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Merlin’s loyalty has long since been past the point of being questioned by anyone who has any inkling of his relationship with the young king. Where Arthur is, Merlin is as well, or will be if you just wait long enough. Their many adventures together are stuff of legends, and the acceptance of magic in the kingdom after the defeat of Morgana and the sudden revelation of Merlin’s power and his subsequent instatement in Arthur’s council in all things concerning magic have left no room for questions on just how strong the bond that has been forged between the once manservant and the king is.

King Arthur and Merlin are two names that are always spoken of one after the other. Merlin thinks of all this as he sits atop his bed and stares at the wall in his room, back bent as if tired and breaths heaving the way it rarely does now outside of battle since he left his manservant duties and became able to openly use magic.

His fists are clenching and unclenching on his pant legs in a show of extreme anxiety and he can feel the heat in his face that refuses to go away.

Gaius would probably say he’s hyperventilating. And he would be right.

--

He barely remembers this morning in his muddled state of panic, the way he woke up in his room, his own and granted to him together with his new position, revelling in the feel of sun warmed sheets and looking forward to a peaceful day spent in court and following Arthur around, since the man still insists on it without having to explicitly say so. He would ask Merlin about anything and everything regarding magic, and some that’s not strictly so, and would consult with him. Merlin’s pretty sure Arthur’s never needed as much advisement before as he seemed to be asking for now, but he doesn’t point this out and secretly enjoys the fact.

His room is placed near Arthur’s and Merlin walked into the king's room with a mind readily thinking of Arthur’s needs he had to attend to first before he remembered that it’s not his place to clean up after the king anymore. He came in anyway but with something different in mind. Arthur doesn’t usually mind when he does so, chanting quiet charms that put some of the things in the room in order, a force of habit only made more convenient now that he can use his magic, and he opened up the curtains to better let the light in.

“Good morning!” he chirped, hearing Arthur’s quiet grumbles in response. Arthur looked at him with one eye open before he burrowed his head deeper into his pillow. Merlin likes seeing Arthur like this, soft and rumpled as if he didn’t have a worry in the world, a kingdom to be responsible for. He gets to see Arthur simply be Arthur without all the cloaks and armors, both literal and metaphorical ones, he puts on during the day.

It took Arthur a couple of minutes to surface from sleep, sitting up and squinting a little irritatedly at Merlin. Arthur’s never got the hang of waking up early when he didn’t strictly have to unlike Merlin who has learned to wake up with the sun regardless of whether he had duties or is spending a day off, something he can now enjoy every once in a while.

“Is there anything happening today?” Arthur asked.

At first, during the early days after the war and Merlin’s instatement in Arthur’s court of advisors, Arthur sometimes forgot that things have changed between them. Merlin’s insistence on continuing to wake him up in the morning probably not helping him at all. He would complain and bark for Merlin to do something, like bring him his breakfast when there were none of the savoury smells forthcoming before realizing what he’d done. They would be silent a while before Arthur picks up the conversation and asks him what he is doing in his quarters early in the morning again.

Merlin had been insisting that it simply is habit, which it is, and that there’s nothing else to better start the day with than see Arthur’s ugly (he was lying) face in the morning. Made him feel better about himself, he said. Arthur would look at him unbelievingly until one day, Merlin just sits at the end of his bed, stares at his hands and says that he’s gotten used to it, that even though he’s become a court advisor, he’s still Arthur’s servant first and while he won’t be serving the way he used to, he still will be and going into Arthur’s room in the morning and waking him up is something he likes to do.

Arthur did not question him further and accepted it. The next day, there was extra food when Arthur’s new servant arrived and Arthur invited Merlin to take his breakfast with him. It became something they do everyday, bantering and stealing food from each of their plates before they both go out and attend to their duties.

“Nothing of importance.” Merlin replied, a little too lively for Arthur’s disposition. The brilliance of his smile did not diminish with Arthur’s scowl but he did proceed to pull Arthur’s arm to force him up and awake before their food arrives. “Come on and stop being lazy. I want to check up on Sally before the day actually starts!”

Sally is Merlin’s mare who had gotten herself pregnant and is nearing birth, Merlin has taken to checking her up in her stable every once in while, sometimes whispering comforting words and telling her of how she’d be making a family of her own now. He knows it’s silly but he’s grown quite an attachment and he won’t leave her alone during this important time in her life. When Arthur accidently caught him hugging Sally and rubbing her belly while talking to her one day, he had flusteredly explained himself expecting to be laughed at. But Arthur only shook his head with a smile, murmuring an, “Only you, Merlin.”. The next day, he had asked whether Merlin would be coming to visit Sally again, and that time and the following times to come, Arthur came with him.

Arthur gave him a slight smile. “She’s nearly there, isn’t she?”

Merlin nodded enthusiastically.

That was the last that he remembers that his day has been as it should be. Everything that came after is just one disaster after the next.

Arthur had been trying to get up, with Merlin’s hand pulling him by the left arm, when his right elbow slipped on uneven bedding and he fell down with a thud. Merlin, in the middle of exerting himself was surprised and unable to react accordingly. He was pulled forward, his feet trying to find purchase only to step on some of the covers that draped down to the floor during the night. It was only an instant but Merlin felt it in clear, minute long seconds, before he fell face first into Arthur’s bare chest, the man did have the habit of being as undressed as he can get away with when he sleeps, his forehead landing near Arthur’s collar bone, the hand not currently on Arthur’s arm grasping the sheets by Arthur’s head in surprise.

They were frozen, the both of them unable to process what just happened, and that was maybe why they did not immediately hear the polite knock and George, Arthur’s manservant, entering the room with breakfast. There was the sound of clinking silverware, the man almost letting his load go in surprise. Merlin and Arthur separate but it was too late, only able to watch the servant hastily place the food on the table, bow, and close the door with an unintelligible apology on his lips.

“Um...Just so we’re clear. That was your fault,” Merlin muttered, his face splotched red and refusing to look at how Arthur is faring. Arthur coughed slightly before replying. “Well, I was clearly just awoken and it’s your fault that you don’t eat enough to stop your scrawny self from toppling over with the slightest force.”

Before Merlin can reply with proper indignance, Arthur was already standing up and looking around for something then stopping and standing still with a frown. “Now that you’ve sent George away, how am I supposed to get dressed, Merlin?”

Merlin huffed. “You have your own two arms, don’t you?” he said as as exasperatedly as he can make it sound, before he headed to Arthur’s closet anyway and chose the king’s outfit for the day with practiced ease.

Arthur was smiling smugly at him when he turned around again and Merlin scowled back, roughly pulling Arthur’s shirt down over his head when the king obligingly bent in half to get it on. The experience proceeded in much the same manner, Arthur’s grumbling answered by Merlin’s sniping replies.

