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"You should consider it carefully, boy, I saw you were doing magic; now either you'll come down to the stables tonight or I will talk to Prince Arthur."

Merlin could only stare at the pockmarked face in front of him. This couldn’t be happening, could it? He wished fervently he had for once listened to Gaius and not practiced magic outside his room; but how could he have practiced summoning animals inside his chamber? Gaius surely would have disliked a parade of deer and falcons, not to mention the boars. So Merlin had done what he always did… he had thought no one would catch him when he was just careful enough. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He winced when he felt a slap on his face.

“Hey, are you deaf? Answer me, little wizard! What will it be? You keeping me company or am I telling your little secret to Arthur? Or maybe the King?”

“What do you want from me?”

The other man leered. “Don’t tell me I got myself an innocent little flower here? Take a look in the mirror, boy, and do not look at your ears. Look at your mouth and think about what it’s good for except whispering spells. I bet you can think of something… if not, I’ll be glad to show you tonight.”

“What? Are you crazy, I would never… let go off me!”

Merlin struggled but he had no chance. The man draw him near so Merlin could feel the other’s rancid breath on his face.

“Be very careful how you address me, boy. One word from me and you wouldn’t lose only your head, I could make sure you would beg for your death, believe me. I will await you at midnight. Do not disappoint me.”

And with that, Sir Thomas shoved Merlin away violently, watching him fall on his arse. Then King Uther's First Knight turned away, finally leaving for the gates of Camelot.

***

Merlin didn’t know how long he had sat in the weeds; he had been too numb to take notice of anything. He didn’t know what he should do. No one would believe him; well, maybe Gaius would but Gaius couldn’t help him. Merlin remembered all too well what had happened when they had tried to convince Uther that knight Valliant had been using a magic shield. The King wouldn’t have listened to them because a knight’s word was to be believed, not the word of a servant. And Valliant hadn’t even been one of Uther’s knights, let alone his most valued one. Merlin couldn’t tell Gaius… he wouldn’t involve the old man in something so horrible that was only his own fault.

Merlin shivered slightly. He could leave Camelot, of course. But where should he go? And more importantly, what would happen if Sir Thomas told the King about him? It would be just like Uther to not help his mother to avoid war when raiders attacked their village and then march right into said village to kill Merlin’s mother because she gave birth to a sorcerer.

And talking to Arthur… that was out of the question. Merlin had had lots of problems lately with the Crown Prince; he had been prattish like hell and Arthur’s temper had rivaled his father’s. Alright, Merlin had not been on his best the last days. To be honest, he had been really the worst manservant ever, as Arthur liked to remind him every day at least twice. The reason for his incompetence had been that Merlin had felt awful as if he were coming down with something. He had felt feverish for days and had a headache; he didn’t think it was something really serious, probably just the cold so many in Camelot had caught. Morgana was coughing like one of Arthur’s dogs for days now and even the King didn’t look so good lately. The problem was, this cold had interfered with his magic somehow, and since Arthur was by now unknowingly used to a manservant who was a warlock, things hadn’t went well at all. This morning, Merlin had finally felt a little better; and considering Gaius had been racing all over the castle to treat patients and Arthur hadn’t returned from patrol yet, Merlin had thought it would have been a really good idea to get some fresh air in the woods near to the castle and practise some of the new spells he had learned. Great idea.

Which brought him back to the disaster that had befallen him. Merlin didn’t delude himself… he knew that even if he would let Sir Thomas do with him what he wanted, there was no way that sooner or later the First Knight wouldn’t tell the King about the warlock anyway.

Merlin turned it over and over in his head, but he found no way out. He was trapped.

~ ~ ~

Arthur couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that he had just come back from the most awful patrol ever to find his manservant sitting in the grass just outside the castle, daydreaming. Sometimes the prince wondered if Merlin had any sense of his surroundings at all. For about five minutes, Arthur sat on his –snorting- horse behind his servant and Merlin didn’t even notice him.

