Title: Off Kilter
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur,
Summary: Dealing with the king always left him out of sorts.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: I think I took this too literally. And Google hinted that stress could cause vertigo, so I'm going with that.
His father didn’t need to say anything else. The look of disappointment and disgust on his face was enough as he gestured for Arthur to leave.
He strode from the court, ignoring the burning stares of the nobles. He knew what would be going through their minds: pander to the prince, hope he’d remember it in years to come; or simper in front of their king, knowing where the power currently rested.
They wouldn’t think about how much it hurt. Trying to keep his expression neutral the way his father had taught him. To pretend the words weren’t like the edge of a dagger, slipping in every time he thought for himself and was met with that steely, unmoving gaze.
The voice was full of warmth. He hadn’t noticed he’d made it back to his chambers. When he looked up, he instantly regretted it as the world spun around him. He swallowed hard, blinking as he tried to bring everything into focus. He shouldn’t let his father get to him so much.
But he couldn’t help it. Everything he had ever strived to be was because of the king. His disappointment was like a physical blow, and left Arthur light-headed and dizzy after their encounters. No one could find out: no one would witness his weakness.
“Come on.” There was a hand on his elbow, guiding him in as the door shut behind them. His chambers were safe, somewhere he could let his guard down.
He’d left Merlin behind when talking to the king. He’d known how the man would react, and knew his fool of a servant wouldn’t take the verbal lashing his father had delivered. Arthur knew how to handle it: Merlin didn’t. He wouldn’t see the idiot hurt for trying to spare his feelings.
A chair bumped the back of his knees and Arthur obediently sat. He doubled over, resting his elbows on his knees and burying his face in his hands. There was a fleeting touch on his back before Merlin moved away and Arthur resisted calling him back, taking comfort in the other man’s presence.
Merlin didn’t go far though.
He was holding out a goblet and Arthur took it. He sipped, then pulled a face.
“Water, Merlin? Really?” He wanted – needed – something stronger to deal with his treacherous heart. His servant gave him a steady look.
“How’s the dizziness?” he said pointedly and Arthur flushed, looking away. He couldn’t regret telling Merlin about the episodes though. He was going to find out one day when it became obvious Arthur wasn’t going to be running a training session after an encounter with his father.
“I went to Gaius while you were with the king,” Merlin said, hesitantly. Arthur glared at him. He’d made the man swear not to tell anyone, and the next thing he knew, Gaius was knocking on his door and Merlin refused to meet his eye.
“He can’t help,” Arthur muttered, “no one can.”
It was his own weakness that brought on the dizziness. His own failures that made the world spin. He was the Crown Prince: he should be able to handle anything. His failure in that duty turned the rules upside down: it was only natural his own body made him experience that in reality.
“Actually,” Merlin began, “he thinks he can.”
Arthur looked up. The dizziness was passing and he was pleased he could focus on Merlin’s face. He really should scold his servant for looking at him with such concern, like he was something fragile, but Merlin wouldn’t listen.
Merlin held out a bottle.
“What is it?”
“Something that will help.” Merlin’s elusive answer revealed he had no idea. Arthur handed him the goblet and took the bottle, prising the stopper. They both recoiled at the smell.
“This isn’t going to make the audiences with the king any easier,” Arthur complained, staring at the tonic in his hand. He had dealt with these dizzy spells for as long as he could remember; he couldn’t imagine a few mouthfuls of a potion was going to make any difference.
“No,” Merlin agreed, “but it’s not just the king that makes you feel like this, is it?”
Arthur stared at him. He’d confessed to his weakness, but not the full extent. Dealing with his father always triggered an episode, but Merlin was right; it wasn’t the only time it happened.
“Gaius said it could be to do with your ear-,”
“And that this will help re-balance you.” Merlin’s expression gave away he had no idea what he had just said.
Arthur didn’t bother asking. Instead, he grimaced and downed the potion, deciding he had to rediscover his courage somehow. It didn’t taste as bad as it smelt and after a few moments, his room settled and Merlin stopped weaving in front of him.
“This will help?” Arthur said quietly, staring at the empty bottle in his hand. Merlin’s fingers curled over his.
“Yes and no. Gaius also thinks it’s triggered by stress. You’re not going to come out of a confrontation with the king seeing straight.”
Arthur didn’t know if he meant literally or metaphorically.
“But it will stop you from walking into walls.”
“I’ve never walked into a wall,” Arthur scoffed. He stood, pleased when his movements felt sure and certain again. Merlin smirked up at him.
“So you say.”
“And what I say is right, I am the prince, after all.”
Merlin stood, stepping closer. “And a good one,” he murmured, “don’t let your father make you think otherwise.”
He moved before Arthur could reprimand him. Were his words treasonous? Arthur had no idea. If they were, then he was as bad. The potion had cleared his vision, but Merlin’s words had calmed his heart in a way no tonic ever could.
“You’re an idiot,” Arthur told him, “and a terrible servant. Have you seen the state of this room?”
“Yes, Sire,” Merlin said with a warm smile.
Arthur couldn’t help smiling back.