Word Count: 3,100+ words
Notes: Merlin/Arthur. Written for Linda, with a lot of love.
Summary: Merlin miscasts a spell and finds he can see into the future, in a thoroughly rubbishy kind of way.
The main problem with being immensely powerful and yet little more than a young boy, Merlin mused, was a lack of control. Ordinarily he wouldn’t want to refer to himself as ‘little more than a young boy’, he’d seen his fair share of misery and bloodshed, he wasn’t entirely green when it came to affairs of the flesh and the heart, but four days after the spell went wrong and he still hadn't discovered the counter-spell, he had to admit that Gaius’ words were apt. Anyone significantly over the age of ‘young boy’ would not have found themselves in this mess.
It started in the forest. He’d been tasked with the retrieval of a rare herb needed for a tincture Gaius was to make for King Uther. He’d searched high, low, and in the middle, and it was nowhere to be found, so Merlin hadn’t seen anything wrong with casting a quick location spell. He’d done it before and been wildly successful, finding roots Gaius had assumed had stopped growing near Camelot. However, on this occasion he must have got the wording slightly wrong. Or maybe he’d added an unfortunate flick to his wrist. Somewhere along the line, the elements had conspired against him, because instead of a glowing beacon to follow, or leaves all pointing inexorably in a single direction, or a simple flash of inspiration, Merlin was walking along determinedly when he was struck with a vision of himself stumbling over a log and finding the aforementioned herb. He recognised the area he had seen, so he immediately walked in that direction. And within about forty paces, Merlin fell over a log and found the aforementioned herb.
Had that been the last of it, all would have been well, but of course that hadn’t been the last of it. On his way back towards the castle, Merlin had closed his eyes for a moment to be assaulted by a scene of a wild boar chasing him through the undergrowth. Nearing the forest’s edge, Merlin yelled frantically as he ran away from a wild boar, chasing him through the undergrowth, only attaining freedom when he climbed up a tree and set an apparition charging on ahead.
Merlin hated premonitions. They had always caused him nothing but trouble and strife. No good had ever come from seeing what was to await him. But even worse were premonitions from events so close in happenstance to that which he was living now. He could not say whether they were a simple warning or an invocation for him to change what was to occur. And weirdly, disconcertingly, he was watching action unfold as if it were a play and he a spectator. He did not see things from his perspective, but as an outsider.
The real trouble began when Arthur became involved. Merlin supposed it wasn’t actually Arthur’s fault that he was hearing his complaints twice and therefore getting ten times more irritable. He knew that Arthur couldn’t really be blamed that Merlin could see himself getting hit in the head nine utterances before getting hit in the head. Though he could, of course, be blamed for throwing the boot in the first place. No, the fact that everything became more complicated once Arthur was part of it was really just the natural order of things. But Merlin was still all the more annoyed. There were only so many insults a man could take.
"Is it my imagination, or are you even less competent today than usual?" Arthur asked in that wide-eyed manic way he sometimes had that set Merlin's heart beating quick and hard.
"Must be your imagination," he replied cheerfully, because there was nothing so fun as annoying Arthur, and anyway, he was pretty sure that if he was to be thrown in the stocks soon, he'd have seen that by now. "My middle name's competency."
"Now, we both know that's a lie. Your kind can't afford middle names."
Merlin paused, checking to see if he was about to have a premonition of being burnt at the stake for enchanting Arthur to have a pig's snout. He had to admit surprise. It had been a long time since Arthur had made remarks that showed him to be convinced of his own superiority towards anyone but Merlin.
"My kind?" Merlin asked, willing his voice not to go as tight as he could feel his mouth becoming. "Servants? Commoners?"
"Idiots," Arthur supplied. "It's bad enough for you trying to remember a first and last, let alone something so tricky as a third." Arthur frowned. "In fact, do you even have a last name?"
Merlin had a sudden image of them both starting due to a knock at the door. The shock on Arthur's face was comical, but his own expression was a little more knowing. He crossed over the stone flagons and waited.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, clearly exasperated.
"Someone's about to request your presence," Merlin answered.
"Yes. You should probably do something about your hair. It's sort of --- in disarray."
Arthur rolled his eyes majestically. "No one except you cares about my hair, Merlin. And there's no way you could have heard people coming when I couldn't. Your hearing is notoriously appalling."
There was a sonorous knocking at the door that made Merlin start and he glanced at Arthur in time to see him looking shocked and smoothing at his fringe with the palm of one hand. He opened the door and admitted Sir Leon.
"You are wanted in the throne room, Sire," Leon said, looking from Merlin to Arthur with an edge of confusion.
"I take it your hearing is selective," Arthur said out of the corner of his mouth as he brushed tantalisingly close on his way out the door. "Of course it is." He made a signal for Merlin to follow, and since, at that moment, Merlin saw himself standing alongside Arthur in the throne room, he assumed he was meant, or at least that he was going, to do as he was bidden.
