It was always when Merlin thought Arthur wasn't paying attention when the Crown Prince noticed all the little things that gave away Merlin's magic. The first time Arthur noticed, for example, had been when Merlin brought lukewarm tea. Arthur demanded that he return to the kitchen and being a fresh pot. As it turned out, Arthur saw Merlin outside the door from his position on the bed as he sat looking out the window, seeing his manservant's reflection. He stood for a few seconds before he came back in with the teapot, claiming that Gwen had just brought a replacement when they met down the hall. Arthur knew this wasn't true and wondered why Merlin lied and how the tea was suddenly warm.
Then it was the other smaller things. How Merlin was able to do the job of three men in a single night with his armor and clothes; how, in a fight in the woods, Merlin was always absent until after the enemy fell or retreated; why, whenever Uther spoke about the evils of magic, Merlin was so reserved.
It wasn't until he walked into his room one night and saw Merlin idly reading a book as he waved a finger in the air, the spoon for his stew stirring on its own, did the pieces finally set into the puzzle.
He backed out and barked out Merlin's name, allowing the servant to look nonchalant. Looking back, he wasn't sure why he kept Merlin's secret a secret. Growing up, Arthur was taught that all magic was evil, but even he knew that like knights and their weapons, users of magic could fight for good or evil. Merlin, most likely since the very beginning when the snakes came forth from Valiant's shield and exposing him for the evil he was, had been using his magic was good.
It was the little things in his attitude that showed Arthur just how frightened Merlin was at the thought of being discovered. Arthur was angry that Merlin was a sorcerer at first, but his reasoning came through to him. Had they not known each other as long as they had, the prince would have likely thrown him into the dungeons or send him to the pyre without a second thought.
Arthur decided to test exactly what Merlin thought about magic. One night, as Merlin was drawing his bath, Arthur casually mentioned that he used to have a friend who had practiced magic; this was false.
Growing up, he barely had any friends. None, actually. Merlin knew this, but his statement seemed to catch him off guard.
"I trusted him," Arthur said, gauging Merlin's body language due to his face being turned away. "My father didn't hesitate to strike him and his family down. It was a shame, though. Looking back, just about everything he did was for the good of the kingdom. He was a dear friend, and I feel like if he trusted me with his secret, he'd still be here today."
Arthur didn't dwell on the fact that he was, technically, lying to his friend (not that he would admit such a thing). He told himself that his lie and story was for the good of Merlin's future, for him to see that it was okay to share his secret with him.
"So you weren't always a prat, then," Merlin said casually. "Huh. Makes you wonder what an itsy-bitsy Arthur was like. Maybe he gave the people less headaches?"
In typical Arthur and Merlin fashion, they exchanged banter, empty threats, and names before Merlin left the room. Throughout the conversation, Merlin's body language stayed the same. It had remained guarded since Arthur told the beginning of his story. It was a little thing, but it was still striking.
It was the little things in the battle field that made Arthur worry for his manservant's safety. Before, he couldn't for the life of him understand why Merlin came along with them despite the fact that he couldn't handle a weapon. Now, it was obvious he wanted to protect them from any threats along the way. And honestly, Arthur was relieved. He hated to admit it, but this indeed something he would relay to Merlin. If the idiot would just tell the truth, of course.
It was the little things in Gaius's quarters that seemed to give it away. For a brief second, he saw what seemed to be a tome or spell book of some sort before Gaius threw a cloth over it and the books it surrounded, acting very subtle as he relayed that Merlin was not in his room and had already left.
As time wore on, he briefly wondered if anyone else knew. If the knights knew, for one. He crossed that thought away; the knights (a majority of them, anyway) were very open about their hatred and vehemence towards the magic folk. He thought that Gwen might know, seeing as the two servants were good friends, but with the excuses he saw Merlin make to her, he knew that was not the case.
If Uther knew, Merlin wouldn't be there anymore. Next.
