Summary: When Arthur and Merlin are held for ransom, Arthur finds himself needing to trust Merlin like he never has before.
Warnings: mild violence
Word Count: 3365
Author's Notes: Happy holidays to side_steppings! You wanted Arthur and Merlin getting captured with a magic reveal and happy ending, so I hope this satisfies. :) With many thanks to deinonychus_1 and clea2011 for the beta. Also just happens to fill the 'hostages' square on my hc_bingo card.
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.
Arthur gave the bars of their cell one last pointless yank before he sank down into a corner, leaning his head back against the cold stone. “There’s no way out.”
Merlin lifted his chin off his hand so he could glare at Arthur. “I could have told you that. Oh, that’s right, I did.”
“Thank you, Merlin, you’re so helpful.”
“Because what you’re doing is the epitome of helpfulness. Please.”
“At least I’m doing something instead of sitting on my arse.”
Arthur snorted. “Oh, yes, you’re thinking. You just let me know when you’ve thought us out of this mess, then.”
“What I’m thinking right now is that I’d like to leave you behind. Do you always have to be this… prattish?”
“That isn’t even a word.”
“It is. It’s the adjective form of ‘prat’, which is what you are,” Merlin said, and turned his face away from Arthur.
Arthur sighed. He hoped they made it out of this before they killed each other.
He was rather embarrassed about it, actually. Ambushed. How humiliating. He blamed Merlin, because Merlin had been talking and distracting him. Plus Merlin was about as useful as a baby in a swordfight. So the men had overtaken them, knocking Arthur unconscious so he hadn’t even been able to see where they were being dragged off to.
The outcome was this - both of them locked in a cell, awaiting their fate. Arthur was betting ransom. The men had identified him as the prince, and everyone was always wanting to ransom the Crown Prince of Camelot. It was tiring, really. Why couldn’t anyone ever show some creativity?
Oh, well. A lack of inventiveness and independent thought in their captors would only help them escape, so Arthur decided not to complain too much.
When their captors came to retrieve them it was in a group, heavily armed, so there was no hope of fighting their way free. Not with them having taken Arthur’s sword away, and not with Merlin being his usual useless self.
Still, Arthur refused to go quietly. He struggled in the grasp of the two men trying to roughly lead him and spat insults at them, ranging from the validity of their births to their atrocious bathing habits. This earned him nothing but a few good whacks on the head and shoves forward, but it made Arthur feel better anyway.
He and Merlin were taken to a large, dimly lit hall, furnished with a long table and some chairs. There was a man seated there, ripping chunks of meat from a bone. The smell was enough to make Arthur’s mouth water. He wasn’t sure how long it had been since he had last eaten.
“Prince Arthur Pendragon,” the man said, throwing the scraps of his meal down onto his plate and taking a swig from what was likely a jug of mead. “It seems I’ve finally found some luck after all.”
Arthur remained silent, wanting to learn what he could about his captor first.
The man rose to his feet, coming round the table to move closer to Arthur and Merlin. He was tall and bearded, and had the girth of a man who had likely been powerful in youth but had gone a bit to seed in his middle age. There was a sword belted at his waist, and Arthur felt it was a good bet the man would know how to wield it.
“My good fortune is your bad fortune, of course, little prince,” he said, smiling with yellowish teeth. “Do you know what I’m going to do with you?”
“Invite us to dinner and then send us on our way?” Arthur said.
“Ha! They told me you had spirit. I reckon King Uther will pay a good price to get his precious son back safe and sound.”
“Ransom? How original. No one’s ever tried that before. That was sarcasm, by the way. They have tried. I can assure you that it never worked out well for any of them.”
The man reached out and in one smooth motion cracked Arthur on the head with the hilt of his sword.
Arthur hissed in pain and dropped to his knees, clutching his head.
“Arthur!” Merlin shouted, but the other men held him back.
The man was smiling cruelly. “Maybe not completely safe and sound, then.”
Arthur spat at his feet.
The gesture accomplished no more than a glint of amusement in the man’s dark eyes. “Like I said, spirit. Too bad spirit only gets you so far. Throw them back in the cell. If the little prince proves troublesome, kill his friend. That ought to teach him to mind his manners.”
The other… Arthur turned his eyes to Merlin, his stomach clenching. No. No, that… Merlin.
