Actions

Work Header

Arthur and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bet

Work Text:

The knights thought that bets were funny. They would bet on anything. One time Percival bet that Gwaine couldn’t eat an entire kitchen. He didn’t show up for drills the next day because he was still throwing up. Arthur never took part in these bets. He told himself it was because he was more mature. That he was the king and therefore better than these childish games. But really, he just didn’t think they had come up with a bet worth participating in. The knights were - needless to say - very competitive. Once one got involved in a bet, all the rest of the Round Table had to join in. Save Arthur, of course.

Merlin was around the knights enough to be used to these bets, and sometimes even participate. Arthur was always surprised when Merlin would stomp up to one of the knights, look them square in the eyes, and do exactly what the knight had said he couldn’t do. Arthur laughed every time. To see Merlin act in such a defiant and stubborn way always made the king laugh. The knights had made a game of it, taunting and teasing Merlin. They paid way too much attention to Arthur’s manservant.

It was also common knowledge among the knights that Merlin was adorable. Their words, not Arthur’s. Strange, truthfully; here were the knights of Camelot’s Round Table - all of them handsome, toned, and very open about being gay - yet they all thought Merlin was the most admirable in the kingdom. Merlin. Arthur’s clumsy, terrible manservant. That’s who the knights gave the most attention to.

Arthur really despised these bets.

“No one will ever sleep with Merlin,” Percival was saying as Gwaine paced in front of him. They were in the weapon room, all of the knights, and Arthur. “He’s not the type to fall for it.”

“Fall for it?” Gwaine stopped pacing. “I could easily get that scrawny little ass wrapped around me. Easy.”

Arthur cringed at the image. It had been 20 minutes of arguing about Merlin. They should have been talking about how practice went, or the upcoming Round Table meeting, or anything other than Merlin.

“I’d sleep with him no problem. If he was willing of course,” Leon said meekly.

Elyan stood up with Gwaine and draped his arm around his friend. “Gwaine has the best chance, seeing as Merlin met him first. But if we are being honest, I’m the best looking.”

There was an uproar of laughter. Arthur could not believe he was hearing all this. The knights didn’t seem to mind Arthur’s presence though. He rolled his eyes and tried to remove his own armor. Where was that scrawny little… now Arthur was doing it. He hated that the knights put these adjectives in his head. He just wanted to keep things strictly business with Merlin. The boy worked for him. He was his manservant and nothing else.

“You couldn’t even get him to kiss you,” Gwaine retorted to Elyan's taunts as he pushed the taller knight off of him. “Though I think that Percival would be my real competition. He sure knows how to please a man.”

The knights whooped, knowing of Gwaine and Percival’s very open relationship.

“Lancelot would be Merlin’s first choice. Let’s be honest. He was the one who knew of Merlin’s magic first and the two of them are really close.” Percival pointed out, very logically.

Arthur had managed to get most of his armor off by himself and he couldn’t wait to leave the room along with this conversation. It was upsetting him in a way that he didn’t want to examine closer.

“All right, let’s do this properly then,” Gwaine said loudly. Some other knights who were only listening before huddled in around Gwaine, already pulling out their coin purses. “Anyone who thinks they can get the pretty little Merlin to bed, put in two crowns. First to succeed gets the money.”

All the knights started to talk at once, making the room fill with white noise. Arthur tried to drown it out. He watched Gwaine smiling as he held out his hands to collect the money. “We need to put it somewhere for safe keeping.” Leave it to Gaheris to be practical about something as trivial as a frivolous bet. “Arthur.” He spun around to look at his king.

Arthur was in the middle of removing his chest piece when all of his Round Table turned to look at him. “Yes,” Arthur asked hesitantly, wishing he could just disappear.

“Will you hold the money?” Oh, thank god.

“Unless you want to join in?” Gwaine asked hopefully. “You are around him most.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, trying to decide which card to play. The I’m-your-king card, the I’m-too-old-for-this card, or the you’re-an-idiot-Gwaine card. “I can hold the money,” Arthur said dryly. Given the two options, it was a fairly easy decision. This particular bet was getting out of hand far too quickly, and Arthur was very unsettled by it all. He agreed to hold the money so that they would stop trying to get him involved. He didn’t even want to know about the bet, let alone participate in it.

