Disclaimer:: Mine? Really? Slash would be so cannon and Merlin would so not be family friendly...eheh.

Notes: I'm not new to fanfiction, but I'm new to actually posting, and the Merlin fandom. Since it's so small, I figured I'd be kind of same, maybe? Please tell me what you think. This chapter is mostly just hints, next chapter will be more T-rated.

Spoilers: A little bit for Episode 4: The Poisoned Chalice, but not much.


Ecclesiastes

"There is a time for everything; a season for everything under heaven."
-Ecclesiastes 3:1

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i. Rebirth

--

When Merlin finally wakes up from three days of poisoned sleep, the fever has left him ravaged and far from beautiful. With sallow skin and bones for fingers, he looks barely there. But his eyes are as green as they always have been, the smile ever cheerful. Gwen kisses him, and Gaius stands back looking at them like some proud father.

Something is reborn in Arthur's heart as he watches from his position in the doorway, something like a sprout of affection and sorrow intwined has rooted there in his soul.

Affection that a prince definitely should not be feeling under any circumstances about his newly resurrected manservant, and the sorrow, because Arthur knows with awful certainty that the emotions will never vanish, if anything, they will become more present.

Merlin sees him, and smiles. "They say you've saved me, sire."

Arthur thinks of the light, and the sound of Merlin's voice ghosts warmly across his skin. "Good servants are hard to come by." And that is all, he tells himself sternly, as Merlin's smile grows. It is infectious, because Arthur feels his own stern lips starting to relent.

Merlin does not say anything, what he wants to say, Arthur can read bits and pieces in his eyes. Gaius tells him thank you.

Arthur swallows a thick lump in his throat, "Get some rest."

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ii. Laughter

--

It is a strange time to find laughter, Arthur thinks, as he watches Merlin being pelted with rotten vegetables. If it was him, he would have been wholly humiliated, if anything, he would have at least refused to eat for the next week or say and barricaded himself in his chambers to console his ego.

Merlin, though...Merlin is perfectly fine when Arthur calls for more wine later in the day. His manservant is washed and clean, and cheerful as ever.

"Sit down," Arthur says, taking the chalice from Merlin's hands, he drinks and stares down at the pool of velvet scarlet.

"...Was there something else you wanted?" Merlin obeys, dropping gracefully to the floor and sitting cross-legged.

"Today, Uther threw you in the stocks because..." Arthur starts and waits for Merlin to finish the sentence although he already knows perfectly well why.

Merlin laughs and shakes his head, "Oh, that was nothing. It was sort of my fault anyway..I should have woken you up earlier so you could go riding with your father. But I got a little preoccupied when Gaius told me to go and get something for him...I thought I'd have the time." He shrugs, "The miscalculation was entirely my fault."

Arthur smiles privately to himself and drinks more wine. The explanation is not entirely true, but he accepts it...better that, to let Merlin take the blame as a servant is supposed to do, rather than to have Arthur admit to himself that he doesn't want to rise if Merlin does not wake him.

"Don't you ever mind, though?" Once again, Arthur stares at the chalice.

"Of course not." Merlin's grin is a boyish one, "I've gotten to be quite popular with the children. You should honestly try it sometime, it's great fun."

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iii. War

--

There is a time for war, but Arthur, the pride of Camelot, sometimes wishes there weren't. War means blood, fatigue, endless nights, and endless days, and even though no one believes him, Arthur's dreams are plagued by remorse of the countless villages he has ordered his knights to destroy. It is disgusting. A time of war also means less time with Merlin...who Arthur never asks to ride along with him because doesn't want Merlin to see him be a hero.

He doesn't want Merlin to see him gut out an enemy's insides, he does not want Merlin to see him as the ruthless murderer destiny has deigned him to be, until his sword is stained with blood, or trampling innocent children with his faithful steed.

Arthur would much rather come home triumphant, with the sweet taste of victory in his grasp, so that he can always be the Arthur that he wants to be for Merlin's eyes. Arthur is tired, all he wants to is to find an excuse to find comfort in Merlin's arms just once.

