Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, Arthur, Camelot- any of it. Be very grateful for that!
Note: This has actually been half-written for quite a while, hence the fact that (for certain obvious reasons) it must take place between 3x13 and 4x01, but I decided to polish it off and post it in time for Thanksgiving because its theme fits the holiday. Its not an event that follows any particular episode, but it is something that I can easily believe would happen and something that I would absolutely love to witness- the world's most under-appreciated hero getting a little love from his friends. Hope it warms your heart a bit! Please read, review, and have a good laugh at Arthur's expense. Yoroshiku, ne!
This, Merlin thought to himself, has got to have been the mother of all bad days.
The single solitary glimmer of hope, the only redeemable point of the whole entire day, Merlin reflected as he trudged bone-wearily through the halls of the castle not even able to walk a straight line, was the fact that he was, at long last, done with it. Having finally seen his insufferable master to bed, Merlin's worst day in recent memory was only a few halting paces from being over.
He breathed a somewhat piteous sigh of relief and almost instantly regretted it as he nearly fell over. He sniffled slightly and gave a halfhearted cough. The chill that had been on its way out the day before was, of course, back with a vengeance. And it was little wonder, what with all he'd gone through in a single 24 hour period.
The amazing thing was how little had actually gone wrong.
He hadn't set out on any perilous quests across uncharted lands, he hadn't had to save anyone's life with magic and endanger his own, he hadn't even been nearly killed by bandits in the forest.
No, his horrible day was simply a result of the most miserably mundane misfortunes all converging in the same time and place upon one very unhappy person. From a hunt and a training session in the rain to the polishing of a pile of consequently rust-threatened armor; from another run-in with the leech tank to another round in the stocks as Arthur's excuse for the earlier hunt, from mucking out the horses to chasing down the one that spooked at a thunderclap and went rampaging through the lower town; the day had gone from bad to worse and from worse to absolutely dreadful.
He finally arrived at the door to the physician's chambers and leaned against it in exhaustion. He wasn't actually sure if his mentor would still be awake, but for once he genuinely hoped that he wasn't. Even Gaius's parental prodding was more than he felt he could deal with at the moment. Never mind the damp clothes, muddy boots, or the several meals yet uneaten- at this point Merlin wanted nothing more than to become completely, mercifully unconscious in the relative comfort of his own bed.
He was about to push into the room and make his bid for freedom when, coming from the other side of the door he could almost swear he heard the sound of hushed voices.
Merlin sagged against the door in despair as his hopes crashed to the floor.
Not only was Gaius clearly awake, but he was dealing with some situation or other that, given the sort of day Merlin was having, would certainly require his involvement.
He lent on the door a moment longer, trying to collect himself, to reassemble those last already-spent scraps of energy to face whatever undoubtedly daunting challenge awaited him. A significant part of him had the overwhelming urge to give up, to run (not that he was really in any state to run anywhere), to simply find someplace to curl up and hide until this horrific day finally finished playing itself out.
Surely there was a limit to what one person could take, and he was pretty confident he had passed that limit hours (and leagues) ago.
But no... he thought, tiredly, leaning his probably-fevered forehead against the door. He was Merlin, after all. The impossible was his specialty.
He took a deep breath and put a hand on the door latch, realizing as he did that the voices seemed to have ceased, though it was far too much to hope that they'd just been his imagination.
He pushed open the door to find- a dark, empty workroom.
He squinted and took a hesitant step inside...
Merlin staggered back in astonishment as lamps were un-shuttered in unison and human figures sprang from seemingly impossible hiding places around the room.
He was halfway to summoning some sort of defensive magic to counter this ambush when the nearest of the figures slung an arm around his shoulders in a side-hug and then clapped him on the back so hard he nearly fell down.
It was unmistakably "...Arthur?"
"What took you so long?" The prince asked with a smug smile. "We though you'd gone to sleep in the stables!"
Merlin looked sideways at his master as the prince guided him by the shoulders towards the table, which, he now realized, was no longer full of Gaius's vials and equipment but was set with a small feast that looked fit for Uther's table itself.
"What?...you...How did you..."
"Honestly, Merlin," the prince chided, shaking him slightly, "A two-legged horse could have beaten you here from my chambers."
Merlin might have felt a twinge of annoyance at that, but for the thinly veiled concern he recognized behind the prince's voice, which was almost as touching as this whole situation was startling.
