Uther is young, perhaps too young with the beginnings of a decent beard only just growing on his sharp cheeks, when the battle ends and the crown is placed upon his head. Everything his father had prayed for, all the dreams Uther kept tucked behind his breastbone, stand before him and weigh heavy upon his neck. He feels, for the first time in his life, unprepared for what lays ahead.
There are no maps, no battle plans carved out for him, telling him how to rule this foreign land.
They bring him a child, a boy with dimples and glinting red hair. They offer the kid up like a lamb, tell Uther, for you. For you. The boy smiles at him, bright and unafraid, and Uther wonders what lies have colored his dreams.
The boy kneels before him, curls hanging in his face, and he is so pure, so untouched, Uther cannot bring himself to corrupt him.
The boy, Leon, is a bright little thing. He learns Uther’s moods quickly, and quicker still how to sooth him. Though he has no skill with an instrument, he can sing beautifully, and has an uncanny ability for slipping around unnoticed. It serves Uther well, to send the boy out into the crowd, to hear how the people view him.
Leon finds him towards the end of a banquet, perches like a bird on the edge of the throne. Uther strokes through his hair, listens to the gossip of a king with heavy fist and an empty heart.
“They don’t know you,” Leon murmurs, when Uther’s fist grows tight in his hair. “You execute without mercy, but they do not see why.”
“And you have advice?” Uther sneers.
Leon turns towards him, blue eyes liquid. “You make your judgements behind closed doors, but you carry out the sentence in public.”
Uther considers this as Leon grows drowsy, as he slumps against the young king.
Leon proves his loyalty in the sixth year of Uther’s reign, with a dagger in his gut and blood on his hands. Uther stands above him agast, watching the red stain grow. No one had seen him dancing his way to the king, had noticed the way he swayed before the king.
Had a woman not shrieked, Uther isn’t sure he’d have seen Leon before the crowd dispersed.
Now though, Gaius hovers over him, skilled hands ripping cloth and threading needles. “Water, Your Excellence,” Gaius says. He doesn’t need it; everyone keeps bringing buckets of water and stacks of cloth. But it’s something to do, a way to feel useful, so the king throws his cloak over his shoulders and marches towards the well.
Uther makes a spectacle of the execution. Leon sits at his feet, belly bandage wrapped and lips downturned as he watches. They burn the would-be assassin. There’s a feast, minstrels, lots of other ridiculous and pompous affairs Uther only half cares about.
He wants the man’s family burned, but Leon manages to stay Uther’s sword. Only just, but as the man screams, as Leon hides his face against Uther’s knees, the young king thinks perhaps one death is enough.
He strokes through Leon’s curls and forms a new plan.
Within a week the teen is standing with the knights, armor too big and eyes wary. Uther stalks the training, and his hands are almost cruel as they correct Leon’s form and reposition his legs.
The boy’s belly is still tender, though, and when Uther notices spots of red mingling with the sweat, he considers training done.
His fingers are much softer as the rub oils and ointments into stiff muscles and bruised skin. Leon flushes beneath the ministrations, but when Uther goes to remove his hands, Leon lifts his shoulders and whispers, “They’re still tense.”
Leon proves a brilliant knight, more natural instinct than even those born and bred into the profession. He moves with his dancers grace, but a lethal edge. There’s a cunning to his swings, sly and deadly even when he’s playing.
He moves through the ranks quickly, until despite his sixteen summers he’s one of Uther’s best.
Uther grows into his crown, and finds with Leon at his side, it’s not quite so heavy.
He uses Leon like a spy, an assassin. The boy is so gentle, he’s able to do his job while smiling at his mark. Leon is back at Uther’s side before the victim even knows he is one.
People whisper about the king’s young knight in training, his fae assassin. The boy with the smile that drips with blood.
Leon isn’t a fan of the rumor, but Uther encourages them. They keep him safe. Uther trust no one but Leon and Leon returns the favor by never leaving Uther’s side.
