Harlequin's Slash Fic

Treason, Love, Magic

Title: Treason, Love, Magic
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Merlin/Arthur
Category, Word count: Short story; 8870 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Merlin discovers that Arthur has recklessly gone off to fight a monster on his own – so Merlin follows him, desperate to make sure he’s all right. As emotions run high following the confrontation, all Merlin’s secrets are revealed.

 

Treason, Love, Magic

Merlin was furious. Too furious to even see straight. He ran into Gwen – almost literally – on the way down to the stables. ‘Merlin! What is it? What’s wrong?’

Her hands on his sleeves, turning him about, and he could have just torn himself away and run off, but he owed her more than that. ‘It’s Arthur. He’s gone after that creature. On his own!’

‘All right,’ she said, letting him go, stepping back. ‘Go after him! But I’m sure he’ll be fine, Merlin.’

‘He shouldn’t take the risk!’ Merlin was off again. Over his shoulder he cried, ‘He’s going to get himself killed one day!’

She looked anxious, of course. But she cried out reassuringly, ‘He’s a great warrior!’

Merlin waved back at her as he rounded the corner towards the stables. It was true. However, as he muttered to himself, ‘A sword isn’t always enough.’

But Arthur had taken the last horse that wasn’t working, or resting, or sick, or old.

Merlin growled his frustration and set off on foot. It wasn’t far.

Some kind of hound had been terrorising the farms in the valley just to the east of the castle. A hell hound, some said. Others called it a wolf, but said that its eyes glowed. A few insisted it was just an old dog gone rabid, but they weren’t much heeded – these were frightened times, and most stories grew darker in the telling. The one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that it was only attacking sheep. For now. Gloomy voices anticipated it progressing to a child soon.

So late on that dull grey afternoon, with nothing else to occupy him, the crown prince had apparently taken it into his head to go deal with the animal once and for all. Merlin growled again, and pushed himself along; he crested the last hill and ran down the narrow track. He could only hope he got there in time.

Of course, he didn’t even know where there was, seeing as no one knew where the hound came from or returned to. However, they’d all assumed it must live near the few farms it had been haunting. Merlin ran steadily along the forest path that meandered just above the higher meadows, casting around him with all his senses for any sign. The day was drawing on; it was already twilight under the trees.

Snarls alerted him. Up through the forest to his right. A series of loud, savage barks. Then – even worse – a quiet, menacing growling that did not stop.

‘Arthur!’ Merlin plunged through some undergrowth – got disoriented – paused to listen. Regained his bearings, and took off again. ‘Arthur!’

Suddenly – a clearing before a cave mouth – the scene vivid in the last of the daylight. The hound low on its haunches, ready to spring. Arthur facing it, protected by his chain mail but his head bare. Sword held solidly in both hands. In his low fighting stance, his balance even, ready to swing his weight in any direction.

Not too late, then. Merlin came to a halt, breathing hard. His heart already beating easier. Arthur was alive.

However, the hound was massive. No way was it an ordinary dog, nor even a wolf. And Arthur looked so vulnerable standing there before it. The finest knight in Camelot looked fragile before this threat. And Arthur himself was too wary to really acknowledge Merlin, even with a glance.

‘Arthur –’

‘What are you doing here?’ the prince muttered, his attention still fixed on the thing crouched before him.

‘Helping you, of course.’

Arthur just snorted. Shifted a little as the hound’s growl suddenly deepened. Shifted the sword into his right hand and used that supple wrist movement to swing it round in an arc. Grasped it in both hands again. Ready.

The damned creature was scary. And its eyes did indeed glow with an unholy light. It wasn’t entirely of this world.

Merlin lifted a hand, ready to channel his magic. Not quite sure what he was going to do, not yet, but the right solution usually came by instinct these days. He’d learned how to focus it. He’d learned how very much power he could wield. No – he’d learned it was more power than he’d even dreamed of back in Ealdor. He hadn’t found its limits yet.

The hound shifted down even further on those huge back haunches. It was about to spring –

‘Merlin! Stay back!’

‘Arthur! Don’t let it –’

The creature suddenly surging towards Arthur – one long bound as if flying through the air –

Arthur’s sword swinging up and round to aim unerringly at its heart –

Arthur preparing himself, planting his feet, so that all his strength would be behind that sword as the hound plunged onto it –

But Arthur would be crushed as the creature fell –

Merlin let the sword enter deep within – could feel the heart pierced – and then he slowed down time. Forced the hound away to Arthur’s right, bringing it towards Merlin. It died even as it was falling. Arthur’s hands were wrenched off the sword hilt – but then he too was falling – backwards, twisting – as the hound’s long snout pushed across his face, one savage canine tooth tearing his skin. Merlin cursed himself – pulled with more force – the two figures collapsed, with the hound pinning Arthur from the waist down.

‘Arthur!’ he cried, rushing forward.

The prince wasn’t stirring. His eyes were closed.

‘Arthur!’ Merlin was there now, cradling the prince’s heavy head in his hands. Alive – a heartbeat pounding slow in that throat. Merlin groaned with relief. Muttered an incantation to staunch the bleeding from the scraping cut across Arthur’s forehead.

A groan, and then Arthur was coming back to himself – so Merlin hastily grabbed his shoulders and hauled him out from under the dead hound, using a quick burst of magic to shift the creature’s weight.

‘Get off me,’ Arthur muttered.

Merlin helped him up into a sitting position. Swept back that thick fringe to check that the blood had stopped. The cut seemed all right, though it needed to be cleaned, sooner rather than later.

‘Get off me!’ Arthur yelled.

Merlin withdrew his hands, but stayed there, crouched beside his master.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’ The prince sounded monumentally pissed off.

For a moment, Merlin’s heart sank. But then he remembered that he was furious, too. ‘I told you – I’m helping you!’

Helping me?!’ Arthur was dragging himself up to his feet. He disdainfully shook off Merlin’s hands. ‘Distracting me, more like it – at exactly the wrong moment. Complicating everything. I don’t need to have to protect you as well as fight the damned beast, you know! The situation was quite challenging enough as it was.’

