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The next time he woke, it was because Arthur was tucking him into bed. Only, when Merlin turned to bury his face into the pillows and deny the king the pleasure of talking about this, he did not find the comforting cedar smell of his own pillows. Nor, when he squinted open an eye, did he find Wart's mane of hair fanned out on the adjacent pillow.

His bed linens were nice but not nearly as soft as these.


"Did you know your magic finds me at night?"

Merlin opened his eyes fully and turned his face toward the sound of Arthur's voice. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the windows and Merlin felt something painfully familiar clench inside his stomach.

"What do you mean?"

Arthur didn't look back but stared out, hand flexing in the duvet. "It trails out of you when you're sleeping, winds all over the castle until it slips underneath my door and wakes me up."

Merlin swallowed. "I'm sorry it wakes you. I didn't know."

"I used to wake up and it would just be pooled in my hand," Arthur continued, as if Merlin hadn't apologized. "But after a while, it started tugging until I woke up and followed it. The first time, I thought I would surely be taken by some unruly magician looking for Pendragon revenge but I found you instead, fast asleep in the stables."

Merlin closed his eyes. He tried to picture Arthur, following the mysterious trail of golden twine and finding a sleeping Merlin at the end of it. He licked his lips and opened his eyes. He didn't know what to say. What was he doing here?

"Your magic, it comes to me, even when you won't."

Merlin frowned. "Arthur, I don't intend—"

"That's the crux of it!" He shouts but it's frustrated, not angry. "You don't intend anything and I cannot live without your intention. I cannot sit and wait, ruling Camelot with a distracted heart because I cannot give it my full attention."

This was the way it had always been and would probably always be, a kingdom of riddles spanned between them.

Arthur ducked his head, the warm valley of his neck exposed. "We cannot do this any longer, Merlin."

"I know," Merlin said, his voice sticking to the dry walls of his throat. "I'm sorry. I just—I didn't want to let go, yet."

"What were you waiting for?"

Arthur's tone was guarded and Merlin sighed, flopping back into the pillows. He felt defeated.

"You, I guess. Destiny? Fate? I don't know. I was waiting for a sign that I wasn't going to cock it all up and send us all spiraling into madness but I was being selfish," Merlin finished with a whine. "I should have distanced myself, told my heart that I couldn't have you and made my intention—my allegiance clear. You have to know, Arthur, I would never leave you, no matter the state of my heart. I know you will take a queen soon and I will not stand in the way. You—you will always have my blessing in whatever your heart wishes to pursue."

Merlin finished as strongly as he could. It was true. He would never jeopardize their world for his foolish dreams. Their destiny was bigger than this, his love reaching out and begging Arthur for some small scrap of affection or understanding. He was selfish to ever expect Arthur to sacrifice—anyway, they were the passing fancies of the little peasant boy inside of Merlin, the dreams he held when destiny was too much.

Arthur's calloused hand settled over his and Merlin jerked up out of the pillows. He was warm, always so warm, in the cool night of the castle but his face was still turned down and away.

"Arthur, you must—"

"We are no longer boys," Arthur said, his voice still gravely serious. "The road ahead is... unpredictable."

Merlin turned his hand until their fingers laced together. "My future is with you, no matter the circumstances that surround us. Even if I have to watch you love another for a thousand lifetimes, it will be enough that I am here, even if I am not allowed as near as I'd like."

There were parts of Merlin that wanted to deny this—parts that wanted to rage and declare it nothing but a falsehood—however, Merlin knew that stripped bare of anything, he was more selfish than any of them would ever know. He would endure a thousand heartbreaks for one smile, for one shared moment, for the intimate knowledge that at least, in this, Arthur was his alone.

Arthur pulled away but before Merlin could take it all back, replace it with something less broken open and vulnerable, Arthur was moving to the chest at the end of his bed. Merlin blinked, realizing that his face was flooded with tears and his vision clouded. He wiped furiously and felt his cheeks heat, with embarrassment and shame that he feared he might never overcome. The bedding below him shifted as he moved to the edge and tried to find some sort of composure. His head was bowed as he breathed deep and slow, attempting to calm his heart.

"I want to give you something," Arthur said, firm and resolute. "A fashion of my dominion, if you will."

Arthur settled the crown on Merlin's head, shifting it around until it laid flat over his unruly hair. It was lighter than Merlin had always imagined it would be, as he'd seen it day after day adorning Arthur's head.

