Merlin didn’t want to go hunting—no surprise there. He had a bad feeling about this trip, but when he told Arthur about it, he just got a scoff in return and a “Sure, Merlin. We’re leaving at dawn.”
So, that brings Merlin, who was freezing in the bright winter morning, huddled near their horses, Honey and Llamrei, shivering from head to toe waiting for King Prat to come down. He would use magic to warm himself up a bit, and he would if he was going alone, but it would be too suspicious if Arthur was also going to freeze his arse off.
He was told to pack for a three day trip as Arthur wanted to get away from the castle for as long as was allowed. Merlin understood the need to escape—truly, he did, but he would be more sympathetic if it wasn't in the dead of winter. Merlin sighed at the thought, wanting this to be over with.
Arthur came galloping down the stairs of the castle, already giddy at the prospect of leaving the cage behind. Merlin couldn’t stop the smile forming at Arthur’s excitement. I guess I can suck it up, Merlin thought defeatedly, for Arthur.
Everything is always for Arthur—and Merlin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Perk up, Merlin! This will be good, I know it,” Arthur beamed at him, taking Llamrei from him.
“Of course, sire, I can’t wait to kill frozen little innocent animals,” Merlin said sweetly under his breath.
Arthur rolled his eyes but didn’t respond, hopping on his horse, looking up at Leon, who was on the top step smiling at them and waving.
“I trust you will take good care of my kingdom, Sir Leon,” Arthur smiled at the man who bowed deeply.
“Of course, Sire,” and then Leon looked at Merlin, “Take care of our King, Merlin. Though, you never disappoint.”
Merlin heard Arthur mutter under his breath, “never disappoint, pff,” but Merlin gave Leon a true smile, “Of course, Sir Leon! I know you’ll do great here.”
Leon nodded at him, a small smile on his face at the praise, and went back into the warm castle.
Merlin heard Arthur go towards the gate, and with one last long suffering look at the warm castle begging him to stay, he went off after his King.
A few hours in and Arthur was still radiating excitement. Being away from Camelot always scared him a little, but it was necessary. Sometimes it felt too much like a dungeon with no room to breathe. But here, in the brisk, winter air, it felt like he was flying.
He did feel a little bad about dragging Merlin in the cold, but he knew if he told Merlin to stay home, then he would have just followed anyway. Said man was prattling on about what patients he helped Gaius with this week, and Arthur smiled. He wouldn’t say it out loud, but having Merlin with him was always exciting.
Merlin never made anything dull. Arthur didn’t want to bring the roundtable on this trip, wanting to go back to the good old days—adventuring with his best friend at his side.
Arthur wanted to go to a specific clearing a few more hours away, but the journey was also part of the fun. Merlin was currently joking about what Gwaine did at training yesterday, but then they hit the river that Arthur had forgotten about.
They both stopped short, staring at the frozen water.
“Oh, yeah, I might have forgotten about this,”Arthur stated as innocently as he could, “I’ll cross first without my horse to see if it’s stable enough.”
But as he got off his horse, Merlin beat him to it. Of course Merlin felt the need to go first, Arthur sighed internally, thinking about how Merlin always shows little to no self-preservation.
He gaped at the man, who just stepped on the ice.
Merlin turned around and smiled at Arthur, “See, everything will be okay. I’ll make sure it’s safe enough for us, just wait there.”
Arthur reluctantly nodded, “Be careful, Merlin.”
Merlin gave a small laugh, facing the other side that looked to be about twenty feet away, “Woah, Arthur. That almost sounded like you care for me, sire.”
Arthur tried to smile at the attempt at humor but it fell short—especially when he could hear the ice cracking a little.
Merlin makes it about halfway when he turns around to face him, “See! I knew it was strong enough, sire, you should trust me more.”
Arthur let out a rough laugh, “Yeah...yeah, you’re right Merlin. Hurry up, I want to get there soon.”
He meant it to sound annoyed, but it definitely came across more nervous, scared that their good luck wouldn’t last.
He was right.
Three more steps forwards, and Merlin fell through the ice—tumbling fast into the cold, unforgiving water without a sound.
He stared numbly where Merlin just plummeted. Time felt like it slowed, everything freezing in its tracks.
No, no, no, no. No.
Violently, time began once more when he saw Merlin’s head bob out of the water.
“MERLIN?!” Arthur took a fast step forwards, shaking with his palpable fear. He saw Merlin flick a terrified glance his way when Merlin’s frozen, wet arms started flailing on the broken ice around him—the panic obvious in his movements. Even from here, Arthur could see how shakey Merlin’s arms were, how little of his strength remained after it was sapped out of him when he fell.
