Merlin would like to know exactly why they're careening through labyrinthine corridors of aging stone, an extremely angry minotaur hot on their heels.
He would also like to know why Arthur, who has shorter legs and is wearing twenty pounds of armor, is still somehow keeping pace with him.
Then again, he supposes that this is the kind of thing that happens to them approximately three times a week, so he should be getting used to it by now. At the least, he should stop fussing with the details and focus on running for his measly little life.
They swerve around a sharp turn, and Arthur's boots skid, and his armor takes its due—plate mail is heavier than chain mail alone, which is what he's used to maneuvering in, and it overbalances his upper body, and the prince is headed straight for the floor.
This would be bad enough if he didn't flail for a handhold in mid-fall and find… Merlin.
They both go tumbling on the unforgiving stone, and a steel-plated elbow digs mercilessly into Merlin's ribs, and when the world stops spinning, the wind has been pounded out of him by the weight of the heavily-armored young man sprawled across his chest.
Arthur scrambles to his feet, steel scraping faintly. Apparently, a few of Merlin's nerves are still responsive, because the hairs on the back of his neck stand up at the sound, and he grimaces reflexively.
"Come on," Arthur urges. "There's a niche here; it might not notice… Merlin?"
"Sorry," Merlin wheezes. "Busy… dying…"
"If that's your way of calling me fat," Arthur remarks, "I'll have your head when we get back. Come on, Merlin." He holds out a hand, and Merlin manages to swing his mostly-limp arm high enough to catch it. Arthur hauls him to his feet and gives him exactly two and a half seconds to stand there clutching his bruised ribs, gasping for breath.
When the two and a half seconds have elapsed, Arthur's thickly-gloved hand closes in a vise grip around his bicep, and the prince is dragging him into the alcove he somehow spotted while they were jointly collapsing in a heap on the floor.
Apparently, the armor also makes Arthur misjudge his own size, because there definitely is not enough space in here for Merlin, Arthur, and Arthur's ego, which means that the former is crushed against the back wall, Arthur's head right in his face, such that he can smell the prince's hair.
Which is not altogether a bad thing, but Merlin really can't afford to think like that right now.
After a few panting breaths—Merlin's have, inevitably, gone straight into Arthur's ear—the prince holds up a hand. Somehow, Merlin knows without so much as wondering that he's supposed to hold his breath, so he does.
There's a violent snort and a rumble like a boulder in motion, and then the minotaur thunders past. It's a flash of matted curly mane and grimy human skin; curved horns gleam wickedly, and even a moment's encounter sends a wave of sweat and blood and animal rolling into their hiding place. The minotaur's stench makes the notorious Post-Tournament Arthur smell like a rose garden in full bloom.
Merlin releases a deep, sighing breath when Arthur lets his hand fall. He kind of wishes Arthur would step forward and give his chest more room to expand, and he also… doesn't at all.
"Now we just have to hunt it," Arthur muses in a mutter, as if they're after some small, defenseless prey. "And sneaking up on it shouldn't be too hard… the layout of this place is a bit suspect…" That is a glorious understatement; the ancient temple-palace place they've tracked the creature to is almost as fearsome as the minotaur in and of itself. There's powerful magic here, and the corridors sometimes seem to rearrange themselves. "…but if we're careful—well, it's not like that thing's ever become acquainted with subtlety. We should…"
He pauses, then glances over his shoulder at Merlin, who is half-imagining seeking the magic instead of the minotaur and half-hanging on Arthur's every word.
All right, perhaps the ratios aren't quite as clean as that.
"Why am I saying 'we'?" Arthur asks. "A better question—why are you even here, Merlin?"
"That's what I want to know," Merlin replies. "I mean, when you said 'monster,' I should've said 'I'll see you in a week if you're still alive.'"
"But you didn't," Arthur observes.
"No," Merlin sighs. "Apparently I've got a death wish, too. Just don't say I never did anything nice for you."
Arthur moves away at last, peeking around the corner of their erstwhile nook. "You haven't done a thing," he mutters back. "All the cleaning, all the serving, all the very bizarre attempts to save my life—you've got to be the most selfish person I've ever met."
Merlin blinks. That sounds suspiciously like an Arthur compliment—vague and backwards, but utterly sincere. That almost sounds like Arthur might kind of, sort of, slightly, a little bit feel for Merlin the same species of deep, inescapable affection that Merlin feels for him.
Arthur offers no explanation of his statement—just slips out into the hall and starts down it as quietly as possible in armor and heavy boots, with that strange and wonderful Arthur-y grace. Pendragon—he's got that to him, the aspect of a predator; sinuous, calculating; strong but terribly intelligent. He's like a lion in a cage, and someday, Merlin knows the bars will crumble down.
For now, he just follows, trying not to make a sound.
He thinks, as Arthur spins in strangely-graceful circles at a dead end that didn't used to be there, that this is how it's always going to be—labyrinthine, dangerous, and somehow addictive. They'll always be wandering the interwoven halls of some gigantic maze, searching for the thing that means to do them harm. They'll always be together, and they'll always be sharing the same intoxicating death wish.
Arthur runs a hand through his sweat-dampened hair—which smells surprisingly lovely, as Merlin accidentally recalls—and fails to realize that it's sticking up funny as he squares his shoulders and sets off down another hall.
They're always going to be like this, and, despite his better judgment, Merlin cannot wait.