rocknvaughn (rocknvaughn) wrote in camelot_drabble,
rocknvaughn
rocknvaughn
camelot_drabble

An Unbearable Fondness

Title: An Unbearable Fondness
Author:rocknvaughn
Rating: PG/Teen
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Characters: Merlin, Arthur, OC
Word Count: ~ 1,750
Summary: Regency AU. Continuation of the Fine, But Not Dandy series. Arthur experiences a surprising change of heart.
Prompt: #109 ~ Fond
Author's Notes: Many, many, many thanks to ekishou for being my Regency Era guru as well as my number one cheerleader for this series. Couldn't do it without you!


For the first installment, click here. Thanks for reading! <3

[An Unbearable Fondness]


~°~


Arthur lay abed well into the night, but his mind would not quiet enough for sleep. Instead, his thoughts centered on a certain dark-haired, blue-eyed handsome young man. Merlin Emrys had been well-spoken, well-mannered, and well-dressed for his station. It was evident that he must be quite intelligent if he had been singled out by his benefactor for scholarship to University. His loyalty to his mother in her time of strife was particularly moving; to give up his studies in order to assist her showed a particular brand of honor which Arthur could not help but look upon with approbation.


Moreover, Merlin intrigued him. He was a mystery, but one that Arthur desperately wanted to fathom out. And, while their conversation had not ended particularly well, Arthur found himself eager to converse with Merlin once more.


It did not escape Arthur’s notice that Merlin had just about all the qualities that he looked for in a lover.


Granted, being of the same social class would have made the situation easier to manage, but what Merlin lacked in rank, he certainly made up for in integrity. The only thing left to wonder was whether Merlin would be open to such an arrangement.


There was only one way to find out.


~°~



The butler that answered the door at the Albion Club seemed momentarily startled at seeing Arthur on the stoop. “L-Lord Shrewsbury!” he stammered as he admitted Arthur to the club’s antechamber.


Arthur didn’t blame the man for his reaction. Until today, Arthur had been a Saturday visitor to Albion, and only a Saturday visitor. “Good day to you, Odin,” he murmured, handing the butler his overcoat and top hat.


“Your usual table, My Lord?” Odin inquired, already recovered from his surprise and exhibiting his customary reserve.


Arthur clapped a hand to Odin’s shoulder as he stepped into the main room. His eyes scanned the room until they found what he’d been hoping to see. “Not today, my good man. I’ve a mind to sit at the bar for a while.”


If Odin found that odd, he was too well-trained to comment on it. “Very good, M'Lord. Have a pleasant evening.”


Arthur seated himself while Merlin had stepped away to serve another patron’s drink. When he spied Arthur sitting at the bar upon his return, Merlin’s eyes widened in momentary surprise.


“Lord Shrewsbury,” he greeted; his voice pleasant, if a bit wary. “What can I get for you this fine evening?”


“A glass of port for now, if you please, Emrys.”


“Of course, My Lord.”


Under the pretense of perusing most recent edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, Arthur watched Merlin from the corner of his eye. The man had more than a little confusion etched on his face, as if he simply could not understand why Arthur was paying him any mind.


A moment later, Merlin approached him again, sliding a crystal glass next to Arthur’s right elbow on the mahogany bar. “Your port, M'Lord.”


“Thank you,” Arthur replied, raising his head so that their eyes met. As before, Merlin’s cerulean gaze held Arthur rapt, and he found himself holding his breath. This time though, it was Merlin who cleared his throat self-consciously and averted his eyes, mumbling an excuse about needing to clear away dirty dishes as he turned to leave.


“Emrys,” Arthur called after him softly before rubbing at the underside of his nose self-consciously.


Merlin paused for a long moment with his back to Arthur and straightened his shoulders as if preparing for battle before he turned around. “Yes? How else may I assist you, My Lord?” he asked, his face a mask of impersonal civility.


“I…” Arthur hesitated, unaccustomed to the task of seeking forgiveness, but forced himself to press on. “I wished to apologize for my behaviour last evening.”


Both of Merlin’s eyebrows rose in apparent astonishment. “I beg your pardon, My Lord?”


“It was unconscionably rude of me to ask such personal questions of you upon such a short acquaintance,” Arthur forged on, determined to finish now that he’d begun.


Merlin tilted his head quizzically and walked back over to where Arthur was seated. He rested his wide palms against the dark wood of the bar, almost bracketing Arthur between them. “I deserve no such apology, M'Lord,” Merlin said at last, his eyes studying the grain of the wood in the space between his hands. “It is I who owes the debt of courtesy, not you. You received the brunt of an ire that should not have been directed at you, but rather toward the one who has earned it.”


