Disclaimer: Oh, if only Merlin were mine. The first thing I'd do would be to keep Arthur alive. The second would be the buttsex.
Summary: Merlin and Arthur are close – very close. So when Uther learns of Merlin's magic, he finds a public execution might, for the first time, turn his son from him irrevocably. And so he decides to make Merlin disappear.
Idea sparked by this picture: art/Tomb-335247030 The artist is absolutely brilliant. Feel free to check out their other works, too!
If you want to know where in the storyline, then after 2x13. Vaguely. Very vaguely.
Feel Me In Whispered Words
He had two options. Well, several, really, but they all boiled down to two. He could ignore that raucous shouting and continue trying to finish hanging banners for the upcoming midsummer's feast. That was one option. It would mean actually getting the banners hung. It was something he'd said he'd help the other servants get done, and he didn't want to leave them with the extra work.
On the other hand, Arthur's temper was legendary, and no one would blame him for running off to make that wailing stop. Someone might actually thank him.
Merlin wobbled on the back of the chair and grabbed at the wall to maintain his balance. The chair shook, rattled against the stone floor, and finally stilled. He gusted out a breath and leaned his head against the wall.
The voice was just a yard or two away. Merlin yelped and lost his footing on the chair. He smashed against the wall, slid from the back of the chair to the seat, caught his knee on the chair, and finally tipped back. He managed one arm flail before he hit something with a thud. He flinched and flailed again, this time managing to slap his hand against something. That something grunted. "Would you stop?"
"Oh!" He snapped his eyes open and looked up. Arthur's hands were on his upper arms, his chest against Merlin's neck and head, the hold forcing him into a position parallel to the floor. The chair finally crashed, making Merlin lose his balance once again. Arthur gave a short oomph and stumbled back a step before once again stabilizing Merlin. Merlin nearly smacked his hands against Arthur again in his attempt to stay upright. Arthur made an annoyed noise. Merlin stilled and gave him a cheeky grin. "Hi?"
Arthur sighed, but instead of dropping him, he helped pull Merlin upright. "Why didn't you answer me?"
"I was putting that up," he said, pointing to the flags bearing the Pendragon crest. They ringed the halls in black and yellow, all the way from Gaius' chambers to the great hall. Someone yelled at someone else to hurry up.
"And that made it impossible for you to answer me." Arthur put his hands on his hips and glared down as Merlin picked up the chair.
"Well, I was concentrating." He gestured to the chair after he put it upright once more. "And you interrupted me."
Arthur had the good grace to look a bit abashed at that, but he recovered quickly. "I need you to clean my ceremonial robes. A few patrons are going to arriving no later than tonight."
"Oh." Okay, for once, it actually was important. Then Merlin frowned. "Wait. I did clean your robes."
"You cleaned the ones I'll be wearing tomorrow." Merlin's jaw dropped, but Arthur continued before he could speak. "You also need to clean my armor and sharpen my sword. I expect it all done before supper tonight."
Merlin spluttered. "I did clean your armor! What did you do, go practice in it? You got it dirty again, didn't you! Do you have any idea how long it takes to clean that chainmail?" But Arthur just humphed and turned away. "Prat!" Merlin shouted, just because it felt good to say it, and then he raced off to Arthur's room. Supper was only a few hours away.
He managed to get the laundry done thanks wholly to Gwen, who had heard the argument and had hurried to help Merlin before he drowned in chores. With her help, Arthur's armour was gleaming and shining once more, his sword was sharp enough to cut a person who looked at it wrong, and his clothing was pristine. Arthur arrived in the room in time to demand a bath be made, and Merlin was left running up and down far too many stairs. He gasped out a breath just as Arthur threw down the papers he'd been reading and huffed an annoyed breath. "The number of people coming to celebrate the beginning of the Pendragon reign..." He dragged his hands over his face and walked behind the screen. Merlin heard clothing rustle.
"Everyone wants to suck up to you," Merlin said, whispering a quick spell over the tub, his arms shaking slightly from the effort of hurrying.
"Not me," Arthur said, tossing his shirt on top of the screen, then his pants. "My father."
"Mm. And you," Merlin said, thinking of the number of women guaranteed to care more about Arthur's attention than Uther's.
Arthur made a noise somewhere between a huff and a laugh, and then he was walking naked toward the bath. Merlin stood back and tried very, very hard to not stare. Or notice how that light tan of his went everywhere. Or wonder how that was possible.
"Merlin, all that running has made you stink. Get in here."
And that was it for his self-control.
His eyes ended up devouring those shoulders and back and neck as Arthur relaxed back against the tub and waved one jaunty little hand as if to order Merlin forward. "Hurry up," he said, and Merlin nearly tripped over his own feet moving to Arthur's side. He couldn't help the glance down. It was completely involuntary.
"Arthur, are you crazy?" Merlin said, his voice little more than a hiss. "It's the middle of the day! The entire castle is preparing for half the noblemen in the kingdom to arrive – some of them in just a few hours, if that!"
"Shut up," Arthur said, and pulling Merlin into the tub. Merlin spluttered as he fell face first into the water. He slapped around, looking for the edge of the tub, and managed to hit Arthur. Arthur pulled him around then, forcing Merlin into a straddle facing the prince, his legs on either side of Arthur's. He flushed hotly and shook his head, sending droplets of water flying all over the room. Arthur laughed. "You're going to have to clean the entire room now," he said, grinning.
Merlin huffed. "My clothes are soaked now!" And he lifted his arms, showing his baggy, soggy sleeves. The poor fabric clung to his thin arms and hung like old skin. The sight made Arthur laugh all over again. "It's not funny! I'm supposed to be going to this feast, too, you know! What am I supposed to where? I don't have the time to get these dry, and what are the chances I'll be able to run back to Gaius' and change? I have to dress you, after all. And I can't be later than you; I have no desire to be thrown back in the stock–"
Arthur pulled his head close and silenced him with a kiss. Merlin jolted a bit, even as those familiar lips pressed against his. Three weeks. Three weeks of this, and Merlin still couldn't quite wrap his head around it. Arthur, emotionally repressed Arthur, the man who had ogled his adoptive sister far too much to be anything other than attraction, had actually pulled Merlin back one day and demanded Merlin stay. Merlin let himself remember those moments as Arthur rubbed his already-budding erection against Merlin's breeches. Merlin ran his clumsy fingers over Arthur's skin and remembered the horror as Arthur locked the door behind him. Just that day, they'd gone through another surprise bandit attack, this time during a ride to the next village to see how the crops had fared against the recent rains, and as their horses slipped along the muddy ground, the bandits had jumped at them, pulling Merlin and two knights from their saddles.
