So, I've been thinking about doing this for a while. Today I was really bored and with a major Merlin withdrawal, and this came out! :D
I hope you all enjoy it. Since I'm having exams for the whole week this is my kind of apology for being super late in updating.
Summary: The King of Camelot reflects on an old friend after regaining his Kingdom from the hands of a traitor. He realizes a few things and admits a few others. There was no way to repay a debt so grand. Oneshot. No Slash whatsoever.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
How Much I Owe You
Arthur Pendragon was staring out of his window in a bright, sunny morning. Camelot had passed the imminent danger that his sister had represented. Morgana was gone, and even though Arthur knew she would never return to be the friend she once was, it still hurt, in his chest, like if another part of his heart had been ripped apart.
He had woken up that morning, aware of his truthful and recently re-gained position as King of Camelot. The thought send shivers down his spine. He glanced at the newly acquired sword, the one he had pulled from the stone, which was set on his table as if it was the most delicate and ornamented weapon ever made. The sun cast golden light on it, and Arthur was once again aware of the words, probably written in runes, forged on the smooth surface of its blade. He'd asked Gaius what they meant, to which the old man had replied tiredly,
"Take me up. Cast me away."
For some reason, those words were a shade of hope upon King Arthur's chest. Even though every little part of him had been torn away by the hand of destiny, the sword was, truly, an old friend he hadn't seen for a long time. It was light, but firm, deadly and yet unimaginably delicate. He felt as if the sword was forged for him and for him alone.
He'd sighed and rubbed a large hand through his regal face. Wide blue eyes had stared up at the ceiling, like he had done so many times before in the past. It was the same ceiling, the same dull white painting, the same little cracks here and there. But he wasn't the same Arthur.
Arthur looked on as Camelot rebuilt itself. Through the window, he could see villagers carrying the wounded away, putting the fires out and accepting with a smile the share of food his King had provided them. He saw a few of them glancing up, and a little girl with bouncing curls beaming and weaving at him. She had a deep cut on her cheek. Arthur's heart tightened painfully on his chest as he waved back.
For the first time since he'd woken up he wondered were Merlin was. It was strange, how protective he had grown of the young man in the culmination of another year.
But well, he had his reasons. He had almost lost Merlin more times than what he'd ever thought possible. And Arthur was certain, as certain as his heart beat on his chest, that if anything happened to Merlin he wouldn't know how to live with it.
Merlin, that bumbling, eccentric, smart-mouthed, cheeky, wise manservant who had grown to be his friend, ally, and most trusted supporter. Merlin, who he had threatened with exile for speaking out his mind, for being right. Merlin, who had suffered greatly thanks to his obliviousness over Agravaine's betrayal.
Merlin had grown on him like an infective disease, a very talkative infective disease, if the truth should be told. The man had found Arthur's soft spot, and he had his own special place in the King's heart. A place that would always be Merlin's and that would never fade.
Friend, advisor, manservant, bumbling fool, annoying, amazingly loyal, brave, cheery, supportive…
He could go on and on. The King's lips tugged upwards in a small smile as he classified his manservant- his friend- with even more adjectives: stubborn, cabbage head, wise, compassionate, brave to the point of stupidity…
The scene from so many months ago replayed itself in his mind. Merlin, standing up and promptly running towards the Dorocha. Arthur would never forget how his heart had leaped to his chest, how he had outstretched his hand in an effort he knew would be in vain. That tore, sincere cry that had erupted from his fear stricken heart still resounded in his ears. "Merlin, NO!"
For a fleeting moment, as he watched Merlin's frozen face, dull blue eyes staring back at him, he had thought he'd lost him. For a fleeting moment he had understood how hard it would be, how deep it would ache if Merlin left him. For a moment, for one racing moment, he'd felt a part of him missing…
And then, Merlin had blinked…
And the world became alight again.
That's why, later on, when he saw Merlin fall on the Valley of the Fallen Kings, he hadn't hesitated. He had run to his manservant, promptly picking him up and he'd ran, not even sparing a thought to his loyal knights. And to think he had always congratulated himself for being clear-minded during battle. The moment he saw Merlin, unmoving, on the ground, his vision went blurry with fury…with fear.
The King closed his eyes, going back on time, escaping from the bright sun that danced out of the window.
He remembered the rockfall. He remembered the way all his muscles had been paralyzed in fear (a stupid, stupid reaction really.) and the way Merlin's name seemed to come from the depths of his soul, as if his name and Arthur's soul were one.
Merlin... he had changed so much during the past years. Or maybe it was Arthur who had changed and he just hadn't noticed it. He had gone from being a fool, idiotic, stupid boy to a wise, amazingly loyal and trusted friend. He had changed in Arthur's eyes and he was more…so much more that a manservant.
He was a friend….
No, he was a brother.
King Arthur nodded his head in acceptance. Years ago, he would've been ashamed of it, but this was a different Arthur Pendragon. This was a man forged under the glance of Emrys and in the unforgiving hands of destiny, raised to be gold from the ashes.
So he accepted it. Yes, that was it, a brother.
How could it have come to this?
