A/N: Originally posted on livejournal, but I figured I should try to keep all my writing in one place. :)
Rating: PG13 for now
Summary: In their third year at Camelot, Arthur and Merlin must deal with perverted Princes, useless Kings, angry cats and, worst of all, each other. Eventual slash.
Warnings: Featuring oblivious!Merlin, confused!Arthur and a criminally slow slash progression
Disclaimer: Tis the Beebs.
If there was one thing Merlin hated more than arrogant self satisfied Prince's, it was laundry day. It was a bitterly cold morning, the dissipating frost clawing at his fingertips and the breathless air sharp in his lungs, and here he was, washing the Royal undergarments like a domestic fishwife.
He had no idea why Arthur needed so many clothes. Half of these seemed hardly worn at all; in fact, the only clothes his master seemed to wear on a regular basis were his red and white cotton shirts, black or brown leggings, and either his brown leather or red quilted jacket. With the shiny studs and the sheen on the inside, which apparently made it special. That was it, and Merlin should know, because he spent every morning, noon and night getting the smug bastard in and out of the blasted things.
"Don't see why he has to be laced and clipped and buckled into everything when all I have is strings…" he muttered mutinously, scrubbing at Arthur's favourite shirt with a little more vigour than was necessary. In his minds eye he saw the familiar curl of the Prince's red lips, and the pearly glint of a smirk 'Be sure to add that special Merlin touch, daaaarling?' Arthur had drawled jestingly the previous night as he'd piled clothes into Merlin's arms, eyes dancing with mirth, before smacking his manservant's much offended rear with the flat of his scabbard and sauntering smugly away. He was doing that more and more recently. Git.
And yet he did not resent Arthur anymore. Not for any of it, not the snide remarks or the shoves or the sudden outbursts of anger. Because he knew the Prince better than anyone, could map his flaws and fears and wants and hurts with an intricacy that sometimes frightened him. Arthur was not perfect. But it was his imperfections that made him human, and his humanity that made him-
'Beautiful' …great. That made him great. Worthy of destiny.
Two years. Had it really been so long since he had first stepped through that solemn gaping archway, clumsy feet stumbling on flagstones whose flaws he now knew by heart. Camelot, Merlin thought, was like its people: stubborn, worn yet ever enduring, passing year by year, day by day with steadfast resilience. It was not magic that thrummed in these old bones, but the simple aspirations of people, young and old, rich and poor. The bellied womb of this place cradled them as they came screaming into the world and sheltered them as they left it.
Two long years; everything had changed, and yet, things remained the same as ever.
A quiet creak of leather behind him was the only warning he got before a pair of strong hands grasped him by the shoulders, and with an efficient shove sent him sprawling into the icy depths of the water trough he had been washing the Prince's clothes in.
"Morning Merlin. Little cold for a swim, isn't it?"
Spluttering, Merlin sat dripping and infuriated, glaring daggers at the blurred scarlet figure grinning down at him "YOU-" he took a deep, soothing breath, calming himself in an effort not to say something that would land him in the stocks AGAIN "Are an insufferable, immature, infuriating prat."
Arthur beamed triumphantly, and laughed that deep, genuine melodic laugh that only his manservant ever managed to elicit from him "Careful, Merlin." He clutched his chest with a melodramatic sweeping gesture, forcing mock hurt onto his gloating features "My feelings are dangerously close to being hurt here."
"Whatever." Merlin scrambled out of the trough with little grace, glowering and shivering as the chill of the morning cut into his skin "Was there a reason for interrupting my smelly Prince laundry washing-which I love doing, by the way-or do you just enjoy making my life hell?"
Arthur tilted his head, his grin fading to a fond smile that caught Merlin off-guard, his anger vanishing as quickly as it had come "Well, I won't deny that I do enjoy making your life hell." Then suddenly, the Prince's nose wrinkled as his mind processed that Merlin had just indirectly insulted him "I don't smell!"
Merlin forcibly swallowed the laughter welling pleasant warmth in his chest, raising his eyebrows as Arthur adopted his 'affronted' stance, gloved hands on belted hips and lower lip protruding just a fraction. Physically, Arthur was little different from the lithe and slightly awkward teenage boy Merlin had met two years ago. He was a little taller (though still not as tall as Merlin, who had grown alarmingly, much to the Prince's chagrin), a little more elegant, and a little broader at the shoulders. His straw-blonde hair had darkened to a burnished gold with the passing of summers, and his features had grown stronger and more defined, but he was still brash and annoying and foolhardy and still inescapably Arthur.
"Arthur, you spend almost every hour of every day sweating in leather and furs; of course you smell." Merlin unfolded his long legs from the mess they had entangled themselves in and straightened up, folding disapproving arms across his chest "Do you know what I found on your doublet this morning? Grease, blood, cake, mud, charcoal, cat hair and blueberries. And those are just the things I recognised!" a thought struck him, and a slow grin tugged at his lips "Wait, how did you get blueberries and cat hair on it, anyway?"
Arthur cleared his throat and turned hastily away "Oh goodness, look at the time! Love to stop and chat, but Princely duty calls. Y'know, people to step on, wealth to flaunt, idiots to oversee…"
He trailed off, eying the slight tremor in his manservant's frame as Merlin fought not to wince at the heavy weight of freezing material against his skin. There was a long moment of silence as the universe passed through their locked gazes. Arthur broke first, lowering his eyes and unclasping the intricate silver buckle at his neck, tossing his fur-lined cloak at his manservant before Merlin could protest.
"My chambers at twelve, don't forget, I've got to be properly dressed for this wretched diplomat meeting my Father is making me attend." He pivoted effortlessly about on the icy ground and threw one last winning smile over his shoulder as he strode away "Happy washing!"
Merlin's brow furrowed as Arthur breached the threshold of the portcullis and vanished around a decisive corner. He stood still for a while, mind struggling with that unique confusion surrounding the Prince, and felt as ever that with that briefest of encounters Arthur had tied him in knots. The uncertainty that seemed to constantly grip him recently was starting to get very disconcerting.
That and Arthur's rapidly less subtle attempts to seemingly flirt with him.
This IS slash, but it is a slow in the making; it's hardly natural for Merlin and Arthur to just suddenly leap into each other's arms, and I want to explore how they could potentially fall (and fall damn hard) for each other, and the confusion of it. Please bear with me!