“I shouldn’t be doing this anymore, your Grace.” he said with little actual grace as he stepped away, Arthur now fully dressed. With hands on his waist, he waited for Arthur’s usual condescending reply but he was surprised by seeing Arthur’s boyish smile instead directed at him. He felt his heart stumble in its place that he had to take a discreet gulp of air.

Arthur did not seem to notice, only coming closer and ruffling Merlin’s hair, as well as his metaphorical feathers, when he passed him by towards where the food was. “But you still do it. Thank you, Merlin.” he said offhandedly but with a gentleness that Merlin knew the sentiment was real.

“Now. Let’s have breakfast.” Looking pointedly at Merlin, he gestured toward the meats and the breads and Merlin temporarily put his flustered thoughts at the back of his mind, sitting himself instead in front of Arthur to take his fill. Still, as he piled up meat and cheese on his plate, a traitorous thought came to him and made him wonder how their arrangement of sharing their first meal of the day could now suddenly mean more to George. And even with how uptight the manservant seemed to be, he had no doubts how the whole servant hall would be atwitter with new speculations about his and Arthur’s relationship.

Oh, he had no doubt there had been rumors about them before now. He’d even sometimes caught the maids looking at them and then smiling secretively at one another with their thoughts painted clearly on their faces, but while he didn’t mind them much, he knew that this new development may just turn things up a notch in a way he’s not sure he’s ready to handle without making things awkward for both him and Arthur.

He was on his last bite with Arthur already wiping his hands on his napkin when he decided to open his mouth and warn Arthur, who can be pretty carefree about such things until something finally touches a nerve. He found himself pausing though, at how the thought of Arthur getting irked at being thought to be with Merlin in any capacity aside from friendship and court duty, caused an unexpected coldness in his stomach. He put down his last chunk of bread back onto the plate. This caught Arthur’s attention, throwing Merlin a questioning look.

“ Arthur...this morning. What happened…well, you do know the servants will be talking about it?”

Looking as unfazed as he ever was, the corner of Arthur’s lips quirked up. “I’ve considered the idea yes.”

Merlin, irked at the lack of any useful information he can use as cue from Arthur pressed on. “So, maybe you should do something about it.”

While the kingdom has been continually changing into a fairer, more accepting place for people of all kinds, he knew that Arthur, as king, had an image to uphold and protect. Even if what sometimes happened between knights is more of an open secret, the king bedding with a man immediately brings about the question of succession and Merlin did not want to cause another controversy when he’d been at the heart of quite a lot already, and when this one was simply a misunderstanding.

Seeing Merlin’s troubled expression, Arthur stopped moving and looked at Merlin in a considering fashion. When he answered, he was more serious than he was just moments before. “ I will do something about it.” He said, almost like a promise.

Merlin opened his mouth, unbelieving that he still did not know what the king wanted to do. If Arthur was going to pretend to court someone, he should have at least said something so Merlin could act accordingly--even help a bit because god knows Arthur can be an idiot sometimes when it comes to wooing someone if Merlin thinks back on all those times the clotpole got hit with one love spell or another.

However, before he could even let anything out aside from a huff of breath, Arthur was leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. The next Merlin knew, his face aflame, Arthur was already putting on his boots and heading out the door.

With a small nod and a wink --- a wink!-- to the warlock that had Merlin spluttering, Arthur was on his way out the door and shouting about how Sally would be birthing before Merlin ever got up from his chair, leaving Merlin flustered and not knowing what to do with himself.

Arthur’s new brand of teasing had more power than Merlin realized as he remained mum and unable to retaliate---certainly not in kind!---even as he found himself running and catching up with Arthur. Arthur who’d been acting as if he did not just do something completely out of the blue.

Shaking his head, Merlin tried to brush it all off and instead talked of Sally and her ever growing stomach on their way down the stables.

It was a good thing that the moment they were in, Sally greeted them with a neigh, coming at the edge of her stall to come as close to the pair before they made it to her. Merlin’s attention was immediately diverted as he poured affection to the animal, rubbing at his nose and magicking her hay warm.

“You’re a total goner for her, Merlin.” Arthur commented, petting Sally at the side as he watched Merlin fuss at the horse’s water and accommodations some more. Merlin was so busy in fact, that he almost did not hear the muttered follow up. “You adorable dork.”

Almost. As it were, for the third time that day, and three times more than he’s used to, he flushed, ducking his head and pretending he did not hear after all.

After they’d made sure that Sally was as comfortable as she could be, Arthur excused himself to training the knights and Merlin, well, he excused himself to some vague task or another.

As if the morning’s events were an earthquake and he was only then feeling the stronger aftershocks, Merlin, on shaky legs found himself heading back to his room to deal with the sudden onset of roiling emotions inside him.

--

Hyperventilating with Arthur’s new found ability to fluster Merlin both intentionally and unintentionally, he places his head into his hands and tries to control his breathing. Before anything else, he first has to slow down the beating of his heart if he doesn’t want a trip to Gaius. “It’s okay. it’s okay.” he mutters to himself after every few breaths, cold sweat sliding down the back of his neck and making him shiver.

While all these are going on, flashes of Arthur keeps on showing up in his head, him striking the last blow to an opponent at the last tournament and turning to look at him with a fist raised, Arthur with a concerned frown and looking down at Merlin’s bloodied hand on his, inspecting the damage a bandit managed to sneak through before ultimately going down with a blow from the king’s blade, Arthur looking out proudly at his people from his perch at the castle, his eyes meeting briefly with Merlin’s, and earlier this morning, Arthur sleeping and relaxed, Arthur near and warm, pressed up against Merlin where he can feel the king’s breath rising beneath his lips, Arthur, smiling at him and thanking him, and Arthur leaning in and placing a kiss on his cheek, his lips moist from the wine he’d just drunk and soft in their brief press.

When he finally regains his equilibrium, he finds the experience has left behind a strange warmth in his chest and stomach. It had been there before, during his little, private moments with Arthur, he suddenly recons, but now it seems amplified tenfold, unable to stay at the back of his mind and pushing like it needs to get out.

He doesn’t exactly know what outlet it needs, at least until he gasps at how his mind suddenly combines everything into an imagined press of lips against his own and far more skin touching than what the little accident this morning allowed. He has to let out a gush of air when the warmth now intensifies into considerable heat, combining with another source he now could not deny.

“I want Arthur…” he mutters softly in utter surprise and he falls back with a thump on his bed.

--

While Merlin is not avoiding Arthur, he’s found it more fitting for his current state to not actively search for the king as he now realizes he’s been doing all this time. They were close friends, very close, and while Merlin had many people he could come to, he finds Arthur’s company the best when the king can afford it in between his numerous responsibilities.

So far, while he has noticed lengthier stares in his direction, no one has yet to be loud about it in his presence. There is still hope that his and Arthur’s accident that morning can simply be turned into another rumor that will soon come to pass.

