an unhappy marriage, or the guilt that Arthur should be able to simply sacrifice for the kingdom. It was a confusing mix of anger at himself and his father, so when he entered his chambers he was past fuming and had settled into outraged.

“I’m taking it didn’t go well?” Merlin said, seemingly doing his job (for once). He was cleaning the hearth, and there was a streak of soot across his cheek.

Arthur ranted. He shouted and paced across his rooms for what felt like hours. Merlin continued his work at the fireplace, listening and adding comments every once and awhile. Sometimes Arthur thought Merlin was just humoring him, ignoring his rant which surely sounded like the problems of a spoiled prince in comparison to someone who was cleaning a hearth, but Merlin always looked up at him with watchful eyes and lips pulled tight with worry. His hands were covered in dirt, but he kept wiping his face and Arthur couldn’t help but think he was kind of charming as he gave advice covered in soot. By the end of Arthur’s rant, the prince was slumped in his chair and Merlin was looking at the clean fireplace.

That evening, after Merlin blew out the candle and wished Arthur goodnight, Arthur was left alone in his chambers. He couldn’t stop thinking over his situation. It wasn’t that he hated the Princess, or even the thought of making a sacrifice for his kingdom. Something was nagging at him, and it wouldn’t come into the light.

The next morning, Arthur was already awake by the time Merlin entered. Merlin walked softly to the window and opened the curtains, the light falling across him and Arthur’s chambers.

“You’re already awake.” Merlin said, when he turned to the bed. Merlin looked tired, except for the soft smile that never failed to make Arthur smile back at him. Arthur felt a pang of guilt, wondering if maybe Merlin was tired and worried about something and Arthur had completely missed it yesterday in his fuming.

“Arthur?” Merlin asked.

“Are you going to make me get up?” Arthur asked instead of what was wrong.

“Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news… But the princess and the court are arriving today. We best get you up and dressed.”

The princess was not terrible. Arthur just didn’t like her. He didn’t even know her. She didn’t seem keen on him either, and it would just end up being an awkward marriage, which is almost worse than if they hated each other.

“The Princess seems to be nice.” Merlin said as he poured Arthur wine, after a long and painfully quiet dinner with the princess.

Arthur groaned in annoyance. “I wish I hated her.” Arthur said. “It’d be easier.”

“I’m sure with time  you’ll come to love her.” Merlin said, rather stiffly.

Arthur paused. Love wasn’t something he had come to expect from any of this. Maybe his best hope was for companionship. Or maybe she would poison him and make his decision easy.

Arthur couldn’t even imagine what love was like. Wasn’t love supposed to be grand and powerful? Arthur always pictured love as someone who was always there for him, made him feel comfortable in his own skin, and cared for him as much he cared for them. He imagined someone he could hold and kiss, without worrying if they were only in his arms for an alliance of kingdoms. Someone who wouldn’t be afraid of his status and saw him before they saw a prince.

The princess covered none of these things, and Arthur didn’t think she ever would. Arthur looked back to Merlin, who was sitting in the chair next to Arthur. He hadn’t asked to sit, but then again, most servants weren’t asked to stay this late either. Not that Arthur had asked, Merlin had just stayed.

Merlin’s hands cupped the goblet of wine in front of himself, and Arthur noticed a small cut on the back of his hand. He must have gotten it today. Arthur reached out and touched it.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Knife slipped while I was cutting roots for Gaius. Now stop changing the subject. Are you going to do anything about this?” Merlin said, turning to look at Arthur. He looked worried, and Arthur hated when Merlin worried over him, half because Arthur knew that he could handle himself and half because he hated to see Merlin worried.

“About what?”

“Are you going to marry the princess?”

Arthur didn’t think he had much of a choice, and he said as much.

“You always have a choice, Arthur.” Merlin said, looking straight into Arthur’s eyes, never wavering. “You don’t love her.”

“I can’t marry who I love.” Arthur responded.

Merlin paused and watched him, before he asked, “And who is that?”

“Someone who wants me, and not the kingdom.” Arthur said, “And they don’t exist.”

Arthur stood and walked to the fireplace. Merlin had already made a fire, warming Arthur even as he felt cold and alone. He heard the scrape of Merlin’s chair and then he felt Merlin stand behind him. Arthur turned to Merlin, looking over his friends. A servant who stayed late, far after he was needed, because he wished to stay with Arthur. A man who worried so much over Arthur that he ended up yelling at Arthur for the reckless things he did, when a servant usually never spoke back. A friend who never failed to be there for Arthur.

“What are you looking at?” Merlin’s brows pulled together, looking like he thought Arthur was unwell.

“You.” Arthur said softly, everything slotting into place. Arthur had been wrong: he did know what love felt like, and he knew what it was like to be loved. There wasn’t another soul in Camelot that Arthur loved more than Merlin, and he was a fool not to see it before.

“Me?”

“It’s you who I love.” Arthur said, the words a whisper and almost coming from his lips by accident.

Merlin was still as stone. His eyes were wide, but he looked more confused than anything else.

“What?” Merlin asked after a very long pause.

Arthur ignored his question. “You love me,” He said with certainty. “But do you love me as a prince or as a man?”

Merlin seemed to shake off his trance, and smiled at Arthur, again looking at him as if he thought Arthur was drunk or maybe just fondly. Merlin said, “If you think I love you because of your title, then you really don’t know me at all.”

Arthur grinned, feeling warmth spread across his chest. Arthur stepped forward, nose to nose with Merlin, “Then I guess I know you.”

Merlin closed his eyes, leaned down, and captured Arthur’s lips in a kiss, surprising Arthur. His eyes were still open when Merlin pulled back with only a breath between them. Arthur’s hands felt odd at his sides, and he didn’t question his urges when he rested a hand on Merlin’s side and the other cupped Merlin’s jaw. He kissed Merlin this time, and unlike Arthur, Merlin didn’t hesitate as he ran his hands into Arthur’s hair and kissed him.

Merlin pulled back, resting his forehead against Arthur’s. “You still have to make a decision about the princess.” Arthur looked up at him, watching him swallow nervously. “And I won’t lie and say I’m unbiased about your decision.”

Arthur ran his fingers over Merlin’s cheek, watching the way Merlin wouldn’t look him in the eye.

“I’m sure the princess won’t be very upset when I call off the engagement.”

Merlin opened his mouth but Arthur stopped him.

“There are other ways to form alliances. The princess will know that, and will respect Camelot for that.”

Merlin smiled, and Arthur found that the twinge in his chest was happiness that he made Merlin proud.

Chapter Text

Now that Camelot had settled into a time of peace and Merlin had now celebrated his tenth year as Court Sorcerer, Merlin and Arthur had become accustomed to a calmer way of life. Of course between the two of them, running a kingdom wasn’t all smooth sailing and they still had their adventures, but with Arthur’s fortieth birthday on the horizon, the dire-quests were usually left to the younger knights. Though neither of them were any less fighting-fit, as Arthur would like to say.

Merlin had always had to be vigilant, since he had stepped into Camelot twenty years before. First he had to keep his secret, then he had to protect Arthur, and then he had to run a kingdom by Arthur’s side. It was never a dull day and Merlin always had to stay aware because if the last twenty years had taught him anything, he always had to be prepared for the worst. Arthur seemed to be the golden prize for assassins.

Which is why it was shocking, to Merlin most of all, when he himself was targeted.

Arthur would say that Merlin was getting lax in his usual protections. Merlin wouldn’t argue with him, mostly because his only counter argument was that he usually put all his protections on Arthur and had never had much thought to his own safety. That would have made Arthur ballistic, and an angry King was an annoying one. So Merlin kept it to himself.

They had been taking their daily ride in the woods. Sometimes it was the only time they had to themselves, and Merlin always cherished the time he got to spent relaxing with Arthur as just themselves. They would race each other, find a stream to fish in, collect herbs, or find a meadow where they would pretend they were young again and kiss for ages.

It had been a routine ride, which was the first mistake. The assassin obviously knew of the King and Court Sorcerer’s daily ride because he was right on the edge of the road waiting for them.

Merlin had thought the sorcerer was after Arthur. He immediately sent out a shield to protect Arthur. Leaving himself completely vulnerable.

Merlin had heard Arthur’s voice, screaming his name, before he even comprehended that he was flying back or that pain was radiating all over his chest. His horse reared and Merlin felt the ground beneath him, although he couldn’t remember hitting it. His vision came in and out, but he could hear Arthur’s voice clearly as he screamed Merlin’s name over and over again.

Merlin didn’t know how Arthur dispensed of the sorcerer but when his vision came back, the dagger on Arthur’s belt was missing.

“Merlin! For the love of all the gods, please keep your eyes open.” Arthur shouted, his voice high. “Please.”

Merlin tried, but he could only manage to look up for a moment at Arthur’s panic-stricken face. Then his eyes closed.

He was aware of being carried but there wasn’t much else he could understand. The next time he was fully aware, he was back in the citadel walls, in Gaius’ old workshop which was now Merlin’s. He felt a cold compress being pressed on his forehead and a sword-callused hand in his own.

“Arthur?” Merlin mumbled.

He felt lips press to his hand, “You’ll be the death of me.” He heard the King say as Merlin fully opened his eyes. “You’ll kill me with worry.”

Merlin blinked and saw his King’s eyes, red worn and bruised underneath. He didn’t know what time it was, but it must have been the next day. Arthur’s fingers were running through his hair now.

Merlin cleared his throat, and was promptly handed a cup of water. He drank and then said, “I hardly think this is my fault.”

“No, perhaps not.” Arthur said, flipping the compress on Merlin’s brow, his own brow pinched with worry. “But not protecting yourself is.”

“I’ll never hear the end of it, shall I?” Merlin asked, although he was beginning to feel the aches and pains of whatever had happened to him. He would have to ask Arthur when he was well again.

“I would lecture you, but I do not want to aggravate you or your wounds.”

Merlin smiled, “You’ll have to be nice to me.” Merlin laughed a bit, but that jostled something in his chest and he winced as pain flared across his torso. The pale fear that flashed across Arthur’s face was enough to tell Merlin how bad it was.

Arthur reached to the table next to him and grabbed a vial, “You know what to do. All of it.”

“Ugh, I hate this stuff.” Merlin groaned as he drank down the pain-relieving potion, making sure to get every drop.

“I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Merlin hummed as he closed his eyes again, feeling the magic in the potion already soothing him. He reached his chin toward Arthur a bit and Arthur must have taken the hint because Merlin felt Arthur’s lips press to his lightly. “Get some rest.”

Chapter Text

Dr. Merlin Emrys was the best forensic scientist in Camelot City. He was detailed and thorough in everything he did. There was never a scrap of evidence out of place or a particle forgotten when Merlin was working on a case. It was probably the only reason Super Special Agent Prat-dragon put up with Merlin for so long. Especially when Merlin called his boss, Special Agent Arthur Pendragon, any variation of his real name. It was a miracle Merlin hadn’t been sacked for insubordination.

Arthur usually said that he only kept Merlin around because no one else could identify ‘random shit’ like Merlin could. Merlin took it as a compliment since the evidence he found was usually essential to their cases. Once Arthur even admitted that without Merlin his team would have been dead in the water on a few cases.

Despite all Arthur’s talk, Merlin was fairly certain that Arthur kept him around because Arthur actually liked him. Merlin had been added to Pendragon’s team five years ago, and despite a rocky start, Merlin and Arthur had clicked within that first year. Their minds worked in sync and as soon as Arthur had something, Merlin was one step behind him. They were two peas in a pod, despite the fact that they bantered more than they talked. They saw each other everyday. If it wasn’t at the morning report, it was lunch in the cafeteria, or Arthur visiting Merlin in his lab. Arthur often brought Merlin his favorite coffee from Dragons Cafe with a perfect amount of whipped cream (too much whipped cream in Arthur’s opinion). Merlin also knew that Arthur went in person to get the coffee, instead of sending a terrified lackey, because the cups always said ‘Arthur’ on the sides. They had become a pair, and Merlin had thought perhaps if they hadn’t met at work...there would be something more there too.

All in all, Merlin had become very fond of Arthur Pendragon, even if he was a pratdragon most of the time. So when an officer came down to his lab to tell Merlin that Arthur had gone out in the field to capture a known homicidal criminal and had been killed in action, Merlin refused to believe it.

Director Annis Caerleon told Merlin that he had to be reassigned to a different team after Arthur had died disappeared. Merlin told her to kiss his ass. She let him stay in his lab, but Merlin had a feeling it was a temporary allowance. No one came down to assign him a new case. No one brought his coffee.

Eventually Annis gave Merlin what they had found at the scene of the crime- every scrap of cloth and every piece of metal- everything except the body. They told him it was better if he didn’t see it. Merlin didn’t just throw a fit, Merlin threw anything in sight. He must have done a couple thousand quid worth of damage but he didn’t care. After that Annis gave him access to the body. She must have figured that if anyone could find the criminal who murdered Arthur, it would be Merlin.

Charred to a crisp. That’s what the officer who wheeled in the body bag had told him about the corpse. Apparently he hadn’t known that Merlin had known the deceased- Merlin almost took his scalpel and increased the body count. Though an assistant had hurried the officer out of his lab before Merlin could do so.

It was probably better that the body wasn’t identifiable by sight. Merlin wasn’t sure what he would have done if he saw Arthur’s face in front of him- he already knew that in his nightmares he began to sob and panic. It was easy to disconnect himself and tell himself that this wasn’t Arthur’s body.

Merlin didn’t really sleep all that week. He took cat-naps in his office, but he never slept longer than a few hours. He worked and worked and worked. He knew he was pushing it, but he knew it was bad when Annis herself came to his lab to tell him to go home and take a break or else he was off the case.

He didn’t want to go home. His small apartment reminded him of Arthur, where they would crash after a friday night after work and drink too many beers. Instead he found himself walking to Dragon Cafe, and ordering a cup of coffee, no whipped cream.

While he waited for the barista, he was pulled from behind with a hand over his mouth and a rough hand around his waist. He tried to struggle as he was pulled into the coffee shop’s bathroom, but a week without proper sleep had weakened him. He was pulled into the bathroom and the door locked behind them. Merlin’s frazzled mind couldn’t think of what was happening but he at least managed to get one good jab to the man’s ribs.

“Merlin, for fuck’s sake, ow!”

Merlin froze as he heard that voice.

He turned and saw Arthur. He looked nothing like Arthur though. His face was bruised all along one side and his hair was dyed dark brown instead of blond. He was wearing a scarf and sweater, despite the fact that Merlin knew he hated both articles of clothings.

“I’ve gone mad.”

“If this is what you imagine when you’ve gone mad, I’m surprised you couldn’t come up with something weirder than me dying my hair.” Arthur said, as if everything was fine. “Look, I don’t have a lot of time to explain, but Cenred’s men have been following me since I went MIA. I’ve had to go underground and I haven’t had a way to contact anyone. I’ve been waiting for you to come to this damned coffee shop for two days. Where have you been?”

“Arthur.” Merlin shook his head. “Oh thank god.”

Merlin was crying. He didn’t even know when it happened or if it just happened as soon as he said Arthur's name, but it burst forth.

“Oh- whoa- Hey.” Arthur reached forward tentatively.

“Oh god, Arthur, you fucking prat. We thought you died. They told me you died. ” Merlin was hiccuping uncontrollably and he couldn’t really see past the tears, but he felt the way Arthur enfolded him in a hug.

“Jesus, Merlin- I didn’t think- I thought-” Arthur didn’t finish, instead he held Merlin tighter.

“I broke a centrifuge when they told me I couldn’t see your body.” Merlin said between hiccups, now thinking the body in his lab must be someone else.

“Oh you rebellious idiot.” Arthur said, pulling back brush the tears off Merlin’s cheeks.

Merlin sniffed, wiping his eyes on his sleeves. “You look weird with brown hair.”

“Thought you might like it.” Arthur smiled, making the bruising on the side of his face shift. It looked like his face had been smashed into the pavement.

“You sure I’m not hallucinating?”

Arthur smiled, “No, you’re not. Here.” He handed Merlin a flashdrive. “That has information on it, you need to get it back to Annis- and you need to not look suspicious. I’ve been tracking Cenred’s men but they could be anywhere.”

Merlin nodded, stuffing the drive in his pocket.

Arthur ruffled Merlin’s hair, “You’ll be fine. I’ll watch your back as you leave the cafe.” Arthur had his hand on the bathroom door handle, but Merlin stopped him. Arthur turned around, “Merlin?”

“Before you go.” Merlin pulled him in by the fabric of his sweater and kissed him, hard and with too much feeling. Arthur made a surprised noise, but he didn’t protest as Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s broad shoulders.

When Merlin pulled back, Arthur looked dazed. “Er… Wow.”

“Do that to me again, and I will personally put you on my autopsy table.”

Arthur smiled, “Fair enough.”

***

When Merlin walked out of Dragons Cafe and back into work, Annis threw a fit at the sight of him. She ordered him to go home. She told him that if he returned before tomorrow morning, he was sacked. He added that if he continued such behavior due to his grief, she would make therapy mandatory as condition for his continued employment.

Merlin handed her the flashdrive and said “Arthur’s alive and I can prove it.”

She listened after that.

The following week was hard, though nothing would have compared to the week prior. Merlin sometimes wondered how he had never noticed how much Arthur meant to him. That, despite his detail-oriented line of work, he had managed to miss how much he had fallen in love with Arthur. In that week they set up a system of communication with Arthur- although it was very limited since Arthur was convinced (rightly so) that Cenred’s men were out to kill him. They correctly identified the body in the forensics lab- and used the man’s identity to track down Cenred’s lairs.

When the agents returned from scoping out Cenred’s hide-outs, only to find it empty, Merlin knew that this would not be fixed within a week. The hardest part was knowing that Arthur was out there, but that Merlin couldn’t speak with him or know if he was alive and well. Merlin asked Annis to send Arthur some reinforcements but Annis insisted that Arthur would be better at hiding his identity if they had minimal contact with him. And minimal it was. Merlin didn’t hear from Arthur personally for two months. The only updates he got were when Arthur contacted the entire team on intel he collected.

Merlin went home every night wondering what Arthur was thinking. They had left on unstable terms. Merlin had been sleep-deprived and mentally unstable when he had kissed Arthur in the Dragon Cafe’s bathroom. Arthur hadn’t seemed to mind, but he had also been notably surprised.

At the end of the second month, when Arthur’s absence almost felt like normal (a horrifying thought that was starting to weigh more and more on Merlin’s mind) Merlin had the first personal correspondence from Arthur since the whole debacle began. In his personal email he found a short note from an unknown and unsigned email.

“I made dinner reservations for two at the Avalon in a fortnight. I’ll see you then.”

Merlin didn’t respond to the message nor did he tell anyone about it. He knew it had to be from Arthur, and although it didn’t answer any of his questions about where they stood, it gave him hope that this entire fiasco would be over soon.

Right on time, two weeks later, the team found Cenred’s hiding spot and sent out a team to meet up with Arthur and capture Cenred. Sitting in his lab, Merlin was waiting on tenterhooks, as he tapped a pencil against his new centrifuge.

“Jesus, Merlin, this place is a mess. Are you sure this is your work space?”

Merlin whirled around in his chair, almost spinning himself right off it. “Arthur!”

His hair was still dark brown, although the bruising on the side of his face from the last time Merlin had seen him had healed. Now he just had a fresh pink scar on the side of his chin and brow. He wasn’t wearing a sweater either, instead in his usual white button up contrasting with his shoulder holster.

“I brought your favorite.” Arthur said, gesturing to the coffee cup in his hand. He took an awkward step forward and placed it on the counter and slid it over to Merlin, as an offering.

Merlin took it in his hands, cradling the warm mug. He looked over to Arthur, surprised to see him shuffling his feet like a nervous schoolboy.

“Is Cenred in custody?” Merlin asked.

“Oh- er, yes. Just now, Annis is signing everything off.” Arthur gestured above, where Merlin assumed was Annis’ office above the basement-lab.

“Good. That’s good.” Merlin said, “And you? Are you good?”

Arthur nodded. “Fine. No permanent injuries. Erm, all healed.” Arthur gestured to his face. He swallowed and Merlin watched as Arthur took another tentative step closer to Merlin. “About what happened…”

Merlin looked down, studying the red mud on Arthur’s shoes. Cenred must have been on the east side of town. The mud there was always a bit red due to the oxidized iron.

“Merlin.” Arthur caught his attention again. “Are you alright? Annis told me what happened and er, at the cafe- Well.”

Merlin rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, during that week I admittedly wasn’t in a good place. So I may have acted out when I normally wouldn’t have.” Merlin looked up at Arthur, “But I won’t take it back. I felt how I felt- and how I still feel. I’m sorry it was thrust upon you that way.”

Arthur shook his head minutely, “Don’t apologize. I was a bit shocked that day but I had time to think over these months.” Arthur raised his hand and slowly cupped the side of Merlin’s neck, his fingers running into the curls in his hair. Arthur’s eyes ran over Merlin’s face as he said, “Jesus, Merlin, if I had thought you were dead I would have broken more than just a centrifuge.”

A small laugh burst out of Merlin, as he smiled and trembled at bit at all the emotion running through him. “I also broke my desk. Still not sure how much I owe. I think I’m working for Annis until I pay it off.”

Arthur laughed, “It’s a miracle no one has sacked you after all these years.”

“So you keep telling me.” Merlin said, pulling Arthur closer by his shoulder holster. “Do we still have reservations tonight?”

Arthur’s eyes were on Merlin’s lips as he said, “Yes, if you still want?”

Merlin answered him with a kiss.

Chapter Text

The great thing about Merlin was that he was so many things all in one person. He was a dedicated man, who worked too much, worried too much and loved too much. He was clever and intelligent, sometimes even verging on conniving. He was strong, even for a man of his build, he had power in his muscles. He was kind, soft-hearted, all while being brave and honest. Merlin was the kind of man that Gwaine admired most, and the kind of man he would never have.

Gwaine had met Merlin all those years ago, and he had stolen Gwaine’s heart. He had swooped in with his smile, those cheekbones, and that perfect-heart, and Gwaine had been lost. Gwaine was a romantic after all.

At first Gwaine had thought that Merlin was innocent or too naive to notice Gwaine’s flirtations. But then he learned that Merlin had had quite a few affairs with people passing through Camelot. He also learned that these affairs only happened if the person was not staying in Camelot. It wasn’t too odd to hear of, wanting an anonymous night without someone who doesn’t know you. But it was peculiar to Gwaine, who thought of Merlin as a sentimental man. He had tried once or twice to get Merlin to open up about it- in a roundabout way of course- but Merlin appeared to be a master of evasion and Merlin always distracted Gwaine easily.

Gwaine gave Merlin more than a few hints that he was interested, and after a couple times it became clear that Merlin wasn’t naive- he was trying to let Gwaine down gently. It was kind of him, but it still broke his heart. He didn’t understand it and it hurt more than he expected.

It wasn’t until he finally put the final piece into place that he understood. Arthur. The princess himself. It was plain as the nose on his face when he finally saw what was right in front of him. Merlin was in love with Arthur, more so than Gwaine could even begin to understand. He loved Arthur in the way he talked to him, the way he looked at him and especially in the way he stayed by his side, no matter what.

But Arthur was in love with Guinevere. He had married Gwen. Arthur may have been King, but he couldn’t be able to tell if Merlin confessed his love to him right in front of him. Merlin practically had, just in the way he acted everyday.

Gwaine couldn’t tell if it hurt Merlin, to see Arthur with Gwen. If it hurt him, he covered it very well, or worse, he was simply happy for them. Gwaine may have loved Merlin but he couldn’t begin to understand how the man could be so selfless.

One night, after he had gotten a few drinks into Merlin, he finally asked about it.

“What is it about Arthur?” Gwaine asked, a little buzzed but nearly as drunk as Merlin beside him.

“What about ‘im?” Merlin responded, his head leaning on his arm.

“You love ‘im.” Gwaine said. A statement, not a question. He didn’t need to ask.

Merlin looked at him and Gwaine regretted the statement immediately. Of course Merlin was aware. Of course he knew how Gwaine felt, how Merlin felt about Arthur, and how Arthur would never love Merlin back. He knew all of this, and he kept it inside. It was right there in his eyes, deep and harsh.

“It’s enough.” Merlin said. “It’s enough.”

Gwaine never brought it up again.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time there lived a young dragon with midnight blue scales and piercing amber eyes. He lived deep, deep in the forests of the Kingdom, away from the castle and the knights. He slept in his warm cavern during the day and at night he played in the waters of the lake and danced with the pixies. When they asked, the young dragon would breath fire to light the pixie’s fires or roast their meals.

He was happy in his cavern in the forest, but he was not content. He longed for something more but he did not know what. Until one day, when something happened to him.

It was the middle of the day when the dragon was awoken by the sound of clanking and something breathing heavily. He opened his eyes to see the glint of mental on a knight’s armor. The knight was not facing the dragon, and did not see him. The knight was crouching behind a rock, watching outside the cavern where the dragon could hear shouting and metal clanging.

“He’s in there! Get him!”

The knight cursed to himself and turned around, only to be met face to face with large amber eyes.

The knight froze. The young dragon, who had never met a knight and had only heard the tales of knights slaying dragons, feared for its life. Then the knight did something strange.

“Dragon, please hide me. Those men beyond the cavern want me dead. I will give you anything you desire if you help me.”

The dragon thought for a moment, but there was little time. The men were entering the dragon’s cavern. Quickly the dragon stood up, towering at least two horses taller than the knight, and swept him between his front legs.

