Author's notes: This is my first Merlin story. It was already posted in LJ community MerlinxArthur. It's slash, so son't read if you don't like etc..etc.. Oh, english is not my language, and this fic is unbetaed, so sorry for any grammar and spelling mistakes.
Disclaimers: The usual, I don't own... though one can always wish :))
The trouble with losing you
Arthur entered his chambers in a fury, noisily slamming the door behind him. He had never been so angry in all his life. He cursed Merlin for the hundredth time in the few minutes that had passed since he had left the throne room.
When the Prince had been summoned at the presence of his father earlier that morning, he didn't know what to expect. As soon as he had entered the throne room, however, he began to suspect something odd was taking place.
That foreign dignitary, Azeem, who had come to Camelot a few days prior to seek an alliance with Albion, was excitedly talking to the King, high praising Merlin's supposed genius and outstanding abilities. Arthur wanted to laugh hard at this. He knew Merlin, and though he was aware that his manservant was not as stupid as he claimed him to be, he had no particular quality, except maybe the extreme urge to die in order to save his master's life. And a big, caring, selfless heart. And also, if Arthur was honest with himself (even if he would never admit it out loud in Merlin's presence), he was not such a bad servant. If only he could learn to keep his place…
Arthur smiled to himself. Merlin was also a friend, a good one, and he had saved Arthur in more ways than one.
That was why what Azeem said took him by surprise, leaving him at a loss for words.
"Merlin has a potential to become a great scholar, Your Highness, that's why I'm asking you for permission to bring him with me to Egypt and introduce him to the study of astronomy."
Uther merely raised an eyebrow. It was no secret he didn't have any benevolent inclination towards Merlin, and it seemed clear that he didn't care a bit if he went away or stayed.
"Well, Azeem, I'm surprised by this request", the King answered. "The boy is my son's manservant, and from what I could gather by Arthur's tales, he is not particularly smart. I guess then that my son would be happy to get rid of him. What do you say, Arthur?"
But the Crown Prince had not been able to say a word. He just looked at his father, while all the blood in his veins froze. He knew Merlin was fascinated by Azeem, who was also a scientist and a scholar. Well, his servant was always more interested in any new acquaintance than he was in his Sire (and Arthur was abso-ho-lutely not stating this out of jealousy). This time was no different: Azeem and Merlin had bonded quite soon, and Merlin had begun to neglect his duties as the Prince's manservant in order to spend his time with the foreigner.
But for Merlin to have grown as fond of Azeem as to actually think of leaving, Arthur would never have thought it could happen.
"Lord Azeem", Uther said, when it was obvious that his son would not voice his opinion on the matter, "If you do think you can educate the boy, then I have no objection to his coming with you."
Azeem beamed. "Thank you, my Lord. I will inform Merlin to get ready for our departure in two days." He bowed and left the room.
Back in his bedchambers Arthur growled, clutching at his sword. He felt the desperate need to crash something. Merlin had not even had the decency to talk to him first. Hurt took the place of anger, and the Prince sighed. He had hoped that Merlin would have trusted him above all others. After all, Arthur trusted his servant with his own life. And yet, he had not told him about something this huge. In that moment, the one person Arthur did not wish to see entered the room.
"Arthur, I…" Merlin began. The Crown Prince could barely stand to hear his servant's voice.
"How many times do I have to say this to you? It's Sire, my Lord, or Your Highness. Your incompetence is getting on my nerves every day more." Arthur spat. He badly needed to put a distance between them, so that the intense feeling of hurt could recede.
Unfortunately, though, Merlin never knew when he should shut up, so the idiot continued speaking like nothing had happened.
"I didn't want…" the young warlock started once more, only to be cut off again.
"What? What is it that you didn't want, uh? For me to find out? Did you plan to sneak off behind my back?"
Merlin resolutely shook his head. "No, Art… Sire, I didn't want you to discover it this way, I wanted to be the one to tell it to you first."
Arthur calmed down at this, though he remained suspicious. "Then why didn't you speak to me? Why have you waited until now? Don't you trust me enough?"
