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The Heartbeat

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The end was near. There was no denying. Merlin could feel it with every fibre of his body. Every breath that Arthur took could be his last. After everything that Merlin had done, it was going to end like this, on some godforsaken clearing covered in darkness. So close to the destination, yet so far away.

“Thank you,” Arthur whispered and lost his consciousness.

These words triggered something in Merlin. Something that he almost forgot he had. He called Kilgharrah and ordered him to take them to the Lake of Avalon. The dragon obeyed his lord's will but when they landed by the Lake, he told the warlock that it was already too late.

“You fulfilled your destiny for the time being,” said the Dragon majestically. “Arthur is not just the king. He is the Once and Future King. When the Albion's need is greatest, Arthur will rise again.”

“I value your advice, Kilgharrah. I always have. But now... I need to try one last time. I owe him this much.” He looked at the dragon closely. The create was old and there wasn't much life left in him. “I release you from your duties. I won't call you ever again. You're free, my friend.”

The dragon bowed before Merlin. “Thank you, young warlock. However, before I go, I need to warn you that fighting the destiny is barely possible and may have dire consequences.”

“I know. I've tried to fight it for a long time. I won't give up now.”

“I don't approve it but I know one thing. If there is a human being capable of changing fates, it's you. Goodbye, Merlin.”

The Dragon flew away.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's wrist. The pulse was barely noticeable but it was still there. As long as king's heart was beating, there was hope.

“You have to fight it a while longer, Arthur,” Merlin whispered, although his friend couldn't hear him.

There was a boat at the shore of the Lake of Avalon. Merlin knew that it was no ordinary boat. It could take them to the Isle of the Blessed where everything was possible.

Merlin took Arthur in his arms, put him in the boat and sat by his side. The boat instantly moved. Merlin didn't have to use any spell or even think about it. The mists of Avalon surrounded them and in a moment they were no longer in the mortal world. They were somewhere in between.

“Is anybody here?” Merlin yelled when they reached the shore of what was supposed to be the Isle of the Blessed but didn't look exactly the same as before. “Please?”

He got Arthur out of the boat and laid him on the shore.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he whispered, touching Arthur's face gently. His skin was getting colder and colder under his fingertips. “I'm willing to give my life for his!” he yelled again. “Please, let me do this!”

That's impossible Merlin suddenly heard dozens of whispers around him. They belonged to both men and women but Merlin didn't see anyone and couldn't detect the source of these voices.

“It is possible. I've seen it done before. A life for a life. That's the prize and I'm willing to pay it.”

Your life is different, Emrys, the voices responded in unison. It cannot be taken or given away.

“Why?” Merlin screamed desperately. He looked at Arthur and knew that in a moment or two, the king would be gone. “I cannot lose him. Not like this. It's too early. I... I love him with all my heart,” he said so much softer and for the first time in his life he fully understood what it meant. It was true. There was no one else whom he could love with all his being. “I love you, Arthur.”

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love... the voices repeated after him like an echo.

“If I can't save his life, I will use Excalibur and follow him in death,” said Merlin decisively.

NOOOOOOO! YOU CAN'T!!! The voices screamed so loud that Merlin thought they could make him deaf in a moment. IT WILL DESTROY YOUR DESTINY. IT WILL HAVE IMPACT ON SO MUCH MORE.

“It's not like you can stop me,” Merlin told them. “Arthur and I are like two sides of the same coin. He is my other half. I know it and I'm not going to keep on living without him.”

WAIT! the voices said strongly. If he is indeed your other half, the other side of the coin, there is a way.

Merlin's heart skipped a beat. He didn't want to give himself false hope but he had to give it a chance, whatever it was.

“I'm listening.” He grabbed Excalibur to show them, whoever they were, that he was serious and ready to do what he said.

It is going to be painful.

It is going to be dangerous.

Once it's done, there's no way out.

This time the voices didn't speak all at once.

“I will do whatever it takes to save Arthur,” he said. “Tell me what must be done.”

Arthur's heart is being consumed by the poison this very moment as it was foretold long time ago.

It will take time for his heart to be completely cured.

He was destined to rest here in Avalon until his heart is ready to beat again.

“It's not the answer,” said Merlin. “How can it be cured now?”

It cannot be. It is beyond your power and our powers combined.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's sword tighter. “So what's the way?” he asked. “You said there is a way. You know what I'll do if he's gone.”

Those who are each other's halves share the bond that is both their curse and their blessing.

Arthur's heart cannot be cured but if your bond is as profound as you claim, he can survive with the heart of his other half.

“What? I don't understand...”

If you truly are each other's halves, you can split your heart in two and share it with your other half.

This is the most sacred magic of all.

The most dangerous magic of all.

This is the magic itself.

How can I split my heart in two?” Merlin asked. “How can Arthur survive with only half of my heart?”

He will live as long as you live.

It will bind the two of you forever.

“Is it really going to work? I know he is my other half but am I truly his? He's got Gwen and she may be his other half.” Merlin touched his own chest, being more aware of his heart beating than ever before. “Is it possible that he's my other half but I'm not his?”

This is beyond our knowledge.

“What is going to happen if I'm not his other half?” asked Merlin, though he felt he knew the answer.

You both die.

Merlin nodded. That was what he suspected. He was going to die instead of Arthur or with him anyway. It was an easy choice.

“Tell me how to do it,” said Merlin.

Kneel before your other half.

Merlin did as he was told. Arthur was as good as dead by this moment but Merlin believed that it was reversible. After all, they were no longer in the mortal world. They were in the place where in time all wounds could be healed.

The mist around them thickened but Merlin didn't care. All that mattered to him was Arthur alone and he had him right there. No one could separate them now.

Push your hand into your chest and pull out your beating heart.

Merlin wasn't afraid but surprised when he felt his hand crossing the barrier of his skin and flesh. It was a very odd feeling, as if he was putting his hand in water but more intimate. He grabbed his own heart with a trembling hand and with one swift move, he pulled it out.

He looked at his own heart beating hopefully in his hand. That was the strangest thing that he had experienced in his life. He had to be brave for Arthur and for all the things that were about to unfold.

Do the same with Arthur's heart.

This time Merlin was a little more hesitant but he didn't know any other way. He pushed his hand into Arthur's chest and it went through his skin as smoothly as a moment ago with his own flesh. Merlin had no idea what kind of magic it was but it must have been very powerful.

Arthur's heart was barely beating. Merlin felt the weak pulses when he grabbed the heart, but when he pulled it out, the beating wasn't there any more. The heart itself was darkened and it looked as good as dead.

“What shall I do with my king's heart?” Merlin asked faintly. It was very difficult for him to look at the sickened organ which was once strong and healthy.

Put it in the waters of Avalon.

It may take a long time but its waters will heal it.

Once again Merlin followed the instructions of the voices. He felt very insecure. He didn't know whose instruction he was following but he knew that there was no other choice. Even if the chance of Arthur's survival was the slightest, he had to take the risk. He owed Arthur this much and he didn't care what would happen to himself or to the rest of the world afterwards. That was selfish in a very strange way but there was no such thing in both mortal and immortal worlds that Merlin would not do for Arthur. That was insane but it was the truth. Merlin was completely aware of that.

Arthur's heart was slowly going under the deep waters of the Lake of Avalon. Merlin was watching it until it was swallowed completely by the darkness.

EMRYS, all voices called his name at once.

Split your heart in two.

You cannot hesitate.

You must be certain.

Merlin looked closely at his own heart. It seemed impossible to literary share it with another person. However, it was Arthur. He had been doing the impossible things for his king for years. He was not going to hesitate now.

He put his hands around his heart. Then he took a deep breath and pushed his fingers into his own beating flesh and made a swift move to tear it apart.

To his own surprise it went very smoothly. There was no resistance, only a small pain in his empty chest.

It was final. He was holding two halves of his heart which were still beating strongly.

You have to push both halves at once into your chests, the voices announced.

Then you have to seal the pact and it will be done.

“Seal it how?” Merlin asked. How could he know how to seal a pact like this. There was nothing about this kind of magic in all the books that he had read.

You must kiss your other half.

Both halves of his heart shuddered at these words. Merlin looked at them and then he looked around, searching those who were invisible to him. He didn't expect such answer. However, he was more scared of the shock that it made him experience.

“Is it truly necessary?” he asked, although he already knew the answer. It made a lot of sense but his not so common sense made him fight for what was left of his self preservation.

The pact must be sealed with a kiss.

It's essential.

Otherwise, the heart will not start beating in your other half's chest.

Merlin nodded more to himself than to the others. He tried to convince himself that one little kiss couldn't do much harm. Once it was done, he would be able to forget about it. Arthur was not going to remember it after all. How could he as he was on the edge of dying? At least Merlin hoped that it would end like this.

“I'm doing it for you, Arthur,” Merlin whispered. “Only for you.”

And a bit for yourself,” he thought but decided to dismiss this thought instantly.

Having each half of his heart in different hands, he kneeled by Arthur side. He held his left hand above his own chest and the right hand above Arthur's. There was so many things that crossed his mind this very moment but he didn't dwell on them. He half closed his eyes to separate himself from all the things that surrounded him, to give himself some courage. Then he pushed his hands into his and Arthur's chests and as before, there was no resistance. His magic guided him so he could put the halves in the right places.

It was an incredible thing to feel a half of his own heart beating in Arthur's chest, just under his fingertips. He felt as if he could spend the rest of his life just exploring this amazing sensation. It seemed that his and Arthur's bodies were to remain as one forever. He wished that it could be true.

Merlin pulled his hands out at once, realising that there was no point in dwelling on some fantasies. There was a real world out there that they still could explore.

He looked at Arthur but his chest wasn't moving. The king wasn't breathing. Merlin panicked but then he something. The pact wasn't sealed yet.

He put his hand on Arthur's chest, not feeling any heartbeat at all, and leaned over his friend. There was no denying that he was nervous. He closed his eyes and put his lips on Arthur's in a soft kiss.

Merlin still couldn't feel the beating under his fingertips which made him panic more. He started to fear that perhaps he and Arthur weren't each other's halves. Perhaps all this effort and humiliation were in vain.

However, Merlin didn't want to let go. He put his right hand under Arthur's head, changing his position slightly and pressing his lips harder into Arthur's. He moved his lips forcefully, managing finally to push his tongue into Arthur's mouth. He was desperate and if it was going to be the last thing that he was going to do in his life, he was going to do it properly.

Suddenly, Merlin felt something. For a short moment he thought that he imagined it but then he felt it again. Arthur's half of the heart started beating slowly in his chest and Arthur's tongue started caressing Merlin's tongue back.

Merlin let himself dwell on the joy for a few more seconds, kissing Arthur passionately but then he saw Gwen's face in his mind's eyes and pulled away completely.

He opened his eyes and saw that Arthur was still unconscious but this time his chest was moving steadily. Merlin looked around and realised that the mysterious mist disappeared and that they were on the Isle of the Blessed which looked exactly how he remembered it. They were no longer in Avalon. They were in the mortal world again.

Merlin knelt by Arthur's side and touched his cheek tenderly. It was warm again and had a healthy colour.

“Arthur,” he whispered, caressing his cheek.

The king opened his eyes slightly and smiled “Mer... Merlin...” he said softly.

“Don't say anything,” Merlin told him. “Everything is all right. You need to rest now.”

“Merlin...” Arthur whispered and closed his eyes.

“You need to sleep,” said Merlin. “I'll keep you safe.”

Arthur fell back into sleep. Merlin lay down by his side and grabbed his king's wrist, checking his pulse. He knew that Arthur was safe now but he couldn't help himself. He needed more time to fully believe it.

The sun was shining on them, keeping them warm. Merlin watched Arthur's sleeping form the whole time. To his own surprise, he didn't feel much tired. He knew that he wasn't going to be able to rest properly until they would reach Camelot.

He thought about the kiss and the betrayal he felt when he remembered Gwen's face. He knew that it was necessary and he didn't regret a thing.

In time, everything was going to come back to normal. He truly wanted to believe that.

 

Chapter Text

“Merlin.” These were the first words that Arthur uttered when he regained his consciousness. He sat up slowly, a bit confused.

“I'm here,” Merlin sat up too, making their arms brushing against one another.

“Am I...?” Arthur started but he didn't have to finish. Merlin knew very well what he meant to say.

“You're very much alive,” Merlin confirmed. “Everything is fine. You don't have to worry.”

“I'm not entirely sure.” Arthur looked at his friend closely. “Merlin, what have you done? I'm certain that I died. I definitely felt dead.”

Merlin nodded. “I think you were dead,” he admitted, “for a moment, at least.”

“What have you done?” Arthur repeated his question, more worried than before. “People can't just come back to life. It's not that simple, I know it.”

“It wasn't simple, believe me,” Merlin teased, trying to ease the tension. “We were in Avalon and it required the help of other witches and sorcerers but it worked.” Merlin tried to convince himself that it wasn't entirely a lie.

“Why did they help me?” asked Arthur. “I hunted people like them...”

“That's not true. You know you weren't that bad. They knew it too.” Merlin smiled reassuringly. “They must have known that you've changed and that you still can change the world. They gave you a chance to finish what you started. You can build a better and fairer world.”

Arthur wanted to believe that Merlin was right, that there was still a chance for him to be a better king and perhaps a better man.

“Thank you, Merlin,” he said finally and before he could think twice, he embraced the other man.

Saying that Merlin was surprised was an understatement. Suddenly the memory of their kiss came back to him, making him blush slightly. It must be the closeness, he thought and embraced Arthur back.

“How are you feeling?” Merlin asked when they eventually pulled apart from their embrace.

“Surprisingly good, as if I was born again,” Arthur admitted. “It's fitting, isn't it? Coming back to life must be at least a bit like being born anew. That's actually a great feeling.”

Merlin wasn't certain if it was just an effect of coming back to life but he dismissed this thought immediately. He wasn't going to tell Arthur that they were going to share one heart until the day they would die anyway. It was better that Arthur believed that it was just an effect of his recent resurrection.

“I'm glad to hear that,” said Merlin and then grew more serious. “I never wanted anything like this to happen to you. I am truly sorry.”

“That's not your fault, Merlin,” Arthur told him. “I owe you more than I know. I'm sure of that.” He cleared his throat. “And if someone should be apologizing now, that should be me,” he admitted.

Merlin shook his head. “That's not true. It all would be different if I revealed my secret earlier.”

“I would like that but what's done is done. It could have been worse,” said Arthur and a heavy silence fell upon them.

Merlin knew that what Arthur said was true but it didn't cheer him up. He didn't know the words that could express his happiness that Arthur was alive, however he couldn't help feeling anxious about another lie, another unsaid truth that was between them. Nonetheless, keeping it from Arthur seemed the right thing to do. Arthur didn't need to worry about all the consequences that Merlin's deed could initiate.

“Do you feel well enough to travel?” Merlin asked suddenly. “I think you have kingdom to rule but it can wait a little bit longer if you need more rest.”

Arthur shook his head. “As I said, I feel as a newborn. We can go home.”

Merlin smiled. His home was where Arthur was but the king didn't need to know that.

“Then home it is,” he said and stood up. Arthur followed him instantly.

“On our way home, you'll have plenty of time to tell me about all the things you've been hiding from me all these years. I want to know everything.” Arthur said, looking closely at Merlin.

“It will take more time than our journey,” Merlin admitted sheepishly.

“That's what I thought,” said Arthur but he didn't sound hurt, just curious.

“And I really can't tell you everything,” the warlock added.

“Merlin,” Arthur warned him.

“If I tell you, you'll kill me.” Merlin tried to turn his words into a joke. “And since you're still alive, I think you'll need me to keep your arse safe.”

Merlin.”

“What? That's what I do.”

They both laughed out loud.

“How shall we get out of this Isle?” Arthur asked him when they calmed down.

“There was a boat somewhere... here...?” Merlin frowned.

“It's clearly not here,” Arthur pointed out.

“Well... I was in hurry. I was saving your life, remember? We'll find it. Just give me a moment...”

The path to Camelot was long but it definitely wasn't going to be boring. Merlin and Arthur found the boat eventually and started their way home.

It was just the beginning.

 


 

It started getting darker and darker. Arthur felt fine but Merlin looked quite tired.

“I think we should stop here for the night. It's getting late,” the king said. His words startled Merlin a little as they'd remained silent for a longer while.

“Here?” Merlin asked, a bit weakly.

Arthur looked around. “What's wrong with this place?”

“We had a break here before,” Merlin told him. “You probably don't remember it very well as you were weak and exhausted back then,” he added sadly.

“Is this place bothering you, Merlin?” Arthur asked, coming closer to his friend and looking him in the eyes. “I'll know if you lie.”

“A bit,” Merlin admitted, defeated.

Arthur's features softened. “I'm alive and I don't feel like dying any time soon.”

Merlin nodded. He didn't want to talk about his fears and feelings. It all was too fresh. He feared that it was always going to be too much.

“We can stay here for the night,” said Merlin finally.

“Are you sure?” asked Arthur.

The warlock nodded.

“I'll prepare the fire,” he said and moved towards the woods.

Arthur grabbed his arm. “You can just use your magic. I want you to,” the king encouraged him.

Merlin smiled slightly and his eyes turned gold for a brief moment. Arthur gasped. It was the first time he saw Merlin's eyes doing magic.

“Your eyes...” he started but he didn't know how to finish it. They were wild and beautiful at the same time but he couldn't just say such things out loud.

“I know,” Merlin said and smiled some more.

They lay down on the ground near the fire that Merlin ignited. Their arms were brushing slightly and they both were looking up at the sky. The night was calm and peaceful. Merlin wanted to stay there forever with Arthur by his side. That was a beautiful dream.

“You should rest, Merlin,” Arthur said softly. “I can see how tired you are.”

“I wish I could but I can't fall asleep,” he whispered.

“You don't have to worry about me,” his friend told him.

Merlin snorted. “Not everything is about you,” he mumbled.

“Of course but this is about me.” Arthur sounded quite certain.

“You're such a prat,” said Merlin and turned on his side so he didn't have to look at Arthur.

Arthur sighed. “And again you're trying to turn everything into a joke or nothing at all,” he accused. “I just want you to be serious and honest with me. You can be back to your usual jabbering self in the morning, but now please, be serious.”

The king moved slightly towards Merlin so the other man could feel his breath on his neck.

“Tell me why you can't sleep and maybe I can help it,” Arthur whispered and his every word made Merlin shiver.

“When I close my eyes...” Merlin was close to a break down and he couldn't do that in front of Arthur. He had to be tough. He had to calm down. “When I close my eyes, I see your dead body,” he said quickly and felt a sudden relief. It felt good to share it with someone, even Arthur.

“Merlin...” Arthur whispered.

“I will get over it soon,” Merlin promised. “You don't have to worry.”

Suddenly Merlin felt Arthur's arm around his waist. He couldn't help thinking that it was highly intimate. He never suspected that Arthur could do such gesture towards him.

“Now you can feel that I'm still here, warm and alive,” Arthur told him. “Now you should rest. You know you need it.”

“I do,” Merlin whispered and struggled with himself to close his eyes.

He could still see Arthur's dead form lying on the ground but this time he could also feel Arthur's very much alive body, pressing close to him. It felt almost safe. It felt like home.

 


 

Merlin dreamt of Ealdor and of Arthur the farmer living there next to him. There was no magic or dragons or other crazy things. It was just them and their simple village life.

He was suddenly woken up by Arthur.

“Someone's here,” the king whispered.

Here it was, the end of a dream and start of a normal life.

They both stood up in hurry. Arthur grabbed his sword, even though there was no need for it. Whoever it was, Merlin could defeat them just with one thought.

The tall and well built man emerged from between the trees, holding something in his right hand.

“Percival!” Arthur laughed whole-heartedly and lowered his sword. “What are you doing here?”

“I was looking for you, my lord,” the knight said. “I found both of you about an hour ago.”

“Why didn't you wake us up?” asked Merlin.

“You looked as if you needed more sleep. You must have gone through a lot these past few days,” Percival explained. “I decided to find something for us to eat in the morning so I hunted a hare.”

“An excellent idea,” said Arthur. “I'm starving.”

“Something's bothering you, Percival,” Merlin said when they were baking the hare over the fire Merlin ignited the previous night.

“That's true,” the knight admitted. “Some of our closest friends didn't survive this war,” he said sadly.

Merlin gasped. “It's Gwaine, isn't it?” he said.

Percival just nodded.

“Who did that?” Arthur asked, clearly upset by the news.

“Morgana,” he said and told them about their reckless mission. From this perspective, Percival knew that they never stood a chance.

“Gwaine's death, as well as many others, has been avenged,” Arthur told him, trying to console his broken heart. Gwaine was Percival's best friend. Everybody who had eyes and looked at them knew that. “Morgana's dead, thanks to Merlin.”

Percival turned his gaze towards Merlin and looked at him from head to toe. “How did you do that?” he asked in disbelief. “Me and Gwaine didn't manage and you...”

Merlin didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure if he was allowed to tell all his friends about his hidden talents now. That was why he looked at Arthur, trying to find some answers himself.

Arthur looked at Merlin seriously and then looked back at Percival.

“Is something wrong?” the knight asked.

“It depends on what you consider wrong,” said Arthur. “Our friend Merlin is apparently stronger than he looks. He's been telling me this for years but I realised only a few days ago how truthful his words were.” He laughed a bit, not believing that he hadn't noticed it sooner. Now that he put all the puzzles together it seemed quite obvious.

“I still don't understand,” Percival admitted. “Can't you just tell me?”

“Arthur is trying to say that I have magic,” Merlin finally said it out loud.

Percival first looked at him numb in disbelief, then angry and finally a bit scared.

“You're a sorcerer,” he eventually managed to say. Instinctively, he grabbed the shaft of his sword.

Merlin didn't seem much surprised by his reaction. He knew that he would have to face a lot of similar reactions once his secret was revealed.

“Put the sword down, Percival,” said Arthur firmly. “That's not necessary. Merlin is our friend and he saved my life more than once. Magic doesn't define him. It defines no one.”

Merlin was truly touched by these words. He realised before that Arthur came to terms with his magic but this was something more. Arthur was defending him. He presented a whole new perspective on magic and its users. That was something Merlin had always wanted to hear.

“Magic corrupts. You said it yourself,” Percival insisted but he lowered his sword anyway.

“Each kind of power can corrupt,” said Arthur. “Your sword can corrupt you. My throne can corrupt me. It depends on us, what we do with our swords and thrones and magic,” he continued smoothly.

Percival first looked at Arthur and then he turned his gaze towards Merlin.

“I am still the same person. I mean no harm to you or Arthur or Camelot,” Merlin said. “I know it's hard to believe after all the mess Morgana created but not all people of magic are like her.” He sighed. “To be honest, she wasn't always like this and I partially blame myself for the person she became... for the person that you got to know. She was once a scared girl who didn't understand her powers. Se had no one to turn to and I was too afraid to reveal my own secret to her and I regret that with all my heart. I had Gaius and she was alone.”

“Are you trying to make her a better person than she was?” asked Percival.

“Not at all,” Merlin assured him immediately. “Morgana was evil and I killed her for all the horrible things she put upon us, remember? She was corrupted by her powers and blinded by her hatred. She trusted the wrong people and made the wrong choices on her way. Many innocent people died because of her and there is nothing that can make her look better. I simply pity her because I know that she could be a better person. She had potential.”

“It's over, Merlin,” Arthur interrupted him. “There's nothing you can do about it.”

Merlin smiled a bit sadly. “I know. I just regret that the path she chose was full of hatred.”

“Me too,” said Arthur honestly and Merlin felt that he meant it. “She was my sister after all.”

Percival put his sword aside, apparently deciding that Merlin was no threat to him and his king. Merlin noticed it and nodded, saying, “Thank you.”

Percival nodded too. The last few days were very long for all of them. Long and exhausting. They lost many people they knew and cared about. Nothing was going to be the same ever again.

“May I ask you a question, Percival?” Merlin asked suddenly, just after they started eating the breakfast.

The knight looked at him closely. “What is it?” he asked.

“Was Gwaine alone when he was dying?”

Percival lowered his gaze and even Arthur could sense the rising tension. However, he realised that he also wanted to know. After all, Gwaine was one of them.

“No, I was with him in his last moments. I saw so many deaths but it was worse than others,” he admitted. “There was nothing I could do and I knew it was my fault. I could have...” his voice broke and he decided to stop talking. That was way too much. The wound was too fresh.

“Make all of us a favour, Percival, and don't blame yourself,” Arthur told him. “It will make no good.”

“Gwaine wouldn't want you to blame yourself,” added Merlin, even though he knew that there was no words that could truly reassure Percival. If Arthur had died, he would have been exactly like Percival or even worse. The knight needed time to heal. This process couldn't be rushed. It didn't work like this.

“Can we not talk about it... ever again?” asked Percival. He didn't want pity. He needed to be strong for his king and this kingdom and bringing back all the emotions related to Gwaine's death was ruining it.

Merlin and Arthur looked at each other understandingly.

“Of course,” the king said and they ate the rest of their meal in complete silence.

 

Chapter Text

The journey to Camelot went quite smoothly. Arthur, Merlin and Percival didn't encounter any suspicious people on their way and the few people that they saw were some peasants who observed them from afar. They doubted that these people recognised them. All in all, it was better this way.

There were many things that Arthur wanted to talk about with Merlin but he didn't want to involve Percival in these conversations. The knight was not in the best shape and clearly struggled with Gwaine's death. Besides, Arthur didn't want Percival to hear certain things as they were very personal. He and Merlin had gone through a lot on their way to the Lake of Avalon and they still had some unresolved issues. There were so many questions Arthur wanted to ask but he wasn't happy to share them with Percival. He respected his fellow knight and trusted him with his life but it was different. It was about him and Merlin and no one else.

They had to spend another night in the woods as they didn't manage to reach Camelot before the sunset. This time, however, Arthur and Merlin kept their distance.

Merlin was relieved, even though a part of him longed to be closer to Arthur. It was a bizarre feeling as he wanted to both protect his king and be protected by him. Merlin had never struggled with such feelings before and started to suspect that these were the side effects of the pact that he'd made on the Isle of the Blessed.

“Are you all right?” Arthur asked him from a small distance.

“Yes, I'm just tired,” he replied, dismissively. “Tomorrow we'll be back in Camelot and we'll finally have something decent to eat,” he added to change the subject.

“I can't wait,” mumbled Arthur.

“And I am still hoping to have these two days off,” Merlin continued. “You promised.”

Arthur looked at him cockily but said, “I believe I have.”

They talked some more about irrelevant things before finally falling asleep. Percival remained silent the entire evening and then fell into a restless dream too.

 


 

The next morning, they hurried towards Camelot. It seemed like ages since they had been there the last time, even though it wasn't really long. A lot of things had happened since the day they'd left the castle behind and nothing was going to be the same again.

Arthur was surprised that they didn't encounter any patrol on their way to Camelot. They were already quite close to the castle, but there was no sign of his knights.

They gave up on me, thought Arthur but didn't say it out loud. It was a sad thought but he understood it completely. That was a rational thing to suspect. He disappeared after the battle and wasn't seen ever since. The other horrible thought that crossed his mind was that after Camlann, Camelot couldn't afford as many patrols as before. There weren't probably enough knights since many of them fell during the battle and among those who survived were the injured warriors who needed time to recover.

“Are you worried?” Merlin asked him. “We'll be home soon. They're awaiting your return.”

“I know,” said Arthur. “I just fear what we'll going to find in Camelot. How many of our friends suffered during this war?” he continued, glancing at Percival. The knight didn't seem to listen but Arthur knew him well enough to notice the tension in his posture.

“Whatever happened and whatever we'll see, we're going to face it together,” Merlin assured him. “We'll rebuild this kingdom with those who survived.”

Merlin wasn't sure if his words were appropriate but he didn't care. Arthur smiled at him and that was all that mattered. It would always matter the most.

“I'm glad to hear that you're still going to stay by my side,” he said.

“I'm still your servant,” Merlin replied. “I'll always be your servant, although it would be nice if you allowed me to use magic to do my chores,” he teased.

Arthur smirked. “I'll think about it,” he said but Merlin knew Arthur more than that. He could see that Arthur changed his views already. The king finally recognised Merlin in the way he wanted to be known for years. Arthur accepted him and even though there were still many things that weren't said out loud, it was going in the right direction. Even if Arthur could never know everything about him, it was better than before and Merlin was grateful for that.

Finally they reached Camelot's gates. They were greeted by the surprised and relieved faces of the guards and the citizens of the city.

“The king's returned,” someone among the people gathered in the courtyard yelled.

“The king's alive,” someone else accompanied him.

Merlin was certain that in a few moments the whole city would know that their king came back.

The news must have also reached the Queen as she ran out of the castle in a highly not royal manner.

“Arthur,” she gasped and jumped at him, embracing him tightly. Arthur returned the gesture but not with the same enthusiasm. He almost died a couple of days ago and was simply tired. The revelations of the last few days were difficult and he had still a lot to process.

“I thought I'd never see you again,” Guinevere whispered into his ear. “You ran out of the tent so quickly... We didn't even have time to say goodbye.”

“I know,” said Arthur, “and I'm sorry for all this mess.”

“It's not your fault,” Gwen told him. “You did what you had to do and now you've returned to me. I couldn't be happier.”

“It all wouldn't be possible if not for Merlin,” said Arthur.

The Queen released Arthur from her embrace and turned towards Merlin.

“So I've heard,” she said and smiled knowingly. “I will never forget this Merlin. Never.”

Merlin was conflicted. He adored Gwen and admired her devotion and love for Arthur and the kingdom. She was his first friend in Camelot and she'd been supporting him in many ways through all his years in this kingdom. Nonetheless, she was also the wife of the man he loved most in the world and it made him jealous. He never dared to think about Gwen in such way but it was true. He was jealous and he would probably always feel like this.

“I did what I always have and what I'll always be doing,” said Merlin truthfully. “I'll serve the king and the kingdom as it makes me who I am.”

“Oh, Merlin,” said Gwen, clearly touched by his words, and hugged him too. She didn't care about what the people of Camelot would think.

Merlin looked at Arthur over her shoulders. The king was capable of hiding his emotions better than Gwen but Merlin could read from his eyes that he was also moved by it all. Momentarily, Merlin's heart started beating harder and he had to turn his gaze away to calm down. All these emotions never were so clear to him and he needed more time to adjust to this new situation. He could only hope that in time he would learn to cope.

“I think we should take it to the castle. We're making quite a scene and the people are watching,” Merlin told her.

Gwen straightened up and cleared her throat. “You're right, Merlin,” she said. “I'm just so happy and grateful. You have no idea...”

“I think I have,” Merlin told her.

They all moved towards the castle, even Percival, although he remained silent this whole time and kept himself a few steps behind them.

“We need to have an official feast to celebrate your return, Arthur,” Guinevere said once they all entered the throne room.

“Not today, I hope,” Arthur told her.

The Queen smiled knowingly. “Of course not,” she said. “You need to rest. You all do.” She looked at Merlin and Percival. “But I'd like to know what happened.”

“That's a long story, Guinevere,” her husband said. “Definitely not for today. All you need to know now is that I wouldn't be here if not for Merlin. I owe him my life.”

“Arthur...” Merlin started.

“That's all right, Merlin,” said the king. “That's the truth. I'll never be able to thank you enough. Not only for the last few days but also for the last ten years. Guinevere needs to know...”

“I know,” she said firmly and they all looked at her, surprised. “I started to wonder and I had my suspicions. Gaius just confirmed them.”

“Gaius... I'd like to see him. He must be so worried,” said Merlin and looked at Arthur.

“Go to him,” Arthur told him understandingly.

Gwen looked at Merlin. “I'm not going to stop you but please be invited to our dinner. There are so many things I'd like to discuss with you.”

Merlin nodded. “I'll be honoured,” he said, “and thank you.”

After that he rushed out of the throne room towards his mentor's quarters. It pained him a bit to be parted from Arthur, especially after the last few days during which they were inseparable. He knew, however, that Arthur was safe and that he would see him again soon. He couldn't be by Arthur's side all the time. That wouldn't be healthy to anyone.

Merlin entered Gaius' rooms and smiled wildly seeing his old friend in a good shape.

“Merlin, you're back!” said Gaius and moved as quickly as his old bones let him towards the man whom he treated like a son. “I assume that Arthur is alive.”

“He is,” Merlin said and embraced him.

“That's a relief, my boy. You'll have to tell me everything.”

Merlin's smile slightly faded. “I will but it's complicated,” he said quite seriously. “I need you to help me understand it all.”

Gaius looked at him earnestly. “What happened?” he asked. “What did you give them for Arthur's life? Is it a... goodbye?”

“No, that's not what you think, Gaius. I didn't give them neither my life nor anybody else's life for Arthur's,” Merlin assured his old friend. “I was ready to do that but they said it was impossible, that it wouldn't work like this. They said my life was different and it couldn't be given or taken.”

“Who were they? The Sidhes?” asked Gaius.

Merlin shook his head. “I don't know who they were but they weren't Sidhes. At least not all of them... I couldn't really see them. I don't... I'm not sure...”

“Calm down, Merlin,” Gaius said firmly and made him sit down. “We're not in any rush.”

Merlin was breathing in and out, in order to cool down and then he continued.

“For a moment, we weren't on Earth and Arthur was definitely dead,” he finally said.

“Were you in Avalon?” asked Gaius.

“Yes,” Merlin confirmed. “That must have been Avalon or at least some space between our world and Avalon. I'm not even sure how we got there. We reached the Isle of the Blessed but it wasn't like I remembered it. They must have somehow let us go to their version of the Isle. I know it doesn't make much sense but that's what it felt like.”

“You don't need to explain yourself and your instincts,” Gaius assured him. “I'm not here to judge you but to help you. Don't ever forget about it.”

Merlin smiled lightly. “Thank you, Gaius,” he said and continued his story. “As I said, I'm certain that Arthur was dead and I was desperate. I wanted to give my life to bring Arthur back but they couldn't take my life.”

“Did they tell you why?” Gaius asked.

“No, they didn't. But they said that I could try something else...” Merlin hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure how Gaius was going to react to the truth. “It worked, Gaius. I can't believe it but it worked.”

“If you don't want to tell me be about it, then you don't have to,” Gaius told him.

“But I do,” Merlin said. “I need your advice but it's not easy to explain. I made a pact which was based on the bond between me and Arthur,” he explained, carefully choosing his words. “Two sides of the same coin. We were called that way many times before.” Merlin laughed a bit hysterically. “I never knew how true it was and what it really meant.”

“What did this pact require?” asked Gaius, trying to come back to the core of their conversation.

“Something that Arthur doesn't know about and I wouldn't want him to find out,” said Merlin. “It's very personal, Gaius. I'd even say that it's... intimate.”

Gaius looked intrigued but he didn't dare to utter any word. He patiently waited for Merlin to continue his story.

“They said that Arthur's heart needed a lot of time to be cured. Time that we didn't have,” Merlin continued. “Even Avalon couldn't help it. But apparently... apparently I could.” He looked at his old friend. “They told me about this ancient rite or pact or whatever they called it. There was a slight chance that I could change Arthur's fate so I took it. I had to, Gaius, you of all people must know that.” He took a deep breath. “I split my own heart in two and put its half in Arthur's chest.”

There it was. He finally said it out loud but Gaius remained silent.

“Gaius, please, say something,” Merlin almost begged him. Everything would be better than this silence. “I know it's insane but it was the only thing I could do and now Arthur will live as long as I live. Our lives have been bound then and there. Forever.”

Merlin was trembling. Telling the truth was somehow freeing but he was completely overwhelmed by all the events of last few days. He needed Gaius to understand and advise him.

“My boy,” whispered Gaius and embraced Merlin as tight as he could. “What you chose... What you did... I can't imagine what you had to go through. But... are you feeling all right?”

“Physically, yes. I mean, I'm tired but the last few days were very tough and that's understandable,” said Merlin. “But inside I feel like a mess. Arthur accepted me and my magic and it felt wonderful that finally I don't have to lie to him. And now... I can't just tell him what really happened. It would be too much for him.”

“I know Merlin that it's difficult but perhaps it would be better if Arthur knew,” Gaius suggested. “Think about it. I know how your life looked like these past 10 years. You hated lying to Arthur.”

“That's true,” Merlin admitted, “but it's different than my magic. He'd feel guilty for what I've done and I'd never want that.”

“He would understand,” said Gaius. “He'd do the same.”

“Perhaps,” said Merlin. “He's noble not only in title but also in his soul but I don't want him to feel conflicted again. That was my choice and that will be my burden.”

“I understand,” Gaius told him. “Just please remember that whatever happens, you can always count on me, as long as I live.”

“Thank you, Gaius. There are things that I worry about. Things that I cannot comprehend... There was a moment when I thought it all was over, that Arthur wasn't going to make it,” he admitted. “Then I realised some things that scare me. The things about myself.” Merlin glanced at Gaius, hoping that his friend would understand it all without further explanation. Gaius, however, looked just puzzled. “I didn't want to live without him. I was ready to grab Excalibur and kill myself.”

“Merlin...”

“I know,” he said firmly. “I know... but I felt that I had to follow him. And when they realised what I was about to do, they told me about the pact. They sounded terrified. They said something about breaking my destiny but Arthur is my destiny. What did they expect me to do?”

“I don't know, Merlin. I wish I could have some answers but it's beyond my knowledge,” Gaius admitted sadly.

“I understand. That's probably beyond everyone's knowledge.” He sighed. “I'm just glad that I have you to share it all with. It would be so much worse to face it on my own.”

“You're not alone in this world, Merlin. You need to finally understand that.”

Merlin nodded. “I will try.” He smiled lightly. “Now I think I need to have some rest. Arthur invited me to have dinner with him and Gwen later. I need a few hours to calm down so I can face them again.”

“That's understandable,” said Gaius. “Go get some sleep. You deserve it like no one else. I'll wake you up in a few hours.”

Merlin walked slowly to his own room and closed the doors behind himself. The walls were cold and the room didn't seem familiar. It was stupid but without Arthur by his side, nothing seemed complete or right.

I'll have to get used to it, he thought, lying down on his empty bed.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin wasn't sure what to expect out of the dinner he was invited to. Arthur and Guinevere had told him that they wanted to discuss some things but where they would start and where their discussion would follow was a mystery.

The table in Arthur's chambers was prepared for three people. Arthur and Gwen were already awaiting him but there was also one more person in the chamber. It was George. Apparently, he was going to serve them during the dinner. It seemed quite ridiculous to Merlin. Last week it was him who served the King and Queen at their dinner. He started to wonder in what direction it all was going.

“Merlin.” Arthur walked up to him and welcomed him with a warm embrace. That was something that Merlin didn't expect. Arthur wasn't shy and could act this way in some extreme situations but it wasn't one of them.

“Let him breathe, Arthur,” Gwen said to her husband but once the king released Merlin, she hugged him as well. “Arthur told me about all the things you did for him,” she whispered into his ear so Arthur couldn't hear. “Thank you.”

Merlin wanted to say, out of courtesy, that it was nothing but these words didn't seem right. It simply wasn't nothing. Arthur's life meant everything to him.

“I only did what was right,” Merlin said instead.

“Because that's what you do,” said Gwen, smiling. “There's nothing we can do to repay you for all the years that you were here in Camelot, risking so much...”

“That's all right, Gwen.” Merlin didn't want to get into the details of previous ten years. That would be time-consuming and all that he wanted at the moment was the celebration of Arthur's life.

“We will talk about it later, Guinevere. Merlin must be starving,” said Arthur.

“But of course.” Gwen let Merlin go and walked towards the table. “I hope I remembered all your favourite dishes.”

It turned out that Guinevere indeed remembered well Merlin's taste in food. The sorcerer didn't remember when he had so many fine food in his life before, if ever. He wanted to behave elegantly and not to eat too much but the Queen encouraged him to enjoy his meal.

“That's for you, Merlin,” she assured him. “That's the least I could do.”

George was silent all this time as was expected of a well trained servant. Not that Merlin cared about such irrelevant things much. Arthur, on the other hand, also remained silent almost through the whole meal and it made Merlin wonder and worry.

“I'd like to hear about all the adventures that you had, Merlin,” Guinevere finally said when they finished their meal and were drinking wine. “There must be plenty of them.”

“It's true but you experienced many of them yourself,” Merlin said truthfully.

“Perhaps, but I don't really know them from your perspective,” Gwen insisted. “Also, there must have been things that we don't know about.”

“There were,” Merlin admitted, hoping he didn't blush too much.

“Such as?” the Queen asked, excitedly.

“Merlin cheated during one of our first encounters,” Arthur finally spoke up. “And now when I think about it, he also cheated the last time we played dice. Merlin?”

“Well... you might be right,” the warlock admitted. “It was just too good. I had to do something with your smugness and it was innocent.”

“Innocent? You won my money,” Arthur accused but his tone was rather playful.

Gwen started to giggle. “You two are impossible sometimes,” she said when she finally calmed down. “You're never going to change, are you?”

“I hope not,” said Arthur and looked at Merlin attentively. “I have no such intention.”

Merlin couldn't help it and gulped. There was something intense in Arthur's stare. Something that made him shiver all over his body.

“Any other adventures that you'd like to share, Merlin?” Gwen asked.

“Maybe another time. I really need to think about what is appropriate to say and what's not,” Merlin told her.

“I'm not going to judge you,” Guinevere assured him, “but if that's what you wish then that's alright.”

“I think I should go,” Merlin said suddenly, already standing up.

“Nonsense,” Gwen said firmly. “I know my husband so I can tell that he's impatient to talk to you about all your stuff. I'll go to have some rest in my own chambers and you two can stay here and talk without me.”

“You can stay, Guinevere,” Arthur assured her.

“I know that, Arthur.” She smiled wholeheartedly. “But it will be easier for you two to talk without me. I can tell that you still have some issues to resolve. You don't need me here and honestly I'd like to have a peaceful evening after the events of last weeks.”

“As you wish, my Queen,” said Arthur.

“Goodnight, Merlin,” she said and hugged her friend once more. “I won't say goodnight to you, my husband, as I hope you'll join me for the night.” With these words, she left the king's chambers and left the two men in the presence of George.

Merlin tried not to focus on the implication of Gwen's last statement. That was too painful.

“You're dismissed, George,” said Arthur to the servant.

“Would you wish my assistance later, my lord?” George asked him politely.

“Dismissed,” the king said firmly. “I won't need you for the rest of the night.”

“As you wish, Sire.” George bowed with respect and walked out of the king's chambers quickly.

“I think I'll keep him,” said Arthur when George was finally out of the hearing range.

Instantly, Merlin tensed. “What do you mean?” he asked, watching Arthur intently.

“George was born to be a servant, don't you think? I honestly think he considers it his life's mission.”

“You already have a servant,” Merlin pointed out. “And George's boring. You said it yourself.”

Arthur frowned. “Did you really think that I would keep you as my manservant?” asked Arthur in disbelief.

“Oh...” Merlin gulped. “I understand now.” He didn't expect to hear these words after everything they went through and after everything Arthur had told him. He thought that everything was good between them. Or at least good enough. Apparently, Arthur didn't feel comfortable with keeping him, a warlock, by his side all the time.

“Good,” said Arthur, almost grinning. That was a bit terrifying if someone asked Merlin.

“I think I should go then,” Merlin mumbled. He didn't want Arthur to see his break down that Merlin felt was coming. It was a blow and he had to deal with it on his own.

“What? Why?” asked Arthur, clearly confused.

“I understand when I am not welcomed,” Merlin said quietly but Arthur heard his every word.

“I beg your pardon?” Arthur walked up to Merlin and grabbed his shoulders. The sparks went through their bodies, but they both ignored it.

“You made it quite clear. You want George's service, not mine,” Merlin explained.

Arthur stared at him as if he couldn't believe what he just heard and then he started laughing. Quite loudly. Merlin just stared back at him, not knowing what to think or do. It all was very confusing.

“It puzzles me Merlin how you can be like this,” the king finally uttered, waving his hands, trying to suppress his laughter.

“Like what exactly?” Merlin asked.

Arthur shook his head in disbelief. “Sometimes you just seem so wise but other times... you're just a hopeless simpleton.” He laughed some more.

What's so funny?” Merlin demanded. He wanted to make sense out of this situation but he was utterly confused. Arthur was sending him some mixed messages. That wasn't funny at all.

You are,” Arthur replied. “I can't believe that you thought that I'll just keep you as my servant after everything you've done for me.”

“I...” Merlin hesitated and decided to let Arthur continue.

“Do you want to be a servant, Merlin? For the rest of your life?” Arthur asked him. “Because if that's what you want, then it can be arranged. As you said, George, despite his undeniable serving skills, is unbelievably boring.”

I only wish to be by your side. As I always am, thought Merlin but didn't dare to say it out loud.

“I don't want you to get bored.” He tried to make it sound playful but it lacked the right vibes.

Arthur shook his head. “Unbelievable,” he mumbled. “You look like a beaten dog. Did you think that I was trying to get rid of you, Merlin? Really?”

“No,” Merlin replied in an act of desperation. Arthur made him feel so conflicted and uncertain. He didn't notice it before but it was prominent at the moment.

“Yes, you did,” Arthur insisted. “And you are jealous that George is going to take your position in the household. That's unbelievable.”

“That's not true,” Merlin said but even he could tell that his line of defence was weak.

“After all we went through, after all I said to you, you still seem... insecure.” Arthur hesitated for a little while. “Why is that, Merlin?”

“I still have a feeling it's just a dream,” Merlin admitted. “I don't know where I stand in all of this. The events of the last few days were overwhelming, to say the least. Over a week ago, you had no idea I had magic and I feared you were going to die from Mordred's hand because I wasn't able to protect you.”

“You were and you are able to protect me and Camelot,” Arthur told him almost softly. “You've proven it more than once. You don't have to hide it any more. I know what you're really capable of and now everyone in Camelot may find out. Of course if that's what you wish.”

Merlin raised his gaze that he just realised he lowered a while ago. “Really?” he asked, timidly.

“Really.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Merlin, I am,” Arthur said decisively and laughed. “Camelot is ready for you as long as you are ready for her to find out.”

“Does it mean that...?” Merlin fell silent in the middle of his sentence. He couldn't finish it. He didn't dare to hope.

Arthur smiled warmly. “I intend to change the law concerning magic,” he confirmed. “Your example made me realise that this is the right thing to do.”

Merlin was truly touched and it made him speechless. His blue eyes shone in the dim light with hope and adoration. Arthur had no idea what his words did to Merlin. That was beyond anyone's comprehension.

“That's where I need you Merlin,” the king continued, a bit amused by Merlin's startled state. “We need to create some regulations that would be a guide for magic users. One can break a law in many ways by the use of magic and that's something that shall be forbidden.”

“No one should violate the freedom of others,” Merlin finally spoke.

“Exactly.” Arthur smiled a bit wider, “but they can use their magic to ease their lives. To be themselves.”

“Including me?” asked Merlin without thinking.

There was something wild in Arthur's gaze that made Merlin shiver all over his body. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought that Arthur wanted to pin him to the wall and kiss him senseless.

“Especially you,” he whispered and his words made Merlin blush.

“That's very thoughtful of you,” said Merlin and lowered his gaze breaking the eye contact again. He thought it was better this way. He didn't want to get more confused. Arthur was his friend and he was just grateful for the years of his friendship and protection. There would never be anything else between them.

Arthur cleared his throat and discreetly made a step back. He didn't realise until that moment that they were so close. Too close.

“I'd like to discuss this further with the Council tomorrow,” Arthur continued in a casual way. “But I need to ask you about one thing before I'll make it official.”

“What is it, Arthur?” Merlin took a deep breath and met his king's eyes once again.

“I know I never said it before but despite you being my servant through all these years, I always valued your opinion,” he started. “I think it would be good for the kingdom and of course for me to still seek your advice. This time, however, in an official way.”

“Is it a promotion?” Merlin asked. “Do you want me to be your... advisor?”

“Something like that,” Arthur confirmed. “I need to have someone who knows magic by my side. Someone who's bold enough to speak up his mind and tell me when I'm wrong. You have ten years of experience in that field,” he said half-jokingly.

“I don't know what to say,” Merlin admitted. He was truly touched by Arthur's proposition.

“Say that you agree,” said Arthur as his eyes were piercing through Merlin. “Say that you'll help me make Camelot greater. Better.”

“I will do that gladly,” said Merlin, smiling warmly at Arthur. “That's what I always wanted for you and Camelot. I will be honoured to take part in that.”

Arthur put both his hands on Merlin's shoulders and looked deep into his friend's eyes. “Then I want you to join the Council meeting tomorrow. But not as my servant. I want you to take a seat at the Round Table. On my right.”

Merlin gasped. “But Arthur... that's Gaius' seat.”

“He won't mind. I'm sure of it,” said Arthur. “You will be sitting between me and him. I want to have you by my side if that's all right with you.”

“That's more than all right,” Merlin said and looked at him longingly.

“That's settled then.” Arthur's smile widened which made him look truly pleased. “You can retire now, Merlin. You look tired and tomorrow we'll have a very long and eventful day.”

“I don't doubt it,” said Merlin. He really didn't want to leave Arthur's side but it was quite late and he needed more rest after the recent events. He needed it to keep protecting Arthur and Camelot. “Goodnight, Arthur,” he said quietly, almost whispered.

“Goodnight, Merlin.”

The king was looking at the doors long after Merlin was gone. He couldn't help himself and lingered on a small dose of sentiment.

 


 

Merlin was lying in his bed, trying to make some sense out of the things that happened during the day. It was a very long day and he was no longer sure if he could trust himself with all these mixed feelings. He thought that he acted like a young maid who didn't know much about the world and that was embarrassing. He was a grown man after all. He had to get a grip and start acting like one. His own feelings couldn't come first if he wanted to do a good job of protecting Arthur and Camelot. He had to be rational about everything. Especially after he found out that he was going to occupy a new position at the court.

That thought made him shiver. It was both scary and exciting. He was always there by Arthur's side, but he was working from the shadows. Now he was going to get recognition. He was dreaming about it for years but now when it was going to come true, he started to feel confused.

First of all, that was a great responsibility. People would look for his advice in difficult matters. They would expect him to know things and to take full responsibility for his words. Merlin wasn't sure if he was ready for that.

Moreover, this new position meant lack of privacy. People were going to watch him carefully and probably suspiciously. He got used to being unrecognised. It was easier in many situations to pretend that he was no one. He looked like no one. He could be more efficient as no one.

Merlin was about to calm down and try to fall asleep before another long day that he was going to have tomorrow, but then he felt a sudden pain in his chest. He followed his instincts and put his hand there, just above his heart. A half of his heart. It was beating madly so Merlin tried to take a few deep breaths. Just when he thought that there was nothing worrisome about it, as the pain significantly eased, he felt another wave of a piercing pain. This time stronger and almost breathtaking. Merlin shut his eyes, groaning in pain, and then another unexpected thing happened.

The moment his eyes closed, he saw an image in his mind. A vision of some sort. It was blurry at first, but then it started to get clearer and clearer. He recognised Arthur and Guinevere. They were in bed but it was not sleeping that they were doing. They were kissing but it was far from the chaste kisses Merlin saw them share before. This kiss looked almost vulgar. Arthur was attacking Gwen's neck, and the Queen was moaning loudly.

Merlin opened his eyes, trying to escape this mad vision but it was too late. He couldn't get rid of this image. With eyes closed it was clearer but even with eyes opened he could see it.

That was devastating. His heart was aching and his whole body was sweating. He didn't want to watch Arthur, who meant everything to him, with his wife in such an intimate act. That was wrong and cruel and Merlin didn't know what he'd done to deserve that. He could do anything for Arthur. He gave up a half of his own heart for a chance of keeping the king alive. Apparently, that was the price for the alteration of destiny. The time to pay had come.

Merlin gulped, feeling tears running down his face. He couldn't control them. He thought that his body was trying to protect him. The vision became even more blurred because of his tears but he could still recognise the movements of two bodies. Arthur was making love to his wife. That was unquestionable.

Merlin decided that there was no other way but wait. He hoped that this nightmare would end soon.

After several minutes, which felt for Merlin like hours, the vision blurred even more and then vanished completely. The pain in his chest also eased and then stopped entirely. It seemed that it was the end of his slow agony.

Merlin was lying in his bed, looking up at the ceiling numbly. He wasn't exactly sure what just happened to him but it was definitely related to the half of his heart that was beating soundly in Arthur's chest. He didn't know if it was just a one-time thing or if it was going to be repeated every time Arthur was intimate with his wife.

Merlin had a sinking feeling that it was the latter.

 

Chapter Text

Arthur Pendragon was lying in the bed, thinking. His wife was sleeping next to him but he couldn't fall asleep. It was unusual because after making love to her, he was always exhausted and slept like a baby. That was natural. However, this time Arthur just couldn't rest. He had a weird feeling and couldn't quite describe it. If he had to tell what it resembled most, he would have said that he felt guilty but it was ridiculous. He did nothing wrong. He made love to his beautiful wife after an extremely stressful period in his life. That was perfectly natural.

Arthur sighed inwardly. He knew that he hadn't been completely into it in the evening but Guinevere was eager and he didn't want to disappoint her. Once they started, he tried to pay full attention to her in order to give her maximum pleasure and he was sure that he succeeded.

It wasn't also that he didn't like it. He enjoyed their sexual intercourse. He truly did. However, it seemed that his wife enjoyed it much more than he did.

Arthur didn't know why he was contemplating on that. There was nothing to worry about. He should focus on calming down and falling asleep. That was a reasonable thing to do.

The sinking feeling, however, didn't want to let go.

That was why Arthur woke up in the morning tired and a bit grumpy. He didn't get much sleep during the night and once he had finally fallen asleep, he had some weird dreams about Merlin and the Isle. He didn't remember much in the morning but the strange feeling was still there and he couldn't dismiss it.

 


 

Merlin woke up at dawn. He didn't get much sleep either but he couldn't make himself get back to sleep again. It was pointless. He wouldn't get much more rest anyway and he could focus on more urgent things while staying awake, such as the preparations to the Council meeting.

He no longer felt a piercing pain in his chest but his heart was aching with longing. He knew that he was jealous and he was hating himself for that. Gwen was his friend and he adored her. Nonetheless, he loved her husband so much more and he was jealous and slightly angry. He understood that Arthur and Gwen were together. In a way, he helped them bring their marriage into existence. He prompted it and encouraged Arthur on many occasions.

The worst part was that he couldn't even regret that. Arthur's commitment to Gwen brought a lot of good things to Camelot. The kingdom was flourishing and it was becoming the place that Merlin knew it was meant to be. His personal feelings didn't matter in the great scheme of things. He was going to love Arthur silently. No one had to know. He just needed to learn how to hide his true feelings. After all, it couldn't be much worse than hiding his magic and he'd managed doing that successfully for ten years.

If he had to learn to get used to the occasional pain in his chest at night and cruel visions of Arthur with another, then he would take that burden as well. He promised himself to pay the price for Arthur's life, whatever it was, and he was ready to do that.

No one else had to know about his tears at night and longing stares from afar during the day. He sacrificed a lot for Arthur and Camelot. It was just one more thing that he had to add to the list.

 


 

Guinevere was watching her husband closely.

“You seem nervous,” she finally said after Arthur opened and closed his wardrobe a few times without any purpose.

“I'm just wondering how to put in words what I want to announce at the Council,” he admitted. “This is a very important meeting and I'm expecting that some of the older counsellors won't approve my decisions.”

“It won't be easy but you know how to deal with politics,” Gwen assured him. “You had the difficult matters before and you handled them well.”

“I'm not worried about myself.”

Guinevere smiled warmly at him. “You're worried about Merlin, then.” She nodded knowingly. “I should have known... but I'm sure he wouldn't want you to worry about it. Merlin's proven to be brave and tough. Your Council won't break him.”

“You're right, of course, but...” Arthur looked at his wife attentively. “But since I found out about the sacrifices Merlin made for me and about all the things he's being doing for Camelot for the last ten years, I started to feel more responsible for him. It occurred to me that he cares about everything and everyone but himself.” He shook his head. “And that's not right. If he doesn't take care of himself, I will do that for him. I want to protect him from all the things that I can and this Council is my responsibility.”

Gwen pecked her husband on the cheek. “You will manage them and Merlin will be fine. You just need to be yourself.” She smiled even wider. “You could charm anyone, even Sir Lamorak.”

Arthur chuckled. “I doubt anyone could charm Sir Lamorak. He is a stubborn middle aged man. Besides, my father always said that he was his greatest supporter in the fight against magic. I'm worried about his reaction.”

“You are the king, Arthur,” Guinevere reminded him. “And you have Merlin by your side. I have a feeling that the two of you can convince them all. You need to have faith.”

“I have something more than faith,” said Arthur. “I know that this is the right thing to do. For Merlin and for the others. This is justice.”

 


 

Gaius raised his eyebrow, seeing bags under Merlin's eyes.

“You don't look well,” he pointed out.

Merlin looked at him, trying to make the best impression he could. “I couldn't fall asleep. I'm just a bit nervous before the Council meeting. That's all.”

Gaius doubted that it was all but he wasn't going to press Merlin to tell him the truth. Not during such an important day.

“I could give you some tonic,” the old man suggested. “You don't want to scare Arthur and the Council members, do you?”

“Tonic sounds great,” Merlin said shortly and before he could add anything else, Gaius handed him a vial. “You have it done already?” he asked, surprised.

“When you came back yesterday evening, I thought it could come in handy in the morning,” Gaius told him.

“So you prepared it for me, instead of going straight to bed?” Merlin shook his head in disbelief. “Gaius... that wasn't necessary but thank you.”

“You should have seen yourself yesterday,” Gaius replied. “You were shaking all over.”

“That's an exaggeration,” said Merlin.

“Is it?” Gaius smiled warmly. “I know that this day means a lot to you,” he said. “You deserve it.”

“It just seems so unreal. Me... sitting by Arthur's side at the Council meeting. Taking your place...” Merlin looked hesitantly at his mentor. “I'm not entirely sure it's right.”

“That's more than right, Merlin. I'm glad you will take that seat,” Gaius assured him. “I've already told you. I'm happy for you and I will support you. No one deserves recognition more than you.”

Merlin couldn't express it in words but he was truly touched by all the support and care that Gaius was giving him. He was glad to have him in his life. Merlin never had a chance to get to know his father well but Gaius was able to fill the hole in his heart that should have been filled by his father.

That was why Merlin hugged his old friend tightly, trying to put all his gratitude into this gesture. The words were redundant.

 


 

Laying his eyes on Arthur for the first time after the incident of the previous night, brought back some mixed feelings to Merlin. On the one hand, he was happy to see his king. He was happy that said king smiled at him warmly, when he noticed him at the doors. On the other hand, he felt a little pang in his chest, a bitter reminder of what happened at night. It made him wonder if such conflicted feelings were going to occur every time he saw Arthur. Perhaps he could get used to it after some time.

This thought made him shudder.

He lowered his gaze and took a deep breath. Arthur needed him at that moment. The most important Council meeting in their lives was about to begin. He needed to focus on the important things which concerned the whole kingdom. His personal sentiments had to be cast aside.

“Nervous?” Arthur asked him when he finally approached his king.

“Not at all,” Merlin said in his teasing tone. “It's just another Council meeting. Why should I be worried? There's nothing to worry about.”

Arthur couldn't help himself and smirked. “I know the feeling,” he said quietly so no one but Merlin could hear him.

Merlin looked around. The Council room was slowly getting crammed with all the Council members. Gaius was talking to one of the knights, avoiding Merlin's gaze. The warlock knew that his mentor was giving him space, as this day belonged to him and Arthur.

Merlin felt a little bit better at that thought. He knew that he could always count on Gaius and his tact.

“I never realised that your Council had so many members,” Merlin pointed out.

“Well, it doesn't, but I invited the members who already retired from that position,” Arthur admitted. “I thought it was important because some of them were in the Council back when my father changed the law.”

“And now I'm starting to think that I shouldn't have eaten the porridge,” said Merlin, half-jokingly.

Arthur had to use his strong will to suppress his laughter.

“But that was very thoughtful of you,” Merlin added, this time seriously.

“I thought that was fitting,” said Arthur.

