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Another one-shot for you that just kind of came out of nowhere. Please let me know what you think?
Arthur wearily forced his aching legs along the corridor, desperately hoping he wasn't about to bump into any one of significance considering the less than princely mood he was finding himself in. The battle had been a tough one even by Camelot's standards. He thought he had seen it all when they had rode out to confront the Dragon over a year ago, but seeing the skeletons casually marching through the street and attacking anyone they came across was definitely something new. Unfortunately, Arthur could remember all too well the last time he had fought something that simply refused to die. Why was it whenever there was something un-dead walking around the castle, something happened to Morgana? The first time, with the Knights of Medhir, that fateful day when she had been snatched from under Arthur's very nose, and there had been nothing he could do to stop it. And now this, a year later, and they finally manage to get her back where she belongs, only to have an army of skeletons rise up at the very same time as Cendred attacks.
Shaking his head as he began to force himself up the suddenly very long staircase outside of Gaius's chambers, Arthur was just glad that the woman he considered to be like a sister to him was safe. He knew that, despite his orders, she would involve herself in the fighting. It had still come as a surprise when some of the guards had found her unconscious down in the crypt, the destroyed staff lying next to her, however. Arthur had to admit, there was something there that didn't quite add up, especially the way Merlin had approached him afterwards, but he was so glad that she was alright; he had pushed the matter from his mind.
Merlin. That was something else that was playing on the prince's mind, the latest obscure behaviour of his manservant. Arthur was fully aware that he hadn't received a proper answer where the lanky man had been during his missing day, instead brushing it off with some ridiculous comment about dying. As if anything would want to kill Merlin, Arthur couldn't help but think. It wasn't as if anything would consider him a threat, with his clumsy ways and somewhat innocent nature. But even so, Arthur was sure there had been a certain look in his eye, a look that the prince had seen more than once; one that meant Merlin was lying.
Having just woken up, Arthur had thought nothing of it. But when he had called the council later that day to discuss a course of action regarding the upcoming invasion, something had clearly startled Merlin. There had been a look on his face that was so unlike the servant that Arthur had been more than a little taken aback. It was a look that, if he didn't know any better, resembled hatred and betrayal. But Merlin didn't know how to hate. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Arthur knew that was the only reason the young man had been able to put up with the prince during their first few weeks as master and servant, especially considering everything Arthur had thrown at him to try and force the overconfident peasant to quit.
With his mind preoccupied with upcoming battles, not to mention the state of his father's health, Arthur found he had once again pushed Merlin's strange mood from his mind, even when the loyal servant started spouting nonsense about destiny and such like. Arthur was sure there was something about dangerous situations that altered Merlin, for this was not the first time he had gone on about what Arthur was about to do and become. It certainly unnerved the prince, only this time, he had found himself listening, being forced to acknowledge his servant's words, even give him credit where credit was due. Not that he allowed Merlin the chance to relish in the praise before a snide comment and the call of battle had ruined the moment.
Now, however, Arthur was determined to find out what was going on. After Uther's announcement regarding Morgana saving the day, Arthur was sure that there was that same look on Merlin's face that there had been during the council meeting. Unfortunately, due to the angle he was standing at, Arthur had not been able to tell who was on the receiving end of Merlin's uncharacteristic glare. Whoever it was, however, Arthur didn't pity them. He had never thought that Merlin could look so deadly, but glancing at him in that moment, Arthur suddenly saw a very different person.
His servant had then quickly left the throne room, although judging by Gaius's suddenly firm hand on his arm, Arthur knew full well that Merlin had little choice in reality. When Gaius decided someone needed checking over, nothing and no one could get in the physician's way. Arthur himself had been subjected to it more times than he would like to remember whilst growing up. His curiosity getting the better of him, Arthur had muttered something to his father about getting an injury checked over and followed.
He was surprised that the King had fallen for it, Arthur was known for being more than stubborn when it came to going to Gaius voluntary when he was hurt, but thankful, due to his own brief brush with insanity, Uther had just distractedly nodded and allowed his son on his way. Feet silent, Arthur had quickly caught up with the pair arguing in quiet voices.
Knowing that they would fall silent as soon as he made himself known, Arthur had dropped back, cursing under his breath when he couldn't make out what they were saying. He could tell by their body language, however, that Gaius was worried, and Merlin – as per usual – was attempting to brush of his mentor's concerns. Waiting whilst they climbed the stairs, Arthur finally found himself forcing his way up them himself, groaning as the battle suddenly decided to make its presence known in his weary muscles.