Merlin shook his head again, and looked at his Prince. "No! It's not that…I…I didn't know what to do; I didn't know what your reaction could be."
Arthur rolled his eyes in scorn. "Ah, I see… So it was better to make plans without me knowing? Do you realize that you made me look like a fool in front of my father? He asked me if I agreed to send you to Egypt, and I didn't even know what he was talking about!"
Merlin looked angry, angrier than he ever saw him. "
So that's it? You are just mad at me because you supposedly lost reputation in your father's eyes! And here I thought you were angry because you actually cared about me! I've always been right… You are a total prat!"
The Crown Prince narrowed his eyes, livid with rage.
"And why should I care about you? Even though you keep forgetting your place, you would do well to remember that you're just a servant, a very inept one, if I might add, Merlin. Even though I've allowed you to take some liberties from time to time, it doesn't mean you're actually important to me." Arthur winced, regretting those words as soon as they had come out of his mouth, especially because they were not true. Merlin had become a most valuable member of his household, and he truly did consider him a friend, the only real one he had ever had.
"I see." Merlin looked defeated. "You know, I actually came here to tell you that Azeem had not told me he was going to talk to King Uther, that I knew nothing about this…plan, as you like to call it, and that I didn't want to leave, but I guess you made yourself very clear. I won't be bothering you anymore, and I'll make sure you're attended by another during these few days preceding my departure, so that you won't be forced to be at the presence of this inept servant."
The comment 'would you stop acting like a girl, Merlin?' died in Arthur's throat as reality sunk in.
Merlin was actually leaving, and Arthur was the cause of that happening. He watched, unable to say any word, as the brunette left his rooms, and he cursed himself for what had happened.
Meanwhile, Merlin had reached Gaius' quarters, startling the old man with the rashness of his entrance into the room.
"I'm leaving, Gaius", the warlock informed his mentor.
"What happened?" Gaius asked, concerned. "Not more than thirty minutes ago, you were in this same room, arguing with Azeem for not asking your opinion before going to the King and swearing on your honour that you would never have left Camelot… Did something happen with Arthur?"
Merlin shook his head.
"Nothing happened with him, except the fact that he is the usual unbearable, royal, huge prat."
The physician's lips lifted upwards. "Is this it? You argued, and now you want to leave? Don't you think this is a too sudden decision?"
Merlin wildly gestured, pacing around the room. "Sudden? I don't think so, Gaius. I don't even know how I could put up with him for so long! I should have left a year ago, after he tried to kill me with a mace!"
Gaius let out a snort, seemingly torn between amusement and frustration.
"And what happens with 'it's our destiny', 'I have to protect him', 'I will die for him'? Who is going to protect Arthur if you're gone? Who will help him to become King? I thought this was more important than anything else for you."
"You don't understand!" Merlin replied. "It still is! But I can't continue like this, not when it only matters to me, not when he doesn't care."
He lowered his head. "And anyway, I don't think my staying would make any difference to Arthur. He has plenty of people who protect him and who would die for him."
"Merlin, it's not my place to make you change your mind, but I need to tell you this. Consider very carefully about what you're doing. Azeem is giving you a great opportunity. You could learn so much from him; his country has nurtured a number of great magicians. But think about what you can be here, about what you can achieve with Arthur."
Merlin chuckled without mirth. "I know, I know, two sides of the same coin, and all that. People keep repeating it to me, lately."
The physician grew serious.
"I'm not talking about all that crap the Dragon has been feeding you. I'm thinking of the great kingdom you and Arthur can make together. Arthur could be a great king, if only he learns to trust magic, to trust you."
Merlin sighed. "After my last talk with the dragon, I'm not so sure of that anymore. As for Arthur, I know he will never learn to trust me as a warlock, not when he doesn't see anything more than a lowly servant in me, and before you say anything, he said this straight to my face. No, Gaius, as you said, Azeem is giving me a chance I probably should not miss. It's time I started thinking about me. I've made my choice. I'm departing in two days. I'm sorry if I disappointed you."
Gaius looked at his ward for a moment, his expression soft.