“Although that's also nerve-racking,” Merlin continued at the same time.

“I want them all to understand,” the king explained.

“I know.” Saying that, Merlin gave him a reassuring smile.

Someone who was standing nearby cleared the throat and said, “Arthur.”

Both Merlin and Arthur raised their eyes. It was Guinevere. They didn't even notice when she entered the room.

“I think we should start the meeting,” she said quietly. “Your Council is waiting.”

Guinevere was right. There was no time to waste.

“I wanted to greet all of you,” he announced. “Please take your seats.”

Arthur was glad that his wife took care of the adjustments in the Council room. She made sure that there was enough chairs for all members, including those who no longer attended the meetings on regular basis.

He was also pleased to see that Merlin took his request to heart and took the seat by Arthur's side. However, he decided not to dwell on that feeling at the moment.

He also noticed that some of the Council members, especially the older ones, frowned upon seeing Merlin by his side not as his servant, but as a participant, as one of them.

Arthur knew that he had many things to explain and that was one of them but he also knew that he needed to do that in order. That was essential for them to understand.

The king looked around, silencing some murmurs with his gaze. When all members started to pay their full attention to him, he began his speech.

“I asked all of you to attend this meeting because I have some very important information to share with you before it becomes public,” Arthur started. “I am aware that there are many rumours concerning the events at Camlann as well as the days succeeding the battle. I want you to know the truth. You all deserve it.” At that moment, he glanced at Merlin and sent him a short but fond smile. “The truth is that I was mortally wounded on the battle field and that blow was given to me by someone who was one of us. By Sir Mordred.”

The members started whispering among themselves but only one of them dared to speak up. It was Sir Lamorak.

“Wasn't he one of the commoners you knighted?” he asked viciously.

Arthur looked directly at him. If gazes could kill, Sir Lamorak would be as good as dead.

“It doesn't mean anything, Sir Lamorak,” Arthur said. “The commoners can be great knights or advisors and the noblemen can be vicious and cruel. One's background doesn't define a person. Their actions do.”

“It seems that Sir Mordred didn't deserve his position after all,” Sir Lamorak said boldly.

“He had potential and he was given a chance,” the king continued. “Everybody deserves a chance. Unfortunately, Mordred made some terrible choices but the fault isn't entirely his.”

“Arthur,” Merlin murmured so only the king and Gaius could hear him.

Arthur ignored him and kept talking. “Mordred was a victim of the contemporary circumstances and Morgana. I pity him but he paid the highest price a man can pay. He's dead.” These words silenced the whole gathering. “I don't want to hear any other questions concerning Sir Mordred. This meeting isn't about him. He's the past and I want to talk about the future of this kingdom.”

Guinevere put her hand on his arm reassuringly. He appreciated the gesture but it was not the right time and place so he shook his shoulder lightly to give her a sign to let go. The Queen seemed to understand as she removed her hand obediently.

“There would be no future for me, if not for my friend who is sitting at the moment on my right.” He looked at Merlin and Merlin looked back at him with true devotion. Arthur had to use all his will to turn his gaze away and look at his people. “You all must know Merlin. He's been my manservant for the last ten years after all.”

“Exactly, my lord,” Sir Lamorak interrupted him once again, which started to get on his nerves. “He is your servant. Should he occupy such an important place at the Council meeting?”

“I would like to remind you, Sir Lamorak, that this is the Round Table. One's station doesn't matter here,” Arthur stressed the last sentence. “Besides, Merlin has proven more than once that he deserves it. He's proven it by his actions and by his devotion to Camelot.”

At that moment, Merlin turned red. He was aware that Arthur thought highly of him, but thinking and saying it so boldly in front of the entire Council were two different things. He knew that Arthur had to prepare some explanation but he thought that it was going to be more moderate.

“Merlin has been showing his wisdom by giving me some very good advice for years. The problem was that I wasn't very keen on listening to him for a very long time.”

Some members laughed lightly at these words and Merlin blushed more. Arthur smiled warmly at him and made a mental note to tease him about it later.

“A man learns to listen in time. Luckily, it wasn't too late for me,” Arthur continued his speech. “Luckily, Merlin was patient enough to stay here in Camelot as my servant, even though he could be so much more elsewhere. He could be safer elsewhere. Nonetheless, he's chosen to keep the position of a lowly servant and endured all its consequences. For that, I am more grateful than I can say.”

“Arthur, you don't have to...” Merlin murmured and now only the king could hear him.

Arthur only shook his head. “Even though he doesn't look very strong, Merlin is the most powerful person I know. But I'm not afraid of his power. No, I admire it and believe me when I say that it means something coming from the Pendragon.” He took a deep breath. It was now or never. “I don't want you to be afraid. Keep in your mind that it's still Merlin you know.”

“Why should we be worried?” One of the knights asked impatiently.

“It's just Merlin,” another knight added.

“It is Merlin, you're right,” Arthur confirmed. “But he's so much more than we thought and he never sought any credit for that.” He straightened up and looked regally over his Council. “Merlin has magic,” he finally stated.

The people gasped and gaped both at Arthur and Merlin. Some of them stood up in rush and gripped their swords.

“That's unnecessary,” Arthur assured them quickly. “If Merlin wanted, he would have defeated you easily. Believe me, I saw it with my own eyes. There's nothing to fear.”

“But Sire,” protested one of young knights, Sir Galahad. He was one of the few who grabbed their swords. “Magic has caused so much evil. It corrupts.”

“Many things can corrupt one's mind,” Arthur replied calmly. “Your sword could corrupt you.”

“It's entirely different, my lord,” said Galahad but he no longer sounded so certain.

“Is it? Think about it.” Arthur looked over the faces of his people. “You all should think about it.”

“It doesn't change anything,” Sir Lamorak spoke up. “Magic is banned. Merlin shouldn't be here, he should be...”

Hanged, Merlin thought.

“Don't you dare finish that sentence, Sir Lamorak,”Arthur said way too sharply. He knew that this Council meeting wasn't going to be easy but that was a step too far.

“That's what the law says,” the older knight pointed out stubbornly.

“The law can be changed,” Arthur stated firmly. “It will be changed.”

Half of the Council gasped in disbelief. Keeping one, apparently loyal, sorcerer by king's side was one thing but changing the entire law was a completely different matter.

“Are you going to destroy everything that your father was building?” Lamorak asked. “After everything we went through with Morgana? Or are you going to say that she was another victim of Camelot's law?”

Arthur was furious but he wasn't going to give Sir Lamorak more satisfaction so he tried to respond calmly.

“My sister was many things. In a way she was also a victim,” he said. “It doesn't justify her at all. We all know what she did but she's dead now. She's dead because Merlin was able to kill her. He saved us all. He saved this land. We should move forward. Dwelling on the past won't bring us any good.”

“And allowing magic into our world will?” asked Lamorak. “Uther had very good reasons to ban magic. It cannot be controlled. It's dangerous.”

“As I said before, your sword is also dangerous but you keep it at your side,” replied Arthur. “I'm not saying that we're going to let people use magic in whatever way they want. I want us to prepare some regulations concerning magic. People would have to follow the rules and they would have to suffer the consequences if they broke them.”

“Sire, allow me to point out that it's going to be extremely difficult,” Sir Lionel spoke up. “I can't imagine how it's going to work. There's so many doubts...”

“Thank you, Sir Lionel, for your concern. I am aware that this is a huge change and it won't be easy.” Arthur looked at Merlin. “But it will be just and fair.”

“You've already made your decision,” Sir Lamorak said bitterly. “Why did you call us here if it's already decided?”

“Pay attention to your words, Sir Lamorak,” Percival spoke up suddenly. “You're speaking to your king.”

“That's not necessary, Sir Percival,” said Arthur, seeing that his friend was about to put up a fight with the older knight. “This is a difficult subject and I expected tough reactions.”

“He should show you more respect, Sire,” Percival mumbled but sat down obediently.

Arthur decided to continue his previous thought. “My decision is final. Today, the law concerning magic is being changed. We will discuss the details in the nearest future but I'm changing the law now.”

The Council members started whispering.

“But is it wise to change the law without some definite plan?” asked one of the oldest members.

“I have a plan,” Arthur assured them. “That's why my second decision today is the promotion of my former manservant and most trusted friend to the position of Court Sorcerer,” he stated.

The people started whispering some more but Arthur didn't care. He looked at Merlin and saw a pleasant surprise in his eyes. They were talking about his promotion the previous evening but Arthur didn't tell him this. The position of Court Sorcerer was something much more prestigious than an ordinary advisor. It sounded very regal. It bore the responsibility.

Merlin was speechless.

Guinevere started applauding and half of the Council followed her lead.

However, the other half looked uncertain and shared some suspicious glares. Sir Lamorak and a couple of other members from the older generation stood up and left the room in complete silence.

Arthur had a bad feeling about it but dismissed the thought for the time being. This moment belonged to Merlin and he would handle Sir Lamorak and whatever he had in mind later.

“Would you like to say something, Merlin?” Arthur asked, smiling at him encouragingly.

Merlin hesitated but Gaius gave him a short nod and he just couldn't disappoint his mentor and friend.

He stood up and slowly looked around.

“I would like to thank our king for what he's about to do for the people of magic. People who very often didn't have a choice and were born with the gift, like me.” He blushed a bit and turned towards Arthur. “I would like to thank you for your trust, my lord. I'll try to do my best to prove you, all of you, that the title of the Court Sorcerer wasn't given to me in vain.” Saying that, Merlin sat down. That was enough for his first public statement as the Court Sorcerer. He promised himself to be more eloquent in the future.

“Thank you, Merlin,” said Arthur and turned his attention back to the other members of his Council. “I know that you must have many questions and doubts and I promise that we'll come back to them tomorrow. That was one of the most important Council meetings during my reign and I believe that we all need time to think it through and come back to it later with fresh minds. That's why I'm closing the meeting for today.”

The people were leaving the room slowly, whispering and mumbling among themselves.

Arthur knew that they felt conflicted and that was why he decided to give them some time to adjust. It was the first step on a very long way. Tomorrow they were going to take another step and the day after that, one more. They were going to take as many steps as necessary.

With Merlin by his side, he wasn't afraid of what the next day would bring. They were in this together. Two sides of the same coin.

 

Chapter Text

After the Council meeting, Arthur announced the new laws to the rest of his subjects. He did it in person, speaking from the balcony to the crowd gathered at the courtyard. Guinevere was by his side but Merlin disappeared somewhere before he could ask him to keep him company at the announcement.

It felt strange to announce Merlin's new position at Court without him by his side but it had to be enough for the moment. Arthur decided to make sure that Merlin would be present during his next public speech. It was going to be one of his new duties.

To say that the people of Camelot were surprised by this change in the law was an understatement. Some of them looked at him suspiciously, as if they expected it to be a trap, as if he was going to punish the first person who dared to use magic in public.

Some people looked genuinely happy and pleased but others were definitely scared.

Arthur sighed inwardly. It was going to be as difficult as he feared.

“You did well,” Gwen told him once they were alone in their chambers. “I'm proud of you.”

“I wish Merlin could be there,” said Arthur quietly. “Where did he go anyway?”

“The Council meeting was difficult for him too. I think that two tough meetings during one day were too much for him. Give him some time. He'll get used to it.”

“You're probably right.” Her words, however, didn't make him feel any better. He missed Merlin's presence and he couldn't help it.

 


 

Merlin came back a couple of hours later, when Guinevere was attending a weekly meeting with the Ladies of the Court. Merlin knew it and that was why he chose this time of the day. He needed to talk to Arthur face to face without any witnesses. Besides, he decided to avoid Gwen and Arthur in the same room as much as possible. In his mind, he called it a self-preservation tactic.

“Merlin! Where have you been?” Arthur asked him accusingly. “I was almost worried.”

“I was doing my job,” Merlin replied.

“No, you weren't,” the king said firmly. “You were supposed to be by my side when I was announcing the lift of ban on magic. I announced you the Court Sorcerer too. You should have been there.”

Merlin shook his head. “That's another thing,” he said. “You didn't tell me yesterday that you were going to do that.”

“I told you that I'd make you my advisor.”

“The positions of Advisor and Court Sorcerer are two different things,” Merlin pointed out. “Do you have any idea how distracted and nervous you made me feel? I wasn't prepared for that!”

“You looked pleasantly surprised,” Arthur replied. “I wanted it to be a surprise. That's all.”

Merlin sighed. “Don't get me wrong because I appreciate that. I do,” he said. “I just didn't expect so much and I felt a bit dumb.”

“You're always a bit dumb,” Arthur teased him. “But we're good?” he added more seriously.

“Of course we're good,” Merlin assured him. “I didn't come here to talk to you about my new position anyway. There are more pressing matters that we need to discuss.”

Arthur frowned. “Does it has something to do with your sudden disappearance after the Council meeting today?” he asked.

“What do you think? Of course it does!” Merlin shook his head. “You should have learnt by now that if I disappear, I usually have some good reasons to do that.”

“All right. What is it then?”

Merlin looked him in the eyes. “Sir Lamorak.”

Arthur immediately grew more serious. “Did you find out something?” he asked.

“I did,” said Merlin, “and you won't like it.”

He leaned on the wall and bit his bottom lip slightly. For some reason, it made Arthur distracted for a moment. When the king realised that it wasn't the right time for daydreaming, he straightened up, cleared his throat and said, “go on, then. I'm ready for whatever it is.”

Merlin didn't look convinced but he knew that he had no choice. It was better to give Arthur a heads-up so he could be ready for Lamorak's next move.

“I believe he's going to spread the idea that you are not in your right mind,” Merlin said finally.

“What? On what grounds?” Arthur was furious. “That's treason.”

“Calm down, Arthur,” Merlin asked him. “You can't show your raw emotions in front of your Council.”

“I'm not in front of them right now,” the king pointed out.

“But you had an outbreak today,” Merlin reminded him, “when Sir Lamorak suggested that I should have been killed. That was touching but...”

“You expected me not to react at all?” Arthur asked angrily.

“Of course not.” Merlin sighed. “But you should have used a more diplomatic way to express your objection. You know it.”

Arthur did but it didn't change the way he felt about it. Sir Lamorak couldn't just go around throwing threats at Merlin. Not after all the things Merlin had done for Camelot. That wasn't right.

“I'll be more rational next time,” Arthur promised eventually. “Now please explain to me how Sir Lamorak is going to justify his accusations regarding the state of my mind.”

Merlin bit his bottom lip again. He knew that Arthur wasn't going to take this information lightly.

“He's going to claim that you are enchanted,” he finally said. “By me.”

Arthur looked at him in disbelief. “Are you serious?” he asked.

“I'm afraid so.” Merlin gulped. “He wants to spread a rumour that I put a spell on you. That I control you. That all you said is coming from me,” he said sadly.

“That's absurd,” Arthur muttered.

“I'm glad to hear that,” Merlin attempted to joke but it didn't come out as he hoped.

“He can't do that.”

“We both know he can.” Merlin pulled his hair in despair and frustration. “I wish I could protect you from such accusations but we should have known that they would come. You shouldn't make the changes so soon. Not all of them, at least. You should have never given me this promotion...”

“Merlin,” Arthur said firmly.

“I mean it.”

“You shouldn't.” Arthur sighed. “You deserve this promotion and we both knew that the changes weren't going to be easy.”

“But that's different,” Merlin persisted. “Lamorak and his friends are going to undermine your position because of me. That's not right.”

“We'll deal with them,” Arthur assured him.

Merlin looked at him with annoyance. “Why are you suddenly so calm?” he asked.

“Because I'm not mad at you,” Arthur told him. “I'm glad you found out about his plans. We can get prepared now.” He hesitated for a short moment and then added, “we make quite a team, don't you think?”

“I always thought we were a team.”

Arthur smiled lightly which was surprising under these circumstances.

“We were but it's different now when there's no lies between us,” he said.

Merlin tried to smile in order to hide his sudden pang of conscience. He wished it could be true but it wasn't. Arthur couldn't find out the whole truth about his resurrection. Merlin wasn't going to let that happen.

“Do you have any idea how to stop Sir Lamorak, then?” Merlin asked after a while in order to change the subject.

“I'll think about it and ask Guinevere for her opinion,” Arthur said decisively. “She tends to have great ideas about these kinds of problems.”

“You're right. Her point of view may be refreshing.”

Arthur smiled wider. “Don't look so upset, Merlin, we'll find a way to defeat an old fool,” he said. “Just don't tell anyone I used these words.”

Merlin's lips quivered.

“Besides, that's all ridiculous,” Arthur continued. “I would have known if you put a spell on me.”

“Well...”

Arthur looked at him closely. “What does it mean, Merlin?”

“I might have put a spell on you once or twice before,” Merlin said timidly. “But that was only for your own good.”

“Merlin!”

“Yes, Arthur?”

“I demand you to tell me more about it. Right now!”

Merlin sighed. Arthur wasn't going to like his stories at all.

 


 

In the evening, Merlin came back to his and Gaius' quarters to talk with him about the events of the day and ask him for help. He agreed with Arthur that he would seek some advice from Gaius while the king would talk to Guinevere. He hoped that together they would come up with some ideas how to deal with Sir Lamorak.

“This is tough,” Gaius admitted. “Sir Lamorak hates magic almost as much as Uther did.”

“That much we know,” Merlin said sadly. “What do you think will happen once he spreads the idea that I enchanted Arthur?”

“It's hard to tell but he'll find some supporters for sure.” The old man sighed. “There are people who won't change their view on magic easily, if at all.

“We always knew that but fearing magic and undermining Arthur's sanity and authority are two different things. Arthur pretends that he doesn't care but I know he does. He fought so bravely for Camelot and he doesn't deserve such accusations.”

“Merlin, I know you're upset,” Gaius told him quietly. “But getting mad won't solve our problems. Morgana may be dead but there will always be people who want the throne for themselves.”

“You mean Sir Lamorak?” Merlin asked. “He has no claim to the throne.”

“At the moment no one but Arthur has strong grounds to claim the throne but there are others who will use every opportunity to take it for themselves,” Gaius tried to explain. “If people believe that Arthur is under the influence of your magic, they will refuse to follow him. In such case they will have to find another leader.”

“Sir Lamorak is an old fool. No one's going to choose him to be their leader,” Merlin said firmly.

“But he has a son,” Gaius pointed out. “He may want to put him on the throne.”

“I won't let it happen.” Merlin looked at Gaius closely. “How can you be so calm in a moment like this?”

The old man smiled warmly. “Because I know that you won't let that happen,” he said. “I only wanted to point out what Sir Lamorak may be planning right now. You just had to know what's at stake.”

Merlin knew very well what was at stake. It was Arthur's future and they had to do something to keep it on the right track.

 


 

These things couldn't be left on their own for a long time so Merlin went to the king's chamber in the morning and found Arthur and Guinevere in the middle of breakfast.

“Merlin,” Arthur greeted him, smiling.

“I'm sorry for an early visit but your enemies won't wait,” Merlin told him. “Gaius helped me realise last night what's at stake and we must do something with Sir Lamorak quickly.”

“That won't be necessary,” the king told him.

“But Arthur...”

“It's all right, Merlin,” Gwen spoke up. “We can't just do something with Sir Lamorak. It's not wise. He would call himself a martyr then. Many people would start to think that there must be something true in his accusations.”

Deep down, Merlin felt that Gwen was right but sitting and waiting for Lamorak's vicious lies spreading like a plague over Camelot didn't seem wise either.

“Lamorak is going to undermine Arthur's position with his rumours. That's not right.” Merlin looked at the king who didn't seem to be bothered. “Don't you care about it, Arthur? You worked so hard to make this kingdom a better place. You fought Morgana so bravely. You just can't let an old fool to take it away from you,” he told him.

“Calm down, Merlin,” said Arthur calmly. “I won't let that happen. Don't worry about it. Guinevere has a great idea how to deal with Lamorak in a quiet way.”

Merlin glanced at Gwen and then back at Arthur. “I'm listening,” he said and his friends shared their plan with him.

 


 

The plan was a bit risky in Merlin's opinion. After what he'd gone through with Mordred, he preferred to deal with the enemies in a more direct way. There was no guarantee that their plan was going to work but he knew that it was more diplomatic than anything that came to his mind.

They were going to let Sir Lamorak spread his rumours which were full of lies and they were going to prove him wrong in front of the entire kingdom. Merlin was going to prove them wrong and that thought made him feel uncertain. He always had a lot of things on his shoulders but that was different. He needed to do it in public so everyone could see it. He wasn't sure he was ready for that.

However, Arthur and Gwen were sure that he was ready for this step. They were going to support him and guide him. They were in this together. The three of them.

Merlin smiled sadly at the irony.

He had to act coolly as if nothing happened but he could tell that Sir Lamorak's men already started spreading the cruel rumours. Some people were giving him and even Arthur suspicious glances. It made him feel angry but he knew he couldn't act on his impulses. He promised Arthur that he wouldn't.

When Merlin saw Sir Lamorak, the old lord was smirking pointedly. It was so difficult to keep his emotions in check but Merlin managed to do that.

They had another Council meeting during which they discussed some details concerning new laws about magic. This time they had to face some more averse remarks but no one dared to challenge Arthur's authority yet. For that Merlin was grateful because he wasn't sure if he could stand it and stay calm.

The Council meeting ended but there were still many things to discuss and they agreed to have another meeting on the next day.

“You did well,” Arthur told him when they were left alone. “I'm proud of you.”

“That wasn't easy,” Merlin admitted. “I don't understand how you can bear their glances and vicious comments.”

“I'm the king, Merlin, I got used to them long time ago,” he replied.

“But these are lies.” Merlin shook his head in resignation. “I'm not sure if our plan is going to work. How am I supposed to convince them that magic can be used for good if they don't want to see it?”

“They will see it,”Arthur assured him. “If I could change my mind, they can change it too. You are the walking proof that magic doesn't have to be evil.”

“But they already started talking that I make you do it. That I made you change the law and that you're my puppet.” Merlin sighed and lowered his head. “That's not right.”

Arthur came up to him and raised his chin with a finger so that their eyes met. Merlin could feel a shiver running through his body. He could swear that it reached Arthur too. It all made him feel a little bit dizzy with emotions.

“People always talk,” said Arthur quietly. “Don't worry about it. I know that in time they will open their eyes and see. We can make them see it all.”

“What if they don't realise it on time?” Merlin asked. “It's so risky.”

“It's not risky at all. If after all we've done for this kingdom, they won't accept the return of magic, then it's not worth it. I don't want to be their king if they decide it's not right.”

Merlin gasped. “Arthur,” he whispered. “You can't say that. This is your kingdom and they are your people. You can't abandon them. It's not worth it.”

Arthur shook his head. “It is worth it,” he said firmly. “This kingdom would have been destroyed now, if you hadn't used your magic to protect it. Morgana would have been their queen and they would have felt her cruelty on their skin. They will understand in time that you can help them with your magic while my sister would have used it to terrorise them.”

Merlin felt a little bit better. “I'm glad that you're so hopeful and that you're having so much faith in me but it's all so difficult. What exactly am I supposed to do now?” he asked.

“Go to the people and help them,” Arthur told him. “Cure them. Respect them. Smile at them. Be yourself and they will learn to appreciate that.”

Merlin nodded. If Arthur could believe in him so much, he could give it a try. He was going to do that for Arthur and Camelot and for himself. But most of all for Arthur.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin worked very hard to show people the better side of magic. He got involved in many activities that he'd never thought about before. For instance, he followed Gwen's advice which stated that shaping children's minds was essential in the process of accepting magic. He didn't have much experience in interacting with children but he thought that he did quite well as he managed to gain their attention. With Queen's help, he conducted the magical performances for the children of Camelot, both nobles and peasants.

Merlin soon found out that children were more keen on giving magic a chance than their parents. They were cautious at first but after a few magic tricks, they started clapping and laughing. That was quite a sight.

The Court Sorcerer started even thinking about looking for magical potential in some of these children and teaching them in the future but he didn't dare to speak about it out loud yet. It was far too soon. He was certain that most of their parents wouldn't approve. They needed time to adjust to the new circumstances.

As it could be expected, the adults weren't willing to give magic a chance. Most of them didn't want to participate in all the activities Merlin was performing. They frowned upon them, shook their heads and said that they were busy.

“You need to give them more time,” Arthur tried to reassure him. “Look what you achieved with children. They adore you and they will be the future of this kingdom.”

“Their parents speak behind our backs, questioning your decision concerning magic,” Merlin pointed out. “Sir Lamorak's rumours crawled into their minds. They'll need something more than a magic performance if we want them to change their minds.”

“They need something truly spectacular,” the king admitted.

“I'm not sure what it should be. I offered to cure some of their illnesses with my magic but only two people agreed.” Merlin sighed. “They don't trust me, Arthur. They want Gaius to treat them in a traditional way.”

“They'll change their mind when they see the effects but it requires time,” said Arthur. “Don't be so hard with yourself. I appreciate what you've done during last two weeks. That is truly incredible.”

“That's not enough.”

“Merlin.” Arthur looked at him closely. “You need to stop blaming yourself.”

“I don't blame myself.”

“But you do.” Arthur took a deep breath. “I see how hard you work and how much you worry. You need to start thinking about yourself. Gaius told me that you hardly eat recently.”

“I might have skipped a meal or two but it's not important,” Merlin told him. “I'll have some rest when Lamorak's ideas are long forgotten.”

“You can't be serious,” said Arthur. “I want you to calm down and rest now. That's an order from your king.”

“But Arthur...”

“No buts,” Arthur told him firmly. “And you'll start eating decently too. You're getting thinner and thinner. That's not good to you.”

“Is it a dinner invitation?” Merlin asked.

“It could be,” Arthur said, smiling. “But it should be you inviting me.”

Merlin frowned, his eyebrows narrowing. “What do you mean?” he asked a bit suspiciously.

“You shall see,” Arthur told him. “Follow me.”

Merlin was intrigued. He wanted to protest at first and say that there was no time for any games. However, Arthur looked determined so the warlock gave up and followed him.

They were going in the direction of king's chambers so Merlin assumed that it was their destination. After a moment, however, they walked past Arthur's rooms and headed further into the castle.

“Where are we going?” Merlin asked finally.

“You'll see in a moment,” Arthur replied mysteriously. “We're almost there.”

They walked for a minute in complete silence until eventually Arthur stopped in front of some oak doors to which Merlin never paid any attention.

“What's behind these doors?” Merlin asked curiously.

“Open them and see,” the king encouraged him. “Go on.”

Merlin gave him a suspicious look but knew that Arthur couldn't mean anything malicious. Nevertheless, there was something odd in Arthur's behaviour. He seemed pleased and a bit excited, despite their current political difficulties.

“Have I ever told you that surprises are not really my thing?” said Merlin but Arthur only rolled his eyes.

“Open the door, Merlin,” the king simply said. “Just do it.”

Merlin gave him one short glance and finally pushed the door. He wasn't sure what to expect but he thought that it was going to be something unusual. Arthur behaved as if it was something extraordinary. However, to his huge surprise and relief, he entered a plain looking chamber. It looked exactly like dozens other chambers that were in the castle. There was nothing special inside it.

“It's just a chamber,” Merlin said warily. “Why did you want me to come here?”

Arthur entered the room right behind his friend and asked, “do you like it?”

Merlin frowned and look at Arthur steadily. “It's a chamber,” he repeated. “Why are you asking me whether I like it or not?”

“Just answer. Indulge me,” Arthur said stubbornly.

“I don't understand what's happening here,” Merlin admitted. “I refuse to answer any further questions until you explain it to me.”

The king shook his head in resignation. “Sometimes you're really dumb, Merlin. Would you like to live here?” he asked finally.

Merlin wasn't sure if he heard correctly so he asked, “what?”

“Would you like it to be your personal chamber?” Arthur explained more directly. “If it doesn't fit your needs, I can arrange another room but I think that this one suits you well. It should be warm enough in winter and not too hot in summer. It's big enough for you to collect some magical objects that you may want to keep close. Also, this chamber is not far away from mine. I wouldn't have to send George to bring you every time I wanted to ask you about some pressing matter. I could just reach your chamber myself in a minute,” he said in one breath. “So what do you think?”

Merlin remained silent for a few moments and when he finally regained his ability to speak, he said, “you want to give me my own chamber?”

Arthur seemed to be in the middle between amusement and irritation. “That's what I just said. Keep up.”

“But I have my own room in Gaius' quarters,” Merlin protested. “He needs my help. He's in good shape for his age but he's an old man nonetheless. He needs someone to help him with the patients and potions and...”

“You can still help him but the Court Sorcerer should have his own chambers,” Arthur pointed out. “This is the matter of your status. People won't take you seriously if you keep acting and living like a serving boy.”

Merlin didn't seem content at all.

“You don't like the idea,” Arthur said after a while. “I won't make you change your room but I wanted you to see the whole picture. Also, I thought that you would like to have your own place.”

“Arthur... that's not it. I would like to have my own chamber and I think this one would be perfect for me but I'm worried about my old friend. I don't want to leave Gaius on his own,” Merlin explained quickly.

The king smiled lightly. “You don't have to,” he assured him. “We can find him an apprentice. Someone who could learn to become a physician in the future. I'm sure Gaius would teach someone gladly.”

“He taught me,” Merlin said timidly.

“I know that but you can't hold two positions. You'll be very busy as the Court Sorcerer,” Arthur reminded him.

Merlin sighed. “I don't know what to say,” he admitted.

“There's no need to say anything.” Arthur assured him. “Accept this chamber and start building your new life from here.”

“I have a small sentiment for my old life with Gaius,” Merlin admitted.

Arthur looked him in the eye. “I'm not asking you to abandon Gaius and everything you've done. I would never do that.”

“I know.” Merlin smiled a bit. “My own chamber is just so much... It seems huge. What should I put in it? I'm not sure I'm ready for such changes.”

“It's too late,” Arthur told him. “Your life started changing drastically the moment you agreed to become my official advisor. This chamber is just one of the perks of your decision.” He patted Merlin's shoulder. “It may seem impossible now but you'll get used to it soon. You'll start wondering how you could leave in a small room with a narrow bed.”

“That sounds arrogant,” said Merlin. “I don't want to be like this.”

“I didn't mean it in a wrong way,” Arthur assured him quickly. “You'll see that you can find a way to use all this space. You can be the genuine Court Sorcerer. You could arrange some office here where you could advise people on the matters concerning magic. Whatever you want. If you like this chamber, it's yours.”

Merlin looked around in silence.

“That sounds... nice,” he admitted after a while. “I think I could make use of my own chamber. Thank you.”

Arthur was very pleased with himself. He was thinking about giving Merlin his own chamber since they returned from the Isle of Blessed but he knew that his friend was strongly attached to Gaius. That was why he was waiting for the right moment and it seemed that he found one.

Merlin deserved to have his own place and Arthur was glad that he found it so near his own chambers. Keeping Merlin close felt somehow right. Arthur wasn't sure why but he decided not to contemplate this matter too much.

 


 

Merlin didn't possess many things but he needed to move the few that he had to his new chamber. However, first of all, he needed to inform Gaius about it and start looking for some help for his old friend.

“Hello, Gaius,” Merlin greeted him.

“Hello, Merlin. Are you hungry?” the old man asked him. “The soup is almost ready.”

“Thank you, Gaius, but I'd like to tell you something before we eat,” he said.

Gaius raised his eyebrow. “Is it something bad?” he asked. “Is it about Sir Lamorak?”

“No, this time it has nothing to do with him,” Merlin replied. “It's nothing bad. At least I hope so.”

“What is it then?” Gaius asked, this time less concerned.

“Arthur gave me my own chamber,” Merlin told him shyly.

“Finally,” Gaius said simply.

“You expected that?” Merlin asked, surprised.

Gaius smiled. “Of course, my boy. You occupy a very important position now. Sharing quarters with the Court Physician doesn't look good. You need to have your own place.”

“I didn't like the idea at first because I don't want to leave you here without any help,” Merlin admitted.

“You don't need to worry about me,” Gaius assured him.

“I'll stop worrying about it when we find you a new apprentice,” said Merlin. “Arthur promised me that he would seek some candidates but you'll have the last word in that matter. You need someone smart and hard-working. I'll make sure that you'll get the best...”

“Merlin,” Gaius interrupted him. “You don't need to be like this. I'll be happy to train someone to be a physician in the future and I appreciate all the efforts. However, you don't need to be nervous about it. No one is going to be like you. No one will replace you.”

“I didn't mean it like this,” Merlin denied quickly.

“I know you didn't really mean it but I know you very well and I can tell when you're worried and nervous,” Gaius said calmly. “You're like a son to me and I'm glad to see you growing up and becoming someone you deserve to be. You'll always be welcome here in my quarters. You can always come and have dinner with me. The plate will be always waiting for you.”

Merlin hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure what to say.

“Thank you,” he chose his words finally. “That means a lot to me.”

Gaius smiled wider. “We can eat some soup now and then you can go and pack your things,” he said.

“I can wait with moving out until we find my replacement,” Merlin assured him. “I don't mind staying here.”

“I know but that's not necessary. You have new responsibilities and you need to take care of them,” Gaius told him. “Recently, you've been here only for meals and sleep anyway.”

“I didn't think about it but you're right,” said Merlin. “I've hardly helped you recently.

“That's not an accusation. That's perfectly understandable,” Gaius assured him. “I was thinking about finding some additional help myself.”

“Oh.”

“It doesn't mean that I'm getting rid of you,” Gaius told him. “You have a lot of work to do for Arthur and Camelot and you've been overworked for the last few years. Now you should focus on what is important for the kingdom. Your old friend will be fine.”

Merlin was touched by these words and smiled at his friend. “You can be sure that I'll be visiting you a lot. You won't get rid of me easily,” he said, moved.

“I never expected anything else.”

 


 

Merlin moved to his new chamber. John, one of the servants, wanted to help him but Merlin refused, saying that there was no need. After all, he could use his magic to move his things without a fuss. He meant it as a nice gesture but John didn't seem pleased. Merlin had no idea why.

He only noticed that John joined Anne, another servant, and whispered something to her. Merlin couldn't hear what it was but he didn't like it. There was something suspicious about them. He usually had very good relations with other servants in the castle but since his promotion, their relations declined. At first, Merlin didn't pay much attention to it but now he started to wonder. It seemed that only George was his previous self around him but George was always odd and restrained himself from any friendly relations with other servants.

Merlin wondered if this change in servants' behaviour was caused more by the change in his status or the rumours spread by Sir Lamorak. He decided that he needed to pay more attention to the way they behaved in front of Arthur. Perhaps then, he could find the answers to his doubts.

Once Merlin moved into his new chamber, Arthur invited himself to have supper with him. It was just the two of them. No Gwen. No George or any other servant. Merlin insisted on the latter.

“The servants act strangely around me,” Merlin admitted when they started their meal. Merlin brought the plates and food himself from the kitchen. It felt nice to do something simple that he'd been doing for years. His life had changed barely a few weeks ago but it seemed like a lifetime ago. The perception of time was a strange thing and Merlin promised himself to investigate it further once their problems were solved. The list of his promises to himself was growing and he wondered if he would ever find time for them.

“Your position at Court changed drastically. That was to be expected,” Arthur pointed out.

“Perhaps,” murmured Merlin, “or perhaps it's Lamorak's doing.”

“I don't want to talk about him tonight,” the king said. “This is a nice evening. Your first evening in your new chambers. Don't kill the mood.”

Merlin sighed. He wished they had time for peaceful evenings but Arthur didn't seem to care about it and clearly tried to enjoy the moment.

“As you wish.” Merlin felt defeated. He hated it that he couldn't say no to Arthur. He could challenge him or create appearances but he was not able to truly oppose him. It just didn't feel right. “What do you want to discuss then?”

Arthur frowned. “I don't need to discuss anything. I want to talk to you. Like a friend with a friend. I want to get to know you better.”

“You know me, Arthur,” Merlin replied. “We spent the last ten years by each other's sides. Now that you know about my magic, there's really nothing left that you need to know.” It wasn't entirely true but he couldn't just tell Arthur the truth about his resurrection. That was a burden that Merlin decided to bear on his own.

“But you rarely spoke about yourself,” Arthur pointed out. “I know nothing about your dreams or...” he hesitated, “a love life.”

Merlin choked on wine which made Arthur rush up to his side to pat his back.

“Thanks,” mumbled Merlin when he could breathe steadily again.

“You seem distressed,” Arthur pointed out. “Are my remarks too personal? We're friends and I always thought that friends shared these kinds of things. You always supported my relationship with Guinevere. Even when I thought it was over.”

“That's not it,” said Merlin. “I just don't really have a love life.”

Arthur leaned in his chair and frowned his eyebrows. “You mean to tell me that there was no girl in your life through all these years?” he asked.

“There was one girl,” Merlin admitted. “Long time ago but she died soon after I met her.”

“I'm so sorry, Merlin. I didn't mean to upset you.” Arthur looked truly bothered.

“You didn't,” Merlin told him. “That was a long time ago and from this perspective I can tell that nothing serious could happen between us. She was cursed and there was no way to break it. Not even by true love's kiss. Or perhaps it wasn't really love. Not yet. Our relationship was too short.” Merlin looked into Arthur's eyes and saw that his friend was listening to him attentively. “I just had this connection with her the moment I met her. I thought she was like me. You see... she also had magic and there was a short moment when I thought that we could be happy. But we couldn't. She died long before her time but she became some sort of friend to me in her afterlife.”

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked, intrigued.

“You see... She spends her eternity in the Lake of Avalon. Her name is Freya but I tend to call her Lady of the Lake in my mind now,” Merlin admitted. “She helped me a lot. You see... your sword, Excalibur, was forged in the dragon's breath long before you became king. You weren't ready to wield it so I had to hide it. I chose the Lake of Avalon as this place is so strongly connected to magic. I didn't know Freya yet. I met her afterwards and then she was the one who gave me back your sword when it was needed.”

“But I pulled it out of the stone,” Arthur remarked.

Merlin bit his lip. “You did but it was after I put it there. I needed your sword to protect Camelot and I couldn't just randomly give it to you afterwards. It was too special to treat it as a regular sword. When I didn't need it anymore, I put it in the stone so no one could pull it out. It was waiting there for you because I had a feeling that sooner or later you would need it too.”

“So you made up the story about the king,” Arthur pointed out. “I knew it!”

Merlin smiled. “You did,” he admitted. “I had to make up this story. You needed to believe that you were the true ruler of Camelot. You lost your hope and it was my duty to restore it.”

“You have a point,” said Arthur. “I think I owe you a thank you for that.”

“It doesn't matter now. I'm glad it all worked out.”

Arthur nodded and then returned to their previous topic. “So you were telling me about this girl. Freya, is that her name?”

“Yes.”

“So you said that you met Freya long ago and you lost her soon after. I understand that you had to mourn her but what happened afterwards? Didn't you meet any other girl that you found...” Arthur hesitated, looking for a delicate word, “interesting?”

“No, there was no other girl afterwards,” Merlin admitted. He didn't add that he learnt in time that only Arthur really mattered in his life since then.

“Do you still have feelings for her?” Arthur wasn't sure if he should ask this question but he couldn't help himself. It suddenly felt very important to find out. His heart was fluttering in his chest in anticipation.

“Not the kind of feelings you think about,” Merlin told him. “Freya was very dear to me and I thought that I loved her. Perhaps I did love her in the end. I definitely felt a huge loss after she died.” He sighed inwardly. “But now I know that my feelings were quite naïve. One's first fascination is sweet but it can't last. I believe that true love needs time to grow. People need to get to know each other. They need to learn a mutual respect. Just like you and Gwen.”

“That's... reassuring,” said Arthur in a quiet tone. “You always supported my relationship with Guinevere.”

“That's because I could see that you had the potential. This kind of thing shouldn't be just cast aside and forgotten.” Merlin truly believed in his own words. Gwen and Arthur were perfect for each other and had all the things that he thought were necessary to build a strong love. The problem was that he now could see that he and Arthur had all these things too and it was just painful because he knew he couldn't have it with Arthur. It wasn't meant to be for the two of them.

“Don't you regret that you don't have it?” Arthur asked suddenly and for a short moment Merlin feared that he said some of his thoughts out loud so he paled instantly. However, Arthur didn't look angry or even surprised.

“What do you mean?” asked Merlin cautiously.

“You said that there was no one else after this girl. Don't you regret it? You seem to like the idea of a mature kind of love,” Arthur explained.

Merlin felt a relief. “I like the idea,” he admitted, “but I never met the right girl.”

“More likely, you were too busy to find one,” the king pointed out guiltily.

“That's not your fault, Arthur. That was my choice and I don't regret it,” saying that, he looked Arthur deep in the eyes to show him that he truly meant it.

“You can still meet someone,” Arthur almost whispered but he didn't seem too pleased saying that.

“I'm not sure I want to,” Merlin told him also in a quiet tone.

Arthur remained silent for a longer while, thinking deeply about something. They didn't talk about potential loves and relationships afterwards. It didn't feel right any more.

This night, Merlin was lying in his new bed for the first time. It was large and comfortable but Merlin couldn't fall asleep. He thought about Arthur and about potential that could never be.

Then he felt it again. A strong pain in his chest. He thought he was not going to feel this kind of pain again. That it was just a one time thing.

It wasn't. Arthur was making love to Guinevere for the first time in a few weeks and Merlin had to watch it unwillingly.

He bit his lip in pain and thought of Arthur. It all was for him. It was worth all the pain in the world.

 

Chapter Text

When Merlin woke up in the morning, the events of the previous night seemed almost a bad dream. He thought that it was better this way. There were more pressing matters than his shattered heart.

Merlin gazed around his new room for the first time in the morning light and thought that he quite liked it. Of course, the chamber needed a better arrangement to make it more personal but it was not a problem. In time, it would become truly his. Merlin had no doubts about it.

After breakfast, he went to Gaius who was left without any help for the time being. They planned to go to the Lower Town together to treat the poorer citizens of Camelot. Merlin hoped that they would let him use his magic. That was a part of the plan after all. People needed to get used to magic in order to start trusting it.

“How was your first night in a new place?” Gaius asked him tentatively on their way to the Lower Town.

That was a sensitive matter but Merlin didn't let himself show how uncomfortable it made him feel.

“Nothing special,” he replied simply. “The bed is larger and more comfortable but it's just a room. I need time to get used to having my own place.”

“You will get used to it sooner than you think,” Gaius assured him.

“Probably.” Merlin sighed inwardly. He needed to change the subject. “Tell me Gaius, is there something wrong in the Lower Town?”

“I'm not sure yet,” Gaius admitted. “I was told about some strange occurrences of fever. It's short but unusually exhausting. We need to investigate it.”

Merlin didn't see anything extraordinary in such fever until they arrived at the first house. The teenage twins, brother and sister, were lying in their beds in a very poor state. They not only had a high fever but also an angry-looking rash. Their mother explained to them that on the previous day her children were perfectly fine but they woke up in the morning in such state.

“So there was no common cold, sore throat or muscle pain?” Gaius asked the worried woman.

“Nothing like this,” she assured him. “My neighbour's son had the same symptoms a few days ago and now when his fever's gone, he's not the same person any more. Gaius, is it going to happen to my children too?”

“In what way he's not the same person?” asked Merlin.

The woman looked at him desperately. “He didn't say a single word since then and he barely eats,” she explained.

Gaius and Merlin shared a short look.

“I've never seen or heard of such disease,” Gaius admitted. “We need to investigate it further before we draw any conclusion.”

“I'd like to see your neighbour's son,” Merlin told her. “Can you show us the way?”

The woman nodded and led them to the nearby house.

“Please, Gaius,” she pleaded. “Save my children.”

“We'll do everything we can to cure them,” Gaius promised her, “but we need time to find out what we're dealing with.”

The other victim of this strange disease was slightly older than the twins but he wasn't a fully grown man yet. He was sitting numb in an armchair and he didn't even seem to notice their arrival.

“Philip's been like this for three days,” his mother explained. “I thought he would get better in time but I feel like I'm losing more and more contact with him.”

Gaius examined the young man closely but besides his strange behaviour everything seemed perfectly fine.

“Physically, he's healthy,” said Gaius. “The fever must have done something to his perception of reality but I've never seen something like this. Not once the fever was gone.”

“So there's no hope?” the woman asked weakly. She looked as if she was about to faint.

“There's always hope,” Gaius assured her. “Let Merlin check him,” he suggested.

The woman paled even more. “But he's...” she started but didn't dare to finish her sentence.

“I have magic,” Merlin finished it for her. “That's right. However, my magic may be his only hope now. I promise you that I won't do anything to hurt him.”

She didn't look convinced, murmured something about her husband being angry, but agreed to the examination anyway.

Merlin used all his magical instincts to check the physical and mental state of their patient. As Gaius said before, there was nothing wrong in his physical state any more. However, mentally, he seemed blocked.

“Can I try a spell?” Merlin asked the woman.

Her face was as white as a sheet. She was clearly scared but nodded silently nonetheless. She wanted to get her son back, even though she didn't trust magic at all.

Gwella ei feddwl,” Merlin murmured under his nose and his eyes turned gold.

Philip raised his eyes and frowned. For a short moment, it looked as if regained his consciousness but then he lowered his head and was numb again.

“What happened?” the woman asked. “What did you do to my son?”

“Nothing bad,” Merlin assured her. “I'm trying to cure him.”

“He was conscious for a short moment,” Gaius pointed out. “We can work with that.”

The woman looked as if she was on the brink of crying.

“I'll try again with something stronger,” Merlin told her. “Yn ei wneud ei hun eto,” he said firmly. “Iacháu ef yn awr.

Philip started trembling frantically all over his body.

“My son...” his mother whispered.

After a few frightening moments, Philip stopped trembling and slowly lifted his head and looked around, frowning.

“What's wrong?” he asked weakly.

“Philip.” His mother hugged him tightly. “I'm so glad to hear you.”

“Let him breathe,” Gaius told her and the woman immediately let go. She didn't want to harm her son. She was just so happy to see him conscious.

“I don't know if this improvement is temporary or for good,” said Merlin cautiously. “I'd like to ask you two some questions. We need to find out what caused this strange state.”

Unfortunately, they didn't reach any conclusion. It seemed that the strange illness came from nowhere. Gaius and Merlin visited some other victims and in all cases Merlin had to use his magic to make the patients conscious. At the end, they visited the twins again. They didn't reach the next stage of the disease yet and Merlin wasn't sure what spell he should use.

“We don't want to wake them up yet,” Gaius explained to their mother. “It's better to have fever during sleep. They don't suffer too much in this way.”

“What are you going to do, then?” the woman asked.

“I'll try to protect them from the next stage but I can't promise anything. We still don't know what causes this state,” Merlin told her and then put his hands above the twins and whispered, “Cysgod y meddwl.”

“What should I do now?” she asked him.

“Watch them and wait.” Merlin gave her a small smile. “If they enter the stage of numbness despite my spell, send for me. I'll come and help them regain their previous selves.”

“Thank you,” the woman said. “You seem to be a good man despite all the things people say.” Then she realised what she just said and her eyes went wide. “I'm so sorry.”

“There's no need,” Merlin assured her. “I know that people whisper behind my back.”

“I'll tell them they're wrong. I'll tell them you saved my children,” she said.

“We're yet to see if their state improves,” Merlin told her carefully. “Me and Gaius still need to find out what's behind this epidemic. Otherwise, there will be more victims and we don't know the long-term consequences.”

The woman paled a bit. She thought that it was over. She didn't consider the idea that this illness could still have some further effects on her children.

“Watch them carefully and let us know about any changes,” Gaius told her on parting.

 


 

Merlin browsed through his magic books, looking for some answers concerning the strange disease. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything which matched the symptoms. He doubted that it was some ordinary disease because after so many years of being a physician, Gaius would have at least heard about something like that. This illness must have been somehow related to magic and Merlin needed to find this relation. He needed to find the solution before the disease could spread all over Camelot. Merlin knew people and their tendencies. He knew that some people would be grateful for his help but others would grow suspicious. They would blame magic and all its users again.

Suddenly, he heard knocking on his door.

“Come in,” Merlin said loudly and Arthur came into his chamber.

“Are you busy?” the king asked him.

“I'm working on some strange disease that touched people from the Lower Town,” Merlin explained but invited him with a wave of his hand to sit at the table by his side.

“I heard something about it,” Arthur admitted. “Is it serious?”

“I'm not sure yet. I used some spells and it helped for now but it's hard to tell if it has a permanent effect,” he said.

“So they let you use spells on them?” asked Arthur, clearly excited. “That's good.”

“The families were desperate,” Merlin told him. “It's natural that they agreed to try everything.”

“But that's exactly what we wanted.” Arthur laughed wholeheartedly. “In this way they can get used to magic. They can see its full potential.”

“Or they can just assume that magic caused the disease in the first place,” Merlin pointed out.

“So it's caused by magic?”

“It appears so.” Merlin sighed loudly. “I'm trying to find something with similar symptoms but there's nothing in these books. You should have seen these patients. They were awake but it was as if they weren't really there. They didn't seem to notice our presence. That was quite scary.”

“Do you have any idea how this disease spreads?” Arthur asked him, concerned.

“I'm afraid not,” Merlin said sadly. “The only thing that connects all the cases is that all of the victims were young. Children and teenagers. No adults. There was a case where brother and sister fell ill at the same time but their parents were perfectly fine.”

“That's really strange,” Arthur admitted. “We need to learn more about it. Do you need some help?”

“Gaius is working on it with me but I don't think we'll find something in our books.” Merlin felt truly frustrated. He desperately needed a solution to this problem but he didn't know where to find it. “I don't know who could help us.”

“We could involve the candidates for the position of Gaius' apprentice,” Arthur suggested. “I got some recommendations and we can see how they deal with difficult cases. I think that's important in this kind of job.”

“You already have some candidates?” Merlin asked, surprised. “That was quick.”

“There's no time to waste. I know how devoted you are to helping Gaius. I know that he really needs help.” Arthur smiled at him, saying that.

“I'm glad you're taking care of it,” Merlin murmured.

“That's the least I could do.” He took one of Merlin's books and started looking through it.

The warlock watched him for a few seconds and then asked, “what are you doing?”

“I'm just wondering how you managed to hide all these books from my father,” he said quietly.

“Most of them belonged to Gaius,” Merlin replied. “Most of them don't even have any spells. They must have passed as the books of science and in a way they are just them.” He took the book from Arthur's hand and opened it on a random page. “Look, it doesn't look harmful at all. If you don't read it very carefully, you can't find all the mentions of magical rituals.”

“My father would have never read such book attentively,” Arthur admitted.

“That's why they survived the Purge. They appeared to be harmless,” Merlin explained.

“You have something in common with them, then,” the king murmured. “You didn't seem dangerous at all.”

“I'm not dangerous,” Merlin interrupted him.

“You're right. You're not but you could be,” said Arthur.

“Are you afraid of me?” Merlin asked. “Please, answer honestly.” He looked his friend directly in the eye.

“I”m not afraid,” the king said. “I know you and I know that your heart is good...”

Our heart, thought Merlin.

“But not pure,” Arthur continued, “because I can imagine what you had to go through in the past.”

“That wasn't easy,” Merlin admitted.

“I know. I just wanted to say that even though I'm aware of your powers, you're not frightening to me.” Arthur smiled lightly.

Merlin hesitated but eventually decided to ask the question that had been looming in the back of his head for the last few weeks. “Were you afraid of me when I told you about my magic?”

Arthur's face turned a bit serious. “That moment is a bit fuzzy in my mind,” he admitted. “I felt betrayed. I'm certain of it. But I don't remember fear. Not really. Perhaps there was a moment when I felt it but it must have melted away instantly. I was mad at you. I wanted it to be some bizarre dream because I could stand a lot but... So many people betrayed me in my life and I thought I was ready for anything but the truth was that I never thought that such blow could come from you.”

“I didn't want you to feel this way,” Merlin said sadly.

“I know. I don't blame you for it. I blame my prejudice.” He sighed lightly. “I partly blame myself because I heard you saying that you won the battle for us and nonetheless all I could think about was that you were lying to me and that you betrayed me. I didn't feel this way even when I saw Guinevere collaborating with Morgana before I knew it was my sister's magical brainwashing,” he admitted.

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered but didn't know what he wanted to say. Nothing seemed right or relevant.

Arthur broke the eye contact and cleared his throat. “I shouldn't disturb you right now. You said you were busy.” He stood up and moved towards the doors.

“I don't mind,” said Merlin.

“You're too kind.” Arthur looked around, trying to focus on anything but Merlin. “I'll summon the candidates tomorrow morning so they can help you and Gaius,” he changed the topic.

“Thank you,” said Merlin, understanding that Arthur was desperate to leave his chamber for some reason. “I'll let Gaius know.”

Arthur nodded and left the room in hurry, leaving Merlin pensive and disturbed. There was something about Arthur that started worrying him. He wondered if it had something to do with the half of his heart that was beating in king's chest. He made a decision to investigate it more once they solved the problem of mysterious disease.

 


 

The next morning, Gaius and Merlin went to the throne room, where they were supposed to meet the candidates for the position of Gaius' apprentice.

Arthur and Guinevere were already awaiting them as they also wanted to participate in the meeting. They greeted shortly and turned their attention towards the door. After a short while, the six candidates entered the room.

Two of them looked very young. Too young in Merlin's opinion but he knew that appearances could be deceiving. One of them was in his early forties. Merlin wasn't sure if a man could be shaped to become a physician in the future at such age. The rest of candidates looked more or less Merlin's age and intuitively he gave them the greatest chance of becoming Gaius' apprentice.

Gaius explained shortly the responsibilities of his future apprentice, while Merlin told them about their first task which concerned the odd disease they encountered in the Lower Town. After that, they were assigned to small tasks either by Gaius or Merlin's side. All of them were related to the disease. In this way they could learn how they worked together for the sake of the kingdom and its people.

The meeting was over and they proceeded to work hard. However, Merlin could tell that not all of the candidates were happy about it. Especially the oldest of them, Patrick, who complained a bit about the length of the books that he was supposed to peruse. Merlin had to explain to him that it was an important part of this job and if he wanted to become a physician in the future, he had to get used to it. However, Merlin doubted that Patrick would become an apprentice. He lacked the most essential trait for this kind of job, namely patience.

At the end of the day, they weren't any closer to solve the mystery of this disease but Gaius grew a bit fond of the young man called James. He was humble and hard-working but in Merlin's opinion he was too reserved.

“You need someone who will challenge your decision when it's needed,” Merlin told Gaius when they were left alone. “James is the most promising candidate but I'm not sure he'll be able to say no when the right moment arrives.”

“We won't find another you, Merlin,” said Gaius.

Merlin blushed at his words. “That's not what I meant. I only wish the best for you and Camelot.”

“I know, my boy. I think we need to rest, though. Tomorrow is another day,” the old man said. “We'll get to know our candidates a bit better.”

When Merlin was about to leave Gaius' quarters, someone knocked at the door urgently.

“Come in,” said Gaius and a middle aged man entered the room.

“I'm sorry to bother you at this hour but we need help in the Lower Town,” the man said. “We have some more instances of the disease and my children, the twins you treated, didn't get much better. I wanted to wait until morning but my wife is devastated.”

“I'm on my way,” Merlin assured him and the man left them, nodding approvingly.

Gaius grabbed his bag but Merlin stopped him.

“You should stay,” he said. “It's late and for now only my magic works.”

“I'm a physician, Merlin. This is my duty.”

“You will be more needed tomorrow morning,” Merlin insisted. “You should rest. I'll take care of the most urgent cases and tell you about everything in the morning. It will be better that way.”

Gaius didn't like it but he he agreed to stay eventually.

When Merlin was marching through the Lower Town, he noticed some figure lurking in the shadows. Intrigued, he came closer to this person and gasped in surprise.”

“Hello, Merlin,” the man greeted him. “I heard that many things have changed since my last visit to Camelot.”

“Gilli?”

The man smiled at him and nodded.

“You were right all these years ago,” Gilli said.

“But what are you doing here, hiding in the shadows?” Merlin asked. “You could have come to me or Gaius. You're an old friend.”

“I heard these people need help,” he said. “I'm here to help and I knew that you would come here sooner or later too. That's who you are.”

Merlin smiled. He hadn't been thinking about Gilli in years but it was good to have him back. He had a feeling that they could become great friends in these new circumstances.

“Let's go help them, then,” said Merlin and they walked arm in arm towards the house where the twins were waiting.

 

Chapter Text

The twins were in the same numb state that Merlin had seen in other patients before. He was ready for it but Gilli wasn't. Merlin looked at his companion, being curious about his reaction. Gilli didn't seem shocked, just a little bit intrigued.

“May I check something?” Gilli asked the parents of the twins.

They looked at each other, uncertain. They didn't know Gilli and it was easier for them to trust Merlin who despite his magic skills, seemed to be a decent man.

“I would like to hear his opinion,” said Merlin hastily, seeing their hesitation. “Gilli means no harm.”

“We thought you were going to cure them, as you did with our neighbours' son,” the father of twins said harshly.

“I will help them, I promise,” Merlin assured him. “But I would like to find the source of this disease. It's spreading all over the Lower Town. Soon, it will go beyond. I'm not sure I will be able to help everybody. We need to find a way to stop it.”

The man nodded, giving Gilli permission to examine his children.

“Be quick,” he muttered between his teeth but didn't make any further remarks.

Gilli checked the physical state of their patients very thoroughly, trying not to omit anything important.

“That's very interesting,” he mumbled, not paying attention to the witnesses of his fascination.

Merlin came closer to him and the twins, and started following Gilli's examination more attentively.

“Did you find something?” he asked after a few moments.

Gilli lifted his eyes, meeting Merlin's concerned gaze. “It's nothing in particular but their state reminds me of something,” he admitted.

“You encountered this disease before?” Merlin asked, surprised.

“Perhaps. I'm not sure yet.” He sighed. “I need to think it through.” He made a step back.

“What is it?” Merlin was becoming more and more concerned.

“I was a child and I don't remember it clearly,” Gilli explained. “I'll try to recall it all but not today.”

“But is it curable?” the mother suddenly spoke up. She walked up to them and challenged Gill with her gaze. Her love for her children gave her courage.

“I believe so,” Gilli said, a bit startled by her abrupt behaviour. He turned his gaze towards Merlin. “What did you do to cure the others?” he asked.

“I tried to chase away their numbness with magic,” Merlin answered. “I was improvising.”

Gilli frowned. “You really are powerful, Merlin, if it is what I think it is,” he admitted. “Show me how you did it. Cure them.”

Merlin wasn't sure what Gilli wanted to achieve but he nodded in agreement. “Give me some space,” he said both to Gill and the woman.

They made two steps back. The mother was watching her children with concern but Gilli was completely focused on Merlin and his body language. The Court Sorcerer was reciting or rather creating the spells one after another, trying to focus on his aim completely.

Gilli was impressed. He had been travelling a lot these past few years but he had never encountered such a great display of elemental magic. The sight was breathtaking to those who knew where to look.

The twins woke up from their numbness and looked around, confused, which was to be expected. Aside from that, they seemed to be perfectly fine.

The parents were delighted and couldn't thank Merlin enough. This whole fuss made him a bit embarrassed. He appreciated the newly discovered recognition of his abilities but it was too much for the moment. It was late and he was tired. It was time for him and Gilli to leave.

On their way back to the main part of the city, Merlin finally asked Gilli if he had somewhere to stay.

“I left my things at the Rising Sun,” he told him.

Merlin looked at him steadily. “Can you afford to stay there?”

“Yes, for a few days.” For some reason they both burst out with laughter.

“You could spend your money on nicer things,” said Merlin, when they finally calmed down.

“I need to stay somewhere,” Gilli pointed out. “It's not such a waste of money.”

“You could stay with Gaius,” Merlin told him. “I'm sure he won't mind. I moved out from my old room and it's empty for now.”

Gilli smiled. “So you're an important person now, huh?” he said. “You've got a new room.”

“Something like that.”

“I'm glad,” said Gilli frankly. “I've heard what you did at Camlann. You deserve much more than just a new room.”

Merlin smiled back at him. “I got a promotion,” he pointed out. “It's not so bad.”

“From a serving boy to the Court Sorcerer,” muttered Gilli. “I'm impressed.”

