Disclaimer: I don't own "Merlin" or its characters.
A/N: Well, this is the last of my servant fics. This is just a one-shot though, and the my 'official' response to my own prompt, lol. Anyways, I think it gets the closest to what I had envisioned when I first ran across the idea. So I hope you like it, and don't hesitate to tell me if you do! :)
Definitely go check out Mnem's fic if you haven't already - I Love to Serve. It's a great story so far, and I think she's really captured the balance of and discrepancies between Merlin and Morgana's servitude. What I really love about more than one author writing from the same prompt is seeing different takes on the same subject. Mnem and I have radically different styles, but I think they both work well. And more M/M is always a welcome addition to the fandom, right?? :P
Just in case you forgot, the prompt was the dual meaning of servant - 'one who does domestic labor,' or 'a professed lover.'
I was sleeping
My eyes were dark
'Til you woke me
And told me that opening
Is just the start
- "Three Rounds and a Sound," Blind Pilot
There are not a lot of things that scare Morgana.
Ever since she was a child, she would run headlong into danger, whether it was a scuffle with imaginary bandits or a very real brawl with boys her age.
Conflict didn't scare her, nor the unknown. She wasn't afraid of the mysterious noises at night, the monsters that the other kids used to talk about.
She wasn't even scared of death. She still remembers the day her father died, the tears she'd spilled, thinking her eyes would dry up before she was ready to finish weeping. But she wasn't afraid of it, still isn't. She's faced it now, more times than she'll care to admit to her guardian, but she would willingly risk her life for a few precious people.
Love, though, love scares her.
She's so used to guarding herself, holding her tongue and holding back her thoughts, that she can't fathom what it is to share the most private desires and fears with someone else.
But she's also seen marriages of the court, knows they rarely center on love, and she's certain she could never marry without some semblance of affection.
It all makes her head spin, and she's safe in the knowledge that Uther won't marry her off for a while yet, so she breathes easier.
Until a surprising young man – hardly more than a gawky adolescent – with huge ears and a heart-melting smile walks into her life (into Arthur's really), and begins to teach her what it was to lose yourself in another.
He has a crush on her, anyone can see it. And, somewhat foolishly, she indulges it. She lets him come to her room at the end of the day, offers him some wine, and he unwinds a little as they talk. He accompanies her to the market, because she claims that he's the only one who can properly pick out apples. She always manages to bump into him when he's completing his chores around the castle, or making the rounds for Gaius.
What she doesn't take into account, though, is the effect his presence will have on her.
She comes to relish the time she spends in his company, looks forward to talking to him at the end of the day, finds herself making excuses to find him during the day. She doesn't realize until it's too late that she's dropped her guard, allowed him to worm his way into her heart.
At first, they're overly cautious. She tries not to acknowledge him more than she usually would, more than is proper. She strives to ignore the way her insides flutter when he passes by and lifts his eyes to hers. Gwen chastises the both of them, but still she smuggles him past the guards and into her chambers at night, after the rest of the castle has fallen asleep.
And she starts to open herself up.
Nights aren't so cold, so lonely anymore. His arms are surprisingly sturdy, and she comes to love being wrapped in his embrace. She begins to love waking up with her cheek resting against his bare chest, her arms draped around his waist, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his torso as he breathes.
She used to find a kind of comfort in solitude. Now, she experiences a completely different kind of comfort, one that comes when the silence surrounds them and neither has to say a thing. Merlin brings a peace to her heart, a minute speck of tranquility amid all the turbulence.
She kisses him because she wants to. Not because it is required or expected, or because she's rebelling against the social order.
Simply because she likes it.
He kisses her like she's his last hold on reality, as if he'll lose his grip if he lets her go for just a split second. So she doesn't let him. His lips sear against hers, making her more insatiable with each breath. And still they don't let each other go.
It all changes the day he steals a kiss in broad daylight.
Her first instinct is to slap him for being so bold, but when he shoots her a disarming grin, she changes her mind and leans down to touch her smiling lips against his once more. And then – just because she has the prerogative to be angry and because he's cornered her in the middle of the castle where any passing servant or nobleman can catch them – she pushes him playfully away.
