Yeah, so is born another mostly pointless (and pretty poorly-titled) fic which refused to stop pestering me until I typed out all 3,000-something words of it. My muse must really not want me to finish Until the Day I Die, for some reason...
So this is somewhat exciting for me, because this is my first T-rated fic (I think). Which is actually rather sad, seeing as I have, like, forty-five. Heh. There's nothing nasty, though, I promise; just one dirty old man with a mustache and some protective!Arthur. Hope you enjoy it, in any case, my dears.
(By the way, did you know Colin Morgan is twenty-five? He's so innocent-looking! I don't understand it...)
"A true friend is the best possession." - Benjamin Franklin
The Best Possession
"This is madness," came the quiet grumble, as more valuables were added to the bag before them.
"You might want to keep your thoughts to yourself, Gwaine," rebuked Percival confidentially, his forest eyes hardened as he dropped his last remaining coins into the pile.
"He attacked me, if you'll recall," the dark-haired man retorted, though he did seem to put forth an effort to quiet his normally garish voice. "What this so-called general is asking is entirely unjust."
"Unjust or not," said Elyan's soft timbre, standing straight again from where he had been placing his only other pair of boots in the heap of belongings, "it doesn't matter. You killed his man, and now if we don't appease him, he'll return to his kingdom and begin a war on Camelot."
"And that's thanks to you," added Leon with no small amount of aggravation, as he tossed a clean shirt into the deerskin bag.
Gwaine gave no further response; even for his strongly argumentative spirit, he was well aware that his fellowmen were angered not by his own actions of self-defense (for they had all seen clearly how General Soric's purple-caped knight had pulled his sword on Gwaine before the other had so much as spoken), but were angered by said general's outrageous demands for settlement by all but stealing nearly all of their belongings and provisions for their eight-day journey through his king's land.
As the knights added more gold and leather things to the growing mound like a selfish altar before him, none of them were aware of the depraved General Soric's gaze as it followed with intensity not the costly goods, but the unconsciously graceful movements of a young man of their company, who was helpfully assisting the prince of Camelot with an armful of warm blankets. He found himself mysteriously captivated by the long, slender hands, the sharp, crystal-blue eyes, the perfect porcelain skin…he wondered how a figure with such elegance and beauty could belong to boy, and he thought of how valuable he would be to have all for his own, to use and hire out as he pleased….
So mesmerized was he that he almost failed to hear it when the young prince addressed him in a voice hard and cool with hostility.
"There you are, General Soric," said he, even as his sapphire-blue eyes flashed. "These are our most valuable belongings. Should you see anything else you desire, you may take it, but you may have nothing from my personal tent. Is that understood?"
Soric smiled, his teeth reflecting white in sharp contrast to his raven mustache.
"Of course, Prince Arthur," he consented willingly, his tawny eyes never pulling themselves away from the striking boy who now stood quietly at the flaxen-haired man's side, his keen, changeable eyes (looking greener now…fascinating…) watching the general's burly knights carefully.
He said nothing more for a long moment, and gave no command to his men, as he stepped forward, feet crushing the dry leaves beneath him as he closed the distance between himself and the boy.
Driven brown met distrustful blue, and he asked, in a tone as congenial as though they were friends at a banquet,
"What is your name, boy?"
Something flitted across the pure face, almost like unease, and then, clearly and without fear,
"Alluring name, Merlin," he commented, enjoying the sweet way it rolled off his tongue. "Tell me, what is your age?"
"I am nineteen years," was the immediate response.
"I don't see what this has to do with our bargain," said a hitherto quiet knight, whom they had called Lancelot, from somewhere to his right.
"Merely making conversation," he replied dismissively, sparing the knight not a glance as his eyes dropped to the long, pale neck above Merlin's scarlet-red neckerchief. Red. The color of Camelot. How very quaint.
"You are not a knight, surely, Merlin," he continued, circling him slowly, eyes roaming. "You're much too…delicate."
The younger man's eyes followed his steps, hardly blinking, a light of perplexity having appeared across his demeanor.
Soric smiled further; how very innocent those eyes were.