He slowly pulled his right glove off, took aim shortly and threw it right at Merlin’s head. That got him a reaction, just not the one he had waited for. Oh Merlin jumped alright, but Arthur didn’t expect the fear he saw in his eyes. What was even more unsettling, the fear didn’t vanish as soon as Merlin saw who was behind him. To the contrary, it intensified. Arthur groaned inwardly. What had the fool done this time?

“Merlin, what’s going on?”

“Er… nothing, sire,” Merlin stuttered. “Sire, I’m sorry… I should have prepared your chambers by now, sire.”

Arthur stared at his manservant. Merlin had somehow just managed to call him ‘Sire’ three times in two sentences. This had never happened before. Never. And that meant things were well on their way to utter doom. Arthur dismounted and started to walk over to Merlin only to stop again. His manservant backed off rapidly. Gods.

“Merlin…”

“I’ll… I’ll just prepare your bath, sire. Again, I’m sorry, sire, I should have done this earlier.”

And with that, Merlin ran like a rabbit towards the castle, barely avoiding banging into one of the guards who obviously came looking for the missing prince. Arthur didn’t even acknowledge the man, he was too stunned by his servant’s behaviour. Whatever had happened, this was bad. Very bad.

***

“Sire, I should really help Gaius today,” Merlin almost begged.

Sitting in the hot water, Arthur watched his manservant fidgeting. He had barely managed to catch Merlin when he had come back to his chambers. Arthur still wondered how Merlin had prepared that bath so quickly; the fact that his rooms were almost tidy and that a fire was lit made him even more nervous. He loved to rant at Merlin about being the most awful servant ever… and now he knew he hated it when the other man suddenly became obedient. If Merlin would call him ‘Sire’ in this submissive tone again, Arthur would probably start screaming.

“No, Merlin, you won’t. I need you here with me today. Actually, I need you right here now to wash my back.”

Now that should get me at least an eye rolling, Arthur thought. He was wrong. Merlin stared at him for a moment, then his shoulders slumped. He trotted over to the tub, picked up a piece of linen and said, “very well, sire.”

Enough was enough. Arthur spun around, not minding the water sloshing all over and grabbed Merlin’s wrist. “What is going on with you?” Arthur asked in an angry tone.

Merlin tried feebly to free his wrist; only giving up when Arthur’s grip tightened even more.

“Nothing, si…”

“Stop calling me Sire! You’re freaking me out!” Arthur yelled.

Finally, finally Merlin rallied a bit.

“Oh, I am so sorry, my Lord” he snapped. “I really didn’t mean to be disrespectful! How can I ever make amends?”

“You could start with telling me what the hell has gotten into you today!”

And there went the most appreciated spark of defiance. Merlin looked at Arthur for awhile, and then dropped his eyes. He just shook his head with a pale face and said hoarsely, “nothing.”

Arthur drew the other man nearer, but Merlin refused to meet his eyes. The prince looked his manservant over carefully; he couldn’t find any sort of injury or bruising, but he was certain Merlin was scared. This wasn’t about some sort of folly or some mistake on Merlin’s behalf, no, Merlin was frightened of something… or maybe of someone.

Arthur released the other man, stood up and left the tub, took up a towel and started to dry himself. He then went over to one of his armoires and pulled out some pants and a tunic. His glance never left Merlin due to the fact that his manservant still looked like he would flee any moment. After putting the clothes on, the prince went over to the other man, took his arm and dragged him to the big chair with the fur over it.

“Here, sit down.”

Merlin sat. His eyes were glued to the table and Arthur noticed that Merlin was actually trembling.

“Merlin, why don’t you tell me what happened? I can see something’s wrong.”

Silence.

“Don’t you trust me?”

Merlin looked up at Arthur, and for a moment the prince thought he would get an answer. Merlin bit his lips but then suddenly his gaze fell away again and he drew up his shoulders. He said with a hoarse voice, “of course I trust you, Arthur. It’s nothing, really. But thanks for asking.”

“I can’t help you when you don’t tell me what’s wrong. Whatever it is, Merlin, you can…”

His manservant interrupted him.

