"Bad bets sometimes pay off.” ~ Marty Rubin
It was winter in Camelot – almost Christmas. The snow was everywhere and the lakes were frozen, all the leaves have fallen off their trees more than two weeks ago and children were building snowmen and sliding across the frozen water.
If only everyone could stay home and relax in front of the fire. Like Uther or Gaius, who went out only to check on his patients and to buy some food and then stayed in his chambers, buried in books. No, not everyone got to enjoy the warmth of fire in their fireplace. Some people, like Merlin and Arthur for example, had to travel across the entire kingdom to get to the castle of their neighbouring king for his signature on a contract that Uther had suggested.
The king Bayard from the kingdom of Mercia was old and couldn’t travel all the way to Camelot in such a cold weather. Therefore, Uther had sent his son with Merlin to deliver the contract to Mercia.
It wasn’t an easy journey – through the forest of Ascetir and the mountains, twice. Then they had to cross two large rivers (thank god the ancient bridges were still there because the rivers weren’t frozen like the lakes were) and then a few more miles to the borders.
Fortunately, they made it all the way to the kingdom of Mercia, but it was getting dark and they didn’t have enough time to get to the castle. They found a village though, and entered the local tavern to rent a room for the night.
What they found when they opened the door though, surprised both Merlin and Arthur.
There was about twenty people, about seven of them were playing dice and another five started some kind of a drinking game. The rest was only watching and laughing. And drinking too.
What caught both Merlin’s and Arthur’s attention was the drinking game though, because one of the men playing, was someone they were familiar with.
“Gwaine?” Merlin laughed, but Gwaine didn’t hear him. Instead, he started laughing and drank some more.
They haven’t seen him since Uther banished him from Camelot. But they could have expected he’d be in some tavern, getting drunk as usual. He said he was thinking of going to Mercia after all. It was a nice reunion.
Merlin started walking towards their friend, but Arthur caught his arm and stopped him.
“What?” Merlin asked, eyeing Arthur questioningly.
“We should pay for the room first, you know what Gwaine is like.” Arthur argued. “Once he sees us, he’ll get us drunk and we’ll be kicked out of the tavern.”
Merlin sighed and rolled his eyes, but followed Arthur to the owner of the pub anyway. They paid for one night and went into their room to put there their bags of food and money and already used spare clothes. When they were done, they locked the door and joined others in the tavern.
They went to the table where Gwaine was sitting, pouring another jug of mead into his mouth and they tapped his shoulder. When he turned around and saw them, a big broad smile appeared on his face and he attempted to stand up and give them a hug. It looked more like Merlin with Arthur were supporting him while he slumped against them.
“Princess! And his Merlin!” He smiled as he pulled away and sat back down. “Long time no see!”
“You were banished two weeks ago, Gwaine.” Arthur reminded him, but smiled too. Two weeks was a long time when you became friends with someone like Gwaine.
Gwaine chuckled and shrugged. “Couldn’t appreciate my fighting skills and pretty face, I guess.” He told them, probably talking about Uther. But who knew? He was drunk.
“It’s good to see you, Gwaine.” Merlin smiled and Gwaine smiled back.
“See? He likes my pretty face.” Gwaine giggled and winked at Merlin. When his companions complained about his lack of attention, he turned back to them and sent them away. After a while, they stood up and found another table to continue their drinking game without Gwaine.
Gwaine motioned for them to sit to their table and once they were all seated, Gwaine immediately poured them two jugs of mead. “On me, gentlemen!” He laughed and took a big sip. “It’s good to see you again too.” He winked.
“Where have you been these past two weeks?” Arthur asked, hesitantly looking at his mead. He shouldn’t drink, they were on a business travel for his father and he should be responsible.
“Travelling from one tavern to another.” Gwaine grinned. “Got kicked out three times, met a few nice ladies and drank a lot of delicious mead. So far they have the best here, so I intend to stay.”
“That’s nice.” Merlin smiled. “Well, we’ve had some adventures too,” he nudged Arthur with his elbow and grinned at Gwaine. “Arthur got engaged for example.”
Gwaine almost spit out his delicious mead at them as he blinked and looked at Arthur. “Engaged?” He faked a smile. “But what about Merlin? I thought you two... you know...” he looked at them and grinned.
Merlin’s face got all red and Arthur cleared his throat and distanced himself from Merlin on the bench. “There’s nothing between us, Gwaine.” He told him. “And I didn’t marry princess Elena.”
“Surely because of Merlin then,” Gwaine mumbled as he took a sip again. Before Arthur or Merlin could react, he continued. “But that’s such a shame, our princess marrying another princess, could have been a good show, right Merlin?” He grinned and looked at the servant.
Both Arthur and Merlin rolled their eyes. Then Gwaine noticed they haven’t touched their drinks yet. His eyebrows went high enough to compete with Gaius’ famous eyebrows as he looked at Arthur and Merlin. “Drink, it’s good mead, I’m not lying.” He told them.
Arthur sighed. “I’m sorry, I can’t.” At that Gwaine’s eyebrows went even higher. “I’m on a business travel for my father and I have to be sober tomorrow.” He explained and glanced at Merlin who was just nodding at Arthur’s answer. He grinned childishly and patted Merlin’s shoulder. “Merlin should drink though.”
None of them has ever seen the young warlock drink anything that contained alcohol. He always held back or didn’t go to the tavern at all, even though Gaius seemed to think he did every time Arthur asked him where Merlin was.
Arthur’s grin grew even bigger when he saw Merlin’s panicked expression. Then he glanced at Gwaine and saw that Merlin had his full attention. They both wanted to see Merlin drunk.
“That’s right!” Gwaine smiled and patted Merlin’s other shoulder, shoving the tankard with mead closer to him. “Drink, Merlin. You never drink! You don’t know what you’ve been missing!”
Merlin cleared his throat and swallowed, looking at Arthur grinning on one side and on Gwaine’s drunken smile on the other. “I... I can’t, I’m with Arthur on the... the travels... business!” He started stuttering, but Gwaine was already holding the jug and bringing it closer to Merlin’s lips.
“Come on, Merlin.” Gwaine pleaded and tried to look sad. “You never drink with us.”
“Yeah, you’re no fun.” Arthur added. “Drink, it’s an order.”
At this Merlin turned to him. “You can’t order me to drink when I don’t want to, I-”
“Sure I can, you’re my servant.” Arthur smirked. “You do as I ple-”
“Shut up, you two.” Gwaine rolled his eyes and finally put the jug to Merlin’s mouth. Merlin looked down with wide eyes, but when he saw Gwaine’s sad expression and Arthur’s triumphant one, he sighed and took a sip. He knew he was going to bloody regret it though.
An hour later, Merlin was drunker than anyone in Gwaine’s experience. Arthur was still sober, laughing mostly at how stupid both Merlin and Gwaine were behaving and at their nonsense conversations.
Yeah, Merlin was definitely a light drinker. And Arthur could tell this was his first time getting drunk, he had no idea what he was doing and even Gwaine had to stop him from drinking more.
Then they started playing dice.
Arthur took the dice and closed them in his hands, smiling and throwing them at the table. “Eleven!” He said. Then he frowned disappointedly.
The dice landed on one and one. That was two, and not eleven.
“But,” Merlin looked at the dice confused. “That’s one and... and one, right? Well, that makes eleven, doesn’t it?” He grinned and looked at Arthur. “How come you always win?”
Arthur wanted to correct him, but stopped when Gwaine started talking. “I didn’t know you were so good at counting, Merlin.” He said. Then he looked at the dice on the table. “Twelve, that’s right. You win again, Arthur.” He patted Arthur’s back and took the dice to play again.
Arthur considered correcting them, but seeing that they were both drunk as hell and they weren’t even playing with money, he sighed and let it go. He looked at Gwaine, who clasped the dice in his sweaty palms and started shaking his hands all around his head, whispering some numbers.
“Sixteen!” He threw the dice on the table. It landed on five and two.
Arthur snorted. “You know you can’t make sixteen with only two dice, right?” He asked Gwaine.
Gwaine just shrugged. “You can, with a little bit of magic.” He grinned and took the dice to throw again.
