Author's Note: Gosh it's been a fuck-long time hasn't it? The finale emotionally scarred me, and I didn't even watch it! Just looked at a bunch of gifs and had it summarized for me. Anyway after that justifiable reason to commit suicide (or homicide) I was kind of too disgusted with the show as a whole and the incredibly way they abused and cheated their fans, so I gave up on both this and another Merlin fanfiction I was planning to write. I'm more into Homestuck now, and while there's no guarantee that won't end even worse I can at least be sure that Hussie will make it funny, if nothing else. I have an AO3 account now, username is the same as it is here, and as soon as I'm done with this story it's going up there. One more chapter will follow this one, but I'm not making promises as to when, since I have another project I'm planning to start.

Chapter 11: An Unexpected Argument Occurs

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Mordred realized that they couldn't make a habit of this. It was a shame too, but it was unbecoming of a Knight of Camelot to spend all day in bed, and it could very well lose a servant his job. Not that Merlin's work wasn't being done; assuredly Arthur's armor had been cleaned, his clothes had been mended, and his sword being sharpened. It just so happened that Merlin wasn't actually the one doing it.

Or that's how he put it.

"It is your work you know," Mordred informed him as they lay on the bed watching the whetstone scrape down the blade of Arthur's sword, hovering at about waist height above the stone floor. "I couldn't make this spell work without continuous concentration, so it's not like you left your work to someone else. Only you could do this."

"Somehow I doubt Arthur would see it that way," Merlin laughed, then laughed harder at Mordred's sour look.

"What?" he demanded, still chuckling, "I only mean to say that he finds fault in everything I do, and if he can't find fault he makes it up just to watch me scamper about."

"You do more than most of the servants around here," Mordred grumbled, tightening his grip on Merlin's waist and leaning in to kiss his neck gently.

"Saving the King from tripping over his stupid feet and falling on his fat royal arse doesn't count," Merlin retorted, and though his tone was light and humorous Mordred still detected a note of bitterness.

It didn't stop him from stealing a cheap thrill at Merlin calling Arthur fat.

"How do you make it keep working by itself?" Mordred asked, watching as the stone slid over the blade in smooth, even strokes.

Merlin shrugged. "It just does. I say the spell and then they just sort of take on a life of their own. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?"

"But you didn't use a spell," Mordred reminded him, frowning. "You just waved your hand at them without using an incantation."

"Oh," said Merlin, blinking in surprise, "I guess I've just got so used to doing that one while I read I can just sort of throw it about without even thinking by now."

"You do know that only an Archmage with decades of study behind them in supposed to be able to do that," Mordred asked, trying to sound conversational and not like a giddy admirer. "To give an enchantment independence of your conscious will without placing it permanently upon an object is highly advanced magic Merlin."

Merlin blushed. "It's still tied to my will. Say the door were to open, and Gaius, or several drunken knights, or King Uther risen from the dead, were to come through it. Both the sword and the stone would fall immediately and we'd just have to explain why we were chucking things out of bed onto the floor. Stop that!" he squeaked, giggling, when Mordred began to kiss behind his ear. "It's not that impressive!"

"It is though," Mordred insisted earnestly, nuzzling Merlin's hairline. "I couldn't do what you've done."

"You could work this spell if you tried," Merlin said quietly, shrinking back.

He was uncomfortable with the praise, Mordred had discovered. He was so keenly conscious of his magic, yet so ignorant of his own skill. It was one of the many things about him, part that tragic void in his life, that made Mordred ache to fill it.

"You have an incredible talent, Merlin," Mordred whispered against his ear. Merlin shivered, eyes closed, and Mordred's hand came to cup his chin, forcing the older man to look at him.

"It's such a shame that you weren't allowed to pursue it as you should have been. Such a waste."

Merlin looked down at the sheet, face dark. "I don't consider it a waste, Mordred. I can't. My magic belongs to my destiny."

Mordred shook his head.

"The power is yours," he pressed, firm but quiet, "what you choose to do with it."

Reaching across their bodies, his hands sought Merlin's. For a moment they hovered next to each other, palms aimed together and fingers almost entwined, but hesitating.

"The choices you've had to make, Merlin," Mordred continued. "I don't think I could have done half of what you have."

Slowly, gently, as though drawn by some old magic, their hands pressed together. Mordred grasped Merlin's in gentle fingers, and after a few moments Merlin's fingers wound around his. Mordred let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"I never thought I could have this," Merlin admitted, voice soft, like a prayer.

