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Dragon island

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“Absolutely not.”
Sometimes, Arthur Pendragon was not only a prat, he was a downright Clotpole. Not that Merlin ever failed to mention it.

“Arthur, I am going with you!”

“And what exactly can YOU do against dragons, Merlin? This is THE dragon Island! My father has been searching for this place for over a decade!
There are rumors that there will be dragon lord's there as well! Do you even know how many knights have died since the purge started?
Since my father fought these monsters and erased them from this part of the world?
If we find this Island, we can end this war! But this is too dangerous for a servant. I can not waste my time consoling you, when the sea is making you sick, Merlin. I have battle strategies to discuss.”

Merlin huffed and crossed his arms.
They were standing at the shore, far far away from Camelot. Uther Pendragon had a ship army remaining here in position.
He regularly send out spies to find the home island of the dragon lords.
Not that there were any actual dragon lords with dragon lord powers left. They were wiped out in the war. But their families remained.
Those who valued their traditions and taught each other magic. But weren't the first son's and therefore had none of the abilities their kind was so proud of.
But magic was another reason to have them wiped out.

About a week ago, one of Uther's spies had found a trace that lead them to an underwater cave. Barely shallow enough to have a narrow boat sail through.
They had found runes engraved in the walls. And the spy was pretty ecstatic that this MUST be the entrance to the secret island.

Well...
Since Arthur was the only knight known to have actually killed a dragon (which he didn't), his father found it absolutely logical to send his only son and heir on another suicide mission.
Into unknown terrain, with unknown enemies and not one dragon, but a whole army of those impossible-to-kill-except-you're-a-dragon-lord creatures.

It was truly perfect. Arthur could finally proof his worth as crown prince.... again.
And almost die.... again.
Heroically of course.
Uther was a genius.

And apparently Arthur was just as smart, because the idiot prince had decided to go on that mission WITHOUT Merlin.
The only ACTUAL dragon lord left in the entire known universe. Not that they knew about that.

“Just so you know – I do NOT get sea sick. And I already know how to use the sails and stuff. Will and I often went out with the fisher of our town. Other than you who grew up in a fancy Castle with perfect temperature in every single room and hundreds of servants working for you.
You may train, but you have NO idea how to deal with the weather, with the tides. You barely know how to dress yourself!”, as Merlin exclaimed the last part, he could basically feel the steam of anger from Arthur's nostrils flaring at him, while a few knights were snickering behind them.

The knights were, by the way, currently occupied readying the boat.

“Fishing on a boat and Sailing on the open sea is totally different.”, Arthur argued, causing Merlin to roll his eyes and facepalm himself.
“Fisher's... sail, Sire.”, he muttered, causing Arthur to frown as if that confused him for some reason.

“I don't care. You cannot stop me. I'll come with you.”, Merlin's expression was final.

“I'm the crown prince of Camelot, Merlin. You have to do what I say.”

“I never listen to what you say. Why would I start now?”

In the end, Gwaine and Leon were ordered to drag Merlin away from the boat. All while Arthur ignored the very obvious argument (provided by Merlin and confirmed by at least two other knights), that he NEEDED Merlin. If as a servant or a navigator or maybe a warning radar for obvious danger that Arthur was certain to ignore.
He NEEDED him.
So, Merlin would definitely find a way.

“Hey, buddy. I gottcha.”, Gwaine winked at him, while Merlin was still trying to make up a perfect strategy, how he could sneak on the ship.
Merlin blinked up at him, while Leon just rolled his eyes and pretended not to listen.
“What?”, Merlin asked, confused.

“I got a few barrels of water and wine and stuff for the ride. Leon and I have already prepared an empty one for you. You get in and we'll sneak you on.”
Merlin had never wanted to hug Gwaine more. “Thank you!!!!”, he beamed at them.
“Wait, Leon? You're IN on the plan? You're not going to rat me out to Arthur, are you?”

Gwaine cackled. “It was HIS idea.”

“Huh?”, Merlin looked at the blond knight in confusion.

Leon was still looking away, as if embarrassed by his treason. “If you're not there, Arthur will focus all his attention on US. And I did not sign up for this.”, he was frowning. As if he was already dreading the following days.

“But... how long have I to stay in the barrel? I mean... If I step out too soon, Arthur will insist to turn around.”

“I can survive five days of Arthur being a whirlwind of emotions. You have FIVE days. Gwaine will sneak you out at night. Lancelot has agreed to help. I can distract Arthur, until you're in.
Other than that, I was never involved.”, Leon was grimacing the entire time. He seemed exhausted, as if he had already had five different yet similar arguments today and wanted to throttle someone.

“Wow, thank you Leon.”, Merlin looked at him amazed.
But Leon's frown only darkened.
“Don't thank him.”, Gwaine whispered. “He originally asked, if we could dress you up like him, so he can stay in Camelot and have a vacation until we're back.
You may not get sea sick. But HE does.”

