TITLE: To Idiot, With Love
WORD COUNT: 3,500-ish
PAIRING: Arthur/Merlin (Leon/Merlin)
SUMMARY: so, leon has a little crush. on merlin. and he wants to, like court him, because leon is all chivalrous and knightly and there's this entire code of conduct, but he's not sure exactly what the official rules of engagement are for wooing the king's personal servant.
WARNING: THIS IS NOT A BANDOM FIC. It's also not really a Merlin fic--I haven't yet sat down and really tried to write Merlin fic, I'm too intimidated by the very idea to take that on. This is just a random bit of silliness. It actually was never my intention to post it here at all, but it has been brought to my attention that I'm losing track of where my fic / not!fic / assorted fandom idiocy is located. AO3 is as close as I've got to a masterlist, so there you go.
so, leon has a little crush. on merlin. and he wants to, like court him, because leon is all chivalrous and knightly and there's this entire code of conduct, but he's not sure exactly what the official rules of engagement are for wooing the king's personal servant.
if he wanted to court a lady, he'd ask permission from her father. merlin's not a lady, but he sort of...belongs to arthur, in a way, so leon decides to start there, and he broaches the subject a little nervously on patrol one day, when merlin has stayed behind to help gaius with some potions and elyan, gwaine, and percival are distracted some ways off.
arthur stares at him for a long, long moment, and then laughs so hard he almost falls off his horse.
"merlin" he says, once he can talk again. he's still laughing, like he thinks leon just told the best joke ever. "you want to...court merlin."
leon feels awkward. "i like him," he says, a little defensive. "he's--i just. i like him, arthur. and--i'd be good to him, i can promise you that. i'd--"
"oh my god," says arthur, abruptly realizing that leon isn't kidding. "you're actually serious. you really do want to...with merlin."
leon ducks his head. "only with your permission, sire."
arthur is, suddenly, deeply uncomfortable. "merlin doesn't need my permission for--" he breaks off. "do what you want," he says, eventually. "just. leon." he makes a face. "never, ever talk to me about this again."
leon stares at him for a second, and then beams. "thank you," he says, sincerely. "thank you, sire."
arthur holds up a hand. "i mean it. just. i don't want to know. ever."
leon nods, and gwaine and percival and elyan choose that moment to ride up and join them, so there is no more discussion about it.
on the way back to camelot, however, gwaine starts teasing leon about his habit of grinning idiotically at merlin, and leon haltingly admits that he's going to court him, which immediately starts all of them off (except arthur, who is studiously ignoring the entire conversation) simultaneously mocking leon, and offering sincere--if stupid--advice. they all love merlin, and they all love leon, and this may be the funniest thing that has ever happened to anyone, ever, but also, like...they want their friends to be happy.
"how are you going to ask him?" elyan wants to know.
leon hesitates. "i don't know," he admits. "i thought i would speak to him after the feast tonight, explain--"
"no, no," gwaine puts in. "you can't just announce that you're courting him. you have to woo him."
leon looks uncertain. "woo him?"
"love letters!" gwaine announces triumphantly. "love letters are a guaranteed way into any heart."
something about the way gwaine says heart sounds like an innuendo for something filthy, and arthur decides somewhat hysterically that this would be an excellent time to go deaf.
"secret letters," suggests percival, quiet and vaguely amused. "my sister had an admirer once who courted her with unsigned letters at first. she thought it was romantic."
"and then, after a few letters, you invite him on a picnic," gwaine continues, a little dreamily. "a blanket in the woods, just the two of you, maybe some wine..."
at this point, arthur stops pretending hysterical deafness long enough to snort. "not wine," he says, to leon's questioning look. "not if you want to actually talk any sense with him all day." he's quiet for a moment, then: "he likes mead. just don't let him have too much, or you'll be leading his horse back to the castle with merlin hanging face-down over the saddle."
this, of course, leads to a fair amount of dirty jeering, which leon manfully ignores, and arthur kicks his horse into a fast trot and resumes the hysterical deafness.
merlin shows up the next morning with a very odd expression on his face.