"What the princess means," said Gwain, pushing forward to be the first of the assembled knights to greet their friend, "is Happy Anniversary!" He threw his arms wide and enveloped the young warlock in a bone-crushing hug and then deposited him in the chair at the end of the table. Before Merlin could question or protest any further, he found himself surrounded by his friends, being showered with congratulations and amusing gestures of affection.
Lancelot appeared behind him, pushing his chair in and squeezing his shoulder fondly. "Well done, Merlin." He said, with his customary knowing look.
Merlin couldn't fathom what it was he had done well, so he just answered with a smile.
Then Gwen approached him from the other side and greeted him with a kiss on the cheek and a warm, "Happy Anniversary, Merlin!"
The warlock glanced back at Arthur to make sure he wasn't about to be the recipient of his master's jealous wrath, but he merely caught Arthur giving the maidservant an adorably affectionate look as she draped a fine napkin across Merlin's lap and gestured for him to eat.
Merlin had barely begun to consider that option and long-suppressed hunger had reared its ugly head when he was nearly knocked out of his seat by a hearty slap to the shoulder.
"Sorry!" Exclaimed Percival, not, as usual, considering his own strength. He reached out to help, but Elyan was there on the other side and righted their young friend before he could come to any harm.
"Oi!" Elyan scolded the bigger man.
Percival shrugged sheepishly and the two of them proceeded to greet and congratulate the still-stunned servant.
Leon approached from the front wearing a warm smile. He bowed graciously and then gave the warlock a firm handshake. "Its an honor to serve with you," he said solemnly, and Merlin flushed with unexpected pride at the seasoned knight's gift of respect.
Merlin felt something against his back and peered around to see Gaius wrapping a warm blanket around him to stave off the chill that had already half-numbed him.
The old man leaned down next to Merlin and gently took the young man's face in his gnarled hands. "Happy Anniversary, my boy." Gaius said softly, hugging Merlin to his chest.
The boy's smile was pure, child-like, unadulterated joy and it infected everyone in the room as they crowded happily around Merlin and the table, pulling up chairs and leaning over one another.
"Arthur," Merlin said, looking up after he was released from the embrace, "I hate to point this out..." he leaned towards the prince who had once again draped a friendly arm across his shoulders, "but...you do know that today is not the anniversary of my birth...?"
"Merlin, you..." 'idiot' was undoubtedly forthcoming, but silence ruled the table and for once the disapproving stares from around the room were enough to silence the royal prat in Arthur.
"You..." he tried to continue, "...underestimate us." he finally said. "We know its not your birthday. Today happens to be the anniversary of the day you arrived in Camelot!"
Merlin stared up at Arthur with an incredulous half-smile. "You remembered that?" he asked Arthur.
The prince kept grinning as if to take credit until he realized that all eyes around the room were looking at him expectantly, "Well," he said awkwardly, "not...as such. "
There was a round of laughter.
"Actually," he told Merlin "Gwen remembered."
The maidservant gave a prim smile.
"And Gaius confirmed it."
The old man nodded.
"And we could all tell you were having a bloody awful day."
Merlin raised a skeptical eyebrow at Arthur, who had, of course, been the source of most of his troubles.
"Oi," Arthur interjected, "I am more observant than you give me credit for."
Merlin nodded his acceptance and grinned as he saw Lancelot and Gwain exchange a look that belied the prince's assertion.
"So I decided that a small celebration was in order!" Arthur clasped his servant's shoulder again and grinned broadly, evidently hugely proud of himself for perpetrating such an act of kindness on a fellow human being.
The rest of his friends cheered their congratulations once more as Merlin took in the scene, trying to burn it into his memory to hold against every doubt or disappointment that could ever come against him him the future. He blinked and resisted the urge to dab at the tears that were beading in the corners of his eyes. "Thanks, Arthur. I... I don't know what to say.."
"Don't say anything." Said Arthur, cheerily. "Eat up!" He nodded towards his knights. "I had them training extra hard today to be done in time for this, so they're famished too."
To a man, they put on their best expressions of denial, but as soon as Merlin had taken his first very appreciative bite they tore into the food on their side of the table like a pack of wolves.
The meal was delicious and Merlin was savoring every bite, so he nearly didn't notice when Gwen whispered something into Arthur's ear that made a smile slowly spread over the princes features.
