A/N:It has been so long since I last tried a new fandom! This is kind of exciting.
Tempest in a Teapot
"You…you complete shit!"
Arthur was a complicated person. Merlin was even more complicated for reasons he was reluctant to talk about. Arthur had tried; his lips were sealed. So, logically, their relationship was the same. Arthur liked to have his way, and Merlin hated to be told what to do. Unfortunately for Merlin, he was a manservant and didn't have a choice.
He was no ordinary manservant, though. Any other manservant that back-talked half as much as he did would've been strung up by their hamstrings and then beheaded publicly by now. But Arthur seemed to like Merlin's moodiness, his sass. Arthur liked a lot of things about Merlin; Merlin had skills he didn't, saw things he missed. And Merlin was incredibly amusing when he was having one of his little fits, like he was right now. More rumpled than usual, eyes flashing, he was a tiger standing in the hearth with the sharp poker clutched in his skinny fist like a sword.
In a funny way, they fit together like a wooden riddle box. Take away one and the other wasn't much good. Arthur wondered late at night when he'd had too much ale swimming in his stomach how he'd survived to adulthood without Merlin watching his back and worrying at him like a new mother.
Merlin lowered his poker, and Arthur wondered if he was done. A pitcher of milk smashing against the far wall, a half-foot from Arthur, told him that no, Merlin was not done yet.
Arthur was directly responsible for Merlin's foul mood. He often dirtied things that didn't need to be dirtied in order to make Merlin's life just that much more difficult. He also deliberately brought up topics of conversation that he knew would embarrass or confuse his manservant. Why he did this was a mystery even to him. He didn't think of himself as a bully, but something about Merlin brought out his playful side.
This time he had gone too far. He'd taken the salt cellar and emptied it, one spoonful at a time, onto all of his possessions. Merlin caught him in the act and let out a screech that still made Arthur smirk to remember.
Merlin shouted something Arthur didn't catch and then stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Arthur frowned and then shrugged it off. He would be back within the hour to shamefacedly clean up the carnage of his tantrum.
Arthur helped himself to a plum and made his way out to the stables to check on his favorite horse.
Come his pre-supper ritual, Merlin was still not back yet. The milk had dried yellow on the floor and filled the air with a rancid smell that curled his toes. Unable to stand it after a half hour reading in front of the fire, he rang for one of the chambermaids. She raised her eyebrows but remained respectfully silent.
He didn't even try to admire her as she scrubbed industriously at the mess. He was too busy wondering where Merlin had gone off too.
Supper was cold and late, brought up personally by his concerned childhood nurse, who thought he was skipping supper because Merlin hadn't come down for it. He waved away her concerns and said that Merlin was on an errand for him that must've run late. She believed him and sat down across from him. They talked about some of his childhood shenanigans, and he enjoyed seeing her again so much he forgot all about his missing vassal.
However, come evening, there was no hot water for his bath. There was no sulky youth standing there ready to help him out of his clothes. Arthur decided that he didn't need it to be Merlin. One manservant was as good as the next, surely?
The freckled boy that came to fill in for Merlin was clumsy and Arthur could swear that his hands wandered places they shouldn't have as he undressed Arthur's royal person. He sank into his bath more gratefully than usual and sent the boy away. Relieved at his absence, he scrubbed slowly. It was chilly in the shallow basin, which had not been set up next to the fire as Merlin thoughtfully would have. Still, he lingered.
Had he dropped the final straw on his faithful camel that broke its back?
Merlin wasn't back next morning, or the day after that. Arthur continued to make excuses for him, not wanting to admit that he had no idea where his manservant had gone. Without Merlin's capable hands (and they certainly were capable in comparison to the series of replacements he'd been getting), nothing in his life seemed to go right. He didn't even have any zest for his usual afternoon ride around the immediate estates.
Someone had taken a straw and sucked all the joy out of him. His father cornered him and threatened to remove privileges if he didn't stop scaring the servants with his glum act.
That night, almost a month since Merlin walked out, he packed a bag and took his horse to look for him.
