He had to do it. He had to tell Arthur. Being a sorcerer in Camelot, during Uther's reign, was still as much of a death sentence as it had ever been, but Merlin couldn't stand another day of Arthur trying to be his friend, and asking what was wrong. He couldn't take one more time of Arthur pulling him aside and thanking him for being such a loyal friend, for being so trustworthy. Gods, if only Arthur knew who he was saying that to!
All the deceit was killing him. Literally--given that it was driving him to confess to the crown prince something that would get him beheaded at dawn. If only Arthur was still the Prat. He could continue lying to the Prat, but no. Heaven forbid Arthur make his life easier. Arthur just had to become this great guy. His friend. More than just a friend...
As he walked up the stairs to Arthur's chambers, he let himself feel one last bit of pride, of relief. This was who he was. This is the type of man he'd be when he died--an honest one. He wouldn't be the betrayer. He wouldn't be the companion who's whole life was a lie. He'd go down as trustworthy as Arthur had praised him to be.
He fixed his mind on that thought as he knocked on Arthur's door and stepped into the room.
Arthur looked up from his chair by the fire, "What's wrong?"
Ah, hell, where did he start? For a moment his mind froze. He was going to loose everything.
Arthur stood up abruptly, and started walking over, "Merlin, what is it?".
Merlin threw his hand out, "Stop!".
This would be easier if he wasn't immediately in striking distance. He could already make out too many of the details of Arthur's face, searching his carefully.
"Arthur, I have to tell you...". Man, he should have thought more about what to say before this instead of being so fixed on the need to say it. He looked up into unguarded blue eyes, "I'm sorry. But can't help being... But you have to know that I've always tried to help you, to protect you, at least since that first day, I swear! I... You probably won't believe me after this, but I promise I won't lie, I won't ever lie to you again. I hated it, but I didn't know any other way..."
But that was just excuses and he was stalling "I am... I can do magic. I'm a sorcerer. I had to tell you. I'm sorry."
"Merlin. It's okay."
What? Arthur looked back calmly. He didn't get it. Was he deaf? Why didn't Arthur ever believe him when he admitted to using magic?
"I'm not lying! I am a sorcerer", he threw up his arms in exasperation. Of course Arthur would make this harder than it should be. But Merlin could just show him if that's what he needed! He flung out his shaking hand, drew forth a ball of fire--white-blue and blindingly hot--and waved it around exasperatedly before Arthur. "See!? Magic!"
A few drops of sweat broke out on Arthur's face as they both squinted past the arcs of light imprinted on their eyes, and Merlin paled, the knowledge of what he was doing crashing back through him. He sent the fire away as quick as it had come.
"Merlin. I've been trained in battle and strategy since I was five. I know how to calculate odds of survival and estimated losses. I've known that we've--that I've been getting help, from a magical source, for a long time now. I just didn't realize this magical ally was you. As least until a few weeks ago. You sneezed and all the candles in the castle grew a foot. I figured it out."
Arthur had seen that?
"I know. It's okay."
Merlin blinked. He... knew? Arthur gave him a gentle smile, and the world was all wrong-side-up, everything he knew going all pear-shaped. He heard a startled 'Merlin?' and the world went black.
Merlin woke up to hands checking over his head and a voice grumbling "you idiot, if you've gone and given yourself a head injury now, you'll be mucking the stables for a week." Where was he? He had been going to tell Arthur...
He sat up with a gasp and Arthur reached out a hand to steady him as the rest of the conversation raced back.
"What do you mean 'it's okay'?", Merlin demanded.
"You're going to argue with me on this? I know that you're trustworthy. So it's okay."
"I...", But? He just couldn't get his head around it, "I'm sorry I lied".
"Considering that you're in Camelot, it might be just as well you did. It does show that you have one small iota of self-preservation in you, though I see it, too, ran out." Arthur stopped and placed his hand on Merlin's. "I am glad you told me."
Merlin nodded. Arthur knew. He wasn't going to die. Arthur knew and still trusted him. He breathed in a shaky breath, and noticed something.
"Why is it so hot in here?"
Arthur raised one eyebrow and wryly replied, "I think that would be due to the super-heated ball of... whatnot... that you conjured up a few moments ago. Remember?"
Oh. The whole room felt like a sauna. He had just wanted something strong to use to get his point through Arthur's thick skull... He'd had this sense of something bright and heavy, pulling on the distant edge of his magical vision, so he had just skimmed off a tiny piece... and...
Arthur rolled his eyes and just casually said "Anything you can do to cool it back down? It's getting uncomfortable."
"Ah... yes...", he hesitated under Arthur's neutral but very watchful gaze, but found a stream of the North wind and released it into the room to chase some of the heat from the room.
Merlin looked back at Arthur--he would have been able to see his eyes clearly turn color from where he sat--but Arthur just clapped him on the back and said thanks, giving Merlin a hand up. Merlin felt his breath hitch as he stood, trying to get past whatever lump was now blocking his throat. Did Arthur really trust him?
Arthur wrapped one arm around his shoulders, pulling him in tight. "It's alright. I've got you. You guard my back. I'll guard yours. We'll be unbeatable. It's okay."
Arthur pulled back, but left his arm around Merlin's shoulders. He pretended not to see Merlin wipe his eyes and just pulled him to the table, "Help me finish up this food, will you? You look beat and goodness knows it would be impossible to find another manservant with your own special brand of incompetence, so I'll just have to work harder at making sure you don't starve or anything. Also, I have three pairs of shoes that still need polishing before tomorrow's formal dinner. I can't possibly choose between them until they are no longer covered in mud. You better swing by before breakfast and we can kill two birds with one stone. And have you seen the state of my riding gear? Deplorable."
Merlin just laughed and bit into the apple Arthur passed him.