Title: The King's Command
Author: Ras Elased
Summary: Short little post-ep for 1.04, dealing with the fallout.
A/N: I have about ten different Merlin/Arthur stories in the works, but they're going to take me forever to write, so when this bug bit me and I figured I could get it done and post it tonight, I went for it. I only wrote this in about two hours, unbetaed, so it's probably not my best effort, and honestly I didn't really know where it was going when I started it, so it kind of ends up a ways off from where I started, but oh well, it's Merlin fic! I love my shiny new fandom! \o/
Nothing really changes after Merlin recovers from the poison. Well, not right away at least. Arthur is still a prat who enjoys ordering Merlin around every chance he gets. They still trade insults with thinly veiled affection, and Merlin settles back comfortably into the role of Arthur's manservant.
Two weeks pass before Uther hosts another banquet, this time in honor of a visiting dignitary from an allied court. Thankfully, Merlin doesn't have to wear the ridiculous hat this time. Not that Arthur hadn't tried, but at Merlin's refusal he'd relented surprisingly quickly. Merlin is still a little shocked by that, but he tries not to think on it too hard and just be grateful that for once Arthur didn't seem dead set on making Merlin into a buffoon for his own entertainment.
The visiting prince seems riveted by the sound of his own voice, and Merlin can't help but grin to himself as the speech drags on and Arthur begins fidgeting in his chair to keep from nodding off. Finally, the speech seems to be drawing to a close, and the assembled court raise their glasses in a toast. He watches Arthur raise the glass to his lips, and he has a brief moment of irrational panic. He's about to step forward and grab the cup from Arthur's hand when Uther's voice rings through the hall, quiet and commanding. "Stop."
The entire court has his attention as he gracefully covers Arthur's cup with his hand, his son giving him a confused glance as he lowers the glass back to the table. "You'll forgive me, Prince Tilden, but in light of recent events, I feel it is best to be cautious." The hand that was covering Arthur's glass raises to beckon Merlin. "My son's manservant will take the first drink."
Arthur's eyes snap to Merlin's, wide enough to see the white around the ring of blue, but Merlin just lets out the breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding. He nods to the king and steps forward.
"Wait! No!" Arthur snatches the cup out of Merlin's reach, then turns furious eyes on his father. "You've no right to ask this of him!"
Uther's face goes cold and stony. "I am his king. I have every right."
Arthur and his father seem locked in a silent battle of wills for several long, uncomfortable moments, until finally Merlin's had enough. "It's fine, Arthur," he says, reaching for the cup. "I'll drink it."
"NO!" Arthur's hand latches onto the glass atop Merlin's, their fingers twined in a battle for dominance. The look Arthur sends him is practically a physical blow, but Merlin doesn't flinch away. When Arthur speaks, his voice is a low growl like nothing Merlin's ever heard from him before. "Merlin," he commands, "you will not do this."
With that, he pries Merlin's hand from the cup and quickly brings it to his lips. Arthur drinks, slams the cup down, and glances up at a rather put-upon looking prince. Though the words are meant to placate, Arthur's tone is defiant and angry and obviously meant for his father. "Prince Tilden, thank you for the blessing of your toast. I'm sure I speak for my father when I say Camelot is pleased to have such trusted allies."
From the corner of his eye, Merlin can see Uther passing a curious look between Arthur and Merlin, so he quickly sinks into the background once more.
The rest of the banquet proceeds relatively smoothly. Arthur is his usual charming self, aside from the fact that he doesn't look at either Uther or Merlin for the rest of the night. The silent walk back to Arthur's chambers is uncomfortable, to say the least, and Merlin has the distinct impression that Arthur's angry enough to send him into the stocks for a month.
As Merlin is putting away Arthur's jacket, Arthur moves to the window and leans on the sill. Even from here, Merlin can see that he has his hands gripping the stone hard enough to make his knuckles white. Merlin is so tense that he jumps when Arthur finally breaks the silence, even though his voice is quiet. "Merlin, from now on you'll ignore any further commands of that sort from my father."
Merlin's fingers fumble in shock and he nearly drops the prince's royal garments to the floor. "You're asking me to disobey the king?"
"He had no right to ask that of you."
"Have you taken one too many training blows to the head? He's the king!"
"You both keep saying that as if I needed reminding," Arthur says through clenched teeth. "And why are you defending him? That's twice now he's ordered you to lay down your life for mine!"
"Yes, and I'd do it again if he asked!" Arthur whirls around with an expression like he's just been punched in the chest. Merlin sighs and says quieter this time, "Arthur, I think he's got a point. You seem to have a knack for attracting trouble, and I doubt we've seen the last of someone attempting to poison you."
Arthur's jaw clenches. "Then that is my problem to deal with, not yours."
Merlin throws his hands up in frustration. "What are you going to do? Pay some poor sod to risk his life for you every time you eat a meal?"
Arthur looks dubious. "If that's what it takes."
Merlin's stomach drops. "No." He takes a step forward into Arthur's space. He knows that any other servant would be thrown in the stocks for daring to speak and act as he does, but all he cares about right now is keeping the prince from risking innocent lives on his behalf. "No, Arthur, you're better than that."
"It cannot be you!" Arthur shouts, and Merlin jumps backward with the force of it, startled by the sudden outburst. Merlin can only stare as he watches the prince's anger leave as quickly as it came, replaced with something that looks lost, almost broken. Arthur swallows thickly, a wild look in his eyes like he's about to fly apart at the seams, and Merlin feels like his limbs have been weighed down under the force of Arthur's gaze. "Don't you understand?" Arthur asks, his voice sounding wrecked. "It cannot be you."
Merlin does understand. It's all there in the way Arthur is looking at him, like something precious and horrifying at the same time. Merlin had never dreamed that Arthur would ever look at him this way, and now that he is, Merlin is a little awestruck. Before he can think better of it, he closes the distance between them and gently places his hand on the side of Arthur's face, as if comforting a shying horse. Arthur's eyes flutter closed for a moment, and when he opens them again the look is softer, though no less intense. After a moment's hesitation, he reaches up and brings their foreheads together. They're so close that Merlin can feel Arthur's breath on his face, but it's not close enough. At length, Arthur speaks, his voice barely a whisper. "I can't have you, Merlin. But I can't lose you, either."
And Merlin's had just about enough, because he never imagined Arthur would ever return his feelings, and now that he knows they feel the same he doesn't understand why they're fighting it. "You can have me. You do have me," he whispers, closing the space between them. Their lips meet, soft and warm, and Arthur stands frozen for only a moment before he suddenly melts into Merlin's arms. The kiss turns hungry and bruising, and Arthur's fingers slide through Merlin's hair, pulling him closer until there's not a breath of space between them. Arthur kisses like he's trying to wrap Merlin up in his embrace, to protect him and claim him from anyone who might do them harm, and Merlin returns the favor. If they belong to each other, if they can get close enough, then maybe no one, not even death, will be able to tear them apart.
The King's Command