Merlin frowned, his fingers going to touch the cold gold that dug into the flesh of his ear. Arthur was looking at him, face guarded but eyes wide with wonder. Merlin felt nothing for a moment, just the blank shock of confusion, watching the hope—the hope written on Arthur's face that this scrap of metal would be enough to make Merlin stay—like he could be bought with trinkets, to keep his fickle feelings from interfering with his duty.

Arthur sat down on the bed and Merlin struggled to push the filthy metal off his head.

"No, Arthur," Merlin mumbled, looking away and trying to give the crown back. Something ugly crawled up and ate at his throat. "This isn't what I want. Not from you."

Everything stilled between them. Merlin wondered, just faintly, if he slowed time but gods, why would he—this moment was awful. This wasn't what he wanted, this wasn't what he and Arthur were made for. This couldn't be their destiny. Was this honestly what—

"I meant it," he choked out. "I would be happy to serve you for the rest of my life, but Arthur, I don't want this. This promise doesn't hold the weight, I need from you. Your crown means nothing in comparison to your—"

Merlin closed his eyes. Why was this so hard? He felt the shame burn again, livid and hungry, in the pit of his belly.

"In comparison to my what, Merlin?"

Arthur's voice was neutral and, yes, this was what they were always afraid of: being two sides of separate coins, the match to each other and yet, somehow, not on the right precious playing field.

"Your kingdom, I don't desire it at all. I am not a ruler of people—I am no king," Merlin whispered, his voice rich with shame and bitterness. "Your crown—Camelot—it all means nothing if I can't have what I truly desire. I would rather have nothing but the place at your side."

Merlin felt the gold crown bump against his hands and he opened his eyes. Arthur was staring down where their fingers were both wrapped around the metal with white-knuckled desperation.

"What could mean more than Camelot?" Arthur said, voice trying for teasing but falling flat.

"You," Merlin snarled, snatching his fingers back. "Do not give me consolation prizes because they will only burn unused. It all means nothing to me, if I can't have your heart," he choked out in the end, tears threatening to make their appearance.

"I don't know what this means," Merlin said honestly.

They had waited too long. There was nothing for them now, not here—not where Merlin needed it the most. And hadn't that been his fear all along? Never once had he thought that they would actually get to this point and fall away. Sure, Merlin had thought that they would never talk about it, that this would settle into nothingness between two old men who were filled with selfish regret but never once had he thought that they would make it here and then fall short.

He felt sick.

"I should go," he said. If he didn't get out of there, he might blow them both up in rage. It wasn't fair. Nothing about this was fair. What was the point in having the world at his fingertips, the loyalty of nations of people, the power of the Old Religion with a wave of his hand—what was the point of everything if the things that mattered the most—if Arthur and his pure heart were out of reach?

He was at the door before Arthur could speak.


He traced the wood with his fingers, letting the magic bubbling up inside of him to burn into the wood.

"It was never supposed to be this unfair," Merlin heard himself saying. "I always thought, in the end—"

"You must know," Arthur said, voice so tight with emotion that Merlin had to turn and look at him, crown tossed on the bed, his head turned toward the window, as if looking at Merlin while he said this would break him. His jaw twitched and Merlin tried to push away the longing he had to feel that jaw underneath his mouth. "Merlin, you must know—it's all because of you."

"Arthur, I do not need your kingdom at my feet to stay."

"You and Camelot are one and the same," Arthur's shaky, unraveled voice said. "It's always been about you, Merlin. Camelot was nothing until you filled it up with meaning; gave these people voices that could be heard, forced their prince to open his mind and his heart to their trust—you've made me the man that I am and the king that Camelot's people deserve."

Merlin had expected blinding happiness. Gods, Merlin had expected much more than that—explosions in the sky, a feast for kings—he had expected his heart to leap out of his chest but nothing like that happened. Something soft unfurled around his chest and he felt that for the first time since coming to Camelot, he could breathe easily. Instead of all the epic displays of love fueled-destiny, all Merlin felt was the unbearable lightness that came with being in love with Arthur. He also smiled, wide and goofy and just stared for a few moments, trying to memorize the moment. Arthur, so tense and vulnerable—hating every moment of this—sitting on his bed, staring out the window and trying to physically will this to work out for them. Arthur hated asking for things as much as Merlin hated the feeling of taking things. They were a mess.

