Story Title: The Once and Future Queen (of a Sort)
Rated: PG for no particular reason
Status: Complete || 600+
Summary: [Arthur/Merlin] A moment between the king and his court sorcerer.
Steve's Notes: I really love playing with the dynamics that Merlin and Arthur will have once they have more equal roles, and are more likely than not in a relationship. I wrote this thinking that Merlin and Arthur were involved, but it ended up being about as slashy as the series—which, you know, is still pretty slashy.
Disclaimer: Merlin © BBC

The queen's crown sits on the same purple velvet cushion is has for the past three decades, gleaming pale gold and sapphire. Arthur thinks it is accusing him of something—of what, he can't be sure.

"It looks heavier than yours," Merlin murmurs beneath his breath, squinting at the crown as though trying to decipher one of his more complex spells. He even rubs a hand across the straggle of hair on his chin that he calls a beard. "You know, I could just—"

Arthur rolls his eyes as Merlin wiggles his fingers, an unfortunate hand sign that he's taken to using when he means, I can use my magic to make everything better. (The first time he wiggled his fingers at Arthur, nearly ten years ago, Arthur had sputtered indignantly, "And just what is that supposed to mean?" to which Merlin has replied, "Well, it makes a lot more sense then those other silly gestures you use." Arthur snapped, "Nothing is more silly than wiggling your fingers like a girl, Merlin," and the entire conversation degraded from there, as it was prone to do.)

"Even your magic can't make this go away," Arthur sighs, rolling his tense shoulders. "Camelot needs an heir, and to produce one, I need a wife."

"You're beginning to sound a lot like your stuffy councilors," Merlin says absently.

"In case your mental affliction has seized you once again, Merlin, you are one of my councilors."

"Yes, but I'm not one of the stuffy ones now am I?" Merlin flashes him one of his quicksilver grins before he does the unthinkable; he takes the queen's crown into his hands and places it gently on his own head.

Deep in Arthur's gut, there's a flare of indignant rage. Nobody has worn that crown since his mother died, and the first person to have that honor should be the wife Arthur does not yet have. It's a fleeting emotion, however, because Arthur realizes several things at once: the first, that no wife will ever be as close to him as Merlin, the second, that Merlin pretty much is his wife with all his nagging and all his love, and the last, that the crown fits Merlin as though it were made for him. His dark hair curls around the pale gold and the blue of his eyes matches the blue of the embedded sapphires, turning him from the bumbling court magician into something more enigmatic, more regal.

"Well, then?" Merlin prompts, the curl of his smile softer, more understanding, and infinitely more sorrowful. "How do I look?"

Arthur opens his mouth but noise comes out. So he steps forward, closing the space between them, and runs a callused thumb over the prominent edge of Merlin's cheekbone. "Fit for a king," Arthur murmurs, and Merlin's eyelashes alight on his skin like the wings of a small bird, too delicate and too brittle.

It is a long time before either of them can speak, standing there breathing in the other, imagining what it would be like if Merlin could wear a crown like Arthur wears his. Merlin is the first to pull away, the corners of his mouth carrying the traces of his heartbreak; however, it is Arthur who removes his mother's crown and replaces it on it's lonely velvet cushion. They both stare at it, thinking of the duty and obligation it carries, and how one day, they will have to shoulder it's burden regardless.

"It's just as well," Merlin says when they finally look away and he slips his cold fingers into Arthur's warm palm. "I would look horrid in a dress."