“Finally,” Merlin sighed as he saw the castle in front of him. It was almost night and people were probably already sleeping, but he was just returning home from his another secret night adventure in the woods. Or should he call it another must-save-Arthur-again adventure? Because that’s exactly what it was and Merlin felt exhausted.
He slowed down as he entered the courtyard and smiled when he very slowly went up the stairs and opened the door to his and Gaius’ quarters. Gaius was already fast asleep as Merlin expected him to be, so he had to move quietly across the room and when he reached his little chamber, he sighed again and let his body fall right in his bed.
He closed his eyes and smiled slightly. He’s saved Arthur’s life again tonight and the king didn’t even know. He never noticed when Merlin left Camelot, all he thought was that Merlin was in the tavern (for the lack of Gaius’ imagination), and that was only if Merlin had to disappear during the day. He was glad Arthur didn’t ask Gwaine though because if he had, the knight would have told him Merlin never once joined him in the tavern.
He’d have to explain a lot of things then, and he didn’t think he was ready for that yet. Especially when he was still figuring out exactly what it was he felt for Arthur. He had two secrets now – his magic and his... feelings. He wasn’t able to control them and that worried him a bit, specifically that time Arthur found out Merlin was ticklish and started tickling him mercilessly until Merlin cried for help. It was really a challenge not to kiss him then.
Merlin opened his eyes again and groaned when he remembered he didn’t even take his dirty clothes off. He’ll have to clean his bed the next day and Gaius wouldn’t let him use magic.
He rolled over and sat up with a huff, then he stood up after a while, supporting himself with one hand on the wall. He raised his head and looked out of the window. There was dark everywhere, only a few torches in the streets and the Moon enlightening the way.
Then something else caught his attention. It was a person in a dark hood and cloak, moving through the courtyard and heading to the gate. Merlin smiled at his perfect timing because he’s seen that person there a few times already. Almost every night actually, he just never cared to find out who it was.
Did I mention it was windy out there? Well it was, and for the first time Merlin saw the hood of the mysterious person fall down. He quickly stood on tiptoes to see more because the person was just turning around a corner and then he gasped.
The gold hair... was it Arthur?
Merlin’s eyes widened and in the next second he was out the door, running down the stairs and out into the courtyard, praying he’d catch the king. The exhaustion left him immediately because dammit, he’s just saved him and that prat has to go out there again. Not that he was there when Merlin was saving him, but the danger could still be out there and that dollophead went straight to the woods.
Merlin ran after him, and when he finally caught up with him, he suddenly stopped. Should he let Arthur know he’s following him? Or should he stay quiet and wait until he knows where was Arthur going? Maybe was Arthur just seeing someone... but why would he want to meet her in woods in the night? Arthur banished Gwen just a few weeks ago, it couldn’t have been some other girl, could it?
And if it wasn’t, maybe he was heading somewhere where he’d be safe... but Merlin wouldn’t leave him there alone, so he decided to follow his king in secret just to be sure he wouldn’t do something stupid.
As he was following him, it was getting darker and darker. The moonlight didn’t reach the ground in the forest after all, and Merlin had to move closer to Arthur. The king didn’t notice him though and continued to wherever he wanted to be.
After an hour, he finally made it to a... druid camp? Merlin frowned and kept his distance, hiding behind a bush and watching Arthur as he met some old druids. They all shook hands and disappeared inside a tent. Merlin shook his head. Could it be true? That Arthur was going out every night just to meet some druids and do who knew what in a tent with them? What was he planning? Why would he want to talk to them, was he in trouble?
Merlin sneaked behind the right tent and started listening. He didn’t hear much, be he managed to understand a few words: magic, free, Uther, dangerous and dragons.
Merlin frowned. What was this all about and why didn’t Arthur tell him? He stood up and wanted to find a place where he would overhear their conversation better, but he tripped and fell right on the tent’s wall made of cloth. The fabric ripped, he fell inside and landed on his back, closing his eyes and rubbing the back of his head. He grimaced when it hurt a little.
Then he remembered where he was and opened his eyes. Two druids were looking down at him with a bit startled and confused expressions. When he turned his head, he winced. Arthur was looking down at him too, although his expression couldn’t be described as startled or confused – he was frowning and looking down at Merlin as if he was seriously considering running him through right there in front of the druids.
Merlin laughed awkwardly. “Hello, Arthur,” he smiled and slowly stood up.
"Merlin.” Arthur sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. “What on Earth are you doing here?” He asked then, looking at him again.
