There was a cheerful bounce to Merlin’s step as he walked along the corridor to Arthur’s chambers. He was early for a change and had even gone to the kitchens to collect the breakfast tray, saving another grateful servant the trouble of delivering it to Arthur’s room. To top it all off he had asked the cook for an extra helping of ham and if that didn’t impress Arthur, it should at least keep him from complaining for a little while.
He walked in without knocking, set the tray down on the table, and went to the window to fling open the curtains. “Breakfast!” he called cheerily over his shoulder before turning around to greet Arthur.
The bed was empty, which was unusual because Arthur was rarely up and about at this early hour. His sword was still in its usual place and his boots were lying carelessly by the bed so Merlin didn’t think that he had gone very far. “Arthur?” he said, peering around the room. “Hello?”
“I’m here,” he said and Merlin followed the sound of his voice, looking up and up until he found Arthur floating just below the ceiling.
Merlin had to sit down.
“What are you doing up there?” he exclaimed once he had recovered from the shock.
Arthur glared down at him. “What do you think I’m doing, you idiot? I’ve obviously been bewitched.”
“What makes you say that?” Merlin asked, shifting uncomfortably. He always felt a little guilty whenever Arthur mentioned magic, even if he had nothing to do with the spell in question.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fact that I’m floating has something to do with it?”
“Are you all right?”
“Of course I’m not all right, Merlin!” he snapped. “I’m floating and no matter what I try I can’t get down. How could I possibly be all right?”
“I meant, are you hurt? Are you injured in any way?”
That seemed to calm Arthur slightly. “No,” he muttered. “I’m fine.”
“You’re going to be okay,” Merlin said, getting to his feet. “I’ll help you, I promise.” He looked around and assessed the situation. The ceiling was very high and there were no shelves or large pieces of furniture that were tall enough for him to climb to reach Arthur.
“I have an idea,” he said suddenly. “Try to turn a bit and use your legs to push off the ceiling. Aim for me, and I’ll catch you.” He held out his arms and tried to look encouraging.
Arthur gave him a doubtful look. “You’re going to catch me?”
Merlin smiled winningly. “It’s worth a try. Things can’t get any worse, can they?”
Looking extremely reluctant, Arthur shifted around so that his feet were pressed against the ceiling. Then he pushed off with all his might, plummeting suddenly to the ground as Merlin rushed forward and caught him somewhat unsteadily.
It was a struggle to hold on to Arthur, who kept trying to float away. After a couple of failed attempts at getting him to stand on his own two feet, Merlin pushed Arthur towards the bed and shoved him unceremoniously under the canopy.
“Oi!” Arthur shouted when his head collided sharply with a bedpost. Merlin studiously ignored him as he scrambled around the bed closing the curtains so that Arthur wouldn’t slip out and drift away again. He left one side open so they could speak.
“What happened?” he asked. “Did you just wake up like this?”
Arthur had managed to perch rather precariously on the headboard and was gingerly rubbing his forehead, glaring at Merlin all the while. “I don’t know how it happened,” he replied. “I felt a little strange when I woke this morning and I opened my eyes and saw that I had floated out of my bed. But that’s not important.”
“No, Merlin, the most important thing is finding out who did this to me. The sorcerer must still be close by; see if you can pick up his trail. In the meantime we can’t let my father or anyone else see me like this and we have to figure out how to break the spell. Preferably before tonight’s feast or else you’ll have to make an excuse to the king that will probably land you in the stocks again. Oh, and I want my breakfast.” He smiled charmingly at Merlin, who groaned.
“This is the last time I come to work early,” he grumbled as he shuffled over to the table to retrieve the tray. He set it rather awkwardly on Arthur’s lap and felt his heart sink a little when the extra ham went unnoticed. “Will you be all right for a little while?”
“Where are you going?”
“To get Gaius.”
“No,” Arthur said, waggling a piece of bread at him in what he probably thought was a menacing way. “Gaius can’t be seen coming here. If my father finds out he’ll think I’m sick and will start asking questions.”
