Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Summary: Merlin lays his life on the line to save Arthur yet again, only this time there are witnesses, lots of them. Only Arthur prevents him going to the headman's axe straight away, but Arthur alone cannot save him. That is up to both of them.
Word Count: ~45,160
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Chapter 5 Archways and Other Consequences
Arthur knew that his father had been planning everything for some time when he walked into the rooms that should have been shut up for nearly a decade and discovered they had been aired out. He also realised how focused he had been on nothing but Merlin recently, since he had failed to notice servants preparing the room right next to his for habitation. Placing Merlin on the freshly made bed, he was not surprised to find Gaius at his elbow.
"If I might, Sire," Gaius said and urged him gently out of the way.
With a nod he stepped back and let Gaius check Merlin over, just in case it was more serious than the exhaustion it seemed to be.
He had known from the very first moment he had challenged his father about Merlin that he had put Uther into a very difficult position. The laws were there for a reason, he was well aware of that, and even if he didn't agree with the letter of them he could see how they helped keep order. Merlin was a political disaster waiting to happen and he had to give his father his due; Uther had found a solution that neither involved killing Merlin nor changing the law. One day he would have to ask Merlin what Merlin and his father has talked about when they were sequestered in that room together alone. No other sorcerer had ever found anything but the sharp edge of an axe in Camelot.
The court was still surreal in his head. He couldn't really believe that it was done, settled and he would not lose Merlin to it. The best he had allowed himself to hope for was banishment, but it seemed his father knew him better than he knew himself, as he realised he would have found that unbearable.
"He is just sleeping, Sire," Gaius said, stepping back from the bed. "For once I believe he may have followed an order to the letter."
Arthur found himself half smiling at that and Gaius returned the gesture. He was not the only one who was feeling amazed and overjoyed at the verdict, he could tell.
"I find that highly unlikely," he replied in a similar tone.
"If it is alright with you, Sire, I will return to my quarters now," Gaius said, glancing back at Merlin. "I fear all this excitement is a bit much for me at my age. I will send someone along with Merlin's things and if you would be so good as to make sure he eats something when he wakes up, I would be most grateful."
"Of course," Arthur replied, smiling properly, "I can't have him wasting away on the first day he is my bodyguard. What kind of reputation would that give me?"
Gaius actually grinned at that.
"I can't think, Sire," the physician replied and headed towards the door.
When it closed and Arthur found himself alone with Merlin, he let himself just look for a while. Merlin was still paler even than usual, not yet fully recovered from his injury or the ordeal which had followed it, but there was pink life in Merlin's cheeks and hidden strength building under the surface. Now that he knew, now that he knew what he was looking for, he found it incredible to believe he had not seen the power in Merlin from the beginning. It was written all over Merlin as plain as day and seeing Merlin devoid of it in those bindings had made his heart break.
Happy that Merlin was not about to expire at any moment, Arthur began to look around the room. It had been a long time since he had had a bodyguard and the room was devoid of anything resembling personality. It had a bed and a table and chair and was similar in layout to his own, just a little smaller, but it was missing any life. Merlin would undoubtedly make a mess of it; Arthur had seen enough of Merlin's current room to know that, but he began to make a mental list of things to acquire for it anyway. It would not do for the prince's bodyguard to not have things in his room.
There was a nice spot above the fireplace that would look good with some swords, or maybe a pike. Bodyguards were supposed to have weapons and even if Merlin's weapon was magic, making sure the room looked the part would be a good idea. He was pretty sure he'd seen a tapestry in one of the far corners of the castle with a sorcerer on it as well. It had been very fine and looked very expensive, which was probably the only reason it hadn't been burnt, but Arthur thought the wall on the other side would put it to good use.
Not that he really expected Merlin to entertain much, apart from him that was, but it always did to be prepared.
"Don’t sleep too long," he told the slumbering form in the bed and then headed out of the door to see what he could find.
Merlin's room might have something useful in it, although not much, so he walked in that direction first.
Merlin felt like he could have slept all day and he did vaguely remember someone trying to wake him with talk of food at some point, but he had just rolled over and gone back to sleep. Hence, when he did finally decide to rejoin the land of the living he wasn't sure what time of the day it was, but his stomach was one hundred percent sure it was time to eat. He was very comfortable lying down, but the growling coming from his torso refused to let him stay there.
"I'd obey that monster in your stomach if I were you," said a somewhat amused voice and Merlin rolled over onto his back and looked over at Arthur.
On the table next to which Arthur was sitting there was a stunning array of fruit and cheese and cold meat and Arthur was looking far too pleased with himself. If he hadn't been quite so hungry, Merlin might have resisted for a bit, just to lessen the smug grin on Arthur's face.
"For once, I think you may be right," he said, sitting up carefully.
He was amazingly pleased to find that he felt infinitely better. His shoulder was still aching, but other than that he felt rested. He was a little lightheaded, but he put that down to hunger and pushed himself off the bed with a little more abandon. It was then that he realised that, although the room he was in looked very much like Arthur's, that wasn't in fact where they were. For a moment he just stood there and stared.
"My room?" he asked, not really sure he believed it.
The room was decked out almost as grandly as Arthur's and he couldn't help but notice the staff that was mounted over the fireplace. He was very sure that had been under his bed.
"Your room," Arthur said and kicked the chair next to the table, which Merlin took as a rather coarse invitation to sit down; "get used to it, you've gone up in the world."
Merlin gave a small laugh at that; he couldn't really imagine that.
"I see you ransacked my old room," he said, seeing other things of his around the room. "You do realise that's a magical staff?"
Arthur just smiled.
"I deduced as much," Arthur replied, in a very cheerful mood it seemed. "Great hiding place, by the way, under your bed where anyone could have found it."
"No one did," Merlin pointed out and grinned back.
At least Arthur had to acknowledge that.
"Did you have someone bring my clothes?" he asked, looking around on his way to the table.
Arthur motioned to the cupboard over to one side, but there was something in Arthur's expression that worried Merlin a little.