‘I just saved your life!’ Merlin retorted in righteous indignation.

‘You almost killed me,’ Arthur insisted, deadly. He turned away. Went to retrieve his sword and clean it. Picked up his knife from where it had fallen in the dirt.

Merlin couldn’t help but notice the prince was still a bit wobbly on his feet. ‘Arthur,’ he said, a bit more reasonably, ‘I need to clean that cut on your head. It might get infected.’

‘Look – just go away, would you?’

‘No!’ Merlin withstood a glare, and then argued, ‘You can’t ask me not to look after you. That’s not how this works.’

‘You’ve already done quite enough for one day.’ Arthur turned his back, and hobbled off down the slope.

Well, at least that would take him down to the path. Merlin stubbornly set his jaw and followed the man. Arthur just ignored him.

After a few minutes, the prince veered off to the left through some undergrowth. When Merlin found him again, Arthur was kneeling on the rocks by a freshly bubbling spring, drinking deeply from his cupped hands. Once he’d satisfied what was obviously a fierce thirst, Arthur splashed water on his face, trying to clean the cut himself.

Merlin went over and crouched by him again, insisted on looking at the wound. It wasn’t deep, but a fair bit of skin had been jaggedly scraped, and it still wasn’t clean. ‘It needs hot water,’ he said, ‘and Gaius’s healing balm.’

‘Fine,’ Arthur replied in clipped tones. ‘I’ll make a fire. Now, go away, all right? I don’t want you here.’

‘No, I’m taking you back to the castle.’ Something belatedly occurred to him, and he looked around. ‘Where’s your horse?’

‘She ran off when –’ Arthur shook a hand up towards the hound and its cave. ‘When that thing started barking.’

‘Right, well. We’ll have to walk. You can lean on me, if you need to.’

Arthur just glared at him. ‘When will you get it through your thick skull that I came out here to be alone?!’

Merlin considered him. ‘I thought you came out here to kill the hound?’

‘That was the pretext,’ the prince replied through gritted teeth. ‘God, do I have to draw you a picture? Everyone else in that bloody castle understands! Sometimes I just need to get away from all that. Sometimes I go on a “quest” for a night or two.’ The word was heavily sarcastic, as if self–mockery was Arthur’s last defence. ‘Sometimes I don’t want to be troubled by anyone but myself.’

‘Oh.’ Merlin thought for a few moments. ‘I didn’t know that.’ He realised that he’d already quit being furious.

‘Well,’ said Arthur, ‘I suppose it’s been a while. Maybe the last time was before you arrived.’ Then, apparently thinking that might sound too conciliatory, he muttered, ‘Although I can’t think why you haven’t driven me away on a hundred quests since then.’

Merlin sighed. He’d thought Arthur handled the pressure of being the prince quite well. He’d thought Arthur loved the benefits so much that he didn’t really mind about the hassles. Apparently Merlin had been wrong. But that wasn’t the main problem right now. The main problem was, ‘You could have died up there. That thing could have killed you.’

Arthur had settled himself so that he was sitting back against a rock ledge, with his legs stuck out in front of him. He obviously wasn’t comfortable, but he seemed too weary to do anything more about it. It was getting dark now, and cold, but Arthur didn’t seem to notice. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘I could have been killed. But sometimes,’ he quietly confessed, ‘I need to remember that would be a bad thing.’

Arthur…’ Merlin whispered, struck through with awe of the terrified sort.

‘So now will you go away and leave me alone?’ As if it were a perfectly reasonable boon for one friend to ask of another.

‘No,’ he said in a very small voice.

‘I’ve remembered, all right? As that thing was leaping at me, I remembered very well. I didn’t want to die.’

‘Good!’ Merlin managed.

‘So, go back to the castle, and I’ll see you there tomorrow. I promise.’

But Merlin rallied himself. ‘Arthur, we can’t lose you.’

The prince just shook his head, uninterested. Looked somewhere else, as if no longer participating in this conversation.

‘No, I mean it. We can’t lose you. We’re all relying on you. We’re all waiting for you to be the king. To make things right.’

‘Merlin –’ Arthur said in a low warning.

‘You can’t tell me things are all right as they are. Executions every other week. Losing Lancelot because the knights have to be of noble birth. No one allowed near magic, let alone practice – practice something that isn’t evil in itself. Gwen’s father killed for nothing. The king throwing –’

‘Shut up, Merlin!’

‘– throwing anyone in the dungeons if they dare to disagree with him. He won’t even listen!’

You are talking treason.’

‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ Merlin stared at the prince for a long precarious moment. Then strangely, he felt laughter bubble up within in. ‘Arthur,’ he said very evenly, ‘your father would have me executed three times over if he had any idea who I am.’

‘Is that so…?’ A moment stretched in which Arthur frowned at Merlin as if trying to solve a riddle. But then Arthur shook his head again, dismissing any thought of being intrigued by his man servant. ‘Go back to the castle. That’s an order. And for God’s sake don’t repeat any of that to anyone else. Not even Gaius. Understand?’

‘Yes.’

‘And my father does listen. When he can. Sometimes he changes his mind. I argue with him all the time, if you hadn’t noticed.’

Merlin smiled at the prince, and said softly, ‘Yes, you do.’

But Arthur didn’t notice, because he was forcing himself back up. Got as far as kneeling. He paused, and bent for another drink from the spring, as if that had been his purpose.

‘I’m not leaving you out here alone. You don’t even have your horse! And I guess your supplies are in the saddlebags.’

‘She’ll come back. She’ll find me.’ A swift glance. ‘She’s very loyal, and she does what she’s told.’

‘Right, yeah…’

Arthur glanced at him again, though thankfully he appeared half–amused. ‘Look, this chain mail is getting too damned heavy. Help me off with it, would you? Before you go.’