“Is everyone in?” Kay asked in his loud belt, causing the whole room to quiet a degree.

Arthur hung up his chainmail and put away his sword, his back to his knights. “Here you go, sire.” Lancelot said from right behind him. Arthur turned and took the bag of coins. Before leaving, he gave all his knights an awkward nod; then he was out the door into the fresh sunlight. Behind him he could hear the roars of laughter. He didn’t want to think about the types of jokes being made.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

Merlin was waiting in Arthur’s bedchambers when he returned. “My lord!” he said, a bit too surprised. “What are you doing back so early?”

Arthur scanned the room to see what Merlin was trying to cover up. His lanky manservant just twitched with his hands behind his back. Without a word, Arthur stalked over to Merlin and turned him around violently. As Arthur suspected, he was trying to hide something, but when Arthur looked down he realized he didn’t recognize the item. “What is this?” Arthur asked incredulously.

“Your china plate is broken,” Merlin spoke regretfully. Then Arthur realized he was looking at a triangular piece of an ancient porcelain plate that his grandmother had passed down to him.

“Merlin,” Arthur demanded, not really knowing what to say next. He put on a face of frustration and anger, his usual mask around Merlin - especially in times like this when Merlin was so terribly clumsy Arthur wanted to sack him. Truth be told, however, Arthur didn’t really care much about the plate, or about Merlin’s clumsiness. Arthur hadn’t even met his grandmother before, and he didn’t keep things around for sentimental value. It was in his room mostly because it always had been, and there was no reason to remove it. When it came to Merlin, it was easy to forgive anything, but Arthur couldn’t show that. If Merlin knew that, Arthur wouldn’t have a single working item left in his bed chambers. “Why were you touching my things?”

“I was dusting,” Merlin clarified innocently.

Arthur scoffed and pulled the china from Merlin’s hand, tossing it on the table with the other pieces. “You were supposed to be with me training the knights.”

“I’m not really sure I’d be good at training the knights, my lord.”

It was just like Merlin to be a smart ass while he was supposed to be in trouble. “Merlin!”

“Sire!” Merlin echoed, and Arthur had a fleeting thought to pin him against the wall and - do something to him. Something violent perhaps.

Instead, the king turned on his heels and went behind his dressing curtain to change into fresh linens. “Clean up that mess, Merlin. Then prepare my bath.”

There was a clamor as Merlin dropped something. The uncoordinated idiot. “Yes, Arth- my lord.” Seriously, what did the knights see in him? Why would they care about this servant sleeping with them? He was Arthur’s manservant. Not that that changed anything, but Arthur felt oddly protective of that fact. They could have made a bet about any other servant in the castle, why did they have to pick the king’s personal one?

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

The Round Table meeting had concluded with talk of the quests each knight would take in the upcoming summer. Young Sir Galahad said he would accompany Lancelot on the quest for the Holy Grail. Leon and Percival agreed to help Gwaine in the search to defeat the Questing Beast. Elyan and Kay were to head to the North to trade with Queen Annis. Arthur was proud of his knights for taking on such important responsibilities, but as soon as the court counselor Geoffrey was gone from the Great Hall, the knights broke into their casual banter.

“So who is coming to the pub tonight?” Gwaine piped. Arthur rolled his eyes, wishing the knights were not this comfortable with him. He wanted to keep himself out of their private affairs, though he did value that they trusted him so fully. Despite most of the talk revolving around mead and sex, Arthur appreciated the fact that it wasn’t all business with the knights.

Percival stood with Gwaine and took his hand. “Let’s just go now. We don’t have anything else to do.”

The group looked expectantly at Arthur, who was, at this point, the only one still sitting. “You may go.”

“Would you like to join?” Lancelot asked, with a tone that showed he was only asking for the sake of formality. Some of the knights began to file out of the Great Hall.

