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Merlin can see the peaks of the castle as they ride up on the hill. Arthur has to meet with a king and queen in their court, talk of builds and alliances and friendship. Arthur's delighted about it. They ride down, Leon and Gwaine following behind. Knights at the gates bow and let them pass into the courtyard. Merlin's happy to hop down from his horse, his arse has been aching and then asleep for most of the long ride.

Arthur slips from his horse and readjusts chainmail, smiling at the servants who takes his bags, helping Merlin with them. Gwaine takes a bag which strap is digging into Merlin's shoulder and pats his back, letting another knight lead him in. Leon stays my Arthur's side and instructs the stable boy to water their horses.

Servants lead them in, keep glancing at Arthur nervously as they walk down the stone corridor. Before he strides through the throne room's closed doors, he stops, "What is it, then?"

The young woman blushes, "There... There's been talk, sire. Of a marriage."

"A marriage? Who's marriage?" He asks, genuinely concerned. He wasn't aware he would be attending a wedding. Surely, the royals would have informed him. Unless...

"Y-Yours, my lord. They've intended you to court Lady Ellenestin."

Arthur's eyes widen, voice in a harsh whisper, "What?!" He lays a hand to his forehead, starting to pace, "No. Oh, god no. That woman."

"Um... Arthur?" Merlin's face is inquiring, asking for explanation with a gesture of his hand.

"That woman, Merlin. I suppose you haven't heard the story. Really, she can be a lovely girl, but she frightens me. She pushes herself on me and smells of roasted ham," Arthur sets his hands on Merlin's shoulders, "She once ripped open her bodice and backed me into a wall."

Merlin pats him on the arm, Arthur's stress almost comical - the king of Camelot, the most fierce knight he knows, got scared of a woman -  "Well, alright, you can just decl--"

"I can't marry her, Merlin. I can't do it," Arthur says high-pitched and lets go of him and paces again, mumbling to himself, "I can't decline her, either. It would not grant me any favor in this friendship of kingdoms. God, what do I do?" He looks around, trying to figure a way out. Merlin claps him on his shoulder plate.

"Arthur, we can resolve this," Merlin reasons, "We can--"

"You!" Arthur points at him, eyes narrowing a bit as if assessing him. Then he's grabbing the bags from Merlin's arms, shoving them into another servant's hands. He unties the flap of one and rummages in it manically while Merlin stands stunned and confused.

"...Me, sire? Me what? Arthur?" Then Arthur spins around and startles him, shoving something onto his head. Merlin reaches up take it off, gaping when he realizes Arthur has sat his circlet on top of his head. He sputters for a moment without sound, then asks incredulously, "Are you ill?"

"Merlin, I need this to go well, and if I turn her down, it will not go well. If I walk in already betrothed, well... It saves time." Arthur tells him, taking and placing the circlet back on his head, "Just act normal for once, will you?"

"Normal? This is a far cry from normal!" Merlin protests, circlet falling to the right a bit on his head. He thinks Arthur's gone mad, finally lost it. Maybe he's having a breakdown. Merlin feels as if he is.

Arthur inhales to make an argument but the doors come open slowly, knights pulling them back and revealing them to the long table of people. Arthur straightens and clears his throat, pulling himself together. Merlin feels too small for everything as he adjusts the gold piece of metal that Arthur's tied him to. He feels like an idiot, in dirty clothes with a shining crown.

They stand in front of the king and queen, who rise to give them greeting. There's a woman that stands immediately as well, with no grace. Arthur looks tense. Merlin thinks he knows who that is.

"Arthur, my boy. Good to see you." King Argrott; a round, burly, deep voiced man says as he embraces Arthur and pats his back. Arthur kisses the queen's hand when it's presented to him. Merlin stands with his hands by his sides and waits still. Until he shakes when all the eyes are set upon him.

"And who might you be?" The queen - tall and beautiful, hair red like fire - inquires with a warm smile.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Arthur smiles, hand moving to rest on Merlin's back, pull him closer against his side. His armor digs into Merlin uncomfortably, "This is Merlin, my um... My husband."

"Husband?" both the king, queen, and lady ask in unison - although Lady Ellenestin says with much more blasphemous tones.

Arthur stands up a bit straighter, "Yes. Is there a problem?"

Lady Ellenestin frowns and plops back down in her seat. The king looks between them then shakes his head, getting his composure back together, "No, of course not! You hadn't told me you were marrying... Hello, Lord Merlin."

Merlin bows clumsily, circlet falling off his head. He gasps and goes to pick it up, but a servant is already there, picking it up for him and ducking their head as they hand it back. Merlin finds it silly that anyone wouldn't look him in the eye, but then again that's how he was with Uther before he wasn't scared of him. He holds the circlet in his fidgeting hands, filled with anxiety.

Arthur forces a chuckle and pats Merlin's back, "Why don't you go get comfortable in our chambers? It's been a long ride."

Merlin nods in sincere thanks and all but runs from the room. He can hear Arthur say, "He's not used to the change yet, crowns and such."

--

Arthur walks into the room, door closing behind him. Merlin hops up from his seat on the bed, circlet discarded there. He hasn't touched it since he set it there. He looks panicked, throat dry "Arthur, I made a fool of myself and you in there. This is not a good idea, I don't even look like a king, I'm all raggedy and covered in dirt! A king, god, that's another thing. I'm not fit to be a king!"

"Merlin, calm yourself." Arthur holds his shoulders, "You were right, you were terrible."

Merlin rolls his eyes, "Arthur--"

"But that's fine." Arthur tells him, giving his shoulders a squeeze. Merlin sighs and looks at him, shoulders slumping. Arthur looks to their empty bags, "Come, let's get you into something better. They've asked us to dinner tonight."

"Yes. Yes, okay," Arthur walks over the cupboard where Merlin's put all his clothing, "But I'll just be," It dawns on him, "...Sitting at the table."

"Well yes, Merlin. That's what kings do." Arthur takes to looking through the cupboard, grabbing out a plush, royal blue coat and a pair of breeches, "Where's that purple tunic of yours? Put it on."

Merlin looks so lost but does what he's told. He pulls his tunic from his satchel and jumps when Arthur has the clothes flying at his face. He sets them with care on the bed and undoes his belt before pulling his tunic over his head.

"And I must get out of my armor," Arthur says like he's just listing things off but Merlin rushes over to him with his mind buzzing, to where Arthur's just about to start pacing. He fumbles with the breast and shoulder plates, one dropping to the ground accidentally, "Merlin."

They both try to pick it up, but Merlin scrambles a bit, bumping into Arthur, which sends the king back into the table. Arthur's boot slips on the floor and causes Merlin to slip after him, colliding into his back, "Merlin!"

A servant walks in to turn down the bedding when he sees them, Arthur bent over the table with half his armor off, a shirtless Merlin right behind him and breathing roughly in panic. They both turn to see the young, wide eyed man back out of the room.

Arthur lets his head fall to the table with a thump, "Oh, fantastic."

Merlin bites his lip, "Well, if you think about it..."

"Merlin!"

--

"Stop fiddling with your coat." Arthur says, seeing Merlin's hands fidget on the clasps.

"I'm sorry, but I have the right to be nervous." Merlin snaps at him, "How am I supposed to do this? Carry myself like a king when I don't know how?"