“Be that as it may, you had been through much already. It is only natural that you would be out of sorts under such circumstances. I regret that I made a trying evening even more so with my impertinent query. It was not intentional, but still badly done of me.”


A soft smile graced Merlin’s full mouth. “If we closely examine the events of last eve, I believe that the fault cannot be annexed exclusively to one or the other. Mayhap it is best forgotten rather than forgiven?”


Arthur could not help but smile in return. “If it is your wish, then let it be so…so long as you desist in calling me ‘Lord Shrewsbury’ or ‘My Lord’. I get quite enough of that elsewhere, Emrys; I have no need of it here.”


Merlin shook his head firmly. “But it is your title, My Lord. You have earned such a courtesy; it is my duty to give it.”


“I have given you leave to address me otherwise.”


"Indeed you have, and it is gracious of you to offer me such condescension," Merlin agreed wistfully. “However, my employer has not. Lord Ashton made it quite clear to me just this morn that I must preserve the distinction of rank between myself and the club’s patrons if I wish to continue my employment.”


Merlin’s voice dropped to almost a whisper and he bowed his head as if ashamed, “And I...I must retain my position here for my mother’s sake.”


So moved was he by Emrys’ admission, that without thought Arthur placed a hand atop one of Merlin’s and squeezed, trying to offer the young man what little comfort he could. “Then I shall persuade you to it no longer.”


Merlin’s fingers clasped Arthur’s for just a second before slipping free. “My thanks to you, My Lord, for your kindness and understanding.”


The words were so heartfelt and sincere that they drew Arthur’s gaze back to Merlin’s downturned face. He could not help but stare at the very becoming blush that stained Merlin’s cheeks and the lower lip that was again caught uncertainly between his teeth. That Merlin would share this moment of vulnerability with him was humbling, and Arthur found himself suddenly awash with a nearly unbearable fondness for which he had no outlet nor any defense against.


Then, as Arthur’s heart began to hammer in his chest, Merlin stepped back and clasped both hands behind his back in a sign of obvious subservience. “Now, what may I fetch you for your dinner?”


~°~



The remainder of the evening was spent by Arthur at his usual table, picking at the roast duck he had ordered (and no longer had an appetite for) and nursing his third after-dinner brandy. Arthur would normally partake of only one digestif, but he was honest enough with himself to own that he was indulging rather more than usual simply to draw Merlin near and to give the poor man a bit of respite from the other patrons.


Arthur was not so foolish as to cause an uproar, even though he longed to stand between Merlin and every man who addressed him beyond what was right and proper. The last thing he desired was to make Merlin feel even more ill at ease. But whenever his back was turned, Arthur glared daggers at any man who dared to importune Merlin by word, look, or deed…and of those there were many.


While none of the violations were as egregious as Lord Wakefield’s had been, there were many instances of not-so-innocent glancing touches, hooded eyes that roamed Merlin's body freely, and double entendres that were veiled in polite conversation.


Honestly, Arthur did not understand how Merlin could endure so many indignities in the space of one evening. But then Arthur recalled Merlin’s bald admission as to how badly he needed the work, and the cruel irony of it turned his stomach. Arthur himself had come to the club that evening with a similar intention to so many of his peers: to take Merlin as a lover. Now, the mere thought of Merlin being forced to accept anyone's attentions was abhorrent to him.


Although it was a rare occurrence, Arthur had partaken of the "delights" of Albion’s back rooms in the past. Yet he had never given more than a passing thought to those partners beyond the pleasure he’d received and the skill with which it was given. But now, for the first time since his election into Albion Club, Arthur wondered just how many others who now worked in the back rooms had started out as Merlin had: duped into innocently serving food and drink while allowing themselves to be pawed at like a piece of horseflesh on auction.


It was disgusting.


But perhaps there was a method in the madness. Mayhap this “running of the gauntlet” was Ashton’s way of determining which of his new hires would earn him the most coin in private rendezvous. While the practice seemed crude and vile to Arthur’s way of thinking, he could not deny that it was effective...and Ashton was nothing if not a shrewd businessman.


And while none of the men who had serviced Arthur at the club appeared to be unhappy with their terms of employment, perhaps it was just that they had accepted the inevitability of their fate and had simply…given in to it.


Yet, as he watched Merlin extract himself from yet another untoward advance with a harried, pinched expression, Arthur felt his righteous indignation swell. It was a crime against nature to witness the lively light fading from Merlin’s eyes and his bright smile become more and more diminished. Arthur could not bear the thought of the young man’s spirit being slowly crushed under Fate’s heel and found himself vowing not to let the inevitable happen to Merlin Emrys, no matter the cost.

Tags: *c:rocknvaughn, c:arthur, c:merlin, p:arthur/merlin, pt 109:fond, rating:pg, type:drabble
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