Merry late Christmas, everyone! This is a one-shot for the wonderful season finale, which had me "awh"-ing every five minutes and on the edge of my seat in between. (THANK GOD Agravaine is dead; that man really, REALLY irritated me.) I wasn't into the show at the time of the season 3 finale, but I couldn't pass up the chance to write for this one now that I've been sucked into the awesomeness that is Merlin.
I loved that rusty-red coat Merlin had on at Arthur and Gwen's wedding, and I couldn't help but immediately think that Arthur must have given it to him as a token of affection for what he'd done to help restore his faith in this episode. This is what became of that assumption.
The Glorious Day
It was a glorious day.
The sun shone like heaven through the clear windows of the castle—clear of all the tarnishes and filth which had darkened the glass during Morgana's short reign; it was amazing, he thought, how all traces of her terrible presence could be washed away with ordinary soap and water.
With a smile which hadn't truly faded since the victorious battle three days' previous, Merlin pulled himself from his musings and straightened his shoulders as he allowed the unblemished, red cape in his hands to unfurl like a banner of triumph into the warm air. Its four corners nearly covered the area between the foot of Arthur's bed (which now was, truly, Arthur's again, since the ugly lace draping had been cleared away) and his old oak wardrobe. He held it up from the floor when it wafted down, so that not even the ends of it touched the ground; of course, Arthur wouldn't care if it touched the floor, he knew, but it was a matter of substantial consequence in Merlin's mind that it did not.
He turned, pleased to feel the sunlight touch his face as it flowed in from the window behind the writing-desk, and even more pleased to settle the regal cape around the mighty shoulders of his king.
Arthur remained quiet and still as a statue while Merlin fastened the ornamental clasps which held his ceremonial cape secure, though his eyes were sparkling with a life contrary to his calm posture. His gaze followed Merlin's every move closely, watching each change in the features of his servant's expressive face as he focused meticulously on perfecting Arthur's attire; he was even more concentrated upon the task than usual, Arthur noted, as he saw Merlin bite gently down on his lower lip in deliberation.
Merlin could feel the sapphire eyes studying him as he fixed the leather strap so that it wouldn't sit uncomfortably against Arthur's throat, but his own thoughts continued to carry him away from questioning it as he considered what now lay ahead. For the first time in nearly thirty years, Camelot was going to have a good and beautiful queen.
He felt his unadulterated delight warm every inch of him, from the inside out. At last, things would be exactly as they should have been before that dark night of Gwen's deceit changed it all for the worst. It was almost as if the past weeks had never happened, that Camelot had not briefly fallen and Arthur had never lost faith in himself at all.
Merlin's eyes flickered up to his king's face, checking—just to be certain; surely enough, the courage and certainty which had always characterized the man was manifest in every curve and contour of Arthur's handsome face. Merlin prayed that his story of the predestined savior of Albion would keep him from ever again having to witness the loss of that strength and confidence of Arthur's, which for so long had given the young sorcerer the hope to stay brave despite every battle, great and small. He was sure that he had never felt a pain so deep-cutting as when he looked into the grief-dimmed eyes as saw none of the Arthur he cherished and adored, but only a shadow of him, haunted by sorrow and insecurity.
Arthur's brow furrowed as the slight sadness he could see trickle into his servant's face.
"Merlin," said he, perhaps a bit too loudly, "I could be wrong, but surely it doesn't take fifteen minutes to fasten a button, no matter how big of a fool you are."
As always, his deliberate disruption of the silence seemed to shake his friend from whatever negative path of thought he was starting to wander down, and just as quickly as it had come, the shadow lifted from Merlin's demeanor and was replaced with a curious half-smile.
"Sorry," he replied lightly, though they both knew by Arthur's answering smile that the king wasn't the slightest bit annoyed.
Merlin, with one last smoothing of a wrinkle, was satisfied with the cape, and he turned his attention to the wooden chest at the foot of the bed. With careful hands, he lifted the gleaming crown from its red, feather-lined cushion which had been laid carefully there; though Arthur would never know it, he held his breath as his fingers touched it, for he could not help but wonder at how this polished adornment was the tangible emblem of all that Arthur was, and would be, and of all the two of them were destined to do together since the beginning.
