Four things Arthur loves about Merlin without admitting it
( And the one he finally acknowledges. )
"Constant pursuit. Near capture. Repetitive evasion. The game was starting to get old."
I. His hands.
Arthur had always been dressed by someone else. It was part of the game. Part of being a Prince. When he was younger, he used to complain about not being able to suit himself, because really, wasn't it humiliating to know he would command knights, he would lead a whole kingdom one day, and still he was at the mercy of a random servant every morning?
Then Merlin busted through his life, and suddenly Arthur didn't mind the dressing – undressing time anymore. He usually thought he even liked it because at that moment, he could remind his foolish manservant that he was the one who had the power, who deserved respect, and certainly not some stupid jokes or mumbled insults – "You're just a prat anyway." "What did you just say?" "Nothing... Sire." Yes, it was a rather logical explanation.
But some days – for the past few months it had become more and more frequent – he forgot everything about the whole I'm the Prince and you're here to serve me thing, because he was almost painfully aware of Merlin's hands which were moving on his body, softly smoothing his clothes, lacing his tunic or removing his armor, and he honestly needed all his willpower to stay still, so thinking properly was not an option anymore. Silly words would be racing on his mind though, like please don't stop, God you're so warm or how can someone so clumsy do things like that?, and he would be silently praying him to stop being such a tease, and even if Merlin didn't know he caused so much by simply touching Arthur, the Prince didn't care -
"Is everything alright, Sire ? You seem so... tense today."
His inner rambling was cut off by the dark-haired boy, who was now watching him with curiosity and – his heart skipped a beat – his left hand still on Arthur's shoulder.
Too. Much. Proximity.
And suddenly something changed. The Prince wasn't sure if it was the way his own voice
- usually firm and filled with sharpness – cracked, or the nervous glance he shot at Merlin's fingers which were grabbing his shirt, but the atmosphere seemed to somehow warm up around them.
Neither of them made a single move – Arthur was busy trying to remember how to breathe as he caught Merlin's expression : surprise, confusion, but also a sly grin who said I dare you, come on, do something we will both regret – and they stayed like that for one or two minutes. He was about to open his mouth in order to say he didn't even know what, as long as he could regain some control, when Merlin let his hand slowly slide from his shoulder, brush his arm, and eventually fall, as he took a step back.
"I think you're ready... Sire." A half-mischievous, half-something else – something deeper – smile still played on his lips.
II. His eyes.
Merlin sighed, for what seemed to be the hundredth time in less than one minute.
"Well, at least that's clear now : I. Hate. Winter", he muttered while attempting to warm himself up.
Arthur didn't bother to answer, but he silently agreed with his manservant. Outside missions during January nights weren't exactly calling for good times. They couldn't even start a fire because it was snowing so hard that it would have been completely useless.
Yet they were supposed to remain here until morning. Great.
He glanced at Merlin, who was now shivering, and he had to suppress the silly urge to hug him – only to protect themselves from the cold, of course, nothing else.
"I can hear your teeth shaking, you know", Arthur said, his voice laced with mockery.
"Sorry, I don't have the strength to die without disturbing you."
"What a shame", he replied, his lips twitching, trying not to smile.
Merlin quickly raised his head, giving him an are-you-even-serious look before grinning as well. Then, without warning, he closed the distance between them and, to Arthur's disbelief, caressed his nose with two frozen fingers.
"What are you doing, you idiot?" the Prince nearly screamed.
"You had a snowflake on it, Sire", answered gently his manservant.
He hesitated between childish and adorable to qualify Merlin's attitude, but he immediately forgot his dilemma when their eyes met -
At first he saw nothing, only joy maybe, but then, then it turned into confusion as they stayed connected, and Arthur was sure his own gaze was only a pale reflection of what he could spot in those beautiful eyes, and he was drowning into blue that darkened a little, or was it an illusion? He didn't really care anyway because there were glints and sparkles in Merlin's eyes, how couldn't he have noticed earlier, and it was stunning -
It was barely a whisper which was coming from Merlin but the Prince immediately stopped staring at him. What the hell was going on? He vaguely noticed that he had been called by his first name, and not by Sire or prat, and wondered why it felt so right.