That day, Merlin had fallen straight into the mud, his body jarred by the fall. His horse whinnied and nearly fell on him as its footing slipped once more. He'd barely managed to roll away before hooves pounded into the mud where he'd landed. He hadn't even gotten his feet under him before a bandit had a sword swinging toward Merlin's neck. And then Arthur had been there, shouting at Merlin to get back, pushing the bandit back with pure strength. Merlin had gotten back.
The fight from there on had been mostly the same as always, Arthur and his knights fighting their way through the enemies, Merlin tripping a couple and knocking one out with a moved root and a well-placed rock. And then it had changed again, with two bandits moving toward Merlin, sidestepping Arthur and his men and heading for the weak link. Merlin didn't know if they were looking to take someone down with them or if they thought to use him as a hostage. He'd already started backing up, hurrying behind a tree, then tripping on a root just as the men swung. He landed on his back and stared up at the two men, faceless before that very moment, and he would either have to use his magic or die. And he couldn't use his magic. He couldn't. He might as well jump into the pyre himself.
So he had kicked. One man caught his foot with his groin, and the sudden jerk made the man elbow his ally in the gut, pulling his attack to the right. The sword slammed into the mud just beside Merlin's head. Merlin scrabbled back, and Arthur came and took care of the men then.
He'd endured so much yelling there, as Arthur screaming at him to stay farther back from the fight than a few feet, and then, once the prince calmed down enough, endured even more ribbing for going for a man's crotch. He hadn't, though – he'd just swung blindly.
And then, that night, as Merlin made to leave Arthur to sleep, thinking rather happily of a bed himself, Arthur had pulled him back in, his fingers almost hot on Merlin's shoulder, and he'd shook Merlin until his teeth rattled. His words hadn't made sense – he'd only berated Merlin, demanded he stay in the room, and then berated him again. And then when Merlin consented, Arthur had made him sit in the room while he tossed and turned uselessly in the bed.
Arthur held him now, the water rippling around them as he pulled Merlin's tongue into his mouth, sucking on it until Merlin was scratching lightly at his shoulders, down his arms, around to his chest and down to those luscious abs, letting his fingers bend and dip into those strong folds, mapping the intricate plains until he found those hipbones.
That endless, obnoxious night, watching Arthur toss, turn back and slit his eyes open to stare at Merlin, and then turned resolutely away again, finally led to Merlin getting fed up and demanding he be allowed to rest in his bed and standing to leave. And that had ended in Arthur getting raging pissed, and them having a row in the middle of the night, and Arthur finally telling Merlin to just shut the hell up and get in his bed, then, and that...
That had led to this.
Arthur yanked on Merlin's shirt, the sodden mass clinging to his pale skin as if to a lifeline. Arthur growled. "Merlin, take it off!"
Merlin huffed, pulled from the memory, and helped shimmy the shirt off. It took some wriggling, enough to make Arthur snarl and piston his hips a bit, and when the fabric finally pulled free Arthur tossed it away. Merlin scowled as it squelched to the floor somewhere in the room. "Arthur! I'm going to have to–"
But Arthur just pulled Merlin forward, forcing Merlin's chest flush against him, and Merlin flailed in the water again, struggling to stay upright as his center of balance was pulled off course. "Arthur!" he blubbered, nearly drowning, and Arthur just laughed and kissed him again. Merlin had to grab the edge of the tub and squirm in Arthur's lap. It made Arthur start tugging on Merlin's breeches, even as Merlin clenched his fingers around the wooden tub and gritted his teeth as Arthur's fingers slid against his member. When Arthur touched it again, just a hint of pressure, Merlin tilted his head back and jutted his hips in the water. He groaned. "Prat."
Arthur chuckled and managed to get Merlin's breeches down to his hips, and that was about as far as the lazy clotpole was willing to go, it seemed, because he just gave up and started devouring Merlin's neck. Merlin shuddered. "We h-have to h-hurry," he said, even though his own fingers were sliding down Arthur's back, down along his hips, following every curve of sinew down to those hips once more, thumbing the expanse, inches from that soft skin, and Arthur bit harder. A warning. Merlin huffed, rolled his eyes, and reached out, finally curling his hand around Arthur's shaft.
Arthur, excelling at everything, was of course a specimen down here, as well. Erect, his tip flushed, nearly clear of foreskin altogether, pink as his lips. Arthur just brushed against Merlin's again, and Merlin shuddered once more at the ephemeral contact. "Arthur!" And finally the prat was done teasing him, and as soon as those callused fingers were around him, he groaned, clenching the cock in his hand a bit tighter, enough to make Arthur join him in voicing his satisfaction.
Merlin made it a quick affair, though the sight of Arthur, naked and lazy in the bath, never failed to make him far too aware of his assets. He did take the few moments to pant heavily into Arthur's shoulder, short nails clenching into the skin of those deltoids, entire body vibrating because the prat never did anything by halves, not even when Merlin had to get ready for the feast.
But Arthur kicked him out shortly thereafter, and Merlin was left scurrying around, emptying the bath and leaving the clothes Gwen had cleaned out for Arthur as he raced off to change his own outfit. "You're leaving me to dress on my own?" Arthur asked, incredulous, as he watched Merlin try ineffectually to pull his pants off his arse enough to not make the indent there so clear.
Merlin caught Arthur's approving stare and scowled. "It's your own fault!" he said, pointing one accusing finger in Arthur's direction, and left before Arthur could roll his eyes.
The king eyed Merlin's wet hair for far too long before turning to Arthur. "Is everything ready for tonight?"
"Yes, father. All the rooms have been prepared. Lord Golen of Dyred and his wife will be placed in the third room of the East Wing."
"Very good. Have your manservant take their items when they arrive." The emphasis on 'manservant' was not lost on Merlin, and he felt the blood drain from his face. Arthur turned to leave, his lips a bit thinner. "And Arthur?"
Arthur stopped and turned, his back ramrod straight. "Yes, sire?"
"A little more discretion is in order, I believe." And he nodded toward Merlin. "Not wanting bastards is a noble ideal, but you must beware of rumors."
Merlin's face flared with heat. Arthur's fists clenched. He opened his mouth. Closed it. And finally bowed. "Of course, father."
Uther waved one hand in dismissal, and Arthur left. Merlin hurried after him, carefully keeping his gaze from Uther. The doors slammed slightly on the way out. "Don't we need to go back?" Merlin said, though he didn't really want to be anywhere near the king at that particular moment. "Lord and Lady Golen will be arriving soon, won't they?"
