Fandom: Merlin (bbc)
Word Length: 1,750
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur pre-slash
Summary: Worst of all, Merlin suspects he might really have a mental affliction.
Warnings: Possible spoilers up to season one, episode twelve.
Notes: Beta-read by the wondrous kcstories and gestaltrose. Written for merlinadvent, day 19, prompt "Ailments."
Gwen says Merlin hasn't a mental ailment, though she will admit to Morgana in confidence that he is a bit odd; not that she doesn't like odd men, but she's not saying she likes Merlin. Because she didn't mean it that way.
Morgana thinks Merlin is mentally ill for willingly sticking around with Arthur and saving his life so many times. Who in their right mind, after all, would put up with such a self-righteous prat?
Gaius knows Merlin doesn't really have a mental affliction. Though sometimes he wonders.
Uther is positive the manservant does. There is no other explanation.
Arthur was the first one to say it, though he hadn't meant it at the time. But he believes it. He really does. It explains everything.
Worst of all, Merlin suspects he might really have a mental affliction.
"What's this?" Arthur holds up his new tunic. It being new, Merlin had found it hard to clean, for the fabric was much tougher. Old, soft fabric didn't mind being battered against rocks and scrubbed.
"Your tunic." Merlin adds, "Sire," because Arthur's lips twitch dangerously. He's not in a joking mood so early in the morning. Even if it is technically noon.
"You were supposed to clean it." He throws the tunic at Merlin, who lets it hit him in the face before it falls to the floor. He had cleaned it, but the stream had been full of servant girls washing clothes so he'd been unable to use magic. And last time he'd brought Arthur's clothes into his bedroom Gaius had given him some stern look he doesn't particularly like to receive unless he's done something particularly stupid.
"Sorry," mutters Merlin, kicking the tunic across the floor and to the door before remembering that he shouldn't do that because it's not his own clothes.
Arthur slams the door shut behind him.
This time Merlin takes it to his room. He's not about to clean it in the stream again. Besides, he's always the only male servant there and it's a little degrading.
Gaius looks at him when he enters, scuffing his feet on the floor because he's gone from anger to exasperation. He drops the tunic on the workbench and slides up next to Gaius, peering into the potion he's concocting. Well, Gaius calls it medication, but Merlin has his suspicions.
"Done already?" Gaius asks, stirring the liquid while adding some crushed flowers. It smells like mildew.
Merlin shrugs. "He's in a bad mood. Making me clean his tunic again."
Gaius raises his eyebrows but says nothing. Just consults the open book before him.
"What are you making?" Merlin asks before catching himself. He knows better than to ask Gaius questions about anything concerning his job as a physician, he really does, but sometimes he forgets and pretends he's interested in a blind attempt to be polite.
Then he's stuck with Gaius' ramblings. After a few minutes of this, Merlin stands and grabs the tunic. "I've got to clean this." He smiles apologetically at Gaius and walks into his room, pushing the door closed behind him.
He figures he can stretch this out for no longer than an hour. His eyes flash and the bucket holding his wash water scrapes across the floor, the tunic flying into it. A bit of water sloshes over the rim, but Merlin doesn't care.
The soft splashing and scrubbing makes him weary, so he pulls his magic book out and props it on his lap, staring at the words but not really seeing them. He blinks a few times before letting his eyelids rest.
A loud bang wakes him, and he jumps, blinking and wide-eyed. Then his bedroom door flings open, hitting the wall, and Arthur's standing there, face pinched in anger. "Merlin! Where have you been? It's been over an hour. You're the worst servant I've ever had, you know. I should put you in the stocks for this. Having a bloody nap!"
It suddenly hits Merlin that the tunic is still washing itself off to the left of Arthur, and he stops it. A little too quickly. The bucket flops over, water spilling and swarming around Arthur's feet. They both stare at it.
"Um," Merlin says, his fingers tense around the book in his lap.
The magic book.
In his lap.
Arthur shakes his head, looks at Merlin, and then says, "Where'd you learn how to read?"
"I can't!" Merlin shouts. They both look down at the book. "Well, I mean, I can. Not good. My mum taught me. I, uh, just look at the pictures. You know, simple words I know. It's um..."
Arthur steps forward, his shoes squeaking on the floor, and reaches out for the book. "What's it about?"
Merlin hugs it to his chest and slips off the bed, the opposite of Arthur, so there's a barrier between them. He's at a loss for what to do.
Gaius pops up at the door, takes in the scene, and Merlin's panicked, pleading face. "Merlin," he says, causing Arthur to stop staring at Merlin as if he's mentally unstable, and to look at Gaius instead. "Get a mop and clean this mess up."
