Title: Fresh Start
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gaius, Valiant, Cendred
Summary: It was his first day and Merlin was already in trouble.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: First Day of School
Author's Notes: Ooh, ickle boys.
“But I don’t want to go!” Merlin protested, his lower lip wobbling as he stared up at his mother with wide eyes. He wasn’t truly upset – he was nine not a cry-baby – but he knew the expression let him get his own way.
“I know, darling,” his mum said. She leant forward, straightening his jacket and trying to smooth down an errant hair. “But you have to.”
“Why can’t I stay at home? I can teach myself!” Merlin thought it was a great idea. Forgetting to be upset, he beamed up at his mum, knowing he had found the answers to all their problems. He made to dash out of the room and find his books straight away, but his mother gently caught his arm.
“We’ve spoken about this, Merlin. You have to do it. Now come along, into the car.”
It didn’t matter how much he sulked and fought, it only took a few moments before they were pulling out of the drive. This was the third new school in two years and Merlin didn’t see why this one would be any better than the last ones. He didn’t say anything though, recognising the pinched expression on his mother’s face. Sighing, he stared out of the window at the unfamiliar neighbourhood. He wanted to make her happy and so kept quiet.
He remained silent even when she escorted him in and then again when the head-teacher took him to his new classroom. Looking at the floor, Merlin knew the best plan was to remain invisible. He managed it through the morning, hiding in the toilets at break and trying not to cry. He hated it here; why did they have to stay? But he knew he couldn’t say anything to his mum and she would be cross if he didn’t at least try and make friends.
But friends had never been drawn to Merlin. Trouble sought him out first. The same was true here. He was sitting at a table on his own, finishing his lunch. He wasn’t hungry, the sick knot in his stomach getting bigger with every swallow he tried to take.
“So,” a voice said. Merlin looked up to see three older boys leaning over him. He dropped his gaze, his body tense. “You’re the new kid.”
“Don’t be mean, Val,” one sneered. “He’s so tiny and breakable.”
“Leave me alone,” Merlin said quietly, his hands clenched into fists.
“We’re just trying to make friends,” the one called Val said. “Don’t you want to be our friend? Don’t you know what happens if you say no to our friendship?”
“Of course he doesn’t know, he’s new.”
Merlin had become adept at spotting trouble. It had been drilled into him over the last few years. But even though he tried to leap off the chair, one of the boys was behind him. There was nowhere for Merlin to go and he yelped as the larger boy grabbed his arms.
“Let him go, Cen,” another voice called. Merlin was pulled around to face the newcomer. A boy – one Merlin had seen in his class earlier – was leaning against the wall, arms folded. He looked completely unafraid of the older boys, raising an eyebrow at them. “I won’t ask again.”
Merlin felt his arms being released, but he was shoved to the floor before he could run away. Staying low, Merlin curled into a ball to make sure he presented less of a target.
“Protecting the new kids, Pendragon? Forgotten your lesson so soon?”
“I will never forget what you did.”
Merlin didn’t dare move – he could see Cen’s foot near him and knew if he tried to wriggle free, he would be kicked. It was how these things worked, but that didn’t mean he was going to encourage the pain. Val, however, had advanced on the newcomer.
“Stay out of this, Arthur.”
“No.” The boy straightened, but Val shoved him back against the wall.
“I won’t ask you again.”
“I’ll tell. Then you will get expelled.”
“Open your mouth and we’ll finish what we started.”
Merlin risked looking up. Unless he was mistaken, there was a fading bruise on Arthur’s face. But he didn’t look scared of the older boy looming over him.
“I’d like to see you try,” Arthur declared. Val drew back a fist and Merlin shouted a warning, forgetting that he didn’t know this boy and he should be keeping quiet. Arthur ducked under the blow and while Cen was distracted, Merlin wriggled out of the way. He lurched into an upright position.
“What’s going on here?” An adult voice called. Merlin saw his science teacher – a Mr Gaius – looking sternly over the group.
“Nothing, Sir,” Val said with a smirk. Mr Gaius looked at Arthur.
Arthur simply shrugged. Then, to Merlin’s surprise, the teacher looked at him.
“It’s Merlin, isn’t it? Is everything okay here?”
Merlin nodded. He knew if he said anything, he would be in even bigger trouble. Gaius shooed the older boys away, but as Merlin made to move, he was called back. As he turned, he saw that Gaius was gesturing to him. Merlin followed the old man, then realised that Arthur was as well.
“I’m Arthur,” the boy said, holding out a hand. Merlin awkwardly shook it.
“Merlin.” He waited for the comments, but Arthur’s face split into a wide grin.
“Awesome! We’ll be an unstoppable team!”
“You should really stop encouraging trouble, Arthur. What would your father say?”
Arthur’s face fell at the mention of his father. Merlin didn’t know what to say. He nudged Arthur with his elbow.
“I thought it was really brave,” he said. “Thanks for saving my life.”
Arthur’s grin returned and he nodded gallantly at Merlin as if saving newbies on their first day was something he did all the time. Merlin saw him relax as they moved away from the lunch-hall and knew he wasn’t the only one with problems.
It made him feel that Arthur would be on his side.