So Merlin went to crouch by the prince, and he lifted the chain mail tunic up, gathering the heavy links in his hands, standing as he hauled it up over Arthur’s lifted arms. Then he knelt again, very close, hands burdened. And he looked at Arthur, at his weary, vulnerable, beautiful face. As if the prince had been stripped of every last defence now, and wanted nothing more than peace.

Merlin’s heart pounded so hard he thought Arthur must feel the vibration of it through the rocks beneath them. He had never pitied Arthur before – and Merlin had never felt so much expansive love, just when Arthur would hate him for the pity. But there would never be a right time, would there? There was no point in waiting for a perfect moment that would never come.

So he leant in close and pressed his mouth to those tender vulnerable lips. He thought of it as a blessing, a gesture of love and friendship, an offering of himself. He thought of it as healing. Arthur’s lips parted under his, and shifted, as if dazedly responding. Merlin pushed closer, deepened the kiss –

– and Arthur shoved him away, hard. Sent him sprawling.

Merlin looked up from where he lay, saw Arthur struggling to stand. Furious. Merlin scrambled to get to his feet as well, but then Arthur was striding towards him – and any hint of weariness had vanished, he just seemed strong and certain and invincible. Merlin stood his ground. He had presumed too much, obviously. But he’d take his punishment. Arthur reached towards him, but Merlin refused to flinch.

Then his face was trapped between two hands, and Arthur was close, so close, still furious – but kissing him, kissing him, and Merlin moaned, wanting this, oh how he’d wanted it for so damned long.

Arthur swinging him round and wrestling him to the ground in one swift move, demanding hands placing him just so – Merlin was surprised to find himself lying on top of Arthur, who was on his back – those hard hands at Merlin’s hips, shifting him – their cocks suddenly ground together and Merlin gave out something between a groan and a cry, agonised – only it wasn’t agony, it was perfection. Arthur bent one leg, dug his heels in, and thrust up against Merlin. Another agonised cry echoed up to the night sky. Then those hands directing his hips, setting a rolling rhythm – pressing down and up and back around, down and up and back around – ‘Arthur!’ The sensation so incredible, so vivid, despite the fact they were both still fully clothed.

Arthur lifted his head, mouth hungry, so Merlin dropped closer, maintaining the rhythm, kissed him – Arthur gnawing and sucking on Merlin’s lower lip, growling deep in his throat.

They couldn’t last. It was too intense. ‘Come on, damn you,’ Arthur muttered, apparently ordering Merlin to finish first.

And oh he could have done this for ever, but his prince wanted him to come, and really he’d been holding back from the edge for most of this… Merlin stole another kiss, invaded Arthur’s mouth with his tongue – just as Arthur shifted his hold on Merlin, spreading those strong hands, cupping a buttock in each – and Merlin suddenly arched his back, hefting up to arm’s length, dropped his head back and howled as he came…

Arthur growled in response, though there was something of a chuckle in there, too – and then he was forcing himself up even harder against Merlin, long deep shudders running through him, his fingers digging in painfully, blissfully.

And when he was done, Merlin just relaxed down onto him and lay there, supremely content, as Arthur’s arms shifted up around his waist.

‘The farmers,’ Arthur eventually said, amused, ‘are going to be wondering what on earth that damned hound is doing tonight, with you howling like that.’

‘Sorry,’ said Merlin, though he wasn’t. Not at all.

‘So,’ in more clipped tones. ‘This is the second thing my father would execute you for, is it?’

Merlin lifted his head and looked at Arthur. ‘Yes.’

‘I see.’

‘Is there an exemption granted for doing it with the crown prince?’

‘I wouldn’t think so.’

‘Maybe they’ll award me a medallion! Services above and beyond, and all that.’

‘Actually, I suspect it might mean a spot of extra torture before the execution, in the dungeons, with my father presiding.’

‘Oh.’ Merlin lay himself back down on Arthur. His head fit very nicely in the concave curve just below the prince’s collarbone.

‘Merlin –’

But he was saved from having to tell Arthur what the third thing was by Arthur’s horse returning. It clopped patiently up to the two of them, and bent its head to whicker gently against Arthur’s hair. Arthur laughed and patted its nose affectionately. ‘Hello, old friend.’

And the two men started getting up off the ground, brushing themselves down, remembering who they each were.

Merlin nodded at the horse. ‘I can get you back to Camelot now.’

‘I told you, I’m not going. You can go if you want.’

With exquisite timing, Merlin felt a raindrop land on his cheek, then another on his nose – and then it was tipping down. ‘The cave,’ they said simultaneously. Merlin grabbed the chain mail tunic, and they scrambled up through the forest, and across the clearing, with the horse trotting along after them.

Of course it was dark as pitch in there. Arthur told Merlin to start a fire, but he himself fetched his saddlebags, and got the horse sorted. Merlin surreptitiously used magic whenever he could, to collect wood and get the flames going. Then he got a pan from Arthur’s supplies, went back to the spring for water, and put it on to boil.

By which time Arthur was lying stretched out on his bedroll, dozing. Merlin just smiled, and left him to it. Went to rummage through the saddlebags to see what food Arthur had brought. There would be enough for the two of them, for supper and for breakfast. After that, they’d have to see.

Merlin was particularly pleased to find a little jar of healing balm right down the bottom of one bag. Perhaps Gaius had slipped it in himself. Once the water was ready, he woke Arthur, and – ignoring his grumbling – he cleaned the wound properly, and spread the balm on it. ‘There. All done.’

‘Didn’t damage my good looks too much?’

Merlin smiled at him fondly. ‘Nah.’

‘God be praised.’ Arthur shifted back further on the bedroll, and up onto his side. ‘Come here, would you? I’m cold.’

‘Yes, sire.’ And he lay himself down beside Arthur, and tentatively offered his arms.

‘No. Your back to me.’

Which ended up just fine, with Arthur pressed close from head to toe, the front of his thighs firm up against the back of Merlin’s, his arms wrapped around Merlin’s torso. Merlin’s lower arm wrapped itself in turn over Arthur’s, and his other dared to reach back to lay a gentle hand on Arthur’s hip. Merlin grinned, staring at the fire. Why on earth had he assumed he could never have this?