“Nothing,” Merlin smiled, but Arthur just rolled his eyes and looked at the druids apologetically.
“I apologize for my manservant here,” he said. “But I think I’ll need a few minutes to talk to him.” After the druids nodded, Arthur grabbed Merlin’s shoulder and went out of the tent.
As soon as they were outside, Arthur turned to him. “What the hell Merlin?” He started. ”Why are you here?”
“Well, I have the same question for you!” Merlin said and folded his arms on his chest. “What is Arthur Pendragon, the king of Camelot, doing alone in a druid camp in the night?!”
“I don’t have to answer, as you said I am the king.”
“But you could have at least told me about this!” Merlin unfolded his arms and stepped closer.
“And tell me why you of all people should care about magic? Hm?”
“I don’t, okay? I just want to know what’s going on!” Merlin said, looking at Arthur. “How would you feel if you saw your best friend leaving in the night and then finding out he’s talking to the people his father used to think were dangerous?”
Arthur looked down. “Alright, I’ll tell you,” he said finally and looked at Merlin, who was eagerly waiting for his answer. “I... my father is dead and I’m the king now.” He tried to explain. “And I want everyone in my kingdom to be happy, and that can’t happen if the druids and all magic users are still hiding and living in fear because of my father’s actions.”
“So I decided to learn more about magic.” Arthur finished. Merlin’s eyes widened.
“Do you want to legalize it again?” He asked immediately.
“No! Yes! I don’t know yet, okay?” The young king sighed and looked down. “That depends on what I’ll learn. All I’ve learned from my father about magic is that it’s pure evil and that no one who practices it can be trusted. But that’s not enough, I need to know more.”
Merlin smiled slightly. “So basically you’re saying you’ve been going here every night to learn about magic because you think your father was wrong?”
“Maybe.” Arthur looked up. “But don’t tell anyone, okay?” He said then. “Until I know for sure, no one besides us and the druids will know about this, understood?”
“Yes, sire.” Merlin smiled and Arthur frowned.
“Why do you care anyway?” He asked.
Merlin shrugged. “Because, Arthur, this is very important for the future of your kingdom, and I’m happy to see you’re trying to do the best for your people.” He smiled again and this time Arthur smiled too.
“Alright, now go before Gaius notices you’re gone again” Arthur said and waved his hand in Camelot’s direction.
“No, wait, I’m staying.” Merlin protested and stopped Arthur when the king wanted to return to the tent.
“No, Merlin, you’re definitely not.”
“First of all, Gaius is asleep, and second, I’m not leaving your side, I want to know what the druids tell you and there is no way that you can make me go back.” Merlin folded his arms on his chest again and raised his chin a little. When he saw Arthur’s hard expression though, he lowered his head and took a tiny step back.
After a minute of silence, Arthur sighed. “Just this once, Merlin.” He said and rolled his eyes when Merlin grinned and happily followed him back to the tent.
When they were inside and the druids looked at them, Arthur apologized again. “I am sorry for the interruption, do you mind if my servant stays?” The druids shook their heads and Arthur smiled and nodded. “Alright, we shall continue, then.”
Merlin looked at one of the druids. It was an old woman with long white hair, with a hood over her head. She looked at Merlin and nodded slightly. Hello, Emrys. She spoke in her mind.
Hi. Merlin answered a bit nervously and shifted closer to Arthur. He wanted to know how much Arthur knew already and if he knew anything about the prophecy.
“So,” the other druid began. “Where were we... ah, yes. Magic is only a power-”
“Merlin?” Someone said and suddenly there was another intruder in the tent. It was Gwaine. Arthur sighed really loudly and covered his face with his palm. He couldn’t believe this. Really?
"Gwaine, what the actual hell are you doing here?” He asked. Gwaine shrugged and put down his hand that was on the hilt of his sword.
“I was just going home from a tavern when I saw Merlin running away, so I followed him.” Gwaine grinned when he saw how incredibly stupid Arthur felt.
“And you were sober enough to make it here? Arthur asked. After Gwaine just shrugged again, he sighed. “Is anyone else following you?”
“No, I went here alone.” He confirmed and smiled when he went to stand next to Merlin. When Arthur saw that Gwaine wasn’t leaving and Merlin wasn’t either, he sighed again and turned to the druids.
“I’m really very sorry about this, but I hope you don’t mind my knight Gw-”
“Gwaine?” Someone called from the outside. “Gwaine where are you?” Someone whispered.
“Percy!” Gwaine called and smiled when Percival’s head peeked inside the tent. He bowed in front of Arthur and looked at the druids around.
