Rating: PG (probably PG-13 in reality for derogatory language)
Summary: In which a princess arrives in Camelot, Arthur tells a bold lie to dodge an engagement, and Merlin has some things to say about it.
Warnings: None (some mild angst and bad language)
Word Count: 5332 (I got a leeetle carried away)
Author's Notes: Dear wrecksfic, you listed three awesome story tropes you liked (which are definitely among my favorites too!) and so I combined two of them: 1) fake relationships and 2) epistolary stories. I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it! Happy holidays!
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Please, don't send us to the dungeons. I hear it gets really cold there at night.
For the love of God, you won't believe what happened in court today. It all started two weeks ago with the arrival of Princes Lorena of the Isles of Meredor, visiting Camelot to bring a treaty of trade from her father to King Uther...
Merlin's mouth turned down as he remembered the princess' arrival. Everyone had been struck by her beauty. Honey colored hair, large, dark eyes, clothed in a gown of blue and silver. Even Merlin had felt a little hitch in his chest looking at her, so like a painting she was. Arthur had stepped forward, a smile on his face and offered his arm.
"Welcome to Camelot, Princess Lorena."
She took his arm.
"Thank you. Your kingdom is beautiful. Though, I must say, the carriage you sent was in need of work I think, it was particularly slow. Still, it afforded me a chance to see all of your kingdom, I suppose."
Arthur blinked and made a polite comment as they entered the castle. Merlin, following, saw his smile had become rather more frosty than before. And that was only the beginning.
Any beauty Lorena had to offer was marred by her attitude. She was perpetually making demands. Her bed was too hard, her room too cold, she was too hot, her soup was too bland, and on and on. The servants hated her. Arthur tolerated her but had an increasingly foul mood in private. In fact, the only one who seemed to like Princess Lorena was King Uther. Apparently the king and Lorena's father had become close friends when they'd fought against the Saxons years ago.
...it was awful, Gwen. I swear the head cook just about strangled the puffed up, simpering, fool when she sent her dinner back for the third night in a row. I wouldn't have blamed him. You would hate her, unequivocally. I never heard the details of the trade treaty but it seemed suspicious from the first day. It was pretty obvious from the way she was eyeing Arthur that her father had ulterior motives. A trade deal is one thing, a trade deal cemented by marriage is another entirely....
After the princess had been in Camelot for two weeks a formal announcement was made in full few of the court. Merlin, of course, had been dragged along by Arthur. Merlin did his best to remain invisible and out of everyone's way.
...Arthur says that's impossible because my ears give me away, the prat...
King Uther held up the treaty and explained the benefits to the members of the court. Merlin zoned out and didn't pay attention as Uther droned on about cows and wheat and tariffs and exportation duties and marriage...wait, what?
"And, to seal this treaty as a new foundation of friendship between Camelot and the Isles of Meredor, I have offered my son to wed Princess Lorena so that our two countries will be bound as family."
Clapping and smiles broke out across the courtiers. Merlin turned dumbstruck towards Arthur. The prince looked composed but Merlin could see he was pale and his eyes were wide with terror. Merlin didn't blame him. He didn't want to be stuck with Princess Lorena for the rest of his life either.
"Father," the prince's voice rang out over the noise of the courtier's. King Uther turned to look at his son. Arthur looked surprised to have spoken. Everyone turned to look at him. "Father, I'm afraid the this marriage cannot happen."
Whispers broke out in the courtroom. Uther's face turned cold. Beside him Princess Lorena's mouth dropped open in surprise.
"Tell me, son, what impedes you?"
"Because--because--" Arthur looked around the court, face calm, eyes desperate. He caught sight of Merlin's and his brows lowered in fierce determination. Merlin's stomach sank. He should be used to that look in Arthur's eyes by now. It never boded well for him. He turned to run but Arthur caught him and dragged him to the front of the court.
"Father, I cannot marry Princess Lorena because I would be an unfit husband. I am in love with someone else. My manservant, Merlin."
The silence was astounding. Merlin couldn't understand what Arthur had said. Then there was a roaring in his ears and he could hear his heart beating it was pounding so hard in his chest. He was going to kill Arthur if it was the last thing he did. He kept his mouth shut but his face burned like a furnace. He was entirely conscious of Arthur's hand still gripping his wrist. King Uther's f King Uther's face was shuttered and absolutely still with fury.