“I still think I should talk to him,” Merlin said. “Maybe there’s a potion or something that will help you.”
Arthur had that look on his face that he always got when he knew that Merlin was right but didn’t want to admit it. “All right,” he conceded at last. “But no one is to come into my chambers apart from you. Take my keys and lock the door when you leave.”
Merlin nodded but he couldn’t help worrying a little about leaving Arthur alone in this state. “Are you sure you’ll be all right? Do you need anything else? I’ll come back as soon as I can.”
“I’ll be fine, Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice sounding impatient but his expression distinctly grateful. “Just get on with it already.”
“Yes, sire,” Merlin replied. He closed and tied the last curtain, retrieved the keys, and dashed headlong from the room, intent on finding Gaius.
Gaius listened very patiently as Merlin described Arthur’s plight, and to his credit he didn’t immediately panic at the thought of the crown prince levitating in his chambers.
“I don’t believe that the sorcerer intended for Arthur to come to any harm,” he said. “It seems more likely that he or she wanted to humiliate him in some way, possibly before the court at the feast tonight.”
“Embarrassment will be the least of Arthur’s problems if the king finds out,” Merlin replied.
Gaius nodded grimly. “We’d better get started,” he said, going over to his bookshelves and choosing several volumes. “There might be something useful in these,” he murmured half to himself as he sat at the table. Merlin was already intently studying his magic book and for a long while there was no noise in the room other than the sound of pages turning.
Unsurprisingly, Merlin lost his patience first. “This is hopeless,” he said, slamming his book shut. “There are a dozen different spells for moving objects but nothing about preventing objects from moving.”
Gaius put down his magnifying glass and glowered at him. “There must be a solution, and we will find it,” he said sternly. “Now get back to work.”
Merlin heaved a sigh and returned to his book. He slowly flipped through the pages, his eyes briefly glancing over the spells before he dismissed each one as useless. A quarter of an hour passed before Gaius spoke again.
“Come and look at this,” he said, waving Merlin over to examine a very large and dusty tome.
Merlin peered down at the page and skimmed the words. “But this is a fairy tale, Gaius,” he said with a laugh. “My mother used to tell me this story when I was little.”
Gaius’ eyebrow arched threateningly. “Fairy tales are rooted in truth,” he said. “We might be able to apply this story to Arthur’s situation.”
“But this is the story of Sleeping Beauty. Arthur isn’t sleeping, he’s floating. Wouldn’t that make him the Floating Beauty? And besides, I don’t think he would appreciate being called beautiful. Then again,” Merlin mused thoughtfully, “he’s arrogant enough that he might actually enjoy it.”
Gaius closed his eyes and looked ready to despair of him. “I thought, perhaps, that a similar solution would benefit Arthur since he too is suffering from the effects of sorcery.”
Merlin looked at him blankly. “So you want me to… kiss him?”
Gaius smiled in the same approving way that a mother might beam at a particularly slow child.
“Have you lost your mind?” Merlin exclaimed, staggering away. “I can’t do that! He’d kill me! And if he doesn’t, the king will!” He made a sudden dive for his magic book. “No, there has to be another way. Any other way.”
“I fear that this is the only solution,” Gaius said, looking far too amused for Merlin’s peace of mind. “It has to do with a balance of energy. In the tale, the Sleeping Beauty is near death and lacking all energy, which the prince revives in her through the kiss. In Arthur’s case, he has too much energy – magical energy – that needs to be balanced. And you, Merlin, are the perfect candidate for it. You have plenty of magical energy of your own and would be able to absorb Arthur’s easily.”
“With a kiss,” Merlin said dully. An image of Uther personally beheading him came to mind unbidden and he gulped uneasily.
“Yes,” Gaius replied, doing a poor job of hiding his grin. “With a kiss.”
