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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Merlin fic: Aim High, Shoot Low 1/1

June 11th, 2011 (07:04 am)
Tags: ,

Title: Aim High, Shoot Low

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: Another piece for geminigrl11  on her birthday. Because, yes, she is awesome enough to deserve two :) Much thanks to sendintheklowns  for the beta. This seems to be set in the late first or early second season, but there's no definitive spoilers, though I should warn that this fic is about hunting so there is some animal death ahead, but nothing more than I think we've seen on screen.

Summary: Maybe Merlin's a lot closer to hitting all the targets he's been aiming at than he thought.

 

-o-

"Now," Arthur says, crouched low in the foliage. His hair is swept to the side with sweat, the heat radiating off his chain mail as he sidles closer to Merlin. He extends one arm, pointing out through the forest. "The key to a successful hunt is to stay focused. Keep your eye on the target at all times."

Merlin frowns. He's squatting next to Arthur and with the humidity of the morning, his own hair is giving him fits. As it is, he's been up since dawn preparing for this hunt and Arthur has traipsed all around the forest in what Merlin can only assume is supposed to be a tracking pattern. So, when Merlin follows Arthur's outstretched finger, he has to squint and shake his head. "I don't see anything," he admits.

Arthur sighs, turning to look at Merlin. Rolling his eyes, the prince puts his hand on the top of Merlin's head, pushing it down and shifting it to the left. "There," he says. "Now do you see it?"

Merlin narrows his eyes again, trying to make sense of any kind of shape in the endless brush. "I still don't-"

Arthur pushes his head down again.

And Merlin sees a flicker of movement. "Oh," he says. "Look at that!"

"Yes," Arthur says, more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. "And that's our quarry today."

Merlin's pleasure at finally seeing it fades quickly. "But it's just a deer."

Arthur scowls at him. "What did you think it would be?"

Merlin shrugs innocently. He honestly hasn't given it much thought. Getting up with the sun should be something he's used to by now, but no matter how many times Arthur tortures him with such things, it still feels unnatural to him and leaves him sluggish throughout the day. "I just thought with the fact that we've been tracking it for nearly three hours that it might be something more...impressive?"

It's clearly not the right thing to say, though Merlin highly suspects that anything he might say would be met with general disdain from the future king of Camelot. "That deer will produce enough meat to feed a whole table at the castle," he says with scorn. "And that's not to mention the hide."

"But it doesn't even have any antlers," Merlin protests.

Arthur slaps him upside the head. "You're missing the point."

Merlin rubs his head absently, frowning up at Arthur. "And the point is that we're stalking innocent woodland creatures that have done us no harm?"

Arthur is not amused. "The point is that we're going to focus and follow through," he says. "Hunting, like most things in life, takes discipline. Skill. Focus. Three things you seem to lack."

Merlin's brow furrows. No matter how many times he hears the insults, he still feels inclined to defend himself. It's an exercise in futility perhaps, but Merlin seems to be a hopeless optimist about most things in his life. "I can focus," he says, and he can't help but sound a little petulant.

"Good," Arthur says. He thrusts his bow toward Merlin. "Because this one is yours."

-o-

At first, Merlin thinks Arthur must be joking. He's been the prince's servant long enough to know that Arthur has a bitter sense of humor and that his favorite laughs came from inflicting discomfort and torture on those who were unduly loyal to him.

Yet, if this is some attempt at humor or punishment, Merlin knows Arthur would be enjoying it more. Gloating a bit.

But Arthur is focused. Truly intent. "I know you've had some training on the bow, and you are a reasonable shot when you're not staring off into space and being generally lazy," he says. "So you just need to get into a comfortable position, stay quiet, focus, and release."

Arthur actually wants him to do this.

Merlin frowns. "I don't understand."

Arthur stops and makes a face. "What's not to get?"

"Why do you want me to do this?" Merlin asks flat out. "You know I don't hunt."

"And I know that you should," he says. He stops for a moment and looks at Merlin with a hint of incredulity. "Honestly, Merlin, how many servants do you think go on hunting parties without having the slightest inclination of how to hit the target? Not to mention how pathetic you are if we get into an actual scuffle."

Merlin frowns but bites back his protest. Any defense in this area would reveal what appears to be good luck as magic and while he knows that Arthur seems to like him in his own twisted way, he's not sure he likes him quite well enough to stomach that sort of revelation. Since Merlin prefers his skin to be burn-free, that's a secret he'll have to harbor a bit longer.

Instead, he sighs. "I just don't get why we have to hunt."

"I told you," Arthur says with measured exasperation. "I want to see if you can hit the target for once in your life."

