Title: A Recipe for disaster
Rating: PG-13 (will likely be NC-17 when I'm done)
Pairing/s: Gwen/Lancelot, Arthur/Merlin
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot
Summary: Arthur realizes that he will always be second best in Guinivere's eyes.
Word Count: 1045 total so far
Prompts: #225: Recipe, #226: Welcome home, #227: Beautiful, #228: Second chances
Author's Notes: From Season 2, 'Lancelot and Guinevere' and 'Lady of the Lake' but diverting into AU territory
Disclaimer: I do not own the BBC version of Merlin; It and Shine do. I am very respectfully borrowing them with no intent to profit. No money has changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 1: A Recipe for Disaster
Arthur had wanted to rescue Gwen from the bandits, had defied his father to do it, dragging along an ever-protesting Merlin, but when they arrived, Lancelot was already there. Self-sacrificing Lance, brave and dashing as only he could be. Even tied up, he looked every inch the hero. How could Arthur compete with that?
It would seem he didn't need to. After Lancelot fled like a thief in the night, Gwen's tears were enough for Arthur to know the true depth of her feelings. Arthur was left with nothing but the dregs of her regard. He knew then that he'd be forever her second choice.
He could fight for her, try to win her back, but that way lay madness. It was a recipe that would end in heartache. At least now, he knew he'd have to look elsewhere. He'd have to try and find someone else, someone who'd love him with their whole heart, not just begging them for small scraps of affection, but always loving and loved.
It seemed insurmountable, impossible.
But at least with Merlin at his side, he wouldn't be alone.
Chapter 2: Welcome home
All the way back to Camelot, Merlin wouldn't shut up.
Arthur was still feeling raw about Lancelot and Guinevere's obvious relationship, the knowledge that he would always be second best, and Merlin's inanities just made things worse. The fact was made unbearable when Merlin kept patting Arthur's leg as he walked next to him, as if to give comfort, and whispering every ten seconds that he'd always be there for him. Arthur didn't want to hear it. It was just too much.
When the castle came into view, snarling, Arthur kicked his horse ahead, shouting that he'd go find Morgana and let her know, leaving both of them to find their own way home.
He knew that it wasn't very chivalrous but he wasn't feeling particularly generous at the moment. He might be excused for wanting to wallow a bit in self-pity before putting the whole sordid affair behind him.
But it didn't help that as he glanced back, he could see the hurt in Merlin's eyes. In a way, it was worse than Guinevere's frown. At least Arthur could excuse himself for snubbing a woman who'd obviously rejected him, but Merlin really didn't deserve such treatment.
And wasn’t that thought unsettling. The very idea that Merlin's unhappiness was more important to Arthur than Guinevere's disdain was confusing, disturbing. Absurd.
It was a good thing they were home. At least there, Arthur could lock his door and come to grips with everything that had happened. He could go back to treating Guinevere as merely a servant in Morgana's household and Merlin as… well, Arthur's fool. And all would reset to the way things should be.
Chapter 3: Can't Believe It
It had been a hellish year once Lancelot left. There were magical creatures attacking Camelot, trolls marrying his father – and wasn't that a kick in the head, a witchfinder accusing Merlin of all people of practicing sorcery, tournaments won and lost, and bandits, always bandits.
But it was the affairs of the heart that weighed most heavily. Arthur tried to put what he'd felt for Guinevere behind him. She'd started to talk to him once about what had happened, asking for his forgiveness, but whatever they'd had was gone and they both knew it. The conversation had petered out, and when all was said and done, Arthur realized that it was for the best.
Because he'd started to notice something else, something not troubling but odd, absurd, warm, and Arthur didn't know what to make of it.
Merlin kept watching him. Not with the blank look of servants who knew their place - Merlin had never learned it and Arthur preferred it that way - but with a kind of softness in his eyes. And once Arthur noticed, he noticed hard.
Merlin was always looking at him, giving him a quick smile or a fond shake of his head when Arthur stared back or yelled at him or threw something in Merlin's general direction. But when Merlin must have thought Arthur wasn't watching, Merlin's eyes held something deeper, sweeter, more meaningful. If Arthur didn't know better, he'd say it was love.
It would have been ridiculous, laughable even, except that Arthur was beginning to feel something more for Merlin than mere affection. He thought Merlin beautiful, had begun to write odes in his head on the most ludicrous topics, of Merlin's ears - of all things, of the shape of his mouth, of how soft his lips might feel against Arthur's own. Begun to dream of insults turning into heated passion, of skin on skin, and rough hands exploring.
Arthur knew he'd have to fight it. A female servant as a passing fancy was one thing. Merlin was quite another.
It should be simple enough, and soon over, but when did Merlin ever make anything easy for him?
Chapter 4: Second Chances
Merlin stopped looking at him.
Something must have happened – because what didn't in Camelot, magic attacking them every time Arthur breathed, or giant winged cats murdering people or his father marrying a troll and no, Arthur would never get over that. But something had made Merlin sad. He was too silent, creeping around like he'd lost his best friend – and that was another issue because Arthur thought he was Merlin's best friend and hoping for more than friendship if truth be told.
Of course, Arthur reacted as only he could, by throwing water at Merlin and mocking him for scrubbing the floors because honestly Merlin was rubbish at it and they both knew it. But Arthur couldn't just give Merlin a hug and squeeze out the truth about why Merlin wasn't being… well Merlin. That wasn't how it went between them.
Finally, though, Arthur had had enough. Expectations or not, seeing Merlin so unhappy was making Arthur crazy. And if a hug was what Merlin needed, then so be it.
Grabbing Merlin, roughening up his hair, squeezing him a bit and then letting go when Merlin gave out a girlish squeak, seemed to do the trick. There was a smile there, hinting around his mouth, and Merlin's gaze was finally, finally lifting up to Arthur's own. And in that moment, Arthur thought that perhaps they'd been given a second chance for happiness.