Word Count: 2,203
A/N: Gratuitous stealing of a Highlander line.
Summary: The first thing Merlin had learned about magic when he’d gotten to Camelot – aside from the fact that the practice of it could get you killed – was that it didn’t always work as planned.
“You did this to me,” Arthur murmured.
“I would never,” Merlin denied, squirming against Arthur’s immoveable force that was keeping him pinned against the stone wall.
Arthur wasn’t completely in control of his faculties, obviously, but he was still a trained knight and had a certain amount of…bulk, which he clearly knew how to use to his advantage.
“And if it hasn’t escaped your notice, sire, I was the one who got you out of the Great Hall before you embarrassed yourself.”
Not that anyone else would remember anyway.
The first thing Merlin had learned about magic when he’d gotten to Camelot – aside from the fact that the practice of it could get you killed – was that it didn’t always work as planned. If the visiting Princess had asked him, then Merlin would have told her that himself, but she’d had to go and get grabby and drug the whole royal court with something that made them...suggestible.
Thank God for Gwen because Merlin had been preoccupied with Arthur staring daggers at him and hadn’t noticed the mood of the hall changing until the idiot Princess all but threw herself on Arthur, fully expecting him to catch her.
Merlin had intervened, Gwen had summoned the guards, and everyone got to hauling people to their appropriate locations before they made asses of themselves. Or, more of an ass of themselves in some cases.
Merlin hadn’t been particularly overjoyed with the outcome, but Gaius – his arm supporting his listing King – had assured him that the potion could be slept off, and at least he wasn’t Gaius, and stuck fending off the King’s advances.
Arthur had actually been pretty steady on his feet until they hit the stairs, then he’d started toppling into Merlin with each step, his hands trying to find purchase on any bit of Merlin that he could reach.
“Just a bit further,” Merlin had grunted, pulling hard at Arthur’s thick leather belt. “Your chambers are just down the hall, and then we can put you to bed.”
And then Merlin had found himself up against a wall, Arthur pushing into him with surprising strength even while his head dropped against Merlin’s shoulder like he couldn’t support its weight. Arthur’s accusation a hot breath against his throat.
“I might’ve been willing,” Arthur said “If she’d been after me instead of my kingdom.”
“You’d never have been willing,” Merlin said, stiffening. “Not with someone would drug you to sleep with you.”
“I’m not that drugged,” Arthur said, lifting his head to meet Merlin’s gaze. His eyes were dark, yes, but clearer than Merlin would’ve expected. “I didn’t like the taste of the wine.”
“But she didn’t know that,” Merlin pointed out.
“But you do.”
Merlin wanted to ask, What in blazes do you mean by that?, but instead he said, his voice low and maybe a touch pleading, “We need to get you to your chambers, sire.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, easing back even as his face shuttered. “Of course.”
They managed to shuffle the twenty feet without speaking, and though Arthur still needed Merlin’s steadying hand, they didn’t touch otherwise.
It felt like someone had carved out a hole inside Merlin and filled it with ice, and Merlin didn’t know why. Didn’t know anything really except that he had never felt less trapped than when Arthur had him up against the wall, his eyes dark with something other than drugs.
“I’m fine now, Merlin,” Arthur said, stepping away from him, only slightly unsteady. “You can go.”
“Go now, or you’ll be looking for another position in the morning.”
His voice was cold and hard and Merlin thought that maybe that was where the ice inside him had come from. And he would’ve left, almost did, but Arthur was standing statue still, his chin thrust up regally, his eyes dead ahead, and it occurred to Merlin that by doing so he was trying to hide his weakness, his unsteadiness, and would end up fumbling his clothes off and dropping on the bed in exhaustion in twice the time it would take Merlin to help him.
“Then I’ll look for another position in the morning,” he murmured, stepping close so that he could unhook the clasp in Arthur’s cloak.
Arthur jerked back, almost falling. Would have if Merlin hadn’t caught his arm. “I don’t want you here,” Arthur said, his voice as sharp as a lash.