Arthur lifted his head a little, just enough to look over and glimpse Merlin’s face. ‘Merlin –’ he began. ‘Look –’

Here it came. Arthur wanted to know what the third thing was. And so he should, really. Maybe it was time. But Merlin didn’t want anything to spoil this hard–won embrace. ‘Do we have to talk about it right now?’

‘Yes,’ said the prince. But then he softened a little. ‘When would be better? It’s easier here than at the castle, surely.’

Merlin sighed. ‘All right.’ He took a moment to wallow in Arthur’s arms while he could.

Arthur had taken a moment, too, but eventually he said, ‘Look – I just need to – I mean, I want to know if – if you think it would be worth it.’

All right, he was lost already. ‘What?’

Arthur groaned theatrically.

‘Sorry. If what would be worth what, exactly?’

‘Execution. Torture. Sleeping with me.’

That’s the torture, is it?’

Arthur growled and crunched him up close. It was meant to be threatening; it felt wonderful.

‘Well, uh,’ Merlin eventually said, ‘what sort of torture are we talking about? I mean, execution, all right, one blow and it’s over, you’re gone – but torture’s a whole different kettle of fish –’

‘Merlin…’ with that dire note of patience about to run out.

‘What’s he like about fingernails, your father? I’m very attached to mine, and actually I’ve got a bit of a thing about them –’ Merlin shuddered, just from talking about it. ‘He wouldn’t rip them out, would he? Not even one? Not my toenails, either. I could cope with other stuff, but I couldn’t stand that. Nothing would be worth that.’

‘Nothing…?’ Arthur asked. ‘Nothing at all?’

Merlin twisted his head around to look up at him. To look up at his beautiful, noble, vulnerable master. ‘Well, I guess, uh… maybe one thing…’

Arthur smiled, and he shifted up further so he could lean down for a kiss.

Merlin was soon groaning, and trying to turn around for more, but Arthur commanded him: ‘Stay there.’

They moved against each other, their hands learning shapes and sensitivities, their mouths hungry. Still fully dressed, but Arthur’s cock hard, pressing demandingly up against the crevice between Merlin’s buttocks. He knew what was going to happen, and he didn’t mind at all. He wanted it, too, and he tried to convey that without words. He was sure Arthur understood.

So it was all the sweeter when Arthur slipped a hand down in between them, fingertips gently pushing towards his goal, and he murmured very properly, ‘May I?’

‘Yes,’ Merlin replied. ‘Yes, please.’

Arthur was insistent that they stay exactly where they were, so they undid and rearranged a minimum of clothing, and Arthur lubed his cockhead with spit, and then he was pushing up hard against Merlin. They each shifted restlessly to find the right angles, and then suddenly Arthur had broached the natural resistance and was inside him.

Merlin groaned, fraught. Lay there, letting Arthur push in further. Taking him in. Arthur’s forearm cradling Merlin’s head in a hard embrace, lifting it up so that Arthur could see him, could steal a kiss. Not that Arthur was thinking much about kisses any more. ‘God, Merlin,’ he muttered. And it seemed all his focus was on the shape of his cock, and how it moved within Merlin, and the shape of Merlin, and exactly how it felt that they fit together so well, that they moved together so perfectly… ‘God!’

‘Arthur,’ he muttered in reply, content for now simply to be possessed. To be filled almost beyond bearing, except that it was unbearably good not unbearably bad. But still… beyond bearing. Almost.

It was clear that they both knew what they were doing. Merlin mused over who Arthur might have gained his experience with. A knight or two? One of his previous servants? Someone from the town? A visiting noble prat? All of the above? Merlin figured Arthur would find it a lot easier to guess that all Merlin’s experience had been with Will.

‘Merlin,’ Arthur said, commanding his attention. He took Merlin’s hand from where it clutched Arthur’s hip, and pushed it down towards Merlin’s cock. ‘Show me,’ Arthur whispered into his ear. ‘Show me how you do yourself…’

In the cold light of day he might have been too embarrassed to comply. Now Merlin just moaned, and set about his allotted task. His reward was that Arthur’s hand slipped lower still and began a roll–and–tug of Merlin’s balls, just rough enough to be perfect. Merlin was groaning now, and the combined sensations, any one of which would have been enough, threatened to devastate him. ‘Arthur!’ And he was coming… coming…

Arthur behind him shouting out in surprise, and then letting loose an almighty battle yell as he came, too, his body encompassing and infiltrating Merlin all at once.

They held each other through the quake, and then wrapped each other closer still.

And then they slept.

It seemed like the small hours of the night when Merlin woke. He was alone, and the fire was low. Arthur must be somewhere nearby, though, for all his gear was still scattered through the cave, and the horse was standing there with its head low, softly snorting and snuffling.

By the time Merlin had built the fire up again, Arthur had returned with fresh water. He handed it wordlessly to Merlin. ‘Don’t you want it?’ Merlin asked.

‘I already drained half the spring.’

Merlin grinned at him. ‘You were thirsty after I worked you so hard?’

Arthur let out an amused huh, and turned away towards the saddlebags. ‘Are you hungry?’

Merlin was going to say yes automatically because he’d missed two meals now. But when he thought about it, he realised he wasn’t actually hungry at all. At some fundamental level he was just too content to want the bother of eating. ‘No, I’m fine. Thanks.’

And Arthur came back to the fire without any food, so maybe he was content, too. Stranger things had happened. But not often. The prince sat himself down at one end of the bedroll, the furthest end from Merlin, and he gazed into the flames.

‘Arthur,’ Merlin tentatively began.

A noncommittal mumble was his only reply.

‘We need to talk.’

That drew a sigh. ‘What about?’

‘About… why you take so many risks with your own safety. About whether you really want to risk torture and execution to have me in your bed. About… the third thing your father would hate me for.’

‘He wouldn’t execute me,’ Arthur informed him. ‘I’m his only son, his only heir. What would happen to Camelot if I was killed?’

