A Smudge of Flour
Disclaimer: Merlin and all the wonderful characters in this show belong to the BBC and some other lucky people who aren't me. Unfortunately.
Themes: First time, features Jealous!Arthur
Summary: Arthur starts noticing Merlin has smudges of flour on his cheek in the mornings. While trying to come up with plausible explanations, Arthur discovers he really doesn't like some of those explanations.
Arthur knew for a fact that princes weren't supposed to notice their servants. Servants were supposed to be invisible, never heard and never seen. Only the end results of their tasks should be seen.
At some point, Arthur had apparently forgotten this fact because for the third morning in a row, he noticed his manservant had a smudge of flour on his cheek.
The only reason the sight had jarred him was because he knew Merlin had nothing to do with the kitchens. He only went down to fetch Arthur his meals and then brought the dirty dishes back down. Only during feast days was Merlin sometimes bullied into helping carry food up to the main hall or wash the mounds of dishes afterwards.
He also knew Gaius did all the cooking himself and after a hysterical event involving Merlin setting fire to the physicians table while his sole job had been to watch the flames beneath a brewing pot, Gaius had made Merlin swear not to do anything resembling cooking ever again. Arthur knew because Merlin had shown up that afternoon covered in soot marks and grousing about people not trusting him.
Which was why it was beyond Arthur why Merlin would have a smudge of flour on his cheek, never mind for the third time in three days.
Merlin was busy shaking out one of Arthur's shirts and muttering to himself so Arthur could keep staring at the smudge of flour without being caught.
It was ludicrous to think that Merlin was cooking anything. Not only did Cook not allow anybody as clumsy as Merlin more than one foot inside the kitchen door, but Arthur knew the flour hadn't been on Merlin's face the night before.
That thought made him pause. Why on earth would Merlin be cooking something at night? Unless……
Unless he wasn't cooking anything. A sudden image of Merlin and a faceless servant girl flashed into his mind – her sitting half on the large table in the kitchen, one hand around Merlin's neck and the other gripping the flour covered table beneath her, Merlin pounding into her, his pants around his ankles, his flushed face thrown back, his eyes closed with bliss and his teeth biting into his lower lip.
The thought immediately made him catch his breath, a tight feeling in his chest. Was that how Merlin got the flour on his cheek? Did that flour covered hand come up and run along Merlin's face to grip his hair? Or did she hold his face after they were done, both laughing and smiling at each other?
Arthur was immediately ripped from his thoughts by the rather annoyed tone in his manservants voice.
"God, where are you this morning? I've asked you three times already if you want the red shirt or the white one."
Arthur stared at him. His chest felt too tight and right now he didn't give a damn about what color shirt he wanted to wear.
When he didn't respond, Merlin just rolled his eyes and tossed the red shirt at him, going back to the cupboard to put the white one away.
Arthur hardly managed to catch the shirt that was thrown his way. His thoughts were still on that disgustingly vivid image in his imagination.
What was really throwing him was that he didn't need to put a face to that servant girl. It didn't matter.
Arthur knew for a fact that princes weren't supposed to care about their servants' personal lives, never mind their sex lives. As long as their trysts weren't causing political issues or embarrassing the court, nobody cared.
At some point, Arthur had apparently forgotten this fact because here he was, sneaking down to the kitchens in the dead of the night to spy on his manservant. He knew he really didn't want to see who the faceless servant girl in his head was, but another part of him still thought that maybe there was another explanation.
If there was another explanation for the flour on Merlin's cheek, that damn tight feeling in his chest would go away and Arthur could go back to ignoring his manservant and do more princely things.
He rounded the last corner before the kitchens, keeping a careful eye for any wandering guards. It wasn't unusual for him to come down to the kitchen to get himself a glass of milk or something stronger if he couldn't sleep, but he didn't want any noise to give him away and let Merlin scramble off.
He slowed his pace as he came to the kitchen door. Peering over his shoulder to make sure nobody was watching, he pressed his ear to the door, straining to hear anything.
Not a single sound carried through the door.
Either they were being very quiet or these doors were thicker than any others in the castle.
Gently pulling at the door handle, he frowned when he discovered it wasn't locked. Well, really, who would be coming down the kitchens to interrupt a tryst in the dead of the night? Usually Arthur made plenty of noise as he headed to the kitchens – insomnia always irritating him. There was no reason for them to lock the door.
That thought suddenly filled him with anger. He felt his hand clench around the door handle and he forced himself to breathe and release his death grip on the handle. He would have a heck of a time explaining why he was in a rage upon discovering his manservant was engaging in relations with some servant girl. Or servant boy.
When he was calm, he gently pushed the door open a crack, just enough to allow him to peer inside.
What he saw was so unexplainable and strange that he thought he'd taken a nasty fall down to the kitchens and smacked his head on the stone, or Merlin had slipped something into his drink at dinner that night.