However, while he can consciously control what he does, that doesn’t mean that he can do anything about what Arthur chooses to do. As such, when Arthur shows up in the middle of his lesson about proper control of magic, a job he made his own to help the magical children who have lost mentors during the purge, Merlin could only hide behind a shaky smile.

As what one could’ve expected, the children became enthused at the presence of their king in the small castle chamber that serves as their classroom, promptly losing any interest in the lesson as they crowded Arthur while a few others looked on warily. Right now, there are two main reactions to Arthur’s presence among the magical folk: they either treated him as a hero who took down Uther’s tyrannous reign, or they acted as if he would suddenly turn his back on them and kill them all, his lifting of the ban a play to get them all in one fell swoop. Merlin has been trying to convince people of the pure intentions of their king but it is a slow process.

“Hey.” Arthur calls to him amid the children around him.

Merlin tries on a smile, raising his hand in acknowledgement. It takes Arthur quite a bit to extricate himself from the surprisingly tough hold the children has on his cape and tunic, but Merlin is thankful for it when he feels himself growing anxious, his body going haywire with a fast beating heart and a quickly heating face with every step Arthur takes toward him.

He doesn’t know how to deal with this when he can’t stop looking at every part of Arthur and thinking about every little thing he’s done to touch them and every little thing he’d do to touch them again. He’s not used to being so aware of the extent with which he appreciates his king even when he now realizes that all he’s feeling he’s felt before to a lesser degree but of the very same nature.

When Arthur touches a hand to his left arm, he startles. Does Arthur always stand this close to him? There is barely a foot between them and he can easily feel Arthur’s sun warmed body.

“H-Hey. What brings you here?...Your majesty.” He adds his title, taking a step back and looking warily at the many big, bright eyes looking at them expectantly, wanting to set an example to the children.

Arthur has a surprised smile on his face at Merlin’s address, but while Merlin sees him also discreetly observing the children in understanding, Arthur seem less keen on putting on propriety. Instead, he slides his hand down the length of Merlin’s limb down to his thin wrist making him stare at their connection as he felt every inch of skin touched tingling.

He only looks up again when Arthur starts speaking, and damn it all, Merlin can do little more than stare at Arthur’s lips, chapped but with a light pink color he gains the desire to redden.

There is a smile on Arthur’s face and he looks like a boy who’s excited to tell of his latest adventure. “Merlin, I’ve been with the knights and it has come to my notice that today is Sir Pelinor’s 30th birthday. A good age, I say, and we’re planning to hold a gathering to celebrate at the tavern.“

It’s been busy the past few days and they’d just made a pact of peace with a neighboring kingdom and so Merlin realizes Arthur’s need for a little time off. However, he does not think it a good time for him to get drunk. He tries to ignore the silent invitation instead.

“Oh, that’s great! Your knights do need to relax a bit after all the harsh training you keep heaping on them.” he says, going for cheeky. Arthur takes the bait.

“I need to relax after all the headache they keep giving me with their shoddy swordsmanship. I swear the nobles are throwing the sons they want to be rid off at us and I have to deal with it.” he grouches although he says the latter part in a whisper taking in mind their current audience.

Merlin shakes his head. “You shouldn’t have to, you know. Leon can train them just as well,”

Arthur pauses but looks at Merlin's eye as he answers. “I know that, and I trust Leon to do it. But I see merit in knowing the people I would be entrusting the kingdom to.” There it is. You never know when Arthur would suddenly take their banter seriously and spout something or another that just makes Merlin want to declare his allegiance all over again. Arthur grins, “ And there’s little that is much more fun than teaching some pompous brat a lesson or two. “ This time he just wants to kiss him.

He settles instead with a grin in return.

“Well, you better send my regards then. I have to go through some of the petitions sent to us later, and well, I promised the kids a little demonstration, so I’d be busy.” He says, not folding. He might still kiss Arthur after all given a few drinks.

In all honesty, the petitions can wait and a demonstration can last for as little as a couple of minutes, but he isn’t saying that.

Coming down from his boyish grin, Arthur’s frown seems all the more petulant but while Merlin would love to give in, he simply cannot risk anything until he has better control of his new found urges.

“You’d be letting Sir Pelinor down.” Arthur says.

“I’d be letting more than Sir Pelinor down if I go,” he replies, trying not to crack, and tilting his head towards the children who are now chatting with one another as their conversation took longer than they were interested in listening to.

Arthur sighs and it’s only when he takes off his hand does Merlin realize that Arthur has held onto him throughout the entire exchange. He turns anxiously to see if any of the young ones noticed but aside from Lori, a keen eyed boy who had the habit of staring, no one seems to be suspicious. He nods nervously at the boy and turns back to Arthur.

“I’m sorry, Arthur.” he says taking a step back. Arthur frowns at him some more before he nods his head in acceptance. Thinking that Arthur would be going just as he had come, Merlin is surprised at the brief touch of Arthur’s palm against the side of his neck before he walks out the room.

Merlin is thankful that Arthur walked away too fast to notice the heat on his face, but then he’s immediately feeling a tad less grateful when he almost experiences a heart attack when little Lori sidles up to him. “Sir Merlin, are you going to marry the king? My dad also touches my mum’s neck when he leaves.” the boys says, pushing his tongue on the gap of his front teeth.

There is a moment when Merlin cannot think of an answer, but when he does, it’s with a gentleness he feels deeply. “I’m not going to marry King Arthur, Lori. People just do that when they care about one another.”

“Hm.” Lori says standing on tip toe trying to reach up until Merlin obliges to bend down. The little boy’s hand touches the side of his neck and Merlin forgets any anxiety he’d been feeling, reaching down the boy’s neck in return.

That afternoon, the children were treated to a wonderful display of conjured butterflies and controlled shimmering light that turned the grass field they’d gone to into an ethereal wonderland of Merlin’s making. Little Lori got to have his own beautiful butterfly, a blue of deep waters, the same as his eyes landing on the top of his nose, making him giggle.
--

Merlin rubbed his eyes as he laid down his quill where he’d been taking notes about the petitions that he’d ended up going over anyway. While he enjoys the way he can now help the magical community in an official capacity, there’s little he can say about the joy of paperwork. it did, however, helped in taking his mind off things for a little while and as he looks out the dark evening sky, he decides to call it a day.

He changed to a looser tunic and trousers and for all intents and purposes is ready to just flop down on his soft bed, a luxury he enjoys the most, when he hears Arthur’s slightly louder than usual steps. Arthur has never truly let himself go with alcohol, conscious of his public image even when having fun, but he isn’t completely unaffected, his usual calculated steps heavier and less wieldy, and his actions blunter than their usual smooth and sinuous movement.

Unable to stop himself, he opens his door to check on Arthur. Arthur is just about to cross to his own room when Merlin’s voice stops him.

