Length: This story will hopefully be a two shot, though it may become three chapters depending on how long it takes me. I think these chapters will be longer than the ones I usually write, but hopefully you will like the story enough to forgive me for making them so long.
Origin: romirola messaged me the original idea for this story. There is an episode in an old American western, Bonanza, that is called "My Brother's Keeper." While trying to kill a wolf that is attacking their cattle, the older brother accidentally shoots his younger brother… And then the younger brother immediately gets mauled by said wolf, and big brother has to take care of him. The idea was to Merlinify this episode and loosely base my story on what happens in it—loosely, though, because I will be tweaking things. (I will, however, leave out the whiny guest star with a sob story; you are welcome. No one wants to hear some girl talk when they could be reading Merlin get whumped, right?) For those of you who may have seen the Bonanza episode, Arthur = Adam, Merlin = Joe, Gwen = Hoss, Gaius = Pa and the Doc.
Disclaimer: That means the basic idea of this story is not mine, but the people's who own Bonanza. The idea to Merlinify it is not mine; it belongs to romirola. The characters in this story are not mine either, but belong to the BBC, I suppose. Basically, I own diddly squat. Seriously. All I've got is that peach flavored chaptstick. Oh, and an imagination. (I'd rather own Merlin.)
Summary: (The summary may change if I think of a better one.) Arthur thought that the arrow he shot would hit the boar. Turns out, Arthur was wrong. Merlin whump. No slash.
Warnings: Blood, injury, whump. Probably some angst in there. But since it is based off of a TV show, it is NOT a death fic! Yay! I was getting tired of those anyway.
A/N: No, the author's note part has gone on too long already. Thankfully next chapter won't have all the above information tagged on. Oh, wait, actually, I do have one thing to say: I worked hard on this story, so I hope you enjoy and review. Or don't enjoy and tell me why. Whichever.
And thanks to my friend ShadowsBloodPain, who beta'd.
Arthur was having a feeling of déjà vu as he walked through the green underbrush, occasionally stopping to glare over his shoulder in irritated superiority. He'd been in this situation a million times before, so much that he had lost count. And one would think that having been in this situation time and time again, he would have come up with an idea to stop it or prevent it from happening.
But short of just murdering his manservant, he really couldn't think of a way.
"Really, Merlin," the blond prince called back to his scrawny servant, "do you think you could walk any slower? Or any louder?"
Merlin, lagging far behind his master, looked up with a grin on his pasty face. He shifted the weight of the pack on his shoulder with one hand, trying to flatten his mussed black hair with the other. In the pack were more arrows, a knife, another knife, an oily rag to clean Arthur's sword properly if he needed it, a rolled up blanket that Merlin had forgotten to leave with the horses, some herbs that Merlin thought were medicinal and therefore useful, a rock that Merlin had thought was pretty, a spare shirt for Arthur (just in case; you never knew with Arthur), and Merlin was pretty sure that in there somewhere was another knife. (Paranoia ran in Arthur's family, and extra-preparedness came with it. Merlin was just paranoid from experience.) Basically, the pack was heavy, and Merlin's shoulders ached from carrying it, even though he switched the weight occasionally from one to the other to make it easier. In his hand was a string of dead rabbits, which he also switched from hand to hand for convenience.
Arthur, Merlin noted inwardly, was only carrying his bow, some arrows, and a sword at his side. Though, to be fair, he was also managing to walk silently in the woods while wearing chain mail. The rest of his armor was back with the horses.
"I probably could," Merlin answered with his usual cross between idiocy, snarkiness, and good humor. "Do you want me to try?"
"Fine," Merlin said, backing up with a roll of his eyes. "Prat," he grumbled, and then continued, "This stuff is heavy, you know."
"I know," said Arthur, turning back and walking forward again. "That's why I brought you along on this trip. Now shut up, you're scaring everything nearby."
Merlin sighed and trudged after his master, giving the broad, muscular, metal-covered back a half-hearted glare. "Arthur, why don't we head back?"
Arthur ignored him.
"C'mon, Arthur, you've lost it. We were supposed to go back to the horses the same day we left them… We already spent one day trekking after this creature. What if someone stole the horses?"
