The bird came before Arthur even knew what a soulmate was. He was two at the time and he would learn later, much later, that the day he first saw the bird probably coincided with the birth of said soulmate. Figures.
All he really remembers on the matter was the stinking bird pecking him. Again, upon meeting said soulmate...Yeah. That checked out. It never left any marks or anything. It simply pecked Arthur anytime he tried to hide from the guards or sneak off from his various nannies and tutors. He had just learned how to walk and was trying in vain to utilize such a wondrous skill, but the bird had no patience for it.
“Could we kill it?” His father asked a few years later, eyes flicking over the bird with pure distaste as Arthur held out his hand to let the bird peck at the seeds he was holding.
“It’s possible,” Gaius said slowly, looking at Arthur when he froze. “Though I wouldn’t recommend it, sire. There are plenty of consequences that could end in Arthur’s death.” He explained and Uther’s lips thinned at that.
“It’s magic. His life is already in the danger by its existence.” He hissed, fists clenching. Arthur frowned. He looked over at the bird carefully. It didn’t look particularly dangerous. In fact, he thought it was quite pretty with the blue and white feathers, mixed in with sprinkles of black and brown. The bird clearly wasn’t full-grown either - Arthur suspected it would be quite large which was awesome because he enjoyed more than anything to watch it fly from his window, circling above the castle’s towers before diving sharply. If Arthur focused enough he sometimes felt his heart plummet with it.
“If anything, the animal might be a benefit. Soulmates are usually known to protect one another.” Gaius said, tone placating. Arthur nodded as if he knew what they were talking about. He did not. All he knew was that his father wanted the bird gone and Arthur did not want that so he was willing to side with Gaius.
“He should learn to protect himself.” The king had said but in the end he caved for whatever reason. The older Arthur got the stranger it seemed that he relented. Gaius eventually caved and told him that his mother and father had been soulmates so the king probably understood Arthur's connection to the bird. He had wanted desperately to ask what animals his parents had been - and what had happened to them once his mother died - but much liked the Purge... Nobody really talked about it... And Uther's hatred for the bird only rose as it got bigger and more firmly placed by Arthur’s side.
"Stop causing trouble.” He whispered one afternoon when the bird had stolen a one of Morgana’s bracelets and dropped it into the palm of his hand. It nipped his finger and Arthur couldn’t help but laugh as he strokes his head fondly. “My father is not going to be fond of whatever human you represent.” He sighed. The bird cocked its head.
"Arthur Pendragon that better not be my bracelet!" Morgana's voice yelled and the falcon immediately started singing. "I...You took them?" She asked the bird and it soared over to where she held out her arm. "Why?" She asked simply. The bird sang some more. Arthur was pretty sure falcons didn't usually sing, but this one did... A lot. Morgana's face softened immediately.
"When do you think you'll meet him?" Morgana asked, stroking its wings as Arthur handed her back the earrings.
"It's a boy, Arthur. I think that means your soulmate is a boy too." Morgana said with a roll of her eyes. Arthur spluttered. He hadn't really given his soulmate's gender much thought but... Well, he supposed that made sense. The bird stopped singing to hop towards where a maid was putting clothes in a basket so he could sing to her too. "I can't wait to meet him. He seems so sweet." Morgana smiled, watching the maid give a delighted laugh as she went to sing back.
"Don't let that fool you. He also steals food from the kitchens and leaves it in front of my door."
"That seems quite nice." Morgana frowned. Arthur narrowed his eyes. Golden eyes immediately latched on him in return as the bird looked at him and Arthur could have sworn he saw a flash of amusement.
"Not when the cook goes to my father to complain about it. I never even see the food to eat it!" He muttered. Morgana snorted.
Another thing about his soulmate: They loved getting Arthur in trouble.
Which was fine, really... Because Arthur was sure his spirit animal was causing his soulmate just as much trouble.
Merlin was not a fan of the lion.
Like, yeah, it was cute. It had soft fur. His heart occasionally melted when it walked over and licked him.
But soulmates were rare - and they brought unwanted attention, generally. Merlin already stuck out like a sore thumb. Having a soulmate was not exactly what someone who was trying to keep their magic a low profile needed to have. Especially one who’s spirit animal was a goddamn lion. A lion! No, not a small little canary or rabbit or mouse that people wouldn’t necessarily notice. A fucking lion.
"I bet you’re awfully proud and a show off.” Merlin muttered one night, running his hand over the fur. The lion snapped his jaws at him. "And a prat." He added dryly.
And, while, okay. The lion itself had been around since he was born so he kind of had gotten fond of it. Most of his early memories involved running around Ealdor with the lion cub before Will plucked up the courage to actually be his friend. Besides, it was kind of nice to see people scramble away from once they realized he had a freaking lion by his side... but that didn’t mean he was letting his soulmate off the hook being an asshole. Especially since their spirit animal disappeared at inopportune times.
“I wouldn’t be in this mess if it you had been there,” Merlin continued to the lion, wrinkling his nose as it stretched out in Merlin’s bed as if there could possibly be room for them both. “Uther wouldn’t want someone with a soulmate serving his son. I'm surprised he hasn't outlawed them yet... Maybe if he saw you he would have just given me some coin for saving his son's life and allowed me to go on my way.” He sighed and walked over to the bed to shove the lion to the side. “But no, you had to go off doing whatever it is you do without me.” He grumbled. The lion growled, pushing Merlin back so he fell out of the bed. “Don’t you have a go at me! I’ve already been doomed to deal with Arthur bloody Pendragon!”
The lion paused at the name, head tilting.
“Yeah, don’t be too impressed. He’s a right prat. Like you.” He said and the lion gave a wounded yowl. “Oh, that reminds me. You also weren’t there when I got chased through the street with a mace. Typical.” He said. The lion did look a little apologetic at this and got off the bed. “…I’ll forgive you this time.” Merlin said and ended up yanking the sheets off of his bed so he could instead collapse on the lion as a makeshift pillow. “You would eat a prince if I asked, right?”
The lion purred.
It hadn’t occurred to Arthur to tell Merlin he had a soulmate. Why would it? It seemed like something that wouldn’t be his business up until he caught his new servant staring at the bird with pursed lips.
"Don’t touch it," Arthur instructed and the bird flicked golden eyes his way before soaring over to perch itself on Arthur’s shoulder "He gets...Suspicious of strangers going through my things. I’m surprised he hasn’t attacked you yet, actually.” He added with a curious look at Merlin. Maybe the falcon thought he was too weak to attack. Arthur understood the sentiment completely. The man wasn't exactly intimidating with his gangly limbs and stupid smile.
"You have a soulmate." Merlin deduced and rolled his eyes “Of course, you do." He snorted and went back to laundry. “What do you call him then?” He asked with a nod towards the bird. Arthur stared.
"You don’t name them, idiot." He said and Merlin spluttered as he abandoned the tunic to gape at Arthur.
"What do you mean? I named mine!" He said. Arthur stared.
"You have a soulmate?" He asked and crossed his arms “Please. Where is it then?” He asked. Merlin’s scowl deepened. "Merlin, just because a weasel let you pet it one time does not mean you have a soulmate.” He said, puffing out his chest. He could see the irritation hinting in Merlin’s eyes as he crossed his arms. Arthur waited.
"Pretty sure this isn’t just some random animal." He said. Honestly. Arthur almost felt a little bad. Having a soulmate...Well, it wasn’t ideal for someone like Arthur, but it was a little nice. Maybe. To know someone was out there destined to rule by his side. His father might still marry him off, but maybe if his soulmate was a prince or something... Who knew? At any rate, he could see why Merlin was jealous.