Arthur sighs and stops him in the empty corridor, "Merlin, listen to me carefully," He waits for Merlin's little nod and notices his shoulders trembling, "Breathe,"

Merlin forces himself to take a deep breath. Arthur nods, "Very good. Now, it will be easy. You may be nervous, yes, but all you have to do is walk in with me and sit down."

Merlin swallows and nods again. Arthur nods himself and looks straight ahead again. He offers his arm. For a moment, Merlin doesn't know what to do, then awkwardly slips his arm in Arthur's.

"That's not how you... Nevermind." Arthur shakes his head, then leads him into the dining hall. Candlelight gives a warming glow that would usually calm Merlin, food balanced all over the table and two empty chairs, seated next to each other. Arthur pulls one out for him, proper in the way he holds a hand out to help him sit. Merlin's hand skims Arthur's wrist, unsure as he sits down.

Arthur seats himself after while Merlin looks around at the king and queen, other royals invited to dinner. He feels like everyone knows he hasn't ever sat at a table like this, how he's never worn such expensive clothes.

They all notice, he's sure of it. In the way they silently critique him, glance to members of their party and turn up their nose. Arthur sees them staring and lays his hand over Merlin's, anchoring him. It startles Merlin and causes him to blush, but King Argrott speaks up, polite in the way he looks to Arthur first to be granted to speak to another king's betrothed.

"Lord Merlin, I'm wondering if I may inquire a few things to get to know you better." He says.

"Um..." Merlin glances to Arthur, "Yes. Yes, of course."

"Wonderful," He claps his hands together once with a jolly smile, "Where do you hail from? I apologize but I have not seen you anywhere before."

Merlin bites his lip, "Well... I'm not from any royal family."

The other parties whisper to one another at the far end of the table. Merlin feels worthless for a moment. The king looks at him oddly, a bit intrigued, "Oh."

"Merlin's from Ealdor, a small village in the lands of Essetir." Arthur politely interrupts, "He came to Camelot and has been studying under our finest court physician... But I sort of snatched him up, you see." He finishes, sitting up like he's proud. There's few whispers at the far end of the table, surprised faces. Merlin looks at him with slightly wide eyes.

"Ah, very good. Couldn't resist the newcomer." the king chuckles, remembering his days before he fell for his queen.

"Yes, something like that." Arthur nods.

Everyone returns to eating and Merlin is afraid to take much from the surrounding dishes, even if he hasn't eaten more than an apple and slice of bread for the past two days. He feels as if he's not allowed to. So he keeps his head down when he eats, slowly and in little pieces. Arthur bumps his knee under the table and straightens his shoulders when he looks. Merlin picks up his posture immediately. And when he's twirling the last bit of food on his plate with a fork, Arthur gives him more.

"We don't want you fading away." Arthur smiles softly, then returns to his meal.

--

Merlin undoes the clasps through of the coat, gently slipping it from his shoulders after, "You were... Very nice during dinner."

"That's the point, Merlin." Arthur takes his own coat off, laying it on the table. He undoes his belt and places it there as well. Merlin hangs the coat he wore back in the cabinet.

"Did I do alright? Should I have lied and said I was from a royal family?" Merlin asks nervously, wondering if he messed all of it up.

"No, you do not have to lie about where you come from."

 Merlin nods, "Thank you."

Arthur shakes his head and slips out of his boots, "It's been a long day, I'm going to turn in." Merlin nods again and goes to clean the armor, maybe do a few other chores before he goes to bed as well... somewhere. The chair by the fireplace looks nice.

"Merlin." Arthur's patient-but-not-really voice makes him look up, breastplate held to his chest and chainmail in his hand. Arthur just looks at him for a moment. Merlin has gotten more muscled since they first met, but he notices it more with the armor held to him. He's sure Leon has spare chainmail they could put him in. Then that makes him start to question why he's toted Merlin places without giving him so much as a sword, but he knew he'd always be there to protect him. And Merlin's shit with a sword. He sighs, "Get over here."

"...Why?" Merlin asks, brow furrowed.

Arthur rolls his eyes and beckons him, which has Merlin lowering his armor back down and coming over to the bed, expression confused.

"You can't polish my armor, that is servant's work."

"I always polish your armor."

"Well, now you're not. You can sit by the fire, or read, or take a walk. You can do anything but do servant work while we're here."

"Can I sleep?"

Arthur looks at him, "What do you think?"

Merlin raises his hands, biting back a grin as he steps away, "Alright. Chair time, I've got it."

"No--Ugh, Merlin." Arthur jumps up and grabs Merlin by the back of the tunic, pulling him to land with a small bounce on the bed, "You cannot sleep in a chair."

Merlin fits, "Then where am I supposed to--?!" He stops, hands on the soft velvet of the top blanket "...Oh." Arthur falls back against the pillows like he's given up. Merlin chews on his lip, "Arthur, are you sure?"

"It's a sign of wellness if a married couple sleeps in the same bed. And if someone were to walk in and found us sleeping in different places, they would become suspicious, maybe even enough to tell the Lady Ellenestin." Arthur gives, which doesn't help Merlin much with the blush he's trying to ward off of his skin when Arthur gestures to them as if they are actually married.

He sits on the edge of the bed and slips out of his boots, leaving them there in a neat line on the floor before scoots up the bed to the pillows and curls up. Arthur looks over at him, silently offering blankets. Merlin takes them and smiles softly in thanks, covering himself up.

"Goodnight, Arthur." He whispers, blanket pulled up to his chin as he closes his eyes.

Arthur hardly sleeps at all.

--

Merlin wakes on his stomach, face comfortably stuffed against a silk pillow. He slept well, wrapped up in sheets that smell amazing and - to his surprise - Arthur laying close to him, hair a little mussed and face relaxed as he sleeps soundly.

He gets up and changes his clothes, Arthur's red tunic to make himself more presentable and his own breeches that he doesn't think look too worn, glancing multiple times to make sure Arthur doesn't wake while he's naked. He makes sure Arthur's armor shines even if he's ordered not to touch it anymore, then goes to wake him. He sets a hand on his shoulder, shaking. Arthur grunts but doesn't wake up. Merlin rolls his eyes and leans on the bed, taking Arthur's arms and shaking harder, "Arthur. Ar--"

Merlin is grabbed, a reflex by Arthur. He probably should have just opened the curtains, but he's forgotten. Merlin's flat on his back, hand in his hair and tugging, another hand clasped around his throat, and his legs parted to the width of Arthur's hips. He looks up at Arthur blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

"Arthur?" Merlin tries, his heart beating a mile a minute.

Arthur's hand loosens in his hair, "...You startled me."

"I..." Merlin takes himself and the position into consideration, "I-I see that. My apologies."

Arthur blinks a few times then grunts when he nods, letting go of him and sitting up on his knees. Merlin pulls himself up and feels over scrutinized as Arthur looks at him.

"You look... Better." He says, "Are those my clothes?"

"Just the tunic, my lord. I didn't want to take any more of your clothing... But I didn't have anything, well, acceptable." Merlin tells him, eyes downcast.

Arthur nods, "It's fine. We'll just get you a few other things. We have meetings today."

