When Morgause informs Morgana of her newest plan to strike back at Camelot, Morgana … is not precisely in love with the idea. Yes, she supposes she is evil now, but still. There's a line.
"Couldn't you do it?" she asks weakly.
"They'll suspect me at once," Morgause replies, unrelenting. "But you – you, they'll welcome back into the castle with open arms. And it is hardly a stretch to imagine that while you were away, good Prince Arthur realized that his love for you runs deeper than that for a sister."
Oh. Oh. It's just so—
"No offense," Morgana says, "but you don't seem to quite understand Arthur and me. Even if he did fancy me, there's no way he'd ever admit it. Ever. Ever. Because he knows I'd mock him about it until he died."
"You sound fond of the idea," Morgause says, all eerie and discerning with her sharp bright eyes. "Is the vow you swore against Camelot wavering already?"
Oh, bloody hell.
"Fine," Morgana says, and wishes very hard – not for the first time – that Merlin could've just held off on poisoning her. Merciless vengeance had sounded very attractive at first, but this is just ridiculous.
At the feast celebrating her return, Morgana waits until everyone's attention is captured by the troubadours. Then she slips the vial out of her sleeve and tips it, in one smooth movement, into Arthur's cup.
She's just pulling her arm back under the table when she catches Merlin watching her from the corner of the room.
Oh, damn it.
Arthur chuckles at some witty line in the troubadours' song and reaches for his goblet.
"Arthur," Merlin says urgently, at his side in a second, "don't drink that."
Curse all faithful servants.
"Why?" Arthur asks, fitting more exasperation into the tiny word than anyone would have thought possible.
Merlin looks at Morgana. Morgana looks back. Ever so innocently.
"Um," Merlin says.
Ah, Morgana thinks. Sticking up for me, are you? As if that will change anything.
It won't. For the record.
"I just thought that you were looking a bit – er, jowly … tonight. So the last thing you ought to do is drink more wine—"
"Jowly?" Arthur repeats, aghast.
"Er," Merlin says.
Arthur lifts the goblet to take a defiant sip. Merlin lunges forward just as the cup meets Arthur's lips. Morgana reaches over too, quickly as she can, but all she catches is Arthur's sleeve.
Merlin has his hand.
All you must do, echoes the memory of Morgause's voice in her head, is slip the elixir into his drink, and then make sure his skin touches yours after he has taken the first sip. He will be mad with love for you in an instant.
Morgana stares at the boys.
Merlin, his face pale with dismay, pulls slowly back, aware that he's too late.
"Wait," Arthur says. His voice is hoarse, and his eyes look all googly. "Where are you going?"
"Over there?" Merlin answers hopelessly, pointing to where Gwen's standing.
"Why's that? Nonsense, Merlin, I won't hear of it. Stay here! Take a seat. Right by me. Morgana, move it."
"Excuse me?" Morgana demands. She finds she doesn't even need to feign irritation. "I just got back from a year of being held captive by a wicked sorceress. This feast is in my honor, Arthur Pendragon, and I will sit wherever I like."
"Wow, nice to know you haven't changed," Arthur deadpans. "Fine. S' all right. Merlin, you can just …" He scoots his chair back. The noise draws the attention of most of the hall's inhabitants. Then he pats his lap pointedly.
"Oh," Merlin says, "no."
"Aw, come on, gorgeous—" Arthur reaches for his arm and tries to drag him down into his lap. He's not completely unsuccessful.
"Arthur," Uther says, baffled. "What in the world are you doing?"
"Um," Merlin says, a gangly mess of limbs as he pulls himself away, "I'll just – be over—"
He sprints across the room.
Arthur watches him go and sighs yearningly.
"Did you just call him gorgeous?" Morgana asks, dread in her stomach.
"He is a bit, isn't he?" Arthur reflects, still gazing Merlin's way.
Merlin takes a deep breath, then knocks on Arthur's bedroom door. It's nothing. It's nothing. I have to check up on him to figure out what Morgana's done. There's no reason to be nervous. His brain was probably just temporarily addled and that's why he wanted me to … sit on him.
