Title: A Minor Detour, Part 11
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur stared out the airlock window, knowing he was being unforgivably morose but unable to shake the mood.
Word Count: 1,000
Prompt: #243: Looking Back
Author's Notes: Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 || All Parts on AO3
Arthur stared out the airlock window, knowing he was being unforgivably morose but unable to shake the mood. The countless stars outside the shuttle, normally an inspiration to him with the promise of adventures and glories to come, just seemed dauntingly vast and empty. The Albion drifted unseen somewhere across the impossibly distant stretch of the void, and with it everything he’d had. Everything he’d been.
Their flight from the ship had been remarkably uneventful. They hadn’t encountered another soul between the cells and the shuttle bay, thanks to Owain’s young, trustworthy face sending all the security officers in different directions on ‘orders’ from the admiral. An unforgivable lapse in protocol, that they’d been fooled by it, but that wasn’t Arthur’s problem anymore.
Arthur’s problems currently consisted of the following:
He had two shuttles carrying eight people (himself, Merlin, Gwaine, and Percival on one; Leon, Lance, Elyan, and Owain on the other) and he was responsible for their fates. As a captain on the Albion he’d been entrusted with the safety of many more lives, but this was a more personal, terrifying charge. The Knights had made their own choices, yes, but it had been his thoughtless, selfish whim that had put them in a position where they had to choose.
It was his fault they were all fugitives, which was his second problem. The Knights, and he along with them, would be considered deserters at best and traitors at worst. They’d left the Albion behind with no sign of a pursuit, but Camelot’s fleet was expansive. They could encounter another ship at any moment. He hadn’t heard a broadcast denouncing them as criminals on stolen shuttles—and they had been monitoring for one, because Admiral Pendragon was not always concerned with consequences when angered, and though Arthur was fairly certain his father didn’t want him dead, he might not have considered that as a potential outcome of flagging the shuttles.
They didn’t have a particular destination in mind, just so long as they could keep a long way from the Albion and the Gauntlet. Getting outside of Camelot’s reach entirely wasn’t feasible, not unless they made it clear to the other side of the galaxy, but eventually they’d have to figure out a plan that consisted of more than just running. Arthur was open to suggestions from anyone but Gwaine (he had no intention of letting himself or his Knights turn into pirates), but they still looked to him for leadership; so that, too, was on his list of problems.
There was one more problem on his list. It ought to’ve been at the bottom of his priorities—or not there at all, but he’d spent years trying to pretend it wasn’t an issue and never had much success—but it always managed to find its way to the top. So despite all the really terribly urgent things he ought to be finding solutions to, such as how to keep himself and his men alive, where they were going to go, what they were going to do, and so on, he stared unseeing into the starlit cosmos and thought about Merlin.
He hadn’t known what to make of the boy when they first met. Arthur had been a lieutenant then, serving under Gorlois on the Citadel, and Merlin had come aboard as a brand new cadet on his first assignment. Fresh-faced, eager, awed by everything, and without the slightest lick of respect for authority or rank. Or even the faintest idea of what Camelot’s command structure looked like, which was how he’d found himself insulting Arthur in the canteen in front of half the second shift crew.
That had earned him the first in what turned out to be a long line of punitive confinements. Merlin wasn’t really cut out for the strict discipline of military life, but he’d also taken to piloting and navigation like he was born for it. He could plot courses in his head that even the Citadel’s seasoned navigation officer needed time and a computer to calculate. It was enough to keep him from being dumped unceremoniously on the nearest habitable planet or waystation (or uninhabitable asteroid, as had been suggested more than once), but Gorlois had decided that Merlin needed firm and individual oversight to ensure he lived up to his potential. He’d also decided, with Uther’s support, that Arthur needed more hands-on leadership experience.
They’d been stuck together ever since, and Arthur couldn’t pinpoint exactly when that had shifted from an obligation to a choice, but it had. He’d requested Merlin’s transfer when he himself had been moved to the Albion, and he’d been the one to promote Merlin to his current post.
Something else had changed between them over those years that Arthur couldn’t put a timeline on. He hadn’t been attracted to the gangly sixteen-year-old, either sexually or romantically. But as the years went on and they got closer (and older), the age difference mattered less and less. Merlin grew from a child to a man, and Arthur noticed.
Unfortunately, Arthur’s command above Merlin had solidified along with their friendship, and put a stop to any thoughts Arthur might have had of pursuing him. It wasn’t that he worried he’d be taking advantage; he’d known Merlin long enough to know he couldn’t be bullied into anything he didn’t want to do. But there were regulations to consider that could’ve meant the end of both their careers if they were found out, and Arthur loathed the idea of making any lover feel like a dirty little secret. Having Merlin at his side as a friend was better than losing him completely when their relationship exploded into bitter resentment.
He knew that, but it hadn’t stopped him from giving in to his weakest impulses and buying himself and Merlin a week alone. Not for romance, he’d known it still wasn’t possible, but just—
The door to the corridor opened, and Merlin’s reflection appeared in the window, sparkling with a thousand distant stars.