The first time it happens, Merlin wants to rip his eyeballs out with a rusty spoon.
Gaius smiles at the visitor keenly, a quite frankly unexplainable amount of satisfaction resting upon his eyebrow. Merlin has never seen the stranger before but he has lived with Gaius long enough to know that there are only a few things that can bring about that particular eyebrow. The first is hearing words of apology slip from Uther’s mouth. The second, a more common occurrence, is when the physician manages to cure someone from the absolute brink of death.
And the third – well, now Merlin knows what it is. He wants to throw up. Gaius has just had sex.
The old man is not exactly his father but he might as well be. Somehow, it would have been better if Gaius had been his father – at least that way, Merlin would have grown to live with the idea of him having sex, at some point – considering that sex would have been necessary to bring Merlin into the world. But because he was not, and he was Gaius, Merlin had idiotically convinced himself that, in his old age, in his unmarried state, his uncle had never been intimate in that way with anyone, ever. In fact, Merlin liked to believe that Gaius had never even been naked before, or even shirtless.
As his uncle bids the gentleman goodbye, robe on backwards and hair sticking up at all angles, Merlin ducks back behind the corner and takes a deep breath, willing the moment to be only a figment of his overactive imagination. He’d had an exhausting morning – Arthur had wanted to train with the mace and apparently Merlin was the only suitable moving target – so perhaps, in his weariness, he had imagined the nausea-inducing situation. After all, it was only nearly midday. Who in their right mind has a secret affair at midday?
When he peeks back around the corner, Gaius is closing the door and the man is slipping away. Merlin swallows bile, tries not to think of Gaius naked, and sets off in the opposite direction. He will skip lunch today, he decides. He is not hungry.
“What’s got you all out of sorts, then?” Arthur asks, after he has fulfilled his morning quota of insulting Merlin. He shovels his breakfast into his mouth, one giant mouthful at a time. It is almost mesmerizing, the animalistic-yet-rhythmic way he eats. Merlin finds himself staring at the curve of his upper lip, mostly out of self-preservation. He can’t bear to think right now about the night before.
“Come on, Merlin, you’re acting even more dumb than usual,” Arthur complains when Merlin doesn’t answer. “You look like you’ve seen another dead unicorn.”
“Worse,” Merlin answers. “I’ve seen Gaius naked.”
“What?” Arthur asks, bits of egg streaming out of the corner of his mouth.
“Well it wasn’t like I wanted to,” Merlin says. “I just wanted a drink of water, and when I walked downstairs –”
Arthur chuckles. “Come on, Merlin, have you never seen a naked man before? It’s not like it’s a crime for him to undress in his own rooms.”
“You don’t understand, sire.” Merlin moves away from the table and begins making Arthur’s bed. “He wasn’t naked alone.”
Some recognition dawns Arthur’s face. “Oh,” he says, a smirk working its way across his lips. “A companion, I take it?”
“It’s the second one this week,” Merlin says. “The second one I’ve seen, anyways.”
Arthur laughs. “I guess he’s still got it in him, then, doesn’t he?”
Merlin violently pulls the sheets straight. “It isn’t funny, Arthur, you’re not the one who had to see him in all his glory.” He gestures downwards, between his legs, to accentuate the point. Arthur’s gaze follows his hands and stays there for perhaps a second longer than friendly.
They both freeze for a moment, but then it passes, and if Arthur doesn’t quite meet Merlin’s eyes it’s only because Merlin is a servant and doesn’t deserve the gaze of a Crown Prince.
“He’s a man, Merlin,” Arthur says at last. Merlin watches him swallow, his Adam’s apple bopping slightly. “He has… needs. Just like you or I.”
“I know that!” Merlin’s voice rises in pitch. “I just wish I didn’t have to see it!”
Arthur just laughs again, and Merlin throws a pillow at his head. It lands on his breakfast instead, and Merlin will have to clean it, but he feels better, anyways.
