Disclaimer: Not mine, just to play with.

Warnings: threat of non-con. And slash. Surprise, surprise.

"Sorry, I won't be able to prepare you a bath tonight, Arthur."

"And what exactly do you have planned that inconveniences you to do you job?"

Merlin smirks whilst he is clearing away Arthur's dinner.

"It is actually an inconvenience. Your father ordered me into the stocks, and this time he said it should be over night."

He busies himself with a couple of spoons that have selfishly fallen to the floor and hopes irrationally that the question why Uther was angry doesn't arise.

It doesn't. Instead Arthur jumps up.

"What? What did he say?"

"Well, he kind of told me to do my job for the rest of today and turn up at the stocks at sundown."

Uther had been in a foul mood to begin with, but seemed to cheer up at the thought of Merlin having an uncomfortable night.

"That's not going to happen. No way. Come with me."

And Arthur storms out of the room.

Merlin is confused and runs after him. He really doesn't want another royal quarrel about him, so he tries to explain to the prince, that there is no need to interfere, that he will get through the night and he at least hopes that there will be considerably less children to throw food at him.

Arthur doesn't seem to listen, he just snorts at Merlin when he expresses his dislike for kids with squishy lettuce.

Arthur walks straight to the great room where Uther usually eats.

"Father, we have abandoned that punishment years ago, and for good reason, you can't be serious."

Uther is not impressed.

"Good evening to you too, my son."

"Father, I mean it, you can't do that."

He shouldn't have said that. Merlin knows better to say that to even Arthur, it always seems to fire the royal arrogance further on to say that they can't do something.

"Of course I can. I deemed it necessary."

Morgana, who is eating with the king, interferes.

"What can or can't you do?"
Arthur actually points his finger at his father and practically squeaks.

"He ordered Merlin into the stocks. For the night!"

Merlin waits for Morgana to say something sharp and reasonable to put things into perspective, but instead she pales.

"Uther, please rethink that one. Arthur's right, that punishment must not be reinstalled."

Uther raises from his chair.

"I will not be bullied into changing my mind. I decided and I did so for several good reasons that I won't elaborate. Everybody is to accept the judgement of a king."

And looking sharply at Arthur "I thought you might see it as a chance."
Arthur grits his teeth.

"I see no chance where there is no honour."

"There is always honour if it's a king's decree."

And with that Uther leaves.

Arthur is very red in his face and as soon as Uther is out of the room he throws a goblet against the door.

"Honour. I can't believe he is talking about honour. He is the king for fuck's sake. He shouldn't…"

Words seem to fail him.

Morgana has taken to walk to and fro between the window and the table.

"We wait until he has cooled off and then I try to talk to him."

"As if that's going to help. You two can't even talk about the weather without him being cross and you being bitchy." Arthur bites out.

"Well thanks to you he is already steaming. That was really not very diplomatic storming in here and charging. You should know better." Morgana can defend herself.

Merlin thinks it's time to get involved in the conversation, especially as it's about him in the end.

"Well, it is very sweet how you are worried about my sleep, but I'm sure I can handle it. It won't be the first night I'm kept away by a royal-" Arthur looks at him in shock. "I mean, you made me work through occasionally…"

Arthur shouts at Merlin. "Don't put that in the same sentence. I would never - Don't say something like that."

Morgana interrupts. "Arthur, I guess he doesn't know what it means to spend a night in the stocks."

"Well of course he doesn't. He is too bloody stupid to think of that. He is even too bloody stupid to ask. I can't tell you how that damn naivety gets on my nerves."

Merlin is hurt by all that. Suddenly Arthur is all angry with him, it doesn't make sense.

"Of course I know what it means to be in the stocks, I have spent plenty of time there, and pretty often because I was covering for you, you prat. Not that you deserved that or even thanked me for it EVER, so leave me alone with your sudden concern and overprotection. A night in the stocks means a sore back and a stiff neck. If you want to be nice, which would be really singular, go easy on me with work tomorrow."

"Merlin, really, you need to understand…" Morgana implores.

"No, let him be. If he is oh so very clever and knows what to expect, let him go." Arthur is now pale and spitting bile. "Go on, Merlin, sun is going down, you have an appointment."

"Arthur, you can't…" Morgana is pleading now

"Go, Merlin. NOW!"

Merlin goes. Stupid Arthur. Instead of using him to pick a fight with both of his remaining relations, he should have talked to him properly. About what he is so upset about.

Merlin walks down to the stocks where the executioner, Henry, is already waiting. Normally the two of them have a laugh whilst Merlin gets fixed, but tonight the man is very quiet and efficient. Merlin is in place in no time. He also has his feet in chains, that's new.

Then Henry hesitates.

"I hope you come prepared."