"Which reminds me," Arthur said as Merlin took the offered seat and reached for some of the food, "we need to make you an appointment with the tailor as soon as possible. You're going to need a whole new wardrobe."
Merlin stopped chewing the bread he had just bitten into and looked down at himself.
"What's wrong with these?" he asked after swallowing the bite.
He had worn his best set to the hearing and he didn't think there was anything wrong with them. When he looked up at Arthur, his friend was giving him a look of resigned acceptance.
"What?" he asked.
"They're servant's clothes, Merlin," Arthur said in a put upon, patient tone. "You are the only legal sorcerer in the entire kingdom and you are my magical bodyguard. You need to look more imposing. From now on people are going to want to talk to you rather than ignore you."
"I can't just stand there and, well, guard?" he asked hopefully.
If there was one thing he was really not very good at, it was playing politics. From the look on his face, Arthur was enjoying his discomfort far too much.
"Nope," Arthur said, "sorry," Merlin didn't think Arthur was sorry at all, "you just became important. If you were just a guard you might be able to get away with it, but you're a sorcerer and people are going to expect you to do more than stand there like an idiot. Something in black and red I think."
There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Merlin's stomach that had nothing to do with the heavy bread that had just hit it.
"You've been thinking about this all the time I was asleep, haven't you," he said, realising that Arthur had had time to start planning his life for him.
Arthur gave him a very unrepentant grin.
"Eat up," Arthur said, "you're going to need the energy."
Merlin wasn't quite sure a death sentence wouldn't have been better.
Merlin woke up three times in the night. He and Arthur had talked all evening about what would be expected of him now and such things before moving on to more trivial chatter and it had been late when Arthur finally took his leave, but Merlin still couldn't sleep properly. It was simple really; the bed was too big. Somehow he had become accustomed to Arthur filling the space on the other side and now that he had his own bed there was far too much room in it. He wasn't fully recovered yet and he needed to sleep, but that didn't seem to stop his subconscious prodding him into wakefulness every hour or so.
"Merlin, what did you do?"
He started awake to find that after the third time he had turned over, thumped the pillow and demanded his body sleep he had managed it until at least light, but he had the feeling all was not well. Arthur sounded not annoyed exactly, but more shocked.
He opened his eyes to find Arthur standing in his nightclothes in an archway next to the fire place. The major problem being that there hadn't been an archway there the previous evening.
"Oh," he said as what he might have done began to dawn on him.
"Oh," Arthur repeated back at him, "is that all you have to say, or would you care to explain why you thought the castle needed some remodelling?"
Merlin sat up, at least it was a nice archway; it wasn't as if he'd just made a huge hole in the wall.
"I didn't think," he tried to explain, "at least, that is, I kept waking up because I'm kind of used to you being there and, well, I haven't been doing magic lately and I did explain that weird things sometimes happen if I don't and, it must have, that is ..."
Arthur was looking at him a little incredulously.
"Are you trying to say your magic missed me and so it made a new doorway?" Arthur asked, sounding a little exasperated, but also kind of fond as well.
Merlin nodded; that was the only explanation he could think of.
"If I wake up one day and there is no wall at all I will be most displeased," Arthur said with a shake of his head and then turned and walked back into his own room.
What Merlin wanted to say was something along the lines of 'if you let me sleep with you we could be sure it didn't happen', but he wasn't that brave and instead, hurried out of bed. He ran his fingers over the stone of the arch; faced stone as if a master craftsman had done the job and he couldn't help feeling a little pleased with himself, even if he hadn't done it deliberately. His magic at least knew good workmanship it seemed.
"Um, I could try and fill it in again if you like," he offered, wandering into Arthur's room.
He quite liked the arch, but was well aware that Arthur might not.
"And have the wall fall in?" Arthur said in an offhand tone, "I think not."
Merlin was pretty sure that was Arthur's way of saying he'd rather keep it.
"We can put up a curtain or something to stop a draft blowing through," Arthur decided and that seemed to be an end to the matter.
The other thing that caught Merlin's eye was the fact that Arthur's breakfast had already been set out on Arthur's table. What whoever had done it would have thought about the arch he had no idea, but he was trying to decide if he could acquire a little of the food; he was starving. He had always had a good appetite and now that he was doing magic again, all be it unconsciously, it was back with a vengeance.
"Sit down then," Arthur said, moving to the table himself; "we need to get an early start. There is so much to do today."
Then and only then did Merlin notice there was a second plate sitting under the first and he hurried over and did as he was told as Arthur put it in place next to the second chair. He had become used to eating with Arthur, having been confined in Arthur's rooms and, much to his pleasure, it seemed as if Arthur was happy to continue the tradition.
"Don't bother getting dressed," Arthur said as they ate, "I'm going to have to find you some decent clothes before you can be revealed to the gawping hordes."
It was a tribute to the strength of Merlin's appetite that it did not vanish at those words.
Merlin was mortified; Arthur had ordered him to pack away all his old clothes and had then proceeded to look through his own wardrobe for things that Merlin could wear. As far as he could tell Arthur was treating him like a doll that a girl might have had and enjoying having him try things on far too much. By the time Arthur was done, Merlin felt utterly ridiculous and wasn't sure that the awful livery and hat might not have been better than what he was wearing. Arthur's clothes were much finer than anything he had ever worn and he felt more than a little ridiculous.
"Much better," Arthur declared, looking him up and down, "come on, I feel like I can be seen with you outside these chambers now."
"But what about the mess?" Merlin asked, surveying the devastation around the room.
Arthur hadn't improved on the tidiness front.
"My new manservant will deal with that," Arthur said with a grin, "unless you're feeling nostalgic."
Merlin looked at the chaos and decided he wasn't that much of a masochist.
"Lead on, oh fearless Prince," he said and rolled his eyes.
If truth be told he was a little nervous about leaving the apartments. He didn't know how everyone was going to react and it made him a little afraid.