Later, as he is helping the Prince get dressed, Arthur asks, “Were they… you know.” He gestures in a vaguely circular motion with his hand. “In the middle of it, when you came down?”
“They were asleep,” Merlin says through gritted teeth. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Arthur just shrugs and looks at the ceiling, another smirk on his pretty face, and Merlin puts the entire encounter out of his mind. This will be the last time, he’s sure.
When the third time inevitably comes, Merlin is almost resigned to his fate.
Honestly, what is beginning to bother him now is how many men Gaius seems to have hanging around waiting for him when Merlin can’t even get one. He hasn’t gotten laid once since he came to Camelot, a move which some part of his adolescent mind was certain would open his options for romance, if not a couple rolls in the hay.
Ealdor didn’t exactly have a large population of willing young men, when it came down to it. Apparently, Camelot does, for Gaius.
This time, he doesn’t even have the blessing of being a silent witness.
“Gaius,” Merlin says as he opens the door to their rooms, “have you seen my –”
He stops. Geoffrey, Keeper of the Royal Library, thankfully mostly covered by a sheet, looks up from Gaius’s bed in the corner, while Gaius himself looks up from under him. They are covered in a sheen of sweat and Merlin can see their hairy legs tangled at the foot of the bed, Gaius’s arms wrapped around Geoffrey’s torso, and a dark purple bruise forming on Geoffrey’s neck.
“Right then – I’ll just –”
Merlin turns, leaves the room, and slams the door behind him. Then, he throws up.
Only five days have passed since Merlin had walked down to discover his uncle’s last bed companion. Merlin is beginning to wonder if Gaius has always had this many men hanging about, or if something had set this off. Perhaps Merlin has just been particularly unlucky this week.
Merlin cleans the mess he made with magic and takes off towards Arthur’s quarters. If the prince is already asleep, Merlin can lie down on the floor by the fire and sleep there. He’ll wake up before Arthur even has a chance to know – he’s the one who usually wakes the giant prat up, anyways, so he won’t notice a difference.
However, luck still isn’t on his side, and as soon as he opens the door to Arthur’s room’s, Arthur is awake and pestering him.
“Did you forget something, Merlin?” he asks, holding back a yawn. “Perhaps your pride? Sense of dignity? I’m afraid you won’t find them here.”
“Um – I just wanted to make sure I had put out the candles, sire,” Merlin lies, glancing about the room.
“Well, you did,” Arthur says, and waits for Merlin to leave. He doesn’t.
“What is it, Merlin?” he asks after a moment.
“Gaius is – well, you know he’s – um – I didn’t want to disturb him.” Merlin gestures to the spot by the fire that he had been intending to pass out on. “It’s probably best for everyone if I just sleep here for the night. We have an early day tomorrow anyways, so it’ll be easier –”
“Merlin.” Merlin stops talking and glances up at him. “What was Gaius doing?”
“Well, if you must know, he was,” Merlin makes the same gesture he had before, a sweeping gesture towards his own legs. “You know. Naked, With someone else. And, um, awake this time.”
“So you came here to bother me about it?” Arthur asks. “You do realize that you’re my servant, not the other way around?”
“What was I supposed to do?” Merlin asks. “Walk right past him and up to my bedroom? Don’t mind me, guys, I’m just going to bed! Carry on doing what you’re doing! Great technique!”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but obviously sees his point, due to his lack of response. Merlin thinks that perhaps this was a stupid idea, considering that Arthur is actually the Crown Prince of Camelot, the Once and Future King, and pretty much such an all-around dollophead that refuses to see reason of any kind when it comes to being nice to Merlin.
“Oh, come on then,” Arthur says at last. “We might as well share the bed. It’s big enough.”
Merlin feels his skin heat and he shakes his head, fast. “No! No, I’ll just sleep on the couch or the floor.”
“Don’t be such a girl, Merlin. It’s just a bed. We’ve slept closer on hunting trips before in my tent.”