Arthur stopped so quickly Merlin nearly bumped into him. He slammed his fist into the wall. "Dammit!" he said, his voice little more than a hiss.
Merlin stood a pace away and cleared his throat. Arthur's head bowed. "I know you didn't want him to find out. I'm sorry. Do you..." But the words clogged in his throat. He knew it was only right that he and Arthur stop – it couldn't have gone anywhere from the start – but he couldn't force the words into the air. He didn't want it to be real. Not yet.
"No! By the gods, Merlin, shut up!" And Arthur glared at him. "Not one more word, or I'll put you in the stocks for a week!"
Merlin grinned. "Of course, sire."
Arthur shoved him, the tension ebbing from his back and shoulders. Merlin saw him fighting a grin. "Now check on the room and come straight back. It's going to be a long evening, and your usual tardiness won't help matters."
Merlin rolled his eyes and raced off to do as told.
Merlin gasped, his head throbbing from the magic he could feel pounding at the edges of his perception. Lady Golen was still screaming, screaming about a friend of hers. A childhood one. Merlin screwed his eyes shut. Another person demanding blood for blood, as if it was any sort of answer.
He struggled to his hands and knees.
"You!" she said, and he saw her staring at him, eyes wide. "How are you still alive?"
Her spell had been strong, but not nearly as powerful as Sir Aulfric's. Compared to the Sidhe, this woman was nothing. He stood. Before him, slumped in his chair, was Arthur. The rest of the room, even Uther, mirrored his position. Merlin stepped around the table, pulling the woman's eyes to him. "Stop what you're doing," Merlin said. "I know you know it's wrong. You made everyone sleep so your husband couldn't see, didn't you?"
She snarled, then laughed. "Sleep? They're not sleeping. They're dying." She waved a hand to indicate the room, the people slumped over their food, the guards on the floor. "They can't breathe. Soon, even their hearts will stop beating. For showing support to this murderous king, they'll taste death, as well." And she looked at him. "When a person can't breathe, they fall asleep before they die. But you." And she pointed at him. "You are still awake. How?"
Merlin didn't bother answering. "Let them go!"
She laughed again. "No." Her teeth gleamed white when she grinned.
He raised his hand. "Then you've given me no other choice," he said. "Onhwierfe galdor." The woman's eyes widened all over again, and she screeched something unintelligible. She raised her hands, too, and Merlin braced himself for whatever she threw.
Then his spell took effect.
Her scream cut off abruptly. She choked, threw a hand up to her throat. Her gaze flew over the room, then returned to him. Her mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. He didn't bother to apologize, and he didn't look away. She stumbled and fell to the floor. Merlin's hands shook.
The room started coming to life, and finally Merlin turned away from the woman. Arthur was clutching his head, wincing. Merlin raced to his side as Lady Golen slumped on the ground, unmoving. "Arthur? Are you all right?"
Arthur blinked once, twice. "What happened – Lady Golen!" He stood. "She was a sorcerer!" And he stopped, his gaze caught on the body in the middle of the room. "What happened?"
Merlin shrugged. "Maybe she wasn't a very good sorcerer." Arthur gave him a look, but Merlin just sent him a dopey grin and Arthur wrote him off. The prince turned to his father, and Merlin scanned the rest of the room. Everyone was awakening now, many coughing or gulping in deep breaths, hands to their chests. Lord Golen was staring at his wife, nearly unmoving.
"As Lord Golen was a victim of the spell, as well, giving proof of his innocence, I will let him go unpunished," Merlin heard King Uther say, and he smiled. Lord Golen didn't turn his gaze from his wife, but his mouth was open in surprise, his eyes wide. He was more surprised – by the pull of his brow, hurt – than angry. He wouldn't try to take revenge. At least not today. Merlin turned to the king.
"Take her to the courtyard and burn the remains," King Uther said, his eyes fixed on Merlin. "I want nothing of that sorceress remaining. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sire," the guards chorused, well-rehearsed, and three came up to take her body away. Lord Golen trailed behind them, eyes only for his wife. Merlin shivered under the king's gaze. It was cold, hard. Unyielding. Anticipating death. Merlin felt its ice on his back and shoulders, a cold dread stamping along his nerves.
"Arthur." King Uther didn't look away from Merlin. "Make sure they take care of it."
Arthur looked back and forth between Uther and Merlin for a moment, then nodded. His lips were thin. "Yes, sire."
Arthur motioned for Merlin to join him, but Uther stopped him. "No. Leave him. He'll help the others clean up." And Arthur had no choice but to bow his head and do as ordered. Merlin understood Arthur's reactions; he was prince, and he had a duty to his king and to his people. That duty couldn't include putting his male manservant first. He understood it. But with the dread curling like liquid metal in his stomach, he couldn't help but hate it. As soon as Arthur was out of the room, Uther stood. He grimaced for only a second, but he only moved to put one hand on his sword. And the dread rose to his chest. This was it, Merlin thought dully. The king knew. Why had he not called for the guards? "You will come with me," King Uther said, his voice low, and gripped the pommel of his sword with a bit more force. Merlin understood the threat, and he nodded. What else could he do? He couldn't show himself, wouldn't fight. His heart pounded up his throat. He searched out Gaius in the mess, but the man was tending to a woman who had fallen out of her chair. Gaius didn't catch his eye. Maybe that was for the best – Merlin couldn't let Gaius be implicated, too.
Gwen saw, though, and her brows were furrowed. After Morgana's disappearance, for Merlin to die, as well... he tried on a grin for her, just a small one. Her brows only lowered further.
The king strode out of the room, and Merlin followed.
The walk to the king's chambers was silent, but for once, Merlin was kept ahead of the king. The trip was made even more awkward as several guards on the way stopped them to see if they should be punishing Merlin for the impudence of walking before his king, but the king always said he was handling it.
Handling it. Just how, Merlin wondered, was he to be handled? He was being walked through the halls as if it were nothing. As if he wasn't a sorcerer in Camelot. But with each step, he knew the king had found out. Merlin should have listened to Gaius. He should have been more careful. He hadn't made sure that the king was unconscious. Had he seen the whole thing? Had he watched as Merlin pulled the woman's magic back to her, forced it into her body? What had the king thought, watching Merlin use such a spell?
Of course, it wouldn't have mattered which spell he used, would it? He could have been healing Arthur from a mortal wound – again – and the king still would have sentenced Merlin to death for it.
Which begged the question: why were they walking sedately to the king's room?