A week of confused farmers with no idea what he was talking about had him ready to tear his hair out by the roots. No one had seen him! He continued to search, doubling around twice once he'd finished the immediate area.
He dodged the search parties sent out by his father, not quite ready to deal with the consequences for his impromptu disappearance. There were some near misses, and he wondered what Uther would do to him. He had no other heirs, so there was only so much he could do, but still.
He found Merlin quite by accident. A sudden summer rain forced him to take cover in the trees. Dismounting to better his chances of avoiding lightning strikes, he led his horse through the woods looking for a big tree that would provide good cover. He found a broad oak with a reasonable amount of underbrush around it. He'd only just started a small fire when he heard a scrape, a shuffle, and then a gasp. They came from above his head.
Grabbing his sword, he peered up at the branches of the tree, blinking rain out of his eyes.
A flash of lightning revealed Merlin curled up like a squirrel in the largest crotch of the tree. He obviously knew that the jig was up and clambered down. He warmed his hands on Arthur's fire without asking, shivering violently and wet almost through.
Arthur just looked at him instead of yelling, teasing, or even complaining about Merlin using his stuff. It's easy to forget someone's face after even a week without seeing them. He knew this, but it came as a surprise to him all the same. Merlin was thinner, and he had a pathetic scrap of a beard on his chin. His hair had grown to cover his ears. He avoided Arthur's eyes.
Some dark force seized Arthur's jaw and tongue and he found himself articulating,
"I am very sorry if I upset you, Merlin."
Merlin started and finally, finally looked at him. Arthur saw that his eyes were blue. He'd never noticed before.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it. It was stupid and childish. You work so hard, and take such good care of me. I was an ungrateful prick to you, and I deserved every name you called me."
Merlin looked as though you could knock him over with a feather. He took a little gasping breath, flushed, and said, "I'm sorry too. I mouth off a lot, and I confess to planting spiders in your bed because I know you scream like a girl when you see one."
Arthur let out a little howl of triumph, "I knew it! I knew somebody was deliberately…" he trailed off. Merlin was smiling at him, blue eyes twinkling like twin chips of sky. They were cold and wet and in the middle of nowhere and both of them were in some serious shit when they went back to Camelot, but that didn't particularly matter just then.
They weren't fighting anymore, and somehow everything was right with the world again.
Merlin jerked his head at Arthur's pack and asked if he had any food.
After being thoroughly dressed down and actually flogged (though not very much), they were allowed to go back to Arthur's chambers. Merlin moved to undress Arthur so he could apply ointment to his back but Arthur held up his hands to stop him. Merlin frowned and asked what was wrong.
Arthur didn't answer. He pulled Merlin's tunic gently over his head, careful of his back, and folded it. Ignoring his confused manservant's questions, he guided him over to lie on his stomach on the bed. He applied the ointment in gentle strokes of his fingertips, wincing in sympathy every time Merlin squeaked.
If he didn't want Merlin to run off again, he was going to have to violate the social rules about master-servant relationships and treat Merlin as more of an equal.
Treating Merlin as an equal led to some very interesting situations that made it clear to Arthur that the reason he felt the need to respect his servant in the first place was because of some very un-prince-ly feelings he had for him. He'd already crossed a line and didn't know if he could cross another. He kept his chest aches and mooning eyes to himself for an entire week before he noticed that Merlin hadn't made that effort.
He sat ruminating what he should do about this for a while and couldn't find a solution other than to all-out attack Merlin with his affections.
A flagon of wine consumed in Merlin's absence settled the matter. Merlin came to undress Arthur for bed and found himself with his arms full of drunken and extremely amorous prince. Startled, he believed that Arthur was only playing around.
Sweet kisses on his cheeks and hair let him know otherwise. Flushed to match the prince now, he did his best to keep a straight face as he prepared Arthur for bed. Arthur dragged him down on top of him before he could tuck him in and then had the sense to roll on top of his squirming manservant before he could get away.
Merlin hated taking orders, but he knew when to surrender.
Uther threw up his hands when their relationship leaked out somehow. He didn't even bother to flog them this time.
End Tempest in a Teapot