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Always Another Side to the Story

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There has been a voice in the back of Merlin's head as long as he could remember. Not a voice like Widow Hilda's down the lane. He's not crazy. He's not . For one thing, his voice has always been there. It didn't develop because of old age or anything like that. Ever since Merlin could remember, there has been another voice inside his head, sharing it.

For another thing his voice has a personality. Opinions. Different tastes and thoughts on what is fun. Different thoughts in general. He knows the difference. Despite what the other children might say, he isn't stupid. And he – because it is obviously a male's voice – can do things.

Things like make plates levitate and berries grow on barren bushes. The first time Mum saw him do something, she got a terrible look in her eyes. Fear. She told him it was dangerous. That, if anyone saw him, the bad men would come and take him away. That he must not do anything – or hide it well when he told her he couldn't stop.

Because he couldn't. It made him feel complete. Whole. Powerful. Besides, it wasn't him that was doing it. It was his voice. And his voice didn't want to stop – couldn't stopbecause this power was the only thing he had. He had no body, no independence, nothing he didn't have to share with Merlin. Except this one thing. The power was completely his only.

Magic.

He had magic.

So even though magic put Merlin in danger, his voice continued to use it. Merlin didn't mind. He thought it was amazing. He didn't understand why it was bad or why people were afraid of it. His voice's magic was beautiful. It created life, it helped Mum and it played with Merlin. How could a thing like that be bad? Especially when his voice explained that it hurt when he didn't use it. It would build and build inside like a blocked stream before exploding in a noticeable display.

Magic was something to be used. It couldn't be locked away or ignored. It was something wonderful. It was alive. No, not just alive. It was in everything – every plant, every river, every animal and every person. Magic is not a tool. Magic is life itself. And how can life be bad?

Merlin didn't understand when he was younger. Even as he grew and learned, he still didn't understand. Not really. He knew it was illegal and he could be killed for it. Or captured and forced to use it for other people. But he still didn't understand why . Why was magic illegal. Why was it feared. How could people be so blind? Couldn't they sense the very ground they walked on, the air they breathed, was full of magic and life?

He did not understand. He doubted he ever would.

Merlin was always a loner, growing up. None of the other children in the village played with him or wanted to talk to him. Everyone knew he was a bastard. He didn't have a Da like all the other children, not ever. Some of the others had Da's that had died fighting or from disease, but that wasn't true for him. He just never existed.

Mum always said that his Da was a good man. That he had to leave, but that he didn't want to. That he would have loved Merlin had he ever been able to meet him. Who wouldn't love such a good boy? But she only told him these things when pressed. And only to Merlin himself. The rest of the time she was silent on the subject.

But no matter how good of a man his Da was suppose to have been, that didn't change the fact that he wasn't there. And because he wasn't there, no one wanted anything to do with him. The adults sneered and ordered him away. The children laughed and poked at him.

So his voice was the only friend he had. He didn't call Merlin stupid or clumsy or unwanted. He said it was the opposite in fact. Merlin was smart. He could figure things out quickly, if only give the chance. He wasn't clumsy – or he was a little bit clumsy – but that was because he had so much more to focus on. The world was so much more alive to him. Sometimes he forgot to focus on his feet and not everything else around him. Merlin wasn't unwanted. His Mum wanted him. And his voice. His voice very much wanted him. And not just because they shared a body either.

You need a name,” Merlin announces one day.

Getting tired of The Voice ?” he teases.

Merlin blushes. “Shut up,” he mutters, “You do. Everything has a name. Even Sally's new lamb has a name. So you need one.”

What do you think ?”

Don't you have any names you like?” Merlin asks. He has a few ideas, but it seems rude not to ask. It isn't going to be his name after all. And names are very important. He can hear his voice thinking.

I like Ambrosius, he says.

Merlin nods. “Like the old King,” he agrees, “He was powerful and strong and able to protect his Kingdom from all the bad things. He even had magic, but it's a secret now because everyone thinks magic is bad.”

Right .”

There had been a traveling Bard that had passed through Ealdor just last moon. The people gave him food and shelter in return for his music. They may not have much, but the idea of a Bard is an exciting one. Ealdor is a little village. Right on the border between two powerful Kingdoms, no one pays it any mind. News is always weeks old and no one ever stops.

So to have a Bard here is a real treat. And the Bard seemed grateful enough for what he was given, even if it wasn't anything fancy. He didn't look overly fancy himself. Not like he had ever been to Court or sung for Kings.

