A/N: This was done for the merlin_muses prompt fest over on LJ.
Original Prompt: "Even if it takes all night I'll make you smile."
Big thank you to my dear beta lippykid 3
Summary: Set just after the end of Season 1. With the defeat over Sigan happening just months after the Questing Beast incident, Merlin is left feeling worn out and depressed. He escapes from Camelot for the day to try and deal with his pent up
emotions, but starts to get lost in his despair. Can Arthur humble himself enough to bring Merlin back?
Merlin was exhausted. The fight with Sigan had taken a lot out of him physically, but even more so emotionally. He had thought Arthur and him were friends, but apparently their relationship was one-sided. Perhaps that revelation shouldn't have hurt as much as it did, but he couldn't help it. Arthur had no idea how much he did for him and their comradeship was the only thanks he had; now he had nothing at all.
These were his solemn thoughts as he traipsed through the woods with a heavy heart and clumsy feet. It was a dreary day with dark clouds threatening to spill their contents on his head, and mud stuck to his boots and made a strange sucking sound with every step. A shiver coursed through his small frame as a chilling wind whipped up from the forest floor and swirled around him. It was just plain rotten outside and he probably should have turned back, but his mood was just as bad so he stubbornly trudged on.
Feeling that he was far enough away from the castle to remain undetected, Merlin sat down on a fallen branch and let himself unwind. These moments of solitude were few and far between and he relished them. However, while solitude was a blessing, it was also a curse. It had only been a couple of months since he had almost lost Arthur, his mother, Gaius, and nearly died himself, and he hadn't properly dealt with any of it yet. A tear slipped down his cheek as he wrapped his arms around his torso, trying to keep the cold and fear out.
Magic was humming beneath his skin, rushing through his veins, reminding him just how much power he had. Nimueh's life had been in the palm of his hand and he had chosen death. For Arthur, he had sacrificed his own happiness, risked his life time and time again, and killed other people. Grief pooled in his chest as he questioned if it was really worth it. Was he any better than Nimeuh for killing people to protect the once and future king? No matter which route he took- restoring magic, leaving it banned, siding with rogue sorcerers or staying loyal to Arthur, people would die. Having to make the choice of who lived and who died was never something he wanted, wasn't even sure if it was something he could handle.
Being with Arthur felt right though. When they were near each other, it was like he could feel the strands of their destinies reaching out and twining themselves together. He felt complete, happy, like he had a true purpose when he was around the prince. But what did it matter if Arthur didn't feel the same way? "No half can truly hate that which makes it whole," the dragon had told him once, but Merlin was beginning to think everything that stupid beast said was complete rubbish. Hate may not be involved, but Arthur still didn't believe in him enough to trust him over a near stranger; he had dismissed Merlin with no trouble at all, not caring for their supposed friendship or everything they had been through together. Merlin had mistakenly thought that all the times they'd saved each other's lives had amounted to something in Arthur's eyes.
Besides the life saving, Merlin had also genuinely hoped there was something between the two of them that Arthur was choosing to ignore- duties and such. Well, it was obvious now that not only did Arthur not see him in any romantic way whatsoever, but he didn't so much as consider him a friend. Maybe if Merlin had had the time to accept and understand his own feelings for the other man, the rejection wouldn't have stung quite so much. Boys had never really attracted Merlin before, but there was just something about Arthur. He had first admitted it to himself when he saw Arthur lying on his deathbed from the bite of the Questing Beast. Watching him die had brought out deeply buried and unacknowledged feelings.
Sitting in the middle of the forest all alone on a cold, dark day, Merlin finally took the walls down from around his heart and let the tears fall in his sorrow and grief. He cried for everything he had already given up, for his unrequited love, for the power he was terrified of and for the fact he knew he couldn't stop regardless of all these things. It was always going to be Arthur, no matter what. He would do anything for the man, whether it was his destiny or not. Time passed quickly and without notice from Merlin, who eventually slid off the log and curled up on the forest floor, trying to calm himself and stop the stream of tears continuously pouring from his eyes. Eventually he had to head back to the castle, he knew that, but he didn't want to move just yet. At some point he must have passed out from the sheer exhaustion of dealing with months of pent up emotions; he woke from a hand on his shoulder jostling him.