"I can still put you in the stocks for sarcasm," Arthur pointed out even as he headed to the door.
"And what good would I be as a bodyguard there?" Merlin asked and followed.
"You're the sorcerer," Arthur replied with a grin, "you figure it out."
That did make Merlin smile, even with his nerves. Even if things were different now, it felt good to have Arthur teasing him as usual. It was comforting.
"Where are we going?" he asked as he hurried to follow Arthur striding down the corridor.
"My knights are on the practice field," Arthur replied as they walked, "and I want to make sure they are doing as they should be."
Merlin almost fell over his own feet; so much for easing into things gently. The knights had become used to him over his time as Arthur's manservant, but he had no idea how they were going to react to him now. He was lowly born so he was not their equal, but he was powerful and that put him in a very awkward position. He didn't even know how anyone was supposed to react around him, so they probably had no chance.
"So what do I do," he asked, trying to think the best of the situation, "stand around looking overdressed?"
"More or less," Arthur said with a grin; "it's not as if you can do anything useful with your shoulder still healing."
It was beginning to feel as if Arthur just wanted to show him off. He thought he was starting to know what being a prize stallion felt like. As they walked through the castle they came across some people and Merlin smiled and waved at those he knew. Some smiled and waved back, other dipped their heads and hurried away and he did his very best to ignore them. Clearly some of the castle staff were still afraid of him. Fear of magic was part and parcel of living in Camelot so he really didn't blame them, but he wished they could see beyond it. He was still the same person he had always been and he squared his shoulders as well as he could and decided to prove that to everyone.
As if fate was making a point, as they headed down towards the courtyard one of the castle cats raced out of a side corridor with a bird in its mouth, straight into his path. With his usual lack of grace he managed to fall over it and ended up in a heap of cat, bird and man, which the cat left with a screech, leaving him with the bird. Arthur just laughed at him and he had the childish notion of sticking out his tongue, but he didn't. The bird drew his attention by giving a half-hearted flap and then sitting there looking at him. It was a tiny song bird and one of its wings was hanging down, bloody, where the cat had been at it.
The bird didn't seem overly afraid of him and he reached out without thinking, picking it up and holding it gently as he climbed to his own feet.
"Poor thing has a broken wing," he said, handling it carefully and showing it to Arthur who didn't appear particularly interested.
Truth be told, Arthur was better at killing things than seeing their softer side; it was just the way he was.
"Then put it out of its misery," was Arthur's solution to the matter and Merlin glared at Arthur for that.
He could feel the little life in his hands, so much more aware of everything after having been cut off from it for so long. There was natural magic in the bird, just as there was in everything and Merlin could feel it and it felt so very wrong to let it be ended. He needed to do magic, that much the incident with the archway had shown him and so he just went with his instincts. Closing his eyes he felt for the little life in his hands and felt the hurt to it. Then he pushed his own power at it, mending the hurt. For a moment the little bird went still in his grasp and then he opened his eyes and his fingers at the same time. With a burst of song the little creature took off and he smiled, watching it fly into the courtyard and up into the sky.
When he looked back at Arthur there was an inscrutable expression on his friend's face.
"How did you do that?" Arthur asked, sounding a little awed.
"I don't know," Merlin replied honestly, since he wasn't really sure, then he grinned, happy for no other reason than he had helped a tiny bird. "Don't you have some knights to see?"
Arthur looked at him a little more, but he was feeling too pleased with himself to worry and finally Arthur smiled.
"You are a sentimental fool, you realise that I suppose?" Arthur said and turned back the way they had been walking.
"One of us has to have a heart," Merlin quipped back and followed his prince towards the practice grounds.
As soon as they made it to their destination Arthur began ordering people around as usual and so Merlin decided to take up a position by the fence and just watch. He saw some of the knights glancing in his direction, but not paying attention to Arthur was likely to earn bruises, so there wasn't any staring going on. He liked to watch Arthur and even though Arthur wasn't in his armour and doing battle, he was still correcting technique and showing his knights how it should be done in slow motion, which Merlin found he appreciated even more. Without mail and armour he could see the muscles moving under Arthur's clothes and he was rather enrapt.
He let him mind wander for a while and couldn't help wondering what it would feel like to have those muscles moving against him. Arthur had not tried to reinitiate what had been happening between them before the feast that began the whole adventure, but there had been touches and looks that made him think it was only a matter of time. He did not want to push Arthur on this; he was glad of anything he could have of Arthur, but he did not deny the want inside. It seemed even stronger now, as if pledging his magic to Arthur meant that all of him was now on the same page, wanting the same thing.
"He is an amazing fighter is he not?"
Merlin almost jumped out of his skin and he turned to find that Sir Percival was standing next to him. He'd been so busy ogling that he hadn't noticed he was no longer alone.
"Yes," he replied, hoping that his voice was not full of the desire he was feeling, "the best I have ever seen."
"Our Prince could stand against any in battle," Percival continued and Merlin was not quite sure if the knight was just labouring the point or trying to say something.
He nodded, agreeing, not sure what he was supposed to say to that. Arthur was an incredible warrior, everyone knew that. Percival was looking at him intently and he wasn't sure why.
"Are you trying to tell me something?" he finally asked, almost sure there was a point to the conversation.
Sir Percival had always treated him well, not like some of the nobles did with servants, but he really didn't know why the man was talking to him now.
"Be careful you don't unman him," Percival finally said and rather shocked Merlin with his words.
For a moment he was afraid that Percival had known what he was thinking and was trying to warn him off, but that really didn't seem like a Sir Percival way of doing things.
"What?" he asked, not at all sure what they were talking about.
"We have seen what you can do, Merlin," the knight told him, speaking to him as anything but a servant; "you could protect him from anything, even things that he does not need protecting from."
The light dawned in his head and he looked back across the field to where Arthur was showing one of the younger knights a particular attack. His protective instincts were strong, but he knew what Percival was saying.