You don't know how many times I've saved your life.
Arthur had replayed those words inside his mind again and again. Maybe it was the significant act they preceded, or maybe it was just the tone Merlin had used, or perhaps it was what he had implied…
The words bugged him, unceasingly, like a swarm of bees buzzing on his mind. Merlin had demonstrated with an incredible act of bravery what he had said once.
I'm happy to be your servant, till the day I die.
Arthur shifted uncomfortably on his chair, eyes still closed, hands interlaced beneath his chin. He had to get out of Merlin that stupid idea of self-sacrifice. He had to keep Merlin close, just in case his manservant decided to do something stupid as he had done in the tunnels…
Arthur growled softly as he thought about it. His sky-blue eyes snapped open, mirroring the desperation and worry he had felt during those short moments in the caves. Merlin had been alright, thank God, but he had asked, the idiot had asked and Arthur hadn't remembered to keep his facade, to keep his arrogant and uninterested mask. He had said it without thinking, instinctively...
"Alright, is true. Because you are the only friend I have and I couldn't bear to lose you."
The look of bewilderment in Merlin's face afterwards was priceless and Arthur had realized what he had said immediately, becoming obfuscated and confused. He had tried to mend it with his trademark "don't be stupid." but the damage was done. Merlin was smiling like a fool for half an hour afterwards.
George was going quickly in and out of the room, tidying things up, cleaning around like if he was five men instead of one. And Arthur had been so concentrated on his thoughts while George had been so diligent in not making a sound, or maybe Arthur was truly too accustomed to Merlin's bumbling ways that he didn't notice it. Picking what seemed like a hay doll from under his King's bed, George went out of the room again with a disgusted face.
Arthur's thoughts were directed towards his cheeky servant once more while George leaned over him to give him his breakfast. He was slightly worried that Merlin hadn't come but in a way he was relieved. George was much more efficient. Besides, he didn't care for Merlin's serving skills, all he wanted was his company.
The epiphany hit the King with such force that he stopped eating; his fork full of pork froze on the way to his mouth. George directed him a concerned glance and said softly "Are you alright sire?" before Arthur nodded and smiled to dismiss him.
Maybe, he should make Merlin…something more than a servant, because hardly he could be something less. Bemusedly, he thought of court jester, but then another, better idea, struck his mind.
Merlin was, in all the sense of the word, Arthur most trusted and loyal friend, an advisor of sorts, a clear-headed, compassionate man. A pillar.
"That will be all, sire?" George asked, getting the King out of his enlightening thoughts. Thoughts that were probably inspired by destiny.
"Yes, George" Arthur said, nodding at him. George bowed and went out of the room.
Advisor. Merlin, advisor…he would need one, after all. Agravaine had disappeared…
Arthur turned around at that voice. He wasn't surprised the he didn't hear knocking. He was expecting it; he had been expecting it all morning.
Merlin's blue eyes regarded him with a warm smile that was also present on his lips. He advanced towards the center of the room and raised an eyebrow, carding a delicate hand through his dark, unruly hair.
"Well, I know I am late but I had expected something less… immaculate. I thought Morgana would be too occupied with his plans to take over Camelot to actually clean this messy room"
Arthur shrugged as he directed his friend a small smile "George did it, since you are clearly too lazy to get up at the proper time."
Merlin's eyebrows shoot upwards. "Oh that explains it. Has he bored you with his brass stories yet?"
"No, not yet." Arthur said. He cast a glance to the sword that was on his table and noticed that Merlin watched it too, reverently. The King strode purposely towards it and placed a hand on its blade. It was cool at the touch, but still warm with the words they had been accompanied with.
Arthur sighed deeply before glancing at Merlin again, taking in his friend's soft features and the fire and his deep blue eyes. Merlin was watching him…and the sword with such adoration that Arthur would've felt uncomfortable if it was another person.
"Merlin" he said softly, glancing directly into his soulful eyes. "What you said while we were hiding. All of it. That you trusted me, believed in me and that I was to become Camelot's greatest King. That you would ride into the mouth of hell for me. Did you mean it?"
Merlin watched him for the longest time. His eyes danced over his King's blond hair, keen sky-blue eyes, and handsome features. He noticed how right the sword looked in Arthur's hands, how beautifully it fitted between his fingers. His lips blossomed in a soft smile that extended through his face and he said sweetly, softly. "Yes, Arthur. I meant it. All of it."
Arthur didn't smile. He stared at him before letting the sword fall with a clatter to the table again and promptly getting his friend into a bone-crushing hug. Merlin's eyes widened comically moment before the King pressed him against his strong chest, and he glanced, unsure, around before bringing his arms around Arthur's back as well.
"Um, Arthur?" he asked with a tiny voice. "Are you alright? Do you want me to fetch Gaius?"
Arthur didn't answer. After a few seconds he pulled away, eyes gleaming with emotions he could not name. Truly, Merlin was, and would always be, his loyal, cheeky, wise friend. His heart-warming, bumbling, selfless brother.
"Thank you, Merlin." he said, and the words carried so many emotions of so much different kinds that Merlin was at loss on what to say.