"In," the king ordered when they arrived, but Merlin had already been turning inside. It was most likely in order to remain seemingly in-control of the situation, and Merlin found himself annoyed with it. It was definitely a trait Arthur had picked up.
Merlin closed his eyes. Arthur, who was down in the courtyard burning Lady Golen's body. Arthur, who had no idea what Merlin was or why he wouldn't be in the dining hall cleaning like everybody else. Arthur would have to take care of Merlin's body, when the king was done with him. Arthur might even have to order his death. Might have to stand there and watch Merlin burn. Merlin's gut twisted violently, and he thought he might be sick. "Your Majesty–"
"You lied to me," King Uther said, and he finally unsheathed his sword. "You lied to my son. What enchantments have you placed on him?" He touched his sword to Merlin's neck. Merlin was proud that he didn't flinch. "Tell me, and I'll make sure your death is swift."
"I haven't placed any enchantments on him." Merlin would be annoyed with the line of questioning, but given Arthur's history with women ensorcelling Arthur, he could understand. "I would never harm Arthur." He deliberately dropped the 'prince.'
"You sorcerers are all the same," Uther said, pushing his sword deeper into Merlin's skin. Merlin found he either had to back up or be skewered. His feet moved without conscious thought. "Coming after me, after my son. I will not allow you to take him away from me."
Merlin shuddered in a breath as his back him the door. The sword dug into his skin. He felt the slow, sure trickle of blood slip down his neck. "Please. I don't want to take him away from you."
"No," Uther said, his mouth twisted in a grimace. "You won't take him physically. Not like Morgana. You'll just twist his heart. You'll turn him against me." And Uther's gaze slipped away, for an instant, as if he were watching a ghost drift past the door. "If I execute you for sorcery, he will fight me. I'll have to lock him away, just to keep him from running to you." Merlin's heart tripped. Arthur wouldn't watch his execution. But it did nothing to tear the heaviness away from him, because he knew, without doubt, that Arthur would be torn apart trapped in the dungeons, unable to help Merlin. It would destroy Arthur.
"No." The word slipped out before Merlin could catch it, and the king seared Merlin alive with his gaze alone. The sword drew deeper into Merlin's flesh. Merlin curled his fingers against the door, scraping it like claws. His heart caught in his throat, making his words stumble. "No, sire, please. If you're bent on killing me, do it without telling Arthur. Please."
The king's eyes narrowed. "And why would I grant such a request?"
Merlin gasped. "Because Arthur will never forgive you. He'll hate you." Merlin thought quickly. He could lie. He could lie and say he put an enchantment on Arthur. But even now, even now, he couldn't let it be a lie. What he felt for Arthur was more than just some spell or incantation, and he couldn't take that truth away. He just couldn't. The very thought felt sour on his tongue. "And he'll hurt. It's not an enchantment. But even if it were – that pain, I can't let him go through it." He looked up at the king. "Please."
The king snarled. He whirled around, facing his room, then turned back and thrust the sword at Merlin. Merlin's heart stopped.
The sword hung in the door less than an inch from his left ear.
Merlin's heart hammered in his chest. He didn't speak, didn't dare. The king ran a hand over his face and glared at Merlin.
Finally, Merlin understood. That was why the king had hauled Merlin off to his room. That was why he'd told no one else about why Merlin stood before him. The king hadn't immediately called for his arrest. That wasn't how he normally acted. So he knew. He already knew that Arthur wouldn't react to Merlin the way he had to others. Merlin gasped. He knew Arthur wouldn't just sit still and do nothing. If the king believed Arthur was enchanted, that didn't mean he thought Arthur would be released from it if Merlin died. And if he didn't, the consequences could be dire.
Though they both arrived at the same conclusion through different paths of logic, the ending was still the same. Arthur would hate his father. Arthur would hurt. If Arthur had to endure Merlin's public execution – if Arthur wasn't released from the enchantment – it all equated to Arthur never recovering.
"Please," Merlin said again, pushing this short advantage when Uther once again turned away, pulling a dagger from beneath his pillow – another habit Arthur had picked up from his father. The fact that Uther even turned his back on Merlin meant the man wasn't treating him as he would any other sorcerer. Maybe the man still thought of Merlin as the incompetent servant? "Don't let Arthur see."
Uther shook his head. "You've had him under your spell from the start. The poison – I should have known." He shook his head. "He directly disobeyed my orders for you, even when you were near death."
"He isn't under a spell!" he said before he could think, but the king merely charged up to him and placed his dagger under Merlin's neck. He used one hand to pull the sword from the wood of the door, and Merlin only then realized he could have taken the sword himself. Though it wouldn't have done any god, and he had his magic.
"Nonsense. Of course he is. Why else would you stay so close to his side?" Uther's face was so close, Merlin could feel the king's breath on his face.
"Because he will make a great king!" Merlin said, and Uther blinked. "It's his destiny. And it's my destiny to protect him. Even from my own death." And he lifted his chin.
And the king hesitated. Merlin stood still. For an indeterminable time, the king simply looked in Merlin's eyes, his lips in a thin line. And then he nodded and stepped away. "You aren't afraid of death." Actually, he was terrified of it. "Which means the enchantment will never wear off. Will it?"
"He's not enchanted," Merlin said, but he already knew the words would bounce off the king's thick skull.
"Then something else must be done," the king said. He pointed his sword at Merlin and placed his dagger at his waist. It would be a simple thing to pull both away from the king, even pull the dagger to Merlin himself and plunge it in the king's chest. The thought barely skimmed his mind before he dismissed it entirely. He would never do such a thing to Arthur. "You must disappear."
A silent, secret death. Arthur would never know. His heart twisted, thinking of Arthur wondering where Merlin went, worrying over him, eventually hating him. Hating the memory of him for leaving. But it was preferable. Preferable to the alternative. He nodded. "Just keep him safe," Merlin said. "He's attacked so often. Placed in danger all the time. Make sure he's safe." He had to hope he'd accomplished his purpose. He couldn't allow himself to wonder if Arthur would die in a week because of Merlin's carelessness today.
"He's my son. I will watch over him, not some sorcerer."
Merlin would have to accept such an answer.
"Let's go. Unless you want that public death, you will go where I lead without question." And Uther nodded toward the door. He kept his sword out. If Merlin fought back, he would be pinned on the king's sword. Merlin thought of the guards. One of them would undoubtedly tell Arthur about what they would see – the king leading Merlin through the halls at swordpoint. Merlin's hands shook at the thought.
