Disclaimer: Don't own Merlin
Summary: Jealous and hurt over Merlin's lie concerning Lancelot, Arthur decides to give him his 'freedom' by firing him and getting a new manservant. Problem is that no one in the castle is happy about it, and his new manservant seems to suddenly be CURSED
Note: Written for my Slash Jealousy Prompt Table
prompt word: #4. Ownership
Sometimes Arthur didn’t know what good it was being Merlin’s master.
Honestly, it wasn’t as if the younger, gangly youth was more than only half decent at his job. He was always taking other people’s sides when Arthur’s should have been the only one he cared about, and he was always constantly getting Arthur in trouble.
Any sane prince would have fired that manservant from the first day of his mediocre service, and yet there had been something about Merlin that made Arthur put up with the inadequate boy.
He thinks it might be Merlin’s smile.
Arthur was quite sure that he’s much better looking than Merlin, but the dark haired boy’s smile is magic in itself. He knew that it was dangerous thinking of it that way in a land where magic was punishable with death (and the fact that his father, King Uther, held no love for Merlin) but there was no other explanation to the way it made Arthur want to smile as well whenever his manservant did so.
At another time Arthur might have suspected that Merlin was a wizard and had enchanted him to not be able to think of anything but him, but then he remembered it was Merlin he was thinking about and that there was no way Merlin would have the talent to do that. Anyway, if Merlin had had magic powers he would have done something with it like enthrall Arthur into making him do whatever he wanted and not work.
Maybe even make himself the king.
Wasn’t that how all magic users worked?
So it was obvious that Merlin didn’t have an ounce of magic in him.
And that was bad.
Because if Merlin were magical Arthur could use that as an excuse, maybe even banish the boy, but Merlin was as ordinary as they came, and Arthur had no excuse to send him away.
Not that he really believed he would do so.
Merlin was in his manservant, and while he was probably one of the most annoying things Arthur had ever owned the young prince was in no hurry to get rid of him.
Even if he couldn’t sharpen a sword properly.
Or saddle a horse properly.
Or help Arthur put on his amour properly.
Arthur frowned as he leaned against the wall and looked down at his kingdom unseeingly.
Now that he thought about it, Merlin really couldn’t do anything properly, could he?
He really should fire him.
But just as quickly as the thought came it went and Arthur made a face.
He trusted Merlin, for some reason or the other.
He was probably an idiot for doing it though.
Hadn’t Merlin already lied to him once already? He’d sworn he was telling the truth, looking Arthur deep in his eyes, and Arthur had been fool enough to believe his story about Lancelot.
The prince’s anger grew in him as he remembered the man who’d wanted to be a knight.
Merlin had lied to Arthur for this Lancelot.
Because he’d saved him that once?
Arthur was saving Merlin’s skinny, ungrateful ass all the time! Didn’t he deserve more loyalty than his manservant had shown him? How could he truly trust anything the younger male told him? How did he know that he wasn’t looking him in the eyes and setting him up for something?
The young blonde prince clenched his fists.
He’d thought he’d gotten over the betrayal, but he realized he hadn’t.
Why did it bother him so much?
Merlin was nothing but a manservant, and there were many of those out there, and most of them would be much more competent in their service than Merlin, that was a fact.
Was being trustworthy too much to ask from the person who was always with him?
No, it’s not.
Growling, Arthur’s eyes were blind on his people, as he refused to admit that the reason why the betrayal of his manservant had been so great was because he’d begun to see him as a friend. But he’d learnt from his mistakes, and the prince now knew to separate the issues.
He wasn’t friends with Merlin, he owned him, there was a difference.
He and Merlin weren’t like Morgana and Gwen.
Gwen would never have betrayed Morgana the way Merlin had him.
“Arthur?” Merlin’s voice interrupted his dark thoughts, the gangly youth and his neckerchief having materialized by his side almost as if bymagic. “Is something the matter? You look as if something is bothering you.”
“It’s none of your concern.” Arthur grumbled, not looking at his manservant.
