Arthur goes first to Morgana's room that day. Not because he thought he'd find his absent manservant there, as the idiot didn't manage to show up for duty that day. No, it's more than that. Even though Arthur could feel as if Merlin and himself were friends, he knew at this point there still might be limitations. Limitations to the degree of 'where is he' and 'is he okay' and 'should I go see him or would that be stepping out of bounds' sort of questions. Questions, he hoped, his sister and her handmaid would have the answers to.
"Arthur, isn't a bit early for you to be awake?" Gwen asked quickly.
Arthur smirked. "I'll have to thank Merlin for that one later. And, while we're on the subject-"
"Yes," answered Morgana's voice from behind her partition. "If you come back here to ask me more questions, I will have to kill you."
Arthur looked to Gwen for a minute, and Gwen chuckled and mouthed something about a bath. Arthur smiled warily, and then waited a minute before replying. "Yes to what?"
"If you truly want to help Merlin, you should go see him. Not in the demanding that he get to work sort of way that you usually brush things off with," Morgana said loudly. "I mean for you to comfort him if you so wish, he might benefit from it. You realize he's just lost his best and practically only childhood friend, or don't you remember?"
"I do," Arthur said solemnly. "That's why I was concerned, when he didn't show up this morning."
"Just go, you prat," Gwen said in good humor.
Arthur sighed. "Only Merlin is allowed to call me that, understood?"
Both girls were chuckling as Arthur exited the room, and as he made his way down the halls to go see Merlin. When he reached the right door, Gaius answered instead of Merlin. "Good morning, Gaius."
Gaius looked at Arthur a bit angrily. "Can you not grant Merlin the day off? He's a bit out of shape right now, I'm afraid."
A weak voice from upstairs rang out. "I…I'll be downstairs in a minute. Don't worry, prat. Your chores will be done soon enough."
Arthur cleared his throat. When he spoke, he spoke in a quiet tone to Gaius. "I actually intend to give Merlin more than a few days off, on the assumption that he will also be granted time off working for you? Is that alright?"
Gaius smiled gently. "That's very kind of you."
"May I…do you think he'll want to see me right now?" Arthur said, wincing a bit at how that sounded as he spoke.
Gaius shrugged. "Trying couldn't hurt. You're the first out of many people that he's even come close to opening his door for. I don't think he would have considered work today if you hadn't come along asking. Just, go on ahead. I have errands to run anyhow." Arthur nodded, and he proceeded upstairs as Gaius proceeded out the door.
When he got upstairs, and opened Merlin's door, only to find a sobbing Merlin sat at the end of the bed. He shut the door behind him, and Merlin's head snapped up quickly.
"You're rather impatient, you know, you prat," Merlin said in a broken voice, trying to wipe away tears. "I said I'd be down soon enough."
"Merlin," Arthur said in a soft tone, sitting beside him on the bed. "I'm not worried about the chores."
"You, you just," Merlin tried to start, feeling tears again start to build in his eyes. "You wouldn't understand, alright?"
"I understand you need some time to mourn. I understand you could use a friend for comfort," Arthur said gently, watching Merlin carefully. "And, apparently, I hear that I'm the only one you've let near you all day. Are you going to treat me like a prat of a prince who will make you do chores, or are you going to treat me like your friend who is just here to help you?"
"I…I haven't slept," Merlin said groggily. Arthur kept his eyes on Merlin, making sure Merlin knew he was paying close attention to every word. "Not since we left, not since William died. I just…I can't explain it all, and I hope you understand that."
"Merlin, that was five days ago," Arthur said softly, counting together all the time that they remained in Ealdor after and the time it took them to travel back to Camelot. "You need to sleep."
"You don't think I've tried?" Merlin said in a weak tone. "It's not exactly easy."
"Well, perhaps not in this horrible bed, no," Arthur said, feeling with his hand the stiffness of Merlin's cot. "It's perhaps no better than sleeping on the floor."
"What do you suggest, then, prat?" Merlin said, still sniffling. "I don't exactly have access to any better quarters, I'm just a manservant, you know."