Merlin wasn't having sex with a faceless servant girl, or even a servant boy.
He was cooking.
Or rather, he looked like he was baking. What was more, he looked like he was having a miserable time of it.
There were pans and bowls and utensils all over the kitchen table, sacks of flour and eggs and bowls of butter and milk sitting amid piles of spilt flour and puddles of milk. Merlin was elbow deep in one of the bowls, poking at an enormous ball of dry looking dough and glaring at it as if he thought that giving it aggressive facial expressions would help get it to do what he wanted.
All Arthur could do was stare. He managed to keep his mouth shut for a minute or so, before a snort of laughter crawled up his throat.
Merlin nearly fell over at the sound, and the sight of his manservant staring at him with wide eyes, hands still inside the bowl was so hilarious that Arthur completely lost control and dissolved into laughter, forced to bend over and clutch his side from the ache in his belly.
Arthur waved a limp hand in Merlin's direction, indicating that talking to him right now was a waste of breath.
He was hanging off the door handle, sure that if he released it, he'd fall straight over.
Merlin remained silent while Arthur finally regained control over himself and managed to straighten up, wiping stray tears off his cheeks and trying to stop the bursts of laughter that were still coming.
When Arthur could stand without the aid of the door handle anymore he shut the kitchen door behind him and then turned to stare at Merlin.
"What. Are. You. Doing?!" he demanded with a laugh, slowly walking over to the table and staring in amusement at the mess.
Merlin let out a frustrated growl and glared at him. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"You're baking. Or trying to. What I can't figure out is why you're baking in the dead of the night. Or baking at all for that matter."
Merlin narrowed his eyes at him and went back to kneading the dough that was so dry it was falling apart in his hands. "It's none of your business."
"It's my kitchen."
"Not yet it isn't."
Arthur shot him a dangerous smile. "You want me to go wake my father and tell him you're mucking about in his kitchen – a kitchen which you have no business being in – and you refuse to tell me what you're up to? I'm sure he'll be thrilled."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "As if you'd really go wake your father about this. He'd toss you in the stocks for waking him and then declare that I can do whatever I want in the kitchen as long as I have Cook's permission. Which I do."
Arthur crossed his arms, slightly irritated that Merlin knew him and his father so damn well. "Cook gave you permission to use the kitchen in the middle of night with no supervision?"
"He made me promise to clean everything up and if I damage anything, it's coming out of my pay."
Arthur surveyed the sacks of flour and other ingredients on the table. "And Cook is fine with you using up all of our baking ingredients too, huh?"
"I paid for them."
Arthur's eyebrows shot up. He knew Merlin's pay was meager at best – something he didn't have any power over…..yet – and the price of the things on the table wasn't cheap. Small amounts weren't expensive, but Arthur knew most of the peasants only bought a sack of flour to last a year and either owned their own chickens or bought eggs sparingly.
"You paid for all this?"
"Yes, I did. I've been saving up money. I think I bought way too much flour, but I didn't have a clue how much I'd need. Not that it's any of your business."
Now Arthur was even more curious. Merlin was staying awake for hours to do something he wasn't skilled at and despised and had paid out of his own pocket for.
The image of that faceless servant girl ran through his mind again and he found his jaw tightening. Forcing a smile on to his face, he kept his arms crossed, allowing his fingers to dig into his sides without Merlin noticing.
"Oh, come on, Merlin. You're baking something for somebody special, aren't you? Come on, tell me. Who is it? Gwen?"
Merlin shot him an annoyed glare. "No." Without another word, he went back to the dough, peering into the bowl and then looking back and forth between the eggs and the flour, as if deciding what he should try to add to make the mess in the bowl look a bit healthier.
Apparently Merlin had decided that ignoring Arthur would make him go away because there was no other response from his manservant.
"I could have you thrown into the stocks."
"Go ahead. If you do it before morning you'll have to clean up this mess or Cook will have my head on a platter and you'll have to train a new manservant."
Deciding that his plan of attack was failing, Arthur decided to try another tactic. He carefully surveyed the ingredients on the table and quickly dismissed the flour, eggs, butter and milk. They would create a mess and Arthur had no intentions of getting covered in baking ingredients.
Finally, his eyes caught on a small bag sitting on a small unused portion of the table, carefully kept away from the rest of the mess. Not even the flour invasion had reached the bag. Obviously, this was something quite important.
Reaching over, Arthur grabbed the bag and took a few steps back from the table.
"Tell me, Merlin."
"Arthur, give me the bag back!"
Arthur grinned, tasting victory. Merlin had pulled his hands out of the dough and was walking towards him, irritated and very flustered.
Arthur took a quick step towards the slop pail kept beside the side door where the cooks threw any leftovers for the pigs. The bucket was always disgusting and always had bits of slimey food left in it. Kicking off the lid with his foot, Arthur held the bag over the pail and slowly started turning the bag over.