“I’m fine, Arthur. I don’t need any help,” he rasped. “Is there something else I can do for you, sire?”

Arthur looked hard at Merlin for a few seconds, then he straightened.

“No, I won’t need you this afternoon. But be ready to serve me at dinner tonight in the throne room.”

“Very well, sire.”

Arthur continued to stare at the door long after Merlin had left.

~ ~ ~

Don’t you trust me? Arthur’s words were ringing in Merlin’s ears while he stood behind the prince waiting for the second course. The afternoon had flown by while Merlin had sat on the bed in his room, turning those words around and around in his head. The sorcerer had thought about telling Arthur everything… but even in the best case when Arthur wouldn’t have been angry about being lied at for about a year, even if he would have been understanding and accepting… what could Arthur do? Merlin knew what would happen if Sir Thomas told the King about him being a warlock. Uther would kill him on the spot, no matter what Arthur would say or do. When Arthur would speak up for Merlin, the King would only assume that he, Merlin, had somehow enchanted his son. And that would mean torture for Merlin, to lift the spell. No, there was no way out.

Merlin threw a glance over at the other table where Sir Thomas was seated. Gods. Everything in him recoiled by the thought of being near this man, let alone doing… things with him. Merlin felt sick to his stomach. He only had about three hours left and then… and then…

~ ~ ~

Morgana leaned over to Arthur and whispered in his left ear. “Gods, I hate this man.”

Arthur, who had pushed the food around his plate for about ten minutes now, looked up at her.

“What are you talking about?”

“This creep Thomas. He has been staring at us the whole evening. I wonder what he is up to.”

“If I were you, I would lower my voice, Morgana,” Arthur said with a quick glance to his father. Thankfully, the King wasn’t paying any attention to them. “Maybe he likes the dress you wear tonight.”

Morgana stamped on his foot under the table. “I didn’t say he’s staring at me, idiot,” she hissed. “I said he is staring at us, in a most nasty way.”

“Just ignore him. He wouldn’t dare to lay a hand on you, so don’t worry.”

Morgana stamped on his foot again.

“Ow, dammit, stop that,” Arthur growled.

“As if I’m concerned about myself, you moron. I could kill this half wit in a second.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you could. You could just trample him down with those shoes of yours.”

“I would just slit his throat with one of my knives, Arthur,” Morgana replied. “Still, I wonder what’s on his mind. He is even creepier than usual tonight. Did Merlin say something to you about him?”

Now Morgana had the full attention of the prince. “Merlin? Why Merlin?”

“I saw him this morning with Thomas.“

“Where?”

“Just outside the castle… Why? What is going on?”

“Believe me, I wish I knew.”

“Tell me what…”

“Morgana.”

The dark haired woman startled and looked at the King.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“Is everything alright with your food, my dear?” Uther asked in a mild voice. “You haven’t eaten much.”

“The food is excellent, my Lord, as always. But you know, I don’t enjoy fish as much as you do.”

“But you should. Gaius always tells me…”

Arthur stopped paying attention to his father and Morgana. Beneath his lashes, he started to watch Sir Thomas. Beside him, Merlin laid out the second course, venison, for the prince. Arthur noticed immediately that Morgana had been wrong. Thomas wasn’t watching Morgana and him, the knight was watching Merlin.

***

Arthur lay down in his freshly made bed, observing Merlin blowing out candles all over his room. To say Merlin looked deathly ill would have been an understatement. His manservant stumbled around Arthur’s quarters like he was drunk, barely able to stay on his feet. His face was ghostly pale and his eyes were dark and huge.

Arthur had trouble keeping his mouth shut. He knew it would be useless to ask Merlin any questions right now; his servant would probably jump out of the window if he heard one word coming from him.

Inwardly, the prince seethed. He could imagine all too well what was going on. Sir Thomas had a certain reputation; Arthur knew that the maids and many of the male servants tried to avoid the disgusting man for a very good reason. Why his father couldn’t see this remained a mystery to the prince. The King usually didn’t condone such a behaviour at all; molesting or raping servants would be followed by a flogging at least, no matter who the attacker was. But with Thomas… well, he hadn’t been caught yet. And none of the servants would be able to report a knight, let alone the First Knight.

