"I, Arthur Pendragon am in love with Merlin. You can see the problem here, can you not? No of course not, you don't know the whole sordid story. Simply put, I could not tell him even where the castle under siege by dragons. Not because he's my manservant, or a commoner, or even a clueless idiot on the best of days - if only that where it this would be significantly easier. No, I cannot speak a word of this because two weeks ago to today he was raped. And it was my fault."
Arthur paced the confines of his chamber back and forth and back again until Merlin would swear he's worn a dent in the flagstones, all this for the better part of an hour. His father, knowing Arthur's propensity to do incredibly stupid things such as practice with his sword in the court yard during a heat wave that would give even a hellhound pause, had ordered him away from his duties leaving Merlin with a bored and sweaty Prince Arthur, oh joy.
One more useless request - just one - and he was liable to do something drastic.
And it wouldn't be his fault, but he doubts the king would see it that way if he turned his son into something more agreeable. Like a dog perhaps, no definitely not, a dog with teeth all the better to bite with, a cat perhaps, or the traditional toad. Sorcerers where supposed to turn everybody into toads, weren't they?
Merlin would like to think he was the patient sort, but even that went only so far when faced with Arthur in a mood.
Hauling buckets of water, polishing boots that already shone brighter than they had any right to, and sweeping floors that hadn't a spec of dust - well maybe a spec, a small spec - did not, a happy servant make which is how Merlin found himself fighting the temptation to mutter a cooling spell, maybe then he could find a respite from Arthur's nagging.
Not that the prince was nagging like a normal person, no, he was stalking back an forth like a caged lion, sweat beading on his brow and sticking his tunic to his chest.
His blond fringe matted to his forehead and he was silent, just sort of glaring at the room at large as though it had offended him in some horrible way.
Whenever Arthur got like this the servants bowed deeper and fled, Merlin had no such escape. Even with Arthur in a mood, and he was, what was worse was the look in his eye clearly demanding 'Merlin, I'm bored, entertain me!' that worried Merlin.
A bored Arthur was a dangerous Arthur.
The last instance he had that look came to mind, it had involved unaltered wine a table top and a fuzzy memory of singing, loud and off key, Arthur happily informed him the next morning when he came stumbling in with breakfast and a head that throbbed as though someone had danced a jig on it.
Since then he had always been careful to not be in the area when Arthur got it in his head that Merlin was his own personal entertainment, because clearly that never ended well.
For the mean time Merlin would just be glad Arthur had given up throwing his dinner knife at random servants, because really, did he need to provoke the people that where handling his food?
"Do a magic trick Merlin!" Arthur commanded, looking smug and proud as though this was the most brilliant idea ever and in no way likely to end with Merlin a foot shorter from the neck.
That was the problem with Arthur.
He thought every idea that popped into his brain was outstanding and deserving of applause. Admittedly they usually where, when he wasn't demanding magic-tricks in a castle whose king cut off magic users heads every other Tuesday. Thus he can be excused for going a little wide-eyed and choking on a few garbled sounds that where supposed to be words before he calmed himself and stopped gibbering like an idiot and settled for a wordless glare.
He still had not adjusted to Arthur knowing, let along demanding petty parlor tricks to pass the time. He wasn't complaining, exactly, this was preferable to Arthur storming about angry and silent for weeks on end and not talking to him, or his favorite handing him over to the king in chains.
Uther would no doubt be very proud of him should he do so, and Merlin knows that above all else Arthur craves the approval of his father. But Arthur hasn't done any of this, and Merlin is beginning to trust that he wont.
"Say that a little louder" he grumbles, "I don't think the King heard you!"
Arthur laughs, a low bellied chuckle, causing butterflies to dance about merrily in his stomach. Now, apart from the magic thing there is now this - and he can make neither heads nor tails of it.
Arthur will smile suddenly when they're standing quietly at the turrets overlooking the city, usually sobering up before a council meeting, and he feels tent feet tall. Its fantastic really that feeling, but then Arthur frowns and something twists viciously in his insides.
And then of course there's all the looks, and their not bad looks but Merlin isn't entirely sure their good ones either, they do strange things to him and are usually followed by dirtied bed sheets and images that he most definitely should not have about the royal person.
"These are my private chambers Merlin, you're perfectly safe" Arthur promises his voice gone quiet and serious.
Merlin takes him at his word, what can he say to that?
