First Merlin fic! :) I couldn't help myself; I've become obsessed with the show recently. But please, no spoilers in reviews! I'm only up to Season 2 Episode 6, "The Beauty and the Beast Part 2."
Warnings: None, really. Very brief language.
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin! If I did, slash would be canon, legend be damned.
Merlin slung an arm over his head as another piercing round of laughter came from the high table, somewhere off to his right, and wondered if he needed another drink. After all, the carafe of wine was right there, sparkling and red as blood in the candlelight. It wouldn't take any effort at all to reach over and pour himself another goblet. He reasoned that if his vision was as blurry as it was, and it was quite blurry, that he had already had too much. Then he heard Arthur say something cheerfully sarcastic to his flock of hangers-on and decided to go for it.
"Don't you think you had better slow down?" asked Gaius warily, apparently having extricated himself from conversation long enough to check in on his young ward. He took a seat beside the boy and eyed him with wry humor. "I know it's a party, but you do have to work tomorrow."
"Hey, Arthur's wedding only happens once, right?" hazarded Merlin, staring into his cup. He swirled the dark liquid around and watched it go dizzily. "I should celebrate, right? That's what I'm doing, right? Oh, Arthur's looking this way. Better plaster on a smile. Hm. Plaster…"
"Are you all right?" Gaius frowned and leaned closer and Merlin was suddenly aware of the spicy herb scent that clung to the physician's clothes and skin. "You don't look at all well. Perhaps it was something you ate?" He placed a hand on Merlin's chin and turned the boy's thin face this way and that to better examine it in the low light.
"Oh stop, Gaius," he exclaimed, and pulled away listlessly. "It wasn't the food." He aimed an eye up at where the prince and his princess were being congratulated yet again by Uther. She, Lady Sybil, looked radiant in a long blue dress of velvet, her dark hair rollicking forth from her lovely head in a torrent that rivaled Morgana's. "In fact," continued Merlin, his sullen glance lingering on that fine creature, "you could say it was the company."
"She is quite the lady," murmured Gaius. "Yet you do not approve." It was a statement. Not a question.
Gaius knew him better than he'd thought.
"No. I- Well, I don't." Merlin took another swallow of wine. "She's too…artificial, or something. So. Out of all the people he could have married, why did it have to be her?"
Gaius thought for a moment. "I don't know who else you'd have. Morgana made it clear to Uther that she wanted none of it ages ago, and Gwen, though she's a fine girl, is only a servant." He looked at Merlin's face for some reaction but found only the same morose look. Puzzled, he continued, probing for the cause of his ward's anguish. "Lady Althea found a more favorable match in Mercia, Arthur absolutely loathed the Lady Faith, and Lady Beth was disapproved of by the king after her kingdom erupted into a civil war. Lady Sybil is clearly superior to all of these."
But there was still no stir from Merlin.
"Heavens, who else could you be thinking of?"
The boy mumbled something into the table, deciding, apparently, that the carven wood made a good pillow.
"Speak up, Merlin, I can't hear you."
He looked up and blinked rapidly. "I said 'Me.'"
Gaius paused in pouring his own goblet of wine. "'Me?' 'Me' what?"
"Arthur could have married me."
There was silence at the table for a moment and the revels around them seemed deafening in comparison. Finally, Gaius chuckled, unable to do anything else. "Don't be silly, dear boy. Oh stars above, if you remember this in the morning… Wine does make one say the most outrageous-"
"I'm serious!" Merlin wasn't laughing. Merlin was glaring at him with a mixture of hatred and hurt, his blue eyes very dark. He turned away abruptly, reaching out one skinny hand to take the carafe with him. "It's not like I understand it either, Gaius. Stop making fun of me…"
"Oh, Merlin." Gaius was somewhat at a loss, but he reached out to rub the boy's back comfortingly. He could see now that Merlin really was telling the truth; his bewilderment was as clear as the longing Gaius could see when the young mage looked up at Arthur, his shoulders falling in defeat. "Come. The wine won't help anything, now." He pulled the bottle out of Merlin's lax grip and put it back on the table. "Let's go back to our rooms and I'll make you something hot to drink. And sober you up a little. How does that sound?"