Merlin has hit plenty of targets, more than Arthur could know, and it's hard to let his indignation simmer below the surface. But Arthur wants him to do this and even if Merlin finds it unappealing to kill innocent woodland creatures, he would rather like the opportunity to prove himself.

Merlin clears his face and lets his own brand of defiance settle in. "Okay," he says. "But only to show you that it's not nearly as hard as you make it out to be."

-o-

The problem is, it is kind of hard.

Merlin has never really given it much thought. The idea of pounding through the woods in search of animals has always seemed somewhat barbaric to him. He understands the necessity of it on some level; he likes meat as well as the next person. But the entire concept of the hunting party - these groups of men who run around in their armor, fully armed, with blood lust in their eyes: it's just always seemed silly.

The notion of it being difficult is not something he'd considered.

Except it is hard.

Moreover, Merlin is entirely not suited for such a venture. Every time he moves through the thicket, he snaps half the branches and kicks rocks out of place. Consequently, when he does manage to get the deer in his sights, the thing knows he's coming and darts away.

Which leads to tracking. Merlin has always thought Arthur and his gang of merry soldiers somewhat ridiculous, wandering in circles. Part of him has believed that most of it was for show and that there was an easier way.

There's not, though. Animals have an annoying tendency to wander at will, without any clear direction or sense of pacing. Sometimes, Merlin almost loses the deer altogether and other times he's about to stumble on top of it before he realizes where it is.

All in all, Merlin hasn't even gotten off a shot and half the day is gone.

When he finally has the deer situated with a good vantage point, he gets down on one knee. It takes some effort to thread the bow and if Arthur wasn't watching him so closely, Merlin would defy Gaius' warnings and get the job done with a simple spell.

But Arthur is watching. Like a hawk. He's taken in Merlin's every action with smug detachment.

It makes Merlin want to finish this even more.

Lifting the bow, he positions it, closing one eye as he focuses.

"Keep it steady," Arthur whispers.

Merlin opens his eyes long enough to glare. "This is my hunt, isn't it?"

Arthur steps back, hands in the air.

With a scowl, Merlin repositions. He gets the deer lined up, steadies his bow, then releases.

And misses.

The arrow sails harmlessly into the brush. At the noise, the deer scampers away.

Arthur is watching, arms crossed over his chest. "How's your hunt going?" he asks.

Merlin gets to his feet and glowers as he stomps past Arthur.

-o-

Merlin's second attempt is better than his first. This time, he actually makes the deer startle from the closeness of his aim before it disappears into the forest.

Merlin gets to his feet again, holding the bow out in disgust. "This is utterly ridiculous."

"That's just because you haven't finished yet," Arthur says, in a strangely conciliatory tone. "You'll understand once you've hit the target."

"I don't want to hit the target," Merlin snaps. "I want to go home and eat lunch."

Arthur looks at him plainly. "And what do you intend to eat if you don't get yourself some meat?"

Merlin glares daggers at him and mentally goes over a few spells that might appropriately express his complete hatred before stalking off into the woods again.

-o-

When Merlin falls down the side of a hill, he causes a small rock slide.

The deer, which was eating at the bottom, is hit by a few rocks and it jumps away with a noticeable limp.

"That's the best you've done yet," Arthur calls to him from atop the slope.

Merlin puts his head back to the ground and groans.

-o-

When Merlin misfires and almost hits Arthur, Arthur's humor finally fades.

Merlin is so frustrated that he can barely offer a sympathetic look. Which seems okay to him since all of this is, as usual, Arthur's fault. "Sorry," he says meagerly, hoping that the traces of bitterness and sarcasm in his voice are well and thoroughly heard. "I told you this was stupid."

Arthur's face is set and angry. "Fine," he says. "This time, when I hit the target, I expect you to be watching."

Arthur turns and marches proudly into the forest.

Merlin rolls his eyes, wonders if turning Arthur into a toad would really be such a grievous offense, and forces his weary legs to follow.

-o-

Merlin actually does pay attention. He notices the minutia of the trails Arthur follows. He realizes there is actually a reason for the prince to look so constipated when he's trying to track something obscure amongst the trees.

It actually might take skill, which isn't something Merlin is particularly ready to admit. He's always preferred to think of Arthur as an overgrown oaf with an over-inflated sense of self and courage, but he supposes with all the training Arthur seems to put in on a daily basis, it probably has paid off in some regard (even if it's not in manners).

This could be the start of a deeper respect, Merlin thinks. A better understanding between them.

As they close in on the deer, Arthur looks back at him, grinning smugly. "Now you can watch how it's really done."

Merlin holds out the bow. "Don't you need this?"