Pure gold it may be, he thought, but it was a simple trinket compared to what marvels it symbolized.
His eyes softened as he turned to the one marvel which surpassed all others in his mind, and reverently set the ageless crown upon his head. Arthur glanced briefly into his eyes, but Merlin hardly noticed as he watched the crown blend with the king's flaxen hair and thought of how the two shades of gold suited one another so perfectly.
With a twinge of pride, Merlin stepped back to appraise his creation. He beheld the finished masterpiece (with all the hell he'd gone through to get him to this point, that's exactly what Arthur was to him), and his smile broadened as he ran his eyes from the tip of Arthur's crown to the toe of his boots.
"Very handsome," he remarked with a vein of admiration underlying his tone.
"Me or the clothes?" Arthur queried, though he already knew exactly what the answer would be.
"Both," Merlin chirped happily, then murmured, in a manner which suggested he wasn't truly trying to be quiet at all, "mostly the clothes."
Arthur, who had long-since accepted that any further dispute would result only in innocent-eyed denial, rolled his eyes away from Merlin, a sharp retaliation and a lenient grin fighting for dominance at his broad mouth.
Merlin smirked at the familiarity of it all and merely smiled without any concern whatsoever for the snappish retort forming in his master's mind. It was an unacknowledged fact that they were both well aware Merlin never really meant the clothes, anyway, and surely Arthur could see that Merlin was trying only to keep his king in high spirits with the anxieties of the occassion.
Today was a glorious day, it was true, but also a decisive one, for Arthur still had lingering reluctance and mistrust in his mind for his soon-to-be wife; Merlin could see it in the tension of his broad shoulders and feel it through the invisible bond between them. He had determined, from the first moment Arthur had told him he would ask Guinevere to marry him again, that he would do everything in his ability to help ease his friend on this, perhaps the most critical moment of the king's life. As to now, his intentions had been successful, and his own relaxed tranquility and deliberate maintaining of their usual habits were serving to keep Arthur equally calm and secure.
It was to his surprise, then, that Arthur suddenly changed their customary routine.
The atmosphere between them seemed to grow unexpectedly intense, and Merlin sensed this unforeseen adjustment even before Arthur had abruptly disappeared behind his folding screen without a word of explanation. His perplexity only increased twice-fold as the king appeared again shortly, this time with a single article of clothing the color of tawny copper draped over his forearm.
"What are you doing?"
Even at Merlin's curious inquiry, Arthur offered not a sound of reason as he set the item beside the scarlet pillow at the foot of his bed and turned back to his manservant, glancing only momentarily at him before looking away again with something resembling timidness, chewing at his thick lower lip with nervous embarrassment as his fingers ran absently over the sleeve of the clothing he had set aside.
Merlin, for that brief moment, saw the ocean-blue of his king's eyes and felt instantaneously the measure of depth there. Wisely, he said nothing more in question, but only peered with abundant inquisitiveness as Arthur stepped forward so that their faces were once again mere inches apart; the servant's eyes widened and his face fell in surprise as his great king reached out with one, calloused hand and tugged, a bit too roughly, at the lapel of his worn jacket.
Understanding immediately, Merlin paused only a half-second to give Arthur a peculiar look before helpfully removing the old jacket himself (immediately missing its trusty warmth on his arms) and allowing the other to take it from him.
Arthur, whose mysteriously grave demeanor gave no indication of his motive, carefully accepted the item, holding the too-thin thing in one hand with the same, ambiguous esteem with which Merlin had held his crown. Slowly and with consideration, he picked up the rich-colored and luxurious-looking jacket from where he had set it aside and laid Merlin's old, fawn one down in its place.
When he turned around again, Merlin's eyes were bright with startled comprehension; his face softened with some, strong emotion as Arthur moved silently to stand behind him and he felt warm fingers pulling insistently at his wrist.
It was the most remarkable of role-reversals when the king silently helped him slide his long arms into the thick sleeves of the chestnut coat, drawing it up and pressing its warm collar snugly around his servant's narrow shoulders; Merlin could not help but feel surprised as he realized this coat fit his frame even better than the one his mother had made for him before his journey to Camelot so many years ago. None of his clothes had ever felt so perfect; it was as if Arthur had had this one made uniquely for him, and for him alone.