“Who dares enter my cavern?” The young dragon bellowed, making it up as he went along.

The men who entered the cavern, who upon a closer look were covered in dirt and armor that was not nearly as shiny as the knight’s. They all froze in fear when they saw the dragon, and then they saw the knight below him.

The men did not answer the dragon’s question, nor did they leave, so the dragon took a deep breath and let out steam from his snout. The men yelped and ran for fear of being roasted. When they were all gone, the knight whooped in glee and jumped up and down.

“You are not what I thought a knight would be like.” The dragon said.

“Nor I about you, dragon.” said the knight with a crooked tooth smile. “I am Prince Arthur. I am on a quest to find the Treasure of Sophirra. Thank you for your help. Is there any way I can repay you?”

The dragon thought for a moment, but he already had an idea forming. “I will not hold you to any promise, sir knight, but if I may join you on your quest, I would be delighted.”

Prince Arthur agreed, but he had one concern. “You are so large, and we must travel a long ways through many towns. I’m afraid you may attract attention.”

“Oh, I can fix that.” The dragon cast a spell until he shrunk smaller and smaller, until he was the size of a cat, easy enough to ride with Prince Arthur.

“Perfect, now what may I call you?” Prince Arthur asked.

“Merlin” replied the dragon.

The pair rode off towards the Eastern Forest where it was rumored the Treasure of Sophirra was hidden. Merlin listened with fascination as Prince Arthur told him of his kingdom and the people in his castle. Likewise, Prince Arthur listened eagerly to Merlin’s stories about his life in the forest and the pixies who played with the young dragon. They soon became fast friends.

“I heard rumors of dragons who could turn into men.” said Prince Arthur one night.

Merlin, who was curled up near the fire, popped his head up. “There are rumors amongst dragons that a dragon can only turn into a human if they find their mate. Then they can shift between forms.”

“Can all dragons do that?” The Prince asked.

“No.” Merlin replied, “Only a few. Something dark happened and now there are fewer. I do not know any dragon with a mate.”

The Prince frowned, “I am sorry. Perhaps you will find your mate on our quest?”

Merlin nodded, pleased with the Prince’s kind sentiment.

When they arrived in the depths of the Eastern Forest they were greeted by a huge dragon, twice as large as Merlin when he was at his normal height. Merlin, who was small and sitting across Arthur’s pauldrons, made a yelping sound when he saw the dragon.

“Prince Arthur,” said the dragon in a raspy voice. “Merlin of Midnight.”

The dragon and knight looked at each other and back to the dragon.

Prince Arthur spoke, “We are here on a quest for the Treasure of Sopphirra. Can you help us?”

“You may be on one quest, young knight, but you may leave with another accomplished.” The large dragon lowered his head to look at the pair. “You may find that the journey has brought you farther than you both realized.”

Merlin, an impatient dragon at times, spoke up. “Can you help us, or not?”

The large dragon laughed. “I can. Do as I say.”

“Young dragon, become your true size.”

Merlin obeyed, his head reaching taller than Arthur’s steed.

“Now, remove a single scale from your chest. One resting above your heart.”

Merlin did as told, pulling on a scale until it gave way with a painful twinge. The Prince looked worried, but he did not stop Merlin.

“Hand the scale to your companion.” said the large Dragon.

Merlin, who held the scale in his snout, bent down and held it out to Arthur. The midnight blue scale was smaller than Prince’s palm, easily held in his hand.

The scale was warmer than the Prince thought, and it wasn’t until the scale was glowing that he realized the scale was heating up. It glowed bright gold, the same color as Merlin’s eyes, before it flashed. The Prince gasped as he felt something sting his chest, and then the scale was gone from his hands. Arthur scrambled for his armor as he felt his chest itch with heat.

“You will find, young knight, that the scale has transferred to your chest.”

The Prince removed his armor and found the scale, still it’s vibrant blue, had shrunk and now was laid across his skin like a stone in fine jewelry.

“What happened?” asked the Prince.

“See for yourself, young knight.” said the large dragon, pointing to Merlin.

Merlin appeared to be shrinking, but instead of becoming his cat-size, he was shifting. The midnight blue dragon shifted until he was a man, with pale skin and hair as dark as the night sky. On his chest was an identical scale.

“Merlin?” Prince Arthur asked.

“Arthur!” Merlin smiled and ran forward on clumsy legs until his arms were around his companion.

Prince Arthur wrapped his arms around his companion, his heart full.

Chapter Text

Arthur Penn awoke earlier than usual that morning. He had an important date to keep with Lord Gawant and Madame Caerleon that morning that he could not miss. Since his father’s death five months earlier, Arthur had taken on all the duties of Camelot Estates as the current Lord of Camelot.  To say the least it had been a tiring time, but he had his sister Lady Morgana and his dear friend Sir Leon to help him adjust. Not to mention his attentive servants, who he would rather call his friends. Guinevere had taken full charge of running the house and did a marvelous job. Then there was Merlin, his valet, who Arthur would never say did a ‘marvelous job’ at his work. But Merlin was important for keeping Arthur sane when it felt like running the estate would crush him.

Merlin would brush off his coat in the morning and recite his schedule, reminding him not to snap at any of the lawyers or to anger Morgana, least it be the death of him. Then Merlin would be by his side in the afternoon, when he had his rare time alone in his library. Merlin would lie across the couch, completely unprofessionally, and read a book, telling Arthur all the good bits. Then in the evening, Arthur’s favorite part, Merlin would undress him. Peeling off Arthur’s coat, then his waistcoat, and then Merlin would pull his white linen shirt off his shoulders, leaving delicate kisses on his shoulders as he went. Then Arthur would return the favor, and undress his valet.

So he was surprised that morning when he was not greeted by his valet to dress him, but another servant, a lower stationed boy.

“Morris?” Arthur asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Merlin is ill, my lord. He sends his apologies and appointed me to take his place.” Morris gave a small bow. Morris gave a small smile, “He told me to tell you he had to fight off George.”

Arthur laughed a bit, beckoning Morris forward to help him with his shirt and cufflinks. “I suppose there are little mercies in the world.” Arthur rolled his shoulders and adjusted his sleeves as Morris shuffled through his coats. “The tweed one today, Morris, I’ll be about the Estate.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Is he very ill?” Arthur asked, thinking over the last few days. He hadn’t seen Merlin since yesterday morning. Arthur had thought he looked a little peaked, maybe a bit tired.

“Gwen had to call in Doctor Gaius last night for him.” Morris informed him, “If I may say so, my lord, it’s a nasty fever. But Gaius is a good physician.”

Arthur’s heart clenched in his chest, his fingers running over and over his cufflinks nervously. “Oh” was all he managed to say. He wondered how easily it would be to slip away from Lord Gawant and Madame Caerleon. Impossible, he knew. He gritted his teeth as he checked his pocket watch. He had time if he skipped breakfast.

“Morris, could you please tell cook that I won’t be needing breakfast? If she has already prepared something, tell her that the servants may have it.”

“Yes, my lord.” Morris said with a grin. It must have been a good breakfast.

Arthur pulled on his coat, not waiting for Morris to brush it off, “Have a good day, Morris. I will see you before dinner tonight.”

“Yes, my lord.”

As Arthur rushed down the halls he tried to remember the last time anyone had called him ‘my lord’ so many times in one morning. It certainly wasn’t with Merlin.

Arthur stepped down the stairwell to the servant’s quarters, see the flurry of early morning rush. As they spotted him, they all halted in their tracks and stared.

“Continue on.” Arthur said, waving a hand, “Guinevere?”

“Right here, my lord.” Guinevre popped her head around the stariwell, looking surprised to see him. Then her expression shifted, “Merlin?”

“Where is he?”

“He is in bed.” She said, gesturing down the corridor. “I think he’s asleep. Lord knows how he managed it with all the noise.”

“Thank you.” Arthur nodded and walked past the servants, ignoring the looks they gave him. It probably was very ill-advised to visit his valet, especially in the middle of the morning rush. His father would have disapproved. Morgana probably would have told him to at least wait for evening when everyone was in bed.

Arthur didn’t bother to knock, he stepped into Merlin’s room and closed the door behind him. Merlin was in bed, his cheeks flushed and his hair sticking to his brow. Arthur pulled the chair from the nearby desk and set it next to Merlin’s bed. There was a bowl of cool water with a towel next to the bed. Arthur soaked the towel and wrung out the excess before placing it on Merlin’s burning forehead, running the cool cloth across Merlin’s neck and shoulders as well.

Merlin shivered at the contact. “Gaius?” He opened his eyes, blinking into the dull light of the room. “Oh. Hello.”

“Hello.” Arthur said, running his hand over Merlin’s hair, brushing it off his brow. “You didn’t tell me you were ill.”

Merlin gave a weak roll of his eyes, “I was busy divesting my stomach of my dinner.”

Arthur frowned and pressed his palm to Merlin’s chest, his heart quick with fever. “Thank you for fending off George.”

Merlin smiled, “So Morris attended to you properly?”

“Yes, far better than you ever do.” Arthur said.

Merlin closed his eyes, obviously the light in the room hurt his fever-stricken eyes. “You like the way I attend to you.”

“Yes, but only you.” Arthur leaned down and pressed a kiss to Merlin’s cheek.

“Aren’t you supposed to be with those posh people today?”

“Lord Gawant and Madame Caerleon? Yes, in a bit.” Arthur said, knowing he was pushing his luck.
“How are you feeling? Do you want me to call Gaius back?”

“No, he said I just need rest and fluids. Cook made me broth.”

“God it must be bad, cook did something nice for you?” Arthur ran his fingers over Merlin’s chin, then his jaw and then his fever-flushed cheek.

Merlin smiled with his eyes still closed, turning into Arthur’s hand, pressing a kiss to Arthur’s wrist. “Horrible.”

Merlin was half asleep already, and Arthur was running late. “I’ll be back after dinner tonight, alright?”

Merlin hummed.

Arthur removed the cool cloth and pulled up Merlin’s blankets. “Call for Gaius, if you need him. I’m serious Merlin, or else I will make Hilde sit with you, all day.”

“She’s mean and makes me take her weird remedies.” Merlin mumbled, brow furrowed.

“I know, that’s why I threatened it.” Arthur said, kissing Merlin on his cheek. “Rest and get well.”

“Love you.” Merlin muttered, surprising Arthur and making his heart clench in his chest.

“You too.” Arthur said softly as he kissed Merlin's hair, staying there for probably far too long.

He was not late to met with Lord Gawant and Madame Caerleon, but he did call off dinner for the evening, claiming a headache from the day’s work. He skipped dinner and stayed by Merlin’s tiny cot of a bed until his fever calmed, late in the night.

Chapter Text

Merlin should have known that something would happen tonight. He was attending a high-profile gala with all of Camelot’s best known celebrities and politicians. Something was bound to happen. The world wouldn’t let Merlin had one night off.

It was inevitable when the Black Knight burst through the windows of the Pendragon Mansion, where the gala was being held, and it was inevitable that he would strike down all the body guards and run straight for the honoree of the evening: Arthur Pendragon. Millionaire, heart-throb of Camelot City, and consequently, Merlin’s boss.

“Fuck.” Merlin sighed as he looked down at his barely touched champagne. He had really hoped he would be able to relax tonight. But unfortunately, besides being Arthur’s PA, he had another job to attend to.

Quickly he ran to the nearest secluded area, which happened to be a coat closet. He cast a spell and his suit transformed into his Emrys suit and mask. With a snap of his fingers he was transported outside, far enough into the gardens of Pendragon Mansion that no one would wonder where he came from.

Outside there was the typical sounds of distress: screaming, glass shattering, and guards yelling. Merlin flew up to oversee the area, narrowing in on the Black Knight who had knocked out Arthur and was tying him up.

“One night,” Merlin muttered to himself as he flew forward, “I would like one night where I don’t have to save this clotpole.”

Merlin shouted a spell, making the Black Knight whip around at the sound. He tried to move away, but Merlin had already cast his enchantment, hitting the Black Knight square on the chest, making him double over.

Merlin rushed to Arthur, who was gaining consciousness. “Oh god. Not you again!”

“You’re welcome.” Emrys grumbled as he began to undo the knots.

“Watch out!” Arthur shouted, and Merlin had just enough time to put up a shield as the Black Knight threw a string of fire straight at them.

“Shit.” Merlin cursed as he felt the heat on his back, blocking Arthur. He quickly undid Arthur’s wrists, “Untie your legs.”

“I can protect myself!” Arthur shouted as Merlin turned to face the Black knight.

“Evidence to the contrary!” Merlin replied as he cast a spell at the Black Knight, keeping himself in front of Arthur.

“Why are you always here! You’re making me look weird! Yesterday The Daily called me Princess Arthur!”

“Ha! I like that one.”

“Emrys!”

Arthur shouted just in time for Merlin to create another shield for the Black Knight’s fire.

“You really need to pay attention.” Arthur said, and not at all running away from the Black Knight like all the other gala guests. Despite his rude behavior, Arthur did seem to think Emrys would protect him.

You are distracting me.” Merlin shouted as he pushed forth an enchantment which wrapped the Black Knight in ropes, followed by another that suppressed his fire. “There.” Merlin sighed.

Arthur pulled out his phone, barely giving a glance to the quick-thinking and efficient work Emrys had just completed. “Leon, there’s been an incident, bring your men. Yeah. Black Knight. Good. Thanks.” Arthur turned to Emrys, “Police are on their way to clean this up. You better get going.”

“What, not going to have me arrested? You know being a vigilante is illegal in Camelot City.” Merlin teased. Merlin knew Arthur didn’t agree with the law, although Emrys wasn’t supposed to know that.

“Yeah, yeah.” Arthur said making a gesture to Emrys. “Just do me a favor and try and not make me look like a damsel in distress next time?”

“You do that all by yourself.” Merlin said, flying up so that he hovered a little above Arthur. “See you next week?”

“You better not!” Arthur shouted as Merlin flew away.

Chapter Text

Here was the thing about Inns on the outskirts of Camelot: usually they were the upper floors of taverns where travellers could stay with maybe a few private rooms to rent for the night. It was dirty and rowdy, but it was a dry place to sleep with the promise of food.

Here was the thing about traveling in a pair. An Inn’s room would usually have only one bed. If one was travelling in a pair, there were only three options for the sleeping arrangements. One, if the pair was a married couple then they would share the bed. Two, if the pair was a noble knight on a quest with his squire, the knight would sleep in the bed and the squire on the floor. Three, if the pair was the Prince of Camelot and his loyal manservant, they would argue about who would sleep on the bed until both of them decided they would just have to sleep on the floor to compromise, otherwise neither of them would get any sleep whatsoever.

That was where Merlin and Arthur were at the moment. On the wooden floor of an Inn’s private room. Back to back. Silent, after several cross words exchanged.

Arthur shifted, trying to pull his pathetic excuse for a blanket over his shoulders and not let it uncover his ankles. His movement made the floorboards creak loudly in the semi-silent Inn. Opposite him, Merlin was curled up in a ball, as far away from the Prince as possible.

Arthur turned over to look at him, looking at the dwindling fire. He huffed and flopped back down, regretting the movement as his shoulder pressed harder into the wood.

“Would you stop moving?” Merlin snapped.

“Oh I’m sorry that I’m not comfortable on the floor. Merlin .” Arthur said, turning to look at Merlin, who was now turned around to look at Arthur. “I’ve slept on dirt more comfortable. Why did we even go to an Inn?”

“Because it’s mid-winter, clotpole. You would have frozen your fat arse out there.”

Arthur growled and smacked Merlin with his pathetic pillow. He had at least scored that from the bed. Unfortunately Merlin was a nibble man, and snatached it out of his hand. With a smirk he tucked the pillow under his head.

“Night, sire.”

“Merlin.” Arthur said, in his most Kingly and ‘I will execute’ voice.

“Arthur you are not going to win this fight, Arthur. I’ve slept on the ground my entire life.” Merlin said with a raised brow, “Want to try me?”

Arthur groaned, “I hate you.”

Finally giving in, Arthur stood up. He took his blanket and threw it onto the bed. “Get up.” He held out his hand to Merlin.

“What? Why? What are you doing?” Merlin asked hesitantly from the floor.

“Just get up. We’ll share.” Arthur said, pulling Merlin up with little grace. “I have a quest to finish tomorrow and I will never succeed if I stay up all night.” Arthur did not continue to explain, instead he laid down on the to cot. He get comfortable, but made sure there was enough room for one lanky-manservant.

Merlin must have been more tired from travelling than Arthur expected because he didn’t argue. Instead he set down the pillow and laid down. Unfortunately the bed wasn’t very large.

They tried shoulder to shoulder, but that seemed to take up all the space with little comfort. They tried to back to back, but they kept falling off and Merlin made a weird noise like a chicken every time he almost fell.

“For the love of-” Arthur cursed, “Just get over here.” Arthur manhandled Merlin until he was on his side facing away from Arthur, then Arthur clamped down on Merlin’s side so that he wouldn’t move. “Stay on the bed. Or else.”

“Yes, sire.” Merlin said, though his voice was wispy and out of breath.

Arthur tucked his face in close to the nape of Merlin’s neck, curling into his warmth. Perhaps it was the weariness, but it wasn’t until the morning that Arthur realized the intimacy of comfort in the position. He woke up to the feel of Merlin pressed to his chest. He must have flipped around in the middle of the night because Merlin’s head was resting on Arthur’s shoulder, which explained why Arthur’s arm had fallen asleep. Merlin’s arm was tucked between his own chest and Arthur’s, with his fingers curled slightly into the fabric of Arthur’s sleep shirt.

Arthur let him sleep, not ready to get up  or admit why he didn’t want to leave the bed.

Chapter Text

Arthur Penn was the heir to the Penn fortune and son of the Duke of Camelot. He was expected to be intellectual, polite, and the perfect gentleman. He learned to read French and Latin, he was one of the best horsemen in the county, and he spoke properly to everyone he met. As the future Duke of Camelot, Arthur Penn had standards and therefore he had to have a wife who would be able to uphold all these standards as well.

Perhaps he would have had a choice of spouse if he had he been more careful in his youth. When he was barely seventeen his father had caught him kissing his first love, Guinevere, who happened to be a housemaid. The Duke of Camelot had been furious and sent Arthur away, and had never allowed Arthur to even think of having any love affair ever again, lest he lose his fortune.

His wife was to be chosen by his father, with little to no input allowed by Arthur. It was not ideal, and although Arthur liked to think himself more soft-hearted when it came to love, he had always known that he would never be allowed to have a perfectly happy marriage.

The woman who was chosen to be his wife was the daughter of Lord Balinor of Avalon. She was taller than most young women, with pale skin, thick dark hair, stormy blue eyes, and gorgeous plump lips. She was beautiful, Arthur knew that at the least. Before the marriage they had only met half a dozen times and always in company. She was quiet, but Arthur couldn’t tell if that was nerves or her true personality. Though there was glimpses of a spark beneath her soft spoken voice, with a quickly covered smirk in the drawing room or a giggle at dinner which was hidden behind a cough.

It was on their first day as a married couple, finally alone for the first time, that Arthur began to really know the new Lady Penn.

He was giving her a tour of his home in town when she turned to him and said, “I’m afraid, sir, if you expect me to sleep in the same bed as you tonight, you will be sorely mistaken.”

Arthur couldn’t speak for a long while, only staring at his new wife. Eventually he gained back his breath. “Whatever you wish. I would never impose.” Arthur cleared his throat awkwardly.

“A true gentleman. Good to hear. Now, you spoke of a stable for my horse?” She raised a brow and then walked down the stairs, leading the way.

Her personality became more and more apparent the longer he was married to her. He found that once he got her talking, especially on a topic she admired, it was hard to get her to stop. He found that she had mastered the usual feminine arts of sewing and needlework, but appeared to care more for riding and once spoke about Arthur’s fencing lessons with interest. She was brash and bold at times, though he always noted when in company that she was the timid and shy woman he had first met.

It was a fortnight into their marriage that Arthur found her in the stables. Arthur had come down to check on his horse, concerned over the way she was acting over the last few days. By the dim light of the oil lamp, Arthur thought that the figure was a stable boy who had snuck into the stables after dark. But as he held up the light and the figure turned at the noise, he saw the long hair pulled into a coil on the back of her head. His eyes travelled down and beheld her long legs. Clothed in trousers.

Arthur admitted that he had never cursed in front of a lady until that moment.

“Arthur!” His wife hissed, shushing him quickly. “Quiet! You’ll spook Freya!”

“You’re damned horse!” Arthur hissed back, his eyes roaming down her legs and then quickly looking away. She was technically his wife, but they had not yet consummated their marriage and it still felt wrong to look so freely. “What do you think you are doing? What if someone else had caught you?”

“No one’s ever caught me.” She said with a roll of her eyes. Confident, that was something else Arthur was learning about her when she showed her true self. She pulled on a cap and struck a pose, her legs wide apart and her hands on her hips. She looked masculine, and perhaps from afar she could easily pass as a young man.

“You’ve done this before?” Arthur asked.

She rubbed the back of her neck and looked away. “No, not since we married. I had told myself not to, but I could not help myself. I am sorry.”

“What, exactly, are you doing?” Arthur asked curiously.

“I go out on a ride, that’s all. I used to do it out in the day, usually at dusk or dawn.”

“Dressed as a man?” Arthur clarified.

“It’s more comfortable.” She shrugged, although Arthur could tell there was something more to it.

“You enjoy these rides?” Arthur asked.

“Yes.” She said, playing with the gloves in her hands. “They are the only times I truly feel like myself. Not the proper young woman I have to be for Papa, nor- and it is not to be offensive to you- but I don’t have to be the perfect wife for you. I can just be me, no dress or frills, just a pair of trousers and my hair out of my eyes.”

Arthur paused and watched his spouse’s face. It was the most genuine he had seen it yet. He set down his lamp and began to untie his boots and grabbed his riding boots.

“What are you doing?”

“If this is where you are yourself, than I am coming with you.” Arthur pulled on his boots, and then he grabbed his coat and hat.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am. I want to know you. Not any facade that create for the outside world. I want to know the real you, Emma.”

She looked at him for a long time before she said, “Merlin. That’s the name I would like you to call me.”

Arthur smiled, “Then Merlin it is.”

Chapter Text

“Love and Pastries” was Gwen’s pride and joy. The bakery was everything she had dreamed it to be. It was warm and cozy, filled with plump armchairs and blanket-covered couches for her guests to sit and enjoy their baked treats.

One of the best parts of Gwen’s job was to people-watch. During the morning rush, business people came for her homemade croissants and berry danishes. By mid-morning, a group of elderly women ordered a round of tea and a variety of pastries and cupcakes for their book club discussion. In the afternoon, Gwen was making a second batch of parties for the uni students who would come in for a pick-me-up.

One of Gwen’s favorite customers to people-watch was a pair of uni students.

The boys, one blond and one brunet, had been coming to her shop for months. The pair usually came in during the afternoon, after what Gwen imagined was the class they had together.  The blond, who Gwen learned was named Arthur, usually stuck to ordering a croissant or pastry with a black coffee. But the brunet, who she learned was named Merlin after the first time they walked into her shop because the blond had shouted his name, usually ordered a tea but he always tried a different baked good.

Merlin and Arthur were Gwen’s favorite pair to people-watch because she had loved watching their relationship. When they had first entered her shop, she could tell they were only there because they needed a space to work on a project together. Gwen overheard them arguing about everything , from the project topic to the correct way to cite sources. Admittedly, Gwen thought she would hate having two loud arguing uni students in her shop for more than a few weeks, but then something changed. As the weeks went on, they argued less and compromised more. They chatted more than they planned their project. Gwen liked to think her pastries had made them amiable.

Gwen was also surprised to see them enter her shop after the winter holidays. She had thought that after last semester’s project, that she would not see them again- or at least together. But they had appeared to become friends. Gwen gave them a free brownie that day, and they thanked her for her kindness, but she was just happy to see that they had become friends. As they sat on the couch and ate the homemade eclairs, they still bickered and argued but it was noticeably more friendly than the first time they came into her shop.

It was after a few months that Gwen was beginning to think that they were more than friends. Instead of sitting across from each other at a table like in the beginning, or sitting on adjacent chairs like they had after winter holidays, the pair began to sit closer and closer on the couch. On one particularly cold day in March they shared one of the blankets as they drank hot chocolate. That was when she realized that somewhere along the way, they had become a couple. Her heart sang a bit, because she liked to think that her small cozy shop “Love and Pastries” had brought them together.

It wasn’t until one day in April when that lovely reality crashed down on her.

Arthur entered the shop without Merlin.

“Hi, Gwen. How was the morning rush?” He said after he had ordered his usual coffee and pastry.

“Oh, it was fine. The usual people,” She answered as her eyes scanned for Merlin. It was odd to see Arthur without him.

“That’s good. You always work so hard, I wonder if you ever get a break.” Arthur said, smiling at her, “I could take you out on a break, if you like?”

It took Gwen a moment to understand his question.

“Oh. Oh. ” She felt her heart sink “But! Merlin! Oh no, did you break up? Oh my god, you’re not trying to ask me out while you’re still with him are you? If you are, Arthur I swear to god I will-”

“Whoa!” Arthur’s eyes were as wide as the saucers she served tea on. “ Merlin ? What? You think I’m with Merlin !?”

Now Gwen was confused. She felt her brows pull together as she gestured helplessly. “Of course, what are you on about?”

Merlin !?” Arthur’s face was red as a beet.

Gwen had the sudden realization that Merlin and Arthur were not, in fact, a couple.

“Merlin’s not your boyfriend?”