But this would change tonight. Thomas tried to prey on someone very dear to Arthur, and this would be his downfall. The prince just hoped his father would allow him to hold the whip.

“Arthur?”

The prince looked up at Merlin who stood before his bed.

“Do you need something else?” Merlin sounded almost painfully hopeful.

“No, thank you, Merlin. I wish you a good night. I’ll expect you here bright and early tomorrow.”

“I… yes, of course. Good… good night, Arthur.”

The prince watched Merlin leave his room like a man going to his execution. The moment the door closed behind the crestfallen man, Arthur was out of the bed. He quickly put on dark clothes; then he grabbed his sword and crept out of his room, following his manservant.

~ ~ ~

Merlin stood before the stables; his feet seemed to be rooted to the ground. For the last hour, he had tried to tell himself it would be nothing more than what he had done with Will. But he hadn’t been able to fool himself. This had nothing to do with the harmless tumbling he had going on with his late friend. This was about power, about doing harm. He didn’t know if he…

“There you are.”

Merlin jumped and turned around. Behind him, almost hidden by a hay wagon, Sir Thomas stood.

“You’re such a good little servant, aren’t you? Come here.”

Hesitating, Merlin stared at the other man. He wished he could think of something, anything, to stop this from happening. Suddenly he ached for Arthur and his protection. He should have told him everything, Gods, why hadn’t he done that? Because he couldn’t have helped you, a voice whispered in his mind. You have brought this on to you with your own stupidity, now live with the consequences.

“I said come here, boy,” Sir Thomas hissed.

Merlin swallowed and closed is eyes for a moment. Then he just went. There was nothing he could do. If he just followed the knights orders, maybe this would be over soon.

~ ~ ~

Arthur hid behind one of the stable doors and watched Merlin going over to Thomas through some kind of red haze. He was trembling all over with fury. He had known what was going on, but seeing this… seeing Merlin walking over to that bastard like some sort of sacrificial lamb… right now he wasn’t sure if Thomas would survive the night. Why Merlin hadn’t told him what was going on, Arthur still couldn’t venture a guess. The knight had something to hold over his manservant, Arthur was sure of that. But whatever it was… it couldn’t be so bad that Merlin would just allow himself to be raped, could it? Usually, Merlin was everything but cowered easily, quite the contrary in fact. Sometimes Arthur had wondered why his manservant was still alive, the way he snapped and hissed at every noble man who tried to push him around.

Arthur watched the two men enter one of the stables to his right, and went silently after them. The prince had to catch Thomas in the act, he knew that, but right now he wasn’t too sure he could wait. The thought of those disgusting hands alone, touching Merlin’s skin anywhere made bile rose in Arthur’s throat.

Entering the stable, he immediately located both men in one of the empty boxes. Gods, Thomas had actually brought a lantern with him. The bastard obviously wanted to watch. Arthur crept nearer, although he was sure he wouldn’t need to be quite so silent. He doubted Thomas would hear anything over his own harsh breathing.

Arthur saw Thomas forcing Merlin on his knees; then his left hand grabbed Merlin’s hair and his right hand started to open his pants. Arthur heard Merlin whimper quietly; and this was exactly the moment the prince snapped.

“I really wouldn’t do this if I were you,” he said in a deathly quiet voice.

Considering the effect his words had on both men, he could have yelled them. Merlin as well as Thomas froze for a moment. Then Merlin strained his neck to look at Arthur out of terrified eyes. Arthur didn’t look at him; he kept his gaze on the equally terrified looking knight.

“Prince Arthur…”

“Shut the fuck up, Thomas,” Arthur hissed. “This was a big mistake, you asshole. Maybe the biggest you ever made in your whole fucked up life.”

“Sire…”

“I said shut up! And let go of him, NOW!”