“How was Sir Pelinor’s celebration?” he asks with a smile, now fully stepping out. Arthur lets the door he’s been holding fall close again and opts to come nearer Merlin instead. There is the laziness of relaxation in the way he does not walk in a completely straight line and his half lidded eyes are focused with the brightness of joy as he takes in Merlin.

Merlin gulps at seeing Arthur like this, coming towards him like his mere presence is a source of great happiness to the man. Arthur has been opening up with his affections more and more lately and Merlin has found that with it, he himself has become equally generous, hopefully sharing the same warmth of feeling to the man. It’s because of this that despite his reservations given his recently discovered love for Arthur, ‘...love. Yes.’ for it couldn’t be anything else, the way his chest fills with emotion, he allows himself to be taken in Arthur’s arms.

Arthur has always been more physical when he’s drunk.

“Arthur?” he asks breathlessly as the man nuzzles against his ear, breathing deeply. This is a little more than usual, and Merlin’s ears are sensitive.

He feels Arthur smile against his skin and he shivers. “Pelinor’s more drunk than he ever was, his wife would probably kick him out their bedroom if she weren’t as drunk as him,” Arthur’s chuckle is low and amused. “You’d have loved how everyone’s gone insane, Merlin.”

Perhaps Arthur is also feeling a bit out of his mind because he sure is making Merlin crazy as well. Merlin lightly pushes him back to look at Arthur’s face and check the the color of his face.

“You’re drunk, Arthur. Go to bed.” he says, trying to extricate himself from the arms still around him.

Looking stubborn, Arthur refuses to let go. “I’ll do something about it.”

Merlin smiles fondly. “You better. Now off you go.” he takes Arthur’s forearms in his hands, forcibly turning the man and pushing him towards his room. The muscles on Arthur’s back are deliciously firm beneath his palms, and just as the thought crosses his mind, he ceases his hold making Arthur almost stumble. “Merlin?”

“Goodnight, Arthur.”

He retreats to his room, trying to keep his steps even and paced even if he wants to rush in and lock himself inside.

It’s all too much for one night and he better sleep it off before he does something inappropriate.

---

He still ends up doing something wholly inappropriate when he is awoken sweaty and breathless, the sheets tossed off his body and a moist patch blossoming on the impressive tent on his trousers. He curses a bit, for while he cannot completely remember what it was in his dream, his mind latches onto the image of Arthur as easy as breathing.

“Buggering fuck. Shit, shit, shit, shit.” Exasperated with his situation and more than a little embarrassed, he slaps an arm against his eyes like that could hide from him what he is about to do as his right hand moves downwards, loosening his laces and taking his cock in hand.

It is already hard and pink, drooling at the tip that it didn’t take more than a few firm strokes that had him mewling before he bites his lower lip and groans into his climax.

He takes a few moments to regain his breathing and when he puts down his arm at his side and looks up at the ceiling, he promptly realizes that the sun is higher up than he’s used to when he wakes. That’s about as far as he gets in his musings when his door opens with a bang and he’s scrambling upright on his bed, trying to pull the sheets to hide himself the best he can. He flinches a bit at the thought of the previously clean sheets soiling on the stripes of cum on his stomach.

To his growing horror, the person who so confidently breached his privacy comes with a blond crown of hair and quickly pinkening tanned skin, discounting the possibility that they have remained ignorant on just what they arrived in on.

“Wha--What…?! Arthur?!” is the best he could come up with as he frantically tries to pull more of the sheets over him.

Arthur is caught speechless, opening and closing his mouth a few times before succeeding first with a cough, an awkward fixing of posture, and a blustered, “Well, you were late.” finding it in himself to have on a righteous expression, hands on his hips, even when his face looks about ready to combust. The brave, maybe idiotic, king that he is, he stubbornly refuses to look anywhere else than Merlin’s face. Just. His. Face.

Merlin, still on the verge of magicking himself into a hole to never rise again retorts. “Well, you can’t just barge in here!”

“I am king, Merlin. I can do what I want.” not to be defeated, he even let a small upturn of his lips to escape him.

“You’re a clotpole and you know it. Damn it, Arthur. Can you just...I…” he gestures helplessly at himself and Arthur’s face immediately falls and, if possible, turns redder. “I’ll be there in a bit, yeah?”

Arthur clears his throat pointedly and turns. “Be quick about it. I asked for your favorites.” he says then strides out of the room with a stiff back not unlike the way he storms out after a botched council meeting with smug nobles, his entire body transformed with kingly posture as if to remind anyone who forgot just who he is.

Maybe Merlin needs the reminder, but that comes after he remembers what it feels like to have a smidgen of dignity.

Regardless of Arthur’s demand, Merlin gave himself a couple of minutes not only to get cleaned up but also to compose himself enough that he does not redden immediately every time he remembers the morning’s mishap. Finding that his efforts remain in vain, he straightens, now in his court clothing, pulled on the way Arthur wore his crown to make him feel better than himself. It’s a simple combination of a shirt, trousers, and a robe, to be honest, but they’re better made than his old clothes, and he needs all the confidence no matter where he can get it.

By the time he arrives at Arthur’s room, Arthur is already seated at the table, looking impatient and hungry and not commenting on what had transpired. Merlin prefers it that way, thank you very much, and so he follows the example and goes straight to the seat at Arthur’s right where his place has been set.

He doesn’t know what to say, unfortunately, and after waiting a few awkward moments in which neither of them speaks a word, Merlin reaches hesitantly towards the bread. He manages to break it in half and spread on honey, about to take a bite when Arthur turns sharp eyes on him. “They’re your favorites.”

Merlin gives the served portions a cursory glance, sets his chunk of bread down, and speaks instead, a little wary. “Yes. Yes, they are.”

Arthur continues looking at him. “I asked for them.”

Merlin nods, unsure of what Arthur expects of him. A little show of gratitude, maybe. “Oh. Well, thank you, Arthur?”

Arthur’s lower lip juts out in what is probably an unconscious action, disappointedly starting on his plate and Merlin thinks that he really shouldn’t look charming when he’s acting like a five year old. It makes him want to kiss the pout away, but after this morning, he really, really shouldn’t. “You’re very thoughtful.” he offers instead, infusing his words with as much sincerity as he can..

A little of the color from that morning returns on Arthur’s face, and an upturn at the corner of his mouth appears to replace the jutting of his lip. And even if he only nods back without even turning to Merlin, breakfast finally starts to feel normal again.

A few bites in, Arthur begins to discuss his plans for the day, which apparently consists to almost nothing the way everything seems to have already been taken care of the past few days and with surprisingly few requests for an audience in court. Peace seems to have really enveloped the kingdom, at least for the time being.

It is one rare day off for Arthur, and now he’s asking Merlin’s opinion on how to spend it.

