Title: Veiled Light
Summary: Winter solstice approaches. Sometimes it is light, sometimes it is dark, but there are always secrets.
Genre: Angst, Future!fic
Word count: 740
Beta: penarddun, onehoureternity, assorted Nanos.
A/N: Christmas gift for fadagaski .
Merlin's boots scuffed against the stone floor as he made his way down the hallway to Arthur's chambers. He had nothing particular to report (there had been a giant cat-monster yesterday, but Lancelot had dispatched it with minor fuss) and he technically had the day off. But it was like an itch he couldn't scratch when he couldn't see Arthur; an itch located right under his third rib on his left side.
Activity bustled around him, servants abuzz with preparations for the coming Winter Solstice. The whole castle thrummed with the scent of freshly cut evergreens and burning wicks. Even at high noon, with the weak wintertide sun flooding the passage with light, candles flickered on the walls; creating short shadows and long shadows; shadows that stretched out; shadows that mingled with other shadows; shadows marked by the light that had birthed them. It reminded him of secrets cast in obscurity; of secrets hiding under the stark daylight of an open sky; of secrets glowing in the dark, waiting to be found; of secrets with lives of their own. Of himself. Of Arthur.
He was smiling absentmindedly when Guinevere appeared at the other end of the corridor. Her hair was neatly tied up, a couple of elegant curls gracing her neck and framing her face in a careless design. She was swathed in a rich fabric, delicately embroidered and the sleeves lined subtly with gold thread; subtle but he noticed it, noticed how it enhanced the tawny hue of her skin, noticed that she wouldn't have worn gold a year ago, noticed that his sleeves were frayed with use.
Merlin stopped at the sight of her, debating whether or not to turnabout and avoid her. She hadn't seen him yet. He hesitated a moment too long and her eyes found him, his body already half-turning away.
"Merlin, wait." She strode down the hallway. He inclined his head slightly.
"My lady." His heart still twinged at the words. Gone were the days she would laugh nervously at the honorific. How the seasons changed.
"About yesterday... it would be best it was not mentioned." Her voice held a worried edge, the vertical frown line between her eyebrows deepening. A servant brushed by with a thick laurel-scented candle and for a second Gwen's face was half cast in light, half in shadow. Merlin was no fool, he understood what she left unsaid, who she wanted to keep in the dark. Merlin's anger flared before he quenched it, savagely. So many secrets. Camelot had too many secrets.
He bit back harsh words, words that had already been said, their purpose already been foiled and tried for a more peaceful approach.
"So be it." He paused. "Does my Lord have need of me?" Gwen's eyes narrowed, the line between her eyebrows becoming more pronounced. He hadn't meant to stress the "my" that hard. So much for peace.
"My Lord does not require your presence today." She bit out the words, possessive anger tainting them. Her tone was pitched to carry and a couple of heads turned.
A messenger came to interrupt them and Merlin was frustrated and relieved by the distraction. They had grown apart recently, tiny shards of knowledge ripping little holes in their relationship. He looked at the door at the end of the hallway. Her interdiction irritated him, but he did not wish to aggravate her further. Already he felt the strain between them like little inquisitive fingers bent on separation and hidden in the gloom, waiting and ready. Going to Arthur now, Gwen's words still vibrating in the air between them.... it would be too much of a defiance. The door beckoned, but Merlin knew better. Hunting with Arthur had been painful, but it had paid off. It was not time, not yet. Winter was in full bloom, it could catch you out cold if you stepped on the wrong patch of ice, or the wrong toes. Gwen knew more than he cared to reveal. His tongue would keep.
He could afford to wait until the weather changed in his favour, until he could tell Arthur what he wanted without fear of anyone crushing his secrets in the palm of their hand. After all, Merlin knew that secrets changed and no longer stayed the same; that they sprang forth and flourished in sunlight or shadow, but that in the end they all withered and dried - falling softly - to crackle under purposeful boots.