Author's Note: Hey, y'all. If you have been reading my other Merlin fic "Connected," fear not. I am still working on it and updates will still come along regularly. I just had an attack of motivation, however, and ended up writing a whole bunch of this new story. I'm excited to share it with you! This was originally going to be just a basic hurt/comforp friendship fic but it ended up being a little bit more than that. I hope you enjoy! I have the whole story outlined so it will be very quick updates. There are going to be five chapters and an epilogue in total. Please review!
This takes place about a year or so after season 4.
The sun was shining on Camelot. Merlin, for once, was perfectly on time to Arthur's chambers. An experience a few weeks earlier involving a very startled and furious king and his new wife had warned Merlin to knock before entering.
"Come in." Arthur's voice came through the door, muffled. Merlin pushed the door open, and was startled to see his king already sitting at his desk, fully dressed, with the remains of breakfast sitting on an abandoned platter.
Merlin darted forward and scooped up the platter just as Arthur angrily pushed a stack of papers aside, nearly pushing it off the corner of the desk.
"You're up early," Merlin said cautiously.
"Mm? Oh. Yes. Lots to do." Arthur's face was bent toward the desk. He had ink stains covering his hand and he was glaring at a piece of parchment as if it had personally offended him.
"Let me," Merlin said, pulling the quill and parchment out of Arthur's hands gently. The king sank back into his chair, wiping a hand across his face wearily. Merlin chose to tactfully ignore the black ink smudge now adorning his forehead.
"How long have you been awake?" Merlin asked, skimming the letter Arthur had been drafting.
Merlin finished reading and glanced up. "You're inviting King Dareth to Camelot?"
"Well…" Arthur sighed. "He's sort of invited himself. We received a messenger this morning, requesting a meeting between our people. They're already on their way."
Merlin's eyes widened. "Isn't that a little… presumptuous?" Merlin had only too much experience with visiting nobles and their devious ulterior motives.
"Apparently there have been some problems in his kingdom." Arthur pursed his lips. "I gather Dareth thinks this would be a good moment to have Camelot on his side."
Merlin was listening while copying out Arthur's smudged and hurried writing onto a fresh sheet of parchment. When he reached the end of Arthur's words, he looked up. "What else?"
Arthur gave a very slight smile, grateful. "Right. Where did I leave off?"
Merlin knew that Arthur's court advisors would be appalled to know that he, a lowly servant, had been taking dictation for King Arthur. Merlin had discovered that Arthur had terrible handwriting a few weeks earlier, and had taken mercy on his friend, copying out important documents and taking dictation for official letters.
Oddly enough, Arthur and Merlin's relationship was at its very strongest when one of them was under stress. They seemed to leave an instinctive mutual understanding. When Merlin had walked into the room that morning, he had known hat his normal teasing of the king would not be well-received. At the moment, Arthur needed support. A friend. Merlin leaned deeper over the parchment, trying to keep his writing in orderly lines. He'd be whatever Arthur needed him to be.
The visiting king was set to arrive two afternoons later. The entire court was buzzing with anticipation. It was Arthur's first experience leading such a meeting with foreign nobles, and he was understandably nervous. Not that he would ever say it aloud, but Merlin had been an enormous source of support for the past few days. It was why he was so reluctant to ask him for this particular favor.
"Merlin." They had escaped into Arthur's chambers for a rare moment of solitude from the chaos of plans and meetings and suggestions for treaties. "I have a favor to ask you."
"Really." Merlin's eyebrows raised.
"What? Why do you look so surprised?"
"You have a favor to ask me? Not an order?"
Arthur glared. "Would you rather I order you around?"
"No. No, not at all. Go on ahead with your request." Merlin crossed his arms and leaned against the wardrobe, a cheeky grin covering his face.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Dareth is bringing his eldest son along, as well. A group of knights, and the crown prince."
"Apparently, this Prince Henry is… well… how would you put it, Merlin?" Arthur paused, grinning. "A dollop head?"
Merlin grinned as well. "Oh yes? There's no way he's worse than you were when I first got here."
Arthur managed to look both insulted and ashamed. "Maybe not. But I haven't heard good things. He's about our age, and doesn't get along well with his father or his knights."
"Sounds like a wonderful guy."
Arthur's mouth twitched up in a half-smile. "Yes. Well. You see… the trouble is… his normal servant was apparently injured on the ride over here…" he rubbed his hand through his hair, looking sheepish.
"Merlin, I need to give him a servant for his stay."
"Why me? What did I do wrong?"
Arthur opened his mouth, and then closed it. "Actually, lately not all that much."
"Then why are you punishing me with the dollop head prince?"
Arthur sighed. "I need someone I can trust, Merlin."
"You trust me to be a decent servant?" Merlin said, scoffing.
"Yes. I do." Arthur's voice was suddenly serious.
Merlin's mouth opened, but no words came out. Arthur sighed. "You may be an idiot, but you're someone I trust entirely, Merlin." There was no hint of humor in Arthur's voice. Merlin tried to keep his expression neutral.
Arthur smiled briefly. "Believe me, Merlin, I'd rather keep you with me for the next few weeks. You're a lot less unbearable than most of the servants around here."
"Oh, gee, thank you Arthur. I must go tell Gaius that I've gained your respect for being 'less unbearable.' What an honor."
"Shut up." They smiled at one another, but both felt an uncomfortable tightening in their chests.
Merlin had been there, at Arthur's side, for every important moment in the young King's life for the past seven years. Arthur felt inexplicably nervous about facing this newest challenge without Merlin by his side. As for Merlin, he felt as if his internal danger clock was coming close to ringing its alarm. Things had been peaceful since Gwen had been crowned queen. No attacks, no threats. Weren't they about due for a crisis? And he couldn't be away from Arthur if that happened.