Merric became a knight to protect people. He has always wanted to help others, and he has always wanted to be the hero, which is part of the reason why he initially chafes at being put under Kel's command. He is shunted to the side in that little set up: Neal will save lives and Kel will save people, while he patrols. Endlessly.

But his position on it evolves, and he grows to respect Kel and her command, because she is a good commander. Kel is better, he realizes, than he will ever be. She has a special touch with people, a certain way about her that gets her their respect while she gives it in return.

Yet none of these people see her vulnerability.

He remembers from when they were pages, how she would stand up to attacks proudly, her back ramrod straight. He also remembers a dozen little scuffles, where he would punch or kick because of insults on her honor. It wasn't just him who did it, but he fought the most, and hardest.

When Merric is riding to Scanra with her, tied to his horse, he has to wonder why he's doing it. If he can get Kel to go back, he can protect her from certain death- if not in Scanra, in Tortall at the hands of her own countrymen. And if he cannot manage to convince her to turn back, he can fight with her. He can stop a sword from entering her chest, lunge in front of an arrow. He's been injured for her before and he knows he will have to do it again.

"You didn't need to come with them," Kel says, when they are back in Tortall with an impossible mission finished. "Merric, you shouldn't have. I appreciated the sentiment, but-"

He hauls himself up and around so that he can face her dead on. "Yes, I had to." He declares, and he can see from her face that she recognizes the flickering of stubbornness on his.

"Alright," Kel says eventually. "But- you put yourself at harm for me. You could have been executed, Merric. I wouldn't have thought that you-"

"I had to," Merric responds, because he doesn't want to say he did it to protect her. Kel will protest that, say she doesn't need protecting one bit, but it's the reason he went and pretty much the only one as well.

His face has always been entirely too readable.

"You didn't need to protect me," Kel says, her face solemn. "But I'm glad that you came along."

"I'm glad too," he says, and smiles up at her. She giggles a little bit, a carefree sound he realizes that he's rarely heard.

Merric slings an arm around her, scooting closer to her. She leans his head onto his shoulder and he impulsively presses a kiss to the top of it.

He thinks that she might move away, but she sighs and presses herself to him, and he can feel her long muscular torso snug against his. Her lips part, but instead of saying something, Kel leans in.

It's soft and really nice until she pulls away, her cheeks flushed pink and eyes just a little bit sparkly (or that could be him).

"Sorry," Kel murmurs, her voice low and resonant, "but I wanted to say thank you."

Merric breathes in and out a few times, not really sure how to start. "Well," he says, and then pauses to think over his words. "You can thank me like that any time you wish."

Kel kind of laughs a little bit. She's still close to him. He can count her eyelashes, each individual one.

"Good to know," she says, so Merric moves in exactly the needed amount and finds her mouth.

This kiss lasts for a good long while.