“Hey, it’s not your turn!” Merlin complained, but they ignored him.
“Magic is outlawed, Gwaine.” Arthur continued in the conversation and rolled his eyes. Who would want to use magic anyway, it was dangerous.
“Hm, not here, princess.” Gwaine smirked. “We’re in the beautiful kingdom of delicious mead, Mercia. Magic is not outlawed here, even when Mercia and Camelot became friendly kingdoms.” It was the most logical sentence Gwaine has said all evening.
While they were talking, Merlin took the dice and threw them on the table. Unfortunately though, one of them landed on the floor. When Gwaine saw that there was only one die left on the table, he took a sip of his mead and grinned as he got an excellent idea.
“Oh I know!” He exclaimed, cutting Arthur off. “Next to playing dice, betting is the best thing!” He laughed and threw the last die at Arthur’s face. The prince didn’t manage to dodge in time and frowned.
Merlin grinned at that and didn’t even try to hide it.
“What bet?” Merlin asked.
Gwaine smiled proudly and took a little sip. Then he took a deep breath and announced. “Whenever I’m in tavern with friends, we bet!” He told them. “We bet about everything! Who’ll win the fist fight or who’ll get a girl interested in the next five minutes, or once they get to know me, they bet that I won’t be able to stay sober for two days-”
“Let me guess, you always lose.” Arthur asked.
A little frown appeared on Gwaine’s face. “That’s true, but today we’ll make a different bet.” He looked at Merlin, who was innocently listening to their talk. “We’ll bet on Merlin!” He laughed.
“What bet?” Merlin repeated his question from earlier and reached for Arthur’s jug of mead, next to Arthur’s new jug of water. Arthur’s hand on his wrist stopped him though and Merlin pursed his lips and put his hand back.
Gwaine cleared his throat and looked at Arthur with excited eyes. “Since magic is not outlawed in Mercia,” he smiled and turned to Merlin. “I dare you to pretend you have magic for one whole day!”
Arthur almost spit out his drink (water of course) at the same time as Merlin most definitely spit out his drink (Gwaine’s mead). Gwaine just started laughing. “Come on, it’ll be fun! I promise!”
“Wha-” Merlin swallowed. “What?” He finished his question, looking at Gwaine as if he had grown a second head when they weren’t looking. Despite being drunk as never before, the word magic still caused Merlin to snap back into being serious.
But... Gwaine was right. It might be fun! And magic wasn’t even outlawed in Mercia, so he could do magic whenever and wherever he liked, right?
Okay, maybe his drunk mind didn’t take this very seriously. He knew he was going to regret it later, he never should have agreed to drink with Gwaine.
“Gwaine, this is the stupidest idea that you’ve ever come up with.” Arthur told him. He didn’t notice Merlin’s panicked eyes when Gwaine said the word magic. But Merlin was all happy again anyway.
“You haven’t got the slightest idea about all the ideas I’ve... I’ve ever come up with... that was a bloody long sentence, mate. Did you hear that?” Gwaine laughed and snorted when Merlin started laughing too.
Merlin was a happy drunk, Arthur noticed. But this wasn’t funny, even though magic was not punishable by death in Mercia, it was still a very sensitive subject for a conversation. Magic wasn’t used openly, at least not often as Arthur’s heard. But he’s never been to Mercia, only his father told him that and maybe Uther just wanted to believe it and it wasn’t true. Gwaine was the only one of them who’s been in Mercia for at least a few days already.
“Gwaine,” Arthur warned, but Gwaine was already picking the dice from the floor and shaking them in his hands.
“Ready Merlin?” He winked at the warlock and Merlin grinned. “Alright, let’s make another bet. If I throw the dice and get... Merlin what number should I get?” Gwaine asked.
Merlin looked at his fingers as if he could somehow count the random number. “Uh... seven.”
“If I get a seven, we’ll make the bet and Merlin will pretend he’s all magical.” Gwaine grinned. Merlin frowned, but as soon he saw Gwaine’s smile, he smiled back. This land was full of magic, he didn’t have to be afraid, right?
“And if you don’t get a seven?” Arthur asked, glancing between Merlin and Gwaine. They were way too drunk, he should have kept Merlin at least a bit sober. Gwaine was already drunk when they came.
“Then...” Gwaine put his fingers on his chin to show that he was thinking very hard about this. “Then you’ll have to dance with Merlin!” Gwaine smiled triumphantly when he saw how ashamed Merlin looked.
Arthur shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. This idea was ridiculous. And apparently not dependent on his decision because when Arthur looked up, Gwaine was already shaking the dice in his hands and throwing them across the little round table.
And to his surprise, it did land on a seven.
Arthur groaned but was secretly glad he didn’t have to dance with Merlin, now that would be embarrassing. But now Merlin had to pretend he was a sorcerer, and that was a big problem. Well... it wasn’t really a big problem, the idiot didn’t have magic and pretending he had wouldn’t change anything, but still... as he said, it was a delicate subject for a conversation.
He just hoped Merlin would forget all of this in the morning... if he woke up in the morning. Arthur had this feeling that after so many drinks, he wouldn’t be able to wake Merlin up before noon.
“So I win!” Merlin exclaimed with his eyes wide as he was looking at the dice on the table closely. Gwaine looked at them even closer and nodded. “We win, mate.” He smiled at Merlin who smiled right back.
“Great.” Arthur forced a smile and folded his arms on his chest. Merlin used that opportunity to reach for Arthur’s jug of meed, but Arthur stopped him again. “Don’t!” He told him. “You’re drunk enough, Merlin.”
Merlin tried to make puppy eyes at Arthur. “Would it help if I used magic?” He asked.
Arthur sighed. “Nope.”
Merlin sighed too and looked back at his empty jug. “But I’m thirsty.” He complained. Then he smiled. “Right! I have magic! I’m gonna made me some mea-”
"Water." Arthur corrected him with a stern face.
“Right.” Merlin rolled his eyes.
Gwaine took the dice and threw one at Merlin. Then he laughed when Merlin tried to find the dice under his neckerchief. When he found it, he threw it back at Gwaine and managed to hit his forehead.
Arthur pinched the brick of his nose for the second time that evening and looked out of the window that was in the corner of the room. It was dark, very dark. It must have been late because they’ve spent at least two hours with Gwaine already. And they had to wake up early the next day to make it to the castle of king Bayard before noon.
He turned back to Merlin, only to find him staring intently at his empty jug, moving his hands all over it. ”Wæter.” He whispered as he closed his eyes. Gwaine was watching closely and he frowned when nothing happened.
Merlin frowned as well. “Maybe next time, mate.” Gwaine patted his shoulder and winked. “Becoming a sorcerer probably takes more practice.”
Merlin pouted. “But I already am a sorcerer.” He told them and Gwaine laughed.
“We know.” He smiled and then hiccuped. Arthur ignored them completely and took a sip of his water. Pretending to be sorcerer and to cast magic spells was definitely not a good idea. He just hoped no one had recognised him in the tavern and overheard them talking about magic.
Gossip was faster than any horse in the kingdom after all.
And he would have to explain himself to his father and... oh and Merlin would probably get hanged or something. Yup, it was too dangerous. The decision has been made.
“Merlin.” Arthur called his name, stopping Merlin in trying to cast another spell. Merlin looked up at him questioningly. “We’re going to our room, it’s late.”
“But Arthur, just a few more minute-”
“Merlin we have to get up early tomorrow and you’ve drunk so much that it I’ll call it a miracle if you even get up tomorrow.”
“It’s gonna be one hell of a hangover, mate.” Gwaine grinned and took the dice. Merlin glanced at him and then back to Arthur.
“Please just one more game!” He pleaded. When he saw Arthur’s answer was not going to change, he quickly added, “but wait, I’m a sorcerer! I can make you stay, right?” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again, but Arthur grabbed his forearm.
“Nice try, sorcerer.” Arthur rolled his eyes and helped Merlin get up. Once he was standing though, he slumped against Arthur’s chest, just like Gwaine did when he greeted them earlier that evening.
Arthur looked down at Merlin’s black hair (that was all he could see) and sighed. “And because you’re a sorcerer and I’m your prince, you’ll have to go with me. No excuses.”