Merlin eyes widened. "Arthur, please don't. Please. It'll ruin everything."
"I guess you'll just have to tell me who you're baking for then, won't you?"
Merlin briefly closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "You're such an ass."
"But a curious one."
Merlin glared at him and threw up his hands, muttering some curse that Arthur had never heard before.
Arthur jiggled his hand a bit, hearing something small fall into the bucket and bounce on the metal bottom. "Come on Merlin."
His manservant crossed his arms over his chest, getting flour all over his shirt in the process.
"You really need to know?"
"Fine. Fine. You're an absolute ass and I'm never doing anything like this again if this is the kind of dung I'm going to have to put up with."
"Quit stalling. Who are you baking for?"
"Me what? Quit spouting rubbish at me and answer the damn question."
Merlin let out another curse, a different one but still one that Arthur didn't recognize.
"I'm baking for you, you idiotic stupid ass of a prat! I'm trying to bake you damn almond biscuits for your damn 21st birthday! Not that I'll succeed now since it's already technically your birthday by now and I haven't figured out how to make this garbage and you're about to dump the almonds into the slop pail, which I nicked by the way because they're so damn expensive and I nearly got caught! So – " Merlin threw his hands up, and forced a horribly wide smile over his face. "Happy Birthday, Arthur. Happy coming of age day. You can have a bowl full of dry flakes which can't really be called dough and piles of flour that I paid a month's wage for. Congratulations."
Turning away from a completely shocked Arthur, Merlin started yanking the bags of flour shut and tossing egg shells into a garbage pail.
Arthur blinked, needing a few seconds to sort things out in his head. Merlin was baking for him. Merlin was baking him a present. A present he had stayed up four nights to work on and spent a lot of his own money on.
He suddenly realized his hand was still holding the bag of almonds over the slop pail and he quickly righted it and went back to the table and gently set it down.
Merlin glared at it. "You might as well eat them yourself."
Arthur had no idea what to say or do. He stayed where he was, watching Merlin start to clean up, muttering under his breath about Arthur being a prat and ruining his own birthday.
Finally he found his own voice again. "We still have a few hours until dawn. We can pretend my birthday doesn't start until then."
"It won't exactly be a present if you're helping me make it, will it? Besides, you know less about baking than I do."
"First off, it won't make it any less of a present. Not to me. Second of all, two heads are better than one and between a peasant and a prince, surely we can figure it out. It's just biscuits."
Merlin started to turn away from the table when Arthur reached over and grabbed his hands which were clenched around a sack of flour. Gently prying Merlin's fingers loose, Arthur set the sack of flour back onto the table.
Merlin was staring at him, a spark of anger still in his eyes, but a hint of sadness there as well.
Arthur suddenly felt like a complete ass. He sighed. "I'm sorry I was such a phenomenal prat about this. I thought you were baking for some girl."
Merlin frowned at him. "And?"
"And…..and I didn't like that."
"Because everybody should be baking for you?"
"Because you should be baking for me."
It was perhaps the stupidest way of admitting his feelings, but Arthur thought that maybe Merlin had gotten his point.
That funny little half smile appeared on Merlin's face and he shook his head at the prince. "You're such an idiot, Arthur."
"I'm the idiot? You're trying to bake me almond biscuits in the middle of the night."
"Yeah, well, Cook said he didn't have time to make them this year and I know they're your favourite treats and what else is a servant supposed to get a prince who has everything?"
Arthur grinned. "I don't have everything. Not yet anyway."
Merlin smiled at him wryly. "You'll get your kingdom, Prince Greedy. Just wait a few more years."
"That's not what I meant."
Merlin frowned for a second before his eyes lit up. "Oh!"
Arthur tried to give him a cocky grin, but was appalled to only feel a shy smile grace his lips.
Merlin blinked at that and a smile spread over his face. "Oh," he said again, before he let out a laugh and he grabbed Arthur's face with both hands and pulled him closer until their lips met.
Arthur moaned, feeling Merlin tangle his hands in his hair and he parted his lips to lick at Merlin's lips with his tongue. Merlin's lips eagerly parted, drawing in his tongue and playfully nipping at.
When they finally pulled apart, gasping for breath and both their trousers feeling a lot tighter than they had before, Arthur rested his forehead against Merlin's.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"I didn't actually bake you anything."
Arthur silenced him with a kiss. "You tried and that's what counts. Besides, this is a much better present."
Merlin smiled and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. "Happy Birthday, Arthur."
Arthur grinned at him and when he brought his hands up to cup Merlin's face, he noticed one of his hands had been resting on the table and was now covered in flour.
Reaching up, he drew a careful smudge of flour on Merlin's cheek. Merlin gave him a look that usually meant Arthur was being a strange or daft moron.
Ignoring the look, Arthur nodded in satisfaction at the smudge.
Merlin was quietly laughing at him. "You're the strangest person I've met in my life."
"Shut up and kiss me."