Gaius was one of those rare people who took no pride nor felt relish in admitting their spectatorship to a variety of ridiculous, sorcerous happenings in Camelot. He bore the burden of all that he witnessed silently, and tried not to think about any of it once his trusty apprentice (always tangled up in it somehow) covertly took care of matters. It was no secret (well, to those who knew about Merlin and his powers, i.e. Merlin, Gaius, and Arthur) that said apprentice was often the only wall between the king and his enemies, and that his loss would inevitably doom Camelot and Arthur to death and destruction, etc.
…which was why Gaius didn’t bat an eyelid when Merlin plopped down in front of him and said, “Gaius, I’m in love with Arthur and if he doesn’t reciprocate my ardour I shall readily fling myself off the ramparts.”
Merlin waited until Gaius gulped down a cupful of warm water. “Really,” he insisted. “I’m in love with him.”
Gaius peered into Merlin’s eyes, checking for signs of madness. Not that it was a crime to love another man, or to love a man as difficult as the king, but Merlin definitely had never needed to confess any such feelings until this afternoon—Gaius faintly recalled Merlin yelling Arthur could break his legs in a ravine and I’d gladly be the one who pushed him at anyone who would listen last week, and Arthur dignifying his royal station by imitating Merlin in a falsetto and sending him off to the stables.
They’d been fucking for five years by that point.
“And how long have you loved the king?” The answer, as Gaius was well aware, was fuck if I know, forever, I suppose?
Merlin picked at Gaius’s lunch listlessly. “Since sometime this morning?” he said. Gaius watched his sandwich fall apart with some chagrin, but enchanted sorcerer apprentices took precedence over disintegrated lumps of bread and filling.
“I see,” Gaius said, unfocused, for maybe the sandwich had been important after all.
“I told him,” Merlin said, sounding upset, and Gaius nearly had a heart attack from the idea of Merlin standing before all the stuffy nobles and pouring his heart out to a man who couldn’t even run away.
“What did he do…?”
“Pillory,” grumbled Merlin. “Which was why I couldn’t go up to the bulwark to die.” He had the audacity to look sad about it.
“Perhaps you should put that worst-case-scenario plan aside for now,” Gaius suggested. Merlin caught his eye and pouted. Five years in Arthur’s service, about the same in his bed, and the only thing he had to show for it was a slightly less-underfed face. Gaius thus closed his eyes and did not protest as Merlin began eating what he’d torn apart.
“Look, Merlin, I am quite sure you’ve been put under a spell.”
“Certainly,” Merlin sighed, pout fading into a dreamy smile. “By Arthur, and his voice, and his face, and his magnificent cock—”
“That’s enough. How do you think someone got past your defences?”
“Didn’t know I had any,” Merlin said. Gaius supposed he wouldn’t be very bothered about being under a spell while being under a spell. “Oh, Gaius, what’s something I could do to ensure Arthur loved me?”
“Fix yourself,” Gaius said promptly. The thought did occur to him that he was treating this issue with more levity than it warranted, but frankly as long as he kept Merlin on the first two floors of the castle it oughtn’t be a problem… he hoped. He had important things to do, potions to make, patients to visit, and this was interfering with his schedule.
Merlin glared at him, but then his face cleared. “Oh, brilliant! A love potion! Thanks!” He leapt up and went to the bookshelf, as if Gaius would commit treason and keep a guide to love potions there in plain sight—hey, what was that book Merlin was pulling out—and beamed in triumph at his mentor.
Gaius consoled himself with the thought that Merlin was utterly shit at potion-making and was bound to fail. It didn’t help.
“I need your guidance,” Arthur said in an undertone the next time Gaius saw him—which was immediately after Merlin hopped off to the forest to ‘fetch herbs’ for Gaius, in a transparent excuse to concoct his elixir in peace. “Merlin told the entire castle he’s head over heels in love with me.”
“And your magnificent cock,” Gaius said, for surely he could not be expected to suffer the trauma of being the only one to have to hear that.
Arthur paled. “He informed everyone thusly, yes. It is a spell, right?”
“He said he simply had to be loved by me in return or he’d run away from Camelot forever.”
For a second they both contemplated the fact that Arthur had proposed marriage to Merlin three months ago.
“Were there any strange occurrences yesterday, someone he may have met who cast the spell on him?”