"Mm'kay," Merlin sighed, picking at the knee of his trousers.
"Good. You just wait here a moment while I find someone to carry you. Don't protest; I know you won't be able to walk back and I'm much too old for such behavior." Gaius stood up and ruffled Merlin's hair. "Everything will be all right, you'll see. Just sit tight and I'll be back in a minute."
Arthur raised another toast to his good fortune at marrying the Lady Sybil, but it was really just an excuse to avoid another conversation about how lucky he would be in bed that night. Nobel as they were, the knights of Camelot could become a bit bawdy when drunk… Normally, Arthur would have joined in with gusto, but – and could it dare be said? – he had tired somewhat of the barely-disguised references to Sybil's ample cleavage hours ago. It was a wonder the lady herself did not object, though she seemed to be pleased by the knights' jests, even encouraging.
Arthur wondered if he would have to guard against adultery in the future.
"More wine, sir?" asked Percival, Lady Sybil's attendant. He held up a fine vintage for Arthur's inspection and then filled the company's glasses expertly. Arthur laughed a little to himself, thinking of how Merlin would have botched it. He probably would have dropped the bottle or something stupid like that.
Speaking of Merlin, Arthur hadn't seen him all day. He'd caught a glimpse of him at the ceremony earlier, but soon after had been caught up in greeting and thanking all of his guests, speechmaking, and the food. Now he decided to look for his manservant. For some inexplicable reason the prince was missing him.
Expecting to be disappointed – it was rather late and Merlin had work in the morning – Arthur scanned the hall, his sharp eyes on the lookout for Merlin's most recognizable characteristic: his unnecessary red scarf. He was surprised, and a little delighted, to spot the boy sitting at a table by the door, his back to the high table. But it seemed that Merlin was not actually celebrating, instead moping in his usual fashion. Arthur sighed and stood up, entrusting Lady Sybil to Lancelot (by all means the most gentlemanly of his knights when drunk), and headed over to investigate.
"Well, well, Merlin, what have we here?" asked the prince, stepping up beside the boy and looking down in what he considered to be a mildly provoking fashion. "The invitation said to bring yourself, not your personal raincloud. What's the matter? Or are you simply exercising your talent to make everything seem awful?"
"Shove off, Arthur," came the muffled response.
He blinked. "Now hold on a minute. Where do you get off speaking to me like that? Have you taken leave of your wits?" Arthur sat down beside his manservant and leaned in accusingly, hand going reflexively to his hip though he was unarmed.
"I don' wanna talk to you…" Merlin turned a baleful gaze on him and pointed a finger in the prince's general direction. "You ruined… everything."
Only the intoxicated flush on the boy's cheeks stopped Arthur from punching him, though his temper had certainly flared. He gave Merlin a stern look. "What have you been doing, swimming in it?" He reached over to grab the boy's head in reprimand but Merlin pulled away. "Really, how much have you had?"
"Lot. A lot." Merlin put his head down on his arms. "Go 'way."
Arthur didn't know what prevented him from doing just that, but he again curbed his anger and sat back. He sighed. "What's wrong, Merlin?" And because he was absolute shite at comforting anyone, he asked "Where's Gaius?"
"Nothing and I dunno. He wen' off for… something. To get someone. So we could go back."
"Back where?" Communicating with drunk people was hard.
"Th' room. Wait. It's none of your business." Merlin sounded like he was falling asleep, the end of his sentence almost obscured by a yawn.
"Right, well, you're obviously going to need some help with that," observed the prince sardonically.
"Thank you for volunteering, sire."
Arthur raised an eyebrow and turned around to find Gaius standing there, his arms crossed and a distinctly annoyed look on his face. "What?" he asked.