“Why.... And he's still allowed on the ship? Wait, why don't we try that? Doesn't sound like a too bad plan. If Leon's sea sick anyway, people would leave him alone to suffer in silence, right?”

Leon sighed with exasperation. “As if that ever stopped Arthur from discussing battle strategies.”, he made a dramatic pause. “If I don't make it -”, Leon made a sound that reminded Merlin of a creaking door. “It was nice knowing you.”

“Don't be so dramatic, Leon.”, Gwaine rolled his eyes.
“Honestly, what's with you? Since Uther announced this mission, you've been nothing but a drama queen.”, he scolded.
Leon pouted a little. “I'm being realistic if anythikng. If the sea doesn't drown us, we don't freeze to death or a sudden storm destroys our boat, and we don't get horribly lost in that strange cave and starve to death, then we arrive on an island full of dragons who probably hate Arthur for killing the great Dragon. And being the son of a man who ordered the murder of all dragon kind. Not to mention him indirectly causing the death of the last dragon Lord as well.
So we either die, or we die. I'm just planning ahead.”

“So dramatic.”, Gwaine mumbled. But Merlin frowned. Leon got a valid point.

“Be positive. What if we meet a bunch of mermaids?”, Gwaine winked at Leon.
Leon frowned even further.
“Which kind?”
“The hot kind, duh.”
“Which is?”
Gwaine blinked. “Not this again. You're no fun.”

“No, no, Gwaine. Go ahead. Tell me. Which is the hot kind of mermaid? The Siren one's that lure you in with magic voices and then drown you, so they can rape your dead bodies and make more Sirenbaby's; The manatee's that only start to look appealing when you're so starved and Vitamin C deprived that you start hallucinating right before you pass out and die or the classic one's with boobs and a fish tails that make NO SENSE in their anatomy. Which I will be hearing you complain about for days. When all I want is peace and quiet.”, Leon closed his eyes – yet again- dramatically.

Gwaine was about to open his mouth to counter, when Leon added: “Also, we're knights of Camelot and mermaids are magical creatures. It's your job to kill them, regardless of how hot they seem to you.”

With that, Leon had set Gwaine's brain check mate and left him and Merlin standing there with their mouths comically wide open. Half in shock, half with laughter and amazement.
“Holy shit, I think he's finally lost it.”, Gwaine laughed as he watched Leon slump down at the next tree and saying goodbye to the dry unshakable ground.

“Maybe we should ask George to come as well. Or convince Arthur to get him off the ship.”, Merlin muttered.
After all, Leon was always a lot calmer when George was around. Maybe because George didn't bully him, did what he was told and was also a good person to be quiet with.
George also seemed to prefer Leon as the one ordering him around, because Leon wasn't chatting endlessly. He was precise in his orders and didn't talk around the bush.
They got along well. Because they didn't have to get along at all. They had the ultimate work-efficient dynamic. It was horrifying.

“Are you kidding? This will be hilarious.”, Gwaine grinned.

“Don't you think Leon deserves a break?”, Merlin asked, still startled by Leon's obvious irritation.
“From work? Yes.
From me? NEVER!”, Gwaine winked again. And Merlin already pitied the poor knight.

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Leon was indeed... sick. The moment the ships left the haven, Leon was slumped over the reeling and holding on for his life. He was suspiciously green in the face and tried to avoid Arthur.
Who was continuously ignoring Leon's condition and decided to ask him for how many days they had planned to be on sea. How many weapons they had and discussed whether or not they were actually suitable to kill dragons. And if there was enough food and water and so on and so forth.

He did not realize that the barrel Gwaine had decided to sit on had a few holes in it, that should not be there, were wine in it.
Gwaine was chatting with Lancelot and occasionally Merlin, albeit in third person like...
“I wonder what Merlin would think of this.”, and then get a hushed answer from underneath him.

The sea was relatively calm for the first three days. And Elyan, who was assigned to steer the ship, had no trouble finding the right path.
Arthur seemed content too and left Leon alone on day two.

Leon was hardly eating. And if he ever did, he puked it out ten minutes later.
By the third day, he was leaning against the reeling once again. Eyes closed with an obvious headache and ready to drink poison to free him from his misery.

Merlin was still sitting inside the barrel. Except for at night, when Lancelot would let him out, while Gwaine annoyed the prince.
It worked surprisingly well.
Yet, Merlin was a bit worried. Not necessarily to be found out. That was kind of part of the plan.
No...
By the way Arthur behaved.

The first two days, it was hardly noticeable. Arthur had focused on talking to Leon. Or Elyan or Gwaine and Lancelot.
But after they had run out of conversational topic, Arthur had started to isolate himself.
Merlin could see him through the holes of his hiding place. He was often standing at the reeling and staring out towards the horizon. He was eerily quiet.
And appeared to be melancholic. If not slightly sad.