Slowly now, terrified that Merlin would hurt himself more, Arthur started advancing onto the ice—carefully placing his feet to balance out the cracking. Merlin, still flailing in his panic, was almost blue, his body slowly draining of any color. He tried to heave himself up once more, but failed again when holding himself used too much energy that he didn’t have.
“Merlin, stop, look at me,” Merlin reluctantly listened, holding onto a piece of floating ice to stay stable, “You have to stop doing that. You’re wasting too much energy, I’m coming. Don’t worry, I’m coming.”
As he said that, he didn’t, wouldn’t, break eye contact with Merlin. Arthur steadied himself, trying to emit the strength and stability Merlin needed.
“Ar-Ar-tur, d-don’t,” Merlin stammered out, face draining even more.
Arthur faked a scoff, “You forget I’m the king, right? You can’t order me.”
Stepping slowly, Arthur reached the edge of the broken ice.
“Merlin, swim to me. We’re almost there, we’re going to be fine, and you’ll be cleaning my room in no time.”
Merlin obeyed and swam sluggishly towards his king. Arthur mumbled small praises the whole time, “That’s it, Merlin. You’re almost there.”
Arthur uncliped his cloak and bent down at the edge of the water. When Merlin reached him, Arthur didn’t hesitate. He grabbed Merlin from under his arms and heaved him out onto the unstable ice around them—crackling at the weight.
Arthur breathed a stream of curses, picking Merlin off the ground, covering him with his cloak, and ran to the horses. Once he reached Llamrei, he dropped to his knees, rolling Merlin towards him.
“Merlin?! Merlin. Come on, wake up,” he hit Merlin’s blue face slightly. They were both shaking so hard that Arthur couldn’t tell if Merlin was breathing or not. Raising a shivering hand, he touched Merlin’s throat, looking for a pulse.
He felt nothing.
“No,” Arthur shook his head vehemently, “No, you’re not dead. I don’t allow it. No, no, no, no.”
Arthur didn’t feel his tears through his frozen exterior as he started banging on Merlin’s chest.
“Please, please,” Arthur rambled, “please save him, please.” He repeated it, again and again, his tears blurring his eyes, “I’ll do anything, please, no, no.”
Arthur wouldn’t stop trying, and when he lifted up his fist again, a soft golden gold violently encompassed both of them.
Arthur stopped, and looked at the light in shock. It felt peaceful, safe, and warm. It was so warm.
He looked everywhere around them before landing on Merlin himself—a gasp escaping him.
Merlin was radiating the light. Did someone answer my prayers? Arthur wondered in pure awe, putting his fingers back to Merlin’s pulse when his shaking subsided enough.
He sobbed out in relief—it was there, weak but fast. He gathered Merlin in his arms, not fearing the power surrounding his servant, and put Merlin on Llamrei before he followed behind him. Grabbing Honey’s reins, he searched for a cave. They needed to recover, and Merlin needed time to heal.
And Arthur needed time to figure out what just happened.
It was still snowing, and Arthur growled at the sky because of it. Merlin was still unconscious laying against him, no longing glowing, and Arthur wished he would wake up—at least once. He should’ve stopped Merlin from going to sleep, he knew sleeping was never a good sign...we need Gaius, his brain added unhelpfully. First, they need shelter. Camelot was too far a journey with Merlin in this condition.
That strange light saved his life for now, but Merlin was still shivering and blue. Arthur couldn’t stop replaying that scene in his head: Merlin tumbling into the frozen waters without a sound, time stopping and beginning, and that light that saved their lives—Merlin’s light. He was terrified when he realized that Merlin might not make the night. But that wouldn’t happen...he wouldn’t let it happen. Never—not on his watch.
After what felt like hours, he found a cave large enough for the four of them, and he raced towards it.
Quickly, he built a fire inside—rather difficult when everything is soaked, but he managed to find some dry wood—placing Merlin directly next to it, then he made sure the horses were comfortable enough for the long night before he returned to Merlin.
The man in question was still soaking wet, and Arthur frowned at Merlin’s shaking. Deciding that he would be warm enough quickly by the fire, he took off Merlin’s shirt and the cloak wrapped around him, placing them on the other side of the fire to dry, and gave Merlin his own shirt—the quality much better than the strings holding together Merlin’s shirt.
I’ll buy him better clothes, Arthur thought grimly, he should have warmer clothes. He mentally kicked himself for forgetting how little Merlin spends on himself, and he stared at the shivering man, who was turning less blue every second.