“Since you liked skipping on your work Merlin, perhaps you can suggest a few enjoyable tasks for me.” It’s mostly teasing now, Arthur accusing Merlin of laziness. After Merlin revealed his magic, everything else came out into the open including all of the things he’d done every time he spouted his excuses to escape his manservant duties and save the day. Arthur said that he had always been suspicious although he’d never actually found proof of anything, and he’d wanted Merlin to choose to trust him about his secret excursions, anyway.

Everything was a shock then, Merlin being a sorcerer and saving Arthur’s life countless of times, that his being a lousy manservant was barely discussed at all. There were a few stilted days of baited breath and walking on eggshells with one another after, but they’d soon realize that they meant more than the deception, that even the secrets at their core contain only loyalty. They came back together stronger and vowing to change what had kept them apart for so long.

So Merlin takes it in stride, joking in return.”Excuse you, Arthur. I am the most hardworking servant.” Arthur snorts and he continues. “ However, I can remember a time in my youth when I spent afternoons just like this under the sun and...and…”

He was meaning to suggest something Arthur is sure never to do, something only poor kids living in the outskirts like he was once would find entertaining, but he is hindered when he found those things he did were filled with memories of people that were either gone or far away and rarely met. What he meant to say in a lighthearted manner comes out with more sentiment and nostalgia than what is warranted given the situation.

Perceiving Merlin’s change in mood, Arthur leans forward with his hands sliding forward on the wooden table like he wants to take Merlin’s in his. “...And?” he prompts with gentleness that seeks to smoothen the way for whatever needs out.

“ Well, Will..Will and I would go out a little way outside the village. We would go where the sheep were grazing and we’d have great fun scaring them away...and catching grasshoppers.” Merlin thinks of this with a strange warmth in his chest hedged with a coldness that he will always relate to remembering his good friend and missing him.

What Arthur hesitated on moments before, he does now with conviction, taking Merlin’s left hand in his right and squeezing. This comforting gesture, however, is tempered with an arched brow and a quirk of lips that attempts to lighten the mood. “ Grasshoppers? What in the world would you do with them? Eat them, perhaps?”

Merlin squeezes the hand back but he also looks at Arthur with feigned shock. “I’m not sure about your weird tastes, Arthur, but we never ate grasshoppers. We simply caught them for a bit before letting them go.”

“ Now what would be the point in that?” Arthur asks with genuine curiosity.

Merlin smirks. “ We’d fight over who got the bigger one. I always end up winning.” Mostly because even if he did not have the control over his magic then as he does now, he already felt a connection between him and the natural energies, and using them to his advantage unbeknownst to Will.

He doesn’t know where he got the gall to add the slightly suggestive tilt in his voice given how he’s been extra sensitive over how he acted towards Arthur and given the surprise this morning, but Arthur’s lingering hold on his hand probably had a big impact.

Arthur freezes for a bit, and Merlin falters a little, his hand twitching. Before he could completely retract his hand, however, Arthur is pulling to turn it palm up and open, encircling his index finger loosely with his own hand all without breaking contact.

Merlin’s face starts to heat but what seals the deal is Arthur’s sharp gaze catching his blues in his lighter one’s, tongue making a quick sweep of his lower lip before daring him in a low, grumbly voice that shivered its way down Merlin’s spine and lower. “Maybe we can see who’d win between us, today.”

“ W-What?!” Merlin squawks, his mind blanking for a short while and not able to follow.

Arthur smirks at him. “Grasshoppers. Let’s see who catches the bigger one.” At that, he removes his hold and picks up his fork, digging in. “Do you have anything planned this morning?”

“No…?” Merlin replies hesitantly.

“We’ll set out shortly after breakfast, then. Eat.” Arthur says, gesturing at the full plate in front of Merlin then pointedly placing his attention back to his.

Merlin does not know how he managed to end up in this situation, but he hides a smile behind his first bite.

They’ll be catching grasshoppers. Who would’ve thought?

---

It is surprisingly fun to see Arthur squatting down the grass in his rich reds and noble posture scanning for tiny, hopping insects that Merlin sometimes simply has to stop and stare, forgetting their competition. Arthur caught him once and Merlin ducked his head, but not before he sees Arthur’s bright smile sent his way, in turn inspiring one on his face as well.

Considering Merlin’s particular set of abilities, there should have been no competition to speak of, but Merlin opts to try to participate without his gifts for once. He soon discovers that he truly did not have what it takes to be a hunter, and in what seems like no time at all, Arthur crows at him confident that he’s gotten the biggest hopper that particular clearing has to offer. He looks chuffed, flushed, and gleaming under the sun, sweaty and grass-stained but looking incredibly happy and with a big smile that Merlin magics a small hopper into his empty hand and walks to Arthur as if magnetized to compare their catch.

Arthur stares at Merlin’s unfurling hand intensely only to burst out with disbelieving laughter. “Are you sure you won this contest before, Merlin?” he asked although the way he’s meeting Merlin’s eyes knowingly, he already has his answer. Merlin’s more than a tad damp himself from the sun after all when he could have been done with it in seconds.

“You’re just lucky today.” he replies.

“Is that so?” Arthur says back, bumping Merlin’s shoulder and strides back towards the castle, first in deliberately long steps, and then, twisting his head back in unspoken challenge begins to jog and then run, sure that Merlin would be chasing after him.

Both panting and laughing with Merlin panting more and Arthur laughing louder, they enter the grounds with their arms slung over each other’s shoulders. They passed through one of the lesser populated entrances but people are still staring. While Merlin has a niggling worry at the back of his mind regarding fanning the fires of gossip, at the back of his mind it stays for now. He instead chooses to bask in his and Arthur’s companionship for the time being.

They are walking past the tavern when a boisterous voice calls out to them. They put their arms down and back to their sides, to Merlin’s slight disappointment, to see Gwaine recently emerged from the establishment and waving at them with his right hand while his left is draped around the middle of a buxom lady who, while openly used to the knight, is not quite prepared to meet with the king. She immediately extricates herself and curtsies.

“Well, you two lovebirds look terribly happy today!” he says, a little too loudly perhaps, that Merlin catches the widening of his companion’s eyes.

“Gwaine!” Merlin reprimands, ears burning even while he glares at Gwaine. Arthur, for his part only grins wider, clasping Gwaine on the arm like he didn’t just say something incredibly incriminating.

“Just like you and your lady there, Gwaine, we we’re spending some quality time on my day off.” Arthur says jovially pulling Merlin closer to him and ensconcing him in the embrace of his one arm much in the same way that Gwaine is holding her companion.

Apparently Merlin would have to lecture Arthur about just what keeping rumors down entails. “We were catching grasshoppers!” he blusters, but to no effect as Gwaine merely raises an eyebrow while her companion giggles on to his shoulder.

