Pairing: Merlin / Arthur
Word Count: 2,487
Summary: Arthur discovers what it’s like to have magic.
A mile in his shoes
Merlin wandered along, kicking at the dirt every so often, the herbs that Gaius had sent him out to collect in a bag slung over his shoulder. He found himself thinking about things as he walked- always a dangerous thing to do, he realised- and one thing in particular.
Three months ago, on the night of the winter feast, after more than a few tankards of mead, Merlin had found himself in Arthur's bed. After an uncertain start the next morning, between the hangovers and both awaiting the other’s expected panic attack, they had realised that it hadn’t just been the mead talking. Not that copious amounts of mead hadn’t helped, Merlin reasoned. There was no way that either of them would have done that without a little liquid courage.
Their subsequent relationship was one of the worst kept secrets in the castle; everyone knew, everyone except Uther, but no one mentioned it. Uther still looked forward to the day when his son would marry a princess from one of the neighbouring Kingdoms, and no one wanted to be the one who shattered that dream.
Merlin could hardly believe that Arthur, the Prince, had returned what he thought was unrequited sentiment. Years, that was how long he had wanted Arthur, how long he had watched him discreetly as he trained with his knights, admiring, and maybe ogling more openly if Arthur took his shirt off whilst practicing, without so much as a hint that his feelings were returned. Now he had what he had wanted from the first moment he saw the Prince. Well, maybe not the first moment. It was more like the second or third. That first moment of meeting Arthur had been taken up with the urge to throttle the irritating blonde pillock.
Even though he was happy with Arthur, something still wasn’t right. Merlin felt bad for lying to him every single day. He was keeping a huge part of his life from Arthur; his magic. There was no way he could ever tell him, though. Arthur would probably be just as angry, maybe more so, about Merlin lying to him than about the magic. He almost told him a thousand times but each time he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t risk it. He just wished that Arthur could understand what it was like, why he had felt the need to keep it hidden for so long.
To Merlin’s left, high up in the branches of a tall tree, a wisp of smoke began to shift. It swirled and gathered, thickening until it formed a shape. Had Merlin looked up at that point, he would have seen a young woman sitting on the branch, feet swinging daintily as she watched him. She smiled to herself and whispered,
Merlin awoke the following morning to the feel of a warm body wrapped around him. He turned far enough to see Arthur's blonde head resting on the pillow next to him and smiled; Arthur looked so sweet when he was asleep. As he moved, he disturbed Arthur.
Arthur yawned and rubbed his eyes. “’S’okay.”
He shuffled closer to brush his lips over Merlin’s before rolling the other man beneath him and deepening the kiss.
There was a knock on the door.
Arthur sighed, showing no signs of answering it.
“If I ignore them, do you think they’ll go away?” he asked.
Merlin laughed. “How often does that actually work?”
“Almost never,” Arthur admitted. “They just keep knocking.”
The door opened then and a messenger came inside.
“Your Highness, begging forgiveness for my intrusion but His Majesty sent me-” He actually looked up then, his eyes widening.
Arthur shifted away from Merlin hurriedly, tugging the covers over them both. “Get out.”
“But Your Highness, His Majesty’s instructions were very clear in that I was not to return until I had passed along his message-”
“You come into my chambers uninvited and then you have the nerve to back-talk me?” Arthur snapped. “I said, GET OUT!”
Merlin caught the brief flash of gold in Arthur's eyes a split second before the messenger was thrown backwards by some invisible force, propelled back out into the corridor with a startled yelp. Arthur froze, looking around at Merlin with panic-filled eyes. Merlin was sure that his own expression mirrored Arthur's.
Arthur just looked at him. “What…?”
Merlin just stared at the doorway. “This is not good.”
He could see Arthur beginning to hyperventilate, eyes wide and panicked.
“I did that. I know I did. I felt it. Oh hell; what am I meant to do? If my father finds out that I used m- I can’t even say it!”