“Is everything alright?” He asked, suspicion in his voice.
“Yeah, I didn’t get an explanation either, mate!” Gwaine smiled. Both Percival and Gwaine looked at Arthur, waiting for his response. Arthur bowed his head and looked at Merlin, who tugged at his sleeve.
“I think you should tell them.” He whispered and Arthur nodded. Merlin smiled.
“We will leave you alone for a few minutes, my lord.” One of the druids said.
“Thank you.” Arthur nodded and then the druids left.
“Yeah, I’m gonna get some fresh air too.” Merlin said and left the tent with the druids. He followed them for a while and then he stopped and sat beside a tree, leaning against the tree trunk. As if with the single movement his entire body remembered his previous exhaustion and suddenly he was tired again. He felt like he could just close his eyes and he’d immediately fall asleep right there.
“Emrys?” It was the tiniest voice and Merlin almost thought it was a dream, but then he heard it again. “Are you Emrys?” Someone asked. It was a young voice, and when Merlin opened his eyes and looked in front of him, there was a little blonde druid girl. She couldn’t have been older than six years.
“Yes, that’s me.” He smiled at her and straightened his back so he wouldn’t fall asleep. “What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be sleeping?” He asked her as she went closer and sat on his lap.
“I’m not tired, and mummy said you were here. I wanted to see you.” She smiled and looked up at him with big green curious and definitely not tired eyes. “I heard stories about you.” She whispered.
“Oh, really?” He laughed softly. The drowsiness he felt was slowly fading away again. “And what were they about?”
She grinned. “They were about you and about how you were born with magic!” She said very enthusiastically. “Mummy said you are going to bring magic back to this kingdom so I wouldn’t have to go to sleep afraid.” Merlin frowned a little bit.
“You’re afraid to go to sleep?” He asked her.
She looked down and started playing with a little blade of grass she must have found on her way there. “Sometimes.” She whispered then.
Merlin put his fingers on her chin and made her look up into his eyes. “Then don’t be.” He smiled down at her. “No one from Camelot will ever come after you, I can promise you that.” His smile widened when he saw how happy she suddenly seemed. “The king Arthur is here in the camp right now, and he wants to know about magic. I believe he will make it safe for you to live in the city with your mother if you want to. I believe he’ll legalize it again.”
“What’s legalize?” The little girl frowned and Merlin chuckled.
“It means you won’t ever have to go to sleep afraid.” He explained and she smiled and hugged him. He hugged her back. “Thank you Emrys!” She laughed and then looked into his eyes. “But mummy said that the king doesn’t know about your magic.” She asked then. “Does he know already?”
Merlin laughed slightly and looked down. “Well... no, he doesn’t.” He confessed and the little girl took his hand.
“I think you should tell him.” She smiled.
“I think you’re right.” He smiled back and squeezed her hand. “Thank you. You really helped me.” She smiled and hopped down off his legs. “What’s your name?” He asked then.
“I’m Nya.” She smiled and stood up.
“Well, I’m Emrys, but you can call me Merlin.” He smiled and stood up too. Then offered her his hand and she took it as he walked her back to her tent, to her mother. When she was in bed again, Merlin said goodbye and ran back to Arthur and the druids. He hoped he wasn’t out there for too long, they could have already ended the lecture about magic... or they haven’t even started yet, that was the other option. But he knew Gwaine and how much he loved to talk, so he guessed he wouldn’t be late.
It turned out he was wrong and when he entered the tent, the druids were already talking. Arthur rolled his eyes at Merlin’s late arrival because it was another interruption and he’s had enough of that. Merlin quietly went to his king and remained by his side, while the old woman started talking again.
“As I said, your father, the king Uther Pendragon, started killing everyone who was suspected of sorcery or who practised it. People were scared and they were leaving Camelot, but Uther knew no mercy.” Arthur looked down, ashamed a little. He knew his father wasn’t the kindest man, especially when it came to magic, but this? He never told his son about the time of The Great Purge, Arthur was left with his own imagination.
“Magic was banned,” the other druid continued, “but there is a prophecy that one day-”
There was a little sneeze outside and everyone stopped talking. The older druid looked out of the tent and when he smiled, everyone relaxed. There was a little druid girl, holding his hand and looking up at all the people around. She smiled at Merlin, who smiled back.
“Nya, shouldn’t you be already in bed?” The druid asked.
“But I’m not tired, uncle Feoras,” the child protested and then grinned. “And I wanted to know if Merlin already told the king!”
