His name reverberated off the walls of the hallway. He tried to convince himself the chill he got was from the draft and headed towards his prince's room. He entered and stopped; Arthur was shirtless and kneeling on the floor looking under the bed. "Lord and lady." He cursed softly. Arthur looked over his shoulder a moment.
"There you are! Find my other boot. It's missing."
Merlin snapped out of his trance quickly. He located Arthur's other boot under the giant pile of cloths Arthur had deemed unwearable today, and Gwen delivered his lunch. He smiled broadly at her and she left. Then he shifted his attention back to Merlin, "Muck out the stables when you- wait, clean the floor. It's filthy." And with that he followed Gwen out the door.
Merlin adored Gwen, as one friend does another, but some days he just wanted to lock her away so Arthur couldn't become more enamored with her. Gwen was a bit infatuated with him herself but she'd told Merlin more than her fair share of times that it was innocent enough and that she would never do anything about it. She justified it by stating that her feelings had nowhere near the depth Merlin's did. It wasn't fair. Arthur saw Merlin only as an idiot and a fool. The latter was truer. He was a fool when it comes to my prince. He just wished only to be recognized by him and to stand beside him, not behind him like all the others. He wanted to show him he was strong, that he could protect Arthur. He had always been protecting him. He didn't need Arthur's love in return, he just wanted to be acknowledged every once in a whileMerlin washed the floor, letting his thoughts drift away from him.
Arthur's birthday was in a few days. Another year come and gone and he'd be another year older… More the man he'd become someday. Not that he don't like Arthur as he is.
He was drawn to him. Not simply because he was the prince, or because of their grand destiny he kept hearing about. No, Arthur was learning kindness and mercy. He was a good man, though not a perfect one, and would be a great king. He did not appreciate Merlin's deeds, but he knew Arthur at least saw him as a friend, whether Arthur liked that or not, whether he admitted it or not… Merlin didn't mind so much. He knew. Now it was just a matter of getting his prince a present. The possibilities were endless. He'd been scrubbing a while when Arthur burst back into his room."
"Merlin! I asked you to muck the stables a half a candle mark ago!"
He rolled his eyes, from his kneeling position on the floor and continued to scrub, "Yes but you stopped me from going because your floor was dirty."
Arthur gave him that, 'do as I say' look. He just looked back over his shoulder at him, exasperated. His expression faltered a bit when he gave Merlin a once over, then he looked around the room. "Your lousy scrub job will have to do. Now go."
"Yes, sire." Merlin stood, stretching and his back popped. When he met Arthur's eyes again it was just in time to see a fleeting look of concern before he went about getting changed. Merlin really never got tired of watching him take off his shirt. With one last look and bow he left for the stables.
Moments like that made Merlin want to hate him. Moments where he knew he was over working his servant and mistreating him and yet he'd let him go on my merry way. Merlin liked to think someday, eventually, he be his court sorcerer and advisor. Oh yes, what a marvelous idea. All will bow before Arthur's military might and him at his side keeping magic at bay. Only Arthur would know. Honestly, he was the only one he wanted to tell more than anything.
When the stable mucking was finally done, Merlin returned to his chambers, grateful for the soft bed that greeted him. Arthur had been called to the great hall for a war meeting then he was meeting dignitaries- and their daughters- for the next few hours. They were here for his birthday celebrations, of course. It gave him time to think on a proper gift. Not a sword or anything like that. Arthur had enough weapons. He could get him a book but the prat wouldn't read it. His mind wandered through the long list of possibilities without reaching a conclusion. Nothing felt right.
He met Arthur outside the hall taking his early gifts from his prince and hauling them to his room. Arthur lead the way as he always did, like Merlin had forgotten the way in the last three hours in which he was absent. "A good haul." Merlin said with a grin. It was true. The pile which Merlin had succeeded in carrying was pretty impressive; a new cloak, hunting knives, three books on war and trade, and several bottles of mead.
"Nothing I don't already have."
Merlin laughed, "True. It is difficult to give you anything you can't get on your own."
"And I never get anything I want. This is why I hate birthdays."
Merlin stopped folding the new cloak. "What you want?"
"Yes, it's always what a prince should want."
"So… You wouldn't mind if I kept one of these." He wiggled his eyebrows at the mead and Arthur glared. "I was joking." Arthur sighed and pulled off his boots. "If you never tell anyone what you really want, how is anyone supposed to get it for you?"
Arthur eyed him, "What are you thinking, Merlin?"
"Nothing… Just that you're the kind of prat who'd wait silently while others would try to guess at what goes on in that head of yours."
"None of those… those imbeciles even care about what I want why should I-?" But Arthur seemed to soften a bit in his rant. "I want something with thought put into it. I want something that means something. Not out of obligation. That isn't so much to ask is it?"
Merlin smiled softly and shook his head, "No sire. That isn't too much at all. I'll leave you then. Good night sire."
It was as if a weight had been lifted, he didn't have to get anything special or rare. Arthur wanted a freely given gift. That he could accomplish with ease. On his way back to his room, he was stopped by a noblemen's daughter. "Could you… Give this to Arthur? On his birthday? I know you are his servant. It is-" She flushed scarlet, handing him a bottle with large curved script, "It is a gift."
Merlin smiled, "Of course." With that he took it and she fled. He read the bottle, curious; To Prince Arthur, I hope this token of my affection warms your heart. With Love, Lady Selene. He chuckled, better have Gaius look it over first to be sure.
Gaius was not amused, "Lady Selene? You're sure?"
"Yes, she was the blonde with the purple dress. Why?"
"This is a wine laced with potion! A truth potion! Ones every opinion is laid to bear. It's an unbearably weak one, but it is good you brought it to me. We don't need the prince rattling on about his opinions." Merlin looked at the bottle with a sigh. In Gaius' experimenting, the label had been peeled away a bit.
"Yes, I should not have liked to have been on the receiving end of that bit of truth. Not that he doesn't do it every day."
Gaius chuckled. "The potion would have only lasted a couple hours if he drank the whole thing."
"But your right a truthful prince would cause havoc. I'll keep an eye on Selene while she's here."
Gaius patted him on the back. "That's a lad. I'm sure it was an innocent enough gesture but still worth being weary. Best not tell the prince." Merlin could only nod in agreement.
However the next day after breakfast, which Arthur spent with their guests Arthur looked a bit unhappy. "Merlin?"
"Yes, my lord?" He asked as he hung up Arthur's clothes.
"Why is it when Lady Selene asked if I enjoyed her present I was unable to recall receiving one from her?"
"Because she didn't give you one, sire."
"That's not what she said. She says she gave it to you." Arthur's arms were crossed over his chest as his eyes glared, Merlin rolled his eyes. "This isn't a joke, Merlin! Lady Selene's father is a powerful man AND she says it was some of Tortiga's finest wine! If I find you've horded it for yourself-"
"I haven't! I'm having Gaius okay it first, alright? Is that so terrible?"
Arthur squinted at him, "Why would you do that?"
"Because it'd be easy to lace wine with poison." He stated in his most matter of fact voice.
Arthur studied him and a soft smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, "Well… Thank you then. I guess if you were only having Gaius check it, I can't be mad at you. Not when you're only looking out for my welfare."
Merlin blushed and glared at him. "I was DOING my job." Arthur shook his head. "Anyway, shouldn't you be getting ready for the banquet tonight? There is plenty for you to do before then."
"Who do you think you are? My nursemaid?"
"Some days it really does feel like it."
Arthur clapped him on the shoulder a little more rough then necessary.