“No, no,” Arthur waved his hand. “You all have a good time. I have some things to go over.”

Merlin stifled a laugh.

“Are you coming, Merlin?” Kay was being a bit too obvious in his tone, if Arthur was being honest.

Merlin looked up from his place against the wall. Clearly he wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation. “Erm… I, I guess.”

Really? Merlin was going to go drinking with the knights? The knights who only yesterday made a bet revolving around Merlin’s promiscuity. This was a recipe for disaster. Arthur needed to keep an eye out for his manservant. The ignorant little man wouldn’t know what hit him. Arthur would be going strictly as a king keeping one of his subjects safe. That was it. Really. That was it.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

“Meerlinnnn!” Gwaine was sufficiently drunk. Arthur held his cup of mead to his lips, hardly sipping. He had to keep a clear head. With all the muscular knights surrounding Merlin, he looked tiny. “You are pretty, Merlin.”

Gwaine would have had a chance if he had not gotten so drunk. Now he was just out of control. Merlin kept pushing him off while Gwaine continued to try to pet his cheek. Then Leon took Merlin’s foot and started to rub it. Elyan went to the bar to get Merlin another drink, while Percival rolled up his sleeves and so clearly was flexing. Arthur decided that was cheating. Percival’s arms could turn anyone who looked at them.

Arthur couldn’t tell if Merlin was enjoying himself or not. He laughed when appropriate and would respond with his usual sarcasm, but he seemed distracted. He wasn’t enjoying himself, Arthur decided. Then Merlin caught Arthur staring, and the king had to look away. So what if he was watching his knights try to hook up with his manservant? His staring had meant nothing more than simple curiosity.

It was best if Arthur find something else in the pub to do. He scanned the room. Or just retire for the evening. He couldn’t be in this stuffy room any longer. Looking again at Merlin made his breath quicken. It was those eyes. Those damn blue eyes that looked back into Arthur’s. The eyes that seemed to taunt ‘I see you looking at me’. His ears didn’t help. They peeked out of his ebony hair and seemed to wave at Arthur. And those cheekbones, defined and rigid, didn’t do Arthur any good either. In fact, everything about Merlin made Arthur uncomfortable. So very uncomfortable. But it was the kind of uncomfortable feeling Arthur got when he caught Merlin looking at him in his changing room. The kind that Arthur knew he should not want more of. But Merlin’s uncomfortableness was, in a way, comforting. It didn’t make any sense to Arthur.

Maybe he had had too much mead.

The king of Camelot should not be looking at his manservant the way that Arthur was. And he should not be thinking what he was thinking as he looked at said manservant. It was all a mess. He needed to get out of that room. The king rose to his feet, making the world wobble a little. He was about to leave when he noticed Merlin exit the tavern with Lancelot.

Lancelot.

The traitor.

But Arthur sighed. At least he knew Merlin wasn’t being taken advantage of. Percival was right the other day in the weapon room - Merlin trusted Lancelot above all the other knights. Including Arthur, apparently. Merlin had told the knight of his magic long before he had even thought about telling Arthur. That still stung, some. Arthur pushed open the heavy wooden door of the pub. Maybe Merlin had always wanted Lancelot. Maybe this bet meant more to Lancelot than just the money. Maybe it was a good thing that Merlin had left with Lancelot. Someone he trusted. Arthur tried to tell himself it was all right, but his stomach was in knots. The cold air was welcoming, but Arthur still felt like he was going to throw up.

He staggered back to the castle and retired early for the night, doing what he could to forget about Merlin and Lancelot together.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

“That doesn’t count!” Arthur had walked into the Great Hall for the morning Round Table meeting. The fact that Merlin had not shown up to serve the king his breakfast was worrying him, though Arthur told himself he was only worried because he had missed out on breakfast.

Stomach growling, Arthur pulled out his chair at the Round Table, hiding the fact that he was listening closely to the conversation Gaheris and Kay were having. “Sure it counts,” Kay was saying, as Arthur sat. “They went to Lance’s chambers. We can assume that something happened.”

