Summary: Uther forces Arthur to throw a masquerade ball in search of a wife. It goes about as well as you might expect.
Word Count: 1763
Author's Notes: Thanks to A for the beta. Happy New Year, thespacegypsy! Hope you will enjoy :)
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
The itch was getting worse.
Arthur shifted under his heavy gown, loaded with so much feathers and glitter he felt he deserved an award for being able to walk around at all. His arm was in there, somewhere; if he tried real hard, he might be able to move it towards his face, to push away that annoying feather that had been brushing against his skin for the past hour or so—
"The Lady—ekhem—the Mysterious Lady!"
Arthur bit down a laugh. Even with her, admittedly gorgeous, cornflower-blue dress and an elaborate mask, there was no mistaking Elena. Where other "mysterious ladies" glided, she strode with a clear purpose, the feathery fan in her hand hiding a smirk instead of batting seductively.
"My lord," she said in a grave voice.
"My lady," Arthur said, equally mock-serious.
They danced. She made a valiant effort not to stomp on his feet; he tried not to trip her while they twirled.
It was the most fun he had all evening.
The entire mad scheme originated, of course, with Uther. That is to say, His Royal Highness King Uther Pendragon, who was fed up with his only son and heir being perpetually single. Arthur couldn't fathom how they ended up with a Venetian-themed masquerade ball of all things. He suspected revenge.
Because there was an abundance of high-born young ladies who wanted to snatch themselves a prince, they had to have a schedule. Arthur had exactly five minutes to impress his potential masked love with dancing and conversation; Elena's time was running out.
And the next in line was a humongous gown in blood-red and a mask to match. Judging by the tremendously bored expression, visible on the tiny patch of skin around the lips, it contained Vivian.
"The Mysterious—" George's voice sounded, then faltered. "Person."
In his embrace, Elena giggled.
Arthur turned around, curiously.
He could understand George's confusion. There were many ladies visiting, foreign and otherwise, but George knew everyone and had to forcibly stop himself from giving each and every one of them a proper introduction and greeting. Apparently, giving the poor man a seizure was also on Uther's to-do list today.
But this was different. For one thing, it wasn't a lady.
The man was tall and lean. His black 18th century outfit, decorated in golden swirls, and a simple black mask with an acceptable number of black feathers made him stand out in the sea of blues and reds and greens.
Only a vague smile was visible as he walked down the dance floor.
A susurrus of whispers and murmurs trailed in his wake, but the man seemed unaware. There was, Arthur had to admit, a certain easy grace to his movements. Certainly enough to hold an eye.
He came to a stop before Arthur and bowed, kissing Arthur's hand like he was a bloody maiden that needed sweeping of her dainty delicate feet.
"My lord," he said, in a deep, sensuous voice. Arthur watched his lips – lush pink lips, enticing beneath the simple expressionless mask – twitch in amusement.
Arthur took the offered hand. If nothing else, this might make Uther drop his match-making ideas.
"My lord," he replied graciously.
The man rose, and made a grab for Arthur's waist that Arthur pointedly ignored. Instead, he took advantage of the moment of confusion and put his own hand around the stranger's middle.
"Shall we?" he asked, grinning widely.
In a stroke of pure genius, most likely Morgana's, the orchestra bypassed the usual lively rhythm and went straight for an English waltz.
The man gave a tiny nod of his head, a stretch of lips that might have been a smile. Then he leant back, letting Arthur's hand support his weight. Arthur, acting instinctively, pulled him closer, their hips aligning neatly, their bodies slotting together.
He moved, cautious at first. He wasn't used to dancing with men; this one was taller and heavier than most of Arthur's previous partners. But he was also, as Arthur soon discovered, light and quick on his feet, taking cues from Arthur as if he would hardly do anything else.
Most importantly, he allowed himself to be led, with a sort of blind trust that made Arthur's head spin.
They spun and twirled, while the watching nobility oohed and aaahed. Arthur was aware, on the edge of his consciousness, of some commotion, some pointed glares; he promptly dismissed them as unimportant.
Dancing could actually be fun. Who knew?
He made a mistake of glancing at the man's face. Their eyes met.
Blue, Arthur's brain supplied. Really, really blue. Framed by long eyelashes and the damned mask, that was, he was just beginning to notice, not so simple after all. The silky black was decorated with a swirling pattern, made only visible by their slight golden shimmer.
He nearly crashed them into Vivian. The man stumbled and fell forwards; Arthur caught him, the weight of his body good and right and comfortable.
"Hmm," he said.
