Harlequin's Slash Fic

Arthur: 02 Experience

Title: Arthur: 02 Experience
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Arthur/Merlin, with Uther/Arthur in the background
Category, Word count: Short story; 5392 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Uther has continued his illicit sexual arrangement with Arthur, who continues to yearn for Merlin. However, Merlin can see that Arthur is hurting in all kinds of ways, and realises that if his duty lies in looking after the prince, he’d better do something about it.
Warnings: Please be warned this contains some father/son incest and non-consensual sex, but mainly in the background. The foreground belongs to Arthur/Merlin, which is just so much nicer.
First published: 12 December 2008 on Harlequin’s Slash Site

 

Experience

Arthur slowly made his weary way back to his rooms. He was hurting again, but he was too tired to hide it. Anyway, there was never anyone around at this hour.

If he had ever hoped this was a one-time deal, he’d soon been proved wrong. Uther rarely went a week without sending for him, and they were well into autumn now. Arthur had started off trying not to count the incidents; by now he’d lost track entirely.

And it was always rough. Uther always took him, with no mercy shown. Did he think Arthur needed toughening up? Was that it? Not once had Uther directed him to the bed; instead he made use of other articles of furniture. Sometimes Uther got quite imaginative, but tonight Arthur had merely been bent over the table. And his hands had been bound and hooked onto something, despite the fact he’d never once offered any kind of resistance. It got so that first time, on the rug before the blazing fire, seemed halfway romantic. Hah.

Once he finally reached his rooms, Arthur opened the door and then closed it quietly behind him. There was another thing that never changed about these late-night arrangements: Merlin would always be waiting for Arthur when he got back. Always. Twice, he had even been there waiting despite the fact he hadn’t been around earlier when Uther’s servant Paul came to summon Arthur – so how had Merlin known?

Arthur walked over to the bed where Merlin slumbered, mouth open and limbs all a-gangle. The adorable dolt. Arthur watched him for a while, fondly, though he could not summon a smile. Thrice, he’d been furious at finding Merlin there on his bed, providing such an obvious contrast between what Arthur wanted in his life and what Arthur actually had. Most of the time, he was simply comforted by the notion that there was someone in Camelot who cared about what the prince was doing. About what the prince was having done to him. Arthur sighed.

He was sure, he was almost absolutely certain, that Merlin didn’t know and couldn’t guess exactly what was going on. Merlin surely didn’t have the imagination or the experience to enable a leap to such an unlikely conclusion. Arthur thought Paul must be the only other person who knew. And thus it must stay. No one else must know. No one must have any reason to criticise or question the king. Anyway, what would Camelot be without secrets? The very foundations of the place were built on secrets.

So Arthur would wake Merlin up as usual, dodge his concern, send him off down to the rooms he shared with Gaius. And in the morning Merlin would organise a hot bath for him, and say nothing about the bruises he found, the various hurts and tender spots; if he ever did, Arthur was ready with funny stories about mishaps on the training field. Christ.

‘Merlin.’ He shook Merlin’s shoulder. ‘Merlin, wake up. Time to go.’ But the boy seemed even more deeply asleep than usual. ‘Merlin, come on! I want my bed back.’

Merlin snuffled a bit, and rolled onto his back.

‘Come on,’ Arthur pleaded. God, he just wanted to fall into his own bed and sleep. Leave the worst of it behind in the dark pathways of sleep. It made no sense, but Arthur always slept particularly well on these nights. ‘Merlin!’

‘Gnurgh…’ quoth Merlin. ‘Shashtoe…’

‘What?’

Silence.

Arthur groaned, and then shook his servant a little more desperately. ‘Don’t tell me you talk in your sleep. You talk rubbish in your sleep. And you probably snore.’

Arr-fur…?’ came a slurry whisper.

‘Yes, yes, it’s me. Come on, get up. Get out of my bed, damn it.’

‘Nah.’

‘What?’

‘Nah, you get in.’ Merlin actually sounded half awake now. ‘Come on, ’m not goin’ nowhere…’

Arthur sighed. Well, it seemed he’d need a brace of wild horses to drag Merlin out of the bed, and he really couldn’t be bothered. He just wanted to sleep.