Merlin wonders what he means.

"Well I put on an extra jumper for the cold, that should do, shouldn't it?"

Henry stares at him for a moment.

"I give you a word of advice. Shouldn't do that, but anyway. Don't fight it, that only makes it worse. Try and relax. The first one is the worst. I should think there won't be much more than five or six. It'll be over in the morning. Stick to that thought, and don't fight it."

And with these confusing and rather alarming words he disappears out of Merlin's eyesight, which is of course very limited.

The light is fading quickly and Merlin feels strangely alone. He uses to wish all the people away when he is in the stocks, mainly because of the food, but now he is alone in the summer night and nervous. Henry's words make no sense, but the urgency he displayed is disturbing. Also Arthur's and Morgana's concerns. What is going to happen?

After a while Merlin looses a bit of the tension, as far as possible in chains and an awkward position. So he isn't overly concerned when he hears something behind him.

"Hello? Anybody there? Any food to throw? Well go ahead."

That somebody comes to an halt just behind Merlin and doesn't answer.

"Well if you prefer to throw your tomatoes on my backside be my guest, but you should know, it is more customary to do that to my face."

He hears a groan and suddenly a weapon drawn out of a sheath. Now he is worried. Before he can react, the knife is used to cut up his breeches over his bum. The cold night air hits him in that unusual place, but not for long, then his bum cheeks are covered with hands.

"You dirty whore, you will get it from behind and then from the front, if you can't get enough."
The stranger doesn't speak but groans.

Merlin is not really scared, he is a mighty sorcerer after all, but a slight panic starts in his belly, probably because the man is kneading his buttocks sternly.

He is not going to let that happen to himself. But can he manage to defend himself without giving away his secret? He won't let himself be raped but to be burnt is not a very good alternative. His thinking progress is seriously disturbed by that guy, who is by now rubbing his hips on Merlin's arse. That's enough.

Two things happen at once, Merlin's eyes flash golden and the stocks spring open. Simultaneously his attacker gets attacked by a golden shadow with a sword. Arthur has the man pinned down on the floor in no time.

"You, Darren, you should be very ashamed of yourself."

The prince says in a quiet, dangerous way.

"Wanted to be first, didn't you. Hardly waited until it was dark. You are disgusting. I will remember."

Merlin shivers. He has no sympathy for this man, but Arthur's wrath is terrible. The occasional anger towards Merlin is nothing in comparison.

"Now go, I can't stand the sight of you. And go far. You are not to return."

Darren gets up clumsily and runs away.

Arthur turns around.

He is slightly out of breath and his facial expression changes from disgust to relief to surprise to anger.
"What are you doing out of the stocks?"

"Well, I was going to defend myself."

"Did Henry help you? Did he leave the locks open?"

That would be an easy option out now. Hopefully Henry doesn't get into trouble for that. Merlin is a crap liar so he prefers to just shrug.

"What took you so long anyway? It was pretty groce so far already." He changes the subject.

Arthur looks uncomfortable.

"I deemed it necessary…" he realises he uses the same phrase as his father and rewords. "I wanted you to understand what grave danger you were in. And with all your naivety I wanted to make sure." He sounds defensive.

"You wanted me to be in real distress so that you could save me then. You wanted to show off." Merlin isn't angry. He knows the prince. He tries to change his fond smile into a mocking grin. Arthur shrugs.

"Well I'm not some maiden in need of rescue, I was going to help myself thanks."

"How exactly were you going to do that? He was about twice your weight and armed. And your feet are still chained."

Merlin didn't bother about these. He wanted to be able to turn around and defend himself and not run away. Not easy to explain.

"It seems you rescued me after all. If a bit late. Thank you, Arthur."

Arthur seems to blush. Weird prince.

"You should get back into the stocks."
"Forget it. I won't. You're kidding."
"If you don't, my father will guess about Henry and he'll be in trouble. No worries, I'll hang about and protect you, you girl."

This time Merlin's fond smile is just a fond smile.

"You know, you are becoming very considerate. I think that's because of my influence…"

"You wish." Arthur mutters, and this time it's definitely a blush.

So Merlin gets back into that awkward position and Arthur busies himself with the locks. And busies himself some more.

"Merlin." he says finally.

"These locks, they are melted." He says that very matter of fact, as if there wasn't a question behind it.

Merlin has no idea what to say to that. He wanted just to open the lock, but obviously, in the heat of the moment, he had actually used heat. Arthur kneels in front of him and looks calm.

"When I jumped at that guy, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye."

Merlin wishes to get his head out of the wood planks, but is not able to move.

Now he is scared, and there is no magic to help him. Not against Arthur.

"Merlin" Arthur is so very calm. "Did you use magic to get out of the stocks?"

"Yes, Arthur."

