Fire and Rain by StardustToRememberYouBy
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Now that Merlin's relationship with Aria was known to Arthur, both halves of the couple were far better off, and both were as ecstatic as humanly possible.

Arthur congratulated them ten times over—he truly couldn't have been happier for them. Merlin had visited Aria every day since they no longer had to worry about being caught or being found out. He had been asking her for days to come to the castle with him and meet Gaius, but she was wary about the whole thing.

"Why won't you…again?" he asked when she had denied him once more.

Aria half-smiled, wringing her hands dry after washing her potatoes. "You and I both know that Gaius doesn't know about us as a unit—he was still angry with you, last you told me," she said gently, handing him a few potatoes so he could peel them, "and I'm the cause of it."

Merlin adamantly shook his head. "No, he'll love you once he is made to see what you mean to me." He used a rather nonchalant form of magic to assist her with peeling the potatoes, mostly so he could focus on his conversation with Aria. "He's the closest I have to a father, so your meeting him means a lot to me." He paused, taking her hands, the ones busy potato-peeling, into his own and holding them gently as she turned to look at him. "Please, Aria? At least give it some thought."

Staring into his eyes, it became difficult for her to deny him any longer. She rolled her eyes and sighed. "Alright, Merlin, I'll meet him as long as you promise not to pester me about it anymore."

Merlin smiled brightly. "You mean it?" She nodded and he took hold of her face, bringing her forehead to his lips. "You won't regret this."

"Merlin," she grunted, laughing, "I need to finish dinner."

"Right—sorry". He released her face and sighed contently, lovingly watching as she finished their meal in silence.

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"He's dead."

"Slow down, Merlin. Who is dead?"

"Lancelot…"

Ushering him inside, Aria listened intently as he told her what had happened to his old friend that had ultimately led to his demise. Since it had been eight months to the day that the two had first become a couple, Aria had grown accustomed to hearing Merlin speak of and praise the late knight often. It saddened her to hear of his friend's passing, so she listened when he spoke, held him as he sobbed, and dried his tears when he accidentally let one or two slip between his tightly shut eyelids.

Once he had, at last, calmed down, he gave her a faint smile.

"What is it?" she asked, the left-hand corner of her mouth upturning as she watched a healthier, happier glow overtake his face.

"You are the best thing that has ever happened to me," he said softly, running his thumb across her bottom lip.

She leaned toward him, pressing a long, loving kiss to his lips. "I think the same about you."

His eyes searched her face as his hands found hers and held them. "Arthur wanted me to ask you something." She watched him in silence so he continued. "As you probably know already, Morgana's chambers have lain dormant since her first departure, but he has made sure to keep it in good conditions should we ever find another woman to live there." Apparently, his hints were for naught so he continued. "Arthur wanted me to ask—well, I wanted to ask you—if perhaps you would consider moving in to Morgana's old chamber?"

Aria's eyebrows rose in shock as her spine straightened. She had never been asked such a question and now that she was faced with it, she didn't know how to respond. "That's quite the offer…"

"You could sell this house to make a bit of money and then all your possessions would move to the castle with you." He paused, watching her expression. Merlin filled with pity as he saw her eyes glisten with nostalgia, glancing around the room. "You don't want to leave this place, do you?"

After a moment, her sad eyes found his gaze once more. "I'm…I'm not sure." She sighed. "This home holds nothing but sadness for me and yet the thought of leaving it…" She shook her head and peered around the room.

Merlin watched her intently. "What would your reasons be for staying here? Your mother and one of your brothers is gone, your father has taken your sisters away, and your other brother is off who-knows-where doing who-cares-what. They all have lives without you now." His fingers caressed her chin, turning her face back to look at him. "I think it's time you moved on—and by 'on' I mean 'out'."

Aria sighed, smiling faintly as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "You're right, Merlin." She could sense that her voice sounded a bit quaky. "I know you're right. They're not in the picture of my life anymore. But you—us?" She squeezed his hands tightly, placing her fingers through his lightly. "We are my future, and I'm hindering us by locking onto my past. I can't change what has happened to me, but I know you're right." With a bright smile, Aria nodded, biting her bottom lip. "I'll move into the castle."

Merlin let loose a sigh of relief, letting go of her fingers to cradle her face. "That's…that's wonderful news." He chuckled lightly, leaning forward and capturing her lips in his own tenderly. She kissed him back, her hands shifting to the sides of his neck to hold herself in place.

After a moment, she pulled away, hearing a groan of reluctance from Merlin. "Wait…we'll both be living in the castle. Isn't that a bit…too close too soon?"

Merlin licked his lips. "Do you think it is?"

She shrugged, lightly shaking her head. "I don't know what to think, actually."

"If it makes you feel better, the physician's tower is on opposite sides of the castle from where you'll be staying."

Aria smiled. "That does provide some comfort."

He nodded. "Good, I'm glad." His fingers lightly stroked her face. "I'll tell Arthur your answer first thing in the morning." He kissed her again, met by a light-hearted laugh from her which meant the world to him—it meant she was feeling happy again.

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"Just a moment, Merlin. I want to say my goodbyes."

