27 January 2009 @ 10:51 pm
No Other Reason  
Title: No Other Reason
Author: [info]lilithilien
Fandom/Characters: Merlin, Arthur/Merlin
Word Count/Rating: 1160 words/Gen
Summary: Merlin is the worst manservant Arthur has ever had. The wonder is that he keeps him around at all.
Disclaimer: This incarnation of Merlin belongs to the BBC and folks at Shine. There would be even more dressing (and undressing) if they were mine.
A/N: A brief chronicling of Arthur's denial. Set between episodes 1x02 and 1x03. Massive thanks to the wonderful [info]sarcastic_jo for the beta, cheerleading, whipcracking, and all-around awesomeness. (Posted at merlinxarthur.)

Merlin really was the worst manservant he'd ever had.

Many servants had attended Arthur throughout his princely life. The role was bestowed by the king upon his most trusted attendants, ancient men more often than not, those nearing the end of their lives with spines gnarled from bowing and tongues clipped by subservience. He couldn't begin to remember their names, much less their faces. Certainly none had been as oddly put together as Merlin, with his too skinny arms and too big ears and cheeks that looked like they'd been sharpened on a whetstone. And he couldn't remember any of them ever being so utterly lacking in decorum. Arthur had never given much thought as to where servants might learn how to act around royalty, but wherever it was, Merlin had obviously gotten lost on his way there.

If the faces of his past servants blurred together, their presences were even less memorable. They always took great pains to move silently through his chambers, swiftly filling his wardrobe with clothing too lavish for their plebeian fingers to taint. Standing still as statues, they would present his raiment as the finery it was, and Arthur need only step into the garments like he was stepping across a pasture at early morning. Soft as the mist that would curl around his ankles, his servants' precise hands would lace up his britches, straighten his collar, slip a warm cloak over his shoulders. Always attentive, they would never deign to touch his person.

But not Merlin. Being dressed by him was less like morning mist, more like slogging through a mud-soaked field. His fingers might look thin as twigs, but Arthur knew they were attached to heavy hands that constantly worried over loose threads and unwanted creases. One morning he had even had the gall to clumsily brush hairs from the sleeve of Arthur's coat—while Arthur was still wearing it. No servant, not even those who had served in the castle for years, had ever touched him or his vesture in such a familiar way. Even Gaius would make apologies before touching the heir apparent, when hands that would staunch his wounds were more than welcome. Merlin made no such apologies and looked not at all humble. In fact, he appeared not to know that such liberties with the prince were out of the ordinary.

And yet Arthur did not reprimand him.

It had been shock at first, he was certain. Dumb shock that anyone could be so completely out of their depth. Shock that his father would saddle him with such a miserable excuse for a manservant. Shock that he was expected to suffer what could only be called manhandling, except that it was all the more offensive because he was not merely a man—he was Prince Arthur of Camelot, and with just a word he could have this peasant banished to whatever backwoods village he hailed from. It was hardly a matter he needed to consider very deeply. This was not the first time he'd held a life in his hand. Most often it was at the tip of his sword; this would be even easier. Just a simple word, and this inept manservant would disappear forever.

Yes, it was certainly shock that held his tongue. Shock that quickly turned to surprise, and an unexpected curiosity, when Merlin next laid out his armour. Polished to a near blinding radiance, it captured Arthur's astonishment for the brief second before he reined it in.

In the days that followed, this curiosity grew as the prince found his notice repeatedly drawn to the other boy's activities. At first he blamed the tedium of his Latin lessons for not holding his interest; there was no other reason that he should watch so attentively as Merlin put away his clean tunics, noticing how he smoothed every wrinkle and sharpened each fold before placing the garments in the cupboard. There was a surprising respect in his motions, nothing like the impertinence that Arthur had come to expect from his manservant's tongue.

It was this dissonance and nothing else, Arthur told himself, that made him start paying attention when his servant laid out his clothes the next morning. Merlin was inexpert, to be sure, his face pinched into confused folds as he struggled not to forget anything. But when his mind wasn't engaged, when it was just his hands on the fabric, he almost approached reverence.

A few days later, as he watched Merlin lay out his hunting garb, Arthur found himself wondering if Merlin had ever touched such finery before. The roughly woven rags he'd worn to Camelot, the same ones he wore every day, were clean but meagre, nothing like the rich silks and damasks that filled Arthur's wardrobe. Perhaps Merlin was simply awed by this opulence so far beyond his experience, perhaps it was only that which made him take such pains to lay out the prince's leather britches without a crease, which drew his fingers almost ardently to the golden buttons on his jacket, making them shine as brightly as if they'd just been oiled. As Merlin grew more accustomed to the luxuries of the court, perhaps he would take them for granted as much as his previous servants had—as much as the prince himself did. The thought made Arthur frown and feel the sudden urge to hurt something.

It was then that Arthur realised he was giving far too much thought to his manservant.

It was nothing, he told himself during his knights' impromptu training session, as his well-placed attack brought Sir Lucan to his knees. He had never been at ease when things did not fit, that was all, and this unforeseen deference was indeed a mystery—one of the many that seemed to be piling up since Merlin's arrival in Camelot. He just needed to keep an extremely close eye on his servant. Watching, he would learn, just as he did when his opponents fought. With each feint his knowledge of their strengths grew, with each thrust he marked their weaknesses. He was simply doing the same with Merlin. The man truly was the worst manservant ever, there was no denying that. He touched the prince with impudence and answered with a biting tongue completely inappropriate to his station. But despite that—or was it because of it?—Merlin was a puzzle that Arthur was determined to work out.

And if in the meantime he looked forward to the boy's bumbling appearance each morning or—and gods help him and Merlin both if his father ever learned of it—actually went to Gaius' chambers in search of his errant servant, and if he enjoyed the comforting weight of Merlin's hands as he was dressed, and if they talked as he never had with anyone in his service before, as if they might share something beyond duty, well, that was just to help him make sense of this all.

Besides, his Latin lessons were very dull.

~~~~~ The End ~~~~~