"No one stole the horses." Arthur couldn't keep quiet. "We haven't been gone that long. We could make it back in a few hours." Merlin didn't reply to that. They had left the horses the evening before after riding since midday. After walking a while they finally caved to exhaustion and slept, and it was now the next morning. Arthur continued mockingly, "Are you all sore from sleeping on the ground, poor thing?"
Merlin wasn't really offended. It had been years since Arthur's barbs held any real venom. "A bit," he admitted. "And I'm sure you are too. And the horses, back where they are… You're going to get someone or something killed before we get home."
Arthur, who was in truth very stiff, just replied, "As long as that something is the boar we've been chasing."
"It might end up being me," pointed out Merlin, who was still more than a "respectful distance" behind his prince and trying to catch up.
"That wouldn't be much of a loss," said Arthur dryly. "It's sounding like a perk right about now."
Lightning quick, Merlin replied, "Don't be ridiculous; you'd hate it. You'd have to haul your own armor."
Arthur's wide grin prevented him from answering with the seriousness he wanted, so he decided to do what he usually did when it looked like Merlin was winning an argument: pull up short, spot something in the bushes, and let the subject be changed. He did just that, but found to his surprise that he actually did see something in the distance.
"Merlin, be quiet!" he hissed.
When Arthur was in a bantering mood or open to negotiation, he told Merlin to 'shut up.' When he meant it, he ordered Merlin to 'be quiet,' and he usually wanted Merlin to be quiet right that second, as Merlin had learned. He went quiet, stopping in his tracks.
"There it is!" Arthur hissed, joy in his voice.
The boar? Merlin wanted to ask but bit his tongue, still hanging back.
"Merlin, put that down and come here," Arthur ordered quietly. Merlin did as he was told, stepping as lightly as he could (which, considering the amount of sneaking and stalking Merlin was forced to do to protect Camelot in his "secret double life," was actually pretty lightly.)
Arthur pointed to the boar, a big, black, ugly thing with tusks and its snout buried in the ground, snorting and chewing. Merlin saw it and nodded.
"Can you hit it from here?"
"No, and I can't get closer without alerting it. So you, Merlin, are going to sneak around to the other side – far away enough so it can't hear you, and quietly, for heaven's sake – and flush it out."
Merlin had been given similar commands before, and he felt dread settle in his stomach. "Flush it out? Towards you?"
"Well, not in the opposite direction, obviously, idiot. Just startle it and it will come running." He patted his bow. "I'll get him."
"What if I make it mad and it attacks?"
"That won't happen."
Merlin looked doubtful.
"Probably," Arthur amended, mostly for the purpose of seeing the color drain from Merlin's face. "Don't worry so much, Merlin. If something happens, I'll be right here."
Merlin's face was priceless.
"Besides," Arthur added, taking mercy, "you have a knife with you."
"Much good that would do against those tusks. They're as long as your sword!"
"You're exaggerating. Now, go, Merlin, before we lose it again and spend another day tracking it."
Sighing, Merlin once more did as his master told him, looking unhappy. He walked off to the right as Arthur watched him move as silently as he could, only tripping occasionally. After a few moments, he disappeared into the thick foliage, and Arthur turned his eyes back to the boar.
Smiling to himself, he notched an arrow carefully and held the bow up, but didn't put his finger on the string yet. He studied the boar as it snuffled its way along, its unsightly mug close to the forest floor. Merlin would probably find the easiest path to it right there, where there weren't as many trees. The startled boar probably wouldn't run straight at Arthur, because the bushes were thick. Chances are it would either run to the right or the left… Arthur had no way of knowing which, but he would be ready. His arms tensed and his legs bent, excited.
Wait. Arthur stared at the boar in surprise. It was moving… Walking… It was moving towards him, a little to the right. Arthur's eyebrows rose. He was elated, anticipation pumping through the hunter's blood and driving all other thoughts from his mind. There was the prey. He was the predator. Any second now it would be close enough, and Arthur could shoot it easily. It was coming right to him, he thought gleefully as he latched his finger onto the bow's strong and prepared to fire.
It was getting closer, plodding along. If Arthur had been Merlin, he would have been babbling and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Still closer. Almost there.