"Why... Why were you looking at me like that?"
As if I had the answer.
"Nothing. Now shut up. I'm trying to rest." His voice sounded harsher than he had expected and he pretended like he hadn't seen hurt written on Merlin's face.
III. His smell.
God, I'm so pathetic.
The Prince buried his face in his pillow, perfectly aware that it was the middle of the day and that he should have been training outside instead of lying in is bed. He just couldn't. His eyes were shut but tears keep on falling as his father's voice screamed in his mind. "You can't imagine how I'm disappointed, Arthur. All I want his someone who will be able to take the crown one day. And what do I get? Look at you. You're weak. WEAK."
He suppressed a strangled cry. How could Uther ever understand his son wasn't perfect? And how could he, Arthur, be perfect one day? I'm too young. This isn't fair. He knew he hadn't been entirely focused over the last weeks – and no, it wasn't linked to a certain manservant at all, thank you very much – but he tried, he really did.
The young man was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't hear anything when the door slowly opened. The noise caused by the steps were impossible to miss though, and he promptly opened his eyes, hoping it was only a maid or something -
He was staring directly at him and Arthur never felt so vulnerable. He realized with horror that he actually feared the other man's judgment, avoiding his gaze so he couldn't see sympathy, or worse, pity.
"Go away, Merlin."
"I said g-"
And all of a sudden he was in his arms, the dark-haired boy holding him carefully, as if he was going to fall. Arthur's first move was trying to pull him away, but for once he met resistance and soon he gave in.
Merlin stayed completely quiet as he hugged him and the Prince thought it was actually the right thing to do. He didn't need empty words of comfort. Coming from a manservant, it would have been quite absurd – okay, the whole situation in itself was absurd, but anyway.
Then his friend tightened his grip and Arthur lost the ability to think – again. Merlin was everywhere, and he was literally taking his breath away ; he strangely smelt peppermint, and also something else, something that made his stomach ache, because he wanted more, more that he could ever have, and he was crying again but that wasn't Uther's fault anymore.
He eventually managed to calm down but Merlin didn't let him go, and they stayed clasped together for hours. When he finally went out of the room – so quietly that Arthur wondered if this was all a dream – the Prince, even though he would rather be killed than say it out loud, knew that he'd do anything to smell his scent one more time.
IV. His loyalty.
Arthur sometimes wondered when it all started. When they became Arthur and Merlin instead of the future King and his manservant. He used to be oblivious of this thing between them, but now he realized clearly that his relationship with him was way more complicated than it seemed. He couldn't remember how many times he smiled or laughed with him, how many times he was simply reassured because Merlin was there, right behind him, ready to protect him, to stand up for him, and yet he was painfully aware of the perpetual tension that usually screwed up everything.
He blinked and forced himself to stop thinking about it. Focus. After all it wasn't like they were about to confront a whole army, was it?
"Ready to fight, Sire?"
Arthur turned around, even though he had no doubt about the man's identity. Merlin held his sword and he gave it to him.
"They say the battle is going to begin at any moment, Sire."
"Well, they're right. Listen, Merlin -"
His friend looked up, waiting for him to go on. His features showed determination but also fear and Arthur knew he was thinking about what they would have to overcome.
"Just... Be careful, okay?"
Then Merlin smiled warmly and the Prince's heart exploded a little.
"You know I always am."
Hours later Arthur would remember that scene and he would start to cry, because no, Merlin didn't listen to him at all and got injured, obviously, and even if he saved the blond-haired boy's life again, why did he have to do the hero every single time?
"You're... You're sobbing", mumbled his manservant, lying on a makeshift bed.
"And you nearly died."
"Well, I guess it's routine by now", he managed to answer, but briefly winced in pain.
"Don't you dare to say that again!"
