Arthur’s grip on Merlin’s arm was bruising – and not in the way he liked – as he dragged him along the corridor to his chambers.
He kicked the door open, shouting at the guards standing outside to leave. Merlin was shoved into the room, the door slamming behind him. He caught himself before he fell to the floor, but only just. Turning, he saw Arthur leaning back against the door, his face red, his hands fisted.
“What the fuck, Merlin?!”
“Is it true?” Arthur demanded.
“Arthur, I can’t, I can’t…” Merlin backed away from him, his whole world was crumbling, his lies collapsing in on him, baring him for Arthur’s scrutiny.
“Is it true? Do you have magic?”
Merlin looked up at Arthur, whose beautiful face was twisted with hurt and betrayal. He so wanted to run his fingers over the creases in Arthur’s forehead, to smooth them back out then kiss them away. But he wasn’t sure what Arthur’s reaction would be to him touching him right now. Not good, he was sure of that much.
Instead he took a deep breath, looked Arthur in the eye and nodded.
“I was born with it.”
Arthur sagged down the door.
“Everything you’ve ever told me… lies.” His voice cracked.
“Not everything, Arthur, I swear.” Merlin’s legs were shaking, he took a wobbly step towards Arthur, but Arthur held up a hand to stop him. They stared at each other, tears in both of their eyes.
“Any other lies left to tell me?”
“I’m sorry, Arthur,” Merlin sobbed, he couldn’t stop the tears streaming down his face. He dashed a hand across his eyes, not wanting the tears to blur his vision of Arthur. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to lie…”
Arthur’s voice was cold when he spoke. He was drawing his walls up, masking his pain with anger and ice. He ignored the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Any other. Lies. To tell me?” he spat.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth? You’ve lied to me for years.”
“I had to, Arthur. I had to. I had no choice!” Merlin cried, louder than he meant to, throwing his arm out in a wild gesture as if to encompass the whole of Camelot. The magic fearing people, the tyrannical king. Every person that would kill him if they just knew what was behind his lies.
“You didn’t have to, I don’t care if you have magic…” Arthur stepped towards him, his hand instinctively reaching for Merlin’s face. Merlin’s breath caught in his throat. Arthur was accepting him, magic and all? Arthur softened, his eyes meeting Merlin’s. “I would have accepted you, Merlin, I love –” Suddenly his face fell, his eyes widening in horror as a new thought struck him. “No. Please no.”
He stumbled back, his hand falling away from Merlin as his back crashed into the door.
“Arthur –” Merlin leapt forwards, his momentary joy replaced by terror.
“What about us? This?” Arthur gestured frantically between the two of them. “Was that a lie too?”
“No!” Merlin gasped, horrified.
“Did you enchant me?” Arthur forced out in a broken shaky whisper.
His eyes flew to the bed, over the chair by the fireplace, the window seat. And then they raked over Merlin. Fresh tears poured down Merlin’s cheeks. He could see Arthur replaying every significant memory they had in his mind. The first time Merlin had kissed him, utterly unprompted as Arthur had talked about his dreams while gazing out of the window. The hours they had spent curled up by the fire, Merlin sitting on Arthur’s lap and Arthur’s nose tucked into Merlin’s neck as he kissed him and whispered sweet nothings. The nights rolling around the big bed, limbs entangled as they gasped and groaned each other’s names.
Standing right here, Merlin pressing Arthur against the door as he kissed him after a tournament, so glad he hadn’t been hurt. Arthur laughing at Merlin’s worry and telling him he loved him.
Arthur blinked, releasing the tear that had been clinging to his eyelashes. Then reached forwards and shoved Merlin hard in the chest.
“Like Sophia? Like Vivian? Every single love enchantment I’ve had placed on me by sorcerers like you!” Arthur was roaring by the time he finished the sentence and he pushed Merlin again, sending him sprawling to the floor.
Merlin scrabbled to his knees, his hands out in front of him, pleading, imploring.
“Arthur, I wouldn’t! I didn’t! It was all real.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Because it’s me.” He met Arthur’s bright blue eyes. They were shining with too much emotion for Merlin to handle. “You know I wouldn’t lie to –” He cut off, realising what he was saying.
“Exactly. That’s just it, isn’t it? I now know you would lie to me,” Arthur shouted.
“But not about this. Not about how much I love you.”
Arthur stormed across the room, kicking the leg of the table as he passed. He had his hands in his hair, tearing at it.
“Did you make me love you back? Did you force my feelings?” He spun around and fixed Merlin with a desperate glare. “I swear, Merlin, if you lie to me now… If this is an enchantment… I can never forgive you.”
“It’s not an enchantment,” Merlin promised.
“How do I know? Can I trust your word?”
Merlin shuffled forwards on his knees. He was trembling all over and his voice shook when he started speaking. He cleared his throat and tried again; trying to make Arthur hear the sincerity in his voice, see the genuine true feelings on his face.
“Arthur, please. Please, listen to me. If you were under a love enchantment you wouldn’t be angry with me right now. You wouldn’t be able to feel anger towards me, only devotion. Please…” His voice broke and he had to clear his throat again. “Please take your anger as proof. Be angry with me. I deserve it. I have lied to you for as long as I’ve known you.” Merlin wanted to look down, wanted to bury his face in his hands to avoid seeing the hurt in Arthur’s expression. But he maintained eye contact, blinking away tears. “But I’m not lying now… not about this. Hate me if you want to. But please, please believe me. I would never enchant you. I would never force any magic on you or try to take your free will.”
Arthur collapsed into his chair, letting his elbows rest on his knees and his head dip, his hands wrapping around the back of his neck, covering his head. Merlin shuffled forwards again, stopping just in front of Arthur. Very gently he rested a hand on Arthur’s knee. He looked up into his tortured face, silently begging Arthur to see the truth in his eyes.
“Please believe me,” he whispered.
Arthur raised his head and his eyes flicked between Merlin’s own, his lower lip quivered. He gulped and let his head drop again.
“I believe you.”
Merlin’s heart soared. He reached for Arthur’s face, cupping his cheek, running his thumb through the tears.
“I love you so much, Arthur. So much. I am so sorry.”
Arthur slid off the chair, his knees thunking to the floor. He snatched at Merlin’s shirt and yanked him forwards. Their chests pressed together as Arthur threw his arms around Merlin, hands desperately tugging and grasping at his back as he buried his face in the crook of Merlin’s neck.
They clung to each other as if their lives depended on it. Merlin knew his fingers would be leaving bruises on Arthur with the force he was digging them into his back. But he didn’t care. Nor did he care that Arthur’s tight grip around his chest hurt.
He felt Arthur’s hot tears washing over his neck and the little puff of air as Arthur whispered, “I love you too.”