Arthur's eyes narrowed. He had to hit its heart, or it would become angry, and then it might actually attack. And those tusks were wicked.
There! It was in range now.
Just a little longer, to make sure he hit it…
Arthur put one foot back. And then a lot of things happened at once. A twig seemed to materialize right behind him, and it snapped, making him jump. Arthur's foot slipped on the twig, and his shoulder dipped as the boar's head shot up. Arthur's fingers, which had been on the string as he aimed, released; a bad shot.
Just as Merlin slipped silently out of the forest and into view, almost next to the boar.
Heaven help him, Arthur's first thought was, Since when has he moved so quietly?
His second thought was much more appropriate. Oh, no.
"Merlin!" He called a warning, but it was too late for the servant to move.
The misaimed arrow shot through the air with all the power of Arthur's arm carrying it, and then it reached its destination and Merlin cried out. The smaller man jerked, crimson blood exploding into the air as he collapsed onto his back.
The boar was confused by the sound of shouting and yelling and men's footsteps, and it didn't like that. And then a human's body slapped against it as it fell through the air, and that was really just too much for the put-upon glorified swine to take lying down. Wanting to protect itself, it leapt upon the nearest threat, which was lying next to it on the green ground.
Merlin was hot all over and the world was swirling. Pain had exploded in his upper torso and he wasn't sure what was going on; he just knew that he was hurt and the world was fading. Where was Arthur? Wasn't Arthur there? Well, why didn't he do something about whatever was hurting him? Couldn't that prat see he was in need of help?
Then something heavy slammed into his aching chest, and Merlin's wish for Arthur got a lot more desperate. All the breath rushed from his lungs in the form of a pained shout, and Merlin desperately tried to move out from under the weight… What was on top of him anyway? He couldn't breathe, and it was scary. He tried to call for Arthur for some assistance, but nothing came out. A sharp pain erupted in his stomach, and Merlin was aware of more warmth and a stench and yelling as the agony ripped upward into his chest.
Get it off get it off get it out, he babbled to himself, and magic surged through him in answer to his plea. His hand flew out, connecting to something solid above him. Merlin's eyesight, which was mostly shadows and blurs now, flashed golden. Suddenly the pressure was gone from his chest, but the pain remained. It was like a storm inside of him, dangerous and destructive, hurting, hurting…His vision spun and then everything was black.
Arthur was running before Merlin even hit the ground, his eyes wide and his heart pounding. He saw the boar jump on Merlin, and something like horror made his stomach drop into his shoes, but by the time he reached the scene, Merlin had somehow managed to push his attacker off of him. It rolled onto the ground and tried to get up again, whether to run or attack again Arthur didn't know. But he didn't care.
Whipping out his blade, Arthur killed it. His sword went through the stomach and came out red, and then, just to be safe, he struck the beast in the neck. It squealed before it died.
Red sword in hand, Arthur dropped to his knees beside his manservant. He hadn't seen a sight like this in a long time – perhaps even never – and he could feel the picture burning itself into his eyelids and heart.
Merlin was flat on his back, but his legs were curled under themselves in a position that looked painful. His head was back, his eyes closed, his breathing ragged. The shaft of Arthur's arrow stuck into the air like a pole, the head buried deep in Merlin's shoulder. And Merlin was red. Arthur felt his mouth go dry and his stomach twist in a most un-Arthur-like way as he took in all the red. A rip in Merlin's shirt showed a red slash across his stomach and onto his chest, and blood soaked into his shirt. Blood also trickled out from under the arrow shaft and rolled "downhill," as liquids did… A thin line of the blood was staining Merlin's ever present neckerchief. Only his brown jacket looked relatively clean.
Arthur felt a sudden impractical wish to close his eyes against the sight. Merlin looked dead, like Arthur's arrow had killed him. If not the arrow, the boar. Arthur's prey. But he was not dead. He was still breathing, though it sounded as if it hurt… And moving his chest probably did. Luckily he was unconscious. Or was that unlucky?
Arthur shook off his thoughts, trying not to feel feelings – trying not to feel horror, fear, self-hatred, pity – as he knelt beside Merlin.
No answer. Arthur hadn't expected one.
I need to do something.