“But Arthur –”
They are both too tired for this argument and the things that lie underneath it. Merlin nods, removes his shoes and trousers, and climbs into bed.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Merlin says, as soon as he sees the fatherly look in Gaius’s eyes.
“We’re going to have to discuss it at some point, Merlin,” Gaius says, eating a spoonful of stew.
“No, we do not.” Merlin smiles uncomfortably. “I don’t want to know, I don’t care, and I don’t ever want to see it again. Are we clear?”
“Merlin, I understand that it may be difficult for you to process, but you have to accept that I am a man with certain needs.”
Merlin stands up, leaving his half-uneaten lunch and any innocence he had left about Gaius’s sex life on the table. “I’ve got to go attend to Arthur! See you this evening!”
He can almost hear Gaius’s eyebrow quirk but before the man can respond, Merlin is out the door. He had managed to avoid his uncle for two whole days and nights, aided in that endeavor by Arthur, who had shown a small amount of compassion by ordering the manservant to go hunting with him in the woods.
It’s not that Merlin cares that Gaius is having sex, or that Gaius is having sex with men. He doesn’t even care that Gaius is having sex with several men – he just regretted that he’d had to see it. The entire situation is completely beyond his opinion of Gaius, as far as Merlin is concerned. The man had been his mentor and his only source of any sanity ever since Merlin had come to Camelot over two years previous. If there was one person that made sense in the entirety of the land, it was Gaius. So if he wanted to have a little fun with a few men, well, that was gross, but Merlin certainly didn’t care.
The good news is that Merlin doesn’t have long to dwell on the problem, because as he is walking to Arthur’s rooms, the bell tower rings out.
Without a thought, Merlin takes off in a sprint towards his destination, unsure of what was happening but sure that, as always, Arthur would end up tangled within it. As he runs down the hallway, a maid trips down a staircase to the right of him, gasping for life.
“Spider,” she says breathlessly, in a vaguely warning tone, then sets off down the hall.
Merlin shrugs, gathers himself, and runs up the staircase. He nearly trips; the steps are covered in some kind of white residue which pulls from his boots with a sticky sort of resistance. Merlin soon realizes that the walls are covered in the stuff, too – in fact, there are a few thin white strands inching across the ceiling, hanging just low enough to stick uncomfortably to his hair and clothes.
He has a sneaking suspicion that the maid wasn’t just afraid of a garden-variety arachnid.
The higher the staircase ascends, the darker it gets, until Merlin is essentially blindly walking down the staircase at the top, his own shallow breathing the only sound he can hear. This was probably a bad idea, he thinks, and keeps walking. That’s when he sees Arthur.
The Prince is covered in white: small, strong strands of the stuff wrap around his body so tightly and so fully that Merlin can’t even see the skin of his arms. Even his mouth is taped shut with it, although his nose is free and his blue eyes are sharp and looking directly at Merlin. Merlin feels his heart leap at the sight of Arthur so helpless. He runs over and begins pulling at the strands that Merlin is now certain is part of a web. Arthur is the prey, caught like a bug waiting for the spider to return and eat Arthur as breakfast.
Suddenly Arthur stiffens, as much as he can within the web, and his eyes fix on something down the hall. Merlin knows without looking that they’ve run out of time.
The spider is impossibly giant. Its legs stretch up onto the walls and its head trails along the ceiling, close to bursting out of the castle walls. Eight golden eyes shine above its giant dripping fangs. Legs shaking, Merlin stands in front of Arthur, holding his hand outstretched towards the creature.
Something sounding incredibly like a whimper escapes from Arthur’s cocoon and Merlin realizes the prince is scared.
Calm resolve overcomes him. He has never let anything harm Arthur before, not if he could help it. Whatever it takes, Merlin will save him. There is not a life that Merlin wants to live if Arthur is not there beside him.
“Sorry, Arthur,” Merlin says, glancing backwards once last time. He turns back towards the spider and lets his eyes flash golden.