“Hey, Merlin.”, Lancelot whispered at an afternoon on day four. Merlin was still shocked that his disguise had apparently worked well so far. Then again, Arthur was terrifyingly oblivious to most of his secrets.
“Can't you like... use magic to heal Leon's sickness?”

Of course. If anyone had it bad these days it was Sir Leon. Gwaine was currently occupied with drinking. Otherwise Lancelot would not have dared mention Merlin's illegal existence to him.
“Do you think that's wise? What if they all notice? After all, Leon has been sick for three days now. If he was suddenly fine, wouldn't they ask?”

“And you think they'd explain it with magic? Merlin. Leon could have just gotten used to the sea. I'm sure no one will notice.”

“Are you sure?”, Merlin asked back and tried to focus on Leon's pitiful form.
“I'm positive. Even if they think it's magic, they don't even know you're here. And what sorcerer would just appear on this ship, just to heal Leon?”
“Good point.”

Merlin took a shuddering breath, as he strained himself to look through the barrel once again. Leon had his eyes closed and he was breathing harshly. Arthur was standing right next to him. Deep in thought.
As if on cue, he suddenly straightened up, pushed himself from the reeling and went under deck.

Merlin nodded to himself. And then whispered a silent spell in Leon's reaction. There was a flash of gold for barely a second. But in that moment, Leon opened his eyes and looked at Merlin.
Merlin froze.
They locked eyes. Merlin caught his breath. “Lancelot. I think he saw.”, Merlin muttered, panic was slowly sinking in, along with the realization of the situation.
Lancelot frowned. “What?”, he asked.
“Lance, I think he knows.”
“Merlin, stop mumbling. I'm certain you're imagining things.”

Leon's eyes flickered shut for a second and he took a deep breath. Then he held his head in slight irritation, before looking in Merlin's direction again.
He ….. sighed in relieve. Slowly, he pushed himself up. Still holding his head, as he took a deep breath.
He nodded at Merlin. Like he was... thanking him?
Was Merlin really imagining this?
But Leon smiled, stretched himself and rubbed at the dark circles under his sleepless eyes. As if to say: “finally.”

Soon enough, he was gone as well.
Merlin opened his mouth to say something, but shook his head to himself, while Lancelot had a firm hand on his barrel.

---------------------------------------

It was night, when Merlin was finally let out of his barrel. The knights were asleep. All but the one on watch. Which was Gwaine, fortunately.
Meaning, Merlin could safely leave the barrel, chat with him and eat in peace.
He had slept through the day mostly. He trusted that Lancelot and Gwaine would stop anyone from opening this particular barrel during the day.

And if anyone got to close, he could always hear one of them say, this was the “victory wine.” Like this was the finest wine of them all and reserved for the day they managed to defeat the dragon lords. It was a good excuse.
Albeit difficult to maintain, because nobody believed Gwaine could hold himself back from wine for that long.

Either way, for now it was fine. Merlin's legs were dangling off the watch tower, while Gwaine leaned against the rod behind him. The sails were up, because the wind was in their favor.

It was then, that suddenly, someone crawled up from under deck.

Even in the dim moonlight, Merlin could make out the shine of Arthur's armor. Everyone had already told him, wearing armor on a boat was absolutely insane. If he ever fell off the boat, he'd drown immediately. Because the weight would just drag him down.
But the clotpole was too stubborn to listen.
And right now it was as useful as a warning signal to them. 'Why is he up?', was all Merlin could think, as he nearly shrieked through Gwaine's mindless chatter and hid underneath a blanket that lay around behind them. Gwaine, surprised at his reaction, finally noticed the prince as well and waved at him, while Arthur gave him a startled expression.
Merlin could have kicked Gwaine for drawing Arthur's attention to them.

“Gwaine? What are you doing?”

Gwaine rose both his eyebrows in amusement.
“Oh, I'm on watch. You know. Talking to myself. Looking at the stars. Nice weather out, don't you think?”, he laughed suspiciously.

Arthur frowned and sighed, before climbing up the ladder with a sigh. He shook his head, as if used to these antics and hardly caring for them at all.
Merlin hurried to shuffle behind Gwaine, so that Arthur wouldn't notice him. And Gwaine did his best to position himself in a way that Merlin was mostly covered by his frame.
In a practiced manner, Merlin steeled his heart and his breathing and went completely still. A method he had accustomed to during his time out in the barrel.

By the time Arthur got up to them, Merlin might as well have vanished. That's how invisible he was. Though, to himself, he felt extremely obvious.

