Title: It is Merely the Beginning
by magique
Fandom: Merlin, BBC
Pairing(s): Implied Arthur/Merlin; past brief, awkward, almost-but-not-quite Merlin/Will.
Genre/Rating: General, Friendship/M
Word Count: 1504
Summary: Arthur tries to fix the whole manservant business, Merlin kind of figures there isn't any point.
Warnings: Implied sexual situation.
Notes: Fits from around the end of 1x01 to the end of 1x02, with spoilers for 1x10.
First Merlin fic, whoop. I was almost expecting the first one I wrote would be Merlin/Gwen since I got an idea for that first buuut then this came along and, yay. Hopefully, this fits neatly into canon-that was the intention-but there might be tweaks somewhere I haven't noticed.

The first thing Arthur says after the king leaves them gasping and horrified is short, curt and full of false promise.

"Ugh," he says, and it's not that; it's this, the bit that comes after he's given Merlin another cursory look up and down: "I'll fix this."

It's not meant as assurance for Merlin, but for himself. Merlin nods along, though, because he's not actually sure if doing anything that Arthur doesn't like wouldn't get him killed.

Arthur echoes the motion for a moment, seems to realise he's agreeing with Merlin, and glares very intensely. Then he stomps off.

Merlin stays where he is, not altogether sure where he should be, because this sudden servant business is very new and, well, very sudden. What is also sudden is the realisation that Arthur didn't even bloody well thank him for saving his useless, annoying, princely life, so he scowls with interest at Arthur's back and mutters a few choice words under his breath.

Arthur doesn't call for him until the next evening. From the thunderous expression, Merlin imagines he probably spent the entire time he wasn't calling for Merlin bitching at his father so he wouldn't have to—and then Merlin steps inside Arthur's chambers and his breath rushes from his lungs and his mind empties and all he can do is stare because he's never been inside a room this lavish or seen such fine things in his entire life.

"Oh, come on then," Arthur gripes. He's watching Merlin with irritable expectancy like Merlin should just know what he wants.

So Merlin just stands there and stares back as blankly as he can manage, and Arthur eventually gets the point.

"My nightclothes, Merlin. Get my nightclothes and help me change."

"Oh!" Merlin says. He crosses the room, half-tripping over a chair leg, and has the shift in arms before sputtering to a halt as he catches up with the instructions.

"You—you want me to—?" Merlin asks in a jerky, awkward kind of way, which seems perfectly reasonable to him and entirely unreasonable to Arthur, whose expression has gone almost toxic.

"Yes, Merlin," he says. And then, mockingly; "Tonight, if that's at all possible."

Arthur's brown jacket comes off easily, slipping down his arms and folding over itself into Merlin's hands. It's heavy, soft with wear, and warm after resting around Arthur's heat all evening. Merlin drapes it across the back of the chair and returns to stand in front of Arthur, unable to meet his eyes.

It's when his hands find grip at the bottom of Arthur's tunic that his vision slips suddenly into the past and miles away to a secluded spot in the forests near Ealdor and Will's nervous, apprehensive, awkward smile.

Arthur says, "Hurry up, Merlin," and Will says, breathily, "This is so crazy."

"Sorry, Sire," Merlin says, but he also laughs, a huff of breath, and murmurs, "Yeah."

The tunic slides up Arthur's stomach, chest, over his firm muscles and past his neck to obscure his face and, God, this is just obscene, because Merlin's fingers are also fumbling with the front of Will's breeches, the ones he's worn the past five summers, and Will's are slipping into his.

"Merlin," Arthur says—just as Will is saying, "This is...too crazy," and Merlin's saying, "Yeah, maybe we shouldn't..." and they're both pulling back from each other, uncomfortable and hesitant—and then Merlin's back in Arthur's chambers so abruptly his knees shake with vertigo.

Back in Arthur's chambers with an Arthur who he may or may not have just hit in the face as he pulled the tunic away, and with the realisation that he just associated undressing Arthur with almost-but-not-quite sex with Will.

"Sorry," Merlin says again and then asks, to distract himself from how strange this situation is, "So, the king hasn't changed his mind then?"

Arthur's jaw tenses angrily and then Merlin reaches to untie his pants. This is so crazy, he thinks and almost breaks the strings with the effort to pull away.