Merlin mumbled something incoherent into his chest so Arthur helped him stand up again and put his arm around his neck, supporting him. “We’re... we’re in Mercia though.” Merlin hiccuped. “Gwaine said-”
“Gwaine says a lot of things Merlin.”
“I do.” Gwaine grinned as he waved at his friends at another table. “But whatever I say, it’s always the truth.” He added.
“Sure it is.” Arthur rolled his eyes and waved his goodbye at Gwaine. Gwaine nodded and tried to throw the cards on the table as if they were dice. One of his companions stopped him in time and started playing dice again.
Arthur looked at Merlin, only to find him with his head softly pressed against his shoulder. He shook his shoulders to wake Merlin up. ”Merlin, you can’t sleep until we get you back to our room.” He reminded him.
Merlin mumbled something again, but Arthur wasn’t listening. He pinched Merlin’s forearm and when it didn’t help, he kicked his leg with his foot. Merlin opened his eyes.
“Ow!” He cried out and looked at Arthur. For a few seconds it looked as if he was sober. Until he kicked Arthur back and laughed.
“For Christ’s sake Merlin, I never should have let you drink.”
Merlin only giggled at that and let Arthur drag him back to their room. After finding out that Merlin wasn’t able to stand on his own, Arthur walked him to his bed and let him fall into the covers.
“Umm comfy bed.” Merlin mumbled. Arthur went to close the door and locked, just in case. When he turned to look at Merlin, he realized it was so dark that he couldn’t even see him. He didn’t notice any candles in the room earlier.
He still had to undress though and change into something comfortable to sleep in. Their bags were somewhere... somewhere on the floor probably... where had Merlin put them?
“Where are my things, Merlin?” He asked into the dark room. The only response he got was more giggling from the bed.
“In our room, dummy.” Merlin inhaled deeply and sighed.
“We are in my room, you idiot!” Arthur hissed as he tried to move forward and almost knocked down a table. “It’s too dark.” He sighed.
Then Merlin laughed. “Honestly, what do you think I’m here for?” He said. Arthur could hear the smile in his voice and rolled his eyes. Drunk Merlin wasn’t much of a help, and he didn’t want to open the door again to let some light in, he wanted some privacy. “Why don’t you just ask me to help you when I’m a sorcerer?” Merlin continued.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “There we go again. That stupid bet.” He turned to where he thought Merlin was. “Merlin, you’re not a sor-”
Suddenly a bright white light emerged from Merlin’s palm and enlightened the whole room. Arthur quickly turned his head to look at Merlin with wide eyes. Merlin’s eyes were wide too.
“It worked!” Merlin laughed and stared into the light. Then he looked up at Arthur. “See? I’m a sorcerer, I told you.”
Arthur was speechless. Utterly speechless. What was he supposed to reply to that? His servant could do magic, which was outlawed in the kingdom he spent his last four years in, working as the prince’s servant. How could they return home when Arthur knew Merlin was breaking the law?
And how did he manage to do magic anyway? When he tried with the empty jug, it didn’t work. And Arthur knew Merlin wasn’t a sorcerer...
“Arthur, look.” Merlin seemed suddenly not tired at all. His eyes were sparkling and it was not only because of the light. They were gold. Arthur gasped and took a step back. But on the second thought, he took another step forward.
"Merlin.” Arthur whispered. Merlin’s eyes were wide when the spell worked. Arthur wasn’t sure, was that a spell? What if Merlin has always had magic, but... he just never tried, never knew about it. What if this is the moment he found out? All because of a stupid bet.
Arthur had to decide what to do. And he had to do it now.
Merlin wasn’t dangerous, he was... Merlin.
What if you don’t choose magic, but... magic chooses you? Because Merlin would never start doing magic right under his nose. He’d never lie to him. He was just Merlin. That’s why Arthur slowly approached the bed and sat down next to Merlin, who looked at him with slight smile on his face. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Merlin smiled up at him.
“Merlin,” Arthur started and suddenly his mouth was dry. He feared the answer he might get. Did Merlin know any spells? Was he not lying when he said he already was a sorcerer? “How did you do that?” He looked at the light in Merlin’s palm.
Merlin followed his gaze and a warm smile spread on his lips. “With magic of course! I’m a sorcerer.” Merlin said without hesitation, but when he saw Arthur’s serious expression, he cleared his throat. “Well... I guess I just thought about it.” He whispered. It almost looked like he was sober again, but the Merlin Arthur knew, he’d never be so calm about discovering he could do magic. It was a very serious situation and this Merlin, the drunk Merlin, was just so mesmerized by the light.
Arthur swallowed as he nodded. He had to take care of this, take care of Merlin, his idiotic servant who... who just found out he had magic. They had to keep it a secret of course. He had no idea how Merlin would react once he was sober again. And he didn’t even know if he should go back to Camelot, magic was outlawed and what’s worse, punishable by death. Arthur couldn’t imagine a world without Merlin, he had to keep him alive.
But on the other side, could he lie to his father? He wouldn’t... he shouldn’t. But this was for Merlin, and he would lie if it meant saving his best friend’s life. But he needed time to think. To think this through.
First things first though. They needed to go to sleep and then head to the castle of king Bayard for his signature. Until then he wouldn’t think much about the fact that Merlin had magic.
He took a deep breath and slowly took Merlin’s hands in his own. The light slowly stopped shining so bright until it disappeared. It was dark again, but their hands were touching and Arthur was sure Merlin was looking into his eyes.
“For now, you’ll try not to use magic, okay?” He told him slowly. He could feel Merlin’s breath on his face when the young warlock exhaled. He didn’t know they were that close.
“I nodded.” Merlin simply answered. Arthur rolled his eyes fondly.
“It’s dark, dummy.” He smiled as he used the nickname Merlin gave him earlier. “I can’t see you.”
“No.” Arthur’s smile disappeared and he tightened his grip on Merlin’s hands. He almost forgot they were still touching. It didn’t even feel that weird. “Not until we’re somewhere safe and alone, and far away from anyone who could see us. Then we’ll talk about this.”
“But we are safe and alone.” Merlin argued and squeezed back. “And it’s dark, no one can see us.”
Arthur’s cheeks got a tiny bit red when he heard what Merlin said and thought about what Gwaine had said earlier about them. Then he cleared his throat. He was glad Merlin couldn’t see him, but... their hands were still touching. “Someone could see the unnatural light.” He exclaimed calmly. “And that’s enough of talking, we both need sleep.”
Merlin laughed for some reason that Arthur didn’t understand and lay down into Arthur’s bed. “Goodnight then.” He giggled and yawned loudly. He was asleep within seconds.
Arthur didn’t even care he was still in his dirty clothes and that Merlin hasn’t changed into something better either. He didn’t even care Merlin fell asleep in his bed and that confused him a little – normally he would care about it, but... he couldn’t believe he was thinking this, but Merlin was cute and way too affectionate when he was drunk. He never imagined Merlin behaving like this, it made him want to take care of him.
And so Arthur took his blanket and gently covered his servant. Merlin snuggled to the warm blanket and sighed happily, which made Arthur smile.
Then Arthur searched for his bag on the floor and changed into a new tunic and trousers after all. Without even thinking about it, he pulled up the covers and slipped into the bed next to Merlin. Then he covered himself with the same blanket, closed his eyes and kept them closed when he felt Merlin snuggling a tiny bit closer to him, seeking warmth in the cold night.
Yes, it was cold outside. That was Arthur’s excuse for sleeping in the same bed with his manservant, he wouldn’t do it if he could sleep anywhere else.
When Arthur woke up, the first thing he noticed was that they’d changed positioned in the night. For some reason, he was the big spoon now and Merlin’s back was pressed against his chest. Merlin held Arthur’s hand that was wrapped around Merlin’s waist, and... were their fingers entangled?
Arthur opened his eyes widely as he realized what was happening. He was quite literally wrapped around his servant in the same bed. If by some miracle Gwaine managed to find them now, they’d never hear the end of this.