Merlin slowly trudged back to Arthur’s chambers. It wasn’t that he was repulsed by the idea of kissing Arthur – if the circumstances were different and he didn’t have to worry about literally losing his head, he would jump at the chance. He considered Arthur a friend but if he was being completely honest with himself he would have to admit that he had more than friendly thoughts about him. He was quite certain that Arthur would never reciprocate his feelings, and Merlin was mostly all right with that. It’s not as if he ever had any plans to declare his undying love for Arthur. Well, he had no immediate plans, at any rate.
But now – now it didn’t matter, because he was going to have to kiss Arthur and then Arthur would murder him, and Uther would murder him again, and Gaius would laugh, and Merlin so, so doomed.
Taking a deep breath, he let himself into Arthur’s room and the curtains around the bed immediately opened a crack. “Merlin? Is that you?”
“Yes, sire,” he said, hurrying over to pull open the curtains the rest of the way. Arthur was floating just below the canopy.
“Well?” he demanded.
“Um,” Merlin replied helplessly.
Arthur frowned down at him. “I suppose Gaius was unable to make a potion. Did you find out anything about the sorcerer?”
“What have been doing all morning, then?” Arthur said peevishly. “Nothing as usual?”
“No, it’s just–” Merlin sighed and reached for Arthur’s hands, gently drawing him down so that they were on the same eye level. Arthur gave him a peculiar look but surprisingly didn’t complain. “Gaius had an idea but I’m not sure if it’ll work.”
“So he did manage to make a potion.”
“No, it’s – it’s a very unusual remedy, sire.”
“Well, hurry up,” Arthur ordered. “I haven’t got all day, you know. I have other duties to attend to.” When Merlin made no attempt to say or do anything else he rolled his eyes. “Come on, Merlin. What is it?”
“It’s, uh, this.” And Merlin leaned forward and captured his lips in a kiss.
Arthur abruptly sank down to the mattress.
“It worked!” Merlin exclaimed, pulling away with a grin. His smile fell, however, when Arthur drifted up to the canopy once more.
“You kissed me,” he said, gazing down at Merlin with a stunned expression.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Please don’t let the king execute me?”
Arthur’s glare wasn’t very reassuring.
“And I’m sorry it didn’t work,” Merlin babbled on. “I’ll just think of something else.” He took a step back but Arthur reached out and grabbed him by his scarf, dragging him closer.
“Maybe it’ll work if I kiss you,” he said, sizing him up thoughtfully. Merlin sputtered a little at that but had no time to respond before Arthur leaned down and kissed him.
It was nothing like the other kiss, which had been quick and surprising and little more than a chaste peck. This kiss was slower and more thorough, and Arthur was gentler than Merlin had imagined, and more generous. Merlin fell into the kiss without thinking, so caught up in the sensations that he didn’t even realise until much later that his hands had unconsciously sneaked up to cup Arthur’s face. For his part, Arthur was no longer clutching his scarf but had the fingers of one hand tangled in his hair while his other hand crept towards Merlin’s waist, holding him close. Neither one appeared to be letting the other go any time soon.
They drifted down to the mattress together and when they finally broke apart Arthur smiled, his face flushed and satisfied. “Gaius is a genius,” he declared, rolling them both over so that Merlin was lying beneath him.
Merlin went willingly. “Do you have to mention Gaius when we’re in bed together?”
“Point taken,” Arthur replied, pulling a face. “But he did find the perfect solution.”
“Yeah, if you ever need any more help like that just let me know,” Merlin replied, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’d be happy to lend a hand.”
“Hmm,” Arthur said, looking pensive as he rubbed his hand along Merlin’s side, making him shiver with delight. “I don’t seem to be floating away at the moment, but perhaps you ought to help me a little more right now. Just in case.”
“I thought you had other duties to attend to,” Merlin said innocently.
Arthur gave him a disapproving look. “We can’t take any chances, Merlin. What if I suffered a sudden relapse?”
Merlin grinned and leaned in for another kiss.