He snuffed the one remaining candle, shed his outer clothes. Somehow managed to manhandle Merlin so he was actually in the bed rather than on it, then walked round the other side to crawl in as well. He lay there on his back for a long moment, carefully not touching his companion, wondering if he could ever relax enough to sleep with Merlin there beside him. He was still aroused. God, this was awful. Despite everything, he rarely came when he was with Uther, and when he did it was a purely mechanical matter. Yet the physical reaction persisted. He wouldn’t be rid of it now until morning. Arthur gave serious thought to simply pushing Merlin out of the bed. If he got both feet planted in the small of Merlin’s back, and really put his weight behind it –

But then Merlin turned towards him, and his outspread right hand landed on Arthur’s face, pushed up into his hair in an odd sort of caress. ‘Sleep well,’ Merlin said quite distinctly. Then the hand slid lower until Merlin’s arm embraced Arthur’s chest, and the man was snoring.

Arthur slept like an innocent babe.

When Arthur woke late the next morning, Merlin was already up and dressed, and pouring a copper jug of water into the bath, which steamed invitingly. ‘Good morning, sire,’ he said with a proud, happy smile.

Arthur averted his eyes. Oh God. Merlin had slept with him all that night. And Arthur felt quite certain that there had been gratuitous snuggling. Even some cuddling. He had rarely felt so well rested. ‘Uh,’ he said intelligently. ‘Uh – Is that bath ready?’

‘Yes, sire.’ Merlin stood by, looking really rather pleased with himself. Waiting for Arthur.

Oh God. Well, the aches and pains hadn’t gone, but the hard evidence had, so Arthur swung his legs out of bed, and made himself walk over there. It felt almost as if he’d only learned yesterday how to put one foot in front of the other, he was that shaky.

Merlin helped him climb into the bath, still in his linens. And then, miraculously without talking, he started to wash Arthur from top to toe. And he was so exquisitely gentle… Arthur relaxed into it, letting Merlin soothe away the hurts. Tactful, Merlin was so amazingly tactful. Arthur would never have expected it. No comment was made about the reddened, broken skin round his wrists; Merlin simply washed it carefully, and then massaged in some kind of ointment as if there were nothing untoward about any of it.

When he was done, Arthur for once let Merlin strip off the old linens and dry him off rather than doing it himself. Help him on with his silk robe. He ate breakfast sitting slothfully in his chair with his head back. He had never felt such peace.

Until he belatedly realised that the shouts and janglings and crashing blows he could faintly hear were drifting up on the breeze from the training ground. He started up. ‘Christ! What’s the time? Merlin, you shouldn’t have let me sleep so late.’

‘It’s all right,’ his servant informed him, looking smug. ‘I asked Sir Bedivere to lead the knights’ training today.’

‘Did you?’ Arthur settled again on the edge of the seat. Why would he do that? Why would he go that far?

‘You’re having a day off.’

‘I am?’

‘Yes.’

‘But there’s a –’

‘Morgana will be dealing with the people’s petitions this afternoon.’

‘Ah.’ Arthur felt flummoxed. Though he had to admit that Bedivere and Morgana were exactly the right substitutes to choose. Merlin had done well.

‘And there’s no formal dinner tonight, family or otherwise; I checked. So you actually have no duties today at all.’

Arthur sat back again, confused. ‘Why? Why did you organise all that? And what do you have planned instead?’

‘I’ve got a meal packed. I thought we’d go for a ride.’ And as swiftly as if he’d anticipated Arthur’s instinctive protest, Merlin added, ‘Not far.’

Arthur glanced at him edgily. Merlin didn’t know, did he? Merlin hadn’t guessed why Arthur didn’t want to sit his horse for long that day. Surely.

‘When you’re ready, sire,’ Merlin said serenely, standing by a pile of clothes topped by fresh linens.

Arthur obediently got up and went to be dressed.

They didn’t ride far. They’d travelled about an hour away from the castle, and for much of it they’d simply walked, ambling along leading their horses. It was one of those perfect autumn days with crisp air and a high blue sky and gentle sunshine that made one think of apples.