"You would have been a great king without me," Merlin said and it was true. Arthur was all the things he was today when Merlin had first met him. They were dormant, waiting to be awakened, but they were there. Merlin didn't create Arthur, just as Arthur didn't create Merlin—they were just better together. They had strength in the valleys between them and the invisible magical strings that held them together. "Arthur, you must know that you would have been a great king."

"A good king? Possibly. But greatness comes from a place I would have never been able to find without you."

Merlin walked over and picked up the crown. "Okay," he said softly, and tried to keep the undeniable affection out of his voice but failed. "Okay," he repeated and settled the crown on his head. It didn't feel any more comfortable this time than it did when Arthur first put it on him but it settled a little better and Merlin didn't feel like it was going to fly off any moment.

When Arthur finally looked away from the window, Merlin had already climbed onto the bed and was ready for him.

"Okay," Merlin whispered, taking Arthur's face between his hands and mouthing a soft line of kisses down the slope of his cheeks, across the bridge of his nose and then up to his forehead. "I just didn't know," Merlin breathed against his skin. "You're so hard to decipher at times, so important to so many people—I didn't want to ask for something that wasn't ever mine to hope for."

Arthur snorted. "Like you ever ask for permission."

"I am now," Merlin said, amusement in his voice but also relief as Arthur's shoulders sag. "I won't entertain delusions of grandeur simply because you are afraid to lose me. I need nothing but this," Merlin said, pushing his hand against Arthur's chest, "to stay by your side."

Merlin kissed his blond brows and, having held off long enough, he pressed open mouthed kisses to Arthur's jaw, scraping his teeth along the edge until that beloved muscle twitched underneath his mouth.

"Gods, Arthur," Merlin moaned, clutching Arthur's hair with his fingers and sucking hard on the skin beneath Arthur's ear.

It seemed Merlin's breach of silence compelled Arthur into a flurry of motion.

Arthur was suddenly there, not clumsy or uncertain, but strong and demanding, pulling at Merlin's head to press harder—to suck deeper at the flesh until they were both keening. Strong, amazing, commanding Arthur was there, guiding their mouths together.

The flurry of happiness that was supposed to come earlier bloomed in a rush. It felt broken up inside Merlin's chest, like a box dropped down the castle's stone steps that erupts with dozens of sun-warmed flowers, fresh from the fields.

"Arthur," he moaned, opening his mouth to Arthur's sure tongue. He clung, hands scattering to latch onto all the parts of Arthur he had so desperately wanted over the years. They were still young—they were still here--together and the thought made him want to cry, raise the dead from the grave and show them that, yes, they could conquer anything.

Arthur's lips were firm, unyielding as they mouthed at Merlin's parted lips and his tongue licked, strong strokes at the inside until Merlin could do nothing more than whimper for more. Arthur's tongue was methodical, licking every one of Merlin's teeth, tangling with Merlin's as they devoured each other.

"Gods, Arthur," Merlin moaned, as Arthur hissed and pulled Merlin into his lap. Merlin shuddered, thighs settling on the outside of Arthur's thick, muscled ones. "This—"

"I want you here," Arthur cut him off, eyes blazing. "I want you here, always."

Merlin curled his hands into Arthur's tunic and held fast, breathing in the moment. He wanted to still time and learn by rote every single fraction of that moment. He breathed, smelling Arthur's unique smell and the way his hands, sword calloused and so very large, gripped the span of Merlin's thighs like they were a touch-stone which he would never be free of.

"On your lap?"

"Yes," Arthur whispered, fingers flexing over Merlin's thighs and raking up to dig into his bony hips. He hissed with the contact, arching into it and pulling their faces closer together.

"I swear to the gods," Arthur continued. "There is no other place that could possibly need you more."

For the first time in what felt like years, Merlin laughed.

Arthur kissed him through it, tonguing at his smile and sucking on his lips until Merlin only laughed harder, writhing in his lap and letting Arthur lick into his mouth to claim the joy bubbling up inside his throat—sugary sweet and never enough.

They undressed with a carefulness that Merlin didn't feel. Arthur pulled off his tunic to trace over his skin with reverence and Merlin blushed into each touch, aching for more but giving in to the pace Arthur set. The soft slide of their mouths felt too good to leave and it was only the promise of more skin that made Merlin pull away and let Arthur lift off his own tunic.

