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Gwaine watched as Merlin bent his head closer to Lancelot's on the other side of the campfire, a secretive smile on his face as he whispered something. He scowled when whatever that was said made Lancelot laugh heartily and clap Merlin's shoulder with more than a little affection.

 

“They've always been like that,” Arthur's voice startled him out of his intense Merlin Watching.

 

“What?” Gwaine tried to play it off, pretend he wasn't staring but Arthur only gave him an incredulous look.

 

“Him and Lancelot. Always whispering to each other, heads together, ever since Lancelot saved his life and Merlin helped treat him.”

 

“Is that how they met?” He's wanted to hear the story for so long, but refrained from asking for fear they would know why he wanted to know.

 

Arthur rolled his eyes at Gwaine's faked casual tone. “Yes. As far as I know, Lancelot was hurt and Merlin brought him back to his chambers to heal him.”

 

“Does Merlin often make a habit of letting strange men he doesn't know sleep in his bed, then?” The question was blurted out before Gwaine could control himself. He wished he could shove them back in his mouth at Arthur's much too understanding gaze.

 

Yes, so hang him. He had thought he was special, all right?

 

“I know...” Arthur began with some hesitancy, eyes trained on the fire now. “He seems delicate sometimes. Like he needs protecting. He's an idiot, yeah, but he's also... he has his own darkness, Gwaine. He doesn't like to let people close, and he guards his secrets better than a dragon guarding a vast treasure. ”

 

Gwaine wanted to ask how a PrinceKing who pretended much indifference to his manservant could know so much about him, but he didn't want to interrupt whatever insights Arthur was willing to dole out today.

 

“And it hurts. Knowing that he doesn't trust you hurts. And it tears you apart until all you can do is sit and wait and accept his utterly ridiculous smiles, and hope that he'll tell you today. Just, maybe today would be the day.” Arthur glanced sideways for a brief moment, eyes full of meaning. “D'you understand what I'm saying?”

 

Gwaine shook his head. The preposterous notion that Gwaine should guard himself against Merlin rather than the other way around was too great to comprehend. Merlin was a sweetheart. He distributed broad grins like a peddler selling fine silk from far off lands. He tutted over Gwaine's injuries when he and Arthur got into one of their little competitions. Merlin moaned and complained whenever a hunting trip got too long and weary. Merlin was loyal and brave and fiercely loving.

 

Arthur smiled, a little bit sad. “Of course, not. He's Merlin, right?” Then he looked back at Lancelot and Merlin.

 

The latter of the two was giving some long explanation, hands flying everywhere as he told his story to Lancelot in hushed tones. When he noticed them looking, Merlin halted in his story. He smiled haltingly at Arthur and Gwaine, said something more to Lancelot. Lancelot blinked, nodded and stood up at Merlin's cue and followed Merlin beyond the camp into the thicket of trees.

 

Arthur sighed knowingly. He raised an eyebrow at Gwaine as it to say I told you so.

 

Loving Merlin hurts, Gwaine. It always will.”

 

Gwaine stared at the patch of shrubbery through which Merlin and Lancelot disappeared, and sighed.

 

Yeah. Yeah, it does.”