They talked some more about Merlin's new position on their way to the Rising Sun. At the inn, Gilli paid for one night and took all his belongings.

They started walking slowly towards the castle.

“I don't have much because I travel a lot,” said Gilli, seeing Merlin's stealthy glances at his bag.

“I didn't ask.”

“But you thought.” Gilli smiled at him. “I don't mind. I like to keep things simple.”

“That's good.”

When they reached Gaius' chambers, the old man was already lying in his bed but he wasn't asleep yet so when he heard their footsteps, he sat up slowly. He didn't expect to see Merlin until the morning, so he started to worry about what happened in the Lower Town.

“It's me, Gaius,” said Merlin in a quiet tone and lit up the candle with his magic.

“Has something happened?” the old man asked, watching carefully Merlin's companion. “Is this young man sick?”

Merlin looked at Gilli and shook his head. “No, Gaius, it's Gilli. He's been in Camelot several years ago,” he explained. “Now he came back.”

“I had a duel with Uther during the last Decennial Tournament,” Gilli told him.

“Oh, I think I remember,” said Gaius. “You were using magic during that tournament. That wasn't neither wise nor right.”

“I'm ashamed of what I've done and of what I tried to achieve,” Gilli assured him hastily. “I was bitter back then but I'm not that man any more.”

“I'm glad to hear that,” Gaius told him.

“I thought that maybe Gilli could stay in my old chambers until you find a new apprentice,” Merlin suddenly changed the subject. He could see that Gilli didn't like talking about his past too much. “He can help us solve the mystery of the disease we're working on. He might have encountered it before.”

Gaius abruptly became more interested. “Is that true?” he asked Gilli.

“It is,” the young man confirmed, “but I'd like to wait until morning with the story. It's blurry in my mind. I need to recall certain things because I was a child back then.”

“That's understandable. We can wait these few more hours,” Gaius assured him. “Merlin's old bed isn't most comfortable but I hope you'll be able to have some rest there.”

Gilli smiled at the old man. “Thank you,” he said. “I'm sure that it's better than a stinking bed at the Rising Sun.”

Merlin said his good-nights to Gaius and Gilli and went to his new chambers. He also needed some rest. It was a tiring day and the next one was going to be very busy as well.

 


 

On the next day, they all met to work on the mysterious plague. The candidates for the position of Gaius' apprentice were sent to take care of lesser tasks such as the collection of herbs because Gilli didn't feel comfortable to share his story with so many strangers.

Gaius, Merlin and Gilli sat up at the table in Gaius' quarters and the youngest of them started his story.

“I was a kid when it happened. My father travelled a lot because he was a merchant and I had to follow him whether I wanted it or not,” he explained. “But I liked it, most of the times, but sometimes we encountered unpleasant things such as poverty or diseases. However, the worst thing that we saw occurred in the kingdom of Essetir. We had to spend the night in some small village because the storm was coming. One family let us stay in the barn and they invited us for the supper. Then some of their neighbours came saying that it was happening again. It was some strange disease that resembled the one that's spreading in the Lower Time right now.”

“How did these people manage it?” Merlin asked him.

“I'm not exactly sure but I know that my father and some other men from that village went to check it and then we stayed there for a few days. They called it the Sorcerer's Curse or something like that,” Gilli told them.

“So some sorcerer cursed the village?” Gaius asked.

“And it's happening right now in Camelot?” Merlin added. “I thought that after lifting the ban on magic, these kinds of things were over. Perhaps, some supporters of Morgana's cause are still out there.”

“I don't think so,” Gilli said hastily.

“What is it then?” Merlin asked.

“I think it's more like Morgana's curse,” he explained carefully.

Merlin and Gaius shared a short look.

“Morgana is dead,” Merlin told him. “I killed her myself with a blade forged in the dragon's breath. She couldn't survive it.”

“As far as I know, this kind of curse is the last act of vengeance cast by the dying sorcerer,” Gilli explained.

“She didn't have time to cast any spell. She didn't expect to die. She was too arrogant to think that she could lose,” Merlin assured him.

“I'm not sure how it works but it's not a fully deliberate act,” Gilli told them. “The village was terrorized by some bandit with magical abilities. That's what I heard afterwards. Eventually, they managed to set a trap for him and as a result of it, he died. They thought it was over but it wasn't. I'm not sure but I think this kind of curse is born from the pure hatred for someone or something and it spreads all around until it reaches the main object of this hate.”

Merlin was looking at Gilli, terrified.

“If that's our plague, then it means that this curse could reach many innocent people on the way to Camelot. Morgana died far away from here. Near the Lake of Avalon,” he said. “And it's going to get Arthur. I need to protect him.” Merlin stood up quickly and was about to leave the room to find Arthur.

“Calm down, Merlin,” Gilli said firmly. “There's a better way to protect the king.”

Merlin looked at Gilli and slowly came back to the table. “I'm listening.”

“What did you do with Morgana's body?” Gilli asked him.

Merlin hesitated. “It was happening so quickly,” he said. “I think I just left it where she died. I couldn't waste time. Arthur's life was at stake.”

“We need to get rid of the body,” Gilli told him. “She's probably rotting right now but she must be purified and burnt to the ashes.”

“So the source of this curse is in the remnants of Morgana's body?” Gaius suddenly spoke up.

“I believe so,” Gilli confirmed. “My father tried to use magic to cure the victims but nothing worked. The children came back to their senses only when they got rid of the body and when my father put some spell on it. I don't know what it was but I'm sure that you, Merlin, are able to find it. You have an excellent sense of elemental magic. I saw you last night.”

Merlin didn't comment on his last words. He focused on the previous part. “So the children were the only victims of this curse too?” he asked. “Why?”

“Their parents killed the sorcerer. Perhaps, the curse put on their children was supposed to hurt them the most,” Gilli guessed.

“That makes sense,” Merlin admitted. “Children are the future of Camelot too and Morgana wanted to take away this future from Arthur.”

“Perhaps,” said Gaius. “I'm just surprised that I've never heard of it before.”

“It must be rare,” Merlin pointed out. “We're not even sure if it's the same curse or if it's the doing of Morgana's supporters...”

“She had a motif,” Gaius pointed out.

“I know.” Merlin sighed. “That's why I need to check it. I need to come back to the place where I killed Morgana and I have to get rid of her body. Only in this way we can be certain.”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Gaius said out loud.

One of the guards walked inside. “Gaius, some strange fever has been reported in the city,” he informed him.

“There's no time to waste,” said Merlin. “I need to go now.”

“I'll take care of it,” Gaius said to the guard and then turned his attention to Merlin. “You need to be careful.”

“I am a powerful sorcerer,” Merlin pointed out.

“I know it but you're no longer anonymous,” said Gaius.

“I'll be fine. We need to get rid of this curse as soon as possible.”

“I'll keep an eye on him,” Gilli assured him suddenly.

Merlin and Gaius looked at him at the same time.

“I'm going with you,” he said to Merlin decisively.

“There's no need,” Merlin assured him.

“I want to see it.”

 


 

They left Camelot in hurry. Merlin borrowed two horses from the royal stables. He was sure that Arthur wouldn't mind. After all, it concerned the safety of this kingdom.

With horses they were supposed to get to their destination by the late evening. They didn't talk much during the journey due to their rapid pace and very short breaks. Merlin was determined to solve Camelot's current biggest problem as soon as possible. Nothing could stop him.

As expected, in the evening they reached the area surrounding the Lake of Avalon.

“We're close,” said Merlin, sliding off the horse and tying it to a tree.

Gilli followed his suit and then, seeing concern on Merlin's face, he asked, “Are you all right?”

Merlin looked at him and nodded hesitantly. “I almost lost all my hope here,” he admitted. “It wasn't long since then but it seems like a lifetime ago.”

“A lot of things have changed since then,” Gilli pointed out. “I still remember the moment when I found out that king Arthur changed the laws concerning magic. I wasn't even as surprised as I should be. I only thought Merlin finally did it.”

“It was entirely Arthur's decision,” Merlin assured him.

“I'm not saying that you made him do it. Only the people who don't know you at all could say that you did.” He sighed. “Believe me, I've heard the rumours. Some of them were purely insane, by the way. But I knew from the start that you would never do it.”

“We don't know each other very well,” Merlin pointed out. “You couldn't be sure.”

“But I was,” Gilli assured him. “We met only once before but you showed me what kind of man you are. This kind of man wouldn't put a spell on his king in order to make him change the law. People are fools. If that was the case, you would have done it years ago, right after Uther's death.”

Merlin didn't think about it in this way. It was somehow reassuring. “Thank you,” he said. “Perhaps there are more people who think about it like you.”

“There must be more reasonable people in the world than just the two of us,” Gilli told him teasingly. “And the rest of them will change their mind sooner or later.”

Merlin smiled faintly. He thought that he could grow fond of Gilli if the man decided to stay in Camelot for a longer period of time.

“Let's go and find Morgana. We need to put an end to this madness,” Merlin said when he finally came back to his senses. He needed to focus on his mission. All other things could wait.

They found Morgana under the tree in the exact same spot where she drew her last breath. Her body was untouched by time or wild animals. It almost seemed as if she was sleeping.

“She should be rotting right now,” said Gilli. “I expected to see her bones.”

“She was the high priestess,” Merlin replied. “Some kind of magic must be involved here.”

“Perhaps it's the curse,” Gilli suggested.

“Perhaps.”

They shared a knowing look and proceeded to work.

Merlin stood above Morgana and looked at her beautiful face for the last time.

Forbearnan, he whispered and Morgana's dress caught fire instantly. He and Gilli were watching in silence as her thin body was slowly turning into ashes. The sight was both terrifying and mesmerizing.

“Remind me, Gilli, what shall I do now?”

“You need to purify her ashes.”

Merlin bit his lower lip and closed his eyes, trying to focus on his instincts. He read about some basic purifying spells in his books but he knew that they wouldn't work here. It needed to come from within. From his soul.

Lludw yn bur. Gwella'r melltith, he said out loud and his eyes turned gold.

Both he and Gilli could feel an enormous wave of energy spreading from the pile of ashes all over the land. They knew their mission was done.

 


 

Upon their arrival in Camelot on the next day, they were greeted both by Gaius and Arthur in the throne room. Arthur was watching them steadily from his throne, but his gaze was mostly focused on Gilli.

“Is it done?” Gaius asked them.

“It is,” Merlin confirmed. “What's the situation in the Lower Town and in the City?”

“All children have been cured. It seems that there's no more instances of the disease,” Gaius told him while Arthur still remained silent.

“That's wonderful.” Merlin smiled wholeheartedly.

“Once again I need to thank you Merlin for saving this kingdom,” Arthur finally spoke up but in a surprisingly formal tone as there were only the four of them in the throne room.

“It wouldn't be possible without Gilli's help,” Merlin told him hastily. “He deserves more credit than I do.”

“Gaius mentioned something along these lines,” said Arthur, watching Gilli even more closely. “Thank you... Gilli. Camelot is grateful for your help.”

“That was my pleasure, Sire,” Gilli assured him.

“You can name your reward,” Arthur told him firmly.

“There's no need, Sire.” Gilli seemed a bit sheepish. He looked at Merlin, hoping that he would help him somehow.

“I have an idea, Sire,” Gaius spoke up. “Of course, if Gilli accepts it.”

“Go on,” Arthur encouraged his old friend.

“You wanted to help me find an apprentice. I appreciate all the candidates that you found but I believe that Gilli would be better than any of them,” said Gaius. “It's apparent that he's seen a lot and he knows how to act in difficult situations. He could learn all the rest from me.”

Arthur remained silent for a few short moments, clearly contemplating the idea. Then he asked Gilli a question. “Would you like to work for Gaius and learn how to be a physician in the future?”

“That would require me to stay here,” Gilli replied. “I've been travelling for years. I'm not sure if I'm capable of staying in one place for long.”

“You could try,” Merlin suggested, hopefully. Many people feared him but Gilli also had magic and understood him in many aspects. He would like to keep a friend like him close.

“I could,” Gilli admitted thoughtfully. “That would be an honour,” he answered eventually. “Perhaps I could finally put my gifts to good use.”

“That's settled then,” Arthur affirmed. “Gaius, you can start teaching Gilli as soon as you consider it appropriate.” Then he turned his gaze towards Merlin. “I'd like to speak to you in private, Merlin.”

“Gilli, come with me,” said Gaius swiftly and the two of them left Arthur and Merlin in the throne room alone.

“You went on this mission without my knowledge,” said Arthur, standing from his throne and approaching his friend.

“I didn't want to waste time,” Merlin explained.

“I understand it but you should have told me. I'm your king and your friend.” He looked into his eyes, challenging him. “You took this boy with you. A stranger. It wasn't wise.”

“Gilli is not a stranger,” said Merlin. “He was in Camelot a few years ago. I met him then. Besides, he helped us get rid of this disease.”

“It could be a trap.”

“Are you serious?” Merlin just couldn't believe it.

“Of course I'm serious. You're quite an important person now. Some people may want to get rid of you,” said Arthur. “Sir Lamorak, for example.”

“Lamorak hates magic. He would not use a sorcerer to get rid of me.”

“So Gilli is a sorcerer, then.” Arthur raised his eyebrow. “How well do you know him?”

“Well enough to know that he is no threat to me,” replied Merlin. “You may struggle to remember it at times but I am a powerful sorcerer and I can take care of myself.”

Arthur shook his head. “I know it, Merlin. I just want you to be more careful. There are ways to defeat the most powerful people. You're not unbreakable.”

“You're right, I'm not,” Merlin admitted. “I'll try to be more careful in the future,” he promised.

“I'd appreciate that.”

Merlin smiled at him and felt a sudden desire to kiss his friend there and then. He had to turn his gaze away to clear his mind.

“I'll go check how Gaius and Gilli are working together,” he said and left the throne room hastily.

He was in such a hurry that he didn't notice the grumpy look on Arthur's face.



 

Chapter Text

The first weeks of Gilli's work as physician's apprentice went quite smoothly. There was no real emergencies and Gilli could slowly learn the basic knowledge of physician practice that he was lacking.

Merlin could tell that Gaius was proud of his small progress and he was glad too. Gilli was a nice change in his daily routines. It always felt good to have someone with gift of magic to talk to. Gilli was different than him in many aspects, but Merlin could see certain similarities between them.

“How is your friend doing?” Arthur asked him one day when he saw Gilli running around with errands assigned to him by Gaius.

“Gaius says he's doing well,” Merlin told him.

“I'm not asking Gaius,” said Arthur a little bit grumpily. “I'm asking you.”

“I think he's better than I was at the beginning,” Merlin admitted. “I'm proud of him.”

Arthur didn't seem content after hearing the answer but he nodded lightly.

“You don't seem to like Gilli,” Merlin pointed out suddenly. “Why?”

“I need time to trust a man,” Arthur replied simply. “That's all.”

“If you say so.”

Arthur knew that he didn't convince Merlin at all. He sighed inwardly, as he barely understood himself these days. Gilli seemed like a good fellow but there was something annoying about him that Arthur didn't understand. He needed time to get used to it.

 


 

“The king doesn't like me,” said Gilli a few hours later when he and Merlin were having a break from their daily activities.

“He needs to get to know you first,” Merlin told him. “He hated me when he met me for the first time. You should have seen him then...”

Gilli gave him a pointed look. “This is different,” he simply said.

“Different how?”

Gilli shook his head in disbelief. “The king is jealous. He thinks I'm stealing your precious time. The time that he could spend with you.”

Merlin laughed a bit. “Don't be ridiculous,” he said. “Arthur is a king. He doesn't perceive the world in such a petty way.”

“He is a king but he's also a man and men have weaknesses,” Gilli pointed out. “You are one of his weaknesses, Merlin.”

“It's not funny, Gilli.”

“I'm not trying to be funny.” He sighed. “This is how I see it.”

“And what exactly do you see?” Merlin asked. He didn't like the way this conversation was going. He couldn't think of himself as Arthur's weakness. That was ridiculous and dangerous.

“He's grumpy when I'm around you,” he said. “He watches me all the time. I can feel his eyes on me, especially when you stand by my side.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“That he's jealous,” Gilli repeated himself and took a deep breath. “I don't know why he sees me as a threat but he does. He thinks I'm stealing you... your friendship... How much time have you been spending with the king recently? Less than before, I assume.”

“That's not it,” Merlin told him. “Arthur is a great king and even a greater man. I'm proud of the man he's become. He was mean and arrogant when I first met him but soon I saw the better side of him. Don't understand me wrongly. He can still act like a prat. Especially if he's suspicious of someone, and I can see that he doesn't trust you yet. He needs more time.”

“He doesn't want to try to trust me,” Gilli told him. “He won't trust me as long as he thinks I'm taking you away from him. You need to make him see that I'm not a threat. I can't do this.”

Merlin only shook his head. “This is ridiculous. Sometimes Arthur reveals his prattish side. That's it. There's nothing deep about it.”

“Of course there is.” Gilli sighed. “You just refuse to see it but I won't insist.”

“Thank you.”

“There's no point at the moment,” Gilli mumbled but Merlin didn't hear it.

 


 

A few weeks went by since the plague and Merlin noticed a huge change in the way people of Camelot treated him. At first, he only noticed that more of them greeted him sincerely which reminded him of the times when he'd been a serving boy. It was a nice change but the real surprise came afterwards. One day, one of the guards knocked on the doors of his chamber and asked him for an advice and help. The guard didn't cringe when Merlin suggested a solution which involved his magic. He even seemed relieved that the solution was so simple. Merlin just couldn't believe it.

This guard, however, wasn't the only person who decided to seek Merlin's help. More people came and knocked on his door, when they heard that the Court Sorcerer was willing to use his magic to solve the problems of Camelot's citizens.

“This is perfect,” said Arthur when he heard the news one evening. Once again he and Merlin shared their last meal of the day together. Recently, they didn't have much time to talk quietly during the day.

“It's almost too good to be true,” Merlin admitted. “I'm not sure what to think.”

“You should be celebrating this success,” Arthur told him. “That's an order of your king,” he added teasingly.

“If it keeps going like this, I'm not sure I'll find time to help all of them,” Merlin pointed out. “Perhaps we should invite more sorcerers to the court of Camelot.”

Arthur frowned lightly.

“You don't like this idea?” Merlin asked him, worryingly. “That's just a suggestion for the future. I'm not talking about here and now.”

“We'll talk about it when the help is needed,” the king said decisively.

“Of course,” Merlin agreed. “For now I can always consult with Gaius and Gilli. I'm sure they'll be glad to help.”

“Gilli should focus on learning how to become a physician,” Arthur said hastily. Too hastily.

Merlin looked at his friend steadily. “You have some problem with Gilli,” he pointed out. “Why are you a prat towards him?”

“Not wanting to burden him with additional tasks, you call being a prat,” murmured Arthur. “I don't really understand your logic, Merlin.”

“That's not what I meant,” he said. “You are a bit hostile towards him. I know you, Arthur, and I know that you don't always make the best first impression but it's been weeks and you're still the same around Gilli. Why?”

“I'm not hostile,” Arthur denied firmly. “I just don't know him well and I don't feel a need to become his friend. I'm the king, Merlin. I can't let all my people be as insufferable around me as you are.”

Merlin snorted. “I'm not insufferable and I'm not expecting you to become Gilli's friend,” he said. “But you could be decent towards him. He starts having some really bizarre ideas.”

“What ideas?”

“Go and ask him if you're curious,” said Merlin. “I won't repeat this nonsense.”

Arthur didn't look content with his answer but didn't elaborate it further. Merlin was certain that he would not go and ask Gilli about it. Arthur was too proud to do that.

“I'm not angry with you,” said Merlin after a longer while of complete silence. “I just don't like when you're suspicious of people who don't deserve it and when you're a prat because of that.”

“I'm not a prat,” Arthur mumbled. “I'm just trying to do what's best for the kingdom.”

“You do it in a very twisted way, then,” Merlin told him jokingly and nudged him to lighten the atmosphere.

Arthur didn't want to smile at that but couldn't help himself. Merlin had this effect on him and there was nothing he could do to change that.

“I only do what I think is right,” said Arthur.

“I never doubted it.” Merlin smiled at him lightly. “Just promise me to be more thoughtful. Don't be mean to Gilli if he doesn't deserve it. You know that he works very hard to help Gaius.”

“I never said he doesn't.” Arthur sighed. “The truth is that no matter what, there are people we connect with instantly or those we learn to like and respect in time.” He looked at Merlin knowingly, saying that. “There are also people with whom we can't find this connection, no matter what. They can even be decent people but there's something about them that we just can't stand. I think this is me and Gilli.”

Merlin shook his head slightly. “Did you try at least?” he asked.

“We won't become good friends but I can try to be decent to him,” Arthur promised finally.

“Thank you.”

Merlin beamed at him and Arthur could swear that his smile brightened up the entire room.

 


 

Arthur tried to be decent to Gilli and he almost managed to achieve it. Merlin could see how much effort he was putting into his interactions with Gilli. It wasn't perfect but it was a start.

Merlin hoped that in time it would become more natural and less tiring to each of the parties.

However, he didn't predict one thing. After each interaction with Gilli, Arthur became more and more frustrated. He wasn't showing it in plain sight but the frustration was growing inside him, erupting later, usually in the evenings, and it often resulted in a quick but intense love making with Gwen.

There was no way for Merlin to avoid it and that was a nightmare. Somehow Merlin knew that it was partially his own fault. He wanted Arthur and Gilli to be more civil to each other but it didn't seem to work the way it should.

It was flattering that Arthur was trying to keep his promise but it caused only an increasing frustration inside him. That was not Merlin's intention. He didn't want to watch Arthur's roughness in bed. He only hoped that Gwen didn't mind it too much.

Merlin sighed inwardly. It all was so messed up. He had to, against his will, watch Arthur with another and worry about her well-being.

He bit his lip and suffered in silence. He learned to endure the physical pain but the emotional one was another story. Perhaps in time, it would become less poignant.

 


 

The next morning, Gilli brought him some of the books that Gaius found in his quarters and which would be more useful to him than to the old man.

“Thank you, Gilli,” said Merlin politely, but the lack of enthusiasm in his voice was evident.

Gilli looked him from head to toe and frowned a bit.

“You don't look well,” he said straight away.

“I sometimes have trouble with sleeping,” Merlin told him dismissively. “I have a lot of things to think about. That's all.”

“You should worry a little bit more about your own condition,” said Gilli wisely.

“You sound like Gaius,” muttered Merlin.

“That's because he's a physician and he knows best and I'm learning from him.” Gilli sent him a small smile. “I'm serious, though. If you want to be useful for this kingdom, you need to have a good sleep.”

“I'll try.” Merlin didn't add that it didn't depend on him. He needed to find a way to mask his exhaustion. Perhaps there was a recipe in all of his books for a tonic that could solve this little problem.

“I'll keep an eye on you and tell the king if necessary,” he warned him teasingly.

“He won't listen to you,” mumbled Merlin. “You were right. He's not very fond of you.”

“He'll listen if it concerns you,” Gilli said confidently.

“Perhaps that's the way for the two of you to get on,” said Merlin. “Perhaps I should make you worry about me.”

“Merlin.” Gilli sighed. “I have nothing against the king. It's him who doesn't want to get on with me.”

Merlin knew it was true but decided to change the topic.

“I believe that some people of Camelot start to come around the idea that magic can be useful in a positive way,” he said quietly.

“That's good.” Gilli smiled at him encouragingly. “I knew that they would learn it sooner or later.”

“Arthur is also excited about it but I can't,” Merlin admitted finally.

“Why?”

Merlin looked at his friend seriously. “You've been here just a few weeks so you don't know what happened before. Not every member of Arthur's Council is happy about the legitimate return of magic to the kingdom.”

“That's understandable,” said Gilli. “Magic has been banned in Camelot for years and some of them experienced only the dark side of magic. They need more time.”

“That's not just it,” said Merlin sadly. “There is a Lord named Sir Lamorak. He hates the idea and opposes the new laws as much as he can. He conspires against Arthur and wants to undermine Arthur's authority.”

“He won't succeed,” Gilli tried to console him. “You said yourself that more and more people are keen on giving magic a chance. That must mean something.”

“It means a lot but it doesn't concern all people.” Merlin bit his lower lip, a bit resigned. “I shouldn't burden you with my problems.”

“I don't mind.” Gilli put his arm on Merlin's shoulder. “Your problems concern this whole kingdom. You're not in this on your own. You are supported by many people. More than you think. You must remember about it.”

Merlin was a bit touched by his words but he only nodded slightly as a confirmation that he understood.

“Thank you, Gilli,” he said quietly.

At this moment someone knocked on the door urgently and opened it, not waiting for invitation.

“Merlin! You were supposed to meet me at...” Arthur started saying as soon as the doors burst open but he fell silent the moment he noticed Gilli.

“My Lord,” the boy greeted him with a short nod.

“I think I lost the sense of time,” said Merlin apologetically.

“I think that's my fault,” Gilli spoke up. “I took too much of Merlin's time. My sincere apologies, Sire.”

Arthur looked at him coldly but didn't say anything out loud.

Then Gilli turned his attention back to Merlin. “Thank you for your time.”

Merlin wanted to reply that it was him who should thank Gilli for his friendship and patience but he refrained himself, seeing the expression on Arthur's face. In the meantime, Gilli passed by Arthur and left the two of them alone.

“I know we were supposed to meet to prepare for tomorrow's Council,” said Merlin, breaking the silence that fell between them.

“You must've had your reasons,” Arthur said coldly. “Gilli must be a very eager student. He seems to seek not only Gaius' help but also yours.”

“It's natural,” Merlin replied simply. He wasn't going to explain it all to Arthur. “Gilli occupies my previous position. He has some questions that I can answer.”

“Of course,” said Arthur. “It's natural.”

Merlin didn't like his tone.

“I believe we have work to do,” he said in order to change the subject. “There's no need to waste more time.”

Arthur agreed with him with a small nod and they both left Merlin's chamber. It was going to be a long day for both of them and not only because of the work that they'd planned.

In the evening, Arthur vented his emotions that were pent up during the day and Merlin once again had to witness the frantic love making of Gwen and Arthur. All that Merlin wanted was one quiet evening and night to finally have a decent rest. Unfortunately, he didn't expect to have it in the nearest future.

He couldn't help the frustration that was growing inside him but he knew that he couldn't seek any relief himself. At least not in the way Arthur was apparently finding it.

They were two sides of the same coin but they were different and certain things weren't meant to be. Not for both of them.

 

Chapter Text

Sir Lamorak had become unbearable during the last few Council meetings. Arthur tried to be patient with him but he had enough. Merlin was impressed that the king managed to stand this madness for so long. He wondered when the breaking point would come and had a feeling that it was going to be sooner rather than later.

The truth was that Sir Lamorak felt that he was losing the fight that he had started. At the beginning, he truly believed that people were going to follow him. They had suffered a lot because of magic and this kind of prejudice couldn't just be erased. Unfortunately for him, he underestimated Merlin's charm and abilities. The Court Sorcerer managed to do something that seemed impossible from the very beginning. He convinced people that they shouldn't fear magic and that it could be used for their benefit. Of course, Sir Lamorak didn't trust him at all and he wasn't going to sit in silence and accept the new order of things. Moreover, he saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. He didn't think that Arthur Pendragon was good king material. The king was too impulsive and his foolish decision to restore magic to Camelot only confirmed his previous suspicions.

There was not much left to do to convince people that Arthur Pendragon was not worthy of his title, but Lamorak was determined to at least try. He believed that at this moment he didn't have much to lose. The king already suspected him and it was his last chance.

The Council meeting was a perfect opportunity. He'd already sown the seeds of doubt and distraction during the previous meetings. It was the time either to take action and win or lose and go down. It was his last chance.

They were all sitting together at the Round Table, discussing some state matters when Sir Lamorak asked all the Council members for their attention.

“What is it, Sir Lamorak?” Arthur asked him politely, even though he was boiling inside.

“I would like to come back to the matter of magic in Camelot, Sire,” he said boldly.

“We discussed it many times before, Sir Lamorak,” the king reminded him. “Today's meeting has a different agenda.”

“This is important,” the lord insisted.

Arthur sighed inwardly. He had enough of Lamorak's games. Merlin, however, gave him a short knowing look so he decided that there was no point in denying it. He had to let Lamorak talk.

“All right, Sir Lamorak. Our agenda can wait. Please speak up your concerns.”

“The ban on magic should be restored,” Sir Lamorak started smoothly.

“We've discussed it already,” said Arthur. “Magic is neutral. How it's used depends entirely on the person who wields it. My father made a mistake when he banned it years ago.”

“Your father knew what was best for this kingdom, Sire,” Sir Lamorak spoke daringly. “He introduced the ban on magic to protect the people of Camelot.”

“He did it because he was angry about the things that happened to my mother,” Arthur replied. He didn't want to discuss his mother's death but he was ready to do it if it was necessary.

“You weren't there, Sire,” Lamorak mumbled. “You didn't see what he saw.”

“I don't have to see something to know it. Magic wronged me too. Many times.” He glanced at Merlin, looking for silent support. “I was angry with what happened to Morgana. I blamed magic for that. But she was to blame. My father was to blame. And finally, I was to blame.”

“Magic corrupted her soul,” Sir Lamorak insisted.

“I believe it was Morgause who corrupted her and Morgause was as bitter as my father.”

“Perhaps magic corrupted you as well,” Sir Lamorak finally uttered. His words made the whole Council gasp and go silent instantly.

Arthur lifted his gaze and looked the old lord directly in the eye. It was too much for Arthur to endure or forget.

“What are you suggesting?” he asked eventually. His voice spread all over the Council room like a threat.

“Arthur...” Merlin murmured worryingly. He knew that the king had to do something with this insubordinate lord but he had to keep his temper at bay.

Sir Lamorak stood up slowly and looked down on Arthur. This gesture alone was an act of insolence but Lamorak had more to present.

“I strongly believe that you are not yourself, Arthur Pendragon,” he said boldly. He didn't even bother to use the appropriate title and spoke to him as if the king was his inferior.

“You should be careful with your words,” Sir Leon spoke up, warningly.

Arthur sent him a short glance, trying to calm him down. He needed to handle it on his own.

“You can speak freely, Sir Lamorak,” Arthur assured him. “Speak up your mind once and for all. We can't continue these meetings like this.”

“Shall I be entirely honest?” Lamorak asked. His voice wasn't trembling but Arthur could see a shade of fear in his eyes.

“I expect nothing less,” the king told him.

Sir Lamorak looked around, assessing his chances. He was surrounded by various people but most of them weren't on his side. They were Arthur's men but he knew that he had no choice. There was also a small group of Counsellors from the older generation who was against Arthur's changes almost as much as he was. However, he wondered if they were ready to support him in front of the whole Council. There was only one way to find out.

“With all due respect, the king who returns magic to Camelot and who is deaf to any arguments concerning the danger that it brings is no king of mine,” Sir Lamorak said, looking directly at Arthur. “You are either stupid or possessed. Either way, I won't be calling you my king any more.”

Once again, the Council went completely silent.

Merlin watched Arthur very carefully, looking for any sign of explosion. Arthur, however, was extraordinarily calm. Merlin had to admit before himself that he was impressed.

“Do you have anything else to add?” Arthur asked very quietly.

Lamorak glanced at Merlin viciously.

“You should have never trusted a serving boy,” he snapped. “He will become your end, Arthur Pendragon. You don't deserve to be your father's son, as you let a filthy sorcerer decide on the fate of this kingdom. One day, you're going to regret it.”

“I highly doubt it,” Arthur couldn't help saying.

“You're nothing but a mere puppet in the hands of an enemy,” Lamorak continued. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Are you aware that what you say can be considered a treason?” Arthur asked him finally. He had enough of the insults that this old lord was throwing at him.

“You committed a treason when you allowed magic back in Camelot.” Lamorak looked around, trying to meet the eyes of other Counsellors. “Aren't you going to support my statement?” he asked. “You know it's true. Magic harmed this kingdom and now it's free again. This is madness!”

No one dared to speak up.

“Really?” Sir Lamorak snorted. “ Sir Lionel?” he looked directly at his fellow lord but the man intentionally avoided his gaze.

Then Sir Lamorak realised that it was truly over. No one was going to support him.

“So be it,” he said much more quietly. “I don't believe in your vision of this kingdom. Do what you must with me.”

Arthur remained silent.

“Sire?” Sir Leon asked finally.

“You can escort Sir Lamorak to his home,” the king spoke eventually. “Keep a guard at his household until I decide his fate.”

All Counsellors watched him, surprised.

“But Sire...”

“That's an order, Sir Percival,” said Arthur firmly. “The meeting is over. We'll discuss other cases tomorrow morning. You're all dismissed.”

All members left the Council room one by one until only Arthur and Merlin stayed inside.

“What are you going to do, Arthur?” Merlin asked him quietly.

Arthur looked at him hesitantly and said, “I'm not sure yet.”

“But you must be sure.”

“Lamorak committed a treason and it's punishable by death,” Arthur said coldly.

Merlin gasped. “You know I despise this man but you shouldn't kill him.”

“That's what my knights expect,” Arthur replied. “They witnessed what happened here. Lamorak said horrible lies about me and about you and your magic. If I let him go...”

“If you start killing those who disagree with you, people will fear to state their opinions. Is that the kingdom you want to rule?” Merlin asked.

“Lamorak didn't commit a treason by stating a different opinion than mine,” Arthur pointed out. “He said that I'm not his king. He claims that I'm either a fool or manipulated by your magic. It's not a mere rumour that he spread before. He said it out loud in front of me, you and the rest of the Council. How am I supposed to pretend that nothing happened?”

Merlin sighed and came closer to his king. He put his hand on Arthur's shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I'm not asking you to pretend that nothing happened. Lamorak must face the consequences of his actions but I don't want you to be too harsh. Death sentence is definitely not a way. I'm sure you can come up with a better idea.”

Arthur bit his lower lip. “I'll think about it,” he promised. “Now I want you to leave too. I need some time alone.”

Merlin understood. He didn't insist any more and he left the Council room quietly, leaving Arthur alone with his thoughts. It was Arthur's way of dealing with difficult matters.

 


 

Arthur didn't talk much until the next day. He didn't share his plans neither with his wife nor with Merlin. All Council members anticipated his decision but Arthur's face was blank. He ordered the guards to bring Sir Lamorak to the throne room where he was sitting majestically in his throne.

Other Counsellors seemed a bit confused but they were extraordinarily quiet.

Merlin watched Arthur carefully and hoped that he wasn't going to do anything stupid. Arthur was stubborn at times but there was no place for it when the matter was so controversial.

The guards brought Sir Lamorak and the old man stood in front of the throne, glaring at Arthur proudly.

“Do you know what you're accused of?” the king asked him.

“I think we all know it,” the lord snapped.

“Are you aware of the consequences of your deeds?” Arthur continued, unaffected.

“Death,” said Lamorak quietly. “I'm ready for it. Do what you must. This is the only thing that Uther would approve of. You cannot let your people get behind your back.”

Merlin noticed that Arthur tensed slightly at the mention of his father's name but he came to his senses almost immediately and continued.

“Death sentence is indeed the highest price for your deeds,” he confirmed.

The guards moved closer to Lamorak at these words.

“The one who passes the sentence, should swing the sword,” the lord said. “Don't kill me by the hands of the mere guards.”

Arthur dismissed the guards with a short nod of his head. He stood up himself and walked up to Lamorak slowly. Merlin gulped, expecting the worst.

“Do it quickly,” Lamorak asked, watching as Arthur grabbed his sword.

The king looked down and came even closer to the old lord.

“You're not dying today, Sir Lamorak,” he said simply and Merlin let go of a breath that he didn't know he was holding this whole time.

Lamorak was so flabbergasted that he didn't manage to utter a single word.

“You're an old man who wants to live the old ways. I understand that,” Arthur told him. “I could kill you but it wouldn't be really fair. The law allows me to do that but my conscience doesn't.” Saying that, he glanced shortly at Merlin. “However, I can't keep you here in the city. You're too stubborn to stop living your ways. You must leave the capital and stay out of it until the day you die. I give you time until the end of this day. You can go wherever you want. You can even stay in the kingdom. The only thing that I require is that you stay away from the capital. You're no longer a member of the Council but you can keep your family title.”

“What's going to happen with my family?” Lamorak finally dared to ask.

“They're not going to suffer any consequences. They can stay or they can follow you. That's their decision,” Arthur replied. “You're dismissed. Remember that you have time until the end of this day to leave the city.”

Sir Lamorak didn't wait any longer. He rushed out of the throne room and his son followed his suit.

Arthur looked at the gathering around him.

“I believe we all need a break. We'll discuss other matters in an hour. I hope to see you all in the Council room then,” he said and the Counsellors left the throne room one by one.

“I'm proud of you,” Merlin told him quietly when he finally could get closer to Arthur.

His friend smiled lightly. “I can learn from my mistakes, you know.”

“I never said you couldn't.”

Arthur snorted but then sighed quietly. “There's no time for it now, Merlin. We'll talk in the evening when this crazy day is finally over.”

“You will join me for the supper, then?” Merlin asked.

“You shall see,” Arthur replied mysteriously and left the throne room before Merlin could ask him more questions.

 


 

Merlin wasn't sure what to do with himself. Arthur had been acting mysteriously, not wanting to tell him what he was planning. The king told him that they were going to talk in the evening but that was all that was certain.

Merlin tried to focus on something else. He went through some papers, thought about what to do during his next performance for children and tried to write a letter to his mother. However, nothing worked and he caught himself thinking about Arthur and the incoming evening time after time. It started to be frustrating.

When the evening finally came, Merlin became even more impatient. He knew it was stupid but he couldn't help the feeling that Arthur should already be by his side. If keeping his attention on one thing had been difficult a couple of hours ago, it was impossible at that moment.

Merlin cursed himself for his impatience and for his stupid feelings. He wasn't sure how to function any more when the knock at his door brought him back to the reality.

His heart started beating faster and he needed to take a few deep breaths before he walked up to the doors and opened them.

He smiled at Arthur but then his smile fainted a bit when he saw the state of Arthur's clothes and hair.

“What happened?” he asked worriedly.

“May I come in?” Arthur asked him and Merlin moved a bit to let him in.

“What happened?” The Court Sorcerer repeated his question. “You're completely wet.”

Arthur shrugged. “It's just the rain,” he simply said. “Don't worry.”

“Where have you been?” Merlin wasn't going to give up.

“Outside. Obviously...”

Merlin folded his arms and shook his head in disbelief. “I noticed as much,” he said. “Why were you outside in this rain?”

“It wasn't raining an hour ago,” Arthur pointed out.

“That doesn't explain anything.”

Arthur sighed and sat in one of the two armchairs that Merlin had in his chamber.

Merlin wasn't sure but his king looked slightly embarrassed.

“You'll laugh at me,” Arthur said finally, confirming Merlin's suspicions.

Merlin sat in the other armchair, which was opposite to Arthur's, and said gently, “I will not do such thing.”

Arthur looked at his friend uncertainly. “Fine,” he said. “I was trying to prepare a surprise to celebrate our success.”

Merlin was intrigued. “Outside?” he asked.

“Yes, Merlin, outside. That's obvious.” He made a gesture, pointing out the wet state of his body. “The weather was nice when I planned it. How could I know it was going to rain in the evening?”

“Arthur, what did you plan?”

A blush crept on king's cheeks. “I wanted to take you for a short ride and then have a picnic as our celebration,” he admitted shyly.

“A picnic? In the evening?” Merlin thought that only Arthur could have such a bizarre idea.

“I needed some time to have it arranged and I didn't want to engage the servants,” he said. “I know you don't like it.”

Merlin's heart skipped a beat at these words. “That's very sweet of you,” he said quietly. Then he rose from his armchair and moved towards Arthur. He put his hand on Arthur's arm and momentarily the king felt a wave of warm air and the wetness faded away.

Arthur looked at him with surprised eyes. “You didn't have to,” he mumbled.

“You were trying to make a surprise for me. That's the least I could do,” Merlin assured him.

“But I failed,” Arthur admitted.

Merlin smiled widely at him. “No, you didn't. We can still celebrate the victory here.”

“I left the food behind. It was completely wet.”

“I can bring us some fresh food,” Merlin told him, smiling. “It's not a problem.”

“But I wanted to prepare it all and...”

Merlin hushed him with a wave of his hand.

“I appreciate that, Arthur, I do, but it doesn't matter. I want to celebrate the acceptance of magic with you. I don't care where and how. I'm just glad that you're here. Alive and healthy,” Merlin assured him. “You're the king. You don't have to know how to cook or arrange picnics. I will gladly do it for you.”

“You're the Court Sorcerer,” Arthur mumbled. “You don't need to know these things either.”

Merlin looked at him, amused. “I've been taking care of you for over ten years. I already know how to do these things.”

Arthur nodded, defeated. “Next time I'll try to have a backup plan.”

“Next time you'll tell me what you're planning and we'll do it together,” said Merlin, laughing.

“It won't be a surprise then,” Arthur pointed out.

“I don't need any surprises, Arthur. I am completely fine without them,” Merlin assured him.

“I feel like a complete idiot,” the king admitted. “I didn't manage to finish such a simple task.”

“You are an idiot sometimes but definitely not now.” Merlin smiled at him encouragingly. “Wait here a moment and I'll bring us some food. I'm starving.”

“All right,” Arthur agreed and watched as his friend was leaving the chamber with a light step.

When Merlin came back with food and wine floating behind his back, Arthur managed to strike him with surprise. He was gone for less than twenty minutes but during that time Arthur must have found all the candles that were hidden in the room, and he arranged them and lit them all up.

Arthur smiled with satisfaction, seeing his face.

“I thought I'd at least create some nice atmosphere,” Arthur told him nonchalantly. “Do you like it?”

“It will do,” Merlin replied but smiled at Arthur to show him that he truly appreciated the gesture.

Then Merlin noticed that Arthur not only lit the candles but also laid out a blanket in front of the fireplace.

Arthur followed his gaze. “We can't have a picnic outside because of the weather so we'll have it inside,” he said sheepishly.

“It seems so,” Merlin replied, and with the use of magic, the food landed on the blanket.

They sat down in front of the fireplace and started eating and talking about the events of the morning. It wasn't very serious but they agreed to appreciate the changes that started happening in people's minds. After all, it was their success. For the first time, Merlin truly started believing that one day people of Camelot were going to accept magic completely. He said it out loud and Arthur looked at him with a genuine smile.

“I always knew you could do that,” he said quietly.

“You believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Merlin admitted. “Thank you.”

“That's what friends are for, isn't it? You always believed in me too. Even when I no longer believed in myself,” Arthur told him.

“It seems that we both have that in common,” said Merlin, smiling warmly.

“We are quite a team, aren't we?”Arthur pointed out and they both laughed at that.

“It's true, though,” Merlin admitted.

“Since when do we agree with everything?” Arthur asked suddenly.

“I think we should blame wine for that,” said Merlin, filling up their chalices as they were almost empty.

Arthur took his chalice from Merlin's hand. It was once again filled with delicious wine.

“We've drunk quite a lot, haven't we?” he mumbled and took another sip.

“Hush you.” Merlin winked at him. “You wanted to celebrate, so we celebrate.”

“You're right. Today we celebrate. We'll regret it tomorrow.”

They both burst out with laughter at these words.

“Won't Gwen be angry?” Merlin asked, sipping his wine. “You're impossible when you're drunk.”

“Too late.” Arthur mumbled and tugged Merlin's arm to pull him closer. “I like it here,” he murmured. “You made this room so... Merlinesque.”

“You must be really drunk. You've started making up words,” Merlin pointed out.

“I learned that from you,” Arthur defended himself. “There's no such words as clotpole or cabbage-head but you keep calling me by them.”

“Of course these words are real,” Merlin protested. “They describe you perfectly.”

“Only you use these words.”

Because only I can see the real you,” Merlin replied. “You are my clotpole and my cabbage-head. No one else's.” Then Merlin realised what he just said. He blushed deeply and instantly went silent.

Arthur didn't seem bothered by his words and he simply said, “Good. You can call me these names. But only you and only when we're alone .

“I can't promise that,” Merlin mumbled but his voice was tender and soft. “But I could try.”

Their eyes met and Merlin wanted to melt under Arthur's gaze. His heart was beating so loud that he was certain that Arthur could hear it too. They were very close, half-sitting half-lying by each other's side. It was dangerously close. Merlin was no longer sure what he was doing and why he was so careless. Their celebration was private and now it started turning into something intimate. Merlin couldn't let it happen, it would be too painful in the end, but somehow he couldn't restrain himself.

“Fill up my chalice,” Arthur broke the silence suddenly, and they both blinked and turned their gaze away in confusion.

Merlin wanted to say something along the lines that he was no longer Arthur's personal servant and that the king could at least ask nicely but he chose to silently follow Arthur's order. It was simpler that way. Automatic even. It was part of life to which he got used to.

“We shouldn't be drinking this much,” Merlin finally mumbled but he passed Arthur his chalice and filled up his own too.

“Shut up,” Arthur replied in an almost affectionate tone. “Perhaps I'll have a dreamless sleep finally.”

Merlin frowned. “Do you have nightmares?” he asked worryingly. “Gaius could prepare you some tonic or I could think about a spell...”

“There's no need,” Arthur murmured, sipping his wine. “I don't have nightmares. Not really. These are just... some weird dreams.” Saying that, he stared at Merlin's lips. “Very weird,” he repeated.

Merlin looked at him steadily. “Weird how?” he asked shyly. He didn't want to be too pushy. The dreams could be very personal but Arthur started the topic himself and Merlin found himself curious about them.

“I dream of a place surrounded by mist,” Arthur admitted after a while of silence. “I can't see much beside the mist but I can hear the voices. Many different voices from all around me.”

Merlin gulped. The picture that Arthur was describing sounded familiar. Too familiar.

“You are there too. I can hear you. Your voice is clear. It's somewhere near,” Arthur continued. “The other voices are like whispers. Does it... does it sound familiar to you?” he asked.

“A bit,” Merlin admitted hesitantly.

“I dream about this place since you saved me,” Arthur told him and put his chalice aside. Suddenly he didn't want to drink any more. “Do I... Do I remember Avalon?”

“Perhaps.” Merlin didn't want to lie to him, even though he was scared of what Arthur was going to say next. “Do you hear what these voices say?”

“Not much,” Arthur admitted. “These whispers are not very clear.”

Merlin felt a sudden wave of relief. It wasn't as bad as he feared.

“Do you dream of anything else?” he asked to make sure that he was safe.

“There is something. I'm not sure what it is... My dreams stop every time when it starts.... No, it's madness,” Arthur said decisively. “It's a mere trick of my imagination.” He lowered his gaze and shook his head, blushing slightly. “I was just overwhelmed. I was dying and emotional and now I have some weird dreams about it.”

Merlin watched him very closely. He could tell that Arthur was struggling with something that he didn't want to share. Merlin didn't even hope to push him. It seemed that Arthur had some blurry memories from Avalon and that he was embarrassed about them. The first things that came to his mind were his love confession and their kiss. He didn't want to discuss any of these things. They were better left unsaid.

Then something changed in Arthur. He lifted his eyes and looked directly into Merlin's.

“What happened in Avalon?” he asked in a quiet but trembling voice.

“As I told you before, you were saved by the witches and wizards of Avalon,” Merlin tried to explain patiently.

“But how was it possible? I believe you told me that I was dead,” Arthur insisted.

“Yes, I believe that you were dead for a very short moment.”

“Then how am I still alive?” Arthur believed that it was a valid question in these circumstances.

“Because of their magic.”

Merlin.”

Merlin sighed. “They performed some ancient spell which is beyond my understanding. How am I supposed to explain that to you?” he asked, being equally afraid and angry. He didn't want Arthur to ask him these kinds of questions.

“What were you supposed to do in all of this?” Arthur asked, not being willing to simply give up. The wine gave him courage to ask difficult questions and he was going to follow his primal instincts.

“I was using my magic to save you, as I always did.” He didn't like the direction of this conversation but he didn't know how to stop it.

“But were you supposed to do something...” Arthur hesitated, “uncomfortable?”

Merlin was no longer angry with Arthur. He could see that his king's eyes were both worried and curious. Arthur just wanted to find the answers that Merlin wasn't going to give him.

“Saving you wasn't uncomfortable. It was the greatest thing I've ever done and I don't regret a thing,” he said honestly.

For a short moment Arthur was smiling at him, but then his smile faded away.

“That's not what I asked,” he whispered.

“But that's the truth,” Merlin told him before he could ask more questions. “I would save you again and again and again. No matter what.”

“Merlin...”

“I don't know what I would have done if you died.” His voice started trembling.

“Don't think about it. I'm here,” said Arthur and did something that Merlin didn't expect. He embraced him tightly and put his forehead against Merlin's.

“Then don't ask me such questions,” Merlin replied but his voice was soft and quite happy.

“I won't,” Arthur promised.

Suddenly, it didn't matter if Arthur did remember something about their kiss or not. It seemed that he was starting to have some vague idea about it but Merlin decided not to care about it for the rest of that night. In that sweet embrace, he celebrated the day of their victory, the day that was just nearing to an end, but most of all, Merlin celebrated Arthur's life. It was a gift that he was going to cherish for the rest of their days.

 


 

They woke up a couple of hours later on the hard floor with a massive headache.

“We fell asleep on the floor,” mumbled Arthur.

“I'm never drinking with you again,” Merlin replied to him.

Arthur looked at him pointedly, knowing that Merlin didn't really mean that.

“Bring us some pillows,” Arthur told him.

“You're not going to sleep on the floor, are you?”

Arthur just frowned at him.

“Get up, you prat,” Merlin said too loudly for Arthur's liking.

“Too tired,” the king mumbled. “I'm not able to go to my chambers right now.”

Merlin had to try very hard not to roll his eyes. “I'm not throwing you from my room,” he said as if it was the most obvious thing in the entire world. “My bed is large and much more comfortable than the floor.”

“Is it an invitation?” Arthur asked.

Merlin knew that he didn't mean what it sounded like but his traitorous heart started beating faster.

“I won't offer it again,” Merlin warned him and Arthur followed him obediently.

Neither of them had time to process what just happened between them because as soon as their heads touched the pillows, they fell soundly asleep.

When they woke up a few hours later, they chose not to talk about all the things they discussed in the evening. It was easier that way.



 

Chapter Text

The time was passing by quite peacefully in Camelot since Sir Lamorak was gone. Merlin couldn't believe it but it was almost a year since the battle of Camlann and Morgana's death. It was nearly a year since he almost lost Arthur.

However, Merlin decided not to dwell too much on the painful memories. After all, their victory over Morgana was worth celebrating.

Gwen was put in charge of this celebration. There was no better choice, as she was born to organise such events.

Merlin was wandering through the castle the day before the great celebration. He was deep in thought when a familiar voice brought him back to the reality.

“Hello, Merlin. What are you doing here?”

It was Gilli. Merlin smiled and nodded welcomingly at his relatively new friend.

“I'm just walking around, contemplating on the events of the last year,” he admitted.

Gilli nodded with understanding. “It wasn't a boring year,” he confirmed.

“Definitely not for you,” Merlin remarked.

“Yes, my life has changed a lot. But so did yours,” Gilli insisted.

“You're right.”

Gilli looked at him seriously. “You don't look very content right now. Shouldn't you be happy? It was a good year after all.”

Merlin hesitated but answered eventually. “It was mostly a good year. Recently, at least. It started bad, tragically even. So many people died during the battle. So many friends...”

Gilli walked closer to him. “You saved so many people during the battle. You ended it before it could get really bad.”

“I could have saved more,” said Merlin grumpily. “If I had come earlier.”

“But you couldn't get there earlier,” Gilli insisted. “You told me what happened before the battle, remember? You couldn't save them without your magic. You needed to get it back first.”

Merlin looked at Gilli a bit sadly. “I know it, Gilli. I know that I tried to get to Camlann as soon as possible. I'm not really blaming myself. Not more than Arthur blames himself, anyway.” He sighed. “I'm just grieving over these losses, you know? Tomorrow, there will be a celebration. I'm expected to be happy and I will be, because the battle could have ended so much worse. However, today, I want to think about those we lost,” he said. “Like Gwaine.”

“He was your very good friend, wasn't he?” Gilli asked.

Merlin smiled lightly, remembering how he had met Gwaine all these years ago.

“Gwaine once told me that I was his first true friend,” Merlin admitted.

“You helped him become a knight,” said Gilli, smiling.

“That's right. He found his home here in Camelot and he found his true friends,” added Merlin in a more cheerful way. “He met Percival and they became like best friends in the world. Gwaine's death hurt him deeply. I can still see the grief in his eyes. I know he blames himself for his death and I can't do anything to change that.”

“Merlin, you don't have to make everything better. Some things are beyond repair,” Gilli told him wisely.

“Gaius taught you that, didn't he?” Merlin asked.

“Yes, he did. That's very important when you're learning to become a physician,” Gilli confirmed his suspicions. “Sometimes you just can't help others. With or without magic.”

“He tried to teach me that too,” Merlin admitted. “Thank you, Gilli. I almost forgot about it.”

“I'm glad I could help,” he replied.

Merlin felt a little bit better.

“Gilli?” he asked. “How do you like your position as Gaius' apprentice?”

“Very much,” he admitted. “I wasn't sure at first that I could do it but now I'm more convinced.”

“I'm glad to hear it,” said Merlin.

“I've got my chance. I won't waste it,” Gilli promised.

“I'm sure you won't.” Merlin smiled at him frankly and walked away in the direction of his chamber. It was a difficult day for him but thanks to Gilli his mood improved vastly.

When Merlin finally got to his room, something seemed odd. He looked around and then he noticed someone sitting in one of his armchairs.

“Arthur?” he asked hesitantly.

It was indeed the king. Arthur stood up and looked at him a bit accusingly.

“Finally,” he said. “I've been waiting for you.”

“I don't think you mentioned that you were going to visit me today,” replied Merlin calmly.

“Do I have to?”

“No, but then you shouldn't be angry that you had to wait,” Merlin pointed out.

“Fine.” Arthur sighed. “Have you been doing something interesting?”

“I was wandering around the castle, thinking about the last year, and then I met Gilli and we talked for a little while,” Merlin told him honestly.

“Gilli,” mumbled Arthur a little bit bitterly. “How is he doing?”

“It seems that he enjoys working for Gaius. I think that he starts to believe that being a physician is something for him.”

“Good,” said Arthur but he didn't seem too content about it.

Merlin looked at him pointedly. “You promised not to be mean to him,” he said.

“I'm not mean,” Arthur denied.

“One day he may become the Court Physician here in Camelot. You should try a bit harder,” Merlin gave him an advice.

“I'm not mean,” Arthur repeated firmly.

He's jealous of my friendship with Gilli, Merlin thought but decided not to touch such a sensitive topic.

“All right. Why did you want to see me, then?” he changed the subject.

Arthur looked at him sheepishly. “I'm hiding,” he admitted. “Guinevere keeps on asking me questions about tomorrow's feast. She wants to know my opinion about everything. It's tiring.”

“You always were a type who enjoyed the feasts for their food but not for arranging them,” Merlin pointed out.

“I'm the king, Merlin, not a cook, or a jester or a servant. I know nothing about organising feasts. I always let other people do it for me,” Arthur told him.

“I know. I was your servant after all,” said Merlin teasingly. “So you're hiding from Gwen in my room. To be honest, it's not the best hiding place. She'll know that it's very likely you're here.”

“She won't be looking for me,” Arthur assured him. “I used some excuse.”

“Fine. But you can't hide here all day. As far as I remember, Princess Mithian may arrive any time soon,” Merlin told him.

Mithian, as well as Arthur's other allies, was invited for the celebration. Other guests were supposed to arrive in the evening or on the next day.

“Leon will let me know when she's here,” said Arthur. “I told him where to find me.”

“You have an answer for everything, don't you?” Merlin joked. “What do you want to do, then? I suppose that you're not going to sit here for a few hours, looking at the wall.”

Arthur rolled his eyes in a very unkingly manner.

“Of course not. Guinevere told me that you are going to perform a special show during the feast,” said Arthur.

“Yes, but what does it have to do with anything?” Merlin asked.

“You could show me something you prepared so I could judge if it's fitting for the occasion,” Arthur said hopefully.

Merlin raised his eyebrow. “You just want to see me doing magic.”

“I don't want you to compromise yourself in front of our guests,” Arthur insisted.

Merlin shook his head. “You just enjoy watching my magic. Admit it.”

The king bit his bottom lip. “All right. I like it. Is that wrong?” he asked. “I'm bored and I demand some entertainment.”

“You know that I'm not a jester or something like that. I occupy a very serious position at the Court,” Merlin teased.

“A position that I gave you so it can always be changed,” Arthur teased him back.

“You wouldn't dare,” said Merlin but smiled softly.

“Then show me some magic.”

Merlin smiled a little wider. “You convinced me, Sire,” he said as his eyes turned gold and the show began.

 


 

The celebration started amazingly. The hall was lavishly but still tastefully decorated. The Queen had seen to it.

The food on the tables looked delicious and all the guests couldn't wait to taste it.

However, the celebration had to start with Arthur's speech. He looked around and smiled at his guests and subjects. It looked genuine but Merlin could see that there was something hidden in his eyes. There was something wrong but Merlin couldn't tell what. He decided to find out once the feast was over.

During his speech, Arthur turned his attention directly to his special guests, Queen Annis, Princess Elena and Princess Mithian. Unfortunately, the fathers of the princesses couldn't make it to the celebration. Merlin heard that Mithian's father was in poor health but it was a sensitive topic.

Arthur spoke of the battle and of those who sacrificed their lives to bring peace at last to this land. He also turned towards Merlin and thanked him in front of everyone for his contribution to the battle and the events that followed. He also thanked him for his service as the Court Sorcerer and for the changes that he helped bring to the kingdom.

After the official part of the celebration, the feast started. The people were eating, drinking and talking loudly. It seemed that they enjoyed their time. Only Arthur seemed a bit reserved.

Merlin thought that it was the perfect moment for the show. After all, Arthur seemed to enjoy it the previous day. He hoped that it would cheer his king up this time too.

Merlin stood up and asked all guests for attention. “It's time for the show,” he announced his own performance.

The guests stirred with excitement. Merlin sent a short glance towards Arthur and the king gave him a short nod. With this encouragement, Merlin moved towards the middle of the hall so everybody could see him in plain view.

The show began. It was simple at first with the colourful butterflies and birds flying around over people's heads. Then it started developing. The butterflies turned into the stars and the birds formed a circle and turned into a full moon. All candles in the hall went out at the same moment so the stars, moon and Merlin's golden eyes were the only source of light. Then the stars started dancing around the moon, turning into different colours. In their dance, they started forming different shapes, and before anybody could get what was happening, they all turned into a giant dragon that was breathing a colourful fire. The guests gasped at that. Finally, the dragon shattered into thousands of tiny pieces that immediately faded away. When it happened, the candles lit themselves again. The show was over.

The guests gave him a standing ovation. Merlin bowed gracefully to show them his respect and gratitude.

When the people slowly came back to their affairs, Merlin looked shortly at Arthur. To his surprise, the king wasn't entertaining his royal guests with talk. It was Gwen who was doing it in his stead. Arthur was sitting rigid, clearly thinking about something very intensely. Now Merlin was certain that there was something wrong with Arthur this day. He needed to find out what it was. He had a feeling that it was important.

The celebration went on and the guests started to move around the hall, engaging themselves in conversations with various people. Merlin liked observing them. It was his favourite part of any feast. People started to put aside their everyday masks to be more themselves.

Merlin even noticed Leon talking to Princess Mithian. They both seemed relaxed and content. There was something heart-warming about them. Merlin couldn't help feeling a punch of jealousy. For Mithian and Leon it was just the beginning and it could develop into something real and special. Merlin could never be like this with Arthur. Not in this life.

Suddenly, Merlin felt a tug at the sleeve of his robe. He turned around and stood face to face with Gwen.

“Merlin, we need to talk,” the Queen told him hastily.

Merlin's heart started beating faster with worry. “Has something happened?” he asked in a whisper.

“Not here,” said Gwen and led him towards the door.