The slice was still seeping blood.
He needs medical attention. He needs Gaius.
Gaius was hours' walk and hours' ride away though, and Merlin's life was bleeding out as he knelt there.
It took Arthur about a minute to make up his mind as to what to do, and while he thought, he cleaned his sword and sheathed it. Years of battle strategy and improvising under pressure all added up: if Arthur hadn't been trying not to be distracted by his friend's blood everywhere, he would have come up with his idea quicker.
Arthur would have to wrap up the wounds as soon as he could in hopes of making the bleeding stop. He didn't want to do that out in the open (who knew what dangers awaited a defenseless, bleeding man out here?), but he remembered a cave not too far back the way they came. Merlin had pointed it out. And Arthur vaguely remembered some kind of running water beside it. Then they would make their way back to the horses and then to Camelot, where the treatment of the injured manservant would pass into Gaius's capable hands… But not the responsibility for what had happened to him.
Arthur tried not to wince. Gaius would not be pleased when he saw Merlin.
If he even lives that long.
A new terror sparked in Arthur at that moment. He had realized, of course, that Merlin was hurt and bleeding. He had realized that it was his fault. He just hadn't let it hit him that this time, they might not both make it out of this new situation.
No. No, Merlin has to make it. He has to.
Determined, Arthur leaned forward and let his arms snake under Merlin's neck and knees.
"Ready?" he asked, for no real reason. And then he lifted, trying not to jostle the bundle in his arms, but Merlin gave a small moan anyway. Arthur winced as it occurred to him that after that fall and the boar, Merlin might have a broken rib or something, and moving him was probably making it worse.
"Well," he said out loud, "What can I do about it?"
Turning, Arthur started back the way they came, but he didn't make it far. Merlin wasn't heavy (it was actually rather worrisome how easy it was to carry him), but Arthur was having other problems… The bleeding had instantly become worse when he began to walk and the wounds were pulled at. Merlin didn't make a noise, but Arthur knew that couldn't be good for him. Besides, Arthur didn't want Merlin's blood to cover his chain mail or boots. That was a disgusting idea.
I need to do something to at least slow the bleeding.
Spotting the pack Merlin had been carrying, Arthur knelt down again and placed Merlin as gently as he could on the ground. Merlin's face immediately twisted in acute pain and a moan came out of his mouth as though jerked out by some kind of hook. Arthur held his breath for a little longer than he needed to and decided not to move the manservant more than was necessary.
Arthur slung the pack over his shoulder, but not before he'd grabbed out his spare shirt and put in his bow. He left the rabbits and the boar. Then he went back to Merlin and settled his expensive shirt, bunched up into a wad, on the younger man's chest. Merlin grimaced and Arthur wondered if he was awaking, but thankfully he was still out. Blood at once began to soak into the shirt, and Arthur pressed down just a little. Merlin's cry made him stop.
"That's the best I can do for now," he said to his servant. "I'll make a better bandage when we get to the cave. It won't take too long."
Merlin didn't make a noise as Arthur picked him back up again, and he didn't make another noise the whole way to the cave. Apparently the shout as the cloth was pushed against his abdomen took the energy he had left.
Merlin might have been out for the count, but the walk to the cave was pure hell for Arthur. Merlin's weight and that of the brown sack resting on his back seemed to double with every step. To make matters worse, though he'd deny it under torture, he began to shake about halfway there. The shock of what he'd done was beginning to wear off, and Arthur found that every step made the scene play out in his mind's eye again: Merlin fell to Arthur's arrow and was mauled by a wild boar, screaming.
Arthur was scared. He hadn't been this scared since the time he'd nearly killed his father and didn't quite understand what he'd almost done until he dropped the sword. Usually he didn't worry about Merlin; Arthur had learned that that boy could crawl into the belly of a literal beast and come out smiling, so he spent most of his time worrying about people who weren't as lucky. Arthur had begun to take it for granted that Merlin would always be there. Arthur could fire him, throw him in the dungeons on false charges, and toss things at his head, and Merlin would still come back the next day. Merlin was like a boomerang.
But suddenly Arthur had accidentally snapped that boomerang, and he just couldn't believe that Merlin could bleed to death out here in the woods with just the prince to witness it.