"I won't fight. I don't want Arthur to know. But he will if you keep your sword out."
Uther snarled, but he pulled his dagger out again and turned Merlin around, finally sticking the dagger against his ribs. Uther most likely blocked the sight with his body. "Move."
Merlin opened the door, having to take a few steps back in order to do so. The king didn't move as quickly, most likely on purpose. The knife dug into his skin. Merlin hissed at the pain and stilled. "Keep moving."
With one deep breath, Merlin did as ordered.
Arthur was waiting just outside.
Merlin's heart stopped. He stared up at those blue eyes. Arthur stared back, his brows furrowing, and then he looked behind Merlin to Uther. "Father? What are you doing? I thought Merlin was supposed to help clean up the dining hall with the other servants."
How? Why? Gwen. Merlin's heart thudded in his chest, the blood rushing to his ears. Arthur couldn't be here. Not now. Not ever. Not ever again. And the pain in his chest clamped like a vice. He felt tears prick his eyes and fought them.
"Your servant said something impudent," Uther said, not giving specifics, and Merlin felt relief, even as the knife, tip still digging into his skin, brought blood pooling to his shirt and down to the lip of his breeches. "I'm taking him to the dungeons. Since he is in the habit of speaking out of turn, I felt a speaking to was in order."
Arthur looked back at Merlin, giving him a look that said he couldn't believe the depths of Merlin's stupidity, and Merlin tried on a grin. Then Arthur's gaze slipped to his neck. Merlin's grin faltered. Oh. Yeah. "And the wound?"
"From me. His audacity would earn him worse than a night in the dungeon if he continued. The lesson needed to be learned."
Arthur didn't know who to send his outrage toward – Merlin, for his recklessness, or his father, for harming Merlin. Merlin tried that damn grin again. "I was stupid," he said, and Arthur finally sent the full force of his annoyance to Merlin.
"It's apparently a permanent state for you, Merlin," Arthur said, and Merlin closed his eyes and let the words settle in his mind. Arthur's anger, exasperation, poorly-concealed amusement – he let it soothe the pain inside him. This time, the grin didn't make his throat close up with suppressed tears. He just shrugged, even though it pulled on the dagger wound. "Don't be late tomorrow morning, Merlin. I still expect you to do your chores. You brought this punishment on yourself."
And Merlin could hear just a little sexual frustration in there, and he grinned. "Of course, sire."
Uther waved Arthur away, the movement shaking the dagger slightly. Merlin barely bit back a hiss. "Go on, Arthur. We need that hall cleaned and redecorated before the rest of the guests arrive in the morning."
Arthur sent one last quick glance to Merlin, then bowed slightly and walked away. Merlin watched his retreating back, watched those broad shoulders and the muscles rippling beneath his shirt. The pain was ebbing, just a bit. He couldn't say good-bye to anyone. Gaius would wonder, would fear the worst, especially when he heard Merlin was last seen with the king. But none of them would know. That hurt. But knowing they would all be safe – that would be all right. Gaius wouldn't have to watch him die. Gwen wouldn't lose another friend – at least, not that way.
And Arthur. But Merlin had to remember the words spoken as truth. If he listened to that, then he could let it all go. He would just be seeing Arthur tomorrow. Another night in the dungeon – he was used to that – and then he would be greeting Arthur with his breakfast, getting yelled at for being late, even as Arthur's eyes devoured him, checking him over for injuries. Arthur would touch his neck, the small mark that Merlin wouldn't have time to clean. He would hold Merlin, his touches seemingly brusque as he checked every inch for bruises, cuts – Arthur would call him an idiot. Merlin would call him a prat. They would suffer through the endless procession of nobles and dignitaries, and the hall would look as if nothing had happened just the night before.
Uther's hand settled like dead weight on Merlin's shoulder. "Move," the king said, and Merlin obeyed.
The walk was another silent one, with the king behind Merlin, one hand on his shoulder, the other holding the dagger to his ribs. Each step jogged the blade, making it wriggle inside him, bumping in and out in tiny, short sparks of pain. He felt his blood trickle down his breeches. It wasn't enough to run down his legs, and he hoped his shirt hid the blood stains. The guards didn't seem too curious; they sent Merlin pitying looks, or quirked an eyebrow in a poor imitation of Gaius. Merlin's exploits were well-known, were probably the talk of the whole castle, a joke told to the families of the other guards and servants at the end of the day. It was why Arthur hadn't freaked at Uther's words. He hadn't noticed anything unusual. He wouldn't. No one would.
They passed the dungeons, and though Merlin didn't understand, he continued at Uther's murmured command. They wove through the old passageways, and here there were no tapestries to brighten the path. Cold stone pressed upon them, and the passageway wound down, dwindling in space until Uther would have needed to stand behind Merlin, anyway; there was only room for one man at a time. And then the area opened up, the place dark, too dark for Merlin to see anything. He squinted. The light from the torches in the hall showed only the beginning of the room. It was wide, huge, as open as the stale air seemed to suggest. The smell of dust wafted around, and he could see it in the dim light. There was another smell, too, the smell of age. Merlin didn't know how else to label it. It was more than the stones, which were ancient.
Uther's hand left his shoulder to grab one of the torches from the wall. Then he nudged Merlin with the dagger. Merlin winced and walked ahead.
As they walked, he finally understood what the scent meant. The room was filled with old tombs, each labeled and decorated with offerings from the living: pictures, flowers rotted from time, small candles, pieces of ribbon or lace. One had a small golden box above the grave, most likely holding some small trinket within.
And Merlin understood why. If he was to be killed, it couldn't possibly happen in the dungeon. The guards posted down there would notice. They would see. He wondered how the king would handle the matter with Arthur; how would he explain how none of the guards saw Merlin enter the dungeon? Would he say Merlin ran? Or would he bother explaining it at all? Arthur probably wouldn't even ask. Why would he? And the king wouldn't have to lie to anyone. He could just say he hadn't seen Merlin, which would technically be the truth. Because no one would ever see him again.
He closed his eyes. No, no, he would see Arthur tomorrow. Arthur would grab one quick kiss before he raced off to fulfill his princely obligations, and Merlin would chase after him, leaving the mess in Arthur's room for later – if he ever did it at all. It was fine.
The king led him to the side of the room, over to the left, and Merlin saw places where special niches were placed in the walls. Below were altars of sorts, places with paintings and tapestries hidden in the small spaces of the walls and decorated with tiny baubles, most bejeweled. Several altars were empty, and Merlin wondered if the king had emptied it for the treasury or if graverobbers had swept through. Some held, not tapestries, but dresses or laces, which hung from metal rings nailed in the walls of the niches. They had most likely been used for something very different before the place became a crypt.
