Title: Helping Hand
Pairing/s: pre Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin,
Summary: Merlin doesn't understand why Arthur has to have perfect grades.
Warnings: Some strong language
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Enjoy!
Merlin didn’t realise he was holding his breath until he flipped his test and looked at his score. He exhaled loudly and slumped back in his seat. B+. His best mark yet given that maths had always been his worst subject. He had struggled for years, but his mother’s patience and her constant support had paid off. His teacher smiled at him as she moved on, knowing his concerns over his marks.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”
The words were a whisper, a mumble only Merlin could hear but he turned around to look at Arthur. The boy had sat behind him for years and Merlin had never figured him out. He was arrogant and popular but was also top of every class and charmed every teacher.
Merlin glanced at Arthur’s paper. He had received the same grade. One mark above Merlin.
“That’s good,” Merlin said. Arthur looked up and glared at him. Merlin shrugged. “Well, beat me.”
“Anyone can beat you at maths,” Arthur scoffed. “Did you even pass?”
“Same grade as you, thank you,” Merlin said. He turned back with a sense of smugness. For once, Arthur didn’t have anything to hold over him. But the other boy was quiet and Merlin swore he could feel the tension radiating off him. He understood that the perfect golden boy might have wanted an A, but the reaction seemed a bit over the top. The test had been hard.
The bell saved Merlin from his thoughts and he stuffed his books in his bag. The rest of the class filtered out, but Merlin couldn’t get his science text book in so he stayed where he was to repack the entire thing. Arthur approached the teacher’s desk, not seeming to realise that Merlin was there.
“You have to let me retake it,” he demanded. Their teacher looked up.
“You know I can’t do that, Arthur. It was the final test and only those who failed have the chance to do it again.”
“You don’t understand, I have to.”
Merlin had never heard such desperation in a person’s voice before. He looked up and could have sworn Arthur was close to tears. Their teacher seemed to realise the same thing and she softened as she perched on the edge of her desk.
“Why isn’t this enough?” She asked gently. “You still came top of the class. It’s a mark to be proud of.”
“It’s not enough. Please…”
“Is there something you need to tell me, Arthur?”
At that moment, Merlin managed to knock his bag on the floor. Arthur jumped, spinning around before realising it was only Merlin. He snatched his test back.
“Nothing.” Without another word, he stormed from the room. The teacher looked after him with a concerned look on her face and Merlin left the room as fast as he could.
That had been weird.
Merlin moved through the empty corridor, hoping his friends had saved him a spot for lunch. But as he neared the hall, he saw Arthur disappear into the toilets. Without knowing why, Merlin followed him. He wanted to talk to him, to make Arthur see that his mark was fantastic.
He pushed open the door and instantly stopped. Arthur was crying. Merlin glanced around, wondering if he could back out without Arthur knowing that he was there.
“Come to gloat, Emrys?”
“I came to see if you were okay, actually.” Merlin moved into the bathroom. His mother had taught him to never walk away from someone who needed help and Merlin had no intention of starting now, even if Arthur was a git.
Arthur looked taken aback, as if he hadn’t even considered that.
“It’s none of your business.”
“You know you’re top of the year, right? The golden boy, the perfect student.” Merlin didn’t care if he sounded bitter; he had been jealous of Arthur for years. While some subjects came to him as easily as breathing, others he struggled with. Arthur flinched.
“No? Tell that to anyone and everyone.” Merlin hitched himself up on the counter by the sinks. Arthur hastily wiped his eyes, but he didn’t make any movement towards leaving.
“Try telling it to my father,” Arthur muttered. He spoke quietly, gazing into the mirror as if he wasn’t truly seeing his reflection. Merlin’s stomach churned as he looked at Arthur’s tearful face and his tense reaction. He didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“Is it because of him you want an A?”
“I have to have one,” Arthur murmured. “It’s not good enough otherwise.”
“Arthur,” Merlin didn’t know what he was going to say as he rested a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “No one is perfect. Imperfections make us human. Besides, top of the class doesn’t exactly count as an imperfection, so ignore everything I just said and I’m going to stop talking now, okay?”
To Merlin’s delight, Arthur laughed. “You’re weird, Emrys.”
“And you need help,” Merlin said bluntly. Arthur’s gaze dropped and his hands clenched into fists. Looking at him, Merlin suddenly realised that although Arthur was gorgeous, he also looked exhausted. Dark rings circled his eyes and he had come in here alone, without any of his so called friends.
“Come on,” Merlin said softly. “Come and have lunch with me. Then come and meet my mum, she’ll make everything better.”
“Moving a bit fast, aren’t you, Emrys?”
“Shut up.” Merlin knew he was blushing and hoped Arthur didn’t know him well enough to tell. “An hour with Gwaine and he’ll list every one of your imperfections loudly.”
Merlin moved to the door and looked back. Arthur seemed uncertain and Merlin wondered if anyone other than Arthur’s father ever saw him like that. It made Merlin want to protect him.
“Come on,” Merlin said softly. “We’ll help you.”
He walked out without looking back, not wanting to pressure Arthur. But it came as no surprise when the golden boy fell into step before he had gone more than five paces.