But , ah, he had seen them. And he had wonderful stories to tell. Every night, after all the work was done, the adults gathered in what passed as a tavern and listened to him. Merlin didn't hear him then. He wasn't allowed. It was always better to stay out of sight where the adults were concerned.

During the day, however, was an entirely different story.

Merlin had chores during the day. Of course he did. Everyone had to work to survive here. But his Mum knew what he was like. And she knew what the other children were like. So she always sent him out into the forest to gather wood or forage any food he could find. He liked the forest. It was filled to the brim with life. And normally he is the only one in there.

The other villagers get nervous if they have to go into the forest. He thinks that's silly. There is nothing that is going to hurt them in here. Sure, some things are dangerous, but there are dangerous things everywhere. The forest isn't any different.

But Merlin wasn't the only one in the forest anymore. He ran into the Bard – literally.

Careful little one,” he says, catching Merlin, “you don't want to fall, do you?”

I fall all the time,” he answers with a shrug. Looking up, he takes the time to examine the Bard. This is the first time he has seen him close up. His hair reminds Merlin of autumn, when the leaves turn color and the world looks like it is on fire. His skin is tan from the sun. His clothes, while nice enough, are clearly patched.

It's his eyes that capture Merlin's attention. It's not the color – a soft brown. No. It's what is in them that he can't stop looking at. These are wise eyes. Eyes that have seen more than words can tell. Powerful eyes. And kind too. Kind with a warm heart.

You're very pretty,” Merlin tells him.

The Bard chuckles. “Why thank you little one. And you are very special, aren't you?”

Merlin's eyes widen. “You can tell ?” he asks, shocked. Can he really tell about his voice?

It takes a special person to walk these paths. Although you might want to learn to listen and watch where you are going at the same time.”

Merlin nods seriously.

He's strange ,” his voice comments.

How ?” Merlin asks him.

He sees more. He feels it too .”

Merlin doesn't have to ask just what the Bard feels. It's the same thing Merlin feels. The same thing his voice feels. “ He's safe though, right ?”

He feels safe. And the others wouldn't let him stay of he wasn't .”

His voice has a very good point there. But Merlin finds it is always better to ask. He seems to just know these things.

Tell me, would you like to hear a story?” the Bard asks.

Merlin jumps with excitement and about trips over a root. “Oh yes Sir. Please Sir.”

The Bard laughs. “Sir. Can't say I've heard that one in a while. The name is Todric lad.”

I'm Merlin,” he introduces, then he frowns, “Everyone else has to pay you for your stories. Do I?” Because Merlin didn't have anything to give him.

Todric laughs again and shakes his head. “Just show me around these woods and it will be fine. I'm sure you have things to do in here, hmm?” he raises an eyebrow.

Merlin blushes, but nods. “Mum needs more wood for the fire,” he says.

Well then, let us get your Mum her wood. It isn't polite to keep a Lady waiting you know.”

Merlin giggles, no one had ever called his Mum a Lady before. He thinks he is right though. His Mum is definitely a Lady.

And so that is how Merlin and the Bard passed the day, and then the week, until he moved on. Everyone was sad to see him go, but Merlin and his voice most of all. Because every day Merlin would be sent out into the woods. And every day Todric would meet him there and tell him stories. And not just any stories, but stories with Kings and fighting and honor. Stories with magic .

Todric seemed to know an awful lot about magic. And he seemed like he wanted to give it all to Merlin. He soaked it up – they both did – as they listened. These were secret stories. They knew that without being told. But they were also precious because no one else would tell them. Magic was a wonderful thing in them, something prized, not feared. People knew what is was in these stories.

And yes, sometimes they would do bad things with it. But there was always a hero that went out and fought against the bad magic and made everything right again. And how else do you fight magic, but with more magic?

It was the most wonderful week of their entire lives, having Todric with them each day. When it was time to leave, he made sure to say goodbye to Merlin alone. Merlin clung to him, not wanting to let go. “Do you have to leave?” he asked, tears in his eyes.

I'm afraid I must little one. The life of a Bard is a traveling one. And your village can't afford another mouth for long.”

I can do it,” Merlin insists, “I can take care of you and Mum and you can live with us.”

Todric chuckles and ruffles Merlin's hair. “I have no doubt you would find a way. But nothing is forever. Just like the seasons, everything changes. You must allow the change to happen, for the earth to be healthy. Do you understand?”

Merlin nods and tightens his hug.

You're a good lad,” he says kindly, “Don't let anyone tell you differently. One day you are going to change the world.”

For good?” he asks. Because he doesn't want to change the world if he is going to hurt it.