"Everyone is dismissed," he bit out in a voice as cold as ice. The courtiers slunk out but none of them were truly afraid, on the contrary, they seemed positively brimming with glee as they carried the newest gossip away like buzzing bees. Then it was just the king, the prince, and Merlin. Merlin hoped against hope he wouldn't be sent to the dungeon for this.
It was a while before King Uther seemed able to speak. Merlin took this chance to glare at Arthur. The prince didn't look at him but Merlin winced as he gave his had a harsh squeeze.
"Arthur," the king said at last, "what is the meaning of this."
"It's as I said, Father, I cannot marry Princess Lorena. I am in love with Merlin."
Uther flinched as he said this.
"Arthur, you have a duty to uphold this kingdom and provide it with an heir. Which means you have to wed. Why in God's name did you have to flout yourself in public?" Uther's voice was rising. He visibly calmed himself. "You are hardly the first noble with these...personal inclinations. I don't care what you do with your own time but you will wed."
Arthur's chin pushed forward mulishly.
"I do not wish to marry Princess Lorena."
A gleam of understanding entered the king's face. He glanced at Merlin.
"So it's not the manservant, then. It's the princess. Yes, she can be difficult but if that's your only true objection then you will marry her."
Arthur looked defiantly at his father before pulling Merlin towards him and kissing him. Merlin's heart stopped for a moment. The prince's lips pressed firmly against his. They were chapped but warm. Merlin was too surprised to react. Then Arthur pulled away, two bright spots of color on his cheeks.
"I won't marry Princess Lorena."
Uther was furious.
"Get out. We aren't finished here but get out. I have your mess to clean up."
Arthur didn't respond but turned and stormed out. Merlin hurried after him, confused beyond imagining.
Now, he looked down at the letter he was writing to Gwen. How could he put all the jumbled thoughts in his head into a letter? He wished she was here, instead of traipsing after Morgana as the lady toured the Southern Kingdoms. He looked out the window to the practice yards where Arthur was soundly beating a volunteer into a practice bout. When he returned what would the prince say? How long would they have to continue this charade? Anger, curled in his gut. He shoved the letter to Gwen aside. He pulled a piece of blank parchment towards him. In a fit of pique he wrote,
Have you always been this selfish? If your father throws me in the dungeon, who will save your princely arse then?
Your severely underappreciated servant,
Then Arthur was coming through the door, demanding a bath. Merlin shoved the letter away from him and forgot about it.
They didn't talk about Prince Arthur's Stupidest Idea Ever. Or rather, Merlin didn't talk about it. After his bath Arthur ordered Merlin to fetch his lunch, adding that, if Merlin gossiped about "their relationship" with the other servants he would be punished. When Merlin asked in what way, Arthur replied that he would think of something.
"Just follow my lead and don't mess this up."
If Arthur hear Merlin grumble that he didn't even know what "this" was, he didn't say anything. In any event, things between them continued on pretty much the way they always had. Merlin personally thought this was rather cowardly of Arthur but the prince was under constant onslaught from his father and worried courtiers these days so maybe one more person was just too much too handle. Even if that person was involved in the extremely personal lie the prince had just told to the entire court.
The rest of the world was less reserved in sharing their opinions. The servants seemed split in their reactions to Arthur's announcement. A few of them seemed grateful after Princess Lorena had returned home in a fit of temper the day after, many acted as though he was some sort of harlot who'd lead Arthur astray. Either way, they all treated him with a great deal more wariness then they ever had before. Merlin didn't want to admit it but he was lonely. Gaius had just sighed when he'd heard what Arthur had done. Apparently news had spread beyond the borders of Camelot because Gwen sent him a quick note demanding to know what had happened. Merlin had written back that he was definitely not Arthur's secret lover but had kept it short. He couldn't think of anything to say. And Arthur stayed stolidly silent on the subject.
Still, there had been one excellent moment out of all of it. Merlin had been crossing the courtyard, arms over-full with firewood for Arthur's bedroom. He should have just taken two trips. Then his foot had snagged on something and his stomach had pitched into his throat as he tumbled into a puddle and landed hard on the wood. Covered in mud he looked up to see Sir Kay, dark-haired and mean-eyed.
"Well, if it isn't Arthur's little, pansy, arse-licker."
Merlin had three seconds to be completely outraged before Arthur had stormed into his field of vision. As Merlin watched open mouthed, Arthur walloped Kay across the face. The knight stumbled backwards, eyes wide.