Merlin was silent for a breath before speaking once more. “If something’s bothering you you can tell me, you know that you can trust me.”
Arthur snorted. “Do I?”
Merlin went stiff, his face registering surprise and hurt before he cleared his throat and ducked his gaze. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” Arthur asked, finally turning towards the other boy. “How do I know you’re not looking me dead in the eye and giving me your word and lying to my face like you’ve done in the past?”
Merlin flinched, gaze on the ground, looking miserable. “I thought we had gotten past that.”
“Obviously I haven’t.” Arthur turned away from the younger male, looking down below at the city from the walls of the castle.
“I explained my reasons for why I did that.” Merlin’s voice was a mere whisper.
“Yes, you didn’t care for our rules and thought you could bend them at your will for your friend.” Arthur spat. “You didn’t care about how much of a fool I’d look when the lie you backed up of his nobility came to light, or about the consequences your actions might have caused. I don’t know how you and he procured that seal of nobility, but it was illegal and wrong. You’re my manservant, anything you do is reflected on me. How will the people expect my rule to be if I cannot even control the actions of my manservant?”
“I’m sorry.” Merlin whispered.
Arthur sneered, shaking his head. “In the end, Merlin, you’re always doing whatever you want, aren’t you?”
Merlin was silent, refusing to look at Arthur, dark hair falling into his face and shielding it from Arthur’s glare.
Arthur shook his head, angry and tired and hurt, though he refused to admit this. “Maybe, maybe it’s time you returned to Ealdor to be with Hunith, your mother must miss you.”
He didn’t notice the way Merlin’s gaze jerked up with those words, or the horror covering the youth’s face.
“Or if you prefer to stay here you may remain under the tutelage of Gaius, I care not.” Turning his back on Merlin Arthur cleared his throat, telling himself he was doing the best thing for both of them. “I release you from my service.”
“Good day, Merlin of Ealdor.” And with that Arthur walked away, wondering why he suddenly felt so numb inside.
Thankfully the days following were very busy so Arthur didn’t have any time to think about the changes in his life now that Merlin wasn’t there to bring him breakfast or bathe him or help him dress, or do things inadequately, or just be there with him.
He didn’t have time to miss him.
…not that he would, miss him, that is.
But Arthur did see Morgana, and he heard from her too.
The woman wouldn’t shut up about Arthur’s supposed ‘petty jealousy’ and how it was making the ‘whole castle’ miserable. How his father’s ward put it, Merlin was miserable, which meant Gwen was miserable, which meant Morgana was miserable, so apparently for Morgana three people made up the entire castle.
Arthur had tried to do his best to ignore Morgana and continue with his life and duties. That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t felt a twinge of guilt (or a moment’s glee) over the fact that Merlin wasn’t exactly the happiest chap in the castle, but Arthur had already done what he’d done and that was that.
He couldn’t have someone by his side who would betray him for some stranger.
That didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard for Arthur to get used to his new manservant, Alistair. The young redhead had come up to him the day after Arthur had fired Merlin and had offered up his services, Arthur hiring him without much thought.
The boy was everything Merlin wasn’t.
He was prompt, efficient, and respectful. He catered to Arthur’s every need without complaint---without Arthur even having to ask him.
He was the perfect manservant.
And yet Arthur found himself many times about to call the boy ‘Merlin’, and horribly enough, he sometimes found the boy annoying because he wasn’t like the incompetent manservant he’d once had.
It was insane.
“How are things with your new servant?” Gwen wanted to know, making a face at Alistair as the boy sharpened Arthur’s sword perfectly, humming to himself, utterly enjoying the task.
“Perfect.” Arthur responded truthfully.
Before he wouldn’t have had a conversation with Morgana’s servant girl, but he’d gotten to know Gwen through Merlin, and somehow thought of her as an annoying female friend.
Though not as annoying as Morgana.
“Perfect.” Gwen frowned, looking troubled. “He hasn’t been causing you any problem at all? You aren’t about to fire him like you did every other servant you had before Merlin? None of them lasted the week.”