"I told you once you were the son I've never had. I still think you are. You could never disappoint me." Merlin smiled, then, and embraced his mentor with force, a couple of tears falling on his cheek.
"I will miss you, Gaius."
Arthur had duelled with more passion than ever that day. After the practicing session, most of his knights were still massaging their badly bruised ribs, or tending their bleeding body parts.
Two days had passed since Merlin had announced he was leaving, and he had been true to his word.
Arthur had not seen him around, and another manservant had attended him. This new boy was swift, skilled, and most of all respectful, and yet Arthur ached to have his bed all wrinkled and his sword not perfectly sharpened; he even ached to be called a prat, He missed Merlin. He missed his company, the lopsided smirk he wore when he teased Arthur, the way he was always around, just for him, making him feel as if he was important as a whole person, not just as the future King.
And today he would be leaving. Arthur didn't want Merlin to go, to leave him alone. He had been lonely for the most part of his life, even though there were plenty of people who took care of him, who would keep him company, should he ask; but with none of them he could feel the same degree of intimacy, of absolute trust that he felt around Merlin.
His anger rose again at the thought of losing all that.
He would never allow it.
Merlin was his, damn it, if only that bloody idiot could see it too.
Arthur nervously paced around the courtyard, shooting murderous glances at anyone who was so foolish as to approach him.
He almost punched the unfortunate soul that put their hand on his shoulder, before discovering it was Gwen.
"Guinevere", he acknowledged, considerably calmer as he spotted her face. She had this strange soothing effect over him. "What do you want?"
She cast her eyes down. "I wanted to tell you that I think you're doing a brave thing, Arthur."
He resisted the urge to chuckle. He didn't consider his recent craving for slaughtering Azeem to be actually 'brave'.
"And what am I doing exactly, that you consider so heroic?"
"You're letting him go", she simply stated.
And in that precise moment Arthur understood that he would do anything to ensure Merlin's happiness, even if that meant stepping aside.
When Merlin entered the Prince's chambers he could hardly believe that would have been the last time. The young warlock had not seen Arthur at all after their angry quarrel, two days ago. He had had the time to really ponder his decision, and he regretted it. Maybe Gaius was right, after all. It had been a little too sudden.
But it was late now to take back his word, and he doubted that Arthur would happily welcome him back after all he had said.
Merlin looked at the room. He surveyed the furniture, the rich embroidery on the bed's linen, the fire glowing in the mantelpiece, and he tried to impress all those details in his memory. He didn't particularly like his job, but he had come to love the castle as much as he loved those who lived there, and he had begun to consider Camelot as his home.
His gaze rested on a figure he had not noticed when he had arrived. Arthur. He was standing at the window, his arms crossed, and he was resolutely staring outside. He seemed not to have acknowledged Merlin at all. The young warlock took notice of his golden hair, his fine profile, his imposing demeanour, and he instantly knew what he would miss the most when he was away.
"I am leaving, Arthur. I've come to say goodbye", he said, voice barely above a whisper.
The Crown Prince briefly glanced at him, before resuming his staring out of the window, then he sighed.
"Well, it was nice of you to think of me. Fare you well, Merlin. I wish I could say you've been a valid servant and that replacing you will be so difficult, but you know better than me that it wouldn't be the truth. Now, if you have to go, I don't want to be the one to hold you back".
Merlin was hurt by the coldness in the Prince's voice. He would have thought by now, after all they had endured together, that Arthur considered him, if not a real friend, something akin to that. But he had not even looked his way as he said goodbye. The sorcerer laughed humourlessly.
"You are right, Arthur, when you say I'm an idiot", he said.
"I'm glad we are finally agreeing on this point, Merlin", Arthur replied, but his voice lacked the usual sarcasm.
"You know what the funny thing is?" the brunette asked.
The Prince exhaled. "No, I don't, but I'm sure you're going to tell me anyway. Go on, humour me".
Merlin strode towards the window, until he was mere centimetres from Arthur. He inhaled loudly, before doing what he considered the bravest deed he had ever accomplished in all his life.
He wrapped his arms around Arthur's waist, tightly, and leaned his forehead against his backside.