Merlin grimaced and shrugged all at once. ‘That’s kind of the point I was trying to make before.’

‘He’d execute you,’ Arthur said, hard as stone. ‘I’d just face a lengthy stay in the dungeons.’

‘Well, would you risk that?’

‘I suppose.’

It was the most grudging and the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to Merlin. ‘Good,’ he responded with a quirked smile. ‘But, Arthur…’ He waited until that blue gaze had reluctantly lifted to his. ‘Arthur, I meant it. We can’t lose you. Camelot can’t lose you. I can’t lose you.’

‘You won’t.’

‘It’s like you said: What would happen to the kingdom without you?’

But Arthur simply shrugged. ‘I suppose my father would marry Morgana, or whoever else would have him, and get busy begetting as many more sons as he could manage.’

The bleak tone of this broke Merlin’s heart. ‘You’ve thought about this?’ Of course he had, every time he’d gone on one of his “quests”. He’d decided he was expendable. ‘Arthur,’ Merlin said as gently and reasonably as he could, ‘you’re very brave. You really are. If a danger needs facing, you face it. If someone or something threatens Camelot, you fight it. You drank that poison. You faced the Questing Beast. You fought Valiant, knowing his shield was bewitched. The people love you for it, of course. But…’

Arthur was glaring sullenly at him.

‘But there’s this sense of self–sacrifice in what you do. And I don’t see how anyone benefits from that.’

‘I should have just let you drink that poison, should I? Again? Then where would we be? Camelot would have been destroyed by famine, because of a mistake I made.’ And he muttered, ‘The people would have chosen a dead prince, if it had been their decision to make.’

Merlin could have argued that one, but he didn’t. ‘What about the Questing Beast? You could have let your knights fight it. The hound today. It didn’t have to be you.’

‘Yes, it did.’

‘Your father doesn’t risk himself like that!’

‘He can’t. He’s the king.’

‘And you’re the crown prince!’

‘But he’s already proven himself. He’s fought in battles and wars, defeated all manner of creatures. Banished sorcery. Imprisoned the last dragon. He has nothing left to prove.’

‘You think you do?’

Arthur looked murder at him. ‘Yes.’

‘What on earth can you still need to prove?’

‘That I’m worthy of being king one day.’

Merlin stared at him. ‘Of course you are. No one doubts that.’

‘Don’t they?’

‘Do you?’ It was a horrible thought.

And Arthur just shrugged him off. Which meant yes.

‘All right,’ Merlin said. ‘All right. If you’re going to keep being brave. If you’re going to keep sacrificing yourself for your people. You have to let me help you.’

‘Oh yes? And how can you help me?’ Arthur asked, his tone just as witheringly sarcastic as Merlin had expected.

‘I can protect you. I can fight at your side.’

Arthur rolled his eyes in exasperation. ‘You can get me killed, more like.’

‘You have your abilities, and I have mine.’

‘Such as… the ability to fall over your own feet? The skill to distract me at precisely the wrong moment? The talent to become such a useful hostage that I must accept defeat in order to save you?’

‘Arthur. Sire. Would you just shut up for a moment and listen to me?’

That earned him the fieriest of glares. But Arthur pointedly didn’t say anything more. He just set his jaw and fixed his gaze on a point somewhere beyond Merlin’s shoulder. And he waited.

‘I have my own kind of powers. You won’t like it. Your father would hate it, if he knew. This is the third thing he’d have me executed for.’ Merlin took a breath, and decided to get on with it. ‘I’m a warlock. I can do magic. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, before I even had any idea what it was. If I wanted another piece of bread, and my mother wouldn’t give it to me, I’d just get it myself. I just stretched out a hand and it came to me. It flew through the air.’

Arthur was staring at him now. Astonished. Horrified.

‘I’ve been learning more about it. I’ve been learning specific spells. I’ve been getting better at using it, focussing it.’

‘You’ve –’ Arthur had to clear his throat before continuing. ‘You’ve been using it? At Camelot?’

‘Yes.’

‘You –’ Arthur seemed upset now. Angry and upset. ‘You idiot.’ And he dropped his head into his hands, and clutched at his skull as if he feared it might come apart with the hurting.

‘Arthur –’

‘No. No.’ Arthur scrambled to his feet. ‘You’re the laziest servant I ever had, but that stops now. You fetch your bread and you sweep the floor and you polish my armour the same way anyone else would. All right? You work hard, even at the tedious stuff, like the rest of us. You are not going to get yourself executed just because you can do… tricks.’

Merlin scoffed loudly. ‘It is so not like that.’

‘I don’t care. Do you hear me? I don’t care what it’s like. You just quit doing it.’ And he turned away, paced as far as he could and came back again, mumbling, ‘Christ, and you have the nerve to tell me off for taking risks.’

Merlin stood, too, to argue his case. ‘That hound out there would have fallen on you and crushed you if I hadn’t been there to deflect it. The Questing Beast – you didn’t kill it – I did.’

‘That was my sword stuck in it. My knights said so.’

‘You were already unconscious. I used magic to pick up your sword and drive it into the thing. I used magic to find exactly the right spot, and to put the strength of ten men behind the thrust. No one else could have done that.’

‘Oh, come on! You’re dreaming!’

‘It’s true!’

‘You’re just some village brat who’s come to town, you’re just some nobody who wants to impress me. You should have –’ Arthur ground to a sudden halt, and drew back. Cast a pointed glance at the bedroll. A little softer, he said, ‘You should have stuck with what you’re good at.’

Merlin growled in fury. Stretched his hand towards their fire. Muttered the necessary words. The fire was suddenly blazing as high as the cave roof, coloured an icy blue, and radiating cold.

Arthur stepped back, shielding his face with one hand. But still he said sarcastically, ‘Oh, very impressive.’

And Merlin sagged. Sat down. Let the fire return to its natural self. Half–heartedly fed it with branches, moving some by hand and some by magic. Arthur sat down, too, on the other side of the flames. They were silent for a while.