“So, er... Sire. Can't sleep?”, Gwaine asked. It was pretty late. Too late to still be up. Too early to have woken up again. Gwaine pat the ground beside him, so Arthur could sit down. It would be suspicious if he send him away. But Merlin was certain Gwaine did it to taunt him.
“Not really.”, Arthur said and yawned. If Merlin could see through the blanket, he would see that the circles under Arthur's eyes were nearly as dark as Leon's had been.

His voice didn't really leave room for conversation. He sounded tired, as if he really didn't want to talk. And despite Gwaine's usual annoyance, he didn't press the matter.
He hummed instead.
For one, because it was Gwaine. Who would he be, if he wasn't drinking ale and doing noisy things all the time?
However, this also served the purpose of covering up all unintentional noises Merlin could have made in the dead silence of the still night.
It was too still. But they weren't used to the ever changing weather of the sea. Else, they would have been alarmed.

“It's funny.”, Arthur said after a moment of hummed silence.
“What is, Sire?”
“I would have thought Merlin would have sneaked on to the ship and come out by now.”

Gwaine laughed comically. Startled by the sudden comment.
Arthur ignored him, but Merlin nearly smacked Gwaine for that obvious reaction.

“Well. That surely sounds like Merlin. But we would have found him in no time.”, Gwaine assured him.

“Yeah I know. Still.”, Arthur sighed and shook his head, before running a hand through his face.
“I mean... Now that he's not here, I can't stop thinking that I basically left him alone with my father. You know my father. If Merlin doesn't behave, the king will certainly have him flogged. Or worse.
I mean... he has these moments when he accuses random people to be sorcerers. What if I left him to one of those antics?
Did I make a mistake leaving him home?”

Arthur sounded worried and he was suddenly found playing with his own hands.

Gwaine opened his mouth in surprise.
“Huh?”, he asked. “I thought you didn't want him to come? ”

Arthur rolled his eyes.
“He's still saver with my father than he is raiding a dragon infested island with us, isn't he?” That was.... an actual question. Not a rhetoric one, like one would expect. No. Arthur was seriously asking. His tone was probably supposed to be rhetoric, but he sounded too emotional. Too concerned. Too guilty.

Gwaine's mouth dropped open. Merlin's heart stilled.
“Since when are you so worried about Merlin?”, Gwaine asked and sat up straight. After all... Arthur had never really shown his emotional side to Gwaine. Not like this. Not verbally.
There would be lots of teasing, surely. Later on, of course. And Arthur should know that.
But Arthur was sleep deprived and concerned and he needed to vent. That may not be wise. But since when do people do reasonable things?

“I'm not worried.”, Arthur denied immediately. Gwaine raised an eyebrow. Which Arthur noticed.
“Look -”, Arthur started. “I couldn't take Merlin with us on this trip. Merlin is a servant and he's always unarmed-”

“That never stopped you from taking him on hunts.”, Gwaine raised both eyebrows now.

Arthur groaned. “That's different. We're knights. We can protect him from bandits.
Dragon's are.... a whole different story. I faced one and I passed out and I still don't know HOW we survived. I know I killed it, but it was incredibly close.
And this mission... I'm not sure we'll make it.”, Arthur let his head sink.

Gwaine paused for a moment. “Wait... you think we'll all die?”, he asked, eyes wide and suddenly terrified.
“Of course not.”, Arthur said absently. But it was clearly a lie.
“Jesus. You're in a good mood.”, Gwaine mumbled to himself. For the first time, he sounded worried too.

“So... you left Merlin in Camelot because -”

“I don't want him to die.”, Arthur confessed. Albeit reluctantly.
“But … you said you thought he'd be here?”, Gwaine pointed out.
Arthur breathed. Then he turned to look at Gwaine. “Is it selfish to wish he had ignored my orders?”

Gwaine blinked. “Huh?” To be fair, he had wanted to tease Arthur about the fact that nothing Arthur just said opposed the idea that he was – indeed – worried about Merlin in any way. But that last comment confused him and changed the focus of this conversation.

“I don't want him to die with us. But -”, Arthur bit his lip. “If I die, I'd rather die at his side. Is that weird?”

Gwaine glanced at the blanket, where Merlin strained his ears to hear every word Arthur was saying. Merlin's breathing was getting rigid. This conversation.... was unusual. Very... unusual for Arthur.

Gwaine blinked, then he forced himself to grin and make a more joyous expression. As he always did. Because positive energy was his thing.
“Now now, princess.”, he put an arm around Arthur shoulder, which Arthur let him do with a disapproving frown.
“Sounds like someone here got a small crush on our dear Merlin.”

Merlin fought the urge to kick him yet again, worried that this would reveal him from underneath the blanket. Gwaine was clearly overdoing it. He was clearly out to annoy Arthur. Merlin knew that. And he really wanted Gwaine to stop. This was humiliating and mean.