Merlin was gazing back at him, his pale skin gone even paler.
The sound of a belly laugh drew Arthur’s attention back to his captor. The man was laughing as if he’d heard a wonderful joke. “All out of fight now, are you, boy? You’re as soft as the rest of them.” He made a shooing gesture. “Get them out of here.”
Arthur let them drag him back into the cell and throw him in without protest.
As the door was shut behind them, Merlin crawled over to Arthur, reaching a hand out to Arthur’s forehead. “You’re bleeding,” he said, and ripped a strip of fabric from the bottom edge of his shirt. Gently he brushed Arthur’s hair back and dabbed at his wound with the cloth.
“Ow,” Arthur said.
“Don’t be a baby.”
Arthur scowled and pushed Merlin’s hand away. “It’s fine, stop fussing. I’ve been hit on the head before.”
“That explains a lot.”
Merlin dropped his hands back into his lap and they sat there on the cold ground, side-by-side.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Merlin said. “You shouldn’t have talked back to him. You always make things worse.”
“Well, excuse me,” Arthur said. “I suppose I’m not as well-behaved a captive as you are.”
“No, it’s… You shouldn’t antagonise them. It only makes it worse.”
“I certainly made it worse for you,” Arthur said, unable to even look in Merlin’s direction. He was sorry about that. He knew himself well enough to know that he was always going to talk back, but if he had known it would be Merlin he ended up putting in danger…
“That’s how it was always going to be, Arthur,” Merlin said, a terrible note of resignation in his voice. “You’re the one they can ransom. Uther doesn’t care about me. I’m expendable.”
“You are not expendable,” Arthur said, his voice raising in anger. He turned to Merlin, but Merlin wouldn’t look at him, so he simply glared at the side of Merlin’s face. “Don’t be stupid.”
“But I am expendable,” Merlin said, twisting the tiny bit of bloody fabric in his hands. “I’m the one they can threaten, and use to keep you in line. They don’t need me because Uther won’t want me. My life isn’t worth anything.”
Arthur could do nothing but stare at Merlin, appalled. He joked about Merlin being worthless, it was true. But Merlin was not worthless. He was… He was Merlin. “Your life is worth something to me,” he managed to say, digging his nails into the palms of his hands.
Merlin finally looked at him, smiling crookedly. “That’s sweet, Arthur, thank you. I didn’t know you cared.”
There was something soft and vulnerable and pleased in his eyes, though, something that made Arthur feel suddenly too warm.
Arthur shoved him in the shoulder. “I don’t, obviously. Just didn’t want you to try to off yourself in the corner of the cell. Would’ve smelled, you know. Not a lot of space in here.”
“Right,” Merlin said, still smiling, and Arthur looked at him and looked at him until he couldn’t anymore, and had to turn away from the brightness of it, from the odd feeling in his chest.
Sometimes men came and brought chunks of stale bread and some water. Just enough so they wouldn’t die before the ransom, Arthur figured. He got the impression that he wasn’t meant to be sharing with Merlin, but considering they couldn’t force him to eat, he was damn well going to do what he pleased.
“It’s always the same men who come, have you noticed?” Merlin said quietly, after the sound of the men’s footsteps had retreated down the hall.
Arthur had noticed, actually. “He hasn’t got anyone else.”
“Right. I’m thinking it might be time for us to get out.”
“How, exactly? Nothing’s changed.”
Merlin mostly ignored that. “They don’t even bother binding us. I’ve counted seven of them in total, plus the leader. Eight, then.”
“Eight is still too many. I know I’m good but even I can’t fight off that many men while I am completely unarmed.”
“You won’t have to. We only need to get back in that room with all of them, and then escape.”
“And then escape,” Arthur repeated flatly. “That is a terrible plan. It isn’t even a plan, it’s crazy. How do you expect us to--”
“Arthur. Do you trust me?”
Arthur fell silent. He looked at Merlin, who was just watching him with those bright blue eyes. “Yeah,” Arthur said. “Yeah, I do.”
“I said, I won’t give you messages so you can bungle them up! I am the prince of Camelot, and you will bring me to your leader so that I may tell him what I wish to in person. Unless you want to explain to him why his ransom plan was unsuccessful.” Arthur stood tall in front of the door to their cell, arms crossed over his chest, staring the guards in face.