They were to go on a quest. Well, Merlin assumed it was a quest. They were supposed to go somewhere, because he could see them riding out together, Arthur checking on him as they made their way through the gates. He himself was looking down at that moment, presumably ensuring he had a tight hold of the reins, and Merlin was a touch bewildered to find Arthur's gaze intent, half-affectionate and not nearly as mocking as he would have expected. Just as the flash-forward ended, Uther told Arthur that there was a magical creature ravaging villagers in a town a day's travel from the castle. The village was on the nearest border between their kingdom and Mercia, so he didn't feel he could send an entire patrol, but this didn't bother him because Arthur had proved on more than one occasion he could best any beast.
"Thank you, Father," Arthur said, and Merlin didn't think he had to be psychic to pick up on undertones of aggravation in the staccato of his rhythm.
The stable boys had already readied their horses, and the kitchens had sent out packs of food. It didn't take long for them to be riding out of the castle gates. Merlin steadfastly looked ahead, refusing to glance at his reins, focussed on capturing Arthur's glance towards him. Unfortunately, the horse he was on, an irascible stallion named Cnut, chose to tear away and Merlin was hurtling through the gates and down the trail before he even had time to call for help.
By the time Arthur caught up with him, Merlin was red-faced and panting heavily. He had diverted his course with two well-timed kicks, as shown to him in a blinding scene wherein he had looked more than a little foolish.
"You truly are useless," Arthur declared. In his misery, Merlin couldn't help but agree.
Mostly, it was distracting. So far, very few of his premonitions had been of any use. Whenever he attempted to alter events the consequences were generally worse than what had been going to befall him anyway. Plus, he laughed at Arthur's jokes before Arthur had a chance to say them, and on a couple of occasions, Merlin wasn't sure it wasn't his laughter that had prompted them. The very notion of that gave him a headache. Another horrible side-effect of the visions was the unfiltered view of his appearance. He hadn't known his ears stuck out quite that much before, often looking more at his eyes in a mirror or other reflective surface. And he had to admit, his first thought upon seeing himself was that he clearly had to steal more sausages off Arthur's dinner plates.
"You're awfully quiet," Arthur said after a time. What with seeing everything twice, Merlin found time was getting a bit muddled. They'd made camp for the night, and they had left at about midday, it had to have been a fair amount of time. But he couldn't say exactly how long. "With emphasis on the awful."
"I'm sure you can guess what my response to that is going to be."
"What? No! Why?"
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Because you've been my manservant long enough to know most of my insults. What has got into you today?"
Merlin faked a laugh. "Nothing, Sire. I'm worried, that's all. I don't think it's right that the King should send you on such a dangerous quest. Not when he's been ill."
"It's precisely because he's ill that he's testing me," Arthur said, quietly.
"Precisely." Arthur poked at the dying embers of the fire. "We should sleep. I'll want to set off before the sunrise if you think you can manage it. But, then, you don't really have a choice."
"Okay," Merlin said, gesturing a 'goodnight' to Arthur's retreating form.
Within a second, he found himself watching the two of them pressed together, him on his back, visibly blushing even in the dark, and Arthur straddling his body. He did his utmost not to squeak.
"Erm, Arthur," he said, standing up and searching, because he didn't think he could simply let this event unfold.
"What do you want now, Mer--- Oh! Quick, get down." Arthur bolted over and shoved him to the dirt.
Arthur was heavy, warm and not overly unpleasant and therefore it took what seemed like ages before Merlin realised there was the sound of hooves approaching.
"Arthur?" Merlin enquired, only for Arthur to put his hand over his mouth and glare down at him.
Merlin wouldn't have complained, except that, instead of seeing Arthur's angry face above him, he was now seeing several wild boars trampling over them, blood intermingling with the earth.
He licked Arthur's hand. There was nothing else to be done. Arthur pulled away, looking thoroughly scandalised. "What do you think..."
"They're not bandits or Mercian guards on horses, they're boars."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"Just trust me, alright? We have to get up --- now!"
Merlin bucked Arthur off, grabbing his shirt by the scruff and pulling him forcefully towards the trees. He used the least conspicuous magic he could to help Arthur up a particularly tall oak.
The boars came crashing into the clearing the very minute he flailed for Arthur's hand. There was a tense minute wherein he kept thinking he would foresee his own pathetic, accidental death. Eventually, he was settled on a branch next to Arthur, wincing at his wrenched shoulder.
"I had a run-in with a boar this morning," Merlin said by way of explanation. "I recognised the pattern of their footfall."
Arthur took a deep, shuddering breath. "There are instances, Merlin, when I don't know whether to kiss or kill you."
"Kiss, please," Merlin said, before realising how it sounded. "Er. You know. Rather than kill. I'd prefer not to die, I mean. Not dying would be good."
Arthur barked out a laugh. "If I were going to kill you, let's face it, I would have done so long before now."
'And if you were going to kiss me?' Merlin wondered. He jumped down from the tree and inspected their newly trampled campsite.
"Everything's demolished, and I think they found our food," Merlin called out.
Arthur leapt to the ground near him, casting a scowl over the ground. "What do we do now?"
"Press on? Maybe we'll come to a tavern or farm?"
"Is that a guess or a certainty?"
"A guess. I've never been this way before."