Merlin scoots off the bed after Arthur gets up, following to help him dress, "Wait, we?"

--

Merlin wants to punch Gwaine in the face. He shakes his head vigorously, "Don't bow to me."

"I must, my lord." Gwaine grins at him, bowing again.

Merlin rolls his eyes, whispering "It's not funny!"

"It's amusing from here, Merlin." He smiles, standing straight again, "You're wearing a cape."

"It's not mine." Merlin snaps, just happy the crown isn't shoved on his head. Arthur's taken him down to the seamstress and had him poked and prodded, then lent him his cape when Merlin insisted he needed a walk by himself.

And then Gwaine had found him.

"No, but word travels fast when a king weds." Gwaine says, draping an arm over his shoulders, "God, Merlin, what did you do?"

"I said a sentence with 'we' in it." Merlin tells him, sighing, "It's not that bad, really. Except every time I walk into a room everyone looks at me. They whisper about me, Gwaine. They know I'm different."

Gwaine flicks hair out of his eyes, shaking his head, "No, Merlin." He grins slyly, "They're probably all wondering how many times Arthur's sat on his knees."

Merlin blushes hot red, laugh breaking through his lips, "Gwaine!"

Gwaine chuckles, shaking him a bit, "Made you feel better though, yeah?"

Merlin shoves him, smiling, "Yeah."

Gwaine sees a young woman carrying a heavy woven basket of peaches and grins, arm slipping from Merlin, "I'll see you later, my lord. Alright?"

Merlin huffs in amusement when Gwaine fixes his cape for him, rolling his eyes at watching him jog to catch up with her. He goes back to walking, letting himself calm, thoughts of rooms where he must sit straight and be subjected to the gossip of others drifting away. Arthur will meet with the two other royal companies coming in today and they will be heading back for Camelot in no time. It will be forgotten what happened here, Merlin can go back to his duties and... Maybe he'll miss the soft sheets and comfortable clothes, and the feel of Arthur on his arm, but he's starting to realize that living in a shadow was safe. He doesn't want to feel like he can't breathe.

He finds himself walking down by the edge of the woods, flowers growing tall by the castle walls. He's about to pick one when a child's voice pipes up, "No, wait!"

His head snaps up to see a girl about six come up to him, place her hand in front of the flower so he can't touch it, "This one's not ready."

"Oh," he says, standing up straight again, "Sorry, I was just--"

"You can't pick a flower until it's ready. Like these ones." She gestures to the basket a few feet away, carefully stacked with all different colored flowers, color coordinated.

"They're very pretty." He tells her, watching her touch Arthur's cape, flow it out a little.

"You're one of the kings, aren't you?" She asks, sitting on the ground and pulling her basket close, picking more flowers to lay in.

"Um... I guess. I don't think I'm a very good one." Merlin sits next to her, pointing to a flower to silently ask if it's 'ready'. The girl nods.

"I think being a king would be fun," She says, "It would be good to help people. You help people, right?"

"I help King Arthur." He tells her.

"That's good." She separates two yellow flowers and an orange one, "Do you ever go and make decisions? Big ones, I mean? I'd like to do that one day, if I don't like something, I can say how to help."

Merlin smiles at her, "I think you'll do wonderful."

She smiles and picks up a red flower and sets it behind his ear, then hands him another one, "For your King Arthur, my lord. Thank you."

Merlin stands and brushes off the cape, "Thank you."

And if all the flowers bloom when he walks away, well who's to say they just weren't all ready to begin with?

He steps back onto the path and walks back to the castle, twirling the flower meant for Arthur in his fingers. He can see another king and company has arrived and helps a young boy struggling with satchels without thinking, smiling when he says thanks then looks awed. He helps the boy with the baggage to the correct quarters, slipping Arthur's flower behind his other ear for it not to be crushed.

Arthur comes around the corner and sees Merlin lugging things into a room, following after him to see what he's gotten up to. He's been looking for him, to introduce the other king and queen to him. Evidently his marriage to Lady Ellenestin was passed around to everyone but him, and he spent a small while telling them his and Merlin's marriage was small and quiet, since Merlin's not much for crowds.

"Merlin?" He watches him straighten and smile, red flowers behind both of his large ears, cape billowing around him just so. Merlin takes notice and blushes, holding one out.

"This one's for you." He says, letting Arthur's gloved hand take it. Arthur looks confused for a moment then lets out a chuckle, shaking his head.

"King Lenard and Queen Cassandra wish to meet you."

Merlin adjusts the fastenings of the cape, "Um, yes. Okay, yeah."

Arthur takes his arm and leads him down the corridor, smiling, "So, where did you go?"

--

Arthur sets his hands on the table, leaning over it, "Again. Do it again."

Merlin groans, "This is the sixth time!"

"And once you get it right, you don't have to do it anymore, flower boy."

Merlin rolls his eyes and waits for Arthur to stand again and stop complaining. He watches Arthur pull out his seat and offer his hand, which Merlin makes sure to take, keep his posture right, and sit like he's supposed to.

"Now up." Arthur instructs, stepping around to let him move his chair back and stand, take Arthur's hand again before trying the transition from hand to arm. Arthur moves his hands for him, "No, you can't put your arm in mine. It's hand here," He settles Merlin's hand on his bicep, just above his inner elbow, "And here." He sets Merlin's other hand on his forearm.

How Merlin is going to remember all this, he knows not. But he tries. God, he tries to make Arthur happy, while slipping in a bit of complaining. "That reminds me, what did you do with yours?"

"My what?" Arthur walks him to the end of the bed then turns and takes him by the fireplace.

"Your flower. Where is it?"

"Oh. I uh, I threw it out," He notices Merlin's lips dip into a frown and sighs, "Now, in another day or so, the last royal party should arrive, then we are meant to take part in a banquet." Merlin starts to protest but he holds up a hand, "I know you're not fond of it, but it would mean a lot if you attended. Your new clothes should be done by then."

Merlin nods a bit, looking down at his sock clad feet. It would mean a lot if you attended. He smiles softly.

"You should bathe as well. And I'm going to ask one of the servants if they have any strawberries left from today. Would you like anything?" Arthur wasn't aware he was leaning so close until Merlin looks up at him, nose almost bumping his own.

"Um, the same, thanks." Merlin looks over Arthur's eyes then has a fleeting moment to touch his cheek, to see if Arthur would lean into it. But he pulls his hands from Arthur's arm and rubs the back of his own neck in embarrassment, "And I'll take that bath."

"I'll get someone in here immediately." Arthur licks his lips and leans by the bed, getting his boots back on.

Since he is Merlin, he helps the young man servant with carrying bath water, speaking with him lightly about what the banquet will be like. He says it'll be bright and colorful, with lots of wine. And he will fill Merlin's cup if he so wishes. Merlin says he'll let him sneak a couple of drinks. He sets up the wash area after all the water is in the tub, and asks curiously, "Do you kiss him?"

Merlin looks up at him, caught off-guard, "Well... Isn't that what happens when you get married?"

"Yes, my lord. I was just curious, is all. Enjoy your bath." He bows and leaves Merlin with that thought.

--

Arthur walks into the room with a small silver platter of assorted snacks, nibbling on a strawberry as he sets it down on the table, "Merlin? I'm back."