Indeed, it was a very terrified man, though one that was holding himself together well, who made his way through the green and brown trees in search of a cave with a wounded man in his arms. It felt as though they were the only two people in the world right then, and Arthur didn't like it. Because he knew he was completely incapable of dealing with this by himself. And Merlin wasn't going to be much help.
If someone had asked Arthur how he managed to make it to the cave without falling, he wouldn't have been able to answer. If that person had asked how he managed to clear away leaves and dirt with just his feet while holding Merlin as still as possible, he wouldn't have been able to answer that either. If that person had asked how he managed to get Merlin's jacket and shirt off without hurting the man too badly, he would have told them to shut up, stop asking questions, and let him get back to nursing the injured Merlin.
Somehow he did all that, though. The bleeding had begun to slow. Arthur used his hands to cup water from the miserable little excuse for a stream and splash the excess blood away from Merlin's chest at first, and then he untied Merlin's neckerchief and soaked up the water, wringing the cloth onto Merlin to wash away the blood.
There were three spots that Arthur took notice of: the slice from the tusks of the boar, the arrow buried in his shoulder, and the discolored spot over a rib on his right side. He knew what the first two were, but not the second, not for sure. He began to push down, not too roughly, on Merlin's other ribs, wondering what exactly he was looking for. A reaction from Merlin? A give in the bone? Both?
Neither happened until he reached the bruise. He put two fingers on Merlin's sweaty and warm skin, pushing down. No give, but Merlin gasped and then hissed through his teeth. Arthur's eyes went to Merlin's and he found to his surprise that the man was awake.
"It's not broken," Merlin informed him before looking around with bright eyes. "Where am I?" he asked in a raspy voice. "What happened?"
"The cave we passed," Arthur told him. "Are you thirsty?"
Merlin grimaced in pain and looked at him with bright eyes. "What happened?"
Arthur gathered the same courage he'd used to keep climbing up a sheer wall in armor while being chased by giant spiders. "I shot you."
Merlin just nodded, and Arthur decided he probably wasn't all the way awake.
Arthur glanced at the wet neckerchief, the blanket and knife he had put out, and then Merlin again, and he knew what he had to do next. He'd just hoped Merlin wouldn't wake up for it.
"I need to take the arrow out of your shoulder," he managed to say, voice void of emotion.
He took his spare shirt (which was now a horrible shade of red almost all over) and placed it loosely around the arrow, hoping it would catch the blood that would probably well up. He looked at the arrow and his nerve shook a bit, but he ignored the voice in his head that said he'd do more harm than good. He reached for the arrow, but Merlin's voice stopped him.
"You have no idea what you're doing," Merlin accused in a croak, looking almost amused, which proved he was only partly aware.
Arthur nearly laughed. Then he focused again. It had to be done.
He placed one hand on the cloth, palm flat against it. He wrapped his other hand around the shaft of the arrow and then prayed that the head of the arrow wasn't broken; heaven knew he'd be unable to dig it out. He licked his dry lips and rather tentatively began to pull.
The rhythm of Merlin's chest speeded up drastically as Merlin spoke, much sharper now. "No, Arthur, that hurts!"
Arthur's hands jerked away from his hurt servant like he was burned.
"Sorry, Merlin," he said after a second. "We don't have a choice." That might have been the first time he ever seriously said the s-word to Merlin, but neither took note of that.
Arthur looked around and then went to the blanket, using the knife to cut off a strip. Merlin watched him with wary eyes. The prince then rolled the strip up and offered the folding piece of cloth to Merlin. "Bite on that," he ordered.
Merlin's eyes went wide as he understood. "No…" he mumbled. "That hurts. Don't pull it out, Arthur."
"Bite on it."
"I'm your prince, and this is an order." Arthur's voice was cold and deadly, and Merlin nodded slowly, letting Arthur put the piece of blanket in between his upper and lower teeth. He bit down, his stomach turning in fear. This was going to hurt.
Arthur wiped sweaty palms on his pants and took hold of the arrow again. Merlin winced and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Knowing that waiting for the pain was probably as bad as feeling it, Arthur didn't hesitate. He steadily pulled up on the shaft, as near to the head as he could get, trying not to jerk the arrow or yank. That would definitely make it worse.
