The kingdom was silent with sleep as Merlin woke up in Arthur's bed, his body sticky with dried sweat. He shifted in the king’s arms to stare at the sleeping man, and he felt his eyes grow wide as Arthur attempted to pull him closer in his sleep. As he stared at his king only one thought moved through his mind. I have to get out of here. He peeled the king’s arms from around his waist and pushed the sheets from his legs, shuddering at the chill winter air, then he sat on the edge of the mattress as Arthur rolled over to face the opposite wall, leaning over the gather his clothes. This was a mistake, he thought as he pulled his shirt over his head and began pulling on his pants. This was just a mistake that can't happen again.
He went to stand to finish getting dressed when a hand grabbed his wrist, pulling him back down.
"Merlin, where on earth do you think you're going?" Arthur mumbled sleepily, and Merlin turned to see he had rolled back over to face him, his eyes drowsy.
"I, um. . ." He paused and Arthur stared at him, his hand still wrapped around Merlin's wrist. "I thought you might want me to go."
Arthur rolled his eyes and shook his head, closing them for a few seconds as he spoke. "That's absurd," he told Merlin, his eyes opening. "Why would you think that?"
Merlin pulled his wrist from Arthur's grip and stood, pulling his coat on and moving to his shoes. "I’m a servant," he said, looking back toward Arthur, who was now perched on his elbows like he was about to bolt from the mattress. "This was a mistake, Sire. It won't happen again.”
Arthur stood as Merlin began walking toward the door, tripping over his shirt where it lay from its hasty removal. He caught Merlin by the shoulder just as he had made it halfway across his chambers. “What are you talking about?” Arthur asked, grabbing him by the arms and turning him, bringing them face to face.
“I have to go, my lord,” Merlin spoke softly, avoiding Arthur’s eyes by gazing at the ground, just as so many servants had done when in his father’s presence. It was rare any servant looked away from him anymore, not after the amount of times he had put his life on the line for them. “I will be back to attend to you in the morning.”
“Merlin, for gods’ sake, stop speaking like that!” Arthur exclaimed, careful to keep his voice low to avoid alerting the guards. “This isn’t like you!”
“Sire, please,” Merlin said, his voice choked. “Tonight was a mistake, and it won’t happen again. If you make me stay you will regret it in the morning. I swear, Arthur, you will!”
“Who are you to decide what I regret?” Arthur asked, and Merlin swallowed nervously. His hands rolled into fists and Arthur felt his arms tense beneath his palms.
“Arthur, tonight was caused because we drank,” Merlin chuckled sadly. “That’s all tonight was. A drunken mistake.”
“Drunken, yes, but not a mistake,” Arthur told him, and Merlin’s eyes moved up to meet his. “Merlin, this will never be a mistake for me. I only can hope it won’t be for you.” He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Merlin’s forehead, felt the other man’s lashes brush his chin as his eyes closed. When he leaned back, tears were running down the servant’s cheeks, and he swiped each away with the pad of his thumb.
“Merlin, open your eyes,” he mumbled, watching as the bright pools of blue slowly opened to look at him. Arthur believed if he looked close enough, he could see flecks of shining gold surrounding the inner edges of the irises.
“I care for you so much more than you would ever know,” Arthur whispered, and a choked sob left Merlin’s throat as his head bowed forward. The king tilted his head to rest against the other man’s, pulling him into his arms and trying to comfort him the only way he knew how. “I think I’m in love with you. I think I have been for even longer than I can comprehend.”
Merlin laughed, and it was sad and tearful. “If you knew the secrets I’ve kept from you,” he whispered, “I doubt you would be saying that.”
Arthur reached his hands up and held Merlin’s face in his hands. Merlin moved to hold the king’s wrists, his tears dripping against their skin. “There is no secret you could tell me that would ever make me doubt what I feel for you.”
Together they stood, their foreheads pressed together lovingly as Arthur wiped away each of Merlin’s tears in a pregnant silence, until the servant tensed and moved away from the king slowly. They were no longer touching as Merlin stepped away from him, and Arthur watched as a pang of fear crawled across Merlin’s face. Slowly it morphed into something unreadable, too many expressions moving all at once; Arthur saw guilt, and fear, and pain, and undeniable love in Merlin’s face as his eyes suddenly glowed a bright gold.
The light from Merlin’s eyes was so fierce it outshone any candles or torches lit in Arthur’s chambers. He stood staring at Merlin with wide eyes of his own as an ember dragon emerged in the air between them, hovering with its wings moving in wide strokes and warming the room more than any fire ever had. It flew once, then twice around the room with sparks flying behind it, leaving a bright trail surrounding him and Merlin as it circled them. Arthur watched it morph and change, becoming a knight with his sword drawn high above his head and his cape billowing in the wind. As the soldier brought his sword down on an invisible enemy, the embers died and the room shone with nothing but moonlight once again.
“I’m a sorcerer,” Merlin whispered as his eyes faded back to blue. “I was born with magic, and I’ve been using it to protect you since I first became your manservant.”
The room was dead silent as different emotions ran through Arthur’s head, none of them clear enough to comprehend. There was anger, sure, anger of Merlin keeping this secret for so long, and there was a sense of wonder as he recalled the embers that had only seconds ago danced around his room. Most of all there was love beaming from every part of him. It came from the magic in the air, from the gold in the eyes of the man slowly backing toward his window, and it came in a great burst that all he could do was laugh.
Merlin froze in his tracks and stared at the king in shock as he doubled over on himself, clutching his stomach as though he had just witnessed the most hilarious thing he had ever seen. “Why are you laughing?” the warlock questioned, his voice ringing at a higher pitch than usual.
Arthur was unable to respond, and he found himself calming down the longer Merlin stared at him in shock. “Oh, you idiot man!” he exclaimed, walking up to the shell-shocked man and grabbing his face in his hands, pulling them together so he could place quick kisses all over Merlin’s tear soaked face.
“I don’t understand,” Merlin said brokenly, his eyes snapping closed at the invasion of Arthur’s lips on his skin and a sob breaking from his throat as his king kissed him.
It was only moments later, after Arthur could gather Merlin into his arms that he could speak clearly. “I wish you could have come to me sooner,” he mumbled into the warlock’s neck, “that way we could have avoided all this trouble.”
He paused as he lifted his head to wipe more of Merlin’s tears. “Come now, love,” he whispered softly. “I do hate seeing you cry.”
Merlin laughed wetly, and he smiled at Arthur as though the alcohol from earlier in their night still had an effect over him. “You have no idea how long I’ve wished to tell you all this,” he laughed, and Arthur smiled in response.
“I think I have some idea,” he responded softly. Merlin laughed as Arthur squared his shoulders in a mighty stance and grabbed him softly by the shoulders. “Now, since you are so keen on insisting tonight was a mistake,” he said jokingly, “I -- King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot -- command you to get right back into that bed at this moment.”
Merlin laughed as Arthur drug him by his biceps back to the mattress, the two of them falling heavily on it as the king fumbled to grab him in a hug. “What now?” Merlin asked as Arthur pulled the blankets over them, his arms fumbling to wrap the warlock in his arms.
“Now,” the king began, “we sleep and leave everything else to be worried about in the morning.”
Merlin smiled brightly and leaned forward slightly to kiss his king’s cheek. “I like that idea.”