Two Minutes Late.

A/N: Credit of the first line goes to something a male friend said to me in the passing, and I thought it was beautiful. Clearly I edited it slightly to fit medieval times, but you get the jist, right?

"Time changed around Merlin. In good times, it seemed too short. In bad times, it dragged. And when Arthur was waiting (wishinghopingohGodpraying) for Merlin to turn up, it seemed to last a thousand lifetimes." One shot.

Vague canon because there are hint of slash. *Thinks about it*. Wait, in this fandom, that's totally canon. XD

Disclaimer: Merlin's not mine. He's Arthur's. ^_^


'There is not an existence of time as such, merely the creation and near religion observation of candle markers to record its perceived passing.'

His father paid for tutors and one of them thought he'd take a liking to philosophy. (He didn't.) The quote from the book stuck with him longer than anything else though, past his writing lessons and even when most of his daylight hours were taken up by training for knighthood, and later training the knights.

Except it wasn't until Arthur met Merlin that he really understood the words. (In a way, that was wrong – it was only when Arthur started hanging out with Merlin that things made sense.) Time changed around Merlin. In good times, it seemed too short. In bad times, it dragged. And when Arthur was waiting (wishinghopingohGodpraying) for Merlin to turn up, it seemed to last a thousand lifetimes.

Arthur resented when he first got his manservant. (Well, it wasn't that he 'got' Merlin, it was more like that Merlin got Arthur.) He'd protested to the king, but his father would hear no word of it. There were accusations of 'aging' and 'deafness' and 'you're getting senile' thrown around, but it would be a cold day in hell when Arthur's petty insults could bend his father's back when he'd made up his mind on a matter.

So Arthur forced the poor guy—poor in wealth, poor in status, poor in his taste of clothes (a neck-kerchief, really?) and poor in luck (being named 'Merlin' of all things was bad enough, let alone him being assigned to the crown prince)—to complete an endless array of chores so that Arthur need not see him.

It was strange (almost fascinating, though the prince never would admit it) that Merlin did all the work; he complained like the world was ending, but he finished every task to the best of his abilities (and near the start of all things, Merlin's 'best' amounted to many others 'worst'). The only problem was his occasional lateness (the peasant-boy explained it was from doing Gaius' chores and studies alongside that of the prince's; Arthur just thought he was sleeping in).

For a while, Arthur wondered whether it was because he was the prince and whether Merlin really was proud to be his servant. Then he'd get a woken up with a blinding light when the stupid lanky idiot would snap open his curtain and tell at him to get up in a merry sing-song kind of voice. Then he'd try to say something and Merlin (infuriating bastard he was) would snap something back and then find the audacity to laugh at him. (Something about Arthur's bed head and stupefied expression set him off, he figured.)

Then when he was dressed, there would be joking comments about his weight—comments about his idiocy (there was no shortage of those)—sniping barks about something or other his father did—comments about how he'd make a great king one day—

And then Arthur would realise the time and see that that Merlin (the utter ass he was) had kept him back, made him late: for meetings, for training, for hunting, for many, many things. If only he could make Merlin shut the hell up but that would be like taking the light from the sun; a task too impossible to comprehend (and occasionally when Arthur was being honest to himself, it was a task he didn't want to try).

It wasn't pride in his job that made Merlin stay. (A part of him sometimes thought it was a pride and belief in him, the prince of all things, and the greatness he could one day achieve, but those thoughts were usually beaten back with the realization of how utterly ridiculous it was – no one knew the future.)

Merlin got better at being efficient, at being a good servant to the crown prince and at being on time, but still turned up late to be that little bit rebellious. (Though Arthur saw how Merlin's hands shook on the days he was late, how thin he looked and how pale he seemed and how bags hung like dead weight under his eyes and he wondered, really wondered what the hell his manservant was getting up to when his back was turned—)

They grew closer. They grew apart. They became friends. They grew up. They saw life and death (and magic and evil and good and a whole array of wonderful, or alternatively horrible, things) in the world. Through it all, Merlin smiled and Arthur cursed (sometimes swinging his sword for good measure), and they fought the monsters together.

Always together. Side by side. (Two faces of the same coin...)