"I would never do that," he said, turning back to the other man and looking him straight in the eye. "I'm here for the things that cannot be stopped by flesh or the sword, that is why I have always been here. My magic is his, Sir Percival, if Arthur commands me I will do it, but we both know he will never ask me to fight his battles for him."
Merlin had seen into the dark, he knew the dangers that lurked there and he would preserve Arthur's light for all to see, but he had no intention of becoming a one man army. Percival studied him for a while longer and then smile.
"I like you, Merlin," the knight finally said and patted him on the shoulder.
Unfortunately it was his bad shoulder, but he managed not to wince too much.
"Thank you, Sir Percival," he said with a small bow of his head and then the knight was off across the training field to where the other men were gathered.
It was good to know that at least one of the knights was not watching him with fear. He couldn't help smiling as he watched Arthur do what Arthur did best and he didn't even care that it looked like it was coming on to rain.
Merlin was really beginning to wonder if Arthur had been a woman in another life, because Arthur seemed to have a definite propensity for dressing him up. Arthur spent three hours with the tailor discussing colours and matching Merlin's eyes and things that Merlin had never, ever associated with clothing before. To him clothes were simply things to keep you warm. The fact that at one point they had made him do magic so they could see what colour gold his eyes went had almost made him walk out.
At first he had thought that Arthur might be taking the piss out of him, but as the whole debacle went on and on, Merlin was finally convinced that, no, Arthur was actually serious. The whole making him into more than a servant was real and almost a mission for Arthur, so Merlin just went with it. He even let Arthur have someone cut his hair; it was getting to the point where it was a little bit on the wild side.
Arthur also seemed to be trying to educate him as fast as humanly possible and for once Merlin was listening, but he really didn't think he was going to get it all, all at once. There were things that as a manservant he had not had to take any notice of, not that he was much for protocol anyway, but it seemed that now he did. He was in the unique position of being noticeable even though he was still a servant and Arthur was pumping him full of things he needed to know.
By the second day his head was starting to spin and by the end of the week he knew more about the internal workings of Camelot than he had ever thought possible. He had always known that things were more complicated than he bothered to realise, especially the politics, but he had new respect for Arthur after having to learn so much in so little time. Of course Arthur had been brought up with all the information he was trying to pass on to Merlin so Arthur was better equipped to deal with it, but Merlin couldn't help finding most of it bizarre.
Over his time in Camelot he had thought he had picked up a lot of information, but it was nowhere near what Arthur seemed to carry around in his head. Being a bodyguard seemed to mostly consist of following Arthur around and pretending to know what he was doing when in fact he had no clue. As Arthur told him, most things were about looking like you knew what was going on rather than actually knowing all the time, so he stuck close to Arthur and did his best to absorb everything he was being taught.
When the clothes arrived he felt ridiculous, but he put them on anyway and he did his best to be what Arthur wanted him to be. He wasn't sure he really fitted the mould, but he did as well as he knew how. He had come to Camelot to be Gaius' assistant and to learn about his gifts and now he was a bodyguard and he was a bit out of his depth. He was used to saving Arthur's life, but mostly from behind things when no one was looking; it was all a bit different now that people were noticing him.
The entire time Arthur did not try to reinitiate what had almost started between them, but the curtain that was put up over the archway remained swept back the entire time and Arthur had taken to wandering into his room mostly naked in the mornings. It was a little bit confusing, but then Arthur seemed to specialise in that, so Merlin had decided to just go with things and see what happened. After all he was the one who had rather upset the whole apple cart.
His life was so different and yet so much the same in that it involved running around after Arthur that he still felt at home. However, he had not had much time to spend with Gaius given his new duties, but when he found Gwen one morning, worried about Morgana, he decided he had to go and see his mentor. He was supposedly allowed to study magic under Gaius' watchful eye, but so far he'd had no time to even try.
"Gaius," he said as he walked into his mentor's work room.
"Merlin," Gaius greeted with a bright smile, "how pleasant to see you."
He gave Gaius a smile, but he wasn't really in a cheerful mood.
"Do you have time to talk?" he asked, carefully closing the door.
"Of course," Gaius replied, seeming to realise he had come with a purpose, "what is it you need to talk about?"
Merlin wandered into the room, thinking about what had been weighing on his mind.
"Morgana," he said simply and Gaius' face took on a knowing look.
"Ah, I see," Gaius told him and Merlin had the distinct impression that his mentor was not surprised by it.
Since he had followed his instincts and pledged himself to Arthur, Merlin had begun to realise that his instincts tended to serve him well. At least instincts driven by certain things and his were telling him things now.
"I think she needs my help," he revealed, picking up a bottle from the bench and reading the label absently.
"Two magical people in his court will be more than Uther can stand," Gaius told him in a very sagely manner and he turned to look at his mentor.
He nodded; he realised that.
"I know," he acknowledged, "at least for now, but I think I have to help her anyway, in secret. I'm not a seer, Gaius, not like Morgana is, but I feel things sometimes and I feel this. I feel as if we are running out of time."
Gaius was looking at him very seriously now, but he couldn't explain it any more. It was the invisible hand moving the pieces on the game board of his life and he only glimpsed it in the periphery of his mind.
"Then I would suggest you do as you feel you must," Gaius finally told him, "but that is not all, is it? I know you, Merlin and you would have already gone to Morgana if that was all it was."
Merlin smiled a little at that; Gaius did know him very well. The smile didn't last long, though, as his reasons for being there filled his head again.
"I cannot keep it from Arthur," he said, since that was his quandary. "If I help Morgana, I must tell him. I promised him no more secrets about magic and I believe he needs to know."
"It is not your secret, Merlin," Gaius told him in his usual calm tones.
"But it is," he replied, going over his reasoning in his head, "if I help it is my secret. I know I have no right to tell anyone, but if I help I have to. Gaius, I don't know what to do."
He had been thinking about it all day and still had no solution. There was a need, he could feel it, but he also knew how precious a secret could be. Gaius gave him a fond smile and he had a sudden notion he was being an idiot.