Boyfriend ?!”

Gwen sighed. Apparently Arthur was not going to properly answer her questions, he was too caught up on the fact that she had thought they were dating.

She shook her head, “Let me get your coffee and pastry.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Arthur said, “Wait a second, why did you think we were dating?”

Gwen raised a brow at him. He didn’t seem to understand.

She handed him his order and said, “Maybe think about it for a bit. I hope to see you two soon.”

What .” Arthur said, but didn’t seem to be asking any question in particular. He walked out of her shop looking a little confused and dazed.

The next time she saw Arthur, he was alone again. He walked up to the counter, looking a little gloomy. He seemed like he wanted to say something to her, but instead ordered his usual.

When Gwen handed it to him he said, “Merlin’s cross with me.”

“Oh?” She asked.

“I think it started when I told him I wanted to ask you out.”

“Hm.” Gwen said, hoping Arthur would get her meaning.

“You don’t think…?” Arthur asked, making a vague gesture.

Gwen smiled, “Well, I already told you what I thought was between the two of you, so yes. I do think so.”

“Oh.” Arthur said, looking down at his coffee.

Gwen rolled her eyes, “Best get a move on it.”

That seemed to move him into gear. He rushed out of her shop and through the windows she watched him leave his coffee and pastry behind and start running down the street. Usually she would be upset that he left her sweets, but she thought it was all in the name of love.

The next time she saw Arthur, he was towing Merlin along, hand in hand. They ordered their usual: coffee and pastry for Arthur, tea and the new beignets for Merlin. When Merlin turned away to claim the couch next to the window, Arthur flashed her a dazzling smile. She gave him a thumbs up and ushered him to where Merlin was waiting for him. Arthur joined him and they curled up on the couch.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom, a boy was born of pure magic. His name was Emrys, and according to the elder witches of the forest, he would become the most powerful being of magic to walk the Earth. As he grew and signs of his power manifested, myths and legends of his power spread across the Five Kingdoms. More and more people sought his power for themselves. Soon it became apparent that Emrys must be hidden in order to protect against such greed and lust for power.

When the boy was barely four summers old, Emrys was smuggled out of his village, never to be seen again.

Two decades passed and the world had all but forgot about the prophesized boy. He was a tale that mothers told their children and a myth of which hungry kings dreamt.

But not everyone had heard of the legend of Emrys. In a far, far away kingdom there lived a Prince who had not heard the tale of the boy born of pure magic, nor had he heard of any magic prophecy. In his kingdom of Camelot, magic was forbidden and was treated as a crime above all else.

Despite the laws of the land, the Prince did not hate people who used magic. Perhaps he was weary of its use, but the Prince was kind-hearted and believed in giving people the benefit of the doubt.

The Prince was a simple man, who loved to ride and hunt when he had the time. It was during one of his rides through the forests of Camelot that he came across something unique. The prince had been tired of being cooped up in the citadel all week and had decided to ride deeper into the forest in order to explore. It was when he came across a new part of the forest, a part he had never been through before, that he came across it.

There was a path, only small enough for a man to walk through. The Prince left his horse tie to a nearby tree and walked along the path, admiring how the forest seemed to be bursting with life around him. The path led to a pool of water, filled by a cascade of water coming down from the rocks on the north side. In the water was a man, his skin pale and hair dark black. He spotted the Prince immediately, though he did not greet him.

“Are you lost?” The man asked.

“No” The Prince answered, “I was riding through the forest when I came upon this path.” The Prince could not look away from the man, who was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. “Are you a forest nymph?”

The man smiled wide, his eyes crinkling with the movement. “No, I am not.” The man stepped out of the water and began to dry off with a sheet hanging on a nearby branch. “You should not be here.”

“Why not?” The Prince asked.

“The path was not supposed to be seen by anyone.” said the man, “I wonder why it showed itself to you?”

“I do not know.” The Prince replied, watching the man slip on a loose shirt and trousers. “Are you sure you’re not a nymph?”

The man laughed this time. “You flatter me, stranger.”

“Arthur, my name is Arthur.” The Prince said, stepping forward. “What is yours?”

“Merlin. I was named after the falcon.”

“Merlin.” Prince Arthur repeated. “Would you like to go for a ride with me?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Merlin said, “But perhaps one day.”

“Then I will be back again, until I can convince you.” said the Prince, and he honored his promise.

The Prince returned to the path every time he could. Sometimes it was in the far edges of the forest to the East or it was in the center of the forest, but Arthur always found it. During his visits, the pair would explore the forest, swim in the water as Merlin showed him the caves behind the waterfall, or sometimes Arthur would prepare a meal by firelight if his hunting proved successful.

Arthur knew the path to Merlin must have been magic, but he did not care for as the time drew on, he began to fall in love with Merlin.

“Why can you not come back with me to Camelot?” Arthur asked one night. He had snuck out of the citadel to find Merlin, as he was so lonely without him. Now he rested against the trunk of a tree with a fire by his feet and Merlin lying close by his side. “Why won’t you tell me why you must stay here?”

“I must. I’ve told you that.” Merlin said.

“But you will not tell me why. Nor who traps you here so cruelly.” Arthur said, his hand running up to Merlin’s face, tendering holding it. “I want to be with you in Camelot.”

Merlin shook his head. “All my life I was told to stay away from kings and princes, especially Camelot. I’m sorry Arthur, I cannot go.”

“But why?” Arthur asked.

Merlin sighed, pressing his face into Arthur’s side as they both waited for his answer. After a moment, Merlin lifted his head and looked to Prince Arthur. “Have you heard of the tale of Emrys?”

“No, is it a magic tale?”

Merlin nodded and told him the tale of the boy born of pure magic.

“Then, he was brought to a forest, far away from those who wished ill upon the world. Those who wished to protect him cast a spell on the forest and created a path that only the good of heart and noble intention could walk through.”

Merlin sighed, “He was told, since before he could properly speak, that he should never speak with royalty, for fear of what they would do with his magic.”

“Merlin.” Arthur said softly, holding Merlin’s face close to his, “Oh, Merlin.”

Merlin smiled, his eyes dewy, “I have fallen in love with a Prince of a kingdom that hates the very essence of my being.”

“I do not hate you.” Arthur said.

“I know, but what is there to do?”

Prince Arthur dwelled on this question for weeks and weeks after that night. He thought about his kingdom’s laws, enacted out of fear, and about Merlin in his forest, tucked away and almost forgotten also out of fear.

Years passed, and Arthur continued his trek through the forest to visit his love. Every week the Prince visited Merlin, for years upon years. It was not until the third year when things changed.

“Merlin, come take a ride with me?” Arthur asked, holding out his hand.

“Arthur, you know I cannot.”

“You need not fear Camelot anymore.” Arthur said. “My father has passed and now I am King of Camelot. I will not allow fear to dictate you or I any longer.”

Merlin, the man of pure magic, took hold of the King of Camelot’s hand and they rode out of the forest together.

Chapter Text

Most people have life-crises when they hit a milestone birthday. Thity. Forty. Fifty. Etc. Arthur Pendragon had not been one of those people. He had been at the young age of twenty-eight years old when he hit his life crisis.

For six years Arthur had been the director of the financial department of Pendragon Corps, which was not only his father’s company but one of the largest companies in the UK. He had been positioned there since he graduated university, which spoke to his father’s nepotism but also to the intense pressure that his father always placed on Arthur. It felt like those six years had drained decades from his life.

It was summer, Arthur had just turned twenty-eight, when he realized that he had hit the wall. He realized he had spent too many weeks where he slept only twelve hours over seven days, and most of them on his office couch. He realized he had struggled through too many panic attacks, tucked away in his corner office’s bathroom, heaving over the toilet. He realized he had been neglecting his social life so much that he couldn’t even think of a single person to call on his birthday.

He had had enough.

He must have looked a mess when he slammed open his father’s office door and told him he was quitting. Arthur was sure the yelling match between the two Pendragons was still talked about in Pendragon Corps offices today.

It had taken a year to get back on his feet, mentally and physically. But after that year, he hit his stride. He had his degree in finance, so he figured owning a small business would be a good place to start but it ended up being the best decision of Arthur’s life. Opening up Igraine’s Cafe had been the only thing in Arthur’s twenty-nine years of life that had been one hundred percent his own decision, and one that made him feel prouder than anything he had done at his father’s company.

During those years, he had always wondered what were the colors on his soulmate’s arm. Arthur’s mood had been so erratic, especially during the end, he always pictured the colors on his soulmate’s mark to change rapidly from the dark grays of melancholy, the sickly yellows of anxiety, and the bright reds of rage. Sometimes it had been the mark on his own arm, the blurry swirl of colors that represented his soulmate’s emotions, that pushed him through one day at a time. His soulmate’s mood would be a serene blue-green that reminded Arthur of clear-blue tropical ocean, and it would calm him in the midst of a panic. Or sometimes it would be pink with excitement, and in a moment of gloom, Arthur would rejoiced for whatever his soulmate may be doing.

Now, as he worked at Igraine’s Cafe, he hoped the mark on his soulmate’s arm was a good color. Perhaps a warm green of contentment or a happy cerulean.

Or perhaps small wisps of purple, although he hoped his soulmate wasn’t the jealous type.

One of Arthur’s most frequent customers since he opened Igraine’s Cafe had been a man, perhaps only a few years younger than Arthur, named Merlin Emerson. He worked as a nurse at the hospital down the road and he always arrived at Arthur cafe at an ungodly hour, half-awake and begging for caffeine. Arthur always sold him a large cup of coffee and usually convinced Merlin to order some food as well, because despite being a nurse, Merlin wasn’t always the healthiest when it came to his diet. Arthur loved seeing Merlin in the mornings, dressed in his usual scrubs (normally blue or red, but Arthur liked when he wore his purple scrubs).  Merlin would smile at him, ask about his day or how the cafe was coming along, and tell Arthur stories of his job or something crazy that a friend named Will had done last weekend.

So Arthur was falling for Merlin and he knew that his soulmate, wherever they were, must be seeing flashes of purple in their mark.

Arthur was in the cramped back office of Igraine’s Cafe (it used to be a broom closet, and it was better than anything he used to have at Pendragon Corps), when he noticed that his mark was a dark grey and sludgy brown. Touching the mark, Arthur wondered what could be upsetting his soulmate, and wishing he could do something about it.

A moment later one of the waiters, Gwen, knocked on his door and peeked her head inside.

“Arthur? Hey, that Merlin bloke is here.” She said, “Doesn’t he only come in the mornings?”

“Huh.” Arthur said, forgetting his mark for a moment. He left his desk behind to look out at his cafe. Indeed, Merlin was there in the late afternoon, eating a panini and sipping a tea. He was looking out the window, watching the people walk by, head resting in his hand.

Arthur approached the table, “May I?” he gestured to the chair.

“Arthur!” Merlin looked up with surprise, “I did think you were here. You weren’t running the coffee.”

“I was looking through some papers in the back.” Arthur said as he took the seat across from Merlin. “What brings you here at such a late hour?” Arthur jested.

Merlin’s lips turned down in a frown and he looked down at his tea. “Not sure. Actually, I’ve had a lousy day, you know? Just absolute shit. I was hoping some food and tea would make me feel better.”

“Oh.” Arthur was surprised by his honesty. “Well, food might help. But I know how that feels, some days are just shit.”

Merlin looked up, head cocked to the side. “I’ve been in this shop for months, and you always seem so happy.”

Arthur shrugged, “Well I suppose I haven’t had a bad day- as in a horribly shitty day- since I opened the cafe. But it wasn’t always that way. I used to work at Pendragon Corps, and there, almost everyday was a bad day.”

“Wait- really? You were one of those corporate types?” Merlin asked. “But you wear sweaters and give me muffins on a daily basis. You’ll have to convince me of that one, Arthur.”

Arthur laughed, “Well considering I am Arthur Pendragon, I don’t think it would be too hard to believe.”

Merlin seemed surprised by this, and began to ask more questions. Arthur was also surprised that he answered them willingly. He told Merlin about how horrible working at Pendragon Corps had been for him, and how he hoped that Igraine’s Cafe would be what he did for the rest of his life. Merlin told Arthur about his bad day, and by the end of the conversation Merlin seemed much happier and left with a smile on his face.

As Merlin left, Arthur was so focused on him that he didn’t notice his soulmate’s mark was bright orange with swirling pinks.

The more Arthur got to know Merlin, exchanged stories and learned about each other, the more Arthur wondered about his soulmate. Perhaps he even hoped to glimpse Merlin’s mark and see his own moods reflected there. Merlin usually wore a jacket over his scrubs, so it was rare to see the colors on his arm, but every once and awhile he spied a flash of color.

One Sunday afternoon, Arthur was the last one in the cafe before closing. He was sweeping the floor when he heard a knock on the window, and turned to see Merlin. He wasn’t dressed in scrubs. Oh no, he was dressed in black trousers and a button up shirt rolled to his elbows, with a scarf wound loosely around his neck. His hair was combed unlike it was most mornings, and his cheeks were flushed with the autumn air. He was stunning and Arthur had not been prepared to see him.

“Merlin?” Arthur opened the cafe doors to let him in. “We’re closed.”

“Oh I know.” Merlin said, “But I was wondering if you were free. I would have called, but for some reason I never got your number and was too impatient to wait for tomorrow to ask for it.”

Arthur felt a burst of a laugh rise out of his throat. Merlin was asking him out, and Arthur felt uncontrollably giddy.

“Yeah.” Arthur grinned, “Yeah, I’m free. You want to go down to the Rising Sun?”

“Yeah.” Merlin brushed his hand over his hair, almost nervously, as he said, “I can wait- Or you want to-?”

“No, now is fine.” Arthur said, but his eyes were on Merlin’s arm. The mark was bright pink with excitement and deep purple with love and lust. That couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Merlin followed Arthur’s eyes to the mark on his arm. He smiled and looked down to Arthur’s own mark. Arthur looked down to see a similar shade of pink, purple, with a bit of blue.

“Figured it out then?” Merlin smiled, his eyes crinkling with mirth.

“You knew?” Arthur asked, reaching out and grabbing Merlin’s arm running a hand over the mark as it changed, adding in a hot pink of Arthur’s nervous-excitement.

“Yeah. I figured it out when you told me you worked for Pendragon Corps. Or rather, that’s what got me thinking. You always seemed so happy and my soulmate used to have such extreme emotions that I didn’t think it was you. But later you told me about those panic attacks and it all made sense.” Merlin stepped closer and took Arthur’s arm in his hands, running his hands over the colors on Arthur’s arm. “I used to get these weird mixed colors on my arm. Normal colors like red, blue, and yellow, but they were all mixed together and frantic. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what. That was really maddening, you know? But that stopped over a year ago. I put two and two together, and well…”

Arthur didn’t hesitate. He wrapped his arms around Merlin and pressed his face to Merlin’s hair. “God, Merlin, sometimes all I had was your colors on my arm.”

Merlin squeezed tight, “Well, now you have me.”

Arthur leaned away just enough to pull Merlin into a kiss. When they parted, both their marks were a deep purple.

Chapter Text

It had been half a year since Arthur had walked out of the lake.

Because Merlin had had over a millennia to think about introducing Arthur into a new world- whenever that may be- he already had things planned out when Arthur arose. Merlin had been travelling all around the world, but when he felt the draw to return to the Lake of Avalon, he returned to a small cottage on the outskirts of society.  The home was nestled in the woods, about a mile from Avalon. That was where he had taken Arthur after he stepped out of the lake.

As Merlin had predicted, it was hard for Arthur to adjust to over one thousand five hundred years of change. The cottage made it easier for both of them. Arthur wasn't bombarded with modernity and Merlin could introduce him slowly as he himself became acquainted again with his old friend.

But at the mark of six months, in the bright days of spring, Merlin knew it was time to properly let Arthur see the world. Merlin had taught him all about modernity, eased him into technology and societal customs of the day, but now it was time to take the next step. They closed up the cottage and moved into Merlin’s flat in the city. It wasn’t a particularly large city by any means, but it was more than Arthur had ever been used to. To Merlin’s surprise, he took to it like a fish to water.

Arthur woke up in the mornings and took a run and then bought Merlin a coffee. He joined a local football team, made friends with the men on the team and went out to the pub with them on Fridays. He even convinced Merlin to pay for online history classes so he could learn more, and maybe get a degree for a career.

Merlin didn’t mind Arthur’s enthusiasm, in fact, it was nice to not have to worry over him. Merlin was dragged along to one event after another, happy to be with Arthur again.

“Merlin?” Arthur called into the flat, “You home?”

“Kitchen!” Merlin called back, pulling off his glasses to look up from his computer screen.

“Can I borrow that?” Arthur asked, pointing to the laptop.

“Yeah, new word?” Merlin asked.

“Of a sort.” Arthur answered. He pulled the laptop towards himself and Merlin didn’t think too much of it. Every once and while there was a new word or thing that popped up that Arthur had known about before. The first time Arthur came back from football practice with a bunch of lads, Arthur came home and had to look up all the slang they had used.

“Oh.” Arthur said, brows pulled together.

“What is it?” Merlin asked.

“I thought this was still taboo? This isn’t one of those extreme groups, is it?” Arthur turned the laptop around, showing Merlin a google search page for four letters, all with spaces in between because Arthur was still getting the hang of the computer, L G B T. The rainbow flag was the prominent on screen.

“Oh.” Merlin said.

Merlin hadn’t really explained queer culture to Arthur yet. It seemed so culturally different from medieval Camelot that he worried Arthur would regret it on the spot.

Merlin pulled the laptop over and tapped on a few pages. “Well… I wouldn’t call it universally accepted, but a man being in a romantic and sexual relationship with another man, isn’t all that uncommon now. Or for two women. Here, there’s a lot of history, you might want to look into it.”

Merlin then gave the laptop over to Arthur and set about making dinner for them.

“Merlin?” Arthur caught his attention as he popped the chicken into the oven.

“Hm?”

“Is this you?”

Merlin turned to see Arthur pointing at a picture on an obscure LGBT website, on a page about Queer History. The article was titled ‘Remember Pride Parades Were Once Queer Riots.’ A grainy black and white picture from the twentieth century showed a crowd of queer protesters with angry signs and raised fists. Then there was a man, loose white shirt and jeans, with dark hair long enough to curl around his ears. It was unmistakably Merlin, fifty years prior in New York City.

“Yes.” Merlin said slowly, gaging Arthur’s reaction.

“Were you there because you were seeing the world, or...?”

“No.” Merlin shook his head, “No, I wasn’t just there.”

It was dead silent as Arthur looked down at the picture for a long moment.

“Arthur-”

“You’ve been in relationships with men?” Arthur cut him off. “Romantic ones?”

Merlin chewed on his lip nervously. “I’ve always been attracted to men and women. It just wasn’t until the twentieth century that they gave a name to it.”

Arthur was silent again.

“This isn’t going to be weird, is it?” Merlin asked.

“You thought I would hate you- like the magic?” Arthur asked. Merlin had not expected the hurt in Arthur’s expression.

“What? Arthur, no. In Camelot, a man loving a man was so taboo, I worried the whole queer culture would give you a shock.” Merlin said.

“Were you with anyone in Camelot?” Arthur asked, more demanding now.

“Well…” Merlin said, thinking of the few men he had snuck off with, behind the stables or in the back of the tavern.

Arthur stood up abruptly. “I’m going on a walk.”

That was Arthur’s code for ‘I’m not angry, but I need time to process alone.’ He took his jacket and left. Merlin felt hollow.

It was over an hour later, the chicken sitting cold on top of the stove and Merlin sitting impatiently at the kitchen table, when Arthur returned.

Merlin tried not to jump up and run to Arthur as soon as the flat’s door opened and closed behind Arthur. He waited. He would always wait for Arthur.

Arthur sat down across from Merlin, “Did you eat?”

“No.” Merlin answered.

There was a long pause.

“This morning,” Arthur started, speaking to the table rather than to Merlin. “After my run, I went to buy you a coffee. Linda handed me this, telling me that ‘Me and my bloke would just love it.’” Arthur held out a bright red flyer, sliding it over to Merlin.

‘LGBT Night - Open Mic Night at Linda’s Coffee and Tea. Friday, 7 - 9 pm. All welcome!’

Merlin felt his stomach flip. Oh, that nice older woman. Linda thought they were a couple. Merlin held back a nervous laugh that was building in his chest.

“She asked me how long we had been together.” Arthur said, “I obviously didn’t catch her meaning because I just told her that we’ve always been together.”

Merlin gave a weak smile, “So you don’t want to go to Open Mic Night?”

Merlin .” Arthur warned.

“Sorry, sorry.” Merlin laughed a little. “You have to admit- It’s a bit funny.”

“Do you think it’s funny?” Arthur asked, his lips turned down.

“Arthur, don’t be insulted by it. She just misunderstood.”

“I’m not insulted.” Arthur said.

“Then what’s with all the-” Merlin gestured to Arthur and his sour mood.

“You.” Arthur said, eyes boring straight into Merlin. “You’ve been with men. I didn’t even realize you had any affairs while in Camelot- let alone with men. You’ve been here all this time- and I don’t know Merlin. We’ve been through hell and back- and perhaps I’m angry that you tucked away yet another part of yourself from me. Shared a part of yourself with some random man- and not with me.”

Merlin’s heart raced in his chest as Arthur stood up and stepped into front of Merlin. “Is it so bad that I liked it when Linda said ‘your bloke’ like you were mine?”

Merlin stood up, feeling his throat close up with nerves, making it hard for the words to come out. “No.  It’s not so bad.”

When Arthur raised his hand to cup the side of Merlin’s face, Merlin had never seen Arthur so hesitant before. He said, “I’m not wrong about this, am I?”

Merlin shook his head, “I was only with those men because I couldn’t have you.”

Arthur kissed him, too fast and crooked, but Merlin melted into it immediately.

On Friday night they went to Linda’s Open Mic Night, and didn’t correct her when she called them boyfriends.

Chapter Text

There were only a few reasons for Doctor Emrys to beam down to the surface of a planet with the away team. The first was that someone was injured or ill on the planet and need a trained Starfleet physician. The second was that Captain Pendragon knew someone would be getting injured and just didn’t want to admit it.

“Come on, Merlin.” The Captain would tell him, “It will be fun.”

Merlin didn’t think so. He had been in travelling through the galaxies for years and he knew the dangers of space.

Unfortunately, this time around it was the latter of the two reasons.

“I’m fine- will you lay off!” Arthur shouted, red in the face and already sweating.

First Officer Leon Knight and Science Officer Lance DuLac were holding up the Captain, who seemed unaware that he was not able to stand on his own.

“Doctor- we need a hand here.” Lance nodded to Arthur.

“I swear to all the stars, Pendragon.” Merlin grumbled as he held up his tricorder to Arthur’s chest. “What happened?”

“We don’t know.” Leon said, “We were surveying the land like he asked and then we found him passed out.”

“His heart rate’s accelerated.” Merlin said, “Temperature’s dropping. We need to get him back to the Albion, now.”

Lance pulled out his communicator, speaking to the Engineering Officer in charge. “Gwen, beam us up.”

“Aye, sir.”

Merlin blinked and they were back on board the Albion, dragging Arthur down the halls to Med Bay.

The following hour was madness as Merlin monitored Arthur’s health and ordered the team to find the antidote on the surface.

“You told me it would be fine.” Merlin said to Arthur’s unconscious form. He was freezing and shaking like a leaf in the wind.  Merlin felt his lip tremble for a moment, overcome with emotion as he looked at Arthur and watched the readings on the monitor drop more.

Throwing propriety to the wind, Merlin climbed onto the patient's bed and laid next to him, wrapping an arm around his middle. “You’re too brave and curious about the universe for your own good.” Merlin said as he laid by his side, trying to keep Arthur warm enough while they waited for the away team to get the antidote. Merlin pressed close to him and Arthur’s shaking decreased minimally, although not enough for Merlin’s liking. “If you die, I will find you in the life after this and murder you myself.” Merlin told him, pressing his fingers to Arthur’s neck and checking his pulse the old fashioned way, feeling comfort in Arthur’s heartbeat.

Another hour passed and Arthur’s condition had steadily worsened. Merlin was about to pull out his communicator and ask where the hell the away team was, when Lance and Leon rushed in with a woman who Merlin assumed was from the planet. She nodded to Merlin briefly before looking to Arthur.

“He is almost gone.” She said, making Merlin’s heart drop. But then she pressed her palm to the center of Arthur’s chest and began to pray, or at least that was what Merlin had thought. She reached behind her and Leon handed her what appeared to be a leaf from a bright orange plant. She placed the leaf in Arthur’s mouth and chanted again. A moment passed and Arthur stopped shaking. Merlin looked up to the monitors and watched with amazement as his vital signs returned to normal.

“What did you do?” Merlin asked, running his hands over Arthur’s face with reverence.

“A spell to counteract the bad air he breathed in.” The woman answered unclearly.

It was barely a minute later before the monitor showed that Arthur was completely healthy. He blinked open his eyes, looking very confused at the sight of Merlin and the Med Bay.

“What happened?” He asked.

“Apparently I can’t even trust you to breathe on your own.” Merlin said, “I am never letting you leave the ship again.”

Chapter Text

“I suppose they are all suitable.” Arthur said.

Merlin snorted as he dusted off his prince’s coat one last time before circling him, checking that the Prince of Camelot was indeed dressed properly and ready to greet his guests.

“Suitable?” Merlin repeated. “Half the kingdom is in the citadel, and the daughters of lords and knights are prancing around in their best dresses, and you only find them suitable?”