"You can," Mordred breathed, nuzzling Merlin's cheek, his neck, "you can have everything. You deserve everything that love can give you."

"Do you love me?" Merlin asked. His voice sounded so small, so unsure, and Mordred's heart broke for him.

"Do you have to ask?" he croaked.

"Please answer it," Merlin whispered, turning his head and nuzzling into Mordred's shoulder. "I . . . I want to hear you say it."

"I love you," said Mordred, softly, and felt Merlin shiver and sigh in response.

"I love you, Merlin," he repeated, stronger this time, louder. "I love you more than anything."

Merlin looked up at him, his eyes full of a timid, fragile hope. "Mordred . . . I-"

"Merlin!" called a voice from the corridor, making them both jump.

Immediately the soft warmth at Mordred's side vanished as Merlin leaped out of bed, clothes flying into his grasp from where they'd landed on the floor. His shirt slithered over his head on it's own and he hopped, stumbling, into his trousers, then grabbed the sword and whetstone out of the air and bounded back over to the bed, sitting himself at the foot with his legs dangling over the far side just as the door opened.

"Oh, there you are Merlin," said Arthur, stepping inside. "I've been looking everywhere for you. What are you doing in here?"

Merlin's mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water, eyes wide as he tried to think of an explanation. He glanced fearfully at Mordred.

"I was afflicted with a headache, my Lord," Mordred lied easily, adjusting the bedclothes so that it looked like he was only naked from the waist down. "Merlin so kindly came to assist me, and when I monopolized his time with conversation he insisted on bringing some of his chores here in order to entertain me while he worked."

Merlin grinned in relief, holding up the sword and whetstone triumphantly.

Arthur, however, eyed them both in apparent confusion. "I've never known Merlin to be much of a conversationalist," he remarked skeptically. "What could the two of you possibly have to talk about?"

Mordred was tempted to say 'sorcery.' He was tempted to throw their bond in Arthur's face, tell him exactly how powerful Merlin was, tell him everything he and Merlin had been forced to hide. But Merlin's face was stricken with panic at the fire in Mordred's eyes, and he held his tongue.

"Nothing, my Lord," he bit out. "Palace gossip. The beauty of the forest. Idle dreams."

"Hm," Arthur replied, clearly uninterested, then beckoned shortly to his servant. "Merlin."

Obediently Merlin stood, feet slapping on the stone floor.

"Why aren't you wearing your boots?" Arthur demanded.

"Not to mess up the sheets," Merlin explained, rescuing himself this time.

Arthur narrowed his eyes, as though wondering whether to believe him or not, but waited none the less for Merlin to tug on his socks and boots before leading the way back out into the corridor.

They walked in silence for some time. Merlin's heart was beating heavy against his ribs and his whole body was tense, waiting for something to happen. Arthur was never this quiet. Something was wrong, he could feel it.

"Is there something I can do for you, Sire?" Merlin asked as Arthur turned off the main corridor onto a side passage.

"Indeed," said the King evenly, then seized Merlin by the arm, pushed him up against the wall, and kissed him.

For a moment Merlin was too stunned to react. He kept his lips tightly sealed against Arthur's probing tongue, back stiff against the wall and arm tense in Arthur's bruising grip. Then, with an effort, he turned his head away and wrenched himself out of Arthur's hold.

Arthur stared blankly at Merlin's incredulous gaze. He seemed to be considering Merlin, wondering what to do with him, and after a long enough pause that Merlin's lip was beginning to tremble with nerves and confusion, he smiled. It was a deliberately benevolent kind of smile, almost patronizing, and it made Merlin uneasy.

"What's the matter, Merlin?" he said gently, reaching for him again. Merlin backed up a step, quick and jittery, and Arthur stopped.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," Arthur assured him, "no one's going to see us."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Merlin hissed, leaning to one side to look behind the King. "What do you think you're doing?!"

Arthur's face darkened.

"Sire," Merlin added hurriedly, casting his gaze to the floor.

Arthur's condescending smile returned, and his eyes softened to that strange benevolence that made Merlin's skin crawl. When he spoke again, his voice had become a soothing purr.

"Merlin," he said quietly, "even you must understand that you are . . . pretty, for a man."

Merlin swallowed. "I hadn't thought much on the subject, sire."

