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"We are on a hunt, Merlin! Come on!"

Merlin gazed at a familiar spot in the clearing. The stones he had collected to mark the spot where young Daegal lay buried had grown mossy over the past year.

"We haven't got all day, you lazy sod!" Arthur called, impatient as ever.

"Just...wait, just a moment. All right?" Merlin called out, walking over to the grave, kneeling down to scrape off the dirt and the moss. 

"Daegal," Merlin whispered, sending a wisp of magic into the stone, hoping that his thoughts would reach into the abyss of time. 

"Merlin?" Arthur's voice was surprisingly close and gentle.

"It was the boy who saved me last year, wasn't it? You buried him here."

"Yes."

Merlin thought back to that time in the woods, to how he had been lured into the Valley of the Fallen Kings and left there to die. Daegal had returned to him, nursed him back to health, effectively saving Arthur's life, yet here he lay, in an unmarked grave, just a few rocks indicating that he had ever lived upon this earth.

"Merlin, we have to find prey before the sun sets," Arthur said softly, but Merlin continued cleaning the rocks with the sleeve of his jacket. He wanted to give Daegal the courtesy of remembrance if nothing else.

Daegal had mattered, despite what the boy had told him. 

"You go, Arthur." Merlin said, settling down more comfortably by Daegal's grave. He began rearranging the rocks more neatly.

After a few moments of quiet contemplation Arthur joined him on the forest floor. This did surprise Merlin. There was very little that could stand between Arthur and hunting.

"Do you want to tell me about him?" he asked Merlin tentatively brushing dead leaves from the floor around the mound of rocks, mimicking what Merlin was doing.

                                       

Merlin closed his eyes briefly. Remembering Daegal's inquisitive eyes and hopeful countenance.

"Daegal had nobody," Merlin began.

"He had to scrape for food where he could get it. His mother, a sorcerer, had died some time past. Daegal had to ask people for menial tasks. He had been easy prey for Morgana. She had paid him to lure me into the forest."

Arthur balled his hand to a fist and Merlin felt the need to defend Daegal. "He had no other choice. He needed money to eat. I gave him food, and he couldn't believe it. No one had ever given him anything before, not without asking for something in return." Arthur was playing with a blade of grass, surprisingly quiet while Merlin went on.

"He was convinced that he didn't matter. No one had ever made him feel important, not since his mother had died. He was alone in life, as he is now, in death." 

"He is not alone, Merlin. He has you. Even now, he has you."

Merlin looked at Arthur, feeling a bit weepy. There were times Arthur could still surprise him. Lately they had grown more and more apart. Merlin didn't want to lose his best friend, but chances were he would, and it had put a strain on their relationship.

"Sometimes you say the nicest things, Arthur." 

"I am nice, Merlin, or haven't you noticed?"

Merlin chuckled. A single tear meandered down his cheek.

Merlin and Arthur sat quietly for a spell.

 

"He kissed me," Merlin blurted and he could hear Arthur's intake of breath at the statement.

Merlin didn't know why he wanted Arthur to know. Maybe it was time to tell him? 

"He kissed you?" Arthur looked part sceptical, part worried.

"I wasn't expecting it, so I couldn't prevent it. One minute he was applying this magnificent salve onto my injured leg and the next his soft lips were pressed to mine." Merlin pinked at the memory.

"They were soft, were they?" Arthur teased. "Not chapped then?" he went on.

"I pulled away immediately. He was just a boy, sixteen summers at best, dear lord."

"That's what worried you? His age? Not that he, you know, was a boy?"

Merlin didn't know how to respond to that, so he just went on.

"I told him we couldn't. I told him my heart already belonged to someone else."

Arthur gave a hearty chuckle. Merlin wanted to smack him one but restrained himself.

"What's so funny, toad face?" Merlin asked instead, a bit incensed.

"Nothing. Please. Carry on."

 

"I was worried that my rejection would make him feel even more unwanted, but I guess he saw that I was telling the truth. He told me he could tell I was in love. I suppose it was my desperation to get back to Camelot to save you that gave the game away."

 

Merlin didn't dare look at Arthur. He wondered how long it would take for Arthur to put two and two together finally.

 

"You were in love with me?" Arthur smirked.

 

Merlin groaned and flopped back onto the grass. The day was rapidly turning a dusky shade of pink. 

"Don't worry. I am not anymore."

Arthur tutted.

"I know you, my dear manservant. You are one of those people who insist on loving so much so that you can never stop, am I right?"

"This conversation is totally pointless, Arthur. I don't know why I tell you these things..."

"Because you looooove me."

"Wish I didn't. Everyone I love dies. I am cursed, Arthur."

"Is that why you have been so upset this last year? You think you bring me bad luck?"

"Poor young Daegal suffered for it."

"That wasn't your fault, Merlin. He wanted to help you. You have that way about you, you know, people want to help you."

"People are thick, aren't they?"

Arthur grabbed Merlin's hand and pressed it to his chest.

"Can you feel my heart beat?"

Merlin nodded.

"I'm still alive, Merlin. The heavens haven't fallen down yet." 

"It doesn't bother you?"

"Why would it?"

"You have a wife."

"Merlin..."

"It's not right. I must stop this folly." Merlin pulled his hand away and got up. "Maybe if I left Camelot..." he started pacing.

"You are not leaving Camelot, Merlin, and that is final!" 

"Yes, I should leave," Merlin continued, already packing his meagre belongings in his mind.

"Merlin. You are my manservant and I refuse to let you go, so there."

"You don't own me, Arthur."

"No, but I love you. So you can't leave. Alright?"

"Wh...?"

"Are we going to go back to Camelot, empty-handed? The cook is going to flay us alive, you do realise?"

"I hate hunting, and you!"

"Tough! Let's go!"

 ---

No one ever was nice to me but you, Merlin. I will forever miss your kindness. You will never join me here. I have been told of your fate. You don't deserve it. I wish I could give you comfort when Arthur dies, but I can't. You matter, too, Merlin. You matter.