“Arthur, calm down.” Merlin climbed out of bed and tugged his breeches on, hurrying to the door. “First, we see if he’s okay.”
Arthur nodded, though Merlin could see that he wasn’t really paying attention as he followed him to check on the messenger. The man was lying in the corridor, stunned, but as he saw Arthur approach his eyes widened and he scrambled away on his hands and feet, crab-like.
“Stay away from me,” he said, his voice shaking. He managed to get to his feet and set off along the corridor at a run, stumbling against the wall occasionally, still dizzy from the fall.
Arthur looked as though he was going to pursue, to try and talk to the man, but Merlin grabbed his arm and steered him back into his chambers.
“No, you’ll just make it worse. He’ll keep quiet because he’ll fear your father. If your father heard him he’d be thrown in the dungeon for spreading lies about you,” Merlin said.
“But it’s not a lie, is it?” Arthur pointed out quietly.
Merlin gripped his arm, shaking him a little. “Snap out of it! It might have just been a coincidence, just a one-off thing that might never happen again.” Arthur brightened a little at that and Merlin continued. “The best thing you can do now is to act normally, don’t draw attention. What were you meant to be doing this morning?”
“I was supposed to meet with my father and then training with my knights.”
“So, go and do that. As for the rest, we can work it out.”
Arthur stared at him. “Just when I think you can’t surprise me,” he said, then frowned. “Why is none of this shocking to you?”
Because I’ve been living with it since I was a child, Merlin thought. He ignored the question in favour of getting Arthur dressed and ready to face the world, seeing as the prince was still too shocked to even think of it.
Merlin stood quietly in the corner of the room, along with Uther’s servant, waiting until Arthur was ready to leave. He was keeping as close watch as he dare on Arthur, just in case anything else happened, and it was a good thing too. He could see Arthur getting more angry as his father put down every idea that he mentioned, determined to argue with everything Arthur said, despite this being a formal meeting regarding the knights. Arthur was their commanding officer, and in charge of their training, but Uther obviously didn’t like the fact that he didn’t control it.
He caught the flash in Arthur's eyes a split second before the base of the curtain beside Arthur burst into flames. Merlin kicked out his foot, knocking the candlestick over, the lit candle catching the material as it fell.
“Sire, I am so sorry! I bumped it and it fell!” he quickly snatched the water jug from the table and doused the growing flames.
Uther turned on him, furious. “You clumsy idiot! I should have you thrown in the stocks for such incompetence-”
Arthur, seeing what Merlin had done for him, stepped in. “Father, Merlin is my responsibility and I will see to it that he is reprimanded accordingly.” He glanced at Merlin with apology in his eyes. “Perhaps we should continue this meeting another time so that I can deal with Merlin.”
“Yes, that would be best,” Uther agreed, eyes narrowing at Merlin. “If you were my servant, boy, I would have had you beaten a long time ago. Arthur, you are too lenient with him. He will never learn if you continue to accept his incapability to do even the simplest tasks, such as standing still!”
“Yes, father. Merlin! Come with me.”
Out in the corridor, Arthur waited until they were beyond his father’s hearing before he paused.
“Thank you for covering for me. I want you to know that I won’t let my father even think about punishing you for something you did in order to protect me.” He took Merlin’s hand and led him into a side room, closing the door behind them. “What am I going to do, Merlin? I can’t control this- you saw what happened in there! If my father finds out that I’m using sorcery he will have me executed, uncaring that I am his son.”
Merlin slipped his arms around Arthur, pulling him into a hug, trying to chase away the panicked look on the prince’s face.
“I can help you,” he said. “We won’t let him find out.”
Arthur sent a messenger to his knights to inform them that he would not be practising with them today. Instead he and Merlin took the horses out on an impromptu hunting trip, Arthur seeming a lot happier once he was away from the castle and away from the risk of being caught if he happened to make a magical mishap again.
“How do people live like this?” Arthur asked.