"arthur," he says, uncertainly. "you wouldn't happen to know anything about a trick being played on me, would you?"
arthur winces. god, he hopes merlin isn't about to start discussing his courtship. "i have no idea what you're talking about," he says, as repressively as he can.
merlin still looks confused. "it's just, i got the strangest note this morning...i'm almost positive gwaine did it, but he's not normally the type for mean-spirited pranks--"
oh, for god's sake. merlin is actually standing there holding the damned letter, looking at arthur expectantly, and this just--
arthur huffs, snatches the letter out of merlin's hands, and skims it quickly.
dearest merlin, it says.
please forgive my impertinence for declaring myself this way. i didn't feel it appropriate to approach you directly, for fear you might find my advances uncomfortable or unwelcome. our friendship means too much to me to risk that, even for the sake of my heart. perhaps one day, i will find within myself the courage that should befit a man of my position, but until then, i wished you to know that, even if you are not aware of it, there is someone out there who admires you deeply, someone whose spirits are lifted every day by the sight of your smile, and that--though i may not have yet managed to say it aloud--my life is a brighter place just for knowing you. perhaps, someday, if you'll let me, I can brighten your world as well.
arthur purses his lips. leon definitely didn't write this piece of tripe. merlin is right about that much, at least--it's got gwaine's lavishly overblown touch all over it. honestly, "even for the sake of my heart?" "find within myself the courage that should befit a man of my position?" "spirits are lifted every day by the sight of your smile?"
patently ridiculous. whatever possessed leon to let gwaine help him write this nonsense, arthur cannot begin to imagine.
that said, it would be unfortunate for leon if merlin is soured on the entire endeavor from the start by thinking it's a prank, so he hands back the letter and clears his throat.
"a bit soppy and overdone, but the sentiment seems sincere enough to me." arthur avoids merlin's eyes. "now, enough about your pathetic love life. did you finish polishing my armor?"
merlin's mouth opens and closes for a moment, and then he gives arthur a kind of searching, uncertain look. "i...yes, sire," he says, after a moment, and when arthur looks closer, he can see what looks like a pale flush washing over merlin's cheeks.
arthur straightens his shoulders. "well? it's not going to put itself on, you know," he snaps, and merlin gives him a startled glance before snorting and narrowing his eyes.
"prat," he mumbles, reaching for the chainmail, and nothing further is said about the stupid letter for the remainder of the day.
the knights are completely worthless at training, too busy demanding details from leon and offering up yet more useless advice to worry about such things as actually hitting each other with swords.
arthur rolls his eyes when he hears elyan suggesting that perhaps leon should try a gift with the next letter, maybe in the form of a tasteful new cloak or doublet.
"merlin doesn't care about that," he snaps, before he can stop himself. "give him one of those stupid things he's always wearing tied around his neck--he tore his best one up for bandages after the bandits last week."
"oh," says gwaine, approving. "good idea. maybe also some gloves. i've always thought he needed gloves. those skinny fingers of his look frozen half the time."
"he doesn't like gloves," says arthur. "he has some already, he just doesn't wear them unless i make him. he says they get in the way of all his chores."
leon looks a little overwhelmed. "i still think i should just talk to him."
finally, something arthur can actually agree with, but elyan is butting in disapprovingly before he can open his mouth to say so.
"nothing wrong with a bit of wooing. it's not like you're proposing a business arrangement. it's as if you've never romanced anyone before in your life!"
this immediately starts them all in on laughing obnoxiously and jeering at each other again.
arthur rolls his eyes. merlin's not actually a lady, no matter how much arthur may tease him otherwise. personally, arthur thinks merlin would quite appreciate having the situation spelled out for him, especially considering how skeptical he was about the first letter, but leon looks so cheered by the idea of romancing merlin that arthur shakes his head and keeps his mouth shut. he never actually meant to get involved in this conversation to begin with.
somewhat to arthur's surprise, the neckerchief thing goes over perfectly, and leon must say something appropriately meaningful in the letter, because merlin shows up for his duties the next morning with bold blue fabric at his throat--in, arthur notes with almost clinical approval of leon's methods, nearly the exact shade of his eyes--and a slight flush to his cheeks. he spends the day almost unnervingly quiet, sometimes smiling a little sheepishly at his own feet.
arthur finds it oddly uncomfortable to look at him, which is the only reason he doesn't mock him until he begs for mercy.
leon knocks at arthur's door an hour or so before dinner.
"i just wanted to thank you," he says sincerely. "the kerchief idea was a good one. merlin seemed happy about it, didn't he?"
arthur waves a hand. "i didn't notice," he lies.
leon bites his lip. "i'd like to give him another gift with tomorrow's letter, but i can't think what. percival suggested a book of poetry, but that doesn't seem like something merlin would care very much about, to me."
arthur snorts. "definitely not."
there's a moment of expectant silence, and then arthur realizes that leon is waiting for more advice. he glowers. "didn't i tell you i didn't want to hear about this?"