"Talk to her," Gaius said simply. "Merlin, not everything is for us to decide; this must be Morgana's choice. Let her know that you understand and are willing to help, but that your help is offered with one condition. Let Morgana decide."
Merlin decided that he had definitely been an idiot as he took in Gaius' words. He had been so worried about the feeling tickling the back of his mind that he had forgotten the obvious. Suddenly it didn't seem so impossible, actually it didn't seem impossible at all and he smiled.
"Thank you, Gaius," he said and gave his mentor a quick hug, "you're a genius."
That made Gaius laugh.
"Just older and a bit wiser, My Boy, that's all," he heard Gaius say as he dashed out the door.
He needed to find Gwen; Gwen could help him see Morgana.
It was another day before he had time to see Morgana and she had time to see him without Arthur asking awkward questions. In the end Merlin told a small white lie that Gaius needed his help while Arthur was off with his knights, but in reality he found himself at Morgana's door. There he knocked and waited.
"Come in," Morgana's voice called out, so he entered.
The bright smile Morgana gave him did not help settle the nerves he was feeling, but he did smile back.
"Merlin," she greeted, putting down what she was doing, "how nice to see you. You've managed to get away from your slave driver then?"
"I hid," Merlin replied in kind and went over to sit down when Morgana patted the seat next to her.
Normally Gwen would be there as well, but Merlin had asked to speak to Morgana alone, so Gwen had simply nodded, patted him on the arm and gone to find something to do. Gwen was probably the most wonderful human being he knew; she had not even tried to ask. He thought she probably knew that Morgana was as talented magically in her own way as he was, but he couldn't be sure, so he needed to speak to Morgana first.
"What brings you to see me, Sir Sorcerer?" Morgana asked, with mock grandness.
Merlin considered beating around the bush a little, maybe making small talk, but then discarded it in favour of just speaking plainly from the start.
"Your dreams, My Lady," he said in the most gentle tone he could manage.
"Why would you worry about my dreams?" Morgana asked, suddenly nervous and looking away from him.
"Because we both know they are not just dreams," he replied and she finally looked back at him.
Morgana had warned him about the questing beast and denial just didn't work anymore, but Merlin knew how hard it was to admit something like this in Camelot.
"I think I can help," he said when Morgana did not speak, "but I cannot unless you give me permission to tell Arthur what I am doing."
There was pale and then there was the colour Morgana's face went at that idea.
"How can you help?" she asked, voice tight and a little defensive.
"I believe there are ways to control them," he said, speaking honestly since he was not completely sure, "and I am allowed to study magic; I could find out more. I could help you in secret so that no one else would have to know. I am not a seer, but I feel you need help and, as far as the court is concerned, I could be one. If you had a path to use these visions they might not hurt you so much."
Morgana sat quietly for a little while, looking at him and then glancing out the window and then looking back and he could see that she was distressed, but he did not interrupt her thoughts. This had to be her decision and even though he knew which way he wanted her to choose, he could not force her.
"But you cannot do this for me without telling Arthur?" she finally said.
"I have sworn to him no more secrets about magical things," he explained, just as he had done to Gaius, "and I cannot break that oath. I know you do not always see eye to eye, Morgana, but you must know that he will not abandon you in this."
He was a little surprised when she reached out and took his hand.
"I know, Merlin," she said earnestly, "but I have spent so much of my life pretending that all they were was dreams. I feel that they are not, but admitting this, even to myself, is so difficult."
That was not difficult to believe, but Merlin was determined.
"I fear for you, Morgana," he said, speaking plainly and to her, not to her title or her position, just to Morgana as his friend. "I do not have your gift; I cannot see the future, but sometimes I have a sense of what is to come. I caught a fleeting glimpse of Arthur as he must be, which was why I pledged myself to him, and now I fear for you. I fear this great burden will take you from us unless you share it."
He had not intended to frighten Morgana, but he could see she feared the same herself and her fingers squeezed his hand in an unconscious gesture.
"But you can help me?" Morgana asked in a small voice, very un-Morgana like.
This was a woman who wore trousers and fought with a sword better than he did when she felt like it and to see her so afraid of what was in her own head was awful. There was no choice about this.
"I can," he said, because he felt that he had to and that his instincts would not be urging him into this unless there was something he could do.
They sat for a few more moments, just looking at each other and Merlin felt almost kindred to Morgana in those moments.
"Then I give my permission," Morgana finally said. "I do not know how to tell him myself, but you may share this secret with Arthur."
It felt like a weight was being lifted, or the sun was coming out from behind a cloud and Merlin was completely certain he had done the right thing.
"Thank you," he said and squeezed her hand back.
"It is I who should be thanking you," Morgana replied and finally smiled again. "You are a ray of light in this kingdom, Merlin," she told him; "a ray of hope that shines for all of us. I do not know where we would be without you."
Merlin felt himself blushing; he wasn't used to compliments.
"You weren't helping Gaius," was the first thing Arthur said to Merlin when they met again and Arthur did not sound happy; "I met him while returning here."
They were in Arthur's room.
"No," Merlin replied in a open a voice as he knew how, "I was doing something else that I couldn't tell you about then, not until I had spoken to the person I needed to see. I was with Morgana."
That headed off whatever Arthur had been planning to say; clearly Arthur hadn't been thinking that at all.
"Morgana," Arthur asked, clearly confused, "why Morgana?"
"Her dreams are not just bad dreams," he replied simply and poured Arthur a class of ale simply because he needed to do something as well as talk.
That earned him a very appraising look.
"And you have known this how long?" Arthur asked.
"A while," Merlin explained, being true to his word; no more lies about magic, "since before all this, but it was not my secret to give or I would have told you as soon as I was able. That is why I went to see her, to ask permission to tell you. Morgana's dreams are slowly driving her mad, but I know I can help her, only I could not help her without telling you, so I had to speak with her privately. I am sorry I deceived you."
It took Arthur a while to digest all of that information, so Merlin passed him the beaker of ale and waited. It was a tense moment.