“Tell me, Merlin .” Arthur rolled his eyes. “What should I find them?”

Merlin copied Arthur and rolled his eyes, “Pretty. Stunning. Creatures of Beauty.” Merlin said, making a gesture with his hands, “They are fawning over you, and you’d rather see a fist-fight.”

“The annual Camelot tournament for lords and knights is not a fist-fight Merlin.” Arthur said in a warning tone.

“Fine, but the Lady Eliza’s handmaid was looking my way this morning and unlike you, I will be delighted to introduce myself to her this evening.”

Arthur scrunched up his nose, “Merlin, do us both a favor and never talk to me about girls ever again.”

Merlin shrugged, “Suit yourself.”

Merlin went about his day but he couldn’t help but notice that Arthur was a terse with him after that. It was hard to tell with Arthur. Merlin had a hard time telling if he was in a bad mood (or if he was just happily hitting things with his sword) and if he was, why he was in a bad mood. Merlin suspected that Arthur actually didn’t know why he was angry most of the time, but that was a whole other issue entirely.

It took Merlin until that evening to figure out why the Prince had been particularly snappy and grouchy all day. During the feast, the girls were fawning over Arthur, and Merlin had never seen Arthur so uncomfortable. Arthur always talked about how handsome he was (it was true, but conceited to admit) and how everyone liked him (not true at all, but it was in Arthur’s mind).

Arthur looked like he would rather die on his own sword than dance with another girl. So like a good manservant, Merlin made an excuse and got Arthur out of the feast.

“What the hell are you doing” Arthur hissed at him as Merlin dragged him out of the hall.

“You looked miserable! And you’re welcome by the way.” Merlin hissed back.

Merlin , I can not just-! I am the Prince of Camelot, I cannot leave whenever I am uncomfortable!”

“So you were uncomfortable?” Merlin asked, to which Arthur smacked him upside the head and then marched off to his rooms without another word.

The next morning, as usual, Merlin persisted further. (He usually did until he either broke Arthur down, for his own good of course, or until Arthur yelled at him to clean out the stables).

“Sooooo” Merlin started as he handed Arthur his tunic. “If you were free to do so, would you prefer Lady Jane or Lady Amber?”

“What?” Arthur said, tone already harsh. Probably too early in the morning for this, Merlin thought.

“Just for the fun of it.” Merlin said. “I like shorter women with dark hair, so Lady Jane would be-”

“Merlin.” Arthur snapped.

“Whereas maybe you’d like someone more sporty like Lady Amber? I heard her father taught her to sword fight when she was younger.”

“You’re worse than any matchmaker, what has gotten into you?” Arthur asked, snatching his coat from Merlin’s hands and pulling it on with a jerk.

“Just wondering- I ask Gwen the same questions- Well not about women, but about some of the knights.”

“Of course.” Arthur sneered. “What did she say? Kay because he’s tall and broad, or Lamorak, because he’s slim but powerful?”

Merlin opened his mouth to reply, but then he closed it quickly. It sounded like Arthur was angry- perhaps that Merlin dragged Gwen into this- but his answers were oddly detailed. He tried something out. “No, I told her I thought Bedivere and she agreed he was very handsome.”

Bedivere? ” Arthur scoffed, “He’s a good knight but he’s broken his nose too many times and his lips are thin.”

“Hm…” Merlin said, “What about Gareth? He’s about your age.”

“He is. Gareth is very handsome. He’s tall and his training is coming along so he’s quite muscled now. He’s very nice eyes and he always has a smile- it’s charming. I would imagine anyone wouldn’t mind him.”

“Yes, anyone .”

It took Arthur a while to understand Merlin’s meaning.

“Me?” Arthur’s voice rose incredibly high.

Merlin raised his eyebrows and shrugged, “Why not? He’s handsome.”

Merlin !”

“What? When I was in Ealdor I had this thing with a neighboring village’s boy named-”

Merlin !” Arthur said again, and this time it was certain he was blushing and looked a bit scandalized.

“Oh!” Merlin said, covering his mouth. “Are you not-? Have you never told anyone?”

“I do not like men, Merlin!” Arthur said.

“Didn’t say that” Merlin pointed out. “You did.”

Arthur growled at him, “Gareth is a handsome man. I can admit that.”

“Yeah, but you were a bit detailed about it.” Merlin said.

Arthur opened his mouth and then closed it again. He turned on his heel and left his chambers. Merlin considered it a victory.

Chapter Text

The chains above his head rattled as he tried to stand upright on his weakened legs. Morgana smiled at him.

“Couldn’t you do me a favour, could you?” Merlin rasped. “Let Arthur know? He still thinks of me as an underachiever, but I'm quite proud of those accomplishments. I can die happy .” He gave a harsh smile, more of a grimace and altogether too frightening.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Morgana stepped closer to him, her face terrifyingly close as she whispered, “I’ll make sure to tell him before he joins you.”

Suddenly, Merlin felt all the breath leave his body as the rageful force of a blade was thrust into his gut. As the breath returned to him, she twisted the metal in his body, making him scream. When she removed her dagger, blood poured all over the hovel floor. Her eyes were bright green as she smiled, pushing Merlin backwards. He gasped desperately as he fell back onto the chains.

“Goodbye, Merlin.” Morgana turned away, leaving Merlin to bleed out alone.

*

Gwaine’s voice was jovel as he said, “You know what I like about Merlin? He never expects any praise. All these things he does just for the good of doing them.”

King Arthur held up his hand and shushed his fellow knight. He swore he heard something.

“Split up. Search to the East” said the King before he headed West.

He travelled along the woods with the only sound being his armor and his horse’s hooves across the dead leaves. Between the trees he spotted a glimpse of brown fabric and a red piece of cloth. His heart picked up pace as he saw a figure curled up by the tree.

“Merlin!” he called out, his stomach flipping with joy at the sight of his manservant. He thanked all the gods on this Earth for leading him here.

Arthur dismounted from his horse and ran forward to where Merlin was lying up on the forest floor. “Merlin.” He smiled despite himself. Merlin may be hurt or scared but he was here, with Arthur.

He touched Merlin’s shoulder, but he didn’t move. “Merlin?” Arthur turned over Merlin and his stomach dropped when he saw the pallor of Merlin’s skin. He was so pale that he was almost green. With shaking fingers Arthur pulled his gloves off and pressed his fingers to Merlin’s throat searching for a pulse.

“No.” He whispered, pressing his palm to Merlin’s throat and then hovering it over his nose and mouth, praying for any wisp of breath. “No, Merlin, no.” He looked for a pulse in his wrist, he shook Merlin, praying for the sound of Merlin’s voice. His voice. God the last thing Arthur had said to Merlin was that he would keep him safe. He promised he would get them back home to Camelot.

“This can’t be. This can’t be.” Arthur said to Merlin, “Something’s wrong. Something happened. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. It can’t. It’s not possible. You can’t be dead. It’s not possible. You can’t be dead. You can’t. You can’t!” Arthur only realized that he was shouting when the birds in the trees screeched and flew away in a flurry.

Arthur sobbed, heaving and trying to remember how to breath. He tried, but he couldn’t manage to take in a single breath, only frantically letting out coughs as if his body was trying to heave out his stomach contents.

“Arthur?”

He vaguely heard the sound of another horse and chainmail.

“Oh, Merlin .” Behind him he heard another person’s voice crack.

Arthur sobbed like a child, pressing his forehead to Merlin’s. His tears spilled over Merlin’s skin.

Someone moved him away from Merlin, lying the body onto the soft forest floor amongst the leaves as if he were sleeping. Arthur felt the strong arms of his fellow knight wrap around him and he shook uncontrollably, unable to look away from Merlin’s impossible form. Impossible. He couldn’t be dead.

Arthur’s eyes searched over him, looking down at Merlin’s tunic which was covered in mud. There was a tear in the tunic’s center. Not a tear, but a slice. Arthur realized the brown on Merlin’s tunic wasn’t mud. It was blood.

Arthur stood up on weak legs and moved away to throw up his breakfast behind a nearby tree. He was surprised he managed to move at all. He stayed there a moment, regaining his breath.

“Arthur,” Gwaine touched his shoulder and held something in front of him. Arthur’s eyes focused on a piece of paper. “It was in his coat.”

Arthur snatched it away. “‘The boy’s cure lies in the Valley of the Fallen Kings.’” He looked up at Gwaine, “Morgana?” After all, she was a high priestess of the Old Religion.

Gwaine shook his head. “No one can bring a man back from the dead. She means to trap you.”

Arthur turned, pushing Gwaine away. He kneeled before Merlin’s body and lifted him into his arms.

“Arthur?”

Arthur lifted Merlin onto his horse, not looking at Gwaine. He mounted his horse, levering Merlin’s body against his chest.

Gwaine grabbed Arthur’s reins, “Arthur, look at me.”

Arthur looked, seeing the red rimmed eyes of someone who just lost his closest friend. He wondered how much worse he looked.

“This is a fool’s errand. One that Merlin would have warned you against.”

“Then leave.” Arthur said, pulling his reins away and kicking his horse forward.

A moment later he heard another horse right behind him. Gwaine didn’t comment again.

*

They stopped in the evening at the edge of the Valley. They hadn’t brought any supplies but neither of them complained as they made a fire and set their cloaks down onto the cold mud and leaves. Gwaine used his Knight’s cloak as a blanket from the chilling wind. Arthur wrapped his Knight’s cloak around Merlin. He tried to distance his mind from what his eyes saw, Merlin, and the motion of his hands, wrapping a body. He pressed his fingers to Merlin’s eyelids, although they were already shut. Arthur could hear Merlin’s voice, ‘If I do die, will you call me a hero?’ Arthur bit back a few more tears, closing his eyes, desperately trying to control his treacherous body which shook wildly.

Fingers against Merlin’s freezing skin, Arthur whispered a warrior’s prayer,

“Merlin, swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcean fromum feohgiftum on fæder bearme, fromum feohgiftum hine on ylde eft gewunigen wilgesiþas, þonne wig cume, leode gelæsten lofdædum sceal.”

Arthur settled the cloak across Merlin’s face, “Honor upon you, my dear friend.”

Silence, like Arthur had never heard, fell over them. Against his closed eyelids Arthur saw a bright light shine above him. Behind him he heard Gwaine breath out an exclamation. Arthur opened his eyes, looking up to see a shining blue orb. It floated down directly in front of him, bouncing on the air.

With trembling fingers Arthur reached out for the magic that had saved him once before. When it touched him, warmth and emotion swelled in his chest so quickly he thought it would drown him. The orb hovered by his face. Arthur closed his eyes, submitting himself the the feel of magic as it pressed to his face in a mimic of a kiss.

Arthur gasped when it moved away, dropping down to the body wrapped in Pendragon red. The light sunk under the cloak, spreading over Merlin’s body from head to toe. The body was immersed in blue light, and Arthur could feel the magic surrounding him, as if the entire Earth trembled. The arms which were crossed on his chest twitched and quaked. The body bowed as legs shook and pressed to the forest floor.

The light snapped, and it was dark once again. The fire crackled behind Arthur and Gwaine gasped, but he barely heard any of it as the sound of breathing overtook his senses.

Frantically, Arthur pulled the cloak away from Merlin’s body. His skin was flushed with blood and his lips were open with breath. Arthur sobbed with relief, pressing his hands to Merlin’s throat, feeling a strong pulse beneath his fingertips.

“Thank you.” Arthur said to the gods, for answering his prayer. “Thank you.”

Merlin’s eyes opened, the color of a stormy sky. Confused, he looked to the trees, the fire, and Gwaine behind him. His eyes settled on Arthur, who was still shaking with emotion. Merlin reached up to touch Arthur’s tear-stained cheek. “Arthur, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. You’re safe.” Arthur leaned forward, pressing his lips to Merlin’s forehead, “You’re safe.”

Chapter Text

There were a lot of difficulties about being a sorcerer in a city that hated sorcerers. Camelot’s Anti-Sorcery Act had been in place for decades, and despite many local cities and districts opening up their policies on magic use and magic users, Camelot was entrenched in old beliefs.

Despite it all, Merlin loved living in Camelot. It sounded contradictory, and he supposed it was. He loved the people around him. He had a group of friends who loved him and cared about him, although only one person in all of Camelot knew he had magic. Lance had found out by accident (Merlin had had a bad head-cold. He sneezed and suddenly there were bubbles all over his apartment. Luckily, despite the fact that Lance had grown up in Camelot, he was not as conservative as the local government.)

The other contradictory thing about Camelot was Arthur Pendragon. Son of Camelot’s leading anti-magic politician, an officer in Camelot’s police force, and an all around Camelot born-and-raised man, Arthur was exactly the kind of person Merlin should have strayed away from. And yet.

And yet Merlin was head over heels for the man. Arthur was his best friend. He was everything to Merlin. Sometimes it scared him just how much Arthur meant to him.

But Merlin had to keep one of the biggest secrets of his life from Arthur. When they had first met, Merlin  had heard Arthur talk about magic. He had said the usual things about sorcerers: they were misguided people and magic would eventually corrupt them. That had been years ago and Merlin knew Arthur’s ideas on magic had shifted for the better, but he had never dared ask, lest he raise suspicion. If Arthur knew about Merlin’s magic, it would have been one thing if he was just anyone. But Arthur wasn’t just anyone. He was a policeman and was obligated to arrest Merlin on site if he had any evidence of magic. Merlin wouldn’t risk putting Arthur in a position which would compromise his entire career.

Despite all these contradictory facts about living in Camelot, Merlin had thought he had everything under control. But Murphy’s law was a powerful force.

“Let go of me!” Merlin shouted as Detective Aredian pulled Merlin’s arms behind his back and snapped the iron cuffs on Merlin’s wrists. “You can’t arrest me! You haven’t even told me what I’m being charged with!”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” Merlin yelled, but in his chest his heart was racing a thousand miles an hour.

Aredian smiled at him as he read him his rights. “Merlin Emrys, you are under arrest for the use of sorcery and the attempted murder of Cedric Sigan.”

“What?” Merlin gasped. “What?”

Adredian smiled as he read Merlin his rights. “Boy, you may be from the country but you should know better than to practice magic in Camelot.” He shoved Merlin into the back of the police car.

On the ride to the police station Merlin’s mind ran over and over what he had done wrong. How had they found out? How in the world did they come to the conclusion that he had tried to kill Cedric? The man wasn’t his closest friend- in fact Merlin thought he was a sleazy bastard who hung around the pub Merlin worked at- but Merlin didn’t want him dead.

The worst part? Merlin knew the likelihood of the charges dropping. Camelot had notoriously high records for arresting and charging sorcerers. He wouldn’t even know what lawyer would take his case.

Twenty minutes later, they arrived at the station and Merlin had resigned himself. The only hope he had was that the attempted murder charges would be dropped.

Merlin held his head high as Aredian pushed him up the steps of the station and then through the doors. Merlin tried not to look around. He tried to look straight forward and focus on keeping his dignity at least. He prayed that Arthur was out.

Merlin?

Under his breath, Merlin let out a tired and broken curse. He closed his eyes and prepared himself. When he opened his eyes, he saw Arthur standing in front of him, looking like the perfect Camelot son in his uniform. As Arthur stepped forward, he looked baffled and outraged.

“Adredian, what is this? What is going on?” Arthur said.

“This man is under arrest for the practice sorcery.” Detective Adredian said.

Merlin saw the disbelief in Arthur’s face, and it broke Merlin’s heart.

Sorcery?” Arthur laughed, “Don’t be absurd, Adredian. You’ve got the wrong man-”

Arthur broke off. He must have seen the utterly broken look on Merlin’s face. Merlin felt a tear escape and fall to the floor. He tried to compose himself, his lips trembling. Arthur’s eyes widened.

“Merlin?” Arthur’s voice hung in the air, as if waiting for an explanation.

“The little witch won’t speak.” Adredian laughed, “Boy knows his rights. ‘Anything you do say may be given in evidence’ isn’t that right?”

Merlin turned away from Arthur, who was looking at Merlin like he couldn’t recognize him.

“Let’s get this over with, Adredian.” Merlin said, voice rough.

“Fine by me.” Adredian said, pulling Merlin towards the interview room, “Have a nice evening, Pendragon.”

Merlin sat in the interview room for over an hour. He wondered what was holding Adredian, or if he was just letting Merlin stew. If he was trying to make Merlin more anxious, it was working.

When the door opened next, Arthur walked in.

Merlin lifted his hands to his face, nervously covering his mouth, and the chains of the iron cuffs rattled against the metal table.

Arthur set down a folder. Probably Merlin’s case folder.

“Tell me this isn’t true.”

Merlin couldn’t look him in the eye. “I want a lawyer.”

“Merlin.”

“I won’t speak without my attorney present.”

Merlin.”

“Arthur.” Merlin snapped and finally looked up at his friend. Arthur looked furious and Merlin’s heart dropped. He looked away, “Try all you want, I’m not discussing anything without an attorney.”

“Forget about the damned case-” Arthur cut himself off. He seemed to realize where they were and the stakes Merlin’s life was under. “Fine.” He picked up the folder and left, the door slamming behind him.

Merlin let out a shaky breath and pressed his forehead to the cold table.

The next time the door opened, Merlin was surprised to see Arthur’s sister in the doorway.

“Morgana?”

“Your lawyer.” She said, “And I just got you out of both charges.” An officer followed behind her and unlocked the cuffs. With a sigh of relief, Merlin felt the magic rush back in his veins. “Come on, we better get going.”

Merlin threw decorum aside and hugged her, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Adredian’s on your tail now. Let’s get out of here and talk freely.” Morgana led him out of the station and to her car, where Merlin was surprised to see Arthur.

“I have some things to finish at the station.” Morgana said, “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” She gave a look to Arthur, and then turned on her heel.

Merlin pulled his sweater nervously over his hands, the cool breeze making Merlin’s hair stand on end.

“Will you talk to me now?”

Merlin swallowed the lump in his throat. “Will you arrest me?”

“No.”

“Even if I confess to a crime?” Merlin said.

Arthur closed his eyes and Merlin could see he had confirmed it for Arthur.

“Did you call Morgana for me?”

“Yes.” Arthur said. “I needed to talk to you outside of the station. And I couldn’t see you be imprisoned by that jackass.” He shifted on his feet. “Tell me you didn’t try to perform that spell on Cedric.”

“I swear. I don’t even know what happened to Cedric. The first I heard of it was when Adredian arrested me.”

Arthur looked a little less pale at that statement. “Morgana will run you through it. But first,” Arthur stepped forward, “Why?”

Merlin didn’t need Arthur to clarify.

“How could I have told you, Arthur? If you were caught withholding a criminal, you’d be blacklisted.”

Arthur bit his lip and looked away, “Damn it, Merlin. Damn it.”

“I’m sorry.” Merlin said. “I really am, but not for who I am. I’m sorry I had to lie to you.”

Arthur’s hands shook as he pressed his fist to his lips. “I can’t- You know what’s odd? I can’t even find it in me to be angry with you.”

Through the turmoil of emotion, Merlin managed to smile.

Arthur sighed, “Let’s get you out of here. Morgana has a lot to go over with you.”

Merlin ignored Arthur’s subject change. He stepped forward and pulled Arthur into a tight hug.

“Thank you.”

Arthur’s arms wrapped around Merlin’s sides, “Anytime, Merlin.”

Chapter Text

Arthur looked like he was about to eat his own badge. His expression was still as stone, but instead of the cold and determined stare of a detective on the case, his expression was closer to cross-eyed frustration. Gwen watched her fellow detective he unconsciously flared his nostrils and turned even redder in the cheeks. He looked like he might explode. Gwen was starting to worry.

Across from their joined desks- talking a mile a minute without a clue of the volcano that was Arthur Pendragon- was Dr. Merlin Emrys. He was the police’s decay specialist as well as the entomologist. It was a rather gruesome and gross job, that Gwen would never do if they paid her in gold bricks, but Merlin seemed to enjoy it.

Arthur broke a pencil as Merlin continued. “…have all the samples at the lab. I will have to examine the latest larvae that developed next to the remains. Then there are the beetles. Amazing how they ate through all that tissue and muscle- Oh sorry. But anyways, it’s really fascinating. Then I can look over the beetles and I will be able to tell how long the body had been in the bogs. Hopefully.”

Gwen took opportunity in Merlin’s pause. “So you’ll have that estimated time by tomorrow?”

“Oh by this afternoon, I’m sure of it. I’ll be back to let you know.” Merlin said to Gwen with a sweet smile.

Arthur grunted, sounding more like a bear than a detective. “I’m getting coffee.” Arthur said gruffly and stood up quickly.

Gwen internally groaned. Arthur hated coffee. His mood must have been that bad.

Merlin watched Arthur leave and then turned to Gwen. “He still hates me? He hasn’t yelled at me in weeks, I thought we were passed this?”

Gwen shrugged. “He’s in a mood. Let me talk to him. I’ll see you at three?”

In the break room, Arthur was staring at the coffee machine as if it had a gun pointed at him.

“You looked like you were going to throw up on Merlin there.” Gwen started. “Never thought you were squeamish.”

“I am not squeamish!” Arthur’s voice rose to a high pitch.

“Then what’s with the face?”

Arthur turned back to the coffee machine pushing a few buttons. “What face?”

“The face you make when you look at Merlin. Like you’re going to break his neck.”

As Arthur opened the breakroom drawer for a mug, he broke off the handle from the wood. He stared down at it with the same frustrated expression he had given Merlin.

“That one.” Gwen said.

“Merlin’s fine.” Arthur said through gritted teeth, placing the handle on the counter along with a mug. “I’ll fix that later”

“Don’t bother, I’ll tell Leon it broke off. Any excuse to raise for money for the crumbling cabinets and desks in this office.”

Arthur grumbled in agreement, continuing to make his coffee.

Gwen watched him a while and noticed the way Arthur seemed to be trying to literally crawl into his own shell, with his shoulders raised to his ears.

“Merlin’s coming back round this afternoon.”

“I heard.”

Gwen huffed, “Arthur. What is your problem with him?”

Arthur’s noise scrunched. “He’s just so-” He made a very vague gesture. “With his constant talking about dead things! And the way he just-” Arthur made a frustrated noise. “And then there’s the way he never gets to the damned point. Plus he makes everything-”Another high-pitched noise. “With his stupid hands-” A snort. “And the way his hair is all-” A wavy hand gesture. “And his voice is all-” A series of noises that resembled Merlin’s low Welsh lilt. “It’s absurd!”

Gwen paused, trying to translate Arthur-ese in her head. “Yes…Right…”

Arthur groaned, as if Gwen was insane and not the other way around.

It wasn’t until after Merlin’s afternoon reappearance that Gwen discovered the problem.

“Hi Gwen! Arthur!” Merlin smiled as he sat down across from their joined-desk. Gwen watched Arthur throughout the conversation, and it was the same reactions as this morning. He crumbled a file so badly that he would have to go get a new folder for the paperwork.

But then.

Then, Gwen watched as Merlin said goodbye and walked away. Arthur watched him go, with the most frustration Gwen had seen as of yet. His eyes were large and his lips thin. It clicked as Arthur looked down to his desk, his lower lip sticking out and his shoulders sagging.

Gwen started laughing, unable to stop herself. She covered her mouth as Arthur looked at her. “You’ve been-!” She giggled, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that you-!” She let out another laugh.

Arthur turned bright red.

Gwen settled down enough to lower her voice to a whisper, “You’re mad for him, aren’t you?”

Arthur shushed her loudly, “Shhhhh. Keep it down!

“Oh my god” Gwen burst out laughing again.

Arthur slumped in his chair, his face redder than ever before.

Gwen whispered, “You fancy him.”

Arthur pouted. Actually pouted!

“He’s always covered in dirt! Damned insects!” Arthur hissed. “And he’s talking about dead bodies! And then he’s all-” Arthur made a noise that Gwen now realized translated to: ‘he’s so cute and I am so frustrated that I feel this way about him.’

“It’s infuriating!” Arthur concluded.

Gwen smiled.

Arthur’s eyes widened in horror, “Oh, no. Gwen, don’t.”

“Too late,” She sing-songed, already half way to a plan to get Merlin and Arthur together by the end of the case.

Chapter Text

In a mythical land and magical time, Prince Merlin of the Druids was arranged to married. He was uncertain about the engagement, feeling that one should marry for love, but he had been raised by his father and mother to put his people before his own needs. Indeed the arrangement with the King of Camelot was a beneficial arrangement for their peoples. King Arthur had been vastly different from his father. Where his father had been cruel and unyielding, his son had been just and compassionate. Or that was what Merlin had been told. Evidence was weighing in Arthur’s favor, as he had returned magic to the kingdom of Camelot after 20 years of exile. The Druids and the magic people of Camelot would find it beneficial to see the two kingdoms joined in matrimony.

Prince Merlin arrived with his small entourage but was surprised to find that they were not greeted by the King. A servant quickly bowed to him. “His majesty wishes to make his apologies. He has been suddenly detained by an…illness. He hopes that you would find yourself comfortable in the guest chambers.”

 “Illness?” Merlin asked, “I hope it’s not serious?”

The servant seemed hesitant. “He…er…His majesty is in good hands with the Court Physician Gaius.”

“Please take me to him.” Merlin said, knowing that it was not good manners but he had hardly ever paid mind to that. “We are to be married after all.”

The servant led Merlin and his knights to the Physician chambers. He had met Gaius once before, when the Druids had requested the aid of the skilled physician.

“Your highness!” Gaius greeted. “You’re not meant to be here.”

“What the hell is he doing here? He can’t see me!