Merlin frowned, directing his horse toward the stream and jumping down. Arthur followed, moving to sit on the sunny bank as the horses waded into the stream to drink.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, people who have this curse, this magic. How can they exist in constant fear of being discovered, waiting for that moment when they make a mistake and they are caught?”
“It’s a gift, not a curse,” Merlin corrected. “You have only seen the bad in this situation, the fear and the worry. Think of all the wonderful things that the magic you possess could do. Once you learn to control it, you can use it to help people, to save them from harm.”
Arthur looked at him in confusion and Merlin sighed. He had said more than he intended.
“Merlin, why do you know so much about all of this?”
It’s now or never, Merlin thought. He would never have a better opportunity than this.
“Because it’s mine,” he said quietly.
“The magic. It somehow got transferred from me, into you.”
Arthur shook his head as though doing so would make what he had just heard go away.
“You did this to me?”
“No. I don’t know what happened, but I no longer have my magic and you do.” He saw the look on Arthur's face and wondered if he should have held off from telling him. “I’m sorry that I never told you but I didn’t want to put you in a situation where you would have to keep secrets from your father. And I didn’t want to see that look in your eyes when you found out, the one you have right now.” He stood up, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “I know you’re mad at me but I promise you I have never used my magic to do harm. I’ll just go-” Merlin said sadly.
He got to his horse before Arthur's voice stopped him.
“Merlin, come back. Please.” When he didn’t, Merlin felt a hand on his shoulder, gently turning him around. “You surprised me. I needed a minute to adjust to what you told me, that’s all.”
Letting Arthur lead him back to the grassy bank where they had been sitting, Merlin felt a glimmer of hope. Arthur didn’t seem to be angry so that had to be a good sign, didn’t it?
“How long have you had it?”
“All my life.”
Arthur looked horrified and Merlin’s hope began to fade again, until he heard Arthur's next words.
“You have lived your entire life this way? I cannot imagine another day of this,” Arthur told him. “How can you say that this is a gift?”
“Do you really want to know?” Encouraged by Arthur's nod, he continued. “Very well. Repeat exactly what I tell you, word for word…”
For the next ten minutes, Merlin showed him a few tricks. Nothing big, as that had the potential to scare him again.
“You can do more, can’t you?” Arthur asked. “I can feel it, the power, somewhere that I can’t quite describe.”
“I can. I have used my magic to help you more times than I can remember- in battle, fending off assassins, protecting you… It was nearly always for you.”
He could see Arthur thinking back, remembering all of the impossible victories, the times he couldn’t recall but that Merlin had told him he’d won the fight. Merlin had risked his own safety by using this magic, and it had been for him. Strangely, he was more alarmed at the possibility of Merlin being discovered than he was about the fact he had been using sorcery in the first place. He could feel the magic now that he had stopped fighting it, feel it deep down inside him, and it was nothing like he had been told. He had been brought up to believe that all magic was evil but this wasn’t. It felt warm and comforting, anything but evil. Then again, nothing that was a part of Merlin could ever be bad, never mind evil.
Reaching over to the other man he cupped a hand to Merlin’s cheek, drawing him in closer until he could press their lips together. Merlin responded immediately, arms going around him, the kiss quickly becoming heated, almost desperate.
Suddenly it was gone, the warm feeling in the depths of his being, and he pulled back from Merlin just in time to see the other man’s eyes flash gold. Merlin looked startled.
“It’s back,” he said, half expecting Arthur to back away.
He didn’t. The prince merely pulled Merlin into another kiss, pressing him back into the grass.
Just into the trees, hidden in the shadows, a lone figure watched. She knew it would work, never having any doubt about it; these two were meant to be, but sometimes even destiny needed a little help to overcome the obstacles that life dropped in its way. She smiled to herself as the two men kissed, the love between them clear even from this distance. Turning, she walked into the forest, her form becoming less coherent with each step until she was gone, a faint wisp of smoke on the breeze.
Her job was done.