For good,” Todric confirms and gently pries Merlin off of him. “You are special Merlin. Don't ever forget that. Don't let anyone make you ashamed of it. Remember.”

Merlin nods seriously.

And then Todric is gone.

Is everything alright ?” Merlin asked his voice, “ you didn't talk much this week .”

I was listening. He was so... different . He didn't think magic is evil. He told all the good stories about it. Where it helps people.

He did.

I think... I think he knew about me. About my magic. That's why he told us those stories. So we would know the truth.

That sounded reasonable to Merlin.

It was... odd, being noticed.

But that's not a bad thing, is it ?”

Not this time no .”

And so, a moon after Todric the Bard left, his voice chose the name Ambrosius.

Life goes on, as it always does. Both Merlin and Ambrosius grow. Ambrosius grows in magic – what he can do and how well he can control it. Merlin just grows – all awkward angles and sharp edges. He still has trouble paying attention to his feet more than everything else, but he becomes better at it. Slowly, true, but also surely. His Mum despairs sometimes, when he comes back with a new cut or fresh bruises, but she smiles all the same.

He knows she worries still. What parent wouldn't? Her child is born a powerful sorcerer in a time when it is dangerous to have any kind of magic at all. But she does her best by him, urging him to keep it secret, but never making him feel ashamed. She tells him it is a gift, although a hard one to bear.

Merlin never tells her about Ambrosius. He's not sure how without making her worry more. Without sounding crazy. How do you tell someone there is another person in your head? It would sound crazy to Merlin if he didn't have Ambrosius. So he never says that it's not him that has magic.

No one likes him anymore as he grows older. Instead they begin to shun him. The strange bastard who spends all his time in the forest. Who knows what he does in there. Who knows how he always comes out unharmed. Surely there is something wrong with him. It's almost as if they can sense the differences between him and them. It's unnerving.

People go out of their way to avoid him. They draw the sign against evil if he looks at them for more than a moment. Children scream and run, throwing rocks and insults at him. So he spends even more of his time alone in the forest. It's almost ironic that they drive him into the very place they persecute him for spending time. Only he isn't laughing.

It's not your fault, Ambrosius tells him as Merlin sits on a fallen log, staring at the ground. The latest taunts are still ringing in his ears.

Isn't it? How do you know? Maybe there is something wrong with me. There has to be a reason they hate me so much.”

They hate you because they are ignorant. They couldn't see past their own nose if their lives depended on it .”

You don't know that.”

Yes I do. I'm in your head remember? I know exactly what it's like in here. There is nothing wrong with you,Ambrosius says firmly.

Maybe that's the problem,” Merlin mutters. Or maybe the problem is Ambrosius himself. Maybe he's what's wrong with Merlin. Not that he really thinks that. Ambrosius is his best friend. He doesn't know what he would do without him. Be even more alone. The only other person he has is his Mum. And she can't be with him all the time. Even if he is the problem, Merlin would rather they hate him then lose him.

Ambrosius is silent and Merlin worries that he picked up on that poisonous thought. He desperately hopes not. He can't lose Ambrosius. He can't .

I'm not going anywhere, he says, “ Besides, where could I go ?” he jokes, trying to lift Merlin's mood.

It doesn't work. Merlin shrugs. He does have a point. All Ambrosius can do is see what Merlin sees. Go where Merlin goes. He has no body of his own. No way to escape or explore or anything. “Do you ever get lonely?” he asks then.

There is a pause and then Ambrosius answers, “ No I don't. I have you and, in a way, I have Mum. I don't need anyone more than that.

Than I shouldn't either,” Merlin says firmly. “I have you and I have Mum. Why do I need more?”

Because you're not like me. You like people.

And you don't?” Merlin asks curiously.

It's not that I do not like them, it's that... they are so strange. You make sense because I am in your head. I understand what you are thinking. Them? I use your context to judge them and I still think they are... petty. Rude. Odd. There are none that I would want to talk to, even if I could .”

That does seem lonely,” Merlin says. “And they aren't that strange. Mainly all they want to do is survive,” he continues, “Just like us. They want good food and healthy family and friends and people to support them.”

But unlike them, we have a different view of the world. Magic. It sets us apart, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise. And I cannot like those that mock you so.

Merlin can feel his face heating up. Alright, so maybe Ambrosius heard that treacherous thought after all. He still doesn't mean it. Not really. It's just...

I might not be lonely, but you are ,” Ambrosius finishes for him.

You're my best friend. I don't know what I would do without you,” Merlin says quickly, both to defend himself and to reassure him.