“No,” Arthur said, confusion warring with suffering on his face. “It was an uneventful day. He stayed in my chambers morning to night, picking the rust out of my chainmail and being a lazy sod, lounging about in front of the fire like he owned the place and gossiping about the chambermaids and falling asleep in my bed like an idiot and then having the nerve to complain when I kicked him, as if the bed was his sovereign right and I—”
“Yes, I understand fully,” Gaius said. “I shall try and find a remedy, sire, but in the meantime please keep an eye out for anything Merlin may try to feed you, as he may lace it with a poorly-made love potion.”
For another second they both contemplated the fact that Merlin brought Arthur all his meals and drinks and midnight cravings.
Arthur huffed, squaring his shoulders and staring off into the distance. Gaius almost thought he’d lead the two of them to battle the next moment.
“I’m sure you have things to do,” Arthur said eventually.
“Making the remedy and whatnot, indeed.” Gaius gave up on the idea of seeing any of his patients, or even Geoffrey—the old coot wouldn’t miss him anyway.
Arthur cleared his throat and turned to leave. “I may not be quite as opposed to his love as he believes, but I find it unwise to tell him I love him while he doesn’t remember our half-decade… dalliance.” (‘Dalliance’, because Merlin had laughed in his face during the proposal, and told him he’d only say yes if Arthur toned down the ostentation next time and also set the peacocks free and also legalised magic.)
It’s none of my business, I’d rather not know how much you want to bugger him, Gaius wanted to say, but refrained out of fatherly affection for the king. He waited for Arthur to go but the king turned back to him and simply asked if he needed assistance with anything, seeing as Merlin was out of commission. Gaius suspected Arthur just didn’t want to be giggled at by his servants, or worse, Gwen and Lancelot, who were proficient gigglers when they wanted to be—and around a besotted Arthur, they absolutely wanted to be.
Gaius decided to be magnanimous and set Arthur to picking leaves off marjoram shrubs while he himself consulted a bunch of books (he was good at that) and put together a complicated mixture of all-purpose antidotes, to shove down Merlin’s throat when the time came. That was how the day was spent, in peace and highly awkward quiet, until it was evening and Merlin returned from his sojourn in the woods.
“Arthur,” Merlin exclaimed with childlike happiness as he entered the infirmary and saw the king. Arthur grinned at him.
“I love you,” Merlin said happily, and brought out a bottle full to the brim with a disgusting green… Gaius hesitated to call it a liquid. “Look what I made for you!”
“That looks enticing,” Arthur said dryly. “What’s it for?”
“Can’t I just make nice things for you without reason?”
“You’re pants at being sly, Merlin,” Arthur said, smiling and clearly forgetting all his plans to hide his soppiness. Gaius eyed the door in desperation.
“Well, I know you don’t love me,” Merlin said, (probably) exaggerating the misery on his face. “And Gaius asked me not to jump off any walls or roofs; out of respect for the flagstones, I suppose. So I thought, well, I’ll just—you know, live with this huge, heavy burden of unrequited love and try to woo you when your guard’s down.”
Arthur sighed and reached for the bottle. Merlin watched eagerly as he uncorked it.
“Sire,” Gaius said, alarmed. Arthur looked at Gaius, unquestionably thinking something noble and stupid like well, if he’s under a spell, I’ll fall under a spell, too, and we’ll both be enchanted together forever, hurrah, and downed the… Gaius still didn’t want to call it a liquid.
Arthur choked and spluttered a bit as he swallowed—the shine of Merlin’s eyes increased in equal measure—and then hacked something out into his hand.
Gaius put a hand over his face. Good lord. The idea of sending curricula vitae to the neighbouring kingdoms steadily grew more appealing. Perhaps Annis might—
“Merlin,” Arthur started, staring at the ring in his palm. Merlin bit his lip.
“Don’t be a prat about it, just say yes.”
“Merlin,” Arthur repeated, not taking his eyes off the heavy gold ring in his palm.
“It took all day to forge, Arthur. D’you know how much I had to work to convince Gaius and everyone to let me have the day to myself? I had to pretend to be under a spell! Me!”
Arthur frowned and finally looked up at Merlin.
“Really?” he said. “This is better than peacocks?”
“Anything’s better than peacocks,” Merlin muttered darkly.
“Well,” Arthur said. “I’d better marry you just in case. We don’t want you to try this tactic with someone else and shame them into exile incognito, do we?”
Merlin laughed and leapt at Arthur.
Gaius decided he’d better visit his patients after all.