“I’m not going to believe anything till I hear a confession from Merlin himself.”

Right on cue, Lancelot walked through the doors with Percival and Gwaine. They were laughing.

Arthur shuffled the papers in front of him. Luckily he had left a stack there last night, so he had something to fiddle with as he acted as if he didn’t care about what the knights were discussing. “Bet’s still on, boys,” Gwaine shouted into the mostly empty hall. His voice reverberated through the high rafters, sending a sense of relief over Arthur.

“He left as soon as he got me in bed. Apparently he just wanted to see me home safe.” Lancelot took a seat a few chairs away from Arthur. He gave the king a quick nod, then looked back at his friends.

Percival chuckled. “What a saint. Well, good news for us, then.”

“Not for you lot. I’m going to win this bet before this meeting is over. I have such a great -”

Arthur cleared his throat, silencing the room. “Where are the others?” he asked softly, but sternly.

“They should be arriving soon,” Gaheris said hastily, as the other knights found their seats.

Arthur stood. “And my manservant?” He was cold and a bit too harsh. He sounded like Uther, so he decided to soften his tone. “Where is Merlin?”

The knights looked from one to the other and said nothing. Arthur rubbed his temples, which were throbbing from the mead of last night. Just as Arthur looked up, the doors swung open and Elyan walked in, arm around Merlin.

Elyan?

Arthur’s stomach dropped.

Elyan hung to him like a dead fish. “Just don’t forget about what I said, Merlin.” Merlin nodded and gave a nervous laugh.

“Thanks. If I need any help mucking out the horses stables, I’ll let you know.” Merlin took his place on the wall and didn’t even look at Arthur.

“Glad you could join us, Merlin. Where were you this morning?” Arthur’s tone had reverted back to the callous version of his father’s voice.

Merlin shifted uneasily. Elyan broke in before Merlin could speak. “That was my fault, my lord -”

“I was speaking to my manservant.” Arthur could feel his blood boil. He didn’t want to know what Merlin and Elyan had been doing. He was sick of this bet, and sick of hearing about it at his Round Table meetings. “Merlin.”

“I am sorry, my lord. I overslept.” Arthur knew he was lying, covering for Elyan, but Arthur was king. He needed to keep his personal sympathies separate from his post.

No matter how blue those eyes were.

“Don’t let it happen again,” Arthur snapped shortly. With that, he sat down and began the meeting without another glance at Merlin. When the meeting finally adjourned, Merlin’s spot on the wall was empty.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

Merlin had been successful in completing all of his duties while also avoiding Arthur. Two days had passed, and honestly Arthur was impressed by Merlin’s dedication. The bet still wore on, each knight trying their damndest to obtain the affections of Merlin. As much as Arthur wanted this bet to be over, he was relieved to find that it still had not come to an end.

A practice sword in hand and a sturdy dummy was all Arthur needed to release his frustrations. Merlin was being petty. Arthur hadn’t treated Merlin any differently than a king was expected to treat his servants. True, he yelled at Merlin - harshly - and in front of the knights. Arthur had done that before, but not quite in the same way. All the usual fondness was gone from Arthur’s voice. It was odd, because Arthur had never been so acutely aware of his fondness until now. So why had he taken it all out on Merlin?

The training ground was, thankfully, empty. Though Arthur was not surprised to see Lancelot, Leon, Percival and Gwaine arrive shortly after him. They trained harder than any of the other knights in Camelot. Typically, Arthur would be glad to allow them to join, but today Arthur ignored them and continued to whack away at the dummy in front of him.

Swords clashed behind Arthur, and he knew the knights would stay for at least an hour. Arthur decided to return to his chambers to prepare a speech for the upcoming banquet. When he turned, he was shocked to find Merlin had joined the group. What was Merlin doing with the knights? Then a pain in Arthur’s chest reminded him. He hoped he was wrong.

Percival was showing Merlin how to sharpen a sword while Leon and Lancelot were scrimmaging. Gwaine was fiddling with his crossbow. “My lord,” Leon said, when he noticed Arthur walking towards them. “Good day.”