The knight unclasped the grip he still had on the dark hair, and Merlin immediately crawled away from him. He was sobbing by now and still looked horrified.

“It’s alright now, Merlin,” Arthur hushed. “It’s over.”

“Gods, Arthur, you don’t understand…”

“Yes, exactly. Prince Arthur doesn’t understand anything, does he?” Sir Thomas scoffed. “I just bet he wouldn’t be here if he did understand some things.”

“Oh, I understand, alright. I understand that you just tried to rape my manservant. Do you know what my father will say when I tell him that?”

The asshole huffed. “And do you know, my Lord, what the King will say when I will tell him that your manservant is a warlock? Huh? What do you think will happen then, sire?”

***

Arthur stared at the knight for a moment, then looked at Merlin. It was written all over him… Thomas had told the truth. This was just great. Arthur took a deep breath.

“That… changes things.”

“Oh yes, it does,” Thomas sneered. “Now maybe you would be so kind to leave us, sire?”

“I think you misunderstood me, Sir Thomas,” Arthur said coldly. “This just means you won’t have a chance to talk to my father again.”

Then several things happened simultaneously. Arthur drew his sword, Thomas backed off into the darker parts of the box, his right hand going to his side. Merlin shouted, “watch out, Arthur!” and then a knife appeared in Thomas’ hand, ready to be thrown at the prince.

Merlin yelled, “Swelt deor!” and the knife fell out of the knight’s hand. From the direction of Thomas’ neck came a cracking sound, and then the knight fell down on his back, staring with empty eyes up to the ceiling. Sir Thomas was dead.

***

Arthur stared down at the body lying in front of him. Gods in Heaven. He tried to wrap his mind around what he just had seen, but had no luck. Merlin had yelled two words and the First Knight of his father had died. Yet Arthur knew that if Merlin had kept silent, he would be dead by now. He knew very well how deadly Thomas had been with knives.

Arthur shook himself. Now was not the time to freak out. He could do that later; he had other things to do right now. He turned around to Merlin, only to find the warlock –Arthur still was close to freaking out when he thought about that- on his knees in a corner, rocking back and forth while crying silently.

The prince rushed over to the desperate man, dropping on one knee in front of him.

“Merlin? Merlin!”

His manservant didn’t look at him. He just continued to rock himself, staring straight ahead. Arthur knew shock when he saw it, but he had no time to freak out and Merlin had just no time to go into shock right now. Otherwise there would be another killing taking place tonight.

Arthur took Merlin’s face in his hands and lifted it until he could look into the other man’s eyes.

“Merlin, listen to me. You have to calm down now, I beg you!”

Merlin stared at him for awhile unseeingly, and then finally seemed to recognize him.

“Arthur?” He asked, and then he suddenly swayed towards Arthur, his hands clutching at the prince’s clothes. Arthur drew Merlin into his arms immediately, letting the other man cling tightly to him while he allowed himself to hug Merlin fiercely. They didn’t have time for that but Arthur couldn’t help it. He buried his face into the dark hair and made soft hushing sounds.

Some minutes later, Arthur began to gently withdraw. Merlin tried to clutch him even harder, but the prince shook his head.

“Not now, Merlin, later, I promise. But right now… we have to do something before a guard finds us.“

“What?”

“Listen to me. You have to run over to Gwen and tell her to send Morgana here. Tell Gwen to not come with her, she should just send Morgana with you. Do you understand me? This is important, Merlin!”

“What? Why Morgana?”

“Just do as I say. Trust me, Merlin, and do as I say.”

Merlin looked at him for a moment, then he nodded. Arthur breathed more easily at once. He helped his servant on his feet and watched him stumble out of the stable with a reassuring speed.

Then Arthur turned around and looked at the body of Sir Thomas.

~ ~ ~

Merlin stood shivering at Gwen’s hut and waited for her to return with Morgana. He was cold all over and couldn’t stop trembling. He had killed a man. Not only a man, he had killed the First Knight. Merlin bit hard on his lower lip to stop the sob he felt coming. Gods. He had killed a man like he once had killed a rat. He was a monster. He could have stopped Sir Thomas easily in another way but he hadn’t even thought of that. He had seen that knife, and images of it sticking out of Arthur’s chest had instantly haunted his thoughts.