Arthur was sure that Gaius knew. After all, he was always giving excuses for when Merlin wasn't there. He probably knew since before Merlin first arrived to Camelot. Of course, he still didn't understand why that idiot would practice magic in this land. He really wanted answers to his questions.
When his father died and took his place as king with Gwen at his side (he saw that coming as he saw Merlin's sorcery coming), the first thing he did was conduct a draft in secret to lifting the ban of magic in Camelot. No one, especially the Court, knew of his secret project. And the first person he decided to trust the first preview of the draft to was his closest friend and ally.
But not before he received a mysterious visitor the night before his meeting with Merlin.
"Who are you?" Arthur demanded to the man in front of him, sword poised to attack. The man somewhere managed to get through the door of his study, probably by picking the lock. The man was dressed in some of the oddest clothing of which Arthur had never seen. It looked very formal.
"Ah, pardon my intrusion, my liege." The man bowed and had an idiotic smile on his face, similar to the ones Merlin would have. "I was sent by a man named Jethro to speak to you."
Arthur frowned, keeping his guard up. "I don't know of anyone named Jethro."
"That's because it's a name he gave himself to avoid suspicion. In this time, he goes by Merlin."
"Merlin sent you?"
"Sort of. A future version of him sent me. Ah, sorry. I'm the Doctor." He bowed again, his hands in the pockets of his pants. "So. King Arthur. Gotta say, you're a lot younger than the legends state. Well, technically, not all legends are entirely accurate, I mean there's no tryst between Gwen and Lance, now, is there? Well, actually, thinking about it, it was more for dramatic flair that what happened in history. Well, not that many people know it was history, Camelot's washed away into a legend. Well, I say 'legend,' but there are still magic users well into my time, the Carrionite, for one. Well–"
"Enough of your yammering!" Arthur shouted, wondering what the hell he deserved to have this man come to him. "Who are you?"
The man almost looked offended. "I told you, sire, I'm the Doctor. I'm a time traveler. I came from the future, where a future Merlin told me to come to this day. Er, it is the third Saturday of November, yes?" The man looked at something on his wrist. "Yes, seems to be right. Can't ever be sure."
At this point, Arthur merely wanted to slice the man's thrown just to get him to shut up. "Very well... Doctor," Arthur said stupidly. "You're from the future? What sort of magic allows one to travel through time? Is Merlin even capable of such a thing?"
"No, he isn't. Merlin's powerful, but he'd need ingredients to open a time portal. Or, he can have the technology of my people to accomplish such a thing. But anyway, enough 'bout that. He wanted me to give you this." He reached into what seemed to be a pocket from inside his jacket and pulled out a tome that was much too large to fit inside. "Here it is. Look familiar, sire?"
Arthur gingerly took the book, his sword leaning on his desk and his forehead furrowed as he tried to recall where he saw the intricate patterns that was on the cover of the book. "Is it not the same tome Merlin has?"
"It's a different, actually. This one has more spells and charms than the one Jeth– Er, Merlin has. The Merlin of my time gave me this tome, which I was instructed to give to you, which you are to give to Merlin before you appoint him as your Court Sorcerer tomorrow."
It was the little things that connected Merlin to this man. The fact that he knew about Arthur's plan to appoint Merlin as Court Sorcerer, for one. This tome would, eventually, become the same tome that Merlin would pass to the Doctor when they meet, for him to pass to Arthur, then Merlin, then the Doctor again. The man had defined it as a "paradox," in which the exact origin of the tome would be unable to be discovered or pinned down. With a farewell of respect, the Doctor left his study, using some sort of silver tube that buzzed (a wand?) like a bee as the door swung shut and locked on its own. Perhaps that was how the Doctor came inside.