Ever since Arthur’s outburst, the knights had been a bit less relaxed around their king. Arthur hadn’t realized how much he missed the brotherly banter. “How is that new sword handling?” Arthur asked Lancelot, but was looking at Merlin.

The manservant looked both defiant and apologetic. Lancelot had answered Arthur’s question, and in a distant voice Arthur was responding. It wasn’t the relevant conversation that was being had. Arthur and Merlin stared for a bit longer till Arthur finally asked, “Merlin, will you help me in my chambers? Your services are required.”

Merlin swallowed hard. “My lord, if I may, I would request that I am granted permission to remain with the knights for a while longer.”

Arthur looked at each of the men before him, then looked back at Merlin. “It can wait. I’ll wait with you.”

Lancelot brought his sword up and nodded at Leon. The two began to fight once again, while Arthur sat next to Gwaine. The bench Merlin shared with Percival had no room for Arthur. It was a moment before Merlin looked away from his king. Percival continued to whisper to Merlin.

The boy was giggling at something the knight had told him. Gwaine leaned in to Arthur. “You know, it’s not too late to enter the bet yourself, my lord.”

Arthur snapped his head to Gwaine, who returned Arthur’s confused look with a wink. “I am not interested,” Arthur replied quickly.

“Percival is the closest. I almost wish I had bet on him.” Arthur stifled a scoff. He felt like going back to the practice dummy and shredding it to pieces. It was sickening to watch Merlin behave that way. And with one of his knights.

Percival stood with Merlin, put the sword in his hand, and wrapped his own huge arms around the scrawny manservant. The image was too intimate. He raised the sword with Merlin, swinging it slowly. Merlin looked up at the knight, his face too close to Percival’s. Then he nudged Percival off of him and swung at the air quickly. He watched himself proudly and Arthur felt the same feeling build slightly within him.

Percival went back to his seat as Gwaine stood from his position. “Classic mistake, Percy,” he said to himself as he made his way over to Merlin. “Hey, Magic-boy. Show me what you got.”

With a start, Merlin dropped the sword to his side. He looked from Gwaine to Arthur, then back at Gwaine. “What do you want to see?”

“Fire! Something magical.” Gwaine made big gestures, trying to convey what he imagined magic fire might look like.

Merlin shrugged and chanted something incoherent. Before him floated a spark that resembled a dragon. Merlin held out his hands to keep the shape, a smile plastered across his face. His cheekbones deepened as his face lit up. Watching Merlin’s face as he cast a spell was magical in it of itself.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

Later, in Arthur’s chambers, Merlin kept himself busy by ignoring Arthur. “So. You’ve been avoiding me.”

“I did my duties, my lord,” he added quietly.

Arthur watched as Merlin picked through Arthur’s clothes mindlessly. “Yes, but you were not present. One of your duties as my manservant is to be by my side at all times.”

“Sorry, my lord.” He didn’t look up from his task.

Arthur groaned. “Don’t call me that. And stop doing that.” Arthur snatched the shirt from Merlin's hand, making his manservant face him.

He was breathing heavily through his nose and had a challenging look in his eyes. “What do you want me to do, my lord? I have -”

“Arthur.”

Merlin took a step back. “God, are you in on it too?”

Arthur paused. The room was filling with a silence that made Arthur’s hands shake. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb. I know about the bet.” Merlin pulled the shirt to take it away from Arthur, but Arthur held his grip.

“I don’t bet with the knights.”

Merlin shrugged and gave Arthur a side-long glance. “It’s kinda flattering, I think. The attention has been entertaining.”

“I think it’s annoying.”

“Why is that?” Merlin asked as he let go of the shirt and moved to Arthur’s bed to fidget with the covers.

Arthur followed and sat himself on the bed, throwing the shirt as he went. “I just think the bet is senseless.”

“Hm,” Merlin pondered. “So you didn’t want to join in?”

“Never. I’m the king of Camelot, Merlin. I have certain expectations to uphold.”