The creature rears back, legs losing their grip slipping down the walls. As it tries to stand back up, Merlin turns around and severs the web holding Arthur to the wall with a spell, catching him roughly before he tumbles to the ground. The moment Arthur’s hand is free he grabs his sword and ushers Merlin out of the way, slashing at the creature which had finally gained on them again, all eight of its legs shuttering angrily. It slashes at them both, teeth catching on Arthur’s sleeve and tearing it open, leaving a thin red line down his shoulder.
Merlin conjures a ball of light, hoping to help Arthur see the creature better, and as he does, the thing rears back again, just as if it had been struck. Its eyes cloud over and its body shudders.
“More light, Merlin!” Arthur shouts.
“Wow, really? I thought I’d just turn it all off and let us sit here and get eaten in the dark,” Merlin yells back.
In the end he sets the giant thing on fire, and it does the trick: a giant shriek escapes its mouth and it crumbles downwards once more, heat engulfing its limbs until the creature is no longer visible. It burns for a few moments, then disappears. No body is left behind.
When the heavy breathing is over and the immediate danger is gone, Merlin realizes what he has done.
“Um –” he says, looking over at Arthur, who is glaring at him with a new kind of rage Merlin had never quite seen before. “Is there any way I can convince you that you didn’t actually see any of that?”
“Merlin, you absolutely idiotic, blundering, half-wit!” Arthur yells. “Do you have any idea what-”
Before he finishes the sentence, knights run up the stairs, swords drawn. They stop as they reach the top, seeing the two of them.
“I’ll deal with you later,” Arthur says thunderously, pointing at him. Merlin can already feel the flame of the pyre waiting with his name on it.
While Arthur is swept away by his father, Merlin escorts himself to the Prince’s quarters and sits despondently at the table, waiting for his inevitable arrest. He considers leaving only briefly: Camelot is where he belongs, execution order or not. This way, if he stays, he will have a chance to tell Arthur the truth – the whole truth. Things will never be the same, but perhaps he won’t have him killed.
No, Merlin will only leave when Arthur sends him away – whether that’s to death or not.
The knights never come though, and when the door does open it is Arthur, looking worn out and exhausted. Merlin stares at him from where he sits, unsure of what to say or do now that so much is out in the open that was never meant to be.
“Don’t just sit there, you simpleton,” Arthur says after a moment. “Help me out of these clothes.”
Merlin’s hands shake as he unlaces Arthur’s shirt and strips it off him. He examines the wound on his shoulder, taking his time as he dresses the wound, using supplies he keeps within Arthur’s quarters because of how many times he is stupidly, impossibly injured.
“I know you have magic,” Arthur says quietly, watching Merlin’s hands as they wrap a gauze around Arthur’s arm.
“When did you figure it out?” Merlin asks sarcastically. “When I freed you from the magic web or when I set the giant spider on fire?”
He pulls a bit too hard on the gauze and Arthur glares at him. Apologetically, he pulls it loose again and ties it off.
“Actually, I knew a year ago.” Merlin freezes and looks up at him. “Oh come on, Merlin, there’s only so many times that an object can strategically fall or something can conveniently catch on fire. You weren’t exactly hiding it that well, whispering spells two feet from me.”
“You knew?” Merlin steps back. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“At first, I just wanted to see your intentions,” Arthur shrugs. “Pretty soon I found out you were just an idiot trying to protect me.”
“Trying?” Merlin scoffs. “All I’ve done is protect you!”
“At what cost?” Arthur asks. His mouth is a thin hard line and his eyes show a year’s worth of worrying. “Do you have any idea how many times I have lied to save you? Do you even have a clue how obvious you are?”
“Why don’t you just turn me in, then?” Merlin asks. This is the actual question he has wanted to ask from the moment the spider died. “Why don’t you just get rid of me and be done with it?”
“Merlin, do you really think I’m going to have my father kill the person who’s been keeping me alive?” Arthur rolls his eyes. “I wanted you to tell me. I wanted you to trust me enough to tell me. Instead you’ve just been some buffoon risking your life nearly every day! Honestly, what were you thinking when you decided it was a good idea to tether yourself to the Prince of Camelot?”
