Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Prompt: “You know s/he’s just going to hurt you.”
“Tell me who,” Arthur growled, his fingers pressing gently to the warm bruise marring half of Merlin’s face.
“Tripped coming up the stairs,” Merlin mutters, trying to push Arthur away, “I’m clumsy.”
“Yes,” Arthur agrees, pulling him back, “you are, but not that clumsy.”
“No, I really am that clumsy, and if you don’t believe me—“
“I don’t.” Arthur takes Merlin’s elbow and pushes him down into a chair, hovering by his side and using one hand to tilt up his jaw. “And I don’t think you expect me to either.”
Merlin’s jaw tenses under his hand but there’s something else brimming alongside the anger in his eyes. Arthur gentles, cupping the uninjured side of Merlin’s face and letting his concern show plainly.
“I’m supposed to be a king one day,” he murmurs, fingers ghosting over the bruise again, “I’m supposed to be able to protect a kingdom and I can’t even protect you.”
“I don’t need your protection,” Merlin mutters.
“Clearly you do!”
Arthur regrets it as soon as the words come out of his mouth. Merlin’s expression closes off and he pulls his face away.
“Just—is it—what happened?”
The note of panic in Arthur’s tone must do something. Merlin’s shoulders slump and when he speaks he’s not angry.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, it does! Tell me what happened, Merlin—“
Arthur growls in frustration as Merlin turns his back on him, making to go finish his chores. Something about seeing Merlin hurt yet so willing to just brush it off like it’s nothing makes his hackles rise.
“Merlin, I’m your prince,” he says through gritted teeth, “if I want you to tell me something, you tell me.”
“Oh, so you’re throwing around orders now?”
“I didn’t mean—“
It’s too late. Merlin’s turned away again. Arthur wants to scream, to roar, to cradle Merlin close in his arms and never let anything touch him away. A horrible feeling swallows his throat that this might’ve happened before. How many times had Merlin come to him or gone away, nursing wounds no one else knew about?
“Please,” Arthur tries, “tell me. As your friend?”
He thinks he’s done wrong again when Merlin’s back goes ramrod straight until he looks over his shoulder.
“As your friend might be the problem,” he says, barely audible, “I’m a servant, you’re a prince. I should know my place.”
“Know your place, what—“
Arthur freezes. Oh, gods, that was why, wasn’t it?
Arthur’s no fool. He knows he lets Merlin get away with far more than any other master would. Merlin talks back to him in private and in public. He lets him spend days in that blasted tavern with not much other than a scolding and some more unpleasant chores Merlin was going to have to do anyway.
He’s risked his life for Merlin. He’s committed treason for Merlin. He’s risked war for Merlin.
Because this brave little servant with no regard for social customs and an inability to put up with Arthur’s shit stumbled his way through all the walls and armor being the Prince of Camelot built him and sat right next to Arthur, determined to be his friend.
“Do you need your clothes to be washed today, sire?”
No. The title sounds wrong in Merlin’s mouth. Normally when Merlin uses any time of formality it’s alongside a snide remark that makes Arthur laugh as much as it shouldn’t. Hearing it now, the cold detached voice of a servant should reassure him. It should be a welcome change.
Instead, Arthur feels like he’s been punched too.
“Arthur,” he corrects softly.
“Call me Arthur,” he repeats, watching a storm of emotions rush across Merlin’s face. “If I wanted a normal servant I’d have one. I don’t want a normal servant.”
The uncertain look on Merlin’s face turns daggers in Arthur’s stomach. He helped put that there. He stands up, crossing slowly to take Merlin’s shoulder and set down the laundry basket with his free hand.
“Don’t do this,” Merlin mutters as Arthur finishes setting it aside, “don’t do this to me.”
“Give me hope.”
Arthur’s heart drops.
“Merlin,” he murmurs, trying to keep as much fear out of his voice as he can, “look at me.”
Merlin does. All Arthur can do is hold him tightly and try and communicate everything he can’t say out loud through eye contact.
“It’s not worth it,” Merlin says finally, “you can’t go against—them for me.”
So it’s a knight or another noble.
“And who was it,” Arthur says, “that marched right up to me and told me every life was worth protecting, servant or otherwise?”