"Over here." Merlin sticks an arm out of the tub and Arthur can see it from behind the barrier.

"Ah, good. Um, listen, they gave me some wine as well. Would you like some?" He pulls off the cork to the bottle and starts pouring as he speaks, popping a grape into his mouth.

"Uh... that'd be great, thanks." Merlin scrubs at his hair, soap smelling of mint and roses. When he looks up, there's a hand holding out a goblet to him, Arthur smiling briefly before looking away. Merlin takes it in his soapy hands, pulling his knees to his chest, "Thank you."

Arthur nods, "There's food here too, when you're done. You haven't eaten much in a while." There's a knock at the door and he drinks from his goblet as he walks to open it, errand boy handing him a note with the seal of King Argrott. He thanks the boy and closes the door, sitting at the table to open his note.

"What was that about? Is someone here?" Merlin asks, having set his cup aside after a few light drinks and is now rinsing himself off.

"Errand boy, he gave me a note from the king." Arthur tells him, reading it over.

"What's it say?" Merlin gets out and dries himself with the towel left for him, peeking around the barrier that hides him.

"'Arthur, since I and my queen did not have the pleasure of attending the day you were wed, I have taken the liberty of setting a small gathering to honor your commitments, tonight. You cannot get out of letting me give you and your husband marital gifts.'" Arthur reads out, pinching the bridge of his nose after, "Great, another party."

"You don't want to go?" Merlin wraps the towel around his hips and bashfully walks to his bag, trying to hide himself with it as he searches for clothes.

"I'm just tired is all, and I don't want to put you through more than absolutely necessary." Arthur explains, setting the note onto the table before downing more of his wine, watching the way the muscles in Merlin's back move, "I wanted... Quiet tonight."

Merlin scurries back behind the barrier and dresses himself quickly, "Then are you going to tell them we're not showing up?"

"Do you want to go?"

Merlin rubs his damp hair, "...Yeah, why not? Maybe it'll be... Nicer."

"Nicer?" Arthur looks over at him as he sets his bag back in its place.

"Yes. Some of the people in the party... They whisper about me. I can hear my name, they point at me." Merlin says, finding his wine again.

Arthur shakes his head, "It's not you, Merlin. They're talking about me."

"You?" Merlin asks, sitting by Arthur at the table, pulling his feet up onto the chair.

"They think I've married another man, of course they're going to talk. Especially since you're not from a royal family. They know I've married because I wanted to, not for any other gain than happiness." Arthur explains, picking a piece of cheese from the platter.

Merlin takes that in for a moment, "You've thought about it a bit, huh?"

Arthur looks around, shrugs, "I guess so, yes."

Merlin scratches at his cheek, letting silence set in before he says, "Well, do you want to go?"

Arthur just nods and rises from his seat, Merlin unfolding himself and doing the same. They walk to King Argrott's private sitting room, arms bumping every now and again. When a few servants pass them in the hall, Merlin moves to make space for them instead of them doing it for him. His and Arthur's hands brush and Arthur inhales in surprise, Merlin blushing. Arthur takes his hand.

Arthur knocks on the door and a servant opens it for them, bowing slightly. King Argrott stands from his seat and smiles, arms open. The room is lit with candles, some with red decorations, room calm and celebratory of a marriage.

"There's the happy couple." He looks them over and chuckles, "Lord Merlin, I'm glad you've gotten comfortable here, no longer anxious."

Merlin looks himself over and realizes he's forgotten his boots. He turns his sock clad feet inward slightly, ducking his head. To his surprise, Arthur laughs.

"We were having a quiet night in." Arthur smiles, switching the hand that Merlin holds with his other, holding Merlin's lower back as he leads him further into the room.

"So sorry to interrupt." Argrott grins, gesturing to the table where their seats are. The queen is holding a box in her lap and smiles at them. King Lenard and Queen Cassandra raise their glasses to them as they sit. Merlin remembers his posture and how he's supposed to sit, which makes King Argrott chuckle, "Please, be comfortable. I think most of us are in our night clothes, anyway."

Merlin smiles at his kindness and pulls his feet up on the chair, thanking the servant who pours him and Arthur wine. He drinks and looks over at Arthur, who is already looking at him. He blushes and drops his gaze, smiling into his cup.

Argrott smiles, gesturing to his queen and the box, "We've gotten these made for you, a matching pair."

Queen Lautia rises and brings around the box, setting it in front of them, "I hope very much that you like them."

"Thank you, your highness." Arthur smiles and nods his head, looking to Merlin before opening the box.

Merlin can't believe one of those is for him.

Two solid gold bands, each twined in thin, Pendragon red cloth. Sitting on velvet in the box, shining in even this light. Merlin gapes a bit, "They're beautiful."

Argrott smiles, "I'm glad. Made by the finest jewelers in the kingdom, they'll be happy to know you approve."

Arthur takes one from the box, fingers feeling over it before he holds up his hand for Merlin, "Come here."

Merlin's cheeks pink but he holds out his hand, watches Arthur slip it onto his wrist. Merlin's heart may quicken a bit but blames it on not wanting to damage Arthur's bracelet as he picks it up, gently places it on his wrist.

Argrott claps his hands, "Wonderful. More drinks! How about a kiss, you two?"

This time, it's Arthur who turns red, "Oh, I don't know--"

"Come now, my boy. We know you love him." Argrott smiles. Arthur chuckles softly and takes Merlin's hand, gently pressing a kiss to it. Argrott laughs, "Oh, that's not a kiss!"

"I like to be modest." Arthur smiles at him, "Merlin does not like when I show off."

Merlin chuckles into his goblet.

--

King Leonard looks at them suspiciously. And Merlin doesn't like it. When they leave the room, he pulls Arthur aside. "I don't think we're believable. Leonard, he..." Merlin sees just the man peek out from behind the corner and looks to Arthur, "He's watching us."

"I know. He kept staring at us after Argrott suggested..."

"A kiss." Merlin finishes, looking down.

Arthur's quiet for what Merlin thinks is the longest time, then touches the underside of his chin, tipping his head up, "Merlin, I'm about to do something that you may not like. And you can get me back for it any way you wish. Understood?"

Merlin looks confused, "What are you going--?"

Arthur presses their lips together, cupping his jaw. Merlin gasps, eyes wide before he makes them close. Arthur kisses him softly, a bit eagerly. Merlin's hand presses to Arthur's chest, fist closing around the fabric. And oh, he starts to kiss back, heart beating wildly in his chest. Arthur feels him responding and backs him against the wall, pressing against him. A moan startles it's way from Merlin's lips and Arthur presses his tongue forward, hands drifting down Merlin's chest.

Merlin makes a shaky noise and pulls away to breathe, Arthur's lips dipping down to touch at his neck. Merlin grabs his hair and squirms a bit, breathing in sharp gasps. Arthur pulls back and looks at him, red to the tips of his ears.

"Um," He steps back, clearing his throat. He looks down the corridor to see no one is there but them, "I--Good job."

Merlin blushes deep red and looks up at Arthur, lips feeling like Arthur's still on them. He takes a deep breath and nods, "Thank you. You.. You were good, too. Yeah."