"Take your time, sweetheart."

Aria turned into the doorway, her hand lightly touching the door-frame as she fondly took her last looks into the home she had come to call her own. Her eyes, as though cheated by some spell, could have sworn she heard the faint laughter of her siblings followed by her own as the three were cooking dinner for their father—how much younger, cleaner, crisper she looked back then, all those years ago. Now, she was a young woman, venturing out on her own and quite literally, too.

Merlin could tell that she was thigh-deep in nostalgia now, judging by the pained and bittersweet glances of her eyes and the light twitches upturning the corners of her mouth as though she could either burst into tears or laughter, depending on the memory her brain was currently revisiting. He wanted to ask her what she was seeing, but refrained, exhaling through his nostrils as he stepped beside her, looking around her now-empty home with a completely different set of eyes than hers.

He then heard a sound that pierced right through his eardrums—she hummed somewhere deep with her throat, a kind of sad, wallowing sound as though mourning a life once lived. Merlin's heart ached for her and he took her hand as if to silently remind her that the future was still yet to come and that he alone would prevent her from ever feeling this pained again.

Aria sucked in her bottom lip, chin aquiver, as she took one final, fond look around her home. The left side of her mouth curled upwards as her shaky, free hand grasped the handle on the door, pulling it shut behind her as she turned around with Merlin's hand still tightly clutched in her own.

"I'll take care of the place, Ari—don't you worry," her kindly female acquaintance said. The woman had been an old friend to Aria's mother and Aria shook the woman's hand silently, her eyes indicating what her lips could not.

Starting her journey with Merlin and the guards Arthur had dispatched to carry her belongings to the castle, her gaze went south, staring at the dirt as she walked.

Merlin's heart went out to her, but for a few moments, all he could do was lovingly give her hand a squeeze or two as a reminder that he was still there.

"How are you feeling?" he asked softly, but all she did was shake her head, so Merlin dropped the subject entirely.

The remainder of the trek to the castle was held in complete silence. Upon reaching Morgana's old chambers, the guards placed her trunks onto the ground and promptly dismissed themselves after an expression of gratitude from Merlin. Aria swiftly began putting her things away in the nooks and crannies found about the room. Merlin watched her closely, hoping she would speak to him on her own, but she didn't. This led him to believe that she wasn't ready to discuss her departure from her home, or what she had seen to make her as quiet as she was.

"Aria, are you alright? You're quieter than I've seen you in months." His words were tender and soft-spoken as he wanted her to know how worried he was about her. He knew she had heard him, but she didn't acknowledge him with an answer, so he gave up with a sigh. "Fine. I get it. If you don't want to talk about what happened back there or what you're feeling, that's fine—I understand how attached you were to that place." His eyes narrowed. "I guess I'll just leave you to your thoughts then." Turning to walk out, his hand found the handle on the door to pull it behind him.

"Merlin," Aria's voice said sharply, catching his attention fully, "wait." She quickly crossed the room to where he was standing, her arms folding across her chest. "I'm…I'm so sorry. I would've spoken back there, but I'm sure I was seeing things before we left the house. I saw…" She sighed, shaking her head. "I suppose it isn't important. I should've told you anyway though…I suppose I'm still struggling with letting you in on every thought I have."

Merlin shook his head. "If it's that much of a struggle, I'm not pressuring you to tell me everything. But if you're depressed, please don't shut me out. I'm not much of a help, but I could share your burden—"

"Oh, Merlin," Aria interrupted softly, stepping towards him and placing her hand lightly on his chest, "I would never shut you out. One day, I'll tell you all about what I saw and why it affected me so deeply. But for right now, don't worry." She smiled gently, her eyes searching his face. "I love you…so, so much."

Merlin took her hand as it lay on his chest and smiled at her. "And I love you," he responded, leaning forward and kissing her forehead. His lips lingered there before the sound of someone clearing their throat made him retreat from her, his cheeks turning a deep shade of red as his arms—and hers—dropped to their sides. Turning to look at the person nearby, he saw that it was Arthur.

"Your Majesty," Aria said, curtsying, "my apologies."

Arthur smiled and laughed. "I swear, the pair of you couldn't be any more perfect for each other—it's nauseating." He stepped forward, peering into Aria's new chambers briefly.

"Sire, I cannot thank you enough for giving me the push I needed to get out of my house. It was tying me down, but not anymore."

Arthur waved his hands and shook his head. "No need to thank me. What's done is done. Now you can live in a place surrounded by all the new memories you've yet to have." He smiled at her. "If you ever need anything, anything at all, don't hesitate to ask." With a slap on Merlin's back and a quick wink, Arthur sauntered down the corridor.

Aria stood beside Merlin as both watched their king leave. "You were right," she commented, leaning against him as his arm wrapped around her. "He does strut about the castle."

"Told you," Merlin said with a slight laugh, followed by a giggle from her, as he looked down at her. Pressing his arm closer around her, he pulled her shoulder right underneath the crook of his arm.

Aria peered up at him. "Help me get settled in?"

Merlin nodded and swung the two of them around, heading back into her room and closing the door shut behind them.
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