Feel free to skip this part. It's just going to be me rambling about how this is my first published fic and I'm nervous as hell, so please be nice and don't flame the crap out of me, even if I do suck. Also this story is a what if story. Specifically, what if things had gone a little further when the knights were under the lamia's control? Shameless melodrama ahead. Everybody's probably wildly OOC. On to the story!
Arthur quietly watched Merlin wander around his room, slowly picking up Arthur's laundry. It had been two days since the lamia incident, and Merlin was still moving stiffly. Honestly Arthur didn't want him here at all, but, contrary to his usual lazy nature, Merlin had insisted that he was ready to return to his duties. Arthur thought Gaius disagreed, but Merlin was becoming increasingly willful with age, and he was hard to control at the best times. This was not the best of times. Merlin had changed. It had only been five days that Merlin and Gwen had been left alone with the knights and the lamia, but Merlin had returned profoundly different.
Shaking off his dark thoughts, Arthur stepped toward Merlin, who was currently fishing under the bed for stray pieces of clothing, to inform him that he was going home for the day whether he liked it or not. He was not prepared for the reaction he got, no matter how familiar it had become. Merlin sensed him draw near and tried to snap to a sitting position while his head was still under the bed, with predictable results. Arthur winced in sympathy as Merlin's head collided with the bottom of the bed, but aside from a small gasp of pain, it didn't slow Merlin down any. He was still out from under the bed in a second, one hand rubbing the back of his head, watching Arthur warily. Arthur knew better than to try to check how badly he was hurt. This new Merlin didn't want anyone near him, particularly when he was in pain.
"Merlin, you need to go home," Arthur said softly, as if he were trying to soothe a stray he had accidentally stepped on. Merlin continued to eye him distrustfully, and that kicked puppy look, coupled with the bruises still fading on his face, made Arthur want to tear something apart. Or more preferably, somebody. Now if he only knew who to direct his anger at. Merlin certainly wasn't talking. The knights claimed to remember nothing, while Gwen had only told him to ask Merlin.
Realizing his anger was dangerously close to showing itself on his face, Arthur forced himself to say calmly, "You're hurt right now, Merlin. You probably won't have this laundry done until tomorrow, and I need it tonight. Somebody else can do it, and I won't have to worry about them passing out on my floor. Now go home and rest. Come back when you feel better."
Merlin continued to stare blankly at him for a second, and Arthur feared that their code had failed, that Merlin hadn't gotten the message, until Merlin's face crumpled and tears welled traitorously in his eyes. "I don't want to go home," he whispered. Arthur's confusion must have been plain, because he continued, softly, brokenly, "The knights might come by. Gaius couldn't..."
"Stop them," Arthur finished for him. Merlin looked at the ground, and nodded slowly, shame written across his features. Arthur felt his concern grow. What reason did Merlin have to be ashamed? Merlin still being Merlin, despite the changes, he didn't have to wait long to be enlightened.
"I know they were under an enchantment, that they couldn't control themselves, but I... I can't help... I try not to..." Merlin trailed off, staring a hole into the floor.
"Merlin," Arthur murmured, crouching in front of him, completely prepared for the flinch that met his hand when it rested on Merlin's shoulder, not letting it shake him loose. "I don't know what happened out there, the knights claim they don't remember a thing. I do know they would never hurt you willingly, and the only reasons I could think that they aren't apologizing already is that they truly don't remember that they have something to apologize for, or because they are too ashamed to face you. But you have to talk. Things can't remain like this."
Merlin shook his head frantically, opening his mouth to speak, but Arthur spoke over him. "No, Merlin!" he growled, regretting his tone immediately when fear flashed across his friend's face. Softening, he said gently, "No, Merlin. I can't live with you flinching away from me all the time. I want the old Merlin back, the one who wasn't afraid to call me a prat when I deserved it. If I have to corner you and the knights and make you talk this over to get it, rest assured it will be done without delay."
Merlin stared at him in wonder, then a ghost of that old grin surfaced on his face. "You do deserve it a lot," he confided in a whisper, as though imparting a deep secret to an old friend. Arthur mightily resisted the urge to pull the man-child into a headlock and give him the noogie of a lifetime, and instead only stood up and offered his hand to help Merlin to his feet. The few seconds that Merlin studied it, considering, threatened to break Arthur's heart again, but Merlin finally placed his hand into Arthur's and allowed him to pull him to his feet.
"You're going to talk to them then?" Arthur asked, trying and failing to mask the urgency in his voice. Merlin smirked a little, and nodded.
"As long as you're there with me," he replied softly. Arthur smiled in return.
"Always, Merlin." Seeing Merlin's slightly startled look, he continued seriously, "You'd do the same for me."
Merlin finally broke into a real grin and held his hand out to Arthur, who understood completely. As Arthur's hand clasped his forearm, Merlin whispered one word.
I don't have a beta, and I didn't really edit this before I posted it (didn't want to lose my nerve) so it probably has a lot of errors. Especially since I typed it all out on my iPhone. Feel free to point them out, maybe I'll edit it one day. ;) Oh and I'm American, not British, so please forgive any cultural mistakes that may seep in.