“Whatever you say." Arthur said dryly and went back to his work. He paused a second later before looking at where Merlin was still tidying up. “What do you call it?” He asked, unable to hold back the curiosity. “The butterfly or whatever that follows you around, I mean.”
"Well, since he usually struts around like a freaking prince himself, I tend to call him sire or my lord." Merlin said blandly and Arthur knew he should be offended since Merlin apparently used titles more with some random animal than he did an actual prince “But I named him Lionel...Which is stupid, I know, but I was only five when I came up with it." He muttered. Arthur wondered why Lionel was such a ridiculous name but knew better than to ask. Instead, he just went back to his work with the bird singing loudly in his ear.
Arthur really should have asked.
Not that Merlin would have told him. This seemed much funnier as Lionel strutted up with expectant eyes looking at Merlin.
“I don’t have any food.” He greeted and the lion’s tail flicked in irritation “So entitled.” He sighed and dug into his pocket to give him some dried meat. “I know you can hunt for yourself.” He mused and knelt down to ruffle his mane.
“Is that the beast that ruined my hunt?” Arthur yelled, dropping from the tree he had planned to ambush the predator in question from. “What the Hell is it?”
“Lio - oh my God, you really are stupid.” Arthur whispered and stared in horror at the lion for a moment. Lionel gave a low growl, crouching to the ground so that Arthur froze in his tracks. "Merlin, if that thing attacks me I will kill it." He warned. Merlin felt a stab of annoyance - Lionel was clearly just playing, but whatever. Shaking his head, he put a hand on the lion's back.
"Yes, you're very scary, your majesty." Merlin assured him and Lionel straightened up to look at him. Arthur also bristled before realizing that Merlin wasn't talking to him. "Please leave don't attack the actual prince." He tacked on. Lionel sniffed - possibly annoyed by the fact Merlin was suggesting he wasn't actually royalty - before plodding off toward... Wait. "Lionel!" Merlin snapped. "Do not bother the deer!" He warned. The lion gave a roar of indignation before flopping to the ground. "Clotpole."
"It's a lion. You don't expect him to hunt?" Arthur asked before finally lowering to sword. His eyes followed Lionel as he got up to head towards the stream.“You really do have a soulmate.” He tacked on with a frown and Merlin shrugged. “That might be a problem.”
"Can’t stand anybody but you having a shot a true love?” Merlin asked flatly. Arthur wrinkled his nose.
“No, idiot. Spirit animals don’t get along unless they belong to their soulmate. If my bird sees your hideous lion-“
“He is quite dashing, thank you. Besides, your bloody bird is too loud-“
“My bird is just trying to do me a favor and tune you out!” Arthur snapped and took a long breath “The point is they can’t be around each other. So unless you want Emmy to pluck out this lion’s eyes I suggest you tell him to bugger off.” He snapped. Merlin was inclined to tell Arthur to bugger off himself, but was immediately distracted by one word.
“Emmy?” He repeated and smiled. “You did name him.”
There was a pause.
“What?! I didn’t do anything!"
“Your stupid lion ruined my hunt.”
"Oh, come on! I've seen Emmy ruin plenty of hunts-"
"I will banish you."
Merlin didn't dare say it... But he was pretty sure Lionel was a better hunter anyways.
Arthur had expected the lion. He hadn’t expected the glowing blue ball.
“I feel you like should be doing more of the work here,” He hissed at the lion as it growled at him. “He’s your soulmate. Why am I getting the antidote because he got himself poisoned?!” He snapped, trying to focus on the blue light guiding him. “I hope you at least got a good chunk of that wench’s leg.” He muttered. The lion purred and Arthur could vaguely see a shred of the witch’s dress between his mouth.
“Good.” He grinned - partly because he enjoyed the fact Merlin’s soulmate wasn’t completely useless and also the fact he could see the dim outline of the lion meant that he was nearing the end to his climb. As it was, Lionel was swiping its paw at the spiders. Emmy would have done a better job, but he had been worryingly absent since the feast.
He was actually feeling a little grateful for Lionel when Arthur finally managed to free his way out of the cave only to be greeted with a face full of lion slobber.
“Gross.” He laughed and tried to push Lionel away. He sat up, running a hand through his mane. “I won’t let him die. I promise.” He added on quietly and looked down at the yellow flower clenched in his hand. “But we should hurry.” He added.
Lionel didn’t need to be told twice. He sprinted ahead of Arthur the entire ride back, disappearing only when the castle guards came to arrest Arthur (because apparently Arthur defying his father’s orders was more important than a man’s life).
Good thing Arthur had better allies than his father.
“Take this and hurry,” He whispered to Emmy as he picked up the flower Uther had dropped on the ground. He looked awful - wings floundering a bit as he tried to fly and golden eyes dimmer than usual. “Before they see you. Get it to Gaius. Go.” He said and the falcon gave the smallest of squawks before picking up the flower and disappearing. Arthur hoped Gaius also figured out what was wrong with his bird while he was there. What did that even mean? Was his soulmate sick? First Merlin now Emmy. Perfect.
And where was Arthur? Stuck in the dungeons. He wondered if his father would even let him rescue his soulmate if he was sick... Probably not. Then again, he had no idea how he would track down said soulmate in the first place. Maybe Morgana could help. Or Gaius. He wondered if Merlin's soulmate knew something was wrong. Did they know even their spirit animal had just aided in Arthur's rescue mission?
“I heard you had fun with Lionel.” Merlin called when Arthur came by a few days later - because Merlin lived. Which, thank God, because even though he would never admit it... If Merlin had died in Arthur's place he wasn't sure he could live with the guilt. The lion in question was sprawled out across Merlin’s lap as if he he could possibly fit on his scrawny legs. Arthur rolled his eyes.
“He was pretty useless. I did all the work.” He told him with a smirk. Lionel slowly lifted his head up and stared at him. Merlin pouted and kissed the lion’s head.
“He doesn’t mean it," The man cooed, stroking his mane fondly "You were great! Thank you for saving my life-”
“I just said-” Arthur began and at Merlin’s smile stopped short. Whatever. He swallowed. “You would do the same for me.” He said instead, voice growing quiet towards the end. Merlin’s eyes softened.
Emmy was waiting for him as healthy as could be when Arthur returned to his room.
Arthur was in a mood. A bad one. A horrible one. A...sad one. Which was strange because Arthur wasn’t usually just...Sad. Especially out of the blue.
Merlin, for his part, was quite happy despite the circumstances. Lancelot may have been banished but he knew of Merlin’s secret and didn’t hate him. In fact, he said he admired Merlin and… Well. There was just something about the man. Dashing and noble and kind and… Well, let’s just say Merlin could see his spirit animal being a lion.
“What’s wrong with Emmy?” He asked, thoughts of Lancelot straying as he froze when passing by the window where the bird was perched. Arthur glanced over miserably before muttering something or another and dragging himself out of the room. Merlin frowned, tilting his head. He didn’t often see Emmy. Arthur was incredibly protective of him and now that he knew Merlin had a soulmate, he was living with constant paranoia that Lionel was going to come along and gobble him up.
…Merlin would admit he enjoyed the satisfaction that his soulmate inspired such fear.
Not the point though. The point was the Emmy was a very affectionate bird. It was constantly bothering Arthur through singing or nipping at his hair or vying for his attention in some way. It was amusing - especially if Arthur was in a meeting of some sort only for Emmy to stop by and give him some rat that it had killed. Only now, Emmy wasn’t even looking at the prince. Hell, anytime Arthur went near him it flew away. Merlin didn't mention it again. Not when Arthur was clearly so devastated by it... And by devastated he meant that the prince was torturing Merlin moreso than usual.