As soon as she said that, Merlin’s eyes widened and he stopped breathing. He could already feel everyone’s eyes fixed on him and it made him feel very uncomfortable. He looked at Nya who squealed and after saying sorry ran away, back to her tent.
“Well, Merlin?” Arthur put his hands on his hips like some scolding mother and looked at Merlin.
“Umm,” Merlin blushed and looked around at Gwaine and Percival. Everyone was looking at him, even the druids who probably thought they were witnessing the prophecy being fulfilled, but Merlin didn’t want to tell Arthur yet, he wished that something, anything would happen that would put him out of his misery, but he doubted anything would-
“Percival?” Someone called from the outside. Merlin swallowed, closed his eyes and mentally thanked whoever was out there for saving him. “Percival, what are you doing here, come back!”
Suddenly two people entered the tent – it was Leon and Elyan. They looked around and frowned when they saw their king, Merlin, Gwaine, Percival and two druids.
“Gwaine!” Elyan hissed. “You didn’t tell us there was a party!” He smiled and Gwaine smiled back.
“Sorry fellas, no party,” he told them. “But the future of our kingdom is being discussed, care to join?” He laughed and while Merlin stepped back, wishing he would somehow disappear without anyone noticing, Arthur turned to him and stopped him.
“Everyone be quiet please!” He said and turned to the druids, still holding Merlin’s forearm. “I’m truly sorry about this, and we will continue, but I believe Merlin here has something to tell me,” he turned back to Merlin and raised his eyebrows in question.
Everyone turned to the young warlock who laughed awkwardly and blushed even deeper. He wasn’t prepared for this, he couldn’t just go and tell Arthur about his magic, that was crazy!
“Um, I really don’t think I have anything to tell you, Arthur.” He smiled. Arthur just shook his head.
“I think you do,” he said and let go of his arm. “Now tell us, we’re all curious.”
Merlin could feel the stares of all seven people in the tent and was it getting hotter or was he just feeling sick? What should he tell Arthur? He couldn’t think of anything Arthur might believe. He opened his mouth and had no idea what would come out of it when suddenly, “I love you.” came out and he gulped. What?
“What?” Arthur asked, his eyes wide. He didn’t expect this answer and frankly, neither did Merlin, but it was too late to take it all back. “Merlin, what did you just-”
“Nothing!” Merlin almost yelled, eyes wide and mouth shut tight. Arthur narrowed his eyes.
“But you just said-”
“No, I didn’t.” Merlin shook his head.
“What?” There was this short awkward silence again where everyone looked between their king and his manservant.
“Did you just say you love me?” Arthur managed to form a full sentence finally.
Merlin paled and blushed at the same time. Was it even possible? He opened his mouth and immediately knew he’ll start rambling nonsense, but he couldn’t stop himself. “No, what? I didn’t, what are you talking about, I would never say something like that, you know me too well for that, I... It wasn’t me okay it must have been Gwaine!” He turned to look at the knight who stepped back, grinning like an idiot. Merlin didn’t wait for his response. He turned back to Arthur. “Yes! It was Gwaine! I just happened to open my mouth at the same time as he said it.”
Whoa. Merlin thought. Just... whoa. He knew Arthur wouldn’t believe this, but what else could he say? He looked around and noticed how weird everyone’s faces looked. As if they tried to hide their smirks and stop laughing so hard that it was actually painful. The only one who had a completely different expression was Arthur. He was staring wide-eyed at his manservant, not even blinking and Merlin stared right back into those ocean blue eyes of his.
Suddenly, Gwaine started clapping and everyone looked at him, even Arthur. “Well, I’m sorry princess that it wasn’t me,” he grinned. Then he put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder and squeezed. “I think he’ll want to talk to you now,” he whispered in Merlin’s ear and smirked.
“Merlin.” Arthur said loudly. “A word outside. Now." With that he left the tent, ignoring the snickering behind and dragged Merlin behind him until they were out of earshot. Only then he let go of him and turned around to face him, waiting for some proper explanation.
When Merlin was silent, Arthur sighed and looked into his scared glassy eyes. “Merlin, what did you mean you love me?” He asked, his voice suddenly gentler and softer than Merlin expected.
“Nothing.” Was the quiet answer.
"Merlin.” Arthur raised his voice again and this time Merlin sighed. He looked down and gritted his teeth. This was going to be hard.
“Alright, alright...” he admitted. “I... I just... I think I love you.” He managed to say and blushed again.
“So now you think you love me?” Arthur asked and for some stupid reason laughed. Was Merlin’s humiliation really that funny?
