Disclaimer: Obviously, none of these characters belong to me, yada yada yada.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Arthur smiled. "But of course."
Inside the wardrobe, Merlin stifled a groan. Goddess, if I have to stay in here any longer… He did actually have a valid reason for being in said wardrobe. Well, had. He had been spying on Uther upon Arthur's request (Uther hadn't exactly been sunshine and rainbows since the episode with Morgana and his long stay in prison—naturally Arthur was concerned about his physical and mental health) and Uther had, that day, gone into Arthur's room, touched a few objects, and sat broodingly by the window. Merlin had sneaked in and watched him through the wardrobe. What he hadn't counted on was Arthur coming in, having a chat with his father in an attempt to cheer him up, and Gwen coming in as soon as Uther left...giving Merlin absolutely no chance to slip out. Thankfully, Arthur and Gwen hadn't done anything…awkward…so far.
Let's make this a short question, Gwen...
Gwen wasn't sure what exactly prompted her to ask it; after all, Merlin's potential knighthood didn't have anything to do with her. But she and Merlin were friends of sorts, and it had been on her mind a lot recently, what with Elyan getting used to being a knight and she, a lady. It just didn't seem fair to her that Elyan and the others had been knighted when Merlin had done so much for Arthur. More, in fact, than he probably knew.
"Why didn't you knight Merlin? That day we prepared to storm Camelot, and you knighted everyone else."
Arthur blinked, surprised. "Well," he said evenly, "I thought about it."
"And…Gwen, why do you want to know?"
"Just curious, that's all."
Arthur frowned but didn't answer. He walked over to the window and placed his hands on the sill, leaning forward and looking out into the courtyard. After a few moments, he spoke.
"He's been with me for so long…I dunno, I guess I just—kind of got used to him being here, being…my manservant. I can't really imagine it any other way."
Gwen snorted. "That hardly seems fair! So Merlin's going to be stuck polishing your boots for the rest of his life just because you have no imagination?"
I'm liking you more and more, Gwen.
Arthur turned around, looking indignant. "I do too have imagination!"
Only when you're drunk. The things that come out of your mouth then…
"I have tried to imagine it," Arthur said, in a more serious tone. "That day when I founded the Knights of the Round Table, I honestly considered placing Merlin among their ranks. In fact, I don't really know why I didn't. I think—I think he belongs there as much as any of the others; he's always been loyal to me and he always tries to protect me, even if his physical prowess is rather pathetic. *Hey!* He's got a good heart, and—don't ever tell him this, he'll get unbearably smug and start grinning like an idiot—but he can be clever, when he wants to be…"
"So?" Gwen inquired, raising her eyebrows. "Those all sound like perfectly good reasons to make Merlin a knight!"
Arthur covered his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes wearily. "I know, I know," he said, half falling, half sitting down on his bed. "And sometimes I wonder if I'm being unfair, if I'm being selfish…but…it'd be all different if Merlin was a knight…"
"I'm worried he might be—I don't know—resentful…towards me."
Gwen frowned. "Why? Because you made him a knight? I'd think he'd be quite happy, actually—"
"No, no, that's not what I meant," said Arthur quickly. "Look, I haven't exactly been...the best master to Merlin, I'll admit it. *Hang on, I think I'm going to die of shock…* I've been impatient with him, fired him, I almost let him get executed once…I guess I'm worried that if I ever made him a knight, he'd take that resentment and…"
"And what? It'd be payback time?" Gwen guessed with a wry smile.
Arthur laughed. "God, no," he said, eyes twinkling. "Can you imagine Merlin taking me on? It'd end like every other fight we've had-with Merlin cowering in the corner like a girl."
Oooh, I'd love to wipe that smug look off your face right now, you pompous, arrogant, dollop-headed-
"So?" Gwen prompted, looking over at Arthur with a small smile at her face. "If you're not scared of Merlin's vengeance, what exactly are you scared of?"
Arthur scowled. "I'm not scared," he said defensively, as if all his honor as a prince was at stake, "I guess I'm just a bit worried he…he wouldn't have anything to do with me anymore. That once he's not forced to be at my side every hour of every day, he'd take off. Barely ever speak to me again. Especially after everything I've done. And…I'd miss that. What we had." He had averted his eyes from Gwen's and was now staring intently at his left knee.
"What you have," Gwen corrected gently. "And what you still would, even if he wasn't your servant anymore. You're forgetting all the good things you've done for Merlin, you know. What about that time you risked your own life to save his? Or the time you followed him back to his village and helped him defend it from the raiders? Do you think he'd just forget about all that?"
Arthur scratched the back of his head. "I guess not," he said doubtfully, "but you know, ah…even if he wasn't mad, wasn't—you know—well, even if he decided he still liked me well enough—not like that, obviously, you know what I'm trying to say…" Arthur was floundering, and Gwen stared at him, bemused.
"What if he left?" he burst out. "What if he decided he just didn't want to be in Camelot anymore? What if he decided to spend all his days questing, like Gawaine, or got leave to return to Ealdor and spend the rest of his days there? There's really nothing keeping him in Camelot, except for Gaius…"
And you, you dollop-head. Oh, you're such an idiot sometimes.
Gwen reached out and touched his hand. "I know Merlin," she said reassuringly, "and I know how much he cares about you. Really. I think he regards you as one of his best friends. So if you ever did decide to knight him, I doubt he'd leave Camelot. I think he enjoys your company, when you're not throwing things at him or yelling at him to muck out your stables."
Arthur smiled and squeezed her hand back. "Even if Merlin decided to move back to Ealdor, I could always follow him and become a farmer….remember that crazy dream of mine? It'd be a nice break from all the bloody politics, I'll tell you that." He seemed to shake himself, apparently done with expressing his feelings for the day. "At any rate, you've given me something to think about."
Thinking? I thought that was last on your list of favorite activities…
"Well, I should go," Gwen said, getting up from where she was sitting, across from Arthur. "Elyan will be needing some help back at the forge. Although why he's still keeping the business going is beyond me, God knows he's kept busy enough with all his knightly duties…" She pecked him on the cheek and left, trying to stifle a small twinge of jealousy. Arthur cared so much for Merlin (even if he had a hard time admitting it!) and Merlin seemed to care just as much for him. It was almost as if…but no, she doubted it went that far. Besides, Gwen had more pressing matters on her mind than a hypothetical romance between Merlin and Arthur…
When Gwen shut the door, Arthur got up off his bed, dusted off his pants, and headed towards the wardrobe.
The Merlin-concealing wardrobe.
Oh dammit, this is not good, why haven't I been working on mastering that invisibility spell, I could've—
Merlin was staring sheepishly up at Arthur, having stumbled/been pulled out of said wardrobe and promptly tripped and fallen on his face.
"You know," he said, rolling over onto his back and staring up at him from a new angle, "this is not half as bad as it looks."
Arthur crossed his arms.
"You're going to give me about 10 seconds to explain before you start chucking things at my head, aren't you?" asked Merlin with sudden realization.
Next chapter up soon! Please review :)