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the way

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Merlin is rather good with children. It’s not just the ordeal with the boy Mordred that has pointed this out to Arthur; how Merlin fiercely protected the child with nary a thought for his own safety. It’s the little things: the way Camelot’s children wave to his manservant when he passes; the way he plays with them sometimes; the way they run up to him in town and throw their arms around his waist.

Then there’s today; Arthur is looking out of his window just to ensure that Merlin arrives on time and yet his manservant has been distracted on his bumbling path by a small, sobbing girl who’s fallen; even from here, Arthur can see the bleeding graze. He watches the way Merlin’s mouth moves, eyes creased in concern, before taking off his neck-cloth and tying it around her knee. The girl hobbles to her feet; Merlin turns to address some nearby adults and with the girl’s hand in his, walks her into the castle. Gaius, clearly.

Forty minutes later, Merlin stands in his chamber, resigned and tardy, neck noticeably naked.

‘You’re late,’ Arthur says calmly, busy rummaging through his wardrobe until he finds what he’s looking for. ‘Here.’ He turns and tosses a piece of cloth, long enough for the task, to Merlin. ‘You’ll do me no favours if you catch a cold. You will go around using your clothing as bandages.’

He pushes forward a cup of water waiting on the table; watches the way his manservant’s mouth spreads in a wide, happy grin before he drains it in one, water dripping down his chin and dons the new cloth with pride – a similar red to his other one, Arthur ensured – spreading his arms.

‘How do I look?’

‘Like an idiot,’ Arthur replies. ‘Now get to work.’