Merlin led them to a dell just up a grassy slope from a brook. Arthur sorted out the horses while Merlin spread blankets and cushions, poured a mix of wine and water into two tumblers. When Arthur went to lie down, he found the dell made a perfect sun trap. Did it get any better than this? ‘Well,’ he said, before taking a mouthful of a rather piquantly sweet wine. ‘Not bad, Merlin… Not bad at all.’

Merlin had the grace to look bashful. ‘Gwen helped.’

‘To Guinevere!’ Arthur toasted, lifting his glass high in her honour and then downing the lot. Merlin poured him some more, but Arthur let the tumbler sit there. He didn’t need to get drunk. Which was odd, given everything that had been going on since summer.

‘I’m your servant,’ Merlin quietly said. ‘I’m meant to be looking after you.’

Arthur scoffed. ‘It appears that you are actually managing to do that today, and in style, too. I’m quite surprised.’

‘Are you hungry, sire?’

‘No. No, not yet.’

Merlin lay down beside him, perhaps an arm’s length away, and the two of them stared up into the infinite blue sky for a while.

Arthur must have drifted off. When he came to, he found that he’d turned towards Merlin, and was almost kind of snuggling up to him. He sighed, but he didn’t make himself move. Not just yet. It seemed Merlin was awake and aware, for his warm eyes were still gazing up into the sky. Arthur murmured, ‘My d–’

Oh my God! He’d almost just said, My dear Merlin… Very fondly, too. Luckily Merlin hadn’t reacted. Hadn’t even batted an eyelash.

‘My dolt,’ Arthur said instead, feeling rather idiotic himself. ‘My very own dolt. This is shaping up to be a rather good day. Whatever are you up to?’

Merlin turned his head to look at him, which made Arthur roll away onto his back again. Too close! Too intimate. Too tempting, those fully, oddly shaped lips.

Arthur tried, ‘You just wanted a day away from court, did you? Thought you’d drag me along, too?’

‘No,’ Merlin said. Then, very calmly, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world to say: ‘Arthur. Do you want to tell me? What’s going on, I mean.’

‘No.’ With that topic raised, it was as if the sun disappeared behind a cloud. The day’s beauty was dulled, the rare peace was spoiled.

‘Would it help to talk? I mean, would it help not to have to keep it secret?’

Arthur sighed. ‘Yes, probably. But I’m not going to tell you.’

‘Are you trying to protect me?’

Arthur looked at him sharply. But of course Merlin just meant protecting him from harsh realities. ‘Yes. But I couldn’t tell you anyway. I’d be betraying someone else’s secret, too. Someone whom I must also protect.’

Merlin stayed silent for a long while. Then he murmured, ‘Well, we all have secrets. Maybe that’s not such a good thing.’

‘No doubt.’

I have a secret.’ Merlin sounded quite doleful about it. ‘You’re hardly going to throw a party when you find out the truth.’

‘Aren’t I?’ Arthur tied to suppress a grin, but it quirked his mouth regardless. He couldn’t imagine Merlin had much to hide. Certainly nothing earth-shattering. ‘What, so you’ll tell me yours if I tell you mine?’

Merlin looked at him levelly where they lay. He was deadly serious. ‘If that’s what it takes to help you, sire.’

‘Really,’ he said flatly.

‘Yes. Though I’m afraid you’ll never forgive me for mine.’

‘Well, it’s not going to come to that. Because I’m not telling you mine. I can’t, Merlin. I just can’t.’ And he turned towards Merlin, desperately wanting him to understand, wanting him to know that he appreciated the offer, he really did, but he couldn’t –

‘Arthur,’ Merlin murmured, turning towards him, so they were both on their sides, facing each other. And then –

And then –

Merlin’s lips were on his, and Merlin was kissing him, and Arthur felt the earth reel beneath him.

It was about the sweetest, scariest moment of his life. Arthur hardly dared breathe. He carefully returned the kiss, going just exactly as far as Merlin initiated, and no further. He restrained himself from reaching for Merlin, tugging him closer, embracing him, pressing against him.

And then it was over, and Arthur toppled back, hands grasping at the blankets on either side. He was lying flat on the ground, feeling so dizzy that he feared he might fall off. Merlin’s head settled on his shoulder; that calmed him. Tethered him. Arthur tentatively eased that arm up around Merlin’s back, just in a friendly kind of way.

The blue sky stretched away forever above them.

