Title: Smiles we left behind - part 2
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Arthur/Gwen
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Gwaine
Summary: Sometimes smiles were the most painful things of all. As Merlin watched Arthur laugh with Gwen, his own heart was breaking.
Word Count: 1230 (sorry)
Camelot_drabble Prompt: 388 – The way we are
Author's Notes: From lyrics of The Way We were, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch
Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were, Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind, Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were
I really hadn't planned on a part 2 but apparently it wouldn't leave me alone. There will be a part 3, also. Sigh.
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Link to part 1: https://camelot-drabble.livejournal.com/1573977.html
Link to AO3 completed story: https://archiveofourown.org/works/21553132?view_full_work=true
That didn’t mean that he wasn’t dead inside. The pain of seeing them together every day never really lessened, but Merlin tried not to let it ruin his friendship with Gwen.
Now that she was queen, she had to pull back a bit, seem more aloof in public, and there were times when she treated Merlin as a servant, and he understood that. That’s what he was after all, a lowly disposable peasant as Arthur had often reminded him in their early days as master and servant. But when he was alone with Gwen, she still was the sweet and caring woman she’d always been, and she’d apologize and stutter a bit, and it would be almost as if nothing had happened. That marriage and politics and Camelot hadn’t come between their friendship.
But it had.
Arthur was worse, though. When Merlin didn’t snark back as he once had done, when he didn’t do anything but say ‘yes, sire’ and ‘no, sire’ and ‘of course, sire’, Arthur at first didn’t know what to do.
It was, after all, their banter that had opened the doors to more than friendship. Merlin complained and Arthur teased him back and then they’d end up wrestling on the floor and that usually led to a different kind of wrestling, usually one where Merlin could barely walk after.
There was no wrestling now. Every time Arthur went to touch him, a friendly pat on the shoulder, Arthur’s fingers ruffling Merlin’s hair, a punch on the arm, Merlin jerked back just out of reach. Merlin made sure his face was carefully blank, though. He’d made excuses and scurry away, hiding in some dusty corner until he could get his breath back.
Arthur acted as if nothing had happened, that they were the same as they always were. There were even heated glances at times, although Merlin wasn’t sure that Arthur was even aware of it. The man seemed oblivious to what he’d done and the life he’d destroyed.
But Merlin wasn’t having any of it. Not the going-on-as-usual or the longing looks or the banter. None of it.
Even his friends among the knights noticed. Merlin just shook them off, initially telling them that nothing was wrong, that he was perfectly happy with the way things were, and changed the subject. When they pressed, Gwaine especially, Merlin finally told them to fuck off, that it was none of their business.
Of course, Gwaine wouldn’t take no for an answer. He cornered Merlin when no one else was around, hounding him to tell him what was going on, promising not to do anything to princess prat if that’s what Merlin wanted. He tried teasing and wheedling and getting Merlin drunk – a problem becoming all too common of late. But Merlin was adamant.
Finally, even Gwaine backed off. He must have seen how upset Merlin was underneath the false smiles and subservience. He was too good a friend to keep pressing for answers. Merlin was so grateful to him that when Gwaine stopped, Merlin paid for a couple of rounds of drinks next time they went to the Rising Sun.
Merlin still didn’t tell Gwaine, though. He didn’t want him getting involved, mainly because he knew Gwaine would likely go off and punch Arthur out and maybe shout at him or challenge him to a duel in front of the other knights. Gwaine wasn’t always the most judicious of men, and while Merlin loved him for it like the wayward brother he never had, he wouldn’t let Gwaine pay the price for Merlin’s stupidity in trusting Arthur with his heart.
So he grew more and more isolated. He did his work. Arthur’s chambers had never been so clean and there was no reason for Arthur to grumble. The laundry was done without protest, the food delivered on time and hot, the fire lit before the room grew too cold, a hundred things that Merlin had done sloppily or not at all were suddenly servant-perfect.
The silence between Arthur and Merlin grew into a wall miles thick.
It was bound to break at some point. Merlin didn’t see it coming.
The first inkling was Gwen asking Merlin for something.
He didn’t even remember what it was. But he’d had little sleep, Arthur was haunting his nights, with dreams of pain and magical threats and sometimes ecstasy, too, that shamed Merlin come morning. He dealt with Arthur’s silence to him as well as he could, but he overheard Arthur’s biting commentary that morning to the others about something Merlin had done wrong, and it fueled his fury and despair and had him questioning whether he’d made the right decision to stay after all.
He was worn down, in body and spirit. He’d stopped eating, too, his appetite gone, and he’d only remembered when Gaius scowled at him. The food tasted like dust, and only drink, strong and potent, had sustained him for far too long.
So when Gwen repeated his name and made some mild inquiry after his health, Merlin couldn’t take any more. “I’m just a servant, your Majesty. Disposable, worthless, easily replaced. If I disappeared tomorrow, who would care? You? You’re noble, now, enjoying fine wine and cheeses, meat and fresh bread. Do you even remember what it was like?”
The look on Gwen’s face should have been a clue to shut up, or at least apologize, but Merlin had had enough. Gwen had done nothing to have him shouting at her, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. “Or did you forget how you’d be hounded until you were exhausted and then have to get up again with the dawn because some arse might sack you or beat you or worse if you weren’t perfect? Knowing that no matter what you did and how much you’d sacrificed, it would be discounted, dismissed as irrelevant, or mocked. That kings and queens can do no wrong, but servants pay the price for the blindness of royals.”
Shock was already morphing into anger in her eyes and then tears, before she said, “You need help, Merlin. You can’t really think that’s how we think of you. Arthur is very worried about ….”
Interrupting, Merlin said, “Arthur doesn’t give a damn about me. He’s told me so often enough that I was pathetic. Idiot, fool, buffoon. A useless toad of a servant. Incompetent. Need I go on? You’ve heard them all often enough. He’s shouted them out at me in front of my friends, the court, and visiting kings. Did you think I’d just take it and not break under the weight of his contempt?”
Gwen looked horrified. “Merlin, you know how he is. He can’t say what….”
Shaking his head because if he didn’t, he’d shake apart, Merlin said, “It doesn’t matter, your Majesty. He can say what he likes and he thinks there are no consequences. Maybe he’s right.”
With that, he gave a half-bow, then turned away, ignoring Gwen’s increasing entreaties, and slammed the door behind him.
There was blessed silence for a moment, but he knew that it wasn’t the end.
He’d have to leave after all, as he should have done months ago. Destiny be damned.