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the truth is finally breaking through

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All that were left were six sorcerers, four women, named Aelin, Lys, Elide, Evangeline, and Gilli and Merlin. Merlin was extremely nervous—these women kicked ass throughout the entire event. 

They all looked like they'd seen better days however, but all, as a group, limped out to listen to Arthur explain the last round.

He stood up regally, addressing the small group of huddled sorcerers, “Congratulations to you all for making it to the final round. You have all been incredible so far! With only one event left, just know that I will forever be grateful for each and everyone of you for competing in this tiresome tournament—as you have all been put through much exertion thus far.

For the last event, it will be split into two. This round will illustrate strength, and power, as those are important in battle for every Knight of Camelot to possess, so we will end this day with a normal-like tournament! The first part will have you all paired off to fight, and when there is a clear victor after the round, that person will move on to the final part. The last three standing will fight off, and the winner will become Camelot’s Court Sorcerer!”

The crowd went wild, cheering for whoever they wanted most, while Merlin sagged a little at the aspect of more fighting. He already hated tournaments because of the useless fighting, and he was happy thinking that this one would be different for once. Arthur then told them who they would fight against—Merlin was put against Lys, and they would be going first.

Merlin closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed out loud—loud enough, actually, for his competitor to hear. She smiled at him, her emerald eyes crinkling at the corners, and chuckled out, “What’s with the theatrics, Merlin?”

He turned around grinning at her, “That’s my best quality, Lys! Half my personality is being dramatic, you must know this by now.”

She let out a twinkling laugh, “Oh yes, I know. Are you going for dramatic in our fight, then? I’ll join you, of course.”

He nodded with fake seriousness and bowed playfully, “Of course.”

Merlin heard Arthur cough pointedly, so he looked up to find his king with an amused look on his face. Merlin tilted his head, “What?”

Arthur coughed again to cover his small laugh, “It has started, Merlin,” as he gestured to the now empty field with only Lys and him. 

“Oh,” Merlin said sheepishly, looking towards Lys, “shall we?”

Lys grinned, “I thought you’d never ask.” 

She immediately transformed herself into a snow leopard, her bright green eyes unmistakable. Merlin frowned down at his unimpressive human body, I want to do that. 

She growled, circling him like she would any other prey, and he couldn’t help but let out a laugh under his breath and smirk, “Dramatic indeed.”

He conjured his old Sidhe staff quickly and winked at Lys, “Bring it on, kitty cat.”

She pounced. 

By the end, Lys couldn’t maintain her form for too long as the activities of the day drained up her well of magic and was exhausted soon after they began. 

Merlin helped her up after their battle, smiling at her, “Well fought, Lys. We’ll have to do that again sometime, hm?”

She let out a tired laugh, “Sure, Merlin, just let me have a few hours of sleep and I’ll kick your ass after.”

He laughed softly as he helped her to Gaius, listening to the battle about to begin between Evangeline and Gilli. 

It was a fairly even match, but Gilli managed to outsmart the young, red haired Evangeline. Both came staggering towards Merlin, as Aelin and Elide walked into the arena laughing together. 

Although Merlin knew that Elide’s cunningness was powerful and important in battle, she had no chance against Aelin—making it the shortest round of the three. Aelin helped Elide back to them, whispering something to Elide that made her laugh and blush. They were given a short break before the last battle, so Merlin, forgoing the rules of not interacting with the crowd, walked over to Gwaine.

“Merls! You’ve done amazing!” Gwaine yipped, jumping over the fence to hug him. Merlin laughed, hugging him back, and looked up to see Arthur’s blank stare on them.

“Gwaine, why is Arthur looking at us like that?”

Gwaine let him go and slung his arm around him, maneuvering him towards the other knights, “That is because, my dear friend, our princess is jealous.”

Merlin’s eyes went wide, “Jealous!? Of what?”

Gwaine only smirked, ruffling his hair, and jumped back over the fence.

Merlin snuck a quick look back at Arthur—this turned out to be a mistake since the minute he turned back, their eyes locked in place. It made Merlin freeze. 