Before anyone could say anything, Arthur began making his way around the table with the wine skin, filling everyone's cups as Merlin or Gwen would normally do. Once the prince had done, and had stared down the surprised looks, he took up his own glass. "I'd like to make a toast" He announced. "To Merlin!"
"To Merlin," the others echoed.
"The bravest, most cowardly, the stupidest, and wisest servant the kingdom has ever seen!"
Merlin grinned happily.
"And the most loyal of friends." Arthur finished.
"Here, here!" said one of the knights, and everyone raised their cups in praise to their friend.
"Merlin!" Arthur said again, and they all clinked their cups together and drank.
Laughter and merriment continued on around the table late into the night.
Merlin was soaking up the warmth and attention at least as much as he was enjoying the food, so it took him a while to realize that the subject of most of the table talk was stories about him. He joined in the conversation frequently from then on, refuting some of the stories outright, other times retelling the events from his perspective. Naturally, he dodged around the magical details of his anecdotes with ease born of years of practice, but even then he found his antics at the center of attention. The already late evening drew on and between the wine and the company the crowd got more boisterous as Merlin got more drowsy.
Eventually (it must have been when Merlin failed to defend himself against a particularly hilarious accusation of clumsiness) Gwain leaned across the table and surprised everyone by "shush"ing them harshly.
Conversation around the room died down and was replaced with questioning looks as Gwain put a gentle hand on Merlin's back and shook him lightly while everyone else began to notice what he'd realized- the servant had fallen fast asleep on the table with his cheek against a potato.
Merlin didn't stir under the knight's touch, and Gwain looked up in surprise, "He's out cold!" he said, as quietly as he could manage.
Seeing the look of intense concern that was growing on Arthur's features, Gaius reached over and put a careful hand on the boy's forehead. "He's fine, sire," the physician reassured him, "merely exhausted."
Arthur's frown eased a bit, but he still looked thoughtful. Then he turned to the knights, "Percival," the big man perked up like an enormous dog being called by its master, "would you..." Arthur nodded towards Merlin.
Percival nodded and made his way over to the servant. To be fair, any of the knights could probably pick up the scrawny young man with ease, but carrying things was Percival's particular skill and thus his frequent honor. He lifted their unconscious friend out of his chair the way a man might pick up his sleeping child and followed Gaius and Arthur to Merlin's chambers.
The prince uncovered the lumpy-looking mattress and Gaius helped Percival lay the boy down in his bed and cover him up with his threadbare blanket.
The big knight excused himself with a bow (though he may have just been ducking to get through the low doorway), but Arthur lingered, fixing his sleeping servant with a thoughtful frown. The boy was dead to the world, but profound contentment was still writ large on his pale features.
Arthur glanced over at the physician. "I don't know, Gaius..." the prince began, frown deepening, "do you think I overwork him sometimes?"
Gaius cocked his head at Arthur, "Surely not, sire." The older man said. "Sometimes I think Merlin doesn't fully appreciate just how good he has it, with you as his master."
Arthur snorted softly.
"But between working for the both of us..." Gaius left his statement hanging. There was only the faintest hint of admonition in the physician's voice, but Arthur caught his meaning- they both would do well to remember that Merlin had responsibilities above and beyond what each put to him.
Arthur nodded and gave a half-smile. He grabbed a second blanket and began draping it across his servant's sleeping form. "I do value him, Gaius," he said quietly as he did, "I hope he knows that."
"'Course I do, Arthur." Came the servant's groggy voice, as Merlin shifted comfortably under the warmth of the blankets.
It was impossible to tell if Merlin was even close to half-awake, but it made little difference to Arthur, who blushed furiously- embarrassment instantaneously turning to rage at being overheard. He snatched Merlin's pillow out from under him and ground it into his friend's face with a growl.
"Get some sleep, Merlin!"
And he stalked out, still red-faced, nearly slamming the door behind him.
There was a moment of silence.
Gaius stared wide-eyed after the retreating prince.
Then he delicately reached over and pulled the pillow away from his ward's face.
Merlin blinked up at him in shocked disbelief.
Gaius failed to contain a snicker as he handed the pillow back to the boy.
Merlin broke into a grin
And thus Merlin's 'worst' day in recent memory ended instead with laughter.