Arthur stared at himself in the mirror, turning left and right. He was shirtless, and the reflection in the mirror cut a good figure. At least he thought so. He had no idea what anyone else would think, as much as he marched around pretending he was on top of the world. With a sigh he lashed out at the mirror, flopping back on the bed.
Merlin raised an eyebrow from where he was putting away laundry, glancing over his shoulder. "Something wrong?" he asked half-heartedly, knowing when Arthur was about to throw a hissy-fit.
"You know what's wrong, Merlin." Arthur muttered back viciously, not turning to look at his manservant. He wanted to sulk, not to have everything made better because of something Merlin said.
"You can't mean that you're still angry about that scar on your back."
"It's huge!" he growled, turning to stare at Merlin. "Battle scars are one thing but it's big and bubbled and... I don't know...," he let out a sigh of frustration. A grin tugged at Merlin's lips but he refused to let it show.
"I'm not sure I'm aware of what the problem is," he smirked, putting down the laundry and going to sit with Arthur on the bed. One hand gently came down on Arthur's shoulder. "Talk to me."
"You know what the problem is, Merlin," Arthur snapped, rolling over onto his back so he could look Merlin in the eyes. "I have more suitors to court tonight. More Princesses from valuable Kingdoms coming trussed up like prized hens for me to choose from-,"
"I don't see the problem."
"Let me finish!" Arthur's eyes were cold. It was obvious he was actually worked up over this. Concerned, Merlin's eyes softened, realizing belatedly this wasn't all a big joke. "Merlin... how am I supposed to face her, my chosen, on our wedding night? Not with this big... thing... on my back!"
"Arthur," Merlin's voice was stern. "It's a battle scar. It shows your bravery."
"All it shows is how stupid I was to get in the way of a magic blast and have my servant forced to save my life!"
"You got in front of that magic blast to save Gwaine's life, Arthur," Merlin said frigidly. "It was strong and heroic. I saved your life because I'll always save your life. That's what I'm here for."
"And I'm sure every single one of those scars you've collected has a story behind it. Like this one here...," his hand gently traced one on the back of Arthur's shoulder, slightly small but vivid white, the last remnants of a wound long healed, "this one came from when you stopped an arrow from slamming into me."
"I had no choice. You would have died."
Merlin's face was warm and proud. "That's not the decision of a coward." Arthur's eyes flicked down, not meeting Merlin's, nor did Merlin remove his hand. Instead, he moved down and traced another scar across Arthur's upper arm. "Sword cut," he muttered. "Got this at the Battle of the Green Mountain, when you were leading the battle against yet another attack by Morgana's invaders."
Arthur's eyes glanced up to Merlin questioningly. "You know where I got all my scars?"
"I've treated all your scars," Merlin replied firmly. "I know the story behind each and every one of them."
Arthur paused for a brief moment and then allowed his hand to gently- very gently- slip under the edge of Merlin's shirt and lift it up a bit. Merlin tensed but relaxed once he realized what Arthur was about to do.
"This scar," he said, tracing one above Merlin's hipbone. It was white and slightly bubbled. "You took a dagger cut to the side and nearly bled out trying to protect me and a knight who I know talks about you behind your back."
Merlin's eyelids fluttered at the gentle touch of Arthur's calloused fingers, skimming the top of his hipbone. Not to be outdone, his hands skittered down a long white scar down Arthur's chest.
"This scar, then-," his words were cut off when Arthur's hand caught his own, pressing it to his chest. Merlin's eyes flicked up to Arthur's, time seeming to stop for a moment as they stared at each other. With a small swallow, he continued. "You got this in the battle against Morgana. Protecting all of us."
"You saved my life with that scar," Arthur replied offhandedly, still clutching Merlin's hand.
"I did," he smiled. "I'm glad you remember."
"I'd never forget," he shrugged, eyes snagging on something. Leaning forward, he gently grazed his lips across Merlin's hairline, causing the boy to freeze. "This scar," he said lowly against Merlin's head, breath puffing across his tender skin, "was gained when you battled Morgana to get back to inform me I was in danger."
"I hit a rock," Merlin muttered. "I should have been better... I don't know. I should have watched where I was going. Should have seen the shot, should have..."
"You're only human, Merlin," Arthur cut him off. "We all make mistakes."
"I thought you didn't care," he said offhandedly. Arthur's eyes widened. "You weren't there when I woke up."
"I had to save Mithian's Father."
"Who was trying to kill you."
"Well... yes." Arthur frowned, tracing the white line under Merlin's hairline from where his head connected with the stone. "You were choked and almost killed and yet still managed to get to the cave in time to save my life. I'm... I owe you everything, Merlin."
Merlin grinned softly, bringing his hand up to pull Arthur's hand down to cup his cheek. "I know every one of your scars, and I bet if I let you, you'd know every one of mine. They're badges of honor- don't let any of those prim Princesses tell you differently."
Bending down, Arthur pressed a feather-light kiss to the small scar on Merlin's head and then traced his lips down so they could press against another tiny scar on Merlin's shoulder. "I don't know about this one," he whispered.
"Accident with a plow. I was six. Not by any means life threatening, just when I learned I would never become a farmer."
"So you became a servant."
"Not intentionally," he teased. He leaned forward and pressed his own lips against a scar on Arthur's eyebrow. His eyes flicked to Merlin's, and before Merlin could say something against it Arthur pressed his lips to Merlin's.
"Thank you for that decision," he breathed. Merlin didn't answer, too busy kissing him firmly.