A moment later, Merlin finds himself landing harshly on the floor of the hallway outside Arthur's chambers with a pained oof! and Arthur standing in the doorway, shadowy and unclear and biting out, "Useless idiot, I'll do it myself," and, "For God's sake," and also, "I won't need you in the morning—or at all probably."

Merlin stands, rubbing his arse where it hit the stone floor and groaning, and remembers Uther's determined stubbornness, even over giving some nobody a reward. He doesn't bother sharing Arthur's hope.

Merlin sleeps in the next morning, possibly because Gaius thought he was already awake and doing work elsewhere, so he's still sprawled over his too-short bed, twisted into his blankets and dreaming something much more pleasant then the reality of his life after arriving in Camelot, when his door slams open and something lands heavily on his stomach.

"Get up, idiot," Arthur supplies as explanation when Merlin groggily opens his eyes. "I have a tournament to win."

"What does that have to do with me?" Merlin groans, defiantly turning his face into his pillow. The rest of his words come out sort of like, agh rarff muuhsfft, but he thinks it gets the message across.

Arthur makes an irritated noise behind him and moves around the room. Before Merlin can even wonder what's going on, the world tilts beneath him and he tumbles to the floor.

"What was that for?" Merlin demands, sitting up and trying to untangle himself.

Arthur's raised eyebrows and the quirk of his mouth as he drops the mattress back into place suggest that Merlin shut the hell up unless he wants awful, exacting revenge against his person. Instead of verbalising this, Arthur indicates the battered armour now lying on the floor and says, "Get that on and follow me."

As it turns out, Arthur's intention basically involves pounding Merlin into the grass with a sword and then a mace and then also a massive stick. Repeatedly.

Merlin wants to remind him that it's not actually Merlin's fault the king decided that ridiculously hard work was a suitable reward for accidentally-on-instinct saving someone's life. He refrains because Arthur would probably stop holding back (which he is currently doing, and by rather a lot) whenever he got a hit in (which is frequently, and painful enough as it is).

Afterwards, Arthur reels off a list of duties and walks away. He doesn't mention what was presumably another failed attempt to have Merlin removed from his services and Merlin doesn't push it.

He does, however, whinge to Gaius later for as long as Gaius will allow it.

That night Merlin pushes away awkward memories and the way Arthur's skin feels against his fingertips when he accidentally brushes them against Arthur's arm.

He doesn't hit Arthur in the face or break anything or get kicked out. It's a marked improvement, but Arthur still grimaces like he hasn't given up yet.

Merlin dresses Arthur in his armour the first day of the tournament and doesn't hit Arthur again. He sees this as a roaring success.

Arthur disagrees.

Afterwards, Merlin follows him to watch the fighting with every intention of deliberately cheering the other knights, but Arthur is spectacular with sword and shield in hand, dancing a fine line between grace and brute strength that's utterly captivating and if Merlin's cheers seem to coincide with Arthur's victories rather than his defeats, well, no one's really paying attention to him anyway.

Aligning himself with Arthur is decidedly less of a pain in the arse after seeing him fight than it had been experiencing it, and, bizarrely, Merlin seems to have managed to do something right because Arthur trusts him.

It's a step forward, Merlin thinks, and then the witness dies and Arthur sacks him and the step forward turns into an enormous leap back. But, just as quickly as everything fell apart, it all gathers together and slips back into place more easily than it fitted before.

Merlin follows Arthur back to his chambers after the feast. Arthur's face is a little pink with mead and his eyes are shiny and when Merlin undresses him he's pliant and cheerful.

He helps Arthur to bed and Arthur mumbles and flops about and slurs, "S'pose you can stick 'round then."

"My champion," Merlin jokes, and leaves with Arthur's snort of laughter ringing in his ears.

("He really is completely incompetent," Uther says, a month later as Merlin leaves them, sulking and chastened. He sounds sort of surprised.

"Yes," Arthur says.

"You've stopped complaining though."

Arthur thinks of snakes, of disease, of poison and clumsiness, insults and utter idiocy. Of something else, inexplicable and unnamed, that wavers out of reach whenever he tries to grasp onto it; something he can't quite put his finger on. And then, because it's the only explanation that makes sense right now: "He's very loyal."

Uther nods, dismisses him, and pretends he doesn't hear the affection skipping-dancing-singing through those words.)