The air was chilled, even cooler away from the passageway down, and each footsteps echoed across the room. The king finally stopped again, this time close to the wall. A part of the wall looked loose, a couple of bricks sticking out. The cracks led to a niche, pulling at the right side of the bricks. One brick stuck out nearly five inches. New bricks, rope, and a closed barrel sat beside it. The wall was half-fixed, re-supported with new bricks. The workers had obviously stopped, most likely to work on preparations for the festivities above.
The king grabbed a candle from the nearest grave and placed it on that brick, lighting it with the torch. The niche glowed. "Step inside," the king said, nudging Merlin once more, and once more, Merlin did as bade. The niche was small, shallow. Merlin could only barely lift his arms to either side, and he tested the width as the king quickly grabbed the rope.
His heart stuttered. The rope.
The king came back, and Merlin finally understood the secrecy, the crypt, the candle, the silence. He shivered as the king returned. "I can still pull you back up to the public," the king said, and Merlin looked into his eyes and knew the man would do it. Torture him. Merlin shook. "Give me your hands."
He wanted to run. But he had nothing to hide! He had nothing to tell the king – oh, but Gaius. He knew Gaius knew magic. Did the king? Maybe. Maybe not. He found his mind blanking, not knowing who's secrets couldn't be spilled. What would he say?
He squeezed his eyes shut. Arthur. Arthur.
He opened his eyes and held out his hands.
King Uther wasted no time in wrapping the thick coils of rope around Merlin's wrists. He pulled so tightly Merlin winced, the fibers digging hotly into his skin. Once, twice, three times, and then Uther wrapped the rope between his wrists, making sure Merlin couldn't wriggle them free. Then he pulled the rope around his neck, yanking the cord hard enough to burn the back of Merlin's neck, until his hands covered his mouth – any attempt at a spell would hit nothing more than his own fingers. Merlin curled them into fists and watched as the king finally pulled the last of the rope up to the metal ring and coiled the rope around the ring, over and over, and finally knotted it off. Merlin couldn't even move.
Yet the position left his chest covered his chest and made it impossible to turn him, lest he suffocate from the rope around his neck. So how was the king going to torture him?
But the king, now that he didn't have to guard himself from Merlin quite so much, turned away from him. The man still said nothing, but that was fine. The lie was crumbling around him. He was just as good lying to himself as he was to others, but he couldn't anymore. No trip to the dungeon included being tied up. It never included rope digging into the skin of his wrists and gnawing at his neck, making breathing a difficult affair. It never meant his arms starting to cramp from the unnatural position, holding themselves awkwardly in the air as the rope around the metal ring pulled harshly at the cord around his neck. Every breath hissed down his throat, made the rope even more prominent, until all he could feel was the unnatural thing brushing against his neckerchief.
And then the king returned to Merlin's sight, the closed-up barrel in his grasp. The king grunted, obviously straining, and yet the barrel hardly moved. Finally the king sighed and stopped. "Close enough," he muttered, and left Merlin's sight once more. It was for a much shorter time, now carrying a tool Merlin had never seen before, like a small, flat shovel. The king opened the barrel, and something foul scented the air. Merlin wrinkled his nose and attempted to move to see what was in the barrel. The rope around his neck stopped him, and he had to pause and take a deep breath. By then, the king had returned. He slathered the foul-smelling stuff on the ground before the niche, then left his sight once again. Merlin frowned. He could swear the scent was familiar – he recognized it just as the king came back, hefting one of the stones.
And it was from that that Merlin knew the scent. It was on the newly finished wall, just beside them. It was much stronger from the barrel, but he knew it. And as the king placed down the first stone, he knew what was happening. The king was making him disappear – right here, under Camelot. Right under Arthur's nose. And the death wouldn't be quick.
Suffocation, and then his remains hidden behind this wall of stones until the castle finally fell – if it ever would. Far, far beyond Arthur's lifetime.
The stone sank into the wet mess Uther had lathered onto the floor. Merlin nearly threw up.
Arthur. He shut his eyes tight. Arthur. He wouldn't see him again. They would never see each other again. And he'd allowed it to happen! Why? Just to keep Arthur from feeling pain. What if he found out? What if...
He shook his head, then winced and gasped as the rope protested even that short movement. No, no, Arthur wouldn't find out. He wouldn't. He would go on with his life, thinking Merlin had left – perhaps gotten fed up with being thrown in the dungeon all the time, or angry that Arthur hadn't stood up for him – Arthur was honorable enough to blame himself. But over time he would move on. He would marry, have a queen, maybe a child, and Merlin would be here, still...
Another stone, and another, and Merlin shivered in the cold. The feeling of having let Merlin down would dissipate from Arthur's mind. And Merlin would be... He squeezed his eyes shut. No. It was okay. It was, it was, it was.
The sob surprised him when it came.
He bit it back and blinked his eyes open. He could say what he wanted about the king, but the man was industrious. When he set upon a task, he pushed to get it done. The ground layer of stones was already finished, and the king was working on the second. He lathered the stone below, then placed on on top of it, over and over, a monotonous rhythm. Merlin's feet were already hidden behind the stone. He looked out toward the crypt. Would this really be the last of the world he saw? He felt his chest clamp. This dark, empty, stale place – this was it. Nothing more. No more mornings dressing Arthur, looking over his skin, placing one finger on the dip of his shoulder, making Arthur hiss and yell that he didn't have time for an erection. No more endless castle hallways as he raced to help Gaius with an order or meet up with Gwen for a chat. No more watching Arthur best his knights. No more random treks through the wilderness, laughing with Arthur and scaring off all potential prey. Nothing.
Another sob slipped his lips. The sounds of Uther continuing his work filled the crypt. He bit his lip, but the tears slipped down his cheeks, anyway. He was losing everything. His friends, his family – oh, what would his mother think? What would she do, when she learned he'd disappeared? She would fear the truth, same as Gaius. And yet, even as he worried for them, his mind turned, over and over again, to Arthur. Arthur, who would never, never know of this last sacrifice, the final mark in a book thicker than any tome, a list so long it could span the kingdom.
And no matter how much he did, how much he loved, it would never be enough to cross this one moment. He gasped in a breath, the tears falling to the floor, pattering lightly on his shirt, on the floor before the stones. The candle beside him flickered wildly. Uther said nothing, just continued working, grunting when the stones proved heavier than he anticipated.