Arthur looks anywhere but Merlin and gestures down the hall. Merlin pushes himself away from the wall and licks his lips when Arthur can't see him. Arthur's stuck in his spot for a few moments as Merlin walks away, thinking his legs may not hold him up. But Merlin looks back at him and he's forced to move, giving a nonchalant smile.

Back in their room Merlin goes straight to bed, curling up on his side. Arthur watches him as he takes off his boots, then goes over to him, covering him with a blanket, "Sleep well, Merlin."

It comes as a whisper muffled by blankets, "Goodnight, Arthur."

Arthur smiles softly and goes over to the fireplace, sitting down in a chair. He crosses his legs and picks up a book from the stack, setting the note from Argrott between the pages. He's quick to catch the crushed red flower, gently set it back in the book where he was pressing it. He glances over his shoulder where Merlin has turned over, legs stretched out and he smiles, shaking his head at how the little gift made his heart beat faster.

--

It's the end of their stay. They've done their banquet and met everyone they needed to, and Merlin watched proudly as Arthur signed the agreement. He held Arthur's arm as they walked back to their room, helped a servant pack their things. And to his surprise, Arthur helped as well, packing Merlin's new clothes and some of his own.

Merlin's in his old clothes again, this time with the addition of a chest plate hooked secure around his torso and Arthur's cape for warmth. Gwaine still seems smug and Leon's got an expression between amused and looking at Arthur fondly. They ride off after they've said their goodbyes.

Being back in Camelot is odd. Merlin feels different when he descends from his horse and feels Arthur's cape swirl around him. He doesn't expect the slight clanging sound when Gwaine pats his chest, then remembers Arthur insisted on him being safe.

Merlin blushes when people look at him, hearing knights ask each other "Was he knighted and we didn't know?" when they pass in the hall. As he puts Arthur's clothes away in his room, he expects Arthur to tell him to take the armor and cape off. But no word comes, so he just helps Arthur from his armor and leaves the room, then goes to his own chambers.

"I'm glad you're back, I've been waiting for--" Gaius' words fall short when he sees him. It takes a few moments but, "Have I missed something?"

"It's a long story." Merlin tells him, unbuckling the cape, making sure it doesn't touch the ground once it's off him.

"Were you knighted?" Gaius asks though he sees no sword on his hip.

Merlin sighs, tired as he walks to his room, "I got married. To Arthur."

Then he shuts the door to his room, wiggles himself from the chest plate, and falls into bed.

--

In the following days Merlin is back to work. Shining Arthur's armor, scrubbing the floors, wandering through the forest to find herbs for Gaius. He's putting together Arthur's lunch when he overhears some of the cooks gossiping. About him, of all people.

"Yes, he showed up like royalty." One says, earning a gasp.

"But he's a servant. Why would the king dress him up?" The other asks.

"I've heard the king has a soft spot for him. Even turned down offers of marriage. I hear the boy's warming the king's bed."

Merlin turns and looks at them, "So, this is what everyone's talking about?" All the kitchen looks at him, then at the two women. Merlin crosses his arms, "Do you have nothing better to do than spread gossip? Things that are not only rude, but untrue. I am not warming the king's bed, I am his manservant. He turned down one offer of marriage, because he believes in love. And, for the record, Arthur is not fond of me. He can hardly stand to look at me most of the time, so you should keep your lies to yourselves. He would never actually be interested in me."

He doesn't wait for them to reply, just grabs Arthur's tray and moves swiftly from the kitchen, anger and annoyance crawling it's way into his chest, festering there. Arthur would never actually have feelings for him. It was an act they put on. Even if Merlin dreams of him and the golden cuff that still hangs on his wrist gives him a warm feeling, he cannot let it interfere. His love is unrequited, as it will always be. There cannot really be two kings at the thrones of Camelot, just as there cannot be magic.

He strides into Arthur's chambers after a brief knock and sets the tray down on the table, watching with his hands behind his back as Arthur sits, smiles and thanks him. He bows his head and moves to leave, when Arthur's voice rings out for him.

"Merlin?"

He turns, "Yes, sire?"

"Will you sit with me?" Arthur gestures to the chair closest to him.

"I have chores, I apologize." He tells him, moving to the doors.

"Merlin, please." Arthur looks at him, hand still extended, "Sit."

Merlin clenches his jaw, "I still have many to complete."

"They can wait. Dine with me."

Merlin sighs and walks back to the table, sitting before Arthur can stand to help him sit like they're still away. Merlin fiddles with his hands, "What is it?"

"I thought it would be enjoyable if you dined with me. I know you probably haven't eaten yet, correct?" Arthur starts dividing the food on the tray.

"No, I haven't. But I'm fine, I don't need to--"

"Nonsense, you'll fade away if you don't eat, Merlin." He sets a plate in front of him, picking at his own.

"You barely ate any of your breakfast, my lord." Merlin pushes the plate back.

"Well, I wasn't hungry. I don't need to be getting fat, do I?" Arthur picks at the small vine of grapes Merlin selected for him.

"I said I was sorry for that, you're not fat. You're perfect the way you are." Merlin says, then reddens when he realizes how he's worded it, "I--"

"Thank you." Arthur tells him quietly, gentle smile on his lips, "That's... That's very kind of you to say." He looks up at him, wetting his lips, composing himself, "You're um, wearing your new clothes. That's good. Are they comfortable?"

Merlin nods, not meeting his eyes, "Yes, thank you."

"I've seen you wandering around with books during your free time. The library is full of them."

"Yes, I know."

"Um. What I meant was, yes, there are books there, but there are some here as well. If you ever wanted to look through them." Arthur rubs at the back of his neck, "Maybe you could... Suggest some, after you read them?"

Merlin nods, "As you wish, sire."

"Good. Good... You're not eating." Arthur observes, looking a bit pink in the cheeks, flustered or frustrated or something.

"I'm..." Merlin watches Arthur adjust the cuff on his wrist, toying with it unconsciously, twisting Merlin's emotions. He doesn't have feelings for him, yet he still wears it. He asks him to sit and talk with him, tries to make him eat. It feels too close, like torture, because yes, it is close. But not close enough. He struggles with the deep feeling of pain in his chest, "I'm not hungry. Was there any particular reason why you wanted me here, or may I get back to my duties?"

Arthur stares at him, wondering where that came from, "I--"

"Thank you, sire." Merlin pushes his chair back and gets up, bowing before going to leave. The thought he has stops him and he's pulling off the gold cuff and walking back to the table, settling it down beside Arthur. He leaves without another word.

Arthur is still for many moments, trying to figure out where he went wrong in that. He lifts Merlin's cuff from the table and runs his thumb over the metal and twine. He does not eat, and has a different servant come to collect his dishes.

Merlin washes clothes with an agitated edge to how he moves, shoving the clothing into the water and scrubbing at stains. Gwen feels concerned when she walks by and sees.

"Merlin?" She pads into the room, "Are you alright?"

He throws Arthur's soaked tunic back into the water, "Fine."

"You don't look fine. What's wrong? Talk to me." She says, setting her basket down on the table.

"It's... It's nothing. I'm just a little frustrated lately, is all." He scrubs at a pair of Arthur's breeches.

"I've heard the talk, Merlin." Gwen tells him, "I'm sorry, rumors can get so out of hand. Let it be for now, and everything will settle down. They'll forget about--"

"I did."