“I didn’t really have much of a choice, did I?”
“You need to be more careful,” Arthur insists. “Anyone could have seen that show you put on today and then I would’ve been forced –”
“What, forced to kill me?” Merlin nearly shouts. “Forced to watch me burn at the stake? The same way I’ve watched hundreds of people be persecuted and executed just for existing?”
“That wasn’t my fault, Merlin. It was hard enough trying to keep you safe. Anything more than I did would have revealed you.” Arthur reaches out towards Merlin and puts a hand on his shoulder. “You protected me, so I protected you. And you didn’t make it easy.”
“Well, sorry, for inconveniencing you. I’ll just go and protect some other clotpole, shall I? Leave you to be eaten by giant spiders and the like?”
“I just meant – Merlin, look at me.” Merlin stills and forces himself to meet Arthur’s eyes. “I just meant that for all you’ve done to save me, it was only fair of me to protect you. And I couldn’t - I didn’t want to see you hurt.”
Merlin doesn’t quite know what to say, now that his life has been turned on its head. Not only is Gaius bedding random men, but Arthur has known about his magic the whole time. He feels vaguely like some village idiot, like the only person left out of the riot in the tavern. He feels like a fool.
“May I take the day off, sire?” Merlin asks. He knows it is a low blow to call Arthur by the title, but the formality is something that he needs, now.
Arthur’s eyes narrow. “I haven’t turned you in thus far and I’m not going to start now, so if you’re thinking of running-”
“No!” Merlin interrupts. “No, I just. I need some time. Please, Arthur.”
Arthur’s lips soften. “Alright,” he says at last. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Merlin leaves and heads towards Gaius’s chambers because despite the series of men and the awkwardness, Merlin needs someone to talk to, someone who can explain to him how his life suddenly got to be so simple and yet so complicated in one fatal swoop. He is hopeful that Gaius can do that for him.
Some part of him realizes that he should be overjoyed that Arthur will not execute him – and perhaps, part of him is. More than anything, though, he is embarrassed, and more than a little nervous. If Arthur had always known, who else had figured it out?
When he gets to Gaius’s rooms, though, he opens the door, and he really isn’t even surprised when all he sees is Gaius standing with his robes hitched up, his head thrown back, and a man at his knees in front of him, head bowed and cheeks hollow.
“Augh!” Merlin closes the door. Part of him wishes he had never left Ealdor, that he had never told Arthur off for being a giant prat that first day. He wishes he hadn’t been pretending to be something that he wasn’t for two years, and that he hadn’t grown fond of Arthur along the way. He wishes he could leave without feeling as though he would be ripped in two.
He wanders until he’s found himself outside of the castle walls, heading towards the empty clearing, and beyond, the forest. He just keeps walking, until it has grown dark, and there is nothing left to think about, except to think that maybe he cares a bit too much about what Arthur thinks of him, and to wonder if Arthur could ever feel even close to the same way about Merlin.
He’s been protecting you out of duty, Merlin reminds himself. He’s been keeping your secret because he thinks you’re a brave idiot, and can’t bear to see his favorite pet sorcerer go.
The day passes slowly and Merlin thinks perhaps he should return to the castle, but he can’t quite make the climb to Gaius’s rooms, can’t quite imagine seeing him now, after all the times he’s seen him vulnerable and in the midst of something intimate. He can’t go to Arthur’s either – not after so suddenly having his secret thrust out into the open.
So instead he goes to the stables and crawls into a spare piece of hay, freezing and lonely.
Arthur finds him sometime later, shivering so violently he can’t even see straight.
“You’re such a girl, Merlin,” he complains as he brings the servant to his feet and drags him towards the castle. “Wallowing out here in self-pity like some kind of animal. Honestly, I’m not sure why Gaius and I even bother to keep track of you anymore.”
They end up once again in Arthur’s room, and Merlin crosses over to the fireplace, trying in vain to light it with a flint.
