I'll start this story off now I know which direction I am going to take it. Follows on from Obligations Of An Heir, and starts off some time after the end of series 3.
Merlin listened to Gwaine's complaints with half an ear, while he tidied up Gwaine's quarters. For someone who claimed he needed very little he was very good at spreading it around to make a maximum amount of mess. He had kept telling Merlin he didn't need to tidy up. Merlin wasn't his servant.
No he wasn't, Merlin knew that, he was Arthur's. But he couldn't seem to help it, he didn't mind helping Gwaine out, or Lancelot, Elyan and Percival. They were self-sufficient enough, they couldn't afford servants, they weren't from noble houses, so it didn't come with their territory.
"Merlin! Are you listening to me? And stop folding things!" Gwaine turned in the bathtub, which he wouldn't have been in if Merlin hadn't filled it, and he had seriously needed it after an unfortunate landing on the training field that afternoon.
"Yes, knights code of conduct, very inconvenient," Merlin replied in a distracted manner, repeating some of the words he had picked out of Gwaine's rant.
"Arthur doesn't need to be quite so sanctimonious," Gwaine replied in a huff, before splashing some water about and starting off again. Merlin again, listened with half an ear. He didn't mind the tidying up, but he didn't want to listen to Gwaine complaining for the entirety of his free evening.
He was free because Arthur had snuck out to have dinner at Gwen's, leaving Merlin orders to make sure his room was ready, but didn't need to wait up for him. It was the second time this week that Arthur had gone off to Gwen's, making it the fifth time in two weeks. Merlin guessed that was why they had had the conversation which occurred, after Arthur had told him of his dinner assignation, that morning.
"Okay," Merlin had said, in a knowing tone. Arthur's eyes had narrowed a little before going back to the papers in front of him. Merlin had to admit, Arthur deserved some time off, taking over now Uther wasn't well and practically doing everything. The inner circle in the castle were unsure if Uther would really recover. Merlin carried on tidying Arthur's bed and said.
"Going well with Gwen then?" as conversationally as he could manage.
"That's none of your business," Arthur snapped. Then he looked up. Merlin didn't care about the rude reply. Arthur was like that, but then Merlin paused and glanced up, meeting Arthur's gaze and seeing the calculation that part of it was Merlin's business. Namely the business between them, or current lack of it. Arthur put the papers down and looked at Merlin. Merlin stopped tidying and waited.
"I'm taking it seriously, me and Gwen" Arthur said. "And we haven't been intimate since all the business with Morgana and Morguase."
Merlin nodded. "Yeah, I haven't really thought about it that much."
The intonation of Merlin's voice made Arthur raise his eyebrows. Merlin flushed a little, his eyes roving rather than resting on Arthur.
"Okay, so I'd noticed."
"I just don't think it would work me trying to romance Gwen if I'm coming back and…"
"Having sex with your servant," Merlin said, not feeling very offended by the turn of events. He knew what Arthur felt for Gwen, it just hadn't clashed with his intimate encounters with Merlin, until now. But if Arthur was getting serious with Gwen, and courting her effectively, then Merlin supposed there was something of a difference.
"No, I understand. You're probably right. Are you… with Gwen?"
"No! That wouldn't be appropriate! You know what I mean Merlin!" Arthur's voice lowered dangerously as he saw the amusement on Merlin's face, and he was clearly thinking something suitably facetious.
"All right, have you set a wedding date?" Merlin asked, and then ducked the oncoming scroll that Arthur hurled at him.
"I think we're a little early for that," the prince said. "But you'll be the first to know."
If he wanted something heavier hurled in his direction he could enquire whether it would be Arthur or Gwen that would tell him, but instead he kept his mouth shut and went back to tidying, returning the scroll to Arthur. They were both silent for a minute before Arthur added.
"And in which case you are at liberty to associate with someone else."
"Fine," Arthur snapped deciding to phrase himself less formally. "If you feel the urge to have sex you can pick someone else! As long as it's not Sir Caradoc."
"No chance of that," Merlin assured him, going back to what he was doing and debating the idea.
"Have you not even considered anyone else?"
"Like who?" Merlin asked. It was not something he had thought about, simply because Arthur probably would not appreciate sharing, even if he would have been Merlin's priority.
"I don't know," Arthur said, with a shrug and an overly casual tone, and immediately contradicted himself by adding. "Gwaine, maybe."
"Gwaine!" Merlin yelped back, pausing from fiddling with Arthur's bed sheets, at least he hadn't had to wash them quite as much recently. Arthur looked up at the exclamation, eyes as innocent as possible. Unfortunately, Merlin knew Arthur far to well to really believe that.
"You hadn't thought of it," Arthur said, sounding surprised, and a little cornered.
"No, of course not!"
"But you two…"
"We two what?" Merlin asked, and waited. There was a very heavy pause as Merlin refused to say anything, and Arthur hoped Merlin might break and start babbling.
"You two always seemed rather flirtatious," Arthur eventually said.
"What?" Merlin asked through a huff of disbelieving laughter.
"Well, you did a bit, and he kind of has a reputation."
"Is this about diverting him, so he stops flirting with everything in the royal household?"
"There's a hell of a lot of gossip going around," Arthur said, shrinking down in his seat, much to Merlin's satisfaction.
"Forget I said anything," Arthur announced, going back to the papers on the desk.
"Not exactly easy," Merlin said.
"I'm sorry," Arthur said looking up again. "I just thought. Sorry."
Merlin said nothing more, and they had gone back into routine. Arthur finished the paperwork, went to training with Merlin staggering around with the equipment. Gwaine helped him pick it up when he naturally dropped it. Merlin cleaned everything after the session, then did some chores for Gaius before readying Arthur's room and then suddenly felt inclined to wander off to see Gwaine. Who, like Arthur's armour, also needed cleaning.
Merlin offered to help and despite Gwaine's protests the knight didn't actually prevent Merlin from doing anything.
"I mean, you think Arthur's a prat right?" Gwaine paused to ask. "Merlin?"
"I mean about this code of conduct and regulations and all this silly stuff."
Merlin found himself oddly feeling offended. "What do you mean silly stuff?"
"I don't mean you looking after him. Arthur would be hopeless without you," Gwaine announced. "And most certainly dead."
It wasn't why Merlin was offended, and as he looked at Gwaine it occurred to Merlin that Gwaine had no idea what was going on between himself and Arthur. Or rather, what had been going on. Merlin had enjoyed it, quite frankly it was hard not to, Arthur knew what he was doing. Courtesy of Arthur, Merlin now knew what he was doing. He had enjoyed it, and presumably no one would find anything wrong with him looking elsewhere now Arthur was taking his relationship with Gwen seriously.
Gwaine started of ranting again, Merlin glanced at him on occasion as he worked. He was certainly different from Arthur, no less attractive, and Arthur had sparked a train of thought in Merlin. At least Arthur hadn't suggested anyone else. Merlin couldn't think of anyone else himself. It wasn't something he had ever thought about.
Except now. Gwaine rambled on for a while longer, until Merlin decided he had heard quite enough. Leaving what he was doing he turned and wandered over to the bath, while rolling up his left sleeve and neatly cut short Gwaine's ongoing rant.