Merlin tilted his head, confusion plain to see, but Arthur just blinked and turned towards Gwen, who was talking enthusiastically next to him. Merlin didn’t stop staring until he heard Aelin cough next to him—who, it seemed, was also forgoing the rules.

He whipped his head towards her, seeing her bright eyes alight with humor. She smiled at him, “Merlin, why are you staring at the King like he hung the moon?”

Merlin felt his face heat and spluttered out, “I..I—no, I was just..”

He gave up once she couldn’t keep in her laughter anymore, and he gave her a sheepish smile, “Is it that obvious?”

She patted him on the shoulder, looking where he was staring a moment ago, “If it makes you feel better, I caught him looking at you the same way.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, “No way, he doesn’t look at me like that.”

Aelin tusked, “I know what I saw. Ro gives me the same look, and I’m sure I look at him that way, too.”

“Ro?” 

She smiled at him again, “My husband. He’s a sorcerer, as well, actually.”

Merlin gave her a small smile at the love in her voice, “Why didn’t he compete?”

Her face turned fake-sour, “He said with my ego, there would be no more room for him to join. I told him that he must be scared to go against me, but that conversation ended with us kissing which means he won that argument.” 

Merlin laughed again, “You’re an excellent sorcerer, Aelin. Camelot would be lucky to have you.”

She gave him a warm smile this time, “Thank you, Merlin. But we all know who’s going to win, don’t we?”

She also ruffled his hair (he didn’t know why everyone kept doing that) and gave him one more smirk before swaggering towards someone in the crowd with silver hair—That must be Ro, Merlin thought, as he watched them reunite and kiss. Ro really did look at her like she was the only star in the sky...Merlin looked back at Arthur, feeling his heart beating faster. 

Shit, I do love Arthur a lot, don’t I? He pondered that epiphany all the way back to Gaius. He plopped next to Gilli again.

“Ready for this to be over?”

Merlin groaned, closing his eyes as he hit his head against the fence, “You have no idea.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Arthur was truly trying to listen to what Gwen was saying about the battles so far, he really was, but he couldn’t get Merlin’s face out of his mind. Merlin’s confused face was so incredibly endearing that Arthur didn’t think it was fair for him to use it when he was trying to be upset about Gwaine hugging Merlin again—though, why would I be upset about something so trivial?

He nodded along to Gwen even as she started talking to Aura, watching as Merlin’s head thunked against the fence he was leaning on. Arthur didn’t want this last round to happen. He should’ve just gave Merlin the stupid title instead of going through this silly tournament that he knew Merlin hated—and now Arthur has to watch Merlin possibly get hurt again. His chest ached from thinking about it—he wasn’t forcing Merlin to participate, was he?

Arthur stood up suddenly, wanting this to be over, and the whole arena quieted down. 

“This is the last round—we are down to the final three sorcerers. Aelin,” she bounced out to the field, beaming at her husband, “Gilli,” he walked subdued to the middle with the girl, “and, last but not least, Merlin.” Merlin walked out surprisingly calm and gave one smile to him—Arthur ignored the urge to go hug his warlock.

He saw Aelin poke Merlin in the side, to which Merlin swatted her hand away. She laughed under her breath, and Arthur continued, “The fight will go one until two has yielded, do you three understand?” 

They all nodded at him, so he lifted his chin a little more and finished: “It has been an honor to watch you all compete today! After this is over, I must insist on all of you joining us tonight for the feast—thrown in celebration for our new Court Sorcerer. Now, walk ten paces away from each other, and on my mark, the fight will commence.”

They all did what they were told, and a few moments later, Arthur announced, “Begin!”

Aelin attacked first. Arthur noticed, throughout the day, that the women preferred fire magic more than anything else, and she did not disappoint here. She conjured a staff of flames—in golds, reds, blues, and whites—and she spun it with expert precision at Gilli. Gilli managed a weak wall of water, but Aelin easily went through his defense. 