The muscled structure of Arthur's shoulders gleamed in the candle light. Merlin couldn't suppress a moan at the sight, leaning down to suck a mark into the hollow of Arthur's throat. He moaned in response, pushing into Merlin's mouth and twining his hands into the hair at Merlin's nape. Merlin needed no encouragement to stay, trailing open mouthed kisses along his collarbones and leaning down to suck a pink nipple into his mouth.

"Gods, Merlin, your mouth," Arthur moaned, palming the back of Merlin's head with a heavy hand. "Oh! Ouch."

Merlin pulled back. "Did I hurt you?"

"No, no," Arthur said, pushing his head back down until Merlin's lips were against his skin again. "The crown dug—"

Merlin had forgotten about it sitting on top of his head. He moved back a little. "Let me take it off. I don't want it hurting you."

Arthur shook his head, a little frantic. Merlin cocked his head and Arthur groaned.

"No, please," Arthur said, voice gone pleading. He pulled Merlin closer until they were almost kissing. "I want to—please, please let me take you like this, wearing my kingdom—please..."

For all the things Merlin had prepared himself for, a pleading Arthur was not one of them. He couldn't say no, even if it was a little ridiculous—not when Arthur pressed sweet kisses to his mouth and palmed his arse through his breeches.

"Yes, gods, anything you want," Merlin heard himself saying.

"I know I can have anything," Arthur said without arrogance. "But can I have everything?"

"Always," Merlin threw back at him, biting at his lower lip. "Arthur, always."

They kissed, sloppy and messy and a little bit horrible as they undressed the rest of the way. Merlin hadn't time to examine their technique or focus on anything but the slide of Arthur's skin against his, or the way Arthur's cock wept beads of precome and bobbed against his stomach in need.

"Please, please," Arthur had taken to whispering against Merlin's skin and so lost in pleasure, Merlin just nodded, bending to whatever Arthur's hands willed.

Arthur pushed him onto his belly. Merlin moaned, twitching away from the sheets against his hard cock. However, when Arthur's mouth chased down Merlin's spine, it sending him rutting into the sheets as the hot cascade of Arthur's open mouthed kisses shot straight to Merlin's cock.

"Arthur, ohgods, Arthur," Merlin whimpered, trying desperately to say anything else but just then, Arthur mouth licked a thick stripe in the place between Merlin's cheeks.

"You said," Merlin heard Arthur murmur into his skin. "You said I could have it all."

With that final damning declaration, Arthur pushed two slick fingers into Merlin's entrance.

It burned, white hot but too good to stop. Merlin simply gave himself to the sensation, rolling his body back onto Arthur's blunt fingers and fucking himself in time with Arthur's thrusts. He was overwhelmed with pleasure; the fullness of Arthur's fingers stretching him and the delightful way Arthur kept sucking hot marks onto his shoulders and then sweeping down to trace the knobs of his spine. Finally, when the fingers in Merlin slid without hesitation and he cried out for more, Arthur bit at the globe of his arse, easing over it with his tongue before sucking hard and Merlin quaked.

"Arthur, please, please now," Merlin moan. His hands scrambled behind him to try and grab hold of anything that wasn't a pillow or a sheet. "Gods, I need you now."

Arthur slid inside of him, hands going to hold Merlin's as he rocked his hips and entered Merlin until his balls settled against Merlin's arse.

"You feel as if you were made for me," Arthur whispered, awed.

Merlin had nothing coherent to say in response because Arthur had begun to thrust, brutally slow so that everything around them narrowed to the thickness of Arthur inside of him. His entire body was covered with Arthur's muscled frame as he worked in and out of Merlin's quivering body. They both moaned, their voices rising as Arthur's pace increased—his control barely veiled as he fucked into Merlin. It felt amazingly beautiful, like pleasure was sparking out from them and Merlin could feel the magic pooling as his orgasm built. Arthur fucked him with a singular determination, as if nothing in the universe existed in more perfect union than their bodies writhing together.

Merlin could only arch back and whisper, words of praise and astonishment as he felt his pleasure heighten until it burned. He could feel the golden rods of his magic shooting out from him and tried to tame it but it was no use, not when Arthur was there, driving his cock deeper inside Merlin's body. Arthur panted against his neck, leaving sloppy and open-mouthed kisses all over Merlin's ear and shoulders as he neared his own orgasm.

"Merlin, gods, yes," Arthur moaned, breath hitching as his hips twisted wildly.

"Please," Merlin cried out. "Please, I need it—please, Arthur, I need it."