Arthur lifts his chin indignantly and pulls his sword from his sheath instead. "Too easy," he says. "I outgrew a bow years ago."

As Arthur goes in for the kill, Merlin makes a face and sticks out his tongue, just for good measure.

-o-

As Arthur goes in for the kill, he's walking in a low crouch, face tense. Merlin has seen this before, of course, and the redundant confidence makes Merlin want to roll his eyes.

It's funny, though. This time when he watches, he sees the way Arthur pads lightly even in his boots. The way he keeps just out of the deer's line of vision. There's a lot more to it, and Merlin is so focused that he sees the deer stiffen before Arthur does.

His first instinct is to use magic to make it stop. That's what he would normally do. Use a quick spell, trip up the deer, let Arthur get the kill so they can finally go back to the castle.

But Arthur has been a smug clotpole throughout the entire day. He's dragged Merlin all over the depths of Camelot's forests. He's lectured and he's laughed and really, Merlin isn't so inclined to help the royal jackass today.

Merlin would, however, like to show him up.

When the buck starts to run after seeing Arthur's approach, it's hard to say who is more surprised by the arrow that takes it down. Arthur is still blinking in disbelief.

Merlin, bow in hand, just starts to laugh.

-o-

"You killed it," Arthur says, sounding positively aghast.

Merlin nods readily, looking down at his kill. "I thought that was the idea."

"You killed it in one shot," Arthur continues in utter disbelief.

"Well," Merlin says, clapping Arthur on the shoulder. "I'm sure with time, you can hone your skills to this level."

Arthur turns to glare at him.

Merlin beams.

Arthur takes a breath and lets it out. "Well," he says. "There is good news here."

"You mean that I was able to kill it when you couldn't?"

Arthur's smile is knowing. "At least this way I don't have to carry it home," he says.

Merlin frowns. "I don't understand."

"Your kill, your burden," Arthur says solemnly. "It's a rule of the hunt."

Merlin makes a face. "But I always carry your kill," he protests.

At this, Arthur smirks, in full on princely arrogance. "That's because I'm the prince," he says, returning the clap to Merlin's shoulder. "And you're just Merlin."

-o-

At first, dragging a full sized deer isn't really that bad.

Merlin's optimistic bent on this lasts all of one mile.

"You know," he pants, using one forearm to wipe sweat from his brow. "If I had known I had to carry it, I would have suggested something smaller."

Arthur is a few paces in front of him. He's been equally smug and cold, and it seems to be a competition between his bruised ego and self-satisfied funny bone as to how he wants this walk to go. "You're whining, Merlin," he calls over his shoulder.

"That's because I'm carting a full grown deer!" Merlin says back. "It's heavy!"

Arthur turns to look at him, still walking. "This is how it works," he says. "You can't hit the target without dealing with the consequences, both good and bad."

It's frustratingly sane and even more annoyingly wise. Merlin would think of a proper comeback except he's dragging a deer through the woods and apparently that's just a consequence he's suppose to live with.

-o-

Not only does Merlin have to carry the deer, but he has to clean it, too.

He considers ignoring that part, but then he realizes that a decaying deer in Gaius' workshop really might not serve any of them very well.

Arthur is completely not helpful in this regard, and when he leaves, he tells Merlin coolly that he still expects his dinner on time.

The only good news is that Gaius is so ready to not have a deer corpse on the premise that he agrees to help Merlin clean it.

"I still can't believe he's making me do this," Merlin complains for the fourth time.

Gaius is patient in this. "This is precisely why I leave the hunting to those who are so inclined," he says.

Merlin scowls. "I didn't even want to go hunting in the first place," he continues. "I mean, it seems sadistic, doesn't it? To force one's servant to kill and clean a deer?"

Gaius does not seem convinced. "It's not so bad," he says.

Merlin gawks at him. "Not so bad," he repeats incredulously. "Do you know how hard it is to pull a deer carcass all the way back through the woods? For five miles?"

Gaius simply shrugs. "I'm sure it wasn't fun," he says. He pauses and looks up at Merlin critically. "But just consider the time and effort Arthur took to show you how to do it."

Merlin scoffs. "The time to mock me and the effort to torture me."

"Yes, when he could have gotten the same pleasure from watching you cart around armor for an hour back in the comfort of the castle," Gaius points out.

Merlin considers that.

Gaius goes back to his cleaning with a meager shrug. "It seems to me he wanted to spend the time with you, to make you understand something that he enjoys doing," he says.

Merlin just stares at him. "We are talking about the same prince, aren't we? Prince Arthur? Of Camelot?"