“You need help,” Merlin said briskly, folding the cloak over his arm. “It’s not a sign of weakness when it is beyond your control.” He started on Arthur’s belt, ignoring the tension in Arthur’s frame. “Even your father needed help this evening,” Merlin said in a confiding tone.
Arthur swayed against him, but didn’t try to stop him as Merlin swiftly unbuckled the thick leather, taking care with the sword hooked to it.
He could feel Arthur’s gaze on him as he moved around the room, putting things to rights. When he made it back to Arthur, the ice had almost melted, and instead of anger, Arthur was looking at him curiously, like he was an unknown and unusual forest creature that had somehow wandered into the palace.
“I can’t quite figure you out, Merlin,” Arthur said with soft wonder.
“You’ve said that to me before,” Merlin said back.
“It’s no less true today than it was then.”
“You also said that you wanted me on my knees,” Merlin said lightly as he knelt. “But I can’t imagine you thought it would be like this.”
He reached for Arthur’s boot, then stilled when he heard a garbled choking sound. Arthur’s hands were fisted at his sides, and when Merlin looked up he could see Arthur’s head tilted back, the long length of his throat flushed and vulnerable looking.
“Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Arthur said through gritted teeth. “Just get on with it.”
No doubt Arthur was in pain of some kind, but wouldn’t admit it, so Merlin made quick work of his boots, holding the back of Arthur’s thigh with one hand as he removed the boot with the other, and then switching swiftly to the other side.
“We should get you to the bed,” Merlin said, tossing the boots to the corner of the room and standing quickly.
“With the amount of times you’ve said that this evening, Merlin, you’d think that you were after my virtue and not Princess Elana.”
“Of course not,” Arthur said, easing himself onto the bed.
But his eyes were still shadowed and Merlin was again left feeling like he’d done something wrong. Frowning, he stepped forward, between Arthur’s thighs to reach for his shirt.
Arthur stopped him with a firm hand to his chest. “I believe I can get the rest,” he protested.
Merlin didn’t move, crossing his arms over his chest. “Your hands haven’t stopped trembling,” Merlin pointed out. “How exactly are you going to manage?”
Arthur met his scowl head on before swiftly tugging the laces on the front of his shirt and whipping it over his head.
“Good,” Merlin said, eyeing Arthur’s chest critically for a moment. The bruises from his last tournament had healed, and the wound on his right shoulder had faded to a scar. “Now your trousers.”
The flush from Arthur’s throat had moved down over his chest, and Merlin was concerned for a moment about fever, before he was distracted by the knotted tangle that Arthur was making of the enclosure on his pants.
“Oh honestly,” he said, kneeling easily and batting Arthur’s hands away to tug on the laces. He had no idea why Arthur had chosen now to be so closely guarded with his modesty, but it was just like him to choose the most inopportune moment.
“You’ve certainly gotten yourself in a tangle,” he said, hoping to diffuse some of the Arthur’s tension.
The backs of his knuckles grazed against the flat hardness of Arthur’s stomach, the heat of him once again bringing to mind the possibility of fever, but it was the unaccustomed hardness growing beneath his hands that had him stilling in realization.
Of course, Merlin, you dunce, he thought, suddenly wanting to bang his head against a wall.
“My apologies,” he said respectfully, trying to force his hands not to fumble in their work. “I should’ve realized sooner that the drug would likely have this effect.”
Arthur laughed, a harsh broken sound. “It’s not the drug, you idiot.”
Merlin’s fingers did fumble then, and he could feel his own heat rush to his face.
“Can’t even face the truth when it’s staring you in the face, Merlin?” he asked wryly as Merlin’s gaze shot to his.
Arthur held his gaze for a long moment, then flopped back, his eyes closed, his arms spread and looking like a sacrifice.
“Now will you go?” Arthur asked plaintively. “And for pity’s sake, put out the lights and forget all about this.”
