Merlin had hurt Arthur.
It had been entirely accidental, nothing more than the King receiving a couple of bruises and a sprained wrist. Hardly the most dangerous injury a Knight could receive, let alone a King, and Arthur hadn’t mentioned it since the incident.
Probably because Merlin had been the one to hurt him.
He knew the King was mad. He had to be, because Merlin had done the one thing he swore not to.
He’d used his Magic against Arthur. Admittedly, it hadn’t been aimed at Arthur, more at the Sorcerer trying to kill him, but the idea was the same. His Magic, the very thing sworn to protect the King of Camelot, had been used against him.
Merlin could barely breathe on the ride back to Camelot, ignoring the chatter from the Knights and Arthur’s teasing, focusing on not toppling from his horse.
Gaius had wrapped the wrist, poked and prodded at the bruising until dismissing the King altogether. The moment he was out of the door, Merlin could sink down in front of his Mentor, telling the story of the moment he broke his biggest promise to Arthur.
Arthur had to be angry at him. Merlin would be, in fact, he was surprised that he hadn’t been dragged down to the Dungeons yet. Magic was barely legal, and it very clearly wasn’t to be used against the King of Camelot.
In the days that followed Merlin’s betrayal, the manservant worked his hardest to impress the King. He stayed quiet during Council meetings, didn’t wander off to annoy Morgana or Guinevere rather than being by Arthur’s side. He called him Sire whenever addressing him, adding in a helpful “my lord” when they were in front of the Knights.
He even dared to drag up bathwater in buckets, fresh and boiling from the fires, rather than warming it with his Magic.
Writing a formal apology took a while, and at least nine drafts, before Merlin abandoned the idea. Arthur was waiting for him to explain himself, that was clear, so he had to figure out the right way to do it.
When Arthur whined about having to miss training, due to his wrapped hand, Merlin felt his blood run cold. The King had provided the perfect opening point to the conversation, even if it was in front of the other Knights, and Merlin would be a fool not to take it.
‘Sire,’ He began, wondering how exactly he was going to apologise for doing something that quite clearly was unforgivable.
‘Enough!’ Arthur snapped, hands flying up so quickly that Merlin flinched away.
A silence fell between the two of them, Merlin looking up at the King in shock, while Arthur looked at him in anger.
Merlin should have gone with the apology letter.
‘I…’ He wasn’t going to defend himself, obviously. There was no point, Merlin could have killed Arthur, if the King had been one step closer when he muttered the spell. All it took was for Merlin to get complacent, or to lose concentration, and Arthur could get hurt.
‘If you call me Sire one more time,’ Arthur’s teeth ground together, his eyes dangerously angry, ‘I will personally see to it that you spend a month in the stocks.’
In his defence, Merlin had been fretting for days. His mind had worked up every possible outcome, from Arthur accepting his apology warily, to him being sent to the Pyre for using Magic against the King. The amount of times he’d rehearsed his speech, or made Gaius listen to his ramblings, was unbearable. He’d done all of his chores in record time, which might have explained his exhaustion in all fairness.
Arthur shouting at him, especially for the thing that was definitely not as bad as Merlin almost killing him, was the last straw that the Warlock was able to take.
He hated crying. It wasn’t his intention, but he was more than aware of his eyes watering up, his body trembling under Arthur’s anger while the King went from menacing to confused, then to worried, in a split second.
‘Merlin?’ The Knights looked equally as concerned, hovering in the armoury as Merlin wobbled on the spot.
‘I’m just so sorry! I didn’t think you were close enough to get injured, and then I was distracted, and I really didn’t intend on using my Magic but the Sorcerer was getting closer and I thought the Knights weren’t coming, but you were flying back and there was the tree and…’ He clapped a hand over his own mouth, trying to prevent all of the ramblings from just tumbling from his lips, nothing like the elaborate apology he’d had planned.
Arthur’s lips formed a tight line, frown returning as he looked to his Knights.
‘Out! All of you.’ They obeyed, while Merlin rocked on the spot, trying to control the way his breathing was hitching.
Gods, if he’d just paid attention to Arthur in the first place, they’d never have been in this mess.
A hand came to rest on his shoulder, fingers curling against his skin and steadying him.
‘Merlin, look at me.’ It was the very thing he’d tried to avoid, for fear of seeing the King’s anger reflected in his startling honest gaze.
Arthur looked baffled.
‘What are you talking about?’ The question was followed by Merlin hiccupping, then trying to desperately rub at his eyes.
‘The spell! I threw you back while trying to take out that Sorcerer.’ The confusion faded, replaced with understanding, before Arthur sighed.
‘You’re an idiot.’
‘I am not, you clotpole.’ It was instinct to retort, even as he was trying to stop sniffling. The King looked amused, stepping back and taking a seat on the armoury bench.
‘Merlin, you quite clearly told me to get out of the way.’ That was true, he had done, but he hadn’t checked to make sure that the King was out of the firing line…
‘Stop thinking, I can see the smoke coming out of your ears from here.’ Arthur gruffed out, a fond smile twitching at his lips while Merlin tried to work out just what was happening.
Arthur… wasn’t mad. In fact, Arthur was shaking his head in amusement, while Merlin reconsidered all of his life choices of keeping Arthur alive.
‘You… I… But I hurt you! With Magic!’
‘Merlin, I’ve strained my wrist worse than this by writing Council reports.’ It was offensive, firstly, and secondly, entirely against the point Merlin had just been arguing.
‘I could have killed you!’
‘You have the coordination of a startled deer, I really don’t think you’re a threat.’ Arthur was, despite his words, being patient. Waiting, comforting in his own (frankly terrible) way.
‘The Sorcerer died, you could have…’
‘Merlin, stop.’ He did so, if only because the King was standing back up, running a hand through his hair before looking across at him.
‘Is that why you’ve been acting differently? Because you thought I was angry at you?’ Merlin’s heartrate was calming, even if his eyes still refused to stop the tears that he kept drying.
‘I used my Magic…’
‘I know. But Merlin,’ A hand reached out for his own, snatching it away from Merlin’s face before he could scrub at the next wave of tears,
‘You would never hurt me on purpose, I know that. The Knights know that. Hell, all of Albion knows that.’ He was momentarily distracted by the hand still holding his, looking down at the contact, before Arthur followed his gaze and quickly took a step back.
Still a prat.
‘I will if you told anyone I cried.’ He mumbled, wiping his nose on his sleeve and ignoring the way Arthur rolled his eyes.
‘Please, Merlin, everyone knows you’re a girl.’ He frowned, but didn’t complain when Arthur dragged him in to ruffle his hair.
‘Least I have feelings.’ Arthur swatted the back of his head, Merlin chuckling as he ducked away from the King.
He missed the way that Arthur’s smile grew at the sound, the two of them leaving the armoury behind.