“Ah,” Gaius frowned when Merlin brought it up that night “That’s common. Hopefully it will pass.” He said, stirring a pot of either dinner or some God forsaken creation he was going to force Merlin to try under the guise of ‘science’.
“But what’s happening? Lionel hasn’t ever ignored me like that.” Merlin frowned. Right on cue, Lionel popped his head into the room with a soft mewl. Merlin smiled.
“Well, your soulmate has never been in love.” Gaius said. Merlin took a moment to process that.
“Arthur’s soulmate is in love?” He asked, a bit in awe. This was immediately followed with a stab of regret. Poor Arthur.
“Hm. If a spirit animal senses that their owner’s soulmate could be rejected it starts the process for them. I suspect Arthur’s soulmate has found someone they are quite taken with.” Gaius informed him. Merlin frowned. That was horrible. “However, most of the time these things are short lived. Arthur is young. I suspect his soulmate is too. People fall in and out of love a million times before finding who they are meant to be with.” He explained. Merlin hoped that was the case… And that Arthur’s soulmate got it together soon because the man in question was a nightmare to work for at the moment.
Gauis’ words held true. A few weeks later, Emmy flew into the room singing brightly to wake Arthur before Merlin even had a chance to.
“Oh? Am I worth your time now?” Arthur snapped when he sat up to glower at the bird. “Is he done being a lovestruck girl then?” He asked and the bird made an indignant noise.
“Aw, you missed him.” Merlin laughed and ducked when Arthur went to throw a goblet at him. “I’m sure your beloved only has thoughts of you, sire.” Merlin said with an air of sarcasm before making a grand escape out the door as Arthur flew out of the bed to kill him.
Completely unrelated: Merlin learned Lancelot did not have a soulmate. Merlin figured it was worth a shot, but really, anyone lucky enough to have Lancelot would feel like his soulmate anyways.
Merlin wasn't certain which feeling was more overwhelming: The guilt or the fear.
On one hand, Kilgharrah had been very clear. Arthur must live. He had to... Merlin wanted him to. Despite everything, he had grown to... Sort of like Arthur. Sure he was brash and insensitive and rude and not particularly fun to be around at times, but he was also loyal and brave and true hearted. Camelot deserved him as its future king.
Even if it meant Merlin dying and leaving his soulmate alone.
"I'm so sorry." Merlin whispered. Lionel was lying at the foot of Arthur's bed, eyes closed. Merlin was grateful he was asleep. He didn't want to stop him from trying to come along or looking at the lion knowing his soulmate was doomed to be forever alone because Merlin decided to sacrifice himself for the greater good. He wondered if this meant his spirit animal would die. Would his soulmate know? Taking a long breath, he leaned over to bury his face in his fur before backing up. Stupid Questing Beast. Stupid Merlin. If he had just been more careful...
No. He could still fix this. He had to. Lionel didn't stir at Merlin's touch. Normally this might concern him, but he didn't have time to read much into it as he backed up and started to make his way out of the castle. A whistle caught his attention.
"Emmy." He greeted as the falcon flew next to him, gliding by his shoulder. "I suppose Lionel did come with Arthur when he saved my life." He mused and the bird gave a very stoic screech. "Well, if you do come along you'll have to keep a secret." He informed the bird dryly "I'm about to use magic to save the prince's life. I suppose it doesn't matter now. I'm about to die anyways." He mused. The fear was rising up again. "At least... I won't die alone now." He laughed nervously. Merlin's horse seemed to sense the anxiety and sped up, galloping over fallen trees and through empty fields as Emmy merely flapped his wings to keep in pace.
"I'm sorry," Merlin murmured when the bird perched itself on the front of the rowboat a few hours later "I was supposed to protect him. I thought I could... At least until he met his soulmate." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. His eyes flashed gold and the boat pushed itself out into the water, heading towards the ruins ahead. "I hope you know how lucky you are to have him." He continued. The bird cocked its head. "Take care of him for me, alright?" He asked.
Merlin didn't die right away... Or at all, surprisingly.
It was a miracle it worked out the way it did with so many lives on the line. Between Arthur, his mother, and Gaius... Well, Merlin wasn't sure how all his loved ones came out in one piece. It was maybe even a little... Strange.
"Two sides of the same coin." He frowned that night as he looked at Lionel. "That's what Kilgharrah said... You don't... You don't think...?" He began, finally facing the the question that had been tingling at the back of his mind since this whole debacle began. Arthur was... A royal prat who was proud and stubborn and...Lion-ish... "No way," He whispered reaching out to pet Lionel. "No fate is cruel enough to have a sorcerer's soulmate be a Pendragon." He mused and shook his head. "Even my luck isn't that bad."
Famous last words.
The worst day of Merlin’s life was quickly followed by the best...Then the worst once more.
It was right after that assassination attempt on Arthur that it happened. Merlin had come into his room, ready to rant to his soulmate about his life as he always did (he knew the human connected to the spirit animal never heard him but it was still nice) when Lionel turned away.
It seemed small enough. Only when Merlin went to touch him, the lion slipped from his grasp, giving a low growl in warning.
"Oh." Merlin said, voice growing impossibly small as he leaned away. Just to be sure, he reached out again. “Lionel?”
So. His soulmate had fallen in love then.
He tried to be understanding. After all, Merlin was...Not convenient to be in love with. He often wondered what his spirit animal could be. If it was something magical or loud or not particularly pleasant. He supposed it was only a matter of time before this happened. In fact, maybe he should be glad. It was safer for both of them this way, right? Right.
That didn’t stop him from being absolutely miserable. Even Arthur noticed. Arthur. The man who didn’t even notice he got knocked unconscious whenever any of his magical enemies got mysteriously defeated.
"Emmy isn’t coming if you want to bring that enormous baby of yours.” He said casually one day as they prepared for a hunt. Merlin scowled at the ground. "So he is ignoring you then?"
"As if you haven’t gone through the same thing!” Merlin snapped defensively, throwing down the rag he was using to march off and yank open Arthur’s dresser.
“I was just-"
Merlin threw a tunic at his head.
“Can we please get you dressed so I can do something away from you?" He asked callously. Normally, such a bold and unwarranted comment would have in threatened with execution - or at least thrown into the stocks - but Arthur only grimaced. For whatever reason, his sympathy made it worse.
The rest of the week rapidly declined from there. It wasn’t just that his soulmate had moved on from him. It was that... Well, Lionel has become such a fixture in his life and now he wouldn’t even come near him. If Merlin was lonely before it was absolutely nothing compared to shivering alone in his bed without anyone willing to listen to his rants and hopes and whispers of dreams.
Then she came.
"Emmy is ignoring me again." Arthur groused “So I guess we both have sucky soulmates." He grumbled, glaring at window where the falcon had been moments ago. “How did he fall in love again? With who?” He demanded.
Merlin blinked. He would admit he hadn’t been... Too concerned about Lionel as of recent. His thoughts had been completely taken by Freya and getting her to safety. She wasn’t his soulmate - he knew that much - but for once he didn’t care. She was special and beautiful and like him and... Well, his soulmate was in love with someone else anyways. Why not run off with her?
"Gwen seems pretty smitten with you though." He said, picking up a rag to start wiping down Arthur's furniture. Arthur shifted. "What? You don't think she bares some resemblance to Emmy?" He asked, nodding to where the bird normally sat. Arthur tilted his head.
