Title: All Bets Off: Chapter 1 – "Between Duty and Destiny"
Warning: Everything up to the Season Finale, just to be safe, angst, probable non-con and/or sadomasochism
Parings: Arthur/Merlin(eventual), Merlin/OMC(non-con)
Disclaimer: The pretty boys don't belong to me - they belong to each other and the BBC of course.
Summary: When Arthur is tricked into a bet and loses, too late he realizes that he has just lost the most precious thing to him: Merlin
A/N: I err…forgot I had been writing this one. This is a much darker fic than my other Merlin story I have going and might end up being longer as well. While it will be eventual Arthur/Merlin, the ride there is rife with bumps and obstacles, savvy?
Please let me know if you guys like it and I will continue it.
Chapter 1: "Between Duty and Destiny"
The problem with aristocracy, was that the children of blue bloodlines were often rotten to the core. Many of them were plump and lazy, having not had to lift a finger for themselves since birth. They were often spoiled and exceedingly arrogant and knew the surest way to get what they wanted was to throw a temper tantrum; a practice that most people had grown past by the age of eight.
Their parents, of course, were generally busy scheming ways to further their status amongst their peers and their children in turn, learned the traits of backstabbing, intrigue, and trickery. They called it sophism amongst nobility and knavery for those unfortunate enough to have been born a peasant. People, sometimes even their own peers, were nothing more than objects waiting to be manipulated by the most cunning hand.
After all, peasants weren't people...most of them were treated poorer than a favored hunting dog by those whose birth had dictated that they were better - insofar as society viewed it, at least.
It made Merlin queasy to when he thought about it and positively ill at the prospect of having to entertain one of these awful prats for a whole week. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done; when Ambrosius Aurelianus came to stay, his awful son, Brom, came too. At least Arthur seemed to be as apprehensive about it as he was, if his foul mood and the number of times he made him polish every bit of steel he owned was any indication.
In contrast, Uther seemed to be roused to a state of near benevolence, evidenced by the fact that Merlin had only been thrown in the stocks twice during the week leading up to Aurelianus' and Brom's arrival. The townsfolk too, were in a fuss, each trading their own bit of gossip about the visiting nobility; mostly the men muttering darkly that they should lock up their daughters and the women worrying about their untried sons.
It filled Merlin with morbid curiosity, especially since three days ago Morgana had outright refused to be there when Aurelianus and his son were staying in the castle, despite Uther's demands that, as his ward, she be present. (Apparently Brom was that appalling.) She had argued so vehemently and made the king's life (and every person whom she subsequently came in contact with) such a living nightmare, that Uther, in rare form, had given into her wishes.
Thus Morgana and Gwen had swept off to stay with the Dutchess of Gascony in her large summer estate in Verulamium, a small city near Camelot.
That had tipped Arthur into such a black mood that Merlin had been looking for other chores around the castle to avoid him, which is how he found himself grooming the king's horse - a task which had been assigned to him as a result of loitering in Uther's line of sight too long with his hands unoccupied.
He was concentrating on brushing down down Elypis' already gleaming coat for the third time when a voice cut into whatever thought had been possessing him.
"Do you realize that you are possibly the worst manservant I have ever had?" said Arthur from nearby.
Merlin jumped and turned to look at the prince. A strange flutter rippled through his stomach at the sight of the tall blonde as he leaned over one of the stall doors and brushed his steed's forelock in a tender gesture. His pale hair was almost silver under the light of the moon's full eye, making him look softer and less harsh; almost vulnerable. The flicker of the torchlight further cast Arthur in display of light and dark, like a chiaroscuro portrait painted by a master's brush. Of course when he spoke, the moment was gone quicker than a maidenhead on a wedding night.
"I've been waiting for you to draw my bath for what seems like a fortnight," said Arthur, shooting an irritated glance at the sorcerer, "and here I find you brushing my father's horse down for the third time." Merlin immediately began to protest and a somewhat exasperated look crossed his features.
"You hardly let me forget it," he began, "surely by now half of Camelot knows what an awful servant I am." Despite the dryness of his words there was a puckish glint within his deep blue eyes. He was about to to say more, when a thought occurred to him. He immediately became suspicious and half-turned his attention back to the king's horse. "How long have you been, um, watching me?" he asked as casually as he could manage, which turned out to be not casually at all.
Arthur's trademark smirk; the one that made Merlin's heart skip a beat, the one that was reserved just for him (or so he thought); curved the prince's lips. He abandoned fussing with his steed and stalked towards the sorcerer with smooth, sure steps. His ice blue eyes were intense, though the intensity was offset by a curious twinkle that made Merlin's pulse quicken slightly.
"Long enough," drawled Arthur drawing closer than necessary, crowding the dark-haired boy against Elypis' broad side, "to know that you are avoiding me." He leaned over and plucked the curry brush from the sorcerer's long fingers, his gloved palm brushing against Merlin's soft skin for a lingering moment. He spoke in a low voice and his warm breath stirred the dark fringe of hair near the other's ear. "That, I should think, is a punishable transgression," he mused, a faint trace of humor colouring his tone, "tell me, " he continued, "what would be a suitable punishment for making a prince wait for his bath?"