"Merlin! Merlin, are you alright?" he heard branches and leaves being crunched underfoot and cold fingers brushed across his temple. Wearily, he cracked open his eyes and met the worried gaze of none other than Arthur himself.
"What do you want?" he grumbled and tried to shift himself away the cold fingers. He was already shivering from sleeping on the unforgiving forest floor.
"What do you mean, what do I want? It's well past noon and you've been missing for the better part of six hours!" Merlin realized that Arthur wasn't going to go away so he sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. Arthur took a step back and gave him a scolding glare. "We just recovered from an attacking sorcerer and you think it's a good idea to go into the woods by yourself? You really are an idiot!"
Merlin wanted to be angry and yell back at the stupid prat of a prince, but exhaustion won over and the fight died inside him. He propped himself back up on the log and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry if you wanted something and I wasn't there, sire, but I needed some time away." Concern clouded Arthur's features, but Merlin didn't see it; he had already convinced himself Arthur didn't harbor an ounce of feeling for him. The log groaned and swayed as Arthur took a seat next to Merlin.
"I... I was worried about you. I thought something had happened," Arthur said in a small but confident voice. He fidgeted on the branch, making Merlin bounce up and down.
"Sure you did." Merlin's voice was laced with sarcasm and hurt.
He lifted his eyes to meet Arthur's for the first time and watched as the prince's face contorted with confusion and worry. "Are you alright?"
"It's not like you care. I'll be back in a little while to attend to whatever you wanted, please just leave me alone for a little longer." Merlin dropped his head back down and stared at his feet, pushing some mud around with the tip of his boot.
"Merlin, of course I care. What's gotten you so out of sorts? You're usually so annoyingly happy."
"Look, you made it obvious you don't really care about me when you dismissed me as soon as you found someone better - a better manservant... a better friend," he added quietly. "So just stop pretending, Arthur." Merlin scooted further away from Arthur as the prince mumbled something underneath his breath.
He felt a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to placate him."Apologies aren't really my thing, you know that," Merlin snorted at the prince's gross understatement, "but I am sorry. That was a pretty lousy thing for me to do."
A little piece of his world fell back into place and his mood lifted just a little. Merlin nodded his head in acknowledgment, but didn't make any moves to leave. His thoughts continued to run away with him and turmoil raged inside his heart. "That's not all that's bothering you, is it?" Silence stretched on between them and Merlin was hoping Arthur would just leave him alone again. He appreciated that Arthur was trying to make amends, but he wasn't in the mood to talk to anybody. "Ok, well, do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really." He shrugged. All he wanted was for Arthur to go away. He never broke down in front of others and he was starting to feel really vulnerable. As if sensing this, Arthur awkwardly patted his back in an attempt to be comforting; it felt more like Arthur was trying to make Merlin lose the contents of his stomach, but at least he was trying. They sat in a weird yet companionable silence for the better part of ten minutes, until Arthur began to shiver from the cold. Merlin chanced a glance in his direction and realized the prince was just in a shirt and breeches without a cloak or armor. Merlin was used to braving the elements, and while he knew the prince wouldn't complain, he was probably very uncomfortable. Putting back up his walls, Merlin did what he did best- protecting the prince.
"We should get you back, can't have the crown prince catching his death of cold." He tried to play it off as sarcastic, but he couldn't help the concern that seeped into his voice as he stood from the log and started back towards Camelot.
"So you're not willing to talk to me about what's wrong, but I get a little bit cold and it's a big deal?" Arthur's voice was full of controlled anger. Merlin rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and kept walking. Leave it to Arthur to make a big deal out of everything. "You're allowed to care about me, but I'm not supposed to care about you, even though you were just crying like a girl over it?"
"Of course," Merlin answered without hesitation. That's how it had always been, apparently how it was going to remain, and if he was honest with himself, how it should be between servant and prince. He had already gotten over his little pity party and was ready to go back to protecting Arthur and cherishing the few moments the other man gave him the time of day. It was slightly pathetic, but he was resigned to it.