Eventually Arthur figured he’d be able to speak now. ‘Merlin…’ he murmured. ‘Where did that come from?’

‘I wanted you to know,’ Merlin mumbled, ‘that I’m not completely clueless.’

‘No,’ Arthur soothed him. ‘No, of course not.’ Though he had been so very certain of Merlin’s innocence. Had he clung to that notion too tightly? Had he needed that idea to help see him through the pain of his arrangement with Uther? The idea of protecting some portion of purity and perfection, to help urge him on.

‘You still think I am, don’t you? Clueless, I mean.’

Arthur glanced at him, read the obstinacy. ‘Well, have you ever kissed a man before?’

‘No.’

‘A woman?’

‘No.’ Then Merlin’s face flushed, and he shrugged. ‘Gwen kissed me once,’ he confessed. ‘Months ago.’

Arthur tried not to smirk. Poor Gwen. Didn’t sound like she’d gotten very far.

‘I still know what a kiss is,’ Merlin insisted. ‘I still knew how to kiss you.’ And then an attack of doubt: ‘Didn’t I?’

‘Yes, my dear, you did.’ Arthur looked at Merlin, and set him a real test. ‘Did you know your friend Will was in love with you? And I mean romantic love, not just friendly love.’

That threw Merlin for a long moment. He drew back a little as he processed this. Then he looked directly at Arthur again. ‘Did you know that Gwen brings Morgana here for trysts…?’ And he winked, smiling mischievously, to make his point slide home.

Arthur was shocked. Shocked. And intrigued… And then relieved. Surely that meant Morgana would understand his own situation, whether they continued as surrogate siblings or eventually became man and wife, king and queen. ‘Is that so…’ he murmured. Well, he was even more determined now to protect both the women from Uther. From anyone and anything they did not want in their lives.

Merlin pulled away and sat up, laughing. ‘You’ve been a bit clueless, too, Arthur.’

Huh. ‘Merlin. You won’t… gossip about them to anyone else?’

He looked rather self-conscious then, as intended. Aware that he had done wrong. ‘No, sire,’ Merlin mumbled. ‘Of course not. Sorry.’

Arthur remained on the offensive. ‘Did you bring me here for a tryst?’

Merlin shrugged, kept his back turned, hugged his knees to his chest. ‘I just wanted you to know.’

‘Know what?’

‘That I guessed what your secret’s about.’

Arthur blanked for a long minute as he tried to make sense of that. Finally, ‘No. No, Merlin. All right, I grant that you’ve guessed the general topic, as it were. The subject of the secret. Or is that the verb? But you kissing me today, and what happened last night, are as different as…’

‘Chalk and cheese?’ Merlin supplied lightly.

‘Good and evil,’ he heavily replied. ‘Heaven and hell.’

Merlin spun round then, and sat beside him cross-legged. Leaning over him, urgent to make his next point. ‘So, why do you go?’

‘Because I am required to. There was an agreement made. A deal done.’

‘Break it.’

‘Merlin!’ he cried, shocked all over again. ‘You counsel me to break my word?’

‘You owe nothing to evil.’

‘If I break my word, then I’m little better than that myself.’

‘Arthur, you don’t want this, and it does you harm. I know – and you know that I know – all the hurt this does you. I’m the only one who sees you afterwards – that night, and the next morning. I’m the only one who sees.’

‘Merlin,’ he said.

‘And I don’t mean just the bruises. You hurt inside, too.’ Merlin placed a hand on Arthur’s chest, right over his heart, then stretched to touch Arthur’s forehead, signifying his mind. ‘You even let yourself sleep late the next morning. I mean, and so you should – but I’ve never seen you put aside your duties for anything else. Ever.’

‘All right!’ Arthur gasped. Defeated and totally exposed. ‘All right.’ And he lifted his arms, desperately hoping that Merlin would let himself be held. Merlin immediately curled up beside him, rested his head on Arthur’s chest. Arthur encompassed him with his arms. Fought back tears. It was a long time since anybody had cared so much for him. ‘I’ll stop it,’ he said. ‘I’ll find a way to stop it.’

‘Good,’ came the emphatic response.

They lay there like that for a long time, Arthur gazing up unfocussed into the dizzying blue. Processing, processing. Remaking his world anew. Thank God for Merlin. No one else ever dared challenge him any more.

