Guinevere tugged at Arthur’s sleeve, “They look like they’re having fun. Do you want to join them?”
Arthur hesitated but followed Guinevere without protest.
“What are we talking about?” he asked the knights while forcing himself not to look at his manservant.
Things have been slightly awkward between them since they got back from the Isle of the Blessed.
All the knights seemed to be taking things in stride though, as evidenced by their obvious camaraderie.
But Arthur was still coming to terms with all the revelations, Merlin’s magic, Arthur’s own feelings that were previously buried beneath the surface, even from himself….
“First kiss,” Gwaine said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Mine was when I was but a wee boy of nine,” he added proudly. “But this lot here thought I was making it up.”
“That’s because you probably did.” Guinevere teased.
The knight just laughed good-naturedly, his arm around Merlin who had a small smile on his face but was remaining quiet otherwise.
Guinevere studied her friend in concern. She hadn’t seen Merlin much since he returned from the Isle of the Blessed with Arthur and the knights but when she did catch a glimpse of him every now and then from afar, her friend had seemed subdued and lost in thoughts, almost sad.
“What about you Merlin, when did you have your first kiss?” she asked her friend teasingly.
She did not miss Lancelot moving to stand next to Merlin’s other side, almost protectively.
That was another thing she noticed. Where Merlin went, Lancelot and Gwaine would be with him. It was common enough before but usually it was one of them rather than the both of them which were the case of late.
She had thought that the two knights were too different to be friends. But it seemed they had reached an understanding of sorts and Guinevere found herself catching them talking quietly to one another as though sharing a secret, quite often lately. It’s not unlike the way Lancelot was with Merlin since, well, since always. Now it seemed that Gwaine had been included in that private circle as well.
Their protectiveness of Merlin was not unknown but there was something different in their stance these days. Like there was an urgency, as though they were flanking him to ward off any sort of threat against him, like between them, they were keeping Merlin completely wrapped up in a protective bubble and would dare anyone to try and get past their defences and survive.
Merlin blushed and ducked his head but there was a light in his eyes, “You should know, you were there,” her friend teased her back and Guinevere found herself blushing as well, and then laughing.
“Oh Merlin, please tell me I didn’t steal your first kiss from you?” she asked, half apologetically but was also part delighted and amused.
Merlin laughed good-naturedly, “You did. But I didn’t mind.”
“You two kissed?” Elyan asked, looking between his sister and his friend, almost in disbelieve, “When was this?”
“You kissed Merlin?”
“Arthur, it was when he drank that poison for you.”
“She thought I was dying.”
“I can’t believe you kissed Guinevere!” Arthur sounded accusing even to his own ear.
He wasn’t expecting to be more upset over the fact that Merlin kissed Guinevere over Guinevere kissing Merlin, nor was he expecting the relief he felt at Merlin’s defensive, “She kissed me, I was barely alive at the time,” feeble reply.
Misunderstanding the reason for the prince’s irritation, Guinevere placed a placating hand on his arm, “Arthur, by then he had stood up to you when you were a bully, saved Morris from your bullying, didn’t care that you were a prince, stood up to you a second time, saved your life from the witch pretending to be Lady Helen the singer, warned you and indirectly saved you from the knight Valiant, confessed to being a sorcerer to save my life, stayed with me at the dungeon on what was to be the last day of my life, helped you and Morgana save Camelot from the afanc and drank poison to save your life.”
“All within his first months in Camelot, I remember,” Leon added. His own face was alight with a smile in remembrance and not without awe and gratitude directed towards the warlock, especially now he knew how much Merlin had sacrificed and done for Arthur, for the kingdom, even for him.
Guinevere nodded, “I was quite smitten.”
Merlin blushed at Guinevere’s confession, “I didn’t know that,” he replied weakly.
“No, you didn’t. You were quite oblivious. Whilst I was smitten with you, you were pushing Arthur my way.”
“You preferred him over me?” Arthur tried to sound offended and incredulous.
And judging by Gwaine’s response, he was quite successful.
“Have you looked at Merlin, Princess? I mean really looked at him? He’s quite beautiful.”
“With a heart just as beautiful as he is on the outside,” Lancelot added in with a smile so fond that Arthur’s chest tightened.
Leon laughed as Merlin blushed harder. “Gwen is right though, about you being oblivious. Over the years, I know of several ladies, knights, veteran and new, who despaired of you ever noticing their wooing efforts.”
“Not to mention the maids,” Gwen added, smile brightly teasing.
“And the squires and the stable boys…”
Arthur stopped listening to Gwaine’s final quip, captivated by Merlin’s flushed cheeks which seemed to spread to his ears.
His gaze drawn to the lips that Merlin was biting in his embarrassment, remembering their first kiss and how it had felt so, so right, like he was finally home instead of walking towards the Cailleach and his death, content, in a way he had never known...