"Come off it, you know what I'm going to suggest," Arthur said, standing up and offering his hand. Merlin watched the prince's hand warily as it hung in the air in front of him. Arthur scoffed. "Okay, is it that horrible a notion? My bed is far more comfortable."
Merlin sighed, taking Arthur's hand. "I suppose it'll have to do."
Arthur reached up with his free hand, wiping the tears away from Merlin's face. "If it's any consolation, I'm sorry for your loss. William was a fine man and a decent sorcerer." Merlin flinched at Arthur's last choice words. "What is it? The word 'sorcerer', is that what bothers you? Bloody hell, I feel like a prat. When I accused you of it, Merlin, I felt so horrible to even think…not necessarily because of the magic, but because of the lie."
Merlin took his hand away from Arthur's swiftly, standing back a bit. "William wasn't a sorcerer," Merlin said, tears pooling in his eyes. "He's a bloody good friend, and he knew how much my new home meant to me, and…he wouldn't let me tell you otherwise because he didn't want you to hate me. I don't want you to hate me, and he knew that. I certainly don't like the idea of being sent off for execution, or even banishment."
"Shut up, Merlin," Arthur said, trying to process it all. Merlin sat back on his bed, and Arthur just couldn't take his eyes away as much as he tried. "You still need sleep. Get back up. We're going to my quarters."
This time, Merlin took Arthur's hand immediately. "Not to the king to be sentenced to death, you promise?"
Arthur sighed. "You really are an idiot sometimes."
So they walked like that. Holding hands as they walked. Every once and a while Arthur moved round to wipe tears from Merlin's face. When they finally reached Arthur's room, Arthur looked back at Merlin again, upset as he saw more tears forming. "Is there anything I can do to make you stop crying? I don't like seeing you like that."
"Not really, no," Merlin said softly, letting go of Arthur's hand to pull him into a hug. "But, thank you."
"I guess I should really say the same, huh? It's not every day I find out that my manservant has secretly been the magic saving my arse all those times when things just seemed impossible," Arthur said, smirking.
"Well, I guess I did," Merlin said, a small smile forming on his face. "So I guess you could be."
"Look, you're smiling. Now all you need is some sleep," Arthur said, gesturing toward the bed.
Merlin smiled gently, walking over and then flopping onto the bed. Then, he looked up at Arthur expectantly. "You're not joining me?"
Arthur smiled brightly, practically sprinting over and flopping onto the bed beside Merlin, chuckling. He turned over to his smirking friend beside him. "Did that look a little too eager?"
"I don't know," Merlin said honestly. "It has been a while since either of us got the day off. But was that what it was about?"
"No it's about the fact that you won't stop crying, and that I want to be here with you, and…" Arthur stopped in his tracks. Did he like Merlin? This was ridiculous. Of course, Merlin was his best friend. That's it. But then, in the back of Arthur's mind, a voice of 'then why were you so eager to jump in a bed with him' shrilled loudly.
"Arthur," Merlin said, breaking him off from train of thought. He yawned. "I am kind of sleepy, you know, 120 hours of work with no sleep is pretty bad. Not the time for an identity crisis."
Merlin turned away from Arthur, and Arthur gently scooted forward, wrapping himself around Merlin and pulling the covers around them. "You always know the right thing to say, you know that?"
Merlin smiled as he felt Arthur's head rest on his shoulder. "No, but I will keep that in mind, goodnight Arthur."
"Goodnight, Merlin," Arthur whispered gently over Merlin's throat. And that was the last thing either of them registered in their brains before they each drifted off into the most comfortable sleep they'd had in a long time.
Author's Note: This was good for me to write. I just needed to get the idea out, and the tears. Alright, well, I may continue but I'm not sure. So I shall leave this fic as 'In Progress' while I decide. If you want me to continue this fic, my lovely readers, just let me know with comments/private messages/favorites/follows. One or all of the above is good. Just have so many fics up and running that I can't guarantee immediate updates unless highly in demand. Thanks for reading, though, if you did. If the story continues past this, it will be Rated M. This is my first Rated T story to be possibly left this way, so lemme know if it should be left Rated T or move up on the evolutionary scale. Alright, I will shut up now.