The light replayed in his head, and without the adrenaline and panic flooding his system, he truly thought about it. And it stopped him dead.
Magic. That was obviously magic. He couldn’t help but back away from Merlin, years of lessons at the forefront of his mind. No, Merlin couldn’t have magic. Magic was evil, wasn’t it?
He wasn’t so sure, especially not now. What he felt, it wasn’t cruel, or menacing, or dangerous. It was pure, warm, and light—similar to the light that led him out the cave all those years ago. It felt like a hug from someone you love dearly. This went against everything his father taught him, but then again, don’t I already think magic isn’t wholly evil? He pondered that thought with a small frown.
Before the purge, magic was used to heal—Gaius being the prime example—and used to grow crops and help others. But, it was also used to aid in people’s greed, for fighting, for gaining the upper hand...but didn’t swords do that, too? A tool to be used by those who knew how to wield it, and in the wrong hands, it leads to destruction—no different than someone who masters a sword with expert skill and ability.
That Dragonlord was magic as well, Arthur thought back to that adventure focusing on how distraught Merlin was when the man died. Maybe they had a connection through their magic? But that brought the thoughts back to the man in front of him. How long has he practiced magic right under Arthur’s nose? For what purpose?
Merlin isn’t evil, but why lie to me? And that’s what hurts the most. The lying. Arthur thought they told each other everything. Merlin was his brother in everything except blood—they were stronger together, always. Arthur knew Merlin kept secrets, especially by the way Merlin’s moods would drastically shift one day to the next. Arthur knew that Merlin was hiding something, but why did it feel so bad?
Thinking back on their adventures, Arthur could clearly see now that Merlin had magic. The branch that would accidentally hit the bandit behind Arthur’s back when he wasn’t looking, the creatures that can only be killed by magic dying unexpectedly, the way Arthur sometimes healed faster than he thought was possible. All things that aided Arthur.
His mind suddenly flashed the scene in his head of him almost killing his father after finding out what his father did to his mother, and to magic users, and Arthur paused this time on Merlin. Merlin didn’t deny the vision of his mother during the long journey back...he almost seemed saddened by the whole thing, taking it to heart. But the minute Arthur was going to kill Uther, Merlin was the one to stop him. Merlin, who has magic, stopped Arthur from killing the man who spent his reign committing a genocide of a whole group of people—Merlin’s people.
He did it for Arthur, he had to—just like everything else Merlin did and continues to do. That confused Arthur even more, if he was being honest. Why protect the son of the King who murdered innocent people for a decade? What does Merlin get from that?
As if Merlin could feel Arthur’s inner turmoil, he groaned and tried to open his eyes. Blearily, he managed to open them and he stared at Arthur, a confused look adorning his features. He tried to sit up, but failed miserably, groaning from the exertion.
Arthur rushed to him, placing his hand on Merlin’s, helping him sit up more, “Stop moving, you dollophead.”
Merlin didn’t retort back, making Arthur frown again, and asked, his voice gruff with pain, “Ar-Arthur. What happened?”
Arthur leaned slightly away from Merlin, sitting on his heels facing the fire still burning brightly, “You fell in the water, and I got you out.”
“Thank you, Arthur,” Merlin breathed, eyes filled with nothing but gratitude, but then, at the thick silence, he narrowed his eyes at the king, “That’s not all, is it?”
Arthur, still watching the flames, answered quietly, “No.”
Merlin’s breathing went into short, fast puffs, and he eyed Arthur’s sword at his side, moving back from Arthur as nonchalantly as he could, “No?”
Arthur missed nothing. He saw the panic, the pure, unadulterated fear flooding through Merlin—almost a tangible thing in the air. Arthur sucked in a quick breath when he realized that Merlin thought Arthur would kill him. Arthur threw his sword to the other side of the cave, and put his hands towards Merlin like a wild animal being tamed.
“Merlin. Merlin, look at me,” Merlin, whose tears were already falling, did so slowly, “I would never hurt you. I promise.”
He heard Merlin’s breathing hitch, but he continued, “I don’t know why or how, but you saved us from dying out there. When I brought you back to land, we were both shivering so bad that I couldn’t even check your pulse. We were going to die, but we didn’t. You...you emitted this golden glow, and it felt like you. So you, Merlin. It felt familiar, warm, and safe. I’ve never felt safer.”
Merlin’s eyes never left Arthur’s, and Merlin sobbed once more, and stuttered out, “Arthur, I’m so, so sorry.”
