Bly Blood, By Love (Virtue: Part 3)
Arthur's head fell from pain-induced weakness after he made sure Uther knew he hadn't given in. A moment later, the shackles were unlocked, and lacking any support, Arthur fell forward, half on the pole and half across the scaffold floor, the movement causing the wounds to rebel with pain.
"It's okay," he heard Merlin murmur, and felt the faint touch on the back of his neck in comfort. Arthur turned his head towards Merlin as he said, "I'm here…"
Arthur felt relief wash through him as he saw Merlin there, a comforting and reassuring presence, and Merlin unwrapped a cloak from around his arms, and Arthur remembered the plan he'd thought up of the night before in the dungeons.
"No," he rasped.
Merlin frowned, looking rather alarmed. "It's freezing out here-"
"Let the people see what the king has done."
His servant hesitated, but his friend nodded in reluctant agreement, draping the cloak across his shoulders, followed by one of Arthur's arms, the other one taken up by Gwen.
They lifted him up easily, the strength of servants not to be underestimated, even if it did not match that of a knight's, and Arthur hissed in pain as it pulled at the wounds.
He knew it would be a long time before he truly felt no pain – and possibly, considering the scars, he might never be completely painless again.
As they slowly but carefully led Arthur forward, and down off the scaffold, he managed a glimpse of the people, seeing their horrified faces at the state of their beloved prince, from the punishment wrought of kindness.
He couldn't see the king's face, but he knew the man would be glaring, knowing exactly what Arthur was doing and being in no position to be able to stop it without worsening the public's opinion of himself.
Once in the castle, Arthur truly saw how much of the people's sympathy he had. Guards saluted with sadness in their eyes, stepping aside not just for the prince, but for the entire procession of the servants supporting him, and Morgana and Gaius behind him, bowing to them all, far deeper than normal and more respect in their stances than Arthur ever got after even the most successful of war campaigns.
Servants gasped in shock and sympathy at Arthur's state, and when an entire gaggle of servants scattered upon seeing Arthur, Merlin murmured in Arthur's ear, "Thy kingdom come."
Arthur nodded, and winced as Gwen slipped out from under his arm, and Morgana took her place, not caring about the blood over her dress.
"This isn't right," she said, as Gwen and Gaius went ahead, probably to prepare his rooms. "This isn't right at all."
"So you said," Arthur mumbled from where his head hung low, now that no one else was around. "Come up with new material."
"I was just testing to see how far gone you were. Apparently, not too badly. Who knows, maybe now you can move up to learning how to dress yourself," Morgana said, as they reached a staircase.
Gwen and Gaius would have plenty of time to prepare Arthur's chambers, that was for sure.
"You're one to talk, barely able to don a dress without Gwen's help…" Arthur bit back, falling into the comforting pattern of age-old arguments as they slowly made their way.
He turned his head to see Merlin smiling in relief as he and Morgana bickered.
When they reached Arthur's rooms, his sister and his lover laid him down on a layer of towels on his bed, Arthur wincing and hissing at the pain as they lifted his head to put a pillow underneath.
As soon as the door was locked, he turned to Merlin and said, "No magic. My father will be keeping a close eye on me, and will be suspicious." He hated that he couldn't use magic for these wounds, and he knew it would rip Merlin apart, but it wouldn't do to arouse the king's suspicion now, especially by the very wounds caused by defending magic in the first place.
"I don't like it," Merlin said.
"And I do?" he retorted, dropping his head into his arms, folded around the pillow as they were. "If I heal too fast, or too well…" He trailed off, letting a deep-seated fear and new loathing of Uther finish the thoughts for him.
He heard Merlin whisper some words, and the water was warm when Gwen started cleaning his wounds. He bit his lip, for even though the water itself was relaxing, any water against his wounds were excruciating, and he still felt the bone-deep need to keep silent in the face of all pain. It was an anchor that had served him well since childhood. Even if it had been instilled by his father, it worked now faced with pain brought down from the king.
He felt someone pull the pillow away from his arms, and almost protested until he felt Merlin's lap beneath his head, instead. He smiled into Merlin's trousers and wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist, settling himself in as he continued to jerk in pain as Gwen cleaned his wounds in grim silence.
In a moment, he felt Morgana take his hand in a tight but comforting grip, and Gaius applied various herbs to his back. Stabilizing linen strips were placed on the lines of his scars, and padding for the blood went on soon after.
He nearly bit his lip in half as Merlin helped Arthur sit up so Gaius could bandage his torso while Gwen removed the bloody towels.
It was with no little relief that Arthur was able to lay back down, wrapping his arms around Merlin again.
"I didn't foresee this," he heard Morgana say. "I had a dream about an angel being burned at the stake, but not this."
Hm – weird.
"Arthur's never been particularly predictable," Merlin offered with a wry, fond smile. Arthur snorted into the flesh of Merlin's thigh, wishing the clothes weren't there so he could bite it.
"Well," Gaius said to the sound of clinking glass vials and clay pots. "These wounds are healing nicely, sire. Merlin, you know how to fix it if anything goes wrong. Good day."
Gaius left the room. Gwen helped stoke the fire as Morgana helped get Arthur's lower body under the covers, and she stopped by Arthur's head when she was done.
Reaching out and stroking his neck, she said quietly, "Next time… well, let's pray that there isn't a next time. Just… just get better, Arthur – I mean it." Arthur hoped there wasn't a next time, too. He didn't entirely regret taking this pain for the sake of justice, but that didn't make him any more sure of being able to take this again.