The men exchanged a look, and then the shorter of the two spat out, “We’ll be back with his answer, your princeliness.” They stomped off.
Arthur looked to Merlin. “There. That ought to get us an audience. You just have to be firm with these people, you see.”
“Right,” Merlin said, rolling his eyes. “Was that what that was? Because to me it looked like you being your usual bossy self.”
“You’re the one who wanted to get us in the same room with them, for your insane ‘plan’. Whatever it is.”
“It will work.”
“If it doesn’t get us killed.”
“It will work! Anyway, you agreed. You said you trusted me.”
Arthur sat back down on the floor, rubbing his hands over his face. “I must have taken leave of my senses.”
“Fine. I’ll escape and you stay here.”
“Oh, and you’re going to take on eight men by yourself?”
Merlin shrugged. “I said I had a plan. You’ll see.”
“I’ll see. How reassuring.”
“If I tell you,” Merlin said, averting his eyes. He looked both nervous and like he was hiding something, which couldn’t be a good sign. “If I tell you, it won’t work. It... You won’t like it, that’s all. You’ll start arguing and then you won’t do it and it won’t work. We don’t have time for that. Please, Arthur, trust me.”
Arthur wanted to say that they were already arguing but he wasn’t sure what that would accomplish. He had said he trusted Merlin and he did, so maybe that had to be enough. Secrets and all.
In any case, there wasn’t any more time to worry about it because the guards were returning. It was now or never.
“The boss will see you now,” one of the men grunted. It seemed to pain him.
Arthur gave Merlin one last look and then steeled himself. “Well, come on then, hurry up. Let us out of here.”
Now the man was grinning at him, an unpleasant, nasty sort of grin. “Boss says to tell you his promise still stands. You cause any trouble, we get to have fun with your skinny friend.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Merlin muttered under his breath, but Arthur glared at him until he fell silent.
This had to work. It had to. Because if it didn’t...
If it didn’t, Arthur knew Merlin wouldn’t live long enough to find out if his father would pay for Merlin’s safe return, too.
The guards brought them to the same room as before, only this time the man in charge was already standing and waiting to meet them. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest and his face was creased in anger.
“So the little prince needs to see me, does he? The little prince has important information for me?”
“Yes,” Arthur said, and stood as tall as he could with the guards’ hands pressing down heavily on his shoulders.
“Is it worth your friend’s life?”
Arthur flinched, and knew they could all see it.
The leader’s mouth turned upwards in that same cruel smile Arthur had witnessed before. “Is that fear I sense, little prince? Haven’t thought this through, have you?”
“Arthur,” Merlin said softly.
It sounded like nothing. It sounded like Merlin trying to be supportive and encouraging but Arthur knew that wasn’t what it was. It was Merlin saying, now.
Arthur broke free from his captors and spun, ramming his elbow into the first one’s chin and using his own momentum to plow into the second with all his weight, knocking him onto the ground. Everyone was shouting and drawing weapons. Arthur wished for a sword but knew he would never be able to gain possession of his enemy’s sheathed sword in time.
This wasn’t going to work. What had Merlin been thinking? What had Arthur been thinking? In desperation he grabbed the man’s head between his hands and rammed his skull against the floor.
Above the noise and confusion Arthur could hear a voice, Merlin’s voice. He looked up.
And then Merlin’s eyes were glowing and the room was on fire.
The room was on fire. Arthur could hear the shouts and the cries of their captors and worse, he could smell-- But he couldn’t take his eyes off of Merlin. Merlin with his hand upraised, Merlin with his eyes glowing, Merlin who was completely and utterly in control.
Merlin, who was a sorcerer.
“Arthur,” Merlin said again, and this time it meant, come with me, run.
Arthur hesitated for a moment.
Then he looked at Merlin, who was still Merlin in spite of everything, and he ran. They ran together.
They ran and didn’t stop until they were far, far away from where they had been held. Arthur could hear Merlin panting for breath and Arthur’s own heart was racing. They stopped in a small clearing in the woods, Merlin leaning against the trunk of a tree while he calmed his breathing.
Arthur paced around them, checking the area and ensuring they actually would be safe here for a while. They not only needed the time to rest, Arthur also… Well, he needed to talk. He needed answers.