Arthur started shaking his head, but Merlin plowed on, “I was born like this. I was able to do m-magic longer than I knew how to walk. I-I wanted to tell you for so long, but I didn’t know h-how you would react. For a while I thought you would kill me, but then I thought y-you would send me away. But I need to protect you, to save you, to serve you. It was the reason I was put onto the Earth. My magic is yours, Arthur, only yours—as it always has been.”
Arthur was speechless, staring at Merlin like he was a puzzle that was just solved.
“I believe you,” Arthur said softly, moved beyond comprehension. They had a connection, Arthur already knew this, but to this degree? To this loyalty? Arthur smiled at Merlin, “I don’t know why you place such loyalty in me, but, thank you Merlin. For protecting me.”
Merlin gave Arthur a small nod, still crying softly. Arthur saw Merlin look down, with his face going red in embarrassment at what he saw.
“Arthur, you shouldn’t have,” Merlin said gently, pulling on Arthur’s shirt, “I’m supposed to be saving your sorry arse, not the other way around.”
Arthur scoffed, “Right. I should’ve let you, what? Drown and shiver to death...no thank you, I am a King for a reason, Merlin. I am supposed to help the helpless.”
Merlin’s face went beet red again, apparently not used to being saved. Arthur would help fix that, before Merlin ended up killing himself by his self sacrificing ways.
Arthur retrieved some food that was packed in their bags and came back to Merlin, who refused at first at being served, but then he obliged after Arthur didn’t move.
“You know, Merlin,” Arthur started, still feeding them both, “getting help every once and awhile is a good thing. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. No one should go through life alone—especially when there are people willing to be there for you.”
Merlin, still shaking from the fall, looked up at Arthur, “Yeah?”
Arthur sat back, next to Merlin, again looking at the fire, “Yeah. You scared me pretty badly out there Merlin. I thought I lost you.”
Merlin slouched inwards, upset at himself as well, but didn’t respond. Arthur knew that Merlin knew that he (Merlin) had reckless tendencies, that he threw himself at danger all the time without any self preservation—they’ve talked about it before, actually.
Instead of addressing his continued self-sacrificing actions, he squared his shoulders and looked at Arthur, “Thank you again, Arthur. You saved my life today, and I will never forget it. It was also dangerous for you to go on the ice to get me, but you did it anyways. So, thank you, and,” he added softly, “thank you for not hating me.”
Arthur smiled at him and gave him a small nod, “Well, someone had to save your sorry arse from dying, and Honey wasn’t about to jump in the river to save you...and,” he paused slightly, tilting his head, “I don’t think I could ever hate you.”
Merlin tried to smile but he coughed and moaned a bit in pain, and Arthur rushed back to his side.
“Are you okay? Do you need anything?” Arthur asks, nerves spiking through him.
Merlin just shook his head and gave Arthur a warm smile before quickly falling asleep again.
Merlin woke up feeling better than he has in a long time. When his magic reacted to his fall, it healed him almost all the way. And throughout the night, his magic slowly knitted him back together.
He couldn’t believe Arthur knew about his magic and didn’t hate him for it, and he didn’t banish him, or kill him. Arthur even looked at him the same way, not fearing Merlin or thinking him weak in this state.
Merlin hated being helpless, but Arthur was right. It’s okay to get help when you need it, but Merlin needed to work on believing it more—especially since Arthur now knows about his magic, he should probably talk to the king now before secretly stopping someone evil, he mused.
Merlin smiled at the thought and looked down to see the King’s shirt still on him, with Arthur shirtless snuggling by the fire. Merlin quickly took it off, missing the nice tunic immediately, and spelled the shirt to be warm and fresh for Arthur once he woke up. Merlin slowly walked to the firepit, picked up his shirt that was now thankfully dry, and put it back on.
Arthur woke up with a groan, rubbing his eyes tiredly, but shot up when he saw Merlin cleaning up.
“What are you doing? How are you feeling? You should’ve kept my shirt, it would keep you warmer than yours.”
Merlin smiled at the rambling, and answered perkily, “I am cleaning up, I feel good, thanks to you, and it’s okay, sire. My shirt was nice and warm this morning.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes but nodded, and after a quick breakfast, they took care of the horses and rode off towards Camelot.
After a few minutes in comfortable silence, Merlin, with a curious look on his face, asked quietly in the slightly warming morning, “Everything is going to change now, won’t it?”
Arthur gave Merlin a true smile—a smile that had even destiny singing in the distance: “Yes, but I think it’s time for some change, don’t you think?”