"It's true she is... Loyal and kind and smart." He said with a frown. Merlin waited. "But she, well, Emmy is a boy and Gwen... doesn't have a soulmate." He admitted and Merlin's brows shot up. He wasn't sure why this was a surprise. Gwen had met Lionel many times. If she had a spirit animal of her own she definitely would have shown it by now. "Plus, Emmy is much too annoying to be Gwen." He added as an afterthought.
"So what I'm hearing is that you are the sucky soulmate?" Merlin asked dryly. Arthur spluttered. "What? You fell in love with her! How can you be mad that whoever Emmy belongs to has also attempted to move on?" He asked, shaking his head. It was exactly what he was going through. He didn't feel too bad about moving away from his soulmate given that he started it.
"Yeah, but this is the second time Emmy has done this." Arthur argued.
"Get out. I hope Lionel ignores you forever." The prince spat at him, face flushing a bit as he marched over to fill out forms whatever nobles did. Merlin rolled his eyes. That poor bird. Doomed to put up with Arthur forever. Merlin wondered what would happen if his soulmate stayed in love. Would Lionel eventually leave forever? The thought made his heart sting a bit, but he pushed it aside. Freya. He had Freya now and she was wonderful.
"Something has been upsetting you hasn't it?"
Well, he had her... Past tense. Now she was gone. Dead. Merlin thought back the bastet. He wondered what it would have been like to have her as a soulmate... A black cat with huge eyes following him around. Skittish and sweet and affectionate and... Merlin closed his eyes. Now wasn't the time. He looked up from where he was polishing one of Arthur's boots to gave his best attempt at a smile. It said something that Arthur had willingly joined him on the floor. Normally, the prince wouldn't dare degrade himself to go anywhere near the ground... Especially to comfort a servant.
"Maybe." He answered, turning back to the shoe. Arthur narrowed his eyes slightly in suspicion.
"Was it when I threw water at you?" He guessed, pulling back to better see Merlin's face. Despite the circumstances... Despite Freya being gone and Lionel dismissing him and his heart heavy with secrets and magic and destiny... He found himself scoffing. It should be sad that out of all the tragic things in his life, Arthur could really only deduce this being the culprit to his mood. It wasn't though. If anything it made his chest feel a bit lighter.
"That wasn't very nice." He said, looking back at him with the most accusing look he could muster. A stoic look crossed Arthur's eyes as he gave a firm nod of agreement.
"I suppose it was a bit unfair," He admitted... Which was surprising. Arthur never admitted he was unfair. "Like when you called me fat?" He suggested, voice rising slightly in indignation. Merlin fixed his expression into confusion.
"Why was that unfair?" He asked, trying not to break into a grin. Arthur inhaled.
"Because I am not-" He began and at Merlin's smile, yanked at his sleeve to pull him over. This was interrupted by Lionel also appearing to nudge him with his head - completely shoving Arthur aside. "How the Hell did you get into my room?" He asked, outraged. Merlin could only splutter as the lion lightly batted him with one his paws.
"You're back!" He beamed and threw his arms around the lion's neck. "So whoever you liked was too good for you, huh?" He asked. Lionel snapped his jaws. "Whatever you say, your highness." Merlin snorted. "I bet you were shooting way out of your league."
"Can you please stop using royal formalities with the lion?" Arthur grumbled, but his eyes were soft. "Is that what has been bothering you? Your soulmate?"
"Among other things... Has Emmy come around?" He added cautiously. Arthur bit his lip, eyes flickering towards the window the falcon had left through earlier.
"He... Is acting strange," Arthur admitted and absently started stroking Lionel. Merlin opened his mouth to warn him that lion got a little testy when other people touched him, but nothing happened. Huh. Maybe Lionel was growing fond of Arthur too. At least that meant his soulmate wasn't one of the people he would have to protect Arthur from. "He came by the other day so he isn't ignoring me."
"But he doesn't particularly seem pleased with me either." Arthur shook his head. "I asked Gaius and he said that my soulmate was probably emotionally conflicted." He rolled his eyes "So maybe it's a girl after all." He added under his breath. Merlin sniffed.
"Well, one of you has to have more than two emotions." He informed him. Arthur looked at him. "Yours are as follows: hit and yell." He explained.
"Those aren't emotions."
"How would you know?" Merlin gasped, "My lord... Are you perhaps the girl? Knowing what emotions are?"
"I will never try to make you feel better again." Arthur vowed solemnly. Merlin beamed at him. Maybe... He wasn't as alone as he originally thought after all.
"YES!" Arthur yelled, pumping his arm high into the air as Emmy soared high above before fluttering over to him. "Good job! You are the smartest spirit animal in the whole world." He beamed, reaching out to fondly stroke Emmy's wings. "The best soulmate in the Five Kingdoms!" He added and Emmy sang in response. Arthur laughed.
"It isn't that impressive." He muttered and Arthur turned to gape at his servant - half in outrage and half in disbelief.
"I'm sorry. Did you not just see this bird blind a man?" He asked looking at the direction where the bandit had run off. "My soulmate is a badass."
"Your soulmate is violent and needs to reconsider his priorities." Merlin snapped at him and glared at Emmy. "Lionel would never..." He added under his breath. Arthur scoffed. It was a freaking lion. Did Merlin really not think his soulmate was dangerous? Perhaps he read his mind because Merlin's scowl deepened. "Unless there was an extreme situation that warranted it." He added.
"I feel bad for your soulmate." Arthur told him, "Whoever they are is probably stuck with a useless ferret who never does as they're told." He clicked his tongue. Merlin rolled his eyes. "Then again, not everyone can be a power couple like me and Emmy here." He said fondly as he reached into his pocket to grab some seeds. Emmy lightly nipped at his ear before eating some as Merlin continued to shake his head in disgust.
"You are way to happy about thi - what is he doing now?" He asked when Emmy flew back up. Arthur smiled after him.
"He's either hunting or probably going to find some berries for us to eat... Because he's helpful." He added with a snide look towards Merlin.
"He's mean." Merlin said and Arthur threw up his hands. He wanted to point out that the bandit in question was definitely going to do way worse to either of them if Emmy hadn't swooped in, but Merlin was probably just jealous. Besides, Emmy was actually incredibly sweet... Not that he advertised that part of his soulmate too much. As a prince he knew he should be more impressed by his soulmate's apparent ability to thwart enemies and outsmart opponents.
...but if pressed he might admit that Emmy often had a habit of bringing him wounded animals to fix up (this included animals that might normally be considered prey). Or leading him to lost children if they were alone in the woods. Or making a bloody menace of himself trying to scare away other animals while hunting. It could be rather annoying, but it was nice to know on some level that his soulmate at least would make him a somewhat better person. Not that Arthur was a bad person but - well, you know.
It was still cool that whoever it was could kick ass.
"Since he's gone could Lionel come back now?" Merlin asked. Arthur made a face. He wanted to say no because Emmy could theoretically return in a couple minutes... but he also knew he rather liked the forest and could spend ages wandering around. So instead he gave a wary nod as he sighed. "Come on, you're starting to like him. He's a lot sweeter tha - Lionel!" Merlin yelped. Arthur turned around just in time to see a lion pounce from one of the rocks above them to tackle Merlin to the ground. Merlin gave a small shriek as he went down.
"What were you saying?" He asked as the lion continued to attack with light hits so that Merlin was left cursing as he tried to shove him off.