Merlin was staring at him, clearly shocked. "But -"
"I don't care if you're supposed to serve me, okay? I – One day you'll get killed and it will be my fault! Don't you even think before doing something stupid? I know you're brave, you don't need to get hurt to prove it! What if you can't take care of yourself, how will y-"
"Arthur." The Prince almost choked when he heard his first name. "Arthur, you... you still don't get it, do you?" He smiled. "I perfectly know what I did and for whom I did it."
"I'd give my life to save yours."
Time stopped. Everything vanished around them, and Arthur knew he had to ask, he really had to, but it was so hard to say why? Why do you think I deserve it? He was sure the answer wasn't because you're the future King or because your father ordered me to keep you safe, yet he was afraid of what Merlin could reply. So he simply smiled back, as if it was perfectly normal to have someone who could die without any doubt to protect you.
One day you'll know how much I care, too.
Arthur was going crazy.
Three weeks (and one day) that Merlin had left with Gaius. Three. Fucking. Weeks. The physician had offered him to come with him as an assistant and he had accepted. The Prince had thought to say something like no, there's no way you're leaving me, even temporarily, but the look on Merlin's face had made him understand that he really, really wanted to go. So he had said yes.
Yet he never felt so frustrated. When would they come back? Merlin was his manservant, and he basically needed him every day. Waking up, training, living alone was purely unbearable. Some nights, when he couldn't find sleep, he even allowed himself to admit he missed him so much it physically hurt.
So when he learned from Gwen that they had finally returned to Camelot in the middle of the night, Arthur ran into Merlin's room, found himself breathless when he saw his friend who was busy unpacking some clothes, and could only think thanks God he's here again -
His manservant had turned around and was now looking at him, a wide smile on his face - smile who faded as he tried to understand why the Prince seemed to be literally frozen.
"Sire, are y-"
He never got the chance to finish his sentence because Arthur's brain had just stopped, and he was now forcefully pressing Merlin's body against the wall, grabbing his wrists tightly so the dark-haired boy couldn't make a single move, and breathing heavily. Merlin's eyes widened and he stared at him with disbelief, but the blush that reddened his cheeks convinced the Prince not to even just think of releasing him.
"Listen", he whispered, as he leaned ever closer. He could feel Merlin's erratic heartbeat as he swallowed, desperately seeking for some air – which had gone God knew where, realized Arthur, before deciding he genuinely didn't care. "There's something you really, really need to know." He paused, his sight falling to Merlin's slightly-opened mouth, and he nearly moaned because that had to be the most tempting thing he had ever seen, but he eventually managed to mutter, "You're mine. You were since the very beginning and you'll always be. Is that clear?"
Merlin blushed even more as he heard the Prince's words and his eyes significantly darkened. He licked his lips before asking hoarsely, "Why?"
Arthur immediately understood his question referred to their whole relationship – all the glances, smiles, brushing, teasing, all the awkward moments were they couldn't find enough courage to face the truth, all the things left unsaid. He briefly thought of running away, once again, but soon was hit with the sinking feeling that he couldn't, because they had reached a point where stepping back wasn't even thinkable.
"Because..." He unconsciously moved closer – wait, how was that still possible ? - and felt Merlin's warm breath caress his lips, "I..." That shouldn't be so difficult, "I..."
He looked hesitantly at the overly sparkling blue eyes and his heart melt when he saw pure need, something that screamed for God's sake, just say it already, and he suddenly wasn't afraid anymore -
"I love you."
At that point, Arthur briefly wondered if this was actually real life or only one of his fantasies because Merlin was pressing his lips against his own, his mouth soft and warm and he smiled because that was such a cliché, how perfect it felt. Please, can this last forever? He groaned as Merlin's teeth bit his lower lip and kissed him harder, silently howling promise me you won't leave me again, tell me this is not a game anymore, and he suppressed a strangled whimper when they eventually pulled away.
Then Merlin's lips curved into a cheerful smile, "Took us long enough", one more gentle kiss, and Arthur knew everything would be all right,
As long as you're mine.
Thanks for reading. :)