Merlin cursed, slamming his fists against the navigation pane so that he didn’t hit anything more vital. “What did I tell you, nebulabrain?” he yelled. “Didn’t I say we needed to adjust one, one-five at the last asteroid field?”
“Mmhmm,” Arthur agreed. He sat in his plush, swivelling chair, feet kicked up onto the console and face smooth with unconcerned boredom. “And what did I say to that?”
“You said, ‘No, Merlin. I’m the captain, Merlin. I know better than you and I don’t have to listen to anyone, Merlin.’”
Arthur ignored the remarkably well-executed mimicry. “And has anything changed since I said that to make you think your opinion is any more necessary now than it was then?”
Staring between his captain and the vast vacuum around their ship, Merlin sputtered in outrage. “You mean other than the fact that we’re stuck orbiting around a useless smegging chunk of frozen rock because we’re nearly out of fuel, with no habitable planets or waystations anywhere in range?”
“Yes,” Arthur said like it was a perfectly rational thing to say, “other than that.”
“You, you... Oh, there aren’t even words for what you are!”
“I’m sure you can think of a few. There’s commanding officer, captain, really just sir would do, or—”
“Or smug git who got us stranded with three weeks of life support and food?” Merlin offered scathingly.
Arthur's feet dropped to the floor and he sat forward, boredom giving way to something terrifyingly excited. “Now tell me, Merlin, once we don't show up for the rendezvous, how long do you think it'll take the Knights to track us down and rescue us?”
“A week, maybe two. What—” Merlin cut himself off at Arthur's growing grin. “You didn't. You did! You utter arsehole. You know, most people just put in for vacation!”
The captain shrugged, entirely unrepentant but a touch melancholy. “I don’t really get vacation, you know that. Between the territory dispute with the Mercian Front, the negotiations with Nemeth, and let’s not even talk about the mess that is Essetir Corp... It’s been years, Merlin. And you’ve been right there with me, don’t tell me you couldn’t use a break.”
It was true; even if Merlin hadn’t been there for it all, he had read the growing exhaustion in Arthur’s tense days and insomniac nights. His captain deserved this, and yet—“And I’m sure once we get back to the Albion and have to explain ourselves to the Admiral, it’ll all be my fault?”
“Well, of course.” Merlin hated that particular smirk of Arthur’s. “Father already thinks you’re mentally deficient, and you are the worst navigator in the Five Systems.”
Merlin sent him a rude gesture, picked up from Albion’s Sidhe cook. “Fine, fine. Too late to do anything about it now. So, how are we going to keep ourselves entertained?”
Eyes bright with delighted malice, Arthur reached beneath his chair and pulled out a metal and glass bottle full of swirling violet liquid.
“No.” The hangover from plasmic vodka was worse than being hit with three stun zaps and a cat-sized boulder, which Merlin knew from personal experience that he really preferred not to remember.
“I can make it an order, Merlin.”
Merlin gave in. It wasn’t just that Arthur would abuse his authority—he would, no question, and find some way to officially justify it later. For the first time in as long as Merlin could remember, Arthur was free from responsibility and enjoying himself.
Even if that joy usually came at Merlin’s expense, it was a pleasure to see.
“I’ll get the glasses,” he grumbled, but he could tell by Arthur’s genuine smile that he hadn’t succeeded in suppressing his own grin.