Chapter Two: Boys

"Merlin!"

"Coming, sire!"

Morgana shakes her head, giggling when she catches Guinevere's smile across the room as the tumult that is Arthur and Merlin barrel past their door, arguing and fighting the entire way, making about as much noise as a confined parade. It's humorous listening to them when they think that no one is listening, the moments that their rather unique relationship-almost that of brothers-is longer hidden from men that would condemn them for it, and they feel they can truly be who they really are...

After a few minutes, they pass by, once more leaving Morgana and Guinevere in silence, small smiles being sent between the two as they hear the dim noise of the pair walking down the hallway, their speech interrupted every now and again by Arthur's exclamation of 'Merlin!' and 'Shut up!' that cause the pair to giggle and share a secretive glance, which in turn causes the Knight that announces that the King wishes to see the Lady Morgana to look between the two of them in confusion...

A confusion that rises when their laughter grows as a far off crash sounds and the Prince once again gives an irritated cry of his manservant's name.

-0-0-0-

After speaking with the King, Morgana's mood has plummeted drastically and Guinevere spends a few minutes getting her spirits up again, before Arthur bursts into the Lady's room and immediately starts fuming about the many ways that Merlin was a pain on the hunt again. Guinevere can't be sure if she wants to hug him or slap him for barging in when she's trying to cheer her Lady up before she sees the look on Morgana's face and starts paying more attention to what exactly it is that Arthur is saying:

"...and then the idiot decides to jump in front of me-without any armor on-and I don't have a clue how that manic that was trying to kill me missed Merlin, but he did by mere inches and even tripped on his cloak so the Knights could arrest him... Merlin just stood there, smiling that idiotic smile of his, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to clap in irons, clap him on the head, or clap him to the ground for standing in front of me! The idiot almost killed himself for me!"

"Yes, I can't imagine what he was thinking," Morgana quipped, bad mood evaporated into the air as soon as Arthur started speaking, making up Guinevere's mind on whether or not she wanted to kiss him or slap him, "I mean, after the horrid way you treat him..."

That stops Arthur mid-tirade and he looks at Morgana like he's never heard of her before, or can't believe what she just said to him, and Guinevere had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud at how confused he appears, how utterly out of his depth. After a few minutes of trying to hold in her humor and about to release it in what no doubt would have been an unladylike snort, Arthur regains his power of speech just long enough to stammer out, "I-I d-don't treat Merlin horribly!"

"You throw things at his head," Morgana counters with a smug smile pulling at her lips, Guinevere's disappearing behind her hand.

"I-I... I'm only making sure that his reflexes are up to par! He usually ducks anyway! If he keeps insisting that he go everywhere with me, that he goes on hunts with me-"

"Hunts that you know he hates, that you practically drag him along on anyway..."

"-and he's always throwing himself into danger," Arthur does not seem to hear Morgana's muttered insertion and has now begun to pace the width of the room, passing by both Morgana and Guinevere without appearing to notice that they are there either. His voice goes from Prat Prince, as Merlin usually refers to him, to Concerned Arthur and the girls are touched by the change, as well as how obvious it makes Arthur's feelings for Merlin to them. "If he's going to continue to be an idiot, I need to make sure that he survives...! If anything happens to him..."

The girls look at each other, eyes widening and mouths parted as what Arthur just said hits them, making them wonder if Arthur even realized that he has said-or partially said-something so monumental... It takes away a bit of the humor that was in the room before, but neither one speaks now, afraid to break the contemplative mood that is now dominate as Arthur's voice drops as various thoughts bound through his mind, raising in tone every now and again...

"He needs to survive... barely competent, but he is my manservant..." Arthur brushes by the flowers that Merlin had given Morgana to help her feel better, nearly toppling them and Guinevere rushes over to keep them from crashing to the floor; Arthur still does not notice her and continues his pacing, growing more frantic by the second. "I can't let him train with the Knights... other than as the practice dummy... but that builds up his strength! The man is a twig! Maybe I should ask Father to let him train with them... but he'll probably say no..."

"And we all should do exactly as the King says," Morgana's good mood has disappeared and her remark has pulled Arthur out of his manic pacing, making him look at her once more in confusion before he seems to realize where he is and who it is he's talking to...

"Well, anyway, at the end of the day Merlin is still my manservant and I suppose I should be proud that he would be so willing to risk his neck for me," Arthur tries to pull his Prince persona over his concerned expression, but both girls have seen the cracks in his armor and now are certain it is only a front, so neither speaks as he walks out of the room, down the hallway and calls for Merlin in that way that covers up the concern he's not allowed to show...

-0-0-0-

The rest of the day passes by quietly and that worries the King's ward and her chambermaid; usually, you can hear Merlin and Arthur arguing throughout the entire day, sometimes punctured by Arthur striking Merlin, sometimes by Arthur just telling him to shut up, and other-much more rare occasions-Arthur actually listens to what Merlin is trying to tell him. This complete silence is both troubling and telling as the day fades into night with no quarrel resounding about the castle walls...