"If you only asked me to stay, even just once, I would never have left. Never."
He slowly released the other man's waist, and retreated. Arthur hadn't even flinched, and he was still not looking at him. After some seconds of waiting for nothing, Merlin finally found the courage to turn away from his Prince and to grab the door handle. "Goodbye, Arthur", he said, and then he left.
Arthur had been standing there, looking out of the window, for he didn't know how long. He had seen the sun rise, he had seen Merlin and that Egyptian load their horses with their things, and he had seen his servant, his former servant exchange farewell hugs with Gaius, Gwen and Morgana. But, most of all, he had watched as Merlin rode away from him, and he hadn't been able to stop him, he hadn't been capable of swallowing his damned pride and telling his servant - no, his friend, that he didn't want him to leave. Because he cared. A whole lot.
Arthur absentmindedly stroked his stomach. He could still feel the warmth where Merlin's hands had rested. They had fit so perfectly, embraced like that, that it felt like Merlin's arms had been made solely to be wrapped around Arthur.
"Oh dear, I never thought I'd see the day when the great Arthur Pendragon would be moping over someone", Morgana's teasing voice roused Arthur from his musings.
"What do you want?" he asked, tiredly.
"I've come to ask you what you are doing still here, Arthur. Merlin is gone, why aren't you doing something about it?"
He slumped on a chair. "What do you want me to do Morgana? Merlin is, was, my servant; I can't exactly chase him round and beg him to stay, can I? What would people think of me?"
"What do you care about what people think? You know he's a lot more than a servant! He's your friend, and you should be more worried about what he thinks of you!" she angrily retorted.
Arthur covered his face with his hands. He so desperately wanted to run after Merlin, to hold him tight, and to tell him everything he had never been able to. But, as strong as this desire was, Arthur also knew that this was a unique occasion for his servant to try and raise himself from his humble condition. A royal prat he may be, but Arthur would not put his selfish needs before Merlin's happiness. He looked at Morgana. "I know, but it's too late now. He chose to go; I can't force him to come back. And besides it's not my place to do so, not when I know he can be better off where he's going".
Morgana beamed at him with pride. "Well Arthur, I'm impressed. Not more than a year ago, you would have stomped your foot and acted like a petulant child…And look at you now; you've spoken like a true King. You know, sometimes I wonder if Merlin has magical powers: after all, he took an insufferable arse", her smile widened at Arthur's outraged expression, "and he turned him into some kind of Prince, almost worthy of the Crown".
The Prince looked at her, at a loss for words. She rarely had compliments for him.
The King's ward put a hand on Arthur's arm. "Trust me, Merlin will never be 'better off' anywhere else but here. You would do well to accept my advice: go after him, and make him see what he's losing". This said, she quietly left the room.
Arthur thought it over for a while. How was it possible that Merlin could be happier in Camelot, being a servant, than in Egypt, where he could study and gain a more respectable life?
Then he remembered how sad Merlin had looked when he had come to say farewell, and those words, whispered into his backside: If you only asked…
In that precise moment, Arthur knew. The Crown Prince smiled in spite of himself. And he said that Merlin was the idiot between them. Not that he would admit to anything in front of his servant, anyway.
As he rushed outside the room, he only hoped he was still in time.
In his haste to reach the stables as soon as possible, he almost knocked down his father.
"Arthur! What are you doing?" the King asked. "We have to meet Duke Edward and his daughter, don't you remember?"
The Crown Prince shook his head. He already was late; he didn't need his father holding him back for something so trivial.
"I can't, Father. I have to go", he hastily explained. "Why don't you meet them alone, just this once?"
Uther raised a sceptical eyebrow. It was the first time his son answered to him that impatiently. "And where are you going, in such a hurry?"
Arthur was already at the far end of the corridor before he replied, in a tone that brooked no argument: "I'm going to claim back what is mine".
Merlin was riding slowly, his head bent low. Whenever he went hunting with Arthur, as much as he hated that activity, he took his time in surveying his surroundings, in looking at a particular tree, or observing a stream, or a lake. Today, however, he couldn't bring himself to watch the forest around him; it just wasn't bringing him any joy.