"You're such a prat!" Merlin said with a growl. Whether it was to Arthur or Lionel remained uncertain. "What have you even been doing?" He asked, looking Lionel up and down suspiciously. Arthur scoffed. "What? He always gets himself in trouble."
"Emmy never gets in trouble."
"That you know about." Merlin threw back. Arthur shrugged again. He clearly had the superior soulmate. Why couldn't Merlin just accept this?
He was about to defend Emmy's honor once more when a snap caught his attention. Damnit. There were more.
Working off of pure instinct alone, Arthur launched himself at Merlin so they both went tumbling back into a mess of grass and weeds. He could feel a slight whoosh in the air, grazing off of his arm as the outline of an arrow blurred across the sky. Now that Merlin was in his usual place on the ground, Arthur stood back up to yank his sword out of his belt as he tried to make out where the attack was coming from. Another arrow came only to be plucked out of the air as Emmy dove down. A string of cursing followed.
"Show yourself!" Arthur shouted, relaxing a bit. There was just one then. He could deal with one. "Your friend tried and failed to attack. We don't want to kill you!" He added, creeping around the trees. Emmy sat on a branch above - eyes flicking around before he jumped down to perch himself on fallen log. "Out of arrows?" Arthur called, glancing around.
Arthur spun around just in time to see a figure emerge from behind a tree right as Emmy flew in front of him. Arthur rose his sword, but the man was already grabbing at the bird before he could get the first strike in. There was an ungodly shriek and Arthur felt his heart drop. He couldn't tell if that was human or not. Emmy very well could have also blinded this guy or he could have snapped the falcon's neck.
There answer came seconds later when the man dropped to the ground as he held out shaking his hands in front of him. Arthur jumped over and Emmy flew by his side again, completely unharmed.
"It burned me!" He screeched and sure enough. When Arthur looked down his hands were completely charred with ugly red blisters blooming across his palms. A sharp smell of burnt flesh filled the air. Arthur tried not to gag - sudden memories of pyres and screaming filling his mind before he could push it away. "It fucking burned me!" He sobbed. Arthur stood frozen. Swallowing, he put his sword to the man's throat before turning to stare at Emmy with wide eyes.
Had he done that? How?
"We have a physician in Camelot," Arthur found himself saying, tongue numb as he spoke. The bandit glanced up at him. There were tears in his eyes. "I'll take you to him before putting you in the dungeons." He said, tapping the sword against his throat to demonstrate how little choice he had in the matter. "Assuming you don't speak a word of what just happened."
"You fell into a campfire." Arthur said shortly. "Understand?" He asked. There was a pause. "Understand?"
"Yes. Yes, I do." The man managed and Arthur nodded before tucking his sword away. He would need some rope. And where was -
"What happened? Is...What's wrong with your hands?" Merlin's voice came as he trudged over now that he was done playing hide-and-seek. The bandit spluttered a bit when Merlin knelt down, examining them carefully before reaching into his pack to reveal cloths and ointment ready to go. "I'm the physician's apprentice." He added to him casually. "How did you manage this?"
"I..." The bandit glanced at Arthur. "I fell into a fire."
"Just your hands?"
"Stop asking stupid questions, Merlin. We need to keep moving." He added. Emmy sang a few notes in agreement. Arthur went to smile at him, but paused when he saw a few wisps of smoke rise from where he was sitting on the branch.
“Are you kidding me?!”
Merlin paused in walking past Arthur’s open door to slowly step back until he was able to clearly see Arthur seething at Emmy with his face bright red. Merlin cleared his throat.
"Why are you yelling at Emmy?” He asked. He half-expected Arthur to yell at him next, but the prince’s frustration seemed entirely devoted to the bird.
"He’s ignoring me again!” Arthur scowled and threw up his arms “How could you have fallen in love again, you dumb whore?!” He demanded and Merlin snorted as Emmy gave a low squawk of irritation while still refusing to look at him. “Whatever. I don’t even care. Why are you here?” He asked, turning to his servant.
“Oh. Uh,” Merlin winced and shuffled a little into the room. “Well… Gwaine.” He smiled brightly and very slowly put a paper in front of him. “He spent the night at the tavern.” He said as Arthur picked up the paper to look at the various charges the man had accrued.
“What?” He spluttered before launching into an outraged rant. Merlin wasn’t paying attention. He was thinking more about Gwaine. Gwaine who was loud and brash and fun and - hey. Those were some lion-like qualities, right?
“Are you ignoring me now too?” Arthur’s voice snapped him back to the present. Merlin sighed.
“I can’t help that your soulmate is a romantic, Arthur.” He snapped and Arthur’s scowl deepened “Though I can empathize with him when he finds out he’s stuck with you.” He added lowly.
That had been the wrong thing to say.
“I’m not paying for this.” He said darkly and when Merlin opened his mouth, held up a finger. “You are.”
“You don’t pay me that much!”
“Oh, trust me. I can find a way for both of you to work off the debt.”
Merlin learned after polishing many, many boots that while Gwaine did have a soulmate his was a bear.
…yeah. Merlin didn’t quite see himself as a bear, thank you very much.
At least Arthur’s mood improved when Emmy brought him a squirrel the next day. Honestly. That entire relationship was super weird.
Lancelot was way too easy to talk to sometimes.
Arthur wasn't sure why - there was just something about the man that made you think you could trust him. Which, well, you could. Lancelot was an incredibly trustworthy person by nature, but Arthur wished it didn't make him say stupid stuff randomly.
"I think my soulmate has magic."
Lancelot froze from where he was putting away some weapons away before slowly turning to where Arthur was looking at Emmy with critical eyes.
"Why would think that?" He asked, brows furrowing together as he walked over to sit in front of the prince. Arthur bit his lip. It was something he had been suspicious of for awhile, but nothing he dared to voice aloud. Especially not when his father ruled, looking for any reason to get rid of Emmy to begin with. Lancelot waited.
"His eyes," Arthur sighed as the bird tilted his head at him, perhaps sensing this conversation was about him. "Normal falcons don't have golden eyes. And there are other things to. Strange things." He said, brows furrowing together. "Sometimes when he knocks things over they... Don't hit the ground right away. Or arrows always seem to go around him in battle. One time a bandit tried to grab him and his hands got burned." Arthur said and stood up, pacing the length of the room. "If my soulmate has magic does that mean Emmy does?" He asked. Lancelot pursed his lips.
"Soulmates couldn't exist without magic. I don't think it is fair to judge your soulmate based on a creature made of sorcery." He said and wrung his hands together. "Why does this bother you? Do you think you know who your soulmate is?" He asked. There was a sharp note of worry towards the end there. Arthur sighed. Maybe he shouldn't have brought this to his knight's attention. The man would be stressed that a sorcerer could be in their midst for awhile.
"No. I... I don't know. Sometimes Emmy reminds me of..." He trailed off, not daring to voice the name out loud. It seemed impossible anyways.
"Well, if he does have magic it probably isn't anyone within Camelot." Lancelot said with a fierce shake of his head. "No sorcerer would dare come here. It also could explain why you haven't met him yet." He added. Arthur blinked. He hadn't considered that, actually. "If it is someone within Camelot, I highly doubt they have magic. I think Percival and Gwaine mentioned similar things with their spirit animals happening. I'm sure it's common." He shrugged.
"Really? They haven't said anything. Neither has Merl-"
"Merlin has a soulmate?" Lancelot cut him off with a short laugh, rubbing the back of his head "I forgot about that. I'm sure he has issues with it too. With all due respect, my lord, I doubt anyone would wish to mention this in front of you given that sorcery can be such a taboo within the kingdom." He clicked his tongue. Arthur sighed. That was probably true. "Perhaps it is best to let things to run their course rather than mulling over these concerns." He added with a wry smile.