About to lose her patience, getting ready to demand to know what happened between the man that she views as good as her brother and the manservant that she always thought was more than what he appeared to be, Morgana is immensely relieved and a little startled when there comes a tentative knocking at her door. There is only one person that knocked like that; Arthur and Uther will pound on the door or simply enter without announcement, and the Knight give this tap-tap-tap sound that tells her that she is needed, so Morgana is so sure of the person standing on the other side of the door that she simply calls out, "Come in, Merlin."

He does, but only just; her door is cracked open and Merlin is smiling that tentative smile of his that always makes Morgana think of a kicked puppy, that makes her have to hold back the instinctive reaction of wanted to close the distance between them and embrace the boy, but cannot because she is the King's ward and must let her chambermaid do something so simple and personal... After Guinevere releases Merlin from her arms, Morgana gives him a smile of her own that she hopes conveys her own wish to hug her friend. "What can we do for you, Merlin?"

"Well, I was looking for Gwen... Not that I didn't want to talk to you, my Lady, it's just that I'm not sure if it's such a good idea... Not that talking to you is a bad idea!" Merlin gives her a smile that is part fearful that he might have somehow insulted her, which he has not, "It's just that I'm a little annoyed with Arthur right now and need someone to bounce ideas off of because I think he might be under a spell again and we need to fix it before the King finds out and starts killing everyone within the boundaries of Camelot for the supposed crime of bewitching his son. I know Arthur's been enchanted... not because I'm a wizard, of course! It's just that he's been acting way too... too..."

"Nice?" Guinevere supplies, matching smiles with her mistress, because they both find a flustered and babbling Merlin adorable; it also solves the riddle of why the castle has been so quiet lately and the disquiet that has hung over them all day is finally gone. At Merlin's nod and quick amendment to Morgana that while he's sure that Arthur is a very nice person, he's just not nice to him-Arthur's manservant-Guinevere fights back a giggle as she manages to get out, "Merlin, Arthur's not under an enchantment."

"Then someone has hit him over the head one too many times because he's not acting normal!" Merlin throws his arms up in frustration before shooting a glance over at Morgana and dropping them down to his sides as quickly as if they had been lopped off, making a curl of sadness grow in the Lady's chest; Merlin is always so formal around her, nothing like he is when he is with Gwen or Arthur, and she wishes that he would relax around her, if only a little. "He even offered me a day off! He never even considers offering me an hour off, let alone a whole day!"

Merlin has become so worked up that he has completely forgotten that Morgana is there and is passionately railing at Gwen, arms waving to emphasize his point and lips turned down into a frown. Gwen is obviously trying to keep from laughing at Merlin's befuddlement and anxiety, while Morgana stays quiet and listens to Merlin list all the various ways that Arthur 'wasn't acting normal', therefore being the first one to hear the familiar tread coming ever closer to her room.

"...and then he asked if I wanted to help him train with the knights, instead of just ordering me outside like normal!" The manservant didn't seem to care that Arthur was being nice to him, didn't seem to notice that it was just him that Arthur's attitude had changed for, and was completely upset that Arthur wasn't acting the very way that Merlin had complained so much about before... Gwen wasn't the only one that was biting her lip to keep from laughing by the time that Arthur came to Morgana's door and barreled right through.

"Why, hello, Arthur; won't you just come right on in?" Morgana's voice made Arthur flinch and give her a look that was suppose to be apologetic, not to mention drawing Merlin's attention from his high-pitched relation of 'Arthur offered to let me use his old shirts... His old shirts, Gwen!' and made him aware that the very man he had been railing about just entered the room, his gaze on the manservant in an expression that could only be described as 'deeply confused'.

"Merlin, what are you doing in here? I thought I gave you the day off...?" Arthur appeared to be under the mistaken assumption that Merlin was in Morgana's chambers looking for work. Morgana rolled her eyes, exasperation for her faux brother raising to a new level; was he the only one allowed to be Merlin's friend?

"Yes, sire, which is why I immediately came to the Lady Morgana and Gwen to figure out what is wrong with you," Merlin quipped, obviously pushed beyond his endurance by this point and uncaring of what possible repercussions would come from talking to Arthur like that... or perhaps he hoped that his insolence would somehow bring back Arthur's own bluster, his own way of sniping that was more normal for the manservant than the care that the Prince had been showing him all day...

It apparently was what Arthur needed to hear, because he gave an irritated huff that said that he had heard this comment from Merlin one time too many as he crossed his arms, patience stretched to the breaking point as he snapped back, "If my overwhelming generosity after having to deal with a completely worthless servant is too much for you, Merlin, then you will no doubt have no problem polishing my armor, mucking out the stables, cleaning my room..."

Morgana has a valiant time hiding the smile that spreads her lips as Merlin's earlier uneasiness disappears and he follows Arthur out of the room much like a favorite hound darting around his master's heels, Arthur's list of chores faltering as his own look changes into complete befuddlement and it is all she can do to keep her laughter in check until Gwen closes the door behind them, cutting off Merlin offering a few thing that Arthur apparently 'forgot' to mention.

"I swear," Morgana manages to gasp as her laughter dies down to giggles, Gwen shaking her head and smiling beside her, the maidservant's thoughts on the matter as clear as the expression on her face, "those two are such... such..."

"Boys?" Gwen supplies helpfully.

"Yes, exactly!"