Eventually Merlin asked in a whisper, ‘Are you hungry yet?’

‘No, not really. You eat, if you want to. Don’t wait for me.’

Merlin lifted his head. Considered Arthur for a long moment. And then he leant in closer, and started kissing him again. It was sweet and light, the kiss – like the wine – and it made Arthur wonderfully lightheaded. Merlin’s hand came to rest on his chest, just at the first fastening on his shirt, so in turn Arthur lifted a hand to run across Merlin’s thick hair, cup his nape. Ah, so this is how it feels… But then Merlin pulled away, straightened so he was kneeling at Arthur’s side. Deliberately put Arthur’s hand back at his side where it had been lying.

Arthur ached to touch the man, but he knew he mustn’t push. This would happen, or not, in Merlin’s own time. At Merlin’s pace. Perhaps they would do nothing more or less than kiss today. That was all right. That was perfect.

Or perhaps they would do more… Merlin’s hands were on Arthur’s shirt again, slowly unfastening it knot by knot. Exposing Arthur’s chest. The slight autumn coolness made him shiver.

Merlin looked sorrowful for a moment, and Arthur glanced down, knowing what he would see. The skin over Arthur’s ribs was darkly mottled, from being forced against the table last night.

But the hurts faded and vanished one by one as Merlin bent down to press gentle kisses against each bruise, and caressed them, feathered across them with his palms. As if he had healing hands – and yet he wasn’t a king. As if he were bestowing a blessing – and yet he wasn’t a saint. As if he were using magic – and yet he wasn’t a sorcerer. Arthur sighed, relaxed into it. He’d never felt so mellow.

When Merlin began to unfasten his britches, though, Arthur forced himself to check once more that this was what Merlin himself wanted. ‘Wouldn’t you rather wait?’ he asked. ‘Until I’m, uh… free from other obligations.’

‘You are free,’ Merlin announced, and he kept going. Kissing the hurts away from Arthur’s raw hipbones. Exposing him to the clean autumn air and the sunshine.

And eventually Merlin reached Arthur’s cock, which was hard, of course, so very hard and hungry. Merlin didn’t kiss it like he’d kissed everything else – but he pressed his face against Arthur there, against his cock and balls and hair and tender skin. A blessing new and fresh and perfectly knowing, all at once.

They would make love now, Arthur was sure of it. Despite his innocence, Merlin was prepared to have sex with him. And yet Arthur was no longer certain he was even capable. At least, not of finishing as such things should finish. ‘Merlin,’ he whispered. ‘If I don’t – If I can’t –’ He glanced down to find one warm bright eye peering up at him from his nether regions. ‘If I don’t – you know. It’s not because of you, all right?’

‘Ssshhh…’ Merlin hushed him, moved back up to lie beside him. Took Arthur firmly in hand, and began a slow but relentless rhythm.

The pleasure jolted through Arthur as it hadn’t done for months. God, pleaseGod, thank you… And he was spinning off into the blue, floating in the sky, and then the sun exploded and the hot seed burst from him, and everything was absolutely perfect.

As he floated back down to himself, Arthur spared a thought for Morgana. Did Gwen send her flying like that when she brought her to this dell? Could anyone possibly be capable of the things Merlin could apparently do? Surely not.

‘Merlin,’ he murmured as he found himself back on earth. Well, maybe still floating an inch above the ground. ‘Merlin, I’m half in love with you. Did you know that?’

Merlin propped his head on one hand to look down at him. ‘No, sire, I didn’t. What about the other half?’

Arthur smirked. ‘The other half still thinks you’re a complete idiot.’

A horrible moment in which Arthur was terrified that he’d wounded the man. But then Merlin grinned, all the broader for having got him good. ‘Prat,’ the man said fondly.

‘Moron!’

‘Spoiled brat!’

Arthur grabbed him in both arms, and wrestled with him. I love you, too.

The morning became afternoon, and they were still wrapped up in each other. ‘I want you to never leave my side again, Merlin. I want you with me always.’

Merlin was frowning, thinking hard, trying to take all this in – yet he blurted, ‘We belong together!’