"Céle" he whispered, extremely aware of Arthur staring at his eyes as they change to gold before fading back to blue.
"You've become almost useful Merlin" Arthur says, his tone light and indulgent, Merlin has no doubt that he'd be ruffling his hair to if he where a few inches shorter.
"Explain this though," Arthur drawls, "why did you not do that in the first place, must I instruct you even in this?"
Merlin folds his arms, "I'm still not used to it" he says with a shrug, "I mean to you knowing, sire."
Arthur frowns for a moment before his face clears to a somewhat forced smile clapping him on the shoulder hard enough to fling Merlin forward two steps.
When will Arthur get it through his head that he's not one of his knights?
"No time like the present then, eh?"
"Well go on then, my shoes wont polish themselves" Arthur said with a strange hand motion that Merlin takes to mean he can continue free of nagging princes wanting to be entertained.
"No you idiot, not like that" Arthur chides, "do it how you would if I where not here."
Oh, he means that. Merlin slants Arthur a speculative glance and a half hearted argument, "Yes, but you are," and as far as arguments go it isn't much, but then he's not really arguing.
"So I am" Arthur snorts, "its only my bloody room after all," and gracefully flops - until Arthur he hadn't known one could flop gracefully - down onto his feathered pillows and wool blankets and watches him as though he finds the view particularly entertaining.
As for Merlin, he rebelliously sat himself on Arthur's abandoned chair and set the broom to sweeping, the linens to dusting, and the clothes to folding. All with a flash of gold and a muttered incantation.
Next the princes shoes went about polishing themselves, and if Arthur found that the least amount amusing he was careful not to let it show. There was no need to encourage Merlin's impertinent streak.
Merlin picked up Arthur's discarded armor by hand and set to undoing the dents and nicks with something as close to reverence as he ever came.
His magic busy whirling about the chambers like a controlled hurricane he still felt Arthur's steady gaze as he polished and scrubbed until the metal pieces shone radiantly, something soft about his eyes and something else that was neigh indiscernible; if Merlin had to guess as to its origins he'd say it was startled surprise.
Things went along as they always did, Merlin cleaned, Arthur practically at his shoulder half the time slightly mystified by the various animated objects dancing about him like puppets on a well played marionette string.
Things where good really, just about until twenty minutes ago when Arthur had had enough of being cooped up like a detainee on house arrest.
Thus, when the sun as at its highest peak Merlin finds himself before the king, a step back and to the right of Arthur as he petitions the merits of a bit of hunting. Never mind that barely a week had passed since the last assassination attempt, and the assassin was still at large.
Father and son argued for a short while, Uther saying everything but 'I'd rather you didn't kill yourself over a bit of boredom' he was far to stately for that but Merlin thinks Arthur heard it anyways, not that it changes his mind in the least.
A few minutes more and in a mix of frustration and understanding Uther relents, as he's known to do every now and then when Arthur poses his request just so.
"Very well Arthur, I know idleness has never sat well with you" Uther said the barest hint of a smile quirking his mouth upwards, "believe it or not I do recall what it felt to be young and restless, just be careful not to be reckless as well."
"Of course, thank you father" Arthur said respectfully bowing his head. "Yes well I'm sure where another assassin to find the pair of you your manservant will throw himself in front of this ones blade too" Uther said wryly, no doubt his subtle way of chastising Arthur before dismissing him.
Arthur froze for a moment before nodding sharply and exiting the court, Merlin on his heels, only for him to halt abruptly outside the halls; away from prying eyes. "That will not happen again, Merlin" he said his voice low and gravely, "you are never to throw your life away like that."
"You know its not like I wanted a knife through my shoulder, I didn't wake up that morning and think 'hey, that sounds fun!' because I didn't" Merlin said his hands waving about to emphasize his words, "besides, isn't that what us servants are here for, sire?"
"No Merlin they're not, your not" he said his voice soft and harsh. "Servants are for cooking, cleaning, mending, and mucking out my stables not for fighting griffons, sorcerers and all other manner of magical creatures" he bit out each word louder than the last until he was almost shouting his grip on Merlin's shoulder becoming more noticeable as his hand tightened, "and they are most definitely not to die for me!"
"Sire, let go" Merlin said pulling back, not at all cowed by the sheer intensity radiating from Arthur, but that grip of his was getting to be a bit much.