That’s why without even thinking about it, Arthur let go of Merlin’s hand and tried to disentangle himself from the boy. Once he managed to do that and was sitting on the other side of the bed, everything from the evening with Gwaine and drunk Merlin came back to him.
Merlin had magic.
And he had to help him somehow, take care of him because of his father who had this habit of sentencing every sorcerer to death. Or anyone who he suspected had magic.
Arthur sighed and got up. He went to the window and looked outside through the glass. It was snowing. He had hoped it wouldn’t snow because they had to continue on their way to the castle and it would get much more difficult with a snow storm.
And with Merlin who was going to have an awful hangover. Probably for the first time in his life. If he knew how hangover felt like, he wouldn’t drink that much, would he.
The prince sighed again and rubbed his eyes. It was very cold in their room and he was thirsty. Luckily, there was a jug of water prepared on the table from the day before. When he went to the table though, he managed to trip over their bags on the floor that he left there a few hours ago when he was changing into different clothes.
He landed on his face in front of the table and immediately stilled, cursing under his breath and waiting for Merlin to wake up. The boy kept sleeping though.
Oh right. The hangover. He wasn’t going to wake up any time soon. But when Arthur stood up again and drank some of the water, he realized that hangover or not, he had to get Merlin out of the bed. They couldn’t let the king wait.
The room was silent except for the soft snores of his servant and it felt wrong to wake him up when Arthur came closer to the bed and saw Merlin’s peaceful face. He knew Merlin needed the sleep, but this wasn’t something he could just ignore, they were still on a business travel.
He knelt down beside the bed, his face mere inches from Merlin’s head. He looked at his closed eyes and remembered their gold colour when Merlin managed to use magic. A shiver ran down his spine, so he closed his eyes and shook his head. He couldn’t think about that now, he needed to wake Merlin up.
“Merlin,” Arthur said gently and carefully ruffled Merlin’s black hair. Then he realized how completely out of character he was behaving so he distanced himself from Merlin’s face and shook his shoulder. “Merlin! Wake up you lazy idiot, we have to go!”
Merlin moaned and closed his eyes tightly. “No,” he mumbled. Arthur rolled his eyes and even though he didn’t really want to, he took Merlin’s blanket and uncovered him. “No!” Merlin hugged himself when the cold air got to him and opened his eyes.
He glanced up at Arthur and squinted at the light.
“How are you feeling?” Arthur couldn’t help but ask.
“Everything hurts.” Merlin admitted. Arthur chuckled.
“Thought so.” He said. “Listen, I know it’s early, but we have to go, so get up and go prepare the horses. I’ll get us some food for the way.”
When Merlin didn’t make any sign of movement, Arthur rolled his eyes and grabbed Merlin’s arms and pulled him up. When Merlin was finally sitting, but his eyes were still closed, Arthur decided that the situation required drastic measures.
He went to the table for the jug of water and not wanting to make Merlin all wet, poured a little into his palm and then threw it on Merlin’s face. Merlin’s eyes opened immediately and Arthur smiled triumphantly.
“Get up and pack our things, then go and prepare our horses and meet me in front of the tavern in about half an hour.” Arthur commanded and waited for Merlin to nod.
Then he left the room.
Every movement he made, every breath, the light in the room... and his stomach. He felt like throwing up, but he managed to hold it all in as he slowly, very slowly, stood up and left the bed. The beautiful, comfortable and warm bed that he... shared with Arthur? Was that just a dream or did it really happen?
Merlin’s eyes widened as he looked around the room. There was no other bed and it was still so cold. Arthur and he definitely shared a bed in the night. Well, thank God Merlin has slept through all of it, he wouldn’t want Arthur to see his blush.
He yawned and stretched himself and began packing their things. Arthur was right, they had to get to the king Bayard as soon as possible. The sooner the better. He couldn’t wait to get back to Camelot and to his own warm bed.
He hummed as he imagined it and closed his eyes. But the fantasy was soon over because the air in their room was too cold.
When he was done with packing, he took the bags and threw them over his shoulder. Then he left the room and went down the stairs to the main room of the tavern. He had to stop a few times because his head started spinning, but it was alright in the end. Well, as alright as he could be, everything still hurt like hell and he felt more tired than ever.
He smiled though when he noticed Gwaine sleeping on the table. He had to drink a lot the day before. And Merlin had also a few drinks... they played a game, haven’t they? But what-
Merlin’s eyes widened and he almost tripped over one of the chairs when the memories came flooding back and he remembered exactly what happened. He couldn’t recall everything, but the bits here and there that he knew happened were enough for him to start panicking.
There was alcohol, a lot of alcohol. And Gwaine with Arthur and also some kind of a bet. It had something to do with magic, didn’t it? And then there was Arthur helping him back to their room and... a light.
Merlin gasped and put his hand on his forehead as his head spun again.
He used magic in their room. In front of Arthur.
Merlin’s eyes were closed and he took a deep breath. Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder and he visibly winced.
“You alright, boy?” Some woman asked him. That was probably the barkeeper, but Merlin wasn’t sure. He couldn’t remember anything aside from Gwaine’s face and alcohol and magic.
“Y-yeah, I’m f-fine.” Merlin mumbled as he tried to focus on her face.
“First hangover, innit?” She smiled sympathetically and nodded. “You aren’t the first one this morning.” She looked behind him and when he turned around he saw another young boy, sleeping with his face on the table.
“Don’t drink so much next time.” She said and then left him. All Merlin managed was to nod weakly as he quickly made his way out of the tavern and to the horses.
He tried not to think about it, but he knew Arthur saw the magic. He could remember Arthur holding his hands and he wasn’t sure, but it had to be because he saw his magic. He would never hold his hands like that unless he was trying to stop Merlin from doing something, and Merlin knew he was doing magic.
He prepared the horses and calmed down a bit. When Arthur arrived, Merlin didn’t say anything and hoped that maybe Arthur was drunk too and forgot about his powers.
“I’m a little surprised you made it outside after all.” Arthur chuckled as he mounted his horse. “You were so drunk yesterday.”
“Yeah,” Merlin chuckled nervously and mounted his horse as well. “I hope I won’t fall off the horse.” He added.
“You better not.” Arthur smiled. Smiled. How could he smile when he knew Merlin has been lying to him? “I won’t be the one picking you up.” He chuckled and glanced back at Merlin who was riding behind him.
Then Arthur slowed down a little bit and let Merlin’s horse ride forward so they could be next to each other. Why was Arthur like always, or maybe a little too nice when he knew about his magic? Maybe he didn’t know after all...
Merlin had no idea what to do, so he stayed silent most of the way to the castle. He was lucky that it was snowing, but once it stopped Arthur didn’t let him be quiet and started talking. That was when they finally saw the castle in the distance, which was about three hours later.
“Do you remember anything at all from yesterday evening?” Arthur asked the question that Merlin feared the whole morning.
“Um... bits here and there.” Merlin answered and took a deep breath. He had to stay calm. No panic. No panic.
His hands were shaking as he held the reins and he had this feeling it wasn’t only from the cold. He swallowed.
“Do you...” Arthur started and cleared his throat. “Do you remember what happened in our chamber after we left Gwaine?”
Merlin silently cursed and closed his eyes. This was it. This was when Arthur would tell him he knew about his magic and that he couldn’t come with him back to Camelot because his abilities were against the law. This was the end of their friendship, their destiny, their everythi-
“Merlin?” Arthur turned his head to look at him and frowned. Merlin looked sick. “Are you alright? It’s the hangover, isn’t it?”
Merlin nodded without even thinking about it and then he realized that maybe it was partly the hangover. His stomach hurt more than before and he felt very sick. And he couldn’t talk even if he wanted to.
He didn’t even notice when Arthur stopped both of their horses and moved closer to put his hand on his back. “Are you alright?” He repeated his question with unmistakable concern in his voice.
Why was he being so nice to him? Was it some kind of reckoning for the lies throughout the years?
Merlin’s eyes were closed as he nodded again weakly. A shiver ran down his spine and in the next second he was leaning over the saddle of his horse, vomiting down to the white snow the content of his stomach.
He couldn’t hear what Arthur was saying over the sounds he was making, but the hand on his back disappeared. He tried not to think about it much.