Arthur levelled him with a look that was commanding even in moonlight. "Right."
The horses were thankfully not spooked by the stampede. They mounted and set off in the direction of the village Arthur was supposed to be saving. Merlin tried very hard not to be afraid of what might happen next.
"The thing is, Merlin, I'm not stupid," Arthur was saying. Except he wasn't saying it right at this minute, he was saying it in Merlin's mind, and doing so with a very fixed look in his direction. The Merlin in Merlin's mind looked profoundly discomforted, apprehensive and perplexed. "I've been watching you for a while, now, and I've come to a few conclusions," Arthur continued.
"There's ---" Merlin said, swallowing a breath and laying a hand over his pounding heart. "There's something you should know."
"Is it, perhaps, something I already know?"
"I think so."
"The thing is, Merlin, I'm not stupid. I've been watching you for a while, now, and I've come to a few conclusions."
"Yes. I gathered that." Merlin pursed his lips.
"I have magic and one of my spells has backfired," he admitted, just as Arthur said, "you have a crush and you want to do things with me."
"Wait, what?" they both yelled, stopping their horses and staring at one another.
Merlin jumped down and Arthur followed suit. He got that manic expression he sometimes had that made Merlin want to run for the hills, don a disguise, and grow old and grey in exile.
"You have magic?" he repeated, eyes narrowing. The sun was beginning to rise and the gold of his hair caught the light. It made him look even more intimidating.
"I thought you'd realised," Merlin confessed.
"Otherwise you wouldn't have told me, is that right?" Arthur stormed.
Merlin had a horrible feeling his next vision was going to be of him standing alone in the nearby field, Arthur galloping hurriedly away. His stomach clenched and he finally noticed the sweat on his palms. He felt wretched, in every way imaginable.
Arthur stayed stock still. "Well?"
"I wanted to tell you, so many times, but, Arthur," Merlin grabbed him by the shoulders and kept him pinned there. "This has always been a secret I've had to keep on pain of death. You know that."
"You could have told me!" Arthur shouted, just as Merlin was attacked by another premonition.
This time, he saw them kissing, Arthur's arms winding around his back, one hand snaking into his hair as the other held fast at his hip. They were deepening the kiss, pulling one another closer, completely unheeding the fact there was a baby wyvern stalking towards them from behind a close-by bush.
"We need to run," Merlin said, attempting to drag Arthur away again, but Arthur had planted his feet.
"No. Why should we? Why should I trust anything you ever say again?"
"Because if you don't, we're going to be a wyvern's breakfast, and I don't know about you, but I would prefer to see tomorrow when tomorrow actually occurs."
Arthur scowled. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"The spell? The one that backfired? It lets me see the future. Not for long, and not far, but it does. And the future I have most recently seen is our combined grisly demise, so, Arthur, please, trust me enough to save your life for the five hundredth time."
Arthur's expression became even more thunderous, but he allowed Merlin to prod and poke him in the direction of their horses. They rode to safety, with Merlin shouting warnings to the wyvern to stay away or taste Arthur's blade. He felt sure it was small and immature enough that it would lack confidence in its own abilities to rend and maim, a little like himself.
He spent the next two or so hours wondering what he might have said or done to get Arthur to kiss him. He couldn't imagine the right words to achieve that kind of acceptance, and he was a little worried he might have witnessed what would have happened had he enchanted Arthur before saying a final goodbye. The silence grew between them and he worried at his lip as he visualised Arthur's chin tilted just-so, his own hands brushing against Arthur's armour.
"Five hundred times?" Arthur asked as they neared the village, checking that baby wyvern didn't have parents that were terrorising innocent people.
"Mmm, I probably misspoke," Merlin replied, clutching his reins tighter. "It's closer to a thousand."
He didn't expect the laugh that followed. It heartened him considerably.
"All this time you've used this magic to save me?"
"Often from your own stupidity."
"You really are the prat I've always known, aren't you?"
"Just as you're the arse I've always known."
"Tell me, what do you see in your immediate future right this second?" Arthur asked, voice hard, but expression soft.
Merlin frowned. He'd already taken several risks today; he couldn't see the harm in one more. "I haven't seen anything for a while," he said. "Oh, wait," he continued. "You're telling me that you have a crush and you want to do things with me. And now you're leaning in for a kiss."
Arthur sounded full of wonder. "Really?"
"No, but it's a nice idea, isn't it?"
There was a beat, and then, "yes. It is."
Merlin didn't think he hated premonitions much anymore when his next one was of Arthur tugging him into an embrace and rubbing his thumb against his lower lip. Arthur looked at him with something akin to reverence and he looked --- spellbound, awestruck, very much in love. In the next second they were kissing; longer and deeper than in the vision before, Arthur sliding his leg between his own. He would almost be embarrassed if he weren't so full of hope.
"Well, this is unfair," Arthur said, cutting into Merlin's reverie. "Judging by the look on your face you just got a taste of what's to come. Still, I'm sure I'll catch up."
And then Arthur tugged Merlin into an embrace, rubbing his thumb against his lower lip and looking at him with something akin to reverence.