“No, Arthur, I... I don’t know, alright? I’ve been... dealing with this for a few weeks now and I just can’t stop thinking about it.” Merlin said and finally looked up at his king.
“About what exactly?”
“About... what I feel when I’m around you and when I talk to you... I just... I can’t help it.” Merlin looked down again.
“And why are you telling me now? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Arthur asked.
“I was afraid.” Merlin whispered. “I still am...”
“Merlin...” Arthur lowered his voice and somehow it was softer than usual again. He closed his eyes and went closer to Merlin to give him a reassuring squeeze to his shoulder, then he looked into his eyes after Merlin looked up again. “You could have told me sooner.”
“No, I couldn’t Arthur, don’t you understand?” Merlin frowned slightly. “What if you’d have fired me for being disgusted by how I feel about you?” He asked, his voice shaky. He looked down again and cleared his throat quickly, but Arthur heard it.
“I wouldn’t and I am not disgusted, Merlin.” Arthur said, smiling slightly. “I would never be.”
“Why?” Merlin looked up again, his eyes sparkling with unshed tears.
“Because Merlin, don’t you understand?” Arthur smiled at him. “I feel the same.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “You... you do?” He asked, almost tripping as he took a few steps back.
“Yes Merlin, I do and I’m glad you told me.” Arthur laughed as he grabbed Merlin’s shoulders to prevent him from actually tripping and falling.
“Um... you’re welcome.” Merlin laughed and then looked at Arthur’s arms and back into Arthur’s eyes. “So... what now?” He asked, still blushing like an idiot. They were closer than ever before.
Arthur smirked. “Now? I have an idea.” He said as he stepped even closer and moved his hands up from Merlin’s shoulders to capture his face. Merlin’s breath hitched in his throat as he realized what was Arthur about to do. He looked down at the king’s pink lips and back into his blue eyes. Arthur smiled and finally leaned in, capturing Merlin’s lips in a sweet kiss. Their first kiss. And hopefully one of many.
Then, all of a sudden they heard whistles and cheerful shouts from the knights. They immediately stopped kissing and turned around, startled by the sudden unwanted attention. The knights were standing behind a few bushes, clapping their hands and grinning.
“Well done, princess!” Gwaine laughed when he saw how red Arthur looked and how the red matched to Merlin’s even redder cheeks. Those clotpoles were still standing so close to each other that you really couldn’t blame the knights for laughing and being so happy. Honestly, who couldn’t have predicted this?
Arthur looked back at Merlin and then down as he linked his fingers with his and squeezed. Merlin smiled at him and squeezed back.
If anyone had thought Nya, the little druid girl, really ran back to her mother’s tent and went to sleep, then they were wrong. There was a little hand between Gwaine’s and Elyan’s legs, trying to get through and then a little blonde head peeked at them. When Gwaine and Elyan noticed this, they stepped aside to make more room for the girl as she got past them and ran to Merlin.
She tugged at his sleeve and looked up at him, smiling brightly. Merlin returned the smile and knelt down in front of her. “Nya!” He said. “You should really be asleep now.”
She smiled at him and shook her head. “I couldn’t fall asleep!” She said. “I was too curious!” Then she looked up at Arthur and back at Merlin, taking his hand. “Did you tell him yet?” She asked.
Merlin had completely forgotten that he was supposed to tell Arthur about his magic and not about his feelings. And that’s the reason he was doomed from this moment because he smiled at her and said, “Yes, I did.” And that was something he never should have done.
Nya squealed and started dancing around. “I’m so glad the king knows about your magic now!” She laughed, but she was the only one. Everyone else fell silent and looked at Merlin, whose eyes were wide open and his face pale yet again.
Arthur cleared his throat and looked at Merlin, folding his arms on his chest again.
Merlin laughed a bit nervously and rubbed the back of his head. Nya looked up at him and at Arthur and after realizing her mistake, ran to the nearest druid, who hugged her and lifted her up in his arms.
“Um... about that...” Merlin said and looked at Arthur.
“Yes Merlin? I believe you have some more explaining to do.” The king replied and looked at Merlin expectedly. Then he suddenly smirked and Merlin paled ever more.
“Run.” Was the only thing he said and Merlin didn’t need anything else, he turned around and ran into the woods, with Arthur following close behind.
“Run, Merlin, run!” Gwaine yelled after him and laughed with the other knights when he heard a big thud in the distance, followed by a fit of laughing as Arthur mercilessly tickled Merlin on the forest ground and probably kissed him after that.