The vomiting took about three minutes and he was absolutely sure his stomach was completely empty by the time he finished. He took a deep breath and when he opened his eyes, Arthur was standing on the ground, right next to him. His hand was reached out towards Merlin and full of white snow.
“Here,” Arthur said. “Wash your mouth with it.” He pointed at his own chin to show Merlin where exactly he should wash and when Merlin nodded and took the snow, he handed him his waterskin.
Merlin took a sip and rinsed his mouth and then closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m never drinking, ever again.” He mumbled. Arthur’s soft laugh was the only thing he heard.
“Don’t tell Gwaine about that, he’d be disappointed.” He smiled as he went to mount his horse again.
Merlin didn’t answer and stayed silent for a few more minutes. Then Arthur repeated his question. Why couldn’t he just let it go? “So, do you remember what happened in our chamber?”
Merlin considered lying, he did. But if Arthur knew about his magic and he lied and said he didn’t remember anything, Arthur would find out and be angry that he continued in lying. Frankly, he’s never been very good at lying. Magic was among the few things he thought he had to lie about. That’s why he became so good at it. But now? Should he lie again or start trusting Arthur more?
“I... I have magic.” Merlin stuttered and tried to slow down his breathing. He was still feeling sick and this talking about secrets was exhausting and not making him feel better at all.
“I know.” Arthur replied. Just as Merlin feared he would. “And once we get the contract to king Bayard, we’ll talk about it and figure out how did it happen.” He looked at Merlin. “We are welcome to stay at his castle for two days.”
Wait what? Did he say ‘figure out how did it happen’? What did it mean? “What do you mean?” Merlin swallowed and his eyes locked with Arthur’s.
“I don’t know if you remember all of it, but it was dark in our room and you were somehow able to use magic.” Arthur explained calmly. “After the bet, you must have thought you really were a sorcerer and... I don’t really have an explanation, but we’ll figure it out once we have time.”
As soon as he finished, Merlin had to look away to hide his smile. They were almost in the castle already, the guards have noticed their arrival and started opening the gates for them even though they were still pretty far away.
But Merlin didn’t care. What Arthur told him meant only one thing – Arthur knew about his magic but thought that Merlin didn’t know about it. He thought he’d only just found out in their chambers and... he wanted to help him figure out what caused it?
Did that mean Arthur wanted... to take care of him? Merlin smiled fondly and completely forgot about the whole big misunderstanding. He knew he should tell Arthur that he was wrong and that he’s been lying to him since they first met, but at the same time he didn’t really want to tell him.
He knew it meant he continued in the big spiral of lies, but he found a few excuses for that, okay? First, he was still feeling sick and his head was spinning a little bit. No, that was actually two excuses already, so the third one was that they were already entering the gates of king Bayard’s castle and it was too late to talk about magic. Even though it was sort of legal there.
So what Merlin did was that he smiled at Arthur and let Arthur smile back. Then he stayed silent for the rest of their way to the king.
They didn’t spend nearly as much time as they wanted to in king Bayard’s castle. Once they had been accepted to the great hall to meet the king, an empty throne awaited them. Then some servants went to meet them and bowed, informing them that the king had passed away the day before.
There was no one on the throne and no one to sign the contract. And Bayard had no family so the only option was to go back and inform Uther. The message of Bayard’s death would spread through the five kingdoms and soon the other kings would try to take over Mercia.
But that was nothing Merlin or Arthur cared about, not now anyway. It was still cold and they had to go back to Camelot as soon as possible.
“We should go back to the tavern.” Merlin spoke as he looked up to the sky. It wasn’t snowing anymore and the sun was shining bright in the cloudless blue sky. “At least to say goodbye to Gwaine.” Merlin added when he sensed Arthur’s prepared negative answer.
Arthur thought about it and then nodded. “Alright, but only to say goodbye. Then we have to go back to Camelot.”
Merlin groaned. “I’m not looking forward to crossing those rivers again.”
“Or the mountains.” Arthur added. “Maybe we could find the druids and make them teach you a few things so you could get us to Camelot with magic.” Arthur joked and smiled.
Merlin tensed though and as silently as possible cleared his throat. Arthur sensed his discomfort and sighed. “Look, I know it probably isn’t the best topic for a conversation, but sooner or later we will have to find out how come you have magic.”
Merlin stayed silent.
“How did you make that light in our room?” Arthur asked again. This time he hoped he’d get a better answer than the day before when Merlin was still drunk. “And how did it feel?” For some reason Arthur was getting excited and he didn’t notice that Merlin was getting more anxious.
Merlin closed his eyes tightly. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t lie to Arthur, to his best friend. Not anymore, not now that he knew Arthur was more or less okay with him having magic. He couldn’t lie. The longer he would, the more Arthur would be angry once he found out the truth.
“I’ve had magic since I was born!” Merlin said and once he started, he couldn’t stop himself. “I could move object sooner than I was able to speak! I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you, I couldn’t, I was afraid and I didn’t want to put you in the position where you’d have to decide whether to lie to your father or kill me! The light was a simple spell and I didn’t even need an incantation, my magic is mostly instinctive and very strong and sometimes I can’t control it, I’m so sorry I lied Arthur!”
He didn’t even realize they’d stopped the horses. His heart was beating too fast in his chest and his hands felt clammy even in the cold weather. He could hear his heart in his ears and he was pretty sure his eyes were wetter than they were supposed to be.
But Arthur was silent. Dangerously silent and he was looking away from him. “Arthur,” Merlin hesitantly whispered, knowing well Arthur could hear him. “I’ve been using my magic to help you. Not for anything else.”
Arthur bowed his head and Merlin noticed his eyes were closed. “You betrayed me.” Arthur said. “And lied to me... all this time.” He turned to Merlin and frowned.
Merlin swallowed. “I wanted to tell you.”
“Then why didn’t you?” Arthur yelled. “Why didn’t you tell me when you knew I thought you didn’t know you had magic?”
The look in Arthur’s eyes made Merlin feel more guilty than before. “I’m telling you now.” Merlin whispered with tears in eyes. He was wrong. He’s lost Arthur. He’s losing him right now.
“You could have told me.” Arthur closed his eyes again. “You should have told me. What did you think I’d do? Run you through?” He raised his voice, but tried to calm down as he noticed Merlin’s slightly scared and guilty expression.
“You know I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t.” Arthur said softly. But then he frowned again. “I need some time to... to think what to do.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know!” Arthur yelled again. “Just... don’t follow me.” He added as he kicked his horse and galloped away.
A tear rolled down Merlin’s cheek and he quickly wiped it away so it wouldn’t freeze in the cold weather. He shouldn’t cry. He shouldn’t. And he shouldn’t follow Arthur.
He followed him anyway.
It wasn’t even that hard since it wasn’t snowing and Arthur’s horse’s footsteps were clear in the snow. Merlin rode slowly so he could give Arthur some time to think and relaxed a bit when he found out Arthur was heading back to the tavern.
At least he knew where to find him.
He was insulting himself in his mind like never before. He felt guilty for lying to Arthur and for keeping the secret for such a long time. Arthur was right – he knew Arthur wouldn’t kill him, but he really didn’t want to put him in that position. And he thought about it all the time, about what could possibly happen if he told Arthur. The best scenario he’d come up with was that he’d get banished or that Arthur would fire him. Meaning, he wouldn’t be able to fulfil his destiny and Albion would never be born.
He didn’t tell him because he was afraid. Afraid of Arthur’s reaction, the future and the possibility that he’d never see Arthur again. He wouldn’t be able to live without Arthur. He was so much more than a friend to Merlin.
He was his best friend, his destiny, his other half, the other side of their coin as Kilgharrah told him, he was the person he cared about the most, he was more than a brother, he was more than everything. Arthur was special and Merlin just couldn’t bare to lose him.
But he wasn’t sure if it was the other way around too. If he meant to Arthur just as much as Arthur meant to him.
The jokes Gwaine said about them being together made him feel a bit uneasy. And embarrassed. He wasn’t sure if it was because he hoped Gwaine was right about them being together or simply because it was embarrassing. But he was sure of one thing – that whatever Arthur would decide, he’d obey him.