‘Look,’ Arthur eventually said. ‘I don’t want you fooling around with this ability of yours. I don’t see how you think you can protect me, when all that’s going to happen is that I’ll be harmed in some Godforsaken way, and you’ll be executed.’

‘I’ve protected you before now.’

‘Maybe you’ve been lucky, but it’ll all go wrong one day, and backfire or something, and then I’ll be toast.’

‘Magic’s never worked like that for me.’

Arthur shook his head. ‘It’s brought nothing but evil and chaos to Camelot. You’re playing with something you don’t understand.’

‘I understand it enough to know that magic doesn’t have to be evil. And you know it, too! What about when you were stranded in the caves in the forest of Balor? You said a ball of light guided you out. You said it felt good. You said you knew somehow that you could trust it.’

‘So?’ But Arthur looked wary, as if he knew he’d be forced to concede this point.

‘Did it look anything like this…?’ And Merlin said the words. Created a bluish white globe of light in the palm of his right hand, and a larger matching one hovering over Arthur.

For a moment the prince watched it, expressionless. But then he dropped his head, looking tired, and finally levelled a long look at Merlin. ‘What do you want?’ he asked, defeated.

‘I’ve protected you before. I’ve fought beside you before. All I want is for you to let me go on doing that.’

Arthur shrugged listlessly. ‘If you’ve already been doing it, what’s stopping you now?’

‘Oh, things like you riding out alone and leaving me behind. I only just got here in time! If you know about what I can do, you can use it, can’t you? And I don’t have to keep it hidden from you, so I’ll be freer to do more with it.’

‘For God’s sake, Merlin…’ But Arthur sighed. ‘All right. You win. But – Christ! – don’t go getting either of us killed with this. All right? You have to keep it secret.’

‘I know.’ Merlin smiled. ‘That’s good. So you still remember? I mean, you remember that it would be a bad thing for you to die?’

‘Yes, I still remember.’ But the prince sounded infinitely weary. He lay himself down on the bedroll. ‘I’m cold,’ he muttered.

Merlin went to fetch the blanket, and arranged it over Arthur. Then just as he was about to stand up and move away, Arthur looked at him. Mutely. Needing him. So Merlin got under the blanket, too, and lay himself down behind him, so Arthur would have the fire at his front and Merlin at his back. Wrapped him up close. And murmured a soft wordless lullaby that his mother used to sing, until the prince finally fell asleep.

Arthur was obnoxiously cheerful the next morning. ‘I think we should go for a long ride today, and see how far we get.’

Merlin had been assuming they’d head back to the castle as soon as they were packed again. ‘Won’t your father be worrying about you?’

‘They’re used to me staying out for two or three nights when I’m on a “quest”. And unlike some people,’ Arthur added, ‘they have faith that I can look after myself.’

‘Well, all right. But I didn’t bring anything with me.’

‘We’ll make do. The kindness of strangers, and all that. I can hunt for our supper if needs must, and I’m sure you’re great at foraging for berries and such.’

‘Oh yes,’ Merlin said unenthusiastically. Most of his life at Ealdor had been spent making do and foraging. It wasn’t quite as romantic a notion as the prince seemed to think.

‘I was going to suggest we just stay here, but it’s such a good day for riding. Look at that blue sky! And then there’s this unsavoury thing on our doorstep…’ Arthur cast a dismissive hand at the corpse of the hound.

Merlin scrunched up his face. ‘What are we going to do about that?’

‘You are going to use your sorcery to dig a bloody great hole and bury him in it.’

He scrunched it up even further. ‘Really?’

But Arthur laughed, perfectly happy with the world. ‘No, Merlin. We’re going to stop at the first farm we see, and tell them about it. Then they can come up here and see for themselves that the thing is really dead, and they can deal with it, and one of them will run off to the castle to tell the tale of my brave deeds, and that way no one will have to worry that I’m not still in one piece. If we’re very lucky, we may even get a hero’s welcome by the time we return.’

‘Ah.’

‘All right?’

Merlin found himself tentatively smiling. ‘All right.’

And it proved to be better than all right. They ambled along at a gentle clopping pace under the beautiful blue dome of the sky, with Merlin sitting close behind Arthur on the horse’s broad rump, his arms around the prince’s waist. And Arthur simply let the horse take them where it would, and every now and then he’d let his head fall back and he’d turn so that Merlin could kiss him – and for the rest of it Merlin sat entranced by the rolling rise and fall of the strong flesh beneath him, and the sunshine spinning gold from Arthur’s hair, and the easy physical confidence of this man.

They found a barn to sleep in that night, a long way from anywhere. It was obvious in their exchanged glances that they each knew exactly why the other wanted it to be just the two of them with no one else in hearing distance. ‘Otherwise,’ Arthur complained, ‘I would have found someone to lend me their bed.’

Merlin raised an eyebrow.

‘Not like that. The prince doesn’t share his bed.’ Then, rather less forbiddingly, ‘Unless I want to, of course.’

He wanted to that night, obviously. The prince even took the trouble of arranging matters himself, while Merlin lit a fire outside and heated their food, boiled some water. When they retired, earlier than usual, Merlin found the bedroll arranged on a thick mattress of hay up in the loft, with the blanket and the prince’s cloak over the top. It all looked very civilised. The moon shone through the cracks in the barn wall, though it wasn’t really enough light to save them from stubbed toes and mild cursing. But they couldn’t light a fire inside the barn, for fear of burning it down.

‘Give us some light, would you?’ Arthur finally asked in falsely casual tones.

Merlin obliged with the globe of bluish light that Arthur had already seen, hovering at about head height. Except that Merlin would soon be wanting to use both his hands for other purposes, so he tried to mentally detach the glowing ball from his right palm, and place it just within reach beside their makeshift bed. And it worked!

Arthur was undressing. He was already bare–chested. ‘How about some warmth?’

After a moment’s consideration, Merlin uttered some more words, and the globe turned yellowish. A gentle heat wafted out of it.

