Title: Seven Days
Summary: It had been seven days. One week. One week since the whole Cedric incident and subsequent sorcery attack on Camelot. One week since things had been strained between Arthur and his manservant.
Characters/Pairings: Merlin, Arthur
Spoilers/Warnings: Coda to 2x01 – "The Curse of Cornelius Sigan"
Word Count: 1,842
Disclaimer: The premiere would have been vastly different, if I owned them ;).
Author's note: I needed to fix things between Merlin and Arthur after the season premiere. Writing this made me feel better, even if others have done a far better job than this. This is not my best work, but I figured I might as well share anyway! Concrit always welcome! Oh, and this is un-betaed, so any mistakes are 100% my own, and I apologize in advance!
It had been seven days. One week. One week since the whole Cedric incident and subsequent sorcery attack on Camelot. One week since things had been strained between Arthur and his manservant. Though really, it had been several weeks now that Merlin had been acting particularly strange. At first Arthur had assumed that it was related to the stress of the whole Questing Beast incident. His father was still tip-toeing around him like he might break, which mostly came across as his normal behaviour to an outside observer. But Arthur noted the subtle differences in the King that most would not. Gaius had been excessively attentive to his shoulder; far more than necessary, if Arthur was being honest. Even Morgana had muted her temper with him from a raging fury to a dull roar. Naturally, Arthur assumed that Merlin's strange behaviour had also been the result of this incident.
But Arthur didn't think it was that anymore. At least not this past week.
Usually when Arthur made Merlin particularly angry, he would sulk for a couple of days, call him "sire" in a tone that made it sound like the filthiest and most disrespectful word ever invented, and then he would revert back to his normal, insufferably cheerful self (which Arthur absolutely in no way found even remotely endearing) once he got it out of his system. Typically after Arthur made some sort of attempt to "fix" things, in his own careful way. Which was ridiculous, really. What kind of Prince needed to coddle his manservant?
But things were different this time. Merlin was quiet and generally sullen. He would speak, but usually only when Arthur addressed him. He did everything asked of him and rarely put up a complaint. Even when Arthur purposely gave him some ridiculous task to do in the hope of sparking that flame in his eyes, he agreed without protest. He had never heard the word "sire" so many times out of Merlin in the past week, and it made him increasingly uncomfortable. But perhaps the worst part was that every once in a while he would catch Merlin looking at him with equal parts sorrow and disappointment burned into his blue eyes. It was the only time he saw Merlin's face these days.
This was the longest period of time Merlin had ever acted this way in the year that they had known one another, and Arthur was starting to get genuinely concerned.
So when Merlin placed the breakfast tray in front of him that morning, eyes downcast respectfully, and asked listlessly if there was anything else "that you needed, sire?", something in Arthur snapped.
"Yes," he said firmly, glaring at the mop of brown hair staring him in the face. "You can tell me what the hell's going on with you."
Granted, it was not the gentlest way of broaching the subject. But Arthur was not known for being exceptionally sensitive.
He saw Merlin visibly tense for a moment before squaring his shoulders and shaking his head. "I'm fine. I've just been tired, is all."
"No, it's more then that," Arthur persisted.
"It's nothing, sire. Really."
Arthur tried not to cringe at the way he said the word "sire." But he absolutely did not believe his claim. Merlin was a poor liar, but he was also unbelievably stubborn when he wanted to be. And how was it even possible that Merlin was bustling about in front of him and still hadn't looked up once? Not once!
"Merlin," he said again, this time with a little more power in his voice, all the while keeping his tone as calm as he could manage.
When his manservant finally looked up to meet his steady gaze, Arthur was a little taken aback by the blank expression on his normally expressive face. But mostly he was bothered by sad resignation that he saw reflected in Merlin's eyes – like an important part of him had been lost somehow. Merlin made no attempt to say anything, but he was looking at Arthur now at least, and he considered that a small victory.
"What's wrong?" Arthur tried again. And if he sounded worried, Merlin did not acknolwedge the fact.
"I already told you – nothing."
Arthur sighed, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "And I told you that I don't believe you. So you might as well just tell me what's going on."
Something like a flicker of anger flashed momentarily in Merlin's eyes. "What, so you can tell me I'm crazy and then have someone escort me out of the castle? No, thanks."
Oh. So that was what this was about. He should have known...
"Look Merlin..." Arthur started, but he didn't get very far.
"No, it's okay. Don't bother," Merlin informed him calmly. "I know my place."
"What are you talking about?"
"I shouldn't have said anything." He shook his head, leaving Arthur and his breakfast and made his way over to the bed. "I'm sorry for bringing it up." But he didn't sound sorry. He sounded hollow.