"Such a mysterious and heavenly creature," he expressed aloud, having made the complete circle and returning to stand before the young man.
Merlin's eyes sharpened at that, but the perplexity only deepened as some dim fear clouded his perfect face.
"If you are going to take these things"—A flare of irritation rose in him as the prince's strident and authoritative voice broke through his pleasant mentality.—"then take them and be gone. My men and I have been on a long journey and would like to reach our home before dusk tomorrow."
"Please, Prince Arthur," he responded, at last forcing his gaze away from Merlin to look at the broad-shouldered prince, and instantly missing the sweet sight, "have patience."
If he saw Arthur's hand tighten on the hilt of the sword at his side, he paid it no heed.
"One last thing, Merlin." Soric turned his attentions back to the angelic being.
Merlin held his gaze steadily.
"What?" he pressed, voice never revealing any of the apprehension in his eyes.
"Are you very submissive?"
His voice seemed to play with the last word as it emerged from his wet lips.
The perplexity dissipated from the ocean-deep eyes, and they hardened into an almost insolent deep green. The lovely fingers curled, narrow shoulders tensing beneath the loose-fitting shirt as he understood the question for what it was—a tempt from the older man's wanton mind.
"Not hardly," he replied sharply, absolutely, like a dare.
Soric smiled all the broader at that.
"Excellent," he declared, with all the joy of a child with a new plaything, and raised his hand to caress broken nails against the dip beneath the flawless cheekbone, relishing in the softness of the flesh.
Merlin tilted his head away, and Soric followed with his hand, as though it was a game to be played.
"I would bet you're beautiful when you cry," he could not help but murmur, as he stared hungrily into the intense eyes and envisioned them filled with tears, the perfect face wet as his once-fierce voice cried brokenly for mercy.
As though he could read the general's mind, Merlin's expression fell to pure, unmistakable fright, and he turned to look desperately around until his crystal eyes met the prince's flamed ones.
Arthur clenched his jaw, his eyes narrowing further as his fingers twitched readily on the hilt of his sword.
"Take the items you asked and be gone."
In the prince's voice, there was a poison which rivaled that in the voice of Soric's own cruel-minded king. He could feel the unadulterated loathing pouring on him from Arthur's lightning-blue eyes, but Soric ignored it. The young man had courageously taken rule over his kingdom in his father's deteriorating state, and news of this fair and generous "prince-king" had reached the farthest kingdoms. Prince Arthur would die for a servant, they said; for him to protect this one in his charge was only a part of his character. It would soon be that Merlin was no longer Arthur's burden, however; he would be Soric's own to keep.
"You may keep your valuables, Prince Arthur," said he at last, waving his hand indifferently at the heap of goods at his feet. "I have no need for them."
"You will leave us be, then?" queried Leon, his voice heavy with wary hope, and Arthur could see that all his faithful knights had their weapons ready to strike as well.
"I," answered Soric, standing tall and sure and speaking with strong decision, a sickening smile tugging at the corners of his twisted mouth, "shall take what you owe me out of this lovely boy."
Merlin let out a startled breath as the man's thick hand wrenched his arm, yanking the young sorcerer violently toward him.
"Arthur!" he cried with an almost childlike desperation, his soft face melting into a confused mixture of defiance and terror as he looked pleadingly over his shoulder at the prince, their gazes separated as the general hauled him away toward the other men, all of whom were smiling with vile anticipation as each inwardly hoped he would be the first of his general's men to receive this new reward.
Soric barely noticed Merlin's struggling in his grasp, had ceased thinking of him as a boy at all, but only as a new possession for him to use as he pleased. So it was that when the arm he held tightly was suddenly wrenched from him, he was just reaching for him again with startled rage when he found his way blocked by a gleaming blade, and felt his neck pricked by the razor-sharp edge of it. Blue eyes, deep as a bottomless lake and ferocious as a windstorm, halted him in his very step.
"You will not lay a hand upon him, Soric."
"Good prince Arthur," argued the general with a slimy charm, "do you not wish to prevent a war in your kingdom? I guarantee that I shan't speak of your man's vicious slaughtering of my knight if you would simply give the boy to me to do as I wish with him."