Right, right... That was fair. Lancelot leaned forward and grabbed his arm.
"Thank you, Lancelot." He said and clasped his arm in return. The knight stood up, a brief hint of relief touching his eyes as he went back to the weapons. Arthur also stood up to leave when Lancelot called him back.
"If your soulmate did have magic... What would you do?" He asked, eyes flicking to Emmy. Arthur followed his gaze.
"I honestly have no idea."
Emmy didn't come near him for the rest of the day.
“Must you be so disgusting?” Arthur asked, staring as Merlin kissed Lionel’s mane fondly. Merlin scoffed.
“Maybe my soulmate can tell.”
“Well, Lionel licks me a lot so maybe he’s trying to tell me that my soulmate is affectionate too. You’re just mad because you get no love.” Merlin sniffed and kissed Lionel again. Arthur scowled.
“He’s a bird! What can he do?"
“...yeah. Kind of useless.”
“Call my soulmate useless again and I’ll stab you.” Arthur warned sharply. Merlin shook his head. While Arthur complained a lot about his soulmate he appeared to be the only one who could utter a word of offense towards them. “Besides, yours is...” He narrowed his eyes towards Lionel. “Stupid.”
Merlin glared. Luckily, the other knights had his back because they weren’t the worst.
“Lionel is quite smart when he wants to be.” Leon said, leaning against his sword with a hint of amusement. “Though… He does miss obvious things.” He said, letting his eyes flick to the others.
“In fairness, Emmy does miss some obvious stuff too.” Elyan said reasonably. Arthur gaped. “But I do enjoy the pair of you insulting the other’s soulmate. Go on.” He said as Leon elbowed him. Merlin frowned. Maybe they didn’t have his back. Whatever.
“Just because Percy and Gwaine are so sweet doesn’t mean you have to make fun of us. Not everyone gets to meet their soulmate that quickly.” Merlin sniffed as Arthur gave a short nod in agreement. From behind the other two knights, Percival and Gwaine rose their eyebrows before looking at where the wolf and bear were playfully wrestling in the background.
“We are just so fortunate.” Gwaine agreed stoically. “You know, it was a good things we were smart enough to realize there was a chance, Percy. Imagine if we were stupid and never introduced our animals to the other.” He said and Arthur rolled his eyes.
“Nobody is that stupid.” He said and Percival winced.
“Nobody.” He whispered when Gwaine snorted. “My lord, might I inquire what it would take for you to show Emmy to another animal? You can be a tad overprotective-“
“Merlin too!” Gwaine objected and Merlin gasped, sitting up.
“Am not! How do you think Mead got that scar?!” He demanded, gesturing to the bear with a rather nasty looking mark across the side of his face (Merlin knew he wasn’t a bear but Gwaine just had to be sure).
“Still mad you named my spirit Mead." Percival muttered and Gwaine gave a dazzling smile.
“Well, I wanted to show my undying love for you." He said brightly but Elyan was waving the argument away the way he did every time they got into it.
“The point is you two should take some risks!" The knight said, punching Percival as he passed “You never know who you’re soulmate is going to be."
“I’ll know,” Merlin said with a fierce nod and patted Lionel “I can recognize this clotpole anywhere.” He added and glanced over again at Gwaine and Percival’s spirit animals. "He should probably go before they get too close though.” He mused and the lion moaned when Merlin tried to push him off. "Drama king.” He muttered.
"What about you, sire?” Leon asked with a sigh. Arthur snorted.
"Emmy is a very special mix of annoying and endearing. I’ll be able to tell immediately.” He said and from somewhere in the distance there was a sharp caw of agreement.
"Will you though?" Gwaine muttered as Leon sighed.
"Right," The knight said dryly and ran a hand over his face “Well, let’s get some rest. I’ll take first watch." He added and frowned as Emmy circled high above. "Is he alright?"
"He’s been weirdly fidgety since I heard about the dragon egg.” Arthur frowned, glancing up. "I can’t help but wonder if..." he started and then trailed off. Elyan tilted his head, but before he could ask, Leon spoke again.
“If your soulmate was around when the Great Dragon was released?" He asked, gently. Arthur shrugged.
Merlin looked away. He hoped Arthur’s soulmate hadn’t lost family to Kilgharrah’s tirade... or was injured even. In many ways, hurting Arthur’s soulmate seemed just as horrible as hurting Arthur himself. An unthinkable, horrendous, terrible deed that was just...Haunting.
"Let’s just get this thing before it upsets him too much.” Arthur said. Merlin nodded absently. He hoped Emmy and whoever owned him forgave Merlin for what he was about to do... He hoped his own soulmate wasn’t... Opposed to, well, him. A dragonlord. A sorcerer. An everything Camelot and the rest of the kingdoms so despised. He probably was given that Arthur hated those things.
It was after he met Aithusa that he rethought that.
"He's in a good mood." Merlin noted with a frown as Emmy hopped around to each of the knights in attempt to get one of them to play. Gwaine eventually gave in and started chasing the bird around - ignoring Arthur's yells to stop harassing him. Leon clapped him on the shoulder.
"Well, he is probably pleased the dragon egg is no more!" He said brightly. Merlin tilted his head... Did Emmy think the egg was gone? It seemed like a spirit animal might sense that Atihusa had hatched and was roaming around freely... Then again, maybe Arthur's soulmate was happy about something else entirely. It was impossible to tell. "How are you feeling, Merlin?" Leon asked, throwing an arm around his shoulders. Elyan perked up.
"Yeah! Do you also want to chase Gwaine around?" He asked, eyes sparkling. Merlin rolled his eyes.
"I'm not a child." He objected and Percival glanced up from where he was feeding the fire.
"Of course not, Merlin." He chuckled lowly and looked over his shoulder at where Arthur was trying to get Emmy away from Gwaine. "How's Lionel?" He asked and Merlin shrugged. He was probably out in the woods hunting deer or something. After Emmy flew off then Mead and Echo (Percival named the wolf that on account for how much he liked to bark apparently) would be joining them so Merlin probably wouldn't see his lion until the hunt was over and they were back in Camelot.
"I think he's good. Why?" He asked. Percival sighed.
"No reason," Leon said and sat down with the rest of the knights "We're all just very fond of Lionel."
"Yeah," Elyan jumped in "I feel very... Loyal feelings to him. What about you, Gwaine?" He asked as the other knight finally gave into Arthur's yelling and stomped over to join them at the fire. "How do you feel about Lionel?" He asked. Gwaine snorted and grabbed his flask to sip.
"I think he can be a right pain," He grinned, winking at Merlin. "But a good lion. One who is fair and just...Despite his shortcomings."
"This is a very in-depth analysis into my lion." He noted. Arthur sat down beside him, tugging the flask away from Gwaine as he did so to throw somewhere into the grass.
"I think he's annoying." The prince seethed. Well. At least some things didn't change.
Arthur missed Merlin.
More than he cared to admit. Despite the patrols, the searches, the endless nights scouring over maps...Nothing. Nothing but a scrap of cloth and -
"Emmy?" He asked, interrupting his own thoughts. The bird was fluttering around, wings flapping frantically as Arthur approached. “Hey. Hey, easy.” He frowned, putting a hand out. Emmy paused - eyes widening and narrowing quickly. "What’s wrong?" He asked, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. What did this mean? Was his soulmate okay? Was he hurt?
Gaius. Arthur spun around to get the man as Emmy continued thrashing around.
