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Title: In darkness, truth (3/3)
Fandom: Merlin
Rating:
Warnings: Shades of dub con
Pairing: Uther/Merlin
Wordcount: 1675
A/N: Post Le morte d'Arthur. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] fanged_angel, who kicked me when necessary :p

Part 1 : Part 2



"You do not have to come here tonight," Uther says. His words shatter the stillness of the bedchamber and serve to remind Merlin that while he has lain here in Uther's bed - throat raw and body aching - one day has somehow become the next.

It annoys Merlin sometimes - when he lies in bed or when he walks the corridors of Camelot at night - that there is no such thing as true darkness even when there is no trace of the sun in the sky. He experiments with closing his eyes tightly and then opening them again but even then, after a few moments of inky blackness, he can still discern the darker outlines of the bedposts and, beyond them the table with what he knows is the remains of Uther's supper still upon it. It is frustrating in a way he does not know how to explain even to himself.

When Merlin was a child those around him were scared of the dark. They huddled in their homes and whispered of unseen horrors to their children and when the nights grew ever longer and darker and colder they would hang iron horseshoes on their homes to ward off evil and light a great fire and drink too much and dance and sing so that the sun would come back to warm the fields. Merlin supposes that they must have been doing something right all these years, because the sun always did come back and when it did they would light a fire again, just in case the sun forgot what it should be doing.

Merlin smiles to himself at the sudden burst of memory; happy faces bathed in the fresh light of spring, walking in the woods amidst bluebells sparkling with morning dew, the sweetness of honey on his tongue, sun-warmed skin under his hand, power thrumming through his veins, sharp and hot and new...

"The nights are getting short again."

The mattress shifts as Uther turns over. Merlin has become adept at finding just the right position to lie in to avoid putting any pressure on the still-tender skin in the small of his back but sometimes he forgets - as he does now as he tries to steady himself - and he winces at the sudden pain. It takes him a moment to get comfortable again and by the time he does his earlier chain of thought is broken. Perhaps, he thinks ruefully, it is for the best, here in Uther's bed.

"It's the feast for Sir Alric tonight," Uther continues, his voice muffled. "There's too much risk of you being missed."

By Arthur, Merlin supposes, although he's never known Arthur to be a particularly early riser even at Midsummer and he never worries about being late to attend Arthur in the mornings. He privately doubts too that Arthur will miss him at all at the feast once the celebrations for Uther's newest knight really get going, and if he does miss his recalcitrant manservant for a moment it will quickly be forgotten amidst the delights of ale, lewd tales that owe more to imagination than experience, and out of tune drinking songs.

"You would do better to find your own bed." Uther moves restlessly as he speaks and Merlin frowns to himself. He knows without needing to look that Uther too is finding it difficult to find a comfortable position; he knows too that Gaius has been attending to the king more often in the last few weeks than Merlin can remember in all his time at Camelot, although the physician has so far remained stubbornly resistant to speaking a word of what ails the king to Merlin.

Merlin thinks of the long walk back through the castle to his own room. "My bed will be cold," he points out. His voice is still rough, hoarse from crying out.

He feels rather than sees the sudden tension in Uther's body. "It is cold in my bed."

There is no answer to that and Merlin does not try to give one. He lies still and quiet instead, listening to Uther's unsteady breathing while keeping his own breathing as shallow as he can, and waits for Uther to speak again.

"The fire is too low," Uther says eventually, so softly that Merlin nearly misses it. The king half-rises; the bed dips. "I will call for Althalos."

"I will do it." Merlin has no desire to have Uther's aged manservant poking around the bedchamber while he lies naked in Uther's bed. "If you will let me..."

A moment of hesitation and then Uther reaches over and Merlin feels the leash fall free.

"Go then," Uther says quietly. "And fetch me water; I am thirsty."

Merlin gets out of bed, grumbling at the chill even though it is far warmer in Uther's bedchamber than it is in his own. It is the work of moments for him to fetch wood from the basket by the door and build the fire up and whisper a few words under cover of dropping the basket to the floor to make sure the flames take hold.