"Was it perhaps some spontaneous outburst, born from the fear and the anger?"

A way out.

"No." Merlin is a crap liar anyway. And Arthur is Arthur.

"No, I can do magic all the time. I was just a bit clumsy because of the fear and the anger."

And with that Merlin repairs the locks and chains himself into the stocks again.

There is a long pause. Arthur's face is unreadable, although Merlin is pretty sure he would be dead by now if death was the chosen reaction. His heart pounds very loud.

"So, you must be either very scared of me or very angry all of the time, if these are the things that make you clumsy."

And Arthur smiles at him as if he paid him a huge compliment right now. Which, in their world, he did.

Merlin is really impressed by Arthur. He accepted that remarkably quickly.

"Arthur, you didn't need to save me before, but for your reaction right now I will actually be eternally thankful." Sometimes he needs to be serious, and the prince just has to live with that.

Arthur looks at him with a little smile "You know, the only thing that would really astound me when it comes to you, would be if you betrayed my trust." He shrugs.

"It is weird how much I trust you. Is that a spell, Merlin?"

Merlin is not going to point out the paradox of asking him whether to trust him. "No, that's just reasonable."

And then a wonderful night begins. Arthur makes a fire in front of them, sits down next to Merlin, leans his back between Merlin's head and his left hand, and they talk.

Merlin talks about his secrets, about the dragon, about his village. Arthur talks about his father, his childhood, his plans. He likes the sentence about the two sides of a coin. He likes the thought of having Merlin around him for his destiny.

"Always good to have some idiot next to you to blame and throw in the stocks if something goes wrong."

"I think I will be rather allergic to the stocks after tonight, so don't ask that of me again."

"I never asked, did I, Merlin?"

But then he becomes serious.

"I still can't believe my father had you do this. It was banned long before my time, but the tales are gruesome. It was the most humiliating punishment, and it got quite out of hand. Under some of the last kings there was some poor knight or other bloke every night standing here."
"And they didn't have a dashing young prince saving them…"

Arthur chuckles a bit.

"Merlin, I'm sorry I let you wait. I really wanted to show off. I wanted you to - to need me. And to know it. That was awful, to put you through that."

"Prat" Merlin smiles.

"Arthur?"

"Yes?"

"I do need you."

It's dark and late and when can you say something like that if not now.

"Seems we need each other. Idiot."

They both smile and Arthur shuffles a bit closer to Merlin's head, so that their cheeks are almost touching.

For a long while they are next to each other, almost touching, and sharing their breath. Until finally Arthur turns his head slightly, and starts kissing Merlin's cheek, breathless and open mouthed.

Merlin gasps and leans in, slowly turning his head until their lips and tongues find each other.

It is heated and passionate and not at all shy or careful. It's destiny after all.

Soon Arthur crouches next to Merlin with his head in his hands in a firm grip, demanding every access possible. Which isn't nearly enough, seeing that Merlin is caught up in those stupid stocks.

Merlin keeps making silly little noises and has to stop himself forcefully from breaking free.

Arthur also gets frustrated with the limited amount of Merlin he can reach. He stops with a sigh and presses his forehead against Merlin.

"We'll have to stop now, otherwise I won't be able to stop myself shagging you and that I can't do that here. That would be disgusting."

It doesn't seem that disgusting to Merlin right now. It actually seems rather promising.

"It wouldn't be the same, Arthur. I'd consent. I'd like it."

Boy he would like it.

Arthur grips his head forcefully.

"Don't say that, sorcerer."

And he kisses him again, with even more need, his tongue doing to Merlin's mouth what he wants to do with another body part. Merlin nearly comes undone.

Again Arthur breaks free and this time actually brings some space between them.

"I can't Merlin. I just can't"
"Hey, that's ok, I'm just impatient, don't worry. This night will be over sooner or later."
"And then… " Arthur says dreamily. He sits back down with plenty of room between him and Merlin. Like this he sits close enough to Merlin's hand for Merlin to touch his head, which he does.

"You know, your father said earlier, that you might see this as a chance."

Arthur gets angry at once.

"How could he say that. Doesn't he know me at all?"

"Maybe he does. He must know you wouldn't rape anybody."

Arthur shivers and leans into Merlin's hand in his hair.

"After all, you did use this as a chance…"

They are quiet for a while. Merlin keeps caressing Arthur's temple.

"I'm hungry." Arthur suddenly states. "How about a picnic?"

Merlin laughs and nods.

Arthur stands up but hesitates.

"Go on, you won't be long. I'll be ok, remember?"

"Be careful. Don't risk detection unless you really need to."

He hurries off to the kitchens.

Merlin is left with his thoughts and his smile. Arthur knows his secret. Arthur has kissed him. And talked about shagging him…