But I'm still not enough ,” Ambrosius says what Merlin can't.

Merlin hangs his head, ashamed. A feeling of warmth floods him. It is as if he has gone swimming in a pool of sunlight. That makes Merlin smile now. There is nothing else like this in the world. Not even Mum's hug. And nothing could make him give it up.

We are different from other people. There is no shame in that. But we are also from each other. Face it Merlin, I see darkness while you see light, Ambrosius says gently.

You're not that bad,” Merlin says in protest, “You make it sound as if you don't see the good in anything. You do.”

In nature? In the world? he answers, “ Aye, I do then. But in the people in your village? I can appreciate that things are not as black and white as they appear to be for me. There is no easy answer. But at the same time, you are the person who matters the most to me. And they hurt you, continuously with their words and actions. Why would I care for any of them?

They're not bad,” Merlin says, shaking his head. “People aren't bad, they're just... people,” he shrugs.

I'm not saying that I think all people are evil or anything like that,Ambrosius shrugs, which is always an odd feeling in Merlin's head, “ I am sure that with people that they like, they are different. But we've hardly seen that side of them, have we?

But it's still there,” Merlin says softly.

It's still there ,” Ambrosius repeats in agreement.

What about Will? What do you think of him?” he asks cautiously, feet kicking the log he is sitting on.

Ambrosius snorts in amusement. “ I was wondering when you were going to bring him up .”

Merlin blushes even fiercer this time. “He seems nice. Funny. Curious. He doesn't care that I spend all my time in the woods. Or that I'm the village bastard. He doesn't have a Mum like I don't have a Da. And he's never made the sign of evil like everyone else,” Merlin lists all the positives he can think of.

Will, his Da and his little sister had moved into the village two years ago now. They had kept to themselves at first and no one seemed to know what to think. But then as they began to talk and interact more, everyone learned that they had moved here from further inside Cenred's kingdom. They had been farmers there, but then there had been a bad drought and Will's Mum had died. They came here for a fresh start. After hearing that, everyone welcomed them in.

He does seem curious about you, yes. Do you think that's a good thing? Ambrosius asks.

Merlin gives the log another hard kick. “It seems like it. He doesn't look like he is trying to play a trick on me or mock me.”

You don't think he wants to know about the 'freak in the woods' ,” Ambrosius quotes.

Merlin flinches, but shakes his head. “I think he really wants to be my friend,” he says earnestly.

You know you don't need my permission to talk to him. You can if you want to.

But I want to know what you think. If you don't like him then I'll ignore him,” Merlin says loyally.

Thank you, but I think this is something that you should decide for yourself. He is going to be your friend, not mine.

You don't want him to know about you,” Merlin confirms, nodding, “But you are still in my head. You see what I see. And I don't want to hang around someone that you hate.”

I don't hate anyone. But do I like him? I don't know. I guess we will have to see .”

Merlin smiles brightly. “Thank you!” he grins.

No need to thank me. Just be careful until you know him better, Ambrosius cautions.

Merlin nods, seeing the logic behind that. “I will,” he promises as he jumps up to finish his chores. The sooner he can get done, the sooner he can see if maybe Will wants to play after all.

:::

She's sending us away,” Merlin sobs as he curls up against a tree. The setting sun casts eerie shadows over the forest, but he doesn't care. Mum had just told him that she is sending him away. To Camelot. She has a friend there who will look out for him, she had said.

But Merlin doesn't want to go. Leave Ealdor? The only place he has ever known? Leave his Mum? Will? Just to go live with someone that he never even knew existed. It's not even their kingdom! Sure they are on the border, but they are from Essetir , not Camelot. “It's all those stupid rumors fault,” he cries, “We didn't do anything.”

Ambrosius tries to reassure him. “ She is just trying to keep us safe.

What do you care? You never liked anyone here anyways. This isn't your home. You're probably happy that we're leaving,” Merlin says hotly. He regrets it as soon as he does. This isn't Ambrosius' fault. None of it, even if a small, cruel part of Merlin wants to say it is. “I'm sorry,” he mutters.

It's fine ,” Ambrosius says.

But Merlin knows it isn't. He can feel it. He's found, over the years, although Ambrosius will never say anything about it, not belonging can be a touchy subject, just like Merlin himself. He will never fit in village life. Ambrosius... he might never fit in any place at all. Only with Merlin. He claims it isn't lonely, that he doesn't need people, and Merlin believes him for the most part. But sometimes he wonders.