"You're unusually quiet this morning, Merlin", Azeem observed.
"I'm sorry, I was just thinking about Art… I mean, about all he people I'm leaving behind".
Azeem sagely smiled. "Those feelings are quite normal. They are your friends, and you care for them. A little longing is to be expected. But it will surely pass with the course of time".
Merlin nodded. "I hope so", he said, because frankly, he quite dreaded feeling that much emptiness and sadness for all his life.
The young warlock was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't realize Azeem had stopped until he almost bumped into him. "What's the matter?" he asked, but then he turned his gaze to where the Egyptian was looking, and his heart stopped for a second.
Leaning casually against a tree, arms crossed on his chest, and his usual prattish smirk on, was none other than Arthur Pendragon, Crown Prince of Camelot.
"Arthur!" Merlin exclaimed, then he shook his head as if he'd said something wrong, "Sire, what are you doing here?"
But Arthur didn't answer him. He slowly detached himself from the tree, and then started to play with his sword, passing it from one hand to the other with practised ease.
Not lifting his eyes from his sword, the Prince began speaking in a low, controlled voice: "Azeem, we have been the most gracious hosts to you, haven't we? We gave you shelter, food, servants… We provided you with anything you could want, didn't we?"
Azeem nodded, flabbergasted by the suddenness of the question. "Yes, Prince Arthur. You did. And I thanked you and your father for your hospitality time and again."
But Arthur continued, a serious expression in his eyes. "And this is the way you're repaying us for our dedication to you? By abducting my manservant?"
Azeem could only widen his eyes, outraged. "Abducting… Sire, I don't know what you're talking about. It's a serious crime you're accusing me of, my Lord. I've asked for the permission to bring Merlin to King Uther, and he's coming with me by his own free will."
Merlin didn't know what was happening, but he was certain that blood would be spilling if he didn't do something. He dismounted his horse, and got closer to his former master.
"Arthur, please, what's happening to you?" he asked, concern in his voice. Maybe the Prince was under a spell of some sort and didn't remember what had happened.
But Arthur flashed him a sweet smile, the likes of which Merlin had only seen in his dreams, and once again spoke to the Egyptian.
"It's not my father you should have asked for permission, it was me. Merlin is my servant, so every decision concerning him is up to me. As per him following you by his own free will, why don't we directly ask him?"
He turned to the brunette, searching for his eyes, and he enquired: "Merlin, can you look into my eyes and honestly say you really want to leave?"
Merlin inhaled. He desperately wanted to yell at Arthur, ask him what did he care anyway if he stayed or left. Then he raised his head, and looked into his Prince's eyes. What he saw there made his breath itch in his throat, and Merlin finally understood what Arthur had been wanting to say to him since this story began. Stay with me.
He decided there and then what his answer would have been. "No, sire. I don't really want to leave your side."
The relieved smile he got from Arthur was all the reward he needed. He smiled back at his Prince.
"Well, then, Azeem, it seems that my servant is more interested in his daily chores than in the study of stars", Arthur joked, earning an exasperated eye-roll from Merlin.
"If I may speak boldly, my Lord, I just think that our friend here is far more interested in you than he will ever be in his chores", Azeem wisely replied with a smile.
The Egyptian turned to Merlin, a more serious expression on his face.
"I understand your choice, and I will do nothing to change your mind. I hope this turns out for the best. You are wasting a great opportunity by not coming with me. Here, take these," he handed Merlin a pile of books and some rolls of parchment. "Try to study very carefully on them. You will find that it could be helpful for your task. Farewell now." He bowed, and lonely rode away.
Merlin stared as he got further and further away, not able to say anything. He couldn't bring himself to look in Arthur's direction, so he just waited.
He smiled widely when he felt the blonde's fingers entwining with his own. He dropped all the books and parchments he was holding.
"You stayed", Arthur said, and the longing in his voice tore at Merlin's heart. For being an arrogant prat who thought the world revolved around him, Arthur could also be incredibly unsure, and Merlin was glad he was the only one who got to see this vulnerable side of him.