In these last moments, he wished, perversely, that he could see Arthur's face. Though he hadn't wanted Arthur to see, he still wanted to watch that face. To see Arthur battle to stay stoic, to see the flash of pain in Arthur's eyes at the sight of Merlin's tears. More than anything, he just wanted to be with Arthur. Why was it a crime? Why couldn't he just have that small piece he'd been granted? He'd known it couldn't last forever. He'd known. But it had been enough. To have Arthur's friendship. To have the extra benefits. To not end up dying all alone.
Merlin couldn't hold it anymore, and he sobbed hard, letting it loose, letting everything go. He curled his fingers to his lips, remembering, just remembering, and cried for everything he was giving up. Then he heard the stones scrape next to his ear and looked out.
Only a small portion of the niche remained, just this tiny break in the rocks. Three more stones, four, and the world would be closed to him forever. And though his sight was blurry, hazy, and the world outside his small hole promised nothing, still he looked. The light outside his hole was dark, no more than shadows. The torch, over time, had probably sputtered. It hadn't died, not quite, or else the king would be trapped in pure darkness. Merlin could still see small small light from the room, just enough to see the king's hands as they placed another stone before him. Merlin swallowed down his whimpers as the second stone covered his eyesight. The last two were just above his brow, and with the rope around his neck, he couldn't lean up to catch a last glimpse of anything. Still, he listened as the king slathered on the awful stuff one last time, and then the last stone slid into place. Merlin stared at it, his small candle near the end of its wick. He thought he could, if he strained his ears, hear the king's footsteps as they retreated, his task finally done. Leaving Merlin alone.
And because he had nothing left to lose, Merlin let himself cry some more.
He woke up when it became difficult to breathe.
His arms hung limp before him, the world turned dark as death, his legs leaning against the stones before him and his back against the ones behind, barely keeping him from strangling himself on the rope around his neck. When he straightened up, the rope pulled along his neck like a fire. Maybe it had made him bleed. As if it mattered. He hissed in a breath and felt each and every muscle tremble. He was officially running out of air. Dying, finally. He closed his eyes again. There was nothing left to see. The candle had long ago burned out.
The world held nothing but his thin breaths, his body fighting the inevitable. Merlin leaned his head back slightly, the one movement that didn't aggravate the sores around his neck. He wondered what would happen with Kilgarrah. Would Merlin's order become null and void the moment he died? Would he attack Camelot again?
And what if danger came to Camelot once more? Who would protect the useless royalty if Merlin wasn't around?
Tears threatened again, and he fought them. But why fight them? Why not be a girl – just this once, mind – and cry? What had he to lose? He had already given up everything.
He heard them. Just barely, the sound no more than a slight tremble against the stones before him. But he could hear them. Merlin frowned, his eyes drooping as lethargy called to him. When a person can't breathe, they fall asleep before they die. Maybe the king had forgotten something? His chance to mock Merlin had already passed, after all.
"Merlin? Merlin?! Merlin, where are you?!"
It could be. He was tired, out of time. Hallucinating. Did that happen when people suffocated? He wished he'd listened all those times Gaius had lectured him on medicine and science.
Arthur. It truly was him. It was his voice. Merlin strained forward, coughing when the rope pulled taut. He couldn't get any air in his lungs, and he heaved. Gasped. He tried to grab his throat and found his fingers just barely too short to reach. He kept gasping, gasping. Nothing. His head spun, but the world remained dark. Arthur. Even now, even now, he couldn't call to him. He couldn't say good-bye. Tears fell to the floor.
Something pounded at the stones before him. "Merlin! Merlin, are you in there?" Merlin looked at the darkness before him. Was Arthur on the other side? He tried to reach forward, but his hands were trapped to his chest. Why? Why? Rope. Right. Rope. Tied down. He lifted a foot. Arthur, he tried to say, but his lungs heaved and nothing came out. He couldn't breathe. His knees buckled. "Merlin!"
Something happened out there. A loud noise, a bang. To Merlin's left. He couldn't make sense of it. The world fuzzed. At least he heard Arthur's voice. Something clanged against the stones, and he heard Arthur scream. It was a battle cry, the one Merlin recognized from when someone was hurt and Arthur wouldn't let them die. The one from when he'd protected the village from Sigan's creatures, from the dragon. The one that said not one more civilian would be hurt.
It was a sound Merlin loved.
"Merlin! Merlin, don't you dare be dead! Don't you dare!"
Arthur. Arthur. He hadn't wanted Arthur – no, no, he had, he'd always wanted Arthur. He didn't want to die alone. Why hadn't he wanted Arthur near? More noises, metal against stone, over and over, and Merlin wanted it to stop, just stop, because he thought Arthur was still talking, but he couldn't hear him anymore. It was frustrating, just frustrating enough that he wanted to shut it up. His magic curled around him. Shut up, he thought. Shut up, shut up, let him hear Arthur's voice!
Something cracked, broke, and crumbled. Something else, and then a small rush of cold air swirled around his left shin. The pounding started again, and then the sound of metal digging into something. He heard Arthur curse, heard stone drag against stone. The cold air pooled around his calf, and suddenly he gasped in a breath. He coughed and hacked; dust blew into his face, and still he breathed in, again and again, and he kept coughing. "Merlin!"
Arthur. Merlin struggled to look up. He could hardly see, but there was light. It flickered by his left leg, and he saw hands pulling at the stones there – the loose ones, the ones originally being mended, and he just breathed. Breathed. "A-Arthur."
"Merlin! Thank the gods. Hold on, I'm getting you out of there."
How? But his throat felt like it was being stabbed with each new breath he took, and he had to give himself a minute to just breathe. When he felt he could breathe normally again, the holes in the wall had grown to his hip. "Arthur, what are you doing here?"
The hands paused for a moment, and then Arthur snapped, "don't you dare ask me that. Don't you dare."
Merlin blinked. "But you shouldn't be here. No one should."
Something slammed into the stone, but it didn't sound sharp enough to be metal. Merlin finally labeled it as Arthur's fist before Arthur spoke. "What the hell were you thinking?"
About what? "I had to use it, Arthur. She was going to kill you. I couldn't let that happen."
And Arthur hissed. There was silence behind the wall, and as Merlin finally drank in more air, he realized he had just confessed. "So it's true," Arthur said, his voice nearly a whisper. "You have magic."
Merlin screwed his eyes shut. This would be worse, so much worse, if Arthur were the one to leave him alone in this place. If he were the one to close up Merlin's personal tomb and walk away. His breath hitched at the thought. If that was what would happen, then he wished Arthur wouldn't have come at all. "I didn't ask for it. I swear. I was born with it. I've always had it."
