Title: recipe for disaster
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur (pre-slash)
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Fantasy AU. In a world where negative emotions sometimes manifest themselves as tormenting spirits, Merlin must help the prince put a particularly strong djinni back in the bottle. But Arthur has secrets, and once Merlin knows them he finds he can't just look away. [ Part I • Part II ]
Word Count: 992 words.
Prompt: #225 Recipe.
Author's Notes: This may be a bit of a novel interpretation of the prompt, but it was so perfect given the ideas I had for this scene that I couldn't resist. Forgive me :) Also: check out this awesome vid I found while researching glass-blowing. If that isn't some form of magic, I don't know what is!
The glass-blower’s workshop was dark when Merlin returned.
“Are you sure about this, my boy?” Gaius asked him, shutting the door as Merlin conjured a witch-light for the two of them to see by. “The Pendragons have always felt strongly and acted rashly. The Purge is ample evidence of that. Perhaps you should tell the prince to find another merchant to make this bottle for him.”
“I’m sure, Gaius.” Even to himself, Merlin could not explain why it was so important that he should help the prince; only that it was so. “I’m not afraid of him.”
“Perhaps you should be,” Gaius muttered, but he made no further objection. With a flick of his wrist, Merlin set the furnace alight, and the old man shuffled away to draw the blinds. It would not do to be caught in the market district after curfew.
In practical terms, the process of glass-blowing was a simple one. Gaius would melt the glass in the furnace; Merlin would imbue it with the memories of the prince; together they would shape it into the perfect vessel to contain the Heartbreak which plagued him. When magic was involved, however, things were seldom so uncomplicated.
“Are you ready?”
Merlin took a deep breath. “I am.”
He watched as the glass slid into the fire.
Usually, when they worked together like this, Merlin would use his own memories to produce a generic enchantment, something which would work for all but the most powerful of spirits. For the prince, however, he would need to create a special bottle, one that was built out of Arthur’s memories and his alone. The trick was to separate those memories from Merlin’s own so that the emotions he had to work with were pure and entire, and would thus prove strong enough to contain a higher-level manifestation from the same source. It was not an easy task.
While his uncle wound the molten glass onto a hollow metal rod designed for the purpose, Merlin sat cross-legged on the stone-slabbed floor and closed his eyes, reaching for the three ingredients the prince had given him. His happiest memory; a hope for the future; the thing he wanted most in the world. Not always the easiest things to identify, let alone share with a perfect stranger, yet the prince had offered them up without hesitation. Perhaps that was why Merlin was so determined to help him. Such unexpected trust was deserving of his protection.
The prince’s happiest memory was difficult to discern at first. Merlin suspected even the prince himself hardly knew what it was, as it had happened so long ago, but at last it resolved itself into something simple — a soft, smooth texture, a smell, the sound of a beloved voice. The hope for the future was even more straightforward: an image of Merlin himself, the promise of once more being able to sleep without being tormented by the physical manifestation of his own feelings. Merlin drew a slow breath, and exhaled the dust of these things into the fire, where they glowed hot and bright around the softening glass.
It was the prince’s greatest desire which had caused Merlin’s tears earlier, however, and which was proving the most difficult to disentangle from his own emotions and thoughts. It was not a coherent wish so much as an emptiness which cried out to be filled; it was so broad and vast Merlin could not find the edges of it in order to grasp it.
“Gaius,” he said, without opening his eyes. “What reason would a prince have to be so sad?”
There was silence for a moment.
“I imagine it isn’t easy, being a prince,” Gaius said at last. “Perhaps you should ask him.”
Merlin sighed, and opened his eyes. He gathered as much as he could of want, and added it to the flames, which flared brightly for a moment before turning the lovely, buttery gold which meant the recipe was complete. "Somebody has to," he said.
It took the rest of the night to mold the glass into its final shape. As always, Merlin wasn’t certain what that shape would be until the bottle sat cooling on the battered bench top; emotions were tricky things, especially when they were someone else’s, and didn’t always behave as you might expect. At last, he and Gaius stood back to regard the finished product, while the remnants of the fire guttered and slowly vanished behind them.
“Do you think he’ll like it?” Merlin said.
Gaius laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and squeezed tight. “I think it is quite possibly your finest work,” he said gravely. “But by the same token, it is also your most dangerous.”
Merlin reached out and stroked a finger over the creature’s tiny, perfect head. “I suppose that will have to do.”
He returned to the palace the following morning. The prince drew him inside without so much as a greeting, looking quickly up and down the street before pulling the gates shut behind him.
“Is that it?” he asked, gesturing at the cloth-wrapped bundle in Merlin’s arms. Merlin nodded.
“If this doesn’t hold it, nothing will.”
The prince made a skeptical noise, but he took the package and began to unwrap it. In the grey afternoon light, he looked even tireder than before, the gold of his hair bleached of colour. Even the red of his tunic seemed somehow duller and less alive. Merlin studied him critically, an unaccustomed anxiety fluttering in his gut.
“Well?” he demanded. “What do you think?”
The prince had discarded the wrapping and was turning the bottle over in his hands; the deep red dragon glinted back at him, its scales limned with gold, the round emerald eye almost alive in the sunlight.
“It’s beautiful,” the prince said, flat. “Too beautiful to contain such an ugly thing.”
Merlin smiled. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “That’s what it was made for.”