Merlin heard a voice but he could not find the King himself.

“I came to give my best wishes to his majesty.” Merlin said. “I am trained in some healing magic, if there is anything I could do...”

“Absolutely not!”

Merlin finally found the source of the voice as something plopped off the table and onto the bench in front of him. Merlin stared at the little green-brown blob in front of him. He seemed to be glaring at Merlin.

“What? You’ve never seen a frog before, Prince Merlin? I figured they had plenty in the Druid’s forests.” The frog said, and that was when it finally sunk in.

Your majesty?

King Arthur made a shrug movement and released a little ribbit in disgruntlement.

Gaius cleared his throat. “His Majesty was…transformed by a witch yesterday. She seemed to disagree with some of his current laws.”

“I have to have some laws against magic! People can’t be going around spelling curses everywhere!” The frog bounced indignantly.

“Of course, your Majesty.”

Merlin had to hold in an unprincely giggle. “So he’s… Erm. Have you found a cure?”

Gaius shook his head. “I’m afraid the wedding will have to be postponed.”

“Oh, forget about that.” Merlin said, sitting on the bench next to the Frog King. “Let me help you look through your books. Perhaps I could be of some help!”

***

They were not fruitful that night, nor the next. On the third night he curled up by the fire in Gaius’ chambers with a book. In this time Merlin became well acquainted with Arthur despite his frog form. He was restless most of the time, though Merlin was unsure if it was his froggy limbs or Arthur’s usual dislike of sitting still.

As Merlin read by the fire in a patient cot, Arthur croaked on the table, “I’m cold!”

Merlin was also finding out that Arthur was a bit of a prat.

“Yeah well you’re cold blooded.” Merlin muttered as he read through another transformation spell.

“I am not!” Arthur hopped onto the floor by the cot, glaring at Merlin.

“Yes you are.” Merlin said. “Go by the fire or something.”

“I’ll dry up!” Arthur said. They had already found out that Arthur needed water after he passed out yesterday. “I’m a frog. A stupid wet and slimy frog.”

Merlin sighed and put down his book. He picked up Arthur, ignoring his protests “Stop that!”

Merlin settled Arthur on his chest so that they were eye-to-eye.

“I’m a stupid useless Frog King!” Arthur moaned. “I can’t even get across a room, let alone defend my people! And now you’re here and I mucked up any first impressions I would have on my future spouse.”

Merlin laughed, “You’re a very grumpy froggy tonight.”

Indignantly, Arthur smacked his back leg onto Merlin’s chest.  Then he slumped. “How am I to woo and kiss you when I’m gross and- and- and- froggy!”

Merlin bit back his laugh, “We’ll cure this curse, and you will be free to woo and kiss me to your heart’s delight.” Merlin felt oddly affectionate to a man he had only known a few days (and had yet to see in human form.) Merlin leaned forward and pecked a little kiss to Arthur’s brow (or whatever the top of a head on a frog was called.)

“Merlin!” Arthur hopped and twitched. To Merlin’s horror, he seemed to be having a fit.

“Arthur!” Merlin worried that there had been some kind of horrible time limit to Arthur’s curse and he would now die. “No!” Merlin reached out, but was soon blinded by a bright light and he was struck by what he thought was a spell. But when he opened his eyes, the weight was still on top of him.

A man with golden hair and bright blue eyes was staring lying on top of him.

“Merlin! You did it!” Now that voice sounded familiar, although a lot less ribbit-y.

“Arthur? Arthur!” Merlin laughed with delight. “You’re human!”

“Finally!” Arthur crowed happily, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s brow.

Later, after they had told Gaius of their success, Gaius whispered to Merlin, “You know typically only true love’s kiss can break a spell without any other magic.”

Merlin smiled, “I know.”

Chapter Text

Merlin had found that the best place to share his music was at the train station near his university. There were students coming and going all the time, they often recognized him and waved at him as he played his violin. Commuters often smiled at him (and since they usually frowned on their way to work, Merlin found that to be a big achievement.) Often he played modern pop hits, just to see people smile as they recognized the song on the violin, but sometimes he would be playing classical pieces or sometimes ballet pieces.

One day he was beneath the wide sunny windows in the midst of the echoing station. People stopped and listened. Merlin smiled at a little girl and her mum who stopped. He wasn’t paying attention to the man in the rumpled suit and loosened tie until he heard the distinct low notes of a viola. He turned to see a man, a little older than he with ruffled blond hair and dark circles under his eyes. Under his chin was the viola. He played beautifully, and for a moment Merlin forgot to play or wonder why the man had an instrument with him.

The man raised a brow at him, nodding to Merlin’s violin, which had fallen to his side. Merlin quickly lifted it once again, and matched the man’s low notes with a counter of his own. It took him a moment to find a pace with the man, but soon enough he heard the tune and remembered the notes of the song, although he had long forgotten the piece’s title.

For a while he lost himself in the sound of their instruments, but he soon had to look to the other man as the song came to a close. Again, the man nodded to Merlin. This time Merlin picked a classical piece that the man was bound to know. He did, and the man quickly joined in with Merlin. Merlin stepped closer to the man, smiling and laughing a little as the man seemed to lighten with each note.

As the music swelled to the high ceilings of the station, Merlin’s heart joined in with a happy beat.

With a little flourish, they both finished off the song with proud smiles. The crowd around them applauded and cheered. Merlin tucked his violin under his arm and held out his hand. “That was wonderful, bloody wonderful. You’re amazing. What’s your name?”

“Arthur.” The rumpled man said with a laugh. “I just came back from a performance in Berlin.” Which explained his tired appearance. “You’re not bad yourself…?”

“Merlin.” He answered. “I’m studying at the local university.”

“Well, let me know when there’s a performance. I’d love to see you play again.” Arthur pulled out a business card and pen, scribbling a number onto the back. Without much else said, he put his viola in his case and walked away with a quick wave to Merlin.

Merlin looked down to the business card. “Pendragon’s Camelot Philharmonic” Merlin said with astonishment, eyes wide and looking back to see if the world-renowned musician was still in the crowd. He wasn’t, but Merlin apparently had his number so that wasn’t too much of a bother.

***

Arthur Pendragon’s business card weighed heavy in Merlin’s pocket.

Arthur Pendragon had asked Merlin to let him know when his next performance was. He was only being polite, right? Merlin’s next performance was a recital in a grungy part of campus with the majority of the audience being music students who would receive extra credit for seeing the performance. Maybe he would leave Arthur Pendragon a message when he had his year-end performance? That one was much grander and Merlin would probably get a solo if he was lucky.

But this was Arthur Pendragon. He had played in orchestra houses all around Europe. His family operated the best philharmonic for miles around. Certainly he would have a performance. (Merlin had checked and he didn’t.) He wouldn’t want to come. (But he had asked!)

Merlin didn’t call him, promising himself that he would do so on a later date (probably). So when the performance night came and Merlin looked out to the audience of students and parents, he was surprised to see Arthur Pendragon in one of the first rows.

Gaius, his teacher and conductor, nodded to Merlin to take his place at the front as first violin.  Merlin was not certain that he had played. He must have, because everyone applauded at the end, but he didn’t remember. His music had taken him away, his fingers knowing the notes so well that he didn’t have to do much besides move on muscle memory.

After the final bow, Merlin rushed down the steps (there was no propriety in a school performance and half the orchestra had followed him to greet friends.)

“You’re here!” Merlin flinched, hoping something better would have come to his mind before that had blurted out of him.

“You didn’t call.” Arthur said with a raised brow, looking rather imperious. “I had to inquire to Gaius when the next performance would be.”

“You know Gaius?”

“An old family friend. I had asked if he knew you and he said you were his star pupil.” Arthur said with a wave of his hand, as if that didn’t make Merlin want to burst with pride. “Bravo. You play wonderfully. I was wising that I was playing with you.”

Merlin may have squeaked.  Which may have made Arthur laugh.

“I thought you were only being polite!” Merlin confessed. “In the train station, I mean.”

Arthur leaned in close, like he was telling a secret, “I’ve been told I’m not very polite. Even when I mean to be. So no, I wasn’t only being polite.”

“Oh, well. Thanks.” Merlin cleared his throat, “I’m glad you came. I was wondering if I would see you again at the train station.”

“No, I’ve been in town recently.” Arthur said. “Do you go to the train station often?”

“Almost every week. It gives me time to practice and hope people enjoy it at the same time.” Merlin said.

Arthur watched him for a moment, blue eyes running over him with an assessing gaze. Then all of a sudden he seemed to switch gears entirely. “I’ve been told that there’s an all-hours café on campus. Care to join me for an espresso?”

Merlin was surprised, but delighted nonetheless, “Yes! Er, I mean that would be nice. But is this like a preliminary interview thing? I’ve never been very good at networking or whatever they call it. I rather just ask up front. Camelot Philharmonic wouldn’t happen to need a violin, would they?”

“They might. They might even be willing to take you on next year if you audition well.” Arthur cocked his head to the side. “But I was asking for myself. If that’s alright with you?”

“Oh.” Merlin said, hoping his ears weren’t turning red. He felt them warm anyways. “Yeah, I’d be alright with that.”

“Perfect.” Arthur held out his arm for Merlin to take. It was such a ridiculous action that Merlin had to laugh. Arthur didn’t seem offended though, as he said with a little nod, “Come on, Merlin.”

Not able to resist, Merlin linked his arm with Arthur’s, his other hand holding his violin case.

“We should play together again sometime.” Merlin said as they walked out of the building and into the cool night air.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.” Arthur said. “I think we will have plenty of chances to play together.”

Chapter Text

The Ugliest Car in the World was parked in the customer designated space in front of Arthur’s shop. It looked like it was the same age as Arthur (which for a car was old, but for Arthur it was a perfectly fine age, thank you). It had at least three dents which Arthur could see, appeared to be filled with junk (blankets, trash, bags of stuff). Not to mention it was gold. My god, it wasn’t the seventies anymore. No one had gold cars and even if they did, this car’s paint job had seen better days.

There were two distinct spots in front of Arthur’s shop which read ‘Carpenter Customer Parking’ in clear print. This was a busy street with a dozen little shops full of customers. Arthur needed these spots for his guests! Poor Alice had come into his shop to tell him that all the spots had been taken and she had to walk down the block. How was he to load her rocking chair into her car without a spot in front of his shop! Whoever owned this car had clearly ignored the label with malicious intent in their hearts and used Arthur’s car spots with evil glee.

In a fit of rage Arthur scribbled a note onto a pad of paper: “To The Owner of the Ugliest Car to Ever Drive on This Earth.” Arthur wrote out a scathing couple of sentences and furiously ripped the paper off the pad. He stomped out to the front of his shop where the car was still obstructing his customers.

He was about to stick the note under the car’s windshield wipers when someone called out to him. “Hey! What are you doing to my car?”

Arthur spun around, “You! This is all your fault-” Arthur’s sentence stopped midway through. In front of him was The Most Gorgeous Man to Have Ever Graced This Earth. The man had obviously been blessed by Aphrodite or had been born a siren. He had a tall lithe frame with broad shoulders. His hair looked like had been shagged only minutes before and his lips were bright red. Arthur choked on his breath.

Hello?” The man said, shifting a bag from one shoulder to the other. “Can I help you?”

Arthur mentally shook himself. “You! You are…! Damn you!” Arthur said and crumbled the note in his hand. “This is my parking space.” Arthur said, pointing to the designated sign. “I have a customer waiting. If you’re not going to my shop, then don’t park here.”

The man raised a brow at him. Damn him, he was gorgeous even when he looked annoyed. “I’m sorry but there were no spots left. I was in a rush and hadn’t thought it would be a problem.”

Arthur spluttered. Which was when Alice came out of the shop to lecture him, “Arthur, give the poor man a break. It isn’t too much of an inconvenience.”

Arthur made an angry gesture and spluttered some more. Somehow, the Gorgeous Man had made talking impossible.

“Oh, I am dreadfully sorry, am I in your way?” Merlin said to Alice, his tone much softer to her than it had been to Arthur.

“Don’t worry your head,” Alice said, “I’m just visiting my godson. He made me a rocking chair for his godfather’s birthday.”

“Oh?” Merlin turned to Arthur. “You wouldn’t happen to be able to make a kitchen table? My best mate is an idiot and broke mine this weekend. And that way I could be a customer. Parking spot fixed.”

Arthur, realizing the siren’s call was working far too well on him, decided he best give up his rage and give in to The Most Gorgeous Man.

“Yes, I suppose that’s fine.” Arthur sighed before looking back at the car. “Or I could just have it towed. You really ought to get a new car.”

The man must have had a good sense of humor because he laughed. “Oh it’s not mine. It’s my best mate’s car. I’m borrowing it, although it absolutely ruins my image.”

“That is not possible.” Arthur said before he could understand what he was saying. He blushed, but hurriedly covered it with, “Come inside! The shop. I’ll show you around. The tables. Around the tables.”

The man smiled, his eyes crinkling at the sides. Oh, Arthur was the Most Smitten Man in The World.

Chapter Text

“He’s back again.” Merlin said. He rested his chin on his arms as he leaned across the counter while Gwen stirred a new batch of chocolate for the eclairs.

“Again?” Gwen asked, “What does that make it today?”

“Four times. I think that’s a record.” Merlin said, lazing about the empty bakery and watching the man through the window. “He’s eying that strawberry-chocolate pie like it’s naked and giving him a lap dance.”

Merlin.” Gwen scolded, although she giggled.

“It’s true. The man comes by daily but has yet to step into the shop! It’s like he’s waiting for the pie to ask nicely before ravishing it.”

“Perhaps he’s waiting for a reason to buy it.” Gwen offered.

No one needs a reason to eat pie.” Merlin put a hand to his chest in mock horror, “Who are you and what have you done with Guinevere Smith?”

“Shut it, you. Maybe you should go give him a reason?” Gwen nodded over to the day-old goods, “Take him a sample. Come on, we’ll just throw out the old ones anyways.”

Merlin shrugged, “Why not? Poor sod needs something sweet.”

By the time Merlin grabbed the pastries, the man was turning to leave.

“Sir! Would you like to try a sample? They’re a day old I’m afraid, but they still taste great.”

The man turned, and Merlin’s view of the man had obviously been blocked by the pies in the window. The man was handsome in his sleek suit, which he filled out with broad shoulders and a wide chest.

“Oh.” The man looked down to the sweets on Merlin’s plate. “Sorry, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to lose weight.”

Merlin frowned down at the perfectly fit (and muscled) man in front of him. “Good lord, why?” He asked before he could shut himself up.

The man looked offended and Merlin fumbled, “You look fine to me. I mean- er. There’s always room in a diet for a berry tart! See it has fruit? Healthy!”

The man seemed to find Merlin’s fumblings amusing (or the sweets had finally won him over) because he stepped forward and took said berry tart off the plate. “Yes, I suppose you’re correct. I admit it’s been torture seeing the pies in your window.”

“I noticed.” Merlin said. “You come by a lot.”

The man looked away with obvious embarrassment.

“It’s quite a compliment! I mean, Gwen does all the decorations, so the appearance is all thanks to her, but I do the baking. I swear they taste as good as they look.” Merlin really was putting his foot in his mouth.

The man took a bite of the tart and the look of ecstasy on his face was enough to make Merlin’s hair stand on end.

“God. I haven’t had anything with sugar in ages. I think I’m dying.” The man took another bite and then finished off the tart with only another. “That was amazing.”

“Well there’s more where that came from.” Merlin said, “Come on. I’ll give you that pie you’ve been ogling if you promise to share it with me and tell me why on Earth you’re on this horrid diet that discriminates against pies.”

Merlin opened the bakery door and held it open to the man. The man looked a little blindsided but in the end he laughed with delight, “If it tastes anything like that tart, you aren’t getting a single bite.”

Chapter Text

They had been taken somewhere remote in the middle of Russia. Merlin figured it was deep underground, where enemy satellites couldn’t see. He had tried to track where they were going very the plane and then the snowmobile, but no one had a clue where they were. Only a handful of men knew where this place was. And Merlin? He needed to be one of those men.

Arthur was his fellow mole.  Unlike Merlin, his mission was to find out as much information as he could on the weapons they were building here. They were a team, although they rarely saw each other. It would be too suspicious for a weapons specialist and a medic to always be talking. But when they had the chance… They couldn’t stay away from each other.

Merlin often wondered that if British Intelligence had known that Merlin and Arthur were together (more than just partners, but lovers as well) if they would have sent them on this extended mission. Probably not. If the collusion and suspicion wasn’t bad enough, homosexuality was illegal in Russia and God knows what the military would do if they were caught.

But it was a risk both of them were willing to take.

It was the middle of the day (or whatever passed as afternoon when you were in an underground bunker with generated lights). It was Arthur’s lunch break and Merlin was supposed to be on an errand for his supervisor. They were both stuffed into Arthur’s tiny room where they pressed kisses desperately to each other’s mouths and gripped bare skin in haste. They always had to meet like this. Never at night (if anything was suspicious, it was walking around at the dead of night) and always as quickly as they could.

Merlin held back a sob as he pressed a final kiss to Arthur’s mouth, before he pulled himself away and began to dress. Merlin could tell Arthur was just as strung out as he, but neither of them voiced their regrets. They both knew, and saying anything would only make it hurt more.

If only Merlin had known that would be the last time he saw Arthur. If only he had said something as cliché as ‘I love you’ or as silly as ‘good work comrade, see you next time.’ But he hadn’t. He hadn’t even looked at Arthur, because he would only want to curl back into that tiny cot and kiss him until nightfall.

That night Merlin was making his routine stops deep in the bunker where they kept prisoners, when he saw Arthur flanked by two men. Merlin watched, and was surprised to see Arthur make eye contact with him. He blinked. Then he paused. Blinked again.

No. Merlin thought. Dear God, anything but this. But Merlin knew that signal. S.O.S.

Merlin followed them, calculating how bad this was and if he and Arthur could take down two men with weapons when they had none. They took Arthur into a room deep below, where no one could hear. No one would know. For all his training, Merlin didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t break in. He didn’t even have a weapon. He only had to stand outside the door and listen to the Russian men inside.

They interrogated Arthur. Merlin heard horrible sounds of skin hitting skin and something metal hitting bone. Arthur never screamed. He was far too proud for that.

“Where’s the other spy, hm?” One man said in Russian. “We know you come in pairs. Where is he?”

No noise. Merlin begged Arthur to give him up, just so they could at least die together. So he could see Arthur one last time. Not like this. Please not like this.

“What about that little medic? Oh? You thought we wouldn’t notice.” There was a noise of something cracking and Merlin heard a pained whine, the first to come out of Arthur. “We know you too collude in your quarters. Don’t think we don’t know-“

“We just fuck.” Arthur, the first words he had said so far. “My partner was killed in Moscow by your damned police.”

If only British Intelligence knew that their homosexuality wouldn’t have been a hindrance at all. It was a red herring. Arthur was going to pass off Merlin as a queer, hoping to set him free. And it was working.

“A spy and a fag.” Merlin heard the man spit and Merlin flinched involuntarily. “It’s a good thing we already killed the other of you in Moscow. Now there’s less work for us.”

A gun shot and then silence.

***

As soon as the Russian military began investigations into Merlin’s homosexuality (and Merlin didn’t care anymore, he told them everything) Merlin was extracted from the mission. An agent was sent to Russia and Merlin was sent home. In England, he was given a stern lecture on inter-spy relations and the importance of this mission. He was told it was lucky that Arthur had died without uncovering Merlin.

Merlin looked up at the director and then he left without being dismissed.

It was over a month later when he began to hallucinate. He didn’t blame himself. He had hardly been eating or doing much of anything else besides drinking and lying in bed. The hallucination looked like Arthur, the one that was usually in his flat. No suits or spy disguises. Only a shirt and a loose pair of jeans.

“Oh Merlin. Sweetheart, what have you done to yourself?” Arthur said, standing at the door. His image was hazy. Merlin couldn’t really see him. He walked forward and kneeled in front of the bed. “Merlin it’s me.”

“Hi.” Merlin smiled. He didn’t care if this wasn’t real. If this was his one way to see Arthur, he would take it. “I wish I had said goodbye to you.” He touched Arthur’s face. “I wish I said I love you.”

“I know, darling. Me too.” Arthur said, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s lips.

Merlin sobbed, “You feel real. Lord, you feel real.” Merlin pressed a desperate kiss to Arthur’s chin. Then his cheek and jaw.

“Merlin, love. It’s me. Look at me.” Arthur pulled Merlin’s face so they were eye-to-eye. “I’m here.”

Merlin ran a thumb over Arthur’s cheek. “It’s fine. I just wanted to say goodbye to you. I just wanted to tell you one last time. Even if it’s just to myself.”

“Merlin, please.” Arthur was crying now. Which wasn’t something Merlin thought he would ever see. It broke through Merlin’s grief. “Merlin, darling, please I’m here. I’m alive. Please look at me.”

Merlin stared and stared.

“Arthur?”

“Yes, it’s me. I swear it.” Arthur said. “I’m here.”

Merlin didn’t ask how or why. He would ask later. Now he was engulfed in Arthur’s embrace, desperate to hold on and never let go.

Chapter Text

Merlin was sixteen when his soulmate’s first words were written across his forearm.  It was a fairly simple and inconspicuous position for such daunting words.

“If you want to get out of here alive, I suggest you shut up.”

The worst part about Merlin’s mark was that it was fairly open ended. Was his soulmate threatening or saving him? It was an unnerving thing to read at the age of sixteen when Merlin was dreaming of marks like “It’s you, my god you’re gorgeous” or  “Hi, my name is…” followed by their full name, so Merlin could find them immediately.

In the end, Merlin’s life continued on like normal. He went to school. Then he went to university. He became a paramedic.  Although his soulmate mark sometimes felt like it was looming over him, he often just let it slip into the back of his mind.

***

It was a Thursday afternoon when Merlin decided to visit Gwen at her office.

He had a mocha for Gwen and made his way all the way up to the fiftieth floor in Camelot Corp. She was a PA for a high-up business woman. Merlin didn’t know the details but he knew Camelot Corp. was a huge name with a ridiculous amount of money.

It was just Merlin’s luck that it was on that Thursday afternoon when six men in white masks decided Merlin’s life needed a bit more excitement.

He had just shaken hands with Gwen’s boss, Morgana, and had begun to chat with her when the screaming started. He turned in time to see a man raise a gun and shoot several bullets into a nearby filing cabinet.  Five more men rushed into the room with glocks raised. Immediately, Merlin grabbed Gwen and Morgana, shoving them down behind the desk. It wasn’t much use. Less than a minute later, they were hauled out, zip-tied, and corralled into a group with the other hostages.

Merlin, who had been told he had little self-preservation skills, was cursing and threatening the men with as much fervor as he could muster.

“For god’s sake, shut the fuck up.” One of the men smacked Merlin with the butt of his gun. Merlin grunted in pain. After a moment he felt a trickle of blood roll down his forehead.

Merlin snarled, “Fuck you. What the hell do you even want?”

“We’re making our demands to Pendragon.” The masked man said. Under his mask there was greasy black hair and an obvious egomaniac complex. “Now shut up. Or you will be the first hostage shot.”

Merlin was beginning to find out that being a hostage involved a lot of waiting. While the men made their demands through a phone, the hostages sat on the floor. Not many people spoke. Some were crying. No one seemed to be hurt (besides Merlin’s bruised head, which throbbed painfully).

“I wonder if The Knight will come…” Gwen whispered, mostly to herself.

Morgana nodded, “Here’s to hoping.”

Merlin whispered back, “You think The Knight is real?”

The Knight was a myth. Some people believed the man was just an urban legend spread by rowdy teenagers and morally-loose cops (which was far too many in Camelot). Merlin had a feeling he was real. There were just too many accounts for it to be just rumors, especially when the criminals who had no reason to make up such a story, said they had been apprehended by a man with a sword.

“I’ve seen him.” Morgana said under her breath. “Last year. I was heading home late at night. I didn’t notice the men following me until it was too late. Then he was there.”

“You didn’t tell me that.” Gwen said.

“What would I say? A man with a sword saved my life?” Morgana said. “There hadn’t been any Knight rumors at that point. I would have sounded off my rocker.”

That’s when the lights went out. One of the hostages screamed.

“Oi!” One of the men with guns shouted, “Which one of you shut off the lights?”

Apparently the black-out had not been a part of the hostage-plan. It was surprisingly dark now. They had been gathered into the center of the offices where there weren’t any windows.

The man with the long black hair, who seemed to be in charge, snapped at one of his lackeys. “Go check on it.”

“The wires are cut!” One of the lackeys said. “It looks like someone is sabotaging us.”

“Find them.” The long haired man said. He pulled out his phone and spoke to the police. “Your time is up. A hostage dies every ten minutes until you give us our demands. Starting now.”

The man pulled Merlin up, making him stagger as the blood returned to his legs. “Congratulations, you are lucky contestant number one.”

Merlin.” Gwen leaned forward to grab him, but he shook his head at her.  He mouthed ‘It’s alright’ even though he knew it wasn’t.  The man pushed him forward, pressing him forcefully into the nearest wall. A gun pressed to his head.

Merlin didn’t have time to think before he was on the ground. Pain flashed over him, his arms and head stinging as he was slammed down. The wind was knocked out of him and he couldn’t breathe for a couple of seconds. The only sound was a gun shot and screaming. When he looked up, the long haired man was unconscious on the floor. A shadow ran across the hall in front of Merlin and slammed one of the masked men into a wall with a loud thump. Another masked man tried to pull a gun on him, but before they could, there was a slivery flash of a blade in the darkness and the gun dropped.