Arthur came with a shout, driving his cock impossibly deeper inside of Merlin until Merlin's body was almost suffocated by Arthur inside of him and the mattress against his cock. Arthur squeezed their hands together and levered back, his hips starting to thrust again, riding out his orgasm and Merlin could feel it. Merlin could feel the hot, gods, it was so hot, evidence of Arthur's release inside of him as it spurted—claiming him in ways that Merlin couldn't fully wrap his head around because he was coming.

His orgasm crashed through him in waves. He knew there was magic throbbing around them—knew that he was feral with it but he didn't care, not with Arthur there, thrusting inside him and whispering his name, again and again.

Merlin cared for nothing but this man.


Sleep didn't come swift and cloaking like it normally did after Merlin's climax. Instead, he listened to the heavy breath of Arthur's chest and the way he snored louder when he tried to suffocate himself in the pillows. He watched the silver light from the window play over Arthur's skin and then he let his own gold magic chase it off, rippling over the dip in his collarbones or scaling the secret places of his skin.

It felt like he was finally indulging in a desire that he hadn't even known he had.

At dawn, he stroked the vulnerable planes of Arthur's face until he woke.

"Hmm," he purred. "I'm not ready to rise."

Merlin laughed, pressing his face into the flat of Arthur's shoulder. "I need to get back before Wart sets fire to my things."

"I can see that you're already favoring her over me."

Merlin bit at the skin nearest to him, nudging until Arthur arched an elegant eyebrow and stuck out his tongue.

"She does have lofty ideas of our reign."

Arthur raised both eyebrows—Merlin wasn't sure whether it was in reference to the possession of the sentence or the idea of Merlin listening to advice from a child. Merlin shrugged.

"She thinks that Albion is in reach without drawing a weapon to bridge the gap."

Arthur, looking every bit the condescending and arrogant twat, only smirked. "Does she?"

Merlin rammed his elbow into Arthur's side, until Arthur yelped and wrestled him to the bed. He went willingly, letting Arthur pin him and loom.

"She's not wrong," Merlin started softly. "You haven't condoned a single war campaign for anything but peace. If you make the Druids an example, if you extend the kindness that I know, Arthur, I know, you want to—other people will see Camelot's people prosper. They will come, ask for your protection and you will give it to them. War will be waged, but not without the people's permission. If you give them this autonomy, it is the ultimate sign of trust and what king will be able to survive the revolt of his people with Camelot as enforcer?"

Arthur frowned, looking pensive but not averse to Merlin’s words.

Merlin pushed, eyes pleading. "Albion is more than just a prophecy, Arthur. It's an opportunity to give good people a chance to live their lives not only in peace, but prosperity that neither you nor I have ever known."

"It is," Arthur tried before looking away. "It's a tall order."

He looked unsure—unwilling to entertain the thought that people would follow him for more than just his sword. Merlin smiled, feeling his chest fill up with all those emotions that he had long worked at suppressing. He lifted his hands to frame and turn Arthur's face, bringing it closer until he was forced to lean down on his elbows.

"Arthur, they do not follow in fear of you or of me," he said, gently. "They follow your crown, yes, but they also follow your heart. You have proven yourself a worthy man to put their faith into. Wart is not delusional nor is she childish in her reasoning; she believes they will come to you and that all you will have to do is open the arms of your kingdom. The lines will blur fast and we will bleed into their kingdoms until we are their only lifeblood."


He knew he had pushed as far as he could go today. Without a moderate success from Lancelot or Elyan, this conversation meant nothing—just the idle fantasy of a Druid girl and a half-mad Warlock King. Instead, Merlin cut him off with a kiss, chaste but earnest. He pressed their mouths together until the tension in Arthur's neck soothed and Merlin smiled.

"She also believes that I'm infinitely more attractive and that you're just a silly figurehead."

This time, Arthur opened his eyes and they too were smiling, but also reminding him of everything that was said between them last night.

"She isn't wrong," Arthur replied.

Merlin blushed and then pushed Arthur off of him. He went with a small bit of flailing but without argument, the bulk of his body falling into the linens and bouncing slightly on the mattress.

"I'm leaving now," Merlin said, getting up and summoning his clothes with an idle hand. They happily peeked over the bed and then leapt into Merlin's arms, only narrowly missing Arthur's face. Merlin pulled a tunic over his head. "You need to get ready for council, my Lord."

Arthur glared, but it was halfhearted and Merlin tried not to let his eyes linger on the long lines of Arthur's body, built for strength and elegance, and instead pulled on his breeches—er, well, Arthur's breeches.