Merlin's body gave a spasm and he squeezed his eyes shut tighter, but he didn't make a sound. He clenched his teeth together, and Arthur winced, knowing he was hurting badly.
Arthur felt the arrow give a bit. Merlin sucked air in through his teeth as the weapon came out of his shoulder, and then he sagged in relief. Arthur felt his muscles relax when he realized he held the full arrow, and nothing remained in Merlin's shoulder. He wouldn't have to go digging around in his friend's flesh.
"Good, Merlin," he said with a sigh. He wanted to tell his servant that he was being very brave, but the words sounded funny and fake when he tried them. Still, he forced them out, knowing that would comfort him if he were the injured one. Merlin was very different from his master, but a man was a man, right?
It was probably not even midday yet, but Arthur found that he wanted nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep for about fifteen hours. But Merlin didn't have that kind of time.
Swallowing, Arthur began to soak up the new blood with the shirt. He squeezed water onto the wound, knowing he wouldn't be able to clean it better until he reached Camelot. When Merlin didn't complain about Arthur putting pressure on his injury, Arthur looked and saw that Merlin had slipped under again. Probably for the better.
Arthur took the rolled up, saliva-coated cloth from Merlin's mouth and discarded it, and then he turned away from Merlin and took the knife in his hand, cutting long strips out of the blanket. It would become makeshift bandages. If Merlin had been awake, Arthur would have made a comment about it being Merlin's blanket that was being torn up. But he wasn't, so Arthur didn't bother, just focused on his work. Unfortunately tearing blankets was much too mindless for him. It was hard not to focus on Merlin and his injuries, and not in the doctoring way, but the I-might-have-killed-him way.
Guilt bubbled up in him.
He pushed it down.
It came right back, so Arthur just ignored it. He was good at ignoring things, anyway. Eventually he would probably have to deal with what he'd done, but not yet. Now he had better things to do.
Gaius will be so angry with me.
Arthur smiled, but he wasn't amused. Gaius would probably kill him, prince or no. And he didn't deny he would deserve it. Why hadn't he remembered that Merlin would be approaching the boar too? Why hadn't he looked closer before he shot? Why had he ignored everything he'd ever learned about safety while using a bow and arrow?
Why did he have to learn his lesson the hard way?
Don't stew on it now. Plenty of time when Gaius is murdering you.
Arthur gathered the cloth in his arms and turned back to Merlin. He was still unconscious, and his face was pale as a ghost's, sweat standing out everywhere. But that was not the right way to be thinking.
First, Arthur lifted Merlin's arm and tried his best to tie a strip around his wound. Blood seeped through it, and he added another two layers. It looked clumsy and awkward, but as long as it held, Arthur didn't care. He moved onto the deep cut on Merlin's stomach and chest. That was even trickier. It wasn't bleeding as badly as before, but Arthur didn't want to leave it open to the elements for fear of infection setting in before they reached Camelot. That would probably spell death for Merlin, and that was unacceptable. Eventually Arthur put a strip over the wound and tied it down with three different strips, one on each end and one in the middle. That in itself was a task, because the wounds stretched when Merlin moved, and the sleeping Merlin whimpered. But at last it was done. Over the whole mess Arthur draped Merlin's brown jacket.
Arthur went out, washed his hands and chain mail as best he could from Merlin's blood, drank from the stream, and then wrung fresh water from the mostly-clean neckerchief into Merlin's mouth. The man sputtered but swallowed.
Arthur patted Merlin awkwardly on the head, ignoring the perspiration that made his dark hair slick. "You aren't going to like this," he warned his friend as he slung on the pack again, stuffing some of the leftover strips of cloth into it before he did so.
Then he put his arms under Merlin again and stood, his thigh muscles flexing and complaining that they were being overused. Arthur ignored them, as well as his arm muscles, which weren't crazy about having to carry Merlin again.
No choice, thought Arthur. Again.
He went out of the cave, leaving Merlin's old shirt and his spare, ruined one behind. He kept the neckerchief though. Merlin was attached to those things. Then Arthur started for where the horses were left, feeling very small in a very large forest with an even smaller and more vulnerable man in his arms. Only a few more hours of walking.
