It took Arthur a moment to register what Merlin had said. Right. Merlin wasn’t important. He was just a servant. A horrible one at that. But that just made it worse, somehow.
But would it be better if someone else, someone he didn’t know, was tribute? Maybe. Except, the best choice for tribute would be himself. No one else would have to get hurt. Well, that wasn’t really the truth, but it was better than watching Merlin fight, or try to, and die.
“If you’re tribute, I’m going to blame you when I have to get a new servant.” He smiled weakly, observing Merlin’s look of distress that appeared on his face.
He looked back into the fire, shaking his head.
Neither of them were going to be tribute. The odds were in their favour.
Merlin huffed out a laugh as he willed himself to just forget about The Games and slip back into normality.
This banter with Arthur was normal.
“Prat,” he said, thinking that maybe it would lead on to a playful exchange of insults, to a gentle shove, then something thrown at him. They’d laugh about it afterwards, then Arthur would order his dinner and some wine and maybe he’d let Merlin have a bit. Merlin would get the giggles and Arthur would tease him about the tavern and being unable to hold his liquor and maybe Merlin would fall asleep in the armchair again, like he had last Yuletide.
Merlin would enjoy that, and, secretly, Arthur would too. They were friends, although Arthur would never admit it, and after the Reaping there wouldn’t really be a chance for fun.
Merlin sighed and wished that The Games would just leave him alone.
He looked over at Arthur, whose face had fallen again, and knew that he was thinking the same thing.
He sighed again, trying to stop the tears welling up in his eyes. How had life changed so much in one day?
Arthur couldn’t bring himself to go back to the way things were normally. He wanted nothing more than to laugh and insult Merlin back. But he couldn’t. Not at a time like this.
He stood up, and began pacing around the room. “Merlin. We can’t… I can’t…” He trailed off, remembering once again that this wasn’t a problem like the ones they usually had. The ones that they always beat in the end. This was something new, something they could not fight. Something much worse than anything they had ever encountered.
Then he noticed Merlin, who had been quiet for a while. There were tears in the other man’s face again.
Arthur sighed, falling back into his chair. Everything seemed so different from yesterday. He wished he could go back. And, by the looking at Merlin, he knew they both wanted the same thing.