Does he really not need people? Or does he think that because he will never have that? Better to convince yourself that you don't want something than forever want something out of your reach. Not everyone needs many people, but everyone needs someone. Right? Is Merlin really enough for Ambrosius? Or is he just convincing himself of that?

Sometimes it feels as if Ambrosius is restless. As if he needs something more, but doesn't know what. He's reaching into the shadows to see if he can find it. Like he's looking for his own purpose.

Maybe this will be better,” Merlin says then. No need to make this harder than it will already be. He is going, whether he likes it or not. Mum had made that clear. So why drag it out and make everyone around him miserable. And maybe it really will be better. Maybe he can finally find a place to fit in. People to call his friends. A new adventure.

Yeah. Leaving is going to be hard, but maybe this is what he is meant to do. Go out and find a place for himself in the world. Maybe even find the answers to the questions that Ambrosius doesn't know how to ask.

Never forget about your hope, Ambrosius says.

It's an odd thing to say, but he nods anyways. “I won't,” he promises. He won't.

:::

What are we being dragged into ?” Merlin asks, staring up at his ceiling. He should be sleeping, but he finds he can't close his eyes, thoughts swirling too fast through his head. It is only his first week in Camelot and it has been crazy – dragons and 'rewards' and revenge and destiny. What in the world?

Is this what his life is going to be now?

Ambrosius is decidedly silent, not answering the question. He had been strangely silent all week, for the most part. Oh he agrees that Arthur – the Prince – is an absolute prat. But other than that? He hasn't been talking much. It's worrying.

Their introduction to Camelot was a shock, that was sure. First they get a first hand demonstration about how the kingdom deals with magic. Then they meet the prat that is its prince. Then a dragon – dragon – chained up below the dungeons tell them that it is their destiny to protect said prat. Only no, not them. Merlin. It's Merlin's destiny apparently. The annoying lizard didn't mention Ambrosius at all. Does he even know about him? Likely not.

Ambrosius ?” he asks.

Maybe it's true, he answers.

What ?” Merlin snorts, “ that the prat is suppose to bring Albion into a Golden Age it has never seen before and bring magic back to the land? Not likely from what we've seen. You haven't decided that you actually like him, have you?

No. I think he's a spoiled brat, Ambrosius says, reassuring him, “ but what if this is why I'm in your head? Maybe you do get stuck protecting the prat and I have to help you. Magic is illegal here, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Maybe this is why I'm here, he repeats.

Merlin thinks this over. Thinks about how Ambrosius is still restless sometimes, searching. Thinks about why he was born this way to begin with. Thinks about what all of this could mean. “ Maybe ,” he agrees softly.

If nothing else, Ambrosius adds, we are stopping the civil war that would eventually erupt if the prat is killed without another heir to the throne.

Merlin snorts at that. “ That would be bad ,” he says, “ I still don't like him though.

I'm not going to argue with that, Ambrosius says dryly.

Merlin grins at that. “ Gwen is nice though. So is Morgana, though she can be scary.

That one would be a strong Queen ,” Ambrosius says.

And she doesn't seem any more impressed with Arthur than we do.

Think we should help support another to the throne ?” Ambrosius jokes.

Merlin snorts, imagining it, although he knows they never would. “ I'm sure we could get her to agree to make Arthur wear the hat.

Ambrosius laughs. “ I am going to set fire to that hat the first chance I get .”

Good, Merlin says, grumbling. He really hates that hat. Prat.

Ambrosius hums in agreement. “ You should get some sleep now. Gods know the prat is likely to throw you in the stocks again if you are late .”

Merlin sighs and closes his eyes, knowing it is true. Tomorrow is going to be another long day. Fortunately it is easier to fall asleep after that.

:::

Why isn't my room cleaned yet?” Arthur complains when he walks in the door from training.

Merlin rolls his eyes, automatically going over to help him out of the armor. “Maybe because I've been busy doing everything else?” he suggests sarcastically.

Honestly you are so useless, I don't know why I keep you around,” Arthur grumbles.

Of course not Sire,” he says, use to it by now. He knows Arthur no longer means it – most of the time. In the beginning? Definitely, but not now when they are friends. Not that Arthur will ever admit it out loud – he is truly terrible with emotions – but Merlin knows they are. Not only have they've been through too much together, Merlin can now read him.

Sure it would be nice to hear it said out loud every now and again, but something in Arthur might break if he does. He is really, truly terrible with emotions. Personally Merlin blames Uther for that one. He was a good king, if a hard one. But a good father? Technically yes, sort of, but he was even worse at emotions than Arthur is. Not that Merlin will ever admit that to anyone. Even he knows that's crossing the line.