It was the little things that showed how anxious Merlin was the next day. He entered the king's study chambers like an idiot, just like always. When Arthur mentioned banning the anti-magic laws, Merlin was shocked. When he added in putting magic users as part of his Court, the knighthood, or even as castle staff if they wanted, Merlin was gripping his seat with his hands so sight that his knuckles turned paler than usual. When Arthur brought up he lied about his story of the friend with magic who died, Merlin broke.
It was then that Arthur felt guilty, for the first time since discovering Merlin's secret, for keeping it a secret from him that he knew.
Years worth of weariness, fear, anger, and tears sprouted. Merlin let out pathetic sobs that Arthur would otherwise tease him with, stating, in between heaving breaths, that all his acts had been for the good of Camelot and the safety of his friend and king.
Arthur promises that he understands, and while he was angry at first, forgives him. Then he presents the new tome to Merlin and officially appoints him as his Court Sorcerer, the first in what he hoped to be a long line of Court Sorcerers for as long as Camelot would stand. He lies and says he made secret exchanges to get the tome; the paradox returns and he's sure to have a headache for dwelling it too much.
He would almost hear snarkiness from Merlin as if he said it out loud. Oh, so the royal arse has a brain, then?
Arthur never sees the Doctor again, but he's sure he glimpses a strange blue box in the sky as he lies on the ground after being struck. He's not sure what this blue box has to do with the Doctor, though; perhaps being near death has made him delirious. He closed his eyes as all breath left him, the warmth of his friend holding him in his arms being all that he needed as the Once and Future King lay still.
Jethro erased Val and Biff's memories of having a son when they returned to Midnight. He thought that by hiding with normal humans, he would be able to have no alien or magic force encounter. Of course, he was wrong. The hostess... No one knew her name, and Jethro felt like he was disrespecting on a royal grave.
He reached for his tome in his bag before he remembered he gave it to the Doctor to give to Arthur all those years ago. He was almost about to beg to go with him to see his family and friends before the voice in the back of his head told him how bad of an idea that was. Arthur was right; he really was that stupid.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't see who he was walking into until he collided head-on with another man, the both of them dropping their bags and their contents spilling everywhere.
"Oh gods, I'm so sorry–"
"Sorry, mate, I didn't see–"
"–I didn't see where I was going, I–"
"–wasn't looking, I didn't mean to–"
They both kneeled down to pick up their things, and when he picked up what seemed to be a folded shirt, his gaze rested on a familiar coat of arms imprinted on it.
"I'm sorry, didn't see where I was heading."
Jethro looked up to see a blond man looking down at him, his hand in offering to help him up. He carefully took it, the same warmth that he became accustomed to as King Arthur's right hand man radiating through the stranger's hand.
"N-no, it's all my fault," Jethro said hurriedly, giving the shirt back once he folded it. "Er, that coat of arms looks familiar. Can I ask where you got it?"
The man who looked a lot like Arthur when he died, except for the growing facial hair, frowned at the shirt. "Er, not sure to be honest. I've had it for as long as I remember." He looked at Jethro. "Sorry about that, by the way. What do you say I get ya a Midnight treatment? My treat, to apologize for bumping into you like that."
Jethro laughed. "Yeah, sure. Be nice to be treated like royalty by a prat."
"Prat?" The man lifted an eyebrow at him, clearly insulted. "Well, you'd have to be an idiot to not see someone bigger than you walking."
Jethro shook his head, offering his hand. "Yes, because you've such an agile mind. Name's Jethro."
"Pleasure, Jethro. I'm Arthur." Arthur took his hand and shook. "Come on, now. I think the best place would be get you to the infirmary."
Jethro frowned as he followed Arthur. "Why an infirmary?"
Arthur smirked. "To see if that fall knocked any of your brain cells loose. Oh don't be such a girl, Jethro, I'm just joshing. Here, the spa treatment should relax you. Idiot."
Jethro smiled as he spent more time and discovered just similar and different this Arthur was from the old one. In the end, they were two separate Arthur's, but somehow still the same person underneath.
It was the little things, he decided, that let this friendship last much, much longer.