Merlin wasn't sure if it was appropriate for the Queen to leave the guests in the middle of the feast but he followed her nonetheless.

Guinevere led him towards the small room which was usually occupied by servants but it was empty at the moment, as all servants were attending to the guests at the feast.

“What is it, Gwen?” Merlin asked when she finally closed the door.

Gwen turned towards him and sighed heavily. “I'm worried about Arthur,” she said. “He hasn't been himself recently.”

“He seemed fine yesterday,” Merlin told her.

“Maybe... but I know you can see that there's something wrong with him today,” Gwen insisted. “You've been watching him for an entire evening with worry written all over your face.”

Merlin bit his lip. “I've noticed that he's a bit off,” he admitted. “But you shouldn't worry. I'm sure it's temporary. Arthur almost died a year ago. He lost some really good people then. It leaves a scar...”

“That's not it.” Gwen sounded certain. “You should talk to him. He doesn't want to share his worries with me. He needs a friend, Merlin. He needs you.”

“We talk every day, Gwen,” said Merlin. “Whatever it is, he doesn't want to share it with me too.”

“He will if you insist.” She was looking at him with hopeful eyes.

Merlin sighed. “We talked yesterday. He didn't seem off then.”

“Arthur tries to hide it but something is bothering him,” said Gwen. “I'm sure he doesn't want to worry you. Perhaps he feels comfortable enough around you so he forgets about his concerns for a moment. I don't know it.” She smiled hopefully at him. “I only know that you can help him, Merlin. Whatever it is, please don't let my husband be in this on his own. I know that I'm asking too much of you but...”

“That's not it, Gwen,” Merlin interrupted her. “I will gladly help Arthur but I'm not sure if he's going to let me. Arthur is a stubborn man.”

Guinevere laughed lightly. “You don't need to tell me that,” she said. “I'm his wife and I need to deal with his temper on daily basis.”

Merlin only nodded silently. He understood Gwen very well.

“I really appreciate your help, Merlin,” the Queen continued. “I'd love to talk to Arthur about it myself but there are certain things you don't want to share with your wife. I'm afraid that's one of them.”

“As you said, Arthur needs a friend,” Merlin told her quietly.

“Exactly,” she confirmed, smiling at him.

“I'll try to find out what's wrong,” Merlin promised her.

She hugged him tightly at these words. It felt good to be in close relations with Gwen once again. He almost forgot how much he missed her friendship. It all would have been so much easier if he wasn't head over heels in love with her husband.



 

Chapter Text

In the end, it was Arthur who came to Merlin for help or advice or whatever fancy word he was going to use. It took him a few days after the celebration, during which he was clearly reserved and saddened, to knock on Merlin's door with determination to talk about what was bothering him recently. Merlin had tried to engage him in such conversation a few times during these days but Arthur always found an excuse to dismiss himself.

At the moment, Arthur was standing at his doors with his eyes sad and afraid but also hopeful. As Gwen put it during the feast, Arthur needed a friend and Merlin was there for him.

Merlin let his king in without a word.

Arthur stopped in the middle of the room, not being sure what to do. Merlin noticed that his shoulders were slightly trembling and this sight made his heart ache. Arthur should never be in this state. Never.

Merlin walked up to him and stood behind him. He dared to put his hand on Arthur's shoulder in order to soothe him. He knew that it wasn't much but it was something. It was a start.

“You were right, Merlin,” Arthur finally spoke up. “You knew that there was something bothering me these past few days. But I couldn't make myself speak of it then. I'm not sure if I should speak of it at all...”

Merlin took a few steps to face Arthur and look into his eyes. Only in this way could he assure his friend that whatever it was, Arthur wasn't in this alone.

“You can tell me anything,” said Merlin calmly. “Whatever it is, I'll be here for you.”

Arthur tried to smile lightly but it was a weak attempt and his face turned into a grimace instead.

“You're always here for me,” he said. “And I'm grateful for that.”

“Then you know you don't need to worry,” Merlin told him.

Arthur shook his head. “I'm not worried of what you're going to say. I know you won't hurt me. You're Merlin,” he mumbled. “I'm worried that when I finally say it out loud, it'll come true and there'll be no denying it.”

Merlin started to truly worry. He had never seen Arthur like this. The king was as vulnerable as a child. Something was clearly eating him from the inside. It was terrifying.

“Just share it. Share your worries with me. You don't need to deal with it on your own,” Merlin assured him.

“That's why I'm here.” Arthur gulped. “I just need a moment. I don't know how to start...”

“That's all right. I'll wait here as long as you need,” said Merlin and went silent.

He could wait for Arthur forever. There was no hurry.

“The kingdom needs an heir,” Arthur finally started and that wasn't something that Merlin expected. “And we tried with Guinevere. We tried all these years and there's still nothing.” Merlin's heart filled with sudden pain. He knew exactly how many times Arthur and Gwen tried to conceive an heir this past year and it was a painful knowledge.

“Have you tried to talk to Gaius about it?” Merlin asked as delicately as possible. He couldn't believe that he was holding this conversation with Arthur.

“I don't think Gaius will be able to help,” Arthur told him honestly.

“He is a great physician. You should at least ask for his opinion,” said Merlin.

“There's no point!” Arthur sighed heavily. “He can't help it because it's my fault. I can feel it.”

Merlin straightened up. “You don't know it, Arthur. Whatever problem you and Gwen have, perhaps it can be fixed.

Arthur looked at him sadly. “I can't be fixed.”

“Don't say that!”

“It occurred to me a few days ago and I can't stop thinking about it ever since.” Arthur hid his head in his hands. “It's so embarrassing. I shouldn't bother you...”

“You did well to come to me,” said Merlin firmly and pulled Arthur's hands from his face. “Don't hide from me, Arthur Pendragon. I don't understand what you're talking about but you'll explain it to me this instant.”

Arthur lowered his gaze but Merlin caught his chin and pulled it up. “I told you not to hide from me,” he said. “Just tell me why you think it's your fault.”

“Because I'm cursed,” said Arthur.

“That's nonsense.”

“Is it?” Arthur looked at his friend seriously. “It suddenly occurred to me, and when it did, everything started to make sense,” he said.

“You make no sense right now,” Merlin insisted. “None at all.”

“My mother could not conceive a child,” Arthur pointed out. “My father had to use magic to have me.”

“It doesn't mean you can't have children,” Merlin tried to reassure him.

“How can you know, Merlin? We've tried for years and still there's no heir.” Arthur sighed. “Guinevere... she was examined by Gaius. She was worried that there was something wrong with her but Gaius didn't find anything. She should be able to conceive a child.”

“It proves nothing,” Merlin told him. “You went through a lot these past few years. You need to rest and calm down and...”

“I'm not going to be delusional,” said Arthur. “Can't you see that what my parents did explains everything? They needed magic to have me. I was born of magic.”

“It's not an answer,” Merlin insisted but deep down he started to doubt it himself.

“To create a life, a life must be taken. I'm an abomination, Merlin.”

“Don't you dare say that.” Merlin gripped Arthur's shoulders and shook him. “You are not an abomination. Even if what you suspect is true and you're infertile because of your origin, it doesn't make you less worthy. Don't you ever forget that.” Merlin was pissed off. Not with Arthur but because of what he was thinking about himself. Arthur didn't deserve that. He was the greatest and the kindest king Merlin could imagine. The matter of his supposed infertility didn't change that.

“I'm obliged to bring stability to Camelot. I can't do it without an heir,” mumbled Arthur.

“You shouldn't worry about it now,” Merlin told him. “You're still young and we still have time to think of something. Perhaps it doesn't have anything to do with magic and it can be fixed. But if it's not, then we will think of something different.”

Arthur suddenly paled. “I'm not going to make the same mistakes my father did,” he said firmly. “No matter what.”

“I would never suggest that,” Merlin assured him quickly. “I would never sacrifice Gwen and I know you wouldn't allow it too.”

“Good,” said Arthur and embraced Merlin out of the blue. He needed some consolation and Merlin was ready to give it to him. “Could you do something for me, Merlin?” he asked in a whisper after a few moments of silence.

Merlin straightened up and looked Arthur in the eye. “What is it, Arthur?”

“Could you try to find out if the way I was conceived influences my ability to have children?” he asked timidly. “It's important to me.”

“I will try only if you promise me that you won't blame yourself if it does,” said Merlin quietly. “And you must mean it,” he emphasised.

Arthur smiled lightly for the first time this evening. “I promise,” he said.

“Then you have my word too.”

Merlin knew that this information could change Arthur forever but he couldn't let his friend live his life like this. He hoped that together they could go through the worst of things.

 


 

Weeks went by and there was still no heir. Merlin was spending most of his free time on investigating Arthur's case but there was nothing about it in all the books that he could find. He was aware that Arthur didn't give up completely and tried almost every night to father a child. The visions in his mind were very vivid and they didn't help him at all.

Finally, he came to the conclusion that he needed to seek some advice from someone older and wiser than him. The idea, however, made him feel nauseous. Arthur clearly didn't want to share the details with Gaius but if there was someone who remembered well the times when the Old Religion and its Priests and Priestesses thrived, it was him.

“Gaius, I would like to discuss a very delicate matter with you,” said Merlin instead of hello and looked around, checking if they were alone in his friend's quarters.

Gaius noticed his examining gaze. “Gilli is out with the errands,” the old man told him. “What is it, Merlin, that makes you so worried?”

Merlin sighed and took a seat by his mentor's side. “It's Arthur,” he admitted.

Gaius nodded. “It's always Arthur, isn't it?”

Merlin couldn't help smiling lightly at these words.

“It appears so,” he murmured but became serious almost immediately. “As I said, it's very delicate.”

“I'm listening,” said Gaius with a heavy sigh. He knew it couldn't be anything easy.

“Could you tell me more about the way Arthur was conceived?” he asked.

Gaius frowned. “Why do you need this information? You don't want to tell me that Arthur and Gwen want to...”

Suddenly, Merlin understood how his question must have sounded in Gaius' ears. “No, no, nothing like that,” he assured him immediately. “Arthur would never do this to Gwen.”

“I hope so,” said Gaius but he sounded far from content. “Why do you need this information, then?”

Merlin sighed. It was the hard part that Arthur didn't want to share with others. Gaius, however, was their last hope. Merlin needed to take that risk.

“Arthur told me that you examined Gwen and that you couldn't find anything that could prevent her from getting pregnant,” Merlin started. “Arthur came to the conclusion that he is to be blamed.”

“He never came to me for examination,” said Gaius. “I never dared to suggest it.”

“I think that Arthur wanted to spare himself humiliation,” Merlin explained. “He has his own idea about the reason why he can't father a child. He thinks it's related to the way he was brought to this world.” Saying that, Merlin looked at Gaius steadily. “Is it possible that he's right?”

Gaius didn't give him an immediate answer. He leaned in his chair and closed his eyes, thinking about something very intensely.

“Gaius?” Merlin whispered his name. He didn't want to intrude him but it was very important and Merlin didn't want to waste time.

Gaius opened his eyes slowly and looked at his friend sadly. “It could be true,” he admitted after a long moment of silence.

Merlin's heart sank a bit. “But you're not certain,” he said hopefully.

“You know the rules, Merlin. To create a life, a life must be taken.” The old man sighed heavily. “I used to think that Ygraine paid the price but perhaps the spell was more complex than any of us could think.”

Merlin didn't like this answer. There was nothing certain in it and this uncertainty was worse than the worst truth. “Is there any way to be sure?” Merlin asked him.

“I'm afraid not,” said Gaius sadly. “All the Priests and Priestesses that could know the answer are long gone. I'm not even sure if Nimueh would have known the answer. The Old Religion is very complex and tricky and all its secrets were never uncovered.

Merlin understood. He wanted to help Arthur but he didn't know how.

“Arthur asked me for help but I don't know what to do,” he said, resigned. “He blames himself for the lack of heirs, but even if he can't have children because of the spell that brought him to this world, it's not his fault. He didn't choose it.”

“And that's what you should tell him when he asks about it,” Gaius advised him. “Merlin, I know that you would like to have control over everything but there are certain things beyond your power or understanding. You may be the most powerful sorcerer that ever walked the Earth but you're still a human.”

“But it's important and it's annoying that I can't find the truth,” mumbled Merlin.

“That's part of life. You need to learn to deal with it,” said Gaius wisely.

Then the door was opened and Gilli walked in with a smile on his face.

“Hello, Merlin,” he greeted him. “You've finally come to visit your friends? You shouldn't be neglecting Gaius like this.” There was no accusation in his tone. It was more playful than anything but Merlin had to admit to himself that Gilli was right. He had been so focused on searching for any information on creating a life and its consequences that he neglected his oldest friend.

“It won't happen again,” Merlin promised. Suddenly it occurred to him that Gaius was indeed very old and no one knew how much time he had left.

 


 

Weeks turned into months and Merlin let himself have a little break. He still fulfilled all his duties but when he had some free time, he spent it with his friends. He visited Gaius almost on daily basis. Moreover, he still had his talks with Arthur in the evenings but since Arthur never came back to the matter of his infertility, Merlin decided not to bring this subject back himself. Besides, Arthur's mood vastly improved these past few weeks. Merlin didn't know what was the reason but he was glad. Arthur shouldn't waste his life on dwelling on things that he couldn't control. He should live and enjoy his life as much as it was possible for the king.

“I'm going hunting tomorrow morning,” Arthur told him one evening. He looked as happy as a child.

“It's beyond my understanding why you enjoy killing wild animals this much,” said Merlin truthfully.

“Hunting is not about killing wild animals,” Arthur protested.

“Is it?” Merlin asked. “I think that a deer or a boar that you're going to hunt tomorrow is of a different opinion,” he said sarcastically.

“What did I expect? You never understood hunting,” mumbled Arthur. “So you don't want to go with me tomorrow?” he asked.

Merlin looked at him steadily. “I'm flattered but I think I'll pass,” he said honestly. “As you mentioned, hunting is not really my thing. As your servant, I was obliged to go with you, but since I'm the Court Sorcerer, I think I can decline your invitation.”

Arthur looked almost sad hearing these words.

“If you say so,” he mumbled. “I just hoped it could be like years ago.”

Hearing that, Merlin was ready to agree to go despite his personal conviction, but Arthur could tell what Merlin was planning and he didn't want that.

“Don't make yourself,” the king said before Merlin could utter a word. “I don't want you to do this, if it's not fun for you. I'll find someone else to go with me. Someone who enjoys hunting.”

Merlin wished he could take his words back. He didn't want to make Arthur sad and the king clearly hoped for a few hours of hunting with him by his side. However, it was too late. Arthur didn't want to force him to do this.

 


 

On the next day, Merlin was occupied with his usual tasks. Since Arthur went hunting with Leon and Percival, he had more time to fill some reports and prepare materials for young witches and wizards who just started to embrace their gifts. Merlin was willing to help them on their way. Besides, it was a perfect opportunity to shape the minds of the future generations of magic users. Merlin was going to make sure that none of them needed to follow Morgana's path. To fulfil that, these young people had to feel secure and needed in the kingdom they lived.

Merlin was deep in his thoughts when someone knocked on the door urgently. He raised his gaze and said shortly “come in.”

The door was pushed open and he saw George entering the room. However, the man didn't look his usual stable self. He was pale and clearly shaken.

“What happened?” asked Merlin, standing up from his desk in rush.

“The king's got hurt during the hunt,” said George with a slightly trembling voice.

Merlin felt his heart skip a bit. “Where is he?” he asked hastily. There was nothing in this world that could stop him from getting to his king as fast as possible.

“In his own chambers. Gaius is already with him,” George informed him. He wanted to add something but Merlin no longer listened to him. He walked past him and rushed towards Arthur's rooms.

He didn't waste time on knocking and burst into the royal chambers like a mad man with his magic boiling inside him.

“Arthur,” he whispered and rushed towards his bed, not paying much attention to Gwen and Gaius.

“He will be all right,” Gaius assured him. “The wound is quite deep but he's reacting nicely to my medicaments.”

“I want to make sure,” said Merlin and put his hand on Arthur's bandaged side. He whispered a few words in a language long forgotten and his eyes turned gold for a short moment. His magic was penetrating Arthur's wound, making sure that everything was going to heal nicely. When he was done, he looked at Gwen and asked, “what happened?”

Guinevere sighed heavily. “It was a boar. Leon and Percival say that it came out of nowhere and Arthur didn't have much time to make a dodge,” she explained.

“It shouldn't have happened,” mumbled Merlin. “I should have been there by his side, protecting him.”

“You can't be by his side all the time,” Gwen pointed out. She glanced at Gaius and he gave her a sign that he was leaving them alone. Arthur was safe. He was certain that from now on, Merlin was going to keep an eye on him.

When they were left alone, Gwen hugged Merlin tightly. She had a feeling that Merlin needed it.

“Arthur asked me to go with him on this hunting trip,” he said. “It's my fault I wasn't there.”

“Stop this nonsense,” Gwen told him firmly. “Arthur is safe and strong. He'll learn to be more careful in the future.”

“I'm just worried about him,” Merlin admitted. “I work so hard to keep him safe and he puts himself in danger time after time.”

Gwen smiled at him. “That's what he does,” she said. “Do you want to stay with him until he wakes up?” she asked. “I know you won't rest until you make sure that he's completely fine.”

“I would like to stay but I don't want to bother you,” he said.

“You won't,” she assured him. “I'll go to my side chambers to have some rest but please let me know when he wakes up. I need to talk to him very seriously about the hunting trips in the future.”

Merlin smiled fondly at her. “That's two of us, then,” he said. “I'll stay with him. Thank you.”

“You're welcome. I know how much you care for my husband,” she said. “I would never try to keep you two apart.” With these words, she walked towards the doors to her private chambers.

Merlin didn't think too much about what Gwen just said to him. His attention was mostly focused on Arthur and his well-being. Deep down, Merlin knew that Arthur was safe and that he couldn't die as long as Merlin lived. Their lives were entwined, as they shared one heart. Arthur could feel pain and he could be bruised but he was going to live as long as Merlin. After all, it was half of Merlin's heart that was beating in his chest, not the other way around.

When Arthur finally gained back his consciousness a couple of hours later, Merlin scolded him for being careless but Arthur knew that it was a pose. Merlin was simply happy to see him awake.

Gwen also stated her strong opinion on Arthur's attitude towards safety. He knew that she would be coming back to the subject for the next few days because she was worried. However, it didn't matter. He couldn't focus much on what Merlin and Gwen were telling him. He couldn't stop thinking about the weird dreams that he had while he was unconscious. They were much more clear and vivid than the dreams that he usually had these days and they made him wonder about his life and his choices.



 

Chapter Text

These things always come too soon. Merlin knew it but this knowledge didn't make it any less painful.

Gaius died peacefully in his sleep the previous night. No one expected it. No one could. Gaius was full of life, and despite his old age, he was in great condition. He could live for a few more years but apparently his time had come. There was nothing Merlin could do to change that but he felt guilty nonetheless.

It was Gilli who found Gaius in the morning. After all, they shared the quarters and they worked together. At first Gilli didn't want to believe it. He checked Gaius' pulse several times before he let himself acknowledge the truth. He didn't know what to do and whom he should inform first. It never truly occurred to him that the day like this would come.

Eventually, he decided that he needed to inform the king. He wasn't ready to tell Merlin. He knew that the Court Sorcerer was going to be devastated.

Arthur was saddened by the news. He and Guinevere went to Gaius' quarters to pay their respect to their late friend. There were many things that had to be done before they were going to bid him a final farewell, but first of all they needed to inform Merlin. It was the hardest part.

 


 

Merlin was in the middle of his morning routines when someone knocked on his door. He didn't think too much about it and said: “enter!”

“Arthur?” he asked, surprised. Arthur visited him often but not in the mornings. The king had many duties that he needed to attend to before he could let himself have some leisure time.

“Sit down, Merlin,” Arthur asked him. There was something decisive in his voice that made Merlin follow his request.

“What happened?” Merlin asked him when he sat down. “Arthur?”

Arthur walked up to his chair and kneeled in front of him. That wasn't something that Merlin could ever expect. It was somehow terrifying.

“You need to promise me that you won't do anything stupid,” Arthur told him quietly.

“You're scaring me,” whispered Merlin.

Arthur took a deep breath. He knew that there was no way to put it delicately but he had to try.

“Just say it.”

“Gaius died in his sleep last night,” Arthur finally dared to tell him.

Merlin's face paled instantly. “What?” he uttered in a broken voice.

He wanted to stand up and run to Gaius' rooms to see it with his own eyes but fortunately Arthur was faster. He stood up from his kneeling position and caught Merlin in his arms just before his friend's knees gave in.

“I've got you,” Arthur whispered into Merlin's ear.

“I need to see him,” Merlin protested but leaned on his king for support.

“Later,” Arthur promised him. “When you calm down.”

Merlin started sobbing on his shoulder. He'd been holding back his tears for a moment but couldn't do this any longer. Arthur stood patiently, caressing Merlin's neck in an attempt to soothe him.

“It's too soon,” Merlin whispered and Arthur couldn't agree more.

Slowly, he led Merlin towards the bed and helped him lie down in it.

“Stay,” Merlin whispered shyly.

“I'm not going anywhere,” Arthur promised and lay down by Merlin's side.

That was something that Merlin needed at this moment. He moved towards Arthur and hid his face in the crook of Arthur's neck. Arthur didn't mind it at all. He moved closer to his friend and put his arm around his waist to hug him. Their position was a bit uncomfortable but he didn't care. Merlin was going through hell this very moment and he needed Arthur to be with him and to keep him sane.

“What shall I do now?” whispered Merlin after a long moment of silence.

“Live,” said Arthur almost pleadingly. “You need to live your life. That's what Gaius would want.”

Merlin took a deep breath. “I'm not going to do anything stupid,” he whispered.

“I know,” said Arthur. “I'm glad.”

Merlin moved a bit, changing their position to a more comfortable one. They were very close with their bodies pressed into one another. It was an intimate moment and in different circumstances Merlin wouldn't have dared to let himself be in such a position. However, at this moment, he needed Arthur more than ever. He needed his consolation and understanding. He simply felt loved and cared for, and although it could never be like this between them, he couldn't care less for the time being. It almost seemed that the time stopped and that he was Arthur's and Arthur was his.

Merlin's eyes closed slowly and he fell asleep. Arthur stayed awake, watching him all that time until he woke up nearly two hours later.

He was confused at first, not knowing why Arthur was there. Then the realisation came to him, and he sat up on the bed quickly. Arthur followed him immediately.

“It wasn't a bad dream, was it?” he asked weakly and Arthur's sad eyes gave him his answer.

Merlin lowered his gaze, trying very hard to stay calm.

“Merlin...” Arthur whispered softly.

“I want to see him,” said Merlin decisively. “I need to see him with my own eyes.”

Arthur wanted to protest but he realised that it was pointless. Merlin needed to say goodbye to his friend. It was essential in the process of grief.

“All right,” the king agreed. “We'll go to see him.”

Merlin smiled at him faintly. His heart filled with an overwhelming warmth. Arthur was going to go with him. It was a small thing but Merlin was grateful. Arthur was very patient with him and displayed his care. Merlin couldn't hope for a better person to be his other half, despite all the other obstacles that were in their way.

However, nothing could prepare him for this moment. Merlin was standing in front of Gaius' body that was covered by a sheet, but he couldn't make himself lift it up.

“Take your time,” Arthur told him quietly. He knew what Merlin was going through. He still remembered the day when his father died, and despite all the differences that he had with Uther, his death hurt him deeply.

“Can you do it for me?” Merlin asked him. “I need to see him but I can't make myself...”

“Of course.”

Arthur walked up to him, grabbed the sheet and slowly pulled it down.

Merlin gasped. Gaius looked as if he was asleep but Merlin could see that there was no life left in him. It was just a body. A vessel. Gaius was long gone.

Merlin felt a few tears run down his cheeks. Gaius wouldn't want him to cry but the loss was stronger than that thought. He need to grieve and the tears were part of it.

“Do you want me to leave?” Arthur asked him tactfully.

Merlin didn't want to stay alone. Not in a moment like this. “No,” he said firmly and grabbed Arthur's wrist to make him stay.

“All right,” said Arthur and moved closer to his friend. “I'll stay as long as you need me.”

Deep down Merlin felt that it wasn't right. Arthur was the king and he had kingdom to rule. It wasn't fair to occupy so much of his precious time. After all, Merlin was an adult and he had dealt with death of others many times before. He could manage on his own.

Nonetheless, he wasn't strong enough to tell Arthur to go take care of his kingdom when he was willing to stay there with Merlin. He wanted to be selfish this one time, so he gave in and let Arthur stay by his side.

 


 

The funeral was beautiful, at least as much as such a sad ceremony could be. Gaius was dressed in elegant robes and the boat in which his body was put was decorated with the finest flowers. Almost the whole Camelot came to bid him goodbye but it wasn't surprising. Gaius was respected by the poor and the rich equally. He was the type of man who could gain the trust of almost anyone. He had many friends during his life and this thought almost consoled Merlin.

Even Hunith came to see her old friend during his last journey. Merlin was grateful for her support. She stood firmly by his side, understanding very well what her son was going through.

When the boat with Gaius' body was ignited, she embraced Merlin tighter. The only thing that Merlin was missing was Arthur's embrace but the king couldn't display such affection towards him in public. It wouldn't be appropriate.

Hunith stayed the night in Camelot, wanting to spend as much time with her son as possible.

“You have a great life here, Merlin,” she told him in the evening. “You have a respected position at the Court and you are free to use your magic.”

Merlin could sense that there was a but in the air. He knew his mother too well.

“But?” he asked after a few moments of silence.

Hunith looked him in the eye. “You're not happy, son,” she said sadly.

“Gaius just died, mother,” he tried to explain. “I have right to be sad.”

“That's not it, Merlin.” She sighed. “You try to hide it but mother always knows when there's something wrong. And I can see that something is missing in your life.”

Merlin lowered his gaze. “That's not important, mother. You shouldn't be worried.”

“Merlin, I'm your mother. I want you to be happy,” she told him.

“I am happy,” he said. “At least as much as it's possible.”

Hunith looked at him understandingly. “It's about Arthur, isn't it?”

Merlin's heart started beating harder at her words. He was aware that his mother knew him well but he hoped that he could hide his feelings better. He didn't want to worry her in any way.

“You're embarrassed,” she said quietly. “You shouldn't be.”

Merlin started trembling slightly. It was too much for one day. Gaius' funeral and this conversation. He didn't feel ready for any of this, let alone for all of it at once.

“It's complicated,” Merlin told her finally.

“Perhaps you need a break,” she suggested. “Perhaps you could come live with me for some time...”

“No,” said Merlin firmly. “I won't leave Arthur. I can't.”

“Think about it. You've been through a lot recently. You should rest and it's impossible here in Camelot. I'm sure Arthur would understand.”

“He would,” Merlin assured her. “He's a great... he's great. But I don't want to live apart from him. You may think it's wrong and that I'm... disgusting but...”

“Don't even think that!” Hunith scolded him. “You're not disgusting. You have a beautiful and caring heart. You shouldn't be ashamed of what you feel.”

“But not all of my thoughts are beautiful and pure,” he admitted. Saying it to his mother was difficult but he felt that he needed to share it with someone. Merlin wasn't as pure and selfless as some people believed. He couldn't help being jealous more often than not. He couldn't get rid of some impure thoughts that were haunting his dreams. Merlin wasn't perfect and his mother needed to know that.

Hunith looked at him sadly. “That's completely understandable,” she told him. “But you have a good heart. You've sacrificed so much for this kingdom and for Arthur.”

“I still lie to him,” said Merlin and a couple of tears ran down his face. “I don't want to but I have to.”

“I'm sure you have your reasons,” said Hunith. “Sometimes we lie to the people we love the most. I'm not saying it's right or healthy but we do it to protect them.”

Merlin nodded silently and Hunith hugged him tightly. Her son needed love and support. He needed her. She regretted that they were seeing each other so rarely.

“I need to visit you more often,” she told him and finally released him from her embrace. “You're a grown man and you make your own choices but I can tell that you would benefit from my support from time to time.”

“You could even move to Camelot if you wanted,” Merlin told her.

“No,” she said. “You need to live your life on your own and I need to live mine. Camelot isn't for me. I'm a village woman and that's where my place is.”

“Then you should visit me more often,” Merlin agreed with what she said before.

“That I can do,” she promised him.

Hunith felt that her son wanted to change the subject. They had a difficult talk and he needed something to cheer him up. However, before they could do this, she felt that she needed to clarify something.

“Merlin,” she said seriously and he looked at her a bit uncertainly. “I wish you could have a happier life. A life that wouldn't be full of sacrifices. A life in which you wouldn't have to hide anything from the world.”

“Mother...”

“Let me finish,” she asked him. “I just want my child's happiness. That's what all parents should wish for their children. But these are just my wishes... Arthur may never understand it and you deserve so much more. You deserve to be loved and cared for as much as you love and care. I want you to live your life fully. To experience it all but... but I also know that you wouldn't have been happier without Arthur in your life.”

Merlin felt that it was a moment to reveal his greatest secret to his mother. He needed her to know and understand.

“You're right,” he whispered. “I'm glad to live this life with Arthur as my king and my friend. I'd rather live like this for a thousand years than live my life without him. I almost lost him and I did everything I could to keep him alive. You could say that it was noble but it was selfish. I couldn't imagine a life without him. Look,” he said and put her hand on his chest. “Can you feel my heartbeat?”

Hunith was surprised by his question. “Of course,” she said.

“It's just a half of my heart. Arthur has the other half. Literally,” he explained.

“What did you do, Merlin?” she asked, both curious and terrified.

“It was the only way to save him,” he said. “And it wouldn't have worked if Arthur wasn't my other half.”

“My boy...” Hunith whispered. “I used to think that you were like two sides of the same coin but I never thought that... Does Arthur know?”

“No, and he should never find out,” he said firmly. “It was my choice to split my heart in two. I don't want him to feel guilty. After the years of serving him I found out that I never really had a choice. He was chosen for me by the gods or fate or I don't know what. But I also learned that even if I had a choice, I would have still chosen him. I am happy to serve him, mother. I'm happy to have him in my life and I know that he cares for me too. This is enough.”

“And you say that you're selfish,” she said and hugged him tightly. “Arthur doesn't know what he's missing.”

“And I want to keep it that way.”

 


 

Hunith went back to Ealdor on the next day. Merlin wasn't sure if he had done well to share his secrets and worries with her but she seemed to appreciate that. He couldn't wait for her next visit. It was good to have her around. No one could love him and accept him the way his mother did.

Once Hunith was gone, all saddening thoughts about Gaius came back to him. Luckily, Arthur was still there to keep him company in the evenings. Sometimes they talked, sometimes they laughed and other times they remained silent. It was almost perfect. Merlin kept on catching himself thinking about what could have been if the circumstances were different. It wasn't healthy but it was somehow comforting.

However, he didn't spend all his time with Arthur. It was impossible. Although they both grew even closer these days, Merlin had other friends that needed him, and he was willing to be there for them too. Moreover, their company made Merlin feel better as well. Especially Gilli's.

Gilli had become a physician after Gaius' death. Merlin was fully aware that it was scaring for his friend, therefore he was ready to help him as much as he could. Besides, it was good to occupy his thoughts with something important. Merlin had lots of experience in this field and he and Gilli made quite a team. Of course Arthur, being Arthur, was a bit grumpy about it, but even he understood that it was good both for Merlin and the kingdom. That was why Arthur learned to tolerate the quickly developing friendship between Merlin and Gilli. It was difficult but he managed. Guinevere even told him that she was proud of him which made Arthur embarrassed. He didn't realise until that moment that his jealousy of Merlin's new friendship was so transparent. He used to believe that he could hide his true emotions better than that. When he said it to his wife, she just laughed loudly and said, “Oh, Arthur. Who knows you better than your own wife? You were always like this when it concerned Merlin.”

Arthur didn't like her words at all. He was a king. He was supposed to know better than to display such raw emotions as jealousy. It hurt his pride.

Their conversation was interrupted by the knocking at the door.

“Enter,” said Arthur, glad that his humiliation was over. Guinevere knew him way too well. That was annoying because he couldn't read her as well as she read him.

To his surprise, it was Sir Leon who entered the room.

“Leon? Has something happened?” Arthur's voice was filled with concern. It was quite late and the knights didn't visit him at such hour unless it was something important.

“Don't worry, my lord, it's nothing horrible,” Leon assured him quickly. “I just wanted to talk to you and the Queen in private. It's a personal matter but I need your permission, Sire.”

Arthur was intrigued and so was Guinevere, judging by the look on her face.

“What is it, then?” the king asked.

Leon looked at him uncertainly, slightly embarrassed. “There is a woman I would like to marry but the marriage would require me to leave Camelot,” he finally said.

That wasn't something that Arthur ever considered. “Is it really necessary? I wouldn't want to lose one of my best knights and my old friend,” he admitted. “Can't you bring your future wife here to Camelot? I'm sure we could think of some suitable house for the two of you.”

Leon smiled lightly. “I appreciate your proposition but I'm afraid it's not possible.” The knight sighed. “The woman I intend to marry can't leave her home.”

“It's Princess Mithian, isn't it?” Guinevere suddenly spoke up. “You two seemed very friendly during the anniversary feast.”

Arthur looked at her, surprised, and then he looked back at Leon. The knight was blushing. “Yes, it's Princess Mithian,” he admitted.

“That would make you the future king of Nemeth,” Arthur said.

“That's not why I want to marry her,” Leon assured him hastily. “Gaius' death made me realise that life is short and that I'm not getting any younger. Princess Mithian is a remarkable woman who practically rules her kingdom. Her father won't live much longer and I'm afraid that without his support, some of the counsellors will require her to marry a man of their choice. This world doesn't praise strong and independent women.”

“They may choose someone from their midst,” the Queen pointed out. “It may not end well.”

“Precisely,” Leon agreed with her. “If she marries now with her father's blessing, the counsellors will have to accept her spouse.”

“Leon...” Arthur started. “Do you want to marry Mithian because it's an honourable thing to do or because you have feelings for her?”

“Both, my lord,” the knight said honestly. “But I won't do it, if you don't release me from my vows to you. You are my king and only you can decide on my fate.” Saying that, Leon knelt down in front of him. “I only ask you to consider all factors.”

“Stand up, Leon,” Arthur told him. “There's nothing to consider. As I said before, it will pain me to lose such a fine knight, but you should follow your heart and your honour. You are released from my service.”

Leon's face broke out in a wide grin. “Thank you, Arthur. I mean... my lord. It means the world to me.”

“I know,” Arthur said. “I just lost a great knight but perhaps I'm about to gain a true ally for a lifetime.”

“You can be certain of that,” Leon assured him. “You are a good king and friend.”

Gwen clasped her hands. “I think it calls for a celebration,” she said with a wide smile. “I'm happy for you, Leon. You deserve it.”

“Thank you, my lady,” he said, thinking it was her that he had secretly loved many years ago. He'd loved her when no one else noticed her and when it was impossible for a nobleman to be with a peasant girl. A lot had changed since then and now he knew that Guinevere was meant for the greater things than him and his youthful affection.

“It's Gwen for you, Leon,” she reminded him. “Just Gwen.”



 

Chapter Text

Merlin and Gilli worked a lot together. There was something refreshing in the physician's occupation that let Merlin forget about his worries. Gilli was also a great companion and Merlin enjoyed their talks very much. He was always happy to give an advice to the young physician and in return Gilli was ready to listen to Merlin's problems if it was needed. Moreover, they often understood each other without words, which sometimes irritated Arthur, so they silently decided not to show it in public too often. Nonetheless, this ability made their work much easier and quicker so they didn't want to give it up completely.

It didn't mean, however, that Merlin stopped missing Gaius. He missed his old friend a lot but in time he learnt to deal with the loss, and the pain lessened significantly. The thought that Gaius had a long and meaningful life made it easier. Besides, Merlin knew that Gaius would want him to go forward with his life. So he did.

He was missing his mother as well. He wished that she could live somewhere closer to Camelot but she told him that Ealdor was her place. Merlin understood that. The small village had its charm and his mother spent there her entire life. Merlin couldn't expect her to leave the only place she considered home just because he was missing her madly. He was a grown man who needed to live his own life. He didn't need to have his mother around all the time.

“You're distracted,” Gilli pointed out one day.

“I'm sorry,” murmured Merlin in response.

Gilli shook his head. “Don't be sorry.” He sighed. “What's happened?”

“Nothing,” Merlin assured him. “I was just thinking about my mother.”

“You miss her. That's natural. You don't need to be ashamed.”

“I'm not ashamed,” said Merlin hastily. “I miss her because I always could tell her anything.”

Gilli looked at him seriously. “You know that you can tell me anything too, don't you?” he asked. “I won't judge you.”

“I know,” said Merlin. “I just don't want to be a burden.”

“You won't be,” Gilli assured him.”I know you had this kind of relationship with Gaius. He was your confidant and your friend. I know I'm not Gaius. We don't share as many memories as you did with him but I can be your friend. You're not alone in this world.”

Merlin smiled at him lightly. “Thank you, Gilli, I appreciate that,” he said. “You can count on me too.”

“I already do,” said Gilli and they both laughed wholeheartedly. It was a good start.

 


 

The life in Camelot started to be surprisingly peaceful these days. It didn't seem like the old Camelot Merlin remembered, full of threats and dangers. He wasn't going to complain. It was a nice change after all these tough years.

However, the peaceful life couldn't last forever. Merlin learnt that in a hard way.

It started innocently at first. He was helping Gilli as he usually did these days and they were talking about some irrelevant things when suddenly Gilli said something that made Merlin wonder.

“Is the Queen older than the King?” he simply asked.

Merlin looked at him, clearly surprised. “They're more or less the same age. You know... the Queen was once a peasant girl and no one notes the exact birthdate of us peasants but I'm almost sure that Elyan once mentioned that Gwen was born during the same year as Arthur.”

“Elyan?” Gilli asked.

“Gwen's brother,” Merlin explained. “He's already dead.”

Gilli nodded understandingly. That was why he didn't recognise the name.

After a moment of silence, Merlin couldn't stand it any longer and asked a question himself. “Why are you asking about the Queen's age?”

“It's nothing important,” the physician mumbled.

“Gilli.” Merlin insisted. There was something suspicious about Gilli's behaviour, and once Merlin noticed that, he couldn't just let it go.

Gilli sighed. “I'm their physician and I notice certain things,” he started. “The Queen is still quite young but I can see some signs of ageing in her body. And that's perfectly normal. She's ageing slowly and nicely but the King...”

“Is something wrong with Arthur?” Merlin started to be a bit worried. He didn't notice anything new about Arthur recently but he could have skipped something.

“There's nothing wrong,” Gilli assured him hastily. “King Arthur is in a great shape. There's just something strange about him.”

Merlin frowned. “What exactly?”

“He doesn't seem to age at all to me,” Gilli admitted. “Perhaps it just runs in his family. I don't know the medical history of his ancestors very well. I haven't been in Camelot that long. But perhaps...” Gilli went silent and glanced curiously at Merlin.

“Just say it, Gilli,” Merlin asked him.

“Couldn't it be your magic?” he asked hesitantly.

The frown on Merlin's forehead deepened. “I'm not doing anything to stop Arthur from ageing,” said Merlin. “I never even thought about it.”

“Perhaps you do it unconsciously,” Gilli suggested. “You don't seem to age much yourself. At least recently.”

Merlin wanted to deny it but he couldn't. He didn't give it much thought before but it seemed to be true. He always looked younger than he actually was. Perhaps it made him so oblivious to his recent lack of ageing. Merlin was no longer sure what was true and what wasn't. Half-consciously he glanced at his reflection in the mirror. His complexion was as smooth as always. He could see a few wrinkles on his forehead but they were there before Camlann. He was sure that he'd gained them because of his constant worrying about the prophecy about Arthur and Mordred. It all made him wonder if his magic was doing it to him without his knowledge. Some sorcerers and witches made themselves look younger deliberately. Nimueh was a perfect example. She must have been at least as old as Uther but she looked very young until her last days.

“If I knew it would make you worry, I would've never mentioned that,” Gilli said, interrupting his chain of thoughts. “I'm sorry.”

“You shouldn't be,” Merlin told him. “I'm glad you made me notice certain things. I need to investigate them,” he said decisively.

Gilli looked at him suspiciously. “I don't like it, Merlin,” he said honestly. “It's surely nothing serious. It must be your magic playing tricks...”

“Perhaps you're right,” said Merlin and sighed heavily. “But it could be something else. I need to find out the truth to be certain.”

“How are you going to find out?” Gilli asked him. “You read all the books you could find about magic. That's impressive, by the way, but since all other high priests and priestesses are gone, you are the most knowledgeable person in the field of magic.”

“Exactly,” said Merlin. “A person.”

Gilli gasped. “Are you going to call Kilgharrah?” he asked in disbelief.

“No, of course not,” Merlin assured him. “I think I told you that I set him free. He took a great part in rescuing Arthur. I promised him that I would never call him again. It was out of gratitude. I will not break my word.”

“Who, then?” asked Gilli, fearing the answer.

“The Sidhe,” Merlin said firmly.

“It's not a good idea,” Gilli told him. “You know what they're like.”

“I know it very well,” Merlin confirmed. “I'm sure they won't be happy to help me but they're the only creatures old enough to have answers to my questions. I should have paid them a visit long time ago. I waited too long.”

“It's insane,” said Gilli but smiled lightly. He knew that there was nothing he could do to stop Merlin. Once the idea was born in his mind, he was unstoppable. “Promise me to be careful.”

“I will be,” Merlin promised him and smiled back.

“Don't promise them too much,” Gilli warned him. “They are greedy.”

“Don't worry about it. They may have the knowledge I seek but I am Emrys and they fear me,” he said half-jokingly. “I'm sure we will find a compromise.”

“Merlin, you can't be too cocky with them,” said Gilli warningly. “You may be Emrys but they know things we can't imagine. It's their advantage. If you're not careful, they will trick you in one way or another.”

“I met them before, Gilli. I know how to deal with them,” Merlin assured him.

“It's still risky,” said Gilli. “They hurt many people before. Wise people. I don't know why you insist on visiting them so much but it must be important to you.”

“It is,” Merlin assured him.

“I know you met the Sidhe before but every Sidhe is different. I heard many stories about them. I met people who lost their loved ones because of them.” Gilly looked at him seriously. “You went through a lot in your life. I don't want you to get hurt more. You are my friend.”

Merlin smiled warmly at him. “That's very touching,” he said. “I understand your worries but there's no need for them. I know what I'm doing.”

Gilli shook his head, resigned. “Are you going to tell the king where you're going?” he asked.

“Of course not,” said Merlin. “I don't want him to worry. I'll just tell him that I need to do some research. It won't even be a lie.”

“It won't be entirely true either,” Gilli pointed out.

“I know what you think, Gilli, but it's important to me. I just want you to back up my story if Arthur starts asking you.”

Gilli looked at him pointedly. “I don't think the king will come here to ask me questions about your little quest. He requests my presence only when he deems it necessary.”

“He would do it, if he found my behaviour suspicious,” said Merlin. “He knows I've been spending a lot of time here recently.”

“And he doesn't like it,” Gilli murmured. “He's jealous and you know it.”

“It's not important right now,” said Merlin firmly. He didn't want to have this conversation again. “I just need to know if you're on my side in this. Will you back up my story if Arthur asks you about it?”

“Of course,” Gilli confirmed. “I always support you, even if I don't really like what you're doing.”

“Thank you,” said Merlin honestly. “It's good to know.”

 


 

Luckily, Arthur didn't ask many questions about Merlin's little quest.. The king looked a little sad when he heard that Merlin was going to be absent for a few days but he understood that it was essential for Merlin's research. He didn't understand magic very well but he understood and admired Merlin's commitment to his position as the Court Sorcerer.

Arthur asked only one question when Merlin informed him about his plans. “Is it dangerous?”

Merlin didn't want Arthur to worry about him but his concern was touching. “Not more dangerous than my previous quests,” he answered not entirely honestly. The truth was that he had no idea how dangerous his mission was going to be.

Arthur nodded and said, “Just don't do anything stupid.”

“I won't,” Merlin promised and said his goodbye. Being far from Arthur felt different these days but he couldn't be always by his side. Sometimes, he needed to have a quest of his own. Alone.

He started his journey at dawn. There was no time to waste. He took the fastest horse he could find because he wanted to come back as soon as possible. They lived in quite peaceful times but he didn't want to tempt fate. Arthur and Camelot needed his protection regardless of circumstances.

The day was quiet. It didn't feel at all as if something life-changing was going to happen.

Merlin had breaks only to feed and water his horse. He was too anxious to eat himself.

When the day came to an end, he knew that he had to let the horse rest. However, he wasn't far from the Lake of Avalon and he didn't want to waste more time. He was certain that he wouldn't sleep anyway. His anxiety was too strong for that.

Not thinking too much, Merlin tied his horse to a tree and put a protection spell on its surroundings. He didn't want the horse to get hurt by some wild animals while he was gone. He made sure that it would be safe until he came back.

Having it done, Merlin rushed towards the Lake. He was going to reach it in an hour or two, depending on his pace. He wasn't too good in estimating.

The journey to the Lake went by quicker than he expected. He had a clear aim in his mind and he was completely focused on it.

When he reached the shore, the moon was high in the sky. The air above the Lake was cool but Merlin liked this refreshing feeling. He was ready for what was to come. He took a deep breath and said as loud as he could, “The Sidhe, I'm calling you!”

Nothing happened, as he expected. The Sidhe weren't the compliant creatures. In order to get to them, Merlin needed to be patient and insistent.

“The Sidhe!” he started again. “I want to talk to you as a creature of magic with other creatures of magic. We were born of the same elements.”

“It's not going to be enough,” suddenly, he heard a female voice. He turned in the direction of its source and couldn't help smiling when he saw a young woman. “Freya,” he greeted her. “I didn't expect to see you.”

Freya smiled at him from the Lake. “I know,” she said. “So many years have passed.”

“And you're still here,” he whispered.

“I will always be here,” she told him. “Even when you can't see me, I'm here. This is my home, as long as the Lake exists.”

“You deserve more,” said Merlin a bit sadly.

“I like it here,” she said honestly. “It's peaceful. Most of the time.”

Merlin nodded understandingly. He wasn't sure what else he should say. He once loved that girl and wanted to build his future with her. It seemed like ages had passed since those times.

“You don't need to feel guilty,” Freya told him as if she could read his mind. “I understand. Your heart belongs to someone else now.”

“Quite literally,” Merlin couldn't help saying, which only widened her smile.

“You're looking for some answers,” she said eventually.

“It would be too much to expect that you know them, wouldn't it?” he asked.

“I'm afraid so,” Freya confirmed it. “You need the Sidhe but they are proud creatures. It won't be easy.”

“Do you know them well, Freya?”

“Not well enough,” she told him sadly. “They don't trust people, even if they have magic.”

“What shall I do, then?” Merlin asked her. “I need to talk to them.”

“Show them that you mean it,” she gave him an advice. “They respect power. They're drawn to it like a moth is drawn to a flame. You need to gain their respect.”

“Thank you, Freya,” he said. “I think I know what I should do.”

“You're welcome, Merlin. It's always good to see you.” She looked at him almost longingly which made Merlin feel a bit guilty.

“Can I do something for you?” he asked her.

“Love your king in a way you couldn't love me. He's worth it and the world needs this love,” she told him.

Merlin blushed slightly. Talking to Freya about his feelings for Arthur was both embarrassing and thrilling.

“I already love him in a way that scares me,” he admitted sheepishly.

“I know,” she said quietly. “Good luck, Merlin.”

Before Merlin could add anything else, Freya was gone. He sighed inwardly. Perhaps it was better this way. Then he remembered why he had come to the Lake and what Freya told him a moment ago. He knew what he had to do.

Merlin closed his eyes and raised his hands, trying to focus all his magic on the surface of the Lake. He took a few deep breaths and started reciting words the meaning of which he didn't know. They were coming deep from inside of him, pouring into the world. Suddenly, he opened his eyes, feeling that they were emanating more gold light than usually. His magic was wild and beautiful. The Sidhe had to feel it too. It was too strong to be ignored.

In less than a minute, Merlin found out that Freya was right. He noticed a small rip in the water and then it started growing and growing. Before he could do anything, three creatures got out of it and hovered above the surface of the Lake, leering at Merlin suspiciously.

Merlin withdrew slowly his powers and looked at the Sidhe triumphantly.

“Why did you call us?” asked the creature that looked the oldest.

“I need some answers,” said Merlin in an authoritative voice. “I believe you have them.”

“Why would we help you, Emrys?” asked the only female Sidhe that came to see him. “You're no friend of ours.”

“I admit that we had a difficult past but what's done is done,” Merlin told them. “I never meant to torment you.”

The oldest one snorted. “We do not trust you.”

“As far as I know, you trust no one,” Merlin pointed out. “But we are creatures of magic. We should be on the same side.”

“We will never be on the same side as the son of men,” said the one that remained silent until that moment. “We're Sidhe.”

“I understand,” said Merlin, “but perhaps there's something I could give you in return for your answers.”

The Sidhe looked at one another.

“Perhaps,” said the oldest one. “Tell us what you want to know and we'll consider it.”

Merlin had to stop himself from expressing his joy. He needed to stay calm, otherwise the Sidhe would deceive him. “I need to know how the heart-sharing works and how it influences me and Arthur. I have a feeling that my magic does things that I don't control, and I don't like it. I just need to know the truth.”

The female Sidhe snorted. “Shouldn't you have asked these questions before you decided to split your heart in two?” she asked viciously.

“There was no time then,” said Merlin truthfully. “I had to save my king.”

“You altered your destiny, Emrys,” said the oldest one. “These things always come with consequences.”

Merlin started getting impatient. “Do you know the answers to my questions or not?” he asked, wanting to end it once and for all.

“Of course we do,” said the Sidhe.

“Will you share them with me?”

The female Sidhe smirked. “It depends,” she said.

“On what?” asked Merlin but he didn't like the tone of her voice.

“On your decision. You have no idea what's ahead of us,” she told him.

“A difficult time for Albion and magic is coming,” the most silent Sidhe added. “We need an alliance.”

“With me?” Merlin had to clarify it. “I thought you didn't trust me.”

“Of course we don't trust you,” the oldest one confirmed. “The Sidhe keep the knowledge of many generations but we're not as powerful as we used to be. We're decimated and we may not have a choice but to create an alliance with you.”

“We need protection,” the female Sidhe explained.

“And you believe that I can protect you from all the threats that are coming?” asked Merlin in disbelief. “I'm not as powerful as you deem me to be.”

The three of them sneered. “You have no idea,” said the oldest one.

“All right.” Merlin had enough. “If you believe in my powers so much, then you have my word that I will protect you,” he said.

“We don't want your word. The word of man is worthless,” said the female Sidhe.

“What do you want, then?” Merlin asked. He wished the creatures of magic were more direct in their interactions with people.

“A few droplets of your blood, Emrys,” the oldest explained. “That shall be enough to protect our home.”

Merlin frowned. He did not expect such turn of events.

“What kind of magic is that?” he asked suspiciously.

“This is the first protection spell that was created,” the Sidhe explained. “It's also the most efficient one.”

Merlin knew that he had no choice if he wanted to find out what was happening to him and Arthur.

“I agree to your terms,” he said, “but if you deceive me in any way, you'll know my rage.”

“There will be no need for your rage,” the oldest Sidhe told him. “Your protection is in our best interest.”

“Very well, then. How should I give you the droplets of my blood?” he asked.

“Pour them into the Lake right from your finger,” the Sidhe said. “That shall be enough.”

Merlin nodded and did as he was told. He felt a sudden wave of his magic surrounding the Lake. It surprised him a bit that it went so quickly.

“I did my part,” he said. “Now I require the answers.”

“What exactly do you wish to know?” the Sidhe asked him.

“First of all, I think that I and Arthur stopped ageing,” he explained. “I didn't put any spell on us. At least not intentionally.”

“It's easy,” the oldest Sidhe told him. “All your answers are in your name, Emrys.”

“In my name?” he looked at them suspiciously. “What does it have to do with anything? I did what you wanted and I require straight answers.”

“It's easy, Emrys. Haven't you ever wondered what your Druid name truly means?” The Sidhe asked him.

“It's just a name,” said Merlin. “It doesn't have to mean anything.”

“You people are ignorant,” he said. “You focus on trivial things while you completely ignore what's most important.”

“Enlighten me, then,” said Merlin impatiently. “What does Emrys mean? The one who's naïve?” he asked mockingly.

The Sidhe snorted once again. “How someone as ignorant as you can be the great Emrys is beyond my understanding. Emrys is not just a name. It's a prophecy and it means Immortal.”

Merlin gaped at them in disbelief. They couldn't be serious.

“You're lying,” he accused them.

“You're in denial,” they replied. “Whether you want it or not, you are immortal. The Once and Future King was supposed to die in the aftermath of Camlann and you were supposed to walk the Earth for centuries, waiting for his return. However, you changed your destiny. You saved Arthur Pendragon, creating a completely new path of your destiny.”

It was too much for Merlin. He wanted to run away and hide somewhere where no one could find him, but he needed more answers. He needed to know the whole truth.

“If I'm immortal and Arthur is going to live as long as I do, does it mean...?” Merlin couldn't make himself to finish this sentence. He feared that once it was said, there would be no denying it.

“When you split your heart in two and put its half in his chest, you made him immortal too,” the Sidhe confirmed his fears.

“That's why we're not getting any older,” Merlin said more to himself than to them. “But it can't be true... it just can't.”

“It is the truth. You were told that the alteration of your destiny would have dire consequences,” they said. “Does it answer all your questions?”

Merlin gulped. A few moments ago he had dozens of questions running through his head but this one thing answered them all. He was speechless. He needed to think it through.

“That's all,” he told the Sidhe, letting them go. He was too dumbstruck to face them. He wanted to stay alone.

The Sidhe didn't have to be told twice. In mere seconds Merlin was left alone on the shore of the Lake that once again seemed quiet and innocent. However, Merlin couldn't admire its beauty while the storm was raging inside him.



 

Chapter Text

Merlin didn't know how he managed to come back to Camelot. His way back was blurred and it went quickly. The night turned into the day and then into another night. All he knew was that he reached Camelot in the late evening and that someone took the reins from his hands and led his horse to the stables. Merlin didn't even acknowledge who it was.

When he was left alone, he wasn't sure what to do. Coming back to his chambers where he would be left alone with his own thoughts seemed unbearable. Merlin wanted to forget about his problems, even if it could only be for a short moment. He wanted to be oblivious again. He couldn't believe how much he'd wanted to find out the truth.

That was why he found himself going in the direction of the Lower Town with an intention of finding the most disgusting and godforsaken tavern.

Before he entered it, he pulled a hood over his eyes, hoping that no one would recognise him. He didn't want any rumours to reach Arthur's ears. It would raise the questions Merlin wasn't ready to answer.

He ordered an ale, and then another one and another. After some time he stopped counting them. He had enough money to drink himself to death but then again he couldn't do that because he was immortal. Merlin groaned, wondering if there was enough ale in the world to make him forget about it even for a moment. He started doubting it.

Finally, Merlin reached the moment when he couldn't drink any longer. His whole body was aching and his bladder was full. He needed to relieve himself but to do that he needed to stand up first and it was a challenge in his current state. Merlin would like to call it walking but it was more like crawling. Nonetheless, he eventually managed to get out of the tavern. He heard some sneers but he just couldn't care less. These people considered themselves superior to him because they could handle their alcohol better. Merlin hoped that he would never get to their level of tolerance to alcohol and it meant something since he was going to have a very long life. And again this thought haunted him. Merlin just felt defeated.

Once he emptied his bladder, he decided that there was no point in coming back inside. He couldn't stop thinking about his and Arthur's future even in this state. He just couldn't forget.

His way back to the castle seemed impossible but Merlin needed to try and with a little help of his magic he managed to do that. However, passing by the guards unnoticed was another story. He hid himself in the shadows, wondering how to do this, when he thought about Gilli. The physician told him that he could always count on him. Merlin wasn't sure if he was ready to face him but it was a better alternative to facing Arthur, and he was certain that the guards would inform the king about his state. He groaned inwardly and tried to focus on the magical connection that most people of magic had. He needed to call Gilli telepathically which was difficult with his head dizzy with alcohol.

Merlin closed his eyes and focused on his friend. He wasn't far from him and in different circumstances it would be an easy task. This time, however, it took Merlin a few minutes to find the connection and once he felt it he lost it immediately. It was frustrating.

Luckily, Gilli heard his first call and formed a connection himself. It was much easier to respond to one than to maintain it.

Are you back? Gilli asked him in his head.

Yes...need help, Merlin managed to reply.

You're hurt? Gilli was clearly worried about him and Merlin hated it.

No... just drunk...the guards...

I'm coming, said Gilli and broke the connection.

Merlin was glad more than ever that he and Gilli had this ability to understand each other so easily.

It didn't take long for Gilli to find him. Merlin was aware that he was in a horrible state and expected to see disappointment in his friend's eyes. Gilli, however, was mostly worried and only a little bit annoyed.

He stretched his arm to help Merlin stand up.

“We need to hurry,” Gilli told him.

“The guards...?” mumbled Merlin.

“Let's say that they won't bother us for a few minutes,” he said and pulled Merlin towards the gate.

When they walked through it, Merlin noticed two guards sleeping on the ground.

“They'll wake up in a moment,” murmured Gilli. “They won't remember anything.”

Merlin was grateful for such a friend as Gilli. He did it all without asking any questions.

“Don't worry. I'll interrogate you later myself,” Gilli assured him, knowing very well what he was thinking about.

That much Merlin already knew. He only hoped that this later would really come later. It didn't. Instead of taking Merlin to his chamber upstairs, Gill led him towards his own quarters. At first, Merlin wanted to protest but he wasn't able to do that efficiently in his current state.

“Sit down,” said Gilli when they finally reached his quarters and helped him take a seat in a chair. “You should drink some water,” he added and rushed to bring him a jug.

That was exactly what Merlin needed. He drank the water quickly and looked at Gilli gratefully. That was all he was able to do with so much alcohol still running in his veins.

Gilli watched him with worry written all over his face which made Merlin feel even more guilty. Gilli deserved a better friend than him. That was certain.

“I don't know what could push you to do that to yourself but it can't be as bad as you think it is right now,” Gilli told him reassuringly.

“It is bad,” mumbled Merlin and hid his face in his hands. His head was pounding and he felt utterly helpless.

“We will talk about it in the morning when you're sober,” said Gilli in a highly authoritative voice. “You should sleep in your old bed tonight. It's safer this way.”

“Nothing's safe,” murmured Merlin. “Definitely not me. Arthur will be mad when he finds out... and he will...”

“You need some sleep,” Gilli told him but this time in a much friendlier tone. “Whatever it is, I'm sure it won't seem as bad in the morning.”

Merlin snorted and said, “Sleep won't change anything.”

“We shall see.”

“Gilli...” Merlin looked at him seriously. For a moment he seemed quite sober and it scared Gilli. There was something disturbing in his eyes that made Gilli shudder.

“Yes, Merlin?” he asked.

“What would you do if... if someone made you immortal without your knowledge?” Merlin finally dared to ask. He still felt terrible but the alcohol no longer seemed to have such a strong effect on him. Getting drunk was a mistake. It didn't make him forget. It just made him feel sick and generally worse than when he found out the truth.

For a short moment, Gilli gaped at him in silence. Then he realised that he should say something. Merlin was expecting some response. He needed it.

“You turned Arthur immortal?” Gilli just couldn't believe it. “How?” Suddenly, he forgot that Merlin needed to rest. The news was too shattering. He just needed to find out what happened.

“Not on purpose,” Merlin assured him.

Gilli shook his head. “How is it even possible? Immortality is not an elemental magic. It couldn't just happen out of nowhere.”

Merlin sighed. “It didn't,” he whispered. “I never told you how exactly I saved Arthur after Camlann and it's a consequence of what I've done. Arthur was dead and I couldn't stand it,” he admitted. “I made a pact to bring him back. Arthur's heart was too sick to sustain a life and the only way for him to live was to give him another heart.”