And even if Arthur banished him, Merlin would always make sure Arthur was safe anyway, even if it meant sneaking up to his chambers every day for the rest of his life.
Arthur reached the tavern a few hours later and after putting his horse to the stables, he walked right in. He didn’t even greet Gwaine who was sitting at the same table as before, drinking again. He rented the same room as before and once he was inside, he locked himself in.
That’s the first time he let himself relax after finding out Merlin’s been lying to him since they first met. He closed his eyes and let his body fall down to the more or less (rather less) soft bed.
He took a deep breath and sniffed the pillow. It still smelled like Merlin. He couldn’t get it out of his head – how they woke up in the morning. He was practically hugging his servant and he didn’t even mind, not really. What was happening?
Was Gwaine right about the jokes that they’re together? What if Arthur wanted them to be together. What if-
No. No, he shouldn’t be thinking about that right now, he had much more important things to think about. Unfortunately these things involved Merlin as well.
He betrayed him. He’s been lying to him for years and when Arthur found out and was wrong, he didn’t say anything. He let him think he found out about his magic only because of the bet.
The worst thing was that Arthur wanted to protect him. He knew Merlin and Merlin wasn’t evil like his father thought every magic user was. He wanted to help him because he knew Merlin was different and innocent and that he didn’t know he had magic. He didn’t believe magic could corrupt Merlin. Merlin was just... too Merlin to be corrupted.
But now? Now he had no idea what to do and if he should protect Merlin at all. He’s been lying to him and that meant that magic might have already corrupted him. What if the real Merlin, Merlin with magic, was completely different from the Merlin Arthur’s become friends with? What if he wasn’t like his Merlin at all?
Then he thought about what Merlin told him – he’s had magic since he was born. Was that even possible? To be born with magic? It seemed impossible to Arthur, and Merlin’s been lying before so he could be lying now too, but for some reason Arthur didn’t think he was.
His heart still trusted Merlin and wanted him to keep close, but his brain was telling him to not trust him at all. To tell his father. He couldn’t tell his father though. Uther would kill Merlin without hesitation. And Arthur couldn’t let that happen.
Merlin also told him he’s been using magic only to help him and for nothing more. Was that true?
Arthur had no idea what to think or what to do anymore. He had to let the battle between his heart and brain continue. That’s why he closed his eyes and hoped Merlin wouldn’t come knocking for at least two more hours.
It was exactly two hours later that Merlin finally arrived back at the tavern. He noticed Arthur’s horse in the stables and let out another sigh of relief. Arthur was there after all. After putting his horse right next to Arthur’s, Merlin entered the tavern.
The first person he saw was Gwaine, sitting at the same table with a jug of mead in his hand. Merlin smiled slightly, but he had more important things to do now. If Arthur wasn’t in the main room, he must have rented a room again. Hopefully the same one they had before.
That’s why instead of coming to greet Gwaine, Merlin ran up the stairs and stopped in front of their room. He took a deep breath and gently knocked on the door.
At first there was no reply. “Arthur?” Merlin called softly and waited for any kind of response. Perhaps Arthur’s had enough time to think and had come up with a solution.
“Go away, Merlin.” He heard Arthur’s muffled voice say.
But of course Merlin was still Merlin, so he didn’t obey and tried to open the door – only it was locked from inside. Merlin closed his eyes and sighed, leaning his forehead against the door.
“Arthur, I’m sorry.” He said.
Then he took a deep breath to hold in the tears and slowly left. He went down the stairs and through the main room of the tavern, not even noticing that Gwaine called his name. He went right through the door back into the cold and decided he needed some time to think as well.
He didn’t want to go far though, so he went around the tavern and sat down on a bench that was by the wall of the house. He hung his head into his hands and closed his eyes. First tears escaped him and he let them. He didn’t care anymore.
Because he’s ruined it. He’s destroyed their entire relationship just by lying one more day. If he had told Arthur he actually knew he had magic, all of this wouldn’t have happened. Or it might have not happened. Arthur would still be angry, but he wouldn’t be angry with him because he lied to him the entire day and let him believe he was innocent.
He wasn’t. That was another problem. As much as he wanted to think so, he was not innocent at all. The things he’s done to protect Arthur... he killed Nimueh and almost Morgana. He used his magic for violence to protect the one person he cared about and as much as he thought he needed to do those things, he would never forgive himself. Not really. Not even if Arthur forgave him, which was never going to happen since Merlin was a horrible friend and didn’t trust Arthur enough.
And Arthur was angry. He didn’t even want to talk to him and he locked himself in their room! Maybe he really thought Merlin was dangerous. Uther’s been teaching him to believe just that since he was a little boy.
“I’m such an idiot.” Merlin mumbled through his sniffles and wiped his face with his sleeve. He could almost hear Arthur’s reply, but... there was no reply. Maybe there won’t ever be one. Maybe Arthur’s decided not to ever talk to him again.
Merlin wouldn’t be able to continue his life like that. He needed Arthur. And Arthur needed him, even though he didn’t believe that.
Suddenly a hand appeared on his shoulder and Merlin almost jumped away in fear until he noticed whose hand it was.
“Needed some clear air, mate?” Gwaine asked as he sat down next to him, not even asking if Merlin wanted to be alone. Then he put his jug of mead into the snow and grinned.
“What are you doing?” Merlin asked, trying to turn the conversation away from his emotional state because Gwaine must have already noticed he has been crying – still was crying.
Gwaine looked at him, not saying anything about Merlin’s croaky voice and the tears on his face or his red-rimmed eyes. “I’m freezing the mead.” He grinned. “I heard it’s quite tasty.”
Merlin wiped his tear and smiled. “It could be.” He agreed. Gwaine managed to make him stop thinking about Art- oh shit. Nope, he was still thinking about him.
“So, what happened?” Gwaine asked, definitely not helping the situation.
“Nothing.” Merlin replied automatically and Gwaine rolled his eyes.
“Come on, mate.” He smiled and grabbed Merlin’s shoulders, turning him around so Merlin was facing him now, not able to hide in the shadows. “You know you can tell me right? Whatever the princess did to you, it’s-”
“It wasn’t him, it was me.” Merlin whispered. Gwaine raised his eyebrows.
“See? First piece of information. Wasn’t that hard, was it?” He patted Merlin’s shoulder and smiled fondly. “Now, will you tell me what did you do? You might not believe it, but I’ve been told I’m one of the best relationship counselors.”
“We’re not-... it isn’t like...” Merlin stuttered and sighed, closing his eyes. He knew they weren’t together, but would he be lying again if he said it? He wanted them to... get closer, didn’t he? “We’re not together, Gwaine.” He answered.
“Whatever you say, mate.” Gwaine chuckled and Merlin didn’t argue any further. He felt he wasn’t strong enough.
Seeing that Merlin wasn’t going to talk on his own, Gwaine repeated his question. “What did you do then? I’m sure it isn’t that bad. I mean, you look like you’ve destroyed your whole life.”
“I might have.” Merlin whispered and didn’t even care that another tear slipped down his face, right in front of Gwaine. He was his friend and he was trying to help him after all.
“A little optimism wouldn’t hurt, Merlin. You’re always so cheerful.” Gwaine frowned. “I’m sure everything is gonna be just fine.” When Merlin didn’t react, he sighed. “Will you tell me what you did or not? The mead isn’t the only thing that’s freezing out here and frankly, I’m quite curious, but I also want to help you. You know that.”
Merlin took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly. “I... I lied to him.”
“That’s it? I lie to people all the time!”
“Gwaine.” Merlin stopped him, looking at him with pleading eyes. Gwaine calmed down and nodded as an apology. Merlin looked down again. “I... I’ve been lying to him since we first met and... and he found out.”
“What did you lie about?” Gwaine asked another question, trying to get some answers from Merlin.
“I’m sorry, I can’t... I can’t tell you that.” Merlin sniffled.
“You know you can tell me anything. I won’t judge you.” Gwaine offered and put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Not even if you say you didn’t like the mead you had yesterday.”
Merlin smiled slightly, but the smile soon disappeared. “I... I can’t.”