It took him a moment to collect himself entering the tower. Gaius’ chambers looked the same as they always did. Bubbling potions. Herbs hung high and fire crackling in the corner. Still, Merlin’s room still seemed to laugh at him from the corner. Barren and unused. Lionel was near the fireplace and Arthur could have died right then and there.
"Emmy.” He managed when Gaius appeared, worn and baffled at Arthur’s sudden appearance. The physician didn’t need anymore said as he simply nodded without a word and left down the staircase presumably to Arthur’s room. The lion peered up at him.
"I’m looking." He said quietly and the lion stared. "I... I’ll find him. For you." He added because yeah. Soulmates were rare and it seemed like a waste to let them die no matter whose they were, right? Right.
It was only after they had found Merlin again that he was forced to face the reality on the situation.
"I think I know why you’re acting strangely." He sighed, sitting in front of Emmy. Just a few hours ago the bird had tried to peck Arthur’s hand off and then disappeared to do something or another before coming back with some berries as a gift. Only they were definitely poisoned so Arthur was forced to see even his soulmate was a traitor. “You know, don’t you? Is my spirit animal ignoring you?” He asked and put his face into his hands. “I didn’t mean for it to happen! You never showed up!” He added with a hint of accusation. The bird snapped at him.
"I’m not even sure it’s love.” He grumbled except he was sure. Definitely sure. It was different than loving Gwen so long ago. Different than his old love for Morgana and his father and his knights. It was loud and demanding and irritating and painfully unrelenting. "I hadn’t even realized what it was until he went missing.” Arthur added on helplessly.
"I want to find you. I do. It's just... He's important to me. He's loyal and kind and...I didn't mean to!" He added on a little desperately. "I thought he was dead!" He added, a little hysterically. Emmy pecked at him again and this time Arthur yanked his hand back a bit in surprise to find a prick of blood pooling at the surface. He stared. Never before had Emmy actually hurt him. He rubbed his hand as the falcon flapped its wings as if hoping to scare him away. "That's unnecessary." He told him.
Well... It appeared Emmy was no longer on his side. Arthur wondered if his own spirit animal reacted so aggressively during the numerous time his own soulmate had fallen in love.
"That isn't fair, you know." He added to the bird with a scowl "You've done it too." He said. Emmy snapped at him again. "Fine." He grumbled.
Arthur couldn't help it. Merlin was... Well, Merlin, and Arthur was beginning to think that even if his servant wasn't soulmate... Well, maybe the man was preferable than whoever this moody bird belonged to.
Not that Merlin wasn't moody as well. At least he had an excuse though. Being lost in a bog would put anyone in a state of distress.
"I'm sorry he snapped at you," Arthur frowned as Merlin stormed away. Had he been jealous? Merlin wasn't a jealous person, was he? Especially not over serving Arthur food. "He's been a little out of it since we brought him back." He explained. Gwen nodded as she glanced at the door Merlin had barged through before looking at where Emmy had flown in to start scratching at the table.
"Is he alright?" She asked, nodding to the bird.
"Oh, well, he's been like this for a few days or so." Arthur grumbled "My soulmate apparently wants my eyes to be pecked out or something." He said, rubbing his hand with a grimace. Gwen stiffened. Without so much as a warning she leaned over to grab his wrist and study the wound. "Wha-?"
"Emmy did this to you?" She demanded and Arthur nodded. "He hurt you? Intentionally?" She clarified. He nodded again. "I need to speak to Gaius." She said and dropped his hand.
"It isn't that bad!" He said, but Gwen was already out the door.
"IF YOU SEE MERLIN SEND HIM TO ME!"
What? What did Merlin have to do with this? He glanced over at Emmy.
"Get it together."
Merlin and Emmy were on a united front here... And Arthur sucked for not realizing it.
After all, it was one thing for the prince not to notice his servant's blatant dislike towards a certain knight, but Emmy? He was really going to dismiss the fact Emmy didn't like Mordred?
"He's a temperamental bird, Merlin." Arthur sighed when he pointed it out. "He doesn't even like me from time to time." He said. Merlin deeply understood that at least.
He wondered if Emmy knew the damage Mordred was destined to do. It seemed like he must considering he stuck to Arthur like glue anytime Mordred was around. Merlin couldn't help but be incredibly thankful for it as he raced across the battlefield, hoping - no, praying that he wasn't too late. Emmy would keep Arthur safe, right? He had to. He had to, he had to, he had -
Lionel roared. Merlin's mind jolted again as the lion sprinted far in front, chasing away enemies so Merlin had a clear vantage point over the fighting below. They were outnumbered, certainly, but Merlin's magic was stronger than any amount of swords Morgana could raise. He glanced down nervously at Lionel. He had thought about showing up as the old man... But really a disguise was useless here. Lionel wouldn't leave his side and anyone who knew his soulmate's spirit animal would know he belonged to Merlin.
He supposed this was it. All or nothing.
It was strange... Practicing magic so openly. He felt the energy flow through him - warm and a bit painful to be honest. Almost like stretching after days spent forced in a box. Like... Like flying when your wings had been strapped down for years. Like breathing for the first time. It was exhilarating and scary and perfect.
And effective. He could see that clearly enough as men went flying back. Some crumbled to the ground while others soared high in above them. Arthur froze - having been in mid-strike only to turn and meet his eyes.
He gave a long breath, worry tugging at his chest as Lionel roared once more now that all the enemies were down. There was shock in Arthur's eyes. It almost immediately hardened and Merlin had to force himself not to look away. From somewhere above, Emmy was - wait. What?
Forget Arthur, Merlin's eyes latched onto where his bloody bird had turned into moving lightning. He could barely make him out amidst the storm that he had apparently brought with him, thunder rolling loudly as the ground was stuck to take down the new waves of men trying to surge around Camelot's defenses.
Arthur's soulmate had magic.
Which was good news, really, because Merlin needed all the help he could get.
He climbed down, ready to join Arthur's side (and hopefully not get stabbed) only to notice a figure rising among the fallen. It took him a moment to recognize him - there was only a glint of armor that reflected a falling flag with Camelot's crest fluttering in the breeze. Then Merlin raised his eyes just as the sword was drawn to see a face set in stone and -
"ARTHUR!" He yelled in warning, but the king didn't raise his sword. He only looked at Mordred in vague surprise - with trust and Merlin wouldn't be fast enough and -
Emmy shot down as Mordred raised his sword. Merlin gasped. Pain shot through him immediately and he looked around to see who was attacking. There was no Morgana though. No arrows or warriors or wayward weapons. He wasn't sure what had even hurt him. All he knew was the pain was deafening. His breath caught as his knees buckled, but... Arthur. Did Emmy get to him? Where was Mordred?
"-felt pretty obvious to me."
"Alive? I'm not sure-"
Merlin wasn't sure when his world had gone black, but that was all it consisted of now. Black and voices that sounded as if they were cutting in and out of being dunked under water.
"-this entire time! And the magic-"
He groaned and the voices went silent. From somewhere in this weird realm of darkness and throbbing pain, a hand touched the side of his cheek. It was warm. Really warm. And soft and... His mind wandered off again as he sighed and leaned into the comfort.
"Can you hear me?" The voice asked. Merlin felt a stab of annoyance. He wanted to sleep... But that was Arthur's voice. Arthur. Wait. Arthur.
Merlin jolted up, gasping as everything came flying back to him. Mordred. Arthur. Camlann. He blinked a few times and immediately regretted it as light assaulted him. Dear God, that hurt. He made a whimpering noise as the back of his throat and from somewhere behind him he heard another, much smaller, cry of pain.