"Sir Kay, clearly if you have enough time to harass my manservant you aren't working hard enough. I expect to see you bright and early in the training yard tomorrow morning. I've been looking for a new sparring partner." Kay's face paled. Without looking at Merlin, Arthur strode away, calling back, "Make sure you stack the firewood properly this time, Merlin."
After that everyone left Merlin alone.
Except Arthur, of course. If anything, Merlin mused while making Arthur's bed, since the sudden unveiling of their "courtship" the prince had been even bossier than usual. As if Merlin would ever consider being with someone so utterly full of himself. Still. He paused while plumping the pillows. Still, there were moments when he could almost feel dry press of the prince's lips against his again, a phantom kiss. It was ridiculous. And strange.
Merlin sighed and moved to clean up the desk. He gathered up the papers and shuffled them into a neater pile. Then he paused and frowned. On top of the pile was a single white sheet with his name written across it in looping handwriting. He picked up the paper and turned it over. On the back was the short note he'd scribbled a few days ago. He scanned the page and felt a flutter of nerves in his stomach. Beneath his note was a new message.
I'm a prince, that's how. And what do you mean, "save your princely arse"? If I recall correctly, I'm the one who's saved your skinny backside during the countless times you got us in trouble.
P.S. For future reference, it's not wise to rant about one's employer and then leave the message on his desk.
Merlin's jaw dropped. His eyes narrowed as he re-read the message. Arthur was so wrong about the life-saving thing it wasn't even funny. Before he'd fully thought it through, Merlin was scribbling a message back to Arthur.
Your Royal Highness,
For your information, I've saved your life more times than I can count on one hand. Two hands! Simply washing your socks should be counted as a heroic act worthy of knighthood. Also, if I'm so much trouble for you then why did you pick me to be your dearly beloved?
P.S. Capitalizing your title does not make you more important.
After signing it with a flourish Merlin strode away, humming cheerfully.
Over the next few days Merlin took paid special attention tidying Arthur's desk, casually checking a few times a day to see if the prince had responded. The first time he saw the desk bare he was surprised to realize he was disappointed. Maybe Arthur hadn't meant it as a joke, maybe he'd really been furious that Merlin had been rude to him, even in print. He shrugged it off and moved on to another task. He didn't stop checking though.
He'd nearly given up four days later, but there was a note, sitting innocuously on the desk.
Washing my socks is the highest honor someone like you could ever dream of. As for the trouble you cause, well, I've heard love blinds you to your lover's faults.
Merlin nearly choked as he read the last line. Love? He shook his head and laughed. Arthur could really be a sop sometimes. He'd heard from the cook that negotiations had been reopened with the Isles of Meredor. Perhaps Arthur would wed Princess Lenora after all. He thought for a moment and then wrote back.
Do tell. How long have you loved me for then?
Merlin chuckled, imagining the prince's face when he read. He felt a little thrill at using the prince's first name. He turned away, a spring in his step.
They didn't correspond for a few days. Arthur spent most of that time arguing with his father and keeping Merlin busy doing tasks that kept him away from the castle and out of the line of fire. Merlin would have considered it thoughtful except that most of the time these tasks consisted of shoveling manure or weeding crop fields. He came home exhausted, so tired that he fell asleep at the table before Gaius had even brought him dinner.
Then, a week later, something new happened. Merlin checked the desk first thing after Arthur headed to the training yards. This time there was a new sheet of paper on the desk. At the top was written:
Yes, I've been absolutely smitten.
Merlin grinned. Underneath he wrote:
He expected that to be all for the day but while cleaning up Arthur's lunch he realized there was a new message.
Yes. Pining for you really.
Merlin glanced towards the screen blocking Arthur's bath tub from the rest of the room. Arthur was going on about a new knight he was trying to teach proper defense to. Quickly Merlin scrawled another note. There was a warm coil in his chest. It felt strangely different to write a note while Arthur was so close by.
I'm flattered. Still, your choice in companions is rather bold. Peasant, servant, man. Could you have picked someone more likely to enrage your father? I'm speaking from a sense of self-preservation, you understand.
Merlin laid out a towel for Arthur and took the dishes downstairs. When he came up Arthur had left but there was a new note.
Don't be stupid, Merlin. It could have been far worse. Just think, you could have been a sorcerer.