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Merlin said, his mind blank.
“I don’t want you to say anything,” Arthur snarled. “I want you to leave.”
“Gaius said I should stay-“ Merlin started, then yelped when Arthur hauled him up onto the bed, leaning over him with ridiculously menacing intent for someone who hadn’t been able to untangle his laces a minute before.
“Gaius isn’t here,” Arthur said. “And if he were he would tell you to run.”
“I’ve never run from you before,” Merlin said, gaining back his bravado. “And I’m not about to start now.”
He didn’t recognize it as an invitation until Arthur groaned and bent his head, a lightening quick movement that touched their mouths and had Merlin’s head spinning.
Arthur kissed like he acted, arrogant and clever, and still a bit vulnerable for all that. Merlin opened up to him like he always did, unable to resist the challenge that Arthur had set out, unable to resist Arthur at all.
It was easy really, now that he understood what all those looks had meant, understood that the heat of Arthur’s skin was meant for him.
“You aren’t going to regret this in the morning, are you?” Merlin asked, his voice whisper thin.
Arthur had made him breathless as he licked at Merlin’s lips and scraped teeth across his jaw. “Of course I’m going to regret this in the morning,” Arthur rumbled, like the purring of a satisfied cat.
“What?” Merlin exclaimed, jerking under Arthur’s hold.
But Arthur had him pinned, his hands under Merlin’s shirt, rough and calloused and thrilling against the skin of Merlin’s side. “I’m going to think I was out of my head and likely blame you for it,” Arthur continued. “Not so much different from any other morning, mind.”
“But we haven’t done anything yet,” Merlin protested.
Arthur pulled back, his eyes a deeper blue than Merlin had ever seen them, his mouth full and flushed. “Much to my regret,” Arthur said, heartfelt as he tugged Merlin up enough to divest him of his shirt.
“Do you enjoy confusing me?” Merlin asked, and Arthur grinned, wild and beautiful.
“Repayment for the pain you’ve inflicted on me since the day we met,” Arthur murmured against the suddenly, desperately sensitive skin of Merlin’s chest.
“Bastard,” Merlin said through clenched teeth, his body shuddering at Arthur’s onslaught. “I’ve inflicted no pain.”
“I beg to differ,” Arthur said seriously, though his eyes glowed wickedly as he reached Merlin’s trousers. “I have suffered mightily.”
Fingers that had been unable to unlace his own trousers had no difficultly with Merlin’s, and it was quite possible that Merlin had been living in unhealthy denial, because all it took was for Arthur to look at him like that and Merlin was willing to risk the mistake.
Was willing to risk getting blamed as long as he could press his mouth to Arthur’s skin – trace the smooth roll of his shoulders, the slim line of his spine, the delicious curve of muscle at his hip.
But he wasn’t willing to risk being sent away. Not because of the dragon, startlingly enough. Not because of a prophecy.
Arthur had already become more to him than foretold words, or a symbol of the future. Arthur had been arrogant and noble and beautiful since the day they’d met, but Merlin knew him now. Knew the flesh and blood behind the crown, and his attention to Arthur’s health and happiness hadn’t come from a destiny.
“Arthur,” he said, voice serious as he pulled Arthur up to meet his eyes. “Arthur, I cannot leave you. I cannot let you ever send me away.” He cupped his hands around Arthur’s face, brushed his thumbs over high flushed cheekbones. “I need to look after you.”
Merlin expected arrogance, but what he got was, “Why?”
The answer, of course, was blindingly simple. “Because you’re too important to lose.”
Arthur’s fingers touched his face, a whisper of promise across his lips. “Because I’m the Prince?” he asked, as if he already knew the answer.
“Because you’re you, you stupid dolt,” Merlin snapped, offended.
Arthur grinned. “I’m likely to still sack you occasionally,” he said, “but I will never make you leave.”
“Why?” Merlin asked, befuddled.
“Because,” Arthur murmured against Merlin’s lips, “you are too important to lose.”