Uther has thrown back the covers and is sitting on the side of the bed when Merlin returns with the water. He takes the goblet with a nod of acknowledgement. Merlin hovers uncertainly, debating with himself whether to get back into bed or not.

"I moved to these quarters after ... after Arthur's mother died," Uther says suddenly.

"Oh," Merlin says, not knowing what else to say.

Uther's face is inscrutable in the firelight. "So you see, there are no ghosts here."

Liar, Merlin thinks.

Uther's hand catches at the leash, hanging at Merlin's hip. "Come here."

Once upon a time, before he came to Camelot, Merlin's soul would have rebelled at the very idea of ever bearing such an indignity but that was then and this is now and Merlin obediently lets himself be drawn forward until he is standing between Uther's knees. Uther's face is cast into shadow and Merlin cannot discern his expression but the hand on his thigh is gentle enough.

"I could order you to leave," Uther says.

"Yes."

"Would you obey me, if I did?"

"Probably." Merlin twitches as the hand moves higher; he senses rather than sees Uther's silent amusement. "You are the king of Camelot."

"Yes." The hand drops away abruptly and Merlin mewls at the loss of contact. "It would not do to forget that."

Merlin finds himself pushed away, almost knocked off his feet as Uther rises from the bed and strides angrily across the room. Apprehension knots in his stomach; he half-expects Uther to simply dismiss him from his presence.

"My lord, I..."

"Get out." Uther's voice is hard and brittle. "Get dressed and get out."

Merlin is reaching out for his tunic before his brain catches up with what his limbs are doing. He hesitates for a moment, but the decision is easier than he ever thought it might be.

"I told you to get out," Uther rasps when Merlin approaches.

When he first came to Camelot that tone of voice would have chilled Merlin to the core and even now it is still enough to make him shiver, if not enough to make him turn back from his task. He sinks to his knees in front of Uther, holds up his leash in supplication, closes his eyes and waits for the man to acknowledge him.

Time slows, measured only in his own shallow, shuddering breaths and the frantic pounding of his heart. Images flash before his eyes; the waiting cell, the executioner's block, the flash of a blade in the morning sun. Darkness. Oblivion. Merlin nearly yelps when strong fingers pluck the leash from his hands. Uther tugs on the leash, encouraging Merlin to his feet, and Merlin has to hold himself still as Uther's hand settles on his neck.

"You are a strange creature."

This time, perhaps wisely, Merlin says nothing. Uther's hand moves down his body, coming to rest in the small of his back. The brand no longer hurts as much as it once did but the feather-light touch of Uther's fingers on the healing, tender skin there leaves an ache so profound he has to bite his lip to contain his cry. There is something else too, something more, that leaves him breathless and quivering with more than pain and cold.

"What did Gaius say, when he saw this?" Uther asks curiously.

"He did not see the shape of it ... I told him it was just a burn." Merlin struggles to form coherent words; magic sparks behind his closed eyelids and surely Uther will see ... he must see...

"It has healed very well." Uther traces the outer circle of it again and Merlin shudders. "Once it fades it will hardly be visible. Unless one is looking for it."

Merlin does not have to look to know what is there; the imprint of it was burned onto his very soul the day Uther took him to the castle blacksmith in the dead of night and commanded the man never to speak of what passed there under pain of death.

He wonders, sometimes, if Uther knows. The kiss of iron is its own magic to a sorcerer.

Uther's thumb brushes over the Pendragon crest burned deep into Merlin's skin. "Perhaps you will even come to forget it is there."

"Not for a moment," Merlin gasps, liquid fire burning in his veins.

Uther's other hand cups his jaw, turning Merlin's head so that Merlin has no choice but to look at him. "Would you obey me, if I told you to leave?"

Merlin forces himself to smile. "No," he whispers. In his head the dragon roars.

In Uther's kiss Merlin tastes blood and flame and death and the aching void between the man who might be and what the king must be. When Uther touches him it is with the silent understanding that he will never know this by the light of day.

But Merlin is not afraid of the dark.
 



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