With her fire, which seemed to not burn badly, wrapping around his body, Arthur heard Gilli yell “I yield! I yield!”

Her fire immediately vanished from Gilli, and she spun on her heels to Merlin, who was staring at Gilli with wide eyes. Merlin took a step towards his friend, his eyes speckled with gold, but Aelin stepped in front of him.

“Now, now, Merlin,” she gave him a sweet smile, “He’s fine! Now,” here she made her fire staff again, “let’s have some real fun.”

Arthur watched as Merlin debated going around her to check on Gilli, but then watched as his friend limped out of the field. Merlin’s shoulders relaxed a bit as he turned his attention to the girl.

“What was that for?” Merlin asked, “Why single me out?”

They began circling each other as Aelin purred, “It would be no fun if I had to fight Gilli! You, on the other hand, would be a challenge. I enjoy a good challenge.”

Merlin gave her a playful smile, still circling, “Oh? What should I do to fulfill this desire for a good battle? Want me to pull out some fire as well?”

Aelin grinned, “Bring it on, my friend.”

Merlin’s grinned matched hers as he made a sword of his own of bright flames—made mostly of gold and red flames, Arthur mused, wondering if Merlin knew he looked like Camelot’s greatest defender illuminated with her colors. 

Aelin went on offensive first, like always, and staff and sword met in the middle. Arthur saw Merlin’s face brighten up as Merlin—out of nowhere—took over the offensive position. He struck, over and over, forcing Aelin to stumble backwards with each step. 

Arthur jumped out of his seat when he finally recognized Merlin’s fighting style—they are my moves, Arthur thought amazed. Arthur watched in bewilderment as Merlin did his signature twirl perfectly, laughing as he did so, and started attacking Aelin once more. 

Sweat drenched their faces as they parried, blocked, feinted, and swung at each other—both extremely qualified in their own right. Arthur couldn’t stop the pride in his heart as Merlin did another one of his famous moves knocking Aelin on her back.

Instead of putting his sword near her neck to end this, Merlin stepped back allowing her to rise again. He shouldn’t be so bloody honorable now, Arthur groaned internally. 

Arthur watched as Aelin managed to get herself up, leaning on her staff, smiling at Merlin again. 

She limped closer to Merlin, “I knew it would be fun against you!”

Merlin let out a small puff of laughter as he threw his sword of fire in the air and watched it turned to smoke, “Swords are so bruteish,” he muttered, “despite how good we are, I prefer a good old fashioned magical fight, hmm?”

Aelin straightened, smiling as her fire staff disappeared, “Come on, then.”

Aelin struck first, making Arthur suck in a breath of surprise as her fireball hit Merlin square in the stomach. Merlin hissed at the pain, and Arthur wanted to jump in and end it right then. 

Merlin’s hurt, Merlin’s hurt, Arthur’s mind replayed the scene over and over, and all of a sudden he felt Lancelot’s hand on his arm.

“Sire, sit down, Merlin will be fine,” he heard Lance whisper, watching him wearily. Arthur glanced down at himself, surprised to find him almost to the edge of his seating near the entrance to the arena.

He looked up at Lance, “Yes, yes, you are right, of course.”

He looked out to the fight again when he made it back to his seat. Merlin was chanting something around Aelin, who kept trying to throw more flames at him. Merlin dodged her flames easily. The sky started darkening randomly then, the clouds swiftly moving above them, covering the bright waning sun. 

Arthur watched as Merlin finished the chant, the sky rumbling in response, and, a moment later, it started downpouring. 

Merlin smiled at the sky, “No more flame, Aelin. Try something else.”

She grimaced at the rain, like it personally offended her, and she changed tactics. 

She looked thoughtful for a minute before she began chanting her own spell, making the clouds rumble more. Arthur watched as lightning flashed across the sky, and then he realized what she was trying to do. She was trying to summon lighting, he thought in panic. 

He watched as Merlin realized it as well when Merlin started yelling over the thunder, “No, Aelin! You can’t!” But she didn’t listen, as she continued chanting steadily, and the electricity in the air felt almost suffocating. This didn’t feel like what Gilli managed during round one, this felt wild—uncontrollable. 