A few more hours? There's no way I can make it…
But somehow, he did. It felt like walking through fire with knives digging into his legs. His arms ached and shook so badly from exhaustion that Arthur feared Merlin would go tumbling onto the ground and probably receive more injuries. Still he made it to the horses, sweat pouring off of his body and Merlin's deadweight heavy against his muscles.
When Merlin had woken up, he really wished that he hadn't. He hurt all over… His chest burned and his shoulder felt like someone had stabbed it… Had someone? He'd obviously been in some kind of accident or attack, but he couldn't remember a thing. And then he'd seen Arthur leaning over him.
"I shot you," Arthur had said.
Merlin had tried to mull over those words and think about them, but his brain had turned to wool… Soft and hard to work through. He wasn't sure what they meant. No matter. Arthur was there. He would take care of things; make everything work out for the best, because Merlin was too hurt and tired to do it.
Only Arthur seemed to think the best course of action had been to take out the thing stuck in Merlin's shoulder, and Merlin didn't agree with that. No, it hurt to have that thing touched… Why didn't Arthur just leave it in? The pain wasn't too bad now. There was no need to make it worse. Maybe Arthur didn't know.
"No, Arthur, that hurts!"
But Arthur had wanted to do it. Arthur had wanted him to just sit there and bite down on dark blue, fuzzy fabric and… what? Just ignore the waves of pain crashing over him?
Merlin had done it, and he had done it quietly, but only because he was incapable of fighting Arthur on this. He didn't understand why Arthur didn't seem to see how much it hurt. It hurt like fire, eating away at his skin and insides, leaving smoking, too-hot-to-touch scars behind. The agony had faded as soon as Arthur was finished, though, leaving him with a feeling of deep relief. And Merlin's consciousness had faded away with it.
It was like he was lying on a bed of black; a little similar, he thought, to what lying in the night sky would feel like. It wasn't a deep sleep, but a strong one. He couldn't have gotten up if he wanted to.
On occasion, he felt twinges of pain, and sometimes the twinges were more like surges. He knew he was moving. He didn't know why. He didn't know what was going on.
Every once in a while he would wake up, just to fade back into darkness and wonder again how he'd gotten hurt.
Arthur had to put Merlin down again when they reached the horses. First he moved the bandages back into better positions, and then he had to step away from Merlin and tie the reins of Merlin's horse to Arthur's horse. As he worked, keeping one eye on his unconscious friend, Arthur had a sudden memory of men riding back into Camelot with a horse tied to another, leading horse, just like he was tying this one. Over the back horse, a dead man was slung, his body jerking with the animal's movements.
Arthur pushed away the thought. Morbid.
Merlin had woken up briefly when Arthur tried to get him on his horse, and tried to protest weakly against being moved. "Don't," he'd mumbled. "Lie here."
"No, Merlin, we need to get you up on my horse. We're going home."
"Here," replied Merlin, turning his face away and resting his cheek on the ground.
"Stop being such a girl, Merlin," Arthur said automatically as he lifted Merlin up again. A strangled noise, partly of pain, but mostly of frustration, burst from Merlin's lips. Didn't Arthur get it? He didn't want to move! Why couldn't he just sleep?
Arthur couldn't believe how his arm muscles screamed at being asked to hold up Merlin's body weight for just a few more moments. Then again, they had been supporting Merlin for hours.
He needed to get Merlin home. He'd been injured for hours, and hadn't Arthur thought when he first saw him that he needed medical attention immediately?
He sat Merlin up on the saddle, at which point he passed out again. Arthur wondered if that was a bad sign, and wished he had Gaius here again. Holding Merlin up with one hand and trying to keep the brown jacket from falling to the ground, he climbed up behind the injured commoner. Then he had to find a position for his arms, which was rather difficult. He had to keep Merlin sitting up, while also directing the horse, but he couldn't brush any of the bandages or they'd move and the injuries would probably begin bleeding again. After a moment or two, he managed to get his arms to do as he wished if he kept them tucked under Merlin's arms and straight out in front. If he crooked his arms just a bit, he could keep the brown jacket from falling. It wasn't comfortable, but he could deal with that.