How wonderful that he knew that! That he already felt that way. ‘Yes. Yes, we do.’ Arthur pushed closer, made sure he had Merlin’s attention, though it remained a bit distracted. ‘But, look – I’ll be king one day. I’ll have to marry. Create a batch of beautiful princes and strong princesses. Or is that the other way round? Anyway, you know I have to, Merlin, for the sake of the kingdom. There’s only me, otherwise. It’s not like I even have a brother to be my heir, if I don’t manage to beget one myself.’

‘I understand,’ Merlin said a bit faintly. As if he knew, but maybe he wished it were otherwise.

‘But it’s all falling into place now. I was always going to ask Morgana to be my queen. She’ll be a magnificent queen, don’t you think?’

‘Yes.’ He meant it, but his voice was still faint, as if he were still trying to take it all in and adjust accordingly.

‘But she’ll understand, won’t she? Do you think she loves Gwen like I love you?’

That finally snagged his full attention. ‘I don’t know. Yes. Gwen certainly…’ He tactfully trailed off.

‘Then she’ll understand about you and me. It will be the four of us. We’ll be the best of friends. I’ll be king, but the three of you will be there to help me. We’ll take care of our people. We’ll all bring the children up. My eldest son can hardly fail to end up being a better king even than me.’

Merlin cast him a droll look for this rare humility that was actually pride. And then he fell back to pondering again. He seemed troubled.

Arthur considered him. Not even a year ago, Merlin had been an innocent boy fresh from the country. That very morning, Arthur himself had considered Merlin as such. ‘Does this all sound a bit weird to you? How sophisticated we’ll be!’ he said mockingly. ‘How continental! An open marriage, and love affairs with our servants. Am I going too far?’

‘No.’ He didn’t sound completely certain, though.

‘No one else will know. Anyway, all that’s not for years yet. For now it’s just you and me, all right? That’s enough weirdness to be getting on with.’ Arthur frowned. ‘I’d better talk to Morgana, though. Before I get totally carried away. She might have completely different plans!’

But Merlin remained unconvinced.

‘What is it?’ Arthur asked impatiently. ‘You don’t like my plans?’

‘No. I mean, yes – I do. I really do.’ Merlin shook his head. ‘It sounds marvellous. I just – I just can’t quite believe it will all work out that way.’

‘Why ever not?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe it’s too good to be true?’

‘Huh.’ Arthur thought about sulking for a moment. But then he just laughed. Nothing was going to spoil his mood that day. ‘Well, I’ll be king, so if I suppose if I can’t make it happen, no one can!’

A silence grew. Merlin was looking directly at him, wanting to say something. ‘You don’t know my secret yet.’

‘I trust you. I trust you won’t hurt me.’

‘But I will.’ Merlin sighed, and put on his most solemn expression. ‘You’ll regret loving me, sire, once you know the truth.’

‘No, I won’t. I never will. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, Merlin.’ And Arthur stopped, amazed that that was true. Amazed that he’d said it. Amazed at himself. ‘Merlin…’ He reached an arm out, suddenly needing reassurance.

Merlin obligingly shifted closer, let himself be held. ‘I love you, too,’ he whispered. ‘And you must remember that I tried to warn you.’

‘Yes.’

‘You must trust me that I’ll never ever do you harm. Not intentionally. I’ll do anything I can to not do you harm.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Arthur thought for a moment. If he asked now, he was sure Merlin would tell him. It was that kind of day. But he saw no need to push. ‘You just tell me when you want to,’ he said instead. ‘You tell me what it is when you feel you must. And I’ll listen. And when you’re done, then the first thing I’ll say is, I still love you, Merlin.’

‘Arthur!’ Merlin croaked brokenly. And his arms were around Arthur, and Arthur lay back with him, and they were moving together. Making love, greedily, desperately. As if they would never get enough of each other. It was extraordinary.

In the early evening, back at the castle, Merlin helped Arthur dress properly. What he thought of as his serious formal attire. Not his feasting attire, but what he would have worn that afternoon to receive the people’s petitions. Merlin attended to him silently, competently. He knew what Arthur was about to go and do, what he was about to say. Pray God he hadn’t figured out exactly who Arthur would be talking to.