Merlin heard quick footsteps and he turned around, wondering if he should hide somewhere. But before he could make a decision, Gwen and Morgana shot around the corner of Gwen’s hut and stopped right before him.

Morgana stared at him with a horrified expression; the young man was thankful at once that he didn’t know how he looked.

“Gods, Merlin, what happened?”

“I can’t explain right now, Morgana, Arthur said we should hurry.”

“I’m coming with you, my lady,” Gwen said.

“No!” Merlin shouted. “No, you can’t. Arthur said…”

“It’s alright, Merlin, calm down,” Morgana hushed. “I will accompany you and Gwen will stay here.” Morgana threw one glance at Gwen, and while her maid didn’t look reassured, she still nodded. “If we need something, Gwen, I’ll send for you immediately.” Morgana hugged Gwen for a minute and then followed Merlin hastely in the directions of the stables.

~ ~ ~

Arthur just drew his sword back out of Thomas’ chest for the second time when he heard someone entering the stable quickly. He turned around, relieved to see Merlin and Morgana.

“Morgana…”

“Gods in Heaven! What happened here? Is that… oh Lord.”

“Yes, that was Sir Thomas. Listen carefully, Morgana, I need your help here. You were right at dinner, the asshole was staring in our direction, but not at us, he was watching Merlin. He tried to rape him here, and by chance I came by and killed the bastard.”

Arthur saw Merlin open his mouth and threw a warning glance in his direction. His manservant swallowed whatever he had wanted to say, but looked deeply unhappy about it.

Arthur continued. “Now, as you know, I can’t tell my father I killed his First Knight over my manservant. I need you…”

“Yes, I understand. Wait a minute, I have to rip my dress a little…”

Merlin made some sound like a trapped animal. Arthur and Morgana turned around to look at him.

“What… what are you doing?” The young man whispered.

Arthur went over to him and drew him right back into his arms, ignoring the surprised sound Morgana was making.

“Hush,” he said. “Stop worrying, Merlin. We will just say that Thomas attacked Morgana… and therefore make sure my father will want to rip this bastard’s body into tiny little pieces. We won’t mention you at all. You will go to Gaius now… I doubt you will get any sleep. The King will soon send for Gaius anyway. Don’t come back here, you hear me? As soon as Gaius leaves, you’ll write him a note and then you’ll go up to my chambers and stay there. Do you understand me?”

Merlin nodded.

“Good. Now go and be careful that no one sees you.”

***

Arthur was exhausted.

The whole scenario had played out nicely, exactly as he had thought. He had to thank mostly Morgana for it… this woman could act and lie in a way Arthur would have never managed. Right now she was clinging to Uther, sobbing quietly into his cape.

Arthur’s father was out of his head with rage. The prince could see how the King wanted to kill Sir Thomas on his own all over again. Right now Uther was rambling about how he would put the knight’s head on a stake in the middle of the courtyard, as an example for everyone. He had congratulated Arthur for the quick kill and in the same sentence he had told him he wished he had spared the knight for some torture. Arthur had just nodded to everything his father had said. The prince wanted to go back to his chambers, to Merlin, but he knew he had to stay here until this whole riot calmed down.

There had been quite a scary moment when Gaius had appeared and examined Thomas. The way he had turned the knight’s head back and forth had made Arthur’s blood run cold. It was obvious that the old physician had detected the broken neck… and there had been almost no blood from the sword wounds either. But Gaius had just looked at Arthur for a short moment, went pale and then said, “well done, sire. He died almost immediately.” Then Gaius had thrown a horse blanket over the body, and had begun to calm down Morgana.