Merlin stood closely behind the prince, clutching his right shoulder where the cruel general had pressed finger-shaped bruises into the flesh and looking on with alarm and distress plainly on his face. Arthur held the sword steadily at Soric's throat, the prince's voice dripping with the deadliest venom when he spoke.
"You will do nothing of the sort."
"You said, Prince, that I may have whatever I wished."
Arthur's eyes flashed again, and not a half-second passed before he replied, certain and unyielding.
"I said," he all but growled, "that you may have nothing from my tent—nothing of that belongs to me."
Then, his eyes darkening to near-midnight blue, his gaze becoming so intense that even Soric's olive skin paled beneath it, and a chill went through all present as his voice, like a wild animal's, hissed his next words into the air as though it was a promise straight to the gods themselves…and perhaps it was.
"Merlin is mine."
At the pure, wild conviction of those three words, a heavy power like the strongest sorcery seemed to smother the atmosphere around them, and Soric shriveled instantly, his eyes darting to the manservant's face, his flesh blanching further as he found Merlin was standing resolute behind Arthur's shoulder, and he looked nothing like a vulnerable and weak slave any longer, but more like a divine being, powerful and dangerous…
…and in the protection of Camelot's royalty.
Neither General Soric nor one man of his company spoke another word, but retreated into the forest, none meeting the eyes of the men of Camelot as their leader gave a signal and the purple-caped figures darted into the surrounding pines like scattered insects.
Like a fog, the indomitable force around the good knights seemed to lift once the last of the purple had vanished into the greenness of the forest, and with a common smile of relief and satisfaction (and perhaps a hint of pride for their bold prince), the knights lowered their blades and laid them aside, moving to pick up their things from the remaining pile.
Arthur, too, slid his sword back into its sheath, flexing his shoulders slightly as the tension was relieved from them with the wicked general's exodus. He turned back toward the camp, where his faithful men were exchanging quiet, happy conversation as they reclaimed their belongings, and found Merlin's eyes, soft and bright, watching him intensely.
"Thank you," said the young sorcerer with hasty feeling, "thank you, thank you, Arthur. Really. That man…"
"Why is it," interrupted his friend with an air of condescension, crossing his arms over his strong chest and lifting one brow at Merlin, "that no matter where we go, you always seem to find your way into the most grievous of situations from which I have to bail you out?"
Merlin regarded him ironically at that, recognizing the course Arthur was choosing to take after the candid and audacious display of possessive affection, and understanding that the stern prince would rather not openly dwell on the incident for the sake of their customarily unacknowledged friendship.
"You bail me out?" the young servant repeated. "Have you entirely forgotten how many times I've had to save your royal pratness?"
"I don't need saving, Merlin."
"Right. And that man didn't want to drag me back to his kingdom and abuse me in a dark cell for the rest of my life."
Arthur shuddered visibly at that, and when his gaze raised up again, there was none of the irritated fire remaining, but something indefinable, dark and sad, in his deep eyes.
At it, guilt rose up instinctively in Merlin, and he was hasty to apologize in a voice quiet and slightly timid.
"That was a bit unnecessary, Arthur. Sorry."
Arthur swallowed, and it was a sign of that hidden vulnerability which even Merlin rarely saw.
"Just…" the prince trailed off briefly before continuing, stepping closer to his manservant in a sort of confidentiality. "This has never happened before, has it, Merlin? No one in Camelot has ever…?"
The young man's eyes grew huge at his master's implications, and he was quick to shake his head with vehemence.
"What? No. No, Arthur. I mean, there have been one or two people over the years who may have shown interest, but no, never like that man." A breathless, laughing splutter. "Definitely not."
Arthur still appeared somehow troubled, and it cast a sharp ache in Merlin's heart to see his friend so dispirited. He stepped forward, closing the little distance between them, and laid his hand carefully on Arthur's broad shoulder, the chain mail clinking softly under his palm.
"Arthur," he said, sensibly, "do not worry about Soric. I don't think he had any intention of waging war against Camelot in the first place, and certainly he won't after seeing what sort of courageous ruler the army is beneath."
