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So, because [livejournal.com profile] rageprufrock is such a good friend, she often entertains me when I'm down with little snippets of delicious fic. In return, I do the same - which doesn't seem a very fair trade, but I'm getting the better end of the deal so I don't mind! As a result, she is demanding I post the following:

Title: Pale
Rating: R
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Summary: Set in Pru's wonderful Drastically Redefining Protocol universe, this is the first official prime-time interview with Arthur and Merlin.
Notes: Unbetaed, so sorry for any obvious mistakes. This is mostly completely self-indulgent fic written to cheer myself and Pru up, so you've been warned.



Merlin had never seen Arthur so nervous.

He'd stood in the wings while Arthur opened sports stadiums, met international superstars and faced down banks of paparazzi; never had Arthur been so pale-faced and taciturn, fingers constantly tugging lightly at his tie.

Merlin would have liked to have soothed him, somehow - held his hand, straightened his suit jacket, smiled reassuringly - but he was just as nervous. If not more so, he thought, fighting down a wave of nausea.

Rosa walked over purposely, holding a black clipboard and looking highly efficient.

"You've got two minutes, Arthur," she pushed her glasses up her nose. "Then eight minutes on air, a three minute commercial break, then Merlin joins you." She gave Merlin a reassuring smile as she said his name. He smiled weakly.

"What's my first question?" there was a muscle jumping in Arthur's jaw. Merlin, watching him, wondered if anyone would notice his nerves. He still managed to be so handsome, sun tanned and golden haired.

They'd just returned from three weeks on Everett's yacht, sunning themselves on the gleaming white deck at Rosa's insistence, letting the public get used to the news and the paparazzi chase their tails. Then they'd been summoned back and presented with a ruthless and extensive PR campaign that would be the focus of their lives for the next eight months.

Luckily, Rosa's last client had been a famous cricketer whose career was rocked by a scandal involving cocaine and call girls. Rosa had done such an excellent PR job that only four months later he was named Sports Personality of the Year. This was small potatoes, in comparison.

Thank fuck they're in love, she thought as the floor manager gestured 'five, four, three, two, one' and they went live. Love was marketable these days; casual sex less so.

Rosa didn't want Arthur's eyes constantly darting off camera, looking for Merlin in the shadowy areas between the lights, so as the interview commenced she dragged him from the room and into Arthur's study, next door, where he could watch it from the small telly Arthur had never bothered to upgrade, which had terrible reception.

Merlin, biting his nails, perched on the back of the sofa without bothering to kick off his trainers, though he was probably treading mud into three-hundred-year-old fabric.

After a snazzy and somewhat over the top credit sequence showing london at the centre of the world, and Arthur at the centre of London, Trevor McDonald's familiar face came into view, gravely speaking directly to the camera.

Merlin didn't take in much of the introduction, waiting with bated breath for the camera to flick to Arthur. Before it did, they showed a montage of various press and paparazzi shots, including - much to Merlin's dismay - the now-infamous pictures of him, tumbled, sleeping and exposing far too much skin.

Behind him Merlin heard Rosa swear and punch a number into her mobile violently, and as she stalked off Merlin could hear her saying "... promised not to use those shots--"

But Merlin wasn't paying attention, because at that moment Arthur's face lit the screen, and Merlin - despite everything - felt his stomach flip.

It was a strange disconnect. After more than twenty years of gazing at Arthur through pixellated images, it was hard to let go of the crush on that strange, warped version of the man he now knew.

For a moment, it seemed crazily like none of the past few months had happened, that Merlin was just gazing at Arthur on the television as normal-- and then he heard the faint echo of Arthur's voice through the wall, and his world came into focus again.

"...difficult year," Arthur was saying. Merlin tried to focus on the context. "But worth it."

"It wasn't something I'd ever really thought about," Arthur was saying. He reached forward and picked up his glass of water, swallowing casually. "It wasn't something I kept from anyone-- except perhaps myself, I suppose."

"Until you met Mr. Emrys," Trevor supplied.

"Dr. Emrys." Arthur's eyes challenged, and then dropped. "Merlin-- we met when I was visiting a children's hospital. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's never the easiest of tasks, and Merlin was-- I suppose he was feeling very similar emotions to my own."

"So you bonded,"

Arthur smirked a little. "Not really-- I think he thought I was a bit of a p-- idiot. He was refreshing, I suppose. But even then-- I didn't think anything-- like that."

"Refreshing in what way?"

Trevor was probing now, trying to tempt Arthur to open up. This may end badly, Merlin thought, biting his lip.

Arthur's jaw clenched noticeably. "He didn't like me. He didn't talk to me like I was his Lord and Master. He was... insolent and clumsy. He-- when I was little I helped birth a foal on my Father's farm in Surrey. He reminded me of that foal. All long limbs and eyelashes and completely without grace. I suppose I was... charmed."

Merlin felt his cheeks warming.

"Soon after that, Merlin became ill. I looked after him for a while. Anything else seemed... organic. Or rather-- unstoppable. I never put any thought into anything. There was-- nothing was premeditated. Especially keeping it a secret. It was just-- I couldn't stop it. And then I didn't want to."

Ten minutes later, Merlin was sharing the couch with Arthur.

"Don't hold my hand," Arthur had snapped. "Your palms are soaking wet."

So Merlin was wiping his palms on his trousers when the camera went live - something he'd be berating Arthur about for years to come.

When Merlin watched the tape back later - and the many times after that - he was struck by what a solid unit they seemed. Rosa had prepped them, of course, but until that point Merlin had never realised how much his body curved into Arthur's and Arthur's arms sheltered him.

Arthur's arm had stretched over the back of the couch and Merlin had unthinkingly leaned into it. They looked sickeningly in love, Merlin was embarrassed to note. Especially as Merlin had kicked Arthur in the shin for the 'sweat' comment immediately the director had called 'cut'.

"You look pale," Arthur said, sprawled behind him on the bed. Merlin was sitting on the ottoman at the foot of the bed, forwarding through the most embarrassing parts.

"That's because I am pale," Merlin muttered distractedly, accidentally slowing the tape down to half speed, which unflatteringly enhanced a crazed mid-word expression on his face.

He heard a movement behind him and felt Arthur's finger's skating down his neck suddenly.

"That's true," Arthur's voice was casual, almost impersonal. Then Merlin felt his fingers slip under his t-shirt at the back and Arthur's lips ghost over his neck. "I want to fuck you and watch you on screen at the same time," Arthur murmured.

Merlin leaned back into him. "You're surprisingly kinky, my Lord and Master," he tried to smile, but Arthur's fingers were cold on his waist, sliding along his spine and pulling his tshirt up and taught.

"You haven't seen anything yet," Arthur smiled, pulling him back and onto the bed.

THE END
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