“Was it about your magic?”
Merlin’s head snapped to look at Gwaine at the speed of light as soon as he heard Gwaine’s question. His eyes were wide as the plates in the tavern and he stopped breathing.
As soon as Gwaine saw Merlin’s reaction, he squeezed his shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay.” He said. “Magic is okay in Mercia, I told you.”
“But h-how... how did you know?” Merlin asked carefully, looking at Gwaine with fear in eyes.
“Met a fella in one of the taverns.” Gwaine smiled. “Said he was former knight of Camelot and that he was unworthy of staying in the position and the kingdom.” Merlin’s eyes widened as he heard that. “His name was Lancelot. And I liked him, so I got him drunk.” Gwaine grinned.
Merlin couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Of course you did.”
Gwaine’s grin widened when he saw Merlin was in a slightly better mood. That was his intention. To make his friend feel better. “When he was drunk enough, he started talking about what happened.” He continued. “He didn’t say your name or that you lived in Camelot, but when I saw you I did the math.”
Merlin smiled. “Then you know why Arthur is upset now.” Merlin sighed and looked down as his eyes filled with fresh tears. “He hates me.”
Gwaine immediately reacted. “No, he doesn’t Merlin, and you know that.” He told him and squeezed his shoulder again. “He loves you.” He smiled.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “No, he doesn’t,” he said. “We’re not together, Gwaine.”
“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Told you I’m a great match maker. And relationship adviser or counselor or what that word is.” He smiled at his friend.
Merlin stayed silent. “That doesn’t matter now.” He said a few moments later. “The point is... that I’ve ruined everything.” He sniffled. “Arthur won’t let me come back to Camelot with him. I’ll have to stay here or go back to Ealdor. And-” Merlin stopped and quickly looked down. He wasn’t sure if he could share this with Gwaine. He already thought they were in love and he’d take the next sentence as a confirmation.
“What?” Gwaine asked.
“I just... I can’t leave him.” He sighed. “He’s my best friend.” He added.
Gwaine smiled slightly and quickly checked the mead in the snow. It wasn’t frozen yet. Then he looked at Merlin again. “Don’t worry, mate.” He said. “He just needs some time, and as pigheaded as he can be, he’ll make the right decision and forgive you.”
“You don’t know that.” Merlin mumbled.
“I don’t. But I know you and I know Arthur... a little. He’s a good man and your friend. He won’t push you away.”
“Even though I’ve been lying to him the entire time that we’ve known each other?” Merlin asked.
“He’ll realize that life without you is no fun.” Gwaine smiled. “And if he doesn’t, we’ll travel together. Merlin and Gwaine, the adventures of The Knight of Mead and his friend Sorcerer!” He laughed and was glad that Merlin laughed too.
“Yeah, you’d make me drink every day.” He smiled.
“That I would.”
“And just so you know, I’m not actually sorcerer.” Merlin added. “I was born with my magic, so technically I’m a warlock.”
“Warlock or a sorcerer, you’re still my friend.” Gwaine patted his back. “And that’ll never change.”
“Thanks.” Merlin smiled fondly. Gwaine nodded and stood up. When he turned around to leave, Merlin called after him. “Oh and Gwaine?”
“If you knew I was a sorcerer, why’d you make the bet?” He asked. Gwaine took a step back and laughed nervously. Then he sighed and answered honestly.
“I was drunk.” He said. “More than usual and I wanted to have some fun! I didn’t realize you really were a sorcerer and that Arthur didn’t know, I just looked at you and my drunk mind said magic so I said we’d make a bet.”
Merlin nodded. “You shouldn’t drink so much then.”
“And what about you?” Gwaine grinned. “You were way more drunk than I was! Arthur had to drag you back to your room.” He laughed.
Merlin blushed and pursed his lips. “And you passed out and were still asleep when I found you in the morning.” Merlin smiled then.
Gwaine smiled back. “That’s all my usual mornings.” He said. Then he waved his hand. “Keep an eye on my mead, would you? I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He winked and disappeared behind the corner.
Merlin smiled slightly and nodded. Then he looked down and his smile disappeared. Gwaine was a good friend, and he wanted to believe him, but Arthur really was pigheaded and there was always a chance that the adventures of the Knight of Mead and his friend Sorcerer would have to come true. That he’d stay here in the cold winter and he’d never see Gaius again. Or Gwen.
He couldn’t leave Arthur. He just couldn’t.
He’d rather die.
Hours later, Merlin was still sitting on the bench in the cold and there was no sign of Gwaine. Merlin didn’t really mind that he didn’t show up again, he needed the time to think anyway. For example about what he was going to tell Arthur once he gets back to their room. If Arthur lets him enter their room at all. He’s locked the door before.
Merlin sighed and looked up to the sky. It wasn’t snowing and the sky was clear, full of stars. It was already dark all around him and he was pretty sure he managed to catch a cold, but he didn’t really care. All he cared about was Arthur.
After a few more minutes, he sighed and finally got up. He slowly made his way back to the tavern, the mead in the snow forgotten by both Merlin and Gwaine. He opened the door and hot air hit his face.
He turned around and took one last deep breath of the cold air outside, before he finally closed the door after him and made his way to one of the tables. He saw Gwaine on the other side of the room – as usual, drinking with some people Merlin didn’t really know.
Merlin wanted to order something since he hasn’t eaten almost anything that day, but then he decided against it. He was in no mood to eat and he didn’t even feel hungry anymore – all he wanted to do was to go back to Arthur, but he had no idea what to say to him. Where to even begin.
Hey Arthur, I’m sorry for lying to your for three years, but you didn’t really give me a choice, did you? Remember what you said once? That I helped you see that all sorcerers were evil?
Merlin frowned and closed his eyes. Then he left the room and went up the stairs, very slowly. But he couldn’t delay the moment any longer. He was already standing in front of their room, again.
At first he wanted to knock, but in case Arthur was already sleeping, he gently pulled at the doorknob to see if it was still locked. To his surprise, it wasn’t.
He silently opened the door and sneaked into the room, closing behind him again. Then he locked the door. When he looked around, it was just as dark as the day before, when Merlin revealed his powers to Arthur. It made him frown again.
He looked over at where Arthur was probably in the bed and then knelt down on the floor to try and palpate their clothes. He didn’t want to use magic again, who knew what Arthur would do.
After a few minutes, he managed to find his bag and pulled out his night clothes. He looked one more time at where the bed was, but seeing that it was really dark, he stopped worrying and started changing his clothes. Once he was done, he sat down on the floor and sighed silently.
What was he supposed to do now? There was only one bed in the room and it was cold and there were no spare blankets so he could sleep on the hard floor. He could always go downstairs to ask the owner of the tavern – it was the woman who noticed him once, right? He met her that morning when his head started spinning dangerously and he remembered what happened.
Or he could try to rent a new room, but... he didn’t have enough money.
“Merlin?” He suddenly heard Arthur whisper. Merlin stayed silent and his breath hitched. Arthur was talking to him again? “You don’t want to actually sleep on the floor, do you?” He asked.
Merlin swallowed. Was Arthur suggesting what he thought he was? “Where else would I sleep?” He replied just as quietly.
He heard a sigh from the bed, followed by the sound of the covers being pulled away. “The bed is big enough for both of us and it’s too cold.” Arthur started. “So come here before I change my mind, and once we wake up, we’ll never talk about it again. Deal?”
Merlin smiled a little at Arthur’s unusual behaviour. “Deal.” He said and stood up, carefully making his way to the bed – at least he thought it was the right direction.
After a few seconds, he hit the bed frame with his knees. He reached his arms out in front of himself and tried to find out where exactly Arthur was sitting or lying. When he accidentally hit his shoulder, he apologized.
“Always so clumsy.” Arthur replied.
“It’s too dark to see if you failed to notice.” Merlin answered and sat down to the bed. As soon as he was inside, he felt the warmth radiating from Arthur’s body, and he tried to ignore it, but damn it was so cold.
He covered himself and laid as far away from Arthur as he could. But the blanket wasn’t big enough, so Arthur immediately complained. “Move closer Merlin, I don’t want to freeze to death while you get the whole blanket.”