Gwen looks confused, "What?"

"I warmed his bed, in the most innocent way. But still, I did. They were right."

"Merlin, what do you mean? The rumors are actually true?"

"No... Well, yes. But no," He sets his hands on the edges of the basin and sighs, "At the befriending of kingdoms, they were going to set him up to be married. He didn't want to say no, so he thought... If he walked in already betrothed that it would be easier."

"And he asked you." Gwen deciphers.

Merlin nods, "And it felt good, that's the worst part. It felt good to be cared for like that, if a bit frightening. I wore his cape and armor and I sat up straight and he brought me wine. I wasn't pushed back anymore."

Gwen lets him say all he needs before a gentle smile comes over her lips, "He cares for you, Merlin. I don't think you see it, but he values you greatly."

He snorts, shaking his head, "No, I don't think so."

She comes over and sets a hand on his back, "Then you have not seen it yet. Or maybe you have, and don't want to see it."

Merlin immediately thinks of Arthur making sure he ate, or tried to, anyway. The way he insisted he wear the chest plate home, carefully tightening the back strap for him. He talks to him softer than when they first met, and he listens to Merlin's opinion.

He swallows and doesn't realize Gwen's left him.

In the early hours of the morning Merlin's just fallen into bed after his chores are completed. He's slumped against his mattress with his eyes heavy. Unknown to him, Arthur is sliding past the door to Gaius' chambers, careful not to disturb the sleeping man as he pads over to the cracked door that leads into Merlin's room.

Arthur goes in carefully, never realizing Merlin's room was so small. He sees him on his stomach, still in his day clothes, looking worn. He kneels next to the bed as he rubs his thumb over Merlin's cuff, sets it with care on the small, rickety table next to him. He then gently runs his fingers through Merlin's hair, thinking he's asleep, thinking he won't know.

"Fairest dreams, Merlin." He whispers, taking his hand back before leaving him.

Merlin wonders if Arthur has checked up on him before as he lifts his hand and touches where Arthur did. He feels a tug in his chest when he thinks maybe this happened before. He falls asleep with that thought.

--

It's weeks later and the gossip has finally died out. Merlin guesses he skirts around Arthur and the feelings he has for him. He's sitting on the floor in Arthur's chambers, in front of his bookcase, looking over the books. He's read three of them in his off time, suggested them to Arthur. He's looking for a new one, and he can't help thinking that he likes very much when he sees Arthur with a book in his hands, reading before meetings with his knights, at dinner in his chambers, even sitting on the stone steps and watching Merlin when he goes by.

He chooses books that he thinks Arthur will like. He looks at the top four books he's thinking of choosing between, setting them on top of the bookshelf before he puts the other ones away. He stands after and hears the knights coming back from training, which means Arthur will be back soon as well. He's grabbing the books in haste to get them to his room, then come back to reheat Arthur's bath when he fumbles with them, the four and another falling on the floor.

He kneels and starts to pick them up, righting them. He lifts a worn yellow one that he thinks is a book of tales for children that has been flipped over. He fixes the parchment falling out of the pages and on the ground he sees a flattened red flower. He picks it up with care, twirling it in his fingers.

It's the one he gave Arthur. He gave it to him and he kept it. Then lied like a prat, but kept it nonetheless. Merlin smiles widely and sets it back between the pages, closing the book and realizing he's about to hold it to his chest like a love-struck girl.

Arthur pushes open the door to his chambers and lays down his sword on the table, noticing Merlin by the bookshelf. They've been reading recently - and maybe he's had Gwen and Leon read to him as he did work but still - and he's hoping he can snag Merlin to talk about the ending of the last one, just for the sake of getting to talk to him.

"Merlin, did you get my bath ready?" He asks, getting a closer look at him, the book he's told his mother would read to him while she still carried him in Merlin's hands.

"You idiot." Merlin smiles, setting the books down, striding up to Arthur.

"Excuse m--?" Arthur stumbles when Merlin bumps against his armor, surprised when Merlin's grabbing him by the back of the neck and tugging him into a kiss. He goes along with it happily, hands finding Merlin's waist. He kisses back eagerly, feeling Merlin's teeth skirt over his lower lip, "God, where did this come from?"

"Oh, putting up with you," Merlin threads his fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck, "I can't believe you."

Arthur hears him chuckle before kissing him again, pulling on his armor, fiddling with the back straps to his breast plate. He's had just about enough of it, so he tugs until the bulk is off, sliding onto the table behind them before going for his chainmail. It falls to the floor after it's over Arthur's head and Merlin pulls at the ties on the padding. Arthur pulls one of his gloves off with his teeth and touches Merlin's cheek, wanting to kiss him again, wanting to be kissed.

Merlin finds his backside up against the table, one of Arthur's thighs slipping unconsciously between his. He moves to the right, bringing Arthur with him. He stumbles a bit when the table is no longer there but Arthur settles his hands on his lower back, holding him up, sucking his lip between his teeth. Merlin wraps an arm around his shoulder, "I-I made you a bath."

"Yes, I can see. Bathe with me." Arthur settles him against the wall and presses fevered kisses to his jaw as Merlin pushes the padding off his shoulders. It only takes a moment for him to shrug his arms out and let it fall to the ground at their feet, then he's dipping his head slightly to nip at Merlin's neck.

Merlin's head presses back against the wall, neck craned and whines, hands flying to Arthur's hair, battling whether he should pull him away or push him closer, make him bite harder. He can hear Arthur laugh when his boots slip just a little on the floor when he squirms.

"Sensitive there, aren't you?" He noses by his neckerchief, warm and comfortable. Merlin's chest heaves against his and he runs his fingers up to feel it, "Come, get undressed."

Merlin's hands shake when he goes to untie his neckerchief after Arthur's turned away to get his boots and things off. He takes a deep breath and lets his magic out just a little, so it can undo the knot in the fabric instead of his unsteady fingers. He thinks he can see a chill run through Arthur but he's not quite sure, seeing as his tunic comes over his head and lands on the ground. Merlin bites his lip and follows suit, one of his new royal red tunics ruffling his hair as he pulls it up and over, dropping it slowly along with the little piece of gray fabric now free from his neck. He slides his boots off a bit awkwardly and blushes.

He feels exposed. But when Arthur turns back to see him, and his hands connect to his skin it feels okay, it feels good. He presses his lips to Arthur's and feels Arthur melt into it, hold him with hands splayed over his stomach and around his back. It's a slower kiss he realizes as his own hands touch over Arthur's collarbones, wind up his neck and into his hair again. The touches are warm and it's not hard to lean into them, arch forward when Arthur wants him closer.

"Bathe with me." Arthur requests again, hand coming up to brush at the pink dusted across the plane of Merlin's cheek.

Merlin nods, leaning into the touch, "Of course... You have to let me away from the wall first though, Arthur."

Arthur blushes and chuckles embarrassingly, taking a step back, "I'm sorry."

Merlin smiles and unlaces his breeches, "Don't be, I kind of like it."

"Kind of? Only a little?" Arthur grins, teasing him. Merlin narrows his eyes and gets bold, lets his breeches slip down his legs, watching a deep blush crawl across Arthur's skin, "Oh."