“With all respect, my Lord,” Gaius said, “I think we should spare the Lady Morgana any more time here. She should rest in her quarters now. I will send her maid…”

Arthur interrupted him. “I will send Gwen to Morgana’s chamber, Gaius. And to be honest, I would like to retire myself, too. Fighting Sir Thomas hadn’t been easy, especially considering what was at stake here.”

Morgana sobbed loudly again and threw herself into Arthur’s arms.

“Thank you, thank you again and again, Arthur! I swear I will never do such a thing again… I will let myself be accompanied by guards when I…”

Arthur hugged Morgana awkwardly while he listened to his father hushing her.

“There is no reason at all you shouldn’t go wherever you wanted inside the castle, my dear. Thanks to the Gods Arthur had been here in time.” Uther looked at his son. “I am proud of you, my son. It must had been difficult to stand against this man and kill him without getting hurt. Well done.”

Arthur found himself nodding again. He just wanted to escape from this place. There wasn’t anything to be proud of as he very well knew. If not for Merlin, he would be dead on the ground right now.

Finally the King started to lead Morgana out of the stables which meant Arthur could take his leave now, too. He started for the door and was stopped by Gaius’ hand on his arm. Turning around, the prince looked at the old man.

“What about Merlin?” Gaius whispered.

Arthur took a deep breath. “He is unharmed and in my chambers by now.”

“Take good care of him, sire.”

“I will, Gaius, I will.”

~ ~ ~

Merlin poked the wood in the fireplace some more. No matter how warm it was right in front of the flames, he couldn’t shake the cold he felt inside. The events of the night played over and over in his mind. Gods, he had been so scared. And then Arthur had appeared and… Merlin bowed his head. He could still feel the prince’s arms around him; he had wanted to crawl inside Arthur somehow and never leave again. Hell, he still wanted to do that. He wanted to forget Sir Thomas’ face above him, his hand in Merlin’s hair… and the cracking sound his neck made when Merlin had killed him.

The young warlock shivered again. Oh yes, he wished for more embraces from Arthur but he doubted he would get any. He was fairly sure Arthur wouldn’t hurt him but everything else… Merlin had no idea. He didn’t know how Arthur would react to the fact that his manservant was a sorcerer. By now, the prince had had some time to think this over… and even in the first moment after the knight had died, Merlin had seen fear in Arthur’s eyes. It could very well be that Arthur would demand that Merlin leave Camelot.

Merlin swept away his tears impatiently. For one night, he had certainly bawled enough. When Arthur appeared, Merlin wanted to be settled, at least a little. He wasn’t some girl clutching to her hero’s legs, even if said hero didn’t want her anymore. That image made him sob some more. Gods, get a grip, idiot, he thought. After all, he had been saved, nothing bad had happened to him, thanks to Arthur. He should count himself lucky instead of feeling morose.

Suddenly, he heard the very distinctive footsteps of Arthur in the hall and then the door behind him opened. Panic set in immediately. That was too early… he had no idea yet how he should face the prince.

~ ~ ~

Arthur closed the door behind him and looked at the man sitting in front of the fire, his back to him. He leaned back on the door and watched Merlin for awhile but his manservant didn’t make any move to turn around or to acknowledge his presence in any way.

The prince sighed heavily and straightened; then he went over to the fireplace and sat down beside Merlin. He had no idea what to say and after he threw a quick glance at the other man, he was sure Merlin didn’t know either. His manservant still looked terrible, pale, with red-rimmed eyes and a desolate expression.

Arthur drew his knees up to his chest, rested his arms on top of them until he was in the same position as Merlin, and then stared into the flames himself for a moment. The prince knew he wasn’t exactly good at comforting someone; hell, he had no idea how to do that at all. But he had the feeling some TLC was called for right now. To say he felt uncomfortable about that would have been an understatement.

Finally Arthur leaned slightly against Merlin, knocked shoulders with him and said, “hey.” He cursed himself inwarldly at once. Gods, he was awful at this stuff. But Merlin obviously didn’t think that at all. He uncurled and looked at Arthur with huge eyes.

“Hey,” Merlin said quietly.