Before Merlin could so much as process what was happening, he was hauled to his feet and shoved into a nearby office.  The office window gave just enough light too see The Knight. Most of the man’s face was covered by a balaclava, only revealing bright blue eyes. Merlin stared with an open mouth, his words failing him as The Knight sheathed his sword. Before Merlin could speak, The Knight covered Merlin’s mouth with a gloved hand and pressed a finger to his own lips, signaling silence.

He whispered, his voice rough, “If you want to get out of here alive, I suggest you shut up.”

For the second time in less than a minute, Merlin felt like the wind out had been knocked out of him.

Before he could so much as take in another breath, the three remaining men were rushing into the office. The Knight threw a desk chair at the first man who came in, and sliced his sword over the second. Merlin, feeling useless, pulled a huge paper weight off the office desk and threw it at one of them, hitting the man in the side of the head and knocking him out. The Knight looked fairly impressed with this, but didn’t comment.

The Knight pulled the now unconscious men into the main room and strapped all of their arms behind their backs. He pulled the cartridges out of the guns and tossed them. He bent down and wordlessly began to break all the zip-ties on the hostages. Everyone seemed quite, dazed at the sudden commotion and abrupt end to the entire ordeal.

The Knight stood and surveyed the room, seeing that all the men had been taken care of. He turned and was about to leave, as if he really had been a shadow. Merlin, terrified that he would be gone, as if he had never been there in the first place, ran after him. Down the hall, Merlin grabbing The Knight’s arm and pulled him to a stop. Merlin’s mind was spinning, but there was one thing that kept running through his head over and over again. “I knew you would save me.”

Beneath the black mask, the man’s eyes widened.  For all he had accomplished in the past few minutes, the man seemed incapable of words. “…You?”

“Me.” Merlin smiled. “Thank you for saving my life.”

From what Merlin could see of the man’s face, he looked blindsided. Merlin had the sudden overwhelming fear that The Knight would leave without a word.

“Don’t leave.” Merlin said, “Or at least tell me how to find you. Please.”

The man looked up and down at Merlin, his eyes lingering on the blood on Merlin’s brow. “I’ll find you. But I can’t stay.” He raised a hand to Merlin’s face, running his hand over Merlin’s jaw, barely a touch at all. Then he was gone, turning and disappearing out the fire escape.

Chapter Text

“You have a leaf in your hair.” Arthur said. “Again.”

Merlin was face first in a large biology textbook, studying for his upcoming Pharmacognosy exam. “I was working in the nursey at the botanical gardens today.” He didn’t bother to get the leaf out of his hair.

“That explains why there’s another baby plant in our flat.” Arthur said, looking at the small plant sitting on the kitchen counter.

“I couldn’t help myself.” Merlin looked up from highlighting his book with big blue, pleading eyes. “It needed a home, Arthur. It was lonely.”

Arthur sighed. “What does that make that? Ten?” Arthur scanned the little flat where Merlin insisted on cramming as many house plants as he could. “A good even number.”

“Until the next one.” Merlin hummed, going back to his textbook.

They worked in companionable silence. Arthur made dinner. (Made was a loose term. He put a frozen pizza in the oven and chopped a salad.) Merlin finished his notes for the evening and then pulled Icarus from her cage.

“Hello there, little birdy.” Merlin said to the warbler. The bird had been named Icarus (probably in poor taste) the day Merlin and Arthur had found her at the park with a broken wing. She had taken a liking to Merlin ever since. (She had refused to return to the wild. They had gone to the park, ready to say goodbye, but she only sat on top of Merlin’s head and stubbornly made her home. That was that.) She lived well in their apartment, with all the plants and Merlin’s magic always making it feel more like a piece of nature than an apartment.

Icarus let out a little song, hopping onto Merlin’s shoulder and then climbing onto the top of his head. She began to preen and Merlin sighed as a feather fell into his hair.

“Dinner’s ready.” Arthur said as he made two plates. “She’s making a nest.”

“I know.” Merlin said, scoping the little bird off his head and putting her back in the cage.

Arthur leaned forward and plucked the feather and the leaf (which had yet to be moved) from Merlin’s head.

“How’s Gaius?” Arthur asked after Merlin’s grad-school advisor, which started Merlin onto a long rant about studying and how much work Gaius was putting on him.

Merlin grumbled, “I love doing it, but it’s a strain sometimes.”

“I know” Arthur said, lifting up Merlin’s hand and giving it a squeeze.

They finished their evening by staying in bed and watching a movie. It had been a long day for both of them. Merlin had gone to work at the botanical gardens and to Gaius’ office for a consolation on his thesis. Arthur had spent all day at his apprenticeship with the Carleon Law Firm, and then he had been asked to stay two hours more. By the time the movie ended they were both yawning and ready to curl up and go to bed.

Merlin was half-asleep already.

“Merlin…” Arthur said, nudging his boyfriend.

“Mm. Let me sleep.” Merlin said.

Arthur poked him again. “Come on, love.” He pulled Merlin upright. Merlin made an annoyed bleating noise. “No, you can’t go to sleep yet, you have to take your binder off.”

Merlin grunted but did eventually get up and go into the bathroom to finish his nightly routine. Arthur followed after him, brushing his teeth and washing his face. Then they fell into bed.

Arthur heard something crackle beneath him. He grunted and pulled whatever it was out from under him. It was a leaf. “Merlin.”

Merlin, wearing one of Arthur’s old football jerseys and practically swimming in it, gave Arthur a wry smile. “Oops?”

Arthur rolled his eyes, tossing the leaf in the waste bin (with the others). “Come on.” He shifted on the bed and held out his arm to Merlin, who crawled into Arthur’s arms.

“You are ridiculously adorable with your magic.” Arthur said, pressing his face into Merlin’s hair.

“Hush.” Merlin mumbled, already falling asleep. “G’night.”

“Good night, Merlin.”

Chapter Text

The little bell above the door dinged as Merlin walked through. He asked for a room.

“By the hour or for the night?” The motel clerk asked without looking up from her magazine.

“The night.”

She held out a set of keys and then her hand, for the money. “Out by 8 am or we kick you out.”

“Thanks.” Merlin took the keys and laid down the cash on the counter.

It wasn’t the best part of Camelot City. But then again, it wasn’t the best part because people like Merlin frequented the area. Magic rebels were criminals in the eyes of the law. Not that any kind of magic person was looked upon with any respect, by the law or otherwise.

Which is where the rebels came in. Balinor had been heading the group of rebels for years, and as soon as he was old enough, Merlin had been his right hand. The most recent upset was the ordinance which ‘relocated’ anyone of magic out of the city. The rebels had been trying to hide people and aid settlement anyway they could but it was hard when they had to work completely underground and undetected.

As soon as Merlin opened the motel room, he made sure all physical entrances were locked and then he cast several protection and security charms. He used a cleaning spell on the bed (just in case) and then went into the bathroom to take a shower. He hadn’t the luxury of a shower very often, not when he had to run between the city for information and then return to rebel camp in the forest.

Just as he was drying off, one of his charms set off making the hair on the back of his neck rise on end. He quickly pulled on his jeans and then cast out a detection spell.

“It’s just me.” A voice said on the other end of the motel room door. “Stop with the feel-up detection magic. It’s distracting.”

Merlin couldn’t help the huff of laughter that escaped him. He opened the door and let Arthur into the room. He looked as disguised as he would ever get: jeans, chuck taylors, and a jacket with the hood pulled over his head.

“I’ve told you the hood only makes you look more suspicious.” Merlin said, pulled it down.

“And I’ve told you, it covers my face from my father’s spy cameras.”

Merlin rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue. Arthur set down a duffle bag on the motel desk. “Here’s the supplies. I wish it were more.”

Merlin looked through the bag: hygiene products, first-aid, tin cans of food, a couple pieces of clothing and one padded blanket.

“It’s enough for now.”

“Leon has a drop off with Morgana tomorrow.” Arthur informed him. They couldn’t move anything in groups or with anything too large. It would bring suspicion and if this network fell, everything came loose.

Seeing Arthur, in a motel room for ‘for the night’ was not a good plan. They had a lot of lives on the line. Balinor had been furious when he discovered that Merlin’s infiltration into Camelot had been ‘corrupted’ when Merlin had fallen into bed with the enemy. Or rather, the enemy’s son. Arthur was nothing like his father, which led to this underground network arrangement. It also meant that Merlin rarely saw Arthur at all. If they had only been sleeping together that would have been fine.

But…

Arthur stepped into Merlin’s personal space and thumbed Merlin’s cheek delicately. “You look tired. Have you been sleeping?”

Merlin decided to answer honestly. They had such few moments together that he couldn’t afford to play coy. “I’ve been restless. Thinking about seeing you.” Merlin ran his hands under the collar of Arthur’s t-shirt so he could feel the skin of Arthur’s back against his palms. “Missed you.”

Arthur pressed his face against Merlin’s, humming in contentment. “You too.”

“When can you be back?”

“Let’s focus on now.” Which meant he didn’t know, but was sure it was certainly going to be a long time. Arthur’s hands moved down Merlin’s shoulders to his ribs and settled on his hips. “You’re not very dressed.”

“Just finished my shower.” Merlin said, knowing that his jeans were skimming too low for decency. “Would you rather I get dressed?”

“No, that would waste time.” Arthur said with a clever glint in his eye. “Might want to lean against the dresser.” Then he went to his knees.

Later (much later) they laid in bed. The little alarm clock on the bedside table read 3am, but they had no plans to sleep. In between kissing and pressing as close together as they could, they talked. They ran fingers over skin and they talked about everything: the city, politics, magic, war. They talked about nothing: the way Merlin took his coffee (when he had the luxury), the funny things Arthur had seen on the metro on his way to work, how the trees looked in the forest under the night sky, that memorable time Arthur fell off the bed and they couldn’t stop laughing.

6:58am. They didn’t have much time left, but they still hadn’t slept a wink. Arthur was pressing as many kisses as he could onto Merlin’s mouth.

Merlin held back a sad noise which was building in his throat. “I wish this moment could last…” He had to bury his face into Arthur’s neck to hide the emotion tearing through him.

Arthur held onto him tightly, until it felt like all the air from his lungs was gone.

7:28am. Arthur pressed a kiss to Merlin’s forehead, his hand cupping Merlin’s jaw. “I’m afraid I didn’t help you sleep much.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Merlin said, holding Arthur’s wrist so his hand would stay where it was. Arthur moved his hand so that he could hold Merlin’s instead.

“I promise” Arthur said adamantly, “One day we will fall into bed, I will kiss you goodnight, and we will fall asleep. Then I will wake up next to you, knowing I don’t have to leave.”

Merlin kissed Arthur’s hand.

“One day.”

Chapter Text

There were 636 love spells. Over 150 use hair and another fifty or so use a scrap of cloth. Almost none of them did what they were supposed to do.  Many of the spells made one fall into lust, some made one very affectionate, and many just gave one a stomach ache.

This love spell in particular used a scrap of cloth (blue, worn thin and faded until it was almost grey) and a single hair (blond, found on a hauberk in the royal armory).  All it took to ensnare the owners of these items was a bit of flint, a few whispered words, and a push of magic. The items went up in flames, and somewhere in Camelot a sorceress smiled.

*

When Merlin woke up he immediately felt nauseous. It was a cold winter day, and Gaius had been tending to the lower town with a fever. He hoped he hadn’t caught it. He did have a Prince to tend to after all. He pulled on his clothes, rummaging around his things for his blue neckerchief, but only finding his red one. He shrugged, not having the time to look further, and tied the piece of fabric on as he ran down the citadel halls.

When he entered the Prince’s chambers, Arthur was rolling further under the blankets to avoid the morning light.

“Up and at ‘em!” Merlin clapped his hands. Not taking pity on Arthur, Merlin pulled on the blankets before Arthur had a chance to hold onto them.

Arthur hissed and cursed Merlin with venom. Merlin smiled. Arthur was always rather grumpy in the mornings, but the way he curled up on his side and nuzzled into his pillow was more endearing than usual.

“Come on, sunshine.” Merlin ruffled Arthur’s hair, slipping away quickly before Arthur could smack him away. Arthur only smiled at him. Odd.

Merlin pulled out Arthur’s clothes for the day, and when he turned back Arthur looked a bit green.

“Are you feeling alright?”

Arthur shook his head and fell back onto the pillows with a groan. “Can’t we just have a day to ourselves?”

“You’re the prince. I don’t think that comes with much time to laze about.” Merlin held out Arthur’s white tunic, which Merlin liked particularly.

Arthur looked up, still not moving. “You’re wearing a red scarf.”

 “Um. Yes?”

Arthur looked at Merlin like he was the one asking inane questions.  “With a red tunic.”

Merlin looked down. “Appears so.”

Arthur groaned, “You’re so-!” He made no further comment, though Merlin noticed his face was a tad pinker. Arthur grabbed the tunic and they started their day.

Throughout the day Merlin didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, although he felt rather weird. He followed Arthur through his duties (watching as Arthur put Uther’s snobbish advisors in their place and loving every second of it) and through his knights training (watching, intently than usual, every twist of Arthur’s wrist and every curve of his muscle.)

Arthur also seemed a little off throughout the day. Merlin really hoped it wasn’t an illness. Arthur was cute when he was all pink-nosed and grumpy about being bed-ridden, but he was also more of a spoiled prat when ill. If that was even possible.

But despite the odd feeling in the air, nothing was out of place. Merlin even checked with his magic and he kept a sharp eye out all day.

The only thing remarkable was that they kept running into a serving girl named Jane. She kept eyeing them, and always seemed to be where they were going. But she didn’t do anything but watch them. It was a bit weird, but as far as Merlin could tell, not malicious.

That night, as Merlin undressed Arthur, he noted it to Arthur.

“She might fancy you, Merlin.” Arthur winked as he bent over to wash his face.

Merlin snorted, “She was looking at you. Not that your big head needs to hear that.”

Arthur grinned and Merlin smacked him with his own tunic. “Shut up, prat.”

Normally Arthur would flick him in the head for such insolence but Arthur only grinned at him. Odd. Again.

As Merlin pulled the sheets down, Arthur said, “She would be lucky to have you, Merlin.”

As Merlin left Arthur’s chambers, his stomach flipped over and over again. Maybe it was an illness.

*

The sorceress screamed with annoyance.

It had been weeks! Yet, there was still no result!

She had thought that love spell would work. She had studied it for ages before performing it. But the Prince of Camelot was no closer to ridiculing himself by falling in love with his idiotic manservant!

With a heavy sigh, she gave up on the whole venture.

Chapter Text

“Mate, I don’t trust him.” Will said.

Merlin sighed as he adjusted his binder and pulled on his nice button up. Usually he would automatically disagree with Will. His childhood best friend had a tendency to be over-protective, but tonight Merlin’s insecurities were rising up.

“I don’t know…” But that only started Will on his rant.

“Have you seen him Merlin? He looks like a Tory douche-nozzle who doesn’t know what the T in LGBT stands for.”

“I’m sure he does.” Merlin said, holding up one scarf and then another. He decided on the red one.

If Merlin was being honest with himself, he wasn’t sure what to make of Arthur Penn. A week ago Arthur had bought Merlin a beer at the local pub. Arthur flirted with Merlin all night and then he had asked for Merlin’s number.  Caught up in the excitement, Merlin had given it to him. Arthur had used the right pronouns, so Merlin’s usual fear (that Arthur thought he was a girl) was dismissed.  But it wasn’t until later that Merlin even wondered if Arthur knew. Now, Arthur had asked Merlin to dinner and he was beginning wondering just how poorly this was going to go.

“Merlin. The bloke’s obtuse. You heard what Morgana said about him-“

“Morgana is over dramatic.” Merlin pointed out. “And she loves to pick on her brother.”

Merlin.” Will’s voice actually sounded serious for a moment.

Merlin turned to Will, smiling to reassure his friend. “I’m an adult. I can handle it.”

“Just… Call me if he ends up being the douche that I told you he was. I’ll pick you up.”

“Fine. Mother hen.” Merlin patted Will on the head, which made Will grumble and push him away.

*

The date went wonderfully. But the more Arthur charmed him, the more nervous Merlin became. His mind kept thinking of everything that could go wrong. What if he was one of those idiotic gay men who were disgusted by trans men? What if he got angry that Merlin ‘kept it a secret?’ What if Arthur didn’t want to go on a second date because he was trans?

After their dinner, these thoughts rushed through Merlin’s head as they walked down the road. Arthur reached out and took Merlin’s hand in his. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to Merlin’s knuckles. “I had fun tonight.”

“Me too.” Merlin’s stomach flipped as Arthur pulled Merlin’s hand into his own pocket. Merlin was so, so happy. But he didn’t want this to be any worse than it had to be, if Arthur did end up being the ‘douche-nozzle’ that Will thought he was.

“Arthur, can I talk to you?” Merlin cleared his throat, his voice sore from lowering it all night.

“…Sure.” Arthur looked worried, his brows pinching together and his lips thin. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah…it’s been great. But I just have to… God this is stupid.” Merlin tugged on Arthur’s hand, pulling him to a stop. “You know I’m trans, right?”

Arthur’s mouth opened. He closed it.

“Fuck.” Merlin pulled his hand away from Arthur’s, wrapping his arms around his chest.

“Shit.” Arthur cursed and covered his hands with his face. “Shit. I’m an idiot. I’ve been using the wrong pronouns, haven’t I?”

“Erm, no.” Merlin frowned. “I’m a bloke, but… I’m a trans bloke.”

“Oh.” Arthur looked Merlin up and down, like he was trying to understand what he missed. “Oh. Fuck, you scared me. I thought I’d really messed up.”

“Wait. Did you know?”

“That you’re trans? Um. No.” Arthur gave a weak smile, rubbing the back of his head. “I’ve been told I’m kind of oblivious, but in my defense that’s usually about history term papers. I can’t believe I missed this though.”

“Oh.” Merlin said, trying to process this information.

“Are you… is this still going to work?” Arthur made a gesture between them. “Not to sound forward, but I’d really like to go out with you again. Even if I’m an idiot.”

Merlin, still a little dazed by Arthur’s words, blurted out. “Oh thank god you’re not a douche-nozzle.”

Arthur burst out laughing, “Is that a yes, Merlin?”

“Shut up.” Merlin rubbed his forehead, “Fuck, I was so worried.”

Arthur reached out and took Merlin’s hand again, “I’ll never live this down.”

“Probably not.” Merlin smiled.

***

“Will’s a dick” was the first thing Merlin said when he arrived unannounced at Arthur’s flat.

“Hello to you too.” Arthur opened the door wider and let Merlin inside. “Why is Will a dick?”

“I told him to clean the dishes because all of the ones in the sink are his and I shouldn’t have to do the dishes when they’re not mine. Then he told me to pick up my dirty laundry, which is in my room and not even in his space. And then we yelled and I’m not actually angry with him but at this point I can’t go back to my flat until he gets the point that he was the one being a dick.”

“Ah. I see.” Arthur closed the door and took Merlin’s bag off his shoulder and put it on the kitchen counter. “So it’s a stalemate right now.”

Merlin ran a hand through his hair. It was getting long, curling around his ears and falling over his forehead. “Sorry about showing up unannounced. I figured I could crash here for the night?”

Arthur smiled at him, and Merlin’s anxiety melted away.

“Of course you can. I’d be a shit boyfriend if I didn’t let you stay at my place.”

Boyfriend. Merlin had never been called a boyfriend before.  He and Arthur had been dating for a while now, did that mean they were boyfriends? In his fit of rage out of his flat, he hadn’t really thought about Arthur’s reaction to showing up without invitation.

“I’m not intruding? I’ll be gone in the morning, I promise.”

Arthur came up to Merlin’s side, wrapping his arms around Merlin’s waist. “Don’t be. We can make a weekend of it.” Merlin probably froze in Arthur’s arms because he added, “If you want.”

Merlin turned his head and looked at Arthur, the bump in his nose prominent from this angle. “No, I want to. I just… I honestly wasn’t thinking when I came over here. Don’t you have stuff to do?”

“Nothing important.” Arthur said, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s jaw.

“Okay.”

They spent their evening like they would normally: Arthur ordered in dinner and they watched a film while cuddling on the couch. It was comfy and it wasn’t at all how Merlin thought his evening was going to go. Not that he was unhappy. No, he was actually very happy, which meant that he wasn’t all too surprised when his anxiety started to pick up.

Questions started flirting through his mind, why had he done this? Would Arthur think he was intruding? Was Arthur only pretending to be nice? Oh god, he was going to sleep in Arthur’s bed, wasn’t he? He wasn’t ready to sleep with Arthur. Would Arthur expect sex? What kind of sex? Shit. Had Arthur seen him in his binder? Did Arthur know he had a binder? Did Arthur think he had top surgery? Shit did Arthur think he was in transition? Merlin hadn’t started T yet, would Arthur just assume he had surgery? Merlin wasn’t sure he wanted surgery!

Arthur’s hand ran up Merlin’s side and touched Merlin’s shoulder. He was leaning behind Merlin with his eyes still on the television. His thumb rubbed into Merlin’s shoulder lightly, making Merlin notice that his shoulders had raised as his anxiety peaked.

“Alright?”

Merlin’s shoulders sagged. He took a deep breath, “Yeah. Tired.”

Arthur reached out to grab the remote and turned off the television. “Then let’s go to bed.” He grabbed Merlin and hauled him off the couch.

Merlin stayed uncharacteristically quiet as Arthur gave him a towel and told him he could use the bathroom first. Merlin stared at the bathroom sink for a while before he finally started to wash up. Then he looked at the shirt and joggers Arthur gave him to sleep in. Merlin closed his eyes and told himself that if Arthur expected sex, he wouldn’t have given him pajamas. And he reminded himself that Arthur was a good person- practically a knight in shining armor- and he would never impose. All those questions running through his head was his anxiety talking.

He took off his binder, albeit with great difficulty. He wanted to blame his nerves, but honestly getting his binder off was a fifty-fifty chance of getting stuck. Then he donned on Arthur’s shirt, a large red one with a faded band named in gold scroll. It was well worn and Arthur obviously wore it often because it was wrinkled and it smelled like Arthur’s cologne. He pulled on the joggers and tied the string tight, though they still slipped on his hips.

When Merlin came out of the bathroom Arthur was in just a pair of footie shorts. Merlin nearly swallowed his tongue.

“Erm. I usually sleep- Well. I can put a shirt on?” Arthur offered and his ears actually turned pink which was adorable.

“It’s your flat.” Merlin pointed out, but he really didn’t want Arthur to put on a shirt. “You’re fine. No worries.”

Arthur smiled and gave Merlin a wink.

“Shut up.” Merlin dropped his clothes into his bag by the mirror and then slipped into Arthur’s bed.

Arthur put one knee on the bed, leaning over to hover above Merlin. “You look good in my shirt.” He pecked Merlin’s cheek and then pulled away, stepping into the bathroom.

Merlin tried to control his smile, but failed.

When Arthur returned, he turned off the light and Merlin felt the bed move as he climbed in.

“It’s kinda the first time we’ve slept over at each other’s place.” Merlin pointed out the obvious in the dark of the room.

“Yeah.” Arthur answered quietly.

“I…” Merlin hesitated. “I’ve not had my binder off in front of someone besides Will before.” He wasn’t sure why he said that. He wasn’t sure it mattered. It wasn’t like Merlin didn’t hang out with people, it was just that he usually wore his binder when he went out, and that was when he saw his friends and Arthur-

“Can I spoon you?”

Arthur’s voice cut off the anxiety talk inside Merlin’s head.

“Uh. Yeah, I guess.” It wasn’t like they hadn’t been doing that ten minutes before.

Arthur wiggled over to Merlin, his arms coming around Merlin’s waist and his face tucking at the nape of Merlin’s neck. His legs bumped with Merlin’s, and he felt Arthur’s body press against his back.

“If you wore your binder to bed I’d make you get up and take it off.” Arthur said. “And if you didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as me without your binder because it made you… I don’t know, because it would make you uncomfortable then I’d sleep on the couch.”

With Arthur’s warmth practically surrounding him, Merlin felt far more at ease than he had been only a moment before. “I wouldn’t make you sleep on the couch.” Merlin stumbled through his thoughts. “It’s just… you know…sex…”

Merlin felt Arthur’s body twitch a little. “I’m not ready for that.”

“You’re not?” Merlin asked. “Is it because-“

“No. It’s just… Well…I’ve never…“ Merlin felt Arthur press his face to Merlin’s back, as if hiding it. “I was too confused in Secondary to have a boyfriend and now that I’m in uni I’ve only just come out and then I met you…”

“Oh.” Merlin said. “I hadn’t realized. I thought you had everything figured out.”

Arthur snorted. “No. I don’t think anyone has everything figured out.”

Merlin laughed, “Probably right.”

“Are we okay?” Arthur asked, sounding tentative.

“Yeah.” Merlin turned over, even though he didn’t have his binder on and pressed close to Arthur’s chest. He pressed a long slow kiss to Arthur’s mouth, happy when Arthur’s arms wrapped around him.

Chapter Text

The younger knights were rather rambunctious.

Actually, they reminded the Court Sorcerer a lot of his King when he was younger. Merlin remembered when Arthur was all boisterous energy and stupid pride. But honestly, these boys were getting out of hand and even Arthur- who they practically worshipped- couldn’t wrangle them.

Merlin watched from the side of the training field, where Arthur was having trouble controlling his young charges. They were barely seventeen which meant they were shouting at the top of their lungs and trying to pull off the craziest stunts possible. Arthur was hitting his fortieth year soon, and even though he could beat them into the ground, he didn’t stand a chance against their rowdiness.