"right." leon looks a bit crestfallen, but obediently takes his leave, nodding respectfully.
once he's gone, arthur sprawls in his chair and stares restlessly at the fire.
he makes it five minutes before rolling his eyes at himself and stalking over to his desk for parchment and ink.
here, he writes. give him this. he whinges constantly about the strap on his and how it chafes his neck. just leave me out of this from now on.
then he calls for a servant, hands over the note and the new leather satchel he'd had made as a yule gift for merlin this year--it was a stupid idea anyway, he'll just give him a day off like all the other servants get, that's all--and sends the whole thing off to leon just in time for merlin to show up with his dinner.
arthur puts the entire mess out of his mind, and resolves not to think of it again.
he doesn't exactly manage not to think of it--that would be impossible, since the knights seem to discuss nothing else these days, to say nothing of merlin's increasing ridiculousness in the form of blushing cheeks and awkward sidelong glances--but for the next three days, he at least manages to avoid having any direct contact with the situation.
then leon apparently decides it's time to progress to the next stage of the courtship.
he speaks to merlin at the feast itself. arthur can't hear what's actually being said, but leon looks hopeful and sort of pathetically eager, and merlin looks gormless and friendly and completely oblivious. arthur sees him nodding cheerfully at leon, and leon's face breaks out into a beaming grin, and merlin is totally grinning back, but arthur can tell even from all the way across the room that merlin has literally no idea what's going on right now. undoubtedly, he's just agreed to go on a picnic with his good friend leon, but arthur would bet half his kingdom that's all he thinks it is.
to anyone with even half a brain, of course, the meaning of the invitation would be obvious, especially considering the letters, but merlin's never had the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to normal human interactions. leon would have been better off going with his original plan and just laying the situation out for merlin directly.
whatever. this is not arthur's problem.
merlin returns from the picnic cheerful, refreshed, and toting a satchel of herbs he's apparently used the opportunity to collect for gaius.
leon returns looking slightly bewildered, and seems uncertain as to whether his suit has been accepted or rejected. arthur almost feels bad for him, except that the more he is actually forced to think about merlin and leon together, the less he finds he likes the idea. he doesn't know why, and he is unwilling to poke at the thought long enough to figure it out, so he settles for childishly monopolizing every single moment of merlin's time for the next four days, until merlin starts looking cranky and rebellious, and leon starts looking frustrated, and gwaine...gwaine starts looking shrewd.
that--and, more importantly, the panicky feeling it inspires--is what ends up driving the epiphany home.
oh, for the love of god. arthur is jealous.
it is unthinkable in every way. and even if it weren't--which it is--it's too late. leon's courtship is well underway, and merlin may be an oblivious idiot about who is actually behind it (for all arthur knows, he still thinks it's gwaine), but he's not exactly been opposed to the courting in general. and merlin likes leon. arthur doesn't doubt that if leon ever gets it together enough to actually have a direct conversation about it, merlin will be all too happy to accept him.
which is fine. better than fine, even, because it's not like arthur could ever actually do anything about any insane, ridiculous, incredibly stupid feelings he may be having for his insane, ridiculous, incredibly stupid manservant. leon can offer merlin all sorts of things arthur can't, and the entire idea is completely absurd anyway, and it means less than nothing if arthur just happens to have suddenly noticed that maybe leon's day isn't the only one being brightened up by merlin's stupid smile, because nothing could ever have actually come of it.
arthur spends an entire day telling himself this, and almost manages to have himself believing it, until he runs into leon in the armory and finds him with a very strange look on his face.
"merlin refused me," leon says awkwardly, when arthur asks what's wrong.
"what?" arthur is genuinely shocked. everything had certainly looked to be going well enough.
"he was very kind about it," leon hastens to add. "he said there was someone else, that there had been someone else for a long time, and it had nothing to do with me. but--" he hesitates, looking awkward and suddenly embarrassed. "arthur, the letters--he thinks they're from this other person. i don't know where he got that idea, but he...he said they'd been writing to him, and when i realized what he meant, i couldn't think how to tell him it was me. he--he looked so happy--"
"oh, god," arthur says, covering his face. "gwaine."
"what?" leon looks blank.