“Alistair is,” Arthur paused, trying to find the right way to put it. “He’s very efficient.”
They were out in the courtyard, and Arthur had just finished training with his knights, so he was sweaty and tense and somewhat tired.
“Efficient?” Gwen looked even more troubled. “But doesn’t it bore you? The way he dotes on you so mindlessly?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow at Gwen. “Not particularly.”
“Oh.” Gwen bit her bottom lip and her gaze returned to Alistair. “His hair is very red.”
“And yours is very dark, what’s the point?” Arthur wondered what the girl was getting at, taking a sip of the water the boy had brought him right before going to sharpen the sword.
Alistair finished sharpening the sword and hurried towards them, smiling. “Here you go Sire, your sword.”
Arthur reached for his weapon and tested the sharpness. “Perfection, as usual.”
Alistair beamed. “Thank you, Sire.”
The constant ‘Sire’ was for some reason grating hard on Arthur’s nerves, which was odd since he’d always grumbled about Merlin never calling him by that title.
Sheathing the sword, Arthur nodded and finished the water, wincing at the pain in his shoulders from the tension he’d been feeling lately.
“Would Young Master care for a backrub?” Alistair asked, taking the now empty glass from Arthur. “It would help relieve the stress from your shoulders and the pain in your muscles.”
“I do care for one.” Arthur announced, pulling his shirt off of his head and dropping it into Alistair’s hands, watching as the servant folded it and put it somewhere where it wouldn’t get dirtier.
Gwen had stormed away, muttering to herself angrily.
“Sit over there Sire.”
Doing as told, Arthur took in a deep breath and felt a little wary as Alistair was behind him, but when the boy’s hands started to work over his muscles all he could do was close his eyes and groan in pain and pleasure.
Merlin had never done this for him after practice.
Why hadn’t he?
This---this was good.
Arthur’s mouth opened slightly in a silenced groan, sure that the pleasure he felt as the boy kneaded at his tense muscles was visible on his face. But he didn’t care.
This felt so good.
Suddenly Alistair gave a little shriek and the hands disappeared from Arthur’s back as there was a crashing sound behind him.
Arthur’s eyes opened and he turned around on the crate he was sitting on, seeing that somehow Alistair had tripped on a small, colorful ball that he didn’t remember seeing around before, and was now on his butt on the ground, wincing in pain.
“I’m so sorry Sire!” Alistair cried out, embarrassed. “I’m such a klutz!”
Arthur got up and helped the younger boy to his feet, not noticing Merlin disappear around the corner.
The next couple of weeks Arthur began to suspect that his manservant was cursed. There were just too many coincidences for it to be any other way. It wasn’t that bad, the things weren’t injurious or anything, but whenever Alistair was going to give him a backrub, or whenever he was doting on Arthur, or whenever he caused Arthur to laugh he’d trip on something, or a bee would sting him, or he’d go mute, or suddenly start speaking in what could only be called gibberish.
Arthur was beginning to feel sorry for the boy.
“Arthur, I believe you should find a new manservant.” Uther announced one day, surprising his son.
“Why?” Arthur made a face. “What do you have against my manservants? First you disliked Merlin and now you want me to get rid of Alistair?”
“Incompetent and overly opinionated as Merlin may be, he wasn’t the disgrace this boy is.” Uther made up his face in disgust. “Just the other day he decided to speak in pure gibberish all day. You can not have such a man by your side, it does not look good for the future king of my kingdom. Merlin was much better than this new one of yours.”
Arthur sighed, running his hand through his golden hair. “What are you saying, father? Before Merlin you were criticizing me for not being able to keep a servant for more than a week, then you were criticizing me for keeping Merlin for so long, and now you’re criticizing me for firing him?”
“Exactly.” Uther nodded, as if this should be obvious. “I also believe you should rehire Merlin posthaste.”
Arthur made a face at his father. “I fired Merlin for our own good. He would do better under Gaius’ tutelage and I’d do better with another servant.”