Merlin's head lolled back on Arthur's shoulder.
It just kept getting more and more awkward.
Arthur gave the horse a kick to get it moving. Time to get to Camelot.
The ride was not nice, but then it wasn't much worse than the rest of the day. Not that that was saying much. The horse couldn't move smoothly, and Arthur's sore muscles ached when they were jolted. He tried to keep Merlin as still as possible, but it was hopeless.
Every once in a while, Merlin would wake up, look around with a moan, maybe ask what was going on, and pass out again. Arthur wished he would stop that and just decide if he wanted to wake or not. This was making him nervous... No, more than that, it was scaring him. Arthur wished he at least knew what was causing Merlin to pass out; was it pain, blood loss? The jarring movement? Shock? An unseen head injury? There were too many dangerous possibilities.
The trees got smaller and eventually disappeared, and then they were on a road. That was somewhat easier to ride down. And eventually he could see Camelot in the distance. A familiar spark of joy was lit in his chest. Home.
Home and a real physician.
He spurred the horse on just a little bit faster, as the last leg of their journey was across a fresh field, empty of any kind of obstacles. The gates of Camelot were there against the sky now, and Arthur felt hope. Merlin was still alive and breathing; Arthur could feel the movement of the man's bare back against his chain mail. Perhaps he would make it through this after all.
Arthur rode through the gate without being stopped. He considered asking the guards for help getting Merlin to Gaius, but that would just slow him down. He would ride his horse all the way to the physician's chambers, and then focus on everything else. He rode through Camelot, the injured Merlin with his barely covered torso ride in front of him. People moved out of the way of his horse, looking up at him with emotions varying from confusion to sympathy. Some of the knights started forward as though to help, but as it turned out, Guinevere was the first person Arthur conversed with.
"Arthur!" she cried, stepping out of the crowd in her flower-covered lavender dress with her dark hair braided down her back. "What happened?" she asked as Arthur stopped his horse. She was staring at Merlin with tears beginning to form in her eyes.
"An accident," Arthur mumbled, but she wanted more than that. "I didn't see him," Arthur clarified, then: "And then the boar attacked him."
Gwen paled behind her dark skin. "Oh, no," she whispered, the flowers in her hands falling to the ground. They were trampled by the crowd.
"I need to get him to Gaius, now." Arthur started to ride away, but Gwen put out a hand to stop him.
"No, Arthur… Gaius isn't in Camelot."
She couldn't have brought Arthur more chagrin if she'd slapped him in the face and then punched him in the gut a few times. "What?" he asked stupidly, his heartbeat increasing in rapidity.
"There is an outbreak of some kind in a nearby town… He had to go; he knew how to heal it, he thought. Arthur, he won't be back for several days!"
"Who is taking his place until he's back, then?"
"No one, Arthur," she said quietly. "He left some instructions for small injuries, certain people's medicines, and a midwife is taking care of any births that he'd needed for. It was too sudden to call in a replacement for a few days." There were tears in her eyes. She knew her words were probably Merlin's death warrant.
Gwen pretended not to notice that Arthur cursed heartily when he turned his head away from her. She couldn't catch the words, but she knew it had something to do with the stupidity of the whole situation. The dark-skinned servant girl was inclined to agree, even if she was too meek to speak it out loud.
"Very well," said Arthur, but his voice sounded defeated. He shot a look at Merlin, who was still sitting there with his eyes closed and his skin as pale as Gaius's hair. "Very well… We'll have to… To take care of him ourselves until Gaius returns."
A hard ball of dread settled in his stomach. What were the chances of this happening? Was the world just determined to make sure Merlin died?
There was an almost audible snap inside as he made up his mind. "Don't worry, Merlin," he said as he urged on his horse and Gwen said her goodbyes, starting for the physician's chambers, where she would meet them. If the world thought it could just come and try to brutally yank away one of the only people Arthur cared about, it was mistaken. Arthur would fight tooth and nail for Merlin's life.
If it was the last thing Arthur did, he would make Merlin better. And if he failed… Arthur didn't even want to think about it.
A/N: There you go, part one. I hope I did well! Please review and tell me what you thought of my work.