"Christ- What are you doing?" Arthur's voice came again and Merlin tried to locate him. Where was he? He - oh. He was there. Here. Next to him. More specifically, he was trying to steady Merlin as Leon and Gwaine scurried about to bring him some sort of weird tea. He could make out Gaius and Percival whispering lowly to one another and -
"Emmy?" Merlin whispered, frowning. The bird was lying on the ground next to him absolutely covered in blood. Whose blood? He had no idea. What was even more bewildered was that Lionel was curled around him, eyes watching with absolute focus when the falcon lifted its head. "They aren't fighting." He said and Arthur's hand tightened around his arm.
"No, but we certainly are."
"Arthur," Gwen's voice gasped and Merlin jumped. Where had she come from. "He almost died!"
"How did I almost die?" He asked, looking around. They weren't at the battlefield... But in a forest somewhere? How did they even get here? "I... Don't understand. Are you okay? What happened to Mordred?" He asked, trying to pry Arthur off of him to look him up and down. No blood. No bruises. He appeared to be awake and breathing.
"Emmy stopped Mordred's sword, but got a bit cut up in the process." Gwen informed him, placing a damp rag on his head "Gaius says that you probably felt it too. I'm not sure what would have happened if Emmy died." She tacked on, biting her lip to look at the bird. Merlin blinked.
"But... I'm not... He isn't..." He glanced around before looking back at Lionel and Emmy. "Me?" He finally managed. Gwaine plopped down in front of him.
"It's a fucking merlin. The bird is a merlin. Why did this take you so long?" He complained. Merlin frowned. Gwaine also seemed fine aside from the dirt caking one side of his face and a cut on his forehead.
"But..." He started and stared at the Lionel. “Okay." He frowned "I guess I see it now." He said and squirmed. For some reason, this wasn’t as wonderful of news as he might normally think. This might have to do with how Arthur was glaring at him. "Hi." He smiled weakly, voice coming out impossibly small. "Um...Did you see Emmy and Lionel?" He asked, pointing at the pair. "Surprise!"
"So you knew?"
"No!" Merlin said, eyes widening "No, of course not. I mean, there was a time I thought...I thought maybe, but that was only because of what Kilgharrah said about the two sides of the same coin nonsense and, well, I had maybe hoped-"
"Two sides of the same coin?" Arthur repeated and Merlin winced.
"There...Is a prophecy." He said and sat up with a wince "How much time do you have?” He asked and Arthur’s glower seemed to only grow more pronounced as he clenched his jaw.
So Merlin explained. Everything. Right from the beginning from walking into Camelot to Morgana taking his magic. Arthur sat silently as he listened as the others paused in their work to hear all of Merlin’s tales and accomplishments. When he had finally finished, a sort of long, horribly awkward silence followed.
"Let me get this straight," Gwaine finally said when it appeared nobody else was willing to speak "This dragon told you that you were literally Arthur’s other half and you only briefly suspected he was your soulmate?" He asked. Merlin frowned.
"Did you miss the part where I said I had magic and killed people?"
"I always knew you were into some wonky shit, mate. Didn’t know you were an idiot though so...That’s new." He shrugged. Merlin tried to be offended, but it was a bit hard when Gwaine was smiling at him with such obvious fondness. From behind Gwaine, Leon was shaking his head as he looked at where Lionel and Emmy were still laying together. That was good news that he didn't seem to hate Merlin's guts either.
"Arthur?" He finally asked, forcing himself to glance over to where the king was still sitting.
"You lied to me." He managed and leaned back "I thought I knew you." He added, more to himself then to Merlin really. Guilt ebbed in his chest as he looked at his hands and nodded.
"I'm still the same person."
"With magic." Arthur managed with a curl to his lips. "How can I be sure you're not lying about all you've done? Or that you're as good as you say? Or-"
Before he could throw out another accusation, his eyes flicked to Emmy. Merlin followed his gaze. He wasn't sure what to say. After all, everything had been explained. If Arthur didn't believe him... Well, Merlin had literally almost died for him a few hours ago. That felt like enough proof.
"I'm sorry." He said. Arthur's eyes still didn't leave Emmy. He held out his arm and the falcon left Lionel's side to fly over to him. Emmy cocked his eyes, gold eyes blinking before hopping over to nip at him. "Arthur, look-"
"No," The king interrupted and sighed. "Stop. I'm sorry. I... I'm sorry." He repeated and put Emmy done. "I do know you. Clearly." He added and gestured to the bird. "And I know you as a person too. It's just a lot." He said, voice going quiet at the end. Merlin nodded. "And I thought you were dead and... If I found out you were soulmate for you to die immediately afterwards I would have been pissed." He added. Merlin grinned.
"Yeah... Me too." He admitted and looked over at Lionel. "By the way, I take back everything I said about Emmy. He's great."
Arthur's eyes brightened.
"No, I think you were right... I realize now how perceptive you are. Magic must aid in your sight." He said and Merlin scowled. "And it has also shown me how blind I was. Lionel is clearly wonderful. I should have never doubted your words... He is quite dashing, isn't he?"
"Here we go." Leon muttered. Merlin ignored him. He was too busy trying to find something negative say about Lionel... Which was hard because he loved that lion a lot.
Actually, that reminded him..
"So to clarify... You're not mad at me?" Merlin said, fully sitting up now as he moved a little closer to Arthur.
"I...Am processing new information." Arthur said slowly. His eyes flicked down to Merlin's lips. "But given the circumstances I am willing to overlook any ill feelings to accommodate soulmate unity or whatever." He added quickly. Merlin would have loved to tease him about whatever the Hell 'soulmate unity' was, but decided instead to just kiss him. After all, it was nice to learn that you've been by your soulmate's side for years... But it was also very tragic to learn you spent those years not kissing him. Especially because said soulmate looked like a very good person to kiss. Objectively speaking, of course.
"Wait," Arthur said, suddenly pulling away right as his hand reached up to rub a thumb down the length of Merlin's jaw. "Who the Hell did you keep falling in love with?"
Oh. Right. Merlin's eyes widened.
"I - um, well... You fell in love with Gwen-"
"Yeah, obviously, but... Was it three people or just one person you kept falling in love with?" Arthur frowned and furrowed his brows "Do I know them?"
"Does it matter?" Merlin asked and Gwaine started laughing from where he and the others had drifted further off to make camp. Something must have clicked for the king because Arthur's mouth dropped.
"Didn't...You say you checked with Gwaine to see you were soulmates?" He asked and Merlin grimaced. "Oh my God. Gwaine? Really? Lionel is much too refined to have ever been Gwaine." He spluttered and Merlin groaned. "I can't believe this." He grumbled. Merlin scowled.
"Leave me alone." Merlin said and flicked his shoulder "Are you going to kiss me or ask me about the people I fell in love with forever ago?" He asked and Arthur put a hand over his heart in mock outrage (or real outrage...Sometimes it was hard to tell with him).
"People? So there was three. And you didn't notice that Emmy was ignoring me every time you decided to skip off with someone new?" He asked "Are you aware of how stressful that was for me? Wait. You do because you were there!" He said and Merlin only gave a weak smile in return. "I can't believe I am doomed to spend my life with you." He added and glanced at Emmy. "You didn't warn me." He whispered.
"Are you done?"
"I also have some complaints about you bringing me rats during council meetings."
"I think I prefer you as the lion." Merlin lied and kissed him again in hopes of shutting him up.
Spoiler alert: It worked.