Uther knights Leon during the midst of summer. It’s a scorching heat, oppressive and disheartening. Everyone knows the king’s favorite assassin, the lithe youth hanging at his side. They’ve seen him on the pitch, skin glowing and red hair like fire, sword clanging against the king.
They know he knocks Uther to his knees as often as Uther presses the tip of his sword to Leon’s neck.
There are rumors that the bruises on their knees aren’t just from the pitch.
There are rumors that those who say that never speak again.
But Uther knights Leon when the sun is at its highest, and the crowd at its most awed. Leon is on his knees before the king, a place he is well accustomed to, back to Camelot. His smile, small and sly is for the king’s eyes only.
Uther taps a sword to each shoulder, drones on about honor and courage and loyalty. Leon half listens, mumbles his answers where expected. This, the pomp and circumstance, it’s all for show. This is Uther announcing to all of Camelot Leon’s importance to hi the best way he knows how.
Leon stands, stares at Uther’s face. Uther straightens his cloak, fingers fiddling with the clasp, before cupping Leon’s face. His calloused thumbs brush over Leon’s cheeks, and there's a strange and frightening intensity in his eyes as he studies Leon.
Leon shakes his head. “For you.”
Uther leans down, uncaring of the crowd behind them, of all of camelot watching. He kisses Leon, once. Swift and soft, and not nearly enough, but already the crowd murmurs of the strange king, his odd affections, and the knight who murders in the shadows.
Uther doesn’t take other lovers. Leon never courts anyone. People whisper about it, worry about the heirless king. About the strange brotherhood he shares with his young knight. They know what happens in the king’s chambers. Leon makes no secret of his early exits.
Leon asks him about it once, when Ygraine sits by the king and smiles her glittering grin. Uther loves her, in another life is in love with her.
But he cups Leon cheek and says nothing.
He will wed Ygraine, but only because her heart belongs to Nimueh.
Leon doesn’t like it, doesn’t like the idea of sharing.
But Ygraine is kind when she walks with him, when she tells him of the duty the king and queen will share. “One heir, Sire Knight. And then he is yours and I’ll never begrudge you this. It’s a far better arrangement than any of us could have prayed for.”
The wedding is grand in the way Royal Weddings are, and Leon is begrudge to admit that Ygraine and Uther make a stunning pair. Beautiful and glowing, to the foolish crowd fawning over them. Lovely in a way nothing else in his 20 summers has ever been.
Leon stands by Uther’s side and Nimueh at Ygraine’s. His heart swells, but it also breaks. The couple kisses, is presented to the crowd, and then Uther and Ygraine surprise everyone.
Ygraine swings Nimueh into her arms, kisses her in a sweeping bow with much whooping and laughter.
Uther cups Leon’s face, rests their foreheads together. The kiss is gentle, soft, far more intimate than the girls’ boisterous display.
Leon smiles at his king, remembering the boys they once were, marveling at the men they’ve become.
Later, when fine lines are just beginning to frame Uther’s eyes, when Leon’s beard is full and curly, they stand on a balcony. Uther’s head rest on Leon’s shoulder. He occasionally brushes his lips just below Leon’s ear, bites at his jaw.
“Are you happy?” Uther asks, quietly.
Below the Ygraine waddles in the garden, Nimueh fretting over her. Ygraine laughs, loud and exuberant and bats at her lover. Nimueh eyes glow as she runs her fingers over the swollen mound beneath the Queen’s skirts.
“An heir is required for Camelot, Leon. You knew this. You agreed to this.” Uther whispers. But his hands tighten on Leon’s hips like he’s afraid he might bolt.
Leon turns in his grip, leans against the stone barrier. He frames Uther’s face in his hands, thumbs pressed to the corners of the king’s mouth. “No more.”
Uther frowns. “No more?”
“I will share you no more, my king. Camelot will have her heir. Young Arthur will be born soon, and Nimueh has seen his health. I will not share you again.” Leon’s tone is fierce, his eyes firm. But Uther can feel the trembling in the fingers on his cheeks.
He leans forward, kisses his fae-lover fiercely. “No more, sir knight."