“No, neither of you are doing better in this circumstance.” Uther disagreed. “And Morgana told me another story.”
Arthur winced, only imagining what that woman would have told the king. “Did she.”
Uther nodded, going shrewdly serious, eyes narrowed. “According to her you fired Merlin because you were jealous of Lancelot. Thecommoner who wanted to be a knight.”
Arthur frowned. “I was not jealous.”
“I know that.” Uther scoffed as if him thinking otherwise was utter nonsense. “What do you have to be jealous of Lancelot about? You are the prince.”
“Yes father.” Arthur sighed tiredly. “I am the prince.”
“And Merlin dotes on you, Arthur. You should know that by now.” Uther sighed, leaning against the wall in a very out of character move as he turned his head to look at the prince. “Maybe he isn’t as showy about it as that new manservant of yours is, but who is always there with you when you need him the most? Merlin is. Even if he’s too stubborn and opinionated and ‘always does whatever he wants’. He---he doesn’t mean to make things difficult for you, Arthur. He---he really only wants the best for you. You’re the most important person in the world to him.”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed at his father’s heartfelt and completely surprisingly passionate defense of Merlin. “He betrayed me, father. Helied to me, and betrayed my trust. When he gave me his word that Lancelot was a noble I---I didn’t even doubt him one bit because it was Merlin and I trusted him!”
Uther flinched and looked away, looking guilty. “Well, I’m sure that he’s repentant.”
“So am I.” Arthur didn’t understand. “I shouldn’t have thought we were friends! I owned him and that was it, I shouldn’t have thought that he owed me loyalty for any other reason.”
Uther looked angry. “Stop it.”
Arthur bit back his sharp retort because this was his father. “Is this conversation over? I have things I need to do.”
“No, it isn’t over.” Uther looked like he was about to throw something. “Why do you have to be so stubborn all the time? You’re sobullheaded!”
Arthur was taken back at this. “Why?”
“You need Merlin and he needs you!”
Arthur paused, looking away and clearing his throat. “Father, I no longer own Merlin, I gave him his freedom and it will remain that way. He will continue his life, and I will mine. And if Alistair offends you in such a way I will find a replacement as soon as possible, although I was finally beginning to grow fond of him.”
Uther did throw something.
Arthur watched in surprise as he father stalked away, fuming.
Shaking his head, Arthur went to find Alistair (who was suffering from one of his mute days) and told him that due to his father’s disapproval he had to fire him. The boy’s eyes widened in tears but Arthur comforted him by giving him another job in the castle that would pay just as well.
But now Arthur was manservant-less once again.
And it was disagreeable.
He noticed his father talking to Gaius, and Arthur wondered when his father had had the time to change his clothes because the King looked nothing like he had half an hour ago when they’d had that odd conversation.
Deciding that it wasn’t his business, Arthur sighed and went about the rest of his day doing his duties.
Once again Arthur found that he couldn’t keep a manservant for more than a week, all just didn’t meet his needs.
He was even shorter of patience with them now, and disliked them all by sight.
And he finally admitted that he missed Merlin.
At least he admitted it to himself.
Twirling, sword ready, Arthur frowned in surprise when he saw that Merlin was there.
The prince had gone to his own hidden grove to practice on his own, trying to get rid of his stress so that he didn’t always snap at everyone. He was sick of making the servant girls cry. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s been a while,” Merlin seemed a little nervous, smiling shakily at him. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m doing perfectly, thank you.” Arthur pushed back the sensation of relief he felt now that Merlin was here again, talking to him. He didn’t want to admit the other feelings as well, not to himself, not yet at least. “I heard from Gwen that you’re flourishing under Master Gaius’ hand. I’m glad for you.”
Merlin’s smile slipped a little before he cleared his throat and looked around him. “Where’s your manservant? Shouldn’t he be here?”
“Don’t have one at the moment.” Arthur responded, face straight.
“Oh? That’s odd, isn’t it?” Merlin seemed to be going somewhere with this, that much was obvious despite his attempts at innocence. “Doesn’t a prince need his manservant? You shouldn’t do without.”