“Merlin, what did you do?” Gilli looked at him both with sadness and fear.

Merlin bit his lip and continued his story. He needed Gilli to understand. He couldn't bear the news on his own.

“There was a small chance of Arthur's survival with half of my heart. So I did what had to be done and I changed our destinies,” he admitted, trembling. “Now he's going to live as long as I live and the Sidhe just told me that I'm immortal. The Once and Future King was supposed to die in the aftermath of Camlann and I was supposed to wait for him. For centuries!”

Then Gilli understood it all. “So if you're immortal and half of your heart beats in Arthur's chest... it makes him immortal too,” he finally said.

“Exactly,” said Merlin through tears. He couldn't hold them any longer. He was too weak.

Gilli had many questions but it was not the right time for them. Merlin was in a terrible state and he needed to have some rest.

“I know it all seems horrible right now but you should have some sleep before you decide what to do,” Gilli told him caringly.

“I won't fall asleep,” Merlin mumbled. “Not with all these things running through my head.”

Gilli looked at him sadly. “I will help you,” he said. “Come on. You need to stand up. I won't carry you to your old bed.”

To his surprise, Merlin followed his request without any resistance. The truth was that the warlock simply didn't care what was going to happen to him any longer.

Gilli led him to his old room. It seemed small and empty in comparison to his new chamber but Merlin preferred it that way. Gilli helped him lie down in his old narrow bed and before he could say anything, he heard his friend murmur something. It was a sleeping spell but Merlin failed to realise that because he fell into a deep dreamless sleep right after it was spoken.

“Sleep well, Merlin,” Gilli whispered and put a blanket over his body.

He needed to have some sleep too, in order to have a clear mind in the morning. He couldn't just leave Merlin on his own with this mess. His friend needed him more than ever.

 


 

Merlin woke up in the morning with a massive headache. He was a bit confused, wondering where he was for a few moments. Then the realisation hit him like a blow. He fell back on the bed, groaning. He remembered that he got terribly drunk the previous night but most of all he remembered why he did that. His heart was beating madly in his chest, and he knew that sooner or later he would have to face Arthur. It just seemed too much for him.

He was lying in his old bed for a longer while but the thirst made him get up eventually. He didn't want to look Gill in the eye after the events of the last night, but he knew that he couldn't avoid it. His friend needed to hear an apology and explanation. Merlin was ashamed of himself but he needed to bear it bravely.

“Hello, Gilli,” he said timidly when he entered his friend's room.

Gilli looked at him, surprised.

“I didn't expect you to wake up so early,” he said honestly and rushed towards the table. “Please drink this,” he added, handing him a mug. “It's for a hangover.”

Merlin took the mug from his friend and looked at him with embarrassment.

“Thank you,” he said, not knowing what else he could say, and drank the contents of the mug in one gulp.

It tasted horrible but Merlin knew that he deserved far worse.

“Now water,” said Gilli and gave him another mug.

Merlin drank it obediently. “I don't deserve you,” he said eventually.

“Don't say that.” Gilli sighed and looked at him seriously. “We should talk now.”

Merlin nodded. He knew it was inevitable.

“I should have never put this burden on you,” he said quietly.

“You did the right thing,” Gilli assured him. “You don't have to face your problems on your own. You have friends in Camelot who are here for you. When are you going to understand that?”

Merlin shook his head. “That was too personal to share,” he explained. “What I did yesterday was immature. How could I believe that getting drunk could solve anything? That was just stupid.”

“With that one thing I agree,” Gilli said and smiled at him lightly. “But you did well to ask me for help.”

“I had no choice. If the guards had seen me in such a state, they would have informed Arthur, and he can't find out.” Merlin hid his face in his hands. His head was still aching but the pain was slowly decreasing.

“Merlin...” Gilli started delicately. “You realise that Arthur will find out sooner or later, don't you? It's not something you can hide from him forever. One day he'll notice that he's not like the others, and he'll start asking questions.”

Merlin raised his gaze and looked at him in horror.

“You can't tell him,” he said firmly. “Promise me you won't.”

“Of course I won't tell him,” Gilli assured him. “But you should. You will have to do it one day.”

“I know,” said Merlin, “but I'm not ready yet. I just don't want him to find out the truth. I don't want him to hate me.”

“I don't think he's capable of hating you, Merlin,” he said softly. “You two share a special bond and I know he wasn't given a choice but perhaps he won't consider it the worst thing in the world.”

Merlin looked at him doubtfully. “How could he not?” he asked. “Arthur has a life here in Camelot. He loves his wife dearly. The knowledge that one day it all will crumble and he will be the only one to stay... it will just crush him.”

“He won't be alone,” Gilli pointed out. “He will have you.”

Merlin snorted. “Me who made him suffer in that way. That's very comforting,” he said bitterly.

“Think about the alternative,” said Gilli. “If you hadn't done that, he would have been dead right now.”

“Arthur's a warrior. I'm sure he'd rather die in a battle, protecting his people, than slowly watch all the people he cares about die,” Merlin told him. “And I will be the one to blame.”

“You should let him decide that,” said Gilli. “Surely, he may be angry and confused at first but in time he'll understand.”

“I know you're trying to console me but it's pointless.” He sighed. “I did it myself and I'll face the consequences when the time comes. Now I should come back to my responsibilities as the Court Sorcerer. I've neglected them long enough.”

“Are you going to pretend that nothing happened?” Gilli asked him in disbelief. “You'll just face Arthur, knowing that you hide the truth from him? The truth that concerns him the most?”

“I will try,” said Merlin honestly.

“Don't do it to yourself, Merlin,” Gilli asked him. “Don't live like that.”

“Don't worry. I have plenty of life ahead of me. I can afford wasting some of it,” he said bitterly.

“Merlin...”

“I made up my mind, Gilli,” he said firmly. “Now please excuse me. I have work to do.” Saying that, he walked out of Gilli's chambers, leaving him stunned.

 


 

Merlin resumed his duties with an extraordinary commitment. The truth was that he was ready to do anything if it meant that he could avoid Arthur a bit longer. However, when the king realised that Merlin came back and didn't let him know about it, he was slightly surprised. He came to Merlin's chambers as soon as his own duties allowed him but Merlin didn't seem pleased to see him.

“Has something happened?” Arthur asked uncertainly.

“No, why?” Merlin mumbled, looking through some papers.

“You didn't come to me to say you're back,” the king said. “Hasn't it occurred to you that I could be worried?”

“I have a lot of work to do, Arthur,” he said. “I didn't want to lose more time and I assumed that you would find out I'm back one way or another.”

Arthur didn't like the tone of Merlin's voice in the slightest. There was something dismissive and emotionless about it.

“I understand that you're busy but could you at least enlighten me about the outcome of your mission?” asked Arthur in the most neutral tone he could muster at the moment. “You were very secretive about it.”

“I found what I was looking for,” Merlin answered honestly.

“Which is?” Arthur asked curiously. He tried to get him to talk about anything. There was something strange about Merlin at the moment and Arthur just wanted to get the old Merlin back.

“You won't understand it anyway,” he lied. “It concerns ancient magic.”

“If it's about the question I asked you months ago, you can tell me,” Arthur assured him.

Merlin looked at him, surprised. He had no idea what Arthur was talking about.

“If you confirmed that I can't have children because of the way I was conceived, that's fine,” Arthur clarified. “I came to terms with the idea that I won't be a father some time ago.”

Merlin felt even worse than before. He completely forgot about this request. He hated himself for being such a terrible friend.

“Your case is complicated,” he said a bit dismissively.

“Just tell me if you believe it's true. I can handle it,” said Arthur in an almost pleading tone.

“It's most likely true but I'm not certain,” Merlin told him finally. “I'm sorry.”

Arthur nodded silently. Merlin had a feeling that Arthur needed consolation but he wasn't able to give it to him. Once again he scolded himself for being an awful friend, but at the moment he was a mess himself and he just couldn't be there for Arthur.

“Now if you excuse me, there is somewhere I need to be.” Merlin hated himself for saying that, and when he saw hurt written on Arthur's face, he felt even worse.

“I won't stop you then,” said Arthur a bit coldly and rushed out of his chambers.

Merlin wished he was brave enough to deal with it in a better way. He felt like an utter coward.

 


 

Arthur didn't understand it. Merlin was cold and he avoided him all the time. He knew that something must have happened during Merlin's quest but he had no means to find out what it was. He was desperate enough in his attempt to understand it to try to get something from Gilli. Unfortunately, Gilli was a loyal friend and told him that if he was worried about Merlin, he should talk to him directly. Now Arthur was certain that Gilli knew the truth and it made him even more annoyed.

“That's unbelievable,” he said to Gwen. “Something's happened to Merlin. He's not himself and no one wants to tell me what's wrong.”

Guinevere looked at him knowingly. “I understand that you're worried and angry but perhaps you should give him more time,” she said wisely.

“I've given him enough time, Guinevere,” said Arthur. “It's been over a week and every time I try to talk to him, he finds some weak excuse. That's not how he should treat his king.”

“Calm down, Arthur. That's not how you should look at it.” She led him towards the armchair, and once he was seated, she started massaging his shoulders to ease the tension. “You're not angry because Merlin is ignoring his king. You're angry because he's avoiding a friend,” she continued. “Don't mix these two things or else you two will never find a common ground.”

“He doesn't let me find it,” Arthur pointed out. “How am I supposed to fix it if he doesn't let me know what the problem is?”

Gwen smiled at him lovingly. “Merlin won't be like this forever,” she assured him. “You're unbearable when you're apart for too long. Both of you. Merlin misses you too and he won't be able to avoid you much longer.”

“He's so powerful. He could be anywhere... Why is he still here in Camelot if he can be anywhere he wants?” Arthur asked her out of the blue.

“I thought that was obvious,” his wife told me. “He's here for you, Arthur. He believes in you.”

“It doesn't seem true any more,” said Arthur sadly.

“It's been only a week, Arthur, and you're dramatising. Merlin is not going anywhere,” Gwen assured him.

“How can you be sure, Guinevere?”

“I just am,” she said firmly. “And I'm going to end this nonsense tomorrow. I'll have a little chat with Merlin since it bothers you so much.”

Arthur wanted to say that he was a grown man, a king, and he could handle it on his own. Instead, he smiled at his wife, kissed her hand and said, “Thank you, Guinevere. You're the best wife I could imagine.”

 

Chapter Text

 Guinevere was determined to solve the conflict between Merlin and Arthur once and for all. She always took her word seriously, as it was the matter of her honour. Besides, her husband was unbearable when he was apart from Merlin for too long. It was in everyone's best interest to help them reconcile.

“My Lady,” Merlin greeted her, clearly surprised when he saw the Queen at the door.

“May I come in?” she asked him politely.

Merlin made room for her and let her in. He was still surprised to see her in his own chambers so early in the morning.

“Has something happened?” he asked, a bit worried.

Gwen was certain that this question concerned her husband, even though he didn't say Arthur's name out loud.

“That's actually a question I wanted to ask you,” she said as she looked him over.

“I don't understand, my Lady.” Merlin was clearly confused and Gwen decided to use it for her advantage.

“Drop the formalities, Merlin,” she asked him. “I crossed the door of your chambers not as your Queen but as your friend and wife of your best friend.”

Merlin lowered his gaze. Now he understood why she was like this.

“Has Arthur insulted you in any way?” she asked him quietly. “I know how he can be sometimes but I thought you could see right through it and ignore his prattish behaviour.”

“It's nothing like this, Gwen,” he assured her. “Arthur hasn't done anything.”

“Then why are you ignoring him?” she asked almost pleadingly. “He's been unbearable this past week. He's confused and he blames himself for it all.”

“He shouldn't,” Merlin told her quietly. “I am the problem. Not Arthur.”

He sounded surprisingly honest which made Gwen worry about him more than before.

“What happened?” she asked. “You can tell me anything.”

Merlin shook his head. “It's nothing you should be worried about,” he assured her. “I will deal with it on my own.”

“You have friends here in Camelot, Merlin,” Gwen reminded him. “I can't imagine how difficult it was for you to hide all your problems from us for ten years, but you no longer have to do that. You can share your worries with me and Arthur. Believe me, Arthur will appreciate it and he'll be thrilled to help.”

Merlin smiled sadly. “I never doubted it but it's something different,” he said. “You can tell him that he shouldn't blame himself.”

Gwen walked up to him and looked him in the eye. “You're scaring me, Merlin,” she said. “Don't do it to yourself. Let us help you.”

It was awkward. Merlin didn't want everyone to fuss about him. Certainly not Gwen.

“It's nothing, Gwen,” Melin assured her. “Soon everything will come back to normal.”

“I mean it, Merlin.” Guinevere was not going to give up easily. “I know how much you care for my husband. You wouldn't avoid him if it was nothing. I came here to reconcile the two of you but I can't do it if I don't know what's wrong.”

Merlin looked at her closely. “You don't have to reconcile us. I'm not mad at Arthur. He didn't do anything. I told you that it's me.”

“You realise that you're hurting him, don't you?” she asked. “He'll keep blaming himself no matter what you say.”

“Hurting him was never my intention,” Merlin told her. “Please, tell him that.”

Gwen shook her head. “You should tell him,” she said. “He won't believe it as long as you avoid him.”

Merlin sighed heavily, defeated. Deep down he knew that Gwen was right. He couldn't keep doing this to Arthur. It was childish and the king didn't deserve that.

Merlin wasn't ready to tell him the whole truth yet but he could try to be more civil to him. If there was any chance that one day Arthur would forgive him what he had done to save him, he couldn't keep rejecting his friendship time after time. Besides, he missed Arthur terribly. He missed their evenings and talks. They were something he was looking forward to every day.

“Tell him that I have a short show for children after his training today. At the courtyard,” he said. “He can join us if he wants.”

Gwen smiled at him widely. “I will tell him,” she said. “I'm sure he'll be thrilled. Thank you.” Then she hugged him tightly.

When she finally left him alone, Merlin lay down on his bed and groaned. It was going to be a long day and he needed to get prepared to confront Arthur in the afternoon.

 


 

The time for the show had come and the children gathered at the courtyard. Merlin smiled at them, as he always did, but deep inside he was disappointed. There was no sign of Arthur. He was worried about this encounter but certain part of him yearned for it. Now he started fearing that he crossed the line with his recent behaviour. He started fearing that Arthur had enough.

Merlin started his performance according to the schedule. He couldn't let the children down too. The show was for them, even though he wasn't in a festive mood.

Then he noticed something. He couldn't stop the show but he started watching the shadows out of the corner of his eye. Someone was standing there. Someone who had a very similar silhouette to Arthur. After a longer while of observation Merlin was certain that it was the king, and that made him smile under his nose. It seemed that Arthur didn't stop caring about him after all.

It was a boost for Merlin. He felt a sudden urge to show off. He wanted to put a smile on children's faces but most of all he wanted to impress Arthur.

It didn't take long for the children to be awed. They loved the shapes and colours that Merlin was creating out of thin air. They especially enjoyed the shapes of animals that were chasing each other around them.

Arthur stayed in the shadows this whole time. Merlin couldn't see if he enjoyed the show too but he hoped to find out once it was over. For now, however, he decided to focus fully on the show. So he did.

When the show was over and the children walked away, laughing and talking loudly, Merlin took his time to collect his things. He wanted to give Arthur a chance to walk up to him and talk.

“It was a good show,” said Arthur suddenly, startling Merlin. The warlock didn't hear him coming.

“Thank you,” Merlin replied simply. “I just wanted them to enjoy the show.”

“They certainly did,” Arthur told him honestly.

“What about you?” asked Merlin and looked him in the eye.

“As I said, it was a good show.” It was a dismissive answer but it was clear that Arthur enjoyed his performance.

An awkward silence fell between them. Both of them felt the necessity to come back to their previous dynamics but it wasn't easy.

“Are you hungry?” Merlin asked eventually. “We could have a dinner together.”

Arthur looked at him steadily. For a short moment Merlin thought that the king was going to decline his invitation. There was something hesitant in Arthur's eyes that Merlin didn't like.

Finally, Arthur nodded and Merlin let go of the breath he was holding.

“What do you propose?” asked Arthur a little bit too formally for Merlin's liking.

“We could steal something from the kitchens,” he suggested.

Arthur sent him an almost scandalous look.

“It could be fun,” said Merlin innocently, trying to defend his idea.

“You do realise that these are my kitchens, so if I take food from there, then it's not stealing,” Arthur told him, which only made Merlin shrug.

“You spoil all the fun.” He tried to sound disappointed but failed miserably at that.

In the end, they didn't steal the food. They just went to the kitchens and asked nicely for two servings of dinner. The cook was surprised to see the king himself in her kitchens and she started acting in a very servile way. It was something that Merlin never saw her doing.

They walked towards Merlin's chambers with the trays hovering before them thanks to Merlin's magic. Arthur murmured something about showing-off but he didn't really mean that. He loved watching Merlin doing magic but he couldn't just say it out loud. Especially not in public.

When they finally reached Merlin's rooms, Arthur didn't know what to do. Merlin took care of setting the table for the two of them, so he just stood there, feeling a bit anxious.

“Take a seat,” Merlin told him quietly. He could tell that Arthur was unsure what to do with himself. “It's almost ready.”

Arthur obediently followed his friend's suggestion. He sat at the table and watched Merlin in silence. There was something elegant in his gestures when he was doing magic. Most of the time, Merlin was quite clumsy but when he started using magic, he became more graceful. It never ceased to amaze Arthur.

They started eating in silence. It was awkward at first and Merlin wanted to break it but he had no idea how. All topics that were coming to his mind were either plainly boring or simply inappropriate in these circumstances.

Arthur stubbornly awaited an apology or at least some explanation but it was clear that Merlin avoided it as much as possible. Nonetheless, he wanted to talk to him about something. He wanted them to have their little talks back. They felt like home and this awkward silence was slowly killing him.

“The children adore you, Merlin,” he finally chose to say. “They were truly amazed by your show.”

Merlin looked at him steadily. “They don't adore me. They love the magic tricks,” he replied.

“That's not true,” Arthur denied stubbornly. “They love your magic, that's certain, but there's more to it. I could see how you interact with them. You have a great approach.”

Merlin shrugged dismissively because he didn't know what to say. He just did what he knew he could do well. That was all. The children somehow learnt to enjoy it.

“You'd be a wonderful father,” Arthur added suddenly, to his own surprise.

Merlin looked at him, clearly bewildered.

“I mean it,” said Arthur, as there was no point in denying his own words now.

“Maybe in a different life,” murmured Merlin and Arthur nodded in understanding.

“I really wanted to be a father,” the king continued his confessions. “But eventually I got used to the idea that I won't have a natural heir. Sometimes we need to pay the price for something we didn't do.”

Merlin gulped at his words. He knew that this one thing wasn't really his fault but he felt a bit guilty. He could just tell Arthur that he didn't really need an heir in order to relieve him from this burden but he was a coward. One day Arthur would learn the truth but Merlin wasn't ready yet. Arthur needed to wait a bit longer.

“There are other ways to appoint an heir,” said Arthur more to himself than to Merlin. “I will have to consider them soon but...” he hesitated. “I was always fascinated by the idea of having a child that would be partially me. I know it's natural but in a way it's so unbelievable. You die but you leave a part of yourself behind. What do you think of it, Merlin?”

The warlock hesitated. He needed to choose his words very carefully.

“Nature is a mystery,” he decided to say. “I completely understand your fascination.”

Arthur nodded but his face clearly saddened. “Sometimes I think that it's better this way,” he said quietly.

“What do you mean?” Merlin asked.

“Perhaps it's better that I won't be a father after all,” Arthur clarified. “My father didn't set a good example.”

“You are completely different than Uther,” Merlin assured him frantically. “I know that you loved your father but most of the time he was cold towards you. I can't imagine you being like this with your own child. You don't have such bitterness in yourself.”

“I'd like to believe that,” said Arthur. “Sometimes I almost do...”

“You have no reason to doubt that you would be a better father than Uther,” Merlin told him. “I'm certain that you would.”

“Maybe... but I won't have a chance to prove it.” There was no pretence in his voice, only a little bit of regret.

Merlin didn't know what to say so he remained silent. He couldn't do what Nimueh had done to Ygraine. Arthur would never agree to that. Merlin would never forgive himself if something happened to Gwen because of it.

Then Arthur bit his lip and asked, changing the subject of their conversation entirely, “Why were you angry with me?”

Deep down Merlin hoped that Arthur wasn't going to return to this sensitive topic. However, the king wasn't the type who gave up easily. Merlin should have known better than that.

“I wasn't angry with you,” Merlin whispered, trying to keep his emotions in check.

“It looked as if you were,” Arthur insisted. “You avoided me... you were giving me some weak excuses. Even a child would notice that you were hiding something.”

“I admit that my attitude towards you wasn't typical but I wasn't angry with you. I am very sorry that you felt that way,” Merlin told him. “You need to believe me that it was just me.”

“I don't understand it, Merlin... Please explain to me what happened and what was worrying you,” Arthur asked him. “I'm your friend and I wanted to be there for you but you didn't let me.”

“It was better that way,” Merlin assured him.

“No, it wasn't!” Arthur's tone was firm and decisive. “Has it occurred to you that I could help you in some way?”

“That wasn't necessary.” Merlin tried very much to stay calm but it was becoming harder and harder with every second.

“I can see that you're hiding something from me, Merlin, and it's hurting me,” Arthur finally admitted. “I'd like you to trust me.”

“I do trust you.”

“Not entirely,” Arthur accused him. “There are still things that you try to keep away from me and I don't know why.” He sighed. “I thought you could stop this nonsense after Camlann but every time I start to believe that we're finally honest with each other, something shattering happens. Something like the last week.”

“I didn't mean to hurt you,” Merlin told him. “Quite the opposite, actually.”

“You don't need to protect me in this way,” Arthur assured him. “You don't need to hide all the problems from me. I'm the king and I can help you. Just tell me what's wrong.”

Merlin wanted to confess the truth very much. He was so close to doing it. He started believing that Arthur was ready to hear it, and perhaps he was ready to forgive him all his sins. It was so tempting. There would be no more lies between them. A perfect state of things. His own life could become so much easier.

Then Merlin started doubting it all over again. He wasn't ready yet. He wasn't sure if he was ever going to be truly ready.

“One day, Arthur...” he whispered. “One day I will tell you everything. I promise.”

Arthur looked at him steadily. “When we're grey and old?” he asked a bit mockingly.

“No,” said Merlin firmly. “Sooner. I will tell you everything sooner.”

“Does Gilli know?” Arthur asked him suddenly.

This question surprised Merlin. He was looking at his king dumbly for a short moment.

“Of course he does,” said Arthur to himself. “You trust him more than you trust me.”

“That's not true,” Merlin assured him.

“You tell him about the things that have such a strong impact on you and you don't tell me anything,” Arthur proved his point. “Why is that?”

“It's complicated,” said Merlin truthfully. “You will understand it once you find out. It will be soon. I promise.”

Arthur's features softened slightly. “You could tell me now,” he suggested quietly.

“Not today.”

“Tomorrow?” the king kept asking.

“One day. Sooner rather than later.” Merlin gave him his word. Once he did that, he knew that he would have to keep it. He had no doubts that Arthur would ensure it.

“I wish you could tell me now,” said Arthur, “but I will wait.”

Merlin could see a hopeful look in his eyes. It was clear that Arthur didn't like his secrets but he decided to wait nonetheless. It almost looked as if Arthur understood, and it made Merlin wonder what his king was expecting to hear once Merlin decided to finally reveal all his secrets to him. It was a mystery to Merlin. He didn't want to let him down but he also knew that it was inevitable.

“I only have one request,” Arthur added after a while.

“What is it?”

“Stop avoiding me,” he asked quietly. “I hate it when you do that. It makes me think that I wronged you in some way.”

“I promise that I won't be avoiding you any longer,” said Merlin. “Just don't push me into telling you everything too often. As I said, I will reveal it to you when I'm ready, and if you keep pushing me, I'll feel trapped and I may start avoiding you again.”

Arthur grunted, displeased. “Can I at least remind you about it from time to time? In case you forget. I promise it won't be too often.”

Merlin sighed heavily and smiled sadly. “There is no way that I will ever forget about this promise,” he said. “But all right, you can ask me about it from time to time.”

Arthur nodded, this time pleased. After all these promises their conversation became much lighter. It felt good to have these little talks with Arthur once again. Merlin didn't realise how much he missed them until he got them back.

 


 

Arthur came back to his chambers in a much better mood.

“I can see that it worked,” Gwen greeted him, smiling. “I'm so happy for you.”

“It's not perfect but it's something,” Arthur told her.

She looked at him steadily and asked, “What do you mean?”

He lay down on his bed, tired, and looked at her uncertainly. “Merlin is still hiding something. He even admitted it.”

“Do you have any idea what's wrong?” she asked and joined him on the bed.

“I'm not entirely sure but I have some suspicions,” he admitted.

“What are you going to do?” She touched his hand tenderly. “Just don't pry too much. You may push him away by doing so.”

“I won't,” said Arthur. “Merlin will tell me everything himself. He gave me his word. I just need to wait.”

“You don't like waiting,” she said, kissing his cheek lightly.

“Of course I don't.” He sighed heavily. “It's stupid. He could just tell me now but he insists that he's not ready. It's clearly bothering him but he's afraid to trust me. I think... I think he believes that I won't accept him.”

Gwen looked at him pointedly. “You weren't too forgiving when Merlin revealed his magic to you,” she said. “You can't blame him that he wants to be careful.”

“That was different,” Arthur protested.

“You don't know what he's hiding,” his wife pointed out. “How can you know that this is different?”

“I just know it. I can...” he hesitated. “I can feel it,” he eventually said. “Now I know the greater picture. It can't be as bad as Merlin believes it is but he's stubborn.”

“So are you,” she said and sighed too. “You're not really that different,” she murmured.

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked her.

“Nothing you should worry about right now,” she told him. “You are clearly tired. You need to have some rest.” Saying that, she got up.

“Where are you going, Guinevere?”

“To my room,” she said. “It's too early for me and I can still look through some papers. I don't want to bother you in your sleep.”

“You never bother me when you're around,” he assured her.

It made Gwen smile. “You're sweet sometimes,” she said and gave him a goodnight kiss. “Sleep well.”

Despite being tired, Arthur couldn't fall asleep long after Guinevere left him alone in his room. There were too many thoughts in his head. Too many possibilities that concerned Merlin. He needed to think it all through.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The weeks went by and Merlin was gradually getting used to the idea that he would have to tell Arthur the truth soon. He was slowly building his courage, thinking about choosing the right moment. He even started to believe that the outcome wouldn't be as tragic as he initially feared. Arthur clearly enjoyed the time they were spending together, and although spending the eternity as immortal was an entirely different thing, perhaps spending it with a friend wasn't as bad as spending it alone. It didn't mean that Merlin stopped being afraid of telling Arthur all his secrets. He was terrified. As he once told Gilli, Arthur was a warrior king who wanted to live and die for his kingdom. Staying alive and watching his kingdom fall one day was going to be a terrible experience for him.

Obviously Merlin remembered about Excalibur and that it wielded the power to kill those who were immortal. However, the idea of telling Arthur about it frightened Merlin even more. He couldn't imagine watching Arthur taking his own life. It just didn't seem like something his brave Arthur would do. Besides, if Arthur truly was the Once and Future King, he would be needed again one day. Merlin knew that he would have to explain it all to Arthur in details, which could also be problematic at first.

Merlin wasn't worried about himself too much. He didn't care about what would happen to him if Arthur were to die by Excalibur. Their lives were connected by one heart, but Merlin didn't want to live without Arthur anyway. He would rather die than stay behind without his other half for all eternity.

These thoughts haunted him every night. It was tiring but he didn't feel ready to confess the truth. He was confused and scared, and Arthur's hopeful eyes that looked at him every day didn't help at all.

Merlin felt that Arthur was expecting to hear his confession soon. Every time Merlin started a new topic during their conversations, his posture changed and he started listening more carefully. Arthur wasn't saying anything out loud. He didn't have to. His whole body was sending Merlin voiceless questions and it made him feel even more anxious. The fateful day when he would tell Arthur the truth was approaching fast. Too fast to stop it.

Then the unexpected happened.

It was an early afternoon during a cloudy autumn day. It made Merlin feel slightly melancholic but not more than any other day during this season. He didn't have any pressing matters to attend to, so he was reading one of his books, not really paying much attention to it. His thoughts were wandering around. He even started considering taking a short nap when somebody knocked on his door hesitantly.

His first thought was Arthur, even though it didn't sound like king's knocking at all. Merlin rose from his armchair and walked up to the door quietly. For a moment he thought that the person on the other side gave up but then he heard the knocking again. This time a little bit louder.

Merlin opened the door and to his surprise he saw the Queen's face.

“Gwen,” he greeted her, not hiding his surprise very well.

“Hello, Merlin,” she said. “I hope I'm not disturbing you.”

“Not at all,” he assured her hastily.

“Good,” she said, and not waiting for an invitation, she let herself in. It wasn't something that Gwen would normally do, so Merlin was slightly intrigued. “I would like to talk to you about some delicate matter,” she explained.

“Does it concern Arthur?” Merlin asked instantly, worried.

The Queen shook her head. “No, it concerns me,” she said quietly.

For a short moment Merlin feared that Gwen somehow knew about his secrets, so it was a relief to hear that her visit didn't concern her husband.

“What is it then?” he asked her.

She sighed heavily. “It is a long story and I didn't want to bother you at first, but then Gilli suggested that I should...” She started babbling like a young serving girl that Merlin had met many years ago.

“You need to calm down and tell me everything slowly,” he told her. “Please, take a seat. I can see that you need it.”

Gwen smiled at him weakly. “Thank you,” she said and gladly took a seat in one of Merlin's armchairs.

Merlin sat in an armchair opposite her, so he could listen to her story more attentively.

“Now please explain to me what is worrying you,” he asked her. “One thing at the time.”

“You're right,” said Gwen. “Sometimes I can't stop babbling when I'm nervous. It's just so easy to forget that I'm the Queen when I'm here with you. It's like old good days.”

Merlin smiled warmly because it sounded a lot like a compliment.

“You're very kind,” he said, “but please tell me why Gilli told you to come here. I can see that it is important.”

“I think I should start from the very beginning,” she said. “However, before I do it, I would like to ask for secrecy. Arthur can't find out about it. At least not yet.”

“You want to hide something important from him?” Merlin asked, surprised.

“You and me have something in common, then,” she pointed out.

Merlin lowered his gaze. “You're right,” he said. “I'm sorry.”

“Don't be. I will tell Arthur everything. Eventually,” she added after a while.

“Just like me,” said Merlin understandingly.

“Just like you,” she confirmed. “Do I have your word?” she asked to be certain.

“I won't tell him anything,” Merlin promised her. “You have my word.”

“Thank you,” she said, this time more relaxed. “I just don't want him to worry, Merlin. He has a lot on his mind already.”

“I understand, Gwen,” Merlin assured her. “Now please start your story because I'm starting to worry myself.”

Gwen blushed slightly like a serving girl she used to be, but then she straightened up and started looking more regally again.

“That wasn't my intention,” she assured him. “You see... I haven't been feeling well recently so I went to Gilli for an advice,” she stared her story. “It wasn't anything too serious. Just small pains here and there. Sometimes they made me feel weak but it was bearable.”

“I assume that it worsened,” Merlin suddenly cut in.

“Indeed,” Gwen confirmed his remark. “I didn't mind it too much at first, but then the pains became stronger and they persisted for longer periods of time. I could no longer pretend that they didn't bother me.”

“So then you went to Gilli,” said Merlin and Gwen confirmed it with a short nod.

“He examined me thoroughly but didn't find anything that could cause such pains. He gave me some tonics that were supposed to soothe the pains,” she told him. “They even worked for a while. At least to some extent. However, soon the pains became even stronger, and now the tonics are no longer bringing me relief.” Then she hesitated.

“What is it, Gwen?”

The Queen sighed heavily. “For a short moment I thought that I was pregnant,” she admitted shyly. “You see... my monthly bleeding stopped. I thought that my pains could be somehow connected to the pregnancy. There are women who experience various pains when they're pregnant.”

“Did you tell Arthur about your suspicions?” asked Merlin, truly worried.

“Of course not. I needed to be sure,” she said. “It would be cruel to raise his hopes and then take it away from him.”

Merlin felt a relief. He didn't want that for Arthur either.

“Gilli examined me again and excluded the possibility of pregnancy,” she said sadly. “He thinks that the lack of my monthly bleeding is another symptom of the disease but still he doesn't know what disease it is exactly.”

“That's why he sent you to me,” said Merlin, understanding it completely.

“Yes, he hopes you may find something that he didn't notice.” Gwen looked at him, determined. “He would like to hear a second opinion and I would like that too.”

“That's understandable,” said Merlin. “I need to examine you thoroughly.” He looked around, thinking how to do it. “With my magic if that's not a problem.”

“That's why I've come here. Your magic doesn't bother me, Merlin,” she assured him hastily. “What should I do?”

“I think my bed is the best option in these circumstances,” he said. “But we could go to Gilli's quarters if that's what you want.”

“Don't be ridiculous, Merlin,” she scolded him playfully. “That would be a waste of time. Besides Arthur could notice something. If you don't need any equipment for the examination, that can be found in Gilli's quarters, then your room is perfectly fine.”

“I only need my magic,” Merlin told her. “In this case, please lie down and try to relax.”

Gwen followed his request without hesitation.

“You can close your eyes. I may not be able to focus if you keep watching me like this,” he said sheepishly. “You make me nervous.”

The Queen obediently closed her eyes. “Better?” she asked.

“Much better,” Merlin confirmed. “Now please tell me in which parts of your body you can feel these pains.”

“It depends on the time of the day,” she told him. “When I wake up, my back is usually hurting, but during the day the pains shift to my hips and legs.”

“So they go downwards,” Merlin pointed out, wondering what it could mean.

“It's true but my head aches sometimes too,” she added.

“It could be related to the general state of your health, not necessarily to the cause of your pains,” Merlin explained to her. “It's like a warning.”

“That's what Gilli told me,” she said. “Do you think it's likely?”

“I need to examine you first,” he told her and closed his eyes himself, trying to focus on his magical instincts.

His hands hovered above her body. He could feel his magic tickling his fingers but he wasn't ready to let it go yet. He knew that he needed to collect more power in his hands. When he finally deemed that he was ready, he pushed the wave of his magic into Gwen.

Merlin's eyes opened involuntarily and they turned gold. He noticed that Gwen's body was glowing too.

“What's happening?” she asked, alarmed, but kept her eyes closed nonetheless. “It's getting warmer and warmer.”

“My magic is running through your body but you don't need to worry about it,” Merlin explained. “It won't take long,” he promised.

After a moment, the glow started fading until there was no trace of it at all.

“You can open your eyes now,” Merlin told her quietly.

Gwen opened them and sat up, looking at him hopefully.

“Did you find something?” she asked him.

Merlin bit his bottom lip and shook his head. “Nothing unusual.” He sighed heavily. “I should be better at this. The healing magic was never my strength.”

“Perhaps it's nothing serious, then,” she suggested.

“Perhaps.” He looked at her sadly and sat on the edge of his bed, by her side. “If it was related to magic, I would probably feel it. If it's a natural disease, something might have slipped my mind.”

Gwen put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. “That's all right,” she told him quietly.

“No, it's not,” he said firmly. “I should pay more attention to studying healing magic. I should know how to help you.”

“You can't know everything,” she pointed out. “No one can.”

He looked at her intensely. “I know it's not what you expected but at least I could try to soothe your pains with my magic.”

Gwen smiled at him warmly. “I would appreciate that,” she said and hugged him lightly because her body was hurting too much to give him a strong embrace.

Merlin whispered something and she watched, amazed, as his eyes turned gold for a short moment. She felt another wave of heat running through her body, bringing her some relief.

“How are you feeling?” Merlin asked her afterwards.

“Better,” she replied, smiling at him. “Thank you, Merlin.”

“Come back to me if it worsens again,” he told her. “I am at your disposal any time you need me.”

“You're a good friend, Merlin,” she said to him. “I will never forget it.”

“That was the least I could do. I wish I could be more helpful.” Saying that, he lowered his gaze.

“Don't hide from me, Merlin,” she told him and he looked back at her. “I'm grateful.”

He knew that she was telling the truth but it didn't make him feel any better.

“Just remember to keep it from Arthur,” Gwen reminded him. “It's better this way.”

“He would disagree,” Merlin mumbled and she sent him a concerned look. “Don't worry, I won't tell him anything. I gave you my word.”

Gwen nodded, pleased.

 


 

Keeping the truth from Arthur was one thing but pretending that Gwen was perfectly fine was another. Merlin wasn't going to just sit and forget that his good friend was in pain. He wasn't stupid. He knew that Gwen wasn't going to come back for his help until she felt utterly weak. He knew that she was going to suffer in silence as long as she could hide it from Arthur.

Merlin felt that he needed to do something but he couldn't do it alone. Luckily, he knew that Gilli was also aware of Gwen's health problems, so they could discuss and analyse them together.

“So you didn't find anything,” said Gilli when Merlin finished telling him about the examination he conducted on Gwen. “That's bad.”

Merlin couldn't agree more. “I'm not really good in this kind of magic,” he admitted. “Perhaps if I studied it more, I could find something... but for now...” He just shook his head.

“You shouldn't blame yourself. It won't help the Queen,” Gilli told him firmly. “Perhaps if we join our efforts, we'll find something.”

“That's what I thought,” said Merlin and looked at his friend steadily. “What do you suggest?”

“We should examine the Queen once again. This time together,” he said. “We need to focus on the symptoms and look for the diseases that match them.”

“It won't be easy to hide it all from Arthur,” Merlin pointed out.

“It shouldn't be our main concern,” said Gilli firmly.

“I know but Gwen won't like it.” He sighed heavily. “It would be easier if she just told Arthur.”

Gilli looked at him pointedly. “I could say exactly the same thing about you,” he murmured.

Merlin looked him in the eye. “It's not about me,” he replied. “We should focus on Gwen's health right now.”

“Of course,” said Gilli but Merlin knew what he thought. They understood each other too well.

In the evening, when Arthur visited him, Merlin had to try very hard not to show him that something was wrong. Arthur brought some wine and was generally in a good mood, which made Merlin's job even harder. He laughed at his jokes and teased him back but he didn't put his whole heart into it. He only hoped that Arthur wouldn't notice anything.

On the next day, Merlin and Gilli managed to examine Guinevere in her chambers when Arthur was outside training with his knights. Merlin couldn't chase away the feeling that they were doing something wrong, but he had given Gwen his word and he couldn't break it. He understood why she didn't want to worry Arthur. He would have done exactly the same thing.

Unfortunately, the examination was once again fruitless. They tried to combine their whole medical and magical knowledge but it was in vain. Besides the pains and the lack of her monthly bleeding, there were no other symptoms that could push them in some direction.

Nevertheless, they weren't going to give up. Not without a fight.

“How are you feeling?” Merlin asked Gwen afterwards.

“I've been worse,” she said elusively.

Merlin looked at her pointedly. “Gwen...” he said.

“I would appreciate if you soothed my pains again,” she told him, defeated. “It helped before.”

Merlin helped her gladly but couldn't get rid of the sinking feeling in his stomach.



 

Chapter Text

Gwen's condition worsened vastly during the following weeks. She tried very hard to hide it from Arthur but it was becoming more and more problematic with every day. She struggled to cover her weariness with smiles but even they were becoming weaker and weaker. It was only a matter of time before Arthur would start asking questions. There was no point in denying it all any longer.

“Arthur, can we talk?” she asked him one night when they were about to go to bed.

He looked at her and saw that she was very serious. There was nothing playful in her expression and it made him anxious.

“What's wrong?” he asked her in an alarmed voice.

“Please take a seat by my side,” she said and patted the bed. “It's serious.”

Arthur followed her request instantly and looked her in the eye. He could sense that there was something wrong. Guinevere seemed a little bit distant recently but he thought that he was to blame. He didn't have much time for his wife during last weeks. There was always something else that required his attention.

However, at this moment, her behaviour was completely different. She was serious. Gravely serious.

“Will you tell me now what's wrong, Guinevere?” he asked her.

She nodded and put her head on his shoulder. “Before I tell you what you need to hear, please bear in mind that I love you and I didn't want to make you worried in vain,” she told him quietly.

“Now you're scaring me,” said Arthur, truly anxious. “What is it?”

Gwen sighed heavily and straightened up, turning her gaze away from him. It was easier to reveal the truth while she didn't have to watch worry and fear in his blue eyes.

“I haven't been feeling well recently,” she said finally. “I didn't mind it at first but then it started getting worse and worse....”

Guinevere explained to Arthur her current condition and how both Gilli and Merlin tried to treat her in secret. She told him that she insisted on keeping it a secret from him and that he shouldn't blame any other person for that. She tried to skip the part about intensity of her pains but she was certain that Arthur was able to read between the lines.

The king remained silent this whole time, finally being able to put all the pieces together. He was shocked and hurt and angry but most of all worried. He understood why Guinevere tried to hide it from him but it didn't make his own pain any less real.

When she finally finished her story, she looked at him, scared. She expected Arthur to be mad at her. She expected to hear him scream and swear. Arthur had a good heart but he was also impulsive. He'd never wholly learned to hold his temper when the circumstances were so emotional.

“Please, say something,” Gwen said in a whisper.

Arthur looked at her with sadness written all over his face.

“How long it's been going on?” he asked her finally. This was the first question that came to his mind. He knew it was stupid in the given circumstances, but he needed to know how long Gwen was hiding the truth from him. It seemed important.

She expected to hear this question sooner or later but she wanted to postpone the answer as long as possible.

“What exactly? My pains or my treatment?” she asked quietly.

“Both!” Arthur's tone was harsh. He was certain that Gwen knew very well what he meant, but deep down he also felt that he shouldn't be so hard on her since he would have done the same.

Guinevere understood his harshness so she didn't scold him for it. She knew that Arthur didn't mean it. He was just worried and scared. Just like her.

She decided to be completely honest with him in this matter. Another lies would only bring them more pain.

“I told Merlin a few weeks ago,” she said. “Gilli found out a bit earlier.”

It hurt. He just realised how long they were hiding the truth from him. He understood that Gilli, as a physician, was discreet about it. Merlin, however, was another story. He was his best friend. They talked almost every evening and Arthur just couldn't understand how Merlin could hide something like this from him. He was aware that Merlin had his secrets but it was different. It directly concerned Guinevere, his wife and the Queen of Camelot. He had right to know about it from the very beginning.

Nonetheless, Arthur decided to push this thought aside for a moment. He would confront Merlin later, once he got all the answers from Guinevere.

“And the pains?” he asked her, looking directly into her eyes. “You didn't tell me how long you've been suffering from them. I know you too well... You didn't go to Gilli the first time you felt them.”

Gwen gulped and looked at him apologetically. “I've had them for several months,” she admitted, lowering her gaze.

“How many?” he insisted.

She sighed heavily. “Six or seven. I'm not sure any more.”

Her answer made him gasp. “Six or seven,” he repeated after her in disbelief. “And when did you go to the physician? A few weeks ago?” Arthur didn't want to sound accusingly but he couldn't help himself. His emotions were too strong.

“It wasn't too bad at first,” Gwen tried to defend herself.

“You waited so long...” Arthur shook his head. “And what now? You told me that Merlin and Gilli don't know what's happened to you.”

“Don't blame them” she asked him quietly. “They do what they can. Merlin helps me to soothe my pains with magic.”

“They would have had more time to examine your illness if you'd told them earlier,” said Arthur angrily. “Perhaps they would have found something by now...”

“They can still find it,” she told him reassuringly, although she was the one who needed reassurance the most in these circumstances.

Arthur looked at her sadly. His anger lessened a bit but he could still have an emotional breakdown.

Suddenly, he jumped out of bed and looked at his wife almost hysterically. “I need to talk to Merlin,” he stated.

“Right now? It's late, Arthur. You can talk to him about it tomorrow,” she tried to convince him.

“It can't wait,” he said firmly.

Guinevere sighed heavily and said, “I'm going with you, then.”

Arthur shook his head violently. “You will not do such thing!” It almost sounded like an order. “I need to have a word with him on my own.”

Gwen knew that there was no point in arguing with him when Arthur was like this.

“Just don't be too harsh to him,” she asked him but she wasn't sure if he was going to listen.

 


 

Merlin was lying in his bed, trying to fall asleep. He made a decision to have an early night once in a while, and he was trying to make it happen. It wasn't easy, even though he knew that his body needed to rest. Since he was immortal, the sleep deprivation wasn't going to kill him, but it could make his work much more difficult.

There was so many things that were running through his head this moment and it seemed impossible to let them go. Gwen's illness was his main concern. Since the day he found out about her condition, he couldn't sleep well. His brain was looking for some answers and solutions, but despite Merlin's best efforts, it all was fruitless.

Additionally, hiding Gwen's health condition from Arthur was another thing that plagued his conscience. Merlin had years of experience in lying to Arthur, although he was not proud of it, but it was entirely different. It concerned Guinevere, his Queen and wife. It could impinge upon the future of Camelot. It was important.

Merlin dismissed the thoughts that concerned any other relevant secrets that he kept from Arthur almost instantly. It was neither the time nor the place for them. He would ponder on them once Gwen was safe and healthy.

Suddenly, an urgent knocking at the door interrupted his chain of thoughts.

Before he could utter a single word, the door burst open and Arthur came inside. The king looked angry and mad.

“Arthur...” Merlin said with worry and fear. He got out of bed immediately and walked up to his friend. “What's happened?” he asked, even though he had a feeling that he already knew the answer.

“Guinevere told me everything,” he said angrily.

“Arthur...”

“Don't!”

“You need to calm down. In this state you can't help anyone,” Merlin tried to make him see the reason.

“Why didn't you tell me anything, Merlin?” Arthur asked, sending him an accusing glare. “I had right to know.”

Merlin sighed heavily. He had a feeling that it would end in such a way ever since he had made a promise to Gwen that he would not tell Arthur about her health issues. Moreover, it only made him feel more guilty about his own secrets that he was harbouring.

“I know,” said Merlin quietly. “I wanted to tell you but I gave Gwen my word.”

“I thought that I was your best friend...” It hurt Merlin to hear these words. Arthur was the most important person in his life. The king should never doubt the bond they shared. Nonetheless, he understood where this accusation came from.

“You are my best friend,” Merlin assured him. “But that was different. Gwen came to me as a patient. I needed to respect her request.”

Arthur looked him in the eye and sighed heavily. “I know,” he whispered. “I just... I needed to blame someone.” He hid his face in his hands. “I don't know what to do, Merlin.”

“Arthur...” Merlin whispered, and not thinking too much, he grabbed Arthur into a hug. “I understand.”

“I wish I could help her,” Arthur murmured. “I feel so helpless.”

Merlin wanted to say that he also felt like this but it wouldn't help Arthur. He needed to be strong for his king. That was his duty.

“Me and Gilli will try to do everything to cure her,” he said. “You have my word.”

“But you can't guarantee that she'll be cured,” said Arthur. There was no accusation in his tone, only sadness.

“That's true. I can't guarantee that.” Merlin wasn't going to feed him with empty promises.

Arthur looked at him intently. “Thank you for your honesty,” he said.

Merlin wanted to send him a reassuring smile but he couldn't find it in himself.

 


 

Merlin became even more determined to find a way to help Gwen. He started working harder, spending more hours studying healing magic and medicine. Gilli supported him all this time. They wanted to believe that together they could achieve more.

Nonetheless, the effects of their hard work were only temporary and Gwen was getting weaker and weaker with every single day. They started fearing the worst but none of them dared to tell Arthur about it. As long as Gwen was still with them, there was hope.

Guinevere was always an observant woman, and despite all the suffering that she was undergoing, she understood very well what was happening around her. She could see that Arthur was still hopeful. He started spending more time in their chambers, talking to her, asking her how she felt and if she needed anything. He was telling her where he was going to take her once she got better.

Gwen was smiling fondly at his words but deep down she knew that they were never going to come true. Arthur was still too stubborn to see it too. He felt guilty so he wanted to make everything better. She understood his behaviour but she was not going to be as delusional as he was. Merlin and Gilli worked very hard to save her but she could feel her life slowly leaving her body. Certain things were just inevitable.

However, she was going to pretend some more that she was hopeful. Arthur needed that. He needed time to get used to the idea that one of these days she would be most likely gone.

“Be honest with me,” Gwen said to Merlin and Gilli after another examination. “I want to know the whole truth.”

Two men shared a short look.

“It seems that our first assumption was correct and that your disease isn't magical,” Merlin told her as calmly as he could. “We can't find any trace of magic. It seems purely natural.”

“But it's serious, isn't it?” she asked them. “Deadly even?”

“We don't know that,” Gilli told her immediately. “This disease, although natural, is a complete mystery to us.”

Gwen looked at him and then back at Merlin. “But you assume that it's deadly, don't you?” she asked, looking into his eyes.

Merlin nodded shortly. Gwen had right to know their suspicions.

“Thank you, Merlin.” She was grateful for this honesty.

“It doesn't mean that we're giving up,” he assured her instantly. “You have my word that we will keep trying to find a cure.”

Gwen smiled at him weakly. She knew that Merlin wasn't going to just let go. She admired his determination. Nonetheless, she wasn't too hopeful, as she was the one who knew best how fast her health was declining.

 


 

Merlin was certain that he read everything on healing magic. His head was full of information but he felt as clueless as at the beginning. Gilli tried to convince him that it was only because he didn't have enough sleep, but deep down Merlin doubted it. He didn't want to waste time on sleeping while Gwen was suffering. He didn't want to fail Arthur.

“Go to bed,” Gilli told him firmly. “You won't help the Queen in this state. We will see her tomorrow morning and then we will try these new spells you found.”

Merlin murmured something that sounded like “a waste of time” to Gilli.

“You can harm her if you're like this in the morning,” Gilli warned him.

It seemed to work because Merlin rose from his chair with a heavy sigh and walked in the direction of his old room.

“Are you going to sleep here tonight?” Gilli asked him, clearly surprised.

“Tired...” murmured Merlin. “That's a waste of time...”

Gilli was just glad that Merlin finally listened to him. It was clear that he needed to rest.

Then he decided to follow his own advice and he went to his bed too.

In the morning, Gilli was woken by Merlin's loud groan.

He got up immediately and went to his friend's old room. “What's wrong?” he asked.

“We wasted so much time,” said Merlin, clearly frustrated.

“No, we didn't,” Gilli told him firmly.

“I shouldn't have listened to you.”

Gilli couldn't help rolling his eyes. “You did well. Now you'll eat breakfast with me and then we will go to the royal chambers and we'll try to help Queen Guinevere once again.” His tone was decisive but in order to avoid any further protests, he added, “I'll tell Arthur if you don't do what I just said. Do you want him to worry about you too?”

Merlin looked at him with irritation but he was defeated. He couldn't let Arthur worry about him when it was Gwen that needed his full attention. At this moment, Merlin hated that Gilli knew him so well.

When they finally went to Gwen, Merlin was relieved. He was in such a state that he needed to focus on something. Otherwise, he feared that he would go mad.

There was no sign of Arthur in the chambers. Merlin wasn't sure if he was happy about it or not. Gwen noticed his searching look and said, “I asked him to leave. I thought it would be easier for you.”

“Thank you,” said Merlin, as he knew that Arthur's presence would complicate everything. He needed to focus fully on Gwen. No one else should matter while he was treating her.

“Let's begin,” Gwen asked him and Gilli. She didn't add that she wanted it to be over so she could enjoy the rest of her life that she still had.

Merlin and Gilli nodded and started the treatment. This time they combined their magical powers, as they were throwing spells at her, one after another, not even thinking about taking a break. It was tiring but it didn't matter. They were completely focused on what they were doing, not even paying attention to the passing time.

They didn't let go until they recited the last spell that they had prepared. When it happened, none of them was sure how much time passed. They were all exhausted, including Gwen.

Merlin and Gilli looked at their Queen, anticipating some response from her side. However, Gwen was too tired to even think about it.

“How are you feeling?” Merlin asked her after taking a few deep breaths. “Has something changed?”

“It's hard to tell,” she said honestly. “I need to rest first...”

They understood it but weren't too hopeful. If Gwen were to feel vast improvement, she would have felt it already.

 


 

As they suspected, Gwen's condition didn't improve much. Arthur was devastated and it only made Merlin feel more guilty. All the spells that he found failed and they started running out of options. The only thing that Merlin believed would work was a life for a life rite. He had power to perform it but Gwen would never allow it. This much he knew without asking. The Queen would never let them sacrifice another person in exchange for her life. He didn't even dare to suggest it.

The worst thing was that it seemed that Gwen came to terms with the thought that her life was ending. She never said it directly but it was evident in everything she did. Even Arthur could no longer deny it when she asked him a question one evening.

“Could you invite Leon here?” she said in a weak voice.

Arthur looked at her, a bit confused. He wasn't sure if he heard her correctly.

“He was my dear friend when we were children. Since Elyan's gone, he's the closest person I could call my brother,” she explained. “That's important to me.”

Arthur smiled at her sadly. He couldn't deny her anything. Not in these circumstances.

“Of course. I'll send someone with an invitation in the morning,” he assured her and kissed her hand fondly. It was cold. Too cold for his liking.

 


 

Leon, who was as pale as death, arrived at Camelot a few days later with Mithian by his side. The messenger had explained the circumstances shortly but he needed to find out more details himself, and most of all, he needed to see Gwen.

“How is she?” Leon asked Merlin who greeted them in the courtyard.

“Not well,” Merlin told him honestly. “I'm sorry.”

Leon nodded sadly. “How much time...?” He was not able to finish his question but there was no need. It was clear what he wanted to say.

“No one knows,” said Merlin immediately. “She doesn't say it out loud but she wants to say goodbye to those who she holds dear.” Then Merlin glanced at Mithian and noticed a small belly forming underneath her clothes. She was pregnant.

“You're not mistaken, Merlin,” she said. “We're going to have a baby.” Then she touched her belly affectionately.

“Congratulations,” said Merlin to both of them because he didn't know what else he could say.

“Thank you.” Mithian smiled lightly at him. “The circumstances aren't perfect but I couldn't leave my husband in the moment like this.” Then she squeezed Leon's arm reassuringly.

The love between these two was evident. Merlin was happy for them but even this couldn't make him forget about Gwen and her suffering for a short moment.

“Would you take care of my wife?” Leon asked him suddenly. “I would like to talk to Gwen on my own.”

Merlin nodded with understanding. “You know the way,” he said and Leon left them alone.

Then Merlin noticed that Mithian was watching him very closely.

“He's going to need you,” she said quietly.

“Leon?” Merlin asked, surprised.

“Of course not! I mean Arthur. He's going to need you when she's gone. More than any time before.”

Merlin gulped at that. He was trying not to think too much about Camelot after Gwen's death. It was too painful.



 

Chapter Text

What Leon and Gwen were talking about the day he arrived to Camelot was a mystery. None of them said a single word about it to another soul. It was theirs and they were going to keep it this way.

Gwen asked also for Mithian's individual visit when she found out that Leon was going to be a father soon. The women talked for over an hour and Gwen looked surprisingly relaxed afterwards. They didn't know each other too well, and once they had been sort of rivals for Arthur's affection, but they found a way to get on together. Leon suspected that they were sharing some embarrassing stories about him but he didn't hold a grudge against them. Anything that could bring smile to Gwen's face was worth it.

“It was a good day,” Gwen said to Arthur when they were finally going to bed. “Thank you for arranging it all.”

“I'm glad it made you happy,” he said quietly. There wasn't much he could do to help her but he wasn't going to refuse her something that was manageable.

Gwen sighed heavily, thinking about something very intensely. Arthur noticed it instantly and became quite protective.

“Is something bothering you, Guinevere?” he asked, watching her steadily. “Do you need anything else?”

A delicate blush spread over her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip and looked at him shyly. “We haven't made love for a long time,” she murmured finally.

Her words surprised Arthur to the core. He had been busy recently and ever since he found out about Guinevere's health issues, he couldn't think about such trivial things. Finding a cure had become a priority in his mind. Nothing else mattered.

“You're in pain, Guinevere,” he said reasonably. “I don't want to make you suffer more.”

“I won't suffer,” Gwen assured him instantly. “ I just want to feel your love, wholly and completely.” She didn't add for the last time, but these words were hanging in the air. Even Arthur could hear them.

“I won't forgive myself if I hurt you,” he whispered almost pleadingly, caressing her hand tenderly.

“I want this,” Gwen insisted. “I want to feel something good and beautiful. I want to feel alive.”

Her last sentence moved Arthur deeply. He couldn't argue with that because it hurt too much.

He looked into her hopeful eyes and knew right away that he couldn't deny her this wish. It didn't matter that he wasn't in a mood. Despite all the confusions he was going through, Guinevere was the woman of his life and he loved her dearly. She was everything that he hoped for in a woman. She deserved so much more than he could give her. That was why he just couldn't say no to her. Not when she was looking at him like this.

“I'll try to be delicate,” he finally said, and his words brought smile to her face. “Just promise me to tell me if you feel uncomfortable in any way.”

“I will,” she gave him her word and kissed him gratefully on the mouth. “You don't need to worry.”

Arthur helped her lie down in a comfortable position, but he couldn't get rid of the feeling that it was a bad idea. He wanted her to enjoy it, although he couldn't find the joy himself. He kept telling himself that he needed to forget about his worries and fears for a moment. He needed to do this for Guinevere.

 


 

Merlin didn't expect his visions to come back in the time like this. The picture of Arthur and Gwen making love was vivid in his mind's eyes. The sight brought a piercing pain to his heart. However, he wasn't going to pity himself. Not this time. Deep down he knew that it was their goodbye. He could almost feel what was running through Arthur's head. It was most likely the last time they were making love. Arthur was completely focused on Gwen. He was slow and careful, not wanting to bring more pain to his wife. It was probably the most intimate love making that Merlin had ever witnessed. A part of him wished not to see it, but not because it was painful to watch. He got used to that feeling long time ago. Besides, he couldn't care less about himself at this moment. The truth was that Merlin felt as an intruder. He wished that Arthur and Gwen could have this loving goodbye for themselves. Watching them felt like robbing them of this precious moment.

When their love making was over and the vision faded away, Merlin started crying. The pain that he was feeling deep in his heart suddenly became stronger. It never felt like this before.

Merlin bit his lip, trying to muffle his scream. There was no one to hear it but screaming would bring him relief and Merlin didn't want that. He felt that he didn't deserve it. He felt that he failed Gwen and Arthur. Despite all his magic and combined efforts with Gilli, he couldn't find a way to save her. He deserved this pain. He felt guilty.

The true surprise happened to him in the morning. He woke up not feeling much better than the previous night. He felt defeated and was keen on spending the whole day sleeping. However, it was out of the question. He couldn't leave Arthur at such a difficult time. His friend needed him.

The knocking at the door brought him back to the reality.

Merlin got up to open it. He could do it easily with his magic but he needed something physical to focus on. It kept him composed.

“Arthur,” he greeted his friend, surprised. After such an eventful night, he expected Arthur to sleep in. “You're up early.”

“Guinevere woke me up,” he explained. “She wants to talk to you and insists that it can't wait,” he added sadly.

“Is she...?” Merlin hesitated. He didn't want to say dying. This word was too brutal. “Has her state worsened since yesterday?” he asked instead.

“Not much. I have no idea what she has in mind but she's persistent.” Arthur sighed heavily. “She wants to see you and only you. She emphasised that I should stay away from our chambers for an hour.” He let out a nervous laugh.

Merlin frowned. He understood that Gwen wanted to talk to him but kicking Arthur out of their room in such a direct way didn't sound like her at all.

“Will you do this for her?” Arthur asked after a moment of silence. Merlin didn't realise that he was supposed to say something.

“Of course,” he said, a bit confused. “I'll go see her immediately. It must be important.”

Arthur nodded approvingly. “Merlin?” he said when his friend was about to leave.

“Yes, Arthur?” He looked at his king with his blue tired eyes.