Merlin holds back a laugh and covers himself, getting into the tub as quickly as he can. Soon, Arthur's bare and settling in across from him, their knees to their chests, feeling like boys with a crush. It's nervousness running through them and it makes them laugh. Arthur offers his hand and Merlin takes it, watching as he leans closer, kissing his knuckles before turning his hand over, kissing his palm, then over the sensitive skin of his wrist, moving up his arm slowly. Merlin sits up on his knees to be closer and let Arthur keep going, holding the edge of the tub to keep himself steady. He feels cared for and looked after in how careful Arthur drags his lips up his skin, and he tilts forward when Arthur reaches his other hand out to touch his hip.

Arthur looks up at him, lips hovering over his arm, and slides his hand down his thigh like he's wondering if it's okay. Merlin leans closer, pushing between his legs, watching his face as he invades his space. Arthur's eyes widen just a bit, wetting his lips as he spreads his legs, lets them wrap around Merlin's frame. He lets out a deep breath, because it feels so good when their hips settle together and Merlin's chest presses to his.

He swallows and brings a hand up, running his fingers over the ivory skin of Merlin's neck, watching him shudder against him, "Is that why you wear that? Because you're so sensitive?"

Merlin swallows and Arthur's fingertips slip along his adams apple, "P-Partly, yes."

Arthur runs his fingers down, settling them on his collarbone, "I've thought about touching you there so many times."

"I remember when you grabbed me by the neckerchief, I-I..." Merlin trails off, shaking his head. He may not want to finish the sentence but Arthur wants him to, sees his cock hard and poking up out of the water. He wraps his fingers around it and Merlin arches forward, making a hitched gasping noise.

"Tell me what happened." He requests, craning his neck to breathe over Merlin's lips, brush his own to them, work his hand up him slowly to see how he likes it. He's thought about Merlin so many different ways; submissive and begging, dominant and demanding, fussy and squirming. How he'd like to be touched, how he'd react to all the things Arthur would do to him. How Merlin would react to him letting him know what he likes.

"After the dinner..." Merlin hisses when Arthur holds him too tightly, and leaks precome when he applies the right pressure just under the head, "I went to my room and locked the door, stripped myself down a-and--Oh, right there, yes, Arthur--I... I ended up screaming your name into my pillow. God, I dreamed about you."

Arthur reaches and takes them both in his hand, arching his hips up at how low and scratchy Merlin's voice is getting, how his biceps flex when he grips harder at the edges of the tub. Seeing the rock of his hips into his hand has Arthur tipping his head back, groaning. Merlin leans and licks up his neck, goose-flesh coming up all over his body. He looks up at him but Merlin leans over him, kissing him deeply, making Arthur moan into his mouth.

The water sloshes when Merlin presses his hands into the water, feeling up Arthur's thighs, fingers skirting over his balls. Arthur jumps and makes a surprised gasp against his lips, whining a bit when Merlin moves his hand away. But it comes back, those long fingers toying with him, making him pull out of the kiss to pant against Merlin's neck, drag his tongue up and suck just under his jaw. Merlin's hips buck and a loud noise falls from his lips, low and it sends a pool of heat to Arthur's cock. He pumps them faster, feeling Merlin's fingers squeeze and tug slightly. A wave of obscenities fall from Arthur's mouth, short little pants and moans, the touch of his tongue to Merlin's rapidly beating pulse point.

He bites on Merlin's collarbone harder than he means to but Merlin doesn't seem to mind when he grabs him by the hair and they end up gasping into each other's mouths. Arthur comes first, over Merlin's cock head and his hand, ruining the bath water. Merlin's close behind, eyes squeezed closed and brows knit in pleasure. Arthur feels a zing up his spine for some reason but forgets it when Merlin slumps against him, nuzzling at his shoulder as they come down. Arthur can barely keep his eyes open and his hand falls from them, settling on Merlin's thigh under the water.

They're silent, feeling each other breathe in and breathe out, before Arthur asks almost timidly, "Stay here tonight?"

Merlin kisses his shoulder delicately before he lifts his head. The flush on Arthur's cheeks in amazing and he smiles, resting their foreheads together, "Yes."

Arthur brightens with a smile of his own and leans forward, pecking Merlin's lips. They take themselves from the tub and stumble over each other but manage to get dried off. Arthur insists he wears his spare set of night clothes, which he takes gratefully. Then he chuckles when Arthur leads him over to the bed by the hem of the tunic, letting him choose what side of the bed he wants - he plops down in the middle. Then he pulls Arthur in with him, trapping him by tucking the blankets in around them, but he doesn't think Arthur will mind.

Arthur relaxes, because it feels good to have Merlin here, and he's too comfortable to move to blow out the candle. He just squirms his way closer to Merlin; too close really, since he ends up pushing Merlin on his back and laying his head on his chest... But it feels good, he's been wanting that for a while.

"...Sorry." He says quietly, embarrassed. He can hear Merlin's heartbeat and the chuckle he makes, then there's arms wrapping around him, fingers brushing his hair away from his eyes, "Oh."

"Goodnight, Arthur." Merlin grins up at the canopy of the bed, before his eyes drift shut.

--

Merlin's eyes flutter open and he looks around blearily, relaxing when he remembers where he is. He thinks it's the morning even though the drapes are closed. He hasn't gotten to them yet to wake Arthur up, but he doesn't really want to. The weight of Arthur where he's still placed on his chest his comforting.

He looks down and finds himself smiling. Arthur is already awake, laying how he was, only now there's a book in his hand. He turns the page and looks up, "Good morning."

"Yes, I see that." Merlin chuckles, "What are you doing?"

"Reading." Arthur says shortly, smile sweet on his lips.

"Well, yes. But why are you still laying on me?"

"I didn't want to disturb you."

"So... You got up, yeah? To get the book."

"Yes."

"And then you came back and laid with me again?"

"Yes."

"Wouldn't that be disturbing me?" He holds back a smile, his fingers finding the hair at the nape of Arthur's neck.

"I thought it was until you started calling for me, reaching for me when I wasn't there." Arthur smiles softly, "You wanted me here."

"Well, of course I did, I just--"

"Then why are we talking about it?"

"Because...."

Arthur grins, "You don't have an excuse, it's your fault, anyway."

"Oh, shut up." Merlin pushes his shoulder. He watches Arthur close his book and toss it aside, then get up on his knees, all the while maintaining eye contact. He knows that look, only it's softer. But he still points a finger at him, "Arthur..."

Arthur dips down and attacks his neck with kisses, little nips and licks. Merlin huffs out a surprised laugh and starts squirming, having his wrists pinned back to the bed when he moans and tries to push him away. He cranes his neck and Arthur straddles his thighs, pushes his hips down. Merlin presses his head back against the pillows, gasping softly "You prat!"

"Thought I was king dollop head." Arthur teases, licking at the base of his throat, down along the tendon.

Merlin pants and Arthur lets go one of his hands to unlace his nightshirt and Merlin grabs a fistful of his hair, arches up while wordlessly begging Arthur closer. Arthur laughs softly and kisses up the front of his neck, the underside of his chin, over the corners of his mouth. Merlin relaxes into the bed and holds Arthur by the shoulders, "Don't you have work to do?"

"I always do, but I wouldn't want to leave you." Arthur tells him, rolling onto his side, bringing Merlin with him.