Arthur blinked a couple times, uncertain if he'd heard what he thought he'd heard. "Merlin, are you apologising to me?" he asked incredulously, pushing back his chair. He stood up, all thoughts of eating breakfast completely gone.
"Who are you and what have you done with my manservant?" he asked as he watched Merlin silently strip the linens from his bed.
"I'm here at your service, as I've always been. I'm doing what you asked and behaving how you want me to."
Arthur audibly scoffed, which actually caught Merlin's attention momentarily.
"This," Arthur gestured with his hand at Merlin, "is not how I want you." Admittedly, it was not the wisest way to phrase the comment, but Arthur was thankful that Merlin didn't seem to notice.
"Then I'm not sure what else I can do. You're not satisfied no matter what I do."
"Who said I wasn't satisfied?"
Merlin raised a single brow, and Arthur was relieved to see just a flash of something other than neutrality or sadness in his eyes. "You have. On numerous occasions. And as soon as someone better came along…" he trailed off, letting the implication hang in the air for a moment. Arthur swallowed down the hint of guilt that started to well up in his stomach. "So I'm trying to be a better servant."
Arthur sighed heavily and deliberately. "I don't want you to be 'a better servant'."
Merlin stared at him disbelievingly. Arthur shrugged and bit back a smile. "All right, fine. So you're probably, no definitely, the worst manservant I've ever had. Ever. But in spite of your continuous ineptitude, your inability to complete most tasks within any sort of reasonable time frame, your blatant disregard for my authority and position, and your immensely stubborn attitude…every once in a while you do something that shows me that you're not entirely incompetent."
Arthur made a mental note to work on his complimenting skills. He was apparently pretty rusty. Thankfully Merlin seemed to know him as well as he always claimed to, and he couldn't seem to hold back the small smile from finally forming on his lips.
"Thank you," Merlin muttered, brows knitted together in an expression of uncertainty. "I think?"
Arthur tried not to laugh. This was possibly one of the girliest conversation he'd ever had. And Arthur had grown up with Morgana. But the fact of the matter was that he missed Merlin's constant chattering and bad jokes and sarcastic insults. He missed Merlin's energy and hopeless enthusiasm. But mostly he just missed his friend. He wasn't sure that he'd ever had a true, genuine friendship in his life before, because he could never know if his peers liked Prince Arthur of Camelot or Arthur Pendragon the man. But Merlin, for reasons beyond Arthur's explanation or understanding, seemed to genuinely care about Arthur, regardless of his title or position in society.
And it suddenly all became crystal clear why Merlin had been acting the way he was. Merlin had always treated Arthur as a friend. And really, as much as he was a shite manservant overall, Merlin was the most caring and loyal person he had ever met. He stood by Arthur no matter how poorly Arthur treated him, and would willingly and gladly give up his life for Arthur. It was a wonder, too, given how quickly Arthur appeared ready to throw Merlin to the curb, much as that had never actually been his intention.
So he ignored the voice in his head that reminded him he didn't apologize to servants – he was apologizing to a friend, after all – and said the words that he knew they both needed to hear.
"Look, Merlin…I suppose I maybe have recently said and done some things that perhaps I shouldn't have, no matter how justified they may have seemed at the time. And maybe threatening to throw you out of the castle wasn't my finest moment." Merlin gave him a somewhat bemused look, and Arthur felt encouraged enough to finish. "You've never lied to me before. And even though your story sounded like pure madness, perhaps I shouldn't have dismissed you so easily."
"What are you saying?" Merlin asked, and for the life of him Arthur couldn't figure out if he was being genuinely serious, or if he just really wanted to hear the words.
"I'm saying," Arthur started slowly...carefully. "That I was wrong to treat you how I did, even if your level of ineptitude was exceedingly high. And I apologize."
Arthur couldn't remember the last time he'd said he was "sorry" and meant it, but he guessed it might have been back after the first time he'd sacked Merlin. He hoped this whole apologizing thing wasn't going to become a habit.
Merlin stared at him for a good twenty seconds, clutching an armful of linens against his chest and studying Arthur intently before his face finally broke out into a sly grin – the first one Arthur had seen in a long time. And he would be lying if he said it didn't fill him with a sense of immense relief.
"You know, that's all right. I have an idea of how you can make it up to me..." Merlin started with a mischevious smirk. And Arthur was almost tempted to play along with it, if it meant that he could prolong this brief moment for just a few more minutes. But he did have things to get done today, and he certainly wasn't going to allow Merlin to get too comfortable.
"Don't push it," he ordered, but was unable to hold back his own grin. "Now can you please stop sulking and get back to work?" Arthur added seriously.
With a smile and a nod, Merlin was on his way once again, without a word of protest. But this time there was a lightness about him that hadn't been present for quite some time. And Arthur figured this whole apologizing thing wasn't quite so bad after all.