‘Do you have to, like… maintain it?’ The prince was stripping down to his underthings now, and Merlin tried not to gaze too obviously. Arthur laughed. ‘We’re going to have to make sure you don’t get too excited, or you’ll lose control of it and end up setting the straw alight.’

‘No, I won’t,’ Merlin retorted a bit peevishly. ‘It’ll just stay there now, until I revoke it.’

‘Oh.’ Arthur nodded. ‘I’m beginning to see this could be very useful.’

Merlin snorted. ‘This is easy stuff. Anyone could do this, if they knew the right spell.’

‘Could they indeed?’

‘I called lightning down from the sky to kill Nimueh, the most powerful sorceress you could ever even imagine, and you’re impressed with tricks…’

Arthur was looking at him very thoughtfully. ‘Well,’ he finally said, ‘how about some privacy as well, then?’

‘There’s no one around for miles.’

‘Do you know that? I mean, can you know that, using magic?’

‘No.’ Merlin shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I’ve never tried.’

‘That could be really useful,’ said the prince. ‘But don’t worry for now,’ Arthur added. ‘Can you just make a magic screen of some kind? So we’ll be sure no one can see us? Because, you know, when we go back, we’ll hardly have five minutes alone together, and there’s always a guard at the end of the corridor outside my rooms, night or day, and –’

‘All right,’ said Merlin. And he improvised a little, using some of one spell and some of another, mixing it up with his own imperative – and he ended up inside a large smoky sphere about twenty feet across, with the bed in the centre of it and the globe of light hanging there like a setting sun.

A shadowy Arthur could be seen on the other side, gaping. ‘Merlin…?’ the prince finally asked rather tentatively. ‘Where d’you go?’

‘I’m in here. If you can’t see me, then you know we’ll be totally private.’

‘All I can see is a sort of dark shimmer. And the straw and the wall on the other side of it.’

‘I can see you. Step forward, not even a yard, and you’ll be right beside me.’

Arthur swallowed, gathered himself. Took one step and then another. Let out a breath that was not a gasp as Merlin stuck his hand out through the sphere wall to welcome him in. Grasped Merlin’s hand and stepped inside.

They stood there together for a while, still holding hands, Arthur gazing at Merlin with somewhat more respect than Merlin had ever seen on his face before. Even weirder, though – Arthur was looking a bit unnerved. ‘Hey,’ Merlin murmured. ‘It’s still just me.’

‘But you’re not exactly who I thought you were, are you?’

‘I’m still –’ Merlin sighed, though it wasn’t a sad feeling. ‘I’m still the man who’s wanted to kiss that arrogant mouth of yours since… oh, ever since you first smirked at me.’ He chuckled throatily. ‘I’m the idiot who’s wanted to kiss you since you first sneered at me, if you want the whole truth.’

After a moment Arthur nodded mutely. So Merlin closed the distance between them, and did just that.

And it wasn’t very long after that Arthur was lying on the bedroll curled up naked around Merlin’s arm – It wasn’t very long before Arthur wasn’t the prince any more, wasn’t even Arthur any more – Soon he was nothing other than Merlin’s lover – Naked and curled up and moaning in ragged time – Moaning and mewling in an utter surrender to pleasure as Merlin thrust a finger into him, Merlin’s forearm rubbing hard back and forth against Arthur’s cock and balls – Arthur curled up around that arm, his thighs gripping either side as if he were riding bareback – Merlin cradling him with his other arm, and bending over Arthur to gnaw at his hard swollen nipples, to take kisses from that vulnerable mouth, to suck that lower lip into his own mouth and nip at it – This beautiful golden–haired creature, who felt for this instant of eternity nothing other than passion and need, who was Merlin’s, all Merlin’s –

‘Arthur,’ he whispered, gazing down at his lover in some kind of awe.

It took forever for those bright hazy blue eyes to focus on him, and even then they remained dazed. Arthur looked at him – not entirely trustingly, there was still a hint of wariness there – but completely and utterly open. Merlin could do anything with him right now.

‘Arthur…’

‘Yes,’ came a rough whisper. Consent.

Merlin shifted and Arthur uncurled a little so that Merlin knelt between those strong thighs. Arthur arching his back, tilting his hips, Merlin dragging him closer so Arthur’s buttocks rested on his own thighs – Pushing true and sure by instinct, Arthur’s head falling back in ardent surrender, his heels digging into Merlin’s back as he lifted himself further, impaled himself deeper. Merlin groaned as he was taken in, welcomed home. All of him now, feeling that butt up against him.

And then Arthur grasping Merlin’s shoulder with one hand, pushing himself up off the bedroll with the other, sitting up so that he was upright and supported wholly by his lover. Looking down at Merlin for one long fraught precious moment, before that head dropped back again, golden hair falling, falling – Then those thighs gripping Merlin’s waist, lifting himself up and back down, up and back down, in an earth–shattering trot – And Merlin used what strength he had in his arms to lift and lower his lover as he wanted, used what muscle he had in his thighs to answer that devastating rhythm –

Until Arthur quaked, and came with a hoarse shout, his seed dashing against Merlin’s chest like sea spray – And it was all so incredible that Merlin’s own completion was wonderful but almost completely irrelevant.

Afterwards, with both of them trembling with exertion or emotion and Arthur heavy with satiation, Merlin lay his love back down in the bed, and wrapped himself close around him. ‘For now and for ever,’ he murmured, thinking Arthur was already asleep. ‘Destiny.’

But there came an answering echo, ‘Forever.’

And then they both slipped away into the peaceful darkness.

Arthur was even more obnoxiously cheerful the next morning. He’d decided they’d return to Camelot now, though Merlin had been hoping this time away from their daily hassles could continue… Apparently he didn’t have a say in it. Merlin was reduced to scowling at the prince. And he baulked at getting up on the horse with him, so he just walked along beside Arthur, or behind him where the path didn’t allow. Arthur sat up there, beautiful body moving easily with the horse’s rolling gait, looking amused and superior.