"Come in!" Arthur calls. Really enthusiastically.
Merlin does. Less enthusiastically.
"Ah, Merlin!" Arthur says, practically bouncing over to him. "I knew it'd be you. No one knocks like you do. How do you do it? Anyway! I've been waiting for you for ages."
"Because," Merlin says hopefully, "you need your sword polished?"
"Pfft! No! You work too hard, Merlin. Take a load off. Or, well –" His eyebrows arch, intrigued. "—sword polished, did you say?"
"I brought you a snack," Merlin says quickly, holding the tray out.
"Ah! Perfect. Thanks, Merlin. D'you know, no one takes care of me like you."
"Well," Merlin says, "I am your servant. It's kind of my job."
"No, but you really go the extra mile," Arthur insists. "I appreciate it. I'll admit it, when you first started I really just wanted to use you for target practice, or maybe box your big stupid ears a bit, but now … now I feel as if something quite special's grown between us."
"I suppose it's a bit special," Merlin says nonchalantly, "but no big deal, really. I should probably g—"
"Your hair looks really good," Arthur says. "Did you do something different with it?"
"Um," Merlin says, "no."
"Huh," Arthur says. He reaches over and runs his hand, very slowly and deliberately, through Merlin's hair.
Oh. Dear. God.
"Look!" Merlin shouts, hurrying across the room and setting the tray down. "At the snack! I brought for you!"
"Right!" Arthur says. "Thanks, Merlin. You're the best. This looks really fantastic. I could just … eat it all up." Somehow, throughout the course of this sentence, his eyes have moved from the tray to Merlin. He reiterates, slowly, "Eat … it all … up." He grins.
Morgana is evil. There's no doubting it now.
"So, er!" Merlin says, casually hiding behind the bed post, "I brought a few rolls left over from supper, and a bit of dried pork, and some melon."
"Melon," Arthur repeats, licking his lips.
"Yep," Merlin says uneasily. "Melon."
"Y'know," Arthur says, clearly experiencing some grand epiphany, "they sound quite alike, don't they? Melon … Merlin … Merlin brings me melon …"
"Huh," Merlin says, "I'd never thought of that! Fun fact. Well, I should probably go, Gaius wanted me to help him with … things, Gaius-type things that Gaius does, but it's not as if he can do it all alone, he needs a bit of … help sometimes, from me—"
"Merlin," Arthur continues rhapsodically, "my little melon."
"I'm not a melon," Merlin says stupidly.
"You sure about that?" Arthur asks. He picks a slice of melon up from the plate and inches over. "I mean, you're quite sweet, Merlin. Sweet … and juicy …"
"It's cantaloupe!" Merlin says. "Cantaloupe, actually, not melon. And 'cantaloupe' doesn't sound like Merlin at all, really—"
Arthur shoves the melon up to Merlin's mouth. "Here. Taste this."
Merlin's not really left any choice.
"Mmm," Merlin says through the mouthful, "tha's good. Mmmkay, 'm goin' now—"
"Sweet and juicy," Arthur marvels. "Just like—"
"Nope," Merlin says desperately, swallowing. "Nope, not me—"
"You've got a bit of juice," Arthur says, reaching forward to tap Merlin's chin, "right here."
"Leave it," Merlin says, "I think it's a good look for me actually—"
Arthur smacks his lips together, and Merlin realizes, in one clear sickening instant, that Arthur is going to lick his face. Arthur. Is going to. Lick. His face. Merlin would do anything for Arthur, gladly. He would die for him a thousand times over and then get painfully resurrected so he could die a thousand more times. Sure, no big deal. All in a destiny's work. But destiny, Merlin is quite bloody certain, should not involve getting your face licked.
The door bursts open quite suddenly. Merlin could weep from relief.
"Arthur!" Morgana exclaims, rushing in with a goblet in her hands. "Here, I've—what on earth are you doing?"
"Uh, nothing," Arthur returns grumpily, "now that you've interrupted it. God, Morgana, don't you knock?"
"You were going to lick him," Morgana accuses, quick as ever on the uptake.