Pausing outside the closed door, Arthur pressed his ear to the wood, desperately trying to work out what was going on inside. One thing he was certain of, however, and that was Merlin was hiding something from him. Determined to get to the bottom of his disappearance once and for all, Arthur crept closer.
"Take off your shirt, Merlin, I need to see that shoulder."
"Its fine, Gaius, you don't need to worry about it." Merlin protested, and Arthur knew without having to see his servant's face that the young man would be practically pouting, trying to shake off Gaius's concerns. Despite having lived with the man for a good few years now, he still hadn't learnt that Gaius always managed to get his own way. As Gaius replied in an undertone, Arthur cursed again. Holding his breath, he silently pushed the door open a fraction, heart beating somewhat erratically as he prayed that the occupants of the room didn't hear the movement.
Luckily, he was just in time to see Gaius practically lunge at Merlin, the younger man's indignant yelp covering up the slight squeak of the door. Angling himself so that he could see the pair, Arthur narrowed his eyes, confusion building in him. He didn't remember Merlin being hurt in the fight, but then again, the servant had done his usual vanishing act for the vast majority of it.
"I'll decide when something is fine or not. It at least looks like a sprain, what did you do?"
"I grabbed onto something when I slipped," Merlin responded, the tips of his ears burning slightly as he was subjected to Gaius's usual disbelieving expression.
"You and your clumsiness," he muttered, just loud enough for the eavesdropping prince to catch his words. Arthur couldn't help but grin at that, for it was exactly the same thought that was running through his mind.
Beginning to back slowly away from the door as Merlin finally gave in and began tugging his shirt off, Arthur couldn't help but feel he was no closer to finding out where his missing servant had been any more than he was when he had marched into Gaius's chambers the day before, demanding to know where Merlin was. In fact, he had just turned and reached the top of the stairs once more when Gaius' sharp intake of breath had him running back to the door.
"Merlin!" Just as Arthur reached the door, the physician's exclamation could be quite audible heard. Navigating himself back into position, Arthur was hard pushed not to sigh out loud at only catching sight of Gaius' back, the old man now shielding Merlin from the door.
"Merlin," Gaius began warningly, another tone Arthur knew all too well. "Don't lie to me."
"What do you want me to say?" Merlin cried, and Arthur suddenly caught sight of his arm as the younger man raised it in agitation, clearly running it through his hair. Thankfully, Gaius decided to choose that moment to move, striding across the room in order to shove a stool somewhat roughly towards the man he considered to be a son.
Arthur, however, barely noticed. He was too transfixed with his manservant. No wonder Gaius sounded surprised and worried about Merlin. Encircling his arms and torso, a thin line of bruises ran across the pale skin, evenly spaced from where something had clearly been wrapped around the boy. Frowning, Arthur couldn't fathom what on earth could have made such a mark; it clearly was older than the battle if the extent of the bruising was anything to go by.
As Merlin turned slightly away, clearly not wanting to face Gaius, Arthur was hard pushed not to yell out loud, something Gaius did for him. An ugly wound was situated in the base of Merlin's back, something that looked suspiciously like some sort of stab wound. His mind reeling, Arthur found himself replaying the conversation the pair of them had that morning. Merlin seemed almost serious when he said he said he was dying, something his master had brushed off with assuming that the servant was being his normal dramatic self. Looking at him now, Arthur couldn't help but wonder if it was true.
"Merlin, how have you survived this?" Gaius exclaimed bluntly, unaware that he was once again echoing the thoughts of the man hidden outside of his door. Arthur couldn't have worded it better himself, only he was wondering how on earth Merlin thought he could take part in the battle when he was quite clearly sporting a wound that he had only recently received.
"Something caught me in the fight, Gaius. Its fine, it's not as bad as it looks, honest."
"Merlin, what on earth makes you think that you can lie to me? This is older than today's fight, same with those bruises. What happened to you?"
"It doesn't matter," Merlin responded, sounding somewhat desperate as he tried to emphasise his point by gesturing with his arm. Unfortunately for him, it was clearly the shoulder that Gaius had declared looked at least sprained, for Merlin instantly winced afterwards, causing his mentor to hurry forward again.