“Of course you were. Rolling around the grass...and catching grasshoppers.” At that, the knight plucks a stray leaf on Merlin’s hair while he splutters and reddens even more. “Don’t let us stop you, then. I’m sure you two will be needing to clean up in Arthur’s chambers.”

“I...!” Merlin does not even know what to say anymore, so he looks at Arthur for some idea or even just a little support but Arthur is looking at him fondly, which is really not helping his speechlessness.

“We do need a bath.” Arthur concedes but his once teasing voice is now flavored with fondness. While both of the knights bid each other farewell, patting each other as if in congratulation, the girl at Gwaine’s side winks at him and mouths him a “Good luck.”

Moving along, Merlin finds the last traces of his dignity to hiss at Arthur. “ What do you think you’re doing, Arthur? The rumors. You said you’d do something about it!”

Arthur gives him a side look but Merlin cannot find it in himself to meet his eyes or to even begin to study the expression on Arthur’s face.

“It’s okay, Merlin.”

“No it’s not.” he insists, because it definitely is not alright. Especially not for him.

As they continue their journey back to the castle, Merlin feels his heart beating hard against his chest and his ears filled with its sound. Their little interaction with the happy couple at the cavern seems to him too much of a push, a prodding to his fledgling emotions that while continuing its merry way to Arthur is something he still has not completely come to terms with. He’ll probably be flying towards Arthur his whole life, if his destiny and more importantly, his loyalty promises, but he didn’t need nor want Arthur stopping just close enough to touch, teasing him about it before moving higher and away from him again where the greatest king of Albion should be.

Arthur is chattering beside him, commenting idly about anything and everything they pass by, but Merlin does not keep track. Even inside the castle where servants and nobles alike were acknowledging them left and right, Merlin can only nod back. Arthur sends small glances his way, now concerned while also parrying the attention of the others away from his friend. He almost feels bad at causing the light that shone in Arthur’s eyes earlier to dim, but he figures the man couldn’t be feeling worse than he himself does right now.

Before heading to their separate rooms, Arthur turns to him although for some odd reason, he looks a little stiff. It really says something that Merlin still notices this despite his roiling emotions and wandering thoughts. “I’d like to request your company for dinner tonight as well, Merlin.”

Merlin tilts his head a bit in confusion. “We always have dinner together, Arthur.”

He shakes his head like Merlin is daft and he’s making allowances. “I meant, just us two. I’m asking to be served dinner in my quarters later.”

He is about to open his mouth to ask why--they always had dinners at the dining hall as was custom--but Arthur beats him to it. “You better be there. It’s important.” He is smirking, lending his tone smug authority, yet Merlin still detects a sincerity in the firmness of the request and the falling flat of the lilt of an attempted tease.

“Okay.” he nods.

Without further ado, Arthur enters his room, his door closing shut as Merlin observes.

The sweet bastard that he is, when Merlin enters his own quarters, there is already a steaming bath and a servant waiting on him. Arthur has apparently already ordered a bath for both of them while he was completely out of it. Merlin shakes his head before dismissing the servant (he can bathe by himself, thank you very much). Shucking off his clothes, he dips into the warm embrace of water hoping that it is enough to soothe his chafed emotions.

While going round in circles considering his feelings and his position and how he could possibly put Arthur off the thought that pretending to actually be in love with Merlin is actually fun instead of sadistic as it actually is, he spares a brief thought on just what the important thing is that Arthur wanted to discuss that warrants the privacy of the king’s quarters.

Despite today being Arthur’s day off, it isn’t actually Merlin’s as well so he finds himself later that day walking back to town down a quieter side where most of Camelot’s magical residents congregated themselves. It isn’t actually ideal that the people are this much demarcated, but it still is progress that these people accepted the invitation back to Camelot at all. He couldn’t blame them as well for staying cautious after many years of Uther’s reign when they were persecuted, and while the kingdom is now more welcoming, even some of its original citizens are still wary about magic as people were wary of things they do not fully understand and were taught to fear for so long

Hopefully, it would be only be temporary and that people of different sorts would later be able to mingle as if they’ve been doing so all their lives. For now, it still needs continuous effort. Part of that effort is why Merlin is here, checking up on the sorcerers and sorceresses of the kingdom and offering to hear them out and be their voice at council.

The magical folk have become very warm and welcoming to Merlin, or at least those who chose to come back anyway and chose to trust his promise of peaceful cohabitation. They were grateful at Merlin’s hand at changing their status at the kingdom and now that it’s become common knowledge that he is Emrys, the greatest sorcerer that has ever lived, they also gave him their utmost respect.

Not to say that Merlin paid any mind to deferential treatment. He still continues to act like he is simple like any one of them, and this perhaps did the most in endearing him to the community,

This is why by the time the sun is about to set, he remains oblivious to the time chatting up a little sorceress and her little friends who are insisting on making him teach them how to make flowers bloom on the ground. It’s a bit complicated for the children but he humors them and tries anyway.

None of them gets it in the end but he manages to make them squeal anyway when he makes an entire patch of ground grow fully bloomed and fragrant flowers that they then took as a sign to make flower crowns.

It is with a start that he remembers his appointment with Arthur when one of the girls’ mothers called her child back for dinner. He looks up at the now dark sky and makes his excuses, promising to visit them again sometime soon.

He jogs to the castle and up its many stairs until he arrives, sweating at Arthur’s door. There’s no time to prepare himself to meeting Arthur after his partial mental breakdown earlier that day as he is already late, but he does take time to whisper a quiet, “You’re okay.” to himself before he opened the door to the sight of Arthur glowering at him from the head of the table.

“You’re late.” he grouses.”And sweaty.”

Merlin strides down to his usual seat muttering apologies along the way. “I didn’t notice the time. I was just with the kids. They wanted me to teach them how to make flowers, and I…”

“Flowers.” Arthur raises an eyebrow.

Merlin nods at him, completely serious. “Flowers.”

“You were late because you were conjuring...flowers?” his right hand makes a twirling motion at the word ‘conjuring’ that’s supposed to indicate magic.

“Yes!” Merlin snaps at Arthur’s deliberately slow uptake, as if making flowers for little girls is making him a girl as well. Which obviously does not. Flowers are for everyone, girl or otherwise. “Now what is it you want to talk to me about?”

Arthur immediately clamps his mouth shut from the comment he was obviously about to make and he stares at Merlin. Helplessly, he gestures at the table. “Let’s eat first?”

Merlin relents and takes a few bites, but with Arthur’s back and forth glances between him and his food, it takes very little time before he could no longer take it. If Arthur needs to have it out, well, he also needs to hear it now before both of them break from anticipation.