"Yeah," Arthur says irritably, "I was going to." He glares pointedly at her, a glare that roughly translates to until you came in and mucked it all up.
"Merlin doesn't want you to lick him, Arthur," Morgana says sternly.
Arthur's expression becomes supremely concerned. "You don't?" he asks Merlin. Merlin shakes his head numbly. "God, Melon, why didn't you just say so? It's not as if I'm out to upset you. I really care about you, Melon, I do, and I'm not doing anything that you don't feel comfortable with—"
"Why is he calling you 'Melon'?" Morgana asks, looking nearly as disturbed as Merlin feels.
"I … don't really …"
"Because he's my sweet juicy melon, Morgana," Arthur says in the impatient, lofty tones of a man who doesn't have time for such idiocy. "Honestly. Did that year of captivity murder all your brain cells as well as your ability to have a good hair day?"
"My hair looks just fine," Morgana hisses.
"Not as good as Melon's," Arthur insists, reaching a hand out again.
"No, no," Merlin says, holding his hands up (mostly to block Arthur's), "her hair's definitely better than mine."
"Thanks, Merlin," Morgana says.
"Yeah, no problem," he replies. "Er, you know who works really hard on Morgana's hair? Gwen. Doesn't Gwen, lovely nice wonderful Gwen, do a great job on Morgana's hair? That Gwen, she's really quite good at everything, isn't she? You can't do much better than Guinevere, no sir—"
"Obviously Gwen's amazing," Arthur says.
Merlin's heart just about collapses in on itself with hope. "Yes, right? In fact, let's go get her right now, I'm sure she'd be really pleased to see you—"
"I love how you get that about her, Melon," finishes Arthur. "God! Honestly! No one understands me like you do. All right. That melon juice down your chin is just driving me crazy. Just let me—" He rests his hands on Merlin's shoulders, his tongue poking dangerously out from between his lips as he leans in closer—
"LOOK, MORGANA BROUGHT YOU SOMETHING TO DRINK," Merlin yells.
Arthur stops, annoyed. "So?"
"And I … would really appreciate it if you'd drink it."
"Extremely a whole bunch," Merlin promises.
"Well, in that case," Arthur says heroically, "anything for you, Melon."
He grabs the goblet from Morgana's hand and downs it in one frenzied gulp. It reminds Merlin a lot of the whole oops-Arthur-killed-a-unicorn-and-now-must-drink-poison-on-this-quaint-little-beach adventure, except for the part where this is much more frightening and stressful.
Morgana and Merlin wait anxiously.
Arthur lowers the goblet.
They watch him. The dotty, adoring expression drains off his face, leaving a great deal of sheer horror.
"Ohhhh," Arthur says, "my. God."
"Thank you," Merlin mutters to Morgana.
"No problem," Morgana mutters back.
"You're bad now, aren't you?" Merlin mutters.
"No idea what you're talking about," Morgana mutters.
"OH, GOD," Arthur yowls, burying his face in his hands.
The next morning, Merlin pauses a moment, then knocks on Arthur's door. It swings open.
"Right," Arthur says to the bit of empty air a foot to Merlin's right, "I am not looking you in the face for a week. The way I see it, that's long enough for both of us to forget that spell founded in nothing but magic, evil, and trickery ever happened."
"Sounds good to me," Merlin agrees heartily. "Here. Breakfast."
"If there is melon on that tray," Arthur says to the air, "so help me God, Merlin, I will—"
"Strawberries," Merlin says.
"Well, thank God for that," Arthur says to the air, and opens the door all the way to let Merlin in. They spend the rest of the morning carefully not looking at each other.
"Since Prince Arthur did not go according to plan," Morgause says, her face floating in the surface of Morgana's wash basin, "perhaps you ought to try appealing to the heart of King Uther instead."
"What is wrong with you?" Morgana demands, tossing her hairbrush into the basin. It leaves a thick crack in the bottom. Water sloshes to the floor.
Morgause's expression remains calm and expectant all the while.
"Fine," Morgana capitulates with a sigh, thinking Evil is bloody hard. "I can probably work with that."
That one doesn't go so well either.