|Hurt and Comfort in Camelot
Author: PenPatronus PM
An anthology of intense 100-3000 word hurt / comfort stories featuring the bromantic friendship of Arthur and Merlin. Drama, angst, h/c, friendship, major Arthur whump, major Merlin whump, protective Arthur. NEW STORY: The Secret Round TableRated: Fiction K+ - English - Hurt/Comfort/Angst - Merlin & Arthur - Chapters: 57 - Words: 67,318 - Reviews: 1,237 - Favs: 315 - Follows: 444 - Updated: 04-18-13 - Published: 12-02-12 - id: 8759369
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hurt and Comfort in Camelot
The Life You Save
The older Merlin held up one hand and said, "I can prove it." He took the chain off from around his neck and stepped toward them.
Merlin raised his palms and stood between Arthur and his future self. "Stay back," he growled. "You're not me. I would never hurt Arthur – you tried to kill him!"
Elder Merlin waved his forefinger back and forth. "No, no. I did kill him, and then I gave you a spell to bring him back to life. You should thank me, both of you."
"Out of my way, Merlin," said Arthur. He tried to sidestep his friend but Merlin blocked him. "I'm going to throttle him."
"You could try, dollop-head," old Merlin chuckled. His younger self and the king exchanged wide-eyed looks. "God, hearing your voice again…" A wave of grief passed across Merlin's face. "This is harder than I expected. Here." He tossed the chain to Arthur.
Merlin recognized the warped, tarnished silver rings instantly. He felt heavy, suddenly. As if his weight had tripled. Arthur's throat must have constricted because he was barely able to say, "Merlin, why does this man have my wedding ring? And why does Guinevere's look like it's been in a fire?"
"They could be fake," young Merlin said quickly, in a single exhale. "Copies." He took a deep breath and asked his other self, "What's in that pouch?"
"A lock of hair," Merlin said, "from Arthur's son."
Arthur blanched. Merlin grasped his shoulder to steady him. "That doesn't mean anything," he said. "If you're really me, prove it."
Merlin's eyes lacked more youth than his wrinkling skin. "Gladly," he said, and young Merlin could tell that he'd come prepared. "Last month you borrowed Gaius' socks and accidentally threw them out in the trash. Last week you tasted Arthur's food because you thought it smelled odd. For two days you vomited from food poisoning and never told Arthur why. Last night you ordered the Great Dragon to fly over the white mountains to search for Morgana. Does that satisfy you?"
Arthur suddenly walked towards the door. He dug out a small wooden chair from a pile of arrows and daggers, and dragged it back. "Sit down," he ordered his servant, "before you fall down." When Merlin didn't respond, Arthur grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down into the seat. "You believe him, don't you?"
Merlin's hands shook. He looked like he was sitting naked in a blizzard. "You came back in time to give me that spell, a spell to bring Arthur back to life," he whispered. Arthur stood behind him and kept one hand on his shoulder. "And you did that because in your time, Arthur is dead?"
Elder Merlin's grief-stricken expression returned, and stayed longer. "Arthur died during a battle. Died right in my arms with a dagger in his heart, precisely as he did a moment ago. All of my magic and there was nothing I could do. I failed. It was my destiny to protect Arthur and I failed." Merlin lifted his hand and the chain flew out of Arthur's grasp and back around his neck. He fingered the king's wedding ring – rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. "After that I looked for spells, found this one, learned it. I came back in time to give it to you. When the time comes, hopefully, you'll be able to save him." He limped closer and, for once, the two other men allowed him to.
"If you wanted to teach me a spell," Merlin said through clenched teeth, "why didn't you just say that? Why did you have to hurt Arthur?"
Elder Merlin tucked his lame foot beneath his thigh and sat down on the floor at Merlin's feet. "It was necessary. It's a spell you can't access unless you're truly, truly desperate to save a life. You had to practice and not on some barn animal or on Gaius or someone else, it had to be Arthur because… not long from now, it will be." He dropped Arthur's ring and rubbed Gwen's. "That spell draws its power from the same source as the Cup of Life. Nature must be balanced. When a life is returned, another is taken."
"Taken?" Arthur's hands clenched around his friend's shoulders. "You forced Merlin to use that spell and give his life to me? How is he going to save me in the future if he dies now?"
"Because it wasn't my life that was sacrificed," the young Merlin whispered, "it was his."
"You're – he's – that Merlin is dying?" Arthur pointed toward the man on the floor.
The elder Merlin forced a smile. "I can feel death coming. It's looking for me in my own time but I'm not there. It will catch up soon."
Arthur walked around the chair and stood with his hands on his hips between the two sorcerers. "I don't accept this. Find another spell. Find a better one."
Arthur gestured at the young Merlin and shouted, "If he uses that spell on me again he'll die! That is not an option!"
"That's his destiny, Arthur. Not even the King of Camelot can control everything." Merlin twisted his torso so that he could see the younger Merlin behind Arthur. "He's been sacrificing everything for years and you didn't even know it. You're alive only because of him. Merlin and his magic."
Arthur's arms dropped to the sides of his blood-stained shirt. "If I'd known – If my father had known…"
"Uther would've burned Merlin at the stake."
Arthur didn't deny it.
"And now you know, Arthur. What will you do?" Elder Merlin clasped his robes above his heart and froze, blinked, trembled slightly. "Come here, Merlin."
Arthur stepped aside and Merlin knelt in front of his elder self. It was almost like looking in a mirror if he imagined his father's face combined with his own. "Listen," old Merlin said, "when the time comes to do that spell, don't hesitate."
"I won't," Merlin assured him, "I never do."
"I know. Understand this: Arthur needs you more than you realize. Only you can protect him on the battlefield, and only you can protect him from himself. I know he's a chore to live with," elder Merlin chuckled but even as he did so, a barely visible tear landed in his beard, "but living without him is… unbearable."
Merlin looked up at Arthur and then, shyly, looked away. When he turned back, his elder self had disappeared.
Thirty seconds passed. A minute. Merlin stared at the spot where his former self sat.
And then, without a word or the sound of a footfall, Arthur walked over to the wall and plucked off the one remaining sword. Merlin made a sound through his front teeth like some hybrid of a sob and a sigh. "If you're going to execute me for using magic, King Arthur," he whispered, "please, if you have any fondness for me, make it quick."
"Do you know what I do with men who treat me the way you have, Merlin?"
Merlin remained on his knees with his head bowed.
Arthur raised the sword over his head…
…and tapped it, as soft as a bee kissing a flower, on Merlin's right shoulder, and then his left.
"Arise," Arthur said, struggling to squeeze the words past his choked up throat, "Sir Merlin, Knight of Camelot."
Merlin's wide eyes travelled up Arthur's body to his face. "I…" he whispered. A grin bloomed from one cheek to the other. "I don't think I can. My knees are shaking."
Arthur's smile was warm. He bent at the knees, wrapped his arms around Merlin's body and helped him stand up, still hugging. "Merlin, my friend," he whispered, "let's go have a long talk."
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