"I understand," Arthur finally told him and he let out the breath he had been holding.
Tension between him and Arthur was something he just couldn't deal with at the moment.
"So how do we help her?" Arthur asked and Merlin found himself smiling at the 'we' part of that.
"Well I'll need to do some digging to find out things," he said, going through the plans he had started making in his head, "and I'm going to suddenly have a new sideline in prophetic dreams which it would be most useful if you could mention to your father in a way that won't make him decide to cut off my head."
Arthur rolled his eyes at that.
"Nothing difficult then," was the resigned response.
Merlin had known he could count on Arthur, but that didn't stop him being pleased when it was proved true.
"Just so we're clear," Arthur said as Merlin felt himself being pushed firmly against the wall, "there's nothing else you need to tell me is there?"
"Um, no," he replied with a little shake of his head.
After he had gone to Arthur about Morgana something had changed almost instantly, but Merlin hadn't realised quite what it was until he had followed Arthur back into Arthur's room that evening. That had been about five minutes ago. Whatever Arthur had been waiting for, the situation with Morgana had provided it and now Merlin found himself in almost exactly the same position he had been in before the whole adventure began.
Arthur's stare was very intense and it was making it hard to think as all the blood seemed to be rushing from Merlin's head to other places.
"Good," Arthur decided and then kissed him with the force of a small storm.
Last time Arthur had been forceful and Merlin was pretty sure Arthur didn't know how to be anything else, but this time the passion in the kiss was breathtaking and it began to dawn on Merlin that Arthur had been thinking about and wanting this as much as he had. He did not have the muscle mass Arthur did and he was completely outmatched in strength, but then the last thing he wanted to do was resist. When he had pledged himself to Arthur it hadn't just been about his magic and his power hummed through his veins, very happy that he and Arthur were finally getting to such things.
When the little thought popped up that he technically had Arthur's mother's blessing for this he banished it ruthlessly because, really, the last thing he wanted to be thinking about was Arthur's mother.
He moaned into the kiss as Arthur plundered his mouth with a seeking tongue one moment and nipped at his lips another. This was new to him, new and exciting. He had kissed girls before, but, other than the last time, he had never been kissed by a man and it was a very different experience, especially given Arthur's apparent determination. There was an element of surrender in it that he had never felt before and it made his blood sing. Merlin's was not a submissive personality, but for Arthur he would do anything, even stupid things and this was very far from stupid. When Arthur was a prat he told him so, because Arthur needed someone to ground him and when Arthur was being magnificent, like just about then, he was happy to let Arthur do anything Arthur damn well liked.
Arthur's mouth was one thing, but Arthur's hands were also on the move over his clothes and Merlin's only thought was that he wanted them under them. He wanted skin on skin; craved it like a drowning man craved air, but when he tried to slide his own hands under Arthur's shirt he found them being foiled. In a swift move Merlin had not been expecting, Arthur pushed his arms above his head, crossed his wrists and then held them in place with one hand. His shoulder might have ached a little at the treatment, but he really didn't care.
"Not yet," was all Arthur said and then went back to kissing him.
Merlin hoped he didn't whimper like a girl as the excitement that caused ran through him like a flame through straw. He knew Arthur was experienced since Arthur had told him enough tales, mostly when drunk, but Arthur had never spread around the royal favour as much as castle gossip liked to make out. Arthur also never took advantage of the servants and Merlin was basically an exception to another of Arthur's rules; Merlin knew that for a fact and he liked being an exception a great deal. He was very sure he would like Arthur to take advantage of him a lot and maybe let him take advantage of Arthur when he knew what he was doing.
Even though most of the stories weren't true, Merlin realised that one part was: Arthur had a reputation as a great lover and if the kissing was an indication it was well deserved. Merlin had had no idea kissing could be so good. He did his best to kiss back, but Arthur kept doing things that made him forget what he was trying to do; things with lips and teeth and tongue and seemingly every available area of skin above the edge of his shirt. A little corner of his mind kept pointing out that they weren't even naked yet, but Merlin was ignoring it in favour of not pondering that for fear of losing what little mind he had left.
"By Avalon, Merlin," Arthur said, finally pulling back and letting him pull in a deep shuddering breath, "I want to pleasure you until you can't even remember who you are. You moan so prettily."
That bothersome little corner of his mind tried to be offended by that, but most of his thoughts were far too busy chanting 'yes' to worry. He would worry about who was the girl in this relationship later and just about all he wanted then was to find out exactly what Arthur meant by that.
"Okay," he said, feeling his arousal and magic surging around his body in equal measure.
Arthur looked into his eyes very seriously then and he found himself being appraised. This was why he knew that Arthur would be a great king, why he had no doubt that his destiny was not only for their good, but for the whole kingdom's. In Arthur's eyes there was pride and knowledge of power, but it was tempered with caring and love and, although he did not see the future again, he felt it.
"Have you been with a man before?" Arthur asked simply.
It was not a conversation they had had, but Merlin shook his head, answering truthfully. At one point he had thought that he and Will might have ended up exploring such things, but then his mother had sent him to Camelot and everything else was history.
"With a woman?" Arthur asked and if anyone else had been asking Merlin probably would have been embarrassed, but he didn't seem to feel that at all with Arthur.
He nodded at that since he had been, what he didn't mention was that they had both been drunk on honey wine and he wasn't one hundred percent sure they had managed anything beyond some serious touching and getting naked. It was all very hazy and he liked to think he had actually got his end away, because he was of an age where he really should have, but he couldn't have sworn to it if pressed.
"With a man a little more preparation is required," Arthur told him, eye flashing with heat, "but that can be fun as well."
Merlin seemed to have been struck dumb as the thoughts that that conjured ran through his head.
"If I had known how easy it was to shut you up I'd have tried this ages ago," Arthur said, clearly noticing his struggles and then the bastard kissed him again before he could even attempt a witty comeback.
Given that his brain was almost as non-verbal as he was, it might not have been such a bad thing; 'ugh' and 'ngh' were probably not great for conversation.
