Merlin pauses, steadying his breath before he turns to face Arthur in the empty corridor. He hadn't even noticed the prince was there. "Yes, sire?"
"You'll be pleased to know that Aredian is dead." Arthur tells him, as he pushes off the wall and advances upon him.
"Well, I wouldn't have expected differently, what with him falling out of a tower window."
Arthur hums, low in his throat. "Yes, one would suppose so. Yet it was most curious- his hand... was burned. I don't recall seeing such an injury before, do you?"
Merlin widens his eyes, trying to look surprised and innocent, even if his heart jumps to the vicinity of his throat. Arthur's face is completely blank and unnervingly difficult to read. "Well, ugh, I didn't really examine his hands before."
"And I could've sworn," Arthur says, coming to stand right in front of him, just past the appropiate distance for two people to be, "that his dagger lighted up, as though suddenly hot to the touch. It would certainly explain why he was so quick to drop it."
"Maybe he had a sudden attack of conscience?"
Arthur snorts. "Funny, Merlin. Real funny. What have we said about you trying to be funny?"
"Ugh," Merlin is looking everywhere but at Arthur now, which is difficult, since he is so close. "That I shouldn't?"
"That's right." Arthur steps back, and Merlin breathes out shakily, is steadying himself to go, when Arthur speaks again.
"I wonder, why on earth someone would choose to spit out a frog at such an inopportune moment," he says, lazily whirling his dagger between his fingertops. "At any moment, really, it can't be pleasant, but in front of the King of Camelot."
"I don't know how sorcerer's think," Merlin says, and he hopes Arthur doesn't notice it comes out a tad ironically.
"Yes, I suppose you wouldn't." Arthur catches his eyes, holds his gaze, before he smiles and clasps Merlin on the shoulder. "Well, off you go then." Before he brushes past Merlin on his way off.
Merlin is nearly slumping in relief when the whispered word catches his attention. Forbearn.
He whirls around to find Arthur watching him, again. "What?"
"What?" Arthur stares.
"I- did you just say something?"
"No-o," he draws out the word, shakes his head, and he's so very clearly lying, his blue eyes steady and not at all surprised.
"I just thought-"
"It sounded suspiciously like..."
"Like what, Merlin?" Arthur raises his eyebrows, picture perfect look of expectation.
"Nothing." Merlin says and goes to step away when again Arthur whispers "forbearn".
"What?" Merlin stares.
"What?" Arthur stares back.
"Arthur." Merlin says.
"Merlin." Arthur parrots back.
"I-" and suddenly Arthur is cuffing his head, whispering "You idiot. Not only do you nearly get caught by a witchfinder, but you decide to do a spell right in front of my father? How do you ever expect me to explain how a dagger is suddenly hot to the touch without it being sorcery, Merlin?!"
"You knew?" Merlin gasps.
"Of course I knew!" Arthur shoves him away, hard. "You're as subtle as a brick to the head, really." He catches Merlin's incredulous gaze, and yields, "okay, I listened in to your conservation with Gaius, and it occured to me that you were both not at all surprised by a magic bracelet being in your chambers before you found out it belonged to neither of you. But I suspected before. Branches and cage doors and trolls keep falling to the ground conveniently whenever you're around. You must be more careful, Merlin!"
"No." Arthur cuts him off. "We are never speaking of this again, I don't want to know, I just want you to not perform magic when you are in the presence of my father."
Arthur narrows his eyes at him. "Promise me, Merlin."
"... I'm afraid I can't do that. See, I've invested rather a lot of time and effort in keeping you alive and I'd hate for it to go to waste."
"Well so would I!" Arthurs snaps, almost biting off the words.
They glared at each other. And then, suddenly, Arthur was crowding him into the wall, caging him in with his arms on both sides of Merlin's head. Merlin stood up straight, because he was the taller one, damn it, and he would not let Arthur stare him down.
Arthur let out a frustrated noise, shaking a finger in Merlin's face. "This is not over, Merlin. Next time, I'll drag you bodily out of the chamber before you can even open your stupid big mouth, am I understood?"
"Crystal clear sire," a beat "though I'd like to see you try, if you are knocked out or fighting a troll or trying to protect Morgana."
"Oh, you are insufferable!" Anger was written in every rigid, pulsing line of Arthur's body, and his kiss was unexpected, viciously hard and bruising. His body was heavy and warm on Merlin as it pinned him to the wall, and his hands in his hair janked and tilted and positioned Merlin's head to his desire so he could take his mouth, plunder it with teeth and lips and tongue, lick into it and bite softly at his lips and deny Merlin every time he tried to do the same. He felt dizzy and hot, warmth spreading to his groin and pleasure singing along his every nerve.
The kiss ended as quickly as it began. Arthur sprang back, as if burned, and Merlin was pleased to see that he was not the only one breathing heavily and slightly shaking on his feet. He pressed his palms into the wall to deny himself the desire to reach out and touch and waited Arthur as he righted himself, as his burning gaze found Merlin's. What he read there, Merlin would never know, would only come close to guess what he had given away, but Arthur breathed in sharply and was back the next second, arms around Merlin and mouth on his, stumbling into the first door he could pry open single-handedly.
Ad Merlin's last, fleeting thought for a while, before everything became about touch and Arthur was that perhaps Arthur had some magic too, because he felt feverishly hot, almost burning up, exactly as the spell promised. Forbearn.