Title: Starry Sky
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Morgana's betrayal hurt more than Arthur wanted to admit.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Ooh it's good to be back!
His fingers splayed on the stone, the rough edges digging in. Arthur didn’t notice. He gripped tighter, the cold wind penetrating him as he stared out over his kingdom. Soft lights glowed from various places as his people crowded around their small fires, attempting to keep warm from the sudden change in weather.
It wasn’t the weather that made him shiver though. It was the pain. He never thought Morgana would betray him – she had been the one he had relied on when they were growing up to see him right. She had been his conscience when his father demanded things Arthur couldn’t deliver.
He knew they had drifted apart. Merlin had been the nagging voice in his ear for years now. But still… for her to turn against them like that, attempt to kill him just because he was heir to the throne…
Had their childhood meant nothing to her?
Merlin’s soft voice made Arthur close his eyes fleetingly. He didn’t turn though.
“Leave me be, Merlin.”
He hoped seeking sanctuary at the top of the northern tower, out on the turrets in the cold weather, would be enough to deter anyone from joining him should they be able to find him. He should have known that rational thinking wouldn’t have played a part in it for Merlin.
“I can’t.” Merlin’s tone was regretful but Arthur still refused to turn around. “Not when you’re like this.”
“You don’t know what I’m like.” Arthur didn’t care if he was snapping at the one person who would be able to soothe his troubled thoughts. He didn’t deserve to be soothed. He had hidden in a cave while his father had been broken. He had thrust upon himself a responsibility that he wasn’t ready for because he had been too slow in rescuing the king – and Camelot – from Morgana.
“I do.” A hand fleetingly touched Arthur between the shoulders and he started, not having heard Merlin move closer. The man appeared in his peripheral vision but Arthur fixed his gaze upon the kingdom. If he even glanced at Merlin, he knew he would crack. A prince couldn’t afford to do that; a regent even less.
Merlin, however, didn’t seem to be taking the hint. His hand moved, now touching Arthur’s shoulder. It remained there, a steady yet comforting pressure that caused Arthur’s breath to hitch. He fought to remain in control. He had been taught not to let emotions get the better of him since he had been a small child. But those lessons hadn’t prepared him for a betrayal like this.
“Arthur, look at me.”
Arthur shook his head. He didn’t care if he was being a petulant child. He had to hold it together and knew as soon as he saw the empathy in Merlin’s expression – his servant wouldn’t pity him and that made it worse – he would crumble.
But this time, Merlin’s hand cupped his cheek. Arthur couldn’t refuse the gentle pressure as Merlin forced him to look around. As soon as their eyes met, Merlin smiled softly.
“This isn’t your fault,” he said, his eyes blazing with conviction. Arthur blinked. Merlin truly believed what he was saying.
“I should have seen the signs,” Arthur mumbled, looking at the floor. He couldn’t hold Merlin’s gaze, shame coursing through him. He was a prince: he should be strong.
“No one could have seen the signs.”
Arthur was certain that Merlin was hiding something; his whole body twitched as he spoke and when Arthur glanced up, it was Merlin’s turn to look away. But the prince didn’t have the energy or the inclination to press now.
“You love her, Arthur,” Merlin continued, “and that isn’t a weakness.”
“It is,” Arthur said. “Love is a weakness I can’t afford if Camelot is going to flourish.”
This time, Merlin’s hand rested under his chin as he tilted Arthur’s head back. Arthur could have gazed elsewhere but he knew Merlin wouldn’t let the matter drop. He finally looked at the man properly.
“Look me in the eye,” Merlin said, “and tell me love is a weakness.”
Arthur looked Merlin in the eye. The words stuck in his throat.
He pulled away, slamming his hand against the stone work again, ignoring the pain. Merlin was right, damn him. Love had made Arthur stronger recently: Merlin had made Arthur stronger. He could blame the pressure of running the kingdom for his anguish, but he knew it would be a lie.
“It hurts,” he muttered. He hadn’t intended to say it out loud, admitting it to himself as much as Merlin. He had been trained to run the kingdom; he could do this even if he didn’t feel ready. He hadn’t come up here to escape his responsibilities. He had come up here to escape the pain, the anguish he felt at being betrayed by his own sister.
“It’s supposed to,” Merlin said. “It wouldn’t be love otherwise.”
To Arthur’s astonishment, Merlin hitched himself up on the wall. Without thinking, Arthur rested a hand on his leg, adamant that Merlin would overbalance otherwise.
“Are you trying to throw yourself off the tower?”
Merlin shrugged. “I thought you were thinking it when I came up here.”
Arthur shook his head. He took a deep breath. Acknowledging the pain somehow made it better, like it could be part of him rather than consuming him.
“Come on,” Arthur said. He moved towards the tower door and glanced over his shoulder. “There’s work to do.”
Merlin grinned and jumped off the wall, quickly falling into step with Arthur. He nudged his arm against his master’s and Arthur shot him a scathing look. Merlin’s grin widened and Arthur rolled his eyes.
Unable to stop himself, Arthur glanced once more back over his kingdom before he disappeared into the stair-well. He had to deal with the anguish for his kingdom’s sake.
If that wasn’t motivation for Arthur to quicken his pace and resume his duties, he didn’t know what would be.