Nodding, Merlin scampers out of the bedroom, grateful when Gaius plucks the book out of his hands. "He's such a fickle boy, isn't he, Sire?" Gaius comments, before following Merlin. He slips the book onto a shelf, between two other books. It stands out, but that's probably just because Merlin knows what it is.
Arthur glances at the shelf, but his shoes squeak again so he glares down at them instead.
"Merlin," Arthur says when Merlin's finishing up on dressing him in his finest clothes. For once, the clothes aren't for a big feast. He's just having dinner with his father. "Don't mess up tonight."
Merlin's fingers are still on Arthur's buttons. He looks at his face. "What do you mean?"
Arthur refuses to look at him. "You and some servant girl will be serving the King and myself for dinner. Don't do anything stupid."
He wants to say something in response. Something about how little faith Arthur has in him, or an imploration as to why this dinner is so important, but there's a hard set to Arthur's jaw and his gaze is still somewhere over Merlin's shoulder, so he just goes back to the buttons. "I won't."
Merlin's a little surprised Morgana's not at the dinner, but he's relieved. Every time he sees Morgana and Uther together, he thinks of Morgana's recent betrayal. It's just Uther and Arthur.
Merlin and Cedany dash in and out of the room, and don't speak except for when they're out of the room. They're not allowed to be in the room, which Merlin finds strange. They are expected to wait outside the door and instinctively know when they are needed.
Luckily, Cedany knows what she is doing. "Just follow me," she whispers, resting a soft hand on Merlin's arm and smiling reassuringly at him. She's really pretty, Merlin finds himself thinking, and his cheeks heat up. She smiles good-naturedly at him but retracts her hand and refuses to look him in the eye.
After a few minutes, she nods at him and pushes the door open. Merlin's so busy following her and trying not to mess up that he bumps into her when she stops to refill Uther's goblet. Merlin gasps and holds up his hands in apology, at least remembering the silence rule. A goblet clomps against the wooden table, and Merlin looks over to find Arthur glaring at him, waving his empty goblet pointedly.
Blushing ever hotter than he had in the hallway, Merlin dashes over and fills Arthur's goblet. He can feel Arthur's eyes on him the whole way out the door. Uther and Arthur don't speak until the door shuts.
"What's going on?" Merlin asks, making sure to keep his voice down. He even bends slightly so his mouth is at Cedany's ear.
She jumps, startled, hand at her heart. "Oh, this is King Uther's anniversary. They always have dinner on this day." She tilts her head. "I'm surprised Prince Arthur didn't tell you."
Merlin crosses his arms and grumbles.
"I mean," she backpedals, and this makes Merlin like her even more. "I just meant, you two seem close for servant and master."
Merlin nods. He'd thought so, too.
Silently, Merlin undresses Arthur. He tries to ignore the way Arthur watches him. It makes him think things. Things he shouldn't. Things that give the dragon's words a whole new meaning.
"Do you remember your mother at all?" Merlin asks, because he hasn't a stopper on his mouth and he's trying to think of something else.
Arthur steps out of his trousers and gives Merlin a baleful look. "She died during childbirth. Who told you?"
Merlin shrugs and holds out Arthur's nightclothes.
Rather than let Merlin dress him like always, Arthur snatches the clothes out of Merlin's hands and dresses himself. Merlin wants to crack a joke about being a big boy now, but decides against it. "Do you miss her?" he asks quietly.
"I never met my dad," Merlin adds quickly, cutting off whatever Arthur was going to snap. He twists Arthur's trousers in his hands, then drops his hands down, holding the clothes against his thigh.
Arthur is staring at him strangely, not angry or irritated or amused--all emotions Merlin is used to being on the receiving end of. Merlin stares right back, mouth parted slightly, until he can't take it anymore and drops his eyes to the trousers.
Arthur shuffles away and sits on the edge of his bed. "What's your mother like?"
"You met her." Merlin walks over and pauses next to Arthur, not sure what he's supposed to do or what he even wants to do.
"I know, I…" He trails off, and his eyes are sad, are far away. Merlin folds the trousers and places them on the bed. He sits down next to Arthur cautiously, unsure if he's allowed to or if it will set Arthur off. Tensely he picks at the threads of the blanket.
Arthur's hand lands on top of Merlin's. Merlin doesn't dare move, and he forgets to breathe. His hand is suddenly hot, and Arthur's is clammy. He thinks he sees a pink tint to Arthur's cheeks, and that's how Merlin knows he has a mental affliction. There's no way. Still, Arthur doesn't remove his hand for a long time.