Once.

Even that, though, is too much to ask for a prince. The war has not been kind to Merlin, Arthur knows, even when the other tries to greet him with a bright smile. His sunken eyes give him away.

"There's something you're not telling me." Arthur points out, as Merlin pulls back his covers and smooths the sheets.

"I just..." Merlin clears his throat slowly, stalling for time as he unbuckles Arthur's boots with careful, practiced hands. "His Majesty went in a frenzy after you left. People were arrested on almost empty charges."

"He does that. I'll work on getting them released on the morrow." Arthur says, staring down at the top of Merlin's head, "Is that your way of saying you miss me?" He doesn't need an answer, because he already knows.

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iv. Silence

--

In time, too, there is silence. Admittedly, Merlin doesn't know what to do with these silences because he is used to Arthur whining, Arthur wanting something. It's simple that way, so that he doesn't have to think any of the thoughts that a manservant shouldn't have to think about a prince. But Merlin doesn't anyway.

In silence, Merlin decides that Arthur is indeed very handsome, too handsome for his own good. The prince is stunning, but maybe that is why Arthur is a prince and Merlin...isn't.

Arthur is kind to him when he is silent, all Merlin has to do is sit and watch Arthur drown wine in his bed. It's one of those days, when the prince decides that he needs to have a day off to himself. While that occurrence is not so rare, the fact that Arthur wants to have Merlin all to himself during those days is a happening that borders upon impossibility, and yet...

"Merlin, quit gawking at me, I said more wine."

The silence is broken, but it gives him an excuse. Normally, he'd be annoyed, but this time, he wears a hopeless smile, "You're drinking too much wine."

"And why do you care? It's good wine."

Merlin opens his mouth, and then closes it, without a word, he refills the goblet. Arthur smirks at him, it is an ultimately infuriating smirk. "Don't believe me? Try it."

That is even rarer. Merlin glances at the cup hesitantly, if anything, he has had the worst experiences when it comes to wine. But he can't stand the way Arthur is smirking at him, and besides, it should be fine, Arthur has been drinking from it, it can't be poisoned. He drinks, and Arthur waits with crossed arms for his critique, looking so smug.

"Well?"

"It's good wine." Merlin says, because there is really nothing else to say. Besides, he is telling the truth.

"Good, now that I've proved my point, don't lecture anymore."

Then it is back to silence. Merlin sinks down on the edge of Arthur's bed, to his surprise, Arthur doesn't call him out for insolence, but instead, the prince raises a hand and strokes his hair, like one would stroke a kitten. It's uncharacteristic of Arthur but Merlin can't find it in himself to want to complain.

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v. King

--

When the time finally does come that Uther breathes his last, Arthur becomes Arthur Pendragon and is King of Camelot. He swears to Merlin that things will be different once he is King. Things will be different, he will not be like his father, Camelot will change for the better when he is on the throne.

"So what you're saying is, things will be different." Merlin is ashamed of himself, he doesn't mean to sound so bitter. It's his destiny to look the other way. Away from Arthur, he knows that. He has just never imagined that it would hurt so, so much.

"Merlin." Arthur bites his lip, "I"m King." and if Merlin only has an inkling of what Arthur would give not to be king.

"I know," Merlin stares hard at the pebble he is currently nudging with his toe. "I'm sorry, I should have bitten my tongue, sire."

Arthur smiles, his smile has grown into a stately, kingly one, "No, you are Merlin, and you'll continue to be my manservant, who speaks most openly when he's not supposed to." There is sorrow in his eyes, but that will be covered up when years pass. Arthur holds out his hand. "Can I count on you?"

Merlin kneels before him, and takes Arthur's hand in his own trembling ones. In the moment of sheer stupidity and boldness, he presses the white knuckles to his lips.

And then he straightens. Arthur suddenly doesn't know what to think, all he can do is feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

"All hail, King Arthur."


Part 1 End:: 4/25/09