Gaius glances at him. "In the time I have known Arthur, he has very rarely taken any servant or knight on a private hunt," he says. He quirks an eyebrow. "Not until you."

Gaius doesn't say more because he doesn't have to. Merlin understands the insinuation. Understands that somewhere in the smugness and the condescension, Arthur might actually respect him more than he thinks. Understands that somewhere in the resentment and exasperation, Merlin may respect Arthur more than he wants to admit.

That maybe Merlin's a lot closer to hitting all the targets he's been aiming at than he thought.

That maybe they like each other.

That maybe they're friends.

"Anyway," Gaius says. "A good dissection every now and then is quite invigorating. I mean, look at this pristine anatomy!"

Merlin looks, sees blood and guts, and shakes his head. "Great," he mutters. "Now you're trying to torture me, too."

-o-

Deer cleaned and cooked, Merlin realizes there is a benefit to all the work. Because the stew smells delicious and when he tries a sip from the pot, it's probably the best he's ever tasted.

He's finished his chores, set Arthur's table and laid out his meal, and he's about to settle down for his own quiet meal when he stops and thinks.

This stew is perfect. If Arthur is right about the bad, he's also right about the good, and this is a meal that Merlin has earned through and through.

And yet, there's something missing.

It's satisfaction and resignation when Merlin ladles out another bowl, carefully balancing one in each hand as he slips out into the castle.

-o-

Arthur is about to eat in his chamber. When Merlin comes in, Arthur gives him a scowling once over. "Come to gloat, then?" he assumes.

"You mean because I killed the deer you missed?" Merlin asks.

Arthur's face hardens.

Merlin blushes a little. "I just came to offer you some soup," he says.

Arthur looks cautious. "I already have a dinner."

"Yeah, but not like this," Merlin says, somewhat enthusiastically.

"So you are gloating then?" Arthur says.

Merlin sighs. "I just thought you might like some."

Arthur still seems skeptical.

"I wouldn't have caught it without you," Merlin says, still holding out the bowl innocently.

Arthur lifts his chin a little. The words have mollified his injured spirits, but Merlin can see his princely ego still getting in his way. "You do have a point there."

"So I just thought you might like to try some," he says. "It's quite good. Even Gaius said so."

Arthur eyes him a moment longer.

Merlin sighs, putting it down. "Well, if you need me-"

This time, Arthur sighs, overdrawn and with rolling eyes. "Merlin, don't be an idiot."

Merlin pauses, turning back enough to frown and blink. "What?"

Arthur sighs again, with a grown this time. "Just sit down, will you?"

Merlin shakes his head. "But-"

"But it's still your first successful hunt," he says. "I figure that's something to celebrate." He pauses, looking down and then up again through his bangs. "Together."

Merlin let that sink in, let the notion fully settle, and the feeling of satisfaction rose within him again. Better than besting Arthur at something, better than finally proving himself in the field, he's finding himself in the company of the prince. In the company of a friend.

It's a strange thing, but a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

He grins broadly, moving back toward the table and putting his bowl down and taking his place across from Arthur.

The prince shuffles, then pauses, picking up a spare glass. He fills it, then passes it to Merlin.

Surprised, Merlin accepts it.

Arthur doesn't seem to notice as he fills his own. When he's done, he looks up and meets Merlin's eyes with a certainty and respect that Merlin is beginning to recognize. "To hitting the target," he says.

Merlin raises his glass accordingly. "To finally hitting the target," he agrees in more ways than one.

Their glasses clink and Merlin is still smiling as they finally take their drinks in tandem.

 

Comments

Posted by: i want to cause a ruckus (geminigrl11)
Posted at: June 11th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)

Aww! They are so totally friends! Even when they are both clotpoles. (BOYS!! The words are synonymous). Love the whole framework of the hunt--Arthur's humor giving way to frustration and Merlin's frustration giving way to using magic to show him up. And Gaius being completely unsympathetic. And then eating and drinking together at the end! Loveliness! \o/ Thank you x 1000!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 11th, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
arthur merlin friends

I hope it was enough of the dynamic that I know you like. I do like writing these two, though :)

Happy birthday!

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: June 13th, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)

Happy Belated Birthday! I hope you had your cake and ate it, too :)

Posted by: i want to cause a ruckus (geminigrl11)
Posted at: June 13th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)

Thank you so much! (And I did. :D)

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: June 13th, 2011 12:54 am (UTC)
cute dean says hi

How do I not have Merlin icons? Ack!

Other than the poor deer, I loved everything about this fic. The pacing, the humor. Most of all the friendship.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 14th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
arthur is screwed

You really should have Merlin icons.

I'm glad you were able to somewhat like it despite the deer. Thank you for beta'ing!

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