Arthur stared at Gwaine. At the laughing face. The poking and joking and attempt at humiliating him expression.
But Arthur's stare didn't waver. And Gwaine's expression lost itself on the realization that he actually hit a mark.

“Wait – seriously?”, he asked and pulled his arm back.
Merlin behind him froze. Merlin's inner turmoil was at Gwaine's antics. He had been so focused on cursing Gwaine, that he was completely startled by that sentence.
He had not expected for Arthur to just.... not deny it. Which was basically a confession. Merlin's eyes widened. And he stared at the blindness in front of him. Once again, he was completely still.
'Huh?', he thought.

“You think it's weird.”, Arthur turned away, still fumbling with his hands. And had the little snide remark from Gwaine not been, maybe they could have pretended this sentence didn't mean so much. That this was simply about hoping his friend was here. That they just continued their conversation from before, without the additional information that Arthur – indeed – liked Merlin more than he ought to.

“I- what? No!”, Gwaine was quick to retaliate. “Of course not. I'm just surprised, is all. I mean... it's Merlin.”

“And?”, Arthur was frowning. As if ready to defend his friend. Which in itself was news to Merlin. Since when did Arthur defend him behind his back?
Either way, this was Merlin they were talking about. And it was Gwaine he was talking about him with. There was no need to get defensive.
“I didn't think you'd admit it! Especially to me.”
The 'everyone loves Merlin, so of course I'm not surprised' was left unsaid. Needless to say. It was only Merlin who didn't recognize that implication.

Arthur let his shoulders slump. “Yeah well. If we're dying anyway, even you teasing me and telling everyone can't make it worse.”

“First of all. Rude. You underestimate me, Sire. You have no idea what I'm capable of. Second of all.
Why are you all so dramatic these days?
First Leon, now you? We haven't even arrived at the island yet and you're all planning our funerals! Who is to say we even find the island? Or the dragons?”, Gwaine flailed his arms, before putting a soft hand on Arthur's tense shoulders. His tone turned soft. Very unlike Gwaine. But it was not the first time he had worn that expression.
He'd acted like this before. Tender and soft and fond. Mostly for Merlin, because Merlin was his first and therefore best friend.
And he worried about him too.
“And last, but not least. You'll see Merlin again, Sire. And even if he found out, he wouldn't tease you for this. Merlin has a good heart.”

Arthur looked up. Surprised by the comforting tone of Gwaine's voice. After all, Gwaine was not exactly the go to type, when it came down to emotions.

People often underestimate the clown friend. Radiating joy and fun doesn't always come from ignorance and obliviousness. It doesn't always mean they are secretly depressed either.
Often, these kind of people have gone through much more than they let on. Often, they have learned to deal with their own emotions and come to the conclusion that having fun, being truly blissful brightens not only the world of others. It brightens their own as well.
That doesn't make them less empathetic. It doesn't make them less understanding. Quite the contrary.
They have a deep understanding of such situations and decided not to take it seriously.
Because not everything has to be. And sometimes it's smarter not to think about stuff too deeply.

“You think?” Arthur's own voice was strangely hopeful. Like knowing he'd see Merlin again was all that mattered. Like the other comfort about surviving wasn't nearly as helpful. Or dare say, important.

“I'm certain.”, Gwaine grinned knowingly.
Arthur smiled in relief at that. There was a pause between them, before Arthur added.
“If you ever tell him about this conversation, I'll drown you in the ocean.”

Gwaine laughed at that. “No promises, princess.”
Truth is, he could. He could easily promise it. But he wouldn't be Gwaine if he said that. It would be too obvious that he was hiding something as well.
Arthur laughed.

“Nuts?”, Gwaine asked, suddenly and held out a can full of salted nuts.
Startled by the question, Arthur almost bend over from laughing. “You're unbelievable.”, Arthur shook his head. Suddenly embarrassed that he confessed all this to Gwaine.
But he accepted the nuts anyway.

The rest of the night was spend almost quietly. Which wasn't for long and Gwaine did his best to just distract Arthur.
Which meant, it was just Gwaine and Arthur chatting about Merlin. It was mostly Gwaine. Because Gwaine's mindless babbling often meant talking positively about Arthur's servant. Arthur was already used to this.

For once though, Arthur was just as deeply into the conversation.
“I think, if Merlin was here, he'd feel guilty.”

“Why is that?”, Gwaine asked, encouraging Arthur to continue. He barely concealed his grin, because Merlin was witness to all of this. Unable to move which would lead to exposure.

“Well... the last dragon lord died for him. And now we're visiting the last remains of his culture. Even if they have magic. I can't imagine Merlin be anything but devastated, when he meets them. I suppose the idiot would apologize to them. Like it was in any way his fault!
Merlin can be such an idiot sometimes. One would think he wants to die, so often as he drinks poison for others or jumps into mid battle, unarmed.
I'm honestly glad he has the decency to hide most of the time, while we handle things.
I don't think I'd be able to concentrate on fighting, if he just -”, Arthur exhaled a deep breath and flailed his arms to imply Merlin running into knifes.
“He's too brave for his own good.”

