Title: Inside Out – part 2
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Uther
Summary: Merlin should have held his tongue. But when has Merlin ever done something that obvious?
Word Count: 1100
Camelot_drabble Prompt: pt 419:bingo-round 2- Inside Out
Author's Notes: none
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Merlin didn’t say anything. Apparently, neither did Morgana although it must have cost her dearly not to. Gwen hovered a bit, watching them both for any slip ups, but after a while, she relaxed and returned to her bubbly self.
But although Merlin didn’t mock Arthur for it, he did watch him more closely after that. Most of the time, Arthur just glared at him or insulted him, and Merlin gave back as good as he got because that was pretty much the only way they could communicate. It felt comfortable and comforting. He did make sure to phrase the insults in a lighter tone and he smiled when he did it.
Arthur didn’t say anything, but Merlin could see him struggling not to ask. For the most part, they ignored the changed dynamic between the two of them and went on as before.
But when he was attending Arthur and Arthur talking with his father, Merlin began to notice some of Arthur’s behaviour. If the king and Arthur were having a normal conversation, Arthur would stand there and nod, sometimes even smiling if they were in agreement. But if Uther were angry about something, not even with something Arthur could control, when he called on Arthur for an opinion, for a half-second Arthur would freeze, his shoulders rising as if to protect himself, then he must have realized what he was doing because he would deliberately loosen his stance and answer his father in a calm, toneless voice.
If Uther were truly angry with Arthur, shouting at him or scowling down at him and laying into him with blistering invective, Arthur would stand there, still as stone and take it, then wait a few heartbeats before replying. Never raising his voice, never doing anything that might drive Uther further into fury.
Afterwards, Arthur would go out and train, either beating his knights to a standstill or else taking it out on the straw dummy that stood in the field. The servants would replace it later, Merlin noted, because the dummy would be nothing but a tiny bit of straw and pulped wood when Arthur was done. His sword, too, would have to be replaced, too pitted and bent to repair.
It all came to a head a few days before another faire was to make its way to Camelot.
Merlin was not paying attention for once. He’d not gotten much sleep the night before and Arthur had been particularly annoying that day. So when Arthur said that he was going hunting for a week and he expected Merlin to accompany him, Merlin said, “But what about the faire? Gwen and I were looking forward to it.”
“There will be another one soon enough. Except for winter, they come here every couple of months, like the plague or a rat infestation.” Arthur threw his gloves in Merlin’s direction, then sat down and put his feet up on the table.
Arthur’s boots were covered with mud. Merlin had just cleaned them that morning, and he knew he’d have to clean them all over again by nightfall. So this time, a little miffed, he didn’t think about what he was saying. “Maybe we could postpone the hunting a day or two? It’s not like the deer you love to kill are going anywhere. And the faire will have those fruit pies you like so much.”
Arthur glared at him. “If you think I’d go to the faire with you, you are an idiot.”
“It will be fun. The horses were great last time, dancing around, and there was sword-fighting and even a dancing bear.” By this time, Merlin was getting wound up, his hands gesturing his excitement, his voice growing eager.
Arthur sat up, scowling at Merlin. “I said no.”
That was when Merlin made his fatal mistake. Not looking at Arthur as he put the gloves away, not really thinking about it at all, he said, “You don’t have to worry. I’ll be at your side, protecting you as I always do.”
Merlin knew the second he’d said it that it was the wrong thing to say.
“What?” Arthur’s voice was like ice. When Merlin turned around to look, the glare Arthur sent him could have frozen most of Camelot.
Trying to think of what to do, he took a step back, mumbling, “Umm… I’ll be at your side. I’m always at your side.”
Arthur was already half-way across the room, Merlin stumbling further back. Merlin reached for the door, thinking to escape and let Arthur cool down, but Arthur pushed it shut again.
Eyes narrowed, Arthur said, “Protecting me?”
“Well, yeah, I do that all the time.” Merlin tried to be nonchalant about it, shrugging as it were nothing.
But Arthur wasn’t having any of it. “And you think you need to protect me at the faire? As if I’m some kind of weakling?”
Not knowing what to say or do to make it better, his mouth dry, Merlin said, “No, not… just when you are in danger. It’s….”
If Merlin thought Arthur cold before, now he was surprised the entire world wasn’t covered in ice. Arthur looked dangerous as hell, and Merlin had never seen him so out of control.
Grabbing Merlin’s throat, pushing him back against the door so roughly that Merlin thought he’d have bruises across his entire back later, Arthur hissed, “Who told you? About the faire?”
Merlin tried to get Arthur to let go. He was having trouble breathing and he wasn’t sure Arthur even knew just how tightly he was holding Merlin. Still he grabbed at Arthur’s hands, trying to pull them away from his throat. Merlin gasped, “No one, no one told me.”
“You’re a crap liar.” If anything, Arthur’s hands were tightening. “So you do think I’m a weakling.”
Arthur looked wild, almost as if he didn’t recognize Merlin. Pulling Arthur’s thumbs back, giving Merlin a respite, he was able to say, “Arthur, you are the bravest man I know. I don’t think….” But Arthur shook him, Merlin couldn’t think. Finally, he was able to wheeze out, “Let go, you are hurting me.”
It took a moment, but Arthur looked down at his hands and then let Merlin go. As Merlin huddled at Arthur’s feet, pulling in blessed air, Arthur scurried back, putting the table between them as if horrified by what he had done, then shouted, “Get out of my sight.”
Merlin slid up, holding onto the wall to make sure he wasn’t going to fall over. He finally gulped out, “But….”
“Out!” Arthur shrieked at him.
Merlin got out.