Now, Arthur resented that. Why did Merlin’s ‘hey’ sound perfect and his own ‘hey’ sounded ridiculous? Maybe he really shouldn’t overanalyze this. Gods.

“How are you doing?” Arthur asked.

Merlin watched him intensly for a few seconds. For what he was searching, Arthur had no idea. He just looked back, praying he didn’t look like an idiot. Suddenly, Merlin seemed to relax at least a little. Wow, something had worked. Maybe it was the best course of action to keep his mouth shut and to just look at the other man. Perhaps he should try out some smiling.

Now that was awesome. Arthur’s smile got him a lapful of clinging Merlin, which felt.. good. Very good. The prince clutched back tightly.

After a few minutes of hugging, Arthur had quite a few things on his mind to say or ask, but he didn’t dare. This hugging thing felt too good and he would kick himself if he destroyed that amazing feeling with some stupid words. So he just kept his cheek on the dark hair and stroked gently over Merlin’s back. The man in his arms relaxed more and more, until Merlin finally sighed and looked up at Arthur. Now, the prince was very sure he shouldn’t stare at Merlin’s mouth. First off, after what almost had happened this night, it just wasn’t right. Secondly, Arthur had much practice at not staring at Merlin’s lips. Much practice. But he didn’t seem to be able to stop. He saw Merlin’s head resting at his right arm and saw those amazing lips moving. Which meant…

“What?”

Merlin smiled a little. “I just said… you don’t seem to be afraid.”

If Arthur had a free hand he would have scratched his head. He had the feeling he had missed a whole conversation here.

“Afraid? Of what?”

“Of me.” Merlin looked down for a moment, but immediately glanced back at Arthur, as if he couldn’t help it.

By now Arthur was certain he had missed something. Merlin’s lips could do such things to him. He once had missed an entire conversation with Morgana because he was staring at his manservant; he still had some bruises to show for that.

“Merlin, I think you have lost me somehow. Why should I be afraid of you?”

“Well, that whole being a warlock thing…”

Ah.

“Nah. I mean, it was a little scary to see that bastard go down that fast, but really, it was more impressive than scary,” Arthur said. “It’s just… well, I had a little time to think…”

Whoa. Wrong thing to say. Merlin tensed all over in his arms again. But Arthur had no choice, so he just rambled on.

“… um, it’s embarrassing for me, you know? I have the feeling I was proud of quite a few things I really shouldn’t have been proud of? Because you had helped me out all over? Like Valliant? Or that thing down in the water reservoir? Or…” Arthur stopped when Merlin laid one finger over his lips.

His manservant shook his head. “No, Arthur, I may have helped, but nothing could have been done without you. You are a great warrior, and incredibly brave…”

“Oh I beg to differ. Alright, of course I’m brave, I mean I have to be, but you… a sorcerer, working as my personal manservant at Camelot? I don’t think it gets any braver than you are.”

Merlin smiled the most beautiful smile Arthur had ever seen. And this smile was for him. He got a little lightheaded. Merlin watched him for awhile, a curious expression in his eyes. He then settled down more comfortable in Arthur’s arms and lap and relaxed completely. The fantastic smile was still on his lips.

“So,” Merlin said after some time. “You saved me tonight. Don’t you think I owe you some kind of token… maybe a kiss?”

Arthur swallowed. “Merlin, you… you owe me nothing. It had been as a matter of course that…”

“Arthur, would you please stop being an idiot? What do you want me to do? Should I wave some kind of banner above my head?”

Arthur stared. He still stared when he felt Merlin’s hand on his neck drawing him down. He stared until his eyes crossed and he felt Merlin’s lips on his own. Then he closed his eyes. What followed, was the most fantastic, sweetest kiss Arthur could have imagined.

After some breathless moments, the two men separated slowly. Arthur heart was racing in his chest and he fervently wished to move things to the bed right behind him; but, as always, Merlin had other ideas. His manservant leaned back into his arms and said, “well, who would have thought I get the hero in the end?”

Arthur laughed quietly. After all, that line really belonged to him.

The End.