“Sorry,” Merlin mumbled and carefully shifted closer to Arthur’s body – dangerously closer. He felt Arthur as he covered himself with the rest of the blanket and once the blanket was completely around them, he could feel Arthur’s stomach pressed to his back. Arthur was almost all around him.
He would have never imagined this moment could happen. Ever.
After a few minutes of silence passed and Merlin was sure Arthur still wasn’t asleep, he decided to talk about what happened that day and apologize again. He took a deep breath and started. “Arthur-”
“I heard you and Gwaine from outside.” Arthur cut him off, completely surprising Merlin. He heard them? When Merlin stayed silent, Arthur continued. “I opened the window to get some clear air without having to go outside and you were sitting right under it.” Arthur explained and added, “idiot.”
“So... you heard all of it?” Merlin asked and without thinking about it, he turned around to look at Arthur, even though he couldn’t see him because of the dark. So dangerously close.
“I did.” Arthur said.
Then Merlin grabbed Arthur’s forearm, surprising them both. “Arthur I’m so sorry.” He said. “You have no idea how much you mean to me.”
“So I’m not a complete dollophead or a clotpole or a royal-”
“I’m not saying you aren’t.” Merlin chuckled, glad that Arthur started their usual friendly banter. It meant he wasn’t mad anymore. At least not as much as he was before. “But you’re also someone that I’ve become friends with and...” Merlin hesitated for a moment, before he spoke the honest truth. “And I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
Arthur seemed to get serious after Merlin’s declaration. Then he remembered something. “But how come you told Lancelot sooner than me? You’d known him barely for a week.” Arthur said, frowning again. And also avoiding the moment he’d tell Merlin he also meant a lot to him. Even if he had magic.
“It was an accident.” Merlin hurriedly told him. He was still clutching Arthur’s forearm. “I wasn’t careful enough and he saw me use magic.”
“Then I wonder how come I haven’t found out sooner, you make all sorts of accidents in my chambers and everywhere around the castle.” He smiled.
Merlin chuckled. “If I’m clumsy, then you’re a prat.”
“Yeah, maybe I am.” Arthur said, choosing to make their conversation serious again. “But you were wrong about what you told Gwaine. I don’t hate you, Merlin. And I will let you come back with me to Camelot.”
Merlin sighed in relief after hearing that. He closed his eyes briefly and smiled, trying to make the tears go away. “Thank you.” He whispered and squeezed Arthur’s forearm.
“Gwaine was right about one thing though.” Arthur said then. “Life without you is no fun.” He smiled.
“Ha! I knew I was funny sometimes!” Merlin grinned.
Arthur adjusted the blanket on his shoulders, resulting in him being even closer to Merlin’s face. He didn’t notice it though because of the dark, right until he felt Merlin’s breath on his cheek and his eyes widened a little. Then he remembered they had an ongoing conversation and a witty answer was expected of him before Merlin started worrying.
“You’re not, you’re just so clumsy that every movement you do is ridiculous.” He said. He felt Merlin’s whole body tense when he spoke. He probably also realized just how close they were.
Was Gwaine right about anything else? He was. Arthur loved Merlin even if he didn’t know it yet. Gwaine was wrong about being a good relationship adviser, but he was definitely not mistaken in spotting the tension between the prince and his servant. It has always been there.
“You’re way more ridiculous than me.” Merlin whispered.
“Your whole face is ridiculous.” Arthur tried and Merlin continued in the game right after.
“Your hair is ridiculous.” (Psst he secretly liked Arthur’s hair.)
“Your whole outfit it ridiculous!” Arthur laughed.
“How dare you!” Merlin’s mouth formed the perfect shape of letter o, but he immediately continued with the game. “Your chambers are ridiculous and... and your clothes and sword and-”
Arthur couldn’t stop himself when he silenced Merlin with a kiss. Well, the kiss landed more on the corner of Merlin’s mouth and on his nose, but Arthur soon relocated his lips so that they could kiss properly.
Merlin was just talking too much and he felt every breath on his cheek. It was ridiculous to stay unaffected by that. Nobody would, certainly not in this case because the tension was becoming unbearable – they were in the same bed for god’s sake.
Merlin did a little hmmfh sound in the back of his throat when Arthur kissed him and his eyes widened, but he soon melted into the kiss and closed his eyes again. They were kissing and it was too dark to feel embarrassed by that, so who could blame him when he let go of Arthur’s forearm and grabbed his shoulder instead to pull Arthur closer?
Arthur smiled at that and carefully wrapped his arm around Merlin’s waist under the warm blanket. Merlin didn’t protest, so he pulled him even closer and deepened the kiss.
Once the kiss was over and they pulled away to take a breath, their foreheads were pressed together and eyes closed and big stupid smiles were on their faces.
“Seems Gwaine was right about another thing.” Merlin laughed silently, smiling when he felt Arthur’s hot breath on his chin, meaning that Arthur laughed too.
“Don’t tell him that though, imagine how high his ego would get.” He smiled and pressed his forehead against Merlin’s warm neck, breathing in. Merlin laughed at that and hugged Arthur to press their bodies even closer.
“Maybe he’d really make a good relationship counselor.” Merlin smiled.
“Shut up.” Arthur laughed and pulled Merlin closer again, which was not entirely because of the cold.
If they were worried before, they didn’t have to be worried now about surviving the night. Something was telling them there would be no problem at all with sharing body heat that night.
Epilogue (Gwaine’s POV)
His head hurt like hell and his entire body felt exhausted. But he was used to this, after years of drinking. And the delicious mead was worth it, wasn’t it? Definitely worth it, maybe he’d really make a good Knight of Mead. Or maybe he might come up with a more catchy name.
The cold air ruffling his hair made him open his eyes and sigh. New day was beginning and he had only little money left – he had to find a job. Maybe he’d work in the tavern, but he’d have to stay sober for that and stop playing dice so often.
Maybe Merlin would stay with him. He said he wasn’t sure if Arthur would take him back to Camelot now that he knew about his magic, but Gwaine hoped Merlin would get to get back home. Camelot was good for him. And he and Arthur were good for each other.
Gwaine raised his head and once it stopped spinning, he rounded the tavern, remembering the mead he left behind the house in the snow. It would be definitely frozen now.
He smiled when he found it exactly where it was supposed to be. Then he stopped. He heard someone talking.
“This is my shirt, Merlin. You can’t wear it.” It was definitely Arthur’s voice and when Gwaine looked up and saw the open window, he realized why he heard it. He grinned.
“I know, but if you hadn’t spilled that water on my shirt, this wouldn’t be a problem!” Merlin answered.
“And you don’t have any other spare shirts?” Arthur’s resigned voice asked.
Merlin’s reply was a little quiet this time, but Gwaine heard it. “You know I don’t.” He said. “And I don’t understand why this is a problem anyway, after what happened last night.”
“Gwaine’s eyes widened and he had to cover his mouth with his hand to stop laughing out loud.
He knew he was right! They were together! Or maybe they got together last night, Merlin wouldn’t lie to him when he said they weren’t together. And it would make sense.
“Alright.” Gwaine heard Arthur reply gently. It made him wonder what exactly happened last night, but he didn’t want to think much about it. Privacy and all that.
He decided it was too much eavesdropping (and they stopped talking anyway) so he took his mead and slowly made his way back to the tavern. He stopped in front of the door though when he saw Merlin and Arthur coming outside.
“Hey!” He waved his hand at them. They turned to him and smiled.
“Bye, Gwaine! We’re both going back to Camelot after all.” Merlin grinned at him as they went around him to get to the stables. Gwaine grinned mischievously and winked at them.
“I would think so.” He smiled. “After what happened last night." He grinned when he saw how red Merlin’s cheeks suddenly went and how wide Arthur’s eyes became. He laughed and patted Merlin’s back. “It was about time, anyway.” He winked and laughed one more time.
Then he waved his hand at them as if he didn’t just say anything and slowly made his way back to the tavern. He turned around one more time, only to see Arthur grabbing Merlin’s forearm and dragging him to the stables.
Well, Gwaine didn’t doubt their way back to Camelot would be interesting.
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