Thinking about the past is enough to make his head spin some days. It was a rough start, that is for sure. Arthur thought Merlin was actually useless back then. Merlin thought Arthur was a prat. Neither of them liked the other. Funny how quickly that changed.

He's still a prat, Ambrosius adds.

Merlin looks down so that Arthur doesn't see him smiling. “ Yeah ,” he agrees, “ but he's our prat .”

How unfortunate,” Ambrosius says, sounding serious, but Merlin knows that he isn't. True Ambrosius did not like Arthur when they first met. He reminded him too much of the villagers they left behind. And he took longer to warm up to Arthur than Merlin, but he got there eventually. Saving Merlin's life went a long way towards that.

Even before that, the fact that he was helping him when both he and Merlin were dying showed that already something was growing. That entire thing was quite the experience. Merlin learned very quickly how much Ambrosius hates being helpless. Bad enough he couldn't do anything to help Merlin, but without a body of his own, he was even more trapped than usual.

Oh stop it. I know you like him. You can't fool me, Merlin says.

Not more than you do, Ambrosius says, definitely teasing now.

Stop that, Merlin says, scolding as he lifts Arthur's chainmail over his head.

Just because you're embarrassed doesn't mean it's not true, Ambrosius says smugly.

And just because it is true doesn't mean that you have to tease me about it ,” Merlin says sourly. “ There's no reason to point it out. Nothing will ever come of it. Arthur doesn't feel that way. Besides he is King. A King needs heirs.

Ambrosius snorts. “ To the second, there's this funny thing called adoption. I don't know why it is seemingly looked down upon. It sounds perfectly sensible to me. Less risk, doing it that way. And to the first, can you please not be as oblivious as the prat we serve? Dealing with one is enough, thank you very much, without adding another.

Arthur finishes taking off his clothes and gets into the bath that Merlin has waiting for him. He sighs when warm water hits sore muscles. He had been out with the knights extra time today, working off the stress he has been feeling lately. Either that or avoiding the paperwork he knows he has waiting for him. It's a bit of both likely. Arthur is proving to be a fair and just King, just like Merlin knew he would, but that still doesn't mean Arthur likes sitting around anymore now than he did as a Prince.

Merlin has to look away after hearing that particular sound. It is almost indecent. And his mind does not need the encouragement. Not that he doesn't know what Arthur looks like, being his manservant after all these years. He gets to work, wiping down the armor. It's always easier to remove all the dirt before it has had time to settle in. “ Now you're just being mean. No one is as oblivious as Arthur .”

True. I think it's all the head injuries ,” Ambrosius says, snickering.

Merlin barely has to stop to think about that before giving an agreeing, “ True, to that. Arthur does seem to hit his head a ridiculous amount of times. Good for them to work their magic unseen. Bad for Arthur's intelligence and observational skills – any that is left anyways.

As Arthur gets out and dries off, Merlin continues to work, first on the armor, then the sword and finally doing the cleaning up that Arthur had been complaining about. To be fair, the room is a mess. Things are spread out across every likely surface and a few unlikely ones. But to be even more fair, this isn't Merlin's fault. It isn't as if he doesn't do this same thing daily. He is not the one making a mess. Never let it be said that, in private, Arthur is a neat person. Merlin doesn't even know how half of this stuff got to be where it is.

From the corner of his eye, Merlin watches as Arthur sits at his desk and gets to work. Running a hand through still wet hair, he begins reading the first of the scouting reports. Nothing serious fortunately. Everything has been quiet for now – although he knows just how quickly that can change. There never seems to be any warning before disaster strikes around here.

Once all of the dirty clothes are in a pile and ready to be dropped off to the maid for laundry, he begins making the bed. Thank goodness Merlin no longer has to worry about the most basic chores by now – laundry, mending and the like. At first he was told to do it – which was a disaster in and of itself – but then he found a maid willing to help him with it. More than one in fact.

That's because you have the royal household wrapped around your little finger, Ambrosius says. “ They all adore you by now – the King's cheeky manservant .”

Merlin shakes his head. “ I don't know why. I didn't do anything special or anything .”

One might say making the prat more human is a minor miracle in of itself. I'd say that counts, he says then. “ Then again, it might also have something to do with that smile of yours.

Merlin gives the pillow an extra hard fluff to cover the noise of his snort. “ How would you know? It's not as if you know what I look like when I smile. Have you ever even seen my reflection?