“May I stay here?” he asked. “No one will bother me in your chambers.” That wasn't the whole truth. Arthur felt safe and good there. It was his second home.

“You don't need to ask,” Merlin told him and squeezed his arm. “You're always welcome here.” With these words said, he rushed towards Arthur's chambers where Gwen was awaiting him.

 


 

Merlin knocked on the door and went inside at Gwen's quiet “come in.” She was smiling at him mysteriously, which only made him feel more intrigued and nervous.

“Take a seat,” she asked him, pointing the chair that was standing next to her bed. “We need to talk and I want you to be completely honest with me, Merlin. There's no need to hide anything since I'll be gone soon.”

“Gwen,” Merlin whispered. He hated the way she was talking about her upcoming death. It almost seemed that it didn't matter to her at all.

“But that's the truth,” she said calmly. “I'm dying and I know it. So do you and Arthur.”

His face visibly saddened. He wasn't sure what Gwen was planning but it didn't start well.

“Don't be sad,” she told him. “Wait until I'm dead so I don't have to watch it.” She attempted to joke to light up his mood but it didn't work as she hoped.

“Gwen...”

She sighed lightly. “That's not what I wanted to talk to you about anyway,” she changed the subject.

“So you don't want to say goodbye,” murmured Merlin bitterly.

“Not exactly.” She gave him a weak smile. “I intend to talk about my husband and your feelings for him.”

Merlin raised his gaze and looked directly into her eyes. That wasn't something that he had ever expected to hear from her. For a short moment he thought that he misheard her, because Gwen just couldn't know about his feelings and stay so calm at the same time.

“Did you really think that you could hide it from me, Merlin?” she asked, a bit amused. “I always knew that you and Arthur shared a special bond. It was so obvious. And after Camlann... Let's say that it changed something in you, Merlin. It only made me realise how deep your feelings for my husband run.”

Merlin let go of a breath that he didn't know he was holding. He felt as if his whole world collapsed.

“I assure you that I never acted on these feelings,” he finally uttered. “Arthur is your husband and he loves you. I would never come in between you two.”

“I know that, Merlin,” she said quietly. “You're an honourable and selfless man. I never perceived you as a threat.”

“How can you be so calm about it?” he asked, not being able to hold this question any longer. “And why are you bringing it up now?” He started trembling and couldn't stop. It was too much for him. He wanted this world to make sense to him again.

“Why should I be mad at you?” she said. “You can't help the way you feel about other people. Besides, how can I blame you for loving Arthur when I love him too?”

Merlin shuddered at her words. It was the first time she used the word love to describe his feelings for her husband. It felt so odd to hear it out loud. He knew how he felt about Arthur but hearing it so plainly from another person was something new. He had no idea how to deal with it.

However, it was her next words that made his world crumble.

“I'm glad that you love him, Merlin.” She reached out for his hand and squeezed it lightly. “I'm glad that he won't be alone after I'm gone. He needs to be loved for who he is and not for his titles, and you already love him for that.”

“I...” Merlin couldn't make himself say anything more. He was speechless and confused. Nothing seemed right.

He could only gape at Gwen with his sheepish eyes. Gwen, who was a wonderful woman with a big heart. How such a good person could exist in this world was beyond his understanding.

“You don't have to worry, Merlin,” she said in a quiet tone. “I meant every word I said. I'm not mad at you. Quite the contrary, actually.”

Merlin hid his face in his hands. It all was too much for him. He couldn't believe that it was happening.

“You don't need to hide from me, Merlin,” Gwen told him after a moment of silence.

“I just feel so embarrassed,” he finally admitted. “And guilty.” Then he looked at her so she could see the tears shining in his eyes.

“Don't.”

“How can I?” He sighed heavily. “I was supposed to find a cure, as I always did, and you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with Arthur. That was supposed to happen,” he said angrily. “A happy ending.”

Guinevere smiled sadly at him. “How can you be certain? Perhaps this is how it was meant to be all along,” she said.

“But you are his Queen,” Merlin argued. “You were supposed to rule together. That was a perfect match!”

“But was it foretold?” she asked him. “Were there any prophecies about me and Arthur? You once mentioned that Arthur was the Once and Future King who would unite this land. I never heard you mention the Once and Future Queen.”

Merlin hesitated. He never thought about it in this way.

“I assume that these prophecies mentioned you as his guardian,” she continued. “Arthur needs you to fulfil his destiny, not me.”

“You're important too,” said Merlin stubbornly. “He chose you.”

“That he did,” she admitted. “But you were the one who was keeping him safe all these years. You were the one who saved him when all hope was gone. To be honest, I still have no idea how you managed to save him after Camlann. You are a walking miracle, Merlin.”

Once again Merlin shuddered at her words. Deep down he hoped that she was never going to ask him about what exactly happened on the Isle of the Blessed.

“What is it?” she asked and Merlin realised that she must have noticed his reaction. “You shuddered when I mentioned Camlann.”

“Arthur almost died there,” he tried to explain.

She shook her head. “That's not it,” she insisted. “You always avoid this subject. What are you hiding?”

“Nothing.”

Gwen raised her eyebrow in the same manner Gaius used to do. “I asked you not to lie to me today,” she reminded him. “I want to know the truth, Merlin. How did you save my husband? Arthur was wounded by the blade that could kill an immortal being. How did you manage to reverse that?”

There was so many questions. Merlin didn't know what to do anymore.

“Tell me, Merlin,” she said as firmly as she could.

He gulped and looked at her closely. He knew that he had to choose his words very carefully. “I bound him to myself,” he finally said.

Gwen was looking at him, intrigued. “How?” she asked.

It was the hardest part to explain. He had no idea how to put it in a delicate way. Gwen knew about his feelings for Arthur but telling her that her husband was carrying half of his heart seemed much worse. In Merlin's eyes it was like a betrayal.

“Please, be honest. You don't have to worry about my reaction,” Gwen assured him.

“If only it was so easy,” murmured Merlin, sighing.

“It is. Just say it.”

Then Merlin nodded lightly and met her eyes. “You were right. Arthur was destined to die on that day but I couldn't let it happen. I was ready to do anything to save him, even if it required giving my own life for his.”

Gwen didn't appear to be surprised in any way by his confession. She was always certain that Merlin was capable of such a sacrifice.

“But you didn't do that,” she pointed out. “You're still here.”

“Only because those we met in Avalon weren't willing to take my life. They told me that it couldn't be traded,” he explained.

“So you found another solution,” she said, smiling. “What was it?”

Merlin bit his lip. He knew that he couldn't escape this question any longer.

“Arthur's heart was poisoned by the blade of Mordred's sword. It could be cured in Avalon but it required time that Arthur didn't have,” Merlin started the story. “When I heard it, I knew that I didn't want to leave him there alone. I was determined to stay with him in Avalon.”

Gwen gasped. “It would most likely kill you,” she whispered. “You wanted to die with him.”

“That's true,” Merlin admitted, blushing madly. He understood Gwen's reaction. Giving his life in exchange for Arthur's was one thing, but dying without any gain was a sacrifice on a completely different level. “When they realised what I was planning to do, they became furious,” he continued. “They couldn't let it happen.”

“So they did help Arthur after all,” said Gwen, smiling a little bit wider.

“They told me about an ancient rite that could save him but there was no guarantee that it would work. I believed that the chances were slim but I had to try.” He took a deep breath, wondering if he should explain it in more detail. “If it hadn't worked, I would have died too, but I was ready for that all along.”

“I already know that,” Gwen assured him. “Please explain what you had to do. I need to know it to find peace at last.”

Merlin nodded, understanding. He also needed to finally confess it to her.

“As I said before, Arthur's heart was poisoned and needed time to be cured.” He looked her in the eye. “He needed a new heart.”

Gwen shook her head, saying, “But it can't be... you're alive.”

Merlin took her hand and put it on his chest. “What you can feel under my skin right now is only half of my heart. Arthur has the other half.”

She took her hand away in fear. “How is that possible?” she whispered. “How can you live with only half of your heart?”

Merlin didn't want to answer that question. He didn't want her to feel less worthy. She already had doubts about her relationship with Arthur and there was no need to confirm them.

“Because of magic,” he decided to say.

“No, there's more than that,” she insisted. “You said yourself that the chances were slim. Something could go wrong and you don't want to tell me the whole truth.” Then her pupils widened and she gasped. “You are his other half,” she whispered. “That's why it works.”

Merlin shook his head. “Gwen... it's not like that.”

“Don't lie to me, Merlin!” She wasn't angry, just a bit sad and overwhelmed.

“Arthur loves you,” he said firmly. “He chose you.”

“Yes, but he made a mistake.”

“No, Gwen, you are his world. He couldn't have made a better choice,” he said, meaning his every word.

“You must mean more than the world to him, then,” she said in a surprisingly calm voice. “I know that Arthur loves me. I can feel it but you... you are his true soulmate. You two share a heart.” Then something occurred to her. “Does Arthur even know?” she asked.

“Of course not.”

“He deserves to know,” she said firmly. “Don't hide something so important from him.”

“I will tell him one day. You can be certain of that,” he assured her.

“Don't wait too long,” she asked him. “I want him to be happy. Don't let him mourn me too long.”

“Gwen...”

“I mean it, Merlin.” She gave him a warning look. “I will come back to haunt you if you fail,” she joked.

“You're not dead, Gwen,” he reminded her.

“Yet.” She sent him a weak smile.

“You're impossible,” he mumbled.

She straightened up. “Now that we have it clarified, please lie down on the bed next to me and tell me about all the adventures we had. I want to keep all the good memories in mind,” she said fondly.

Merlin smiled at her and followed her request gladly. He was relieved that the serious subjects were over.

He didn't mention his and Arthur's immortality. After all, Gwen didn't have to know everything. Besides, he thought that it would be cruel to tell her about their immortality while she was dying before her time. It was better this way.

Arthur found them giggling on the bed half an hour later and couldn't help smiling himself. It was good to see his wife so happy one more time.

 


 

Gwen's state worsened dramatically afterwards and a few days later she was not able to get up from her bed at all. Arthur was spending almost every moment with her, limiting his kingly duties as much as possible. Merlin was using his magic to soothe her pains but even his powers couldn't stop the inevitable. Her life was coming to an end sooner than they expected.

“Will you stay awake with me?” Gwen asked Arthur in the evening. “I don't want to be alone when it happens.”

“You don't need to ask,” Arthur assured her immediately and kissed her hand tenderly.

Gwen tried to smile but it was too painful. She could only look at her dear husband with her big brown eyes. She wanted to keep the image of his face in her mind forever, hoping that in the afterlife she would be able to come back to the good moments they shared.

Arthur lay down next to her and embraced her.

“Hold me tighter,” she whispered and he did. Arthur knew that it must have caused her more pain, but apparently she needed his closeness more. He could not argue with her in such a moment. He needed to be there for her until the very end.

Guinevere died an hour later, surrounded by the man she loved. While dying, she thought that it wasn't the worst way to leave this world. Despite everything she learnt from Merlin, she felt loved, and that was the most important thing.

 


 

Merlin felt it when Gwen died, not because of a special bond that he shared with her, but because of Arthur's despair. It was strong enough to fill both halves of their heart.

Acting on an impulse, he rushed towards Arthur's rooms. He couldn't leave Arthur alone in a moment like this. The king needed a friend, someone who would care for him, and Merlin was there to fulfil this duty.

He waited patiently when Arthur was crying, still holding Gwen's body. When the king had no more tears to shed, Merlin came closer to him and held him tightly.

“I'm sorry,” he whispered. It should have been me, he thought but didn't dare say it out loud.

“I can't believe it...” mumbled Arthur. “She was so full of life. She deserved to live...”

“I know.”

They stayed in a silent embrace for several long minutes. Merlin didn't care much about his own discomfort but he was worried about Arthur. It wasn't healthy for him to cling to Gwen's body through the whole night. Staying up wasn't going to bring her back. He needed to let go.

“Arthur... Someone needs to take care of her body,” Merlin whispered, fearing his reaction.

Arthur raised his head and looked at him as if he just noticed that he was there. His eyes were puffy from crying and his hair was tangled.

“I don't want to stay here alone,” said Arthur in a vulnerable voice. The very sound of it shattered Merlin's heart to tiny pieces.

“You won't,” he promised him. “Come with me to my rooms.”

Arthur hesitated. “Someone should inform the people,” he murmured.

“I'll take care of everything,” Merlin assured him and helped him rise to his feet. I'll take care of you, he thought.

Arthur had no strength to argue so he followed Merlin obediently. He didn't want to stay in his chambers this night. It would be too painful.

To his surprise, he saw that the servants were already awaiting them in the hall next to his rooms. Merlin had already informed them. He probably took care of everything else too.

“Merlin?” he whispered.

“Don't think about it,” Merlin told him firmly. “Not tonight.”

He led him to his chambers where he put him in his own bed. That was the least he could do.

“I won't be able to fall asleep,” murmured Arthur.

“You will,” Merlin assured him and put his hands on Arthur's temples, ready to cast the right spell.

“Don't you ever leave me, Merlin,” whispered Arthur, looking into his eyes.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” the warlock replied. Then he whispered foreign words of a spell and added, “Now sleep well.”

Merlin knew that it was a wishful thinking but at least he was able to give him a dreamless sleep for the night. Arthur needed it more than any time before.

 

Chapter Text

It was almost dawn and Merlin didn't sleep even one hour during that night. He kept watch over Arthur, thinking about what his friend was going through. Arthur just lost his wife and his Queen. It was going to have a huge impact on his future life. Merlin couldn't imagine his life without Arthur in it, and now Arthur had to learn to live without Gwen. It wasn't going to be easy.

For now Arthur was sleeping peacefully since Merlin ensured him a dreamless rest. However, it wasn't going to last much longer. His spell would wear off any time soon and Merlin didn't believe that putting another spell on Arthur was right. It would only postpone the inevitable.

“Merlin...” Arthur mumbled when the first sun rays appeared over the horizon.

Merlin moved on the bed towards his friend. He tried to keep a distance during the night but at the moment Arthur needed him closer. “I'm here,” he whispered, touching his shoulder.

Arthur looked at him in the semi-darkness and smiled sadly. “Thank you, my friend,” he murmured. “For everything.”

Merlin shook his head. “I don't deserve it. I failed you,” he said.

“No, don't say that.” Arthur's voice was quite insistent. “You're the one who never truly left me. Even when I thought that you did, you only tried to save me.”

“And I will never leave you, Arthur,” Merlin assured him. “Unless you want me gone... But even then I wouldn't go far. I would watch over you no matter what.”

Merlin felt as Arthur's fingers intertwined with his. It felt so intimate that Merlin feared he wasn't going to survive this.

“I felt so lonely when she died, Merlin,” Arthur said suddenly. “I think that until the very end I hoped that it wouldn't happen.”

“Me too,” Merlin admitted quietly. “I hoped for your sake... and for Camelot's sake... but also for mine. She was my first friend here in Camelot. I can't believe she's gone now.”

“Guinevere had this spark inside. She always knew what to do or say.” Arthur took a deep breath to calm down. “I don't know how to run this kingdom without her.”

“You will find the way,” Merlin assured him instantly.

Arthur moved slightly closer to him. “But only if you stay by my side,” he whispered. “I won't find it in myself if you leave me, Merlin. The loneliness would kill me if you weren't here.”

Merlin gulped at this confession. “It's good that I'm not going anywhere, then,” he murmured.

“Do you fear loneliness?” Arthur asked him suddenly, after a few minutes of complete silence.

“All the time,” Merlin replied honestly.

It was a good moment to tell Arthur about their immortality. Merlin felt that a better moment would never come but he couldn't help thinking that it was too soon after Gwen's death. After such an emotional blow, Arthur wasn't ready for another life-shattering news. This revelation had to wait for its own turn.

“Are you lonely, Merlin?”

This question startled him a little bit. He didn't know when Arthur's face got so close to his.

“Not right now,” he answered in a whisper.

“Good,” said Arthur and squeezed his hand.

Merlin wasn't sure what to think about it. A part of him wanted to run away because this proximity was dangerously tempting. The other part, however, wanted to cling to Arthur and never leave his side again.

They drifted to sleep in this semi-embrace. They still had a couple of hours until the rest of the world required their presence and attention.

 


 

Leon and Mithian offered their support after Guinevere's death but it was Merlin that Arthur needed the most.

Gwen's funeral was the most traumatic funeral that Merlin attended. He had been devastated by Gaius' death but it was nothing in comparison to what he felt at the moment. Gaius lived a long life while Gwen's life was cut before her time. Moreover, she meant the world to Arthur, and watching him suffer because of her death made Merlin feel worse. Besides, the guilt didn't make it any easier. Arthur might not have considered him guilty but Merlin had different opinion on this matter. He couldn't help thinking that if it had been Arthur in Gwen's place, he would have found a way to save him. He feared that he didn't try hard enough because it was Gwen. This thought was going to haunt him for a long time to come.

The whole castle seemed extraordinarily quiet since the Queen died. Moreover, the day of her funeral was cloudy and rainy. It seemed as if the whole world was mourning her death.

Arthur was also very quiet during the ceremony. He said only a few words of goodbye and then turned completely silent. Merlin was the one who gave a brief speech about Guinevere. He could tell that it was something that Arthur wanted, as the king nodded shortly at him. It was the least Merlin could do for his friend.

After the funeral, Arthur went to his chambers to spend some time alone. Merlin was willing to keep him company, but Arthur didn't ask him for it, and he didn't suggest it himself, as he assumed that the king needed this time only for himself.

In the evening he was invited, along with Leon and Mithian, to a small dinner in Arthur's chambers. They were recalling their memories of Gwen, and it even made Arthur smile once or twice. Merlin was glad to see it.

Leon and Mithian were leaving in the morning. They had spent a lot of time in Camelot and their kingdom needed them too. Merlin understood that very well.

When he walked up to Mithian to say his goodbyes, she whispered into his ear, “Take care of Arthur. You're the one who can make him happy again.”

Merlin wasn't sure what she meant exactly but he wasn't going to raise any questions during their goodbye. “I will,” he promised, bringing smile to her face.

 


 

Camelot wasn't the same place after Gwen's death. The walls seemed colder and the corridors seemed emptier. Merlin hoped that it was only a temporary effect because Arthur was affected by it all too. The king was much more quieter. He rarely laughed these days, and when he did, he didn't put his whole heart into it. Merlin knew him well enough to see the difference.

Moreover, Arthur tended to spend more time alone. When he needed some company, he still visited Merlin's chambers, but he usually remained silent for most of the time. Merlin needed to fill the silence with his babbling because he couldn't stand it. Arthur listened to him carefully but replied to Merlin's questions only when his friend clearly expected an answer. Most of the time he was simply staring at the window or at Merlin. These two things became his favourite activities recently.

A couple of weeks after Gwen's death, Arthur surprised Merlin with an unforced remark.

“I like it here,” he simply said. “Your chamber is nicer than mine.”

“Your chamber is definitely larger and less cluttered,” Merlin engaged in this conversation instantly. Arthur's initiative was something new and he wasn't going to waste it.

“My chamber seems too large nowadays,” the king admitted sadly. “Besides, it reminds me of Guinevere, which is good sometimes but other times... let's say that sometimes I would like to focus on different things.”

“That's why you're coming here.”

Arthur looked at him closely. “I'm coming here because you're my friend and because you understand why I need to be like this.” He sighed heavily. “I know that I'm not going to be in this state forever but at the moment it definitely seems so.”

“You should take all the time you need to mourn Gwen,” Merlin told him. “The people of Camelot understand that. They know what a wonderful Queen Gwen was and they also feel this loss.”

“Most of all, they need a strong leader. I need to pull myself together before something bad happens,” he said.

“I won't let that happen on my watch,” Merlin assured him, smiling to lighten up his mood a bit. “I'll take care of any threats that may arise.”

“Camelot is my responsibility, Merlin, and people expect certain things from their king.” He sighed again. “I may seem reserved but I'm not deaf yet. I'm aware of what some members of the Council are talking about behind my back.”

“If they want to commit a treason...” started Merlin warningly. The truth was that he had no idea what certain members of the Council were planning. He was too preoccupied with Arthur's well-being to listen to the castle gossips.

“It's not a treason. Calm down,” Arthur told him quietly. “Some of them would want to find me another wife.”

“Oh... It's too soon,” said Merlin as calmly as possible, while he was screaming inside. He couldn't imagine Arthur taking another wife. Gwen was his friend, and he loved and respected her, but some royal stranger that would take her place was just too much. No woman could replace Gwen. Besides, he also didn't want to see Arthur marry another woman for completely selfish reasons, but he was never going to admit it out loud.

“They want me to create a new alliance and father an heir,” Arthur explained.

“But you...” Merlin hesitated, not wanting to bring up another sensitive subject.

“I can't have children,” Arthur confirmed calmly. “But they don't know it.”

Merlin looked at him closely and asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I don't intend to take a wife ever again,” he told him. “That's pointless. I won't marry someone to gain an ally and I can't father an heir.”

“They're not going to like it,” said Merlin truthfully, but inside he felt a great wave of relief. He wasn't going to lose Arthur to some stranger and it felt amazing.

“They don't have to,” Arthur replied and looked at him with his big blue eyes. There was something new in the way he was looking at him. Merlin could still see the sadness in his eyes but there was more. It looked very much like longing.

Merlin's treacherous heart started beating faster. The way Arthur was looking at him at the moment made him crave things, and it was scary. He knew it couldn't be true. Arthur couldn't desire him, even though it very much seemed so. Arthur loved Gwen and her death made him feel lonely and confused. Merlin had to firmly tell himself that he couldn't take advantage of this situation. Arthur was his friend and he wasn't going to ruin that by some foolish actions.

“You will have to explain it to them. I don't envy you,” said Merlin in order to make himself forget about what he was thinking a moment ago.

“I will when the time comes,” Arthur assured him.

Merlin nodded understandingly. It was clear that it wasn't a good time for such a conversation, although it was Arthur who started it.

“I should probably retire to my chambers,” said Arthur suddenly.

“You don't have to.” Merlin hoped that his voice didn't sound too pleadingly, but he couldn't be certain.

“I know.” Arthur gave him a weak smile. “But it's time for me. I'm tired.”

Merlin was almost sure that it was a lie but he wasn't going to stop him. Apparently, Arthur needed to spend the rest of the evening alone. It didn't matter that it saddened Merlin. Arthur's well-being was always his priority.

“Goodnight, then,” he said, defeated.

“Goodnight, Merlin.”

The warlock sighed heavily once Arthur was gone. His king's presence had a stronger impact on him than before, and there was no way to change that. Merlin was doomed.

 


 

The time went by and the people of Camelot started slowly accepting the new order of things. They had the kingdom without the Queen and with the King who was grieving.

Merlin watched it all with a heavy heart. He knew that sooner or later Arthur would come back to his old self, even though he was never going to forget Guinevere. However, the process of grief required time.

The nights had become much quieter since Gwen's death. Merlin no longer had to watch Arthur making love to her and he was relieved about it. At the same time, however, he couldn't help feeling guilty. It almost felt as if he was glad that Guinevere was dead, and it made him feel sick about himself. Arthur and Gwen didn't know what their love making was doing to Merlin. It was never their fault.

Merlin thought that he was discreet about his confusions and that he hid them well but Arthur was very observant. He started noticing certain things that he had missed before. Merlin was watching him with confusion and sadness. Arthur was in a dark place himself but he couldn't ignore Merlin. Not when he had become the most important person in his life. Not when he realised that perhaps Merlin had occupied this position long before Gwen was gone. It was one of the things that confused and worried Arthur the most. He tried to comprehend the way he was feeling about Merlin but he couldn't find the right words to describe it. Sometimes he felt as if he desired him physically and emotionally but he was suppressing that feeling because it was making him feel guilty. Arthur was a recent widower and he needed to act like one. Besides, every time he tried to suggest something to Merlin, his friend backed away. There was no easy way to make Merlin talk about it.

All that Arthur could do was glancing longingly at him, catching his eyes. Merlin being Merlin lowered his gaze every time his eyes met Arthur's, which was partially adorable, but most of all frustrating. He wasn't sure if Merlin avoided his gaze because he was oblivious or intimidated or simply not interested. It was too soon to try to make a move so Arthur restricted himself to sending him longing glances. However, when the right time came, he would make Merlin talk about all the things that they both were apparently afraid of.

Merlin looked at it all from a different perspective. He noticed Arthur's glances but he didn't dare to hope. He could tell that Arthur was confused and he understood that. There was no way that Arthur in his right mind would look at him in that way. Arthur wasn't this kind of man. He loved Gwen and was devoted to her even after her death. He wasn't going to marry another woman, even if such a marriage could bring him some political benefits. He respected Gwen too much to do that.

It didn't mean that Arthur felt nothing for him. Merlin was certain that Arthur loved him in a platonic way. They were friends and they shared a bond. It didn't matter what Gwen told him. She was dying and she didn't want to leave Arthur alone. Merlin believed that was why she was exaggerating the way Arthur cared for him. He didn't want to complicate their lives for some stupid dreams. Their bond meant more to him than earthly desires.

Besides, even if it could be possible, Merlin felt that he couldn't allow it. Not when Arthur didn't know the whole truth, and Merlin was certain that once he found out, he wouldn't want to give them another chance. The immortality was one issue but constant lying was another, and it was so much worse. Arthur managed to forgive him his lies concerning magic but he made it clear that he didn't want to hear another lies from Merlin ever again. The king had accepted that Merlin had some secrets but he couldn't know how life-changing they were. They concerned Arthur directly. That wasn't something that could be forgiven lightly.

Now Merlin knew that he should have been honest with Arthur all along. In the grand scheme of things it would have been a better choice. At least he would have avoided the lying part. Now he was so tangled in the web of lies that he didn't know how to get out of it. However, the person who was going to suffer the most was Arthur, and Merlin couldn't stand that thought.



 

Chapter Text

The weeks turned into months and Arthur was clearly getting better. He no longer appeared to be sad, just a bit melancholic from time to time. Perhaps it was the spring that improved his mood. Perhaps it was the influence of something entirely different. All Merlin could do was wonder and listen to Arthur's every word, but he was already doing the latter anyway.

However, one day something new happened. Arthur asked him to join him during the horse ride.

“It's a lovely day,” the king said cheerfully. “It would be a pity to spend it inside these cold walls.”

Merlin agreed with him gladly. Every opportunity to see Arthur like this was worth it.

As he found out later that day, it was more than a horse ride. Arthur had planned a picnic and this time his surprise wasn't ruined by rain.

“And you still don't like surprises?” Arthur asked him when they finished their picnic meal.

“What?” Merlin looked at him, frowning.

“Don't you remember? I tried to surprise you with a picnic when we got rid of Sir Lamorak, but the rain ruined it and we had to stay inside,” Arthur reminded him. “You told me then that you didn't like surprises.”

“Well... This time you did quite well so I can accept it,” he teased.

“You're generous,” Arthur teased his friend back and smiled at him.

They were lying on the blanket in silence, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the quietness of their surroundings. It was perfect.

Suddenly, Arthur turned on his side to look directly at Merlin. The warlock thought that he was going to come back to teasing him but nothing like that happened.

“Guinevere told me that she wanted me to be happy,” he said in a very serious tone.

Merlin was a bit startled by the suddenness of his confession, but not by its contents. He knew that Gwen wanted everything that was best for Arthur. He would have told him the same if he had been dying.

“Are you happy?” Merlin asked him hesitantly.

“I am, here with you.” This time Arthur whispered his words, and then reached out his hand to touch Merlin's. “But I could be happier.”

Merlin's heart started beating madly and there was no possibility that it could escape Arthur's attention.

All sorts of things crossed Merlin's mind at these words. One of them was that Arthur was enchanted because there was no way that he could be like this towards Merlin when there was no threat or emotional breakdown on the horizon.

“I want you to be happier too,” said Merlin because what else he could say. However, at the same time, he punched Arthur in the shoulder to ease the tension. He needed more time to process it all.

Arthur moved away his hand instantly. He tried to hide it but it was clear to Merlin that his face slightly saddened.

Merlin was aware that he ruined the moment. However, it was the only thing that came to his mind, which could give him more time to process what had just been said.

“I think we should come back to the castle,” he murmured and got up before Arthur could voice his objection.

 


 

Merlin didn't know how to handle what happened during the picnic. He had to start reacting somehow to Arthur's advances, but how to do it reasonably was a mystery to him. That was why he decided to ask Gilli for an advice. After all, the young physician was the only person in Camelot who knew his secret.

“You finally remember that you have a friend here,” Gilli greeted him, but there was no bitterness in his voice.

“I'm sorry,” said Merlin sheepishly. “I know that I am the worst of friends but I need your advice.”

“As always, Merlin, as always,” he said and nodded his head towards an empty chair. “Take a seat.”

Merlin did it gladly. He wasn't sure if he was able to carry this conversation standing. He was too overwhelmed.

“What's the problem?” Gilli encouraged him, seeing Merlin's hesitation.

“I can't get rid of the feeling that Arthur tries to... court me,” he finally said it out loud, and instantly felt amazingly relieved.

Gilli smiled mischievously under his nose.

“You don't seem surprised,” Merlin murmured.

“Because I'm not,” Gilli told him. “It's been obvious to me for a long time that our king is jealous and that he has his eyes only for you.”

“Gilli.” Merlin sounded scandalised. “He lost his wife merely six months ago. That's not what the recent widower should do.”

“It's good then that he's started feeling all these things long before the Queen died,” he said as if it could make anything better.

“Gilli!”

“But that's the truth.”

Merlin bit his lip and said, “Even if it was true, it wouldn't be appropriate. We're... you know... two men.” Saying that cost him a lot of embarrassment, and as a result, a huge blush spread all over his face.

“It doesn't seem to stop Arthur,” Gilli pointed out. “Why should it bother you?”

Merlin gulped and lowered his gaze. That was another thing that troubled him.

“What is it?” Gilli asked him. His tone suddenly changed from a teasing to a serious one.

“What if he's not acting entirely voluntarily?” he murmured.

Gilli frowned, not being sure if he understood his friend correctly. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Do you think he's enchanted by someone?”

Merlin shook his head. “Not by someone. By something.”

“Please elaborate,” Gilli asked him.

The warlock sighed heavily. “I fear that the half of my heart that beats in his chest may influence his feelings,” he finally admitted. “Arthur has changed after Camlann. I know that deep down he always cared for me but he never showed it in such a plain way. He always denied it when he was confronted about it.”

Now Gilli understood what was going through Merlin's head. “First of all, you should calm down,” he told him. “You shouldn't jump to such conclusions. The near-death experience might have as well changed his general attitude to life. His attitude towards you, to be more specific.”

“Maybe... or maybe he's confused because of my heart,” said Merlin and groaned loudly. “What shall I do, Gilli?”

“If it's so important to you, then you should find out the truth,” his friend told him. “I know that I advised you against going to the Sidhe before but perhaps you should visit them again.”

Merlin looked at him in disbelief. “You were afraid that they would trick me,” he said.

“Yes, but you already gave them what they wanted. It can't get any worse,” Gilli pointed out. “Besides, as far as we know, they're the only creatures that may know the answer to your questions. Unless you want to try to get to Avalon itself.”

“I doubt they would let me into Avalon again,” said Merlin honestly. “The Sidhe seem to be my last resort but I already gave them my protection. What else could I offer them in exchange for answers?”

“Nothing. You are their protector. You shouldn't pay them for the answers,” his friend suggested.

“I doubt they will look at it in this way but I have an idea,” murmured Merlin. “Thank you, Gilli.”

“You're welcome, but next time you come here, you should pay me a friendly visit. No more ground shattering news, if that's possible,” he joked.

Merlin smiled at him lightly. “I'll keep that in mind,” he said and rushed out of Gilli's quarters.

 


 

Merlin went to tell Arthur that he needed two or three days off. He knew that the king would raise some questions but disappearing without a word seemed to be a worse option.

“Is that another quest of yours?” Arthur asked, watching him closely, if not suspiciously.

“It is,” Merlin confirmed, trying not to sound too nervous.

“And you can't tell me what it is exactly,” the king continued.

Merlin bit his bottom lip. “Not yet,” he admitted.

“That's another secret you want to keep from me,” said Arthur. “You promised to tell me everything soon but you didn't.” His eyes suddenly became implacable.

Merlin sighed. “I know it's frustrating but many things happened recently and...”

“You mean Guinevere's death,” Arthur cut in.

“Among other things, yes.”

“Whatever it is, I can bear it,” Arthur assured him. “You don't need to protect me from everything. Just tell me the truth.”

“That's complicated.” Merlin took a deep breath. “I know that you hate it but you need to wait some more. Not much, I promise. I need to learn something before I reveal all my secrets, and then I will tell you everything. You have my word.”

Arthur nodded and looked at him a bit hopefully. “Go then and learn what you must learn. I can wait some more for the answers.”

Merlin smiled at him warmly. “Thank you, Arthur,” he said. “I appreciate your patience.”

 


 

When Merlin reached the Lake of Avalon he knew what had to be done. The Sidhe respected power so he needed to be strong. Otherwise they could deem him unworthy of their attention.

When he called them, he was surprised by the the firmness of his own voice. It didn't tremble even for a second.

The waters of the Lake opened and this time Merlin stood face to face with only one Sidhe. It was the oldest one of those he had met before.

“You shouldn't overuse your power, Emrys,” the Sidhe spoke, watching him suspiciously. “We are not your puppets.”

“I don't mean to offend your kind but there are certain matters that I can't ignore,” Merlin told him. “Last time we spoke I was overwhelmed by the things you revealed to me and I didn't ask the right questions. I've come here today to finally get the answers that I seek.”

“You had your chance before and you wasted it,” said the Sidhe. “This is your problem, not ours.”

Merlin expected such an answer so he was prepared. “I don't ask you for help. I demand the answers,” he said, unaffected.

The Sidhe flew closer to him and looked him in the eye. “You demand?” he asked, curious.

“I gave you my protection for the centuries to come. You owe me the answers when I demand them.” Merlin hoped that it would be enough. He didn't want to put his magic to use but he was ready to do that if it was necessary.

“You're bold, Emrys,” said the Sidhe. “To be honest, I didn't know that you had it in yourself.”

“Elaborate,” said Merlin. He had to focus to avoid using such words as please. In the eyes of the Sidhe they were the sign of weakness.

“I always thought that you wasted your potential. You have so much power, yet you seem so fragile. However, your determination has finally come to the surface. Better now than never.” The creature sounded genuine but Merlin couldn't let himself be distracted in such a way. He needed to keep in mind the reason why he had come to the Lake of Avalon.

“I don't seek compliments. I'm here for the answers.”

The Sidhe smirked. “You repeat that you're here for the answers but you didn't ask any question yet,” said the creature. “Do you expect me to read your mind?”

Merlin had to use all his strength to keep his excitement at bay. He couldn't help wondering if it meant that the Sidhe was willing to answer his questions. However, he kept the straight face, not revealing any emotion.

“I only wanted to make my point clear,” he said coolly.

“You did, so now tell me what you want exactly and I'll see if I can give you your answers,” the Sidhe told him. “Then we can end this game and hopefully we won't need to see each other for a very long time.” The magical creature almost seemed dispassionate and bored but Merlin could sense that it was just a part of their game.

“I need to know more about the heart-sharing ritual,” he started. “How does this magic work? What impact does it have on the recipient?”

“You know how it works, Emrys. You gave half of your heart to Pendragon, binding his life to yours in the consequence,” the Sidhe told him. “That's a very old and unpredictable magic. Very few survived it when the ancient magic thrived on this Earth.”

Merlin gulped at these words. He had been told that the rite was dangerous but he didn't know that the positive outcome was so rare.

“Does it influence the recipient in any other way?” Merlin finally asked. “Does it have impact on his thoughts, beliefs or feelings?” He couldn't put it in a more direct way. It would be too embarrassing.

“You think that the young Pendragon is influenced by your thoughts and beliefs and feelings?” the Sidhe asked, smirking. “That's interesting.”

“I'm not here for your amusement, but for the answers,” Merlin reminded him firmly. “Is it something beyond your knowledge?”

“It depends... The heart-sharing magic is older than me. Those who practised it before you are long gone,” the Sidhe said. “However, there are some pointers that can guide you to your answers. The heart-sharing rite was rarely successful. Do you know why, Emrys?”

“The giver and the recipient must be each other's halves,” said Merlin, remembering what he heard in Avalon.

“Yes, and finding one's true half is rarer than people want to believe,” the Sidhe told him. “Two halves must complete each other and that's barely achievable in human form.”

“People know how to love but they rarely complete each other,” Merlin murmured to himself. “That makes sense.” Then he glanced at the Sidhe. “In what way it answers my question?” he asked, confused.

“You surprise me with your ignorance, Emrys,” the creature said. “You and Pendragon survived the rite. You are each other's halves. What else do you need to know to see it?”

“I know that Arthur is my other half but I'm worried that my heart changes his behaviour in some way,” Merlin admitted, revealing his weakness. It wasn't a wise thing to do but the Sidhe already knew all of it.

“You may be powerful, Emrys, but you are still a victim to earthly needs. At the same time they make you weaker and stronger,” he said curiously. “You are scared by the sudden attention Pendragon pays to you,” he said, smirking. “You believe that your heart caused it and you feel guilty about it.”

Merlin felt that he was losing their game and that he needed to do something to get the answers before it was over.

“It's true,” he said, deciding that honesty was his last chance. “Has my heart changed Arthur's feelings?”

“I gave you an answer and you still can't decipher it,” the Sidhe said. “Unbelievable.”

“When did you give me the answer?” Merlin asked, watching the creature carefully.

“Pendragon is alive. It proves that you are his true half.”

“Does it?” Merlin looked at him defiantly. “Arthur chose Gwen to be his other half. Perhaps it was just my magic that kept him alive.”

“That's not how the rite works, Emrys, and you know it.”

“What does it have to do with anything?” Merlin asked angrily. “I didn't come here to discuss the probability of me being Arthur's soulmate. I'm here to find out if he still has his free will.”

“If you paid more attention to the basic facts, you would know that these two things are connected,” the Sidhe said quietly. “The heart-sharing couldn't change Pendragon's feelings because the very fact that he's still alive means that these feelings must have been there before.”

When it was finally plainly stated, Merlin understood how stupid and ignorant he must have seemed to the Sidhe. However, most of all, he felt a relief. Finally it all made sense to him.

“So it comes from Arthur, not from me,” he whispered to himself, relieved and happy. It was a wonderful feeling.

“You are the most powerful sorcerer, Emrys, but your ignorance is greater than your powers,” the Sidhe told him once again. “There are so many things that you still need to learn.”

“I will learn them all,” said Merlin cheerfully, as he forgot to keep his pose.

“You must remember that this help wasn't given for free,” the Sidhe told him. “When the dark times come, you will ensure the survival of my kind.”

“I gave you my protection before. I can give you my word now but I thought that you don't trust humankind,” said Merlin.

“The paths of destiny are winding. In the future we may have no choice but to trust you.” The Sidhe flew even closer to him than before. He was right in front of Merlin's face. “My brothers and sisters may not like it but it's true. The Sidhe will need you and the Once and Future King. That's certain.”

“That's why you helped me today,” murmured Merlin.

“Indeed. Once again I ensured your protection,” he said. “You may be a human but you're also a creature of magic and you're honourable. You will feel indebted to us.”

Merlin understood it very well. This Sidhe did something unthinkable, he put his trust in a human, just in order to ensure the survival of his kind. Merlin respected that because he also did the unthinkable to save Arthur. He and the Sidhe had that in common.

“I hope that we will not need to see each other sooner than it's necessary,” the Sidhe said as his goodbye.

Merlin nodded, but before he walked away, he had one last question. “What's your name?” he asked out of the blue.

The Sidhe seemed genuinely surprised. “Humans never cared for our names,” he said.

“I'm the first one, then,” said Merlin boldly.

“Gobaith. My name is Gobaith.”

 


 

Arthur seemed pleased to see him returning safely on the next day. It was the evening and the king watched him from the window of Merlin's chambers. It didn't escape Merlin's attention and it made him certain that the king was awaiting him and his answers. He sighed inwardly. He felt much better than before but he needed more time to process everything he learnt from Gobaith. Arthur needed to wait some more and Merlin had to quickly find a way to placate him.

“Hello, Arthur,” Merlin greeted him. “You waited for me in my chambers. How did you know that I would come back this evening?”

“I didn't,” Arthur admitted. “I just got used to spending my evenings here.” Then he walked closer to Merlin and stopped right in front of his face, looking into his eyes. “How did your quest go?” he asked.

Merlin expected to hear that question so he was prepared. “It was enlightening,” he said the truth.

Arthur's expression turned from suspicious to hopeful. “So you're ready to reveal your big secrets to me?” Saying that, he tilted his head.

“Almost,” Merlin told him truthfully, making Arthur's face fall.

“You're doing it again,” the king accused him. “I believed that these secrets would end with your return. You keep going on these small quests and you're so secretive about them. Why can't you just trust me?” Arthur didn't want it to sound so dramatic but he failed miserably.

“I do trust you, Arthur. I told you that before,” said Merlin as calmly as the circumstances allowed him. “It's not the matter of trust. I learnt some things during my quest and I need a little bit more time to think them through. I need to decide how to tell them to you gently.”

“I'm not a child, Merlin. You don't need to tell me anything gently,” murmured Arthur grumpily. “I am ready to hear it, whatever it is.”

Merlin only shook his head. “Don't push me into telling it all to you before I'm ready,” Merlin asked him. “I don't want to start avoiding you again, Arthur. Don't make me hide from you.”

Arthur sighed heavily, defeated. Merlin avoiding him was the last thing he wanted. He was just frustrated because he truly believed that the secrets would end once Merlin came back. He should have known better.

“I'm sorry, Merlin, I won't push you,” Arthur promised. “It wasn't my intention to make you feel trapped.”

Merlin smiled at him warmly. “That's all right. I understand,” he said. “I'm grateful.”

The rest of the evening was calm and quiet. They didn't talk much, as Merlin was tired after his quest and Arthur respected that. They just enjoyed the silent company of each other.

 


 

Another week went by and Merlin couldn't deny it any longer. Arthur wasn't just acting friendly towards him. There was so much more in the way Arthur treated him these days. His touches could no longer be described as shy. There was an intention hidden behind them. A very obvious intention. If Merlin had any doubts before, now he was certain that Arthur was trying to seduce him. The king had taken him for a picnic twice this week and paid attention to his every move and every word. That was something that Arthur used to do for Gwen when he was courting her.

This very thought made Merlin feel dizzy. He was tempted to give in and let Arthur do to him whatever he wished. However, the part of him that still remained rational, stopped him from acting on his urges. Deep down he knew that it wouldn't be fair. Arthur didn't know how dishonest Merlin was with him, and the king hated being lied to, especially since he trusted Merlin in every aspect of his life. The reveal of the truth was going to be a blow, and Merlin would be the one to deliver this blow very soon.

The evenings with Arthur were becoming longer and longer. The king seemed to always find an excuse to return to his chambers later than the previous day. Merlin adored his company but it was becoming more and more difficult with each day to reject his advances. Merlin started wondering when Arthur had become so persuasive. He started to suspect that it was Arthur's way of convincing him to reveal all his secrets. It seemed that the king had changed his tactic from asking questions to making actions.

At the moment, Arthur leaned dangerously close to Merlin. He felt that he had to do something to stop him from getting any closer.

“My mother will come visit me next week,” he said quickly, killing the mood entirely with the mention of his mother.

Arthur straightened up and cleared his throat. “Do you want me to ask servants to prepare a room for her?” he asked.

“Yes,” Merlin confirmed. “The one next to my chambers seems available. It would be perfect for her.”

Arthur nodded but he didn't manage to hide his disappointment. Merlin knew what he must have thought. Hunith's visit was going to postpone Arthur's advances.

That was Merlin's attempt at buying himself more time. Besides, he was looking forward to hearing some advice from his mother. He was going to kill two birds with one stone.

However, after his mother's visit, he was going to reveal all his secrets to Arthur. He couldn't deceive him any longer. It wasn't fair.

That was decided.

 

Chapter Text

The moment Hunith saw her son's face, she knew that a lot had changed since her last visit in Camelot. She was certain that it was partially caused by Gwen's death but there was more to it than just that. There was something new.

Hunith was invited to have dinner with the king. It was a cosy meal, as there were only the three of them. She called Arthur by his name as she used to do but he didn't seem to mind it. She had a feeling that he actually liked it. Arthur had to grow up without mother and Hunith believed that she was the closest person to a mother figure that he had ever had in his life.

It was good for Merlin's sake. She had known for years that her son was hopelessly in love with his king. She suspected that she'd known long before Merlin realised it himself.

She remembered very well her last visit to Camelot. She had been moved by Merlin's confession for days. The circumstances were different now but she didn't know what to think. Guinevere was dead and the kingdom wasn't the same. Her death changed both Arthur and Merlin. She could still remember the letter she received from Merlin after Gwen's passing. It was filled with grief and guilt and hopelessness. She wanted to go visit her son right away but Merlin emphasised in his letter that he had to focus on Arthur and that she should wait with the visit she planned. Hunith didn't like it but she understood and respected her son's decision. Arthur was his priority and Merlin had to find his place in these new circumstances on his own.

During the dinner, Arthur was very polite towards her. It felt as if he wanted to make a good impression, which only made Hunith wonder about his intentions. She knew that deep down he was a caring man, but he was also a king and she was only a peasant woman. He had reputation to uphold and impressing an older woman, who wasn't even his subject, should be at the bottom of the list of his priorities.

There could only be one reason for Arthur's actions. He wanted to impress her son in this elliptic way.

It didn't escape her attention how he was looking at Merlin. Arthur thought that he was subtle but he couldn't deceive her. Mothers knew how these things worked.

She couldn't stop thinking about how many things had changed between her son and Arthur during these past few months after Gwen's death. It was obvious to her that these two men were pining for each other. She wondered if Merlin noticed it too, so she couldn't wait to talk to him in private later that evening. She wanted what was best for her son and she was determined to make him happy. The circumstances weren't perfect since she herself was very fond of Gwen, but the thought about her premature death only confirmed Hunith's conviction that Merlin couldn't waste his chance at happiness.

She glanced at her son, who seemed completely unaware of her inner battle. However, it didn't surprise her in the slightest. Merlin had his eyes only for Arthur.

 


 

Later that evening, when Merlin and his mother said goodnight to Arthur and left his chambers, Hunith noticed that her son grew more nervous. It was clear that he wanted to tell her something. There was a battle inside his head and she decided to interrupt it.

“We can talk in your chambers,” she told him quietly, making his eyes widen.

“I didn't say anything,” he murmured hesitantly.

“You didn't have to.” She smiled at him reassuringly. “I'm here for you, Merlin.”

He nodded understandingly and led her to his room. When they were finally seated in Merlin's comfortable armchairs, he glanced at her nervously, blushing.

“I planned to wait until tomorrow,” he murmured eventually. “You must be tired, mother.”

“Don't worry about it,” she told him quietly. “I wouldn't rest properly until I found out what was troubling you, my son.”

Merlin sighed heavily. “Many things have changed since your last visit, mother,” he admitted. “I have no clue where to start.”

“I'll help you,” she offered and asked, “What's changed between you and Arthur? Please note that I won't take nothing for an answer.”

His lips quivered in an attempt to smile. “It's definitely not nothing,” he admitted. “It's just difficult to describe.”

“I saw the way he looked at you today, Merlin. If you ever had any doubts about his feelings, you should be certain of them now,” Hunith told him.

“I'm not blind, mother,” he replied. “I notice Arthur's glances and I'm flattered by them. In a different life I would be thrilled but here and now... it's just complicated.”

Hunith tilted her head and said, “You feel guilty because of what happened to Gwen.”

“That's one of the things,” Merlin admitted. “There are others.”

“Of course there are others,” she told him. “There will always be multiple obstacles on your way but you shouldn't be discouraged by them.”

Merlin had to close his eyes for a moment in order to calm down. He had many things to explain to his mother and it was just the beginning.

“There are things that I can't change,” he finally whispered.

“Then you need to find a way to accept them.”

Merlin wished it was so easy but it was the lack of Arthur's acceptance that he feared the most.

“Arthur loved Gwen and I can't just erase that. I saw how her death hurt him. It just can't be described in words.” He took a deep breath. “You are right. I feel guilty about what happened to Gwen. I can't get rid of the feeling that there was something I could do to change her fate. Besides... she knew, mother. She knew that I loved Arthur. She told me that she was glad.” He could no longer hold his tears so he let them run down his cheeks. “Gwen was so loving and accepting and now she's gone because I wasn't able to find a cure. I was supposed to save her.”

Hunith jumped out of her armchair and rushed towards her son in order to hug him tightly. “It's not your fault,” she assured him. “Certain things are inevitable.”

“There's more,” Merlin told her, sobbing. “She asked me to be completely honest with her, and then she asked about how I saved Arthur. I told her about my heart... our heart...”

“You did the right thing, my son.”

“Gwen was a clever woman and she guessed how the heart-sharing worked,” Merlin continued. “She died thinking that I was Arthur's other half. Not her.”

Now Hunith understood the depth of Merlin's guilt. She felt that she had to do something to console him. “I'm sure that she knew that Arthur loved her too,” she whispered.

“It's not the same,” Merlin argued.

Hunith lifted his chin and made him look into her eyes. “Gwen is in a better place now,” she told him firmly. “Perhaps she had her other half too and she's reunited with him now.”

Something changed in Merlin's eyes. “What... What do you mean?” he asked.

“Years ago when Gwen was banished from Camelot and lived with me in Ealdor, she told me about the man called Lancelot,” Hunith explained. “I know how conflicted she felt about her feelings to him and Arthur.”

“Lancelot... He loved her. I'm certain of it. But Gwen... she chose Arthur,” Merlin murmured. “There was a time when Lancelot came back to Camelot but she still stayed with Arthur.”

“Perhaps she made the wrong choice,” Hunith suggested.

Merlin shook his head. “She loved Arthur. I'm sure of that.”

“I'm not denying that she loved Arthur but it occurred to me that in the great scheme of things he wasn't the one for her.” She sighed lightly. “Sometimes it takes years before we realise that we made the wrong choice. You shouldn't despair, Merlin, because you can't change what happened to her. Instead, you should hope that she's reunited with her true half. Arthur clearly wasn't her soulmate so perhaps it was Lancelot after all.”

Merlin knew that she was trying to console him, but he couldn't get rid of the feeling that there might have been something in what she was telling him. He wanted Gwen to find peace and rest in the afterlife. Perhaps she could find love too.

Merlin was surprised that this thought reassured him. Despite all the things Gwen had said to him, he felt guilty that he deprived her of something important. Now he felt a strange wave of relief. Perhaps Arthur had never been Gwen's true half. Perhaps she could be reunited with her soulmate in death.

He knew that he would never find out the truth but he wanted to believe it for Gwen's sake. She deserved something better than premature death.

Then his mother brought him back to Earth. “I assume that these were not your only concerns,” she said quietly.

Merlin looked at her and nodded. “Arthur still doesn't know that we share a heart,” he murmured.

“Last time we talked about it, you said that you didn't plan to tell him at all,” she pointed out, taking a seat once again. Her son calmed down a bit so she could relax too.

Merlin sighed heavily. “I fear I no longer have a choice,” he said sadly. “Since your last visit I learnt something that changed my view on this matter completely.”

Hunith looked intrigued. “What is it?” she asked.

“By giving Arthur half of my heart, I ensured that he'll live as long as I do,” he started his explanation. “I thought it was a perfect solution at the time but now it's become more complicated. I didn't know certain things about myself then. Things that changed everything.” He had to pause for a moment to take a breath and control his voice.

“You don't need to tell me if you don't want to,” his mother told him. “I'll understand.”

Merlin shook his head. “I need to tell you. I want it,” he said quietly. “I said it out loud only once, to Gilli, and I was in a terrible state back then.” He didn't want to admit how drunk and devastated he was that day but judging by the look on his mother's face, Hunith guessed it on her own.

“We can talk tomorrow if you need more time to think it through,” she suggested.

“No,” said Merlin firmly. “I need to say it now.” Then he looked at her sadly. “Some time ago I found out that apparently I am an immortal being,” he spat it out.

“Immortal?” Hunith whispered, shocked.

“Yes, and now Arthur is immortal too, and I don't know how to tell him,” he explained.

“And this is your main concerned?” his mother asked him in disbelief. “That Arthur doesn't know?”

“What else should be my concern?” Merlin asked her in return. “He lives for this kingdom and wants to die for it. That's crystal clear to me. And no kingdom can last forever, even if it's ruled by such a wonderful king as Arthur. How is he going to bear the fall of Camelot that he'll have to witness one day?”

“For once in your life you should think about yourself, Merlin,” she told him firmly. “You worry about Camelot and Arthur... Did you ever think about yourself being immortal? About what it means to you?”

“I doesn't matter,” Merlin replied instantly. “I don't care what happens to me.”

“Merlin...” Hunith looked truly worried and he hated himself for doing it to her.

“All I do is for Arthur and you know it,” he said in a much quieter voice.

“You do it because you love him and I understand that but you can't forget about yourself.” She squeezed his hand. “Do you regret that you saved Arthur?”

The answer was easy. “Of course not.”

“To be honest, the concept of immortality is beyond my understanding but I know one thing...” She looked into his eyes. “It must be really lonely to watch everything you knew pass. I would never want that for you, my son, but knowing that you'll share it with someone you love is somehow reassuring. You should be glad that you won't spend eternity alone.”

Merlin gasped and started trembling again. “I'm not sure if Arthur wants to spend it with me,” he revealed his concern. “I didn't tell him about our heart and then about our immortality. I should have told him about these things long ago. I would have avoided so many lies.”

“He will forgive you sooner or later,” his mother assured him. “It will be surely hard for him at first but in time he'll understand.”

“I was lying to him about my magic for ten years. I was supposed to be honest with him ever since he found out,” he said. “I hated lying to him but then I did it again. I am a terrible person.”

“You are not,” Hunith told him firmly. “You did it all to protect the man you love. You took this burden on yourself to make Arthur's life easier. That was honourable.”

“It doesn't change anything. I lied to him about things that concern him directly,” said Merlin bitterly.

“I saw the way he looks at you, Merlin. He will forgive you because he loves you too.” Saying that, his mother smiled at him reassuringly. “It won't be easy but you'll get through it. I'm sure of it.”

Merlin smiled lightly at her too. “I've already decided that I will tell him this week,” he said.

“When I'm gone,” Hunith guessed.

Merlin nodded, blushing lightly. “I don't want you to witness this,” he admitted. “Arthur will surely be mad at me and he may have a problem with holding his temper.”

“And you don't want me to scold my future son for his nasty behaviour towards you,” she joked.

The blush on Merlin's cheeks deepened. “Mother! He won't be your son. Even if he forgives me, we won't... you know...” He had to bite his lip to refrain himself from babbling. “We're two men,” he said as if it could explain everything.

Hunith didn't seem to be affected by Merlin's embarrassment in any way. “If he loves you, he'll be my son too. I don't care what the rest of the world thinks,” she said decisively. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I need to confess the truth to Arthur first and he needs to forgive me,” he murmured. “Then I will be happy.”

“I will pray for that, then,” she told him and kissed his forehead. “I will retire to my room now but we can talk about it tomorrow too. Remember that I'm here for you, Merlin.”

“Thank you, mother,” he said and walked her up to the door.

When he was left alone, he sank on his bed and started thinking about all the things his mother told him. She really seemed to believe that Arthur was going to forgive him sooner rather than later. He sighed heavily, wishing that he had so much faith too.

 


 

Hunith stayed two more days in Camelot, trying to convince Merlin that everything was going to be all right. Arthur gave them space but Hunith managed to talk to the king in private for a short while. Merlin wished he knew what they were talking about but when he asked his mother she only told him that he shouldn't worry about it. This time her words weren't reassuring at all.

When she finally left Camelot, Merlin was both scared and thrilled. There was nothing else to stop him from telling the truth to Arthur now. All he had to do was to arrange a private meeting and tell him everything in a delicate way. He sighed heavily at this thought, as it was easier said than done.

Merlin decided that the only reasonable place for this confession was his own chamber. He felt safe there and Arthur could leave the room at any time if he felt the need. If the confession took place in the king's chambers, Arthur would have to order Merlin to leave, which could turn awkward and too emotional.

Arthur accepted Merlin's invitation gladly. The warlock tried not to think about the consequences of his decision so he focused on preparing something to eat, even though he knew he wouldn't touch the food himself. He was too nervous to even think about eating.

“Merlin,” Arthur greeted him with a secretive smile.

The warlock gulped as he couldn't help noticing that Arthur's hair was glowing beautifully in the candle light.

“Hello, Arthur,” he said, glancing at the table to distract himself. “Are you hungry?”

Arthur shook his head, not even looking in the direction of the table. His eyes were completely focused on Merlin.

He walked up to him quickly and put his hands on Merlin's shoulders before his friend could tell anything else. “I've been thinking a lot these past few days,” he murmured. “I wasn't certain if it was appropriate but then I decided that I didn't care.” He slid his right hand up Merlin's neck and tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear, caressing his skin in the process.

“Arthur...” whispered Merlin and gasped.

“Please tell me it's not only in my mind.” Arthur's voice was so pleading and vulnerable that it pained Merlin to hear it. Besides, he needed to reveal the truth first, despite Arthur's words being so tempting. It was the only fair way.

“You wanted me to reveal all my secrets, Arthur, and I'm finally ready,” he said, bringing smile to his friend's face.

“It's a great day, then,” said Arthur cheerfully.

“I wish,” murmured Merlin and laughed nervously. “I think you should sit down, Arthur. What I'm about to tell you may be shocking to you.”

“I'll be fine,” Arthur assured him, not moving at all towards the chair.

Merlin sighed heavily. Arthur looked so hopeful and Merlin was about to ruin it.

“I need to finally tell you how it's possible that you're still here... how I managed to save you after Camlann,” he said as quietly as he could.

“You mean to tell me what exactly happened in Avalon?” asked Arthur, clearly excited by the prospect of learning the whole truth.

“Yes,” Merlin confirmed with a heavy heart, “But it's complicated.”

“I have time,” said Arthur, squeezing his arm.

Merlin smiled nervously. “There's no easy way to say, Arthur, but you were meant to die on that day. The title that I called you sometimes, the Once and Future King, it was a prophecy and a promise. You were meant to die and return one day.”

“Return?” Arthur was genuinely surprised. “How? When?”

“I don't know,” Merlin admitted. “Certainly thanks to magic but the details were never revealed to me.”

“If that's true and I'm still alive... What does that mean? How is that possible?” Arthur kept asking.

“I defied the prophecy, changing our destiny in a way that I couldn't imagine then,” Merlin told him. “But I couldn't let you die, Arthur. Not when I found out that there was a slim chance to save you. I had to take a leap of faith. You need to remember that.”

“I do. Just tell me what worries you so much,” said Arthur.

Merlin nodded at looked Arthur in the eye. “I was told about a very ancient rite. It scared me but it was your only chance,” he said. “Just don't panic, please. It sounds crazy but it worked and I'm glad for that.”

“Just say it,” Arthur encouraged him, smiling.

“Your heart was poisoned, Arthur. It could be cured but it required time and you didn't have it,” whispered Merlin.

Arthur touched his chest instinctively. His heart was beating soundly under his palm. That was certain. “But I have a heart,” said Arthur, watching him closely.

“You have a heart,” Merlin confirmed. “A half of my heart to be more precise.”

The king glanced down at his chest and then back at Merlin. “A half of your heart...” he repeated, bewildered. “And you?”

“I have the other half,” said Merlin, being grateful that Arthur was taking it better than he thought.

Arthur touched Merlin's chest, not asking him for permission. It was clear that their hearts were beating in the same rhythm. “I had some weird dreams,” Arthur admitted suddenly. “I wondered if they could be true but now I think that they were.”

“That's possible,” whispered Merlin.

“You said those things... I don't remember them well but then you...” he hesitated. “You kissed me?”

Merlin nodded. “I had to seal the pack,” Merlin told him. “I had to do this to make your new heart beat again.”

“That's why you didn't tell me?” asked Arthur. “Were you scared that I would find about the kiss?”