"You can't neglect your duties, Arthur." He lays his head on his shoulder, seeing as he's just about pulled him on top of him.

Arthur rubs his back, bumping his cheek to Merlin's forehead, "Come with me, then."

"What?" Merlin plays with a loose thread on Arthur's nightshirt.

"I have to check in with the knights, review the patrol reports. I have to meet with the court... I was thinking maybe, if you wanted to, explain how beneficial caring for the small, surrounding villages as you did in Argrott's kingdom. You held yourself so well there, I think you could convince our court as well."

"....Our court?" Merlin lifts his head up.

"Um, I mean--I mean it like... Everyone's court, Camelot's court." He doesn't sound very convincing and Merlin's heart pounds, hiding his smile in Arthur's tunic.

"I-I will, then."

Arthur nods, "Good."

"...Will you kiss me again?"

They turn up to every meeting late.

--

Months later, people have accepted their king is courting another man, a servant. Merlin has just about moved into Arthur's chambers, keeping his clothes there, his personal items. He's left his spells book in his room, though. He still does his work, he just gets to relax at the end of the day with Arthur at his side.

Or under him.

He's woken up alone, he knew he would, Arthur's been working on something for the past week non-stop, and Merlin has let him work. He pulls himself from the thick blankets and stretches, walking over to get himself some clothes. He checks himself in the mirror, inspecting the marks Arthur's mouth left on his neck, his collarbones. He feels over them, thinking whether he's bold enough to show off a few or to cover them all up. He grabs his neckerchief anyway and ties it on, fixing it the way he likes. It's only then he notices something out of place.

Arthur's ring sits on his finger.

He stares down at it.

Then he's tripping over himself to run out the door.

Arthur is sitting in the throne room with the counsel, talking over things when Merlin bursts through the door, stumbling around in his night clothes. He's wide eyed and he skids to a stop at the table, staring at him, "Arthur."

He grins, rising from his seat and walking to him, taking his hands. He leads him from the room, "You're in your nightclothes."

"I--You want to talk about my clothes?" Merlin gapes at him, then slaps him on the chest when he laughs, "This is not funny!"

"Sorry, sorry," Arthur can't keep the smile from his face, grabbing Merlin's hand again so he doesn't hit him anymore, "You're right. I um... I guess you're wondering why I..." He rubs his thumb over the ring.

Merlin turns his palm over and Arthur's stays still, cradling the back of his hand, "I am. Arthur, I woke up and I saw it and I know what it means, and my heart is-is beating like horse gallops and I--"

"Shh, shh," He takes Merlin's face in his hands, not knowing he'd drive Merlin to panic, "I'm sorry, my darling. It's alright, I'm sorry. Breathe for me, please."

Merlin takes deep breaths until they're steady and he sees how Arthur's worrying over him, wraps a hand around his wrist, "I'm fine. I'm okay."

Arthur kisses his forehead in relief, "I didn't know I would frighten you, I'm sorry. I... It can be taken off, if that's what you want."

"What? No." Merlin holds his wrist, shaking his head, "I'm just trying to figure out why--why you'd want me."

Arthur is so startled by Merlin wondering why he wouldn't want everything with him, that it makes him laugh. Merlin makes a face and he shakes his head, "No, no. Sorry. I love you. How couldn't I want you? Have I... Have I not shown it? I can be better. I'm not good with words, you know that. That's why I didn't use any."

Merlin's heart warms and he teases, "Yeah, you're rubbish with words."

Arthur rolls his eyes with a smile and tugs him close for a kiss, "Marry me."

Merlin wraps his arms around Arthur's shoulders, leaning up on his tiptoes so he's taller than him, one of his favorite things to do. Arthur's arms slip around his middle and he smiles into it, parting his lips when Merlin requests it with laps of his tongue. When they pull apart, Merlin slides back down to his regular height, fingers loosening in Arthur's hair, "Yes."

It takes Arthur a moment or two to realize the answer, "Yes?"

Merlin smiles, nodding "Yes. Yes."

Arthur lets out a breathless laugh, "Yes," He looks puppy-like, smile ear to ear, "Yes!" He grabs Merlin and spins him around, "Yes!"

When Arthur sets him down, he watches him stumble back into the throne room, "I'm getting married, we must start preparations immediately! This is... Can you believe it?! Oh!"

Arthur comes back to him, looking in a happy frenzy, "Sorry. You should get dressed. Or undressed, maybe you'd like a bath to relax. What colors would you like for the hall?"

Merlin chuckles softly, rubbing Arthur's cheek, "Blue."

"Royal blue or the butterfly's blue?" Arthur asks.

Merlin's brows crease in confusion, "Butterfly blue?"

Arthur gives him a fond smile and the slight tilt of the head, before he's leaning in closer, seemingly to kiss Merlin on the cheek. He keeps his voice low, "You do realize almost every time we make love, a butterfly follows me around afterword." Merlin stiffens, eyes going wide. Arthur presses his lips softly to his cheekbone and whispers, "It's kind of precious."

He's known of Merlin's gifts for a while, since that one night after Merlin had fallen asleep in his arms. He'd watched over him, seen the crystal blue little beauty appear from no where and into Merlin's palm. It fluttered its wings over to Arthur and sat on his shoulder. After that, Arthur let it stay close, feeling it was an extension of Merlin, letting it walk up and down his arm if he did work while Merlin slept. He thinks he sensed it for a while, feeling it, but he was blind to it until then.

Merlin's hands shake when they touch his arm, taking a shuddering breath as he realizes Arthur is not pushing him away, not sentencing him to death. Arthur brushes his thumb against his cheek and his eyes tear up, "T-Thank you."

"When I say I love you, I mean all of you, Merlin. Every time." He promises.

"Tell me again," Merlin looks at him, wiping his eyes, "Tell me again."

Arthur takes his face in his hands, wiping over his cheeks, "I love you."

"I love you, too." Merlin smiles so hard his eyes scrunch up. Arthur chuckles and kisses his forehead, then sees Gwaine walking down the hall, "Gwaine, will you escort Merlin back to our room? He'll need to oversee things at the seamstress' hut."

"Well, alright," Gwaine looks Merlin over, taking his arms when he comes closer, "Why're you crying? Is everything alright?"

Merlin nods, laughing softly, "I'm getting married."

Gwaine automatically becomes his cheerleader throughout all of the preparations from there on out.

--

The wedding is beautiful. Arthur dressed in blues, deep. Merlin wears his in lighter shades and stands up tall, both of them chuckling in nervousness and excitement. Merlin gets on his knees and lets Arthur crown him, snorts when it tips forward a little on his head. Arthur grins and offers his hands, helps him up and slides a second ring on his finger before taking his face in his hands, pulling him into a quick, gentle kiss.

People bow to them as they sit on their thrones and Merlin holds Arthur's hand tight in his. Gwaine's the first to shout, "Long live the kings!" with Guinevere joining in moments later, then everyone else.

And later, when Arthur's laying against his chest, he recalls a conversation. "Remember in Ealdor, when you asked me if I found where I belong?"

"Mm, I do." Arthur kisses his bare skin, "What about it?"

"I found it. A while ago."

"With me, right?"

Merlin chuckles, "Yes, you clotpole."