As if it's hard to figure out from the expression on their faces. And I know what you look like thank you very much, Ambrosius says, crossing his arms. Well, that's what it feels as if he is doing anyways.

It never fails to be an odd sensation, Ambrosius 'using' physical expressions in his speech. It is something he definitely learned from Merlin because why would someone without a body shrug or roll their eyes or a number of things he does. And Merlin always knows what he is doing, somehow. It's hard to explain, but there is a certain... tingle to it that tells him. Very odd.

You never know ,” Merlin says in reply.

Your faith in me is overwhelming, Ambrosius says dryly.

I'm so glad ,” Merlin tells him. Bed done, he turns and looks around the room. What next? Then he sees Arthur, clearly having finished his reports, staring down at the desk, pen in hand. His expression can only mean one thing – he is trying to write a speech. Trying being the key word. It doesn't look as if it is going well.

Merlin only lasts a few more moments of watching him before he sighs, abandons the rest of the cleaning and stalks over to the desk. “Give me that,” he says, pulling the parchment away from him.

Why yes Merlin, of course you can look at my speech. Please it would be my pleasure,” Arthur says sarcastically.

Merlin rolls his eyes. “Prat,” he says and makes a face, “You really don't want to write this, do you? This is terrible.” He grabs the pen and begins making corrections.

Arthur snorts. “Oh just sit down already,” he says.

Merlin hums and pulls the extra chair over from the corner of the room and sets it on the other side of the desk. Incidentally this is exactly what this chair is for. This is hardly the first time Merlin has written one of Arthur's speeches. Or completed his paperwork. This isn't something he would admit to anyone, but he's signed off on more than one thing as Arthur. He's quite good at copying his signature actually. And he leaves his seal laying around on his desk. So why not? It's not as if he's ever abused that power.

It started even before Arthur was technically King. Still a Prince, but ruler in all but name, he had been floundering, just a little, adjusting to everything. Then, once he became King in truth, it became even more intense. Arthur was even busier, having to prove himself all over again, while adjusting to having the crown to back up his authority now. Plus he was still grieving Uther in private.

Merlin couldn't simply stand by and watch so he started helping where he could. That usually meant just this – speeches and paperwork. Not that Arthur can't write his own speeches, but it's easier for Merlin to do it while he works on other things. Thus the extra chair.

They work until supper, at which time Merlin stretches and goes to get it himself. Oh he could have someone else do this, but it feels good to move after so long. Really Merlin can see why Arthur is less fond of spending all day at his desk or on the throne. Especially with someone as active as Arthur is use to being. Maybe it would be easier of he had a Queen, but after Gwen ended up with Lancelot – with Arthur's blessing as well – he hasn't made any more effort to find another one.

In a way it's a shame. Gwen would have made a wonderful Queen, there is no doubt about that. Kind, with a caring heart and charming way with words. The people would have loved her. But she is happy with Lance. Ultimately that is where her heart lay, even before Arthur was an option. Thus why Arthur made sure that both of them knew that. Because Lance was willing to back down, for Arthur's sake, but he wouldn't hear of it.

Merlin was rather proud of the way he handled the whole thing. Especially because he saw how Arthur was like in private. He was more disappointed than he let on. He genuinely cares for Gwen after all.

But since then, he hasn't even looked for another Queen. Not that Merlin knows of anyways. He still holds that Arthur should be allowed to marry for love. He has given up so much and is so dedicated to his people, shouldn't he be allowed this in return? That can't be too much to ask.

So Merlin has picked up the extra work instead.

Becoming Arthur's Queen instead, Ambrosius says.

What is with you today ?” Merlin asks, frowning, on his way to the kitchen, “ You never bring my feelings up like this. And you sound extra... fierce about it too.

Maybe I'm tired of watching you two pine for each other, Ambrosius says.

Merlin gives him the equivalent of a blank look and then smiles as he walks into the kitchen. There is already a tray made up. He nods and grins to the nearest helper before picking it up. “Thanks,” he says.

She blushes.

Oh Merlin,” another girl adds, “ here.” She places an extra helping of dessert down.

Merlin grins even wider at her. “Trying to fatten the King up Sophie?” he asks.

She snorts. “Trying to put some meat on your bones. If eating from the royal table doesn't do it, I don't know what will.”

I have no idea what you're talking about,” he says innocently.

Of course you don't. Now go on before his Majesty gets cranky,” she says, shooing him off.