Morgana and Gwen left after that, leaving him alone with Merlin, the warlock running his fingers through Arthur's hair. It was almost impossibly relaxing, and Arthur wondered if there was any magic involved.
For a while, they remained there in silence, before Arthur mumbled, "It was worth it, you know." Because it hurt – beyond hurt – but he had his arms wrapped around the reason it was worth the pain, and knew he could do it again if he had to.
Merlin's fingers froze for a moment, ending that impossible feeling of simple comfort until Arthur made a noise in protest that prompted Merlin back into the action.
"What was?" Merlin asked. As if he didn't know.
"That man. You. All of it."
Merlin sighed. "Arthur, how many times do I have to tell you? I'll be all right."
"That man wasn't." And if that man weren't there, it would've been Merlin.
"He healed an entire court right in front of Uther's eyes."
"And you know that you would've done the same," Arthur said. He sighed. "I was glad that the man died – that it was him, and not you. I know I probably shouldn't, but…"
Merlin didn't respond.
"I…" Arthur sighed, burying his face into the inside of Merlin's thigh, taking a deep breath, then turning his head to crane his neck up at Merlin, again. He took in the stressed lines of Merlin's face, the worried expression and love-filled eyes. "You're worth this."
"But it wasn't for me," Merlin said softly.
"When I'm king," Arthur said, laying his head back down and ignoring Merlin's last jibe. "I'm going to make this right. I'll lift the ban on magic, and make you Court Sorcerer… and Morgana will be Court Seer, or maybe Prophet? Prophesier? No, forget it, just Court Seer, that'll be good…"
Arthur continued describing his plans, going into great detail, laying it all out and already thinking through who would support them and who would oppose them and where Merlin's new rooms would be, if purely for appearances-
And then he realized the other man hadn't even heard him. If he had, he would've likely protested rather vehemently at Arthur giving him a room in the royal wings of the castle.
Merlin looked down with an amused smirk. Idiotic prick.
But his idiotic prick.
No longer content with feeling Merlin by just his head and arms, he bade Merlin to lie beside him on the best, and Merlin complied, slipping under the covers, Arthur draping himself atop Merlin, pressing his face into Merlin's neck, both men wrapping their arms around each other as Arthur said, "Morgana was right – this isn't right."
"And you'll fix it when you're king," Merlin said, in a slightly exasperated way. "For now, just focus on getting better, hm?"
"Fine," Arthur said, indulging in a petulant mood and adding, "And you'll help me fix it as Court Sorcerer…"
Merlin smiled and nodded. His eyes flashed gold, and all the candles in the room went out while another log piled into the fire.
Arthur growled – Merlin using his magic for any of the chores involving fire always reminded him far too closely of exactly what would happen should the king find out about Merlin's magic.
"I'm not even near the flames!" Merlin protested, and Arthur internally scowled, wishing he could feel as secure as Merlin did.
He turned his face and huffed into Merlin's neck, and a moment later, felt those familiar fingers card through his hair again.
"Bloody noble prat," Merlin said.
"You said tha', already," Arthur mumbled, in lieu of saying, 'your bloody noble prat.' Because it was entirely true.
"Well it bears saying again," Merlin said.
"You're one to talk," Arthur groused, and Merlin laughed as Arthur continued with, "Apparently, we're both a bit too noble for our own goods. But it's required of me! You just do it to try and kill me from terror every other week."
"If I'm to be Court Sorcerer, one day, shouldn't I hold myself to the same standards as that of high nobility?" Damnit – one of the best tricks in the art of logic, throwing someone's own logic and words back at them.
Luckily, they weren't really fighting on the ground of logic all that much, anyway.
"Not if it gets you nearly killed all the time," Arthur said, before nipping at the skin below those thin, pink lips.
Merlin smiled and said, "Ah, but see, I never get actually killed, just nearly killed."
Arthur grunted and nipped at Merlin again, saying "There isn't much of a difference." Because only Merlin would be blind to that.
"…Erm, Arthur? Dead versus alive is a big difference." Unless, of course, his idiot were still back at the logic stage of their argument.
"Not in how much you terrify me when you do something stupid," Arthur said. Because the amount his heart stopped in fear for Merlin couldn't possibly be healthy.
"That's just payback for all the stupid things you get into," Merlin said, tone serious despite the playful words. And he seemed to have missed the part where it was Arthur's job to risk his life for others, not Merlin's.
He scoffed and used what little leverage he could to pull Merlin closer, ignoring the sharp pains that exploded all across his back at the slight exertion of pulling Merlin closer and tightening his grip around that thin frame.
It was worth it. He was worth it.
"So we're both idiots?" Merlin tried a moment later, and Arthur couldn't help himself: he laughed.
"I guess so. I think Morgana may have a point in the possibility of both of us getting ourselves killed before I'm king." He was pretty sure they'd argued about that at some point on the way up here.
"I thought that was Gwen?" Merlin asked, confused.
"No, she thinks we'll kill each other before I'm king," Arthur retorted.
Another laugh, before Arthur hissed at the pain from the pulled wounds. "I guess…" he said.
"Considering how good Gaius and Uther are at their jobs, we'll have a lot of time to think through these things," Merlin offered. And damnit, he was right. "Let's just make it to your kingship and work our way from there."
Arthur sighed, nodded, and craned his neck as Merlin leaned down and pressed their lips together, sealing their promises with a kiss.
And one day, this would all be right again, because Arthur was nothing if not a man of his word.
A/N: Comments are love.