“Knights! Settle down! Galahad, put down that mace were working with swords today- Kay! Shut up for five seconds! Lamorak I told you not to touch the blade- Yes it’s sharp you dingbat!”

Merlin had to hold in a laugh. His poor king was going to have a headache by the end of the day if he continued on with all this yelling. Like usual, Merlin had sweep in and save the day.

He stood up from his seat, brushing off his robes as he walked toward the field. The knights didn’t even notice his appearance. He laid a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Having trouble, dear?”

Arthur sighed, “This is why we never had children.”

Merlin laughed, “Stop fretting. I have this under control.”

“Oh, do you? I’d like to see you try to control this lot.”

Merlin smiled and patted his King’s cheek, “Love. Darling. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of in charge around here.”

Merlin flicked his wrist and his eyes glowed gold.

When he turned to the practice field, all the young knights were frozen in place. Galahad’s arm was raised in mid-air with the mace in hand (far too close to Bors’ head). Kay’s mouth was still open in chatter. Lamorak was reaching for another weapon despite his previous injury. The other young men were half off the ground as they ran around the field.

“Do I have your attention, sir knights?” Merlin asked the innocent boys in front of him.

They couldn’t move their heads but Merlin assumed they were listening. He walked in between them, looking each one of them in the eye, knowing that his eyes were still glowing gold as he held the magic in place. “Are you done messing around? Your King has a lesson planned, to ensure you won’t die the next time a bandit’s sword comes at your neck.”

Merlin turned on his heel, looking at Arthur with a sparkle in his eye. Arthur was smiling at him adoringly and maybe a bit lasciviously.

Merlin looked back to the knights. “Be lucky it isn’t my turn to train you idiots. I would make you run laps until you couldn’t so much as raise your feet. Then I would fight each of you until one of you beat me.”

“Come now, Merlin. Don’t give the poor lads an impossible task.” Arthur said as Merlin returned to the front by Arthur’s side.

Merlin smiled at him and then turned to the frozen knights. “When I snap my fingers, you lot better line up in a row and obey your King.”

He snapped his fingers. As soon as they were released, the boys scrambled to stand in a line before their King and Court Sorcerer, slipping over each other in their haste. They didn’t say a word and they all looked properly scolded.

“Ready to listen to your King?” Merlin asked.

“Yes, milord.” They all said at once.

Merlin turned to Arthur, “Told you, I was in charge.”

“I still wear the crown Merlin.” Arthur smiled despite himself.

Merlin winked and wandered off the training field, leaving the King to his training.

***

Part Two

***

It was early winter when the Kingdoms of all Albion gathered together in Camelot. King Arthur was in his tenth year of rule, and since he had returned magic to the Camelot eight years prior, this had been his primary goal. He had travelled throughout the five kingdoms, making his arguments and settling disputes, large and small. The people of Albion were calling him the King of Albion, like the land itself had chosen him to bring peace.

The only person who was talked about just as much, if not more than the King of Camelot, was his majesty’s infamous and shadowed warlock. The rumors grand were grand in size and detail. The only fact they knew was that Emrys had been the King’s servant far before he had even become King of Camelot. Some people said he had been his warlock since his young princehood. Others said that Emrys was the only reason Arthur was King at all. There were sweeping tales of assassination and dark magic. Few of the rumors had truth to them. Some which seemed wildly ridiculous were the truest of them all.

Either way, there was one fact: the man who stood behind the King of Camelot, half in shadow and half in light with his eyes always watching, was a man of legend.

*

Percival was accustomed to people making assumptions about him. He was as tall as a tree and the strength of an ox. So it wasn’t unusual when people talked about him, even if they didn’t know him. But even after his knighthood, he was never the center of attention. The King, on the other hand, was always the center of gossip and rumors. Percival admired the Arthur never let it get to him. But he wasn’t sure how Merlin managed it. Ever since he was named Court Sorcerer, Merlin had been the center of attention in Camelot and throughout all of Albion. As a man who had always lived and thrived in the shadow, Percival wasn’t sure how he coped with the rumors.

But as the nobles from across Albion gathered in Camelot to celebrate a new age of peace, Percival had a perfect vantage point to see how the nobles of other lands perceived the King and Court Sorcerer.

In the first days of their visit, many of the nobles gathered around Arthur, asking him questions of his adventures and requesting a demonstration of his swordsmanship. Plus, it was no surprise that many of ladies inquired into Arthur’s personal life, usually in a not so subtle manner, because Arthur had yet to marry. When that would happen, Percival’s eyes would drift to the figure always standing behind Arthur.

The Court Sorcerer would usually smile to himself, eyes flicking to Arthur.

“I’m a man dedicated to peace.” Arthur would usually say. “I don’t feel the need to marry.”

In a royal court where marriage only meant a kingdom’s alliance, it was easily accepted. But many eyes strayed to Merlin in those times. Many ladies strayed to Lord Emrys. Percival often wondered if they asked these questions to Arthur, because they were too coy to ask Merlin himself.

But it was during a knights’ training, when many nobles of the visiting kingdoms were present, when it came to a head.

The young knights of Camelot stood in front of Arthur. Plus, the knights from Albion’s kingdoms had requested to stand in on Camelot’s training, begging for a chance to prove they were equal to the famed knights.

“Swordsmanship” Arthur began his speech in front of the assorted group, “is about skill. It is about perfecting a set of techniques until they come as naturally as breathing.”

Arthur held out his hand, not even looking behind himself as Merlin handed over his sword. He continued talking, sword in hand. “Swordsmanship will save your life, but it will not give you victories.”

“Who would like to figure out what will?” Arthur opened his arms.

Only a thrown gauntlet would have made the challenge more obvious.

Man after man fought Arthur. Some put up a noble fight. Others…well it was hard to watch a man be beaten in the time it takes to look down and then back up.

Eyes kept flickering to the Court Sorcerer, and Percival was starting to understand what was at play. Some of the men were distracted by Merlin’s presence. They were terrified of ‘Arthur’s pet sorcerer.’ Arthur continued his lectures, but everyone kept their eyes on Merlin, who hadn’t so much as moved, let alone shown interest in the demonstration. He had seen it all before, and Percival knew that nothing bored Merlin more than sword training.

“Has no one fathomed it out?” Arthur asked, slightly out of breath. His opponent looked a little offended that Arthur decided to talk while fighting him. The opponent struck while he thought Arthur was distracted.  Arthur dodged easily.

“The key to victory,” Arthur said, still keeping his eyes on his opponent, “is focus and determination. You never take your eyes off your task for even a second. So while all of you amateurs kept your eyes on my Court Sorcerer, I narrowed down your weak point and kicked you into the dirt.” As he said this, his opponent’s eyes did indeed go to Merlin and Arthur did indeed kick him to the dirt.

The opponent huffed as his face pressed the training field ground. Arthur’s hand on his back and sword held steady.

“I do not need a warlock to win a fight.” Arthur said, looking at the crowd. “But if you would like to challenge Lord Emrys, I would be delighted to watch you try.”

Merlin, whose eyes had clouded over with boredom, looked up now.

No one stepped forward.

Later that evening, after a feast and entertainment, Percival overheard the King speaking with his Court Sorcerer in a private alcove.

“I don’t know why they’re so terrified of you. Do they not see you stumble over your own robes three times a day?” Arthur said, arms crossed and his eyes looking out the alcove window.

Merlin smiled, “You’re angry because you don’t frighten them? What happened to years of cultivating peace?”

“I’ve won countless battles! I’m a leader of armies.” Arthur said, obviously answering that question with a ‘yes.’

“You are a peacemaker at heart.” Merlin touched Arthur’s heart. “And when they look at me, they see the gods’ magic in the form of a man.”

“You coo at unicorns! Last week you nurtured an injured bird.”

“The gods are merciful,” Merlin teased and pecked a kiss to Arthur’s lips.

Chapter Text

The King sat at the head of the table, with his Court Sorcerer at his right hand and his favorite advisor, Guinevere at his left hand. The other lords and ladies were scattered across the rest of the table, chatting amongst themselves.

Merlin, for the fifth time that evening shifted in his chair. He seemed uncomfortable, and Arthur had been trying to figure out if it was a physical injury from training or if he had hidden an injury from Arthur.

During a lull in conversation, Arthur leaned over to Merlin, “Are you feeling alright?”

“Hm? Oh yes, my lord.” Merlin seemed distant, picking at his dinner.

“You’re certain?” Arthur reached underneath the table to find Merlin’s hand. He squeezed it. That got Merlin’s attention, and he looked up at Arthur for the first time.

“I’m a bit tired.” Merlin admitted. “I’ve been sitting all day researching. My back hurts.”

Arthur felt his gut knot with worry, but he covered it with a smile, “You can no longer call me old if you start having back aches.”

Merlin wrinkled his nose at Arthur, but he didn’t say anything. Arthur called that a win.

After dinner, when they returned to the King’s chambers, Arthur guided Merlin to the bed immediately.

Merlin laughed, “Eager, are we?”

“Not that, you wanton.” Arthur pushed Merlin so that he sat on the edge of the bed. He loosened the ties of Merlin’s robes and pulled them off so that Merlin was clad in only his trousers. “You said your back hurt.” Arthur pulled the boots off Merlin’s feet running his thumb over the sole and over the arch.

“And?” Merlin asked, pushing his foot against Arthur’s chest.

“And, I’m offering a massage. As long as you’re not going to be annoying about it.”

Merlin smiled, “Do you even know how to give a massage?”

“Well, after years of your post-training massages, I think I picked up a few things.” Arthur pulled the cords to Merlin’s trousers and shimmied them off Merlin’s legs.

“I suppose I’ll have to be the judge of that.” Merlin gave a teasing grin before he lay down on his stomach, head cradled in his arms.

Arthur slipped off his own boots and rolled up his sleeves. Arthur poured the muscle relaxant tincture which Merlin kept in Arthur’s bedside drawer over Merlin’s back, running long smooths strokes from the small of Merlin’s back, up his spine, and over his shoulder blades. He covered Merlin’s back in the oil mixture until his skin glistened. 

Merlin had relaxed considerably since Arthur started, and Arthur couldn’t help but preen. Arthur leaned close to Merlin’s ear, pressing a kiss to his shoulder as he asked, “Feeling good?”

Merlin hummed, his shoulders moving faintly. His eyes were closed and Arthur could see the bare hints of a smile from where Merlin’s face was buried in the pillow.

Arthur smiled to himself and then continued on. He pressed his thumbs down on the pressure points of Merlin’s back, right by his shoulders. Merlin shivered and he knew he was doing it right. He repeated the process along Merlin’s arms and back. At the base of his spine, Arthur pushed his palms deeply into the muscle there, making Merlin moan out in pleasure.

“Fuck, you shouldn’t have let me know you can do this.” Merlin mumbled, barely distinguishable through his slur. “I’ll want it more.”

Arthur pressed a kiss right at the small of Merlin’s back. Between his dimples.  “I would happily oblige.”

Merlin purred, his torso rumbling under Arthur’s hands.

Arthur pressed down a final time over the span of Merlin’s back, and then he used a cloth to wipe any excess oil off Merlin’s back and his own hands. He pressed a kiss to the birthmark on Merlin’s shoulder. “How was that, love?”

Merlin made a noise of contentment, rolling onto his side and reaching out for Arthur. Quickly, Arthur stripped down and crawled into bed beside Merlin.

The exhausted Court Sorcerer was already asleep by the time Arthur tucked him into his arms.

Chapter Text

Merlin was really regretting revealing his magic to Arthur. Not because Arthur had threatened to banish him or because Arthur had barely spoken to him for a month afterwards. No, in Merlin’s opinion, that was all reasonable and to be expected. But now, a year later and in the middle of negotiations to lift the ban on magic, Merlin was regretting it. Because now they were in the middle of a Druid camp, Merlin was standing beside Arthur, as his unofficial advisor of all things magic, and there Arthur was, King of Camelot who hadn’t a clue what he had just agreed to.

“Er, Arthur.” Merlin whispered to the King, who was still giving the Druids a diplomatic smile. “This isn’t peace negotiations with Mercia. You can’t just agree to everything to make them like you.”

A true diplomat, Arthur spoke through his smile as he asked with irritation, “What does that mean, Merlin?”

“It means you just agreed to a fertility ritual.” Merlin tried to stay composed because he knew Arthur wasn’t being ignorant on purpose. Merlin blamed Uther’s lack of magical education for Arthur. He blamed Uther a lot. “That’s a lot more than just seed and earth- it’s royal seed with- um many earths.”

“What?” Arthur finally turned his eyes away from the Druids. One look at Merlin’s expression seemed to convey his meaning because Arthur’s eyes widened and Merlin could see him backtracking very quickly.

Arthur cleared his throat “To clarify,” Arthur turned back to the Druids, diplomatic smile back on, “I would only want my esteemed courtiers to participate in this ritual. I am otherwise engaged.”

The Druids looked slightly disappointed, but not upset. “Of course, your majesty. We would be honored either way. But may be ask if Emrys would once again join us?”

Merlin was really regretting this.

Arthur’s eye seemed to twitch but that was the only indication he had understood. “Emrys is engaged as well.”

“Oh. We understand.”

The Druids did not understand, and Merlin was really going to have to explain Druid culture to Arthur.

*

Arthur practically exploded once they were back in the King’s chambers. It was like he had held it in for the entire ride from the Druid camp, and now he was tearing loose. He shouted and stomped, until he was red in the face with rage instead of pink in the face with embarrassment.

“It’s a standard ritual, performed with a few designated couples every year before planting season.” Merlin explained diplomatically. “I hadn’t thought they would invite you!”

“Oh yes, don’t invite me but apparently you are a regular participant in this lustful event!” Arthur shouted.

“Once!” Merlin groaned and covered his face. “Just forget about that for a second! We have bigger problems. The Druids think we’re engaged to be married because of you!”

Arthur stopped his rant. He stared at Merlin. “Explain. Now.”

“You said we couldn’t come to the ritual because we were both engaged. You don’t back out of a ritual like that unless you have yet to consummate your marriage vows. It’s a symbol of giving up your fertility- but that’s not the point! Now they think we’re engaged to be married!”

Arthur processed this for a second and then he pressed his hands into his face, like he was trying to erase all these memories away.

“Now what?” Arthur asked.

“Now we have to explain why we aren’t married next time we negotiate with the Druids.”

Arthur flopped down face first onto his bed. “I hate you.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

*

According to Gwaine the ritual went off without any issue (Arthur looked a little annoyed at his enthusiasm) but he also said that the Druids had wished congratulations to Emrys and the King. He asked what they meant and Merlin refused to explain.

Then the Druids sent a package to the citadel.

“It’s a bunch of plants.” Arthur picked up one. “Herbs.”

“They’re aphrodisiacs.” Merlin said as Arthur picked up a bottle with clear liquid inside. “Don’t drink that unless you want to be indisposed for a full day.”

“A full day!?” Arthur’s voice shot up. “Who needs it for a full day!?”

“Newly weds.” Merlin clarified, “Which is obviously what the Druids still think we are.”

“How do we fix this?” Arthur asked.

“At this point? Haven’t a clue.”

“Well figure it out Merlin!”

*

When the Druids arrived at the official ceremony to lift the ban on magic, they greeted Merlin and Arthur as equals. “Your majesty, King Arthur. Your majesty, Lord Emrys.” They bowed as they entered the citadel doors.

Arthur glared at Merlin.

“This is not my fault.” Merlin pointed out.

That didn’t seem to pacify Arthur.

*

The celebrations lasted a fortnight, and by the time the Druids left the citadel three things had happened: First, Merlin had yet to convince the Druids that he wasn’t married to Arthur. Second, most of the visiting nobles had caught on and now also believed Merlin and Arthur were secretly hand-fasted. Third, Merlin was starting to wish it was all true and that was becoming a bigger problem than the first.

*

When Merlin entered the King’s chambers, Arthur was holding up a vial of purple liquid. That was never a good start to the evening.

“What’s that?”

“A Druid gave it to me before they departed.” Arthur said, flipping the vial in his fingers. “He told me that he had noticed ‘my husband and I’ were in a quarrel and offered a remedy.”

Merlin eyed the bottle.  “You’re not going to drink that are you?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not an aphrodisiac. I asked.”

Arthur was still holding the bottle. It worried Merlin.

“Then what is it?” Merlin asked.

Arthur uncorked the bottle and downed it before Merlin could reach out to stop him.

“Arthur!” Merlin tore the bottle- now empty- out of Arthur’s hands. “What the hell made you do that?”  Arthur’s eyes dilated almost immediately. He stared at Merlin, but he didn’t seem to see him. “Arthur what the hell did you just drink- you absolute idiot! You can’t just-“

Arthur touched Merlin’s face, making him stop mid-rant.

“It allows me to see your aura. To see your desires and worries.” Arthur whispered, his fingers running over Merlin’s cheek. His eyes were so soft and Merlin didn’t have anything to say to that.

“I’m not overly surprised by the results.” Arthur leaned up and caught Merlin’s half-opened mouth in a shocking kiss.

*

A year later, when the Druids arrived for the anniversary celebration of magic returning to Camelot , there was no need to correct their assumptions on the King and his Court Sorcerer’s relationship.

Chapter Text

As soon as Arthur stepped into his chambers after his training, he said, “You’re dismissed Merlin, you can have the night off.”

“Seriously?” Merlin didn’t sound at all convinced.

“Yes. You may go.”

“You sure? Because you’ve been in a bad mood all day and I feel like you’re joking.”

“Yes, go spend time with Guinevere or something.” Arthur said between gritted teeth.

He was trying to be nice. Apparently it hadn’t been working because Merlin was right, he had been in a foul mood all day. He had heard Guinevere whispering to Morgana about Merlin, and something about a kiss, and for some reason it left Arthur discontent. Maybe a bit more than discontent. After all, Arthur had risked life and limb for a stupid flower, been thrown in the dungeon, and practically disinherited all to save Merlin’s life. All he had gotten was a ‘thank you’ from a blanket-wrapped-Merlin who looked like a drowned kitten, and apparently Merlin had kissed Guinevere for some reason. Not that Guinevere wasn’t adorable and deserved affection, but he had hoped Merlin’s personal affection would go to him instead.

“You are serious.” Merlin smiled, looking far too delighted about having a night away from Arthur.

“Yes, go before I change my mind.”

Merlin perked up. Grinning like an idiot, he dashed out of the room like it was on fire.

Arthur sighed. He wished that Merlin would think of spending time with him, without thinking about work. But he knew that he couldn’t become friends with his servants. After all, it was the lesson his father had tried to give him only the week before. Perhaps he should have listened.

***

Later that evening, Arthur was just finishing his nightly routine, when he heard someone bang open his chamber doors. Only one person ever did that.

“Merlin?”

Arthur!” Merlin’s voice was loud, far too loud for this time at night. There was the sound of stumbling feet and little snickered giggles.

“What on earth are you-?” As Merlin stepped into the dim candlelight Arthur was greeted with a flushed Merlin, who was wobbly on his feet.

“Ar’hur.” Merlin’s slur was obvious with even one word.

“Are your drunk?”

“Yup. I meant to go to my bed, but I ended up here. Oops.” Merlin stumbled forward, leaning against the post of Arthur’s bed for support. “I didn’t mean to but its instinct to come to you.” Merlin hiccupped. It was not cute, Arthur told himself.

“Did you get drunk at Guinevere’s?” Arthur asked, completely confused.

“I went to the tavern!” Merlin smiled. “I didn’t have a lot of money but then I cheated at cards and won a bunch. I think I spent it all on ale though.” Merlin frowned, staring at the bed post as if it would give him the answer.

“You’re telling the Crowned Prince that you cheated people out of money?”

“Erm. Yes?” Merlin smiled innocently.

Arthur sighed, “I thought you were going to Guinevere’s. Not going to get wasted in the tavern.”

“What? No. I saw Gwen at dinner? In the kitchens. Cook yelled at me. She doesn’t like me very much. Says I steal bread rolls. Which is true. Ah. I see why she yells at me. Mm. Bread rolls.”

Arthur ran a hand over his face. He had a cheating, stealing manservant who was more innocent than any country boy Arthur had ever seen. “Are you going to be able to make it back to your bed?”

“Bed?” Merlin asked, banging his head on the bed post and then rubbing it with his hand gingerly.

“Oh for the love of-“ Arthur sighed and decided that Merlin was now his responsibility. Well, he had decided this a long time ago, but it was nice that in a drunken daze Merlin came to him, even if it was on accident. He directed Merlin, pulling off his jacket and boots and making him wash his face with the fresh pitcher of water.

Merlin obliged, giggling. “This is backwards. I’m supposed to care for you!”

“Don’t get used to it.” Arthur said. He wasn’t sure if he was telling Merlin or himself.

Eventually he managed to get Merlin into the bed.

“Mm, comfy.” Merlin said, burrowing into the blankets and pillows like he was becoming one with them.

Arthur slipped into the left side of the bed and tried not to think about it too much.

“You should’ve come to the tavern wit’ me.” Merlin slurred as he turned onto his side to look at Arthur. “It was fun. And you would’ve stopped me from drinking so much ale.”

“Probably.” Arthur smiled, and then caught himself. “But going to the tavern with your… well the Prince would have put a damper on it.”

“Just two friends going to the tavern. No one’d care.” Merlin said, eyes pinched with sadness. “We could disguise you. Put a wig on your blond hair.” Merlin reached out and ruffled Arthur’s hair, making him laugh despite himself.

“No I meant-” Arthur said, batting Merlin’s hand away playfully. “That you wouldn’t want to spend time with someone who orders you around all day.”

Merlin’s nose scrunched up. Maybe if he wasn’t drunk he wouldn’t have said it, but Arthur was glad he did. “You’re more than just the bloke who orders me around all day. You’re Arthur.”

“Well. Then.” Arthur cleared his throat, not sure why the drunken conversation was making him so happy. So instead he just said, “I’ll go with you next time. I owe you a drink, remember?”

“Mm.” Merlin’s eyes closed and he somehow burrowed further into the pillows.

“Night, Merlin.” Arthur whispered, his heart flipping in his chest.

***

 

Arthur’s body tended to run warm, which is why he detested wearing thick formal garb and why he typically slept shirtless. So it wasn’t unusual when he woke up hot. But this time, he was wearing a shirt and he was completely confused by the large weight on top of him.

When he opened his eyes, he found the weight was in fact his sleeping manservant who he had taken care of the night before.

Merlin had his body wrapped around Arthur, his face pressed deeply into Arthur’s chest as if his pectorals were pillows. The ties to Arthur shirt had loosened, and Merlin was practically nuzzling Arthur’s bare chest. Arthur wasn’t complaining, but he knew that in a few minutes Merlin would wake up and discover that Arthur had allowed such behavior.

“Merlin” Arthur poked Merlin’s head. Well. Poked was a strong word. Arthur gently brushed Merlin’s hair.

Merlin grumbled.

Arthur tried again, this time smacking Merlin’s shoulder. Well. Again, maybe smacked was putting it too bluntly. Arthur caressed the bit of skin which was exposed by Merlin’s shirt slipping down. Either way.

Merlin roused for a moment, pressing his face into what he thought was a pillow, but was in fact Arthur’s chest. Merlin’s mouth grazed Arthur’s skin and Arthur thought he might just die on the spot. Forget dying in battle, here was Arthur’s last stand. His heart was beating so hard he wondered that it didn’t wake Merlin.

Perhaps it did, because Merlin’s eyes finally opened. He looked down at his pillow. Then he looked up at the pillow’s face. “Oh.”

“Good morning. You snore.” Arthur tried to frown but he knew he was probably smiling.

“Only when I’m drunk. And I’ve shared a tent with you. You snore like a bear.” Merlin blinked a few times, as if still in a daze. “Oh.” He touched his head and groaned at his morning headache. “How much did I drink?”

“Haven’t a clue. But you ended up here instead of your own bed.”

“Oh, I did, didn’t I?” Merlin gave a coy smile. “Oops.”

Arthur pretended to give a put-upon sigh.  “Surely there were better places to crash for the night, Merlin.” He was fishing, and he knew it. But he prayed to the gods, he wanted Merlin to be here because he wanted to be and not because he was drunkenly confused.

“Not really. Well besides my own bed. But Gaius wouldn’t have been half as nice about it as you were. He would have stuck my head in cold water.”

Arthur snorted out a laugh. “What about Guinevere?”

“Why do you keep mentioning Gwen?” Merlin lifted his head, so that now he was looming over Arthur. It was a bit intimidating, as Arthur wasn’t used to being looking down on.

“I thought you were… She said you kissed her.” Arthur said, his words coming out more jumbled than he wanted them to be. Merlin was still very close and he wasn’t able to think quite straight.

“Oh, did she say that?” Merlin cocked his head to the side. “She kissed me when I woke up from being poisoned.” Merlin frowned. “Do you think she likes me?”

Arthur stared at Merlin like he was a half-witted fool.

“I thought she had a- you know- with Morgana?” Merlin made an odd gesture that Arthur assumed meant ‘a relationship.’

“Morgana?” Arthur asked. “But I thought you and Guinevere- Wait. Do you not fancy Guinevere?”

“What? No. Why?” Merlin asked, seeming to be more confused than even Arthur. “Do you fancy Gwen?”

“No.” Arthur felt his brows pinch together, Merlin still hovering above him. “Did you come here last night by accident?”

To Arthur’s surprise, Merlin’s face turned red. He looked away and slumped down into the pillows. “Of a sort. I thought I’d attend to you and then go to bed. It kind of went the other way around though.”

