Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin has been sulking since they got back.
Word Count: 1000
“For heaven’s sake, Merlin, what is wrong with you?”
Arthur couldn’t help but stare at his servant. They had returned from freeing the knights, escaping slavers and Morgana in the process and arrived home safely only to find that Gwen had already dealt with the traitor and the kingdom was safe once again. He ever had a new knight to finish off what Arthur thought should be a good day. But for some reason, Merlin seemed to be sulking.
To start with, Arthur thought it was because of Mordred. Why Merlin would have something against the young man who had saved their lives, Arthur had no idea. But then again, this was Merlin, he often had no idea what was going through his servant’s head. Yet something was niggling away at the king. This wasn’t about Mordred – although Merlin was far from happy about that situation. This was about something else; something personal if Arthur wasn’t very much mistaken.
The servant in question simply shrugged and continued to polish the same spot on Arthur’s armour. Not that the king would admit it, but Merlin had become goo-competent at some jobs over the years and keeping the king’s armour in top shape was one of them. Arthur was grateful; he knew the damage caused to a man if his protection hadn’t been treated correctly. At least Merlin wanted him alive. But Merlin had been going over the same spot for the last few moments repeatedly. His lack of clanking around with the metal was what had drawn Arthur’s attention in the first place.
After a few moments of watching and realising that Merlin seemed to be in some sort of strop, Arthur had let his mind replay over the last few days since their return and realised this mood had been going on since they had got back. Merlin, like everyone else, had been pleased to get home and get back to Gaius. But after that initial jubilation had worn off, there had been a constant frown on his face.
Arthur rolled his eyes. He used to think that all Merlin did was moan. But over the years, he had got to know his servant better than that. Merlin didn’t moan, not if it was something concerning him personally. He would rant for the whole kingdom if he thought Arthur was being unfair, but he never complained if there was something on his own mind.
“Wrong answer; try again.”
“Merlin,” not knowing what else to do, Arthur picked up the closest cushion and threw it at his manservant. Merlin let it hit him, then simply returned to task. Not that Arthur would admit it, but that had him worried. Merlin always retaliated.
“It’s nothing, Arthur, just drop it.” Stunned, the king stared at his servant, but Merlin didn’t seem to realise what he had just said.
“I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong,” Arthur continued in a softer voice. Whatever this was, Merlin wasn’t feeling inclined to share. But if he was at the point where he was snapping at his king – with annoyance in his voice rather than a fond teasing that Arthur had become used to over the years – then there could be no denying that something was very wrong. Arthur felt blind for missing it, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what had Merlin in a bad mood. Slipping from the edge of the bed where he had been sitting, Arthur crouched next to his servant. The rag Merlin had been using to clean was gripped in a death-grip in his hand.
“What is it?”
“Do you really think I’m your fool?” Merlin blurted out. Arthur blinked, unable to believe what he had just heard. Merlin had just survived an encounter against Morgana, and he was focusing on what Annis had said?
“I’m not, Arthur. You can joke and tease all you like. I’ll serve you to the end of our days, you know that. But I’m not going to just act as if I’m there to entertain you all whenever you fancy it. That’s what you employ Court Jesters for. So unless you’ve changed my job title without telling me…”
“Why has this got to you so much?” Arthur was genuinely confused. He had insulted Merlin so many times over the years that he had lost track. Yet for some reason, this had touched a nerve. Merlin shrugged, a blush beginning to rise up his cheeks as he clearly realised how ridiculous he was being.
“Merlin.” Arthur ran a hand over his eyes. Somehow he had a feeling he was the one responsible for this mess and he couldn’t work out why. “You know she only thinks that because you were being an idiot the first time she met you.”
“So were you.”
“I’m the king, that protects me against being a fool.” Merlin’s lips twitched and Arthur felt himself relax as he settled into a more comfortable position. His mind was racing over everything that had just happened. As he thought back to all the conversations when they had had time just the two of them, Arthur had a feeling he knew what was troubling the servant. Arthur had allowed Annis to address Merlin as his fool, while at the same time discovering talents he didn’t know his friend had.
Merlin wanted reassurance.
“Merlin, I…” Arthur didn’t know what to say. But Merlin glanced up and Arthur took a breath. “You know I don’t see you like that.”
“Really. You’re a good man, Merlin.”
For the first time since being home, Merlin looked to finally relax. Arthur couldn’t believe how much of a nerve those innocent words had touched, but it had clearly been playing on Merlin’s mind.
“Still an awful servant, mind you,” Arthur gave Merlin a small shove as he climbed to his feet and the man grinned. Feeling like he had accomplished something, Arthur went back to work.