The king was aging, Morgana had left them, (Arthur knew she was magic and magic was meant to be evil but he didn't—couldn't—think about her like that), but still, Merlin was by his side, time after time. With every passing year, he learned to dread when Merlin was late. It happened more and more (and Arthur didn't know why because Merlin didn't do as many chores as he used to and surely would be able to come on time for the few he was assigned).

When Merlin was late, he would be shaky and tired and less sarcastic than usual. Sometimes he would come back smelling of brimstone and smoke (and magic, though that last thought was never voiced, never spoken for fear it'd be confirmed). And Arthur's attention would always be split from Merlin's lateness by news of a supernatural monster being killed, or rouge bandits being beaten back from Camelot's door or the sudden news of a captured assassin ordered to retrieve Arthur's head. (It couldn't be coincidence, Arthur thought, but his father accepted coincidences readily like he did his alcohol; and after all, only the prince noticed when Merlin turned up late, weak and grinning.)

However, Arthur never worried about it (not really, he did worry, but he never had an opportunity to address the matter since Merlin always brushed off the concerned inquiries). Then the inevitable happened; Camelot went to war with Mercia. In the chaos of preparation, Arthur was run ragged with training, with preparing all the hassles of war (food, water, shelter, clothing, weaponry, cavalry, soldiers, dear God why won't the list end—) Merlin's dwindling appearances to attend to Arthur were unnoticed. Then,

"Where have you been hiding?" Hiding wasn't quite an apt description. Disappearing would've been more accurate. Merlin didn't so much turn up; it was more that he would turn up very, very late and without prompt.

They were in one of the unnamed forests of Mercia (where locals whispered the ghosts lived) and Merlin had turned up to feed more branches into the thin campfire with lots of dry wood to minimise smoke.

"Sire, you noticed. I'm touched."

While Merlin's voice had that dry edge and warmth that made it so distinctively familiar, Arthur's sharp eyes noted how baggy the clothes seemed on the other (and Merlin was a stick to begin with, and it didn't help that he started some stupid vegetarian diet a few months back). Arthur had raised an eyebrow, unamused (—too many deaths to be laughing, too many causalities to be sleeping).

Merlin relented, a gauntness creeping into his dark eyes as he said, "I've been keeping busy by doing some training of my own."

The fire threw strange shadows on Merlin's cheekbones, and he wondered since when was his manservant (though really, deep down Arthur could feel they were equals) was so skinny, so thin, so damned fragile looking?

Arthur had every right to be sceptical. "What type of training?"

And then Merlin threw Arthur a pitying look, one that said I know you're not that stupid and then his eyes darted off to the king, where he stood in full battle gear around a table littered with scrolls. The campfire could explain away the stink of smoke, but not that of brimstone and charred herbs (and magic, Arthur couldn't forget about the smell of that).

Since no one else but him could smell volcanic ash and burnt thyme (and magic, which smelled like the springtime air and rain water and oh fuck it, it smelled like something entirely Merlin as well, as if Merlin and magic were the one and the same) Arthur let it go and walked to join his father. Merlin's eyes burned into his back, but when he turned around, the man had disappeared again.

That was the last he saw his servant for days. In the first three days, Arthur was too preoccupied to noticed, since he was on the battlefield, slaughtering (nameless men, innocent men probably forced into battle by conscription, all of them faceless) soldiers. He was stunned no arrow touched him, and blades could barely nick his skin. A part of him felt invincible, but there was that feeling of distinct vulnerability, too, as if he was relying on God, rather than his own two hands.

For the most part, his knights were unharmed, and there were whispers of golden lights saving men from death (none of them reached the king's ears, but somehow Arthur was included in the conversations). He wished that Lancelot or Gwaine was with him, but his father had banished both (not that it kept them out of Camelot's battles before).

The fighting and the death and the blood and just the sheer magnitude of tragedy (on both sides) caused a ceasefire where Mercia conceded their weaker borders. Arthur tried to push for negotiations earlier but Uther was fixated on forcing the other side to kneel at his feet. With the king's crown secured, Uther reached out for another cup of something toxic and alcoholic and Arthur knew it was peacetime because his father (the one he looked up to) would never drink during war (even though he'd seen his father chug down ale as if it was water halfway through the battle).

