Summary: First there was a dove. That was Arthur’s first sign.
Word Count: 2100
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays, osky291! :D This is set vaguely during the early seasons and I hope you enjoy it!!
All the thanks to cerch, who is lovely and incredibly helpful and owns an excellent whip <3
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Also on AO3.
First there was a dove.
This wouldn’t have been noteworthy except for the fact that there was clearly snow on the ground, it being the middle of winter and all, and doves only came to Camelot in the summer.
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose as he watched Merlin chase the bird around Gaius’ workroom, squawking, “No, no! Come back here! I only wanted to etch a picture of a dove into the cup, not create a real dove! You can’t be here, it’s winter!”
With a sigh, Arthur shut the door to the workroom and resolved to come back later, when there were fewer magical creatures flapping about, and yell extra loudly at Merlin for being in the tavern. Again.
That was Arthur’s first sign that this would be a very long winter.
Arthur stared blankly at Merlin. “You haven’t been able to attend me all day because there was a fox loose in the lower town terrorising the chickens. And how exactly was it imperative that you be the one to catch the fox instead of any number of people in Camelot who are not manservant to the prince?”
Merlin’s face twisted up and he scratched at his head. Then the box that he was sitting on shifted to the left and he kicked at it in what was probably intended to be a subtle manner, but it was Merlin so it had about as much subtlety as a spooked horse running through the market.
Arthur held his hand up. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know, nor do I care. But I expect all my boots to be scrubbed and my armour to be polished and my chambers to be completely cleaned from top to bottom before this evening,” he said and ignored Merlin’s indignant huff as he left the room.
He also ignored the huge racket coming from the box as the door shut behind him. There were some things he was better off not knowing.
Arthur stormed into Merlin’s room, fully intending to launch into a tirade as soon as he’d found his completely incompetent manservant — recently Merlin had been setting truly record levels of incompetence, even for him — and came face to face with a bunny who stared straight at him, whiskers twitching.
A purple bunny.
Arthur threw his hands up and slammed the door behind him hard enough to shake the stones around it. He swore he would not be responsible for whatever happened when he finally cornered Merlin.
“You’ve seemed down recently, Merlin. Is everything all right?”
Arthur heard Guinevere’s voice around the corner and he knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop, but…
Honestly, who knew what mess Merlin had gotten himself into — clearly it was up to Arthur to make sure he didn’t do anything truly stupid. As his manservant, Merlin was Arthur’s responsibility. It was for the best that Arthur kept track of him.
Or stopped him from saying something too revealing to Guinevere and ending up on a pyre because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. It was for his own good.
Merlin sighed and Arthur heard whatever Merlin was holding fall to the ground with a muffled thump.
“It’s just— Well. Yule is coming soon and I’ve been trying to find a present for Arthur. I can’t afford to buy anything, and I know it’s not something I’m expected to do, but… Even though Arthur continues to deny it, I know he’s the one responsible for all the grain that was sent to Ealdor after the blight destroyed all their stores and I don’t know what my mum or anyone else would have done without it. The village would’ve been destroyed otherwise. So I just want to do something nice for him, you know? But every time I try to make him something, it’s a complete disaster!”
That’s what this recent fit of magical idiocy was all about?!
Arthur suppressed the urge to slam his forehead into the stone wall of the corridor, but only barely. (And he ignored the part of himself that felt more than pleased and warm at the thought of Merlin caring so much about finding him a gift. That was… a dangerous thought process.)
“Oh, Merlin, that’s so sweet! But I wouldn’t worry so much, I’m sure whatever you decide on will be lovely. It’s the thought that counts after all.”
“Yeah.” Merlin huffed. “I doubt he’ll even notice anyway. He’ll probably take one glance at it and never look at it again,” he muttered sadly.
Arthur scowled, oddly stung. He noticed. He always noticed. Someone had to cover Merlin’s tracks after all. Someone had to protect him, since he never seemed to protect himself. Arthur just hadn’t yet figured out how to tell him he was the world’s worst liar — not to mention completely harebrained when it came to sorcery, apparently. How Merlin had survived without him Arthur would never understand.
Creeping slowly up to the corner and peeking around, Arthur took in Merlin’s dejected face and slumped shoulders. Merlin truly did have huge, expressive eyes, wide and open on his face. And a full mouth. His bottom lip was currently pushed out and wobbling, just slightly, dark pink against his pale skin.
Arthur clenched his fists and strode away.
“Merlin, where's my leather vest? I was going to wear it to the feast tonight," Arthur said as he poked through his wardrobe.
Merlin tilted his head back and pursed his lips. "Well, Sire, the thing is… Erm. It’s not exactly— Well. The truth is… I have no idea. None at all," he said, shaking his head and blinking in that “I’m mentally deficient, please pity me” way of his. A lot.
Arthur gave up. He just— He gave up. The vest had probably been turned into some horrid pink, furry disgrace and Arthur was done. He was absolutely done.
“You are the worst— I swear to god, can you keep track of anything? You know what, nevermind. I’ll just go naked, I’m sure no one will notice.” Arthur threw the clothes in his hands at Merlin’s head.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Now you’re just being dramatic.”