The last thing Arthur remembered was Merlin's face as the lightning streaked down. Merlin’s eyes were on him, strangely enough, as the whole world turned white. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Merlin watched in horror as Aelin kept chanting, this wasn’t a normal spell. It was more detailed than he had ever heard, and as he felt the air thicken with uncontrollable static, he knew what he had to do. Reaching quickly into his power, he looked towards Arthur’s panicked eyes. 

No one was going to get hurt. 

He threw out his arms as the bolt came down. A golden shield erupted around the arena, the shield going up into the clouds. Merlin managed to shield Aelin as well from the wild electricity, feeling himself weaken every second. He pulled too much magic much too fast. He held, though, until after the lightning hit and the clouds quickly cleared. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Arthur blinked out the bright spots in his vision, grabbing the edge of his chair as he looked up. A beautiful translucent wall was thrown up between the crowds and the arena. Arthur stood up quickly, looking inside the field. Aelin was on the ground, panting, with one shield similarly around her. 

That left...Merlin, Arthur tried to jump into the arena, banging on the wall-like structure. Merlin’s purely golden eyes seemed to vaguely recognize him, and as the shields dropped, so did Merlin. 

Arthur jumped over it and ran towards Merlin, falling down on his knees next to him.

“Merlin,” Arthur whispered, lifting Merlin’s head, “Are you okay?”

Merlin blearily opened his eyes, which were still quite gold with some blue speckled in, “Is everyone alive?”

Arthur let out a surprised laugh, “Yes, idiot, everyone is still alive.” Arthur put his hand on Merlin’s heart, sighing out a relief to feel it beating normally, “Thanks to you,” he said quietly. 

Merlin smiled at him, “I’m going to rest, now, alright?”

“No, no, Merlin,” Arthur lightly slapped his cheeks, but Merlin was out cold. 

Arthur looked up, “Gaius! Gaius!”

He saw Gaius walk over quickly, “I’m here, my boy, I’m here.”

Arthur let Gaius hold Merlin instead and rubbed his hand over his face, surprised to find tears there. He stumbled back a step, giving Gaius some room, and he turned around to look at the arena. 

All the roundtable knights were surrounding them with equal expressions of worry, but Arthur managed to see Aelin being helped up by a man with silver hair. Arthur walked over to them.

“Are you alright, Aelin?” Arthur asked. 

She turned quickly around, “Sire! I am so sorry! I did not mean for that to happen, I swear it on my life.”

Arthur watched as Aelin leaned closer to the silver haired man, who also tightened his hold on her watching Arthur wearily. 

Arthur sighed, “I know, Aelin. I just wanted to see if you were alright.”

He watched the tension drain out of both of them, “Yes, I am alright. Thanks to Merlin, that is. To be honest, I read that spell in a book a little while back and I wanted to try it. I didn’t know it would be so,” here she motioned her arms wildly. 

Arthur let out a small laugh, “Well, at least you know now, right?”

She leaned further back into the silver haired man, “True. Though, I doubt I’ll be trying that again any time soon. I am still sorry, Your Highness.”

Arthur sighed out, “I am just grateful no one was hurt.”

Aelin peered over his shoulder, “Merlin will be okay, won’t he?”

Arthur turned around as well, feeling his relief sweep through him as Merlin sat up talking to Gaius and Lance. 

Arthur smiled, “He always is.”

Aelin turned towards him, “Sire, it may not be my place,” the man poked her side but she ignored him, “but may I suggest making your move first?”

Arthur whipped his head at her, “What?!” He squeaked out very kingly. 

Aelin giggled, “I mean, sire, that Merlin will never make the first move since he believes you do not love him the same.”

And as Arthur opened his mouth to refute, Aelin glared at him, shutting him up, and she continued, “I see it, King Arthur. You cannot deny what you feel. Merlin is good for this kingdom and his place is at your side. It always has been, hasn’t it?”