The expectant smile slipped from Merlin's face and the flutter of happiness in his stomach turned to dust. What was he thinking? He stepped away from the desk. To his horror he realized his throat felt tight. He hadn't been thinking. In the last few weeks he'd somehow forgotten who he was. Who Arthur was. They couldn't be friends. They certainly couldn't be anything more. He tossed the note in the waste basket and went to empty the tub.
Three days passed. After the first day Merlin noticed Arthur giving him furtive, worried looks. Merlin ignored him.
On the second day King Uther's personal manservant tracked him down and led him in front of the king. Merlin's gut was in knots and he felt a little faint. Had Arthur somehow guessed he'd landed on the truth? Was he going to be questioned? Hanged? The older man was at his desk, finishing a letter. He looked up and gestured for Merlin to come closer.
"You've caused quite a fuss, boy. I have one question to ask you and I want the truth from you, nothing else. Are you really my son's lover?"
The rush of relief was so overwhelming he almost staggered. He stood straight and stuck his jaw forward.
"I'm afraid it's not my place to say, Your Majesty."
King Uther raised an eyebrow.
"Let me remind you this is your king you are speaking to."
"I am aware, but I'm Prince Arthur's manservant."
The king's face was impassive for a time. He looked Merlin up and down, not giving anything away. Merlin felt especially shabby under his gaze, a smear of soot over one eyebrow.
"Very well," the King Uther said finally. "You're dismissed."
Merlin left quickly and breathed a sigh of relief upon leaving.
On the third morning there was a note set next to the breakfast dishes. Merlin hesitated when he saw it. Arthur was only a few feet away, reviewing a document submitting a new training strategy. He tucked the note into a pocket and dropped the dishes in the kitchen. In a little alcove he opened the note.
I'm sorry for what I said the other day, about you being a sorcerer. It wasn't funny. I shouldn't have joked about something like that. I heard what you said to my father. That must have taken a lot of courage. Thank you.
Merlin stared at the scrap of paper in his hand. Somehow it had made him even sadder than before. And it made him miss Arthur in an odd way. He'd wished he could tell Arthur the truth. How much simpler everything would be. He read over the note again, savoring the wide loops of the familiar handwriting, the hasty scrawl of the prince's signature. Arthur thought he was brave. That was something. A small smile spread over Merlin's face.
His hand hovered above the piece of paper. A spot of ink fell. Merlin wasn't sure if he should respond to Arthur's note. There was no point really. This wasn't going anywhere. Still, he should at least let Arthur know he'd read the note. He wrote simply:
Apparently, that wasn't good enough for His Royal Highness. There was a note waiting for Merlin that evening. Merlin grinned at Arthur's stubbornness.
Don't you want to know what things I do like about you?
Merlin's face grew hot and he was sure his ears were glowing. What? What was this? What did you say to this? After a while he gave up trying to think of a clever response and just wrote:
Besides the ears?
The next day Arthur wrote back.
You caught me. It was those all along. Those and that horrendous red scarf you wear.
They continued writing back and forth for the rest of the day.
My scarf is not horrendous. It's warm.
Merlin, it looks like you took a washcloth and wrapped it around your neck.
I wasn't aware you knew what a washcloth was, Your Highness.
It would surprise you what I know.
Like how to polish your own armor?
Don't embarrass me. That's what you're for.
That's all? You wound me.
Merlin grinned as he wrote the last. He was just setting down the pen when Arthur stormed through the door. He paced back and forth angrily. Merlin stepped away from the desk and turned to face him. Arthur's brows were drawn down over his eyes, his mouth turned down in an angry grimace. His hair was sticking up as if he'd run his fingers through it one too many times. At his sides his hands clenched compulsively into fists.
"What do I do, Merlin? I mean, what do I do? I don't want to marry that woman. She's a nightmare!" He waved his hands back and forth. When that wasn't enough he yanked at the formal doublet he was wearing, snarling when it wouldn't come off. Merlin stepped forward to help him, taking his forearm in his hands, untying the laces. "Father is being completely unreasonable. There was no reason we needed this arrangement to go through with the treaty. Of course, I suppose I could have handled things better. Now it's a matter of pride." Merlin pulled the garment over the prince's head and tossed it onto the bed. Arthur was staring at him. "What do I do, Merlin?"