"With any luck," Merlin continued, tying his breeches and opening the windows with his magic, letting fresh air inside. The stale smell of sleep and coupling in the room was overwhelming in the light of day. "We will have news from Elyan and Lancelot before midmorning and then you can convince both royal council and the Round Table before lunch."

"You have too much faith in Leon's ability to scare royal council into shutting their mouths," Arthur drawled. He managed to look bored already. "I'll be lucky to meet with my men before nightfall with the way the royals yammer on."

Merlin rolled his eyes and turned toward the door. "I'm sure you'll be fine, send a messenger if you need anything, there are some things—"

"You'll be back?"

He turned to find Arthur sitting up in bed, face naked with want and hope that made Merlin want nothing more than to go back and ignore the day—turn back the clock to the depths of night and spend forever in the safety of this king's arms—to make sure that he fully understood his worth to Merlin.

"Yes," Merlin said, solemn. "I can't imagine where else I'd be."

With that, he slipped out of the room and made his way to his own tower. Thoughts filled his head and he tried his best to sort through them but it was impossible, between the two Arthurs in his life and the world barging down their walls—oh it was ridiculous to think he could think.

Merlin was pondering if it was possible to build a moat around his tower when he opened the door to his chambers.

Wart was practically leaning out the window, knees digging into the concrete of the window sill. Above, the owl perched on a rafter and hooted when Merlin shut the door.


But when she looked at him, there were tears streaming down her face. Merlin felt conflicted, not knowing if he should go to her and comfort her or wait for her to come to him. He was saved from, certainly, making the wrong decision when something miraculous happened.

"Emrys," Wart whispered, voice high and raspy with disuse. "Emrys."

Her voice was full of joy.

When Merlin looked over her head and stared out at the courtyard and lower town beyond, his breath shook from his chest.

"Dear gods," he gasped.

There were no less than two thousand Druids, maybe even more, walking into Camelot. Merlin's eyes searched but he could only find Elyan, a small child riding in front of his saddle and holding a flag emblazoned with the Pendragon crest. He couldn't find Lancelot anywhere.

"Is this just Elyan, then?"

Beside him, Wart nodded and Merlin could do nothing more than pull her into his side. They watched, fascinated as the droves of refugees flooded into the citadel. There were so many of them. Merlin had expected them to send a few envoys or maybe the women and children but it seemed that all the Druids who were displaced by Mordred and Morgana's hand were there, tucking themselves into the folds of Camelot's valleys.

It seemed endless.

Beyond them, Merlin seemed to see their future fanning out like water trickling into a brook.

"Look at that," he said after a while, listening as the castle seemed to come alive with movement. Soon, they both would be dispatched to help and their free time would be limited. "You were right."

Wart beamed at him, squeezing her arms around him.

"You might find someone you recognize down there," Merlin said.

She shook her head. I wish to stay with you.

It was very hard to argue with that.


The rest of the day descended into chaos, as Camelot was wont to do during times of surprise. Merlin had waited until the refugees reached the gate between the lower and upper towns before he turned to Wart.

"We should go," Merlin said. "They'll need healing and a magical presence—if what you say is true, they'll need to see me and know that I support this."

Wart looked as if she was considering him, trying to figure out if he was manipulating her or not. Merlin backtracked a bit. "Listen, you don't have to come. But I need to go to them, speak with Elyan and help find a place for the woman and children at the least."

She blinked and then nodded. Merlin sighed, trying not to show his displeasure. It had only been a few days and even though she had made progress, she wasn't going to get better overnight. He chastised himself mentally.

"I'd best go."

When Merlin went to go to the door, he realized that Wart was still tightly clasping his hand. She didn't look up at him but kept her head forward to the door. He wanted to say something, maybe about being proud of her or being impressed with her bravery but she squeezed his hand when he opened his mouth and he took it to silence him.

"Let us go attend the masses," he said, not without a hint of glee. They started down the stairs at a trot.

Gwen was the first person they met.

"Merlin! Oh, thank the gods you're here," she said, putting a lock of curl behind her ear.

"Where else would I be?"

"It doesn't matter. What are we going to do with all those refugees? Can you enlarge the rooms?"

Merlin frowned. "Not to what we'll need," Merlin replied. He looked down at Wart but she shook her head. "There's no way to make the rooms expand that much, making furniture fit is one thing but enlarging a room for a large amount of time? Not feasible."