Merlin knelt in front of him to help Arthur remove his boots. “But what if you weren’t king...”

“I still wouldn’t bet. It’s childish.” Arthur pulled his foot free and wriggled his toes, grateful for the boot to be off.

“Would you take the bet if it was someone else?” Merlin looked up at Arthur, hand on Arthur’s other foot, ready to remove the other boot.

Arthur watched him carefully. Once Arthur’s feet were free, he pulled Merlin up onto his own feet. “I don’t bet, Merlin. Furthermore, this is probably one of the worst bets the knights have come up with. I mean, really, a manservant? Certainly they could set their sights a little higher.” He yanked himself free of Arthur and glared. The room shrank in size, the air thickened, and Arthur wished he had changed the subject long ago.

“Because I’m a servant?” Merlin crossed his arms and kept his eyes fixed on Arthur.

The stare was burning into Arthur as guilt rose quickly. “No, because you’re... well, you’re you. Clumsy. Lanky. You’re just not what I’d expect...” But apparently Arthur was set on sticking his foot in his mouth today. “Don’t you have some laundry to do?” Arthur stood from the bed, intentions set on leaving the room.

He was stopped by a hand that was much more forceful than Arthur had given Merlin credit for. His manservant paused, for the smallest amount of time and then pushed Arthur back onto the bed. Before Arthur could process it, Merlin was on top of him kissing him violently. It made Arthur want to yell at him and yank him in for more, all at once.

Merlin pulled away, pushing Arthur down again. “Didn’t expect that, did you?”

“What the hell -”

“I’m not clumsy.” With a scowl still on his face, Merlin stormed out of the room, leaving Arthur with lips that still tingled with a craving for more.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

Apparently, Arthur had lost all control of his Round Table meetings. When he walked in to the Great Hall the following day, Merlin was dancing with Gwaine. Dancing. With Gwaine of all people. Arthur didn’t think the shorter man could sit still enough to learn anything, but apparently the knight had learned to dance at some point. The other knights were surrounding them clapping in a slightly off-tempo beat.

As much as Arthur wanted to stop this, he was enjoying the look on Merlin’s face far too much. He looked like he was reluctantly having a good time, but it was pretty clear it was Gwaine’s idea to begin the dancing. Agravaine noticed Arthur first and hushed Kay who was beside him. Soon the other knights followed suit and a silence fell over the room.

“By all means, continue.” Arthur stood in the doorway, smiling.

Merlin was the first to realize Arthur was serious and pranced over to him. “My lord, if I may have this dance?” But Arthur wasn’t given enough time to respond before Merlin had brought him into position.

The room filled with laughter and Arthur regretfully swatted Merlin away. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Obeying their king, the knights all found a place around the table. Merlin slunk back to the wall. “I think we should begin today with -” Agravaine had started.

“Merlin,” Arthur called. “Care to join us?” Not understanding exactly why he had offered that, Arthur squared his shoulders to show he was sincere. He had always hated to see Merlin off to the side like that. The whole point of the Round Table was equality, was it not? But Merlin lingered. “Come on.”

Finally, Merlin moved and hesitantly pulled out a chair. It was about time Arthur’s Round Table was complete. Still uncertain why he had made the invitation today, of all days, Arthur started the meeting. Maybe the bet was getting to him. Maybe he was trying to show how much he believed in equality. Or maybe he just was in a good mood. And though all of that may have been true to a degree, Arthur knew the real reason he had asked Merlin to sit at the table: the only spot remaining was at his right hand side, and that was the only place Arthur had ever wanted to see Merlin.

 

*~~~~~~~*

 

Arthur joined the knights and Merlin at the tavern again that night. Arthur had been too free with his mead and started to feel it in his head. The room slowed as everything went out of focus. Merlin was even acting a bit more silly than he normally would. The night wore on and though each knight made their last attempts to win the bet, Merlin had brushed them all off, his attention on Arthur the whole time. As the alcohol faded, Arthur's good mood remained. Merlin sat by his side till they were the last in the pub and the tavern maid told them to go home.