"Of course I stayed; I told you I would, if you only asked nicely."
Arthur smirked. "But I didn't ask."
"Then maybe you didn't have to, after all", was Merlin's truthful reply
Arthur tugged at Merlin's hand until they were face to face, eyes locked. "And just because with you I have to speak like I would to a 5 year old child, I command you to never leave me again."
Merlin chuckled. Despite the slight insult, he felt elated. "And since when I've started to follow your orders?"
But probably Arthur was not in the mood for that kind of sarcasm, for he abruptly let go of Merlin's hand and turned.
The young sorcerer cursed himself for his big mouth. He hastily followed Arthur, grabbing his wrist just before he mounted his horse. "Let go of me", the Prince threateningly growled. "I've killed for less".
Merlin smiled in spite of the situation. "But you can't kill me: what would you do without me? You know that you're not even able to dress yourself alone. And anyway, I won't let you go unless you listen to me. Don't you see? You don't need to order me to stay, for that is not something I'm going to do out of duty. I want to stay beside you, I need it, and I can promise you that I'll be there until you need me. I'll help you grow into the legendary King you are fated to become, I'll share all your victories and the losses, and when our time comes I'll be there, with you, because this is what we're destined for."
Merlin waited for a reaction, but none came. The prince just stared at him, an unreadable expression in his eyes. The brunette cast his head down, in defeat, until he felt a hand under his chin, gently forcing him to raise his head. Arthur's eyebrows were knotted together in mock outrage, as he swatted Merlin's forehead.
"You impertinent idiot!" Arthur exclaimed, "I am perfectly capable of dressing myself! But it's so much more fun ordering you to do it!" Then, without any warning, he put his lips on Merlin's and kissed him.
The young warlock had a moment of pure shock, and just stood there with his eyes open. He had just barely begun to realize that Arthur's lips were not as soft as he had imagined them, and that he never wanted this to end, that the Prince was already pulling away. He panicked. All he could do was grabbing the blonde's hips with both hands, and returning the kiss with a passion that shocked him.
Merlin felt Arthur's fingers caressing his scalp, the other hand tenderly cupping his face. When they parted, the blonde pulled at his neck, until their foreheads touched.
"Where are we going from this, Merlin?" Arthur said. "You know this cannot happen. I'm… I'm going to be King, that's all I was raised for. Someday I'll need to get married, to have heirs, and I surely cannot give you the kind of devotion you deserve. You'll come to hate me by the end."
Merlin shook his head and sighed, tightening his hold on the Prince's waist.
"I know who you are, I've never forgotten that. I know that it won't be easy, being together, and I also know that one day I'll have to step aside, and watch you as you pledge your heart to someone else. But being with you, Arthur, I've been wishing it for so long, and I'm willing to live it no matter what, never asking for anything more than what you can give, if you do want me".
The Prince kissed him, hard, and held his head in a possessive gesture.
"I do, Merlin", Arthur answered truthfully. "May God forgive me, but I do. And I know it is going to be my downfall one day."
"Can we go home now?" Merlin asked, in an attempt to lighten the mood. He felt it was too early to deal with obligations, and destiny, and Arthur's heart that could never fully belong to him. "I'm a bit tired; after all I awoke before dawn today. Which reminds me: you could have said you wanted me to stay yesterday, you prat, so that I wouldn't be forced to rouse at that ungodly hour".
Arthur chuckled, then threw a conspiratorial arm on Merlin's shoulder.
"And where would the fun of seeing you awake so early be? Anyway, if you think that you can rest as we reach Camelot, you're seriously mistaken. You're still my manservant after all, and if in my magnificence I've allowed you to neglect your duties for a couple of days, that doesn't mean I'm going to be easy on you now: there's my armour to polish, one of my favourite tunics has a tear in it, my sword needs sharpening, and my bedchambers are a complete mess. Not to mention the stables."
Merlin rolled his eyes and groaned, briefly wondering if going to Egypt could still be an option. Then he lopsidedly glanced at Arthur as he gracefully mounted his steed, and shook his head, for he couldn't really imagine himself going anywhere without him.