"There's no need to thank me, Arthur." he said after a small silence "You know me. I'll always be right beside you."
"There is every need to thank you, Merlin." Arthur disagreed, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I thank you for everything you've done for me. Words cannot say…how much I owe you."
Merlin's eyes were glimmering and for a shocked moment King Arthur thought he was about to cry. But thankfully, Merlin just let out two small tears before wiping them away with trembling fingers. He looked into Arthur's eyes again and said clearly. "Thank you, Arthur. For reminding me the reason I live" he smiled warmly at his King before continuing. "I'll always be there, my friend. You know that."
Arthur nodded, carefully hiding his emotions with a practiced mask of royal gratitude. But inside, he was beaming, crying and laughing with overwhelming affection for this idiot. So he pulled Merlin for a hug again.
This time, as he pressed his friend against his chest once more, he smiled, laughing hysterically. No one could ever feel the relief he was feeling in those moments. His heart was slowly mending, after being almost torn apart by endless betrayals. And Merlin was the thread and the needle that were placing it back together, sewing it with his unyielding loyalty and deep friendship.
"There must be something I can do for you." he said softly, still having his chin against Merlin's shoulder. "A way to demonstrate my gratitude."
"Arthur, really." Merlin answered, his voice a little muffled "I'm fine."
Arthur pulled back for the second time that morning and glanced at him quizzically. He looked at his friend from head to toe before noticing a rather large burn mark in Merlin's ever present brown jacket.
Arthur blinked, wondering why he had never noticed it before…unless it was new, and Merlin had been hurt during the battle.
"Merlin" he said, his voice immediately changing from grateful to annoyed and just a tad worried. "Are you hurt?"
Merlin glanced at his body, searching for any signs of injury with his eyes and then back at Arthur with a confused look on his face. "Uh, what?"
"Your jacket" Arthur explained, taking his sleeve and yanking it to make the point "It's burnt"
Something that looked akin to fear shadowed through Merlin's face but it was soon gone before Arthur could give it a second thought. "It's nothing." he replied, smiling cheekily. "I guess it must have gotten a little smoked during the bonfires."
Arthur shook his head "You can't go around looking like that if you are main advisor to the King."
He watched bemusedly how Merlin's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. The warlock let out a strangled gasp before blinking at him "W-what? Advisor?"
Arthur nodded "Mmhm. Now that Agravaine is lost…" he missed the guilty look Merlin had on his face for a second. "…I need another advisor. And frankly, I can't think of anyone better for the job, since clearly your serving skills cannot be improved."
Merlin still looked dazed and confused and what-not, and Arthur was starting to get worried that the fool would collapse from shock. When Merlin swayed on his feet he quickly extended a hand to catch him but Merlin shook his head and steadied himself against the table. "No, I'm fine" he said, breathing deeply. His eyes looked at Arthur again and he said simply "Why?"
"Because you are an idiot in almost anything you try to do Merlin, but actually give great advice." Arthur shrugged. He tried to undermine the deep, cheesy things he wanted to say since that was actually Merlin's job. He smiled at his pale friend. "Are you sure you are not going to faint like a girl, Merlin?"
"No." Merlin answered. as if the thought had just occurred to him he looked at Arthur with a frown on his face. "wait, does that mean I don't have to be your servant anymore?"
"No more mucking stables?"
Arthur rolled his eyes "Yes."
"No more cleaning your dirty socks?"
"No more bruises from goblets thrown at me?" he was grinning so hopefully that Arthur snorted.
"Well, I don't know, Merlin. Should there be any?"
"No." Merlin said cheekily, and crossed his arms over his chest with a wide smile.
Arthur smiled too and then said seriously. "As I was saying, I won't have you walking around on that thing. You'll have a new jacket, how about that Merlin? I know you like that kind of burgundy color; would you like it like that?"
Merlin just smiled. "Arthur, you shouldn't…"
Arthur strode towards him and grabbed both of his shoulders in his large hands. The eyes of the Once and Future King burned into Emrys's as he said what was stored deeply in his heart. "I want to Merlin. You need a new jacket, I need you as advisor, and I need a competent manservant. We are all happy."
"But nothing, Merlin. I expect to see you on all of the Council meetings from now on, and you better stop wearing that old thing. I'm getting the new one to you as quickly as I have it made."
He smiled widely and patted Merlin on the back, who was still staring at him as if he was seeing his King for the first time. But before he could go away Merlin pulled him for a hug, this time catching a surprised Arthur, who blinked at his friend before hugging him back.
"Thank you, Arthur." Merlin whispered fiercely against his shoulder.
"No." Arthur said, his voice as equally deep with emotion "No, Merlin. Thank you. Your friendship is something I don't even deserve…my life, Merlin. That's how much I owe you."
The King and the Warlock stayed in that embrace for a few moments, starting together, the break of a new morning. For the darkest hour had passed and now it was breaking dawn.
The Darkest Hour is just Before the Dawn.
Yay for the epic bromance! :D ( I NEED MORE HUGS!)
Hugs for all of you :)
Ocean Mint Leaves