“Merlin is the bravest.”

“The bravest man I ever met.”, Arthur agreed and got a chuckled clap on his shoulder for that.
“Look at you, Sire. Saying all these nice things about Merlin. Wait till I tell him about it.”

Arthur immediately recoiled. “Seriously, don't.”

“Why? What's so bad about him knowing that you care?”, Gwaine frowned in amusement. Thinking, that Arthur was just shy.

“He knows that I care. I'm pretty damn obvious about it. No need to put any more attention to it.”

Gwaine scoffed in disbelieve. “YOU? Obvious that you CARE? Really? This is what you call obvious?”

“What do you mean?”, Arthur frowned, honestly confused, while Merlin was trying to breathe even slower. Because somehow Arthur had shifted closer to the blanket. A hand was put on it. If Arthur himself made the wrong move, he'd accidentally pull the blanket off of him.

“Arthur. I don't think Merlin even knows you appreciate him at all.”

Arthur was stunned with silence. “You're joking.”
Merlin blinked underneath the blanket. Just what on earth was Arthur talking about?

Gwaine stared at him. “Sire... what exactly do you understand about being obvious about this?”

Arthur frowned.
“Well... Erm. I'm the prince of Camelot. My father has never allowed me to have friends that are not royal enough to be of knightly status.
Merlin is a servant. Yet, he's my best friend.”

Gwaine stared back at him. “Have you told him that?”

Arthur blinked. “No... because my father would ground me, if I ever did. But I have...”, he slowly swayed to the side, searching for the right words.
“I treat him like a knight. I take him on hunts where servants are not allowed. I used to punch him, too, like I would a knight, to cheer him up. Though I stopped that, because he said he doesn't like it. And I mean... I stopped. I wouldn't do that for just anyone!

My guards have been ordered to let him into my room, even if I ordered them to let no one in.
If I don't want him around, I have to tell them that specially. I er... let him steal my food. He loves blackberries.
So do I, but he doesn't need to know that.

He's always insulting me or my father behind his back, but I don't really throw him in the stocks for that. Which I should. That kind of talk is treason. He could be hanged for that, you know?

I give him unnecessary chores, just so he has a reason to hang out with me. And he doesn't get punished, though what he does is a really shabby job. Now that I think about it, I think I mostly pay him for insulting me.

I've defended him in front of my father. I have used my word as knight for him more than once. I have trusted him with my life and drank poison because he told me it was a good idea. Or because the choice was either him or myself. And I trusted him with the antidote or with taking my royal seal back to Camelot to whoever I want to precede me.
I have saved his life and protected him in battle...”, at this point, Arthur was counting on his fingers and it looked like he was about to go on for hours.

However, Gwaine looked at him oddly, which made Arthur pause as soon as he noticed. “What?”, he asked, clearly confused with Gwaine's reaction.

“Well... just. I see what you mean.”, Gwaine was talking slowly. Realizing that yes... from Arthur's point of view, all of that was actually extraordinary behavior.
But for anyone else...
“But you do realize that most of that is just... Look. The things you describe...

Half of the stuff happens behind his back, which you don't tell him. So how would he know?
Other stuff is like.... Merlin probably thinks he's just stealing your stuff.
Defending someone innocent is not something you do for someone you like. It's something you do for strangers, if their life depends on it.
It's something Merlin himself would do for anyone.

And... treating him like a person when he argues with you and taking him seriously is hardly an expression of love, Arthur. I know in your position that's different. But to anyone else.
Jesus christ, how do I put this?

The only extraordinary thing about all this, is you risking your life for him. Which he would do for you – for anyone really – without even thinking. And YOU would die for your own people too.
I hardly think he sees a difference in your behavior towards him and your general behavior to your people.

Merlin would risk his life for anyone. He doesn't even demand thanks for it.

What you do, is... for a prince.... extremely … er... let's say affectionate.
But for Merlin, it's... how do I put it … less than the minimum.”

Arthur blinked. Finally Merlin shifted underneath the blanket. His eyes blinking rapidly now. Gwaine was right. This WAS how he saw things.
But the way Arthur described the way he acted.... that wasn't just Arthur trying his best to be a good prince or person. This was Arthur trying his hardest to show he cared! Cared for Merlin!
Merlin felt... touched? Kind of. The crush thing aside. That was a whole different level of work in process. (1)
He felt his own face heat up with the knowledge that these things...
These things that Merlin had guessed were normal for Arthur... that Arthur had done them on purpose. That he had actually thought about Merlin to make sure he was cared for.
That this was a far as he could push himself and did it despite the risk of being scolded by his father.