Arthur released him instantly as though his skin burned to the touch, it didn't of course, at least, he's fairly certain.
"Don't be such a girl, I barely laid a hand on you" he muttered brushing past Merlin as though their conversation had never happened. "Why is it I'm going, when you know I lack any sort of coordination, and can read your hand signals about as well as a Gael can read Welsh?" Merlin grumbled, tagging along all the same.
Uther had a point about that assassin.
"What I cant just enjoy your intoxicating company?" Arthur taunted and they froze an awkward moment hanging in the air until they both burst into peals of laughter. "Yeah, right, and Gaius actually likes peas, and Morgana actually likes those rib crushing corsets" Merlin retorts.
Arthur smirks, "I find it rather disturbing how much you know about women's apparel, is there something your not telling me Merlin?"
"What? You think - absolutely not, no way!" Merlin exclaims, "no" he adds once more for good measure.
"All you had to say was no" Arthur said smiling with to many teeth. Merlin scowled, "I said no, very loudly and clearly."
"And repeatedly. You know what they say about a man who protest to much, don't you?"
Merlin shakes his head, "That he's telling the truth?"
Arthur's smirk widens and he's giving him another look, but he doesn't answer, or if he was going to is interrupted when Thomas the stable boy came out leading their horses.
Arthur, his usual grey charger and the well mannered roan Arthur had long since picked out for him. For some reason known only to equines they all had this nasty tendency of throwing him from the saddle; Arthur had found it amusing the first three times.
But he drew the line at four, if Merlin landed on his head yet again he was likely to dash the last remnants of his wits, or so he'd said.
Merlin hauled himself astride the hose, nervous as always when his feet weren't firmly planted on the ground. "Why do I let you drag me into these things?" Merlin grumbled with a halfhearted glare at Arthur's well defined back. He supposes the view could have been worse. It could have been Sir Bors.
"Because I'm charming?" Arthur says, and if Merlin didn't know better he'd think that look had been coy, but he does so he ignores it.
"No I don't think that's it" Merlin mutters quietly to himself and desolately wishing for the long cold days of winter as he wiped the sweat from his brow for the hundredth time since passing the gates of Camelot. He was going to need a bath tonight, or else he was going drive off all Arthur's game with his aroma.
"I'm sorry I didn't quite catch that Merlin" Arthur drawled dragging out the vowels of his name perilously.
"I said that must be it, sire."
"Of course you did, I'm charming, I've never met a woman I couldn't charm" Arthur exclaimed.
"Right, er, of course" Merlin said.
Arthur sighed, as though Merlin where missing some important part of the conversation but said no more of women, wooing, or his dubious ability to charm anything wearing a skirt - instead letting the silence linger between them as they wind there way through trees and brush.
An hour, and countless miles, into their hunting trip Arthur accumulated a brace of conies but little else, apparently even the animals had sense enough to hide from this sweltering heat whilst one Prince Arthur did not.
Merlin wiped at the sweat collecting unpleasantly on his brow and the hollow of his throat using the neckerchief that he bunched into his pocket afterwards. Arthur studied him; eyes lingering uncomfortably long before he turned his attention to the horses.
"Lets give our mounts a rest, this heat does nothing for there health."
"Their health? What about mine, sire" Merlin hissed stumbling his way from the saddle. Arthur shook his head in exasperation, "You have the constitution of a dairy maid, no I take that back I've known stouter dairy maids than you! Man up would you."
Merlin fumed in silence stomping, loudly, behind the prince, who with his back to Merlin was free to smile where it would not be seen - all hopes of further game dwindled down to nothing but he couldn't rightly care.
It wasn't for hunting that he'd escaped the castle walls for, but this. Merlin, laughing, frowning, stomping and altogether much to carefree with his name and his mutterings - exactly how he liked him.
How did one go about propositioning ones manservant these days?
And he did not just think that! Besides proposition sounded so vulgar. He may not know what word to use or what exactly this was but he had a feeling that was gnawing at him, and a fondness that was not going away. Short of sacking Merlin, again, this was his only recourse before he did something monumentally stupid.
They paused at the river and Merlin stopped his stomping to liberally splash himself with cool water, Arthur could only hope it might also cool his temper.
Merlin, ever the easy going sort, was always more prone to sniping when the days grew long and hot during the Summer Solstice - and he supposed that just maybe dragging him on an outing he wanted no part in had not been entirely kind.