He can’t deny the glimmer of pride makes his heart soar.
“And credit me with a little subtlety, Merlin,” he continues, “don’t you remember?”
At Merlin’s faint smile he knows he does. “’S one of the few times I’ve seen you and Morgana get along.”
“Well, she hated Lord Jerlon as much as you did. Humiliating him on the training grounds was as much a service to her as it was for you.” Arthur smiles when it makes Merlin giggle. “I think she likes you more than she likes me most days.”
“Like that’s hard.”
Arthur claps his other shoulder lightly even though he doesn’t make an effort to hide his smile. “Clotpole.”
“That’s my word.”
“And it suits you perfectly.”
This. This he wants. This he needs. Merlin smiling and keeping up with him word for word. There’s no fear in Merlin’s eyes now, no uncertainty.
But the smile reaches the bruise and Merlin winces, huffing when Arthur’s hand flies to it, checking it over for the third time.
“Does somebody know?”
Merlin frowns. “What?”
“I’m hurt you won’t tell me,” Arthur confesses, “but does somebody know what happened?”
“I think Sir Leon saw.” Merlin lets Arthur turn his head to examine the bruise. It’s a nasty thing, already turning Merlin’s cheekbone purple. If it’d hit anywhere else, it’d have broken Merlin’s nose. “Probably a few others did too.”
His eyes narrow. “Are you going to ask him?”
“Someone put their hands on you,” Arthur insists, “someone hurt you. Don’t you understand?”
“Yeah.” Merlin ducks his head and lets Arthur pull him close. “Yeah, I do.”
“It’s not that big a deal.”
“It is to me.”
“It’s not like I’ll get out of helping him too, he’s—“
Arthur tightens his grip on Merlin’s middle. The fact that he’s not looking at Arthur seems to loosen Merlin’s tongue.
“…he’s one of your knights, Arthur. I have to.”
“You know he’s just going to hurt you,” Arthur murmurs, clutching Merlin tighter, “don’t put yourself through that.”
“But you like me there when you train.”
“I do. I also like you unbruised.”
“Judging by the way you throw things at me, I hadn’t noticed.”
Arthur pulls back. He’s pretty sure Merlin was joking but it’s too close to serious for him to leave it hanging.
“I would never,” he mutters, staring at Merlin, “ever do something like that to you.”
Merlin’s eyes go wide and he nods. Arthur nods too. The idea of striking Merlin with the intent to hurt, to bruise like that, is horrible.
There’s a knock at the door.
“Enter.” Arthur keeps one hand on Merlin’s shoulder as he turns toward the door.
Morgana sweeps in, followed closely by Sir Leon. Her eyes widen and she rushes to their side, her own hand brushing over Merlin’s face.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she says, “I had hoped Leon was exaggerating.”
“Never, my lady,” the knight says, locking eyes with Arthur. “Sire, I assume Merlin has told you?”
Arthur glances at Merlin who’s reassuring Morgana he’s alright. “Not exactly.”
Leon looks to Merlin who nods. Morgana turns to face Arthur with a furious expression on her face.
“Tell me, Arthur,” she says icily, “is it common practice to strike sparring partners across the face with a staff when they aren’t wearing a helmet?”
“No,” Arthur growls, “no it is not.”
“In that case, I believe Sir Tordwin requires further instruction.”
Leon confirms the story with a nod.
Arthur glances outside. It’s too late in the day to hold a proper training session, they’re going to have to wait until tomorrow.
“Merlin,” Morgana says, drawing Arthur’s attention back to the pair, “I think I’m going to join them tomorrow. Won’t you come to help me?”
Arthur doesn’t bother to hold back his smile when Merlin agrees. Morgana nods sharply and sweeps out the door again, followed by Sir Leon who ruffles Merlin’s hair as he goes.
Arthur stops Merlin from picking up the basket. “You’re mine, Merlin,” he murmurs, stroking Merlin’s cheek, “in whatever way you choose to be. That means I protect you.”
Merlin nods, not pulling away from the contact.
“He won’t touch you again. None of them will.”
“Now, I’m sure there are better things for me to do.”
He wouldn’t have it any other way.