Arthur's mouth was open now. Unable to retort or add on to his previous examples.
“But -”

“You do know, Merlin still doesn't believe us, when we tell him that you risked your life getting him a flower, because he thinks we're messing with him, right?”

“That's ridiculous. That flower was needed for an antidote! What is there to doubt about it?”, Arthur exclaimed, almost furious.
Merlin shuddered in surprise. 'Huh?', he thought to himself, his face flushing hard.

“Yeah. I know. He does not.”, Gwaine nodded eagerly.

“But... I thought I was so obvious? I mean... Even my father noticed! He's told me I was getting too close to Merlin. So I tried to hold back, but...
I thought Merlin knew.”, Arthur appeared shocked. Like someone had just turned his entire world upside down.

“The king noticed?”, Gwaine raised both eyebrows in shock.

“Yes, I mean. When I came back with that flower, he threw me in the dungeons for it. He keeps reminding me that I'm not supposed to be friends with Merlin. He keeps offering me new servants! I've turned down five offers last week!”

Gwaine's mouth dropped open. “Woow.”, he made impressed.
“If Uther thinks THAT's a lot. What kind of childhood did you have?”

Arthur looked up, surprised. “I dunno? A normal one I guess? I mean. I didn't have a mom and my father was always busy and Morgana and I were fighting all the time, so....”

Gwaine's eyes squished a little. “Have you ever even been hugged?”, he asked with suspicion.

Arthur straightened his back. “I'm.... not supposed to get close to people until I get married.”, he muttered.
Gwaine stared and his mouth dropped open again. “I meant Uther. Did you father never hug you?”

“Was he supposed to do that?”

Gwaine's jaw dropped. “And here I always thought you just were a stuck up royal like anyone else. But your father abandoned you. No wonder you have no idea how to deal with emotions.”
Arthur flushed and tried to retort, but then he closed his mouth. Embarrassed.

Gwaine hurried to correct himself. “I mean... considering all this, you're doing a lot, actually. You're a good man, Arthur. I wouldn't be your knight, if I didn't think you were worth dying for.
Just. God damn it, I'm getting so mad right now.
Your father is an asshole. I mean, I already knew that. But holy shit.”

Arthur frowned. “Don't talk about my father like this!”, he growled, but Gwaine stopped him again.
“Nope. You don't get to decide that. You're in denial. He abandoned you. He keeps sending you on quests that could get you killed. He didn't even show you that he cares if you come back!”

“He cried when he thought I was dead though!”, Arthur commented, remembering the troll Catrina accident.

Gwaine blinked. “Good to know where he draws the line. What the fuck, Arthur.”

Arthur bit his lips. He felt defensive for his father. But... wasn't it bad... that he couldn't see a single flaw in Gwaine's accusation?

“Merlin is your exact opposite, you know.”, Gwaine suddenly said and slowly patted Arthur's shoulder. This time highly aware of the fact that this was probably the closest contact Arthur allowed for anyone.
Apart from the fact that Arthur had a crush on Merlin and Merlin was the guy who dressed him.... Let's not get into that.

“I know.”

“He grew up with a mom who hugged him every day. Arthur, Merlin is the most affectionate person I know. He's extremely emotional and he's not afraid to show it.”

“I know.”, Arthur said again, but this time softer.

“Compared to that your way of dealing with things probably looks more like you're pushing him away.”

Arthur's head sank and his shoulders dropped. He grabbed the blanket tighter.
“I know.”, he said yet again. Frustrated this time. 'I'm trying.', he didn't say, but they all knew it.

“You should talk to him.”

“I know.”, Arthur was defeated.

It was quiet between them once again and Arthur stared out on the sea. And from the distance, you could see the first sun rays of the day illuminate the wooden deck of the ship.
Arthur stared at it, as long as it was possible to look into the direction. While Gwaine watched him with worry.
Gwaine had almost forgotten Merlin was still there. Merlin, who was trying his hardest to appear invisible. And quiet. And still. Nobody could hear his loud heart beat, but Merlin himself. Though he could swear someone had to notice at some point.

“Rise and shine.”, Arthur suddenly said and smiled to himself. For the first time, the conversation went beyond Gwaine's understanding and he could just stare at him in confusion.

But Merlin could hear what Arthur was actually saying.
It was the sentence Merlin always woke Arthur up with. In this context, it meant, Arthur was thinking of that. Of early mornings and Merlin in it. The way his smile slowly fell, Merlin could feel that Arthur was actually missing him.
And hoping he was here. Unaware that his wish had already come true.

It took Merlin everything he had in himself, to not jump up from underneath the blanket and just hug him to death. Which he now knew would equal a marriage proposal to Arthur.
Oh god, all those love potion incidents …. where Arthur hugged and kissed random women. The boy must have had a mental breakdown afterwards.
Now that Merlin thought of it, Arthur used to behave really strange after those incidents.

