In Which Arthur Breaks his Carefully Constructed Composure
As a Prince, Arthur had always been warned against showing any hint of his emotions. Showing emotion meant showing a weakness; that is what Uther had always taught him and that is what Arthur had always believed. That was until Merlin came. Merlin with his animated face, his wide grin and his expressive eyes. Merlin with his easy laughter and his impertinent remarks. Merlin, Gaius was quick to realise, made it increasingly hard for Arthur to completely agree with his father.
Gaius had known Arthur since the day he was born and therefore knew him well, perhaps better than even the king himself did. He had watched for years as Arthur kept his face schooled into an expression of calm disinterest while the rest of Camelot laughed and played in the snow. He watched as the Prince took out any fear or anger on his knights while he trained, though never allowed a flicker of it onto his face. He even used to chuckle as he watched him master the "I'm hanging on your every word and find it incredibly interesting" face for when any noblemen opened a yet another feast with a speech.
And so it was that it came as quite a surprise to Gaius when he first saw cracks in the Prince's composure. At first he thought he was imagining it, just wishful thinking that Arthur would treat Merlin with any more respect than he had his previous servants. Soon however, the change in him became more noticeable, He laughed more in Merlin's presence and his smiles appeared more genuine than his previous humourless smirks. Many a time Gaius saw looks of utter astonishment painted across his face at his servant's incompetence and sometimes he allowed himself to show his exasperation or rage.
What surprised Gaius most were the moments where the Prince thought no one was watching. They were the moments where Gaius could see the brief shadows of affection across Arthur's face. They were hardly there at first; gone almost before they appeared; but they became harder for Arthur to conceal as time went on, perhaps still unnoticeable to most, but to Gaius it was a side of Arthur he had never seen before.
The day the composure was broken for all to see was the day that Merlin was poisoned. As Merlin raised the goblet to his lips, there was a look of pure terror adorning the Prince's face. This was soon accompanied by horror and desperation as the warlock fell to the floor.
The next few days were a whirlwind of panic and confusion for everyone. Even when the antidote was administered to Merlin, they knew it would not work straight away, if at all. The moment Arthur was released he barely left Gaius's chambers – not quite able to hide the many emotions from his eyes although trying to keep his face in a carefully constructed picture of calm.
The day it happened started like any other. Gaius busied himself with his potions and Gwen endeavoured to help. Arthur was standing by the window, staring out at the rest of the city, trying hard not to look at anyone else in the room and the only hint of his increasing anxiety being his fingers tapping loudly against the window. A cough and a groan from the bed awoke them all from their stupor and all three span around at once. Merlin was propping himself up on his elbows and running a hand through his damp hair.
Gwen was the first to speak, in a voice that expressed the astonishment and
relief felt throughout the room. Merlin grinned lopsidedly.
"No I'm the ghost come back to haunt you –"
But he got no further with that sentence as it was at that moment that Arthur's (poor) pretence at disinterest was discarded. He was at the bedside in only a few short moments and, before anyone could say or do anything, had bent down, placed his hands on either side of Merlin's head and kissed him. Hard.
When he pulled away he looked as stunned as everyone else in the room. He stood up, his expression one of absolute shock and mortification. It was the first time Gaius had ever heard the Prince stumble over his words.
"Sorry" he mumbled "I – I thought you were going to die – I – sorry…"
There was an uneasy silence, which seemed to last much longer than it really did, before Merlin began to grin.
"It's fine…more than fine!"
The happiness was apparent in his voice; a happiness which was echoed in Arthur's eyes, which had snapped back up to Merlin's from the floor he had been examining. Before anyone realised what was happening, Merlin has sat up and pulled Arthur back down.
As their lips met again, Gwen seemed too shocked to make a sound though her mouth was opening and closing in a manner that would have been comical if anyone had noticed. Gaius himself just smiled at the two in front of him, so different in character and upbringing. Merlin had never seen emotion as something to hide; he showed his feelings readily. He had always believed that with emotion came strength, not weakness.
Although, thought Gaius as the two boys broke apart, their foreheads touching and their hands entwined, it seemed as though the future king of Camelot was on the verge of agreeing.