"Right," the guy said, his voice shedding some of its depth and mystery. He was breathing heavily from exertion, and was deliberately not meeting Arthur's eyes. "Champagne?"
"Thought you would never ask," Arthur said. His arms were oddly reluctant to let the guy go.
A page materialised with a tray of glasses. Arthur grabbed two and fled to the balcony, his gown trailing behind him, the damn feathers tickling his face and neck. He longed to be rid of them.
The man followed, because of course he did.
It was a nice balcony. Very romantic. A huge, glass door that led back to the ballroom, but with enough columns and shrubbery to give anyone a sense of privacy. The light was dimmed, only the moon keeping them company.
That, and the city lights in the distance, but who would care about the twenty first century creeping in the background while they were trying to enjoy a masquerade ball?
"You dance very well," he said, handing the man a champagne flute. Their fingers brushed – a tiny, electrifying touch, accompanied by a smile beneath the black mask.
"Thank you. You're not so bad yourself, sire."
Champagne was cool and bubbly. It was meant to be savoured, but Arthur's throat was dry as parchment all of a sudden.
The man put aside an empty flute and rested his hands on the railing. He had gorgeous hands, with long elegant fingers. Right now they were drumming some nervous melody on the stone.
His gaze was fixed somewhere far ahead.
"So, if I may ask," he said, voice back to smooth and deep. "What happens now?"
"I don't know. My father wanted me to find a wife. I'm not sure he'll be happy with this development."
"Oh, I'm very extra sure he won't." There was an undignified snort. "Are you, though?"
"What, happy? It's a bit early for such declarations, wouldn't you say? I don't even know your name."
The man turned around. He was grinning now, his mouth stretched wide. The mask was a stark, black contrast against his pale skin and Arthur was filled with a sudden urge to tear it off, feathers and all. He desired to see much, much more of that skin.
"That would rather defy the purpose of mystery," the man said.
"Perhaps," Arthur said, only half of his mind concentrating on their conversation. Whatever breath the dancing stole from him was now replaced with fluttering champagne bubbles. They made him want to do very strange things indeed.
"Although if you request a formal introduction I'm sure my people can get in contact with your people and mhmm—"
The man had wonderfully soft, warm lips, giving in to Arthur's as readily as he gave himself in to the dance.
"I'm sorry," Arthur said, drawing back. "Is that okay?"
He really, really hoped it was.
"Well, I expected dinner first," the man said, leaning in for another kiss.
"Later," Arthur breathed. His hands fisted in the fabric of the man's shirt. Their masks bumped together. "Much, much later."
Later came sooner than he hoped for, when he inadvertently knocked aside the man's mask in an attempt to caress his cheek. The man winced and pulled it off, his face flushed and his lips reddened to the point of obscenity. It was, however, very obviously—
Merlin – his one-time personal-assistant slash manservant slash wannabe magical bodyguard that Arthur had fired two years back after he nearly got himself killed in a valiant if stupid attempt to save Arthur's life – had the decency to look ashamed.
"I didn't mean for it to happen?" he said.
Arthur tore off his own mask and threw it on the ground. Stomping on the stupid feathers would be childish.
He stomped on them.
"What the actual fuck is going on—"
"Look, I only meant to sneak in here and ask you to give me my job back!" Merlin said. And oh, his voice was perfectly familiar now that he wasn't deliberately trying to make it sound deep and seductive. "I thought you would recognise me!"
"And then you thought we would dance?"
"I—got carried away! By the moment! We were having a moment!"
Arthur buried his face in his hands.
Merlin was. Merlin was attractive, in his own way. And he was pretty. Very pretty. It's not like Arthur was only noticing it now.
He was certainly much, much more attractive now that he was blushing prettily from making out with Arthur for a solid five minutes. Fancy that.
"Yes, very eloquent, your royal highness." Oh, that grumbling was definitely Merlin. "I still don't know what we're going to do now…"
"Now," Arthur said, loudly. "Now you're going to meet my father."
That earned him a look of wide-eyed panic that almost – almost – cured him of his own anxiety.
"No. No no no. It was just one dance…"
"My dear father believed it was enough to make me find the love of my life," Arthur said. "Let's go and prove him wrong, shall we?"
"I didn't think this through," Merlin whined.
He gave Arthur a lingering, questioning look, his teeth worrying his lower lip. Then, as if reaching a conclusion, he took Arthur's face in his hands and gave him a lingering, not-so-questioning kiss.
"I guess I probably have it coming, though," he said.
Arthur smiled, something warm and uneasy settling in his stomach.
"Yes. You do."
The one thing he dreaded right now was that he might actually have to go and prove his father right.