Merlin's gaze, glimmering, followed the other man as he came to stand before him again, but Arthur carefully kept his own eyes averted as his calloused fingers patiently fastened the jacket down the front, followed by the bronze buckle of the complementory belt, in the same manner as Merlin always did for him. Never once did he become restless or anxious, but only did he keep to his task with more single-minded diligence and concentration as he did during any of his most dire engagements.
When it was completed, he moved his attentions upward, reaching under the collar of the beautiful, russet coat and pulling up the pale-blue scarf which Merlin had chosen especially from his wardrobe to wear to the elegant ceremony, arranging it so that it flattered the blue of Merlin's eyes and the porcelain of his skin against the dark reddish-brown of the jacket's fabric.
"There," said he mildly, just as Merlin had so many hundreds of times over the years, stepping back to appraise the sight in the same way the servant had done only moments before.
Merlin looked down at the comfortable and rich, reddish-brown sleeves, letting his fingers skim along the soft fabric of the front; it was as beautiful as any coat the king himself wore, and that Arthur had thought to do this, had cared for him enough to give him so considerate a gift, and then had shown him the strength of his affection and gratitude by dressing him in it himself...Merlin nearly wanted to weep at the premeditated depth behind every aspect of it.
"Arthur," his voice was almost a whisper as he raised his awed eyes to meet his king's.
Arthur raised his hand, halting whatever Merlin was to say next, his eyes soft and without any remaining shyness or pretense as he locked his gaze onto Merlin's bright and tender one.
"For all you've done, Merlin," he murmured with all the sincerity of a child, "this is the least I can give. Take it, and remember that I am grateful for what you do, even if I do forget to show you at times."
Merlin's eyes fell once again to the beautiful coat, and he revelled in the pure and unadulterated honesty of his friend, and in the strength of the bond their shared. For all their combined faults, with all of Arthur's overbearing tendencies and Merlin's unending impertinence, it seemed that somehow, they not only fuctioned together, but they thrived together. How could it be that, admist the insults and complaints and bickerings, so unbreakable a devotion had evolved between them? How could an arrogant prince and a disgracious servant have come so far that they could stand before one another, in this castle which they had rescued together, and know that the inextinguishable faith each saw in the other's eyes was one forged for life?
Merlin's heart nearly missed a beat at this thought; his gaze flitted up again to meet Arthur's, suddenly alive with hope and astonishment.
For the first time, he could see it, the love and loyalty and faith which he had so long yearned to see, shining deep in the bottomless blue of the king's eyes, as true and real as their destiny. He had saved his king, Merlin realized, not from Morgana or from the Southron army, but from himself; he had seen Arthur in his weakest state, and had not lost faith in him, but instead had uplifted him from his sorrow and despair. That was the last wall he had needed to break, the last boundary he had had to cross to be allowed into Arthur's inmost confidence. This battle had not been for Camelot, he realized, but for Arthur's heart, and, at last, Merlin had won.
A smile, beaming and happy as summer sun, lit up the young servant's face, and at the sight of it, the solemnity drained from Arthur, who smiled just as brightly, evidently pleased to see his gift had been accepted so satisfactorily.
Merlin's smile did not fade, even when his king had clapped him on his shoulder and turned for the door. He stood there for several more heartbeats, merely feeling the warmth seep through his veins—warmth not from the jacket itself, but from the knowledge of what it meant, and of the conviction it struck anew within his heart.
When one stood alone, the other joined him; when one grew weary, the other held him up.
When Merlin gave Arthur a sword, Arthur gave Merlin a coat.
I really don't know how I'm going to wait for the next season. I guess this is when I can be thankful I'm a writer; at least I can indulge myself until then. How do non-writers survive in this world...? And speaking of which, does anyone know approximately when the next season comes on? If you do, I'd love to be in the loop.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story, and I must explain that I got a new laptop for Christmas (because, as you know, the old one was not agreeable anymore), and it doesn't even have a program with Spellcheck on it yet, so if you see any serious errors, do let me know, but understand that that's probably why.
Happy New Year to you all, in case I don't update until then, and just out of curiosity, how many of you are going to be watching the new Sherlock season with me?