Merlin looked at him and suddenly realized how close they were standing, he could feel heat radiating from the prince's body. A little ways down he could see Arthur's collarbone through the V of his shirt, the strong column of his neck. He met his eyes. Oh. He'd never noticed how blue they were. Like the summer sky. His mouth felt dry. Arthur was looking at him as if he held all the answers. Merlin wished he could think of something to say that would fix that expression, bring back a smile.
"I don't know, Arthur."
The prince watched him intensely. Merlin wondered if he was trying to scoop out his soul with those blue eyes.
"But you'll stay with me, right Merlin? Even if I have to marry that witch? You'll come with me?"
Merlin felt winded. When he spoke his voice sounded strange in his ears.
"Yeah. Of course. I'm your manservant. Where you go, I go." They just looked at each other for a moment. "Besides," Merlin whispered, "who'd rescue you if you got into trouble?"
Arthur smiled slowly. He stepped back and Merlin took a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"I think you mean, who would rescue you?"
Merlin grinned. The moment passed. That night, though, Merlin couldn't sleep, restlessly remembering the press of Arthur's lips, the heat from his body, those blue, blue eyes.
This was bad. In all the years of ever, Merlin had never expected this to happen. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Merlin looked out the window and into the practice fields where Arthur was training with another knight. His jaw was set, his mouth a determined line. Merlin's stomach did a summersault and he felt a flush in his cheeks. Go away, go away, go away, he chanted. It was worse when he was in Arthur's presence. It seemed like every time he saw the prince this last week he turned into a stammering, stuttering fool. He pressed his forehead to the cool glass. What in God's name was he supposed to do now?
He watched Arthur for a bit longer before wandering back to the prince's room. He couldn't ask Gaius. He couldn't ask Gwen. He couldn't ask anybody. The court had generally resolved itself into the opinion that Prince Arthur was merely testing the boundaries of his father's restraints. No one gave it a second thought that the prince was actually in love with his manservant.
No one would even care if his manservant was in love with him. Merlin blanched at the thought. No, no, no. Love was too strong a description. He, maybe, fancied Arthur. A little. Nothing serious. Happened to people all the time. Surely it would go away soon.
He looked over at the desk. Maybe there was someone he could ask after all. He sat down and wrote:
Arthur, what would you do if you really fell in love with someone you knew your father wouldn't approve of?
He stared at it for a moment, the set it down and left before he could change his mind.
Merlin looked at the parchment. He had only a few minutes before Arthur came back but he wanted to read his response. He glanced at the door and decided to risk it.
Run away. Isn't that what happens in all the romantic ballads? Of course, it never really works out for those lovers and as a prince running away is actually pretty unfeasible. Everyone would be looking for me and we'd never get far. I could just marry her, I suppose. I am a prince and my father's only heir. He can rant and rage but in the end it would only hurt the kingdom to disown me.
Merlin read and reread the word her. He felt a lump in the pit of his stomach. Rationally he knew he didn't have any right to be angry. Recklessly, he wrote:
What if you found out she was a sorcerer?
He went to get the prince's lunch and tried not to regret the note.
The prince didn't write back until the next day.
Why are you asking me this, Merlin?
He couldn't think of a good reply to that.
Arthur was watching Merlin again. He'd been doing it a lot lately. Staring speculatively at the warlock when he thought Merlin wasn't looking. This time Merlin met his eyes. Arthur hurriedly looked down at his desk and scribbled furiously on a piece of parchment. Merlin could see the flush on his neck. He wondered what Arthur wanted, if it had anything to do with Merlin's last note.
Merlin bit his lip. His stomach was coiled in knots. Had Arthur guessed? What had Arthur guessed? Merlin closed his eyes and rubbed at his face. He was carrying too many secrets, it felt like he was going to burst at the seams.
"Are you alright?"
Arthur's voice startled him and he jumped. Arthur was looking at him again, this time worry etched around his eyes.
Arthur kept watching him. Merlin's heart knocked against his ribs. Arthur seemed about to speak, a sentence half-formed resting on his tongue. His eyes were trying to tell Merlin something but they didn't know how. For a moment Merlin considered it, just telling Arthur everything. He opened his mouth.
"Arthur, I--I'm--" he froze, he couldn't finish the sentence.
Arthur was still looking at him in that expectant, particular way. Merlin tried but the words were trapped. All he could hear in his head was, Just think, you could have been a sorcerer.
