10 May 2009 @ 02:09 pm
The Gift  
Title: The Gift
Author: [info]lilithilien
Fandom/Characters: Merlin, Merlin/Arthur
Word Count/Rating: 750 words/gen
Summary: After his coronation, Arthur realises what he's been given.
Disclaimer: Mine, all mine! Except not.
A/N: Happy birthday to [info]kabal42!! I hope that you have a truly fabulous day, and that someday, when you look back on this year, you'll remember it as the one when your dreams took flight! Set a few days after "Excalibur" (just long enough for Merlin to get those robes clean).

Arthur was annoyed, and becoming more annoyed by the second. Another candle had flickered out, leaving just a tiny wick now floating in a pool of wax, and yet his useless manservant had not even noticed the shifting shadows in his chambers. Arthur was the crown prince; how had he got saddled with such incompetence?

And it wasn't as if Merlin wasn't there to see that the room was darkening just as if a storm was fast approaching. The idiot stood before the cupboard even now, putting away his coronation robes, freshly cleaned, for the next ceremonial feast. Arthur opened his mouth to reprimand him, but the words froze on his tongue when he saw that Merlin was stroking the silk. Of course it was finer material than anything the peasant boy had ever owned--much good such finery would do on someone like Merlin anyway!--but Arthur was still surprised. It wasn't as if this was the first time his servant had tended his garments, and he should be accustomed to them by now. He should not handle them with such reverence; they were just Arthur's clothes, after all.

Merlin turned his head just in time to catch Arthur in his musings. He looked himself like he'd been caught doing something untoward, and quickly dropped his gaze. It made Arthur even more curious.

"What is it, Merlin?"

"Um, it's just ..." Merlin looked back at the silk robe; Arthur sensed that he wanted to touch it again, but his hand stayed by his side. Without looking back at him, Merlin asked, "The coronation was your birthday, wasn't it? When the Black Knight showed up?"

"Obviously." Really, Merlin did suffer from a mental affliction, the likes of which Arthur had never seen before. "Did you have a point to make, or are you merely stating the obvious?"

"Oh, I was just ..."

Arthur's patience was rapidly growing thin. "Spit it out, Merlin."

"It's just that ... well, you didn't get any presents, did you?"

And how ridiculous was Merlin anyway? He'd been standing right there as Arthur was handed the keys to the kingdom, glory and responsibility and the promise, finally, that he would someday rule Camelot. No more of his father's layered threats, no more if someday you become king. What greater gift could there be?

But Merlin was still talking, just like he seemed to always be talking. "Even when we didn't have much at home, in Ealdor, my mother always... she always gave me..."

His voice waned, leaving a silence in the room that sounded unnatural. That felt unwanted, Arthur realised. He wanted to know what Merlin got, there in what surely was a primitive village--what he could possibly think compared with the gift his father had bestowed in holding out his sceptre.

"Well, I'm waiting," he said, when it looked like Merlin was not going to continue on his own volition. "What did she give you?"

But he was not expecting Merlin to cross determinedly to him, and he was not expecting the soft brush of Merlin's lips on his cheek. Just for a second, so quickly that Arthur wondered if it might not be a phantom's breath, or a simple puff of breeze sneaking through the window; so unexpected, a kiss not given of obligation or duty, that Arthur cannot remember if he had ever received such a gift.

Merlin was back by the cupboard so suddenly that Arthur might have believed he'd imagined it, if not for the rising crimson in Merlin's cheeks, a flush so deep he could see it even in the shadowed room. "That, sire. Even if we didn't have anything else, she always let me know I was special." His head was still bowed, with embarrassment rather than obeisance Arthur was sure, but he raised his eyes and for a second they hung on Arthur's. "Will there be anything else, sire?"

Before answering, Arthur took a moment to search those blue eyes, knowing he would find pity there, and knowing that he would have to hate Merlin when he did. It was missing, though. All he saw was honest affection and the bold gleam he'd come to expect from his impudent manservant. There was no room for anything else.

"No, Merlin, you may go."

Merlin shuffled out without a word, leaving Arthur alone with his thoughts. As the last candle sputtered out and darkness drew him finally to bed, he thought of kingdoms and obligations and gifts freely given; he thought of a sceptre, cold and metallic in his hand, and a kiss, undeniably human for all its brevity. And he thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd become all the richer for having Merlin.

~~~ The End ~~~

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