They reached the long corridor leading to Arthur’s chambers, Merlin holding onto Arthur to keep him steady. The torches in the hallway were not lit. Merlin took a few paces ahead and whispered, “Bæl on bryne,” then triumphantly looked back at Arthur. It was still odd seeing his own manservant hold so much power with a few simple words. Merlin was prophesied to be the greatest warlock of all time. This should scare Arthur - his father would have been terrified - but Arthur knew Merlin was on his side. The only feeling he got when watching Merlin do magic was a feeling of pride.

“Why do you still perform all your servant duties if you can do things like that?” Arthur asked inquisitively.

Merlin just shrugged, back still to Arthur. “Don’t know. Habit I guess. I’ve had to hide it for so long…”

“I’m sorry.” Arthur was serious, more serious than he had probably ever allowed himself to be around Merlin.

Merlin stopped walking, but didn’t turn around. Arthur came up behind him and waited for Merlin to continue. “You don’t need to apologize. It was Uther who made the laws preventing me from being who I truly am.”

Arthur noted the vagueness in that sentence and let himself hope and wonder at the hidden meaning. “True. But still. I want you to always be you, Merlin.”

With that, his manservant turned around. He gave Arthur a truly adorable smile. There it was: adorable. The knights may have given him the adjective, but the feeling had always been there. Buried in Arthur’s stubborn heart.

“Why did you have me join the Round Table today?” Merlin asked suddenly.

Arthur wondered if he could allow himself to be honest. Merlin looked at him with those eyes that gave Arthur all the courage he needed. “Despite being the worst servant in all of Camelot, you are in fact very wise, Merlin. I trust your opinion above all others.”

“Oh.” He didn’t expect Merlin to believe him so quickly, but Arthur had spoken from the heart. It seemed that Merlin knew Arthur well enough to know when he was being facetious and when he was being genuine. “Thank you, Arthur.”

Hearing Merlin say his name made Arthur feel more dizzy than before, but not in the way that the alcohol had. It was an intoxicating feeling that made Arthur want to be closer to his manservant. Closer than he knew he technically should be. “It’s true.”

“Sorry I kissed you.” Merlin pulled open Arthur’s bedroom door. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Arthur walked into his bedchambers, then turned to face Merlin. “Why did you do that?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes.” Arthur stood his ground.

Merlin took in a deep breath. “Because I wanted to show you I was worth betting over. That I wasn’t just a manservant. It was foolish, I know.”

“No.” Arthur said reflexively, before he knew what else to say. “I am sorry that I said that. I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” Merlin admitted, “but I wanted to show you anyway.”

Now it was Arthur’s turn to inhale deeply. “So who’s going to win the bet?” Arthur tried to maintain his air of disinterest, but failed miserably.

Merlin shrugged. “No one, apparently.”

Arthur moved closer to his manservant, staring intently at his pale pink lips. “So you aren’t going to be sleeping with any of my knights?”

Merlin closed the gap between them, a smile starting on his lips. They were so close Arthur could smell the musty scent of labor on Merlin’s skin. His breath hit Arthur’s neck, making goosebumps rise. “Your knights? No.”

“Good,” Arthur whispered, making Merlin shudder. Arthur leaned forward, pushing into Merlin. “I’d hate to see you with anyone else, Merlin.”

“Else?” Merlin asked, with feigned ignorance. He wasn’t as thick as he wanted Arthur to believe. A chuckle escaped Arthur.

He moved in again. “Other than me.”

Merlin smiled and pulled on Arthur’s tunic. Fistfuls of shirt in hand, Merlin kissed Arthur with an uncharacteristic assurance. It was similar to the kiss before, but this time it had more of a loving passion. “Too bad you didn’t enter the bet,” he said when he ultimately pulled away.

“Too bad indeed,” Arthur laughed into Merlin’s lips, eyes still closed.

The knights thought that bets were funny. They would bet on anything. Arthur believed that they hadn’t come up with one worth participating in. Yet. But Arthur would bet a million times on Merlin. Even if the odds were stacked against him, a million to one. He would always bet on Merlin.