Arthur frowned, “You wanted to come back to work? I thought you hated being my manservant.”

Merlin’s lower lip jutted out. “You think that?”

“You always want a night off.”

Merlin was giving him an odd look. “Arthur. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you.”

Arthur rolled his eyes, hoping it was convincing. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Seems like it does.” Merlin leaned close to Arthur. “Were you jealous of Guinevere?”

Arthur wished he had some control over what he did next, but truly, his body moved before his mind could stop it. He leaned close and pressed a chapped, close-mouthed kiss to the corner of Merlin’s lips.

Merlin’s eyes were the size of saucers when Arthur looked up at him. He looked like a frightened owl.

“Tell me to stop and I won’t mention it again.” Arthur whispered.

Merlin shook his head. “I won’t.”

Arthur kissed him again, and this time Merlin’s lips moved under his and his hands travelled up Arthur’s chest.

“I’ve only eyes for you, clotpole.” Merlin lipped across Arthur’s jaw and Arthur felt his stomach flip with happiness.

Chapter Text

Prince Merlin, Dragonlord, son of King Balinor of Avalon, and Emrys, prophesied savior to all people of magic, was on a time out.

Sat on a small stool, facing the corner, and bored beyond belief, was Prince Merlin. He was a small boy, only eight years old, with round cheeks and curling brown hair that his mother called a bird’s nest. He wore a blue robe, speckled with dark brown mud.

He was too old for time outs, in his opinion. But his Dad had told him it wasn’t a time out. Instead he had told his son that he should be thinking about what he had done, and how he should have done things differently. It was wise advice, but Merlin was eight and he didn’t much care.

He let his arms fall to his sides and wiggled them about so they swung. There wasn’t much else to do when one was staring at a dusty castle corner. He popped his lips a couple times and giggled quietly at the noise. He wasn’t supposed to be giggling though. That’s what got him in trouble in the first place.

Well, that wasn’t quite right. He had gotten in trouble because he had been giggling at Wart.

Wart was an older boy who had come to visit Avalon a week ago. He was two years older than Merlin, but he had yet to hit his growth spurt, so he was only a few inches taller and his baby fat still clung to him. He had yellow hair and he laughed very loudly. He was very good at play-fighting already, whereas Merlin had yet to be taught any fighting lessons. His mother said he was too young to learn to fight and so was Prince Arthur but he wasn’t her son so it wasn’t up to her. Merlin wasn’t sure what that meant, but his mother glared a lot at Wart’s father, so she figured it was something to do with him.

Wart was one of the other King’s sons, so that also made him a prince, but Merlin didn’t much care about those sorts of things. He also didn’t care about calling Arthur by his name because Arthur sounded weird and Merlin much preferred to call him Wart, because it made Wart’s face red and he usually chased Merlin if he did so, which was always great fun.

Merlin had convinced Wart to come play with him in the stream near Avalon castle. Merlin liked to catch frogs there and he thought Wart would enjoy it. Wart told him he could catch bigger frogs than Merlin ever could. Merlin didn’t care about the size of the frog- he just wanted to catch one- but Wart had an obsession with competition. Anyways, Merlin had caught a frog and Wart hadn’t, which is where it all went downhill. Merlin pretended there was a frog in one of the bushes and while Wart was bent over looking for it, Merlin stuck his own frog down Wart’s tunic. It was all in fun, but Wart had fallen into the water and then the Camelot knights appeared and now Merlin’s father was very cross with him.

His father said that Merlin had to play nice with Arthur, even if he didn’t like him. But Merlin did like Wart! No one seemed to believe him though. Merlin just…didn’t know how to be friends with him. Wart liked fighting and Merlin liked playing with his toy animals. Wart talked about being a solider, while Merlin wanted to talk about magic. They were both princes, but from what Merlin had seen, being a Prince in Camelot was very different from being a Prince in Avalon.

“Times up, my son.”  Merlin turned to see his mother in the doorway. He gave her a coy smile. She glared at him. “Did you learn your lesson?”

“I shouldn’t stick frogs in other people’s tunics?” Merlin asked tentatively.

Merlin could tell she was trying not to laugh. He grinned at her and she broke. “You silly boy.” She leaned down and kissed his hair. “You know you have to apologize to Arthur.”

“I know.” Merlin rolled his eyes.

His mother guided him down the hall, making sure he stood in front of the chambers where the visiting royals were staying.

Wart opened the door, and upon seeing Merlin’s mother, he bowed. “Your majesty.”

“Your highness, Merlin has come to apologize for his behavior.” Merlin’s mother stroked Merlin’s hair, giving him a final look, and then left them alone.

Merlin entered the chambers, glad to see they were empty. The King of Camelot scared him.

“I’m sorry about the frog. And that you fell in the water.” Merlin said, looking at his feet.

Wart huffed. “I don’t know why you always have to bother me so much.”

Merlin frowned, “It’s for fun. I wouldn’t have minded if you stuck a frog down my tunic.”

“Really?” Wart asked.

“Yeah. I was only playing.” Merlin insisted, trying to make Wart understand. “I want to be your friend.”

Wart tilted his head to the side. Merlin wondered if Wart knew how to play. There were not a lot of kids roaming around Avalon castle, so Merlin usually played with the serving boys or with the kids at his tutor’s home. But Merlin remembered one time when he had asked Arthur to come play with the other kids, the King of Camelot had stopped him, saying it was beneath his son. Merlin wasn’t sure what he meant, but he didn’t like his tone. It was just for fun, after all.

Merlin shifted from one foot to another. “We could play a game. One where we do one thing you like and then we do one thing I like. What do you like to do?”

Wart seemed hesitant, but intrigued by Merlin’s offer. “We can play hide and seek?”

Merlin perked up, because he also liked that game. They ended up playing inside the chambers, switching between who was hiding back and forth, until it became a game of tag, and they were squealing and running around the room like mad.

Thus, a friendship was born.

Chapter Text

 

Gwen was the personal assistant to the CEO of Camelot Industries, Uther Pendragon.  She did like her job, but in her opinion, Mr. Pendragon himself was a god awful man. She planned to stay for a few years and then give over her two weeks’ notice because despite her boss, the position itself was well-paying, had great benefits, and the company itself was well managed.

She put that down to the COO and company VP, Arthur Pendragon. The younger Pendragon was not like his father. The thirty-three year old corporate scion managed the every day-to-day events inside Camelot Industries, and frankly Gwen wasn’t sure how he did it. She jotted it down to the extensive team of employees under his direct jurisdiction.

Arthur did things differently than his father. Although Gwen thought this was a good thing, she knew that it caused more than a few arguments between father and son. Gwen had overheard a lot of these arguments. Scratch ‘overheard.’ Uther Pendragon had never cared much if he reprimanded his son in front of anyone, especially not his PA who he thought not important enough for it to matter. So despite the fact that Gwen didn’t know Arthur that well, she happened to know a lot about his professional strifes.

Like today, Uther had called in his son to discuss the introduction and marketing of a new product. Arthur had wanted to start a new marketing scheme. Uther wanted to keep it the original way. Gwen tried to stay out of the way, but Uther kept her at his side, asking her to bring this file and that document and those references. So despite ‘not being important enough to matter’ she did overhear far more about the company than probably anyone else at Camelot Industries.

But this conversation? She wasn’t sure she should have been privy to.

“Mr. Nemeth called me yesterday to tell me that you have yet to contact Mithian about attending the Camelot Philanthropy Gala.”

Gwen watched Arthur’s jaw clench. “I don’t remember promising to attend with Mithian.” Arthur replied diplomatically.

Uther gestured to Gwen and she handed him the next document. His eyes didn’t even look at her, let alone thank her. Gwen rolled her eyes. Uther continued, “It reflects poorly if you don’t have a date. If not her, then pick someone else. Sophia Tirmor is also available.”

“I don’t see why I have to go with someone.”

“Because you have been a dedicated bachelor for far too long,” Uther said coolly, like it was an old argument. “You should be thinking about marriage and having an heir of your own. Your dedication to this company is admirable but your determination to be a social recluse is damaging your reputation.”

Gwen flinched even if Arthur didn’t. She never liked the way Uther talked to his son. She often forgot that Arthur was in fact his son because of the way he treated him. Although a CEO would probably never care this much about their COO’s personal life.

“I do my job and I do it well. My personal life is no one’s business but my own.” Arthur’s eyes were steady on his father’s. His back and shoulders were taught. He looked like soldier in front of his commander. Or perhaps in front of his enemy.

“It’s my business because you reflect on me.” Uther’s voice was deep and commanding. Gwen backed away a bit, hoping they had forgotten she was even there.

“Your reputation must be weak if another man influences it so much.”

Uther looked staggered and then in a second, he looked furious.

“This is not a discussion, Arthur. You may like the bachelor lifestyle but no one will ever take you seriously if you don’t grow up. You’re not twenty-two anymore, and I won’t always be here to guide you.”

“I’ve no need for guidance.” Arthur stood up, looking like he had had the last straw. Gwen had never seen him quiet this angry, and she was surprised to see the way Arthur’s whole body seemed to shake with it.  “I can’t believe I have to point this out to you, but I am not a child.”

“You couldn’t tell by the way you act.” Uther said, looking like he was reprimanding a teenager. It was hard to watch.

“Right.” Arthur inhaled deeply, eyes closed for a split second before he continued. “If going with a date is that important- if my reputation as a professional truly hinges on my dedication in my personal life- than I will go with someone of my own choice.”

Uther hesitated as if he liked what Arthur was saying but his tone of voice cautioned him. “Fine.”

“I’ll go with my partner of ten years, Dr. Merlin Emerson. I think ten years of dedication to one man is enough to prove I am a capable professional, don’t you think?”

Arthur’s eyes were crazed and for a second Gwen thought he was making it all up just to get a rise out of Uther. But then she saw the way Arthur was shaking and the turned down curl of his lips like he was about to sob out. He was terrified, she saw that now. No, he wasn’t lying just to lash out. He was telling the horrifying and honest truth.

Uther looked pale with fury.

“I will not attend with anyone else.” Arthur’s voice stayed even, but only just.  “If you won’t allow me to attend with Merlin, then I will quit on the spot, right here and now.”

“You wouldn’t.” Uther said.

“I would.” Arthur said. “I have my own set of dedicated employees who will follow me if I start my own company.  You know that I’m more willing than you to keep up with changing times. You would be left in the dust with your traditional values.”

Uther looked speechless with rage, like he couldn’t quite string together enough words to articulate it.

Arthur continued, "This can’t be a surprise to you. I've been living with a man for years."

Uther sigh was resigned, as if he had given up on his rage, like it was too much to bear. “I had thought it was part of your childish arguments on lowering your personal income to balance with your employees."

Arthur laughed, sounding shaky. "Even with my lower income, as you call it, I can afford a flat without a roommate."

"Arthur if you go with this man-“

"My partner of ten years-“

"If you arrive to the Gala with a man, you are forcing my hand.” Uther said, like an ultimatum.

"I'm not forcing you to do anything.”

"I'll have to make a statement and I cannot bend my own morality. Even for you.”

"I didn’t ask you to. Merlin and I never hid our relationship to save either of our reputations. We just wanted to live our lives in peace."

"There will be no peace if you do this."

"Maybe it's time to stop living in peace.” Arthur snapped. “Give your statement. See how the world reacts."

"Arthur!" Uther yelled after his son.

As Arthur charged out the door, Gwen didn't think, she acted. She dropped the files she was holding and ran after the younger Pendragon. Uther didn't seem to notice her departure.

Jogging down the corridor, she found Arthur in his office. He sat on the sofa, holding his head in shaking hands.

"Arthur ?"

"Shit." He cursed, wiping his eyes as he looked up. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

She sat on the table in front of him and touched his hand. “Let me call someone for you. Please.”

Arthur hesitated, before he dug out his phone from his jacket pocket and handed it to her. His hands were shaking badly. “He’s under ‘E.’”

She didn’t ask who and easily found Emrys . She now remembered that she recognized the name as a neurosurgeon that had been in and out of the news over the years.

He picked up after two rings, “So I was thinking we could go get lunch at a new place down the corner-“

“Is this Merlin Emrys?” Gwen asked, cutting off the friendly and sweet sounding voice on the other end.

The man’s voice changed, “Who is this?”

“This is Gwen, Uther Pendragon’s PA. Arthur asked me to call you.” She said, trying to sound professional. “I think he may need a comforting voice right now.”

“Is he alright? What’s wrong?”

Arthur held out his hand to her and instead of answering she gave the phone to him.

“Hey Merls.” He gave a little choked laugh, “How would you feel about going to the Gala with me?”

Gwen could barely hear what Arthur’s partner was saying, but he could tell he was comforting Arthur better than anyone else could have. Gwen stayed with him until the end of the conversation. She heard him promise to come home early and then the quite little “I love you” which sounded like the goodbye of a couple who had been together for years.

Arthur looked a lot better afterward, standing up and brushing himself off, no longer shaking.

She stopped him, “If you need a PA at this new company of yours…”

Arthur closed his eyes and smiled, “Thank you, Gwen.”

The evening of the Gala, she sent in her two weeks’ notice.

Chapter Text

In Arthur’s opinion, the thing about Merlin was that he appeared to be constantly complaining. The key word being ‘appeared.’ Because while the facts remained that Merlin did talk (a lot) and did complain about everything (daily), he was also one of the most dogged and loyal men Arthur had ever known. So while Merlin was complaining that hunting wasn’t his definition of ‘fun’ and that he wasn’t actually doing anything here and he could have had the day, Arthur had to translate: Merlin had a cold.

Because despite the fact that Merlin hated hunting and it was doing nothing to soothe his cough or running nose, Merlin always refused to let Arthur go anywhere without him.

“You’d be lost without me, you clotpole.” Merlin croaked out. His usual insult sounded like ‘clodpull’ thanks to his clogged nose. If Arthur thought about it that might have just been a new insult.

“I cannot believe you!” Arthur exclaimed after waiting for Merlin to sneeze three times in succession, where each sneeze sounded like he had expelled half his weight. Arthur handed him a cloth so Merlin could wipe his face. “You ask me for a day off every other day. Then, when you have a valid excuse to take a day to rest, you pretend you’re alright so you could attend to me on a hunt.”

“It’s not that bad.” Merlin replied, although it sounded more like ‘Id nod dad bad.’

“You sound like you’ve lost your nose entirely, Merlin.”

Predictably, Merlin’s sniffing and coughing had scared off any chance of pray, so Arthur and his knights had little game. Not that anyone truly minded. A hunt was an excuse to ride through the woods without it being a shift on patrol or on a quest. They chatted amongst one another and joked at each other’s expenses.

But Arthur was preoccupied with his coughing manservant. Instead of keeping an eye out for any game, Arthur looked to the undergrowth. When he saw what he was looking for, he hopped off his horse and gathered a few sprigs.

He handed the leaves to Merlin, who eyed them warily. “Peppermint?”

“You’re a physician’s apprentice.  I don’t need to spell it out to you.” Arthur said, kicking up his leg and set astride his horse once again. He raised a brow at Merlin, who rolled his eyes but ultimately popped the peppermint leaves into his mouth to chew.

Arthur clucked his tongue to spur his horse forward, ignoring the grins of his fellow knights and the fevered flush on his manservant’s cheeks.

Eventually they decided to stop for the night. Arthur found a small gorge which blocked the wind and demanded the knights find wood for a large fire, despite the fact that they didn’t need it for a roast, since they had only caught a few hares.

The sun was setting and despite the fire, Merlin was shaking like a leaf.

Arthur huffed, and started to search through Merlin’s pack.

“Whad are you-?”

Arthur cut him off by throwing his own dark brown blanket onto Merlin. “You’re ridiculous.” Arthur said as he sat down next to Merlin on the log. Arthur watched the fire, tending to it with a stick and ignoring Merlin as he wrapped the blanket around his shaking shoulders.

Ardhur.”

“Shut up.” Arthur said. “If you get pneumonia, I’m letting you be at the mercy of Gaius and his foul potions.”

Merlin snuffled, and it might have been a laugh.

The knights around the fire were talking amongst themselves, not paying too much mind to Arthur and his manservant. Arthur was almost embarrassed at how accustomed his knights were to this open and warm affection between Arthur and Merlin.

“Why didn’t you ask for a day off?” Arthur whispered, not looking at Merlin. Surely his friend wouldn’t have thought Arthur would make him go on a hunt while he was ill? Surely.

Merlin leaned his head against Arthur’s shoulder. He smelled like peppermint, despite the fact that it had been hours since he had chewed on the leaves.

“Don’d know.” Merlin sighed. “Jusd wanded do be wid you.”

Arthur looked down at Merlin, his eyes were half closed and his mouth open so he could breathe through it. He had dark coloring under his eyes and his nose was swollen red. He looked determined, stubborn, and altogether too loyal for his own good.

Arthur wrapped his arm around Merlin’s shoulder and pressed a kiss to his hair, “Idiot.”

“Shud up, clodpull.”

Chapter Text

Uther had been eating dinner with his son when he noticed it. Perhaps Uther had noticed this behavior in his son before, but it was the first time the realization struck Uther.

Arthur was smiling throughout their silent dinner. He didn’t say much of anything, but there was a small tilt to his lips.

As Arthur’s servant bent over to pour wine into Arthur’s mostly-full goblet, Arthur looked up to his manservant, only a few inches away. Arthur gave a shy smile. Merlin pulled away, either barely noticing Arthur’s smile or ignoring it.

Uther had never seen his son act so coy before. Arthur was a man who took what he wanted, and stated it proudly. Perhaps Arthur wasn’t always so brash, but he certainly was not shy about anything.

But it clicked into place as Uther remembered Merlin’s complete and utter dedication to Arthur. Merlin was always by Arthur’s side, and he had proved he would die for Arthur if need be. Such loyalty in a servant was hard to come by and very valuable. Uther believed that one’s people should be a bit in love with their Prince, but the way Arthur was looking back at Merlin…

“Arthur, I wish to have a word with you.” Uther cleared his throat, gesturing to the guards at the door and to the manservant. “Alone.”

Merlin’s eyes went wide, making him look idiotic. Uther really didn’t see the appeal. The manservant bowed and made his way out, giving one last look back.

Arthur was frowning, “Is there something wrong?”

Uther understood Arthur’s confusion, since only matters of the highest importance required Uther to speak to someone in complete privacy.

 Uther took a sip of his wine, thinking over his words, and letting Arthur stew for a bit.

“You’re fond of the boy.”

Arthur’s body stiffened. Uther knew his son well and he knew as Arthur incessantly tapped on his goblet that he was nervous.

“You won’t answer me?”

“It wasn’t a question.” Arthur said, with an unusual snap in his tone towards Uther.

“Your manservant is very loyal. He would die for his Prince in a second,” Uther noticed the way Arthur frowned and seemed highly uncomfortable at the thought, only proving Uther’s theory. “Despite his lack of etiquette and his overall…idiocy… He is a valuable servant.”

Arthur opened his mouth to answer, but Uther cut him off.

“He is your servant, and it is required that he is loyal to you. But you cannot return these sentiments, Arthur.”

“Why am I being chastised?” Arthur sneered “I value Merlin’s loyalty and companionship. I see no crime in that.”

“No, but in the past you have risked your own life for his, a mere servant. You are not just a man, Arthur. You are Camelot and you can never prioritize a servant over Camelot.”

Arthur swallowed, looking down at his half-finished meal.

“I know young love when I see it, Arthur and this cannot continue in this way.”

Arthur looked up, eyes just as wide as his useless manservant’s. “Love?” Arthur scoffed, trying to laugh but it came off wrong. “That’s ridiculous, father.”

“I’ve seen enough.” Uther snapped, and Arthur seemed cowed. “You can do whatever you want with the boy, I don’t care. But you cannot love him, when it means that you will put his life over Camelot’s. You have a duty to Camelot, as my heir and as the future sire of Camelot’s next King you cannot be with a man-“

“Father!” Arthur tried to protest but Uther continued.

“If I see that you cannot set your priorities straight, I will send the boy back to the countryside and I will ensure you let out your…needs… elsewhere.”

Arthur was red in the face. Whether it was from humiliation, anger, or both, Uther couldn’t tell.

“You understand why I’m telling you this?” Uther asked.

Arthur was tapping furiously on the arm of his chair. Lips thin and eyes downcast, Arthur finally let out an answer. “I understand, father.”

*

Merlin had been worried out of his mind when Uther sent everyone but Arthur out of the room. The hall where Arthur and Uther ate dinner was one of the few places in the citadel that Merlin had yet to find a place which allowed him to spy inside the room. So he was forced to go back to Arthur’s chambers and wait for Arthur to return with the news.

When Arthur returned, he couldn’t help but immediately start ‘chattering’ as Arthur usually called it.

“What did he say? Is everything alright? Did something happen?” Arthur didn’t say anything, only frowned and tugged off his jacket with more force than necessary. “Shit, Arthur, did it have something to do with one of the visiting nobles? There’s going to be a war, isn’t there? You’re going to war, oh gods, I’ve never been to war!”

“There’s no war, Merlin. Shut up.” Arthur threw his jacket on the floor and then tore off his shirt, tossing it behind himself. He went behind the changing screen before Merlin could ask anything more. Merlin shuffled awkwardly, picking up the discarded clothes as they flew over the screen.

Arthur came out in his well-worn sleep trousers, and then washed his face in the bowl of fresh water that Merlin had left out. He had yet to say anything.

“Am I not allowed to know? Is that what it is? You know I would never tell a soul, Arthur! Not even Gaius, if you asked me to keep a secret, I would!”

Arthur looked pained. “I did ask you to keep a secret, but it appears my father found us out anyway.”

Merlin paused, feel his jaw unhinge as he stared at Arthur’s frowning expression.

“Your father knows that we… He talked to you about…” Merlin made a vague gesture.

He and Arthur had been in this odd arrangement for only a few months. They slept together, sometimes after the thrill of a fight well won, sometimes after a long day of stress, but also sometimes just for the hell of it. Merlin wasn’t complaining about the arrangement, but he never knew Arthur’s stake in it. After all, he would be King one day and Merlin was still a warlock…

Arthur turned to his bed and pulled down the covers with a fierce tug. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry!” Merlin exclaimed, “Are you mad! Your father already hates me! He’ll have my head on a chopping block next!”

“No, he won’t.” Arthur looked uncomfortable, like there was something else on his mind.

“Arthur…” Merlin came up beside Arthur, touching his face tenderly. Arthur leaned into it like he always did, before he pulled away abruptly.

“Stop. Just…stop.” Arthur stepped away.

“What did he say?” Merlin asked, touching Arthur’s arm, but again he was pushed away.

Arthur gave a self-deprecating laugh, “He’s right, you know. He’s completely right.”

Merlin frowned, trying to get Arthur to look at him, but failing.

“He doesn’t care that we fuck.” Arthur said, finally turning to Merlin, his tone harsher than Merlin expected. “Why would it matter? I won’t produce bastards this way and besides that, it’s none of his concern who is in my bed.”

Merlin coughed out an awkward laugh, “So, what’s the problem?”

Arthur looked into his eyes, examining Merlin for a long moment.

“Arthur-?”

Arthur lunged forward, grabbing Merlin’s face in a tight grip, and kissed him fiercely. It was a harsh kiss. Even the sex they had had after a near-death experience had never been this rough. Merlin gasped, but he did not protest. He grabbed onto Arthur’s shoulders and tried to keep up with the kiss. It seemed to come out of nowhere, while Merlin was still trying to process what had riled Arthur up.

Arthur pulled away, but his eyes were not filled with lust, like Merlin would have thought.

Merlin frowned at him, “Arthur? What’s wrong?” He touched Arthur’s brow, trying to smooth out the wrinkles that formed when he frowned.

Arthur let out a long and shaky breath. He leaned his head down on Merlin’s shoulder. “I can’t. I cannot just have you like this. I won’t.”

Merlin shook his head, “I don’t understand.”

Arthur looked up, cupping Merlin’s jaw in soft, gentle hands, nothing like his previous hold. Arthur smiled ruefully. “My father said that if I ever prioritized you over Camelot, he would banish you.”

Merlin smiled with confusion, “Arthur, you would never prioritize me over Camelot, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Oh, but I do, Merlin. I do.”

Then he kissed Merlin slowly, taking care to kiss Merlin’s upper lip and then his lower lip. He held Merlin so reverently Merlin was lightheaded from it.

“I am…” Arthur shook his head. He pulled away just enough that he could take Merlin’s hands into his own. He pressed a kiss to Merlin’s servant-worn knuckles with his eyes closed. “You hold my heart in your hands, Merlin. But I am not just a man. I am Camelot’s future King.” Arthur looked up, somber clouds in his eyes. “I would die for you, Camelot be damned, and my father knows that.”

Merlin stared. He stared and stared, until finally everything slotted into place. Then, he understood Arthur’s anger and the way he shook as he held Merlin’s hands.

Merlin gripped Arthur’s hands, “We hold each other’s hearts. There is no weakness in love and loyalty. If your father disagrees, then he is as lonely and bitter as I always believed.” Arthur opened his mouth, but Merlin stopped him. “You will not choose me over Camelot, because I won’t let you. I am just as dedicated to Camelot and to peace as you. No one will be dying for anyone.”

Arthur gave a weak smile, like he was only humoring Merlin. “Anyone ever told you that you’ve a strange look on the world.”

“You, on countless occasions.” Merlin smiled, touching Arthur’s jaw. “Now, kiss me?”

Arthur did.