"Please," was about the most he could manage when it looked as if Arthur was going back to what he had been doing before.
Merlin was all but positive that he would go insane if that was all Arthur did. He even felt Arthur smiling against his neck and it just made him want Arthur more, even if he did go mad in the process.
"I think I like you like this," Arthur said, seeming to be very much enjoying the moment.
"Arthur," Merlin said even as Arthur's words caused wild eddies in his body, "please ... I need ... my magic needs. I can't think."
He really was rather more desperate than he had expected and he was beginning to think it wasn't just a physical thing, after all he had been resisting Arthur for some time. At his plea Arthur stopped and looked him in the eye again and his let his power flow to the surface knowing it would show in his eyes.
"Blue and gold," Arthur said, smiling just slightly; "that's new."
Arthur just loved to court trouble and Merlin bit his lip, trying to hold on to himself. He could easily have taken over with the will of his mind and he didn't want that, but it was incredibly difficult to hold on.
"Take off our clothes, Merlin," Arthur ordered, releasing his wrists, but not breaking their eye contact for a moment; "take them all off, now."
He never even thought about it, didn't consider how or what he was doing for a solitary moment, he just obeyed. In less than two heart beats he felt stone against his back, his bare back and where Arthur was pressed against him there was skin on skin. It felt like his muscles were turning to water as Arthur held him there, seemingly effortlessly and he really couldn't help but notice the hardness pressing against his hip.
"Well that was a bit faster than I expected," Arthur said, seemingly unfazed and kissing along his jawline slowly and carefully. "Yes, I definitely like you like this. Now I am going to explore; let me know if your legs are going to give out."
All Merlin could do was hum in acknowledgement and then flatten himself against the wall when Arthur let up on the pressure holding him in place. He really didn't count himself as that inexperienced; he'd been after girls just like any other hot blooded male and he'd caught a few and had his hand up their skirts, but this was a million miles away from that. Arthur seemed to be dismantling him, touch by touch and when Arthur began to kiss over the mark on his chest he whined in what he would have once considered a very pathetic way. Giving up clutching at the wall he grabbed at Arthur's shoulder with one hand and laced the other into Arthur's hair, trying not to hang on as if he wanted to pull it out at the roots.
He didn't dare look down, not yet, or he was sure he would have lost all control, since Arthur was as naked as he was.
Every time Arthur touched the mark, Merlin felt his magic flare and it was too much.
"Arthur," he eventually panted quite desperately, since Arthur really seemed to be enjoying himself, "not there, please, not yet."
He did glance down then and clear blue eyes looked back up at him. Surprisingly there was not even a track of mocking humour in those eyes, just lust and arousal and something deeper that Merlin didn’t want to name in case it wasn't true.
"Later then," Arthur said and continued his journey over Merlin's chest and beyond.
Arthur was being very thorough and Merlin was losing more and more touch with reality as his prince continued. By the time Arthur reached his navel he knew he wasn't going to be able to stand much longer. Arthur's tongue dipped into the shallow dent in his stomach and he half moaned, half squeaked in response.
"Legs," he just about managed to force out of his mouth, since they were shaking and he didn't think he could remain standing for more than a few moments.
Arthur continued to torture him for a little while, making his stomach muscles twitch and tremble as strong hands held his waist in a firm grip, but just before he thought his knees would buckle, Arthur stopped and slowly stood up again.
"Maybe we should take this to the bed," Arthur said, smiling just slightly, pupils completely blown with desire. "I have so much more exploring to do and I can't have you hurting yourself."
Usually there was always something about a situation between them that let Merlin stamp his own brand of rebellion on it, but not in this and he found that it was because he didn't want to. He wanted Arthur to explore, to find out everything; anything less was unacceptable.
"I want to touch you," was all he could come up with to say, because he did; he wanted to do his own investigation.
At that Arthur's smile increased, but it was interested, not amused.
"Later," Arthur told him and dragged him away from the wall into a close embrace; "I claim privilege of rank. You can do your own exploration later, Merlin, that I promise."
That was good enough for Merlin and he made no resistance as Arthur took him to the bed. Arthur threw aside the top covers and then lowered him down onto the sheets before climbing on between his legs, urging them apart and half lying down. Then Arthur went back to what he had been doing before and Merlin just put his head back, grabbed at the pillows and tried to stop himself overloading before Arthur was ready for him.
With his magic and his arousal fighting around his body it was a close thing and, even though Arthur seemed to be deliberately leaving his cock alone, he had trouble holding on.
"Merlin," Arthur said, looking up from where he had been nibbling along the inside of his thigh, having already thoroughly investigated the other one as well, "bring me the oil from the mantel."
Merlin was having trouble remembering what day it was and simple things like that, but without questioning it, he held out his hand and the small bottle of oil he hadn't even noticed until then, flew to his hand. It seemed that Arthur understood him almost better than he understood himself, because that was just what he needed to take the edge off. Using his magic stopped it raging quite so loudly through his veins and he handed the bottle to Arthur feeling just a little more in control.
Arthur took the bottle and placed it on the bed before going back to what he had been doing and Merlin had no choice but to go back to enjoying it. It didn't take long for him to stop paying attention to the oil altogether, which was why when he felt oiled fingers playing with the soft skin behind his balls he was quite surprised.
"This will feel strange," Arthur told him, still completely in control, "just relax."
When those fingers moved slowly backwards and one began to play gently back there, it did feel strange, but also incredibly good. Arthur was watching him, which made his feel hot and almost feverish as Arthur touched him in such an intimate place. When Arthur pushed his finger against his entrance a little more firmly he found out why he needed to relax and he gasped as the oil allowed it to slip inside of him.
"Spread your legs more," Arthur said, moving that finger ever so slowly in and out of him, "lift them a little."
Merlin did as he was told, changing the angle of his hips to give Arthur better access and it felt amazing. He was beginning to get used to the intrusion and the more he became used to it, the better it felt, adding to the little shocks of excitement going off in his belly.