Arthur looked over his shoulder to find Merlin shuffling through the saddlebags coming up with two pieces of dried venison clutched victoriously in hand, so of course Arthur snatched one earning a rather odd look from his manservant.
"What?" he asked around a mouth full of venison, "Nothing" Merlin said plopping down beneath the shade of a overhanging willow.
Why hadn't he thought of that? Arthur eyes the trunk the mans propped against and follows suite and if he sits closer than is proper Merlin doesn't think to ask, and he doesn't say.
"Gwen packed them for me, and you of course, when she got word of your latest whim" Merlin says, to fill the silence that admittedly has become a little awkward.
Arthur, however, sputtered indignantly. "A whim? Going hunting is not a whim it's a necessity, without food people starve, my people, though I doubt you'd understand about something like that" he spit out irritably.
If he was expecting quailing or quivering he would be disappointed, Merlin did neither leveling him with an even look. "I understand starving Arthur, not all of us grew up in castles, but I also know that the Camelot grainery is well stocked."
Arthur fell silent the anger gone out of him. He absently handed over the last piece of venison earning a chuckle from Merlin who refused, "Gwen packed enough for two, Arthur."
"Picking flowers is a whim, buying a spare cloak is a whim" he said stiffly daring Merlin to argue with that.
He did not disappointed.
"What then is going hunting on the hottest day in summer called, when there is more than enough food at home to feed two cities?" Merlin wryly asked laughter twinkling in his blue eyes as he grinned up at Arthur.
With the sunlight and shadow dancing across the sharp planes of his face he looked positively ethereal and a little fey - and for a second Arthur was truly enchanted, until he blinked, breaking the spell and it was just his silly idiot manservant Merlin.
They where so close he could see his ridiculous, lovely, eyelashes.
"A whim" he said smiling wolfishly darting forward before Merlin could do more than squeak he grabbed hold of him by the waist and flung him over his shoulder, tossing them both headlong into the river with a loud splash.
Merlin surfaced with a gasp sputtering and laughing all the while. He may not have looked fey or otherworldly with his hair plastered to his face and clothes clinging wetly to his slender frame, but Arthur had never though him more fetching.
He was enough things already, the sorcerer who saved his life and the friend whose smile lit up a room like a torch in the dark, and the man whose laughter made Arthur's chest tighten with foolish notions. He was enough things, fey and otherworldly needn't be among them.
When he splashed him right in the face, war was declared and Arthur could do no other but retaliate in kind, thus beginning the water war that would end only with Merlin playfully pleading for mercy as he was dunked repeatedly.
As for Arthur, well, he would be wearing a smile for a long time after. Even when Merlin tripped over a pebble, of all things, and landed across his lap bony hips jabbing into his groin and flailing elbows cracking against his jaw ae Merlin struggled to straighten himself.
Arthur could feel every inch of him; counting it less of a hardship even as his jaw ached and his lower region protested this treatment.
It wasn't all bad, when Merlin squirmed just so…well, he coughed and tossed him off before he embarrassed himself.
"Has anyone ever told you that you need to eat more?" Arthur grunted flopping down on the damp riverside dragging Merlin along by the wrist. "Oh yeah, all the time" he said with amusement, "Mum, Gaius, Gwen, the cook."
"Well you can add Arthur, to that list of yours" he said, "you really need to eat more, you're skinny enough to make half the girls at court jealous."
"I'm not that skinny, am I?" Merlin muttered glancing at himself absently something a bit more genuine seeping through the light banter, no doubt remnants of a childhood full of bullies and prat's Arthur mused.
"I suppose not everyone can be a great warrior type, like me" Arthur said gruffly, "I was only playing with you, you girl" he tacked on cuffing his ears.
Merlin looked about to speak, but said nothing and the silence that followed was the good sort, not the your-being-a-prat-and-I'm-not-speaking-to-you kind. It was merely a length of companionable quietness, and him knowing Merlin so well, knew how rare it was too so they lazed like lizards shaded by the gently swaying willow and Arthur lost himself to the bubbling mix of emotions that came with lying so closer to Merlin.
It was a feeling that pulsed below the skin, near the cavity of his heart, growing irritatingly larger whenever Merlin was underfoot and in general making a nuisance of himself.
Because of this Arthur failed to see the approaching danger; it would be longer still before he'd forgive himself for that.