He leaves with a laugh. Alright, so it might be a bit of an open secret how much Merlin is helping run the kingdom. Among the servants anyways. Merlin is sure that the nobles have no idea. Best to keep it that way. Still, it means he gets the extra help he needs so he has time for other things. Not that he would wish Uther dead sooner – for Arthur's sake at least – but it's a shame that he couldn't have had this help earlier. It would have made his job keeping Arthur alive run much smoother.

It's also amusing that they still see him as the young boy he was when he first arrived. Yes, he was rather lanky then. All limbs and practically no muscle. That has changed since then. He's bulked up, becoming stronger and harder. He'll never look like oh say Percy or even Arthur. But he is plenty strong now, even if people fail to notice it.

So ?” he asks once he is in the hall again.

Ambrosius sighs. “ I don't know, he admits, “ Something is coming, but I don't know what. It's putting me on edge.

Something dangerous ?” Merlin asks, dreading the answer. He thought it had been too quiet around here lately.

Here's the thing – I have no idea . That's what worries me so much. It's something in the air. Change is coming. And you know change never comes quietly around here .”

No it doesn't ,” Merlin says, resigned. If only it did. It would be nice for it to happen, just once. Unfortunately that never seems to be his luck. Or maybe it's Arthur's luck that is rubbing off on Merlin. Either way, he wishes it would stop. Life gives them enough trouble as is without adding to it.

Aw Merlin, I thought you got lost,” Arthur says as he walks back into the room.

Well you know, I stopped for a snack on the way,” he says, setting everything down on the table, “We can't have you eating everything now can we. I might have to add another hole in your belt again,” he teases.

Hilarious,” Arthur says dryly as he gets up from the desk, stretches and comes over. “Truly you missed your calling. Smells delicious,” he adds.

Merlin shrugs as he sits. “I can juggle too you know.”

Arthur looks up at him. “What? Since when? You're so clumsy you'd likely drop the first ball before you could get going.”

Try me,” Merlin shrugs.

Arthur, being Arthur, takes Merlin for his word literally and throws and apple at him right then and there.

Fortunately Merlin had been expecting something like this and catches it with ease. He smirks and raises a challenging eyebrow at him. Arthur throws him two more next and Merlin begins. It's easy by now. This is something that he taught himself to do when he was younger in pure self defense. The logic behind it was helping him focus on more than one thing at once. If he could juggle and walk then surely he could walk and feels everything around him as well. It worked with varying degrees of success.

He was a disaster when he first started. He couldn't even juggle to begin with, let alone walk at the same time. Even when he got the juggling part down, sometimes he would focus on that and nature and forget to walk. Or run right into something. Or fall.

It was really only after he came to Camelot did he master the art of feeling and walking at the same time. He had to – he had to be on his guard all the time. Still, Camelot was infinitely different than Ealdor. There was even more to it, even if it was different. Walking was not something he managed gracefully at first.

But he can juggle fine, especially with nothing else to focus on. So even when Arthur throwing all six of their apples at him, he can keep up.

Arthur raises an eyebrow. “I'm impressed,” he says, “It looks as if you have hidden talent after all. Now if only that applied to your actual job as well.”

Do you even know what my actual job was suppose to have been when I came to Camelot? Because it sure didn't include serving you,” he says pointedly. Even if that was what his destiny called for. He didn't know that then though.

Arthur actually looks stumped at this.

Merlin sighs. “I came to be Gaius' apprentice you know. I was suppose to work with herbs and sickness, not spoiled prats.”

So you got promoted then,” Arthur says with a smirk.

Merlin, acting quickly, throws one of the apples he is still juggling at Arthur before continuing. He never misses a beat.

I should throw you in the stocks for that,” he threatens halfheartedly.

Then who would finish your speech?” Merlin asks, not worried a bit. It has been years since Arthur has carried through with that threat. It's now just another layer to their banter.

As surprising as this my sound to you, I can write my own speeches,” Arthur says.

Sure,” Merlin shrugs, “but can you write them well ?” he asks.

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Eat your chicken Merlin,” he orders.

Merlin grins. “Yes Sire,” he says, setting the apples down and taking a large bite, just for show.

Arthur huffs, but he is smiling as well, even if it is down at his plate of food. “You're ridiculous, you know that?” he asks.

Merlin nods and swallows. “I have to keep up you see. You're so much farther ahead then I am.”

Insolent too,” Arthur adds.

You'd be bored otherwise,” Merlin says.

Gods forbid,” Arthur says dryly.

Merlin shakes his head, continuing to eat his meal.

Arthur does the same, both of them relaxing after a long day.

Idiots ,” Ambrosius says, grumbling at the two of them.