"Soric is a coward," the prince agreed without hesitation, glancing up at his servant for a brief second before averting his eyes again. "That is not what concerns me, Merlin."
A long silence, a heavy sigh, and then, tumbling out with a sort of urgent honesty that the bold, disciplined man usually kept tightly guarded beneath the surface,
"What if this happens, and I am not nearby? What if you are in the town, and it is dark, on an errand for Gaius or me, and you are approached by someone…like him, and there is no one to defend you?"
Merlin thought in a flash of his magic, and of the devastation it could cause with a single syllable from his mouth or even a slight flip of his hand. He smiled ruefully at Arthur's ignorance, endearing as it was now.
"And do not even tell me that you can protect yourself, Merlin, because it is painfully clear that you cannot."
"I'm stronger than I look!" he retorted indignantly, but with no real heat.
"Be that as it may, there are plenty of men much stronger than you."
"Well, yes, but, Arthur—"
"And, much as I loathe to admit it, you are not entirely dreadful to look at."
Astonishment flitted across Merlin's features, whatever argument forgotten as he blinked at his prince with only partly lighthearted shock at the entirely foreign declaration.
"Was that an actual compliment about the way I look? This has really unnerved you, hasn't it, sire?"
Arthur rolled his eyes, but did not fall to the clumsy attempt at sidetracking him.
"I'm not being funny, Merlin. Yes, you are a weakling"—he did not halt at Merlin's disgruntled look—"and yes, it is unfortunate for you that you happen to be an attractive one in your own, awkward and completely, stupidly naïve way. I simply do not want to see you hurt; if anything were to happen to you…"
The prince seemed to catch himself mid-way through his brash statement, and closed his mouth with a look of stern self-rebuke. Merlin, however, was not going to let him off so easily, and looked around to assure himself that none of the knights were listening before stepping slightly closer, that part of himself which longed constantly for his future king's faith and affections rising up and demanding to know what it was that Arthur was refusing to say.
"What, Arthur?" he pressed, only half-joking as the reality of Arthur's words began to sink in. "What would you do?"
Arthur gritted his teeth behind tight lips, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, as though he was deliberating; perhaps, thought Merlin, he was hoping his servant would have compassion and not push the topic, but Merlin had long-since determined that when he was given an opportunity to know even a little of Arthur's feelings for him, he would take the chance and run with it.
So he waited patiently, until Arthur cut his eyes at him and exhaled slowly.
"If any man harmed you, Merlin," he said at last, tone surprisingly soft and yet somehow concrete, "I would kill him with my own sword, without a moment's hesitation."
When the servant's eyes lit like the dawn, face brightening and that maddeningly endearing half-grin making a sparkling reappearance, Arthur rolled his own eyes with contained frustration.
"Is that what you wanted to hear?" he demanded with no small amount of spite at having been forced into admitting such a weakness.
Merlin said nothing, but instead let his widest smile answer for him.
In his throat, Arthur growled something low and vicious, almost immediately after which, the forced irritation drained from his handsome features, and he could not hold back the bemused smile which he had been fighting since he had seen Merlin safe from Soric's clutches.
Merlin let his eyes shine clearly at Arthur as the prince slung his arm over his manservant's shoulders and led him back toward the camp.
He would never, for as long as he lived, let Merlin know it, but as he passed his loyal men and watched them gather together their costly furs and polished coins, Arthur could not help but think that none of their most prized belongings could ever compare with what he had to call his own.
For there was, after all, no greater possession than a true friend.
Not 100% sure about the ending, really (93% sure, but still not 100%), but it's been sitting for several days at 2,000 words without a proper ending, so...And speaking of which, if you'd like to know a bit about the way things go for me, get this: I just got my laptop back after two months without it, and my younger sisters were throwing pillows at each other and permanently broke the screen. Go figure.
Anywhooz, thanks for reading, everybody! I wish you all a happy weekend and (for fellow church-goers) good services on Sunday.
I'll pray for extra-special blessings on those who review. Food for thought.