Behind him, Arthur stopped in his tracks. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Merlin turned around and sighed in exasperation at the befuddled look on Arthur's face. "I just had a bad day, is all. I'm sorry I wasn't there when you needed me and you had to come out into the woods. Let's go back and I'll get you a hot bath, clean your armor, all the stuff I'm sure you wanted me to do." He was near desperate at this point to get back to Camelot and have things return to normal. Arthur scrutinized him for a moment before he purposely walked to his side, grabbed his wrist in a tight hold and dragged him back over to the log.
"I'm beginning to think there's a lot of things you haven't talked to me about. As much as you complain, I wouldn't have thought you were the suffer-in-silence type." Arthur started at him expectantly, waiting for him to say something. Merlin huffed in frustration before giving an off-handed answer. "Because you would take it so well if I poured my heart out to you, your prattishness."
"Well I didn't say you could blubber on like a girl, Merlin, but I am your friend, aren't I?" Merlin was surprised to see uncertainty reflected in Arthur's eyes. The prince actually seemed nervous to hear his answer.
He cocked his head to the side and crinkled his eyebrows together. "I don't know, are we friends?" If he didn't know any better, Merlin would say Arthur actually looked hurt by his question.
"Of course we are!" he proclaimed like it was obvious.
Merlin chuckled in response and shook his head grimly. "Well you sure have a funny way of treating your friends." He felt Arthur stiffen next to him and watched his Adam's apple bob up and down as he swallowed.
"If you ever repeat any of this conversation I will have you killed repeatedly." Merlin wanted to say that he would have to use magic of some sort so it wasn't really possible, but held his tongue at the urgency in Arthur's voice. "You are the only friend I have ever had. My knights are mine to lead and that creates a distance between us, the people respect me from afar, and anyone else who is close to me only does so because of my title. The day I met you is the first time anyone has ever challenged me. You know me better than most, and while it pains me to admit it you give me better advice than anyone else I know. I honestly don't know how to act around you sometimes. Having a friend is new territory to me." Arthur spoke through clenched teeth and his back was rigidly tight. His confession had cost him a great amount of pride and that didn't go unnoticed from Merlin. The warlock placed a hesitant hand on Arthur's shoulder.
"I never realized. I'm sorry." Another long silence stretched between them as Merlin considered Arthur's words. He hadn't ever realized just how lonely being royalty could be, and growing up without someone to share everything with sounded awful. Pity for Arthur grew in his chest, but he was careful not to let it show; if there was one thing Arthur would never want, it was someone's pity. The burden of his destiny still felt heavy but knowing Arthur cared for him, actually acknowledged their friendship, made things a little bit easier. He wasn't alone, and that's all he had needed to know.
"So does this mean you won't put me in the stocks next time I point out you're being a prat?"
Arthur turned towards him and a smile curved the corner of his lips up. "Of course not! I'm still a prince after all, Merlin!" It was obvious he was joking and Merlin couldn't help but smile. "Ah, finally! I never thought you were going to get over the doom and gloom. I am victorious once more!" Arthur pushed Merlin off the log and the warlock mumbled something about the prince losing his mind.
"What are you going on about?" he asked as he stood up and brushed himself off.
Arthur grabbed Merlin in a headlock before ruffling his hair. "It was my mission to make you smile, even if it took all night, and I have been successful- not that that's any surprise, I am the best knight in the realm, and no mission is too difficult!" he said in a loud, over dramatic voice.
Merlin laughed and managed to wiggle his way out of Arthur's hold. "You certainly have the biggest ego in the realm, my lord. I'm surprised you don't fall over from the weight of it!" Arthur faked an astonished expression before his smile turned sinful and he looked like he wanted to pounce. "Oh no, you stay away from me!" Merlin shrieked in warning. Arthur's grin only grew wider as he took two threatening steps towards him. Not wanting to get a face full of mud, Merlin turned around and started to run full speed back towards the castle with Arthur hot on his trail.
A/N: It has been KILLING me keeping this a secret for the fest! Hopefully you all enjoyed =D Please remember to review!