Meaning, he wouldn't talk to anyone. He would excuse himself a lot. Would be anxious around everyone he was forced to talk to.
And he'd be especially awkward around Merlin. Merlin's eyes widened once again with a start and it paralyzed him as he realized precisely WHY that had been.
He flushed. And he was glad Arthur couldn't see him like this.

“Sire?”, Gwaine finally asked, still uncharacteristically gentle.
Arthur shook his head. “Nothing. I'll go back to sleep. Leon should be up soon. I think he's already feeling much better.”
Arthur sighed and pushed himself up. He let go of the blanket, making Merlin exhale a deep breath.
Then he took the ladder down again.

One last time, he was stopped by Gwaine. “Wait, Arthur.”

Arthur stopped for a moment. “What is it?”, he asked.

“You like Merlin right? As in, you're in love with him.”

Arthur flushed, but he answered with a hesitant “yes.”. Which was like a major blow in Merlin's guts. Because being in love was an entirely different thing than having a crush. And yet, to have this confirmed... Merlin struggled to breathe.

“What will you do, if he doesn't like you back?”

There was a pause. A heavy one. Then Arthur sighed. “Gwaine... It's not like anything can happen between us anyway. Even if Merlin did like me back. I can't tell him.
Merlin is the best friend I have. I couldn't bear to loose him. I won't let anything or anyone, not my father, not a potential wife, not even my own feelings get in the way of that.
I won't ruin what we have. I couldn't live with myself.” And with that, he disappeared under deck. Leaving Gwaine behind, completely stunned.

Finally, Merlin pulled the blanket off of himself and dramatically breathed the fresh air around him. It had started to get really stuffy under that.

Gwaine turned around, almost startled. As if he had truly forgotten that Merlin had been there.
They looked at each other for a moment. Unsure what to say.

 

--------------------------------------------

 

The storm hit the boat without any warning. Maybe, if they had known about the “calm before the storm”, they would have noticed that there was – indeed – a warning.
But they didn't. Because Uther didn't care that these knights had no idea about sailing. Or rather, most of them.
The one's who did know about it, had been asleep, as Arthur had assigned none of them to keep watch.

They were lucky they made it in time to get the sails in.
But as soon as the storm was raging, they had to hold on to everything for dear life.
They had no time to fixate any of their belongings to the ship.
Which meant that now, barrels and bottles and cups and knifes and anything they had lying about, was now thrown around their ears.

Those who had the great misfortune to get knocked out by a barrel, got thrown of the ship.
But through all that, you couldn't hear the screams and the shouts.
The storm was so loud, it deafened everything that was further than two steps away.

In a strange way, the storm came over them silently.
Merlin had never managed to get back into his barrel. But he had shushed Gwaine to bind himself to the watchtower.
The entire thing was about to be blown off, was it not for Merlin's magic.

In fact, while Gwaine closed his eyes, praying the storm to be over, Merlin used his magic to keep his friends safe.
Albeit, there were too many of them. He couldn't safe everyone. But he DID manage to keep Arthur safe. Who was running around in that blasted armor and shouting orders to his subordinates.
He was not lucky to be okay.
He was lucky to have Merlin to keep him that way.

That was, until Merlin saw his own barrel being thrown off the ship. And Lancelot saw it.
But Lancelot didn't know Merlin wasn't in there.
Oh fucking hell no.

Lancelot screamed his name. And he managed to shout so loud, that Arthur turned around, totally confused why one of his knights would shout out the name of his servant in the middle of a storm.
But Arthur, foolish, kind, love deprived Arthur, made the connection.
And when Lancelot shouted at him to explain that Merlin was supposed to be IN that barrel that was now about to drown on the ocean.
Arthur did the most foolish thing a prince could do.

He gave Leon the authority.... and – in a panic- jumped after Merlin.

Who was not in that barrel, but on the watch tower. Who watched and stared and couldn't believe what he saw.
Because Arthur had just JUMPED of the ship for him. Fully armed with his sword and knife and wearing armor.

'That fucking idiot.”, Merlin mouthed and now panic washed over him as well.
In a moment decision, Merlin yelled at Gwaine to stay where he was. And then he slid down the ladder. Not even bothering to use the steps.
His hands already burned from the heat of the fraction. And splinters of the cold wood edged into his skin. But he didn't give a damn.

He ran over the deck, seeing panicked and confused faces everywhere and then he directly jumped after Arthur.

The storm wouldn't stop for another five hours. Thanks to Merlin, the casualties were little to none.
But even after the storm had calmed and the sea lay still around them, while the knights tried to catch their breath....
Merlin and Arthur could not be found among the wrecks.
And Leon's headache was returning.









(Spoiler alert)




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