“Just do the spell,” Arthur says tiredly. “There’s no use pretending anymore.”
So Merlin sighs and his eyes flash golden. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you,” he says after a moment of watching the fire. “I wanted to – you have no idea how much I wanted to.”
Arthur sits beside him. “I know,” he says simply. “I wouldn’t have had you killed, though, you idiot.”
“I wasn’t worried about that,” Merlin admits. “I thought you would send me away.”
Arthur shrugs. “You are, without a doubt, the worst servant I’ve ever had,” he says with a smirk. “But, you’re also the only one I’ve ever called a friend.”
Merlin feels a bit raw, like everything is exposed and the next move he makes will reveal whatever secrets he has left. Merlin wants to say, I’ve been protecting you because Camelot needs you, and I’ll keep doing it even if you ask me not to. He wants to say that I did it because even though you’re a cabbagehead, I can’t help but think that you’re the bravest man I’ve ever known.
Instead, he says, “You’ve been taking credit for all my achievements on purpose, haven’t you? Just wanted all the glory, I bet.”
Arthur laughs and claps Merlin on the shoulder. “You’re my servant, which means everything you do is something I have to take credit for.”
“What a gigantic prat.” Merlin shakes his head and leans into Arthur’s hand, still on his shoulder. “You get to be the hero while I do all the work.”
“Merlin,” Arthur says, and he is serious again, and something stirs in Merlin’s chest. “Someday, when I am King, you will get credit for everything you have done for me. I can promise you that.”
If, that night, when they sleep on Arthur’s bed, they end up a bit closer together than strictly appropriate, then neither one of them mentions it the next morning as they prepare for the day together.
By the time Merlin has made it to the physician’s quarters the next morning he is very nearly in a good mood again. After all, now that he has thought about it he realizes that a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Hiding his magic from Arthur had been a source of constant trouble to him – now, he will still have to hide it, but it will be easier.
He knocks this time before opening the door – nothing can teach him that lesson faster than walking in on Gaius four different times in such a short period. There’s no response, though, so he opens it cautiously, only to find the room empty, the bed quietly made in the corner and the room looking neat and tidy.
“Gaius?” he calls, then shrugs, figuring the man had been called away on some errand.
He goes up to his room, changes his clothes (from the red shirt and the blue neckerchief to the blue shirt and the red neckerchief) and then sets off looking for Gaius, eager to tell him the events of the previous morning.
He hears word that the court physician is attending to the King from some of the other servants, so he makes his way up to the hallway outside of the King’s rooms, intending to wait for Gaius to emerge. The guards that usually await outside the doors are uncharacteristically absent, so Merlin doesn’t make any excuse for his loitering and instead just looks out a nearby window, biding his time.
Merlin stands straight and regards the door to the King’s quarters. No other sound emerges, though, so he figures that perhaps they had gotten into an argument of some kind. It wasn’t unusual for the King to yell at the physician – it wasn’t really unusual for him to yell at anybody. In general, Uther was sort of an angry person so you could come to expect him to yell quite a lot.
He begins to get worried though, when he hears a moan and the sound of furniture crashing. Had an intruder broken in? There were no guards in front of the door, and Merlin had no idea how long they had been away.
He moves closer to the door, listening for any signs of distress. As he gets closer, he begins to hear panting and slapping noises – sure sounds of a struggle.
Without a second thought, he inches open the door – only to see –
There is, in the antechamber to King Uther’s quarters, a rather-royal looking desk. He takes appointments there often, and important-looking papers frequently sit upon it, awaiting the King’s approval. Merlin has seen it just a few times when he steps in for one of the King’s manservants or when accompanying Gaius on a health visit.
He never thought, however, that he would have the particular misfortune of seeing King Uther’s Royal Highness bent over it, his arse sticking out towards none other than Merlin’s own uncle. They are both naked, except for the gleaming crown still on Uther’s head. Gaius has one hand on the King’s waist and the other around his neck, holding him in place as he thrusts forward, a wicked grin on his face.