Arthur walked into Gaius' workroom. Merlin was staring at his hands in horror and the skin all over his entire body was now a bright, sparkling blue.
Arthur walked back out.
Yule was in two days and Merlin was looking increasingly more frantic every time Arthur saw him — when Arthur saw him, which was also growing increasingly less frequent. He still had dishes on his table from his meal three days ago and Arthur shuddered to think about what state this must mean Merlin's own room was in. If his room was even still standing and hadn't exploded in a fit of Yule-induced hysteria and magic.
When Arthur caught sight of the manic gleam in Merlin’s eye as he was sneaking out of the castle with a large sack thrown over his shoulders, he debated for all of five seconds before deciding to follow him — just to make sure Merlin wasn’t going to accidentally set the forest on fire, or something equally stupid, of course.
“I just don’t understand. All I wanted was to make something nice for Arthur. I mean, I know he doesn’t care about me that way, but I’d still like to thank him. This should all be simple magic. Why isn’t any spell I have tried recently working?”
Insides clenched tightly, Arthur peered through the branches to find Merlin slouched on a tree stump in front of a purple rabbit, a silver fox, a dove, and an impossibly tiny red dragon that looked like it was made out of paper, wings flapping away regardless.
Oh, and a unicorn. Of course Merlin had brought a unicorn back to Camelot. If some hunter killed the unicorn and started another famine, Arthur would wring Merlin’s neck, no matter how much he cared about him — which he did, somehow, even though Merlin was clearly blind as well as touched if he hadn’t noticed.
Arthur felt rather like he needed to sit down.
The rabbit leant back on its haunches and stuck one paw into the air, chattering at Merlin.
Merlin gasped. “I am not a terrible sorcerer! I’ll have you know that I’m the most powerful magic user in the world. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told,” he finished glumly, slumping back down from his indignation.
Merlin was talking to a purple bunny.
Arthur laughed hysterically. He couldn’t help it, it simply burst out of him, because Merlin was talking to a purple bunny and how did his life become this absurd?
Merlin jerked upright and choked. “Arthur?” he asked, horror writ across his features as he stared at Arthur through the branches.
Arthur was not ready for this conversation in the slightest, but he took a deep breath and stepped into the clearing anyway. He was a Pendragon after all and wasn’t afraid of anything.
Except maybe the wetness in Merlin’s eyes. Arthur had never known what to do about tears and he absolutely hated seeing them from Merlin. The distress and wild-eyed fear in his eyes ate at something deep within Arthur.
"How is it that you can stop the most vicious and foul creatures bent on destroying Camelot, but you can't magic a simple gift without accidentally creating a menagerie of ridiculous creatures to follow you around?" he asked, determined to cut to the point and make Merlin stop looking like… like that. It was horrible.
Merlin gaped, mouth opening and closing a few times, before he finally gathered his wits together enough to screech, “You! I! What?!”
“Contrary to popular belief, Merlin, I notice a hell of a lot more than you give me credit for,” he said, stalking forward to where Merlin was now standing.
“I don’t understand! Why didn’t you ever say anything?! I thought— God, I don’t know what I thought, but I was so terrified of anyone finding out.” Merlin smacked him in the shoulder, tears streaming down his face as he hiccuped.
Arthur scowled and wiped at Merlin’s cheeks. “As you damn well should be! I am not my father and I’ve seen the way your magic has saved Camelot time and again, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to protect you if he ever finds out. What if he’d seen the rabbit, or the dragon, or god knows what else in your rooms Merlin? What then?”
Merlin sniffed and looked up at Arthur from underneath his long eyelashes. “They should have been simple spells, I don’t know why they didn’t work. I only wanted to make you a present, I swear!”
Arthur's eyes glinted dangerously. "No, I know exactly what gift I would like for Yule. For one, you will immediately stop using your magic so carelessly before my father finds out and has you beheaded faster than I can do anything about it," he said, boxing Merlin round the ears. Merlin swatted at him indignantly. "And two,” he murmured and stepped farther into Merlin’s space, hands sliding back to cup Merlin’s neck and tangle in his hair. Merlin inhaled, eyes wide. “Two,” he repeated and surged forward to kiss his gorgeous, magical fool of a manservant.
Merlin went soft and pliant under Arthur’s mouth, gasping into the kiss, and one of Arthur’s hands slipped down to palm the small of his back and tug him closer, so much closer. God, Arthur couldn’t remember why he had ever thought this was a bad idea, not with the way Merlin’s tongue slid along his and his lips were as full and warm as Arthur had always imagined they’d be.
In the background Arthur became vaguely aware of a whole chorus of animals and a dove tittering around their heads and flashes of brightly coloured light, but none of it was anywhere near as fascinating as the way it felt like Merlin was trying to crawl into his skin, kissing Arthur back frantically and pushing into him, until Merlin finally pulled back with a sharp, desperate breath and said, “Oh,” staring at Arthur like he was the best thing in the world.
Arthur looked down and saw that his red jacket was now covered in gold embroidered dragons, intricate and finely detailed. It was a jacket fit for a king. Merlin giggled. “I always was better at natural magic.”