Title: A Helping Hand
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: They are lost in the forest. Again.
Word Count: 500
Author's Notes: None
A king doesn't get lost. At least, not lost where anyone can see. Of course, Merlin sees everything and it's quite annoying when Arthur is pretending that it's all fine and he meant to go that way, even if the damnable forest is impenetrable and dark and tears at his cloak.
After all, Arthur is a great tracker and a better hunter and it doesn't help that Merlin is babbling behind him about herb-encrusted capons and how it's getting colder and night is falling and how would he ever get those stains out of Arthur's breeches and ….
At some point, Arthur would have tuned him out but he is shivering and wet and there is a blister forming on his left toe, and confound it all to hell, it isn't as if Arthur isn't trying.
Finally, he's had enough.
Arthur rounds on him, giving him a glare that even Gaius would applaud. "If you think you can do a better job, have at it."
For a moment, there is a flash of guilt in those guileless blue eyes, almost as if Merlin could read Arthur's mind and know that he's embarrassed - just a bit - about the whole thing.
But then Merlin's face brightens up and he sends Arthur a luminous smile as he pushes past him. He doesn't even have the decency to let Arthur lead, as would be proper for a servant to do, just surges forward, hands flailing and tripping over his own feet in his eagerness. Even worse, as he moves past Arthur, he grabs his hand and tugs him along.
The warmth surprises him, so much so that he doesn't try and pull away, just follows, hand-in-hand with his clotpole of a servant.
If anyone else were around, he'd be yelling at such liberties. But it soothes him instead, as if Merlin's touch is a balm in the cold night air, as if somehow, holding onto him like that is an acknowledgement that they are not just servant and master but friends and perhaps, in time, more than friends.
So Arthur doesn't pull away, even when he starts to recognize where they are and the towers of Camelot come into view. He doesn't pull away as they walk down the hill toward the town; he doesn't pull away as the knights ride towards them both.
He doesn't pull away at all.
It is only when others get close that Merlin finally falls back, letting go of Arthur's hand, and gesturing with his usual idiocy for Arthur to move ahead and pretend that he'd been the one to lead them out of the forest. As if they didn't both know who did.
But as Arthur nods to his knights and his people and tries to look the regal tracker who rescued his featherbrained manservant yet again, he realizes that he found something in the forest after all.
A king never gets lost.
But sometimes he can find a new path with a warm hand in his.