She's never met someone so vexing, but she can't disregard the way he unstitches her a little bit more each day. And she can't ignore the fact that he can soothe her anger with just a smile.
Soon, it becomes a game for him. He likes to tease her, test her in public, push her and see how far she'll go. Because of his (rather adorable) recklessness, though, Arthur figures it out quickly enough. It still takes him longer than Morgana thinks it should, but her brother always has been a bit on the slow side.
He's angry at first, expectedly, but more because they didn't tell him straight out than because they're hiding it from the king. And in short enough order, he starts helping them as well – telling white lies to the king when neither of them can be found, letting Merlin off early some days, even turning a blind eye when Merlin wakes up late and nearly gets caught sneaking out of Morgana's bedchambers.
When a young nobleman shows up in Camelot, though, it's Merlin – Merlin and his stupid passion – that threatens to blow their secret wide open.
One morning early in his visit, when the three young royals decide to go out for a ride, Merlin catches Richmond being a little too friendly with the Lady Morgana. He stands a bit too close, his lips linger a bit too long when he kisses her hand, and she allows it, welcomes it even. A scowl deepens Merlin's angular features as he jerks tight the straps of the saddle on Arthur's horse.
"Watch it, Merlin," Arthur chastises with a grin. "The horse needs to breathe, you know."
Merlin just grunts and, his work finished, retreats toward the stables. Richmond flags him down on his way.
"Say, Merl, could you, ah –"
But Merlin's already brushing by him, ignoring the very confused visiting prince.
"Merlin!" Arthur yells angrily after his retreating form.
Morgana frowns as she watches the scene unfold. Handing the reins of her horse to Arthur with a huff, she goes after Merlin. She follows him around the corner of the stable, grabs him by the arm, and spins him around.
"What on earth is the matter with you?" she hisses.
"I've saddled your horses," he tells her petulantly. "What more do you need? Unlike you, I'm not at my leisure. I have other chores to attend to, you know."
She wants to rail at him, but the fact that he can't seem to even meet her eye softens her.
"What's this really about?" she asks quietly, her frown not completely erased.
Merlin heaves a sigh. Haltingly, he says, "I'm happy with you. But when he shows up here, and he gets to be with you, and, and . . . that makes me angry." He's gesticulating now, his motions getting bigger the angrier he gets. "He may get the chance to marry you one day, and all because he had the good fortune to be born the son of a king. And I have to stand by, and pretend like I don't care. Do you know how that feels?"
"No," she replies truthfully. "But I promise you, Merlin, I'm not going to marry Richmond. Not in a thousand years." He lifts his eyes questioningly, and, placing a hand on his chest, she answers his unasked query, "Because my heart is here. Do you understand that at least?"
She smiles at him, knowing that her smile is one of her best weapons when he's in a bad mood. He nods, relaxing, and she reclaims her hand.
"Good," she pronounces, "because he will be here a little while longer, and you must at least be civil to him."
"Of course," he swallows. "And I'm sorry, Morgana."
Still smiling, she simply steals a quick kiss and leaves to rejoin the two princes.
"Perhaps the man is ill," Richmond's saying as she rounds the corner.
"Perhaps," Arthur says with a roll of his eyes. "Or perhaps I simply need to find a new manservant."
Morgana swings herself into her saddle and adjusts her seat. "There's one thing you need to know about Merlin, Lord Richmond."
"He is not simply Prince Arthur's manservant," she explains vaguely as the group urges their horses onward. Turning in the saddle, she shoots the visiting nobleman a significant look. "He is my particular servant as well."
Surprisingly, Richmond smiles. He's more perceptive than he lets on. "I see," he says knowingly. "Perhaps you should have explained that before."
"Perhaps," she shrugs playfully.
Arthur narrows his eyes. "Why do I feel like I never know what's going on?"
She simply laughs and urges her horse into a trot, Richmond following close behind.
But if Merlin experiences envy, then Morgana – who easily matches him in passion – undoubtedly falls victim to it as well.
She doesn't recognize it the first time it happens, can't put a name to the acute sting inside her chest when she sees a blond, buxom kitchen girl flirting outrageously with her blue-eyed, brown-haired clumsy servant.