Merlin was at war within himself. On one hand his tongue was dripping with a playful comeback. On the other, his throat felt rather tight and his stomach was doing odd little flips, as if anticipating something. Arthur was partially leaning towards him, one hand resting near his on Elypis' wither, with his head gently tilted to one side as he awaited an answer. The air between them was almost suffocating but he found that he was rooted to the spot. It would only take him tilting up his chin and leaning forward, it'd be so easy...
"You could trade me in for a less clumsy servant," he whispered in a voice which was lower and far more serious than he had intended.
At his words, something flickered through the prince's eyes, darkening them until they reminded Merlin of a tumultuous sea. There was anger there, but within the depths, the longer he looked, he saw other things too. He thought something which could have been affection, though it was mixed with such fierce possessiveness and such confused longing, that Merlin thought he might be looking into his own eyes.
"Don't you ever say that," warned Arthur, his voice suddenly sharp, "don't you ever think that I would just give you away." He paused and then said one thing which unwound the knot in the sorcerer's throat; his name: "Merlin". His voice was so thick with restrained emotion that Merlin acted upon impulse and leaned forward the last few inches.
His lips brushed Arthur's tentatively and they were warm upon his mouth - and very still. For a long moment the prince did nothing and Merlin could feel the pang of rejection plant a boot solidly in his sternum, making it hard to breath. Embarrassment colored ruddy red bloomed high on his cheeks and he tilted away, mumbling some apology, when suddenly Arthur's hands were on either side of his face forcing him still.
"I...Merlin, I just can't." His voice broke nor was there any conviction to his words or in the spaces of his heart. He searched Merlin's eyes, almost pleadingly, and whispered again, "I can't."
Rejection hit Merlin as soundly as if Elypis had delivered him a solid kick with his hindquarters. He watched the conflict openly spar on Arthur's face; want and need struggling against honor and duty. He saw the uncertainty in the other's eyes; he saw the yearning behind the sky blue irises. He wanted to reach up and shake him and say, "bugger it all!" to duty and propriety.
He wanted to bury his face into the curve of his prince's neck and whisper against that pale skin that he knew, with a force greater even than the magic in his veins, that he and Arthur were meant for something more than their stations in life. He wanted to breath against the gentle dip at the base of the other's throat and taste the sweat that collected there. He wanted to take that prat's face in his palms and yell, "I am for you, don't you see?"
He did none of those things.
Instead, Arthur's words pinched the air from his lungs and he gasped, trying to think through the sudden flood of shame, anger, and hurt that made him dizzy and a bit nauseous. The sorcerer felt his chest constrict, and he discovered that he was clenching his fists so tightly that he was in danger of leaving crescent-shaped gouges in his palms.
With no small effort on his part, Merlin found his breath again and slipped out from the prince's proximity. His body instantly yearned for the electric warmth that coursed through his skin whenever Arthur was near. He felt a hand grip his wrist and he flinched at the touch, then stilled, like an animal poised on the edge of fight or flight.
"Merlin, you have to understand," began Arthur, letting go of his manservant's arm when he saw the other's back stiffen. A swirl of guilt, sadness, and frustration coursed through him like a watercolor gone awry; how could he tell him why they couldn't do this? How could he tell him that he had been perfectly happy to go along and marry a princess he didn'tknow...at least he had been until he met Merlin? How could he tell him how much he thought of the clumsy fool when he wasn't around?
And...how could he tell him how his father had threatened to send Merlin away, if he found that he had become too attached to him?
"Don't," said Merlin, the word dropping hard and fast from his mouth as if it were a hot coal.
"Just don't Arthur," he said, his voice unable to contain his hurt, "I don't think I could stand it."
The prince crossed his arms over his chest, a lifetime of pride and defense mechanism snapping up their iron walls in a blink. "Don't what?" he challenged, taking a step towards his manservant and grabbing him by the shoulder. He whirled him forcefully around until they were again face to face. "What, Merlin?" he asked harshly, "what would you command your prince to do?"
Merlin jerked out of Arthur's grasp and glared, his azure gaze wounded though his anger matched his lord's in spades. "Don't lie to me, sire," he spat, stepping backwards and out of reach. "Don't lie to yourself, either." Merlin bowed formally at the waist, his movements stiff as if he were a wooden automaton. "If it pleases m'lord, I will go draw your bath now."
Arthur turned his back on his manservant, every hard muscle lined with tension. "See to it that the water is at least decently warm," he replied icily, arrogance smoothly covering the desperate feeling rising to the back of his throat, "and don't bother waiting for me, either."
"As you wish."
Merlin departed, risking a backwards glance. His face fell when he realized that Arthur hadn't bothered to see if he had gone or not. Steeling himself against the pervading ache in his heart, the sorcerer hastened to carry out his duty and seek refuge in the coldness of his own bed as quickly as he could.
When he was sure that Merlin had gone, Arthur's shoulders sagged and the facade of cold-hearted prince melted. With it went his strength and he soon found himself slumped against a stall door, his face buried in one shaking, gloved hand.
(To be continued...)