Word Count: 972
Notes: Future fic, character death.
Disclaimer: I own nothing in connection with BBC's Merlin, nor do I make any money writing this fanfiction.
Got A Grip
Arthur gazes out of the window at the cobblestones, the small puddles of water between them left from the rain and those who pass but he doesn't give much attention to it all. Without a thought to it, he flexes his shoulders and then winces as pain races through his body from a wound which has yet to heal. When he looks up again, he sees Merlin's faint reflection in the glass as he watches him. His lips are pressed thin and his eyebrows are dipped down but he smiles.
"Shut up, Merlin." Arthur rolls his eyes as he presses one hand firmly against his wound, through his clothes, and moves his shoulder again. The pain came once more, but it didn't feel as bad. "I know you picked up worse wounds than I did."
Merlin doesn't say anything, just shakes his head. But he still smiles and his eyebrows raise.
Arthur lets himself watch Merlin's reflection for a while longer and looks into his eyes so the gaze may hold him there. Then he breaks the eye contact to push his shirt down from his injured shoulder enough to see the bandages wound around his arm and chest. There isn't any blood this time, so at least the wound hasn't opened again.
"That apprentice boy you picked up isn't bad," Arthur says as he gently touches the bandages. There's still pain, but, again, less than before. "But he should take a few lessons from Gaius. There must be something to numb the pain a bit."
When he looks back at the reflection in the window, Merlin now stands much closer. His smile is gone and he looks worried.
"I mean the physical pain," Arthur corrects himself, but it's hardly a comforting thing to say and Merlin's expression doesn't change. It's that look which doesn't make Arthur feel like the king of Camelot, who can stand tall and proud even with the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders. Instead it makes him feel worthless because he knows he's done something wrong, Merlin wouldn't give him that look otherwise, and he becomes so desperate to put it right even though he knows he can't.
Arthur reaches out and presses the tip of one finger against the glass to trace over the lips and cheekbones of Merlin's reflection. Merlin stands patiently to allow the king his actions and thoughts. When Arthur drops his hand to his side and clenches it, he closes his eyes and feels his breath shake as he inhales deeply. It doesn't help. Instead it just makes everything clearer. When he closes his eyes, he can smell the disturbed earth under many feet, the spilled blood and the stench of insides as they are ripped out. He can hear the pound of hooves, the screech of swords as they clash and the utter chaos of screams and slaughter. He sees the grass and dirt turned red and men with parts of their bodies missing or bent at unnatural angles. Arthur shudders as he hears his own screams which have buzzed in his head ever since he saw Merlin fall.
Merlin moves even closer to him. Arthur feels his hands settle lightly on his shoulders and his lips brush against the back of his neck. It causes Arthur to bite his bottom lip hard and close his eyes even tighter to fight through the memories because it's the only way he can keep that feeling there. There's the feather touch of Merlin's breath against his neck and in his hair, then his lips again and Arthur's sure they press even harder this time. He sighs softly and tilts his head in his silent way of asking Merlin to continue.
The voice startles him and Arthur feels Merlin leave. Even without recognising the voice, he knows who it is before he turns around. Lancelot has developed a habit of not always knocking and waiting to be ordered inside the king's chambers. He tries to compose himself quickly, but Arthur knows Lancelot watches him carefully. While it's never been discussed, and never shall, Lancelot knows just enough to realise why Arthur hasn't quite been the same since they came back from that battle. That bad habit of Lancelot's started when Arthur didn't respond to his knocks and calls the day afterwards, when he had allowed himself to become consumed by those touches of Merlin's he was so sure were there.
While Arthur knows it causes worry and knows why Lancelot sometimes lacks in that particular manner, it only causes him irritation.
"What is it?" Arthur doesn't try to smile or sound patient. He hasn't ever since they came back. Ever since he had to stand in front of those fires which burnt away the bodies of the men who had fought beside him. He had watched Merlin's body burn away and felt his legs would never be able to hold him up again.
Arthur nods; once and slightly. "Very well. Just give me a moment."
Lancelot responds with only a bowed head before he steps back out of the room and closes the door behind him. He'll wait a few paces down the hall, just as he always does when he catches Arthur like this.
"He worries more than Gwen, doesn't he?"
There isn't any sort of response; no brush of fingers or burst of breath coming against his skin. When Arthur looks back up into the window, he can't see Merlin's reflection anymore. Arthur looks down to the old red neckerchief tied around his arm, which pokes a little out of his sleeve. It's tied to the same arm which bares the worst of his injuries and there are still some old blood stains on it.
"He should learn," he tells it, "to protect those he can still save."