Her eyes narrow as she watches. Those are her pale cheeks, her strong hands, her enormous ears. That's her lanky frame, her quiet laugh, and this girl has no right to any of it. Merlin's embarrassed, his face growing redder the closer this girl gets, but even that is little comfort.
Grim determination written on her face, Morgana marches over to the servants. Merlin looks up in grateful surprise, the girl in barely-concealed annoyance.
"Merlin, why haven't you scrubbed my floor or cleaned Arthur's armor yet?"
"I'm sorry, milady," he replies, dropping his head in a suitable act of contrition.
"Well, go on," she advises distantly with a tilt of her head, "before Arthur gives you yet another task for not getting these done."
He ducks his head and slips away, sending her a secret smile as he goes.
She turns to the girl. "I assume you have something to be doing?"
Nodding nervously, the girl drops a hasty curtsy. "Yes, milady," she answers before retreating to the kitchen.
When Merlin teases her about it later, she refuses to admit to being jealous.
"Like you have any room to talk," she laughs, and he concedes the point.
To the kingdom, he is merely a servant.
Uther looks straight through him, like he does with every peasant. Arthur jokes with him and calls him an idiot like he's always done. Gaius merely cares if he's fulfilling all his duties, and takes time to quiz him on which plants can be used in which medicines (though, much to the old physician's astonishment and pleasure, he's recently become an expert in anatomy). Gwen still looks to him as a friend, strong and true and always ready to help.
But to her, he's everything.
"I love you to distraction," he's fond of saying, especially when he's torn between his chores and the way she can intoxicate him with just a look.
But she loves him beyond all rational thought.
The violence and strength of her affection are all-consuming, dovetail perfectly with her self-destructive side.
But rather than tear her apart kiss by excruciating kiss, he does something she never expects, something she believed impossible.
He pieces her heart back together.
Muscle by shredded muscle, vein by frayed vein, he makes her whole once more. She no longer cries at night for a lost father, no longer wakes up shaking from visions she's terrified will come true.
She used to be scared of love, used to be terrified of what would happen when she opened her heart for someone else to see. Now the only thing she's afraid of is not having enough time with him. Even if she lived a million lifetimes, she could never have her fill. Never get enough of the way he tastes, never run her fingers through his hair enough times, never get enough of the feeling that suffuses her heart when he slides his arms around her waist.
Now, she starts to fear what will happen, what she'll do, if she's forced to give him up.
But that's a thought for the future, and every time he smiles at her, she's reminded of his promise to never let her go.
She hears him stir behind her, but she doesn't turn.
"Mmm," he groans sleepily as he slips out of bed and walks across the room. He wraps his arms around her shoulders and murmurs, "You didn't have another nightmare, did you?"
"No," she assures him, resting her hands on his arms. "I never have them when you're here. I'm just . . . thinking."
His lips ghost over her earlobe as he whispers, "Then come think in bed. I'm getting cold."
She chuckles. "For someone who saves someone at least once a week, you're kind of a baby sometimes."
He turns her around and pulls her toward the bed, a smile playing over his lips. "Indulge me?"
"How can I not?" she replies with a soft smile, and, when he's pleading with her so adorably, she finds it hard to deny him anything. When he falls down onto the plush mattress, pulling her with him, she goes willingly, collapsing on top of him and threading her fingers into his hair. "After all," she murmurs, "I live to serve."
It's a joke between them, but they both know how true it really is.
He doesn't say anything, but his eyes sparkle in response as he leans up to capture her lips, and she hears everything he wants to say through his kiss.
Because it's Merlin, the man she can read with just a glance, the man who knows her better than she knows herself sometimes.
And when she wakes in the morning – his chest pressed to her back, an arm draped across her stomach, and his nose buried in her neck – she realizes she's no longer alone.
After living so long according to only her whims, occasionally her conscience, having someone else to live for is not the burden she'd thought it would be. It's complete freedom. He's given her the key to open the door of the cage she's been unwittingly trapped inside for her entire life.
And this is just the beginning.
This, with him, is the start of a brand new life, one that promises hope and love and joy and all those things she'd been missing before.
Smiling sleepily, she rolls over and presses a gentle kiss to each of his closed eyelids. He groans in delight, not yet fully awake.
"Merlin," she whispers, her breath teasing his hair as she leans over his ear, "I love you. Until my last breath."