“It's more than that. I didn't want to make you feel guilty,” Merlin explained.

“You should have told me,” said Arthur decisively. “I would have understood. A moment ago I thought that you were just going to tell me about the confused feelings you have for me.”

“They're not confused,” he said quickly. “I know very well how I feel about you... how I've felt for a very long time.” His voice was trembling but he didn't care. Arthur had to hear it all. “The heart-sharing rite only helped me fully realise it.”

Arthur smiled at him. “I admit that the idea that we share a heart seems weird but it's also reassuring,” he said quietly. “I'm glad that the heart is yours. It makes me feel safe.”

“You are safe,” Merlin told him. “You have no idea how much.”

The king frowned slightly. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“The heart-sharing magic didn't just save you from Mordred's blade,” Merlin started his explanation. “It bound your life to mine.”

“So...?” Arthur wasn't certain if he understood it correctly.

“It means that you're going to live as long as I do,” Merlin clarified. “I am a giver and you are a recipient. Not the other way around.”

“So if something happens to me, I won't die as long as you're alive,” said Arthur.

Merlin nodded to confirm it.

Arthur's smile widened. “But isn't it good?” he asked. “It's true that you'll have to be more careful with your life but at last I won't need to worry that you're careless. I know you will care for your own life since mine depends on it,” he said cheerfully. “Besides, neither of us will have to watch the other die. One day we'll leave this world together. It's perfect for me.”

Merlin understood Arthur's way of thinking. After Gwen's passing, the king had become extra worried about the prospect of being left alone. The consequences of heart-sharing must have felt as a blessing to him.

He hated himself because he was about to ruin this perfect picture that just formed in Arthur's mind.

“I'm not saying that I'm happy that you were hiding it from me for such a long time and I hope that it won't happen ever again,” Arthur continued in excitement. “For a short moment I feared that it was something worse. You really are as pale as death, Merlin. We should do something about it.” Saying that, he leaned closer to him and whispered, “We share a heart, Merlin. Our lives are connected. What can stop us now from spending them together?”

Merlin gulped. “There's more,” he said, moving away from Arthur, as the king was about to kiss him and he couldn't allow it until he knew the whole truth.

Arthur straightened up. “What is it?” he asked, clearly worried. “Did I read it all wrong? Don't you want this?”

Merlin shook his head, trying to suppress a sob but failing. “I want it with all my heart, Arthur,” he assured him. “You should never doubt my feelings towards you.”

“Then what's the problem?”

“There is one more thing that comes with our heart-sharing,” he whispered. “I didn't know about it when I was saving you in Avalon, but even if I had known, I would have done the same. I hope you will understand it one day and that you will find a way to forgive me.”

Arthur was scared by these words. For a moment he thought that everything was finally going to be all right but something that could put Merlin in such a state had to be significant.

“Before I say it, please bear in mind that the rite wouldn't have worked if we weren't two halves,” said Merlin. “And afterwards please think about what would you do if you were in my place.” Merlin knew that it was a weak line of defence but he had to try it.

“For goodness sake, Merlin, just say it,” said Arthur both firmly and pleadingly. It was clear that he was confused and clueless.

Merlin nodded, understanding Arthur's irritation. “As I told you before, Arthur, you were meant to die on that day and come back in the future as the Once and Future King,” he said in a trembling voice. “What you don't know is that I was meant to wait for your return for centuries.”

“How would you wait for me for centuries?” asked Arthur, even more confused. “People can't live that long.”

“You see... The Druids always called me Emrys. Some time ago I found out that this name was a prophecy too.” He wanted Arthur to understand it all. It was now or never. “Apparently, Emrys means immortal.” Then he looked at Arthur with anticipation, waiting for an outbreak of emotions.

Arthur blinked a few time and asked, “So you're... immortal?”

We are immortal,” Merlin corrected him.

“We are immortal,” repeated Arthur and shook his head in disbelief. “That's crazy. How... how long did you know?”

“I'm not sure but certainly over a year. It was shortly after Gaius' death so probably closer to two years than one,” he admitted, looking down. “I know that I should have told you earlier but...”

“You certainly should have,” mumbled Arthur. “You were hiding it for so long. You were lying to me all this time. How long were you going to keep it a secret? Until all our friends would be dead?” His tone was harsh and merciless.

“You would find it out sooner,” murmured Merlin timidly. “You haven't noticed it yet but we stopped ageing.”

“So you were going to lie to me until the day I would confront you about it?” he asked.

“I wanted to tell you all this time but there was never an easy way,” Merlin attempted to defend himself. “You are devoted to this kingdom and to your people. You were happy when I found out about it and I didn't want to ruin it prematurely.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Arthur asked angrily. “You decided that you knew what was best for me but you had no right. I deserved to know right away. I thought you respected me but instead you kept lying to me about something so important. How can I trust you, Merlin?”

“I did it to protect you,” Merlin tried to explain. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“But you did,” said Arthur coldly. “By lying to me, you hurt me more than the revelation about immortality ever could. I understand why you were hiding your magic from me. It was forbidden back then and you were scared and uncertain. I can even understand why you didn't tell me about the heart-sharing. You must have been embarrassed and confused but this... this information changes my life completely, and yet you decided to keep it from me.”

“What would it change if you knew earlier?” asked Merlin before he could bite his tongue.

These words angered Arthur further. “Everything,” he said through his teeth. “I came here trusting and hoping that my feelings were reciprocated.”

“They are,” Merlin assured him hastily.

Arthur snorted. “I doubt it. If they were, you would respect me enough to tell me earlier,” he murmured bitterly.

“You know that I did it to protect you. You must know,” said Merlin pleadingly. “It was never a matter of trust or respect, Arthur.”

“Don't call me that,” replied Arthur angrily. “I am your king and you must address me properly.”

Merlin gasped at his words. Arthur had never been like this. Not even when Merlin revealed his magic to him.

“Don't go after me. Don't come to my chambers,” Arthur continued harshly. “Don't talk to me unless I demand it. Avoid me at all costs. I just don't want to see your face.”

“Arthur...”

“I told you to address me properly.” He wagged his finger at Merlin warningly.

“My Lord,” Merlin corrected himself. “Why don't you just banish me already, if you feel that way?” he asked defiantly.

Arthur looked him in the eye but didn't say anything. He just turned on his heel and rushed out of Merlin's chambers, slamming the door.

Merlin was gaping at the door for a few minutes, naively hoping that Arthur would come back, before he crashed down to the floor, sobbing. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and it was all his fault.


 

Chapter Text

All Arthur felt at this moment was anger and disappointment. He knew that the things he said to Merlin were cruel but he believed that he had every right to say them. He wanted to hurt Merlin in the same way he hurt him by telling all these lies and keeping all these secrets.

A rational part of Arthur tried to convince him that he overreacted but he suppressed it instantly. He deserved to know the truth from the very start and Merlin had no right to hide it from him. At least this one thing was certain.

It hurt to be lied to and Arthur hated that feeling. He had to do something to forget about it for a moment. His first thought was to get horribly drunk but he knew it wasn't going to be enough. He needed something stronger and more devastating.

Then another thought crossed his mind. It was insane but there was no one around who could advise him against this idea. Namely, there was no Merlin.

Not being sure what he was doing any longer, he acted on an impulse. He stopped the first servant he came across in the hall and told him to bring a prostitute to his chambers.

The boy was clearly shocked by this demand.

“A... a prostitute, my lord?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“Exactly,” said Arthur harshly. “Do it quickly.”

The serving boy, who couldn't be older than Merlin when he arrived at Camelot all these years ago, gulped loudly and then nodded obediently. Arthur thought that Merlin would have defied him if he had ever asked him to do such thing, but Arthur didn't want to think about Merlin at the moment. He tried to convince himself that he didn't care what Merlin thought anymore.

“Do you have any requirements concerning her looks, Sire?” the boy asked shyly.

“I don't care how she looks like. Just do it.” His tone was final and decisive.

The servant nodded hastily and ran down the stairs. Arthur straightened up and moved towards his chambers with a rigid face. No one was going to stop him from what he was planning to do and he knew it.

“A woman will come here,” he said to the guard who was standing next to the entrance to his chambers. “You will let her in.”

If the man was surprised by his king's words, he didn't show it. Arthur entered his room and put the handful of coins on the table. At least he had the payment issue settled. Then he walked up to his bed where he sat down. His anger didn't lessen at all. He hoped that the woman was ready for that.

He thought about the last time he had been with a prostitute. He was a young and naïve prince back then. It took place before he met Merlin.

He dismissed the thought about Merlin immediately. He was doing it to forget about him, not to contemplate his former servant's influence on his life.

Arthur had been inexperienced when he decided to have his first tryst with a prostitute. Some of the knights were teasing him about his lack of experience back then. They used to say that he blushed like a maiden every time they mentioned their vigorous adventures with women. They made him believe that he needed to gain the experience, so on one of those days he went to the brothel and returned there several times afterwards. However, he never dared to invite a prostitute to the castle. He didn't want his father to find out about these trysts. Now the circumstances were completely different. He was the king and he could invite whoever he wished to his chambers. There was no need to sneak into a brothel like a criminal.

At this moment he was glad that he couldn't have children. Despite his anger, he was conscious enough to know that he would never want to father a bastard. He remembered too well what happened to Morgana after she found out that Uther was her father. Her anger and thirst for power and vengeance almost destroyed this kingdom.

Then he thought back to the reasons why he stopped visiting brothels. There was Guinevere who was certainly one of the reasons. Nonetheless, he was aware that stopped having trysts with prostitutes long before he realised that he had feelings for her. He wasn't going to lie to himself about that.

Deep down he knew the real reason. Ever since Merlin had become part of his life, he didn't want to disappoint him. It was stupid because at the very beginning of their acquaintance, he found Merlin very annoying. Nevertheless, there was something strange about that boy that Arthur didn't understand back then, and what he now knew was their shared destiny.

Arthur shook his head, once again trying to dismiss all thoughts that concerned Merlin. He was angry with him and he didn't need to feel guilty about what he was about to do. Merlin deserved the punishment. He deserved to feel deceived and cheated.

Then someone knocked on the door. Arthur raised his gaze, suddenly nervous, and hesitated. He still had a chance to call it all off. Then he remembered how Merlin lied to him and his anger doubled.

“Enter,” he said firmly, knowing that he wasn't going to back away now.

The woman who came inside had long red curls, plumpy lips, big green eyes and large bosom. Moreover, she was very sensual, as she knew how to move her body to captivate a man. Basically, she was gorgeous.

However, the truth was that Arthur didn't care. She could be clumsy and hideous and he still wouldn't mind. He just needed a distraction to forget about Merlin for a moment.

“You asked for my presence, Sire,” the woman purred.

“I did,” he confirmed and patted his bed. “Come here.”

The woman didn't have to be told twice. She swiftly climbed on his bed and smiled seductively at him.

“What would you like to do, my lord?” she asked, pulling her dress up. It was clear that there was nothing shy or virginal about her. She didn't even try to pretend.

Arthur hesitated. He didn't think it all through. “Your mouth will do,” he said after a short moment. He wanted to make Merlin suffer but he couldn't be with another woman in the same way he used to be with Guinevere. He wasn't going to offend her memory in such a way.

“As you wish, Sire,” the woman said but she was clearly disappointed. “Perhaps you will change your mind afterwards.”

Arthur doubted that but he didn't say it out loud. He just wanted her to do her job.

She slid off his bed down to the floor and knelt right in front of him. Gwen had never done that for him. He always thought that it was something filthy that only prostitutes did, so he never asked her for it. Then, suddenly, he recalled one of the dreams he had recently. In this dream it was Merlin who was pleasuring him in this way. Arthur still remembered how embarrassed he felt when he woke up ans how hard he was. This thought, however, only made him more angry.

“You're tense, my lord,” the prostitute pointed out. “You should relax. I'll take care of you.”

Then she unfastened his trousers and pulled them down along with his underwear, revealing his manhood. She took it into her hand and started making agonisingly slow strokes. Her touch felt good and skilled but Arthur thought that it was to be expected. After all, she must have had plenty of experience.

After a few slow strokes she leaned forward and licked him teasingly. A moan escaped Arthur's mouth. It was embarrassing but he couldn't help it. He knew that he was just a weak man.

When she kissed his cockhead and then swallowed his manhood, he couldn't care about appropriateness any longer. He let himself forget about Merlin and his own guilt. The woman who was giving him this pleasure didn't matter too. It was just him and the overwhelming feeling of upcoming orgasm.

Not thinking about what he was doing, he grabbed the woman's hair and started thrusting into her mouth in a punishing pace. He had never been like this before. Not even with other prostitutes. He always wanted women to enjoy sex too, no matter who they were, but this wasn't really sex. It was a merciless fucking, nothing else.

When he finally came with a loud groan, he let go of her hair and fell down on his bed. After a moment, the woman climbed on the bed next to him and sent him an excited smile.

“I never suspected that you could be like this, Sire,” she said. There was something curious in the tone of her voice. She didn't seem to be bothered by the roughness of their intercourse at all. It became clear to Arthur that she must have witnessed far worse treatment. For a short moment, a part of him pitied her sincerely.

“The money is on the table. Take it and get out,” he said harshly, trying to end this tryst as soon as possible. She was meant to be just a distraction and she did her job well. He had no desire to spend more time with her.

She tilted her head and asked, “Are you sure, my lord? I could wait until you're ready for more.”

“I said: get out,” he repeated in a much fiercer tone.

This time the prostitute understood that there was no chance for another round. She jumped out of bed, grabbed the coins from the table and rushed out of his chambers, leaving him alone with his thoughts and guilt.

Once she was gone, Arthur started breathing heavily. He felt that there was something wrong. His body was trembling without any reason and his heart was beating painfully. He felt guilty but it was more than just guilt. He tried to close his eyes to calm down but when his lids shut down, all he could see was Merlin.

Merlin who was in severe pain.

 


 

When it started, Merlin couldn't believe it. At first he thought that his conscience was playing tricks with his mind. It just couldn't be true that Arthur was with a woman.

But it was.

The pain that he started feeling was severe. It seemed much worse than when Arthur was with Guinevere. Merlin wasn't sure if it felt like this because Gwen was his friend or Arthur's wife or something else, but it didn't matter at the moment. Arthur was with a random woman, probably a prostitute, and he was fucking her. It was a nightmare that he naively hoped he would never have to experience.

Merlin was devastated. The worst part was that he thought that he deserved all that pain and humiliation. He couldn't blame Arthur for what he was doing. He was not able to hate him despite all this suffering. However, he felt hurt both physically and emotionally. It felt as if Arthur was cheating on him, even though they weren't together. This feeling was stronger than his common sense.

Arthur's tryst with this woman couldn't last long but it seemed like an eternity to Merlin. When it was finally over and the vision in his mind faded away, he curled up in the corner of his room, right next to his bed, and hid his face in his hands, sobbing. He felt utterly helpless and he had no idea what to do. The prospect that this situation could be repeated on regular basis in the near future crushed him. For the first time in his life, he was glad that Arthur didn't want to see him any more. He had no idea what he would do or say if he were to see him right this moment.

 


 

Arthur had to take a few deep breaths to calm down. The picture of Merlin in pain was still vivid in his memory. The vision started fading eventually but he still felt the piercing pain in his heart, or rather in the half of Merlin's heart that was beating in his chest.

Something was clearly wrong.

The anger that he felt not so long ago lessened significantly. He couldn't forget about Merlin's lies but somehow they didn't seem so important any longer. The only thing that mattered to him was Merlin. Suddenly it became so obvious.

Arthur sat up on his bed and looked around helplessly, wondering what to do. He wanted to run to Merlin to check if he was all right. However, the proud side of him was still fighting. He told Merlin that he didn't want to see him any more. It wouldn't be serious to just rush to his chambers in the middle of the night, especially after such a statement.

Then Arthur scolded himself inwardly for thinking in this way. He could be angry with Merlin but this man was more important to him than his pride. The worst thing that could happen was that he would make a fool of himself and Arthur thought that he could live with that. After all Merlin already knew him inside out.

Not wondering about it any further, he got out of bed hastily and rushed towards Merlin's chambers. The guard who was outside his room sent him a surprised glance but didn't say anything. Luckily, being discreet was part of his job.

Arthur, however, couldn't care less about the guard at the moment. All he could think about was Merlin and his current state. On his way to Merlin's chambers, the king tried to convince himself that he would find him sleeping and that there was nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, his beating heart was sending him a completely different message. It made him think that Merlin was in pain and that it was his responsibility to do something about it.

The way to Merlin's chambers seemed long, even though it wasn't really far from Arthur's rooms. When he finally got there, he needed to stop in front of the door to take a few deep breaths and assess his options once again. When he decided that it was the only way to calm himself down, he pushed the door open, trying not to make it creak in the process.

The room was completely wrapped in darkness but it wasn't the first thing that caught Arthur's attention. There was a quiet but persistent sound coming from the other part of the room and it wasn't snoring. One thing was certain – Merlin wasn't sleeping.

Arthur closed the door behind himself and moved forward. It took him a while to adjust to the darkness but after a moment it became clear that Merlin's bed was empty. Arthur walked past it towards the source of the sound.

“Merlin...?” he asked hesitantly, not being sure what to expect.

The sound that must have been sobbing suddenly stopped. Arthur noticed a movement and in a second Merlin's eyes shone with gold, lighting up a couple of candles. Finally, Arthur could see the state in which Merlin was and it was a pitiful sight.

Arthur tried to come closer to him to examine his state but Merlin shook his head immediately.

“Merlin,” murmured Arthur pleadingly. “I'm sorry for what I said to you,” he whispered.

Merlin took a deep, loud breath and shook his head once again. “You've taken a girl,” he said accusingly.

Arthur was taken aback. “How...? How do you know that?” he asked, not even attempting to defend himself. He wasn't sure if he was more surprised or scared by the fact that Merlin already knew what he had done.

“Why do you care about it, my lord?” asked Merlin bitterly. “You clearly did what you wanted to do.”

“That's not true, Merlin,” said Arthur hastily, trying to come up to him but Merlin used his magic to stop him from getting any closer.

“I thought you didn't want to see me, Sire,” Merlin continued in the same tone. “I'm just trying to ensure it.”

“You know very well I didn't really mean it,” Arthur told him. “And stop calling me Sire or my lord. That's ridiculous.”

“That's what you demanded not so long ago,” said Merlin stubbornly.

“Just stop it and tell me how do you know that... that I've been with a woman.” It was clear that Arthur was ashamed of himself. He wanted Merlin to see it too and to forgive him what he'd done.

“Do you really want to know it?” whispered Merlin, lifting his head up and looking defiantly at Arthur. “Very well.” He touched his own chest and continued, “As you already know, Sire, I gave you half of my heart, and ever since I did that, I can see and feel when you're intimate with other people,” he spat it out bitterly and regretted it right away. It wasn't just about the prostitute that Arthur took this night. Most of all, it concerned Guinevere, and Merlin didn't want Arthur to find out about it.

Unfortunately, it was too late for this epiphany.

Arthur was shocked and his face clearly fell. He didn't even notice that Merlin just lifted the spell that was preventing him from getting closer to him.

“What do you... What do you mean that you can see and feel it?” Arthur asked, trying to control his trembling voice. “Answer me.”

Merlin turned his gaze away. “I have visions in my head when you are intimate with someone,” Merlin admitted. “And I can feel it in my heart.”

“Feel how?” the king asked but he feared that he already knew the answer. “Don't lie to me, Merlin. You know how it ends.”

Merlin laughed nervously. “I learnt it the hard way,” he murmured and glanced shyly at Arthur.

“You felt the pain in your heart, didn't you?” he asked, not wanting to wait any longer.

Merlin nodded silently, giving him the answer he demanded.

Arthur gasped. “Tonight I felt it too,” he admitted. “Afterwards.”

“Did you feel my pain?” Merlin asked in disbelief.

“I think so,” Arthur admitted. “That's why I came here. I hoped that it was just a pang of guilt. I hoped you were all right.”

Arthur fell to his knees in front of Merlin, fully realising what it meant. “Did you feel it too when I was with Guinevere?” he asked in a broken voice.

Merlin bit his lip. “Yes, I did,” he admitted after a while.

“Oh, gods... You saw it all... You felt the pain all this time and you never said anything.”

“Gwen was your wife,” said Merlin, feeling the tears running down his cheeks. “What was I supposed to say?”

“I don't know,” Arthur admitted, feeling the growing pain in his shattered heart. “But how could you look at me every day, knowing that I would bring you more pain sooner or later? How did you manage to bear it all?”

“I never thought about it in this way,” whispered Merlin. “I accepted it as a part of my new life.”

Arthur couldn't believe how lucky he was for having someone as loving and selfless as Merlin in his life. It was a miracle that the man was still standing by his side after everything that happened.

Then something knew occurred to Arthur. “Beside this night I never felt this pain before,” he said suddenly.

“Gwen was your wife. The pain I felt tonight was different than what I felt before. Perhaps that's why you didn't feel it when you were with her,” he tried to guess.

“That's not what I meant,” said Arthur. “I never felt the pain caused by your intimacy with another.”

“Oh... That's because there was no intimacy,” Merlin admitted, blushing.

“There was a time when I thought that you and Gilli were like this,” Arthur told him. “I was so jealous.”

“Gilli was always just a friend. I would never do this,” Merlin assured him.

“That's not what worries me,” said Arthur firmly, trying to catch Merlin's eyes. “You were restraining yourself from intimacy for my sake. You didn't want to hurt me.”

“That's not just it.” Merlin grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “It was my choice. I didn't want another. There was Freya once, I told you about her, but ever since then there was only you I wanted. It wasn't a hardship to avoid intimacy.”

Arthur started sobbing too. “I treated you like a dirt last evening,” he whispered. “I thought that you couldn't really return my feelings because you were lying to me for so long but there was so much more to it than these lies...”

“Now you know,” Merlin told him. “I lied to you and I'm not proud of it but I love you, Arthur. I gave you half of my heart for a chance of keeping you by my side.”

“And now we're both immortal,” murmured Arthur.

Hearing that, Merlin moved his hand away from him but Arthur grabbed him instantly and pulled him closer.

“I didn't mean it as something bad,” he assured him. “I mean... Immortality is hard to comprehend and I no longer know what to do with my life but I'm glad I'll get to spend it with you of all people.”

At these words Merlin started shaking. It was just too much. He wanted to hear it ever since he found out about their immortality but he feared that it was a lost cause.

“Did I say something wrong?” Arthur asked him with worry.

Merlin shook his head. “I feared you weren't going to spend it with me,” he admitted timidly. “I don't deserve you.”

“Idiot,” murmured Arthur affectionately. “It's me who doesn't deserve you.”

At this point they both were shaking, kneeling on the floor, and not knowing what to do.

“We're both idiots,” said Merlin eventually. “We should do something about it.”

“I would like to ask you for forgiveness first,” Arthur told him.

“There's really nothing to forgive,” Merlin assured him.

“I hurt you, Merlin.” Arthur sounded extremely serious. “The worst part is that I wanted to hurt you by inviting this woman to my chambers.”

“Please, don't tell me about her,” Merlin asked him hastily.

“You're right. I'm sorry.” Arthur sighed heavily. “I just want you to know that when I'm mad, I do things I regret soon after.”

“We all do this,” Merlin murmured.

“I know... I just want you to understand that I'm no saint and that I need your forgiveness,” he explained.

“I need your forgiveness too,” Merlin whispered, looking him deep in the eye.

Arthur smiled at him. “I thought you already knew you had it,” he said.

Merlin smiled back at him through his tears. “Likewise,” he whispered.

Arthur moved forward and took Merlin in his arms, resting his head next to Merlin's and sniffing his scent. “I spent last few years dreaming about you, fearing what it truly meant,” he whispered. “I fear no longer.”

“I spent these years believing that it could never be... That you were my other half but I wasn't yours,” Merlin whispered back.

Arthur moved his head back to look at Merlin's face. “We truly are idiots, aren't we?” he said.

“You're more of a prat,” Merlin teased him, smiling. “But you're my prat.”

They stared into each other's eyes for a few agonising moments before Arthur leaned in hesitantly and captured Merlin's lips with his own. The kiss was slow and careful at first because Arthur wasn't certain of Merlin's reaction after what happened earlier that night. He said he forgave him but Arthur slept with another and it could be too soon for such moves. Merlin, however, didn't seem to share Arthur's worries, as he grabbed his neck and pulled Arthur closer, deepening their kiss.

It was truly glorious. Their hearts were beating pleasantly in their chests, making them both blissfully content for the first time in a very long time.

It wasn't their first kiss but it certainly felt as such. Finally, they both could wholly feel and experience it. Arthur was practically dead during their kiss in Avalon and his dreams were quite fuzzy. Merlin's memories of that moment weren't clear either. There were much more pressing matters in Avalon and he couldn't allow himself to waste energy on keeping these memories back then. Arthur's life was at stake after all.

They pulled apart far too early for their liking but they needed to take a breath. They breathed heavily for a few seconds before their lips met in another kiss. It was too desperate to be truly perfect but they didn't care. For them the kiss was perfect in its imperfection.

“Are you crying?” Arthur murmured suddenly against Merlin's skin. He just felt something wet and salty against his lips.

Merlin pulled away for a moment. “You do this to me, prat,” he whispered affectionately. He was about to wipe the tears away but Arthur grabbed his hand before he managed to do this.

“I wasn't complaining,” Arthur assured him and pulled him into another kiss, this time slower and deeper.

Merlin melted under his tight grip. Most of the time, he enjoyed challenging Arthur in every aspect of his life. He had a feeling that Arthur enjoyed it too but this time he thought he was going to let him stay in charge without a fight. Arthur definitely knew what he was doing and Merlin was happy to obey.

The next time Arthur pulled away to take a breath, Merlin put his forehead against Arthur's, enjoying the warmth of his breath on his own skin.

“I think we should stop at this point,” whispered Arthur.

At these words Merlin's heart fluttered with worry. “Don't you want to continue?” he dared to ask.

Arthur moved a bit backwards to look him in the eye. “Of course I want all of this,” he said. “But I fear I won't be able to stop myself if we keep this pace.”

“You don't have to stop yourself,” Merlin assured him quickly. “I want it too.”

Arthur tensed a bit and smiled nervously. “I can't do this tonight. Not after what I did with that woman,” he explained.

Merlin's expression pained slightly. “I don't want to remember that,” he said. “You did it and there's no way to reverse that. I only care that you're here with me now and that you forgave me.”

“What I did was a betrayal and I feel filthy right now,” Arthur admitted sheepishly. “I won't stain you like this.”

“I betrayed your trust first,” Merlin pointed out. “We can assume we're even.”

Arthur shook his head violently. “That's something completely different,” he said hastily. “I betrayed our heart and I knew it right away.

Merlin sighed heavily. “You're too noble about it,” he murmured but couldn't help smiling at him. “I just want to be wholly yours.”

“You are,” Arthur told him firmly. “I want to make love to you, Merlin, but I can't do it after what I've done earlier. Not tonight. We waited so long for each other. We can wait some more to do it in the right way.”

Merlin nodded. They had eternity to do everything they wanted. There was no rush.

“Will you at least do me the honour of sleeping by my side tonight?” he asked. “I don't want to wake up in the morning fearing that it all was just a dream and that you don't want to see me ever again.”

“You do realise that I never really meant it, don't you?” Arthur asked, standing up and helping Merlin get up too. “I wouldn't be able to avoid you forever. I wouldn't want that.”

“It felt as if you meant every word back then,” said Merlin honestly. “I'm glad that you didn't.”

Arthur pulled him a bit closer and put a chaste kiss on his lips. When they parted, Merlin looked at him hopefully and repeated his question, “Will you stay?”

“Always.”

They lay down in Merlin's bed, completely clothed, and fell asleep innocently in each other's arms. Merlin didn't remember ever feeling this safe and good. He hoped that since that day he would spend all his nights falling asleep in Arthur's strong embrace.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin woke up a couple of hours later to the warmth surrounding him all around. At first he wasn't sure what was the source of this warmth but then the realisation hit him. He opened his eyes and glanced at Arthur's sleeping form by his side. The king looked divine in the first rays of dawn. This sight made Merlin's heart beat faster in his chest.

“Come back to sleep. It's early,” murmured Arthur as he opened one eye.

Merlin smiled at him and said, “For a moment I thought it all was just a dream.”

At these words Arthur opened another eye and looked at him intently. “It's not a dream,” he assured him and pulled Merlin into a short kiss. “Do you believe me now?” he asked.

Merlin smirked teasingly at him. “I'm not sure yet,” he said and Arthur kissed him again just to prove his point.

After a while they were both lying on their sides, breathing heavily just from their kissing.

“So we're immortal...” said Arthur out of the blue.

“It appears so,” murmured Merlin. He became a bit nervous because he wasn't sure what was the reason of this sudden remark.

“I'm still a bit disappointed that you didn't tell me right away,” Arthur admitted, looking him in the eye.

“I know,” said Merlin, waiting with anticipation for what Arthur was going to say next. “I understand.”

“I told you this yesterday but I need to repeat myself because I want you to truly believe it,” Arthur continued, not breaking the eye contact with him. “I'm glad that it's you, Merlin. From all the people I've met... From all the people in the world, I'm happy that I'll spend my immortal life with you.”

“You won't get bored with me,” Merlin teased, trying to ease the tension.

“Never,” Arthur confirmed, smiling. “My words are sincere, Merlin,” he added in a more serious tone.

“I know.” Saying that, he lowered his gaze and took a deep breath to stay calm. “You have no idea how much these words mean to me.”

Arthur pecked his nose in order to cheer him up. There was no need for more tension between them. In response Merlin moved closer to him and kissed him fully in the mouth.

They were kissing each other lazily for a few long minutes.

Then Arthur pulled away, looking at Merlin apologetically. “We should stop at this point,” he said in a husky voice.

“We don't need to,” Merlin assured him. “I want this and you want this. That's obvious. Why should we wait?”

Arthur shook his head. “It's still too soon,” he said. “I can't do this after what I did last night.”

“Please, Arthur, I don't want to come back to that moment again.” Merlin looked at him pleadingly. “For me it was a nightmare, but I'm awake now and I want to move forward with my life. I never let myself truly believe that I could have you for myself one day. Don't postpone it any longer or if you decide to do this, don't do it for my sake.”

Then something clearly changed in Arthur's face. Merlin recognised it as hesitation and it gave him hope.

“I want to make things right first,” said Arthur but he didn't sound as decisive as before. “It is my duty to...”

Merlin wasn't going to listen to it any longer. He moved forward and put his lips on Arthur's, silencing him with a kiss. Arthur couldn't argue with such a strong argument, so he started kissing him back. Merlin thought that he would love to solve all their issues in this way. His heart fluttered at the thought that he could certainly try to do it in the future.

Then Merlin pulled away, and looking into Arthur's eyes, he began to undress him, starting with his shirt.

Arthur was mesmerised by his boldness.

“Never before I've seen you so eager to do a servant's job,” murmured Arthur teasingly.

“Because I was never really allowed to look, touch or... taste.” Then he leaned down and kissed Arthur's nipple, making it harden under his tongue instantly.

Arthur groaned loudly at this bold action. He had to hide his pride because there was no way he was going to act kingly with Merlin doing such things to him.

“That's cheating,” murmured Arthur when Merlin finally let go. Then he grabbed him and pulled his shirt off with one swift move. “That's better,” he said, smiling smugly.

Finally they were both equally shirtless. Arthur knew that they reached the point with no return, and that his reasoning that they should wait with intimacy wasn't going to work. He couldn't deny himself Merlin any longer, so the only thing that was left to do was to follow the desire completely.

“We're mad,” he muttered but pulled Merlin into a heated kiss anyway. “You have no idea how intoxicating you are.”

Merlin blushed at these words. It was very clear before that Arthur wanted him too, but this was different. Arthur was whispering filthy endearments into his ear, increasing Merlin's desires to a completely new level.

Arthur was clinging to him, kissing and touching him in a maddening way. All his fantasies were nothing in comparison to what he felt at this moment. Here, in Arthur's arms, he felt truly whole. And they didn't even get completely naked yet.

“You're driving me mad,” said Merlin between their kisses.

“That was my intention,” Arthur teased him. “May I?” he asked, grabbing the belt of Merlin's trousers.

Merlin's heart started beating frantically. Arthur's new intention was very clear.

“You don't need to ask,” said Merlin, looking into his eyes.

That was the only encouragement he needed. Arthur unbuttoned the belt, loosening his trousers and slowly pulling them down. Then he helped Merlin get out of them completely, leaving him only in his underwear.

After that, Arthur started looking over his pale, silky skin, mesmerised.

“What's wrong?” asked Merlin shyly.

“Nothing,” said Arthur biting his lip, which made Merlin blush madly. “Everything is perfect. You're perfect.”

The blush on Merlin's cheeks deepened. “I'm not,” he denied, lowering his gaze. “Stop saying these things. They make me feel uncomfortable.”

“I mean them.” Saying that, Arthur pushed Merlin's chin up to meet his eyes. “You are perfect for me.” Then he kissed him tenderly to avoid any further arguments.

When they pulled apart, Merlin looked at him lovingly. “It's your turn,” he said, unfastening Arthur's trousers.

“Eager,” murmured Arthur and allowed him to pull his trousers off. “It's clear that you had years of experience in undressing me. You did it faster than me.”

“Next time I can do it even faster. With magic,” he promised, this time making Arthur blush lightly.

Then Merlin realised what he just said. “I mean... if there will be next time,” he added hesitantly.

“And what do you think, Merlin? Immortality sounds quite long. I believe we'll find time to do it again,” Arthur joked, trying to turn Merlin's attention from the blush on his cheeks.

These words made Merlin smile widely.

“I hoped so,” murmured Merlin and touched Arthur's skin with affection written all over his face. “I can't believe it's real... Are you sure it's real?”

Arthur caressed his cheek, making his eyelids flutter. “Very much real,” he said and kissed him tenderly.

Their bodies clung to each other so only the thin fabric of their underwear was separating them at the moment. Merlin could feel everything and this realisation was intoxicating. Not longer than an hour ago he was alone, devastated by Arthur's words and his tryst with a prostitute. He had never been much hopeful about Arthur's reaction concerning his lies but he wasn't ready for what Arthur did with this woman. Not so soon.

The prospect of being separated from Arthur was killing him from the inside. The moment when he saw the man he loved with this prostitute was one of the darkest hours of his life, and it seemed that only the time when Arthur was dying had a more devastating impact on him.

Now everything was completely changed. He was forgiven, and most of all, he felt truly loved. He couldn't imagine a better outcome than this.

“Breathe, Merlin,” Arthur whispered into his ear. “Calm down... I can feel how fast your heart is beating.”

“Easier said than done,” murmured Merlin. He had no power over his emotions. He was truly happy for the first time in years and he wasn't able to keep his excitement at bay. Definitely not with Arthur's almost naked body pressed against his own.

“Perhaps I could help,” said Arthur, caressing his sides.

“I think you will have to ravish me,” Merlin suggested and kissed his neck. “Don't keep me waiting.” He knew that his words were bold, and he was certain that he wouldn't dare to say them out loud if he was in his right mind.

Arthur didn't seem to be bothered by his language at all. His initial attempts to postpone their intimate encounter were long forgotten. He wanted to make Merlin wholly his. Not only physically but most of all emotionally. He wanted to have it all and Merlin was willing to give it to him.

Before Merlin could say something more to encourage him, Arthur grabbed his undergarments and pulled them down. Merlin gasped, surprised. He was aware that Arthur wanted this too but he didn't suppose he would be so quick. Usually, Arthur teased him, trying to drive him crazy first.

When Merlin was finally naked, Arthur pushed him lightly on the bed. Then he hovered above him, looking at his pale skin closely and touching it with reverence.

Merlin tensed, seeing how thoroughly Arthur was watching him. He was never shy about his body but he was realistic. There was nothing special about it. He was skinny and pale, with very few muscles. It all made him feel uncertain.

“What's wrong?” Arthur asked, noticing the sudden tension in his face.

“My body is not my strong suit,” he attempted to joke but failed miserably.

Arthur looked at him with sadness and disbelief. “Are you ashamed of it?”

“It pales in comparison to yours,” he murmured.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Arthur assured him firmly. “I told you that you are perfect for me,” he reminded him and squeezed his hip teasingly. His hand brushed slightly against Merlin's manhood, making him moan. “Do you believe me now?”

“I'm barely starting,” murmured Merlin. “Get out of your underwear and come here,” he said desperately. “I want you to prove it.”

His words made Arthur laugh wholeheartedly. “As you wish,” he said once he calmed down and got up to get rid of the rest of his clothes. He could feel Merlin's eyes watching his every move. It wasn't that Merlin never saw him naked. As his manservant, he saw him in various states of undress through all these years. Nonetheless, he was never allowed to really look. Now Arthur was standing right in front of him in all his glory, and Merlin could look at him boldly and without shame.

Before Merlin could say anything, Arthur was already upon him, kissing him senseless into the mattress. His hands were all over him and Merlin was not able to name all the parts of his body that Arthur's devastating touch was reaching. It was happening too quickly and he was too intoxicated to even think about it.

Merlin wrapped his hands around Arthur's shoulders to pull him closer. They were touching skin on skin but he needed to feel him more. He wanted to become part of Arthur so nothing could ever come in between them. After the years of longing and loving him from afar, Merlin was finally getting what his soul craved and needed. He needed Arthur in every aspect of his life and this one thing was always missing. Now all he had to do was reach it and become Arthur's for all eternity.

Arthur started moving slowly, making friction between their cocks. It was a simple movement but it was driving Merlin crazy. He thought that he wanted it all at once but he was no longer sure if he was ready for full intercourse. It seemed impossible that this simple friction could make him feel so good and complete. Anything more could be too much for their first time.

The strangest thing was that Arthur seemed to understand it without words. On the other hand, perhaps it wasn't strange at all. They were soulmates after all. They were true halves, just like their heart.

Arthur didn't try to initiate anything else. He was simply moving his body against Merlin's, kissing and touching him desperately. Merlin was giving him the same in return. His head was dizzy with emotion and pleasure, and at the moment he thought that he would be content if the rest of his life consisted of moments like this.

Suddenly, Arthur grabbed their cocks in his hand and started stroking them lazily. He looked at Merlin and his eyes seemed to ask the question: Is that all right?. Obviously, there was no need for an answer. It was well written on Merlin's face.

At first, the devastating touch of Arthur's fingers from one side and the sweet friction of his cock from the other side seemed too much. Merlin thought he would explode into tiny pieces in mere moments. Arthur, however, understood the feeling very well so he was slow in his strokes, not wanting to end their intimate moment too soon.

“I love you,” murmured Arthur into Merlin's ear, making his heart beat frantically. “Always and forever.” These words were a promise that Merlin had been longing to hear for a very long time.

“For longer than forever,” Merlin whispered back. “My soul knew it loved you long before I laid my eyes on you for the first time. I just needed years to realise it.”

Arthur smiled at these words. He felt exactly the same. The realisation took him over a decade but he was certain now. Merlin was the one meant for him. It didn't matter that the love between two men was frowned upon to say the least. Arthur was aware that as a king he was allowed to do more in this aspect than the others. His subjects weren't as lucky, and even though he would never punish anybody for having affairs with someone of the same sex, there were people in this kingdom who could try to lynch so-called sodomites on their own.

However, it wasn't the right time for such considerations. He would have to come back to them later, surely more than once during his long life he was going to have with Merlin. No one knew what their future would bring. At this moment, he wanted to fully focus on Merlin. It was their time and they should celebrate it. Arthur could sense how both his body and soul craved Merlin. It was the feeling that he couldn't describe with words. He had never felt this way before. It seemed as if the universe was giving them its blessing, as if everything was finally in its right place. By the look Merlin was giving him this moment, he must have felt it too.

“Merlin...” Arthur whispered, not really knowing what he wanted to say. It just felt right to say his name out loud. It was like a prayer that Arthur didn't know how to say before. Now he finally knew.

“Arthur...” Merlin whispered his name back in the same manner.

They were looking at each other, smiling. Nothing else in this world mattered to them at this moment. Even if the kingdom were to fall, they wouldn't notice it.

Their hearts were beating in the same rhythm and they could barely breathe. Arthur's hand started moving faster between their bodies, and soon Merlin grabbed their cocks too, helping him. He did it half-consciously because he was looking into Arthur's eyes and Arthur was looking back into his. Their souls found a connection through their eyes and none of them was willing to lose it even for the sake of a short kiss. It could last a whole eternity or only mere moments, they weren't sure because they completely lost the sense of time, but they were getting to the point of no return in their relationship. Merlin's eyes turned gold suddenly and his magic erupted around them. He had no control over it, but neither he nor Arthur was scared. His magic loved Arthur almost as much as Merlin did. It would never harm them in any way.

“Beautiful,” murmured Arthur between their heavy breaths, making Merlin's smile wider.

They were close to climax, and even though they never wanted this to end, they couldn't stop it. The first to break their eye contact was Merlin. The pleasure overtook him and he involuntarily threw his head back, closing his eyes and groaning. He wasn't ready for such level of pleasure and emotions. He was coming, desperately clinging to Arthur. Something that seemed impossible a few hours ago, finally became true.

Arthur followed him almost instantly. There was nothing that could hold him back after he saw Merlin like this. He wanted to become a part of this feeling, and it overwhelmed him. All he could think about was Merlin and his warm, sweaty body that was lying beneath him. It was the greatest feeling in the world to be finally Merlin's. No one could take it away from him.

After a few minutes of hard breathing, he slid off Merlin. He knew that he was heavy, even though Merlin didn't voice any complaint. Nevertheless, he didn't move much further. He was still desperately clinging to Merlin, not wanting to leave him even for a moment.

Merlin finally opened his eyes, looking at his king with love and adoration. “Kiss me,” he whispered softly.

Arthur instantly leaned closer and captured Merlin's lips with his own. Their kiss was sweet and loving and perfect. Soon they fell back to sleep, not even noticing what mess Merlin's magic made in his room.

Their souls had become one at last and it felt glorious.

 

Chapter Text

When they woke up again, the sun was high in the sky and the noises of the city were getting through an open window to Merlin's chamber. It seemed to be another ordinary day in Camelot but for Merlin and Arthur everything changed. Their existence just acquired a new meaning.

“Good morning,” said Merlin, smiling at his man softly.

Arthur smiled at him back and murmured, “I think it's long past morning. We overslept...”

Merlin glanced at the window and sighed. “I think you're right.” Then he looked back at Arthur and clung to him tighter. “Would it be bad if we stayed in my chambers all day?” he asked innocently.

“As tempting as it sounds, we can't do this,” he said sadly. “There is a Council meeting this afternoon. I can't just tell my knights that I want to spend the whole day in bed.”

“I completely forgot about this meeting,” murmured Merlin, displeased.

Then Arthur pulled him into a long, lazy kiss. “I want you to remember it throughout the day,” he said when he pulled away. “We will have time for each other in the evening. I promise.”

Merlin nodded understandingly. It was clear from the start that he couldn't have Arthur only for himself. The kingdom needed him too. The bright side was that he was going be there for Arthur always, even after Camelot.

“If we need to see people today, we should probably start with making us look decent,” said Merlin with a heavy sigh.

“That's true,” murmured Arthur. “We're naked and stinky and....” He sat up on the bed and looked around Merlin's room. “You made quite a mess too,” he added.

Merlin followed his gaze. Arthur's remark was an understatement. His chamber looked as if a hurricane went through it. Most of his belongings were tossed around the room and some of them were definitely broken.

“What the hell happened here?” Merlin asked.

“I believe you did this,” said Arthur quietly. “With your magic. It somehow erupted when we were in the middle of... you know.” For some reason it was hard for him to call these things by their name in the light of day. Arthur knew that it was stupid but Merlin seemed to understand it. He was perfect like this.

“I remember that my magic got a bit loose but I didn't expect that to happen,” Merlin murmured honestly. “I hope it won't be happening on regular basis.”

Arthur smirked at these words. “Would that be really bad?” he asked. “I mean... you can clean up this mess with your magic, right?”

Merlin looked at him partly in disbelief and partly with amusement. “I don't want to clean up after the eruption of my magic every morning,” he said.

“Every morning you say?” Arthur asked him smugly, making him blush madly.

“You know what I mean,” murmured Merlin with embarrassment.

“I'm just teasing you.” Then Arthur kissed him shortly. “But it wouldn't change anything between us if you were to clean your room up every morning, would it?” He couldn't help asking him teasingly.

Merlin groaned at his words. “You're impossible, Arthur Pendragon,” he said. “You're lucky I love you so much. Otherwise, I would wipe the smugness off your face.”

Arthur laughed wholeheartedly at that. “I'm lucky then,” he mumbled, pulling Merlin closer and looking into his eyes. “Very lucky indeed.” This time his tone was serious and Merlin knew that he meant it.

“We should probably get dressed and eat something,” murmured Merlin, not even trying to initiate any of these things.

“Most certainly,” Arthur confirmed but instead of doing what was wise, he pulled Merlin into another kiss. They just got together and it was so hard to follow their daily duties when they could just stay away from the rest of the world.

After half an hour, they finally managed to get out of bed and make themselves look decent enough to see other people. They ate quickly what was left from the evening and what remained edible after the outbreak of Merlin's magic. Then Arthur kissed him goodbye and left him to clean up the rest of the mess. They were going to see each other during the Council meeting and Arthur needed to read and sign some papers before that. They knew that it was going to be their future. They would have to divide their time between themselves and the rest of the world. It wasn't a perfect solution but it wasn't bad either. They would get used to it sooner or later.

 


 

The Council meeting started like most of them did. They discussed the matters concerning the stores and Camelot's borders. Arthur had to remind himself time after time that he wasn't alone with Merlin so he shouldn't look at him so often, and most of all he shouldn't try to brush his hand under the Round Table. It was difficult for the man who just discovered that he could finally express his feelings to the man he loved.

Merlin seemed to have slightly different issues. He could look at Arthur as much as he wished because Arthur was his king. However, it wasn't easy for him to suppress his blush. It was clear that he tried but he failed miserably. Arthur was almost certain that some members of the Council already noticed this shift in Merlin's behaviour.

When Arthur started hoping that the meeting was coming to an end, Sir Lionel cleared his throat and spoke up, “Could we discuss one more pressing matter, my lord?”

Arthur looked at him closely. He had a feeling that he knew what Sir Lionel wanted to talk about. He had been ready for this discussion for a long time but he didn't like starting it right after he and Merlin got together. However, it seemed that he wasn't going to have a choice.

“Of course, Sir Lionel,” said Arthur, hiding his irritation well.

The knight looked around, searching for support in other members of the Council. “We are worried about the future of Camelot,” he started cautiously.

“What exactly worries you, my lords?” the king turned to all Counsellors. “You can speak freely.”

“You are in the prime of life, my lord, but it's not enough for the kingdom,” Sir Lionel continued. “You should take measures to ensure the stability of Camelot for the next generations. We all remember that your wife passed away recently, but you should move forward with your life, Sire. The kingdom needs an heir. Therefore, you should consider remarrying in the near future.” The knight seemed to be pleased with the way he managed to voice these concerns.

Arthur looked around, trying to avoid Merlin's gaze, and noticing that some of the knights were nodding approvingly. He knew that this day would come sooner or later. He hoped that it would take place in different circumstances, but he was ready to face his knights and their objections.

“Thank you for your honesty, Sir Lionel,” he finally said. “I understand your point of you. I also understand your concerns but I assure you that there's no need for them.”

Sir Lionel looked him in the eye. “My lord, does that mean that you agree with us?” he asked. “We've already considered some candidates that could sit on the throne next to you. If you agree to hear us out now, we can discuss them right away.”

“You didn't understand me, Sir Lionel,” Arthur interrupted him, a bit amused. “I don't intend to take another Queen. There's no need for that.”

Some of the knights became clearly disturbed by his words. They started whispering among themselves, which reminded him of the time when he stated that he was going to legalise magic. The funniest thing was that both of these matters concerned Merlin to some extent.

“My king” Sir Galahad spoke up suddenly. “You said that you understand our point of view.”

“Please calm down, my lords, and hear me out,” said Arthur quietly. “I'm not going to leave Camelot without an heir. I assure you that I care about the future of this kingdom as much as you do.” Then he glanced shortly at Merlin. The Court Sorcerer seemed paler than usual. Arthur had a sudden urge to kiss him and assure him that everything was going to be all right, but he couldn't do it in front of the whole Council. There were some boundaries that shouldn't be crossed and it was one of them. As much as he believed that some of the knights would understand his affection to Merlin, or even suspected it already, most of them would be disturbed. Not all of his men were as understanding as Percival or Leon, who was away and had his own kingdom to rule.

All members of the Council were looking at him intently, awaiting some explanation. It made Arthur a little bit nervous but he was certain that his decision was right. He wasn't going to neglect the needs of his soul any longer. He wasn't going to hurt Merlin in the most cruel way by marrying another. He wasn't going to hurt the poor woman who would become his wife. Living his life on his own terms was the best choice he could make.

“I'm aware that you believe that a natural heir is the best solution to ensure the safety of this kingdom,” he started firmly. “I understand it because there was a time when I believed it too. However, it doesn't have to be the case. One's blood doesn't make a man the best ruler. The upbringing does.” He looked around, noticing some confused faces, but he wasn't discouraged by them. “When the right time comes, I will name my heir. He will not be of my blood but I'll make sure that he will be worthy of this kingdom.”

“But Sire,” Sir Lionel couldn't help voicing his objection. “This is not traditional. What if the people don't accept the ruler of your choice? It can bring downfall to this kingdom.”

“I'm glad to hear that you care about the future of this kingdom,” Arthur told him. “It's much appreciated. However, if everything goes according to my plan, Camelot will thrive.”

Sire Lionel gave him an uncertain look. “So you have a plan, my lord?” he asked.

“That's right,” Arthur confirmed gladly.

“Would you be so kind to share it with us?”

Some of the knights nodded with agreement. It was clear that they all wanted to hear it too.

“I will share it with you when the right time comes,” said Arthur elusively. “Firstly, I need to discuss it with the concerned party.”

“So it hasn't been decided yet,” murmured Sir Lionel. “What if it doesn't go according to your plan, Sire? Will you reconsider remarrying then?”

Arthur felt their gaze on himself. All of them were awaiting his answer with anticipation.

“We will come back to this discussion then,” said Arthur firmly. “I promise you that I won't do anything to harm this kingdom.”

“But Sire...”

“The meeting is over, Sir Lionel,” said Arthur decisively. “You can all go.”

There was no place for further discussion that day and Sir Lionel knew it. He sent a short, annoyed glance at Merlin, and left the room in silence. After a short while, Arthur and Merlin were the only people who remained inside.

“They know it's my fault,” said Merlin quietly. “I think you should reconsider...”

Arthur gasped and looked at him in disbelief. “Did you really just say that?” he asked. “After everything we went through? After what happened last night...”

“It won't last forever. One day we will leave Camelot to spend our immortal lives elsewhere. I can wait for you until then,” he murmured, trying to hide his sadness.

“And I should do what...? Try to produce an heir, knowing that it's pointless? Knowing that you suffer?” He sighed angrily. “I can't believe that you just suggested that. I won't live a lie. I won't deceive neither you nor a poor woman I would have to marry.”

“I know it's not perfect but it may be the only way to appease your people.” Merlin didn't like it but he didn't want Arthur to watch his kingdom fall apart during his reign.

“If it comes to that, I will tell them that I'm unable to father a child,” Arthur told him firmly.

“Some of them may try to undermine your position then,” said Merlin worryingly.

“It wouldn't be the first time.” Arthur sighed heavily. “If it happens and if my subjects believe them, then maybe they are not the people I thought they were. In such case, I won't need to be their king any more.”

“I can't believe that you would do it to your people.”

“I won't,” Arthur promised him. “I told you I have a plan.”

“What's that plan, then?” Merlin asked him. “Will you tell me?”

“Not here,” said Arthur, glancing uncertainly at the door. “I'll tell you in the evening, during the dinner.”

Merlin nodded understandingly. He could wait a few hours. Waiting was something that he was good at.

 


 

Merlin was waiting for Arthur in his own room with a freshly prepared dinner. They agreed in the morning that it was wiser to meet in Merlin's chambers for now. The door to Arthur's chambers was guarded and there was no one outside Merlin's room. There was no need for that, as a long time ago Merlin put a protection spell on his chambers. He did the same with Arthur's rooms but the appearances had to be kept up and the guards remained at the door to king's chambers.

Arthur came inside Merlin's chamber quietly without knocking. There was no need for it any longer.

“The dinner's ready,” Merlin murmured instead of a greeting.

Arthur walked past the table and kissed Merlin firmly in the mouth. “First things first,” he said when he pulled away.

Merlin smiled at this display of affection. Arthur already knew that he had him but it didn't change his approach. He was still trying to prove Merlin how much he loved him.

“Food is important too,” mumbled Merlin as he led Arthur to the table. “We should eat and then talk,” he reminded him.

Arthur sighed heavily but obediently did what Merlin wanted. The truth was that he was hungry but he also didn't want to waste the time they had only for each other. It was a true conflict of interests.

“So you said that you had a plan,” said Merlin when they started eating. “What is it?” he knew that he should probably wait with this question until the end of dinner but he was too curious to wait in silence. After all, the future of Camelot as well as the future of their relationship depended on this plan.

Arthur swallowed what he had in mouth and looked at Merlin intently. “It's easy. I want to ask Leon for permission to have his son as the heir of Camelot,” he said.

“You mean prince Philip?”

“Yes, Merlin, as far as we know Leon has only one child,” said Arthur, a bit amused. “Why are you looking at me like this?”

Merlin was a bit surprised by this turn of events. He never considered Leon's son as a possible solution to the problem of succession in Camelot.

“He's not even one year old,” Merlin murmured. “We don't know what he'll be like.”

Arthur smiled with disbelief at these words. “Do you honestly believe that a child of Leon and Mithian won't be worthy of Camelot?” he asked. “To be honest, I would have more doubts about my own child if I could have one.”

Merlin couldn't help smiling at that. “Your child wouldn't be so bad if it was Gwen's too,” he suggested.

Arthur snorted. “Or yours if you were a woman,” he said before he could bite his tongue.

Merlin raised his eyebrow in curiosity. “Would you marry me if I were a woman?” he asked.

“Maybe,” said Arthur, looking into his eyes. He was just teasing him. The answer was obvious and both of them knew it. “But I like you the way you are. Don't even think about turning into a woman,” he joked, not being sure if it was even possible.

“You know... I did it once,” Merlin admitted shyly.

“What?” Arthur looked at him with disbelief. “When?”

Merlin told him about that one time when he turned into an old witch to save Guinevere from Morgana's influence. Arthur remembered that day very well and he couldn't believe that he didn't recognise Merlin in this old hag.

“I should have known...” he mumbled. “She was teasing me just like you do.”

Merlin smiled at this memory. “Sometimes I think that you didn't want to notice these things,” he admitted. “That it was easier for you to believe that I was just an ordinary servant.”

“Believe me, I never thought you were ordinary,” said Arthur. “It feels strange to think about these times now. I didn't know about your magic, I thought that Guinevere was the love of my life...”

“She must have been the love of your life,” Merlin told him. “Otherwise we wouldn't be able to release her from Morgana's magic. Your love was true.” It pained him to admit it but he wasn't going to lie to Arthur ever again. That was the only fair attitude.

“I know that I loved her and that it was true but it was different than what I feel for you,” said Arthur. “Guinevere was my perfect Queen. She wasn't afraid to speak her mind, even when she did that to scold me. She was...” Then he hesitated because the sudden realisation hit him. “In some way she was like a female version of you,” he finished.

Merlin didn't expect to hear that. He had no idea what to say.

“I think that's why I fell in love with her so easily,” Arthur continued, as more and more things suddenly seemed to fit together. “She was brave, just like you. She was a servant...”

“We shouldn't dwell on the past,” Merlin told him, putting his hand on Arthur's. “Gwen was your wife and you loved her. I understand that.”

“I know but it's hard not to think about it from this new perspective,” Arthur admitted. “I finally start to understand why I did what I did.”

Merlin sighed heavily. “That's completely understandable but we should focus on the future of Camelot now,” he said. “We can talk about Gwen and your past choices other time.”

“You're right,” said Arthur. “I was just overwhelmed by this realisation.”

Merlin squeezed his hand reassuringly. “We're in this together, Arthur, no matter what happens.” Then he decided to come back to their main topic. “Do Leon and Mithian even know what you plan for their son?” he asked him.

Arthur shook his head. “I plan to visit Nemeth next week and then I'll ask them for their permission,” he said.

“How do you want to convince them?” Merlin asked.

“I hope I won't have to,” said Arthur. “You shouldn't worry, though. I have some strong arguments, just in case.”

“For example?”

“I planned to unite Camelot and Nemeth through marriage to Mithian. I believe you remember that,” he said.

“It's hard to forget,” murmured Merlin. “You were quite stubborn then.”

“It's true but I didn't marry her in the end. Now we have another chance to seal the alliance between our kingdoms. Leon is the true man of Camelot. He has the best traits that Camelot's knights have. Philip is as much the son of Camelot as he is the son of Nemeth. Under his reign these two kingdoms can be truly united.”

Merlin was deeply moved by his words. In his mind's eyes he could picture the bright future of Camelot and Nemeth. “That's a beautiful idea,” he murmured.

“That's what I thought,” said Arthur, smiling. “I hope they will agree with us.”

“We will find out next week.”

Suddenly Arthur stopped being hungry. With the dinner only half eaten, he stood up and grabbed Merlin by his wrist.

“The food will get cold,” Merlin told him.

Arthur shrugged and said, “You will heat it with magic when we're finished.”

Merlin gasped at his husky voice. “Do you want me to do something else with my magic now?” he asked.

“Why not...” murmured Arthur, leading him to the bed. “You promised me something last night.”

Merlin grinned as his eyes turned gold. Their clothes momentarily materialised on a chair, leaving them completely naked.

Arthur pressed his body to Merlin's and whispered into his ear, “That's my favourite magic of all.”

Merlin laughed at these words. He had a feeling that Arthur was slightly biased by his current state of arousal. “Take me, my king,” he encouraged him. “In a way that you didn't get to take me before.”

Arthur's eyes darkened with lust. “You shouldn't say those things,” he murmured. “I don't want to hurt you.”

“You won't,” Merlin assured him. “Our souls bonded last night. I know that you could feel that too. Now I want you to claim my body completely. What we did last night was beautiful and I will treasure it forever but I need more. I want you to take me in a way I wouldn't allow anyone else to take me. I want to feel you inside me.”

His words were driving Arthur crazy. He wanted all of that too but he didn't know how to do it in a way that wouldn't bring Merlin pain.

“Don't worry about me,” Merlin told him quietly. “Just kiss me and everything will be fine.”

This much Arthur could do without hesitation. He helped Merlin lie down on bed and climbed on him instantly, kissing him. Their bodies were moving together in a perfect rhythm but it wasn't their ultimate goal. This time they were aiming at something more than just a sweet friction.

“What shall I do?” murmured Arthur between their kisses.

Then Merlin pushed something into his hand. Arthur looked at it and saw a vial filled with something that resembled oil.

“Tonight I want you to prepare me,” Merlin told him. “Next time I can do it with my magic but I would like you to do it during our first time.”

“You don't need to excuse yourself,” said Arthur and uncorked the vial. “I will do it gladly.”

Merlin smiled lovingly at him, happy that Arthur understood it. They finally had the connection that he always craved. They could still argue about various things but in the end they were going to understand each other without words. It was a precious ability and Merlin was certain that it would prove to be useful many times in the future.

Arthur was very careful with his touch and Merlin appreciated that. He felt loved and cared for, which was a nice change. Most of the time, he was the one who had to care for others. Now he was completely in Arthur's hands but this thought didn't scare him at all. He trusted him completely. Probably more than he trusted himself when it came to the emotional outbreaks.

“Is that all right?” Arthur kept asking him between their kisses. It was clear that the king was nervous about it but he was also pleased that Merlin allowed him to do this.

“Everything is fine,” Merlin assured him each time. “Don't worry about it.”