"Always. All this time."
The small light flickered, still nearly impossible to see. Probably hidden by Arthur's body. "I'm sorry," Merlin said, the two words that he'd wanted to say since Uther had turned that knowing gaze on him. "I'm sorry. It's just part of who I am."
"Part of... Merlin, how could you not tell me? All this time, you've been lying to me!"
"No!" Merlin said, but he thought it was the truth. "I mean, yes, maybe a little, but–"
"A little, Merlin?!"
"– but it's not like I wanted to, or that it was important!"
"Not important?! You...!" And Arthur slammed against the stones some more. "You just wait until I get you out of there, Merlin! I'll wring your neck myself!"
Merlin blinked some more. What? "What're you doing?"
"By the gods, Merlin, just how stupid are you? I'm getting you out!" And then the clanging resumed.
"But," Merlin shouted, then had to stop as the dust once again clogged his throat. "But I'm..." But he couldn't say it. He tried again. "I have magic. And Uth – your father, the king, knows. He–"
"Damn you, Merlin, shut up!"
And Merlin did. Arthur hacked, piece by piece, at the stones. Behind some stood nothing but earth, some of it crumbling a bit, warning of instability. Arthur ignored it and continued pulling the stones up, until finally Merlin's chest was revealed, and then his head. Though the opening was slim, necessitating a man to enter and exit sideways, it was an opening, and Arthur looked in on Merlin, his face and clothing nearly white with dust. "Merlin, never do that to me again. Never. Do you hear me?"
Merlin frowned. "I..."
"That's an order, Merlin," Arthur said. "From your prince. Do you understand?"
Merlin could only blink. "I understand. I won't lie to you again."
Arthur reached in and started to shake him, then stopped when Merlin choked. That blue gaze traveled over Merlin, from his shirt to his hands to the metal ring. Then they narrowed and returned to Merlin, this time following the line of rope. Those lips thinned. "Hold on," Arthur said, and pulled out his sword. It was absolutely coated with dust, and it seemed obvious now that Arthur had been using the sword to pull the old stones loose. Then Arthur raised the sword to Merlin, and despite himself, he flinched, remembering Uther holding the sword to his throat, the dagger to his back. Arthur snarled as he cut the rope. It took a couple of tries, and Merlin wondered how badly Arthur had messed up his sword. Was it even salvageable? Then Arthur was tugging him from his coffin and the sudden openness, the space, made Merlin stumble to his knees. Arthur, his hand still wrapped around Merlin's arm, followed him down. "Merlin? Are you all right?"
He just breathed, once, twice, over and over, amazed how the air just came. So open! So much space. He didn't feel the press of the walls around him. He could breathe deeply without his back bumping into the wall or his elbows smacking into the stones or the rope digging into his neck.
The rope around his neck was loose.
With his limbs shaking like leaves, he slowly lowered his arms. The rope slid, light but still painful, from his neck. His hands rested on his lap. He gasped as if he'd still been choking.
Merlin snapped his head up. Arthur leaned over him, his hands hovering. But when Merlin looked up, he finally acted, placing one careful finger on Merlin's neck. Those calloused fingers were nearly cool after the rough rope. They traced, lighter than a feather, down to the dip in the middle of his throat, causing a slight burn. Merlin had forgotten about the actual wound there; the rope burn hurt much more. And then Arthur was holding Merlin's hands, turning then back and forth. "Gaius will need to see these," Arthur said quietly, and made to stand, Merlin's hands still in his.
"Arthur! Stop. Stop and think." Merlin took another deep breath, just because he could, and remained on the floor. "King Uther executed me. You've just interfered."
Arthur's hands clenched tight enough to make Merlin wince. "That was no execution. It was torture."
"What do you think burning alive is, a holiday?" Merlin asked, but that wasn't the point, and he let it go. "King Uther decreed my death. He and I agreed to have it be a private affair – if I return, he'll just kill me publicly."
"No, he won't."
"Arthur." But Arthur just forced him up. The movement pulled on Merlin's dagger wound, and he winced. Arthur's lips only thinned further. He led Merlin over to the source of light – another torch, and Merlin wondered if the bottom of the stairs was as dark as the crypt – and picked it up, still holding on to Merlin with one hand. "He'll kill me. And he'll lock you away. I have no idea what he'll do to you for this. Please–"
"Shut up, Merlin." But the words held none of their usual amusement, and Merlin refused.
"At the very least, he'll run me through. Or he'll lock you in the dungeons and have me beheaded or burned. He'll–"
"For Gods' sake, Merlin, he'll do no such thing!" And Arthur finally stopped and looked at Merlin. "I went to see you in the dungeon. I went down and you weren't there, and none of the guards had seen you. And when I went to see my father, he tried to give me this crap about you saying you were sick of everything and agreeing to leave. And I knew, I knew you would never leave, because you never leave. You never leave me." Arthur's chest heaved. "And then he told me the truth, and you did. You idiot, you were leaving me."
Merlin shook his head, but Arthur wouldn't let him speak. "I can't say I don't care about you being a sorcerer. Of course I care. And I'm furious that you didn't tell me, even after we slept together!" Arthur's cheeks flushed, but he barged on. "But if I had to choose between that and your death, of course I would prefer you to be a sorcerer and alive!"
But Arthur was on a roll now, and Arthur on a rant never stopped for anything. "You idiot! I swear, you will never finish the list of chores I'm going to give you after this. Why would you ever agree to something as addleheaded as this?" He finally stopped and sighed. "It's not a permanent solution, but I spoke with my father." Arthur shook his head. "With Uther." Merlin's eyes widened. "I told him I would walk away from the throne if you died."
Merlin jerked. "You can't!" he said, and Arthur glared down at him.
"Then don't die."
Merlin opened his mouth to respond, but his mind was blank. Arthur led him out of the crypt and up the stairs as he searched for a rebuttal. "But I have to protect you," he said finally. "If I should die–"
"I already demanded you never do that to me again," Arthur snapped, and Merlin looked at him. With the torch in his hand, the dust was even more apparent. His blue eyes burned like fire as they turned on Merlin. "As your prince, I demand it. Do you understand, Merlin?"
Arthur's hair was like the sun, all heat and light. He remembered the fear of dying in the cold and darkness and found himself nodding. "I understand."
Arthur carefully maneuvered him against the wall and slanted his lips against Merlin's. Merlin couldn't think of one argument. All he could feel was warmth.
If I got it right, that spell should say, 'reverse the spell.'