"Nothing. Never mind. I've got to get theses linens downstairs."
He couldn't look at Arthur as he left and missed the frustration that slipped over the prince's face.
The news came a week later. Arthur had been busy all week, hardly eating and hardly sleeping, only stopping in his room for a few minutes here and there. Merlin heard it from the cook first. The contract had been finalized. Merlin's stomach dropped out. He tried to smile. It was good right? More trade meant more jobs. He pictured Arthur waiting at the alter for Princess Lorena. His throat was so tight it ached. He thanked the cook and ran back to the prince's rooms. He wasn't sure what he was going to do, what he was going to say.
Arthur was writing something at the desk. He looked up guiltily when Merlin came in.
"I heard--" Merlin had to clear his throat before he could continue. "I heard the news. The treaty was signed."
"Yes, it's finally finished."
Merlin felt dizzy and steadied himself with a hand on the table. His voice cracked when he spoke.
"But, what about the princess?"
"That's the best part! I found a wealthy nobleman for her to wed, an older chap who practically owns Camelot's textile business. It's still and excellent match for both sides and he thinks her demands are charming, the great idiot. It's possibly the single most brilliant thing I've ever pulled off."
It was all he could manage. His chest felt like it was overflowing with sunshine, as though he would take off and fly at any moment. Arthur was smiling so wide and looked so pleased with himself Merlin laughed. It came out watery and he was pretty sure he was close to crying. He blinked furiously and tried to find a way to change the subject.
"What's that in your hand?" he asked.
Arthur looked down at the paper. Merlin saw him swallow, followed the motion of his Adam's apple. Arthur's was nervous when he looked back up.
"It was a note for you actually."
Merlin stared at him. They'd never talked about the notes and whatever else this was. His heart beat hard in his chest.
"What does it say?"
Arthur wet his lips before reading it aloud.
"Merlin, I have something I need to tell you. Please see me in my room before you retire tonight. Arthur."
Merlin nodded. He made himself keep breathing.
"Did you want to tell me about Princess Lorena?"
Arthur smiled fleetingly.
"No. Not that."
Merlin pushed away and stepped towards Arthur. When they were just a step away from each other he stopped.
Arthur stared at him, his eyes tracing over Merlin's face.
"I think," he started. "I think--" he broke off. He took a deep breath and then closed the gap between them. He cradled Merlin's face in his hands and kissed him. Something in Merlin clicked together, a yearning completed. The kiss was firm and warm and Merlin could feel Arthur pressing close to him. After a moment Arthur pulled back and met Merlin's eyes.
"That's what I think. And I mean it this time."
Merlin let out a ragged breath that was almost a laugh and almost a sob. He stepped away. He wanted to hit Arthur and kiss him again. The prince frowned and then looked worried.
"Do you not--I thought you did."
"I do," Merlin shouted, throwing his hands into the air, "I do and that's the problem. You're a prince you great stupid prat and I'm a servant, a peasant. Be reasonable! There is no ending where this works out."
"I don't want to be reasonable." Arthur smiled and quirked and eyebrow, "I'm a prince remember?"
Suddenly it was too much, his voice too calm, his face too happy for Merlin to handle this situation any longer. For him to keep the heavy, awful secret of who he was to himself for another moment.
"I'm a wizard." He didn't shout but his voice was sharp and full of thorns. A weight lifted off of him and he said it again, quieter, resigned. "I'm a wizard, Arthur. That's why this would never work."
Arthur didn't say anything for moment, his face still and blank, watching Merlin.
The words hit Merlin like a blow, he stared, stunned.
"Or, rather I guessed." Arthur ran a hand over the back of his neck. "From your notes. I was hoping you'd tell me."
Arthur chuckled at Merlin's goggle-eyed expression.
Merlin stepped closer. He was giddy with relief, happy and light and feeling more than a little brave.
"And you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
Merlin grinned back.
"Finally, I can tell you how many times I've saved your princely arse from magical disaster. You'd be surprised how even our score really is, Your Royal Highness."
Arthur beamed and then laughed, full-throated and wonderful. He gripped Merlin in a hug and crushed him until Merlin put his arms around Arthur and held him back.
"What next, then?" he asked when Arthur let him breathe.
"I guess we'll find that out. Together. I'm a prince, you know, and I've got this good friend who's a wizard. Between us we'll figure something out."
Merlin laughed and kissed him just because he could.