They gave each other time to get fully prepared for their proper love making. It came to this that Merlin had to encourage Arthur verbally to get on with it and get inside him. Arthur laughed nervously at his words, but then Merlin pulled him into a tender kiss and promised him that he would tell him if he felt uncomfortable. After all these assurances, Arthur finally believed him and did as he was asked.

Merlin was not ready for this. He wasn't in severe pain or something like that but the very idea of Arthur being inside him was blowing his mind. To say that it was a good feeling was an understatement. Merlin reached an entirely new level of connection with Arthur and the pleasure that he felt at this moment overwhelmed him completely.

By the desperation with which Arthur was kissing and touching him, he must have felt the same. His every move inside Merlin was bringing them closer to climax, and when the moment finally arrived, too early for their liking, they reached completion together.

Afterwards, they were lying in each other's arms with goofy smiles plastered on their faces. They were too tired to get up and finish the dinner. However, there was no need for that. The only hunger they were feeling this moment was their hunger for each other. Luckily, they had plenty of time to satisfy this need.

 

Chapter Text

Merlin and Arthur slowly learnt to divide their time between the kingdom and themselves. It wasn't easy because each morning it was very tempting to stay in bed and spend the day in a lazy way. However, they remembered their duties very well and they weren't reckless enough to abandon them. The only thing that mattered to them was that they could see each other every evening and that no one was disturbing them during that time.

They started to get used to this new order of things when the day of Arthur's journey to the kingdom of Nemeth came.

“Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?” Merlin asked him while they both were still lying in bed in the morning.

“There's no need,” Arthur told him. “Besides, I would like you to keep an eye on Sir Lionel and his supporters. It's not wise to leave our kingdom under their supervision.”

“Other knights would never follow him,” said Merlin. “You don't need to worry about it.”

“I know that most of my knights are loyal to me but Sir Lionel may try to do something stupid,” Arthur insisted. “He won't dare to do it as long as you're here. Deep down he's still afraid of magic.”

Merlin smiled smugly under his nose. “So you're leaving the kingdom under my watchful eye,” he murmured.

“Don't get used to it. I want my kingdom back after my return,” Arthur warned him jokingly and then kissed him shortly. “I know that you don't like me travelling without you but this time it's wiser for you to stay in Camelot. If my safety worries you, then it shouldn't. Your heart will protect me even if you're away from me.” The affection in his voice was clear and it made Merlin's heart flutter in his chest.

“I know,” said Merlin quietly. “But I'll still miss you.”

Arthur embraced him tightly. “I'll be gone only for a few days,” he whispered into his ear. “You'll barely notice I'm not here.”

“I doubt that,” said Merlin honestly. “But I know how important it is. I'll take care of Camelot for you. Don't worry about it.”

Arthur smiled at him. He was so happy that he was loved by such a wonderful man. He didn't know what he did to deserve Merlin.

 


 

While Arthur was gone, the time seemed to run extremely slowly. Merlin was missing Arthur and their heated evenings and lazy mornings, but he remembered his promise. He didn't pretend to be Arthur and he didn't perform all his kingly duties, but the knights seemed to know that he was in charge while the king was away.

Merlin could feel their eyes on his neck. He was certain that they were also whispering behind his back. However, not all of them were spiteful. Percival tended to smile at him mysteriously these days but Gilli was the worst. He didn't even try to hide his smugness every time he saw Merlin. Moreover, the physician was teasing him with suggestive remarks. Merlin tried to hush him but it was pointless, so he gave up completely. Gilli just didn't seem bothered by the fact that two men had an affair at all. He encouraged it with his whole heart and, what was the worst, he didn't mind to speak of it in front of the others. Merlin had to work very hard not to ruin Arthur's reputation in the castle.

Sir Lionel avoided Merlin at all costs, however when he had to talk to Merlin about some pressing matter, he kept his distance. Nonetheless, Merlin could see something that resembled disgust in his eyes. It didn't surprise him or make him feel uncomfortable. After all, Merlin once promised himself to never be bothered by such people as Sir Lionel. The only nobility that he had was in his title. His behaviour was very shady and uncertain. It made Merlin wonder how he could call himself a knight of Camelot. He didn't deserve this privilege.

Fortunately, Sir Lionel didn't dare to do anything while Merlin was watching him. His spiteful glances couldn't hurt the kingdom, so Merlin didn't care about them at all.

When Arthur finally came back from his visit to Nemeth, Merlin had to restrain himself from showing his affection in public. All he wanted to do was to hug him tightly and kiss him senseless until the end of day. However, he had enough sense to just smile at his king and pat his shoulders lightly. The display of affection needed to wait until the evening, when they would be alone behind the closed doors.

“How did it go?” Merlin whispered when they walked hand in hand to the throne room. There were a few pressing matters that Arthur had to attend to, and he didn't even have time to take some rest after his journey.

“We'll talk in the evening,” murmured Arthur and smiled at him mysteriously.

Merlin started hating these words.

 


 

The moment Arthur crossed the door of Merlin's chambers, his lover was by his side, but instead of kissing him, he started asking him questions.

“What did Mithian and Leon say? Do they like your idea? Did you see their son? How did it go?” Merlin said it all in one breath.

Arthur was a bit amused by his behaviour. “I missed you too, Merlin,” he said teasingly. “Yes, my travel to Nemeth went smoothly and my road back home was safe. Thank you for asking.”

Merlin shook his head. “You know that I missed you, Arthur. That's obvious. You can't blame me for being curious.”

“I know,” said Arthur and led him to the armchair. “Take a seat and I'll tell you everything.”

Merlin was a bit annoyed that Arthur was treating him like a child but deep down he understood it. After all, the way he behaved a moment ago wasn't too mature either. To some extent, he deserved to be treated like a child.

He calmed down and looked at Arthur expectantly.

“That's better,” said Arthur, as he took a seat opposite Merlin. “Leon and Mithian were surprised by my proposal. They had to think it through but in the end they agreed with me.” He grinned victoriously at Merlin. “Philip will become my heir. The future of Camelot is secured.”

Merlin let go of a breath that he didn't know he was holding. He was so happy to hear this good news. The Council just couldn't reject the choice of such a noble candidate as son of Leon and Mithian.

“That's wonderful,” said Merlin and jumped into Arthur's welcoming arms. The armchair creaked under their combined weight but he didn't care. He could repair it with his magic if it came to it.

“I thought so too,” murmured Arthur and kissed him tenderly. “Will you show me now how much you missed me?” he asked teasingly.

Merlin's eyes filled with lust. He smirked and attacked Arthur's lips forcefully.

In the end he had to repair the armchair and several other items in his room. After a few days of separation Merlin's magic became a bit wild, just like the first time they made love. However, he wasn't going to complain. It was a small price to pay for having Arthur in his arms again.

 


 

Merlin and Arthur tried very hard to be subtle about their affection outside their chambers. However, it was easier said than done and soon they realised that half of the castle was gossiping about them.

Sometimes Arthur couldn't help himself and he did affectionate gestures towards Merlin in wrong places. One time he grabbed Merlin's hand and leaned down to peck him in the throne room because they thought they were there alone. As they found out a moment later, they weren't. One of the serving girls, who came there to dust the floor, squealed seeing them and then rushed out of the room with a huge blush on her cheeks.

“All servants will know about it by the end of the day,” murmured Merlin. “We must be more careful.”

Arthur shrugged lightly. “It's obvious they've already known about us,” he said. “I'm not going to keep you my dirty little secret, Merlin. You don't deserve such treatment.”

“There is a difference between keeping up the appearances and making me your dirty secret,” Merlin insisted. “I don't want people to undermine your position because of me.”

“They won't,” Arthur assured him. “Don't worry about it.”

It wasn't Merlin's fault that his life mainly consisted of worrying about Arthur. He couldn't help it. This necessity had become even stronger since their souls bonded in their love making.

During next week, Merlin and Arthur were seen in various intimate moments by different inhabitants of the castle. It was never something considerably serious, but it was enough to give birth to a juicy gossip.

By the end of the next week, the gossip spread all over Camelot, reaching the farthest parts of the city. Some people were clearly judgemental but most of them were only giving their King and the Court Sorcerer curious looks. Merlin knew that something huge was going to happen out of it, but each time he voiced his concern, Arthur silenced him with a kiss.

It all was going like this until the day when the small group of knights, with Sir Lionel as their leader, approached Arthur and demanded an immediate Council meeting without Merlin's presence.

“I have nothing to hide from Merlin,” Arthur said firmly when they voiced their demand. “He is a member of my Council and he has every right to attend the meeting.”

“We would like to discuss the matters that concern Merlin directly, my lord. It's wiser to do it in his absence,” Sir Lionel tried to explain their motive.

“Wiser or easier?” Arthur asked them. “If the matter concerns Merlin, then he has right to hear it and defend himself.”

The knights looked at one another, knowing that there was no way to convince their king. “All right, Sire,” Sir Lionel spoke on behalf of their group. “Merlin may listen to our concerns if it's necessary.”

“That's better,” said Arthur. “We can meet in an hour in the Council Room. Please inform the rest of the Council.”

When they walked away, he paced quickly to Merlin's chambers. He needed to warn him and they both needed to get prepared for what was to come.

 


 

Arthur greeted the members of his Council shortly. There was no time for pleasantries, as they all knew that what they were to discuss was tough.

“You can start, Sir Lionel,” Arthur told him coldly.

The knight cleared his throat and looked around, most likely looking for support from his fellow knights. “We are worried about your position in Albion, Sire,” he started. “We believe that your close friendship with the Court Sorcerer may affect you and your decisions in some way.”

Merlin started glaring at Sir Lionel with anger and Arthur was certain that it scared his knight thoroughly, even though he did a good job to hide it.

“I can't see any threat to my position in Albion, Sir Lionel,” said Arthur calmly. “Could you elaborate?”

“There are rumours around the castle about certain indecencies.” This time his voice was hesitant. “To be clear, we don't blame you, Sire,” he added quickly.

“You blame Merlin then,” said Arthur, looking him in the eye defiantly.

“He has magic, my lord,” murmured the knight. “He's capable of influencing you in certain ways.”

“I would never do that,” said Merlin through his teeth. He had to use all his willpower to restrain himself from doing something stupid. He needed to remember that he was supposed to prove that not all magic users were mad or had thirst for power.

“I'm talking to the king, not you,” said Sir Lionel spitefully but avoided the eye contact with him.

“Calm down, Merlin,” Arthur told him quietly. “I can handle it.”

All Merlin's instincts were telling him that he needed to protect Arthur but he also wanted to respect his will. Arthur had to deal with his Council alone and on his own terms. Otherwise, they wouldn't believe that he was completely independent and aware of what he was doing.

“Sir Lionel, Merlin doesn't use magic to influence my decisions,” said Arthur calmly. “I value his opinion and consider it every time he states one, but the decision is always mine. I can assure you that Merlin's magic is not involved when it comes to ruling this kingdom.”

“Perhaps he's hiding it well,” Sir Lionel mumbled.

“Do you have any proof to support your accusation?” Arthur asked him.

“I mentioned the indecencies,” said the knight but his voice started cracking.

“What indecencies?”

This question made Sir Lionel blush. He looked around, hoping that one of the knights would support him, but all of those who seemed to be on his side a moment ago started avoiding his sight. He sighed inwardly. There was no choice – he had to say it all alone.

“People saw the two of you, Sire... They saw you in the moments that seemed quite... intimate.” He hoped that he chose the right words. He had no desire to follow in Sir Lamorak's footsteps.

“They were intimate,” said Arthur openly, making some of his knights gasp in surprise. “The nature of my relationship with Merlin has changed recently. Although, it's true that we should be more thoughtful and careful concerning the time or place of our encounters. I assure you that we didn't want to put all these poor people in an awkward position. However, I can confirm here that these things occurred and that they'll still be happening.”

For a few moments Sir Lionel was looking at him in disbelief. Then he remembered why he was there and continued what he started. “Don't you think that it's unwise to maintain this relationship?” he asked uncertainly. “Other kingdoms may see your new preferences as a sign of weakness.”

Arthur had to suppress his laughter. He hoped that the knight was going to say something along these lines. “Do you find me weak, Sir Lionel? Or Merlin?”

At these words Sir Lionel glanced at Merlin who had his eyebrow raised in anticipation. It was clear that the knight feared him. Merlin could be named in various ways but weak was not one of them.

“No, my lord,” he murmured, lowering his gaze.

“Then other kingdoms won't find us weak either,” said Arthur decisively.

Sir Lionel was aware that he was about to lose this fight. He knew that he had to do something to save his face. That was why he decided to use one last argument that came to his mind.

“What about an heir?” he asked, collecting all the courage that he still had. “Merlin can't give you that and the kingdom without an heir is weak and its future is uncertain.

“I'm glad you're bringing up this subject, Sir Lionel,” said Arthur, somehow amused. “I told you before that I'm going to name my heir.”

“You did mention that, Sire, but we haven't learnt his name yet. What if he's not worthy? What if people don't accept him?”

“I have a feeling they will.” Arthur didn't even try to hide his smugness. “I already know the name of my heir. He's the son of one of the best men Camelot ever had and I'm certain that this boy will have the upbringing that suits the future king of Camelot.”

All knights looked at him with anticipation.

“Who is he?” asked still young and naïve Sir Galahad. The knight was under a huge influence of Sir Lionel, but Arthur hoped that there was still a chance for him. He was a great fighter, although still very malleable.

Arthur smiled at them. “It's prince Philip, the son of King Leon and Queen Mithian, and the heir to the throne of Nemeth. He's the one who will unite our kingdoms,” he said smoothly.

“But it's not traditional to unite two kingdoms in this way,” Sir Lionel protested. “It should be done through marriage.”

“It is... in a way,” Arthur started explaining his point of view. “Prince Philip was born through the marriage between Leon of Camelot and Mithian of Nemeth. It's fitting that one day he will rule both of these kingdoms.”

The Council remained silent, thinking intensely about what he just said.

“There was a time when I thought that I would marry Princess Mithian, uniting our kingdoms through our marriage,” he continued. “For various reasons our marriage never happened, but today I know that our kingdoms can still be united. It will make us stronger. Don't you want this?”

Some of the knights started nodding and humming approvingly. Arthur couldn't help smiling at them. He won more than just this argument with Sir Lionel. He saw hope, trust and acceptance in the faces of his knights. All his effort was worth it.

When the Council meeting was over, a few of his knights still remained in the Council room. Sir Lionel was one of them. He walked up to Arthur and whispered, “You should have kept Merlin your secret, Sire. It would have been a wiser choice.”

“I beg to differ,” Arthur replied instantly. “I'm an honest man and I'm not ashamed of what I have with Merlin. I hope that one day you will understand it too.”

Sir Lionel didn't say anything. He kept an eye contact with Arthur for a few seconds and then walked away with a raised head.

Once Sir Lionel was gone, Sir Percival approached him.

“Hello, Sire,” he greeted him, smiling under his nose. “I just wanted to tell you that you shouldn't worry about Sir Lionel.”

“I'm not going to,” Arthur assured him.

“Good,” said Percival. “Most of the knights have known or suspected that there is something special between you and Merlin for a long time. We respect you, Sire, and we wouldn't trade you for any other ruler.”

Arthur was flattered by his words. “Thank you, Percival. That's appreciated.”

“We accept you, Arthur,” the knight added in an unofficial tone. “We're fond of you and Merlin, and we understand.” Then he hesitated for a moment. “I understand.”

Arthur was certain that Percival meant Gwaine. He wanted to say something to console him but there were no such words. “Thank you,” he said simply.

Percival nodded at him and left the room quietly.

Merlin was waiting for Arthur outside the Council room. He decided to leave him alone to talk to the knights that wanted this. When Arthur finally left the room alone, he smiled at awaiting Merlin.

“That's why they know about us,” he murmured jokingly.

“No, they know about us because you can't keep your hands to yourself,” Merlin teased him. “How do you feel?” he asked in a more serious tone.

“Better than before. I felt a huge relief when I told them the truth,” he admitted.

Merlin nodded understandingly but sighed lightly. “It's not the end,” he mumbled. “Sir Lionel will do something stupid. I can feel that. He's like a wounded animal who can bite any moment.”

“We will deal with it later,” Arthur told him calmly. “I'm tired now and I would like to spend a quiet evening with the man I love.”

Merlin couldn't argue with that.

 


 

They found out a few days later that Sir Lionel was indeed like a wounded animal. He was desperate enough to have his men spread some nasty rumours all over Camelot. These rumours concerned Arthur and Merlin but this time they couldn't be further from the truth. They said that the king had an affair with Merlin while the Queen Guinevere was still alive, perhaps even when Merlin was a mere servants.

These rumours hurt Merlin deeply. He had loved Arthur for years but he never dared to do anything when Gwen was still among them. He valued Arthur's marriage and his own friendship with Gwen too much to do something so unfaithful.

Arthur, however, didn't seem to share his anger.

“How can you be so calm about it?” Merlin asked him eventually. “Lionel is trying to ruin your reputation.”

“We know the truth, Merlin, and that's what matters to me,” Arthur told him quietly.

“But the people...” Merlin insisted but Arthur hushed him with a kiss.

“Don't worry about people. They have their own reason and they'll believe in whatever they want to believe,” he said simply.

Merlin still didn't understand Arthur's calmness but he agreed not to talk about this for the time being. Perhaps this one time everything would end up fine without his interference.

A couple of days later, during the Council meeting and to Merlin's great surprise, Sir Lionel stated that he was leaving the citadel to spend the rest of his life living in the countryside with his wife and grandchildren.

“I hope you will release me from my service, Sire,” he said. “I should take care of my health and my loved ones while I'm still capable of it.”

“You are released from all your duties,” said Arthur with a smile. “You served Camelot for many years. You deserve to retire now.”

Sir Lionel avoided his gaze at all costs. “I leave my eldest son to serve you and the kingdom,” he added, nodding at Sir Bors.

“You're very kind, Sir Lionel. Thank you for your service.” Somehow, Arthur managed to keep a serious tone through this whole conversation. Merlin was impressed.

“How did you do that?” Merlin asked Arthur when they were finally left alone in the Council room.

“How did I do what?” Arthur asked him nonchalantly.

“You know very well what I mean,” said Merlin, a bit annoyed. “How did you make Sir Lionel leave the city?”

“I didn't make him do anything,” replied Arthur smoothly. “You heard him. That was his decision.”

“Right,” murmured Merlin. “I will wipe this smugness off your face tonight, Pendragon, and you will tell me everything.”

Arthur laughed wholeheartedly at this threat, which was really a promise of a very pleasant evening. “You're welcome to try,” he said and kissed him shortly. “But I can't promise you anything.”

Merlin couldn't help grinning at him. Arthur knew how to get him to do exactly what he wanted. It was so ridiculous that some people believed that Merlin was the one who was influencing Arthur. They couldn't be more mistaken.



 

Chapter Text

Camelot without Sir Lionel and his games became a quieter and nicer place. People were still talking about their king and his love life but it was mostly treated as a sensation, and not as something completely bad. Obviously there were still people in the kingdom who considered such acts wrong and inappropriate, but they didn't dare to voice their objections openly. All in all, Arthur was a good king and what he chose to do behind the closed doors with the Court Sorcerer was his own business.

Arthur was grateful for such turn of events. It wasn't perfect because he wanted to share his happiness with the whole world, but he knew it couldn't be like this. Keeping things quiet was more reasonable in these circumstances. Fortunately, Merlin didn't seem to mind it. He was thankful for the silent acceptance they received from the kingdom and the rest didn't matter.

They were happy but Arthur wanted to do something special for the man he loved. It was clear to him that they were going to be together until the end of the world, no matter what. They were going to argue a lot like an old married couple, but despite all their differences, in the end they were always going to find a common ground. Their love was stronger than all the obstacles. Arthur was certain of that.

The king had a plan. He wanted to make an honest man out of Merlin, despite what other people could think about it. Arthur knew that he couldn't make their relationship truly official, but the truth was that he only cared about what Merlin thought about this matter. That was why he approached Merlin one evening and told him that they needed to talk.

Merlin instantly tensed, as Arthur sounded quite serious and nervous. He had no idea what could have such an effect on him.

“I promise it's nothing bad,” Arthur assured him quickly. “You can say no if you don't like the idea and then I won't bring this subject up ever again.”

His words didn't calm Merlin down at all. “What is it?” he asked worryingly.

Arthur sighed lightly. “You know how much I care for you, Merlin, and nothing will change that,” he said. “We live in the world where the relationships like the one we have are perceived odd or even wrong.”

“We received a lot of acceptance from your people, Arthur,” Merlin said quickly. “More than we could ever hope for.”

“I know and I'm happy about it but certain things won't be accepted,” he continued. “You asked me once if I would marry you if you were a woman. The answer is yes and I hope you know it.”

“I do, Arthur. I would marry you too if that was possible.”

Arthur smiled softly at his words. “I'm glad to hear it,” he said. “Recently, a certain idea came to my mind, and although I cannot make you my consort and it can never be official, I would love to have a private ceremony with you.”

Merlin was intrigued. “What do you suggest?” he asked.

“A hand-fasting,” said Arthur and watched him closely, awaiting his answer.

Merlin's heart started beating frantically in his chest. He thought he was dreaming. “I'll have you if you want me too,” he whispered and pulled his man into a tight embrace.

The king couldn't express his happiness with words so he kissed Merlin with profound passion.

 


 

Their hand-fasting had to be a private affair but they wanted to do it properly. They needed someone who would conduct the ceremony and someone else who would be their witness. Generally, Geoffrey was the one responsible for such ceremonies but Merlin and Arthur agreed that they didn't want to involve him in something what could make him feel uncomfortable. Geoffrey was an old man who could find such ideas too unorthodox for his liking. Merlin and Arthur wanted to involve only those people who supported them completely.

“We should make Gilli the master of our ceremony and Percival should be our witness,” Arthur suggested one day.

Merlin glanced at him with surprise. “I thought you didn't like Gilli,” he said.

“I was jealous. Now that I have you I know that there's no reason for jealousy,” Arthur admitted. “Besides I know that Gilli has become your good friend after Gaius' death. He supported you then and he supports us now.”

“That's true,” said Merlin, smiling. “I'm proud of you, Arthur.”

The king grinned at him. “It's decided then,” he said.

“As long as Gilli and Percival agree to participate in this ceremony,” Merlin reminded him.

“I have a feeling that they will,” murmured Arthur.

The truth was that Merlin thought so too.

Then another idea came to Arthur's mind. “Wouldn't you want your mother to be there too?” he asked, knowing the answer very well. “We could send for her.”

Merlin kissed him firmly on his mouth. “I would love that,” he whispered when they pulled away to take a breath.

 


 

As they soon found out, Gilli and Percival were honoured by their invitation. They agreed right away and didn't ask any questions. Merlin and Arthur were glad for having such people in their lives. It made their days brighter and easier.

The two of them chose a quiet summer evening for their hand-fasting ceremony. They didn't want to say their vows inside the cold walls of the castle, so they decided to have the ceremony in the royal garden, away from the sight of random passers-by.

Arthur didn't put on his ceremonial robes because he didn't want to say his vow as a king. He intended to do it as a man who loved Merlin with his whole existence.

Both of them chose simple clothes. Arthur put on his red shirt because Merlin liked it, and not because it was Pendragon colour. On the other hand, Merlin chose his blue shirt, which matched his eyes. They looked simple but handsome. No one could deny them that.

Gilli was standing in front of them with a hand-fasting ribbon in his hand. Percival and Hunith were a few steps behind them, watching the couple proudly.

“We're gathered here today to perform the hand-fasting rite between Merlin of Ealdor, known also as Emrys, and Arthur of Camelot, the Once and Future King,” Gilli stated.

Merlin and Arthur were facing each other, grinning madly.

“It is the blessed rite in which the hands of two people who love each other are wrapped in a ribbon as a symbol of their holy union,” said Gilli officially and then turned directly to the two of them. “Merlin and Arthur, you can say your vows now.”

Before the ceremony began, they agreed that Merlin would start. “You are my other half, Arthur. The fact that we can stand here today is the proof of that. You know how much I love you because our hearts and souls are already bonded, but I'm glad that I have an opportunity to make my vow in front of our dear witnesses.” He glanced at Percival and his mother, who started crying silently. Then he turned his gaze back at his man. “I love you, Arthur Pendragon, and I will love you for all eternity. Even the end of the world won't keep us apart.”

Arthur was deeply moved by his words. It had been clear to him how Merlin felt about him for a long time, but hearing it in front of their friends was something new.

“You are my true half, Merlin. After all these years I can say it with complete honesty and certainty,” he started. “You bring brightness to my days and you taught me to be a better man. I give you my vow that I will love and cherish you forever. Nothing can come in between us.”

I know, Merlin mouthed silently and Arthur nodded at that.

“Please face me now and hold your hands in front of me,” Gilli told them.

Merlin raised his right hand while Arthur did the same with his left one. Their hands were touching and they were looking at each other with profound love and happiness.

Gilli took the ribbon and wrapped it around their hands gently, tying a knot. “This ribbon symbolises the union of two souls. Your vows are binding,” he proclaimed.

Merlin and Arthur leaned in to kiss each other tenderly. When they pulled away, they were grinning shamelessly. They became as one in a new way and it felt amazing.

Then Hunith walked up to them and embraced them tightly. She was clearly getting older but she still had strength in her grip. “Since that day I have two sons,” she told them. “Welcome to the family, Arthur.”

Arthur couldn't be happier. He was loved by the most wonderful man in the world and now he gained a mother too. Hunith could never replace Ygraine but she could be the closest thing to a mother that he could have. Finally, everything appeared to be perfect.

 


 

They all had a celebratory dinner in Arthur's chambers. They drank some wine but after an hour Hunith, Gilli and Percival left the newly hand-fasted couple alone for their own celebration.

"In a way it's our wedding night," Arthur told him in a slightly shaking voice.

Merlin didn't understand why Arthur seemed so nervous. They were past being shy and uncertain about their sex life.

"What is it?" Merlin asked him with worry written all over his face.

Arthur cleared his throat and glanced at Merlin hesitantly. "It is a special day and I thought we could celebrate it in a special way," he said.

Merlin was intrigued by his words. "What do you have in mind?"

The king bit his bottom lip and looked down. "You gave me so much, Merlin, and I can't get rid of the feeling that I gave you so little in return," he admitted.

"That's not true, Arthur," Merlin assured him hastily. "You gave me everything I could ever dream of."

"I want to give you more," Arthur said firmly.

"What do you mean?"

"I would like to have you inside me," he explained, blushing madly. "In some way it's like taking my virginity and I think it's fitting for our wedding night."

Merlin would have laughed at the ridiculousness of this situation if the circumstances weren't so serious.

"There's no need for that," he said. "I don't expect you to do anything like that."

"But I want this," Arthur assured him and put his hand on Merlin's, squeezing it. "I would never suggest it otherwise."

Merlin looked into his eyes and saw the sincerity and determination in them. Arthur truly wanted him in this new way, even though he was nervous about it.

"It may hurt at first," Merlin warned him.

"I know."

Arthur was looking at him hopefully and it caused goose-flesh on his back.

"All right then," Merlin finally agreed.

They undressed each other slowly, not wanting to involve Merlin's magic this time. It was their wedding night and they were going to do it properly.

Arthur lay down on his bed, putting all his trust in Merlin. The warlock was very careful with preparing him. He used far greater amount of oil than it was necessary, just to make sure that it was going to be comfortable for Arthur. He was slow with his fingers, giving Arthur time to get used to the new sensation. They had plenty of time, as they made sure that they would not have anything important to do before the afternoon of the next day.

"I think I'm ready to receive you," murmured Arthur eventually.

Merlin nodded silently and leaned down to kiss him tenderly. He needed to distract himself in some way before the very thought that he was going to be inside Arthur could drive him crazy with pleasure.

Nothing could prepare Merlin for the moment when he entered Arthur. He was so tight that it made Merlin wonder if it felt like this for him too. Merlin had to move slowly, not wanting to end this too early, as he didn't have as much experience as Arthur had.

"How do you do this?" Merlin asked him between his thrusts.

Arthur smiled at him smugly, knowing very well what he meant.

"It helps when I think about making you feel as good as I do," he murmured.

"Do you feel good now?" the warlock asked uncertainly.

"It always feels good to have you so close to me," whispered Arthur.

After a moment, Arthur's chamber filled with the moans and groans of their love making. They were soon on the edge because it was something new for both of them.

Arthur was first to come with Merlin's hand stroking him skilfully in the rhythm of his thrusts. Merlin followed him soon after, surprised by the tightness caused by Arthur's climax.

They regained their full consciousness after a moment, lying on each other and breathing heavily.

"Did you like this change?" Merlin asked him after a while, as he slid off his body.

Arthur looked at him, smiling. "It felt strange and vulnerable at first but then I thought that it was you and there was nothing to be nervous about," he said. "Then I started enjoying it."

Merlin was content with his answer. "So would you like to repeat it sometimes in the future?" he asked carefully.

"Definitely," said Arthur, caressing his skin.

"We don't have to," Merlin assured him. "I like having you inside me. We can stick to that."

"I want this, Merlin," Arthur told him frankly. "I like being in charge most of the time but sometimes I want to give this power away. I'm glad I can do this with you."

Merlin smiled at him softly and kissed him. "So we're husbands now?" he asked.

"Yes," said Arthur gleefully. "Although, most of the world will never know about it."

"I don't care about what the rest of the world thinks," Merlin told him. "I'm glad that we know about it, and that my mother knows it too. That's enough for me."

"You're right," murmured Arthur. "That's what matters to me too."

Then Merlin sighed lightly. "One day we will have to leave Camelot," he said. "We can't stay here forever."

"It's a long time from now," said Arthur. "Philip must grow up first and then I'll have to make sure that he's ready for ruling two kingdoms."

"What are we going to do when Philip eventually becomes king?" Merlin asked him. "Where will we go?"

"Don't worry about it now," Arthur told him quietly. "We have plenty of time to decide."

Merlin nodded but then another issue came to his mind.

"We are not getting older, Arthur. People will become suspicious about it," he said.

"They will think you're keeping us young with your magic," his husband suggested.

"Perhaps... or I could just use my magic to make us getting older slowly," he said. "What do you think?"

"Will you be able to make us younger again, once we eventually leave Camelot?" Arthur asked him hopefully.

Merlin smiled smugly. "Of course. Besides, it is a great solution. Once we become younger again, it will be less likely for us to be identified by someone."

"That's a perfect solution then," said Arthur. "Please use your magic."

Merlin's eyes turned gold immediately and a delicate wave of warmth went through their bodies.

"Is it done?" Arthur asked him just to be certain.

"Yes, we'll be getting older just like other people," Merlin told him and then embraced Arthur tightly.

They fell asleep in each other's arms, thinking about what their future would bring.



 

Chapter Text

A few years went by in a blissful peace. During that time Merlin and Arthur had several arguments but they never lasted longer than two days. It just felt so strange for them to be angry with each other and to sleep separately. They wondered how they managed to live in such way for years.

The time went by quickly and the people of Camelot were getting impatient. They wanted to get to know the heir to the throne and their future king. That was why Arthur decided that it was the right moment to invite Mithian and Leon along with their son to Camelot.

It had to be an official affair and everything had to be perfect. Merlin started suspecting that the servants went crazy. They started cleaning up and decorating the whole castle. Merlin had never seen it so spotless, not even during Arthur's coronation or his wedding to Guinevere.

“They're excited,” said Arthur when Merlin told him what he noticed.

“I'm also thrilled but it doesn't make me go crazy,” Merlin replied.

“This privilege is reserved to me,” Arthur whispered teasingly into his ear, making him aroused in mere seconds.

“You can't do this to me,” said Merlin. “Not when we don't have time for anything. Leon and Mithian will arrive soon.”

Arthur grinned at him smugly. “It's good to know that after all these years I still have this effect on you,” he murmured. “I will make it up to you tonight,” he promised and pulled Merlin out of his chambers. “We need to go downstairs. As you said, they can arrive any time now.”

Merlin followed him obediently. He would follow him anywhere.

 


 

Philip was a sweet child. In many ways he resembled Leon when he was his age. The boy was shy at first but once he got used to the new place, it was hard to stop him talking. He was very talkative for a seven-year-old boy.

Mithian was watching him with amusement, hugging her two-year-old daughter Charlotte. The girl didn't want to leave her mother's side even for a single moment. She seemed overwhelmed by a new place and new people. However, it was perfectly natural for a child her age.

Arthur and Merlin had dinner with their guests in private. There was going to be a feast in the evening, during which Arthur would officially name prince Philip his heir, but they wanted to keep things simple for a few hours that they still had. Arthur wanted to get to know his heir a bit better in order to create a bond between them. It could prove useful in the future.

“Uncle Arthur, will you play with me?” the boy asked him, clearly excited.

“Let king Arthur eat in peace, Philip,” Leon said to his son. “Also, please remember to address him properly in front of other people.”

“That's all right, Leon,” Arthur assured him. “I will play with you gladly, Philip, but first you should finish your meal.”

Philip sighed lightly but he did as he was asked. Once they ate the dinner, Arthur started playing with him with wooden swords. It was Philip's favourite game. Leon even had to pretend to be a dragon that Philip and Arthur were supposed to defeat.

“They look adorable playing like this, don't they?” Mithian asked Merlin suddenly.

The warlock nodded, smiling. “Arthur would be a wonderful father,” he murmured.

“Don't blame yourself, Merlin. He loves you,” Mithian told him candidly.

She didn't know that Arthur couldn't have children but it wasn't Merlin's place to tell her. “I know,” he said. “I just stated an observation.”

Mithian smiled at him. “Perhaps it was meant to be like this,” she said.

Merlin knew it wasn't but he didn't correct her. He was aware that he changed his and Arthur's destiny. However, he didn't regret a thing.

“It is what it is,” he mumbled.

“We defeated the dragon!” Philip squeaked suddenly. Leon was lying on the floor, laughing.

“You should try to face another dragon,” said Merlin. His eyes turned gold as he created a sparkling dragon out of thin air.

Philip's eyes went wide with excitement.

“Uncle Merlin provided us with a new opponent,” said Arthur, grinning.

The boy rushed towards the magical dragon that Merlin created. It was pure joy to observe him like this. During the game, the dragon changed its colours and shapes until it finally exploded into tiny sparkling pieces.

“Thank you, uncle Merlin,” said Philip and hugged him tightly.

Merlin's heart melted. Leon and Mithian's son was a walking joy.

The time of the feast came quickly. Philip was a bit startled by the sudden attention that everybody was giving him but he handled it well. His parents as well as Arthur and Merlin were proud of him.

Once Arthur gave him an official title, the people of Camelot greeted the heir to the throne with applause. The feast in Philip's name lasted until the late hours of night but the boy was too tired to stay up so long. Mithian along with her children retired to their chambers early, but Leon stayed with Arthur until the very end. The truth was that he missed Camelot and his friends so he didn't want to waste this opportunity to feast and celebrate with them.

Arthur remembered his promise to Merlin but when they returned to their chamber in the middle of the night, they were too tired to do anything about it.

“It was a long day,” murmured Merlin, as he embraced Arthur tightly in their bed. “You will make it up to me tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow sounds like a plan,” Arthur agreed gladly.

They fell asleep a moment later. Merlin's ageing spell had some side effects. It made them getting tired easier than before. It wasn't just their appearance that was getting older. It concerned the general condition of their bodies.

Arthur fell asleep thinking that he couldn't wait for the day when they would be young and vigorous again. It was a very promising perspective.

 


 

The kingdoms were united by Philip. The years went by and Camelot and Nemeth prospered. Merlin and Arthur were ageing along with the people of Camelot, watching the kingdom change slowly.

When Philip finally reached his adulthood, he started spending half of his time in Camelot. He knew Nemeth very well and it was time for him to learn more about his future kingdom.

Arthur enjoyed the time he was spending with Philip. It felt good to have someone to teach and train. Merlin wasn't going to admit it out loud but he was proud of Arthur and his methods. He could tell how much Arthur had changed since the time they met for the first time. It still surprised him that after all these years Arthur was able to work on improving himself.

Philip was a good student too. He listened very carefully to everything Arthur was teaching him. The two of them made quite a team. It brought Merlin joy to watch them.

“We're slowly getting there,” said Arthur one evening.

Merlin looked at him, frowning. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Soon Philip should be ready to become king,” he explained, smiling.

“Don't you think it's too soon?” Merlin asked him, clearly worried. “Philip is still very young.”

“He's 25,” said Arthur. “Besides I'm not saying that we're leaving tomorrow. I just think that Philip is almost ready.”

“Almost?”

Arthur nodded. “I need to check how he's going to handle some stressful situations on his own. We could take a few days off to travel, leaving Philip in charge,” he explained. “I could ask Percival to arrange some problematic cases while we're gone. In this way we could find out how Philip handles them.”

Merlin sighed lightly. “You're cruel but that's actually a very good idea.”

Arthur grinned at him victoriously. All they had to do was to plan everything in detail.

Merlin and Arthur engaged Percival, Gilli and Galahad in their plan. After Sir Lionel's departure, Sir Galahad found himself a new role model in Sir Percival. Since then he grew into a knight that Arthur always hoped he could be.

When everything was ready, Merlin and Arthur started out their trip, leaving prince Philip in charge of Camelot. They finally had a few days off only for themselves and it was a pleasant change.

Merlin used his magic to disguise their identities, so no one could recognise them. They were spending most of the time outside, arriving at the taverns in the evening, where they were spending the night, and then continuing their journey in the morning. No one was paying them much attention, as they were cautious enough to always take a room with two beds. For others they were just two travellers who minded their own business.

At the end of their planned journey, Merlin and Arthur decided to visit Nemeth. When they reached the capital of the kingdom, Merlin lifted the spell that was giving them their perfect disguise. After that they were recognised and they got easily to the castle.

Mithian and Leon greeted them with open arms. They had a lot of subjects to discuss, especially those that concerned Philip. Arthur explained his plan to them, and although Mithian was a bit worried about it, they all agreed that it was a perfect way to find out how Philip dealt with difficult cases. However, they all were aware that it wasn't the end of their efforts. They still planned to continue preparing him for his future reign and to work on these traits of his character that still required it.

“One kingdom is a great responsibility but two kingdoms just seem impossible, especially for such a young man,” said Mithian, sighing. “I know that I shouldn't have doubts right now but I can't help it. Philip is my son after all.”

Leon squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “There's no need to worry, my dear. Charlotte will be supporting him when we're gone,” he told her.

Mithian smiled lightly and nodded. “You're right,” she said.

“Besides, me and Merlin don't leave Camelot yet,” Arthur assured her, changing his initial plan instantly. “I will stay longer than I planned, giving Philip time to adjust to the new responsibilities, and supporting him where he still needs it.”

“Thank you, Arthur,” said Mithian and hugged him tightly.

I should thank you for agreeing to my insane plan all those years ago,” murmured Arthur.

They all laughed at his words and the tension that surrounded them lessened greatly.

 


 

Eventually Merlin and Arthur returned to Camelot. It took them longer than they intended to but the castle was still standing and everything around them seemed to be in perfect order.

Philip was clearly relieved when he saw them. His face was paler than before but aside from that he looked fine.

“How are you feeling?” Arthur asked him when they were left in the throne room only with Merlin and Percival at their sides.

“I'm tired,” he admitted sheepishly. “Ruling requires so much attention to details. That's unbelievable.”

“In time you'll get used to it,” Arthur assured him hastily.

Philip paled a bit more. “But you're not leaving yet, uncle?” he asked hopefully.

Arthur smiled at that. “Not so soon,” he assured him. “And I told you that you can call me Arthur. You're a grown man now.”

“That's sort of a habit,” he said.

Arthur nodded. “You can go have some rest,” he told him. “You deserve it.”

“But you've just returned,” Philip protested. “You should take some rest first.”

“There's no need for that,” Arthur said. “I had plenty of time to rest during last week. You need it more than I do.”

Philip nodded, clearly relieved. “Thank you,” he said and went straight to his chambers.

Then Arthur glanced expectantly at Percival. “How did it go?” he asked.

The knight smiled lightly. “Not bad. Better than I expected,” he admitted.

“Details, Percival. We want to hear some details,” Merlin spoke suddenly and Arthur supported him with a short nod.

Percival told them how seriously Philip approached all his tasks and how engaged he was in people's problems. It was an impressing tale.

“Everything would be perfect if he wasn't so worried constantly,” Percival added at the end. “He needs to learn to let go sometimes. King can't take care of everything. He's surrounded by people who can be assigned to various tasks. He needs to learn to divide these duties.”

“Philip wanted to prove that he's worthy of Camelot,” murmured Arthur. “I appreciate his efforts but we'll have to work on balance in it all.”

“That's what I thought,” said Percival.

“Thank you for your help,” Arthur told him, nodding approvingly.

Percival smiled at that and left them alone. When the door closed behind him, Merlin pulled Arthur into a tight embrace. “I'm glad that we stay in Camelot,” he murmured. “Philip still needs you and you're not so old yet.”

Arthur pulled away and asked him with a raised eyebrow, “Old?”

Merlin laughed a bit. “There is some grey hair on your head,” he explained.

“On yours too,” replied Arthur defiantly.

“That's your fault,” Merlin accused him teasingly. “I'm constantly worried about you.”

“You shouldn't.”

“I can't help it.”

Then they kissed shortly. “You need to talk to Philip when he's rested,” said Merlin in a more serious tone. “As far as I know him, he won't stop thinking about things that he could have done better. Percival is right. He needs to learn to let go.”

“I know,” muttered Arthur. “I was exactly the same.”

Merlin nodded. “You wanted to impress Uther all the time,” he said. “Even when he was wrong.”

“But then I met you and you made me want to follow my own path,” said Arthur, smiling.

“You never thanked me for that.”

“I'm better with action than with words,” he said and grabbed Merlin's hand. “Let's go to our chambers. No one will disturb us there.”

“You are impossible, Arthur Pendragon,” murmured Merlin but followed him gladly.

 


 

Time went by and Philip slowly learnt how to find balance between being the ruler and being himself. It resulted in more grey hair on Arthur's head but he was certain that it was worth it. Besides, one day Merlin was going to reverse that.

Arthur deemed Philip ready to become king of Camelot but he could tell that the young man hoped for more lessons and advice. Since he and Merlin had plenty of time, there was no need to rush.

“One more year,” he said to Merlin one evening. “I'll tell Philip that we'll stay in Camelot one more year.”

Merlin kissed him shortly and said, “You've made a good decision. In this way he'll have time to get used to it and to adjust.”

The year went by quicker than they thought. It was a year full of hard work for all of them and Arthur started looking forward to the day when he and Merlin were going to leave. The truth was that he was tired. At this point he was a king for a longer period of time than he wasn't. The desire to be just Arthur, an ordinary man, had never been so strong.

“You'll never be an ordinary man,” Merlin told him when he voiced his reflections.

“Maybe, but I want to be just Arthur with you by my side,” he murmured.

“Soon,” Merlin promised him and pulled him closer. “We'll have it all sooner than you think.”

 


 

Finally the day of Arthur's abdication and Philip's coronation came. The people of Camelot were sad to let their beloved king go but they believed that Arthur deserved it. His reign was long and prosperous, and Philip was a worthy successor.

The representation of Nemeth was present during the ceremony. After all, it was an important day for both kingdoms. Although Mithian and Leon were still going to rule Nemeth, Philip was their son and heir, and the union between Camelot and Nemeth was getting stronger on this day.

Arthur and Merlin were leaving Camelot on the next day. The feast after Philip's coronation was both a celebration and a goodbye. It felt good to be surrounded by the people they loved and respected, but they made up their mind already. Nothing could last forever, and watching their friends growing older and older and then dying would be unbelievably painful. Arthur was certain that they had made the right decision.

He hated saying goodbye to Percival, who was an old man now. The knight had become his dear friend and advisor during all these years. Moreover, he devoted a big piece of his life to training young knights of Camelot. Arthur was certain that he was going to continue it as long as he had enough strength in his old limbs to hold a sword.

The hardest thing for Merlin was leaving Gilli behind. His friend had become a great physician and he started his own family in Camelot. He got married along the way and lived with his wife and their two daughters, training them to become physicians in the future. Fortunately for Camelot, they didn't seem to mind it and they were quite gifted in that field.

“It's funny that Arthur was jealous of me all these years ago,” said Gilli when they were saying their goodbyes.

“That was insane,” murmured Merlin.

“Was it?” asked Gilli and leaned down to peck the corner of his mouth.

“Gilli!” yelled Merlin, both surprised and amused. He glanced worryingly at Arthur, whose face turned red from anger. “You're married.”

“You too,” he replied. “I just wanted to make Arthur jealous this one more time. At least now he has a valid reason.”

“You're unbelievable, just like Arthur,” said Merlin. “I'm going to miss you.”

“Me too,” Gilli admitted and pulled him into a tight embrace.

Merlin shed more than a few tears during that evening.

 


 

When they were leaving Camelot early in the morning, Arthur had a feeling that he was leaving his kingdom in good hands. Philip had been ready to become king for a very long time and finally he got an official title. Arthur was free to be whoever he wanted to be. He had Merlin by his side and that was the only thing that was important.

They headed straight to Ealdor where Merlin's mother still lived. Hunith was an aged woman now and she didn't have much time left in this world. Arthur understood that Merlin wanted to spend it with her. That was natural so Arthur was going to indulge him.

In the middle of their journey, Merlin lifted the spell that was making them age in a natural pace. The traces of years they spent in Camelot wore off in mere seconds and after a moment they were looking at their young, 30-year-old faces.

“Finally,” murmured Arthur and pulled Merlin into a heated kiss.

“Don't do it in front of my mother,” said Merlin when they pulled apart.

“I'm sure Hunith won't mind.”

“She won't but I will.”

They burst out laughing and once they calmed down, they continued their journey.

When they reached Ealdor, Hunith kissed and hugged both of them. At last she had them by her side.

“My sons,” she murmured happily. “You look so young.”

“I can make you younger too,” Merlin suggested.

“No, Merlin. I don't want people to gossip about it,” she told him. “But I would appreciate if you released me from some aches. I want to fully enjoy the time I still have with you.”

“As you wish, mother,” said Merlin and used his magic to free her from pains that were incidental to an old age.

“That's better,” she said, smiling. “I feel so much younger.”

“Because you are younger inside,” Merlin explained it to her.

“You are a wonderful man,” she said proudly.

“Yes, he is,” Arthur confirmed it, kissing him affectionately on his cheek.

 


 

They lived peacefully for a few years, helping Hunith in housework and helping other villagers in the fields. It was a quiet life, far from great politics and life-changing decisions.

The people of Ealdor got used to them, although at first they frowned upon the slightest display of mutual affection between them. However, no one said anything out loud. Ealdor was just like this. Its people respected hard work and once they realised that Merlin and Arthur were willing to work with them in the fields and in the woods, they accepted them the way they were.

The villagers were aware that Merlin was Hunith's son and that the fact that he was so young meant that there was some magic involved. They didn't mind it either, partially because magic was never banned in their kingdom, but mostly because Merlin was happy to heal people and help them with his magic.

No one was asking them awkward questions and Merlin was grateful for that.

Arthur wasn't sure if all inhabitants of Ealdor were aware of his background, but some of them must have suspected it. The tidings of king Arthur's abdication and king Philip's coronation eventually reached their village. It wasn't a secret before that Hunith's son used to be an important person in Camelot and that he was king's friend and advisor. It wasn't so difficult to come to the conclusion that this Arthur who was working with them in the fields was once a great king of Camelot.

The strangest thing was that the villagers seemed to keep this knowledge quiet. Arthur wasn't sure if it was just the way the people of Ealdor were or if Merlin's magic was involved in some way. When Arthur asked him about it one day, Merlin just smiled mysteriously at him and told him not to worry about it. During all these years he spent with Merlin, Arthur learnt to trust him in such cases.

Hunith had never been happier than these past few years of her life. She had Merlin and Arthur by her side and she could watch their happiness everyday. It was the greatest joy of mother's life to see her child being loved in return. She was glad that once she was gone, Merlin would still have Arthur to care for him. They had come across many obstacles in their lives and it was good to see them finally happy and free.

The day of her death had come eventually. She could sense it in the air but she didn't say Merlin a single word. She knew that her son would try to do something to postpone it in time, but she didn't want that. She had a long and meaningful life and she wanted to be finally reunited with Merlin's father. She couldn't be certain but she refused to believe that it wasn't possible. Merlin had told her once that he met his father when he was still a servant and that Balinor had died in his arms. Hunith was saddened by the news but she was grateful that at least they had a chance to learn about each other.

“I'm proud of you, Merlin,” she said in the evening and kissed him on the forehead.

“Where did it come from?” Merlin asked her casually.

“It was a good day and I wanted you to know about it,” she said and came up to Arthur to kiss him on the forehead too. “You are they joy of my life, boys, and I love you with my whole heart. Don't ever forget about it.”

Then she went to her bed to retire with conviction that she wasn't going to wake up in the morning. She just knew that it was her time.

“She was weird today,” murmured Merlin.

Arthur had some suspicions but he didn't share them with Merlin. He respected Hunith's decision to keep it from her son. He was very much aware how stubborn Merlin was when it came to saving those he loved. Apparently, Hunith didn't want to be magically kept alive. That was her decision and she had every right to make it.

“She's just a loving mother,” Arthur told him and pulled him into a kiss. “We should go to bed too.”

When in the morning Merlin found his mother dead, he was devastated.

“She knew it...” he mumbled. “You knew it!” he accused Arthur.

“I suspected that this day was close,” Arthur admitted sadly.

“I could have saved her...” Merlin murmured.

“Hunith didn't want that. She died peacefully in her sleep. It was her time,” said Arthur quietly.

“She could have stayed a little bit longer...”

“You would feel the same loss, Merlin. Prolonging her life wouldn't change it,” Arthur explained. “Deep down you know it's true.”

After a while Merlin nodded his head. “Hug me, please,” he whispered and Arthur complied willingly.

They buried Hunith in the evening in the presence of the whole village. It was a sad event but they all agreed that Hunith had a long and good life. It was somehow comforting.

Merlin and Arthur decided that it was their last night in Ealdor. After Hunith's death they had no reason to stay there any longer, so they agreed to start a new life somewhere else, where no one really knew them.

That night Arthur was making love to Merlin very gently, seeing to his every need and desire. Merlin was grateful for that and happy that Arthur was always going to be by his side.

At dawn they packed their things and started their new adventure. They didn't know where they were going but they knew that they would never be separated. It didn't matter where the road would take them as long as they were together.

Their future wasn't clear but Albion was going to need them one day. They would become the king and the sorcerer once again and they would fulfil their destiny. Until that day they were going to be just Merlin and Arthur, two men in love who defeated death and found a way to be together.



 

Chapter Text

1500 Years Later

One thousand and five hundred years was a great amount of time. Merlin and Arthur spent this insane number of years alive and together, accommodating to the changing times.

They had many adventures during that time but they tried to live as peacefully as they could. There were plenty of obstacles on their way, including the perception of their relationship by the society and the changing views on magic. It was a crazy ride but they finally reached the time where magic was long forgotten and where it was considered a myth. They were considered a myth too.

It had some pros and cons but they decided not to worry about it. Merlin could feel that there was as much magic in the world as it was before, however it was dormant. He had no doubts that it would be awakened one day. Nevertheless, until that time, he was going to have a reasonably normal life.

Fortunately, the type of Merlin and Arthur's relationship was no longer considered wrong, at least not in Albion or the United Kingdom as it was called these days. They could even legally get married, which they did, even though they considered themselves married to each other for the last 1500 years. Remarrying didn't change anything in their relationship but it somehow felt right. Finally, they didn't have to hide it from anyone and it was liberating.

Generally, they changed the place where they lived every few years, which was a bit tiring. If they really liked their home and wanted to stay somewhere longer, then they had to use magic to start ageing again, just like they did it in Camelot.

The small town in which they were living currently was one of such places. Their home was small but cosy, and they didn't really need anything else. Moreover, they liked their jobs and they made a few good friends in this town. Leaving the place out of the blue would be heartbreaking not only for them, but also for the people they considered friends.

They just wanted to spend their current lifetime there. Besides, the town was situated near the Lake of Avalon, which currently had a completely different name, and during all their lifetimes, they always liked staying near it. The Lake was one of the few places that was still full of magic, even though the rest of the world didn't seem to notice that.

It was also the place where Merlin changed their destiny and where their new lives had begun. It was natural that they were sentimental about it.

“Merlin,” mumbled Arthur in the middle of the night, sitting up on their bed instantly.

Merlin raised his head and looked at his husband, confused. “What's wrong, Arthur?” he asked.

“I had a strange dream,” he said.

“It was just a dream. Don't think about it,” murmured Merlin, hoping it was going to end this discussion.

Arthur shook his head. “It didn't feel like a dream. It felt important.”

Merlin was awakened completely by these words, as he learnt long ago not to ignore them. “What is it?” he asked, sitting up too.

Arthur glanced at him uncertainly. “I have a feeling that we should visit the Lake of Avalon,” he said.

“Now?”

“I don't know...” Arthur admitted. “I saw this girl that you loved all these years ago. It seemed that she wanted to tell me something.”

Merlin frowned. “You saw Freya in your dream?” he asked. “Are you sure it was her?”

“Yes, we visited her a few times,” Arthur reminded him.

I visited her and you followed me, despite my request not to,” Merlin told him. “You were so jealous of her.”

“I wasn't,” Arthur denied it instantly. “Besides does it matter now? I think she wants to see me.”

“Why would she want to see you?” Merlin just couldn't understand it.

“I have no idea but it felt important,” said Arthur.

Merlin sighed heavily. “All right,” he said and got up.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asked him.

“We're going to the Lake,” Merlin stated decisively.

“It's the middle of the night,” Arthur pointed out.

“I won't be able to sleep quietly now. Not until we find out what's going on,” he explained.

Arthur sighed inwardly but he knew that Merlin was right. It was better to check it as soon as possible.

“I didn't want to worry you,” murmured Arthur apologetically but he got up to dress himself too.

“I know.” Merlin sent him a small smile. “I hope it's nothing serious but if it has something to do with our destiny, then we shouldn't wait until morning.”

Arthur hesitated. “Do you think that it can concern our destiny?” he asked. “Albion seems quite safe now.”

“We need to go see Freya to find out,” said Merlin. Then he looked at Arthur and squeezed his shoulder to console him. “We're in this together.”

“Always,” replied Arthur and kissed his hand tenderly.

The road to the Lake of Avalon seemed impossibly long. When they finally found a place where Arthur could park their car, they felt strangely anxious.

“We should go,” murmured Merlin but did nothing to get out of their car.

Arthur glanced at him hesitantly. “It's probably nothing but if it's what we've been waiting for, I want you to know that...”

“We're not dying, Arthur,” Merlin interrupted him.

Arthur laughed nervously. “You're right but I mean what I want to say.” He sighed. “We have a wonderful life here and now but if our destiny is calling us right now, I only care about being with you. Nothing else matters. I don't care where we end up as long as we're there together.”

Merlin nodded silently. He felt the same.

“Let's go,” he murmured after a while and they finally got out of their car. “Our destiny is calling,” he half-joked.

The closer they were getting to the Lake of Avalon, the more nervous they were becoming.

The moon was high in the sky. The night seemed quiet but there was something unusual in the area around the Lake. The surroundings were too quiet for it to be natural. It was a bit disturbing.

When Merlin and Arthur finally reached the shore, they looked around. There was no living creature in sight.

“Perhaps it was just a dream,” murmured Merlin hopefully.

Before Arthur could say something, the water in the middle of the Lake rippled and the silhouette of a woman emerged from its depths.

“Freya,” whispered Merlin but the woman was not looking at him. Her gaze was completely focused on Arthur.

“It's time for the return of the Once and Future King,” she stated. “The time has come and your heart is finally cured, Arthur Pendragon. All you have to do is reach out for it.”

Freya looked down and Merlin and Arthur followed her gaze. They could see something glowing at the bottom of the Lake. It took them a moment but they eventually realised that it was a heart. Arthur's heart.

Merlin gulped. He was ready for many things but not for this. Arthur had a half of his heart beating in his chest and Merlin took this state of things for granted. His heart was keeping Arthur safe and immortal, and it always gave him comfort.

“What's going to happen now?” Merlin asked her.

For the first time during that night, Freya looked directly at Merlin. She smiled at him sadly and said, “We're not certain.”

“We?”

“The Sidhe have been awakened after a thousand-year-long slumber,” she explained. “I was sent by the Elders of Avalon to warn you and to offer the Once and Future King his heart. You all need to be ready for the dark times that are upon us.”

Merlin nodded silently but Arthur had more questions in mind. “You said that you're here to offer me my heart,” he said. “So I can refuse it?”

Freya looked at him seriously. “We can't make you do anything, Arthur Pendragon. You were supposed to die by Mordred's hand and you were meant to come back on this day.”

“You didn't answer my question,” Arthur pointed out stubbornly.

“The decision is yours. You can get your heart back and face the enemy as a man you used to be, or you can keep Merlin's heart and face your destiny on your own terms, as a man you aspire to be,” Freya explained it patiently.

“What about the consequences of my actions?” he asked.

“No matter which path you choose, the consequences are unknown,” she said. “You need to make the decision on your own.” Then she glanced at Merlin emphatically.

“I'll leave you to it,” he said, understanding what she meant right away.

Arthur raised his gaze to him. “Merlin, you don't have to...” he assured him hastily.

“It's better this way,” Merlin told him. “I'll wait for you in the car. Take your time.”

Then he walked away quickly. He didn't want Arthur to see the tears in his eyes.

Arthur watched him walking away with a heavy heart.

“I believe you've made up your mind already,” Freya said quietly when Merlin was gone. “Do what you must.”

Arthur looked at her and nodded. She seemed to understand his reasons and it was reassuring.

 


 

Merlin was waiting for him outside their car. He seemed small and afraid. Arthur's heart was aching at the sight.

“Merlin,” he whispered.

His husband raised his gaze and looked at him worryingly.

“Would you like to have your heart back?” Arthur asked him quietly.

Merlin glanced at his hand in which he was holding something, most likely the half of his heart.

“I'll take it if you don't need it anymore,” he said, trying to sound neutral but failing.

“You know that I love you no matter what,” Arthur told him in a trembling voice. “You can't doubt it after everything we went through.”

“I don't doubt it,” Merlin assured him with sadness written all over his face. “That's not what worries me.” Then he took a deep breath. “Can I have my heart back so we can move forward and focus on what destiny prepared for us?” he asked and pulled his hand out to get the half of his heart from Arthur.

“Merlin... you're such an idiot sometimes,” said Arthur and revealed what he was holding in his hand. It wasn't a heart. It was a pile of ashes.

Merlin looked Arthur in the eye and asked, “What is it?”

“It used to be my old heart but I crushed it,” he admitted.

Merlin gasped at his words. “How could you do something so stupid?” he asked in disbelief. “You were meant to get your heart back to fulfil your destiny...”

“It wasn't my heart for a very long time, Merlin,” Arthur told him. “The best things that happened to me happened when I had your heart beating in my chest.”

“But your destiny...”

“I don't need my old heart to fulfil my destiny. The half of your heart is more than enough.” Arthur's voice was so decisive and certain that it made Merlin shudder.

“You didn't want to leave me,” murmured Merlin, understanding.

“I couldn't imagine leaving you behind,” Arthur confirmed his suspicions. “It's not about keeping myself safe. It's about keeping both of us sane. We live together and if it comes to it, we'll die together one day too.”

Merlin could no longer hold his tears. It all was just too much.

“I thought I was going to lose you,” he admitted, sobbing.

Arthur took him into his arms and pressed his forehead to Merlin's.

“You will never lose me, Merlin,” Arthur promised. “I am yours and you are mine. Nothing can keep us apart.”

“Something evil is coming but I'm no longer afraid,” Merlin whispered eventually. “Together we're invincible.”

Arthur hummed with agreement. “Do you think that our destiny can wait until tomorrow?” The tone of his voice was a bit suggestive.

Merlin kissed him in response. They didn't know what kind of danger was coming but together they could face it and win.

After all, every heartbeat they shared made them stronger.

 


 

The End