"We'll have to put them elsewhere," she said with a frown.

"No, Gwen, we need them in the castle."

"You don't trust them?"

Merlin shook his head. "They don't trust us. We need to make sure that they know we're proponents of peace. They need to know that Camelot stands for everyone," he finished with a significant look. Gwen looked confused before comprehension bloomed across her face. She blushed prettily and smiled, a little in awe.

"You're really going to do it, bring all of Albion under King Arthur?"

Merlin felt his own blush at her tone, the bright look of hope in her eye and her wonderment. Somehow, things had shifted between them. Yes, there were still friends but she treated him differently, with a certain level of respect that he had only seen her give to royalty. It made him a little uncomfortable and yet, made him feel proud.

"We're going to try," Merlin said softly. "This is the first step."

"Well, we don't have room for them. Unless you want to oust the nobles, which—"

Although the idea did bring joy to Merlin's heart, he thought that angering the people him and Arthur were going to actually take land from wasn't the best of ideas.

"Put them in the North Tower," he heard himself saying.

Gwen looked shocked. "Merlin, I don't think—"

"If Arthur asks, tell him it was under my decree."

Beside him, Wart giggled. Merlin shushed her, although he was smiling, and rubbed his hand over her hair. She continued to giggle.

"I've been spending time up there," Merlin said, trying to be casual about it. "It's been kept clean and there is plenty of space for the women and children, Gwen. Besides, everyone knows the North Tower has magic, it'll be comforting."

Gwen looked uncertain.

"Gwen, I promise you that it will be all right. Just let me deal with the king. Try to get everyone settled and Wart and I will be up later to tend to the wounded."

At last, Gwen seemed to accept Merlin at his word. She nodded a bit and then smiled. Merlin reached out to squeeze her elbow, where her gown sleeves were pushed up in the heat. "King Arthur will be too busy to bicker and bemoan my decision."

This time, Gwen laughed. "Merlin, you know perfectly well that the king has never been too busy for that."

With that she swept down the hall, already calling for servants and yelling for laundresses to accompany her to the North Tower.

Merlin smiled after her and when Wart smirked at him, the runes Are you allowed to decree things? appeared above her head.

"You're a brat," he barked out, laughing, and they continued through the chaos of the castle.


By sundown, most of the Druids had accommodation and all of the women and children were up in the North Tower. He and Wart had spent the entire day healing and establishing a magical presence with the refugees. It seemed to work –Merlin saw the heavy lines of worry and skepticism on their faces fade just a fraction, but it was enough for him to whisper words of comfort and promise of the peace to come. That promise was the only thing Camelot would fight for and that was the only stance Merlin made clear as he made his way through them. He wasn't an ambassador by any means, nor was he capable of knowing exactly what Camelot could provide but he knew, between Arthur and him, that war wasn't going to be taken lightly—not over territory and not over petty royal egos. Any war that Camelot would wage would be in pursuit of peace, at the calling of the people and that was how they would rule Albion until the end of days.

Wart, bless her heart, did what she could. She held up most of the day, tending to the wounded and showing Merlin the extent of her learnings over the past two days. For the most part, she was more subdued and shyer than Merlin was used to her being but never once did she break down. Granted, she didn't talk the entire day, either.

It was a healing process, he reminded himself. It took time.

Merlin looked at where she was climbing into his bed, arranging the pillows until they were piled around her like a fortress. For a moment, Merlin thought she would collapse into the linen and straight into sleep—however, after burrowing down in the covers she peeked her adorable little face out of the linen and said, "Goodnight, Emrys."

Then she was asleep.

"Goodnight, Wart," Merlin said, indulging in the swell of affection he had and kissing her forehead before her breathing evened out.

Merlin cast a spell around the bed, shrouding her in silence and he got up to putter around the room. He set his magic to tend and organize things, as they had been used and not put back throughout the entire day. The one good thing about crisis was that the castle seemed to forget to be afraid of him, asking him for things and bustling up to his rooms if what they needed was there. It was interesting how everything was stripped back, bare to only need, when chaos reigned—how easily the castle could come together and forget their differences.

Merlin went to sit on the sill, observing the soft cedar smell of his cleaning. A rag started to clean the floor with vigor, books were being re-shelved and his potions set had leapt to attention, water already boiling for what he needed for some of the simple necessities.

For the first time since his magic had become sentient, Merlin closed his eyes and let go.