"Now, Merlin," Arthur said, voice low and full of desire, "I'm going to show you something Sir Bedevire showed me at the tender age of sixteen."
Clearly noble educations were very broad and covered many things.
As Merlin felt Arthur's finger moving deeper into him, he just concentrated on staying relaxed and when Arthur crooked his finger and brushed over a place inside him, the sparks in his belly turned into a white hot sheet of flame and he bucked and mewled at the amazing sensation.
"Very sensitive then," Arthur said and did it again, "I like that; so am I."
It was reassuring to know he wasn't reacting out of turn, but it didn't really help Merlin regain any control of himself. He didn't even bother trying to speak; it was pointless, since the words were all muddled in his head so trying to make them come out of his mouth in any sensible fashion would have been a wasted effort. When Arthur's tongue began to trace torturous trails over his balls and the sensitive skin behind as Arthur's finger slowly worked him looser, he gave up all pretence of being able to do anything but lie there.
He cock felt ready to burst and his balls felt tight and heavy, but Arthur seemed to know just how to play him to stop him exploding. One finger became two, making him burn, but also hum with pleasure and soon after Arthur sat up and urged him to lift his legs further. He felt exposed but safe in Arthur's presence and he surrendered to his prince, his lover, in a way he never had before.
How long Arthur played he had no idea, but Arthur was up to three fingers before he seemed satisfied that Merlin was ready for more. Merlin had long since closed his eyes, being able to see himself in such a position with Arthur touching him so intimately had almost been too much for his control, but when Arthur finally withdrew his probing fingers and leant over him, Merlin blinked back the self induced darkness.
Arthur was all but looking in his eyes.
"This will be uncomfortable to begin with," Arthur told him, "but I promise it will begin to feel good."
Merlin nodded; he trusted Arthur implicitly.
Now he watched as Arthur sat back, taking the oil and slicking the long, hard cock that Merlin had so far not allowed himself to think about. Arthur was a magnificent man in all ways and Merlin finally allowed himself to admire all of Arthur. As he kept his gaze in place, Arthur took himself in hand and moved forward and Merlin could see and feel Arthur lining himself up before slowly pushing forward.
At first there was just pressure; Arthur's cock felt big, but there was little resistance, but then Merlin's muscles decided they didn't like it and rebelled and then there was pain. Arthur stopped moving as soon as he tensed, pulling back just a fraction.
"Relax," Arthur told him in a tight, controlled voice, "it will fit."
When Arthur moved forward again there was more pain and Arthur pulled back a little, but the third time it was less and then the fourth and on the fifth Merlin felt his body give in a way it never had before. He gasped as Arthur slowly slid into him and he felt stretched and full and just about perfect.
It was difficult to explain, even in his own mind; he had always thought of sex as physical no matter what romantic notions women spouted about it. Love happened and sex was a part of that, but he had always thought of it as a happy consequence, a physical pleasure that would be fun, but at that moment he realised how wrong he had been. He felt the physical pleasure alright, but there was something else about the act, something that made his blood burn and his magic sing and it was more spiritual than physical. That it was Arthur above him and in him, touching him so intimately affected him far more than the mere physicality of it all. It was the ultimate surrender and he began to tremble at the enormity of it all.
"Are you alright?" Arthur asked, clearly having trouble maintaining his own control.
"I love you," his mind said, but he could not speak, all he could do was gaze up in wonder.
Arthur began to move then, slowly at first, but gradually building in speed and force and Merlin began to get lost in the physical pleasure of it all. It wasn't comfortable, in other circumstance he thought he might not have found such a sensation pleasant, but something about the whole situation was amazing, mind blowing, and he gave himself to it completely. Physical pleasure combined with the magic in his body, taking him higher and higher and he really felt like he would explode. He didn't know how long this was supposed to take, how long Arthur could keep thrusting into him before they both came apart, but when Arthur bent down and placed a kiss on the mark over his heart it was irrelevant.
It was as if Arthur had completed a circle of power and Merlin arched up, crying out loudly as his magic exploded through him. His body reacted by reaching for the completion it had been chasing and he felt hot liquid hit his stomach and chest as his seed issued forth from his body and waves of pleasure broke over him. Arthur must have felt something as well, because he heard Arthur give a strangled cry before burying himself deep in him, shuddering and letting go as well.
Reality undid in that moment for Merlin, undid and then reconfigured around him and Arthur, as if, for that instant, they were the centre of everything. The focus of time and existence was on them and nothing else as if the eye of the universe was looking at only their union. It made the physical irrelevant and the forces moving through Merlin seem like power beyond imagining, but it could not last. When Arthur finally moved, carefully pulling out of him and collapsing to the side, the moment ended and what was real reasserted itself.
Merlin found himself sprawled on the bed, panting quietly at the exertion with Arthur by his side. He ached in places he had never thought to ache and the odd random muscle in his body was jumping from time to time as if just to make him notice it. He felt spent and sated and lethargic and he wasn't sure he ever wanted to move again.
"What did you do?" Arthur sounded as dazed as Merlin felt.
"No idea," Merlin replied after a few moments of deciding which order to put the words in.
"That was ... umm," Arthur seemed to be having a little trouble with words as well, which was a blessing at least.
"M'know," Merlin agreed and made a clumsy grab for the covers that had been thrown out of the way.
Before they'd started he'd had a vague plan of reciprocating at some point, but the idea of any time soon had fled him and given how still Arthur was lying beside him, he thought Arthur was probably on the same page. Pulling at the covers he did his best to cover them both.
"Sleep now," he said as the lethargy began to creep into his brain as well, "talk later."
Arthur didn't usually agree to anything without saying at least something, but it seemed Arthur was in total agreement because all Arthur did was help pull the covers the final distance and then move closer to Merlin. They would have things to talk about, but words didn't really matter, not with what Merlin knew in his heart and he was pretty sure he fell asleep with a dopey smile on his face.
On to Part 6