Merlin stares, dumbfounded and disgusted beyond the astral realm. Uther whispers Gaius’s name, to which Gaius responds by snaking a hand underneath him, grasping at the royal, wrinkly cock of King Uther of Camelot, and Merlin is absolutely certain that he is going to faint.
He slams the door, certain that Gaius at least saw him but too distraught to deal with the aftermath, and runs as far as he can get, rubbing at his eyes and wishing more than ever that Gaius was the virgin that Merlin had always believed him to be. He runs until he runs directly into Arthur, who looks like he’s just returned from the training grounds.
“Ah, good!” Arthur says cheerfully, catching him by the elbow and forcing him to turn around. “You’re back.”
“Arthur,” Merlin says breathlessly. “You will never believe what I just saw.”
Arthur wants to rip his eyes out with a rusty spoon.
“He was wearing his crown?” he clarifies, putting his hands over his eyes.
“I’m afraid so,” Merlin says.
“And Gaius was -“
Arthur doesn’t have the strength to finish the sentence, but he makes a vague hand gesture to which Merlin nods, uncomfortably. They are standing along the rampart of the castle. It is midday already, but cold, and the wind keeps fiddling with Merlin’s neckerchief and making Arthur’s cloak extend majestically behind him.
“Why’d you have to tell me? Couldn’t you keep this unfortunate revelation to yourself?” Arthur says after a moment.
“I had to tell someone or else it would keep replaying in my head all day,” Merlin says. “It was either you or the dragon and I figured the dragon wouldn’t be any help.”
“The dragon?” Arthur asks, and Merlin grins.
“So there are some things you still don’t know about me!”
“Tell me, then,” Arthur demands. “Or I’ll order you back to my fathers quarters.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Merlin gasps. He decides to tell him anyway.
So they talk about prophecies and destiny and dragons and dragon lords, and the druids, and Emrys, and the once and future king. And it’s almost tedious, telling Arthur everything, but in another way it is freeing.
“You’re telling me that it’s my destiny to have your bony arse follow me around for the rest of my life?” Arthur asks at the end of it.
“Not just this life,” Merlin says. “The next one, too. Forever, it seems.”
Merlin sees Arthur’s face and quickly assures, “I know there are people you’d rather be with forever, but - it won’t be so bad, right?”
Arthur is looking past Merlin, towards a window. “Who else do you suppose I’d want to spend lifetimes with?” he asks vaguely.
“I don’t know.” Merlin looks down into the courtyard, spotting Guinevere, carrying a bucket of water towards her home. “Gwen, I suppose?”
“She’s nice enough,” Arthur agrees. “But I can’t spend eternity with someone I’m not allowed to make fun of.”
“No,” Merlin agrees. “And who would polish your armour?”
“Someone who was actually good at it, probably,” Arthur grumbles, but smiles. Merlin knows he does not mean it.
“I guess I still don’t understand one thing,” Merlin admits later, after they have arrived back in Arthur’s room and Merlin is methodically turning down the corners on the bed. “Why did you keep me around, even after you found out? And don’t say it was because I was saving your life, you’re not that concerned with your own well-being.”
Arthur glares at him. “You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”
“Say what?” Merlin asks honestly.
“You’re…” Arthur gestures vaguely, but for once it holds no meaning to Merlin. He shakes his head and Arthur grits his teeth. “You’re important to me,” he spits out, clenching his fist.
“What?” Merlin asks, taken aback. “Important how? All you do is insult me and order me about.”
“And who would I insult and order about if you weren’t around?” Arthur asks, then sighs and turns away. “I… care for you, Merlin. A great deal. It would be unacceptable for you to die by execution, or even for you to leave Camelot. I wanted you here, by my side.”
Something in Arthur’s tone of voice makes Merlin hesitate. “What about Gwen?” he asks. “I thought – ”
Arthur wheels around again, and this time there is a look of determination on his face. “Do you ever shut up, Merlin?” he demands, stalking towards Merlin slowly, advancing until Merlin is backed against the wall, Arthur only inches from his face.