"You wouldn't happen to know why an old hoot owl is following Arthur around, would you?"

Merlin looked up from his place at the window to find Gwaine cleaning underneath his nails with a knife, looking smug and attractive in the candlelight as he leaned against the entrance to the room.

"An owl, you say?"

Gwaine laughed. "You coy thing! I'm surprised you didn't just brand his forehead," he said, fluttering his eye lashes and generally being appalling.

"I didn't send her."

"She's awful shrewd. Kay tried to shoo her and she bit a hole straight through his finger."

Merlin laughed, imagining the scene. "Oh dear," Merlin sighed, over dramatic. "I sure hope she's all right. Sir Kay can't be easy on her humors."

"I always knew a tumble would make you feisty," Gwaine leered.

"Oh shush. Stop poking around my business."

"You're my only friend in this over-run town, I shall do whatever I want with your business."

Merlin could only smile. Gwaine pushed off the wall and came closer, moving to stand at Merlin's side, pressed against him. Merlin leaned back and they both gazed out of the window.

"Lancelot get settled?" Merlin asked. The other knight had arrived with an equally large envoy, looking tired but happy. Merlin hadn't had time to check on him.

"Gwen is tending to him," Gwaine said with amusement. "I imagine she'll be at it all night."

"You are outrageously inappropriate."

Gwaine only hummed in response. Merlin couldn't help but feel... happy? It was odd, with so many people displaced and the castle full of people who had lost families and friends. But they had a plan now—Camelot was no longer waiting for anything and they were stronger for it.

Merlin was sure that if he could see the future, he would be able to see for leagues.


Merlin scoffed. "You really should call him King, now."

Gwaine flicked his ear. "You're both lucky I don't call him Princess in front of the court."

"I'm not above turning you into a very ugly, mangy, hound," Merlin threatened without a trace of heat.

"Anyway," Gwaine restarted, "he told us about your plan."

It was Merlin's turn to hum. He didn't know how the knights would take it, since they generally thought waiting around was a waste of time and that charging into dangerous situations, be it battle or a gambling tavern, was the quickest and best route.

"All of Albion, in the palm of our hands just for protecting people? It sounds exactly like Arthur," Gwaine continued. "You were afraid we wouldn't approve?"

"You all are very fond of action."

Gwaine laughed, his hand squeezing Merlin's shoulder. "So is our King. I believe you once called him the biggest, most danger prone twat of us all."

"I've tired of war," Merlin whispered. "I want to have a home and a life that doesn't involve my magic—my entire existence—as a weapon."

"Maybe you're right."

"You think?"

Gwaine squeezed his shoulder again. "Maybe I'll give peace a chance."

"You're a libertine, my friend," Merlin muttered. "I should have you put away from children."

Gwaine looked back at Wart, sleeping fitfully, and then to Merlin with a smirk. "A home indeed," he said with inflection. "A King to warm your bed at night, a child you're responsible for and an owl as a pet! My gods, Merlin, you're becoming a family man. Do you have plans to tend the land and grow cabbage?"

Merlin elbowed Gwaine in the gut but he only laughed. When they settled, Gwaine had worked his way onto the sill as well, arms and legs wrapped around Merlin and smiling softly.

"It will work," Gwaine said, quiet and sure. "You will bring peace to Albion. It's your destiny."

"I never thought it'd work out," Merlin admitted.

"Well, you haven't done it yet, mate."

Merlin blushed. "Not that, just," he waved his hand in the air, "everything else, you know? I never thought I'd get everything."

"You deserve it."


"Oh, do shut up," Gwaine said, slapping a hand over Merlin's mouth with glee. "Enjoy your moment, you love-sick fool. Arthur's still with Leon, mapping out plans for the refugee land, as well as a campaign along the borders, so you have at least an hour to suck it up and spend time with your only decent friend before you must attend to your Lordship."

"I did get rather lucky, didn't I?" Merlin said.

It was true, he thought, as Gwaine prattled on about Percival's battleaxe training. Out of all the outcomes on the path to this destiny, he never thought he'd get the one he wanted. Sure, there were causalities along the way and the hole where Morgana had been would never be healed—never replaced or mended. But he had Gwaine, magic in his veins, Wart's eager mind and, well, he had Arthur—he had an entire kingdom if he wanted and the choice to choose Arthur over it all.

So even if he couldn't brew one single fever drought, maybe he wasn't all that badly off in the end.


link to epilogue (porn).

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