“Arthur, what is it?” he finally asks, setting down his spoon. Arthur does not reply immediately but he also sets down his utensil as if also coming to the conclusion that this simply cannot wait. Just when Merlin is about to prompt him again, Arthur slips his hand inside his jacket into a hidden pocket before pulling out a sigil. It is round, bearing not the Pendragon’s insignia but something familiar that Merlin cannot put a name to at the moment.

Arthur holds it out and Merlin reaches for it with a crease on his forehead. “...What is this?” he asks, turning it around and letting his fingers trace the the engravings on the round metal. is there an enchantment here that Arthur wishes to be revealed, he wonders.

Arthur is studying him with an oddly serious look on his face when Merlin’s eyes land back at him, and it causes an involuntary flutter in his chest,

“It’s my mother’s. It is one of the few things I have left that actually belonged to her.” Arthur says in explanation. Merlin however still does not understand why Arthur is showing it to him. He does gentle his touch though and turned the stroking of his fingers into something more reverent.

“Oh. This must be important to you.” He comments, inspecting the sigil with a lot more understanding before returning the other’s look with a curious one of his own, silently asking why it’s being shown to him. Arthur nods.

“It is.” he confirms with gravity before swallowing hard and continuing. “ And I’m giving it to you.”

Merlin’s fingers clench on the sigil probably in an unconscious attempt not to drop it the way his jaw has fallen open in shock. “I--What--you’re giving...Why?” he finally manages, the last word almost a whisper, now fighting the urge to take Arthur’s hand and force back the sigil in its hold.

A few moments pass with Arthur trying to land his eyes on anything but Merlin, but in the end, he firms his conviction and meets Merlin’s bright blue gaze with his own. He enfolds the hand holding the sigil with two of his.

“ Merlin, you have always been at my side. My kingdom would never have come to be without your help and complete loyalty. I…” he swallows and almost falters but he visibly pulls himself back together to finish the uncharacteristic show of emotion with a crooked but genuine smile. “ I want you to know that you are very important to me. And that I am forever grateful that you came to Camelot..,and chose to stay.” He takes a deep breath, following it with a muttered, “ God knows I was a right arse to you.” in an attempt to lighten the mood and to ease a bit of his embarrassment now showing in the redness of his tanned skin.

Blinking hard, Merlin fights to hold back tears accumulating in his eyes threatening to fall at Arthur’s words and the sheer sincerity of the emotions they were spoken with. He manages a trembling smile. “You were an arse.” he says with a little laugh. With more seriousness, he continues, “ I...Thank you, Arthur.” He turns up his hand with the sigil and lands his other atop Arthur’s. “I have been and always will be at your side, that I promise you. Not simply because of our destiny but because you are the greatest man I have ever known. You…” He presses up the sigil to Arthur. “You don’t have to give me this. It’s too important to you. What you said, it’s enough. Staying with you is enough.” He feels like kissing Arthur soundly, feels his heart clamoring for him to lean forward and just do it. He doesn’t. Merlin thinks, tries to convince himself, that it is enough that he could stay beside Arthur for the rest of his days.

Arthur is studying his face and Merlin can only imagine how he looks right now. Probably a little ridiculous with his stinging eyes, warm skin, and smile that can’t seem to settle still on his face. He feels a tad relieved when Arthur redirects his sharp gaze on their shared hands where the sigil remains hard to ignore, the metal now warmed. He slowly extracts his hands from Merlin’s, leaving the token behind despite Merlin’s words. “I want you to take it, Merlin. You don’t have to, but I want you to. “ He insists.

And bugger, he must know that putting it that way, implying how it would hurt Arthur if he does otherwise, Merlin could not very well return it.

Arthur quirks his lips knowingly but not unkindly, finally leaning back on his chair. To his surprise, he ends up with an armful of Merlin that followed him forward like the man is stringed and forcefully pulled to him the moment he moved. There was a time when he would not have welcomed this, that Arthur would raise his hands in denial of such actions, but that time is not now. Now he puts his arms around Merlin’s body, supporting his awkward crouching, almost kneeling position, as he brings himself closer to his king, his friend, his love while the man is still sat on his chair.

Merlin is shaking so slightly but being so closely pressed against Arthur, he probably felt it nonetheless. This prompts Arthur to let his broad hands stroke Merlin’s back which in turn makes him press closer burrowing his nose at the crook beneath Arthur’s jaw. It’s the closest they’ve ever been, deliberately at least, but Arthur lets them stay that way until Merlin has calmed.

After a moment, Arthur ruffles the tuft of hair tickling his chin and Merlin lets out an indignant huff of air. Extracting himself slowly and not with a small amount of embarrassment, Merlin grins widely at Arthur. Sitting back on his chair feeling like a new man, silly as it sounds, with the sigil in hand, now his own. He pockets it securely promising Arthur that, “I’ll take good care of it.”

“You better.” Arthur says regarding him.

There is an awkward silence, neither unsure of how to go on. Arthur puts a stop to it with a delicate cough. “The food is getting cold. We better eat.”

“Yeah” Merlin readily agrees.

The rest of the evening is spent with their usual banter but Merlin can’t help feeling that while their words flow easily, that the sentiments of earlier continue to permeate. When Arthur surprises him with a brief embrace when he excuses himself to bed, he finds his hunch happily confirmed.

He spends a few minutes just lying in bed and studying the sigil, the intricate engravings and marks, its rich color, and more importantly, the message behind his coming to have it in the first place. When he finally feels the tendrils of sleep pulling at him, he stands to secure the sigil in his treasure box of sorts. It is a simple thing, filled with his personal treasures like his mum’s pendant which she gave him as a gift when he was instated in court, the book of magic from Gaius that has saved his and Arthur’s lives too many times to count, and other such items. Now, he gently adds the sigil within its depths before snapping the lid securely, locking it, and adding incantations for added protection. Going back to bed, he finds himself smiling even as he closes his eyes for a good night’s sleep.

The morning wakes him up the way it usually does; with the twittering of overly excited birds and the brightness of sunlight. He is still smiling. he finds and doesn’t bother to do anything about it.

It’s still a little too early for breakfast with Arthur so he makes his way down the castle stairs, into the grounds, and inside the stables to check on Sally. Upon arriving at the door, he hears the quick shuffling of Hans, the stable boy, as he moves about in obvious purpose.

‘Oh’

His mind clicks and he too is walking a lot faster and toward the middle stall where the sun was shining the brightest and providing comforting warmth through the partially opened window and to Sally. As he suspected, Hans is worrying the place, not with anxious energy but rather one of excitement. He feels anticipation building as he comes closer, gasping when he finally lays eyes on the mother and child that are resting against the hay.

Hans looks up at him from his crouch and sends him a happy smile that Merlin returns without even having to think about it.

“It was a bit of a rough night but she pulled through beautifully.” Hans says without prompting, “A baby boy.”

Merlin steps closer and into the stall, crouching in front of Sally who lifts her head, immediately nuzzling Merlin’s extended hand.

