The morning after dallying with the forces of life and death in the middle of a magic-tainted forest, Merlin wakes with the quiet notion to just let things take their natural course. He doesn’t tell anyone about the fruit nor does he attempt any more “experiments.”
He’s not sure why he doesn’t dwell on the awesome discovery or try to understand what exactly it was that his magic had borne.
He certainly remembers everything that occurred that day and distantly acknowledges its significance to his triumph over the cosmos.
But, ever since he ate that fruit, he’s just been so… content.
It is with this (alarming) new perspective that Merlin is open to realize (or finally admit) the truth about that heretofore nameless force that has been bewitching him whenever in the presence (in body or mind) of Arthur.
And once he finally names it, everything falls into place.
Why else does he so readily offer his own life for him? Why else does the thought of losing him fill him with the kind of terror reserved for living a life without magic? Why else can he see the great man he will become one day underneath all that pratitude?
Yes, destiny, destiny, no escaping destiny. He knows that litany like it’s a curse. Still, to feel what he feels for Arthur… It has to be love.
The dizzying rush he feels just thinking these thoughts only confirms his belief.
That same morning, he reestablishes his role as Arthur’s manservant with renewed vitality and takes all the prince’s wound care and rehabilitation duties upon himself.
Merlin has to admit he is relieved when Arthur makes a disparaging comment about his sling-wrapping abilities and Merlin finds himself automatically countering with a disparaging comment about his not-getting-bit-by-magical-death-beast abilities.
He wouldn’t want this newfound love to turn him into an ass kisser.
When Arthur isn’t being prattish, however, Merlin does turn into a big ball of sugar and he knows Arthur can feel the difference.
Merlin has waited this long and he is in no hurry to rush things. With that (unexplainable) feeling of contentment still singing within him, he lets things develop naturally as he knows they undoubtedly will.
With all the mystery surrounding their shared destinies, who is to say this wasn’t a part of the plan all along?
In the time leading up to the fourteenth day post his display of godly powers in the forest, Merlin works on making Arthur admit this is not unrequited.
It doesn’t take much.
Not that Merlin didn’t have to do some work. There were all those incidents of sassy backtalk and clever mocking, but there were also those sincere declarations of Arthur’s future greatness and enthusiastic attentions to his happiness. Not to mention the extra effort Merlin had finally started to give to his appearance and presentation.
Apparently Arthur is turned on by being mercilessly knocked down from his pedestal only to be helped back onto it and he really enjoys it when it’s done by a Merlin who wears a hint of color under his eyes and bends over a lot.
They spend much of their time gazing at each other for moments too long to be coincidence, smiling secretively, and flirting on the edge of being provocatively bold only to shy away at the last minute in an obvious tease.
It finally crosses the line from subtext to boldfaced, triple-underlined, exclamation text one evening when Merlin is in Arthur’s chambers, preparing a hot pack for his shoulder.
Arthur waits patiently (and gloriously bare-chested) at the edge of his bed, watching Merlin with darkened eyes while the warlock wraps a large heated stone under several layers of fabric.
Merlin settles on the bed perpendicular to the prince, letting his knee press against the outside of his thigh.
Arthur leans back a little on his arms, letting his head tilt carelessly toward his caretaker so he can watch his gentle ministrations.
He makes a (half obscene) noise of pleasure as the warmth from the stone penetrates deep into the scarred tissues.
Merlin holds the stone against Arthur’s skin with one hand while the other sifts through tussled strands of blond hair. Arthur doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at the intimate gesture. This has been coming for a long time.
“How does that feel?” Merlin asks in a low voice, although he already knows.
Arthur just groans and alternates his gaze from Merlin’s slender fingers pressing against his warming skin to that (entirely too) full mouth.
Knowing he’s being closely observed, Merlin lets his lips stretch into that little half-smile that is like the equivalent of giving Arthur a quick fondle.
Merlin ends the thermal treatment just shy of twenty minutes. Arthur ranges his shoulder a bit, adding a couple of muscle flexes that aren’t entirely necessary.
“All better?” the dark-haired boy smirks, laying his still warm hand against the healing scar and massaging with delicious pressure.
“You’ve got the magic touch,” Arthur sighs with satisfaction.
Merlin looks down sharply and stutters an awkward laugh, pulling his hand away to palm his own now heated face.
If you only knew…
When he thinks he’s sufficiently buried the fear that had flashed through his eyes, he glances back up at Arthur to gauge how badly he’s blown the moment.
But, Arthur is grinning openly at him and he reaches over to lightly run his fingers down Merlin’s reddened cheek.
“Can’t take a compliment?”
“I guess when it’s coming from you,” Merlin shrugs, recovering seamlessly, “I tend to get a little suspicious.”
Arthur makes a faux hurt-puppy face, pursing those already pouty lips even more.
“So, I’m just a bad guy here, am I? With no redeemable qualities?”
Merlin pretends to be contrite, although he can’t resist rolling his eyes.
“You’re right; I’m not being fair. Come on, try me again,” he lightly taps Arthur’s arm, “Compliment me.”
Arthur has the nerve to look a little shy. This only makes Merlin all the more eager to hear what he will say.
Arthur is quiet for a few seconds more as if he’s not sure he wants Merlin to know what he’s been thinking. But, he is anything but a coward, so finally-
“It means a lot that you’re the first person I see every morning. When you smile at me, it feels like I’ve already conquered the day before it’s even started.”
Merlin doesn’t want to do that girlishly soft gasp of delighted surprise, but it comes out anyway. He bites his lip to contain it, but it’s too late, and the gesture only succeeds in making him appear that much more a blushing virgin.
Arthur shrugs, “Oh, and you got a nice ass.”
Merlin lightly kicks Arthur’s calf before reaching over to take his hand.
“Ow,” Arthur says unconvincingly, squeezing back.
Merlin shifts a little closer and tilts his head slightly right. Arthur takes the hint and meets him the rest of the way, pressing their open mouths together.
“Thank you,” Merlin says quietly when they part just far enough to speak. He doesn’t think he has to clarify this is not in response to the “nice ass” comment.
“Thank you,” Arthur returns. He doesn’t think he has to clarify this is not in response to the hot pack treatment.
A few more soft, wet kisses (all right, a lot more) and Merlin leaves for his own room.
You don’t have to rush what is your destiny.