"Merlin," Gaius began again, but Merlin was clearly exhausted from everything that had happened.
"Gaius, please. Leave it. I'm fine. I think you know what happened, anyway."
"Merlin, you have to be careful."
"I know," before Merlin could continue, however, he suddenly looked straight towards the door. For a split second, he met Arthur's eyes through the gap before the prince was moving, hurrying silently away. There was no way Merlin could have known that he was there, after all, this was the idiot that couldn't stalk anything to save his life. Even so, Arthur had no desire to try and explain what he was doing crouched outside of the physician's door, quite clearly attempting to listen into the conversation happening within.
In a matter of moments, he was under the stairs, mind racing as he crouched in the shadows. Whether Merlin had known he was there or not, Arthur had no intention of going far, not until he had received some answers about what was happening. There was something deep going on with Merlin, that was clear. The look of betrayal on his face in the council meeting, his injuries, his missing time. Biting his lip as he pondered the evidence before him, Arthur couldn't help but wonder whether Merlin had perhaps known something about the invasion, and someone had attempted to stop him. A dagger in the lower back would have seen to that, only somehow Merlin had clearly survived, almost uninjured.
Running a hand through his own hair, Arthur sighed, shutting his eyes. Immediately, images of Merlin's bruised torso came into his mind, and his eyes flying open again with a gasp, Arthur knew what was so familiar about the marks. Whenever he had disagreed with his father, particularly in public, the King had made his displeasure known by restraining his son in the dungeons. Especially when he was younger, the fiery young man would not be taken quietly, and so had strained against the chains holding him, leaving him with a strange pattern of bruises around his wrists. That same pattern was now encircling his manservant.
And then there was Merlin's strange comment about needing to talk to Arthur about Morgana. Surely he had just meant that he too had been witness to the King's ward saving the day? But Arthur couldn't deny the smallest flickers of doubt from penetrating his mind. What if he hadn't meant that? What if he had meant something else entirely?
Shaking his head, Arthur knew that couldn't possibly be the case. After all, they had only just got Morgana back, and Arthur himself had seen how torn up about her disappearance Merlin had been. He had just assumed it was because of the feelings the servant was so vehemently denying to have towards the King's ward. Why on earth would he want to say anything other than how wonderful it was to have her home again?
Even so, someone had clearly known about the invasion, and had gone at extreme lengths to stop the servant from reporting back. Despite having survived this apparent attack, Arthur couldn't understand why Merlin hadn't said anything when he had returned. Thinking hard, the prince couldn't help but wonder whether he had given the man a chance, instead just berating him for having gone missing without Arthur's permission. Even so, Arthur knew his servant well enough to know that if Merlin had something important to tell him, he would do so. There was no way he respected the master/servant boundaries enough to keep his mouth shut.
Deciding that this thought process was getting him nowhere, Arthur came to a decision. He clearly hadn't given Merlin enough reason to trust him in order for Merlin to feel safe enough to come to the prince. If that was the case, Arthur knew he simply had to do something to rectify that. And if even Gaius was having trouble getting Merlin to open up, Arthur knew full well how slippery Merlin could be when trying to get a straight answer out of him if he didn't want to give one. He knew that the servant thought he was oblivious to the lies that casually came spilling from Merlin's mouth, but that was far from the truth. He knew when Merlin was lying, and whilst it hurt that the younger man didn't trust him the way Arthur trusted his servant, he simply let it go. When Merlin was ready to come to him, he would.
Arthur knew he had to stick by that now. Merlin clearly wasn't prepared to give anyone an explanation as for his disappearance, nor his injuries or where he had been during the battle, despite Arthur's previous attempts to get him to open up. Arthur knew that if he pushed the servant, the chances were, Merlin would simply disappear again, and no one would be any the wiser of what was going on with the young man.
Unfolding himself from under the stairs, Arthur knew he just had to act like he hadn't seen anything, as always. But this time, he would make damn sure that he kept an eye on his idiotic servant, especially if Merlin had no intention of telling him about his injuries. No, it was once again time to play the oblivious prince. For it was only that way Arthur felt like he had any hope of getting Merlin to reveal anything.
Taking a deep breath, Arthur readied himself to face the stairs again, preparing to order Merlin about as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn't seen how injured the boy was. And maybe, just maybe, one day, Merlin would be prepared to trust Arthur with the truth, let the prince know precisely what was so mysterious about his faithful manservant.