"I assure you, you are," Arthur pressed. He took another step forward slowly. "You have such delicate features Merlin. They are, distracting."

He reached out a hand and ran his fingers over Merlin's lips, making the servant's stomach churn.

"Please sire," Merlin piped up, voice higher than he'd intended, "I don't think this is entirely appropriate."

"It isn't," Arthur agreed, leaning, eyes fixed on Merlin's lips, "not in the slightest."

Quick as a flash, Merlin ducked under Arthur's arm and darted behind him, forcing the King to turn.

Merlin's back was to the main corridor now, and he felt his heart unclench a bit at knowing he had somewhere to run.

Arthur's face, however, hardened. "You are loyal to your King, are you not Merlin?"

"I am loyal to Camelot," Merlin snapped, "to her King and her Queen!"

"You are loyal to me," Arthur insisted, voice growing colder.

"Arthur," Merlin pleaded, "Arthur I've been with you through so much."

Arthur stepped forward, eyes full of intent, and Merlin began to babble.

"I was with you through the Dorocha, and the army of the dead, and that creature in the wells!" he protested, as Arthur backed him into the open corridor. "I was there through all those trials after you shot that unicorn, which I warned you not to do dollop-head. I rode out with you to face the Dragon, remember the Dragon, Arthur?"

"I remember the Dragon," Arthur replied, one hand outstretched, and Merlin suddenly hit the far wall.

Arthur cupped his chin, thumb brushing over Merlin's cheek. "After all that, is it so far-fetched a thought that I have come to hold you in some regard?"

"But you don't!" Merlin exploded, pushing Arthur's hand away. "I've given you so much Arthur! I drank poison for you! I was your go-between with your lover! Think what you're asking of me!"

"You love me," Arthur declared, and Merlin froze.

He looked at Arthur's eyes, at the familiar blue, then forced his gaze to widen. He took in the lines on Arthur's face, creased with anger. He took in the set of his jaw, the hard thin line of his mouth, the way his eyebrows knit together. He looked so hardened, so demanding.

"Is it such a stretch of the imagination to think that I have come to love you?" Arthur asked, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

And suddenly it was.

"Yes," said Merlin slowly, "yes it is a stretch. In fact it's an impossibility. This . . . Arthur, this so-called love isn't something you want to give me. It's one more thing you want from me."

"Isn't that how love works?" Arthur asked, blinking in confusion. "I love you, and crave your love in return?"

"No!" Merlin said, sharp and clear, and Arthur actually pulled back in surprise. "Loving me, it's something you've done in your head. You've tied yourself in knots thinking how much you want me, but that, Arthur, that's not love! And asking me to kiss you, asking me for my body, for my heart, it's just wanting me to give you something when you've given me nothing!"

"Damn it Merlin!" Arthur snapped, "I'm trying to make a declaration of affection and you're saying I haven't given you enough?"

"Yes!" Merlin spat, "and to be honest, there's nothing I want from you."

"But . . but, I love you!" Arthur argued, and in that moment Merlin realized that it was an argument. It was a protest against Merlin's will, a rejection of what he wanted.

Suddenly everything made sense. He had come to Camelot hoping to find something for himself, something of himself. He'd thought that he'd found it, believed truly that he'd found his destiny. But he hadn't. The magic, which had always been a part of him, he no longer thought of as his own. He had lost the joy he had once taken in it, lost the will to use it for himself. As a child he had always thought that if he had nothing else he had his magic, and that would get him through, but as a man that sense of freedom had waned until his home had become a prison, the magic no longer an escape. Arthur wasn't good for him, this life wasn't good for him; he hadn't found what he'd been looking for in Camelot, and he had the choice to leave.

He'd always had the choice, but he'd been too blinded by the relief at finding a purpose to realize that his purpose had robbed him of the reasons he'd wanted to find it.

"Maybe," said Merlin, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted from somewhere in his chest, "but I don't love you."

Merlin he turned, intent on walking away.

"No!" Arthur hissed, seizing Merlin's hand and pulling the other man up against his chest. His other hand gripped Merlin's hair, forcing his head back to receive Arthur's kiss.

When Merlin wrenched away, this time he slapped Arthur hard across the face.

"Never touch me again," Merlin began, intent on telling Arthur exactly what he was thinking, but as soon as he paused for breath he heard it.

Footfalls. The sound of boots on the stone floor.

The sound of someone running away.

Merlin turned to look behind himself, a chill of horror spreading through his heart.