After a couple of miles, though, Arthur reined in the horse, freed the left stirrup, and held out a hand. ‘Come on,’ he said, still amused and a bit distant.

Merlin got up, but only deigned to rest his hands at Arthur’s waist for the sake of balance. They walked along in silence for a while, not quite as slowly as the day before, but still taking their time about the journey.

Eventually Merlin asked, ‘What will you do if your father finds out about me?’

Arthur sighed. ‘Don’t let him.’

‘He has three different reasons for wanting me dead, I reckon. At least three. You think he’s not going to find out?’

‘Just don’t, Merlin. Don’t let it happen. I’d do almost anything to protect you. But even I have to draw the line somewhere.’

‘Where?’ Merlin asked, curious.

Arthur glanced back at him hard, as if he were being naïve. ‘I will never knowingly cause harm to my father, or to my people. A little inconvenience or irritation, they can live with. But I will not do them harm, not even for you.’

‘Oh,’ said Merlin, feeling humbled. That was a far better answer than he’d hoped for. ‘I guess the same applies,’ he offered, though he knew it would mean little enough to Arthur, even now. ‘Anything but harm to my mother or my village. Or Gaius. Or Gwen. Or –’ When Arthur shot him a look, Merlin quickly followed up with a heartfelt, ‘Anything else, I’d do for you.’

‘Thank you,’ Arthur replied quite formally, as if Merlin had just sworn fealty to him or something.

‘You’re welcome,’ Merlin replied with an edge of sarcasm. What on earth was wrong with them this morning? After all that they’d been through, all that they’d become to each other, they just couldn’t seem to mesh with each other’s mood.

After another silence, Arthur announced in quite a stilted way, ‘It’s so very rare to find the right person, at the right time, and in the right circumstances.’

Which might have been reassuring, but for the tone. Merlin didn’t ask the obvious question: How rare? How often has it happened to you?

‘So, no one else now, all right? We’re compromising ourselves enough as it is, without complicating things by involving anyone else.’

‘No one else,’ Merlin replied. ‘Of course.’

They hardly talked after that, and things gradually became easier. By the time they were nearing Camelot, Merlin was sitting there pressed up against Arthur’s back, his arms wound tight around his hips and chest, his head tucked in against a shoulder. In turn, Arthur had reached his left hand back to grasp Merlin’s thigh.

Eventually, just as the forest began thinning out, Arthur stopped the horse again, and helped Merlin get down. This was how it would be, Merlin reflected: they’d be together and they’d be apart at much the same time.

But Arthur got down, too, and stood before Merlin. Ran a hand over Merlin’s hair, ruffling it, then smoothing it. Took one of Merlin’s hands in his. ‘I love you,’ Arthur announced. ‘Is that what you wanted to hear? You are such a girl,’ he complained. But then Arthur continued in that sincere tone of his that nevertheless sounded like he was explaining the very obvious to the very dim: ‘I’ve loved you for… quite some time now. It’s probably not the wisest thing I’ve ever done.’

‘I love you, too.’

‘I know.’ And Arthur took Merlin into his arms then, and held him close. ‘It’s all right. We’ll make it work. And we’ll go on a “quest” together every now and then.’

‘Thank you.’

Arthur shook his head. ‘Well, I hope we’ll still be thanking each other in a year’s time. In a decade.’

‘I’ll still be thanking you on my dying day.’

Arthur got back on the horse, and insisted Merlin get up behind him again. Minutes later they saw Camelot suddenly looming over them. And someone must have been keeping watch from the battlements, for a distant shout went up, and as they rode nearer they could hear a rush and fuss of people gathering. A hero’s welcome. Arthur looked happy and a bit smug, but Merlin didn’t begrudge him that at all.

‘You’d better let me down,’ said Merlin. He shouldn’t even lead the horse. Just walk humbly along behind, and then disappear as soon as he could.

‘Nah,’ said Arthur. ‘Stay where you are.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Let them get used to seeing you beside me.’

And with one of Merlin’s hands resting easily on Arthur’s waist, they rode into the town.

The people were coming out to line the road that wound up to the castle, cheering and waving. Some of them were grinning a bit wryly, as if they knew this was a rather orchestrated situation, but no one begrudged their prince a bit of a display. They adored him, and he was prepared to die for them; that was just how this worked. Arthur acknowledged them with his wry lordly attitude, playing along, obviously enjoying himself.

Merlin grinned and leaned close to his ear. ‘Love you,’ he whispered.

Arthur’s grin got broader. ‘Idiot,’ he replied.

‘Prat.’

‘Love you, too.’

And they were home.

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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8 responses to “Treason, Love, Magic”

  1. avatar mcicioni says:

    Oh.

    Loved it totally. It is *them*, with their youth and problems and potential and future. Arthur is convincingly arrogant and vulnerable and intelligent and sensitive; Merlin is impressively rational and humorous and mature (Mercutio to Arthur’s Romeo?)

    And oh, ahem, the sex is hot. Will re-read the whole story several times, and their first two intimate scenes a few extra times.

    Love you ♥

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      mcicioni – Loving you, too, dearheart!

      Thank you so much for commenting. I’m glad this one met with your approval.

      Interesting idea about the Mercutio echoes!

  2. avatar Mira says:

    I just wanted to say how much I really liked this.
    So true to Arthur and only he and Merlin could have so much affection hidden behind banter in plain sight.
    Lovely.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Mira – Thank you so much for your comment! I’m really glad you enjoyed the story, and that you felt it was true to Arthur. I’m becoming more and more fascinated by him…

  3. avatar Jenny says:

    I love. The I love u too part!
    Awsome!

  4. avatar ravenflight21 says:

    Dear Harlequin – I’ve been reading all your Merlin fics today, and they’re wondrous.

    ‘That’s the torture, is it?’

    Ah, to endure such torture!

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Thank you for your kind feedback. I am feeling both bashful and delighted right now… ‘Wondrous’ is such high praise! I’m very glad you enjoyed them all.

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