"Merlin," Arthur remembered (even though it's impossible to remember if you never really forgot) and realised that he hadn't seen the skinny twit in what felt like weeks (monthsyearsdecades) but must've only been one week at most. He thought he would've seen the outcome of Merlin's training on the battlefield. But in reality, he saw nothing.

As much as he liked to say it, Merlin was no coward. He had done his fair share of fighting and had killed bandits and monsters before. So where was he?

Time passed in lurched and lulls and never had Arthur's patience been stretched so thinly. He'd looked in Merlin's room, in Gaius' workroom, in the forests where herbs grew, in the kitchens and anywhere else he could think of (which was the entire castle and most of lower Camelot).

He visited Gwen (with her dead eyes unseeing since Morgana blinded her – not literally, but cursing her with nightmares until magic ruled once more) and she smiled knowingly, saying that destiny would come to Arthur soon enough.

Finally, Merlin arrived on Monday to Arthur's quarters, so thin he was practically a skeleton with skin stretched across bone. There was a weakness in his arms as he went about his daily chores with a determined look (trying almost as if to show nothing was different, nothing had changed). Still, he grinned like a maniac and Arthur felt relieved to see it.

"I hate having to asking this, but where—"

"I slept right through Saturday and Sunday," Merlin pre-empted the question as he cleaned Arthur's chainmail, "but I figured you could do without me for a while."

It was true. Arthur did cope. He was a grown man who was quite capable of clothing and feeding himself, but without Merlin's dry banter, the daily tasks felt off—felt wrong.

"Well, you still should've told me."

"Told you what?" There was a challenge in his tone as he stared up at Arthur. "I've never given you a heads up to when I'll be late before."

It was strange, the prince thought, to be looking down at him. Merlin had grown a few inches taller over the years and Arthur was used to craning his neck slightly to catch a glimpse of dark blue eyes. Other times Arthur was normally sitting behind a desk and Merlin would lean across the papers to read them and be a nuisance (though occasionally spouting good advice that Arthur would concede to use). Now he was sitting and Arthur was standing and it felt like he was on unstable footing.

A retort danced on the tip of his tongue, 'I'm the prince and I deserve to know whether my manservant will come here or not,' but he sat down next to Merlin instead, feeling heavy (and tired of jumping through hoops to keep their dynamic simple—it never was simple to begin with).

"I—as your friend, not as your prince—deserve to know when you need time off from using your magic. Especially when you're exhausting yourself to save my sorry ass."

If he'd planned this declaration, he would've probably envisioned Merlin jumping back in surprise at Arthur knowing, or exclaiming loudly before stuttering out excuses and more lies. Still, when Merlin calmly went on cleaning the chainmail and merely shrugged in response, Arthur wasn't surprised by the reaction.

It did feel as though a part of him always knew. Had always known about the magic in Merlin. And maybe Merlin had known that Arthur had known. (Or something like that.)

"How about the times I turn up late just because I'm lazy?" Merlin challenged, fighting a smile.

Arthur's lips tugged up into an easy grin. "That is intolerable."

"Not like you could tell the difference."

"Yes, I can," Arthur replied, smiling at the slightly shocked (or was that impressed?) expression of Merlin's face. "I can smell your magic. It's like... smoke and brimstone on the tip of my tongue."

His hands pausing, Merlin eyed the Pendragon heir with the air of deciding whether or not he was being lied to. Finally he replied cryptically, "Creatures of magic will always recognise other creatures of magic."


Hesitating, Merlin shook his head and replied, "You'll find out another time."

The wisdom Arthur sometimes saw in Merlin (usually when Merlin spoke of the future, specifically Arthur's future) seemed to be so much stronger, so much heavier, like an oppressing weight in that moment. The ticks of the clock seemed to slow like honey and sap dripping down a tree.

Shaking his head out of it, Arthur replied, "I hate waiting."

"Well, now you know how I felt all these years waiting for you."

"To realise your magic?"

Shaking his head, Merlin said, "Not that. You've always known that." The confidence in which Merlin stated that was almost astounding. "I've just been waiting for you to say it."


{. . . And then they had sex.} [Joking.] (Mostly, anyway.)

A/N: Overuse of brackets was intentional to show Arthur's flowing thought process. Did it work or did it fail?

Should I write more Merlin stuff in the future, or was this utter shit and I should hide back in my dark cave? Honesty, as always, is appreciated in reviews.