“Hey there.” he murmurs, instinctively lowering his voice in consideration of the sleeping foal. “He’s beautiful.”

Merlin knows that it probably looks silly the way he’s talking to Sally but she’s been his horse now for a couple of years, taking him from one adventure to the next, She’s come to mean so much to him that even now that she’s stopped travelling to live a more comfortable life in the stables and castle grounds, Merlin still comes back to her when he can.

Looking at the new life in front of him, Merlin feels a warmth that his magic responds to, humming happily beneath his skin. He lets it move from the tips of his fingers and into the two stunning creatures with him, checking their health and state as much as he is able. Sally closes her eyes at the gentle flow of magic encompassing her and her newborn, her complete acceptance testament to her trust of Merlin.

Merlin breathes a sigh of relief when he is assured that they’re both doing well, stopping his magic and simply laying his hands over their coats, stroking.

He doesn’t know how long he spent staring lovingly at the pair in front of him and making cooing noises and soft, whispered promises but when he stands up and turns to replenish Sally’s drinking water, Arthur is leaning at the opening of the stall looking at the scene with an obvious fondness in his eyes. Hans is no where to be seen, probably brought to a fit of harried cleaning when he saw Arthur enter the stable.

“Hey.” Merlin greets him, the small smile on his face widening at Arthur’s appearance. After last night, the air around them feels fresher, the space a little brighter, somehow. It’s like opening up about the way they felt about each other, this time without the threat of either one of them dying, made their bond stronger, more conspicuous, more out there and comfortably seen under the sun. Which sounds stupid, Merlin thinks, since they’ve been living their lives without actually acknowledging it but that didn’t mean that it had meant less then than it did now.

Except now he feels a great big gulp of air filling him up, making him feel heady like he is newly freed and able to fly wherever he wants to. To Arthur maybe.

He sees a reflection of what must be the same thoughts in Arthur’s eyes, the way it shines, in his mouth, the way it the corners are softly tilted up without any attempt to turn it into something teasing, mocking, or anything else except for the affection he’s feeling.

“How is she?” Arthur says first, taking the last few steps until he’s standing close to Merlin in the confined space. Merlin feels his heartbeat race in a way that’s fast becoming familiar when Arthur is near but he ignores it and basks in the beauty of the morning, of a new life in their presence, of Arthur in front of him. He turns leaning his shoulder against Arthur’s, the two of them looking down on Sally and her son.

“She’s okay now. So is her baby. I checked as soon as I came.”

Arthur makes a sound of contentment. “She’s going to be a great mother. I just know it.” he mutters softly. “And I’m going to be the best godfather.”

That surprises a laugh from Merlin that thankfully does not disturb the resting horses. He turns to Arthur, eyes squinted in happiness and his mouth in a wide grin. “He’s a horse!” he exclaims.

“Yes, and he’s the luckiest horse to have a doting king for a godfather. Only the best hay. And apples.” Arthur is now looking at him as well, smiling and he looks so happy he’s almost glowing with the sun rising for the morning illuminating his features, all the the sharp lines and the gentle curves of his face highlighted.

And oh, he’s close. Merlin can see each separate eyelash and count them if he wants to.

“He’ll love that.” he says almost in a whisper, reverently, and unable to tear his eyes away. Vaguely he thinks there’s nothing that he needs to be doing ...nothing that can’t wait anyway.

Except it’s Arthur who has plans that can’t wait another moment, and then there are lips pressing against Merlin’s. He almost goes cross-eyed, letting out a small surprised sound from the back of his throat.

It takes him a few seconds to realize fully what is happening, but the moment he clues in, he takes Arthur’s cue and closes his eyes, pressing back until he could feel the slight roughness of Arthur’s chapped lips tightly against his own softer ones. His hands find their way around Arthur’s waist while Arthur has one hand on his arm and another on the side of his face, angling to make them impossibly closer.

“Ack!” a voice squawks from the general direction of the door and Merlin’s eyes opens wide, hands immediately scrambling and pushing against Arthur’s completely unyielding frame. From the corner of his vision, he sees Hans’ back running out the stable. “Pardon me!” a panicked sounding voice shouts at them from the distance.

Whipping his head back, he turns accusing eyes towards Arthur only to find him smirking and looking smug like he just accomplished something. And he did alright. Now people would definitely be talking.

“Arthur!” he exclaims, unable to find the words to properly express the combination of joy, exhilaration, concern, and panic he’s currently feeling. He thinks he should be reprimanding but he cannot seem to hold on to anything remotely antagonistic with Arthur so close that he could feel the other’s breath on his lips. “You know he’ll tell the servants....” he trailed off when Arthur leans in again to catch his lips for a little nibble.

“...the truth.”

Merlin almost doesn’t hear, distracted as he is but he manages to pull back, brows furrowing a little in confusion. “ What did you say?”

Arthur is definitely finding all this too entertaining with the roguish grin spread across his face and Merlin feels his lips twitch in response.

“ I said, Hans will be telling the servants the truth.” he clarifies, obviously waiting for Merlin to catch up. When he does, his mouth does a little ‘o’ that coaxes a chuckle out of Arthur. “ I told you I’d be doing something about those rumors.”

Merlin’s face heats up as the weight of the words sinks in, the events of the past couple of days playing in his mind, the pieces clicking. “That’s what you meant?!” he finds himself saying disbelievingly and a bit uselessly but Arthur indulges him.

“I did alright, didn’t I?” He whispers leaning in, whispering intimately at the curve of Merlin’s ear, nuzzling and making goosebumps appear on Merlin’s increasingly red skin as he shivers and nods.

“You did.” Merlin replies fondly burying his face in the crook of Arthur’s neck much like he did the night before, allowing himself to hide from the intensity of what he’s feeling, breathing deeply to try to calm himself.

He feels Arthur’s smile on his jaw. “Does this mean I can kiss you again?” he asks, voice low and vibrating deep enough Merlin can feel it to his very bones.

He can only nod. There’s no point in calming down after all.

---

Breakfast at the servants’ mess hall is always a noisy affair with everyone ploughing through their portions in enthusiastic scoops and slurps, preparing for a busy day ahead, This morning however, comes with more excited twittering from the maids and servants, each finding the time to talk, question, and clarify between swallowing. At the middle of it all is Hans, grinning at the pretty maids surrounding him and offering him pudding as he recounts one more time what he was witnessed this blessed morning.

He clears his throat and lifts his hands to prepare for a lively telling. “ As god is my witness, there I was minding my business while the Lord Merlin looks on his horses when the king suddenly appears and follows him. I’m sure I heard them whispering, sounding like besotted newly weds, and when I turned around, there they were…”

The maids are squealing and exchanging coins for some on-going bet although none seemed particularly put out.

Hans smiles smugly as another slice of pie lands on his plate.