After a few minutes he realised that Merlin was watching him. He could feel Merlin’s eyes on him as if they were boring a hole through him.
Fine, Arthur thought. Let’s do this.
“You’ve got magic,” he said, the words spilling out of him. He stood directly in front of Merlin, returning Merlin’s gaze. “You’re magic. You’re a sorcerer.”
“I think I knew,” Arthur said, knowing as he said the words that they were true. “I knew, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to see it.”
“Because magic is evil?” Merlin said, practically spitting the words out. “Because all magic is wrong, and magic users are wrong, and they should be killed?”
“No,” Arthur said.
He might not understand magic, and he might have seen the horrible things magic could accomplish, but he had also seen the good. He still remembered following the blue light in the cave when he had been searching for a way to save Merlin’s life, and he still remembered Ealdor, and Will. Merlin. It had been Merlin all along. Silly, clumsy Merlin, who was the best person Arthur had ever known. If Merlin was a sorcerer, then he knew all magic couldn’t be evil.
“Merlin, no. I didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want you to be in danger. And because I… Because if you were, if you were a sorcerer, it meant you didn’t trust me. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to. Arthur, I wanted to so much.” Merlin’s tone was pleading.
“Then why didn’t you? Did you think I would…” Arthur stopped, too horrified to even finish the sentence. Had Merlin thought Arthur would… that Arthur could…
“No. But it wasn’t only myself I had to protect. It was everyone who knew about me.” Merlin hesitated but then went on, “Gaius, my mum… and you.”
Arthur had only a second to be overwhelmed by the sensation of awe at the fact Merlin had enough faith in him to trust him with the well-being of the two most important people in his life before he was distracted by the last thing Merlin had said. “Me?”
“Arthur, what would you have done if your father found out about me? If he found out that you knew?”
“You were protecting me,” Arthur realised. “Merlin, it should be the other way round.”
Merlin laughed. “Protecting you is kind of what I do.”
“You’ve been doing it since we met,” Arthur said, remembering what had made his father take Merlin on as Arthur’s manservant in the first place.
Merlin nodded. “But you haven’t done such a shabby job looking out for me, either. To be fair.”
“I should say so.” Arthur had definitely saved Merlin’s life more times than Merlin had saved his. Not a doubt in his mind.
He wondered why Merlin was laughing.
Maybe it didn’t matter, though. Arthur didn’t think who owed what to whom was terribly important, after all, so he said, “Maybe we can agree to protect each other, then. And no more secrets.”
“No more secrets,” Merlin agreed. He seemed lighter, somehow, as if he had lost a weight from his shoulders, a burden he was carrying, which perhaps was true. A burden Arthur hadn’t even known Merlin had.
Arthur looked at the position of the sun in the sky and said, “I think we should move on a bit farther, just in case. I’m not sure we’re safe here.”
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about,” Merlin said, but he didn’t fight any further. “A couple more hours of daylight, right?”
When Merlin began walking, however, Arthur didn’t follow. Instead he thought about Merlin, Merlin in the cell with him, Merlin fighting back with so much power. He thought of all the things Merlin was to him and all the things they could be.
No more secrets.
“Merlin,” Arthur said, stopping him in his tracks.
Merlin waited expectantly, just looking at Arthur, while Arthur didn’t say anything.
Arthur tried to work up his nerve. Stop being a coward, he told himself. He took a step forward, and then another, until he was face-to-face with Merlin. He swallowed.
“If we’re going to be honest with each other, then I need to do something,” he said, and kissed Merlin before he could find a way to back out of it.
Merlin’s lips were softer than they had any right to be, and Merlin’s skinny body felt like it fit perfectly against Arthur’s. His hands were resting lightly on Arthur’s hips rather than pushing Arthur away, so that was a good sign.
Still, though. Merlin was doing little more than remaining still while Arthur kissed him so after a moment Arthur pulled back, a horrified feeling settling in his gut. He looked into Merlin’s eyes. “Merlin? Have I ruined everything?”
“What?” Merlin seemed confused, shaking his head briefly as if to clear it. “No! No, um, I was just… just surprised, that’s all. I…” He paused, regaining his composure. They were still standing near enough that their bodies were nearly touching.
Then Merlin said, “In the interests of full disclosure,” and kissed Arthur back.
Yeah, this ‘no secrets’ thing was going to work out great.
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