Title: Tied together with string
Rating: G (Series rating: R)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Mordred, Queen Annis, Ragnor, knights
Summary: Merlin thinks of a way to keep Arthur safe.
Warnings: Angst. Issues of rape.
Word Count: 871
Prompt: #32 Laugh
Author's Notes: It's four o'clock in the morning. ZzzzzZ ...
You can find the rest of this series on AO3, or here at Camelot Drabble.
Merlin has come too close, too many times, to losing Arthur, but he has never even imagined it could happen like this. Even in the worst case scenario of his magic being revealed and Arthur hating him for it, Merlin always expected it to mean he would lose Arthur completely, as surely as if they were dead. This, though, this is like being tied together with a mess of cutting string, and roasted slowly over the same fire.
Even when they are apart, Merlin feels all tangled up in Arthur, in memories of the past and in the hopes he had nursed for the future. The present is leaden, the nights and days dragging and blurring, filled up with emotions so acute they cause Merlin physical pain.
For one glorious moment, he had believed that Arthur loved him, and now he is paying for that foolishness. Arthur’s averted eyes and hunched shoulders make up Merlin’s punishment, and it hurts him more than hate could, because it means Merlin has no one to blame but himself.
And, of course, Ragnor. It’s with mixed feelings that Merlin follows Arthur back to the castle, while the frustrated knights of Camelot trail behind them. He feels nauseated at the idea of seeing Ragnor and his gaggle of dogs again, and cold with fear to think of what they might say.
Last night, he had all but run from Gwaine, and he can still feel the hurt and anger radiating off the man walking just behind him, but he hadn’t been capable of opening up and exposing that bundle of nerves, not even to his friend, even though he knows that Gwaine would not judge him.
But what could he have said?
I thought he loved me, when he grabbed me like that, my noble, commanding King. But then in the morning, Ragnor asked if Arthur was still warm, and Arthur was sick behind the cart, and he wouldn’t look at me. I was wrong. He doesn’t love me. I was his friend, and when he was most in need of that friendship, I betrayed him, forced my love on him. Now he can’t stand to be near me.
It is far, far too embarrassing to dwell on his own elation. How much joy he had felt thinking that Arthur … Oh, how could he have been so stupid?
Mordred meets them in the courtyard, coming from the castle and purposefully getting in Arthur’s way.
“It’s already over,” he says, and Merlin’s vision spins for a moment as he imagines cruel laughter echoing through the halls of the citadel.
Arthur must be having a similar thought, because he digs his fingers into Mordred’s arm in a bruising grip. “What happened?” he says through his teeth.
Mordred’s mouth tenses against the pain, but his tone remains calm and quiet. “Nothing was said, except Ragnor wanted to see you. The Queen reminded him firmly that she is the power in Caerleon, but he seemed optimistic nonetheless.”
Slowly, Arthur’s fingers uncurl from around Mordred’s arm. Merlin feels giddy with relief, even as worry gnaws at his stomach. If Ragnor wants to see Arthur, it’s surely to try to make a deal of some kind. Merlin can’t stand the thought of Arthur facing Ragnor alone and being forced to handle his jibes and sneers, when it is Merlin who would come out the worse if Ragnor played his card and revealed the truth to the Queen.
“They’ll hang in the morning,” Mordred says, trying to rub his smarting arm without letting on that it’s smarting.
Arthur draws a deep breath. “They’ll be in the dungeons then. I’ll go there now.”
Merlin grabs the King’s sleeve. “Don’t.” He can do this for Arthur, take this burden from him, and maybe Merlin will find some atonement in the act.
Arthur turns towards him, and Merlin goes hot and red under the brilliance of those eyes.
“Might as well get it over with, Merlin,” Arthur says, far too gently.
“No.” Merlin shakes his head. “Let Ragnor stew in the dungeons for a while. Wait until he asks for you again. It’ll buy us time and steal from his.”
Arthur shifts from foot to foot, reluctant, but seeing reason. Finally, he nods. "I'll wait." He dismisses his men, and Merlin watches with regret as Gwaine stalks off in a huff, Percival following him.
“Um ... Merlin.”
It’s just the two of them now, and Merlin looks down in order not to devour Arthur with his eyes. He has no doubt that he will soon be dismissed from Arthur’s service, which means every moment Arthur gives him is precious.
“Could you find me another set of clothes, do you think?” He's a little hoarse.
Merlin smiles and dares to glance up. “Of course, Sire. I’ll bring them to your room?”
Arthur nods distractedly. “Yes, that will be fine. T-thank you.” He walks away. Merlin remains behind, watching that broad back and golden head until the darkness of the doorway swallows him.
A new set of clothes. Arthur isn’t the only one who is going to need that, if Merlin means to go through with the plan that is already forming in his head.