Are you offering?
But Arthur kept those pathetically hopeful words locked in his throat. “I won’t, I already have a candidate for my next one.”
A dark emotion washed over Merlin’s face and then it was gone and he was smiling forcedly. “Don’t you think that might be a bad idea? You’ve gone through more servants than there are in the castle, and you don’t seem happy with them if the way you’ve been so mean to everyone lately has anything to say about it.”
“What are you getting at, Merlin?” Arthur wanted to know, needed to know.
Merlin looked nervous all over again. “I---I want, I thought, I could be your manservant again.”
Arthur was shocked, and he knew it showed, but then he cleared his throat and looked away. “Thank you, but no.”
“Arthur---.” There was slight pleading in that voice.
It hurt Arthur and angered him all at the same time. “If you want to be a manservant that badly wait until that good friend of yours, Lancelot, returns and be his servant.”
Merlin frowned deeply. “Lancelot doesn’t own me, you do.”
Arthur blinked. “No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
And Merlin was arguing with him, just like the incompetent, disrespectful guy he was.
If this hadn’t been such an important issue Arthur would be smiling. “I gave up my ownership of you, Merlin. I set you free.”
“Well maybe I didn’t take the freedom, maybe I preferred your ownership.” Merlin countered, cheeks slightly red, unable to look at Arthur in the face anymore as he said those words. “Maybe I was waiting for you to realize that you still owned me. Maybe I didn’t realize just how thick you are.”
Arthur was shocked silent.
He was so shocked he even ignored the insult.
What exactly was Merlin saying?
Pushing back the excited, hopeful feeling beginning to bubble in him, Arthur cleared his throat. “You’re incompetent.”
“You managed to survive throughout it.”
“You backtalk too much.”
“You’d be bored with me if I was compliant with your every wish and desire.”
“You have no respect for me or my authority.”
“I respect you more than anyone else, but I can’t keep quiet if I feel you might be making a mistake. I want to help you.”
Arthur was confused, but hopeful, and that confused him all the more. “You always said that I didn’t own you.”
Merlin sighed, “I only lied those times, because I knew Lancelot would prove himself to you and be valuable to you---and because I didn’t want to admit you owned me.”
Arthur leaned back against a tree, eyeing Merlin thoughtfully. “I can’t own you.”
“Why not?” Merlin whispered, eyes entreating.
“Because my manservant should submit himself to me and my wish without question.”
“I’ll submit.” Merlin bit the words out. “Not without question, but I will.”
“Even if I ask something completely unreasonable and selfish of you?” Arthur asked.
Merlin smiled tenderly. “You always ask selfish and unreasonable things of me.”
Arthur chuckled, ducking his gaze.
He’d missed this.
God, he’d missed this.
And he’d missed Merlin’s smile.
It was all Merlin’s fault this was happening, and it was all Merlin’s fault for what was about to happen.
“You don’t mind me owning you.” Arthur dropped his sword and walked towards Merlin, who was watching him nervously, swallowing.
“No, I don’t.” Merlin whispered.
“Even if I did this?” Arthur’s voice went low as he reached around Merlin and pulled the thin male towards him tightly.
He didn’t know what he was doing.
All he knew was that he couldn’t stop.
He didn’t want to.
Merlin nodded wordlessly.
“Even,” Arthur’s gaze fell to Merlin’s lips. “Even if I did this?” And then he was kissing Merlin, and he took the youth’s whimper and his fingers burying themselves in Arthur’s hair as a yes.
Or, well, he hoped it was a yes, because he was kissing Merlin and he wasn’t letting go.
Tightening his hold on the boy Arthur pushed them up against a tree and began to reaffirm his ownership of his manservant, Merlin whimpering and groaning his approval.
Neither noticed Gwen and Morgana grinning at them before hurrying back to tell the castle that all was finally well with Arthur once more, and that no one had to be frightened of him anymore---something that was received with cheering and whispers of relief.
Peace had finally returned to Camelot.