"Well, I need someone sober to carry him, and you seem to be the only one in this entire castle who fits the bill." Gaius walked closer and stooped to examine Merlin, who was now snoring quietly. "All you need to do it bring him back to my chambers. Please."
Arthur sighed and reluctantly stood. "All right, fine, though I'm ditching him if he even looks like puking."
"Fair enough." Gaius smiled. "Help me get him up." Together they managed to haul Merlin to his feet, where he swayed distressingly. From there, Arthur transferred him to his back, the boy's head resting against his shoulder limply.
"Lead the way," he said, trying to ignore Merlin's wine-scented breath on his face, and he followed Gaius out of the hall, leaving his party behind.
Merlin blearily examined the jaw line of whoever was carrying him and tried not to throw up. The somewhat pleasant swirling sensation he'd been experiencing earlier had given way to a sickly rocking motion that was making it hard to concentrate. So he stopped trying. He must have fallen asleep after Arthur left. Right. That would be why he had no idea what was going on.
Suddenly, he felt a terrifying jerk and tried to hold on tighter, fearing he would be dropped, but no. It seemed that the man whose neck he was currently embracing had just shifted him up a bit further. Hm. The man seemed rather familiar. He seemed like Arthur. But since Arthur had gone away when he'd said, and since Arthur had ruined everything and this man was clearly friendly, it couldn't be Arthur.
It was an awful lot like him, though.
"So how'd he get like this, anyway?" asked the man. He sounded like Arthur, too. What a coincidence!
"He was a little upset earlier," replied someone who could only be Gaius, and Merlin realized slowly that they were talking about him. "I think he drank more than he was planning to."
The man who was not Arthur took a better grip on Merlin's knees. "Upset about what?"
"That I'm not a woman," explained Merlin helpfully, trying to steady his gaze. Then there was silence. Gaius and whoever-he-was had stopped walking.
"Uh, what?" said Arthur incredulously. He peered to the side at Merlin's calm face and blinked. Of all the answers he had been expecting, this was not one of them. Then again, he had seen Merlin carrying dresses sometimes. And he had believed him when he said it was for errands. But what had he really been- He shook his head, trying to get the image of Merlin in drag out of his mind. "Gaius, what the hell is he going on about?"
"I… don't have the faintest idea," replied the physician, staring at his ward. "Merlin?"
"'T makes sense," protested the boy, clinging to Arthur in an attempt to regain some clarity. "If I was a woman, then… then at least he would look at me."
"Who would look at you?" asked Arthur, bewildered. Sure, he had heard of those who preferred the… company of their own gender, but he had never actually met one. He was fairly certain that it was against the law and was flabbergasted to find Merlin among their ranks. So far as he knew, this was his first experience with something like that. If you didn't count that one dream… moving on. He looked away from his manservant nervously.
Everyone was looking at him as if he had sprouted another head, but Merlin didn't really care. As long as he was telling the truth, it was all right, right? "You know who it is, don't you?" he asked Gaius sadly.
"Yes," said the physician, a little too quickly. He was looking strangely at the man who was not Arthur. "Now I think we had better get you to bed." He reached over and touched Merlin's knee. "It's all right, sire; I can manage him the rest of the way."
"Who is he talking about?" asked the man, stubbornly refusing to let go of Merlin's legs. His grip was becoming a little too tight and Merlin squirmed in discomfort. "Someone I know?"
"It isn't for me to say," Gaius said hurriedly. "Now please, sire-"
But the man wasn't listening. He pulled away from Gaius and set Merlin down himself, turning to face him.
Merlin had had to sit down; the world was still too jumpy for his tastes. But now that he got a good look at his carrier, he saw that the similarities really were quite striking. He smiled bitterly.
"Who do you want to look at you, Merlin," said the man who looked too much like the prince.
Feeling himself tear up involuntarily, Merlin swallowed thickly. In a very small voice he said "Arthur."
On the other side of the hallway Gaius closed his eyes and hoped for the best.
This will be continued, though I don't know when I'll update. I've got a bunch of crap to do for school this week. Reviews might speed along the process! :D