Arthur numbly nodded, disbelieving that she read through him that easily. Aelin nodded to herself, and then patted Arthur on the shoulder, “Good luck, my liege. Just remember that Merlin loves you the same.”

And with that, Aelin and the man walked over to where Merlin was trying to get up. Arthur watched as Aelin slowed to apologize, as Merlin smiled at her, and as Aelin flung herself into a hug against him. Merlin hugged back tightly, but looked up to see Arthur watching. 

Merlin smiled at him and Arthur, despite himself, beamed back. 

~~~~~~~~~~ 

Merlin, with the help of all the roundtable knights, limped back to his room. They left Arthur to close out the tournament, and Merlin wanted a quick nap before the feast tonight. 

Once they made it to Gaius’s workplace, Gaius threw all of them out demanding that Merlin be left alone to rest. 

As they all mumbled apologizes on the way out to Gaius, Merlin limped to his small room and plopped face first onto his bumpy mattress. He immediately fell asleep. 

He woke to the sun almost disappearing over the horizon, and he groaned as he realized that the feast would be starting soon. He went to leave his bed but stopped when he saw Arthur watching him on a nearby chair. 

Arthur cleared his throat when Merlin quirked an eyebrow at him, “Uh, um, I wanted to see how you were doing.”

Merlin gave him a small grin, “Careful, Arthur. Don’t want to be too sappy.”

Arthur laughed at the attempt to lighten the mood, “Yes, yes,” he waved him off, “maybe we all need some sappy every once in a while.”

Merlin lightly hummed in agreement, swinging his legs over to face Arthur, who was oddly close to him now. 

Arthur’s face was unreadable as he said, “Oh! Congratulations on being the new Court Sorcerer! After you left, the people of Camelot went wild for you. All of them saying how noble it was to not only protect them but Aelin as well. They believe it showed kindness, strength, and power. Although I was already planning on giving you the title, they wouldn’t stop ranting about how amazing you are for the position.”

Merlin laughed a little, “Thank you, Arthur. I hope I will serve you well.”

“You always do, Merlin.” 

There was a small, rather awkward pause, so Merlin said, “Was there anything else?”

Arthur cleared his throat again, “Yes! I wanted to say how amazing you were today—as Arthur, that is, not as the king.”

Merlin gave him a soft smile, “Thank you.”

The genuine smile seemed to throw Arthur off for a second, but Merlin watched as Arthur shook his head and moved his chair directly in front of him. Merlin tilted his head. 

“I-,” Arthur began, looking vaguely nervous, “I also wanted to know..well, I was wondering if maybe you..would like to..I don’t know..if I could court you sometime?”

Merlin’s mouth fell open in surprise, “Arthur Pendragon. Are you asking me out?”

Arthur’s face reddened and he turned away slightly, “Only if, you know, you and Gwaine aren’t already courting.”

At that, Merlin bursted out laughing, finally understanding what Aelin and Gwaine told him today.

Merlin lightly grabbed Arthur’s face in both hands, “Arthur, I love you.”

He felt Arthur’s pulse quicken as he stammered out, “Yeah?”

Merlin leaned closer, letting Arthur take the final step if he wanted, “Yeah.”

Merlin’s breath hitched as Arthur closed the distance completely. 

After a few moments, they leaned their foreheads against each other, and Arthur breathed on Merlin’s lips, “God help me Merlin, but I love you too, you idiot.”

Merlin beamed at him, grabbing Arthur's hand to kiss his knuckles, “Shall we go to the feast, then? I want to get it over with as quickly as possible so we can get onto more pressing matters.”

Merlin winked at him as he got up, skipping out his door, as he heard the king mutter some undignified curses behind him as Arthur tried to quickly catch up. 

“Merlin! You cannot say that before a feast! What am I to think of now besides that!?” 

Merlin’s twinkling laughter echoed in the hall as he ran to the feast.

__________

Afterwards, the king and his new court sorcerer could be found celebrating Merlin’s new promotion quite differently...