When he was ready, Arthur put his arms around Merlin, held him close, and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Then let him go again, and stood there facing him. ‘You’ll just let me do this alone, won’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you trust me?’

Merlin shrugged. Of course. ‘Yes.’ Then he asked, ‘Can I wait for you here?’

‘Not tonight. Look, just let me do this, all right? Let me think about it. Then we can put it behind us, and that will be that.’

He was reluctant, but he agreed. ‘All right.’

‘Nothing’s going to happen tonight. Nothing bad. Then it’ll just be you and me, for years. You and me, all our lives.’

‘Yes,’ said Merlin.

And Arthur went to face the king.

Uther was in the main hall, sitting alone on his throne. Pondering something very soberly, with his head leaning heavily on a fist. He looked up as Arthur walked in. ‘Sire. May I speak with you in private?’

The king gestured at the guards, who withdrew and closed the main doors. ‘Paul,’ the king called. ‘Leave us, would you?’ The discreet brush of footsteps, and a door closed in the wings. And then Uther sat taller, and looked at the prince, and waited.

Arthur walked closer so that he could talk in reasonably confidential tones. He stopped a few feet away, and stood there at ease, though deferentially. ‘Sire. I am afraid that things have changed for me. I can no longer come to you at night.’

Uther looked thunderous. Yet after a moment he contained his anger, and declared in a rough voice, ‘Yes. I had already decided. Enough is enough.’

Could it possibly be that easy? ‘Thank you, sire.’ Arthur inclined his head respectfully. ‘I realise that I am breaking my part of our agreement. And yet I would still hold you to your part.’

‘Really,’ Uther said in his most remote, disdainful voice.

Arthur dared to spell it out for him. ‘Not Morgana. Not Guinevere. Not Merlin.’

‘And not you, either.’

‘No, sire.’

A long moment stretched. And then at last one gloved hand lifted in a lordly dismissive gesture. ‘So be it.’

‘Thank you, sire.’ Arthur paused for a moment, but there was nothing further to say. Uther didn’t offer anything. So Arthur said, ‘Goodnight, sire,’ and he turned and walked away.

He’d just reached the main doors, when he heard the king call his name. Arthur stopped and turned, just a little way, wary of what he might hear. ‘Yes, sire?’

‘I am sorry.’

Uther had spoken heavily, from the depths of his being. Uther had used a word Arthur had rarely heard from him before, and never so genuinely. Arthur turned to face him again, and bowed, carefully judging the exact depth necessary to convey humble gratitude and appeased dignity. Then he stood tall and met the king’s gaze; said simply, ‘Thank you, father.’

And it was done.

For an hour or so, Arthur wandered around his rooms, restless. Oddly invigorated. He had assumed that scene would be so difficult, raise so many problems. He had assumed they would argue again, badly. And yet it had proved strangely straightforward. It had laid his troubles to rest. The thing was over. He had dealt with it as well as he could while it was happening, and now it was over. And it would never be raised again.

Arthur had thought he’d want to be alone that night so he could process it all, deal with the king’s anger and betrayal. But it just hadn’t worked that way.

He found himself out in the corridor, and mooched around a bit, circling his floor of the keep, and then the next floor down. Eventually he found himself outside Gaius’s rooms. And, really, that’s where he’d been heading all along, wasn’t it? He opened the door quietly, and peered inside.

Gaius was reading a book on the table by  candlelight, and Merlin – Merlin was sitting curled up on top of a tall bookcase by the far window, forehead resting on a pane of glass, gazing out wistfully. He was so… familiar, perched there. So… eldritch at the same time, in the moonlight, limbs all knotted up like a gargoyle.

‘Merlin,’ Arthur murmured.

Merlin’s head swept round immediately – he lost his balance – falling, he twisted around in the air. Landed on his feet on the floor – not as graceful as a cat, no, but just as preternaturally clever. Gaius looked around, bemused by the sudden fuss, still lost in whatever he was reading.

‘Yes, sire?’ Merlin said eagerly.

‘I find that I need you after all.’

‘Yes, sire.’ And Merlin was at his side. ‘Night, Gaius!’ he called back over his shoulder.

Arthur closed the door again, and they walked back along the corridor, shoulder to shoulder. And now it started. Merlin was close by his side, matching his stride, and they need never part again.

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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