Title: Ten Minutes Ago
Characters: Merlin, Arthur, Morgana
Summary: Modern AU. Prince Arthur doesn't like balls.
Word Count: 1480 (sorry about going over – I'm usually not that bad)
Prompt: #131, enchant
Notes: Inspired by Cinderella and the song 'Ten Minutes Ago'
The stiff protocols, the endless simpering, the polite smiles, girls hanging on his every word, endless courtiers trying to play him for political advantage.
At least he was good at dancing. After all, the finest tutors in the land made sure of that. But even the exercise didn't make it any better. With every ball, his father, the king, was becoming increasingly strident about his duties, about marrying and producing an heir. About his royal obligations.
He was sick of it all. Arthur told his father about his own proclivities last year but that had only made things worse. More princesses, more dancing, more, more, more. Anything to change Arthur's mind.
It hadn't. It wouldn't.
Hiding amongst the plethora of foliage, potted palms, a decorative montage of roses and holly leaves and tree branches, trying to decide whether to fuck it all and leave or stay for one more round of royal duty, he took another large gulp of champagne; It might have been the finest money could buy but it might as well have been dust for all Arthur cared.
Decision made, he turned to go. He'd hear about it later from Uther but he'd had enough. But as he pushed the foliage aside, about to make his escape, Morgana popped into view.
"Brother, dear, if you scowl any harder, your face might crack under the weight of it and then where would you be?"
"Free of this?" He stepped back, letting her into his little hiding spot. It was a bit crowded with him and her and her ball gown, although truth be told, it was only her skirt taking up room; the rest of her gown concealed little. Arthur briefly wondering how she kept from spilling out and causing an international incident but shook his head. That was an engineering question and not one for a brother to ask. But he did admit to himself that Morgana certainly knew her assets and used them accordingly.
"Uther will come around eventually." That was easy for her to say. She liked men; it was clear enough by the number she's collected over the years. She'd only to crook her manicured finger and there would be a dozen fawning at her feet.
"Perhaps. In another lifetime." He sighed, tried to smile down at her, tried to take the sting out of his voice. "Or if you got married and had a few Pendragons…."
Choking off a laugh, Morgana said, "I didn't know you had taken on the role of court jester."
"Only for you." He really did love his sister, pain in the arse though she was. Taking another sip of champagne, Arthur said, "So how many hearts have you broken tonight?"
"A few and maybe a few more before the night is over." She twisted away, and when she turned back, her nails were entangled in the wool sleeve of a rather cheap suit. "But enough about me. Arthur, this is my friend, Merlin Emrys." She gave a little yank; a tall, gangly man who must have been lurking somewhere behind the potted palms stumbled in.
Friend, a euphemism for lover if ever he'd heard one.
He didn't look her type, though.
He was definitely Arthur's type. Thin, good-looking in a pale, bookish kind of way, with dark hair that looked like he's run his fingers through it a dozen times. His face was odd enough, sharp cheekbones and the largest ears Arthur had ever seen but the blue eyes were lively with intelligence. And his mouth, his mouth was pure sin.
"Arthur, I believe it's Merlin's first time… at a ball." Beside him, Morgana's smile turned a bit predatory. "He needs a dance partner and my card is full. You could show him a few things, I'm sure." But before he could grumble about who the hell this person was and he wasn't in the mood to be chatting up her cast-offs, she disappeared into the foliage and was gone.
"Sorry about that. She did insist that I meet you. It's hard to say no to her." Merlin's ears were a bit pink and Arthur tried hard not to think about how gorgeous the man was standing there like that. Embarrassment suited him and that only made things worse for Arthur.
The attraction had to be nipped in the bud before it got out of control. Rather sharply, Arthur said, "I am surprised that she introduced us. Usually she keeps her lovers under wraps – well until the paps find out and then we deal quietly with the fallout." He looked Merlin up and down. "Are we dealing with that now?"
"No!" Even sputtering, the man was delectable. "Morgana and I… we are just friends. I would never… She warned me that you were a bit of a prat."
"Friends, is that what they are calling it these days?" He wanted to kiss the man, not fight with him, but even as Merlin grew more agitated, it was becoming harder to ignore how very attractive he was. For one traitorous second, he wondered if he'd finally found the one he'd been looking for all of his life but then dismissed it for the romantic drivel it was.
"Morgana was wrong. You aren't just a prat. You are an arse, a royal one." Merlin shoved at the palm leaves, clearly intending to leave but his sleeve tangled up in the rose bush next to it and he was trapped. As he tried to pull away, he said, "Why Morgana would think… arghh." As that, the coat tore a little, and there were scraps in that pale skin but Merlin's struggles had only made things worse. Now instead of just a sleeve, half of the jacket was snagged.
Watching Merlin try and get his jacket out without further damage, listening to Merlin grumble about prats and mistakes and never listening to Morgana again, Arthur realized that he may have made an error, a big one. "What would Morgana think?"
He reached out to help Merlin untangle himself but he just shoved Arthur away.
"Not that you care since you seem to think the worst of people, but Morgana… why she would think I'd want to be friends with such an arse is beyond me but somehow she loves you and thinks well of you. Obviously, she was mistaken." One final yank and the jacket came free. It was torn on one shoulder and there was a large gash on the sleeve but otherwise, it was wearable – if one were getting their clothes from a dust bin.
"Merlin, Merlin, stop." At that, Merlin looked at him, glaring a bit but obviously trying to keep from rabbiting on about how bad royal prats were. "I may have… made an assumption that was not… true."
"You think?" Merlin was already shoving on the torn jacket, clearly getting ready to leave.
"Look, Morgana means a lot to me. She's had some rough patches. I just didn't want her to get hurt again." At least the man was listening to him. "How about I buy you a drink and we start over?"
Merlin looked around, staring at the dancing couples, the food heaped on the sideboards, the flutes of champagne floating past on trays of silver and gold, and turned back to Arthur, scowling at him. "You own this palace. I doubt you buy drinks for anyone. You probably have your manservant do it."
He wasn't wrong but Arthur wasn't going to admit to that just yet. "Okay, how about I take you to your favorite pub and buy you a drink there? Away from the whole royal experience. If Morgana thinks we can be friends, I'm willing to give it a try."
Waiting for Merlin to make up his mind, Arthur grew a little worried. This was the first time he'd been excited, intrigued, hell wanted a man this much. He didn't even know if Merlin liked men that way but he was willing to work at it if he did.
The frown was still there but at least Merlin seemed to be prepared to hear him out. "Okay, fine. And just for the record, Morgana and I really are friends. She's not my type."
At that, Arthur's heart began to race. He tried not to smile, not willing to give the game away just yet, but still the night was looking up. "And who is your type?"
"I guess you'll just have to find out." Nodding his head toward the door, Merlin turned to go. "Coming, your royal pratliness?"
Glancing out at the crowd, seeing the mass of movement as couples twirled and dipped, the courtiers talking among themselves, servants scurrying about with trays of food and drink and then looking back at Merlin, Arthur grinned. "Oh, yes, I'm coming."
And with that, Arthur realized that balls weren't so bad after all.