Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: When Arthur comes back safely from patrol, Merlin learns to appreciate the little things.
Word Count: 650 words.
Prompt: #238 Unexpected.
Author's Notes: My muse is still being uncooperative, but I did manage a bit of fluff for once. Yay!
It begins just like any other morning. Arthur throws a pillow at Merlin when he opens the curtains; finds fault with his breakfast in terms of both flavour and quantity; and when Merlin finally manages to get him out of bed in order to dress him he goes through five different tunics before settling on the first one Merlin had handed him, all the while blaming Merlin for his abysmal sense of colour and style.
Merlin loves every minute of it.
The realisation hits him just as Arthur is starting in on his boots — inadequately polished — and Merlin’s appearance — scruffy, as usual — and it makes him pause for a moment as he is reaching for Arthur’s jacket. It’s not as if he likes having goblets and various other royal detritus thrown in his direction. Some of that stuff hurts. And Arthur’s complaints are seldom good-mannered and often borderline irrational. Honestly, who cares if Merlin hasn’t polished every single one of his buttons to a shine? Most people are just not that hung up on the prince’s clothing, no matter what Arthur seems to think.
And yet, it was the constant litany of absurd complaints that Merlin had missed the most when Arthur had been away. It had been almost two weeks, this time, and Merlin had nearly driven himself crazy imagining all of the terrible things that could happen to the prince on a routine border patrol. He'd told everyone who would listen — which mostly amounted to Gaius and Gwen — just how much he was enjoying not being ordered about from dawn until dusk, but the truth was he had been worried. He supposes that’s why even Arthur’s whining sounds so good right now — at least it means he’s alive, even if he is being a massive prat about it, as usual.
“You’re got a silly grin on your face,” Arthur observes, sounding deeply suspicious. “Is everything all right? Did you hit your head on the doorway to the kitchens again? I’ve told you you need to duck when you’re going through there.”
“No, sire,” Merlin says, grinning even more broadly. He tries to control his expression, but this only seems to make matters worse because Arthur is looking at him with actual concern now, his forehead wrinkled in a manner that Merlin refuses to find even remotely endearing.
“If you’re unwell…” Arthur begins, cautious.
“I didn’t realise you thought being in a good mood was a symptom of some kind of head injury, sire,” Merlin says. He purses his lips mock-thoughtfully. “That explains a lot, now that I think about it.”
Arthur cuffs him. “With you, everything is a potential symptom of insanity,” the prince says, but at least he doesn’t seem inclined to pursue the subject any further. “All right, well, if you’re not sick then you won’t have a problem mucking out the stables today. Or polishing my armour, cleaning my boots, and scrubbing the floors before I get back for lunch.”
“Yes, sire,” Merlin says cheerfully. “Am I permitted to use the usual brushes or would you prefer I scrub the whole thing with my knees?”
Arthur shakes his head.
“Now I know you’re crazy,” he says, sounding amused. “What’s gotten into you today?”
Merlin shrugs. “I’m just glad you’re back, that’s all,” he says honestly. “The castle was…boring without you.”
Arthur tilts his head, some of the teasing fading from his expression as he studies Merlin’s face. Merlin ducks his head, and pretends to fuss over the prince’s buttons, but Arthur catches his arm. “Merlin.”
“Um.” Merlin licks his lips. “Yeah?”
He risks a glance upwards. Arthur is still staring at him, close enough that Merlin can see the flecks of darker blue in his irises. Slowly, one corner of his mouth tilts into a tiny smile, and Merlin’s heart does a kind of backflip in his chest. “I missed you too.”