"merlin knows gwaine wrote the bloody letters!"
leon's eyes go wide. "i have to find gwaine."
no, you should find merlin, arthur thinks, but leon is already gone.
for lack of anything better to do, arthur goes back to his chambers. fortunately, merlin is not there. less fortunately, his new leather satchel is there, and a thick parchment roll is very visibly poking out of one corner.
it's the letters. arthur knows it. he also knows he has no right or reason to read them.
he also knows that's not going to stop him.
the letters appear to be in order. the first one--the one he's already seen--is on top of the stack, once the sheets are unrolled. arthur flips past to the next one.
it is customary for a proper courtship to include some small gifts. though this courtship (if i may call it a courtship, which i hope i may) is anything but customary, i still find myself wishing to bestow some small token of my affection for you. but what gift to give? something simple, i thought, something practical and useful--and perhaps he will think of me when he uses it, and smile. a cloak or doublet seemed presumptuous, and gloves would only get in your way--and then i recalled that you sacrificed your kerchief in the aid of your friends, and so i present you with these.
they match your eyes almost exactly, you know. they made me smile to look at them; i hope they make you smile, as well.
ugh. what a fucking sop gwaine can be. arthur would like to blame it on the fact that he's usually seducing ladies, but honestly, he can't remotely imagine any sensible woman buying this tripe either, much less merlin. frankly, arthur is astonished that merlin is still willing to speak to gwaine after this pile of shit, much less sleep with him.
his stomach churns. he flips to the next letter. it's more of the same, as are the other three. arthur sort of wants to vomit, especially when the letter that apparently accompanied the satchel makes actual use of the phrase "your pretty neck."
he hears a familiar clatter in the hall just in time to get the letters rolled up and tucked back into the satchel before merlin comes stumbling in with arthur's dinner tray in his hands, and a strangely determined expression on his face. arthur isn't sure what that expression means, but it makes him feel vaguely uneasy.
merlin doesn't say anything at first, so arthur doesn't either, just tucks into his meal and tries to avoid merlin's eyes. he wonders if leon managed to track down gwaine yet.
merlin's silence is unnerving. merlin is never silent. he chatters endlessly, basically every second of the day. silence cannot possibly mean anything good.
eventually, arthur is driven to look up in spite of himself. merlin is standing on the other side of the table, staring intently at arthur.
arthur swallows a large mouthful of chicken. "...is there something i can help you with?" he asks, carefully.
merlin sets a familiar-looking roll of parchment on the table in front of arthur's plate.
"it's a good thing i write your speeches," he says, but there's a funny kind of softness in his eyes, and something a little shaky and uncertain about his voice.
there's this one long, blank moment where arthur has no idea what merlin is talking about, and then he realizes--oh god, merlin thinks he wrote the letters--and his eyes go wide and shocked and he half-chokes on nothing and ends up coughing for like a minute and a half while merlin pounds helpfully on his back.
"you idiot," he manages eventually. "i didn't--"
he stops cold.
merlin told leon there was someone else. that there'd been someone else for a long time, and "they" had been writing him letters--
"you didn't what?" asks merlin.
arthur clears his throat. his face is beet-red, he can feel it. "i...didn't--er. know. i didn't know...what you would think."
merlin flushes. it's sort of charming, really. arthur is a terrible person.
"well, i think you're a prat," says merlin. "who should never, ever write love letters, by the way." he shuffles a step or two closer to arthur. "and you're the worst secret admirer ever. honestly, you weren't even trying to be stealthy about it. who else would know about my satchel chafing, you utter idiot? or how much i hate wearing gloves?" he rolls his eyes.
arthur opens his mouth, and then shuts it again, helpless. so many things make so much more sense now. he scrubs a hand over his face. surely other kings never end up in these kinds of insane situations. what the hell has happened to his life?
"and," says merlin, softly, "i think...i think you should probably kiss me."
arthur's breath catches. "merlin..."
he has to explain about the letters. he can't actually just let merlin go on thinking he wrote them--it's dishonest, to say nothing of making arthur look bad. (he should probably write merlin an actual love letter at some point, just to prove how much better at it he'd be. dear dollop-head, he thinks, half-hysterically.)
"ugh," says merlin. "do i have to do everything for you?"
and then there is a skinny frame pressing in close against arthur's body, and a stupid neckerchief tickling his chin, and a warm, soft mouth opening under his, and arthur sort of forgets to think anymore.
"there are some things i should probably tell you," he says to merlin, a long time later.
merlin's mouth quirks up at the corner, and a strange look crosses his face. "yeah," he says. "there are some things i should probably tell you, too."
end. \o/...? .../o\