They have fought like this before – they have wrestled on the ground, Arthur physically overwhelming Merlin without a second thought, laughing and arguing as Merlin yields every time. Arthur had been close then, too, and Merlin has always worried that Arthur will look too closely, that he will see the desire in Merlin’s eyes that Merlin is always trying so desperately to hide.
This time, there is nowhere to hide, and Arthur is staring straight at him, pinning him to the wall with nothing more but a look.
“You have more magic than anyone in the land, yet you still yield to me,” Arthur says, looking him up and down lazily. “Why?’
“I-“ Merlin struggles to keep his voice even. “My magic is for you. Everything I am is for you. I’m – I’m yours, Arthur.”
“That’s right,” Arthur says. “You are.”
And then, Arthur is kissing him, pressing a hand hard against his shoulder and pinning him to the wall. His other hand grips Merlin’s hair and holds him in place, tilting his head up just slightly for better angle. Abruptly, he pulls back, glaring at Merlin with an emotion that is not quite anger, but just as passionate as any emotion Merlin has ever seen him bear.
“Say it again,” he demands. He holds Merlin’s hair so tightly that Merlin would almost be afraid he would rip it out if all of his blood wasn’t flooding down out of his brain. “Say what you are.”
Merlin tries in vain to take a deep breath, and says, almost pleading, “I’m yours, Arthur. Yours to do with what you wish. Yours for life.”
Arthur returns to kissing him with a vengeance, growling slightly when Merlin tries to overpower him. He pulls back and tugs at Merlin’s clothes. “Take these off,” he orders. Without a second thought, Merlin’s magic leaps and his clothes vanish off his body, leaving him naked and vulnerable. Arthur looks at him appraisingly, the same look in his eyes that he gets when he is hunting an animal: finally going in for the kill.
He smirks, and Merlin knows that he is done for.
Merlin manages to fight most of Arthur’s clothes off by the time they make it onto the bed – Arthur isn’t giving up the fight easily, kissing Merlin everywhere he can reach, his hands drifting ever lower.
The door opens.
Merlin is half-expecting King Uther to walk through, but instead – and he is only slightly relieved – it is Gaius, a worried look on his face evaporating as his eyes fall upon the bed. Arthur twists around and grabs a sheet from the foot of the bed, covering them both before Gaius can get too much of an eyeful.
“I came to check that you were alright,” he says to Merlin, eyebrow transcending the human realm and raising to a degree that Merlin that never seen before. “But I suppose you’re giving him a full inspection, sire.”
Merlin’s face heats and he is glad that Arthur is mostly covering him, still wrapping them in a sheet and hiding Merlin with his body. “I expect you won’t be coming back tonight, either,” Gaius says idly. “I’ll need you to help me gather herbs tomorrow, though, so don’t wear yourself out too much.”
Then, as if nothing important had happened at all, Gaius turns casually, and walks out the door. Merlin and Arthur both stare in amazement for a few moments before Arthur lies down on one side of him, one arm propping him up. “Well, I suppose that was one way to ruin the mood,” he remarks idly.
“Just resume what you were doing and my mood will pop right back up, I bet,” Merlin says, wiggling his eyebrows.
Arthur hits him on the shoulder but moves on top of him once more, anyways. Gaius is correct – Merlin will not be leaving his Prince’s bed tonight.
Later, Merlin and Arthur will need to work out what’s going on between them, as they always need to. Merlin will need to say something like, I’ve always felt this way, I just didn’t know how to tell you, and Arthur will have to promise, I feel the same. I didn’t ever believe you would, too.
It’ll be a secret, of course. But not from themselves. I don’t want anymore secrets between us, Arthur will say, and Merlin will agree.
They will work it out, but for now, they let themselves forget that there is anything between them besides the love that is quickly becoming apparent.
And in the end, all was well – as well as it could be – and everyone decided that from now on, they would knock before they opened any closed doors.